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One rule has always worked for Elias Joss: keep your rivals close but not too close. He didn't bring his family's construction company to new heights and incredible success by being naive. The only way he survived his playboy father's indiscretions was by learning to be careful and guarded. With his life all about work, there's just no room ...
One rule has always worked for Elias Joss: keep your rivals close but not too close. He didn't bring his family's construction company to new heights and incredible success by being naive. The only way he survived his playboy father's indiscretions was by learning to be careful and guarded. With his life all about work, there's just no room for play—especially when it comes to a certain too-tempting siren.
Nightclub owner Clarissa David is downright shocked to be attracted to Elias. Especially since their families share a scandalous past. Still, desire this strong can't be denied. Can Clarissa show him that the ruthless rules of business should never apply to love?
"I'm on my way
yes, yes. I promise I'll be there soon. What? Yes, yes, Terence was on time." Clarissa David spoke firmly yet softly into her phone's tiny receiver. Glancing toward the front of the town car, she sent a playful wave to the chauffeur who was enjoying a laugh over the conversation.
"You tell Terry not to take any of those back roads he likes to use." The female voice through the phone line was a stern one, but it was laced with a husky undercurrent, which brought a sensual element to the woman's tone.
"Auntie, I promise Terence is running all kinds of lights to get me there."
"You tell him to be careful, you hear?"
Clarissa's lashes settled down over her eyes as she winced, at once regretting the attempt at humor. "I was only teasing. He's being very careful." That time, Clarissa merely shook her head in Terence's direction.
The makings of a frown began to nudge the arch of Clarissa's brows. Of course she was used to her aunt's protective nature but even this was a bit much.
"Aunt Jaz, can't you at least give me a hint of what you need to talk about?" Clarissa worked hard to keep the frustration out of her voice.
"No, I can't!" Jazmina Beaumont's clipped phrase was punctuated by a low sigh. "Baby, no, I can't. I'm already taking a chance with having Terry bring you out here to see me about this."
"You know I'm starting to worry, right?" Clarissa's question harbored the same clipped tone Jaz had used earlier.
"Oh, don't do that. I promise you I'm not losin' my last bit of sense just yet but this ain't somethin' I want to talk about over the phone. Now stop asking questions and just get here."
"All right Auntie, all right. Calm down and I'll be there soon."
Jazmina expressed another low sigh. "I love you, baby."
The connection ended before Clarissa could return the sentiment. Regrettably, she didn't have long to mull over the particulars of the conversation. Terence was announcing their arrival just outside Philadelphia, at the stop Clarissa had asked him to make en route to her aunt's home.
"Terry, has Aunt J seemed short-tempered lately?" Clarissa asked absently while tucking her phone back into the beige leather tote she carried.
Terence Egerton laughed, the robust sound filling the car's spacious dark cabin. "You mean more short-tempered than she usually is?"
"Yeah." Clarissa's agreement carried on a gust of abrupt laughter. "She didn't sound quite like herself just now, though."
"Probably the usual mess. Maybe a little more of it." Terence drew to a halt, flashing the high beams to instruct a car facing him to go ahead with its left turn. "You know she's about to start that construction for the remodeling and then she's got them nosy committee people houndin' her about that award," he said.
Clarissa's laughter sounded more genuine. "You sound just like her!"
Terence scrunched his nose. "Now why am I not sure that's a compliment?"
Clarissa continued to laugh.
"So what lucky lady you planning on taking to the Reed House Jazz Supper in November?"
Elias Joss stood working his thumb against his palm in deep circular motions. "Looks like I'll be goin' alone since my date stood me up," he told his tailor.
Stanford Crothers chuckled while taking the measurements of Elias's inseam. "You sound put out over it." His observation carried a teasing element.
Elias couldn't help his grin. "It's not a boost to a man's ego to be stood up by his own mother." He managed to fake an agitated tone.
"Never took you for a mama's boy, kid."
"Stan, I swear, if you keep on rubbin' this in—"
"What? You'll tell her to turn me down, too?"
Elias laughed long and loudly with the man who would be escorting his mother to the annual dinner for the organization that benefitted Philadelphia's elderly.
"So has Lilia been talkin' about our date?" Stanford queried. He was seated on a stool where he worked on the cuffs of the trousers. At Eli's laughter rising again, the man gave a slow shake of his head which was covered by a neat salt-and-pepper afro. "So much hate," Stan groaned. "I won't force you to admit your mama's got herself a real catch."
"Whew." Eli feigned relief. "Yeah, Stan, thanks for not makin' me admit that."
"Sure thing, 'cause it's so sad when a younger man has to admit he don't have what it takes."
"I swear." Eli rolled his eyes and pretended to be at his limit with Stan's needling. "Having a suit made just isn't the pampering experience that it once was."
"Aah, kid, there's always the rack," Stan sang.
"Or another tailor," Eli playfully threatened.
"They'd never find the body."
The phone interrupted the laughter between the two men when its ringing emerged from somewhere in the depths of the downtown shop.
"Saved by the bell," Eli cheered.
"Watch those pins," Stan cautioned, pressing his hands to his thighs and pushing himself from the stool.
"Be back in a jiff."
Elias stepped down from the raised platform and padded around the room in his socks. Cloth swatches were pinned to the suit pattern adorning his tall, broad frame. Left on his own, he was soon at work with his phone—checking the emails and texts that had come through during the forty-five minutes of the tailoring appointment.
Elias was perusing his missed messages when the sound of humming wafted down from the wrought iron staircase that snaked into Stan's parlor from the sales floor of Crothers's Apparel and Alterations.
At first, Eli only idly listened to the vaguely familiar tune. He was still pretty involved with the phone. As the volume of the humming rose however, his attention veered toward the direction of the sound.
When a dainty pair of tan platform pumps appeared on the landing of the stairwell and Eli caught sight of the legs they were attached to, the phone was forgotten.
Slowly, he strolled closer. Sadly, further insight on the owner of the shapely stems was thwarted by the overhang of the wall.
The humming quieted. "Stan?"
Elias stepped back from the staircase and waited.
Eli heard her call out again, watching as she made her way into the tailoring parlor.
He heard the soft call once more as she took the last step down. Elias Joss's greenish-blue eyes gazed at the woman who left the stairs as though she were taking a light stroll. Her unhurried steps echoed faintly on the parlor's walnut flooring while she angled her head in an array of poses during her search for the proprietor.
Elias didn't bother to make his presence known. No doubt she would notice him soon. It had never been easy for him to blend into the shadows, so he had never tried.
Besides, Eli thought, the woman in his line of sight clearly had her mind set on seeking out Stan. Her steps picked up trace amounts of speed and sound as she searched around corners and the tall racks of clothing cluttering the fitting room.
Elias appreciated her preoccupation, for it allowed him the chance to observe her unaware. The phone vibrated once in his hand to signal a new text or email coming through. It was promptly ignored.
Using one word to describe Elias Joss, it would have to have been workaholic. Elias smiled at the familiar dig his partners never failed to sing in his presence. They knew him well enough, however, to agree that work always took a backseat when the opportunity arose to conduct an appraisal of the feminine form.
And this one certainly demanded a closer, longer look Elias decided. His uncommon gaze surveyed the abundant curves beneath the provocatively cut dress gloving the woman's Coke-bottle frame. Elias found himself appreciating the day's forecast. The chill of autumn had not yet set in and many were enjoying the unseasonable warmth of the climate.
The dress on Stanford's appealing visitor was appropriate enough for business wear yet Eli surmised that the woman in his midst couldn't have managed strictly business wear if she tried. Her body simply would not allow for that.
She wasn't quite short enough to be classed as such. He seriously wondered if the fullness of her ample bottom and bustline would even allow her to shop in the petite section. Elias cleared his throat to mask a softer, more basic sound which was gathering there. Subtle nudges of arousal were beginning to rattle his hormones.
The throat being cleared in the distance caught Clarissa David's ear and she turned suddenly, expecting to find Stanford Crothers. The man who met her gaze instead literally stopped her.
Taking a moment to size him up was the obvious next move. He definitely merited a closer, longer look. It was then that she heard the warning call of her name resounding in her head. The tone was reminiscent of the one Clarissa's aunt used whenever Clarissa had said, done or was contemplating doing something that would make her look like a fool. Besides, she had more important things to take care of than drooling over one of her tailor's clients. She did make a move toward the stranger, though. Perhaps he could help her locate the man in question.
"Hello." Clarissa nodded as she stepped closer and was again stopped by the extraordinary color of the stranger's eyes. The blue-green orbs against the warm, rich caramel color of his complexion was an interesting mix.
Okay this was just unfair, Clarissa issued the silent complaint. How was she not supposed to drool over this guy when he was a walking enticement?
Clarissa The warning tone resumed inside her head. Still, she indulged in a few additional moments of appraising the silent stranger's unquestionably captivating face and broad frame.
"I'm looking for Stanford Crothers," she said eventually. "Is he anywhere around? His staff sent me down." Clarissa pointed toward the ceiling to indicate the main floor of the shop.
She waited a beat before tilting her head a fraction. The stranger was taking his time about answering. Clarissa found herself celebrating the fact that she wasn't the only one having trouble talking.
Elias's silence was due mainly to the fact that he was standing there cursing himself over his rotten luck. The woman with the provocative body had an even more provocative face framed by the chic cut of her dark hair. It was who that exceptional face reminded him of that had him scrutinizing the current state of his misfortune.
Thankfully, Stanford was returning to the cutting room floor. Elias shifted his gaze, barely tilting his head in silent reply to Clarissa's query.
Understandably curious about the stranger's demeanor, Clarissa forced her mind back to her purpose for being there. She looked in the direction the man had glanced and her smile held more than its fair share of relief when she saw Stan.
Stan, equally thrilled to see Clarissa, spread his arms wide. "Sunshine!" he greeted while enveloping her in a bear hug.
"Stan." Clarissa closed her eyes while cherishing the squeeze. "Sorry for just dropping in. I didn't mean to interrupt you with a customer." She glanced toward Elias, who had been observing the exchange between her and Stan.
"Nonsense," Stan balked, leaning back to smile down at Clarissa. "Never an interruption when it's you." His expression changed a bit as his eyes shifted between the two younger people. "Have you two met?" he asked.
Clarissa shook her head. Elias merely looked over at Stan before bringing his gaze again to Clarissa.
"Well, then." Stan took Clarissa's arm and led her over to remedy the situation. "This is Miss Clarissa David."
"David," Elias repeated, a slight surprise holding his rich voice.
Perceptive to a fault, Clarissa's expression took on a knowing element. "Were you expecting a different last name? Perhaps Beaumont?"
"Has anyone ever told you that you look like her? Like Jazmina Beaumont?" Eli questioned in a tone that was half awed and partly accusing.
"Well, Clarissa should be the image of the woman!" Stan's bellowing intruded. "She's her aunt."
Elias responded with a lengthy nod as though he were resigning himself to the fact.
"And you are?" Clarissa prompted.
"Sorry, Clarissa, this is Mr. Elias Joss."
It was Clarissa's turn to ease her curiosity. "Are you related to Joss Construction?"
"Started by his daddy back in the seventies." Stanford's information sharing showed no signs of quelling.
Clarissa's dusky brown eyes narrowed a tad as she appeared to be assessing the new detail, but she made no additional comment. Instead, she turned to Stan. "By any chance is my dress ready?"
"Lordy me." Stan laid a hand against the soft salt-and-pepper whiskers that dusted the lower half of his face. "Did I miss a deadline?"
"Oh, no, no, Stan, nothing like that." Clarissa's head shake warded off the man's concerns. "I was on this end for another meeting so I thought I'd stop by and check on it before heading out to Jaz's for a long weekend."
Stan rubbed his whiskers. "Well, there's some stitching that needs to be completed but I expect that'll be done in time for a Tuesday delivery before closing."
"Oh, that's perfect." Clarissa clasped her hands but winced. "Are you sure it won't put you behind with your other clients?" She chanced a look at Elias Joss who still regarded her with unreadable eyes.
Stan threw up a hand to wave dismissively. "You don't even worry your pretty li'l self over that, you hear?"
"Thanks, Stan." Clarissa was beaming once again. "I hate to rush off, but you know how Jaz can get."
"That's one lady who doesn't like to be kept waiting." Stanford chuckled, his kind hazel eyes crinkling at the corners. "I'll have the dress sent to the hotel. You're at the Peabody, right?" he asked, citing the name of the hotel where Clarissa stayed whenever she visited from California.
"You got it." Clarissa moved close to hug Stan again. He gave her a squeeze when she kissed his cheek.
Pulling back from Stan, Clarissa sighed and looked over at Eli. "Nice meeting you, Mr. Joss," she lied in a subdued tone.
"Sweet li'l thing," Stan complimented once Clarissa had gone. "It's a wonder some cat hasn't taken her off the market."
Elias smirked. "Has she ever been on the market?" His question was rhetorical. Like most people in Philadelphia, he knew of Jazmina Beaumont as well as her place of business. Until today, he'd never seen or met the woman's niece.
Stanford's laughter came as a huge burst of sound. "Well, if you ask Jaz Beaumont, the answer would be an emphatic 'Hell no!'"
"She's the protective type?"
"That's puttin' it a might subtle, kid." Stan glanced toward the staircase Clarissa had taken up and out of the shop. He shrugged, saying, "Guess it's understandable. In Jaz Beaumont's biz, she's seen all kinds. Makes sense she'd wanna protect her sister's kid from it."
Elias returned to the raised platform where Stan had been taking his measurements. "I wonder if looking so much like her aunt gets her in trouble."
Stan nodded while making note of a measurement on the pad he'd pulled from the burgundy smock he wore. "That answer would be an emphatic 'Hell yeah.' Ain't easy bearing the face of a woman who's been successful at sleepin' with most of the married or attached men in town."
Posted June 21, 2013
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