Ever since Genevieve Terrence's mama had inherited a pair of Elvis's Jockey shorts, Genevieve had been a big believer in luck.
Luck could be good or bad. Granny Neville's luck had been bad when her plane had crashed, killing her dead. But good luck had come out of it when Elvis's Jockeys had passed to Mama, who had sold them for a pretty penny so that she, Genevieve, and Genevieve's little brother, Lincoln, could leave the Hollow and relocate to Hawaii.
Without that famous underwear, they'd all still be back in Tennessee scratching for a living. Instead they were in Honolulu scratching for a living, but at least Genevieve was working for Nick Brogan's company and hoping that Nick would ask her out. Genevieve didn't love sitting there typing boring invoices all day, but that put her in a position for another stroke of luck, an invitation from Nick.
Nick was a far cry from Clyde Loudermilk back in the Hollow, a red-faced boy who used to swat her on the backside and tell her she was built for breeding. Yes, Elvis's underwear had definitely led to progress for the Terrence family. Her brother Lincoln's hair was a different color every month or so, but at least he didn't have a chaw of tobacco stuck in his cheek like all his boy cousins back home. And her mama had a good number of clients at the beauty salon where she worked as a manicurist, well-kept women who were good tippers.
Life was moving in a positive direction. Genevieve's horoscope this morning had predicted the beginning of a romantic adventure, which was the kind of horoscope she loved to read. It might mean Nick would finally ask her out today. Thinking of that prediction, she anticipated his arrival in the office with more eagerness than usual.
The minute he set foot inside the door, she could smell him coming. Nobody else at Rainbow Software Systems slapped on that purely sinful, strip-naked-for-me aftershave. Nobody else would dare. They couldn't begin to strut in the same bamyard with the likes of Nick Brogan.
She lost her place on the keyboard and &^%$#(? popped up on the screen. She hit the delete key and hoped he hadn't noticed. Lately Nick had formed the habit of coming up behind her and standing very close to her chair, which she took as a sign of interest. She was definitely looking for signs of interest. Nick might not realize it yet, but he needed her in his life.
Because it suited her goal, she didn't begrudge him a peek down her blouse, either, although her mama would throw a hissy fit if she knew he did that. Mama would claim sexual harassment for sure, but it wasn't, not with Nick. Nick didn't have to harass anybody.
He was gorgeous, rich, and single. And wounded. Not anywhere you could see, but deep in his soul. Once she'd been lucky enough to catch his partner, Matt, in a mood to share confidences, and Matt had told her Nick was an orphan who'd had a rough childhood, so he didn't trust people.
Once she'd learned that crucial piece of information, she could see the lost expression in Nick's brown eyes from time to time. Because she knew what it was like to grow up poor and insecure, she was just the woman to fill the empty place in his heart. Besides, he was a Leo and she was a Gemini. They'd fit together like grits and gravy.
But first she had to get herself invited on one of his business trips to Maui, the kind where he flew the company plane and took one of the secretaries with him, always cautioning her they'd have to stay overnight because the meeting would run late. He had a bad reputation for spending the night with these women and then dropping them the minute they got back to Honolulu the next day. A couple of secretaries had actually quit over it.
Out of the six who currently worked in the business office of Rainbow Systems, two of the rejected ones were still there. They'd both warned the other four not to go to Maui with Nick, because he only wanted a one-night stand.
Genevieve knew that's how Nick's plans would start out, but she intended to break his pattern. She'd felt her chance coming for the past couple of weeks, and she wasn't about to ruin it. But when he stood right behind her chair, he could read her computer screen and see that he made her so nervous she couldn't type straight.
Nervous wasn't how she wanted him to see her. Nervous could get her into trouble, and in no time she'd be sounding like all her relatives back in Tennessee, twanging away like she belonged on the stage at the Grand Ole Opry.
Nobody in this office knew about her roots, and she intended to keep it that way. Savvy, sophisticated, and sexy was what she was going for.
"That's a nice color on you, Genevieve," he said.
"Why, Nick!" Congratulating herself on wearing the peacock blue blouse that brought out the color of her eyes, she turned, as if totally surprised to discover him there. The back of her chair brushed his crotch, which she didn't think was all bad.
She glanced up at him, careful not to oversmile. Her little brother, Lincoln, told her she had a mouth big as a Mason jar, which was an exaggeration, but she did have a wide mouth and had to be careful not to overdo the smiling. "I didn't even realize you were standing there." Thank the sweet Lord she hadn't twanged once.
"Hope I didn't startle you."
Not possible, she thought, admiring that adorable cleft in his chin. She always knew the minute Nick appeared. He could no more startle her than a hog could lay eggs. "Only a little," she said. "Is there something I can help you with?" He was such a pleasure to look at. Mama would think so, too, once she got a gander at him. He was the spitting image of Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby, Mama's favorite movie. He had the same thick brown hair and irresistible smile.
He used that smile on her now. "As a matter of fact, I do need a favor. I desperately need someone to fly over to Maui with me tomorrow and take notes during a meeting. It'll probably go late, so we'll plan to come back the next morning. I checked with Matt and he said we could spare you for a couple of days."
Praise the Lord and pass the black-eyed peas! If there was ever a time she felt like oversmiling, this was it. At last she was the chosen one. The office grew very quiet, and she realized that all five women in the room were waiting for her answer. She knew they wouldn't like it when she said yes, but that couldn't be helped.
Still, she didn't want to seem too eager, or too available. "Actually I had dinner plans tomorrow night."
From across the room, Sue gave her a thumbs-up.
Nick scowled, though, his eyes darkening like the sky before a gully washer.
His scowl was as sexy as his smile. She loved the way he wore a dress shirt with no tie, and the top couple of buttons undone to show off his tan. "But maybe I can change my plans," she said. From the muffled groans, she knew she'd lost the admiration of all five women as they went back to their typing.
Yet Nick was suddenly bright and cheerful, which made her feel good. His cheerfulness might be all about sex right now, but sex was a starting point with most men, anyway. Soon he'd discover that he'd found the right woman, at last.
"I'd appreciate that," he said. "When can you let me know?"
She glanced at the digital clock in the corner of her computer screen. "Before lunch, I'm sure."
"Oh, hey, Nick!" Jackson Farley, one of the company's top programmers, hurried over to Genevieve's desk. As usual, Jackson was loaded down with his laptop and a notebook overflowing with computer printouts. On top of that he was juggling a styrofoam cup of coffee.
Genevieve sighed. Obviously her fashion hints had fallen on deaf ears. Poor Jackson looked like her cousin Harley after a three-day toot. His eyes were red, his glasses smudged, and his dark hair stood out in sixty-eleven directions. To make matters worse, he'd decked himself out in a sweet potato-orange plaid shirt and pants the color of a rotten eggplant. Because he was tall, there was a lot of orange plaid and a lot of rotten purple, and all of it was wrinkled.
People said Jackson was a genius. She'd heard other programmers call him a certified "engine god," whatever that meant. Nobody seemed to care what he looked like so long as he continued creating brilliant software that kept the company riding high on the stock market. But Genevieve cared. He'd never get a girlfriend dressed like that. Jackson Farley desperately needed a girlfriend, if for no other reason than to help pick out his clothes.
"I hear you're flying over to Maui tomorrow," Jackson said. He pushed up his glasses with the hand holding the coffee and sloshed some of it over the rim onto his thumb. "Ouch." He licked at his thumb. "Damn, that's hot."
"Put mustard on it," Genevieve said.
Jackson looked at her. "Really? You mean like regular mustard?"
"Yes. Regular mustard." She'd always been sensitive to other people's injuries, and she could almost feel the sting of the burn. "And go do it soon. It'll take the pain away and you won't blister."
"Thanks. I'll try it. I'm sure I have some mustard packets in my desk."
Genevieve nodded. "I'm sure you do." The man saved everything, and it was all jammed into his desk, sort of like Uncle Rufus's shed back in Tennessee. Uncle Rufus could have a dead body in that shed and nobody would know the difference.
Jackson turned to Nick. "So you are going to Maui, right?"
"Matt wants me to go with you."
Disappointment spilled all over Genevieve's shiny new prospects. Talk about unfair. Every other secretary who'd gone with Nick to Maui had flown over there alone with him. Just her luck that when it was her turn, Jackson Farley was going to tag along. It would be like taking her brother, Lincoln.
Nick didn't seem any happier about having Jackson along than she was. "What for?" Nick asked somewhat ungraciously.
"Aloha Pineapple is still having trouble with the new software. Henderson's gone over, and Mitchell, but neither one of them has been able to straighten things out. Considering they're such a big client, Matt thinks I should go take care of it."
"Seems like a damned waste of your time," Nick said. "Does Matt know I wasn't coming back until Friday morning?"
"Yeah. He booked me a room at the hotel, too. It's no problem if I have some time on my hands. I'll take my laptop and get some work done."
Genevieve studied good old Jackson and wondered if she could possibly spend the night in Nick's room and not have Jackson find out. Or if he did find out, if she'd be able to explain that she wasn't going to be just another one of Nick's chickie-babes.
But she needed to be alone with Nick to give it her best shot, and here was Jackson Farley to throw a bucket of molasses into the works. She could tell from Nick's body language that he didn't want to take Jackson to Maui, but he really had no choice. He couldn't very well say no because he'd been planning a roll in the hay with one of the company secretaries.
"I want to be in the air by eight," Nick said. "Oh, and Genevieve's coming with me, to take notes at the meeting," he added casually.
Jackson didn't blink an eye, so apparently he already knew about that. He just glanced at her, his expression smooth as porridge. "Yeah, Matt mentioned she was going," he said. "No problem."
He might seem okay with it, but she knew what he was probably thinking. She felt a blush coming on. Tarnation.
Having Jackson think poorly of her bothered her more than she wanted it to. Who was he, anyway? A genius in terrible clothes. "Go find your packet of mustard," she said, "before that thumb blisters up on you." She winced at her choice of words. Blisters up on you was something her aunt Maizie would say.
"Okay, I'll do that. See you in the morning." Jackson ambled off. The tail of his shirt had come untucked from his slacks, which was a constant problem for Jackson because he was at least six-six and regular shirts weren't long enough for him.
Genevieve felt herself becoming more irritated looking at that shirttail hanging out. There were stores that sold extra-long sizes, if Jackson would only take the time to investigate. He could even shop online and not have to leave his precious computer. She felt the urge to erase any lingering effects from that blisters up on you remark. "Hasn't Jackson ever heard of Eddie Bauer?" she muttered.
Nick laughed. "Don't worry about Farley."
She glanced up at Nick. The way he'd said it, he seemed to be implying that he could work around Jackson during their time on Maui. And he probably could. This was one smooth guy. Sexual excitement curled in her stomach. "Okay, I won't."
"I'll pick you up at seven-thirty," he said. "Assuming you can go." His expression told her he knew she would go.
She lowered her voice. "You wouldn't take off without Jackson, would you?" She didn't want Jackson to go, but she didn't want to leave him standing alone on the tarmac, either.
Nick leaned both hands on her desk, which brought his face very close to hers. "No, but you know Farley. Absentminded as they come and perennially late. I'll bet you a bottle of Dom Perignon that he doesn't make it on time." He smiled at her. "And I am lifting off at eight."
She nearly passed out from the sexy curve of that smile and the lickable shape of his earlobe. Oh, well. Jackson would have to fend for himself. "Aye, aye, Captain," she murmured.
"Mama, will you please do my nails? You know how important this is."
Annabelle looked at her daughter sitting across the kitchen table. All mothers thought their daughters were beautiful, she supposed, but Genevieve really was prettier than a speckled pup, as Maizie would say. She'd inherited her father's eyes, a combination of blue and green that had been the primary reason Genevieve had been conceived. Her hair was the taffy color of moonshine whiskey and she had the good sense to leave it alone--a simple cut that brushed her shoulders. No perm or fake highlights to ruin what the good Lord had seen fit to give her.
From the Paperback edition.