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Real estate mogul Josh Wyatt is hotter than hot. That body. That wicked grin. Those eyes. The man can melt panty elastic with just one look--hell, he could melt driveway ice with just one look. And the tabloid photos of him emerging--naked--from his very secluded Florida pool just got him voted the year's most delectable hunk by women all across America. Time to get a bodyguard and fast. But the minute he meets sultry, leggy ex-cop Tess Franklin, Josh knows he's met his match. . .
Kick paparazzi butt? Check. Scare away his lust-crazed fans? No problem. Pretend to be his girlfriend? Sure. Practical Tess would never say no to an easy gig like that. But Josh is even hotter in person than he is in those amazing photos--and Tess Franklin is about to experience an extreme meltdown. . .in his arms.
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CLOSE TO PERFECT
By TINA DONAHUE BRAVA BOOKS Copyright © 2005 Darlene Zambruski
All right reserved.
Chapter One Nudity-especially his own-had never fazed Josh Wyatt. In the steamy Florida Keys clothing was generally kept to a minimum in public, while stripping down to skin in private was as natural as breathing, and certainly not something Josh had ever thought about.
The last forty-eight hours had changed that. Suddenly his private moments were public thanks to Keys Confidential, a popular tabloid.
The latest edition was on his desk, but Josh deliberately ignored those unauthorized photos that captured him from behind as he emerged naked from his very secluded pool. He didn't need to look at that again; those suckers were forever burned into his memory and generated absolutely no sympathy from his staff.
"Lighten up," his secretary had said just a short time ago. Although Peg Mulrooney was in her mid-forties, she seemed closer to Josh's thirty-one given her lingering beauty and flippant attitude. "It could have been worse."
Josh hadn't a clue how, unless that paparazzo hadn't fled before he turned completely around, with those photos being sold from under the counter in brown paper wrappers. "The bastard had no right to break into my private yard and take those pictures of me."
"Of course he didn't, but it's not so bad."
Easy to say since she was fully clothed and still anonymous to the public. Even so, Josh always listened to Peg. They had worked at the same company during his construction days, with Peg being his first employee when he became a developer. She hadn't taken crap from him when he was poor, and wasn't at all impressed with his current wealth.
He trusted her. If she said it wasn't so bad, it probably wasn't. "Why not?"
"The paper named you this year's most delectable hunk, didn't they? They even spelled your name right. What more could you want?"
"Damned if I know. Wait a sec-how about privacy? Or trunks?"
"Give it a rest," she advised. "You look good."
She had said that as her gaze was riveted to those shots of his naked back, ass, and legs.
I'm a dead man, he thought then and now. Proof of it was in the endlessly ringing phones with none of those calls being about business. Oh, no. Propositions from women who had seen him exposed in that tabloid continued to pour in by the hour, and then there were the gifts.
Josh glanced at one particularly lush basket adorned with velvety orchids in varying shades of red, purple, and hot pink. Snuggled within those dewy petals were photos of a young blonde striking the same poses Josh had unwittingly provided for that paparazzo.
Peg assured him that his photos were better.
At least they weren't as obvious. The blonde had a scarlet banner stretched across her bare butt with white print that read: Bad Boy Meets Even Badder Girl. Yum.
He closed his eyes.
Aw, God. He had momentarily forgotten that his attorney was still in the office. "Yup?"
"You really need to deal with this."
Josh was trying, but not in the way Alan Davis would have liked. Opening his eyes, his gaze slid to the man. Despite an outside temp of ninety, and punishing humidity that made even an air-conditioned office feel clammy, Alan wore a navy Brooks Brothers suit with a gold tie knotted so tight his thin face seemed paler than usual.
Josh wondered if Alan was about to faint from lack of oxygen, lack of sweating, or the problem Keys Confidential had created. "You worry too much."
The man instinctively touched the small bald spot on the top of his head, before smoothing down the rest of his thinning brown hair. He was only thirty-five, but looked older than Peg and seemed suddenly depressed about it. "You don't worry enough."
He had that right. Josh continued to ignore the bundles of that tabloid stacked on the leather sofa and chairs in here. The moment Alan found out about the photos, he had sent his crew to every grocery, liquor, and convenience store to buy all the copies. Rumor had it that the tabloid just printed more since the demand was so great. "I don't want a bodyguard."
"You don't have a choice."
"This will blow over."
"Not before the first wave of lawsuits hit."
"You think Badder Girl would actually sue me?"
Alan looked at her picture.
Josh expected the man's pale cheeks to finally pink up. Didn't happen. If anything, her bare butt made Alan more determined to treat this as seriously as possible.
"I think if you so much as accidentally bump into one of these women while they're after you, they're going to see a golden opportunity to claim that you led them on, you got them in a compromising position, you couldn't take 'no' for an answer, and then-"
"I get your point." Damn. Being poor had sucked, but being rich was not without its problems. The moment Josh hit it big everyone wanted a piece of him with some, even the ladies, meaning to take it any way they could. He slumped farther into his chair.
Alan rocked on his heels as if he'd gotten his second wind. "That last man you interviewed was just perfect for your needs."
Josh rolled his eyes and swiveled his chair around until he was facing the bank of windows behind his desk. Just past the overhanging evergreens and palms a modest yacht was approaching the dock. Beyond that, the Atlantic stretched into the distance, its bluish waters rustling, restless, offering escape.
Alan sighed from behind. "What was wrong with him?"
"Besides smelling like garlic every time he belched?"
"He's going to protect you, not kiss you. Besides," Alan said, despite Josh's groan, "he was perfect. Big. Strong. No-nonsense and-"
"Stop-you're turning me on."
Again, Alan sighed. "At least reconsider suing the publication."
"And have it all over Court TV, then made into a movie on cable? Aren't you worried about who they'd get to play you?"
Alan muttered something beneath his breath.
"See?" Josh said. "It's not as easy as you think; so no, thanks. I just want this to go away."
"Exactly. And to do that, you need to hire a bodyguard."
Or another attorney. Suppressing a sigh, Josh finally tuned Alan out and concentrated on that boat instead.
It wasn't an exceptional craft by any means. Just a double cabin motor yacht with an upper helm station being piloted by a young guy who kept looking towards this office, rather than the slips.
Was he lost?
"So, what do you think?" Alan asked.
Josh didn't know what to think about that guy. For some reason his grungy hair and sloppy T-shirt seemed vaguely familiar, even though nearly everyone in the Keys dressed like that. Of course, what really struck a chord was the way he kept dipping his left shoulder as if he was dancing in place. Josh had seen that exact same movement before, though he couldn't quite recall where or when or even if it involved this guy. Did he work around here? Had he been involved in one of the recent developments? Did he own one of the contracting companies?
Was he ever going to look at that damned dock instead of this office?
"Yeah, sure, right," he said to Alan, then craned his neck to see that guy better, until the guy craned his neck as if he also wanted a better look.
"Right?" Alan asked.
No, that guy's last movement was wrong. Actually, it was bordering on fucking weird.
Who are you?
Josh leaned to the side for a better view, but got squat, since the guy sank to his knees behind the controls. At just that moment, a group of mean-looking clouds blocked the sun.
The windows quickly reflected Josh twisted into a very uncomfortable position, which was probably why that guy had stared and was now possibly hiding.
Straightening, Josh rubbed the side of his neck and looked past his own reflection to the rest of the office. Beyond it was a glass wall that separated his space from Peg's.
She was standing beside her desk as she spoke to a young woman whose back was to him.
Josh's fingers paused on his neck. The pain was forgotten as his gaze drifted down that young woman's thick, dark hair. It fell in gentle waves to her narrow shoulders, all soft and natural.
His gaze inched lower.
She was slender and tall and dressed in a suit that Brooks Brothers never thought to design. Foolish boys. That suit was unbelievably nice. The jacket was fitted, while the slim skirt was slightly above the knee with a side slit to make walking easy and to give a man just a hint of her very nice thigh.
That thigh was currently hidden, but that didn't stop Josh from exploring what he could of her beneath that suit. The fabric appeared lightweight and silky-from here it seemed to be the color of a ripe peach-and hugged her so well that she looked both elegant and sexy.
His thoughts whispered, Turn around.
Without pause, Josh swiveled his chair so that he was facing his desk and her.
Alan immediately stepped into his line of sight. "Then you agree?"
"What?" Josh leaned to the right to look around Alan.
"Then you agree?"
"Sure-whatever-dammit, Alan, stand still, will you?"
The attorney finally stopped pacing. "Why?"
Why else? So he could look around the man to her.
Beneath the harsh fluorescent lights that lovely hair was glossy, the color of an expensive cognac, gently framing her face. Features that were both delicate and exotic complemented her creamy flesh and those lushly lashed eyes that were either a very light brown or hazel.
Josh imagined heat in those eyes, the kind that made a man promise all sorts of things and not regret a one of them. He imagined her in island wear-one of those sheer cotton camisoles and white skirts with a ruffled hem that hung low on her hips, baring her navel.
Something deep within him was stirred as he skimmed the outline of her breasts. Full breasts that would easily fill a man's hands.
Who was she? Why was she turning away? What were she and Peg talking about?
What was Peg doing?
Josh watched as the woman went behind her desk. Each movement caused Peg's beaded hippie dress to sparkle as wildly as the glittery scarf she had wrapped around her reddish curls. There were rings on each finger and too many bracelets dangling against her wrists as Peg reached into her wastebasket, pulled out a copy of that tabloid and showed it to the young woman.
Josh stared as Peg pointed to his buck naked pictures on the cover-as if anyone could miss them-then pointed to the glass that separated her office from his.
The young woman's gaze lifted to where he was seated, then returned to the tabloid as if she just couldn't help herself.
Please don't keep looking at that.
A moment passed and then another, while heat rose to Josh's chest and throat.
He had to wonder what in the world that young woman was thinking and why he cared. He didn't know her. If she was some weirdo who was here to ogle him in the flesh, so to speak, he would never know her. So, why did he feel so damned embarrassed?
Many women had seen him nude, really nude, his stiffened cock and tightened balls ready for action and not one bit ashamed. So, what was the big deal about this woman seeing his bare ass?
Josh told himself it was no big deal, but didn't believe it, because those pictures hadn't been his choice and certainly weren't something he was proud of.
Of course, try to tell that to Peg or those females who continued to call. Even better, try to explain it to this one. For some reason she seemed different than the rest. She was special, although Josh had no idea why.
He hoped to God she wouldn't laugh.
She did not. After a long moment, she simply lifted her gaze, touching his.
It was a surprise Josh had not expected.
There was understanding in her eyes, but beneath that a female wanting that was so damned honest it touched his core. As embarrassed as he had just felt, he was now as confident. Her gaze gave him that.
So, when was the last time he had needed a woman's approval-a stranger's approval, no less-to feel as if he hadn't been such a bad boy or a fool?
"Yo, Josh, remember me?"
Alan? His gaze drifted to the man. He was still here?
The door to his office opened.
Josh looked in that direction as the young woman came inside, her long legs moving fluidly, like a dancer.
Peg was right behind her, smiling broadly, her expression ordering him to lighten up.
Not a chance. Josh had never felt more coiled and aroused in all of his days. Every part of him was stirred by this young woman.
Pushing back his chair, Josh stood, ready for her, ready for anything as Peg said, "Whatever you two guys have been talking about, it can wait."
Tess Franklin couldn't have agreed more, though she hardly got the chance to express it as that pale, overdressed man frowned at Peg.
"No, it can't," he said.
"Sure it can," Peg countered, "just chill for a little bit. That's all I'm asking, Alan."
Alan wasn't convinced. As he whined and Peg refused to be impressed or intimidated, Tess continued to regard Josh Wyatt.
He was taller than she had expected, over six-two, with strong, masculine features and thick, dark-blond hair that was long enough and tousled enough to give him a boyish look.
This was no boy. His creamy brown eyes, his gaze, spoke of a man's experience and need. His lean, muscular frame betrayed those years he had toiled in construction before hitting it big in real estate development.
Despite that wealth, Tess could see that he wasn't at all corporate uptight, not like still-yakking Alan. Josh's choice in clothing was confident and casual-dark beige chinos and a white shirt worn open at the collar with the sleeves folded back to mid-forearm.
That skin was bronzed by the sun, that flesh sculpted by labor.
His gaze was still on her, watching, waiting, while his dark brows were lifting in approval, or was it surprise?
Tess wondered if his surprise was as pleasant as her own. Although she had seen photographs of him in Internet business articles, she never would have believed that he could be even better-looking in person. Or that his male beauty in a business setting could so easily match those bad boy photos in Keys Confidential, which was strewn all over this office, even his desk.
Tess warned herself not to look at the tabloid, and certainly not to linger on it, but couldn't resist.
Wow. That cover may have been unauthorized, but it was still amazing-nearly artistic as it showed three large photos of Josh with each building on the last, telling a sensual tale.
In the first, he was emerging naked from his pool. Light danced over the water streaming down his broad, muscular back and that luscious tattoo that ran the length of his shoulders.
Tess suspected he had gotten tattooed during his construction days. It was a geometric pattern, possibly Celtic-tribal, bold, virile. It made her skin tingle.
In the second photo, his ass was finally bared with that flesh as hard and well-toned as the rest of him.
In the third, he was fully out of the pool, his strong legs exposed, his hands lifted to his head as he smoothed back his damp hair, his torso turned to the side as if he finally sensed someone behind him. The muscles in his thighs were powerful and taut, the right side of his chest was exposed showing that hard pec and that dark, silky underarm hair.
He looked like a modern-day David. Even the artist Michelangelo would have been impressed.
No wonder he needed protection.
For the first time since Tess had convinced her father that she should come here-despite his vigorous objections-she was honestly glad. And not at all embarrassed by the way Josh was politely clearing his throat to get her attention.
She was behaving unprofessionally, no one had to tell her that, but there were worse things in life than a woman admiring photos of such a beautiful man.
Tess finished moistening her lips, and flicked her gaze to Alan. His expression was as pissy as that greeting.
Ignoring him, she looked at Josh.
In that moment he forgot what he had planned to say. His gaze dipped to her lush mouth, those freshly moistened lips, before returning to her eyes. A wave of desire so completely consumed Josh that he was unable to tell Alan to shut up.
As the attorney went on and on Josh saw that need again flaring in her eyes. They were hazel, a warm, golden color, as exotic as the rest of-
Excerpted from CLOSE TO PERFECT by TINA DONAHUE Copyright © 2005 by Darlene Zambruski. Excerpted by permission.
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