Pleasure Chest

Pleasure Chest

by Jule McBride

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Overview

Is she dreaming? New York artist Tanya Taylor is amazed—and incredibly turned on—when real-life pirate Stede O'Flannery magically appears in her bedroom ready for action. The dark-haired, green-eyed, sexy seafarer is shirtless, strapped with a sword—and those breeches? They leave nothing to Tanya's naughty imagination.

But he looks just like the subject in the wild and mysterious old painting she's just bought. The truth is Stede has one week to break a fateful curse. He's got to fall in love—and fast. Good thing Tanya, with her chestful of toys, knows the most pleasurable ways to a man's heart. After all, doesn't she deserve something deliciously wicked out of the deal, too?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781552546383
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 10/01/2006
Series: Harlequin Blaze Series
Sold by: HARLEQUIN
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 897,755
File size: 192 KB

About the Author


When native West Virginian Jule McBride was a preschooler, she kept her books inside her grandmother's carved oak cabinet, to which only she had the key. Everyday, at reading time, she'd unlock the cabinet--and the magical worlds contained in the books inside. Only later did she realize the characters she'd come to love weren't real, and that's when she knew she'd one day be a writer herself.

When asked why she usually writes comedy, Jule had this to say, "I've written romantic suspense novels and love them, but I probably love to write humor because laughter truly is the best medicine. Besides, ever since I can remember, funny things happen to me.

"Once, in first grade, I bundled up in my coat for recess--only to discover the hem hit my ankles, my arms were swallowed and my belt dragged the ground. Doing the logical thing, I fled home, convinced I was shrinking. (Mom's sleuthing--she was a great solver of conundrums--uncovered that I'd donned a sixth grader's identical coat.)

"Nevertheless to this day, I, like everybody, feel sometimes confused by life's little mysteries. Because of that, I love to create heroines who are in some kind of humorous jam when they meet their prince."

A lover of books, Jule graduated from West Virginia State College with honors, then from the University of Pittsburgh where she also taught English. She's worked in libraries and as a book editor in New York City, but in 1993, her own dream to write finally came true with the publication of Wild Card Wedding. It received the Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award for Best First Series Romance, and ever since, the author has continued to pen heartwarming love stories that have repeatedly won awards and made appearances on romance bestseller lists.

Today, after publishing nearly 30 Harlequin titles, Jule writes full-time, and often finds the inspiration for her stories while on the road, traveling between Pennsylvania, where she makes her home, and her family's farm in West Virginia.


Read an Excerpt

"LOOK!" Tanya Taylor blew dust from an old canvas, then sneezed.

"Bless you," called May. The proprietress of Finders Keepers clambered toward Tanya. "What did you unearth, honey?"

"A painting." Propping it on a player piano, beside an oil lamp and brass candlesticks, Tanya stepped back to admire it. "It's of a duel!" she exclaimed, a delighted shiver zipping down her spine.

In a shadowy, grassy clearing, golden, orange and red leaves burst like suns over stately trees. The air looked strange, somehow. "Haunted," she said as May sidled closer. "Mystical." As if a spell had been cast on a fairy glen.

May tugged down a blouse calculated to hide her girth, and as she surveyed the work, she removed a pin from a russet chignon, then stabbed it in again. "If memory serves me, I found it leaning against a trash bin outside a brown-stone on Bank Street." She thought a moment. "Yes...it was about forty years ago, around the time I moved to Sag Harbor to open the shop."

"Why would someone throw away a picture that's so..." Tanya searched for a word, as she took in the gilded chipped frame, "...captivating." Everything about it drew her like a magnet, although it wasn't large, only about two by two feet.

"Oh," said May. "You know how rich people are, down in the West Village," she sniffed. "No taste. Maybe somebody died and their family pitched it. Who knows? Anyway, it's been in the attic with things I never tagged."

"It's so real," Tanya said. Soft, liquid mist moved on the same breeze that rustled the tree leaves, and for a second, Tanya could swear she heard skirts swishing in dark hallways, wind chimes, and a foghorn. Between the trees, she glimpsed waters that churned dangerously, frothing with whitecaps, and suddenly, the energy of the current seemed to enter her own bloodstream with the promise of a coming storm.

In the clearing were two men. One was tall, thin, blond, and dressed in white; the other dark. The blonde was running forward, his musket aimed at the darker man. But now Tanya discerned a flash of fire coming from the trees, as if a third party was shooting the darker man's attacker.

"That dude's star quality," said May.

She meant the dark guy. Definitely. There was something off-center about his face; the nose was too pronounced and aquiline, the face too rectangular and drawn, the dust of his mustache and rakish spray of beard too unkempt. Long dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and he was dressed in a dark tailored coat worn over tight breeches. His eyes seemed green, but it was hard to tell, since the canvas was dirty, and yet, whatever the color, the eyes had the unnerving quality of always watching the viewer. No matter how Tanya moved, the gaze followed. "I could use a date with a guy like him," May said.

"Me, too. Next week," Tanya returned, trying not to think about her friend, Izzie's, art opening. Tanya had to go, of course, which meant running into Brad, and since she was still stinging from their breakup, she'd rather stay home. Even worse, a week later, Brad would be reviewing Tanya's own art opening, and she had a sneaking suspicion her ex-lover wouldn't be kind.

Glancing toward a beveled mirror in a corner, she surveyed herself and winced. On impulse, she'd bleached her hair again after the breakup and, as luck would have it, her mother called, so by the time Tanya had managed to rinse, her knotty curls had turned bleach-white. Even Izzie, and their other best friend, Marlo, had agreed that it looked as if Tanya was wearing a shoulder-length wig of cotton balls.

At least she'd been blessed with good skin. But she was so pale that no matter how much mascara and liner she used, she'd never been able to form eyelashes or brows. At any rate, she'd bought dresses, both for her and Izzie's openings, and now she didn't want to wear either one, since they looked too young. Brad's new babe, Sylvia Gray, was one of those sophisticates born in the perfect black dress, and while just two years shy of thirty, Tanya was still wearing platforms, confections such as the jeans skirt she had on, and too many strands of mismatched beads. A lump formed in her throat. Just two months ago, she'd been on top of the world. Brad hadn't been great in bed, and all the boring sex had hammered her self-esteem. Still, she'd thought things were improving, right up until he'd dumped her.

Too bad he'd been the first boyfriend lately to pass muster with her folks. But Brad was gone now, and her paintings still weren't ready. Plus, she'd eaten so much postrelationship chocolate that the new dresses probably no longer fit. Every day, she'd been staring at her canvasses, second-guessing herself, feeling something was missing...

"That aliveness," she whispered now, her heart squeezing tightly. Whoever did this painting had that quality. It was a gift. She was a better painter, technically, but this artist had breathed life into the work.

"He's conceding the duel," she heard May say, "but the guy's going to shoot him anyway, and then somebody shoots from the trees, but we're not sure who."

"Yes," murmured Tanya, stepping closer. The canvas was filthy, the paint chipping, but she could discern shadowy figures in the woods now. A man wearing a cloak, maybe. A woman in white. Or was she a ghost? And who was shooting the blonde? What had happened afterward? Had he died?

This was only a painting, yes. But she could almost swear it was alive. She felt the heat of the dark man's gaze. He was admiring...desiring. Everything Brad hadn't been. Warmth flooded her skin, and her cheeks burned. Beneath her top, her nipples were affected, and while the idea was crazy, she was sure the man was watching her....

"That hottie's all yours for three hundred dollars," said May.

It was more than she could afford. Buying two dresses had left her broke, and her boss, James, had been dropping hints that she needed to leave her apartment above Treasured Maps, the shop which he owned, and where she worked, so he could renovate. Besides, she did need a better place, if only because her folks kept threatening to visit. After years of living in suburban Short Hills, they'd never comprehend why their daughter was living in an apartment with paint-splattered floors, much less why the shower stall, toilet and bathtub were in separate locations. James charged her next to nothing, however, and she could paint without fear of ruining anything, a luxury she'd never have in another apartment. Besides, the security in the building was top-notch, and she loved working for James, even if showing clients rare maps didn't pay much. Still, she did have to move soon.

"I can't buy it," Tanya forced herself to say. "I just came in to pick up the maps." Months ago, James had wandered in and seen some maps hanging in May's office. Although they weren't valuable, he'd liked them, but May had decided not to sell, saying they were part of her office decor. A few days ago, she'd changed her mind.

"Two-fifty," May countered.

Tanya's gaze drifted over the man, taking in the bunched muscles of his thighs, then she startled. She could swear she'd seen the muscles twitch, just slightly. Shaking her head to clear it of confusion, she blinked. Her throat felt strangely tight. "Two-fifty?"

"I take credit cards, if that helps," said May.

Trying not to think of her balance, Tanya slipped a hand inside her purse, pulled out the card and gave it to May, who headed for the cash register. Gingerly Tanya lifted the picture. It wasn't any more valuable than the maps in May's office, but suddenly, it meant the world to her. To the touch, it was warm, the varnish smooth beneath her fingers, almost like velvet.

"Sorry," May said when Tanya reached the register.

"Your card's not going through." Seeing Tanya's stricken expression, she assured, "It's my machine, not your card. I took the number, and I'll complete the transaction later. I met you, and I've met your boss, so I know where to find you two if there's a problem."

The relief flooding Tanya was disproportionate to the situation. "Thank you," she managed. She had no idea what she'd have done if the sale hadn't gone through. Suddenly, she had to have the painting.

"TANYA, we're worried." Her mother's voice came over the answering machine, but Tanya barely heard. She was squinting at Shattered World, one of the pieces for her exhibit. All the works were of New York landscapes seen from unusual perspectives. To her right, the Empire State building was viewed as if in a fish-eye lens. To her left, was a huge black canvas in which the Jersey skyline could be seen in a tiny, off-center white dot. In Shattered World, a fractured skyline was connected by a fine stream of golden light. Light seemed to traverse the whole world of the painting, glowing like a halo.

He'd inspired the light.

She'd been lying in bed, staring at the duel, which she'd hung on the wall that faced her bed, when suddenly, the inspiration had come to her. Now, she was even more convinced the painting she'd bought was special.

"Dad is as worried as I," her mother was saying. "You know how he was hoping to see Brad, but it's been two months since you've brought him for dinner."

"We broke up," Tanya called to the machine.

"Come next week," her mother continued. "And why don't you get voice mail? Your father and I think you might have a machine so you can screen our calls, but we know you wouldn't do that to us."

"Lay on the guilt," Tanya said, stepping back from the canvas as her mother hung up. Yes...it was as if her whole internal world was shattered, but also touched by wild cords of energy and light.

Suddenly she smiled. Even now, she could feel his eyes on her back. Glancing over her shoulder, she sent her mystery admirer an inviting look. Since she was wearing only a half buttoned, paint-splotched smock over panties, she twitched her butt for good measure. She'd learned not to dress when she painted, since she always ruined what she wore. As it was, cobalt-blue streaked across her bare thigh.

Suddenly she frowned and tilted her head. Was someone downstairs? No...it was after hours, and the shop was closed. Wincing, she thought of the upcoming two weeks during which James was closing for vacation. She got creeped out when he left town. "James?" she yelled.

No answer. But something seemed...strange. Offkilter. As if someone else was here with her. She glanced around. Large by Manhattan standards, her upstairs space was identical in layout to the shop downstairs. Bathed in light from floor-to-ceiling windows, it had cinder-block walls and scarred wood floors. Her bed was in a corner she referred to as the bedroom. Nearby, a Chinese-inspired screen blocked a rack of clothes, obscuring the door leading downstairs, if she was lying in bed. A tiny room with the toilet was in another corner. In the final corner, was a shower stall with a glass door.

Glass...through which she kept feeling watched. Putting down her paintbrush, Tanya headed toward the picture. On impulse, she picked up an old Polaroid camera on the bedside table, snapped a picture of the painting, then chuckled softly, wondering what she was doing. "Are you still watching me?" she teased as the phone rang again.

The answering machine activated. "It's Izzie. Marlo and I want to know what's happened to you. You weren't at yoga. You weren't at dance class. What's his name?"

"Who knows?" Tanya said, smiling. She sidestepped, then danced in front of the picture, toying with a smock button.

"More likely than dating a real man, you're playing with all those sex toys we bought," Izzie teased. "If he is real, however, remember that girlfriends get all the dirty details. You'll be giving them to us tonight...since you haven't forgotten Marlo's anniversary dinner in an hour."

Dinner! Tanya never forgot events like this! It was a year since Marlo's divorce, so they were celebrating. Racing forward, she snatched the phone, but the line was dead. "Maybe everybody's right! I really am falling off the map! And it's your fault." She glared at the man in the painting as she unbuttoned the smock, let it fall to the floor, then shed her panties. The eyes followed her. She'd seen eyes like this in paintings before. But usually such paintings were of religious figures, and they just had a way of making her feel guilty.

Not so, this guy. Heat prickled her nape, and she damned Izzie for mentioning the toy chest at the foot of her bed. After Brad, Izzie and Marlo had insisted that Tanya buy toys to amuse herself, they'd spent an afternoon laughing, cruising novelty shops. Tanya had bought everything from body paints to ribbed, neon condoms and vibrators, all things she'd never use. The vibrating fingertips, however...

A moment later, the ten tiny sleeves were on her fingers, and when she switched on a wrist pack, each began vibrating gently. Her throat constricted as she traced the skin of her belly, keeping her eyes on the man. Had he been real? Or a figment of imagination? If he was real...what had he been like? Married? Single? What had he done for a living?

Shutting her eyes, she let her head drop back on her neck, working out stiffness and kinks, even though she knew this ridiculous indulgence was going to make her late for dinner. Her pulse quickened as she imagined his fingers touching her. Yes...she was in the picture with him now. He was her lover, and they were alone in the clearing. Already, he'd removed her clothes, and as she lay on her bed, she imagined he was urging her onto soft green grass and parting her legs.

Moments later, she was in ecstasy.

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