Harlequin Mills & Boon Sexy ~ June 2012 (Australia/NZ)
Harlequin Presents Extra ~ TBA (USA)
When Emma walks into Jake's strip club to deliver the best man's suit for her sister's wedding, he can't resist teasing her just a little. Emma's always been way too serious; she needs some fun times and he's going to be the man to show her.
Emma likes her life without relationship complications. But after a couple of steamy kisses with her high school crush, she can't say no to Jake's tempting suggestion that they explore their attraction over the upcoming wedding weekend.
Jake always steers clear of commitment but Emma is proving an irresistible distraction. As he encourages her to develop her soap making hobby into a viable online business he finds himself wanting more than the weekend fling they'd agreed to.
Emma Byrne refused to give in to the nerves zapping beneath her rib-cage like hysterical wasps. She was a sophisticated city girl, she wasn't afraid of walking into a third-rate strip club. Alone.
But she paused on the footpath in King's Cross, Sydney's famous night club district and wracked her brain for an alternative solution as she eyed the bruiser of a bouncer propped against the tacky-looking entrance.
Six p.m. on a balmy autumn Monday evening and the Pink Mango was already open for business. Sleazy business. She gulped down the insane urge to laugh - she'd been naïve enough to think the Pink Mango was an all-night deli.
But she'd promised her sister she'd deliver the best man's suit to Jake Carmody, and she would. She could.
Pushing the biggest sunglasses she'd found in her glove box further up her nose, she slung her handbag and the plastic suit bag over one stiff shoulder and marched inside. The sound system's get-your-gear-off bump and grind slithered through hidden speakers. The place smelled like beer and cheap cologne and smut. Her nostrils flared in distaste as she drew in a reluctant breath.
Her steps faltered as a zillion eyes seemed to look her way. You're imagining it, she told herself. Who'd give you a second glance in a dive like this? Especially given her knee-length buttoned-up red trench coat, knee-high boots and leather gloves, all of which she'd left on the back seat of her car since last winter. Which, when she thought about it, could very well be the reason she was garnering more than a few stares…
Better safe than sorry. Thank heavens for untidy cars and a convenient parking spot.
Ignoring the curious eyes, she turned her attention to the décor instead. The interior was even tackier than the outside. Cheap lolly pink and gold and black. The chairs and couches were covered in a dirty-looking fuchsia animal print. A revolving disco ball spewed gaudy colours over the circulating topless waitresses with smiles as fake as their boobs.
At least they had boobs.
Most of the early evening punters were lounging around a raised oval stage leering over their drinks at a lone dancer wearing nothing but a fuzzy gold string and making love to a brass pole. A hooded cobra was tattooed on one firm butt cheek.
Far out. Yet despite herself, Emma couldn't seem to tear her fascinated gaze away. What men like… She'd never have that voluptuousness, nor the chutzpah to carry it off.
Maybe that was the reason Wayne had called it quits.
Shaking off the self-doubt, she blew out a deep slow breath and turned away from the entertainment. Just what she didn't need right now. A reminder of her physical inadequacies.
I don't care if you and Ryan are getting married next weekend, little sister, you owe me big time..
"I've got an appointment to get my nails done," Stella had told her with more than a touch of pre-wedding desperation in her voice. "Ryan's in Melbourne for a conference till tomorrow and you don't have anything special on tonight do you?"
Stella knew Emma had no social life whatsoever since the breakup with Wayne. Of course she'd be free. Wouldn't have mattered if she wasn't. As the maid of honour, how could she refuse? But a strip joint had not been part of the deal.
A man in an open shirt with a thick gold chain over an obscene mat of greying chest hair watched her from behind a desk nearby. His flat penetrating gaze - as if he was imagining her naked and finding her not up to par - made her stomach heave. A bead of sweat trickled down her back - it was stifling inside this coat.
But he seemed to be the obvious person to speak to, so she moved quickly. She straightened her spine and forced herself to look him in the eyes. Not easy when those eyes were staring at her chest.
But before she got a word out, he twirled one fat finger and said, "If you've come about the job, take off that coat and show us what you've got."
The hairs on the back of her neck prickled and appalled, she tightened her belt. "I beg your pardon? I'm n-"
"You won't need a costume here, darlin'," he drawled, eyeing the garment bag over her shoulder. "We're one down tonight so you can start on the tables. Cherry'll show you. Oi, Cherry!" His smoke-scratched voice blasted through the thick air.
Emma cringed as people looked their way, glad of her dark glasses. She summoned her frostiest tone. "I'm here to speak to Jake Carmody."
He shook his head. "Won't make a scrap of difference, y'know. Seen plenty just like you pass through the door hiding behind a disguise, expecting to make a quick buck on the side."
"Excuse me? Just tell me where I can find Mr Carmody so I can finish my business with him and be out of here."
Those pale flat eyes checked her out some more as a woman approached toting a tray of drinks. She was wearing eighties gold hot pants and a transparent black blouse. Beneath her makeup Emma saw that she looked drawn and tired and felt a stirring of sympathy. She knew all about working jobs out of sheer necessity, and was grateful she'd never been quite so desperate.
"Lady here wants to see the boss. Know where he is?"
The boss? "There must be some mistake…" Emma trailed off. His PA had told her she'd find him at this address, but…the boss?