Jess Brannen adores practical jokes, which is why she and her friends plan a raucous bachelorette party at a male strip club in Atlantic City for an unsuspecting bride-to-be. But the next morning, the joke is on Jess: She wakes up next to Nick Mikaris, the renowned architect who she had hoped would hire her landscaping company. An intense night of passion is not the sort of pitch meeting she had in mind.
Nick Mikaris isn’t one to mix business with pleasure, but he’s willing to make an exception in Jess’s case. Nick is tempted by Jess’s work proposal—and by the captivating woman herself. Touching Jess is delicious and addictive, but she seems determined to ignore the undeniable attraction between them. Now Nick, ever the practical architect, must convince Jess that they have what it takes to design a long and lasting life together.
Includes a special message from the editor, as well as excerpts from these Loveswept titles: The Reluctant Countess, Wild Rain, and Silk on the Skin.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
What a shame he was gay.
Even the driving music, the high-pitched hysterical laughter, the roving spotlights couldn’t distract Jess Brannen. Her gaze was riveted to the tall man standing near the doors of the banquet room. He was glaring at the young male dancer, aptly named Adonis, who was slowly peeling off his shirt to the screams of enthusiastic women. The lines of the man’s mouth became even grimmer when the stripper, hips gyrating rhythmically, tossed the shirt onto one of the tables. Five women pounced on it, literally ripping it to shreds as each grappled for a souvenir.
From her place near the back of the room, Jess carefully watched for a reaction. His arms were folded across his chest, and she could see his body stiffen, the muscles of his jaw tighten.
His stony expression triggered a memory, and she realized she’d seen this man before. Immediately, she shifted so she no longer had a clear view of him. She prayed the same was true for him.
Although she’d never met Nick Mikaris, fastest-rising builder in the Philadelphia area, she had seen his picture in the business section of the newspaper several weeks ago. She had a meeting with Mikaris Tuesday morning to discuss her firm’s doing the landscaping for his latest project, MeadowHill, and she didn’t want him to recognize her as a spectator at a male strip show. Businesspeople could be very quirky about something like that.
But if it was Mikaris, why was he here?
Maybe she was worried for nothing, she thought. Maybe it wasn’t he, just someone who looked like the picture. Photos could be deceiving. She decided to risk a peek.
It was he.
It was the same set of the jaw, but the picture didn’t begin to do him justice. Although his features were too sharp for him to be truly handsome, he gave off an air of potent virility. She judged him to be about six feet in height. He was lean, with dark hair brushed back from his forehead. His simple pullover and gray slacks revealed the well-toned muscles of his body. He was a very attractive man—and definitely possessive of the dancer.
Suddenly Mikaris turned his head, and she found herself staring directly into his eyes. Even from twenty feet away, she could easily feel his gaze rake her. Her blood flowed hot and thick in blinding response, and her breasts ached almost painfully. Molten sensations swirled around her belly and thighs.
With a mighty effort, Jess ducked her head. She immediately took a huge gulp of her drink, but the chilled Bahama Mama didn’t help. Her face was flushed with embarrassment, and she groaned to herself. Of all the idiotic things to do! She hoped he hadn’t had a good enough look at her to actually identify her. To insure he wouldn’t, she planned to look entirely different for the meeting—exactly like a businesswoman who would be shocked at the very idea of attending a show like this one. If only she hadn’t been so intrigued by him in the first place.…
She must be drunk, she decided, frowning at her glass. It was only her second drink, and the fruity concoction was supposed to be fairly innocent. But the combination of the drinks, little dinner, and total exhaustion was making her silly. Her movements did seem awkward, and her head was too heavy for her neck. That was it, she thought in relief. She was just a little bit tipsy. Maybe more than a little, she conceded. But that explained her unusual reaction to the man.
“Jess! He’s at our table!” Although her best friend, Sandy Fitzgerald, was literally rubbing shoulders with her, Sandy had to shout over the din.
In a panic, Jess looked around, then shivered with relief when she saw Sandy meant the dancer, Adonis. He was performing directly in front of reserved, elegant Gwen. Laughter overtook Jess when Gwen pulled the linen tablecloth over her head. Gwen was taking Sandy’s practical joke well, Jess thought.
The five women, Sandy, Gwen, Adele, Miranda, and herself, had been close friends since they’d attended Bryn Mawr College together, and every year one of the group played a practical joke on another. This time Gwen had been Sandy’s victim. Dinner and gambling in Atlantic City had actually been a “Ladies’ Night” show at the Breakers Casino/Hotel—the very last thing Philadelphia socialite Gwen Halloran would ever attend. This joke had been perfect and diabolical in its simplicity, Jess thought, and Gwen had been truly caught. Although they had all been shocked initially by the male strippers, they had soon relaxed and begun enjoying themselves, even laughing at the men’s outrageousness. It was innocent fun, Jess decided, wiping the tears from her eyes.
Adonis moved closer to her, and her mirth immediately subsided. But the dancer settled on Sandy for his next private audience, and she started to relax.…
Her entire body froze when the good-looking dancer turned to her. He gave her a lazy smile, while his hips began to circle slowly. She hadn’t realized how tiny his G-string was. The damn thing was almost nonexistent!
“Oh, no!” she moaned, and buried her face in her hands.
“Stop being a prude, Jess!” Sandy shouted in her ear.
“I’m not!” Jess lied, laughing with good-natured humiliation.
She turned to her friend and spread her fingers wide so she could see perfectly. Sandy burst into laughter. Jess didn’t turn back to the dancer, however. One look had been more than enough.
But Adonis moved closer until he was actually bumping her chair. She instantly closed her fingers together and wished the floor would open up and swallow her. She had to get rid of him.
Snatching up her purse, she grabbed the first bill her fingers touched and shoved it at the dancer. It was a twenty.
Sandy leaned forward and asked dryly, “Would you like change?”
“A Brannen doesn’t wait for change, darling,” Jess drawled in her best Bryn Mawr voice. She didn’t have a smaller bill, and even if she had, she’d be damned before she’d hunt for it.
Adonis kissed her on the cheek and danced away.
“We’re blowing our conservative image to Hades!” Gwen shouted, finally emerging from the tablecloth. Her carefully styled hair wasn’t even mussed.
“You are,” Jess screamed over the pounding music. “I have to keep up the family image of eccentricity!”
Jess waved her hand. Her throat was already raw, and it would never carry past three people. She watched Gwen nod in understanding about the noise level. Anyway, Gwen already knew what Philadelphia’s first families thought of Jessica Brannen. All the Brannens were noted for flaunting convention upon occasion. Still, her career as a landscaper raised more eyebrows than usual. Why it should, she didn’t know. Doing what she liked and had a talent for made a lot more sense than working at some job she hated.
She chuckled to herself. People might frown, but it didn’t stop them from asking her to landscape their properties.
Suddenly, she felt as if someone were staring at her, and glanced toward the doors. Mikaris whirled on his heel and left the room.
Jess sighed. She hoped she wouldn’t pay for this night out.
And in more ways than one.