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By Kate Johnson
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.Copyright © 2007 Kate Johnson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSometimes I wish I could make Luke my alarm clock. Would I rather be wrenched from blissful sleep by the frightened shrieking of the digital monstrosity that skulks on my bedside table, or by Luke Sharpe licking my neck?
"Wake up," he murmured.
"I don't want to."
"Wake up or I won't-" he broke off, and I didn't get to hear the next bit because he came back with, "There's someone at the door."
"Could be important." His mouth moved lower and if I had cared before about the door, I pretty soon stopped.
"It'll be a ... a delivery or something," I mumbled. "Postman ..."
"Mmm," Luke agreed, unable to perform a verbal manoeuvre any more complicated than that because his mouth was currently engaged in other activities. Then he lifted his head. "Sophie?"
I meant to say yes, but only managed a sort of breathy squeak.
"How many people have keys to your door?"
"Who has a key?"
What the hell was he talking about?
"Because they've just unlocked it."
"Oh." Then, "What?"
Luke laughed at me as I shoved him away. It was my mother. I knew it. "Put some bloody clothes on," I hissed, but it was too late. The bedroom door opened and my best friend Angel was standing there, mouth open, staring in disbelief.
I stared back, my face burning, and Luke, still laughing, flipped the covers over me and addressed Angel. "And you would be ...?"
Angel blinked at him. "Shocked and impressed," she said. "You?"
"Amused and embarrassed." They both looked at me.
There were no words.
"So this is why you're always late," Angel said, shaking her head. "You want me to wait out here?" And she shut the door, retreating into the living room.
Luke fell about laughing. "God, you should have seen your face."
"This isn't funny!"
"Yeah, it is. Come on, Soph, she's your best mate."
"Exactly, and she'll therefore be very hurt that I haven't told her I've been sleeping with you for two months."
"So don't tell her it's been that long." He swung himself out of bed and I got distracted for a moment. Luke is perfection, at least until he opens his mouth. He's all long, lean muscle, tight and toned, sinewy and sleek like a racing horse or a big cat. He wandered into the bathroom, saying as he went, "Lie, sweetheart. It's what you do."
I stuck my tongue out at him as he shut the door, and stumbled out of bed to grab my dressing gown and go apologise to Angel, who had never met Luke in a formal capacity (not since he stopped pretending to be Italian when he was working undercover at the airport) and who had no idea that I was anything other than a bored passenger services agent, just like her.
She was lounging on the sofa, reading my Cosmo, and she raised her eyebrows at me. "Wait," she held up a hand, not taking her eyes from the page, "I'm just reading how to better my orgasm. But then you might be able to give me a few personal tips ...?"
I could overhaul Cosmo. Sleeping with Luke had been educational, to say the least.
"Look, Angel, I'm so sorry ..."
She shrugged. "You'll be forgiven if you buy me a white chocolate mocha and tell me every single detail."
I blinked at her, and she rolled her eyes.
"We were going to go shopping?"
I smacked myself on the head for that. "God. Of course. I forgot ... Just give me ten minutes ..."
Angel laughed at that, and I suppose she had a point. It often took me ten minutes just to locate my hairbrush. I'd never left the house in under half an hour in the two years we'd known each other.
"Have some coffee," I said. "I'll buy you the mocha when we get there."
I nodded distractedly and went back into the bedroom. Luke was pulling on a loose T-shirt that hid the gun tucked into his jeans belt.
He looked up. "Three's a crowd. And besides, methought I heard the word 'shopping'."
"Methinks you heard right. I planned it weeks ago and totally forgot. Sorry."
"It's okay." He pulled me into his arms and kissed me. "I'll see you later?"
"I'll give you a call."
And then he was gone, the door slamming shut in the breeze, and Angel was sighing with delight.
"My God, Soph," she said, "I'm bloody jealous of you."
"Mmm," I said. Sometimes I was even jealous of myself.
"How long has this been going on?"
"Not long," I said as casually as I could. "It's all kind of sudden." I looked up at the clock. "Speaking of sudden ..."
"I think we said we'd pick Evie up at ten," Angel said, following my gaze to the clock. "T minus two minutes."
"Shit." I threw her my mobile. "Send her a text that we're-I'm-running late."
She looked over the sleek Nokia. "New phone?"
Bollocks, bollocks. That was my work phone. "I'm, er, switching over," I lied, tossing her my old Siemens. "I'll be really quick."
Actually, I was impressed with myself. I flew in and out of the shower, wrapped myself in a strappy top and pedal pushers, added shoes and threw my makeup into my bag, and we were off. Sophie Green, gal on the go.
We took Angel's car-she has a Mini Cooper S that goes very fast. I have a Land Rover Defender called Ted, who is bile green and who I adore unconditionally, but who only goes up to eighty-five miles an hour.
Come to think of it, I guess that says something about us. Angel is cute and tiny and reminiscent of a Sixties classic. Her mother was the ubiquitously famous, glamorous, unforgettable, original sex symbol and gay icon, IC Winter. Angel looks just like her but in miniature-same golden curls, perfect curves, flawless skin that tans at the mention of sunshine, huge blue eyes and curvy little mouth. She also lives up to her name. She is a complete darling.
I, like Ted, operate on a rather larger chassis, come from solid, unpretentious stock, look like a lick of paint would do me some good and never fail to save the day. Well, actually, I've only ever saved the day once, but the day had only been in danger once while I've been around to save it. So to speak. But what I mean is that I somehow lack the glamour Angel wakes up with every morning. She never has fat days and can quite happily leave the house without a smudge of makeup. Not so me.
But I do have something she doesn't-Luke-and she never stopped asking me about him. But you see, the thing is, I can't tell her anything. Luke is a secret agent. He's the one who hired me. At the moment, he's the nearest thing I have to a boss. And the government agency we work for is so tiny and secret that I can't even tell my own mother about it. Not even Tammy, my tiny little tabby cat, knows of its existence, which is mean, since her life has been in danger because of it.
Even worse was when we picked up Evie, and Angel asked her if she knew anything about my new boyfriend.
"Boyfriend?" Evie's ears pricked up and she leaned forwards through the gap in the front seats. "You never told me you had a boyfriend!"
"No, well, I don't," I muttered.
Angel sent me a look of deep sarcasm. "Let me guess, he's just a friend who takes some highly vital medicine which you spilled all down you and he had to lick it off or he'd die?"
I glared at her.
"Do I want to hear this?" Evie asked doubtfully.
"I don't want to hear it," I said.
"Come on, Soph," Angel said, "if he's not your boyfriend then what is he?"
A very good question. Luke is my working partner but also my superior. I suppose the closest word would be mentor, although that implies wisdom and patience and kindness, none of which are attributes Luke has in abundance. He's also my lover, we spend every night together and every night is amazing, but by no stretch of the imagination is he my boyfriend. No siree.
"Look, it's complicated," I said, and both girls looked horribly disappointed. "I don't want to talk about it."
"I would," Angel said enviously, because despite being the most desirable thing on the planet, she's also very shy and under permanent romantic scrutiny by all the tabloids and celeb magazines who have nothing better to do than wibble on about IC Winter's daughter's love life. Or lack of.
"What's he look like?" Evie asked, and Angel jumped in.
"Gorgeous. All muscly and burly-"
"He's not burly," I interrupted. "I hate muscles. He's lean. But very strong."
"Mmm," Evie said.
"He has blond hair and great cheekbones. A real ten," Angel said admiringly.
Hey. I'm sleeping with a real ten. Go me.
Excerpted from Ugley Business by Kate Johnson Copyright © 2007 by Kate Johnson. Excerpted by permission.
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