Harlequin Mills & Boon Sexy ~ April 2013 (Australia/NZ)
Harlequin Presents Extra ~ TBA (USA)
To secure the most important deal of his life and honour his dead father, gold mining magnate Jordan Blackstone needs a wife to accompany him to Dubai. Fake wife, that is, because marriage is not on Jordan's agenda. He's nearly been there, never again. When Chloe Montgomery lands in his lap - literally - he decides she's the perfect solution. She's as gutsy as she is gorgeous and as commitment-phobic as he. But first he has to sweet-talk her into his plans.
Chloe needs money fast. To keep her high-achieving family happy, she invented a well-paid job overseas, until the man she trusted swindled her of her meagre savings and forced her back to Australia. Now her parents needs her financial help to keep a roof over their heads and once she's convinced she can trust the gorgeous Jordan, his generous offer is too good to refuse.
But when things heat up on their Dubai 'honeymoon' they have to decide if it really is a marriage in name only or whether it's the real deal.
At least she was going to die in spectacular fashion.
Chloe Montgomery clenched her fingers around the tacky tar-smelling rope and tried to imagine that she wasn't suspended who knew how high? above the pitch-black auditorium in one of Melbourne's finest entertainment venues.
A rough knot below her feet scratched her bare soles. The way-too-small-barely-there costume dug into her ribs, making breathing almost impossible - especially when every shallow gasp could be her last.
"You'll be fine, Chloe," the guy behind her whispered as he made a final adjustment to the slim safety harness at the back of her waist. "Trust me, you'll be the highlight of the evening's entertainment."
"Trust you…" Her voice came out reed-thin, a touch hysterical and barely audible above the rushing sound in her ears. How was she going to get one note of Happy Birthday out when her throat was closing over? She was no singer at the best of times.
"Ready?" the guy murmured.
"Mmm-hmm," she managed between tightly pressed lips. What insane reasoning had convinced Chloe that she was up for this - in any way?
Because she wanted - needed - to prove to her new boss that she was an asset to her event-planning business. No task too hard, no unforseen circumstance she couldn't handle.
So when the artist booked for the event was involved in a car accident on the way here, Chloe had stepped up to the plate - or in this case, the rope. And if everything went as planned, she'd be lowered onto the birthday boy's lap, kiss him on the cheek, someone would be there to unfasten her harness and she could escape to the venue's kitchens, challenge met and dignity intact. Dana would be only too grateful and impressed and desperately keen to take on such a valuable, flexible employee full-time.
A single spotlight exploded into life, blinding her with its brilliance and holding her captive in its hot white light. The audience's hushed murmur of anticipation rose into the stratosphere and she could feel every pair of eyes focussed on her. Chloe, who'd spent her life trying and mostly failing to be someone people noticed, was finally the centre of attention.
A pity she was going to be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
Thought fled as the rope shuddered and began its descent. You're supposed to sing, she reminded herself. Find the target, focus on him. She squinted through the glare to the table directly beneath her. The cake, flickering with candles amongst champagne flutes, red foil stars and silver-ware, marked her destination.
A man was staring up at her with a faint smile - or was it a smirk? - on his lips. Hard to tell in the spot-light's dazzle but there was enough candle-glow to make out that they were, indeed, very nice lips. Forget the lips - imagine him naked - isn't that what people afraid of public speaking were supposed to do? It couldn't hurt here either.
Except that his wife had organised this surprise. Which reminded her she had a job to do…
Clearing the constriction from her throat, she launched into a wobbly, out-of tune rendition of Happy Birthday, keeping her eyes pinned to his as she descended. Not imagining him naked. Much.
Brilliant timing; she sang the last note as she reached table height and safety. She had to manoeuvre herself and the rope a little to ensure she landed on his lap. Her body prickled hot and cold all over when her barely-covered bottom came into contact with a pair of rock-hard thighs, and she had to shift slightly to keep from falling off. Which would be easy to do because her whole body was trembling.
Warm palms slid firmly to her waist to steady her and she stifled a gasp at the electrifying contact. How embarrassing. How wrong. She lifted her chin and met his gaze. Up close his eyes were blue. A piercing, blinding blue that, to her shame, melted her insides to mush. "Happy Birthday…" she finished in her best Marilyn Monroe voice, then came to a breathless pause. What the heck was his name again? Oh, my, he was…
Not available, Chloe.
She leaned in to brush the expected kiss over his cheek, caught the whiff of his enticing masculine skin before his head turned and his lips were somehow on hers. Warm, firm. Friendly. Too friendly. Appalled, she peeled her lips away to stare at him. He stared back, those fascinating blue orbs sending all the wrong signals for a married man.
"I'm not the birthday boy," he told her, before she could blink. He leaned closer so that his breath tickled her ear and murmured, "But then you already knew that, didn't you."
He jerked a thumb at the man on his left and leaned back, his hands dropping away from her waist. "Sadiq's the one you should be kissing." The tone of bored cynicism belied the heat in his eyes.
She felt the safety harness being unclipped and realised she was still sitting on his lap. And…she went completely still…was she turning him on?
Not waiting to find out, she slid off immediately, her legs barely supporting her. "Hey, you kissed me," she whispered into his ear, keeping her smile in place, but furious with his off-hand attitude and furious with herself for making the mistake in the first place.
She turned her attention to the handsome black-haired, dark-eyed man who'd have looked right at home in one of those desert romance books. Way less unsettling. He was watching the two of them with a twinkling of amusement, apparently unconcerned she'd stuffed up so sensationally.
"Sadiq," she said with forced brightness and leaned down to kiss him to a roomful of enthusiastic applause. She wished him an enjoyable evening or some such but her mind was stuck on the previous thirty seconds.
You already knew. The weird - and incorrect - accusation burned like a hot wire in her blood. How dared he - whoever the hell he was - insinuate she'd contrived this act to somehow seduce him?
Sexual harassment. The taste of bile rose up her throat. An employee's word over some fancy schmuck with the wealthy connections? Like that was never going to happen. One word of complaint from him and Dana was so going to fire her.
Jordan Blackstone watched the blonde's pretty cheeks flush, her well-endowed cleavage on full view as she made a fuss of his friend, privately enjoying her discomfort…and more than a little disconcerted at his own. Thankfully, she'd stood up before things had gotten too awkward. Another moment of her cute rhinestone-encrusted butt squirming on his lap, he'd have been in real trouble.
Women were always contriving new ways to meet him and he had to admit this one was unique. As was his body's response to hers. He hadn't expected to find his dormant libido awakening so fast and so hard.
He watched her drop a quick kiss on Sadiq's cheek. His own lips tingled at the memory of how they'd felt beneath his. Soft and sweet. What the hell had possessed him? Sheer momentary madness obviously, because in that pulse-pounding moment he sure as hell hadn't been himself.
She didn't hang around. He'd barely blinked and she was gone in a flash of sparkles and skin. The sort of shimmering flash that lingered on your retina long after the moment had passed.
He shook his head to clear the image. Soft and sweet was just a façade. No matter that she'd played the innocent mistake game, she was the type of out-there, attention-grabbing, rich-man hungry woman he avoided. And that costume - what there was of it - was obviously intended to over-enhance her curves. Even if said curves were every man's fantasy, it was hardly appropriate for this occasion.