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She may be on a cruise liner, but lately, Rita Frazer's life looks more like a shabby dinghy.Working as a seamstress on a ship called the Venus, Rita hasn't been feeling very goddesslike. More like a Swamp-Thing with red hair and a mouthful of pins. When the ship hosts a fashion show, Rita figures she finally has a chance at being a designer—until she finds herself on the runway, instead of her designs.But Rita's found her muse. And he's watching the fashion show. Harrison Masters is capable of making any woman drop sails, anchor and most of her clothes. And he might be successful with Rita, but she panics when her sister disappears. Now Rita's little dinghy—which was ready for an upgrade to full-on Love Boat only moments ago—is starting to leak. Bail water…or bail out?
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PRAISE FOR award-winning author Joanne Rock

She may be on a cruise liner, but lately, Rita Frazer’s life looks more like a shabby dinghy. Working as a seamstress on a ship called the Venus, Rita hasn’t been feeling very goddess like. More like a Swamp-Thing with red hair and a mouthful of pins. When the ship hosts a fashion show, Rita figures she finally has a chance at being a designer—until she finds herself on the runway, instead of her designs.

But Rita’s found her muse. And he’s watching the fashion show. Harrison Masters is capable of making any woman drop sails, anchor and most of her clothes. And he might be successful with Rita, but she panics when her sister disappears. Now Rita’s little dinghy—which was ready for an upgrade to full-on Love Boat only moments ago—is starting to leak. Bail water…or bail out?

Previously Published.

The Pleasure Trip

Joanne Rock

Joanne Rock

“Joanne Rock’s heroes capture and conquer in just one glance, one word, one touch. Irresistible!”

—USA TODAY bestselling author Julie Leto

“Sizzling chemistry with a splash of seductively intense suspense—fabulous Joanne Rock always delivers a page-turning read!”

—RITA® Award winner Catherine Mann

“The storyline is action-packed…and never slows down.”

—The Best Reviews on His Wicked Ways

This book is dedicated to my big sister, Linda, whose love and friendship mean the world to me. Her generous spirit is great inspiration for what sisterhood should be all about. And while our relationship bears little resemblance to Rita and Jayne’s except in the best of ways, Linda’s wizardry with needle and thread (and possibly a glue gun) did provide me with the idea for the sisterly gifts contained in this story. My glitter sneakers are on my list of top ten presents I’ve ever received. Thank you, big sister!


I’d like to thank the staff and crew members of the Carnival Inspiration for their enthusiasm about my book and their help to ensure my questions were answered. My fictional cruise line is not in any way modeled on the commitment to excellence that I saw around me every day on a Carnival ship, but I appreciated the insights about life on board so that I could create a believable world for The Pleasure Trip. Thank you especially to Cruise Director Lenny Halliday and the Carnival promotion department. Thanks also to our dining companions Al and Debbie Moy, who kindly shared their experiences from multiple cruises with a couple of first-timers. Not only did I learn a lot for my book, but I had a great time in the process and can’t wait for another trip!



Back Cover Text

Title Page











html#litres_trial_promo">CHAPTER SIXTEEN







Bonus Features Inside



EVEN FOR A WOMAN with two left feet, pounding down eight flights of stairs in cheap flip-flops didn’t present a challenge when fueled by anger and the desire to give a well-deserved butt kicking.

Silently fuming, Rita Frazer shoved open the stairwell door on the basement level of Roman Cruise Lines’ flagship, the Venus, where she and her sister had worked for over a year. She glanced down at her insubstantial footwear with blue plastic flowers between the toes. No doubt about it, her flip-flops were a sorry excuse for butt-kicking shoes. But where there was a will, desperate women found a way.

“Jayne!” Rita shouted down the narrow corridor reserved for the ship’s employees, steam hissing from her ears like the boiler beside her cabin. Everyone but her younger sister the showgirl was at work this afternoon, prepping for an influx of passengers after a day docked in St. Kitts, the second island stop on a ten-day Caribbean cruise.

Rita had done the same trip plenty of times as official seamstress for the Venus. But this wasn’t just any cruise, and Jayne knew it. This particular excursion could be Rita’s big financial break since she’d gone out on a limb to create new outfits for the show—outfits five times as good as what they’d bought from manufacturers in the past. She just hoped the cruise management company would agree and pony up an appropriate payout.

And of course, she hoped Jayne—one of the show’s featured performers—didn’t mess up Rita’s big night.

When no answer was forthcoming, Rita stomped her way to the end of the hall, following the scent of the Chanel No. 5 Jayne preferred even though none of the dancers were supposed to wear perfume out of deference to the costumes. The familiar fragrance wafted from the same interior stateroom from which a warbling rendition of “Stand By Your Man” currently emanated.

Rita let herself into the compact room they shared in the bowels of the ship, a room Jayne never bothered to bolt no matter how many times they discussed the potential dangers with an ever-changing crew of nine hundred. The drone of shower water mingled with god-awful singing.

“You are so dead.” Rita figured it would be okay to strangle her sister today since Jayne hadn’t bothered to show for dress rehearsal this afternoon when she knew damn well this was Rita’s one chance to shine in her peon job as a seamstress.

The singing stopped as Jayne popped her head out of the shower, all smiles amid a cloud of steam. “Rita? What time is it?”

“Past time for rehearsal and Danielle already wants your head on a platter for not checking in with her. Star status doesn’t buy you exemption from attending show preliminaries.” She torpedoed a towel against the shower curtain, nailing Jayne in the hip through the white waffle weave. “Besides that, do you know how many corporate managers I corralled into seeing the show tonight to see the new outfits? The boat pulls out in twenty minutes.”

“Crap.” The reference to the timeline at least got Jayne moving as she ducked back into the shower spray to rinse. “I’ve got to hurry.”

Mildly disappointed no butt kicking had been needed, Rita gave her flip-flops the rest of the day off. She stalked out of the closet-size bathroom, noting the unholy mess scattered about their cramped cabin now that she wasn’t focused solely on her beef with Jayne. Clothes were strewn everywhere, the twin beds both covered in discarded silk tops, scarves and skinny hot pants.

“I’m not even going to ask what happened in here.” Rita flung her plastic thongs into the closet and reached for a more forgiving pair of sneakers to wear with her jean shorts. “I’ve got too much on my mind to wade through your wardrobe crisis.”

“That’s okay.” The shower curtain rings scraped over the rod with a metallic ting as Jayne toweled off. “I solved my own crisis, thank you very much, although God forbid you give me any credit for it. I know we’re all excited about your foray into costume design, but you forget your sister is the Queen of Vintage and a fashion force to reckon with in her own right.”

Rita needed to be back at the rehearsal stage to help dress everyone before show time, but her sister’s comment slowed her reach for the door. “What do you need a great outfit for anyway? You’re going onstage as soon as the ship sails.”

She peered across the wardrobe tornado at Jayne sliding into a floral sundress in record time.

“Can’t a girl dress up for her man?” She winked over her shoulder, one long red curl plastered to her cheek. Presenting her back to Rita to zip her up, she smoothed the hem of her short skirt. “How do I look?”

“Flushed and overexcited.” Rita fastened the hook and eye over the zipper and wondered for the umpteen-millionth time how Jayne could appear so movie-star gorgeous with her confident stride and graceful moves while Rita lumbered through life with as much finesse as a linebacker. They were sisters, for crying out loud. Same genes. Same ballet lessons. Same basic looks and size. Where was the justice? “You’re practically bubbling over for that matter. What gives?”

Jayne shuffled around her makeup table that doubled as a desk and poked Rita in the arm with a lipstick case. “Can’t I be excited for you? I’m still in shock you finally talked the management into new outfits for the opening number. They’re normally so stingy about wardrobe.” Uncapping bright fuchsia lipstick, Jayne smeared it on her sister’s mouth in a futile effort to make Rita look pulled together. “Now all you need to do is drag me out of show business and you’ll be happy, right?”

Rita rolled her eyes and tried to stand still for the makeup job even though she’d rather not have her face lacquered while she was working. Didn’t Jayne realize they were going to be late? But some things weren’t worth arguing with her over. Makeup for one. And the fact that Rita hadn’t truly sold the costumes to Roman Cruise Lines quite yet. Jayne would have had a conniption to think her big sister—by all of eleven months—had accepted a work-for-hire job to force the higher-ups into appreciating her. But they’d worked the cruise ship for minimum pay long enough after back-to-back six-month stints. Time to move on to greener pastures.

“Oh please. As if I’ll be able to haul you away from this business or Horatio the Latin lover any time soon.” Although Rita could always hope. She’d tried before to get Jayne to consider moving to New York to make the most of her dance talent, but Rita had never succeeded in convincing her to leave boy-bimbo Horatio behind. “You’re addicted to all that glitters, remember? I’m just happy my costumes came together in time for tonight.”

Rita had been trying to coax her starry-eyed sibling into developing interests outside of dancing since high school, but Jayne had the same stage aspirations as their mother and no promise of any stable, long-term work had ever wooed her away. The job on the cruise ship had been reliable and working on a luxury liner gave the illusion of being on vacation all the time—a welcome fantasy after they’d done their share of waiting tables in dive bars while waiting for Jayne’s big break.

Showbiz opportunities hadn’t been hiding in any of the trucker hangouts on Interstate 95 north of Fort Lauderdale where they’d grown up. And Jayne couldn’t be convinced to try Broadway since their mother had a gambling problem along with a mixed bag of other addictions that kept her daughters on their toes and perpetually bankrupt unless they hid their money very carefully. The cruise stint allowed Jayne to keep tabs on Mom while Rita kept an eye on her baby sister.

Somehow, it all worked. For now.

“I mean it, Ree.” Jayne coated her sister’s eyelashes with industrial-strength mascara. “I think I’m ready to blow this showgirl gig once and for all. Finally, we’re both going to have everything we dreamed about.”

“You really think my outfits are going to be a hit?” Rita had sewn until her fingers bled to pull together the new costumes to unveil at tonight’s program. She’d paid off one of the other dancers to model the extra garments informally around the tables before and after the house lights went up at the main performance. When the dancers weren’t onstage, they spent plenty of time walking around the ship in full showgirl regalia to pose for pictures with the guests, so it wasn’t like Missy didn’t have experience preening while she mingled.

“Absolutely.” Jayne smeared gloss on her lips and finger combed her damp hair into waves around her face. “You’re going to knock ’em dead tonight. It’s high time you came out of hiding to show your talents to the world.”

The words of sisterly support were as welcome as they were rare in a relationship marked by old rivalries and very different perspectives. But deep down, she knew Jayne wanted her to succeed. Didn’t she?

“Thanks.” Rita pulled open the door, feet itching to get back to the stage. She hated it that suspicion held her up once again. “You’re not planning anything unusual for the show, are you? No special theatrics to highlight my outfits or impulsive gestures sure to get us fired?”

Flashbacks to their childhood and her sister charging money from their friends to see her inline skating on a train rail came to mind. Jayne lighting the neighbor’s garage on fire when she practiced her flaming baton routine as a teenager. Jayne slipping a note to the star quarterback in high school, saying that Rita liked him.

And although that last stunt had worked out with rather exciting results for Rita, she’d officially started her first ulcer while waiting to find out if A.J. liked her, too. No way would she tread down Jayne’s road of recklessness again. She’d weathered enough emotional storms from her sister’s revolving-door romances to know she was better off focusing on work.

“Trust me.” Sliding into her high heels, Jayne smiled that angelic grin that had won her Sweetest Sugar Plum in the school Christmas pageant three years running. “You’re going to be very happy tonight.”

Reassured she’d covered her bases with Jayne, Rita sidestepped the elevator that only came to the bottom deck once in a blue moon. With paying passengers finishing up boarding from their shore excursions, the elevator would be too jammed to make the trip to the employee-only level anytime soon.

Not until she hit the second flight of stairs did she remember she’d never pinned down her sister for an estimated arrival time in wardrobe. No doubt, Jayne figured she could slide into her spot late since she didn’t go out until the second number. And for the first time, Rita realized she didn’t care if her sister failed to play by the book.

For just this once, maybe Rita and her two left feet could enjoy a little of the spotlight for herself.

* * *

“TRY BENDING OVER and jiggling.” Sweaty and frazzled two minutes before the curtain went up, Rita waited while the platinum-blond showgirl decked in buttery soft blue leather leaned forward and shook her considerable assets.

Straightening, the jittery young dancer covered in self-tanning cream and a healthy dose of body glitter looked to Rita for approval.

No luck, damn it. Rita ran a skilled finger along the inside of the other woman’s bodice and tugged the material upward. “The twins are still a little uneven, Missy. Do you want me to take in the costume before you go onstage?”

Sighing, the stressed-out blonde waved away the help as she dove for a pink duffel bag on the dressing room table. “My right is bigger than my left. I’ve got a silicone lift in my bag to fill out that side a little.”

Ignoring the usual pandemonium in the cavernous backstage of the Aurora 2 Theater, Rita silently critiqued every costume that streaked by her as dancers and acrobats scrambled for last-minute makeup fixes and hair touch-ups. They were three days into the February cruise with two performances down, but tonight’s show marked the first appearance of the new outfits.

And surprise of all surprises, the costumes looked fantastic for their debut number. As long as the dancers did their part tonight and Jayne showed up soon, Rita was well on her way to getting reimbursed for her hard work with—hopefully—a hefty bonus to show for it, too.

“Places, ladies!” Danielle Divine, a former showgirl and the current Aurora floor-show manager, gave the familiar nudge to her dancers over the backstage P.A. system. “I need everyone lined up now.”

“Gotta go.” Missy stuffed the lift into her outfit and tossed her bag on the nearest dressing table. “Your costumes are fantastic, Rita. And the showy feathered one I modeled earlier was a hit. You really ought to be in New York designing clothes instead of repairing frayed officer uniforms.”

“Thanks.” Uncomfortable with the praise and the thought that she wasted her talents, Rita figured she’d be happy enough once she received payment in full. She hurried past a rolling rack of outfits to follow Missy and the other dancers toward the stage for the first number. The excitement of an opening night still gave Rita shivers, probably a response inherited simply by being a Frazer. Jayne had cheered herself hoarse after she’d landed her slot in the show, launching her into the best gig she’d had since their mother’s last run at the gambling tables had financially ruined the whole family.

“No talking, ladies!” Danielle Divine stepped between them, physically nudging Rita back three steps with her skinny, strong arms. Older than Rita by ten years, she still packed more strength in her toned body than most eighteen-years-olds. Miss Divine took her job as backstage manager damn seriously. “Out of the way, Ms. Frazer. Your costumes are lovely but your fretting mother hen routine is not wanted in this show. Understood?”

Rita might have told Danielle where she could get off, but the house lights were already dimming and the entertainers began to engage in their individual last-minute rituals—visualization techniques, breathing exercises, even a few scattered prayers. No time for talk now.

“Good luck, everyone!” Rita stage-whispered over Danielle’s Miss Clairol number nine head. “And thanks for making the costumes look great.”

Couldn’t hurt to remind them her reputation was riding on their high kicks tonight. Missy gave her two thumbs up as they all filed onto their designated places on top of a wheeled piece of staging that would bring them out onto the stage, the acrobats and singers hanging back as they waited for their turn in the spotlight later tonight.

Rita stood back to cheer them on, the boat rocking gently beneath her feet while she wished Jayne were there to help calm her nerves when the audience got their first glimpse of the outfits. Jayne never had stage fright and always danced like a pro. From preschool pageants to high school plays, she’d never been flustered onstage, never lost her supreme confidence in her ability to perform.

Rita was another story. She’d always done well in rehearsals and could nail any routine in the privacy of her bedroom, but on opening night she froze like a deer in headlights. A supreme disappointment to her torch-singer mother who’d dreamed of seeing her girls onstage.

Thankfully Rita had found work that allowed her to stay backstage, and even tonight, she only sent a small piece of herself out into the bright lights.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the announcer’s voice boomed over the house speakers as a drumroll hummed in the background. “Welcome to Roman Cruise Lines’ world-famous Venus floor-show extravaganza.”

Rita watched the wheeled conveyance full of dancers start to move. The synthesized, edgy rock music for the performance began. Danielle Divine whispered last-minute instructions to a very fidgety Missy, who Rita knew was in danger of losing her job just two months into her contract. Poor thing.

Dancing gigs were damn hard to come by and fiercely competitive. If the woman lost this job…

Damn it, the red-eyed dancer wasn’t the only one whose job was on the line. Rita forced herself to stop thinking about everyone else in the show and concentrated on her own responsibilities—making sure her deceptively simple leather costumes looked good enough to eat on stage.

The whole idea for the biker babe number had been Rita’s, from the outfits to the music to the core theme behind the choreography. It had been hell to convince the show managers that the unconventional material could work on stage given its tendency to stretch, but once they’d glimpsed the possibilities and made sure Rita would be on hand for free alterations, they’d been all over the concept.

Nervous energy charging through her, she grabbed Jayne’s outfit for the next number and tiptoed to the edge of the backstage curtain to gauge the audience’s reaction. Jayne played a bigger role in the previous night’s production but in this show, she had a solo dance sequence in just one of the acts. The house was packed, but the only faces Rita could make out were the folks in the front row. Thank God Jayne’s loser boyfriend—Horatio the ass-grabbing blackjack dealer—wasn’t in attendance for once. He normally sat front and center and ogled Jayne along with every other dancer, but tonight that seat belonged to…

Come to mama.

Someone much more interesting.

Rita wasn’t in the market for a man. Especially not a high-roller type who traveled alone and booked Carib bean cruises for the access to round-the-clock gambling. Traditionally, those were the kind of guys who reserved the front row tables at the nightly floor-show touted for a nearly nude revue capping off every performance. No, Rita didn’t like that type of guy at all.

But if she had, her head would have been turned by the prime male specimen currently peeling the label off his bottle of beer while a battalion of leather-clad women sashayed past him. He was a big man. Big enough to make his chair look more like doll furniture than people seating.

His legs sprawled long and muscular beneath the cocktail table in front of him. His shoulders had the kind of width only a custom-made suit would accommodate. Which, of course, he wore. Navy-blue and pinstriped, the clothes gave him the appearance of a forties movie star, the kind of guy her mother would have fallen for in a heartbeat. But then, Margie Frazer had an unusual love of the forties and fifties screen icons, a fact advertised to the world by naming her daughters Rita Hayworth Frazer and Jayne Mansfield Frazer.

Licking her lips at the hot prospect seated in the first row, Rita momentarily forgot about the show and how much she had riding on it. Leaning one shoulder into an empty rolling rack tucked behind the backstage curtain, she indulged the urge to stare for just another moment. How many times in life did a woman feel that overwhelming sense of attraction at first sight?

She hadn’t felt this way since A.J. the quarterback had given her heart palpitations in the eleventh grade. And as sweet as that first crush had been, Rita had to admit that with a woman’s more mature and discriminating hormones at work, her attraction now was a hell of a lot stronger. Earthier. Yummier. Dancing biker babes flooded the stage in a swirl of color and feminine curves while Rita’s gaze narrowed to just one man.

Close-trimmed dark hair framed the stranger’s face, his brooding eyes glued to the bottle label he slowly mutilated. Although his sleek suit and narrow green-and-blue tie broadcast success, his forbidding expression and preoccupation reminded her of the desolate faces she’d seen at the ship’s bar at 4:00 a.m. The shell-shocked folks who came onboard for a good time in the casino and somehow lost half their life savings to the roll of a die or hand of cards.

Foolish, clueless people who had no business indulging in the free drinks available at Venus’s twenty-four-hour casino.

She hoped for this gorgeous man’s sake he wasn’t staring down the throat of a longneck for those kinds of reasons. Maybe his girlfriend had just dumped him and all he needed was a cynical, buxom redhead to put his life back into perspective for the night….

Rita debated taking a chance for once and sending him a drink. But as the music died away and the audience erupted into applause, she warned herself to get her head on straight and find Jayne to help with her costume change while a singing duo took the stage between dance numbers. The other dancers’ next outfits weren’t Rita Frazer Originals, but Jayne’s was. Because Jayne played the central character in a very fluffy musical drama involving lots of feathers and coy smiles, her outfit could be different. Better. Hand sewn by Rita for a little extra spotlight.

Tearing her gaze away from the superstud with dark disappointment in his eyes, Rita waited for Jayne at the edge of the stage, costume already in hand. Too bad Jayne was still nowhere in sight.

Damn it. What was her sister thinking?

Praying Danielle Divine—aka Danielle Domineering—wouldn’t notice the absence, Rita waited to see her sister’s Veronica Lake-style red waves bob around the corner.

And waited.

Until a bad feeling crept into her veins, chilling her skin and setting her every cynical, wise big-sister instinct on edge. Sprinting around the back of the staging area to another dressing room, Rita scanned the small expanse of lighted mirrors and makeup tables for a glimpse of Jayne.

To no avail.

Heart pounding, she mentally shuffled the image of Jayne’s hopeful face with the fact that Horatio the loser blackjack dealer wasn’t in his usual seat tonight. Hadn’t Jayne said she was ready to get out of showbiz?

And hadn’t Rita known damn well that couldn’t be good?

Hightailing it to the other side of the stage where half the dancers were already naked and shimmying their way into their next outfit, Rita found Jayne’s dressing table graced by a glittery star, her duffel bag beneath it. The bag was unusually light given all the stuff Jayne normally hauled around. There was no purse, no bulging makeup case. Just some tissues, hairbrush, masking tape and—a note?

The dread that had been knotting in her stomach traveled up her throat in a burning path.

Don’t be mad at me, big sister! You know this routine inside and out and let’s face it—no one deserves the spotlight as much as you tonight. I had an urgent appointment in St. Kitts because Horatio really wanted to—ready?—elope!!!

Love and kisses,


Oh no. Oh no. Oh no freaking way.

Rita didn’t need to run to the nearest porthole to know the big ship had already cleared St. Kitts harbor by a mile. Jayne must have slipped off the boat with seconds to spare considering Rita had seen her in the shower just twenty minutes before the boat set sail. Jayne had timed her defection flawlessly—no surprise there considering her perfect stage routines and the fact that she had every male security guard aboard the Venus wrapped around her finger.

Damn! Shoving aside the wealth of worries for her sister and more than a little resentment for herself, Rita’s fingers tightened around the leopard-print notepaper in one hand, Jayne’s dancing costume in the other.

With performers already lining up, Rita had zero time to make a decision. In fact, she didn’t realize she’d actually made one at all until her clothes were sliding off and she found herself jamming one foot after another into the leg holes of the barely-there feathered concoction.

She could dance, right?

She’d sat in on all the same damn tap, jazz and ballet classes as Jayne until she’d emancipated herself from Margie’s stage-mother stranglehold. Plus, for three months running Rita had rehearsed all of Jayne’s dances so she could get a feel for how the costumes needed to be crafted to keep them fluid and feminine.

Shoving her bare feet into strappy rhinestone sandals that went with Jayne’s ensemble, Rita nearly toppled over as Missy rushed by, headdress askew as Sammy the Somersaulting Albanian tried unsuccessfully to right the heavy tiara.

“Can you help her, Rita?” Sammy whispered, ever mindful of Danielle who wouldn’t hesitate to axe any dancer who couldn’t hold her own.

Or any dancer who did something really, really stupid like elope in the middle of the show.

“I’ll take over, Sammy. Thanks.” Rita let the wiry acrobat off the hook as she picked up speed fastening her rhinestone top, determined not to flub this. Why was she not surprised Sammy looked endlessly grateful as he hurried away with the fluid grace that came naturally to gymnasts?

“What are you doing?” Missy jammed fistfuls of hair into the headdress with no success. “Where’s Jayne?”

What could she say? Jayne’s sucking face with the worst mistake of her life while our careers go up in flames? Yanking her own headpiece off a hook over Jayne’s star-spangled dressing table, Rita plunked the tiara on her head.

“She had an emergency, but that’s just between us, okay?” Snitching a bobby pin from the jumble of accessories on the table, Rita thrust it into Missy’s long blond curls and anchored the heavy headpiece to her scalp, the need to lend a hand still strong even when she had no time to help. “Don’t worry about Danielle once you’re onstage. Just dance.”

As if she had time to dispense career advice while undertaking the stupidest scheme of her life. Even Jayne had never been this impulsive.

Okay, taking into account eloping with Horatio, maybe she had.

“Places, ladies!” Danielle’s throaty call for action multiplied the butterflies in Rita’s stomach.

The last thing she needed was for Danielle to see her in Jayne’s costume. With the headdress on, there was a chance she’d never notice. Thank God every Frazer woman had been given the same five feet ten inches to work with.

She had to at least try to get past Danielle for the sake of Jayne’s job, which wouldn’t be here for her when she came back—oh God, if she came back—without a little intervention.

The music changed as the performers lined up for the scene Jayne called the Wicked Angel. It looked like one big T-and-A fest to Rita’s eyes, but Jayne insisted it was a fallen woman with a heart of gold act. Well, fallen woman with a heart of gold and sexual appetite the size of Texas since the dance involved substantial writhing around on the floor. Though the pastel feathers made the writhing look more innocent, according to Jayne.

Hence the Wicked Angel.

Rita had never explored her inner angel, preferring to barge through life being blunt and direct and simply asking for what she wanted. But tonight she’d play simpering and coy for all it was worth in order to save Jayne’s paycheck.

She just hoped she didn’t fall off her heels. Or turn left when everyone else turned right and possibly high kick her neighbor right in the schnoz.

All of which had happened to her before in her long and colorful career as her sister’s crappy sidekick.

“Hurry up, Jayne!” Danielle the Destroyer glared at her with a look that would have sent heavyweight boxers running for cover. Thank God the abysmal backstage lighting prevented her from discerning Rita’s features under Jayne’s headdress. “You’re on in five. Four…”

Rita’s bare legs quivered beneath her as she prayed for coordination and knew it wouldn’t come. The only way she’d ever been able to get through a solid dance routine had been to isolate herself in a room all alone. Maybe she could close her eyes and pretend she was alone.

“Three. Two…”

The house lights swirled and changed from moody blues to brazen reds. The music kicked up volume. Her knees knocked so hard she wasn’t sure she could haul herself out there. Closing her eyes would definitely result in her spiked heel planted in someone’s instep.

She’d simply choose a focus point. Meditate the rest of the humongous amphitheater away.

“And you’re on!” Danielle’s threatening growl mingled with the beat in the music that cued the first step.

Where Rita’s eyes promptly alighted on the only focus point in the room that interested her. The one man whose presence just might be the key to saving her feather-covered ass.


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