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Bethany Walker stuck her tongue out at her reflection as she twirled in front of the floor-length mirror.
'I look gross.'
Her cousin Lana smirked. 'I officially pronounce you a bona fide nerd.'
'I do look like a nerd, don't I?'
Lana, queen of the nerds and loving it, pushed her tortoise-shell glasses further up her nose as her serious gaze travelled from the tips of Beth's low-heeled black pumps to the top of her blonde hair pulled back in a tight bun.
'You look exactly how a proper tour guide should. You'll fit in at the museum, no worries.'
Beth screwed up her nose as she smoothed the stiff cotton of her ultra-plain white blouse. 'How could you wear such hideous clothes?'
Lana quirked an eyebrow and picked up Beth's discarded apple-green midriff top and cut-off denim shorts from the floor. 'I could ask you the same question.'
Touché, cuz. Touché.'
Beth grinned, eternally grateful for the close relationship she shared with her cousin.
From the first moment Lana had stood up to her, a mousy six-year-old who refused to back down when the boisterous, pushy pain in the butt she used to be had tried to wrestle a doll out of her hands, their friendship had been cemented.
'Anything else you want me to cram before I do this? Any last minute pep talk? Instructions? Ways to bore the entire city of Melbourne senseless as they troop through the museum?'
The corners of Lana's mouth twitched. 'There is one more thing.'
She didn't like the gleam in her cousin's eye, the one that screamed she wasn't done turning a swan into an ugly duckling just yet.
'Here.' Lana opened the top drawer of her dresser and reached into the back. 'You need to wear these to complete the look.'
Her heart sank as she saw the ugliest pair of glasses she'd ever laid eyes on resting on her cousin's outstretched palm.
Shaking her head, she held up her hands in protest. 'Uh-uh. No way. Haven't I done enough? You've dressed me, prepped me, turned me into another you. You can't make me wear those!'
Lana cracked up. 'I know, I'm just kidding around. Though I hear these are the latest fashion statement for all the cool tour guides this year.'
Beth rolled her eyes, grimacing at the ugly black-rimmed glasses, ignoring the faintest ring of 'four eyes, four eyes' in her ears.
If she'd hated being a brain as a kid she'd hated wearing glasses more and the memories had lasted way too long; long enough until she'd got a part-time job and earned enough money to buy contacts at the age of sixteen.
As for the old saying 'guys didn't make passes at girls who wore glasses' it had been all too true in her case and she'd set about correcting that impression the second those contacts slipped in. She'd transformed from shy geek to flirty femme fatale and hadn't looked back.
'You sure? It would complete your new look.'
Lana stood back, folded her arms and admired her handiwork while Beth felt like the bride of Frankenstein in her ugly shoes and uglier clothes.
'You know I'm not really going to wear this get-up, don't you? I'm merely doing this to humour you?'
'Yeah, I know. You'll probably rock up to the museum in a micro mini and halter top, right?'
'Now that you mention it '
Lana groaned. 'Tell me again why I helped set up the interview for you.'
Beth patted her arm as she shimmied out of her cousin's clothes and slipped back into her own, rehanging the awful suit and slamming the wardrobe door shut before she had to look at it for another second. 'Because you think I'm the bee's knees. Because blood is thicker than water. And any other soppy cliché you can think of.'
Lana's mouth twitched, her patient expression one Beth had seen many times before. 'So what are you really wearing?'
The image of her new David Lawrence raven pinstripe suit with the fabulous pencil skirt complete with flirty frill flashed across her mind and she did a little jig complete with arm twirl and cancan leg kicks.
'I've bought a gorgeous suit. Me, in a suit. Can you believe it?'
Lana chuckled. 'Actually, no, I can't. This I have to see.'
'I'll drop by on my way home so you can check it out. Speaking of which ' she glanced at her watch and grimaced ' I better hit the road.'
'Yeah, you're pushing for time. You should get going.' Lana took a hop towards the door and a ripple of pain flashed across her face.
'Hey, you need to sit down. That ankle isn't going to heal if you don't take it easy. And as much as I appreciate your help in telling me about the vacancy for this job, it isn't going to be the same traipsing around that mausoleum without you.'
Lana's presence would've made her induction into monotonous regular work bearable. Given a choice she would rather be holed up in her warehouse apartment creating the metal sculptures she loved, but she needed this job desperately and while acting as tour guide at Melbourne Museum wouldn't set her world on fire, it would take her one step closer to her dream.
'God, you're pushy.'
Lana slipped the crutches back under her armpits and hopped to a hard-backed chair a few steps away before sinking onto it with a barely suppressed groan. 'And I'll be back on deck just as soon as this damn ankle heals.'
She winced as she lifted her leg beneath the knee and propped the ankle on a pouffe. 'I'm sorry I won't be there to show you the ropes like I promised. I know this isn't your ideal job and I said I'd help ease you into it until this!' She pointed at her plaster cast and scowled.
'Don't worry, cuz. All I have to do is remember the stuff we swotted and take a bunch of curious geeks around the museum. Easy.'
Lana didn't look convinced.
'You've heard about the new boss? He's the son of the old CEO and a major player in archaeological circles so, while Abe Voss hired you, I have no idea how tough Aidan is.'
Beth plopped on a nearby footstool and gently patted the cast. 'I'll have to smile my way into his good books. I'm sure this new boss won't be any different.'
'So you think you can charm him, huh?'
By the dubious expression on Lana's face, she could see what her competent, super-intelligent, serious older cousin thought of that.
'Either that or dazzle him with my tour-guide skills, one or the other. Come on, you know you can trust me to do a brilliant job and keep the Walker girls' prize-employee reputations intact, right?'
Lana chuckled and rolled her eyes. 'Do you really want me to answer that?'
They laughed in unison, remembering the countless times Beth had asked Lana to trust her only to stand her up in favour of a boy, a cool party or the latest fashion sale.
'You'll be fine. If you have any questions during the day, you can always sneak into the Ladies and buzz me on your mobile.'
'Hmm real professional.' Beth grinned, bounced up and slung her designer bag over her shoulder. 'Right. Time to strut my stuff.'
'Okay, off you go. And rememberdon't do anything I wouldn't do.'
'Yes, m'am.' She saluted, sending Lana's ankle a pointed look. Aren't you going to wish me luck? Something along the lines of "break a leg"?'
Lana pointed towards the door. 'Out. And take your lousy sense of humour with you.'
Beth pouted and stuck a hand on a hip. 'Now is that any way to talk to the museum's new star tour guide?'
Lana quirked a bushy eyebrow in desperate need of a good plucking. 'Star, huh? I'd be happy with good, sensible, dedicated tour guide. You know, the type of tour guide who does a great job and impresses the new boss so much he can't wait for his new star curator to start.'
'Sensible? Mmm ' Beth grinned, yanked down her funky top and did a little shimmy in her tight denim mini. 'Don't worry, cuz. You can count on me.'
She only just heard Lana's murmured, 'That's what I'm afraid of,' as she strolled out the door with a spring in her step.
'These shoes are something else,' Beth murmured, staring down at her new Sonia Rykiel satin-toed sable pumps with delight.
She really should've worn something more comfortable for her first day on the job, yet considering she was currently squashed on a peak-hour tram between a sweaty businessman and a scruffy uni student who hadn't discovered the joys of deodorant yet, the snazzy new shoes were a comfort.
She'd dithered over a pair of sexy sling-backs, wishing she could slip into a comfy pair of inappropriate fancy flip-flops, before settling on the pumps with a killer heel and just the right amount of beaded detail around the forefoot.
She was a devoted shoe girl, always choosing the perfect shoe to suit her mood, and right now these new pumps gave her a much-needed confidence boost.
Traipsing around a museum all day rather than sculpting her precious metal hadn't been high on her priority list until recently, but with the bank breathing down her neck she needed a steady job and this was it.
Sighing, she hugged her tote bag tighter to her chest, somewhat comforted by the stab of stilettos through the soft leather. She had a date with an old uni buddy after work and after calling at Lana's as promised, she wouldn't have time to head home to change so had brought her outfit with her.
The simple knowledge she had another pair of fabulous shoes in her bag made her feel a whole lot better.
Unfortunately, she didn't feel comforted for long. As the tram screeched to a stop outside the museum, she stepped off and took two steps before a heel caught in the tracks and stuck there. It wouldn't have been a problem if she'd stuck too. However, with a quick glance at her watch sending her scurrying, her body weight pitched forward while the heel didn't and it broke with a resounding snap.
She muttered a few unladylike curses Lana would never approve of as she stared at the beautiful heel sticking out of the tracks.
Great, not only had she ruined a pair of sensational new shoes, but she'd be starting a few minutes latewithout a pair of shoes!
As if reminding her of their presence, a stiletto dug into her ribs as she tucked her bag under her arm and she perked up, grabbed the offending heel out of the tracks, dashed across the road and plopped onto a wrought-iron bench.
Fishing her favourite Manolos out of the bag, she slipped off the pumps and wriggled her fuchsia-painted toes into the sandals, sighing at the luxurious feel of her favourite shoes adorning her feet.
Pushing aside the thought that sexy black patent sandals with tiny straps and decorated with feathers probably weren't appropriate tour-guide footwear, she strode towards the museum as fast as her three-inch stilettos could carry her.
With the correct footwear, a girl could face anything and right then Beth knew her day was looking up.
Those shoes are something else, Aidan Voss thought as he caught sight of the new tour guide sashaying across the polished marble floor towards him, her nose in the air and a small smile playing about her glossed lips.
She looked as if she didn't have a care in the world rather than a woman who was five minutes late her first day on the job.
If her shoes were something else, her dazzling green eyes captured his attention and shot it into the stratosphere. They sparkled with intelligence, and even a hint of wariness couldn't hide the glint of fun in their rich moss-green depths.
'You're late,' he said, his gaze roaming over her heart-shaped face with the high cheekbones, pert nose and lush mouth a tad on the full side.
Her features should've clashed. Instead, they melded into a heart-stopping combination and, for a guy who appreciated beautiful things on a daily basis and had since he could first walk and talk, he couldn't tear his gaze away.
'And you are?'
Surprised by her assured comeback when she should've been on the back foot, and more than a little annoyed at his urge to laugh, he said, 'Someone who could have your butt for waltzing in here late on your first day.'
If her confidence surprised him, her glossed lips curving into a saucy smile shocked the hell out of him.
'You could have my butt, huh? Sounds like an interesting way to foster employee relations.'
His mouth twitched despite the urge to send her packing before she'd begun.
From scanning her CV he'd expected an eager-to-learn, deferent trainee. Instead, with her sun-streaked blonde hair perched high on her head in a jaunty pony-tail, a figure-hugging pinstripe suit outlining a compact, curvaceous body and a pale pink shirt that reminded him of freshly spun candy floss, this woman screamed 'sex kitten' rather than tour guide.
Sex kitten? Where had that come from?
Dropping his gaze to her feet and those funky shoes, he knew exactly what had put the idea into his head.
He was a leg man through and through, and the sight of her curvy stockingless calves and dainty feet thrust into shoes that definitely didn't belong to a conservative tour guide had his head in a spin.
He chose to ignore her sassy remark, considering his obsession with her legs didn't need the added burden of thinking about her butt too.
'I'm not an employee.'
He sent her his best glower, the one that made most workers jump to his tune on various digs around the world.
Her eyes lit up, sparking green fire as she tilted her chin up. 'In that case, you have no right telling me off. So if you don't mind'
'I'm your employer.'
He expected to see fear or the glimmer of an apology replacing the glint in her eyes.
Once again, she proved him wrong.
'Pleased to meet you. Beth Walker, tour guide extraordinaire at your service.'
She stuck out her hand, a wide grin curving her lips and he found himself unwittingly returning her smile while he shook her hand.
'Aidan Voss, the new boss around here.'
A boss who had no right noticing how her eyes twinkled when she smiled or the cheeky lilt in her voice when she spoke, as if challenging him to do goodness knew what.
'Do you personally greet all your employees?'
'Only the ones who are late on their first day.' He tapped his watch face. 'I must say your lack of punctuality surprises me, Miss Walker.'
'Call me Beth.' She dropped her gaze, but not before he'd seen a flicker of fear, the first sign she was anything other than confident. 'And I'm really sorry for being late. I was running on time until I had a shoe crisis.'
Once again, his lips gave a decided twitch and he clamped down his urge to laugh out loud.
'Speaking of your shoes, do you think they're appropriate for your role here?'