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Just Kiss Me
By Kathleen O'Reilly
Harlequin EnterprisesCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBackmeuponthis, please!
Joe Barrington refocused on the tiny letters that were precisely inked into the cocktail napkin, working to scramble the letters into a happier meaning.
Well, she'd actually done it. After twenty-one years of fighting her own battle in futility, she had decided to ask for his help. He should tell her no.
His mouth even formed the words, but when Joe looked up and stared into the fathomless blue eyes of Amanda Sedgewick, he knew he was as perfectly cooked as the Manhattan restaurant's world famous pâté de foie gras. Damn. Well, he wouldn't go down without a fight. "No," he mouthed the words. He shook his head, just in case she missed what he was saying.
"Please." Amanda mouthed back him, shooting one of those helpless female looks that under different circumstances might have worked wonders on him.
However, he'd never been one of those knights who rode around saving damsels in distress. Nope. Not even close. There were chinks in his armor. Big chinks. Huge chinks.
With a heavy sigh, he stared across the pristine tablecloth at the proud visage of Dr. Avery Barrington, III, his big brother, who was currently studying the wine list like it was the Wall Street Journal. And there sat Joe's biggest chink.
Avery. Thewhole world revolved around Avery. Before Avery had reached the advanced age of eight, he had mapped out his entire future. Mainly because in elementary school, life really sucked for guys named Avery. First, he was going to become a doctor in order to get rich just to spite those bullies who picked on the Averys of the world. And second, to further their torment, he was equally determined to marry the most beautiful girl at Neil Armstrong Elementary, who just happened to be - Amanda.
It was a simple plan, and Joe applauded his brother's single-minded pursuit of his goals. He'd achieved them all. Avery was a wealthy plastic surgeon, the bullies from grade school were gas attendants with beer bellies, he graduated at the top of his class from Columbia, he drove a German car, but for Avery there was still one big fly stuck in the soup.
Amanda. The last time Joe had seen her was Avery's high school graduation. Tonight he had been surprised to see she had developed a maturity that had been missing before. She was still gorgeous, but now there was a confidence in the way she held herself and the way she talked. Just like Avery.
Which brought Joe right back to the plea for help on the cocktail napkin. Well, whatever she wanted him to back her up on, it wasn't going to happen. Joe firmly believed that Avery's love life, sterile and lifeless as it was, was none of his business.
"Not my problem." Joe stated his case categorically, meeting her eyes so there was no misunderstanding. For twenty-one years he had stayed out of the whole thing, listening to Avery rhapsodize about Amanda's porcelain-like features, and thinking yeah, she was okay if you liked cool blondes with impeccable fashion sense.
But Joe liked his women with fire in their blood and sin in their eyes. He smiled, fondly reminiscing about his last date. Sometimes it was hard to believe he and Avery shared the same genes. Maybe they didn't. It would explain a lot. Why Joe hadn't got into St. Alban's preparatory school, when Avery had. Why Avery wanted to make people well, and Joe just wanted to be around planes.
The wine steward came to the table and wisely, Joe and Amanda let Avery make the selection. Amanda shot Joe another meaningful look. "Please," she mouthed again. Then she lifted her palms, a suffering angel. Right.
Avery placed the order, and then turned back to Joe. "What were you saying?"
"I was telling Amanda that, no, I'm not going to do anything with her cocktail napkin. Thanks very much for offering." He passed the white paper back to her, wondering why she had even agreed to go out to dinner with Avery in the first place and even more mysteriously, why she had wanted Joe to come along.
Amanda smiled politely, took the napkin in her perfectly manicured hands and sat her water glass down top of it. Amanda never gave anything away. She was the perfect complement for his brother, the liberal sophisticate.
Everything except that mouth. In a face composed of high cheekbones and unblinking eyes, her mouth was wild and wicked. Full, red lips that curled up slightly at the corners, as if she had a secret and you knew that no matter how you tried, you'd never discover it.
Joe knew Amanda had secrets, that there was a hidden piece of her that she never showed, and he didn't know whether it was the poised exterior or the promise of that mouth that inspired his brother.
But that was none of his business. Finally, she raised one eyebrow, a challenge. Then she turned to Avery, and brushed her hair back on her shoulders. Very smooth. Of course, Amanda was a lawyer, and she knew all the moves. "It's not going to work," she said.
Huh? Amanda picked up her glass of wine and watched Joe, her mouth curving ever so slightly. He shifted, not liking that provocative smile blasting in his direction. She turned to Avery. "It's time I was honest with you."
About time. And that sounded like his cue to leave. Joe stood. "Excuse me. I'm sure you two need a little privacy. I'll just take a train home."
"No!" All traces of steel vanished from her voice, her blue eyes soft and pleading. Avery heaved a theatrical sigh.
Surely she didn't expect Joe to stick around while she had The Talk with his brother? Not that Joe thought it would do a bit of good. Avery would never give up. He could bulldoze the entire third world if he put his mind to it, and Joe gave Amanda high marks for managing to escape un-dozed. So far.
"I think we need to tell your brother this together."
We? There it was again. The whispered tone, that intimate look. Like lovers. A guy could get really used to that look.
And then it all clicked. Joe. Amanda. Lovers. Holy Cow.
"Uh, no, I don't think so," he answered, every cell in his body flashing red-alert. There were some cells that were flashing more enthusiastically than others, and Joe shifted uncomfortably. He tried for a paternally disapproving voice. "You should have talked to me before you decided to bring this up."
And still she stared at him, and he almost forgot his good intentions. He almost forgot Avery. Which was a hard thing to do.
Excerpted from Just Kiss Me by Kathleen O'Reilly Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.