Read an Excerpt
It never would have happened if she hadn’t taken that quiz.
At least it never would have happened if she hadn’t taken it and failed.
Chloe Sinclair, who had never failed a test in her life.
Granted, she hadn’t been particularly serious when she took the Sexy! quiz, writing in her responses instead of choosing one of the multiple choice answers. Deep down she knew it was ridiculous to be upset, since she hadn’t taken it seriously. More than that, what did an idiotic quiz like that really mean? Nothing. She knew it. But what had started out as a joke had touched a nerve that she hadn’t realized was raw.
Failing—or perhaps the fact that she hadn’t even tried to pass—spoke to the reality of something deeper. She had given up on any sort of love life and devoted every ounce of energy to her job as station manager of KTEX TV. But as far as she was concerned, the cutthroat world of television programming and advertising revenue was a piece of cake compared to the convoluted labyrinth that was the male mind.
She was mature; men were not.
She wanted inspiring, intellectual dialogue; men wanted sex.
But she had promised herself that she wouldn’t have sex again with any man until she knew it was right, until she knew that he was the man she was meant to be with. Which meant one, and only one, thing.
She hadn’t had a lot of sex recently.
Given her answers on the Sexy! magazine quiz, she had to wonder if she’d ever have sex again.
Had she really filled in the second question with llama? She suppressed an embarrassed cringe. Sure, llamas were an industrious animal, but she had also heard they spit.
As if that was the problem with her answer.
Earlier that evening, while getting ready for the cocktail reception for the Heart Association that was being held at the Hilton Hotel, Chloe had dressed in her usual, simple black cocktail dress that she wore to just that sort of business/social obligation. But when she had looked at herself in the entry hall mirror, taking in her straight shoulder-length dark hair cut in a sensible bob, her oversized glasses, and the bangs that made her look twelve instead of twenty-seven, she was reminded of her grandmother’s constant refrain.
“Thank your lucky stars you were born plain-looking, Chloe love. Your gift is being smart and sensible. Don’t ever let that desert you.”
Her grandmother had died a year ago, and still, even missing her every day, Chloe had to wonder how being plain could possibly be a plus on anyone’s list of Great Things to Be.
That’s when she realized why an idiotic magazine quiz could upset her so much. Lucky or not, she was plain. She wasn’t sexy. Or perhaps more accurately, she had never even tried to be sexy.
That’s when everything changed. One minute she was headed to the kitchen for the decadent comfort of a slice of triple-layer velvet cake with whipped cream icing, then the next, something she hadn’t recognized flared inside her. She wanted to feel beautiful. She wanted to feel sexy. She wanted to forget the carefully mapped out rules for acceptable and respectable female behavior that her grandmother had instilled in her.
She should have had the cake.
Instead, her heart had pounded when she hurried back to her bedroom. With quick strokes, her hands practically shaking with a mix of trepidation and excitement, she put makeup and blush on over her pale white skin and dusting of freckles, lipstick over her lips, and mascara on her rarely mascaraed eyelashes. She even curled her straight hair, swept back her bangs, and pulled it all up in an elaborate twist. She even wore the dress Julia had sent over.
Thirty minutes later, standing in front of the mirror a second time, Chloe hadn’t recognized herself.
No one would call her a llama tonight.
There was just one tiny little problem now that she sat in the hotel parking lot, wearing the dress and even the silky gloves that had sex appeal written all over them.
She couldn’t bring herself to get out of the car.
She sat there having sheer, unadulterated second thoughts about how she was dressed. The determination and bravado that had gotten her this far was swept off like a hat in the late September wind that had decided to pick up the second she drove into the parking lot—like some sort of sign that she had no business going inside dressed as she was. But she had promised Julia she would attend, and it was too late to drive all the way home and change. She was the designated KTEX TV representative for the evening, and as the station’s general manager, she knew she had to show up.
Without a parking valet or doorman in sight at the small hotel, Chloe turned off the ignition, then gathered the impractical purse that didn’t have room in it for anything more than blush, a brush, and some breath mints. Not her usual priorities. But tonight, Chloe felt like anything but her usual self.
The second she stepped out of the car, a gust of wind kicked up, the sort that rushed across the city, gathering speed until it hit the towering peaks of Mount Franklin. The car door slammed shut and she was carried along in a rush of wind that pushed her through the parking lot on heels so high that she felt like she was teetering on her toes. She could hardly see where she was going, and for half a second she tried to cover her hair with her hands. But fancy hairstyles were forgotten when every ounce of her concentration was consumed by staying on her feet.
“Ahhh!” she cried out into the wind, the sound carried off.
She plunged across the tarmac, the bite of sand stinging her skin as she headed the short distance to the hotel. She could barely see for the churning wind, her hair pulling free, whipping against her face. She thought she was alone. But without warning, she ran into another body. Hard. Jarring them both.
The impact sent her lurching forward, arms extended like she was flying. It happened so fast that she couldn’t regain her balance. Her gloved hands hit the pavement first, the tiny chain on the purse like a vise around her wrist. Next, her knees crashed into the ground and pain shot through her. She lay there stunned.
“Are you all right?”
A man’s voice, deep and commanding, came at her in a disjointed muffle through the wind. She tried to pick herself up, but before she could manage, strong hands came around her, and he swept her up with ease. She tried to make out who he was, but he was much taller than she, and she couldn’t see more than his shirt when he pulled her close, his body blocking the wind.
Huddled together, he propelled them the remaining few steps to the hotel entrance. Despite the pain, she was very aware of the man’s touch, of the way his arm was secure around her, the way he controlled her body easily. She had the altogether foreign thought that she was safe.
The hotel’s sliding doors whooshed open, then closed behind them. The sudden calm after the storm felt like a deafening echo against her ears. Her eyes stung from the sand, and her knees burned. She could hear the low murmur of voices from the reception in the distance. There were several people in the lobby in varying states of dishevelment from the wind.
“Are you okay?” the man asked again, his hands clasped around her arms to keep her steady.
Her curls fell in tangles from her once-elegant twist. She could feel that her dress was askew and her gloves were ripped to shreds. All the effort she had gone to to get ready was ruined.
She was a mess, making it impossible to attend the party now. “Fine, fine,” she stated bleakly.
She felt him tense, felt the heat of him in the simple touch of his hand. “You aren’t so fine,” he stated with calm insistence.
He took her elbow and guided her away from the lobby. He swept her along again, but when they came to a set of double doors leading to the hotel guests’ rooms, she stiffened.
“Where are you taking me?”
“I’m staying here.”
“You’re taking me here, as in to your . . . your . . .”
“Exactly,” she stated primly. “I can’t go to your room.”
He made some kind of grumbling noise deep in his chest, but instead of guiding her through the doors, he tugged her away and soon had her inside an elegant ladies’ room decorated in marble and brass. Thankfully, it was empty. Though not as thankfully, he slid the lock home.
“Now what are you doing?”
“Oh,” was all she managed to say when she glanced down at herself and got a really good look. Her once- shimmering thigh-high stockings were ripped beyond repair, blood and grit marking both of her knees like a six-year-old’s after a playground fall.
On top of that, she had never been all that great with blood.
“Oh,” she repeated, this time sort of wobbly.
“Don’t go weak willed on me now.”
“I am not weak willed,” she stated, her spine straightening.
“That’s what I like to hear.”
Next thing she knew, he had her up on the marble counter as if she didn’t weigh anything at all, her skirt riding high. That was when she looked up and saw his face. Her first real look. She wasn’t sure if she sucked in her breath or if she sighed. She only knew that her world went still.
From the Paperback edition.