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Packed With Pleasure
By Lori Wilde
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Red-velvet-lined handcuffs?"
"Crotchless crimson lace panties?"
"Cinnamon-scented massage oil?"
"Video camera and extra cassettes?"
"Check and double check."
"Plenty of condoms?"
Eden Montgomery clicked her tongue and shot her petite, purple-and-scarlet-haired assistant a chiding glance. "Ashley, I'm a professional. Of course I've included condoms."
"Hey," Ashley protested, waving a tattooed wrist.
"I'm just trying to keep you out of trouble."
"What do you mean?" Eden frowned. "Trouble?"
Ashley cleared her throat. "Well, I didn't really want to say anything because this was a rush order, but you do realize that you created this exact same gift basket a couple of months ago? Back then, I think you called it Seduction in Scarlet."
Eden stared at her assistant, and then shifted her gaze to the basket. A lump of dismay slid down her throat. Good grief, Ashley was right. The basket was identical to one she'd made for a famous Broadway actor's thirty-fifth birthday. Right down to the vermilion pashmina she'd used to line the basket.
"Don't look so stricken. Repeating yourself is no great tragedy, even if you do advertise your baskets as one-of-a-kind creations. Seriously, E., who's gonna know?"
"I'll know." Immediately, Eden began dismantling the basket, tossing items out across the counter. Her reputation was based on her word. She would not be guilty of false advertising.
"Look, you don't have time for a major overhaul. The customer is due to pick it up this afternoon."
"I don't care."
"What are you going to do instead?"
"I don't know." Eden looked at the demolished basket, the urge to cry surprising her with its intensity.
"Admit it, you have been rather frazzled for the past month or so," Ashley observed. "What you need is a good long vacation."
Frazzled wasn't the word for it. Lately, she had been well ... stagnant.
As the proprietor of Wickedly Wonderful, a tiny boutique in a trendy slice of Manhattan that specialized in erotic gift baskets for those uniquely seductive occasions such as honeymoons and anniversaries, Eden's business lived or died on the strength of her creativity. Unfortunately, her artistic fount had run dry.
She had slammed headlong into an invisible mental wall. She was blocked. Clogged. Bereft of an original concept.
The thrill was gone.
Think. Come on, Eden, you can do it. Come up with a fresh idea.
She couldn't really pinpoint when she'd started to lose intimacy with her work, but about five weeks ago, almost two years to the day after the tragic fiery accident that had led her to specializing in erotica, she'd noticed her concentration slipping. Before the fire she had operated a normal gift store, producing baskets for all occasion from holidays to bar mitzvahs to baby showers, but she'd had difficulty keeping the business solvent.
And then two things had happened. One, a regular client had asked her to design an erotic gift basket for her sister's honeymoon and, two, Eden's apartment building had caught fire.
She'd helped her elderly neighbor, Mrs. Grant, escape, but she'd then gone back into the building to help others. A burning ceiling beam had fallen, pinning her pelvis to the floor. Two burly members of the FDNY had arrived just in time to save her from succumbing to smoke inhalation. They hadn't, however, been able to stop her from receiving third-degree burns.
Eden briefly closed her eyes, sucked in her breath and grimaced at the remembered pain of the fateful night that had changed her life forever. Involuntarily, she splayed a palm across her lower abdomen.
"Is there something going on?" Ashley angled her head. The tiny hoop earring pierced through her left eyebrow caught the light and glinted gold. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"Not really," she denied. Usually people confided in her, not the other way around. She was more comfortable being the shoulder to cry on than the one revealing her feelings.
"Does it have anything to do with the fire?"
Eden shot her a look. Ashley was much more perceptive than most people gave her credit for. Her flibbertigibbet personality gave the impression of someone too mercurial for deep thoughts.
"Why would you suppose that?"
"Because every time you think about the fire you touch your scar."
Immediately, Eden jerked her hand from her abdomen. She'd had reconstructive surgery last summer and the scars were much less noticeable now. She needed to stop focusing on her wounds. Not so easy to do when the burns were indirectly related to her current creative slump.
Following the fire, a prominent newspaper had done a feature piece on her, lauding her as a hero. She'd felt awkward with the title and uncomfortable with the attention. She'd only done what anyone else would have done in the same situation.
A reporter and her cameraman had come to the shop and spied the sexy basket Eden had started concocting for her client, but hadn't completed before the fire put her out of commission. The reporter had honed in on that basket and enthusiastically touted Eden as the Renoir of erotic gift basket design.
After the article came out, Eden's phone had rung off the hook with orders. Business mushroomed. She renamed the store, changing it from Hildy's Hideaway to Wickedly Wonderful. Her financial woes vanished, but she had felt like a fraud. She knew next to nothing about the sexual adventures she created in her baskets beyond her own vivid imagination.
To counter her feelings of inadequacy, she'd studied every sex manual and erotic book she could lay her hands on. From the Kama Sutra to The Story of O. Her newly acquired but totally academic knowledge of sex, combined with her degree in art history from N.Y.U., had stimulated her efforts.
Excerpted from Packed With Pleasure by Lori Wilde Copyright ©2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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