Twenty-seven-year-old divorcée Vix Tremain finally has her first job-as a theater-set painter-and is ready to leave the past behind. What better way to get her confidence back than a fling with a handsome stranger? She isn't looking for anything emotional, she's had enough heartbreak. Rugged Jay Dee, the set construction manager, fits the bill for no strings fun perfectly. What Vix doesn't realize is that Jay is not exactly a stranger . .
|Product dimensions:||5.51(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.38(d)|
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A Romance By Design Novel
By Virginia Taylor
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Virginia Taylor
All rights reserved.
Her shoulders almost creaking with tension, Victoria Tremain turned off her car engine. Tonight, as one of the crew, she had attended the first party she had been to in a year, a pre-production getting-to-know-you function held for the cast and crew of the stage version of High Society. Experiencing a deadly case of stage fright, she aimed the huge smile she had plastered on her face in the direction of her wildly attractive passenger. He had told her he would make her a cup of coffee if she drove him home.
Behind him, the blaring streetlight reflected on the outside of a suburban redbrick bungalow with no fence and a front garden that had been dug over but not planted — a work in progress, but not out of place in this narrow street of tidy post-war houses. Shadowy stacks of planks lay in his concrete driveway.
"So, this is where you build your theater sets?" Her voice sounded suitably low and husky, not because she was at all sophisticated, but because she was terrified.
Picking up men wasn't as easy as ... Actually, she hadn't imagined picking up men would be easy, not for someone as naturally awkward as she. She had almost fallen over her feet in her hurry to get the hunky set-builder into her car. Or maybe she almost fell over her big yellow heels, which took some getting used to — for she was now flashy, single, champagne-drinking Vix Tremain, trying to find the life she had missed during the past seven years. Married at the age of twenty, she had divorced eleven months ago.
He shook his head. "The wood belongs in the garage, but I haven't had time yet to shift it." Muffled doof-doof music rocked the air as he opened the car door on his side.
She opened her side, stepped out, and caught her bag on the handbrake. Muttering under her breath, she untangled the strap and closed the door, hoping he hadn't noticed. His coordination was as notable as his big, honed body.
She cleared her throat. "When did you finish your last set?" Scooping her hair back, she followed him along an overgrown path to the low front porch.
"A couple of weeks ago. My team does four a year." He fumbled for his keys.
A sudden gust of wind blew a sheet of newspaper across the road and an orphaned takeaway coffee cup rattled against the fence. As she took a step back to give him space, her spiked heel caught between two slats and she stumbled.
He grabbed her, steadying her against his chest, his shaggy brown hair idly teasing across her cheek. "My woman trap." He set her back on her own feet. Suppressed laughter deepened his voice.
She gave a careful smile, scoring herself a ten for not apologizing. The man smelled like pine chips and the fresh sea breeze blowing in from the port. He opened the door, a forest green blistered over white undercoat and slivers of ashen wood. For a moment, his arm blocked her as he reached around his doorframe for the light. The pulse in her neck thudding, she waited until he stepped back. This could be her first one-night stand if she didn't mess up or say something dorky. Tonight, she had great expectations of herself. She had scrubbed-up quite well and now she only had to follow through.
He placed his hand on the center of her back and guided her through a bare hallway to an open space containing a sitting room at one end and a dining–slash–kitchen area at the other. Tossing his leather jacket over a chair, he stepped behind the kitchen countertop and began to pour coffee beans into a grinder sitting beside a basic espresso machine. For a moment, she experienced stark disappointment. Perhaps when he had said "coffee," he had meant "coffee."
"Take a seat." Using his eyes, he indicated the sitting area, painted in faded magnolia and furnished with a floral two-seater couch and a couple of stiff-backed chairs upholstered in gray.
Keeping him in view, she sat on the edge of the couch, clutching her handbag to her chest. Her mouth was as dry as the recent winter. "What's your real name?"
"JD." Resting his work-roughened hands on the countertop, he flitted his gaze over her legs.
Her skirt had hitched up too high. She thought about using her handbag as a cover but she had worn the bad-girl, tight red skirt to change her image. Breathing out, she put the bag on the floor, giving him a sideways glance. "I'm guessing. An abbreviation of Juvenile Delinquent?" She held her breath.
He smiled, forming creases that were almost dimples. "From West Side Story?" He scooped the ground beans into the measure.
She half-relaxed. He recognized the musical, and most men didn't. "Just Deciding might suit you better." She laughed at her blatant hint but when his gaze connected with hers, her face warmed. He could take all the time he needed and if he didn't plan on having sex with her, the world wouldn't end. He might simply have wanted a comfortable ride home. Men invariably preferred using her cars.
Fortunately, he gave her an amused look. Reaching for the mugs, he showed her an impressive back view, wide at the top and angling to lean hips and a tight, hard rear. Although stacked, he couldn't be called handsome. The left side of his face had been puckered by a scar that wove up his cheek and toward his eye. He looked like the tradesman he was, an appearance he emphasized with his faded jeans and cotton shirt.
"How do you like your coffee?" He stared at her over his shoulder.
"Plain black, please."
At the party for High Society, she'd used champagne to segue into the new sophisticated Vix Tremain. Awkward, tactless Victoria Nolan had barely spoken to a man in this past year, let alone stumbled into his house. Married young, she'd never ventured into the dating scene. Instead, she had accepted the first man who had shown an interest in her, impressionable fool that she had been. "How complicated was your last set?"
"A single room." He shrugged. "Three entrances and a flight of stairs." He brought over a brimming coffee, placing the mug on the blue-painted table adjacent to her seat.
"Sit here," she said, amazing herself by patting the cushion beside her. She even considered adding a casual touch by kicking off her heels, but couldn't with any semblance of grace. Her legs were long and her skirt was a size tighter than she usually bought. She should have worn fitted pants. Then she could have crossed her legs or casually hooked one up onto the couch. Dressing to pick up a man needed more planning than she had imagined. She dragged in a breath. "I see we have ten scene changes. That's enough to keep me painting solidly for the next three months."
He lowered himself beside her. For a few heartbeats, he sat silently. "Are you being paid for your time or the job?"
"For the job. My specialty is set design, but I've never worked. I have to start. So, I thought taking on the painting first would ease my way in, which makes the money immaterial."
He gave an almost imperceptible nod. "When did it happen?"
"Getting the job?"
"I'm asking about your divorce." He lifted her third finger, left hand, which still held an indented reminder of the wedding ring she no longer wore.
She no longer owned the platinum band, either. Although she should have flushed the meaningless thing into the sewer, she couldn't stand waste. Instead, she had gone out to buy herself a box of celebration chocolates, the last she had eaten since then, and sold the ring, dropping the money into the hat of the first street musician she saw on the way back to her car. "You're observant. I've been free for a year."
She tilted her head to the side, trying an unconcerned smile. "Because?"
His eyebrows lifted.
Her insides began to quiver with hope.
He settled his arm along the back of the couch. His hand touched her hair, and he tugged a lock. "What am I going to do with you?" He used a deep, soft tone.
"Did you have anything else in mind when you offered to make me coffee?" Her tentative gaze met his.
"Not my thinking mind, no."
"Your thinking mind as compared to ...?"
He drew air through his teeth. "As compared to the mind I don't often use when I'm with a beautiful woman. So ..." He rested one large hand on the side of her neck and his thumb under her jaw. Leaning over, he touched his lips to hers.
A delicious shiver ran though her. His eyelashes were thick and brown at the tips and blond near his lids.
When she could breathe evenly, she said, "You have nice, soft lips."
"That's my line." His steady gaze held hers.
"I thought you might need encouragement."
His mouth tilted at the corners and his eyes gleamed. "More likely discouragement."
She gave an off-hand shrug, smiling inside. "I'm just not in the mood to do that," she said, trying for a mock snooty tone.
"To discourage me?" He glanced sideways at her. "Let me get this straight. You want to encourage me?"
"I drove you home. What would you expect if you had driven me home?" She lifted her eyebrows.
He nodded. "I would hope for much more than a cup of coffee."
She couldn't look away from him, and she certainly couldn't breathe.
He meshed his fingers with hers. "And, fair's fair." Staring at her face, he put his other arm along the back of the couch behind her. His hand shifted to the nape of her neck and she found herself tucked into his frame.
She glanced up, hoping to be kissed again.
He obliged, dropping his mouth lightly over hers and testing her upper lip with his tongue.
She drew back. "The bedroom?"
Experimentally, she brushed his upper thigh with her knuckles, noting an exciting shape expanding his jeans. "I can't possibly give you time to change your mind."
He picked up her hand and gently took the pad of her forefinger between his lips. "Why hurry? We're going to be working together," he said in a relaxed voice.
"Not often. When your job ends, mine begins. I can't paint a set before it's built."
He toyed with her fingers.
She wriggled uncomfortably. "If you're afraid of awkwardness when we meet again, I'm sure we will hardly ever meet again. I mean ..."
"So, you want to get into bed with someone that you expect to hardly ever meet again?"
Her insides began to shake. "If you don't want to, you can say no. I thought ... Well, it's kind of normal, isn't it, to have an instant physical attraction to someone? Well, it's not normal for me, but ..."
He leaned back, staring into her eyes. "I didn't plan on saying no."
"Are we arguing about what happens next, or are we agreeing?" She started to chew on her lip and, mindful of looking insecure, stopped.
He glanced away. "What color are my eyes?"
"You have light brown hair, so you probably have light eyes."
"Your eyes are blue."
"You're looking straight at them now," she said indignantly.
"How does that follow? You're not naturally blond."
"I almost am."
Embarrassed, for she had been born blond and had remained that way until about the age of ten, when her hair had turned a pure shade of natural mouse, she said, "Hardly anyone is at my age. If you are only interested in natural blondes, you're doomed to disappointment."
"I didn't say I was disappointed. My mind was simply trying to connect eye color and hair color."
"I can only judge your reaction to me by your, um ..." She stopped, knowing she shouldn't tell a man that from the moment they'd met, his smile had lured her on, way past her normal comfort zone. Most men preferred assured women who knew how to tease.
"My um?" His expression blanked, and he stood.
Her stomach dropped to her toes. Being knocked back on her first try at propositioning a man would probably put her off ever trying again. Any other unnatural blonde in a tight red skirt would get the man she wanted ... or leave with her dignity intact. She rose to her feet, avoiding his eyes. "So, I'll say goodnight and thank you for the coffee."
He stood. "You read my um right. That's one of the disadvantages of being male."
She nodded, reaching for her handbag. A tall, confident man like him was possibly propositioned twice a day, at least. He could afford to pick and choose. Her breath stopped as she realized what he had implied and, her mouth not quite shut, she lifted her gaze to his.
"And thank me in the morning," he murmured as his mouth slowly connected with hers.
At first stunned, she didn't respond. Then he settled a palm on the small of her back, drawing her close. Her insides began to hum, and she leaned away to struggle out of her jacket. He helped, tossing the distraction onto the chair with his. She started to work on the button of his jeans, her brain a maze of unfinished thoughts. Unfortunately, in her confusion, she tangled her fingers against his flat belly.
"I'll do that," he said, his eyes glinting with humor. "I think I ought to head for the bathroom for a condom. The bedroom is through there." He indicated the room in the hallway closest to the front door.
She glanced at his chin, traced her gaze over his scar, and straightened her shoulders. Then, picking up her jacket and her bag, she went into his bedroom, where after undressing quickly, she arranged herself in his bed. With her arms at her sides, she lay staring at the flaky ceiling, forcing in long, deep breaths. He gave her time enough to ease the nervous flutter in her chest and time enough to justify acting out of character.
She had never before let anyone think they owed her a favor. A good girl all her life, she had been called prissy and conventional. She'd watched the bad girls grab whatever they wanted while she'd stood back and hoped to be valued for being honest. No more.
She'd been cheated on, taken advantage of, and left humiliated. If she had any sort of courage, she would stop living for tomorrow and start living for today — tonight. What sort of person had no regrets? Wincing, she glanced at her clothes on the floor. If need be she could make a quick getaway.
In half an hour, with luck, she would find out if sex with a wildly attractive bad boy would change her attitude. She didn't care about competing with other more attractive, more confident women, and she didn't hope for love. One single bout of satisfying sex would do her. Then, she would know she was not as frigid, repressed, and sexless as she had been told.
Staring at the door, she waited for the big, inscrutable hunk.
* * *
Jay shut the bathroom door behind him. Last year, he had built the set for South Pacific. Although he hadn't attended any rehearsals of the show, while he had been bumping-in the set, he had heard an actor going over a schmaltzy song about spotting a woman across a crowded room and falling instantly in love.
Jay hadn't fallen instantly in love with Vix Tremain, but lust had featured strongly. Spotting the blonde, he had pushed through the usual crowd to introduce himself to a sleek beauty who seemed genuinely glad to talk him. Normally a woman with skin as smooth as rich cream and a long-legged, toned body would act like a show pony, but she had a rare natural charm. She also showed a clear interest in him, demonstrated by the odd self-conscious gesture, like touching her hair and moistening her lips. Every move of hers reflected his purely animal attraction. He'd thought the last theater set he ever meant to construct would easily be his most interesting.
Set painters could be anyone — male or female, old or young, ultra-serious, control freaks, or dreadlocked posers. Not often did he get assigned to a beautiful woman who looked as interested in messing around as he was. He didn't have the time for a relationship, but he could fit in a casual affair that lasted the length of the production, and he could certainly handle one with a golden man-toy. He'd been blatant about his attraction to her, and he'd intimated that a sweaty night would be had by all if she accompanied him home.
The dazzling smile she gave him in response hit him like a punch to the head. He'd seen that smile before. Only last year, when skimming the newspaper, he'd noted a photograph of the Nolans, plain, plump Victoria with her incredible smile and her older husband, Timothy, architect and millionaire entrepreneur.
Jay ran his fingers over the scar on his cheek, a memento from her husband.
For at least a year, he'd thought about revenge on Timmy- boy. Although Jay was visibly scarred, he'd never been handsome. Nor did he make his living out of his looks. Bygones had been bygones, but knowing she was Tim's ex added to her appeal. In fact, he'd seen screwing her as some sort of compensation for having his future screwed by Tim. His dick had largely guided these self-serving thoughts.
Excerpted from Sets Appeal by Virginia Taylor. Copyright © 2017 Virginia Taylor. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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