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Sabrina glanced at her with an easy nonchalance. "You don't have to do it."
Everything comes easy to Sabrina, Mackenzie thought, taking in her sister's sloppy appearance. In a denim skirt and a sleeveless ribbed T-shirt that showed her flat tummy, Sabrina still managed to look good. Whereas Mackenzie had groomed herself for an hour and felt like potatoes stuffed into a designer gunny-sack.
"I'm not going to force you." Sabrina squinted into the distance, avoiding her sister's eyes.
Mackenzie knew why. Sabrina was hoping that she'd fail first. If their bet was off, Sabrina would be free to pursue the gorgeous chocolate chef, Kit Rex.
"Hmm," Mackenzie said as if she were thinking about bailing. It was only to torture her sister, who was one year older but didn't often act like it. "Ah - no. I'm definitely going through with this."
"All right, but then we have to go inside, don't we?"
They stood near the glass double doors of a glam Madison Avenue salon. It was the type of place Mackenzie used to walk by with a guilty speed, as if the stylists might be standing in the window, rating the bad haircuts and fashion faux pas of the rabble who couldn't afford their services.
"Hold on, hold on. I'm thinking about it." Mackenzie adjusted the wide belt slung around her hips. A personal shopper at Barneys had sworn the belt enhanced her shape without actually drawing attention to its healthy proportions. An impossibility, in retrospect.
Sabrina had finally grown frustrated. "Really, Mackenzie, this is ridiculous. Get in there. It's only hair, not an arm or a leg. Nothing to be nervous about."
"Says you." Mackenzie pulled her waist-length braid over one shoulder, feeling protective now that she was on the verge of cutting it off. Sabrina also had long hair, but she hadn't even combed hers, just dragged it up into a messy ponytail. She was gorgeous nonetheless, although her looks weren't very important to her. She'd probably shave her head on a whim.
The difference was that Sabrina didn't need the reassurance. She had an interesting character, a striking face and a skinny model's body, while Mackenzie was quiet, even shy, and a model-size twelve. She'd grown comfortable with her shape - most of the time - but avoided being the center of attention if she could, unlike her sister. Why Mackenzie had agreed to a bet that made her exactly that was a mystery as great as the Pyramids.
Two months ago, Mackenzie and Sabrina's parents had remarried after having been divorced for sixteen years. The wedding had been a catalyst for the sisters to examine how they'd let their parents' breakup misshape their lives. Swept up in the air of romance and possibility, they'd challenged each other to change, to find their own true happiness. Sabrina had even put up stakes - the heirloom diamond ring that had been passed down to her on the eve of their parents' wedding. Their mother had chosen to start off fresh with a ring that hadn't already been through a divorce.
Suddenly, the challenge had become a bet. Sabrina, the wanderer without a committed bone in her body, was to try settling down for the first time in her life. She'd also agreed to forego men until she became serious about just one. Now, two months later, she'd already signed a lease, found a job and developed an intense attraction with Kit.
Whereas Mackenzie was undergoing the opposite process. She'd left her longtime career as a buyer in the sweets division of Regal Foods and had invested all her savings in her own business, a penny-candy store called Sweet Something. She'd let go of her steady old boyfriend, Jason Dole, even though being single again after several years of comfortable, if unexciting, companionship made her feel like an untethered kite. Last of all, she'd agreed to put herself in the hands of a stylist and personal shopper and was on the way to a brand-new look, just in time for her store's grand opening.
Cutting her waist-length hair was the last step. One she'd been resisting.
She'd always been comfortable with long hair, simply because she'd always had it. She was a person who rarely ventured outside her comfort zone.
Yes, that was her reasoning and she was sticking to it. It wasn't as if she was actually hiding behind her hair. And she certainly wasn't still clinging to an ancient memory of Devlin, who'd once said ...
Mackenzie closed her eyes, succumbing to a moment of pure longing. All she had was memories, but they were enough to make a hot flush of desire rush up her throat.
Nonsense. Her lids popped open and she stared at the distorted reflection of her pink face in the salon's glass doors.
Nostalgia, she thought. Nothing more.
It had been nearly ten years since she'd seen her high school crush, Devlin Brandt. Even so, she'd never forgotten that he'd once complimented her on her hair - which had been about the nicest thing he'd ever said to her. Far better than the "Thanks, cutie," or "What would I do without you, Mack?" comments he'd usually tossed her. Like fish from a seal trainer.
By God! She wasn't balancing that ball on her nose for another instant.
Mackenzie tucked her bag under her arm and whipped the braid over her shoulder. "Let's go."
Sabrina groaned. "We can't leave. I bargained my soul for this appointment after you broke the first one. Costas is booked months in advance -"
Mackenzie interrupted. "No, let's go inside." It was true that she'd already backed out once. She would not do that again, even though her heart was going thumpety-thump. "I'm ready to make good on our bet."
"Oh. Well, that's great." Sabrina's enthusiasm was obviously dimming now that it appeared Mackenzie would follow through. Despite Sabrina's easy-come, easy-go attitude, she didn't want to lose the ring they'd both treasured since they were little girls. That meant she'd have to stick with her promise to keep out of Kit's bed ... even if the only way to cure her sexual cravings was to gorge on enough chocolate to dip the Statue of Liberty.
Mackenzie's thoughts returned to her own most wicked temptation. As always, she got no satisfaction. Devlin was merely a fantasy, not a flesh-and-blood, here-and-now partner like Sabrina's Kit.
While Sabrina had once known about her younger sister's crush on the highschool bad boy, it was far too embarrassing for Mackenzie to admit that she still thought of him a decade later.
Every now and then.
Like whenever she brushed her hair.
Excerpted from Sinfully Sweet by Carrie Alexander Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.