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Looking For Trouble
By Julie Leto
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRory Carmichael closed her eyes and tried to block the electric rush of excitement shooting through her bloodstream. By now she should have been accustomed to the tingle, the thrill, the unabashed seduction of learning a secret. The chance to find out something she shouldn't know enticed Rory's gaze away from the employment application in front of her to the enormous round table in the center of the Divine Events reception area.
And the book. The big red book.
What in those pages was so tempting? So irresistible? Every single person who'd crossed the glass-and-brass threshold of Divine Events hadn't been able to resist the allure. Rory had been in the eclectic, chic office of Chicago's up-and-coming leaders in the party-planning business for nearly thirty minutes, and in that time frame, at least four clients had wandered to the table and flipped open the book sitting beneath the floral arrangement. And unless Rory's imaginative and curious nature proved entirely overactive, they had each furtively torn out pages and stuffed them in pockets and purses.
Knowing she should be concentrating on filling out the employment papers that would soon make her a member of the Divine Events staff, Rory tried hard to tamp down her interest in the mysterious contents of the book.
So far, no luck.
A pretty blonde in blue jeans wandered nearer and nearer, seemingly just as drawn by the red leather-covered book. The grand flower arrangement beside it - a Grecian urn, overflowing with birds of paradise, hyacinth, hydrangea and greenery - should have been an overpowering focal point for the room. But as Rory sat at the receptionist's desk - the one she hoped would soon bear her nameplate - she couldn't miss how patron after patron ignored everything else - the wild flora, the crystal bowl of expensive chocolates and the stacks of photo albums chronicling the many successful parties, auctions and receptions planned and executed by Divine Events - in favor of the scarlet leather book.
Just what was in there?
"How's it going, Rory?"
Cecily Divine strode out of the kitchen behind her, a large mug of root beer clutched in one hand, a cell phone tucked against her ear, somewhere beneath her thick raven hair. One of three cousins who ran the business together, Cecily had immediately impressed Rory. She wanted to work for Cecily, learn from her and her two cousins, whom Rory had met briefly when she first arrived. Maybe she could pick up some tips on how to juggle a million things at one time. Heck, Rory would settle for learning how to ignore the book on the table, which neither Cecily nor her cousins seemed to notice any time they walked into the room, even when their clients seemed obsessed.
Cecily waved to the blonde near the reception table, who'd paused, frozen, her eyes wide and her hands still, as if peeking into the leather book constituted some sort of forbidden sin.
Rory sat up straighter, but still couldn't see a title, if the book had one. She swiveled to answer Cecily's question, but her would-be new boss had returned her attention to the phone. She watched Cecily maneuver the wrought-iron spiral staircase which led to the second floor offices, the acrylic heels of her thigh-high boots rapping music on the metal. The woman smiled down at Rory apologetically as she chatted with the client on the other end of the line.
Rory gave her a wave that meant, "Don't worry about me." She could fill out an application, particularly when the job promised to be the stuff of Rory's dreams. But she'd sure make more headway if she could sate her curiosity about that darned book.
The minute Cecily disappeared into her office, Rory heard the telltale rip of paper from the center of the room. The blonde had obviously succumbed to the same temptation as the other clients. Rory forced her gaze downward and managed to maintain her discretion for all of fifteen seconds. She really did have a problem with curiosity, though her great Aunt Lil called her affliction plain old nosiness. However, Rory knew her need-to-know tendencies kept her out of trouble more often than they lured her in. And of all the problems that had plagued the Carmichael women over the past two generations, a probing interest in other people's business was, comparatively speaking, a minor offense. And thanks to her intense curiosity, Rory knew the score of living on the edge, even if she never played the game herself.
She clutched the pen tighter in her hand. That was about to change.
When she looked up, the blonde had tucked the pilfered page into her handbag. Gia Divine, a statuesque brunette dressed in slim slacks and a cuffed button-down shirt, appeared on the balcony and beckoned her client up the stairs.
By the time Rory finished filling the application in with her new address, cell phone number, social security number and various other identifiers, Cecily had taken another important call - this one from the manager of a band she'd been trying for six weeks to book for a corporate shindig. She asked Rory to wait. Alone. In the lobby.
Rory tried to remain focused on acing her imminent interview, her final hurdle in her race toward gainful employment. But the stillness of the reception area, quiet except for the piped-in strains of jazz fusion floating over the air, forced Rory to revise that plan. First, she was going to find out what was in that book. Then, she'd complete the process for her job. Afterward, she'd head to State Street and give her wardrobe an update, even before she met her new landlord and moved into her apartment. If she intended to blend in with the chic surroundings, she'd need more than the T-shirts, jeans, conservative skirts and sweater sets she'd packed from home.
She grinned, satisfied with her plan. If there was one talent Rory was particularly proud of, it was her knack for compartmentalization and order. She set her priorities, then dealt with them one at a time - never needlessly worrying about one while she concentrated on the other. And right now, all she wanted was a peek at that book. And once Rory decided what she wanted, she rarely changed her mind.
Glancing at the switchboard on the desk, Rory verified that Cecily was still on the phone. In a dash, Rory scurried to the entrance. Seeing no one on the sidewalk who looked like they were coming inside, she hurried to the table and grabbed the scarlet book.
The leather cover revealed nothing. The book wasn't hardbound, but a large paperback, the size of a magazine and the thickness of an encyclopedia volume. The leather cover had been added afterward, apparently to cover the racy title, which Rory found by opening to the first page.
Sexcapades: Secret Games and Wild Adventures for Uninhibited Lovers.
Yum! Rory had heard about this book. In fact, she'd caught a quick glimpse of the publication while at a bridal shower, though she couldn't very well peruse it at her leisure since her Nanna had been sitting right next to her. Though twenty-five years old, Rory avoided any and all situations that made apparent her status as a mature, sensual woman - at least in front of her grandmother. Long before she'd hit puberty, she'd come to understand the importance of avoiding conflict or engendering distrust in this regard. She completely understood why her grandmother avoided any topic of a sexual nature around her granddaughter. She'd raised Rory's mother the best way she'd known how only to watch her become the school slut, get herself pregnant with twins at age sixteen, then abandon the babies three months later to run off with some old guy who eventually got her hooked on drugs until she overdosed. No wonder she was so strict with her granddaughters.
Excerpted from Looking For Trouble by Julie Leto Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.