Authors: Mia Zachary
The question was, what was reasonable?
An additional problem was the wording of Susan’s contract. Clause XIII stated that “if there is any material change in the physical appearance of performer, then employer, at its option, may refuse to pay performer compensation during the period of such incapacity, impairment or change.”
Despite the fact that Susan was more than qualified to do the job as a television news anchor, it all came down to looks. Jordan intended to keep searching for a strong defense on the age issue. Maybe there was something in the box of Responses to Requests for Production of Documents the other side had delivered yesterday she could use against them.
But on a personal level, she wondered why Susan chose to sue on the weight issue. Losing excess pounds wasn’t easy—she knew that from experience—but it could be done. Jordan pushed back from the desk and stretched her arms above her head. The tension across her shoulders reminded her that she’d missed her run this morning and why.
If she put her embarrassment aside, last night had been absolutely fabulous. Because of the fantasy, she’d been able to let go of her inhibitions and truly enjoy herself. And, now that she knew the truth about David, the weight of insecurity had lifted.
Since she’d calmed down, she felt badly about the way she treated Danny this morning. None of this had been his fault. In fact, she would always be grateful to him for showing her that, with a little imagination, she could have normal, utterly satisfying sex. She should probably call him to apologize. Then again, given his reputation, he’d be over her and already dating a new woman by dinnertime.
Speaking of time, she looked at her watch. Due to the new antiterror policies, she’d have to leave now to get through the vehicle inspection and security checks in time to meet her relatives’ flight. After putting on her suit jacket, she checked the buttons, grabbed her purse and headed for Baltimore Washington International Airport.
Her anxiety increased when she saw Aunt Celeste glide down the gangway, resplendent and wrinkle-free in a hot orange tunic and pants. Not a silver hair was out of place and her makeup was flawless. Uncle Matt was dashing in a golf shirt and khakis, looking decades younger than his sixty years.
And then came Keisha, sauntering into the waiting area as if it had red carpeting. She had on stonewashed hipsters with a U-neck knit top and stacked-heel sandals. Gold hoop earrings peeked out from the riot of ringlets that framed her heart-shaped face. Keisha looked confident and sexy and Jordan despised her on sight.
Of all the days not to look her absolute best. The Atlanta branch boasted the thinnest, most graceful limbs. And, even though she’d lost a lot of weight, they still managed to make Jordan feel like the trunk of the family tree. She suddenly felt fat and plain by comparison. And she was hungry.
What was it about her cousin that made her want to devour an entire pint of Godiva white chocolate raspberry ice cream? Jordan smoothed her palms down her suit, wishing she’d had time to run home and fix herself up.
Aunt Celeste rushed toward her, arms flung wide. “Oh, my goodness! Nibbles! You look wonderful, sweetheart. Doesn’t she look wonderful, Matt?”
Jordan returned the embrace but mentally cringed at hearing the hated childhood nickname again. “Hi, Aunt Celeste. Welcome back.”
Matt nudged his wife aside in order to offer his own hug. “Girl, you were always pretty on the inside but I have to say, you do look fine. You must have lost, what, sixty pounds?”
She held back a sigh at the unintentional insult. When you were heavy, people always assumed the worst because they never really looked at you. “Um, actually, it was only forty—”
“Well, you look just wonderful!”
As her aunt and uncle continued to marvel about her weight loss, Jordan glanced over at her cousin. She pasted on a smile and reached out to hug her. “Hi, Keisha. How are you?”
Her cousin’s gaze was dark and decidedly unwelcoming. A flicker of unease crept over her. For a second she truly believed her cousin hated her. Jordan dropped her arm and her smile at the same time.
“Keisha,” Aunt Celeste admonished. “Come on over here and greet your cousin properly.”
She came forward, eyes intent as they roamed Jordan’s face. She bared her teeth and lowered her voice. “You know, some blush along your jawline and more concealer on your neck would go a long way to defining your chin.”
Even though she’d been braced for it, her cousin’s words stabbed straight through her. Jordan knew she’d never be as beautiful as her cousin, but leave it to Keisha to make the point in her own nasty way.
Unaware of the hostility, Celeste linked her arm through Jordan’s left elbow then suddenly grabbed her hand. “Good gracious! Would you look at that diamond! Oh, honey, it’s gorgeous and I’ll bet the man who gave it to you is, too!”
Uncle Matt grinned at her. “So, when do we get to meet your David?”
“Yeah, Nibbles, where’s this fiancé of yours?”
Jordan ignored her cousin’s sarcastic tone with difficulty and answered her aunt’s question instead. “Oh, he had to go out of town on business. But you’ll get to meet him later.”
“Uh-huh.” Keisha smirked.
“Well, we should probably go to baggage claim and get your luggage.” She was just about to guide them in the direction of the escalator when she heard her name called.
She turned toward the voice and her brows shot up in surprise to see a tall, broad-shouldered man striding down the concourse. Beside her, she could almost hear Keisha licking her lips as she struck a pose.
What was David doing here? He must have broken some speed records to have had time to change into jeans and a casual shirt and meet her family’s plane… Wait a minute. David
“Sorry I’m late, baby. Traffic.”
He slipped his arm around her waist with a warm smile and pulled her to him. Well aware that her family was watching every move, she started to turn so his lips would brush her cheek. However, his idea of a hello kiss left her completely breathless. Jordan just stared at him, unable to form words.
The spell was broken when a disgruntled Keisha loudly cleared her throat. She glanced over to see Aunt Celeste grinning with unconcealed delight while Uncle Matt’s brows shot toward his receding hairline. Danny squeezed her hip as he held out his right hand to Matt.
“Hi, I’m David Navarro. It’s nice to finally meet you.”
Jordan gave him a little smile but said nothing. What did she care if Danny flirted with her sexy, skinny cousin mere hours after leaving her bed? She didn’t. Not at all.
When Danny and Keisha finally joined them, Jordan led the way inside the cool expanse of the hotel lobby. Aunt Celeste marveled at the elegant marble-tiled walls and huge floral arrangements while Matt went to check them in.
Keisha sent Jordan a mischievous look then smiled at her mother. “I was just about to ask David to recommend someplace we could all go for dinner and maybe dancing afterward.”
Over her dead body. Jordan wasn’t about to spend the evening having to watch Miss Thing wiggle her little butt all over her “fiancé.” Aunt Celeste saved her from being the one to protest.
“Not tonight, darling. It’s been a long day and I think your father just wants to go up to the suite.”
Keisha widened her smile. “That’s okay. Now we can go on our own and not worry about how late we get back.”
Danny stepped closer to Jordan and shook his head. “Sorry, but we already have plans, don’t we, baby?”
Jordan found herself oddly comforted when he draped his arm across her shoulders. The heat of his body penetrated her side despite the cold air wafting through the lobby. But that didn’t let him off the hook. She batted her eyelashes and cooed at him as he kissed her cheek.
“Yes, we do. I’m sure you can find some other way to entertain yourself, Keisha.”
When Uncle Matt came over from the reception desk, they said their goodbyes and followed the porter toward the bank of elevators. As soon as her family was out of earshot, Jordan shrugged out from under Danny’s arm.
“What in the world do you think you’re doing, ‘David’?”
Danny looked around and lowered his voice. “Can we go somewhere and talk about this?”
“Fine, Shula’s Steak House is right there across the lobby.”
“No, I think we need more privacy. Let’s go to my place. It’s in Mount Vernon.”
Jordan hesitated for a second then realized she’d be perfectly safe with him. “Okay. I’ll follow you.”
After retrieving her car from the valet, she followed Danny’s Jeep along Baltimore Street then turned left on Charles. For the next eight blocks, she tried to sort out the reasons for her eagerness and anxiety. She had no idea what had possessed Danny to pretend to be his brother, nor was she certain of what he might ask for in return, but she appreciated it.
She grinned, remembering the look of jealousy on Keisha’s face back at the hotel.
But now she was going to be alone with Danny, knowing for the first time who he was and exactly how much he turned her on. Though her mind was determined to doing nothing more than talk, her body was already singing the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Maybe she wasn’t so safe with him after all.
At Center Street, the traffic light changed and she took the opportunity to gaze at Mount Vernon Place. In the middle of the four gardenlike squares filled with fountains and statuary stood a 160-foot white marble column. This was the first monument dedicated to President Washington, completed nineteen years before the one in D.C.
When the light changed to green, she drove past the Walters Art Museum and glanced appreciatively over at the Peabody Conservatory of Music across the street. Jordan followed Danny’s Jeep to Madison Street and turned left. He parked in front of one of the extravagantly detailed row homes and waited for her.
As she got out of the Honda, she looked around at the elegant neighborhood. A National Register Historic District, Mount Vernon was an eclectic mix of Georgian-and Federal-style house built between the late eighteenth and early twentieth centuries.
“Nice area. How can a fireman afford to live here?” While Danny punched in the code for the entrance, she couldn’t help but smile at how incongruous the modern-day keypad looked on a traditional leaded-glass front door.
“Most of these places have been divided into apartments, so it’s not as expensive as you think.” He held the door for her then stepped inside. “But I still couldn’t afford it without the trust.”
“The what?” Jordan turned away from admiring the inlaid floor and paneled walls to look at him.
Danny scratched his head, his expression self-conscious. “Um, the money David and I inherited when we turned twenty-one.”
“You guys are rich?” Jordan shook her head as she followed him up the main stairs to the second floor. “I’m beginning to think I don’t know anything about my supposed fiancés.”
“It’s not something we go around bragging about. In fact, David almost never mentions it outside of our parents’ social circle.”
“Hmm, I just realized I’ve never heard David mention your family.”
“We’re not that close to our parents. Especially me. I’ve been the black sheep ever since I didn’t follow in their legal footsteps.” He pulled a set of keys out of his pocket and opened the door to his apartment. “Here we are.”
She walked past him into a narrow entryway leading to a living room on her left. Everything from the hardwood floor to the plush area rugs and ten-foot ceilings was a warm earth tone in color. Overstuffed chocolate suede sofas were positioned in front of the biggest entertainment center she’d ever seen. All four walls displayed black lacquer-framed 1940s movie posters above blond wood shelves filled with books, music and DVDs.
Jordan loved the living room immediately. They shared a lot of favorite novels and films. It was easy, too easy, to imagine curling up with him on the couch and watching
His Girl Friday.
She turned to find Danny standing close behind her, his hands in his front pockets and his lips curved into a smile.
He looked perfect in this room, his dark brown curls and mocha skin just as warm and inviting as the room itself. She felt a magnetic force drawing her toward him and purposefully stepped back. No matter how attracted she was, and despite what had happened last night, she wasn’t the type for casual sex.
“All right. Why the identity switch at the airport?”
Danny shifted from one foot to the other. “Are you hungry?”
“Hungry?” She wrinkled her brow, momentarily thrown off-balance. “I thought we were going to talk?”
“We can talk while we eat, can’t we?” He shrugged, his hands still in his pockets, making him look boyishly handsome.
Jordan sighed heavily. “Fine. I did skip lunch today.”
“What do you feel like?” Danny turned toward the kitchen.
She watched him walk down the hall, his stride easy and fluid, and his long, lean body filling out his jeans in a way that ought to be illegal. What did she feel like? She felt like leaving. Otherwise, she might rip off his clothes.
The small galley-style kitchen was spartan but everything was top quality. Black-and-white floor tiles complemented the granite sink and Jenn-Air stove and the white dishwasher and Sub-Zero refrigerator. The stovetop, microwave and toaster oven were spotless. The only appliance that looked used was the bright red state-of-the-art blender sitting on the countertop.
“I take it you don’t cook much?”
Danny stood in front of a letter sorter, rifling through a collection of restaurant carryout menus. “No, but I eat a lot. How about Japanese?”
“Sounds good. Order me some tempura, please.”
As soon as he hung up the phone, Jordan crossed her arms and tried again to initiate the conversation they were supposed to be having. “Okay, Danny. We came to your place. We’ve ordered dinner. Now start explaining.”
“It’s simple enough. David couldn’t get out of the office after all, and asked me to stand in.”
She cocked her head to one side. “You had me drive all the way up here just to tell me that?”
“And so you’d have dinner with me.”
His grin was incredibly charming, but she had to resist. Haywire hormones made it difficult to think straight. “Thank you for standing in. You won’t have to again.”
“That’s fine with me. I don’t do engagements.”
“Neither do I. That’s how I got myself into this situation. But in a couple of weeks I’ll tell them the engagement is off.”
He dipped his head, indicating the diamond ring she wore. “Wouldn’t it be best if you just told your family the truth?”
Jordan immediately recalled the stunned delight on her aunt’s face, the quiet pride on her uncle’s, when they’d met her fiancé. Not to mention how smugly satisfying it had been to see Keisha speechless. “No, I’d rather not.”
“Mind telling me why?”
She dropped her gaze to the floor. “Oh, you know how it is. There’s always one person who gets picked on in every family. You get used to it over the years.”
“But I’ll bet you don’t like it. I know I never have, no matter how good-natured it’s supposed to be.” When she looked up, Danny’s expression was one of genuine empathy.
“Then you’ll understand why I want my family to have a better image of me. I didn’t mean to lie to them about the engagement, but their attitudes have changed. Especially now that they’re finally meeting David.”
An odd look crossed his features, erased before she could identify it. His tone was laced with curiosity. “How are you planning to pull this off?”
“It shouldn’t be too hard. He only has to pretend to find me irresistible for about five events.” Sarcasm gave her voice an edge. She longed to be part of a couple, to feel that she belonged to someone. But she wanted it to be real, not just a show she put on for her family.
Danny moved toward her with predatory determination, his dark eyes gleaming. “I wouldn’t be pretending.”
“What are you talking about?” Her pulse quickened as she backed away. This wasn’t why she had come here tonight. Was it? Her hips suddenly bumped against the edge of the countertop, trapping her.
He braced a hand on either side of her, standing close enough for her to feel the heat radiating from his body. Her pulse leaped and thudded along her veins. Danny leaned forward, lowering his voice to an intimate level.
“You need a fiancé, Jordan. You also need a partner for the fantasies that come before and after number fifteen.”
She felt heat rush up into her cheeks and slither down into her belly at the same time. Had she heard him correctly? Was he offering her the chance to explore the sensuality she’d discovered last night? Maybe they could try the Cook Up Something Hot and Delicious fantasy since they were already in the kitchen.
As she drew a shaky breath, his mouth came down to claim her. His kiss was soft and searching and she was shocked by her eager response. She didn’t bother denying the raw excitement coursing though her body as he pressed closer. The iron band of Danny’s arm enveloped her waist and held her against the bulge in the front of his jeans.
Hot desire pooled between her thighs. She was so turned on she could barely stand up. Jordan cupped her hands to his face, exploring the velvet warmth of his mouth. A soft moan escaped her throat as his hand slid up toward her breast. Then the doorbell rang.
Danny reluctantly broke the kiss while she tried to catch her breath. He smiled at her and pushed away from the countertop. “Saved by the delivery guy. I’ll be right back. Why don’t you grab the drinks?”
Oddly grateful for the momentary interruption, she went to the refrigerator. The chilled air felt wonderful on her flaming cheeks. One night of great sex had turned her into a shameless wench. When she opened her eyes, all she could do was stare at the sparse contents.
There was a gallon of milk, some cartons of yogurt, an assortment of fresh fruit and beer. Lots of beer. In all different shapes, sizes and nationalities such as Japanese Kirin, Jamaican Red Stripe, Chinese Qingdao, Indian Kingfisher and Greek Mythos.
When Danny came back into the kitchen, she shot him a questioning glance. He shrugged and reached around her for two tall silver cans of Kirin. “Food tastes better when you have the right beer to go with it. Come on into the dining room.”
He led her across the hall into the pages of a fine-living magazine. A circular Persian carpet covered the hardwood floor beneath a polished dark maple table. The cut-crystal chandelier gleamed softly overhead. Six skirted chairs were sheathed in a rich damask fabric that echoed the reds and golds of the rug. An oak and glass breakfront cabinet stood against one wall and a large Impressionist oil painting hung above the matching server.
“This room is gorgeous, Danny. It’s much more formal than the living room, though. Did you hire a decorator?”
“No, these pieces belonged to my grandparents. I have some good memories of them, so I keep the dining room the way Grandma used to.”
Danny lit the white tapers in the pewter candlesticks on the table, creating an intimate atmosphere for the cardboard carryout food boxes. Women always appreciated atmosphere. He’d already laid out the rose-patterned china along with crystal tumblers for the beer. He held Jordan’s chair before he sat down across the table.
She looked beautiful. The candlelight shed a warm glow over her golden skin and drew attention to the rich shade of her hair. His attraction was undeniable. Even sitting here sharing a perfectly innocent meal, his thoughts were anything but. Somehow, he was going to convince her to let him be both her fake fiancé and her lover.