Authors: Cathleen Ross
From Cathleen Ross comes a naughty-but-nice story about the fun one can have playing dress-up.
When Ruby follows up a distress call from her twin, she is plunged into her sister's sexy secret life. Here she meets the gorgeous Jake Steele, who awakens the passionate nature she has always suppressed. But now that she's discovered the delights of love, will she be able to return to the small town life she had before?
Cathleen Ross likes to write about the quirky side of life. She loves writing erotic short stories. Psychic Sex and Shift into Pleasure are two of her Harlequin Spice Brief releases. Psychic Sex was included in the Naughty Bits Anthology. Love, lust and Lies is her first Escape Publishing release. When she's not writing for Harlequin, she's working on her Forbidden Fantasy self-published series.
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Email address for readers: [email protected]
To the A team: Kandy Shepherd, Keziah Hill and Elizabeth Lhuede. Phenomenal critique partners.
To Rob, who taught me everything I know about love
When the man banged on Ruby's shop, Fantasy's front door in Kings Cross, she thought the glass would break.
âOpen up, Emerald. I know you're in there. It's Jake Steele.'
Thump! The glass door nearly shattered. In the evening light, she looked through the window and saw a dark hulk of a man with a broad chest, muscular arms and hips sinfully clad in blue denim jeans.
And he wanted Emerald.
The trouble was she was her twin and Ruby had arrived here half an hour ago to find their shop deserted and no sign of her sister. This was exactly what she'd feared when she'd received the terrified phone call from her sister that she was in trouble and going into hiding, which is why Ruby had hot-footed it to Sydney.
âI'm closed,' she shouted.
âOpen up, Emerald. I've come to apologise.'
For what? And how was Emerald involved?
Taking a deep breath, Ruby pulled the door open. âWhat are you doing making that racket?'
âNow that's a nice welcome.' The man had the bluest eyes that Ruby had ever seen. His cropped black hair was thick, the bridge of his nose was slightly dented like it had taken a punch and there was something too sure and sexy about his mouth.
âI'll roll out the red carpet.' There was no way she was going to be friendly to a strange man who'd nearly broken the door down. She folded her arms in front of herself.
âCome on, Emerald. I know I was tough on you, but you were crazy, too. I'm sorry, okay? I've come to make it up to you.'
Just what did Jake have in mind? Gazing at his die-to-kiss mouth and well-built body, Ruby's heart started to patter sending little signals throughout her body.
The man lifted a box containing two glasses and a bottle of champagne, which on close inspection said something in French. Then he smiled.
The smile transformed his expression and Ruby realised that Daniel Craig, the latest James Bond, had competition. Sure, Jake's body was hot, but she didn't normally go for all brawn, no brain types, until he smiled and she saw something intense, charming and sexy all rolled into one about his face.
âI guess you'd better come in,' she said moving aside, feeling immediately guilty about her unfair “no brain” assumption. Part of her said she was only letting him in because she had a job to do. Find out why her sister had done a runner and just how “crazy” she'd been. The other part of her was picking her chin off the ground after that smile.
âYou've done a great job in a short amount of time,' he said. âI take back everything I said.'
âYou do, huh?' Now was the time to tell him she wasn't Emerald, but something stopped her. Was this man with his sinful good looks behind her sister's disappearance?
He coloured under her scrutiny although his olive tanned skin nearly hid it. âI'm sorry I said the only people who'd use this joint were hookers.'
Ruby put her hands on her hips and frowned at him. âThat's insulting. Why would you think that?' Now that comment alone would have sent her twin, with her degree in stage and costume design, feral. The costumes that lined the racks were made of plush velvets and shining silks, manufactured in Hong Kong to her sister's meticulous directions. Ruby, an accountant, had backed Emerald with every cent of the twins' inheritance from their mother and now with the bank account empty, she needed to find out what was going on and fast. âSo, do you usually run off at the mouth and say things you shouldn't?'
âI'm better at using my hands than my mouth.'
With a mouth like that she wasn't so sure. A flush started at her neck and moved upwards and from the way her cheeks burned, she was certain it showed.
He raised the champagne box, put it on the glass counter, pulled out the bottle and two glasses. âHow about we drink to your new business venture and maybe you'll forgive my behaviour?'
âTrying to schmooze me?'
âTrying to make up for what I said, seeing as I own the shop front next door and we're probably going to be seeing a lot of each other.'
âWe are?' Ruby was aware her voice squeaked. âWhat kind of business do you own?'
âSecurity. I'm ex special forces. This neighbourhood can be tough, so if you run into difficulties, call on me.'
No wonder he was over six foot and had a body packed with rock-hard muscle. Ruby was suddenly parched. She watched as Jake uncorked the bottle and poured her a glass. He had broad hands and long, tanned fingers with neat trimmed fingernails. She figured she could tell a lot about a man based on the state of his hands.
Handing the glass to her, his fingers grazed hers, which sent a tingle straight up her arm to her breasts. Shocked at her reaction, she took a quick gulp of the frothy liquid.
âTo new beginnings,' he said. âI'm sorry I overreacted.'
She was sorry her nipples were embarrassingly tight under her silk tunic. Did they show? There was no way in the world she could check without drawing his attention southwards and she didn't want to do that because he was staring into her eyes.
When he looked at her with those midnight blue eyes of his, nothing else existed. Work brain, she ordered herself, and quit behaving like you've never seen a hunk with wide shoulders, slim hips and bulging thighs before. She'd told herself that she didn't go for brawn but that was because she'd associated with accountants for most of her working life. Maybe it was time to recalibrate her thinking.
Ruby put her glass down, shifted slightly and plucked at the bottom of her shift so that it didn't cling to her torso. âWhy didn't you like the idea of a costume shop?'
He took a long drink and finished his glass before putting it on the counter. âWhen I first saw you at the auction, you looked different dressed in black. Tough.'
âSo that meant I was opening a business for hookers?'
He shook his head. âThe way you marched up to me and accused me of chasing you up fifty grand was aggressive. I wanted the extra space because I was hoping to expand my office.'
âWhat, a woman can't get mad sometimes?'
âYou did promise to cut off my balls the next time you saw me.'
âOuch!' Ruby put her hand to her mouth. Damn Emerald and her sassy words. âYou can't have been scared of me for that. A big guy with your background should be able to protect yourself.'
And your balls.
She forced herself to keep her gaze above his belt.
âI wasn't. I'm good at looking after myself.'
âI bet. Oops. Sorry. That was the champagne talking.'
He scratched his head. âYou seem different today.' Jake reached over, picked up the bottle and topped up her glass. âI like your hair like that. That style suits you.'
Conscious of her soft blonde curls flowing around her face, her cream silk tunic and straight leg matching silk pants, no one could ever call Ruby hard. Determined? Sure. When she was churning through the numbers to make sure her clients' businesses balanced, she had their respect. âGuess I'll have to stay clear of you on my black days. On cream days, I'll be okay and tomorrow if I choose to wear pink I'll beâ'
âLuscious,' he cut in.
The air went still. Was he feeling what she was feeling because the way his gaze moved to her lips, she was certain he was going to kiss her.
âTo think I didn't like you before,' he murmured.
âWhat do you mean?' This man was special forces, which meant trained to kill. The trouble was she wanted him to kiss her instead of worrying about his intentions.
No more champagne.
His gaze wandered over her face as if searching for something. âYou seem different, somehow. I didn't find you attractive at the sale, but your hair was pinned back and you were angry.'
âWere you cross that I bought the property?' Mad enough to scare Emerald so that she disappeared? Her gut told her he wasn't the kind of guy who would terrorise a woman, but someone had.
âYou won it in a fair fight, but I did chase up the price. I want to make it up to you. I have a proposition.'
He raised his eyebrows and grinned.
Ruby's knees went weak. He was temptation in jeans and she couldn't help thinking what he'd look like naked. Sheer, rock-hard muscled perfection. Good enough to model for an expensive sheets advertisement. Good enough to savourâ¦
She'd say no. Of course, she'd say no. She'd let him down politely with an excuse that she didn't sleep around, which was true.
âI'd like you to help me with the costumes,' he said.
âPardon?' He gave her an amused look. âI don't think you heard a word.'
âI'm sorry. I'm not used to drinking on an empty stomach.' Ruby touched her cheeks, glanced in the mirror behind the reception desk and realised they looked like she'd used too much blush. âCould you say that again?'
âSure.' He grinned.
Her heart started to patter. It should be illegal to be this gorgeous.
âI plan to throw a party for my clients the weekend after next. I do security for some big name wealthy people who like a good bash. I could give it a theme. It would throw some business your way.'
âThat was your propositionâ¦erâ¦I mean proposal?'
He laughed showing perfectly white straight teeth. âYou are really cute, you know that?'
âThanks.' He liked her. The sizzle in the air wasn't her imagination and nor was the heat level that was going up, up, up seeing as he was standing only kissing distance away. She needed to collect herself. After all, she wasn't here to find a date. She was here to find her sister and stop their new business from sinking into the ground. âSo when are you thinking of having your party?'
âOne and a half weeks. That enough time for you?'
Ruby looked around the room. Every rack was stacked with carefully designed costumes according to period. Behind her, on either side of the mirror, the shelving was full of masks, hats, feather boas, fans and handbags. She had to rent out the stock and get some money in the bank because she knew from doing the accounts that not all the bills were paid. âWe, I mean I, could certainly do with the business.'
âThen we have a deal and you'll forgive me?'