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Revealed

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«Revealed» - Джоанна Рок

When her costume ends up falling around her ankles in an impromptu striptease, Jackie Brady realizes she just sang to the wrong party. Somehow these bachelors weren't expecting «Happy Birthday»–even if it was a rather revealing rendition.But the steamy look in gorgeous best man Greg De Costa's eyes tells her he's more than pleased she crashed the party. So what harm would there be in accepting bachelor number two's seductive invitation?Greg is spellbound by this sexy singer–even before she loses her costume! He definitely wants to know more about the sensual Jackie. But through a not-so-funny twist of fate they're working together, and he's vowed never to mix business with pleasure. Too bad the memory of her scorching kisses has him forgetting about his good intentions….
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Greg had every intention of kissing Jackie

Greg had every intention of kissing Jackie

He’d been dying to taste those lips ever since she’d strutted through the restaurant.

Just when he’d been sizing up the situation, taking in her every curve and nuance so he could wring out every possible bit of pleasure from it for both of them, Jackie plastered herself against him for the most mind-blowing kiss he’d ever experienced.

She was like a sensory explosion, swamping every inch of him with tantalizing sensations. Her lips swayed over his in slow undulations, leaving him no choice but to seek entrance to her mouth for a more thorough taste.

Sweet and complex. Jackie tasted like a dessert wine and left him hungering for more.

But all the while he tried to drink in her taste, she was tormenting his chest with the soft nudge of her breasts. He could envision those breasts, those upturned nipples, perfectly.

And the image was killing him.

“Jackie?” He pulled away in slow degrees. They were in the middle of the sidewalk, for crying out loud. He kissed her one last time before backing up a step. He wanted to go upstairs with her and unveil her body at his leisure, not maul her in full view of her neighbors.

She smiled before she opened her eyes. “Hmm?”

“Do you mind if I come inside?”

Dear Reader,

A bachelor party seems an unlikely place to find romance, until the best man runs off with the reluctant stripper….

Ever had a mortifying moment that makes you wish you could rewind for just a few minutes? Jackie Brady, heroine of Revealed, runs into a doozy! I hope you enjoy her bachelor party mishap and the classy way she maneuvers herself out of the situation.

Because this gutsy, unconventional woman appealed to me on so many levels, I had to make it up to her somehow. Please let me know if you think I was sufficiently kind in sending sexy Greg De Costa her way! Greg is as committed to the fast track as Jackie is determined to forge her own path, however, so don’t expect their road to romance to be smooth.

While you are reading, I’ll be busy putting the finishing touches on my upcoming May 2003 Blaze title, Wild and Wicked, the sequel to Wild and Willing, Blaze #54. Visit me at www.JoanneRock.com to learn more about my future releases or to let me know what you think of this book. I’d love to hear from you!

Happy reading!

Joanne Rock

Books by Joanne Rock

HARLEQUIN TEMPTATION

863—LEARNING CURVES

897—TALL, DARK AND DARING

HARLEQUIN BLAZE

26—SILK, LACE & VIDEOTAPE

48—IN HOT PURSUIT

54—WILD AND WILLING

Revealed

Joanne Rock



www.millsandboon.co.uk

To my brother Neil, who reads Kant and Nietzsche, and now me! Thank you for caring about my work.

And to Dean, for providing endlessly entertaining insights into the male perspective.

Contents

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

1

JACKIE BRADY STARTED TO panic when her tail fell off for the third time. Thank God for duct tape or her fuzzy pants could have well been down around her ankles before she danced her way into the restaurant.

She finished her costume adjustments and smoothed her glued-on whiskers just as the elevator doors slid open. Careful not to tread on her ailing tail, she stepped into the penthouse-level eatery of a downtown Boston brownstone. Now all she needed to do was locate the birthday boy, sing her telegram song, and then she could reclaim her Friday night as her own.

So what if her stint as a singing telegram wasn’t exactly rocket science? It paid more than her daytime work as a copywriter. Both jobs were only a means to an end anyway.

She was prepared to abide a few sacrifices to achieve her dream of composing children’s music.

Besides, there was a certain nobility in any job that involved making people happy. A nobility that could scarcely be diminished by the kitty ears perched on her head.

The squeak of her tennis shoes on the polished wooden floor resounded throughout the dining area. Patrons paused between bites of mozzarella sticks and greasy chicken wings to note the cat woman strolling in their midst.

Not that Jackie cared.

But then, she’d been causing too much commotion all of her life. There was the time she decided to sing the elements of the periodic table for her science fair project. Sure she’d ruffled the feathers of all the kids who’d made robots, but she’d taken second place at the state competition. Then, just last week she’d gone out on a limb at a singing audition by transforming a rendition of a melodic herbal store jingle into a semituneful Tarzan-inspired jungle cry.

Jackie was no stranger to turning heads. Or taking risks. Sometimes they paid off, like the science fair victory. Sometimes they landed her back on the pavement singing telegrams, as last week’s unsuccessful audition proved.

Still, she wondered how she’d gotten suckered into this last-minute singing assignment when all she’d wanted to do tonight was recharge her creative batteries and develop some new song concepts. She’d had an idea rattling around in her brain—some rough lyrics for a new diet soda commercial she would polish and put on her demo tape. But the Zing-O-Gram office temp had sounded so desperate when she’d called, Jackie had no choice but to cover tonight’s late-breaking gig.

Just her luck, she had to be the only Zing-O-Gram employee on call without a date lined up for a Friday night. Nothing new there. Sure she had plenty of offers. Heck, the cat getup on its own could usually elicit a few dinner invitations in the course of an evening.

But never from the right sort of guys. Jackie wanted a man who knew how to have a good time—someone who cared more about following his heart and his dreams than the Almighty Buck. Boston was full of gorgeous men, but they all seemed to be on a relentless career fast-track that Jackie refused to enter.

Too bad.

So she would locate Gregory the birthday boy, sing him a cute song for his special day, and be on her way back to her solo Friday night. She’d be fine without a man in her life, and she’d be fine getting through tonight’s performance.

Assuming she didn’t burst a seam on this two-sizes-too-small cat costume first.

Jackie took slow, shallow breaths to ensure the black fuzzy suit stayed in place. She could handle this as long as she kept her song in a manageable octave. Those high notes had been known to strain even the best of seams—she sure as heck wasn’t about to try shattering any glass outfitted in this feline shrink-wrap. She’d just keep the tune in a comfortable range and she’d have no problem staying in her garb.

She was singing a simple ditty at a birthday party for a six-year-old boy. What could possibly go wrong?

“MAYBE SHE GOT THE address wrong,” Greg De Costa shouted into the cell phone. He couldn’t hear a damn thing over the music set at full blast in a back room of Flanagan’s.

Struggling to keep the phone against his ear while he wrestled open a new bottle of champagne, Greg ducked out of the way of a rogue dart sent sailing through the bar by a soused partygoer. He didn’t mean to hassle the office worker at Zing-O-Gram, but the stripper he’d ordered for his brother’s bachelor party was almost half an hour late.

Where was she?

The masses were starting to get restless. If he didn’t produce a naked woman soon, he’d definitely lose his audience. As the general manager for one of Boston’s major television stations, Greg couldn’t abide any event—televised or otherwise—that didn’t hold its own in the ratings. He would dance on the tables himself before he lost his viewers.

Although, no doubt, a naked woman would probably capture a larger share of the bachelor party market.

After grilling the harried woman at Zing-O-Gram for a few more minutes, Greg folded up the phone and popped another cork just as his brother stepped out of the crowd.

Mike De Costa—future bridegroom—claimed an open bottle of top-shelf champagne and proceeded to drink it as if it were a longneck. He grimaced at the label. “Since when do bachelors chug drinks with bubbles?”

“Since they have something big to celebrate, like marriage to a woman who’s nice enough to put up with you.” Greg had known Mike’s bride since kindergarten. Hannah Williams was as sweet as they came—and far too good for a guy determined to charm his way through life like Mike.

Mike swung his arms, sloshing champagne in a wide arc around himself as he did. “But look at what a catch she’s getting,” he protested.

“All six feet, two inches of burning ambition and refined taste,” Greg acknowledged, rolling his eyes.

Mike called up a belch from his toes and grinned. “You probably got me on the refined taste thing,” he admitted. “But not every woman cares about burning ambition, you know.”

“No?” Greg popped the cork on the last champagne bottle and handed it over to the waiter filling a tray of glasses.

“No.” Mike exchanged his half-finished liter bottle for a beer. “But obviously women like that are a foreign species to you.”

“I never met a species of woman I didn’t like.” Greg mopped off the bar with the waiter’s towel, a habit engrained long ago, in another bar, in another life. “I’m just not about to get serious with anyone who doesn’t understand how important it is to get ahead.”

“Then you’re a confirmed bachelor until you find an MBA-carrying superwoman. You’ve been trying to get ahead ever since the first moment you cut in front of me in line at the candy store.”

“Not this time,” Greg corrected him, reaching for Mike’s vacated bottle of champagne. “You’re ahead of me in the matrimony department with a wedding coming up in three weeks. You’re more than welcome to stay in first place.”

Truer words were never spoken. Greg needed a serious relationship like he needed his old bartending job back.

Not in this lifetime. Greg’s job was the envy of all his friends. He’d worked his butt off to carve a niche for himself among Boston’s business elite, and entanglements with the female persuasion only seemed to complicate things. What woman wanted to stick around while he worked until midnight in the studio to get just the right sound for a new commercial or wined and dined clients every weekend? After too many failed relationships and pissed-off women, Greg had learned to keep relationships simple and…brief.

His gig as a network general manager was a coup he planned to enjoy to the fullest—something he didn’t have any intention of risking for the sake of a woman.

The bachelor life couldn’t be any sweeter. To toast that fact, Greg gladly tipped the bottle to his lips, savoring the perfect finish of good champagne.

A ruckus on the other side of the bar caught his attention. Flanagan’s had a dining room at one end, a big bar in the middle, and a back room with a pool table for private parties. From his vantage point near the dartboard, Greg spied a small sea of turning heads, heard the slow rise of collective wolf whistles over the blaring music.

Greg couldn’t see the sudden center of attention with the throng of men to block his view, but he guessed either the stripper had arrived, or someone had smuggled a sexy power tool into the bar for his friends to admire.

Chances were, Zing-O-Gram had finally come through for him.

Downing another short swig from the champagne bottle—his last sip for the night so he could keep a clear head to stay in control of the party—Greg said a mental thank-you to the new arrival. Now that the stripper was here, he could move the evening along and hopefully salvage a few hours afterward to go over some demo tapes at home. As much as he wanted to ensure his brother had a good time, Greg hadn’t risen to the top of the heap at the television station by putting in the standard forty-hour work weeks. He had to review a three-mile-high stack of audio demos in a search for some fresh voice-over talent.

No sooner had he formed the thought than his senses were bombarded by the sexiest voice he’d ever heard.

“But I’m looking for Gregory…” a sultry feminine alto protested. “Is Gregory here?”

Howls of laughter emanated from the horde of males.

“Sure he’s here, honey.” Mike stepped into the fray. “He’s going to be real happy to see you.”

“I am supposed to deliver a Zing-O-Gram here, right?” Her gorgeous voice sailed over Greg’s senses. She had the sexy rasp of a torch singer.

Mike smiled, attempting to straighten his lopsided tie as he flashed her a killer grin. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

Greg slid off the bar stool, still squinting into the crowd to get a glimpse of the woman behind that incredible voice. After having cut his professional teeth in radio, Greg could recognize a memorable set of pipes. The anonymous stripper had them.

The sea of men approached Greg and Flanagan’s back room wearing interchangeable goofy grins. Greg had the feeling from their expressions that he was going to get his money’s worth for tonight’s performance. The stripper must be pretty hot to inspire such fawning before she’d wriggled out of her dress.

Mike reached Greg first. He clapped his brother on the shoulder and winked, then reached into the crowd. “Here’s Gregory, honey. He’s the man responsible for the party. I think he’s ready for the show.”

Mike pulled a female from the crowd. Men parted to make room for her and her…tail?

Greg took a quick inventory of the performer he’d ordered to please tonight’s bachelor party crowd. Weathered black kitty ears nestled into the woman’s silky, cinnamon-colored hair. Bright green eyes peered back at him over long black whiskers that were slightly askew. A pink triangle artfully painted over the woman’s nose completed the feline aspect.

She might have looked like she’d danced straight off the Barney set if she hadn’t been wearing an R-rated cat costume that hugged every curvy nuance of her body.

Greg swallowed as he took in the exposed tops of her breasts, thrust up high by an outfit that had to be too small for this generously endowed creature. The only place she seemed to have any breathing room was around her waist, a tiny curve that nipped in substantially from her rounded hips.

Who knew how long his eyes lingered over those hips. Why was it the furry black getup looked sexier than any showy combination of lace and satin?

Maybe it was the tail that wound around one hip and settled along her thigh, all the way down to her…tennis shoes. Hell, he saw Nike stock in his future. The long rope of black fur seemed to stroke and caress her leg with every breath the woman took.

Meow.

Perhaps he’d taken too long admiring her…outfit. Before he could introduce himself, the cat woman stuck out her hand.

“Hi.” She squeezed his fingers in a cool, professional grip. “I’m Jackie, the entertainment. This is your party?”

Her voice slithered over him, reminding him of smoky blues cafés and sultry jazz singers.

He nodded. He’d hired her after all. “I’m Greg.” Technically, it was Mike’s party. But her bill no doubt had Greg’s name on it. Besides, he wasn’t quite ready to turn her over to Mike’s friends just yet.

There was something compelling about Jackie the cat woman-stripper. Some classy, complex edge that her whiskers and kitty ears couldn’t diminish.

She frowned for a moment. “I see. Zing-O-Gram has been a bit overloaded this week. Sorry about the confusion.”

“Not a problem,” Greg assured her, honestly. Her late arrival hadn’t thrown off his schedule too much. “You’re here now and that’s all that matters. Can I get you a drink or anything else before you get started?”

Why did he find himself wanting to delay her show? Sure he was wildly curious about the body she was hiding underneath that kitten costume. But the notion of her being so completely revealed in a bar with all of Mike’s horny friends looking on suddenly disturbed him.

He’d heard of college students earning money for their tuition this way. Is that what had convinced Jackie to don the cat suit?

Jackie licked her lips, a gesture that seemed to suit her feline garb.

Greg tracked the progress of that small, pink tongue and found his own mouth had gone dry as dust.

“I wouldn’t mind a glass of water.” She glanced longingly at the bar.

Twenty guys shouted to the bartender for water.

Jackie shuffled on her tennis shoes as if nervous. Her tail seemed to twitch in response, drawing his attention unerringly to her long legs.

If Greg didn’t know better, he’d swear he was drunk. Since when did a stripper in a two-bit cat costume turn him on to this extreme? He was twisted in knots before she’d shed so much as a glove.

He rolled his shoulders in an attempt to work out one of those knots. Maybe he’d just been working too hard lately. He hadn’t been out on a date since his disastrous break up with the lady meteorologist…three months ago?

Obviously he was sex-starved. He just hadn’t realized it until Jackie had strutted her way into his life.

But he had no intention of acting on an impulsive attraction to a seductive pussycat.

Poor choice of images.

He tried in vain to staunch the blatantly sexual thoughts bombarding his senses. He needed to give Jackie her water and then allow her free rein to do her show.

Surely once she launched into her practiced routine of seduction, Greg would lose interest. Then he could get his mind off her…tail, and back on business.

JACKIE TUCKED HER TAIL closer to her body and gulped down her water gratefully.

The cat costume had never felt blatantly erotic until Greg De Costa had looked at her in it.

The man had her overheating, inside and out, and the soaring temperature didn’t have anything to do with being embarrassed at her birthday party snafu.

No. Jackie didn’t care that a bunch of overgrown boys had hired her to sing at their friend’s birthday party. She was used to being the center of attention and their ogling stares didn’t ruffle her fur in the least.

But Greg De Costa was another story.

One look at the man had her hyperventilating—not a good thing in a costume held together with duct tape.

He was handsome in a Tom Cruise sort of way—he had the look of a cocky Boston business exec, all charm and smooth talk and control. He wore a crisp white shirt tucked into navy-blue trousers with burgundy-striped suspenders. A matching wine-colored tie hung around his neck, but he’d loosened the knot at his throat and unbuttoned the collar.

Jackie had to admire the way his suntanned skin and dark-brown hair contrasted with that pristine white shirt. He probably summered on Martha’s Vineyard and wintered at Vale. She knew the type well. Heck, she’d grown up surrounded by overprivileged men and couldn’t find all that much to recommend them.

But those guys hadn’t possessed Greg De Costa’s penetrating brown eyes.

The charismatic birthday boy didn’t look at her with the standard I-know-what-you-look-like-underneath-that-cat-costume stare. His frank gaze was at once more respectful and more intimate. He peered at her like he knew she’d rather be at home writing stanzas.

And like he’d rather be there with her.

The notion unsettled her far more than any obvious, meaningless ogling from the other twenty-some guys in Flanagan’s.

She needed to shake Greg’s mesmerizing stare, sing her song, and flee the bar before she did something stupid like wrap herself around him and start purring.

“I’m ready,” she announced, taking the situation in hand. She’d already spent too long soaking up the heated vibes of attraction zipping between her and Greg. “Shall I set up over here?” She walked to a small dance floor in the corner of Flanagan’s back room.

She could perform most anywhere, but she’d learned to take charge of her environment in this business. She liked a wall behind her, her audience in front of her. Besides, she felt more in control when she named her parameters.

The throng of men attending the party moved as one into the back room, dutifully situating themselves right where she wanted them.

She could do this. They really were as well behaved as the six-year-olds she usually performed for, even if they had greeted her with wolf whistles. At least they hadn’t tried pulling her tail.

Greg was the last man to fall in line. He prowled the perimeter of the crowd, his eyes never leaving her.

“Do you need us to set up some music?” he called over the heads of his friends as they seated themselves at cocktail tables all around her.

“I’m the music,” she announced, allowing her artistic pride to get the best of her for a moment.

She was no lip-synching performer, after all. Jackie wasn’t here to dance around in a cat costume. She was here to sing.

No room full of overgrown boys was going to make her forget it. Though heaven knew, Greg De Costa was doing a damnably good job of trying.

She closed her eyes for a moment, willing away the sensual magnetism of Greg’s eyes. She took a deep breath and quickly regretted it as the duct tape along her seam shifted under the pressure of expanding lungs.

Panic welled up in her at the thought of flashing a room full of men. She hadn’t even been able to stuff a bra underneath her too-tight costume. If the duct tape gave, her audience would be in for an eyeful.

Jackie hummed out a middle “C,” allowing the pure musical note to center her.

Three minutes and she’d be out of here. She could make it another three minutes without bursting out of her costume.

The musical note grew, reverberating through her. She relaxed and breathed, nearly forgetting about the duct tape, but not quite forgetting about Greg De Costa.

“Happy birthday to you…” Jackie launched into her song, a slightly revamped version of the birthday classic.

Was it her imagination, or did the room still once her voice hit the airwaves? Her audience grew less leering, more attentive as she belted out her song in perfect pitch.

Nothing like a good performance to soothe her nerves.

She vocalized her way into the last refrain, more confident with every note that she was going to make it out of Flanagan’s back room with kitty costume and her dignity intact.

Then her eyes collided with Greg’s.

His warm-coffee gaze wasn’t offering up heated glances anymore. Unless you could call his intense, enraptured stare heated.

He liked her voice.

She knew it as surely as if he’d spoken the words aloud. Her vocal chords were her one and only vanity, the lone genetic gift from her prodigy parents.

Men—being such visual creatures—rarely recognized her single outstanding quality. But Greg De Costa knew it, heard it, admired it.

Her heart started pounding in a way that threatened her furry shrink-wrap. Blood pulsed through her, flushing every last inch of her body with liquid heat.

Oh no.

Desire swamped her along with the closing notes of her birthday song.

“Happy birthday, dear Gregory…” Dear God, had she just called him Gregory again? She’d meant to sing it as Greg.

Nervous embarrassment joined the swirl of musical notes and sensual hunger building in her veins.

“Happy birthday to…” Her chest hammered against fuzzy black fur as her song reached its final crescendo. The duct tape strained and stretched to hold the material of her costume together.

If she had any sense she would have risked singing off-key to save her outfit.

Damn her musical pride.

“…you!” Arms flung wide, she belted out the last note like a certified opera diva.

And froze in horror as her kitty costume slid all the way to her knees.

.

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