Read an Excerpt
By Suzanne Forster
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
Copyright © 2003
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Swan McKenna had been inspecting half-naked men for the better part of the afternoon. And she still hadn't found Mr.
Right. Watching men strip down to their underwear was a job most women would have loved. And Swan should have loved it
more than most. It was her underwear they were stripping down to. Well, not her underwear. She was wearing
that. This was underwear she'd designed.
Now she needed a guy who could sell it.
"I need a man who can bump and grind!" she implored.
Swan was speaking on her cell phone to her assistant, Gerard Nichols, who was acting as host for the auditioning
models. Swan's partner, Lynne Carmichael, who normally dealt with this sort of thing, was on the road doing advance
work for their upcoming boutique tour. Her departure had left Swan and Gerard scrambling to get ready for the launch
party tomorrow night. This was their first real show and L.A."s fashion press had been invited for an exclusive sneak
peek at the "cheeky" new line of male undergarments.
If Swan wasn't a bundle of naked nerve endings, she should have been. She and Lynne had worked for years to get to this
place, against staggering odds. The fashion world regularly feasted on its own young and Swan felt a little like a
chicken wing right now. One scathing review could crush them.
A couple of guys who can striptease without getting all tangled up in their army camouflage thongs. Is that too
much to ask?
"It's a Village People revival out here," Gerard replied in theatrical whispers. "We've got a Native American
chieftain, complete with headdress, a fireman with an ax, a pistol-packin' cowboy. And, oh, my, call 9-1-1! The
telephone repairman who just walked in is to die for, Swan. To die for."
Gerard was stationed in the foyer and Swan was in the spacious music room of the Italianate villa that had recently
become the operating headquarters for Brief Encounters, Swan and Lynne's design company.
"Oh, oh, oh, and there's a Marquis de Sade." Gerard let out a little squeak. "He has a whip, Swan! An
honest-to-goodness whip! Shall I send him in?"
Swan's only response was a tiny jet of air through her nostrils. Laughter took too much energy. Gerard was in his
element right now, she supposed. From the moment she'd first met him, Swan had known that Gerard was gay. She knew
because he'd told her. Hello, my name is Gerard Nichols, and I'm gay. At the time Swan had wondered if that was
how he introduced himself to everyone. She discovered later that, generally, it was.
When he'd walked into her tiny Manhattan Beach, California, office that day, he'd also informed her that he was
answering her Assistant Wanted ad and she need look no further. Sure, he'd grown up wanting to be an underwear model
like Mark Whalberg, but, at thirty-something, he was a little too fond of strawberry-cheesecake ice cream. Design was
his second choice, but he couldn't draw. So he was content to be indispensable.
And he was. Swan would have been lost without him.
"Let's try the telephone repairman," she said. "He sounds safer. That fire-swallowing Adonis you just sent in here
dropped his baton and nearly set the place ablaze. No more of that, okay? And no more live animals, especially snakes."
Swan didn't like snakes and this one had actually fallen from its handler's bare shoulders and slithered under the sofa
Swan was sitting on. She still had goose bumps over that. It was a wonder it hadn't sent her running to the bathroom to
relieve herself. For as long as she could remember, she'd suffered with a high-strung bladder. Some people got hives
when they were nervous. Swan McKenna had to pee.
"But, Swaaaan -"
"No way, Gerard. Nothing creepy crawly, nothing with more than two legs, nothing flammable and nothing that is going to
explode. This is a fashion show, not a demolition derby. Besides, I'm late with the insurance premium this quarter. I'm
not even sure we're covered."
She heard him sigh into the phone. Gerard enjoyed bells and whistles and had been arguing that the party's fashion show
needed more special effects. Since Swan and Lynne couldn't afford pyrotechnics and laser lights, Gerard had suggested
they let the models provide the runway pizzazz. Swan had finally agreed that he could invite some of his more exotic
friends to audition, but this was ridiculous.
"The marquis looks like fun, Swan. Are you sure?"
"I've never been more sure, Gerard. Do not send in the guy with the whip."
Gerard clicked off, and Swan went back to work on the growing stack of portfolios provided by the models. Résumés and
glossy head shots were strewn across the glass-topped coffee table she was using as a work surface. Most of the guys
were wannabes rather than professional models, which was lucky because Brief Encounters was currently too broke to pay
modeling fees. The party food and decorations were largely donated, thanks to Gerard's ingenuity, and the men who'd
shown up to audition were volunteering their time, hoping to get some exposure, probably - which shouldn't be a
problem in her underwear.
Swan held the back of her hand to her forehead and felt the stickiness. August was typically the hottest month of the
summer, even at the beach, and the fifty-year-old villa wasn't air-conditioned. Swan had dressed defensively, in capris
and a tank top, but naked would have been too warm in this place.
The kicker was that she wasn't even supposed to be doing this task. Lynne had cooked up the impromptu launch party
idea, hoping it would generate some publicity. It was a good idea and Swan had gone along with it, but Lynne was the
gregarious one, the free spirit who had a flair for this sort of thing, which was why she worked sales, marketing and
PR. Swan was the organizer and the bean counter. She also did most of the actual designing, but other than a few
fittings and alterations, she rarely worked with the models.
Lynne was supposed to have come back to run the auditions, but she'd left a message from San Francisco, saying that
something big was up and she would call back later to explain. She'd also dropped the name of a huge international
designer. Lynne loved being mysterious, but this wasn't the time, not when they were facing their first-ever tour. At
least Lynne had finalized all the details of their first runway show in Los Angeles, including the models, but Swan
still had the launch party to deal with.
The music room door opened and the telephone repairman was all but pushed inside by Gerard, who grinned and waggled his
fingers at Swan before leaving. The new model looked around as if he had no idea where he was or why he was there. A
bad sign. Swan waved him into the room, but he didn't budge.
"I'm here to -"
"Yes, I know," she said brightly. "Great outfit. You're my first repairman, and I must say, it works."
And how it worked. This guy could have installed her phone any day of the week. Gerard hadn't done him justice,
she realized. If Lynne had been there, she would have given him the compliment she reserved for lifeguards and the
Olympic water polo team: studly.
Of course, Swan was trained to notice such things, but the man's legs were so long he must have had his blue jeans
specially made. And who could miss the way he'd planted himself, his hips canted at an angle that emphasized their
narrowness and the wide rake of his shoulders. The expression on his face was priceless, too. Bemused and
quizzical, faintly suspicious. Male.
Swan felt heat stealing up the back of her neck and realized she was having a physical reaction right here in the music
room. Was that possible? Something was tingling, and it wasn't her bladder!
Excerpted from Brief Encounters
by Suzanne Forster
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.
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