Authors: Nicola Marsh
A flicker of excitement. A genuine thrill that maybe, just maybe, her plan to seduce Jack and erase the regrets of the past had a chance.
“That idea’s not half bad,” Jess said, knowing it would take more than a few dance moves and risqué lingerie to lend her the confidence to snare a guy like Jack. But what’s the worst that could happen? She empowered her inner vixen that had spent far too long cowering in a corner?
Chantal whooped. “You go girl. Take whatever you need from wardrobe. Soak up the girls’ expertise. And give the guy a taste of hot island nights, Bombshell-style.”
Jess wrinkled her nose as her cool wool blazer chafed the back of her neck and her plain, ill-fitting blue top bunched around her bra strap.
Her, a bonafide Bombshell? She clutched the raunchy outfits tight.
She needed all the help she could get.
Jack needed a beer and a blonde.
Not necessarily in that order.
The beer would settle his nerves; the blonde would take the edge off the relentless hunger pounding through his veins. Hunger for Jess.
So he was horny? Big frigging deal. Hadn’t been a problem before. Girls went for guys with an Aussie accent who could cook. With a constant babe smorgasbord on offer, he could afford to be choosy.
Not tonight. Tonight he needed a blue-eyed, busty blonde the opposite of Jess with her carefully tied back brunette ponytail and her big, brown, wary eyes. Eyes that saw too much. Eyes that seemed to look straight through him. Eyes that skewered him better than any pork rotisserie.
He spotted his
for the night the instant she strutted into the club in four-inch spangly stilettos and a slashed-to-the-waist, thigh-skimming red dress that accentuated her sizable assets.
Blonde, beautiful and brazen, her imperious gaze swept the dim interior of the club, sizing up the crowd. She smiled and half-turned to talk to a friend who’d sidled up behind her.
Jack downed the rest of his beer and stood. He didn’t want to waste time. He needed to shed the unease crawling under his skin, to rid his memory of Jess and the way she’d made him feel with one touch of her hand on his thigh.
He was hard just thinking about it. Something that hadn’t happened when he’d looked at the impressive blonde.
He rolled his shoulders and shook out his arms, feeling like an idiot. What did he think this was, a frigging prizefight?
He took two strides toward the blonde when her friend stepped out from behind and laughed at something the blonde had said.
Jack stopped. Shock peppered every preconception he’d ever had about the woman who was one hundred percent hands off to him.
The woman clad in a skintight, knee-length black dress, her glossy brown hair loose and tousled, her eyes sparkly and her lips glossed, her long legs bare and ending in towering come-fuck-me heels.
He had to get out of here. Pronto. But like a train wreck waiting to happen, he stood rooted to the spot, gawking like a randy teenager.
She wouldn’t look up, wouldn’t scan the room; it wasn’t her style.
But the Jess he thought he knew, the shy, young girl with an enormous crush, was nothing like the woman before him and with a boldness that turned him on even more, if that were possible, she checked out the guys in the club. And he wanted to beat each and every one of them to a pulp.
With unerring precision, she honed in on him, their gazes clashing across the room and he could’ve sworn something indefinable sizzled in the air, invisible and incandescent.
Shit. Where was the corny crap coming from? Getting laid would’ve stopped him from getting soft over Jess but she’d shot that plan to hell.
She said something to the blonde, who glanced his way then headed for the bar, before Jess wound her way through the crowd toward him.
He had ten seconds to do the smart thing, the right thing, and get the hell out.
Instead, he stood there like a schmuck, bracing for impact. Because that’s what would happen, no doubt about it; a crash of monumental proportions that could potentially damage them both.
“What’s a respectable chef like you doing in a place like this?”
She stopped less than a foot away, invading his personal space, too damn close. He could smell a hint of her lilac shampoo overlaid with something stronger, something more potent.
He was a dead man.
“Do you come here often?” He mentally cringed at the trite line but he seriously wanted to know. Is this what she’d been doing since she’d dumped that gutless prick ex? Hanging out at seedy clubs, scoping guys?
He sure as hell hoped not. Belatedly realizing why the hell did he care?
She laughed, a soft sound that shot straight to his groin. Yeah, like everything else she’d done and said since he’d laid eyes on her again hadn’t.
“Some of the girls from the club come here to unwind.” Jess shrugged. “I don’t get to Vegas often and felt like letting off a little steam tonight.”
That made two of them.
She eyeballed him. “I’m a little edgy.”
Edgy? What the hell was that? Code for toey? Because he knew what toey meant. Aussie for horny. And with her unwavering stare fixed on him, damn, did he know what horny was.
“Because we have to work together?”
“Don’t flatter yourself.” She rolled her eyes. A vast improvement on staring at him with that beguiling mix of wonder and intrigue and need. “I’ve got a lot going on, stuff to think about.”
“And you thought it’d help coming here?” He swept his arm wide, encompassing the writhing bodies jamming the dance floor, the wall-to-wall sleazes scoping the talent, the DJ surrounded by groupies.
“I want to try new things.” She spoke so softly he had to lower his head to hear her and if it wasn’t the damndest thing, she leaned into him so her hair tickled his nose. “Step out of my comfort zone. Jazz it up a little.”
Her palm splayed against his chest, right over his heart, which jack-knifed.
His skin burned through the cotton of his shirt, like she’d branded him. He had to shrug her off and leave. Now.
But he made the fatal mistake of locking gazes with her again and he was a goner. If he could barely handle her bold and feisty, he had no hope against her defiant vulnerability.
“I’m tired of being good,” she said, her fingers clutching at his shirt, making him wish she’d rip the damn thing off.
Shit. Jess was ready for experimentation and by the way she wouldn’t let go of him, she’d chosen her candidate.
“Being bad isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.”
He should know. He’d been a rotten kid, so bad his dad had taken off when he was four and his mom at six. He’d been shunted between foster homes for years, alternating between trying to be the model kid to being a rat-bag when his niceness got him nowhere.
He’d gone bush at sixteen, worked his way through outback cattle stations, doing everything from mustering to branding to cooking.
Until he met Reid and Jess Harper and for the first time in a long time he stopped wanting to be bad.
In different ways they’d redefined him. He’d never forgotten it. And it should be the number one motivation to keep his hands off this luscious woman.
“You wouldn’t understand.” She stared at her hand resting on his chest, her brows rising as if surprised, before she removed it. He irrationally missed her touch. “You’re a celebrity. You travel the world, have your own TV show, socialize with the rich and famous.”
“None of that equates to being bad.”
“It’s freedom to do what you want when you want.”
“And you don’t have that?”
She gnawed on her bottom lip, her expressive face showing a clear battle, indecision warring with a yearning to unburden. “That one month holiday in the outback? The only time I’ve been out of Nevada. Since then, I’ve been working as Craye Canyon’s librarian, being the dutiful daughter, the perfect fiancé, the town sweetheart.”
She dragged a finger across her throat in a slashing motion. “I’m done.”
In that moment, he understood why travelling to the Caribbean was so important to her—why she’d tried to scare him away with her bold moves.
Planning this wedding wasn’t just a job for her. It was an escape. An outlet. A chance to do something completely out of character.
He couldn’t fault her for that, but he’d be damned if he became part of her grand plan to cut loose.
“So that’s why you’re hell-bent on spending a week on the island?”
She shook her head, the swish of silky soft hair tumbling across her bare shoulders making him want to bury his face in it.
“No. I’m doing that because when I start a job I see it through. I told you Chantal’s from Craye Canyon and Mom’s a local legend there as far as planning weddings goes. Zazz visited and was hooked on Mom’s ideas, so with her incapacitated…” She shrugged. “I stepped in to help and give me something to do while I figure out where I go from here.”
“You quit your job?”
A spark of triumph lit her eyes. “Yep. Quit a dead-end relationship, a dead-end job and a dead-end town.”
“Good for you.”
And he meant it. Someone as vibrant as Jess shouldn’t be stuck anywhere she didn’t want to be.
“Don’t you mean bad?” She winked and leaned into him, scraping her fingertips across the day-old stubble covering his jaw.
Her feather-light touch had him gritting his teeth against the purely caveman instinct to haul her into his arms, hoist her over his shoulder, head for the nearest exit and take her up against the nearest wall outside.
He didn’t like this game she was playing. Fire and ice. Hot and cold. Experimenting with her seductive skills by flirting with him, disarming him with her honesty and vulnerability.
What hope did a guy have?
He brushed her hand away, saw the hurt in her eyes, and his resolve hardened.
She had to spend seven days on that island with him, he understood that. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t set the record straight here and now about how their relationship would evolve.
It wouldn’t. Simple as that. They’d work together, be civil, maybe have a few laughs. But that’s where it ended. It had to.
“I think it’s great you’re shaking things up a little. But you and me…” his hand wavered between them, “we have to work together. Ensure this wedding goes off without a hitch. We’ll hang out but that’s where it ends.”
Her eyes narrowed into slits of angry caramel. “Let me get this straight. I’ve been honest with you, told you how most of my life I’ve done exactly as I’m told, and now
telling me what to do?”
“Come on, Jess. Be rational. You know why we can’t ever…” Shit. Why had he started down this convoluted road?
“Fuck?” She took a step closer, bringing her tits within an inch of brushing his chest. “Is that what you’re trying to say?”
“Crassness doesn’t suit you.”
She shoved him. Damn, wrong answer yet again.
“You don’t have any say in what suits me and what doesn’t. I want to live a little. To cut loose. Go a little crazy.” She shook her shoulders in a little shimmy that didn’t help the situation, considering he copped an eyeful of cleavage. “So here’s a newsflash for you, Cookie. I’m going to find the hottest stud I can and screw his brains out. How’s that for crass?”
She was magnificent. Bold and brazen and one hundred percent pissed off. She quivered with indignation, her hands clenching and unclenching as if she wanted to slug him. Wouldn’t be the first time a woman had hit him.
“Jess, you’re Reid’s sister—”
“Save the pathetic spiel about unspoken rules between boys and off-limit siblings, because I’ve heard it all before.” She jabbed a finger at him. “From you, remember? Ten frikking years ago?”
She laughed, a harsh cackle devoid of humor. “Too bad for you I’m not the same naïve teenager who would’ve walked on water for you. This time, it’s all about me.”
She tapped her chest and he would’ve given anything to do the same. “What
going to do. And there’s not one damn thing you can do to stop me.”
Yeah, there was, but no way in hell would he bring Reid into this godforsaken mess.
She glared at him, radiating indignation. “Want to know why you’d be perfect for my fling?”
His lips compressed but he knew his silence wouldn’t stop her from telling him.
“Because I know you. We shared a chemistry once and despite your reticence now, we still do. I want my sexcapades to be with someone I trust, not some stranger who could be a whackjob.”
And then she moved in for the kill. “If you cared about me at all, as Reid’s sister, you’d want to protect me. That’s what you said all those years ago and I bet nothing’s changed.”
Her hand snaked around his neck and tugged his head lower. “How about it, Jack? Do you want to protect me by being the guy I go wild with?”
Her lips brushed his ear, her nipples grazed his chest and the only frigging word that pounded through his head from her brave little speech was
She’d trapped him.
He couldn’t think straight.
With the techno music blaring and her alluring lilac scent enveloping him and her body plastered against his, Jack did the only thing possible.
The one thing he’d been dying to do since he first saw her standing in front of that mirror holding up pasties.
His hand delved into her silky hair and tugged her head back. They locked gazes for a long, loaded moment. Her last chance to back away before he did the dishonorable thing and broke a long held promise to himself.
A provocative smile curved her lips. “What are you waiting for?”
Her taunt shredded the last of his resolve.
He slammed his mouth against hers in an explosive kiss that set him down the road to disaster.
Burlesque Bombshell Basics
The tighter the corset is laced, the bigger the cleavage. If you’ve got it, shimmy it
Jess clung to Jack as he ravaged her.
She’d mentally obliterated their first—and only—kiss a decade earlier, deliberately shutting the memory away because nothing could ever come of it.