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By Joanne Rock
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJackie Brady started to panic when her tail fell off for the third time. Thank God for duct tape or her fuzzy pants could have well been down around her ankles before she danced her way into the restaurant.
She finished her costume adjustments and smoothed her glued-on whiskers just as the elevator doors slid open. Careful not to tread on her ailing tail, she stepped into the penthouse-level eatery of a downtown Boston brownstone. Now all she needed to do was locate the birthday boy, sing her telegram song, and then she could reclaim her Friday night as her own.
So what if her stint as a singing telegram wasn't exactly rocket science? It paid more than her daytime work as a copywriter. Both jobs were only a means to an end anyway. She was prepared to abide a few sacrifices to achieve her dream of composing children's music.
Besides, there was a certain nobility in any job that involved making people happy. A nobility that could scarcely be diminished by the kitty ears perched on her head.
The squeak of her tennis shoes on the polished wooden floor resounded throughout the dining area. Patrons paused between bites of mozzarella sticks and greasy chicken wings to note the cat woman strolling in their midst.
Not that Jackie cared.
But then, she'd been causing too much commotion all of her life. There was the time she decided to sing the elements of the periodic table for her science fair project. Sure she'd ruffled the feathers of all the kids who'd made robots, but she'd taken second place at the state competition. Then, just last week she'd gone out on a limb at a singing audition by transforming a rendition of a melodic herbal store jingle into a semi-tuneful Tarzan-inspired jungle cry.
Jackie was no stranger to turning heads. Or taking risks. Sometimes they paid off, like the science fair victory. Sometimes they landed her back on the pavement singing telegrams, as last week's unsuccessful audition proved.
Still, she wondered how she'd gotten suckered into this last-minute singing assignment when all she'd wanted to do tonight was recharge her creative batteries and develop some new song concepts. She'd had an idea rattling around in her brain - some rough lyrics for a new diet soda commercial she would polish and put on her demo tape. But the Zing-O-Gram office temp had sounded so desperate when she'd called, Jackie had no choice but to cover tonight's late-breaking gig.
Just her luck, she had to be the only Zing-O-Gram employee on call without a date lined up for a Friday night. Nothing new there. Sure she had plenty of offers. Heck, the cat getup on its own could usually elicit a few dinner invitations in the course of an evening.
But never from the right sort of guys. Jackie wanted a man who knew how to have a good time - someone who cared more about following his heart and his dreams than the Almighty Buck. Boston was full of gorgeous men, but they all seemed to be on a relentless career fast-track that Jackie refused to enter.
So she would locate Gregory the birthday boy, sing him a cute song for his special day, and be on her way back to her solo Friday night. She'd be fine without a man in her life, and she'd be fine getting through tonight's performance.
Assuming she didn't burst a seam on this two-sizes-too-small cat costume first. Jackie took slow, shallow breaths to ensure the black fuzzy suit stayed in place. She could handle this as long as she kept her song in a manageable octave. Those high notes had been known to strain even the best of seams - she sure as heck wasn't about to try shattering any glass outfitted in this feline shrinkwrap. She'd just keep the tune in a comfortable range and she'd have no problem staying in her garb.
She was singing a simple ditty at a birthday party for a six-year-old boy. What could possibly go wrong?
"Maybe she got the address wrong," Greg De Costa shouted into the cell phone. He couldn't hear a damn thing over the music set at full blast in a back room of Flanagan's.
Struggling to keep the phone against his ear while he wrestled open a new bottle of champagne, Greg ducked out of the way of a rogue dart sent sailing through the bar by a soused partygoer. He didn't mean to hassle the office worker at Zing-O-Gram, but the stripper he'd ordered for his brother's bachelor party was almost half an hour late.
Where was she?
The masses were starting to get restless. If he didn't produce a naked woman soon, he'd definitely lose his audience. As the general manager for one of Boston's major television stations, Greg couldn't abide any event - televised or otherwise - that didn't hold its own in the ratings. He would dance on the tables himself before he lost his viewers.
Although, no doubt, a naked woman would probably capture a larger share of the bachelor party market.
After grilling the harried woman at Zing-O-Gram for a few more minutes, Greg folded up the phone and popped another cork just as his brother stepped out of the crowd.
Mike De Costa - future bridegroom - claimed an open bottle of top-shelf champagne and proceeded to drink it as if it were a longneck. He grimaced at the label. "Since when do bachelors chug drinks with bubbles?"
"Since they have something big to celebrate, like marriage to a woman who's nice enough to put up with you." Greg had known Mike's bride since kindergarten. Hannah Williams was as sweet as they came - and far too good for a guy determined to charm his way through life like Mike.
Mike swung his arms, sloshing champagne in a wide arc around himself as he did. "But look at what a catch she's getting," he protested.
"All six feet, two inches of burning ambition and refined taste," Greg acknowledged, rolling his eyes.
Mike called up a belch from his toes and grinned. "You probably got me on the refined taste thing," he admitted. "But not every woman cares about burning ambition, you know."
"No?" Greg popped the cork on the last champagne bottle and handed it over to the waiter filling a tray of glasses.
"No." Mike exchanged his half-finished liter bottle for a beer. "But obviously women like that are a foreign species to you."
"I never met a species of woman I didn't like." Greg mopped off the bar with the waiter's towel, a habit engrained long ago, in another bar, in another life. "I'm just not about to get serious with anyone who doesn't understand how important it is to get ahead."
"Then you're a confirmed bachelor until you find an MBA-carrying superwoman. You've been trying to get ahead ever since the first moment you cut in front of me in line at the candy store."
"Not this time," Greg corrected him, reaching for Mike's vacated bottle of champagne. "You're ahead of me in the matrimony department with a wedding coming up in three weeks. You're more than welcome to stay in first place."
Excerpted from Revealed by Joanne Rock Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.