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Old Enough To Know Better
By Vicki Lewis Thompson
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"HOTTIE ALERT!"
Kasey Braddock glanced up. While the two guys in the office made remarks about female chauvinists, all the women hurried to where Gretchen Davies, a gutsy woman with a great laugh, had her nose pressed to the glass of the second-floor window. Moans of appreciation sounded in chorus.
Deciding from everyone's reaction that the view was worth checking out, Kasey punched the save button on her computer and walked toward the window. She'd been working on a PR campaign for a lingerie shop that wanted to shift its image - more Victoria's Secret, less Frederick's of Hollywood.
Hours of careful research on the subject of lace teddies and thong underwear had reminded her that she'd been seriously neglecting the goal she'd set for herself: to become the woman she'd always wanted to be. Sure, she'd worked on her appearance but she had yet to launch her personal campaign to act as sexy as she now looked. The nerd that still lurked inside seemed to be giving orders to the babe she'd become on the outside. Maybe ogling a fine example of Phoenix manhood would jump-start the new Kasey.
"Okay, my turn." She approached the cluster of five women blocking her view. "Two of you aren't eligible, anyway, so give a single girl a break."
"I was only saving you a good spot." Brandy Larson's fiancé, Eric Lassiter, was out of the office on an appointment, and she looked suitably guilty as she moved aside to make room for Kasey. "Try not to drool on the window," she murmured.
"Hey, Brandy, I'm telling Eric." Ed Finley leaned on the watercooler and observed the commotion.
"Don't go being a tattletale, Ed." Kasey gave him a warning glance, hoping he wasn't serious.
"Aw, I'm just kidding, Kase." Ed flashed her a peace sign.
"Glad to hear it." Kasey held her own in this boisterous office, but she wondered if that would still be the case if everyone knew she was only twenty. She'd finished college at eighteen. After thoroughly evaluating all the PR firms in the Valley, she'd targeted Beck-worth, landing the job before her nineteenth birthday. Only the big boss, Mr. Arnold Beckworth himself, knew her age. She wanted to keep it that way, so she'd continue to be treated as an equal.
"Ten bucks says he takes his shirt off in the next five minutes." Gretchen clutched a file folder to her ample chest as she stared outside.
Kasey finally took a look. "My God, it's Tarzan with a chain saw." Right at eye level, a really cute dark-haired guy stood balanced in a large mesquite tree. As the pruned branches toppled to the ground fifteen feet below, a couple of other workers cut them into smaller sections and loaded them into the back of a trailer.
His square jaw clenched, safety goggles making him look seriously macho, Trimmer Guy gripped his chain saw and made precision cuts. His muscles bunched under a sweat-stained T-shirt.
"I'll take that bet," said Amy Whittenburg, a forty-something divorcee with very red hair. "That's a company logo on the back of his shirt. Ashton Landscaping probably requires their employees to keep the shirts on to promote the company."
"I have to say he's promoting that company in a mighty fine manner," said Myra Detmar, the receptionist. "Mighty fine. Look at those shoulders. Too bad he's wearing gloves. We can't check out his ring finger."
"There you go again, making a sex object out of some poor slob," called Jerry Peters from his desk across the room. "If a bunch of guys acted the way you women act, we'd be crucified." Balding and on the pudgy side, Jerry always chimed in with a dose of indignation during a Hottie Alert.
"Oh, bite me," Gretchen shot back. "Between the insulation and the noise of his saw, he can't hear a word we say, and with the reflective coating on this window he can't even see us. It's like watching a movie."
"More like Candid Camera," Jerry said. "I think I'll wander out there and ask him if he knows there's a huddle of rabid females on the other side of the glass pretending he's the star attraction at Chippendale's."
Gretchen turned to glare at Jerry. "You do and you'll never get another double chocolate espresso on my coffee run, bub."
"Well, Tarzan's adorable," said Robbi Harrison, who'd returned from her honeymoon a week ago, "but I'm so spoken for. I'll have to leave him for the rest of you." She walked back to her desk. "I just had to take a peek for old time's sake."
"I tell you, that Ashton Landscaping shirt is comin' off," Gretchen said. "It's gotta be at least ninety out there, and handling that chain saw can't be easy. Look, he's turned it off and propped it in the crotch of the tree."
"I love it when you talk dirty." Kasey winked at her.
Gretchen laughed. "Mark my words, he's thinking about losing the shirt."
"I'm betting another ten that he does," Kasey said, joining in the ever-popular game. She studied the shirt in question. Ashton Landscaping was stenciled on the back in green script. She tried to think why the name Ashton sounded familiar. Even the guy looked like someone she should know. Information was working its way in from the far reaches of her memory, but it wasn't quite there yet.
"As long as we're throwing down bets," said Amy, "we might as well draw straws for him, too, in case he turns out to be available."
"Unfreaking-believable," Jerry muttered. "It's the straws again."
"It's the only fair way to handle a Hottie Alert," Gretchen said. "Robbi, we need you back over here. You can be the designated straw holder."
Kasey's heart began to pound. She'd have to take part in the straw thing or lose face. So far, she'd never ended up with the long straw, so she hadn't been required to go out and ask whatever hottie they were ogling for a date. Mostly she'd been relieved not to be forced into doing it. Then again, maybe peer pressure was the best way to launch her new persona.
"Here you go." Robbi came up beside them. She held out her hand, and four stubs of paper sprouted from her closed fist. "May the best woman win."
Kasey gazed at the stubs of paper. It was like a game of chicken. The idea was for the lucky gal to go out with the guy and make him drool without her handing over the goods. But twice since Kasey had started working at Beckworth, a woman had taken the dare and ended up engaged. Kasey wasn't about to let that happen to her.
Excerpted from Old Enough To Know Better by Vicki Lewis Thompson Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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