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When a woman stands five feet two inches, a hundred and ahem pounds (the ahem mainly located below the neck and above the waist), it's a bad idea to attend an afternoon business meeting in a low-cut, flesh-colored evening gown.
Throw in spaghetti straps and a few gold sequins, and the fact that it was the most crucial business meeting of said woman's careermake that her lifeand the bad idea turned downright calamitous.
Jilly Skye realized this. But she also realized she didn't have a choice. Not if she wasn't going to be unforgivably late.
Still, she hesitated before pressing the intercom button this side of a pair of black, we-mean-business, ironwork gates. They were the last in a long line of hurdles she'd scrambled over since early this morning, when Rory Kincaid had agreed to meet with her. Thanks to a buddy's tip, she knew Rory wanted to dispense with a house crammed full of old clothing and costumes. Jilly was a vintage-clothing dealer who wanted into that house. Badly.
Despite tight-fitting chiffon, Jilly's stomach executed several rabbit-worthy hops. Madness was the word, all right. Because even though the emcee of this morning's charity fashion show had rambled the event into an hour overrun; even though Jilly's assistant had left with all the clothing that her shop, Things Past, had brought to the show, including the business suit Jilly had intended to change into, even though her frantic phone calls to Rory Kincaid to explain her holdup had resulted only in a disinterested busy signal, nothing was going to keep Jilly from this meeting with Rory. Too much was atstake.
Determination renewed, she reached through her car window to press the intercom button. But her whole hand was quaking so, she snatched it back. "Cahn down, calm down," she muttered to herself. "This is no way to get a job. Take a deep breath." But her obedient inhale turned into a gasp when her ahems threatened to pop over the dress's deep decolletage. Oh, my. Pinching the top of the bodice to pull it up, she wiggled all the strategic body parts back down. Her cheeks went hot. What had seemed fun and fanciful to model at a for-women-only fashion event now seemed almost...scary.
Darn Rory Kincaid! Her predicament could be partially blamed on him, too. If she'd been able to cut through those irritating busy signals and reach him this afternoon, she could have made time for a crucial wardrobe stop.
What the heck was he doing on the phone so long? The only thing that kept a number tied up that continuously was a long-distance romance or some heavy Internet surfing.
It was bound to be the Internet. This Rory Kincaid was supposed to be some kind of software mogul. Like Bill Gates, he was young, successful and rich.
Hey. Bill Gates! Jilly's heartbeat slowed a smidgen. Bill Gates. She mouthed the name to herself again and her nervousness was reduced by a few more degrees.
When she pictured Rory Kincaid as someone like Bill Gatessomeone bespectacled, shaggyhaired, and more interested in floppy disks than fashion statementsshe could feel nearly confident. If cliches could be believed, techie-nerds lost track of timewell, practically all the time. And certainly he wouldn't care what she wore. If she didn't say anything about the evening gown, he probably wouldn't even notice it.
The Bill Gates idea worked better than Alka-Seltzer. Stomach settling down and heart feeling light, Jilly stuck her arm out the car window and confidently jabbed the intercom with her forefinger. This job was hers. She lifted her chin and threw back her shoulders. As the gates slowly opened, she pressed down on the gas pedal, all the while mentally chanting her brand-new mantra, BillGatesBillGatesBillGates.
Her car slowly climbed past the empty gatehouse and up the steep, curving driveway She shifted in her seat, trying to wiggle herself more securely into the almost-nude evening dress. Yes, she told herself, this meeting was going to be just fine, as long as she held onto that BillGatesian image of Rory Kincaid. BillGatesBillGatesBillGates, she whispered silently, willing the idea to take deep root.
just fine, she assured herself once again. A guy like she was picturing probably wouldn't even notice she was a tad over, or rather, under dressed.
Alerted via the intercom at the front gates that his tardy afternoon appointment had finally arrived, Rory Kincaid walked out of the Spanish-style Caidwater mansion and into winter air hovering at an obscene eighty degrees.
He grimaced with distaste.
A dry breeze brushed over him, carrying with it the light scent of orange blossoms and the heavier sweetness of flowering jade plants.
He held his breath.
All around him, birds twittered mindlessly, joining the unceasing good cheer of water bubbling up and over the eight fountains in the eight themed gardens surrounding the forty-four-room house.
The noise grated against his nerves.
Another breath -of overhot, too-sweet wind wafted past, and Rory's grimace deepened. It was as close to Paradise as January in southern California could get and Rory hated everything about it.
This was Super Bowl season, for Christ's sake. If he must, he'd forgo rain and snow, but surely a nip in the air wasn't too much to expect in the dead of winter? L.A. took its reputation as the land of fantasies and wishes-come-true much too seriously. It always had.
Shoving his hands in the pockets of his jeans, Rory moved away from the shadows beside the house. Immediately, diamond-hard sunlight assaulted his eyes and he automatically reached for the wraparound Ray-Bans in his shirt pocket.
The only decent thing growing up in Hollywood had ever given him was an appreciation for a good pair of sunglasses...