It’s going to be ever so hard to keep this secret!
David wants Lane and she wants him back.
But to a known lothario like him, how will Lane ever measure up in the bedroom? With just one disastrous sexual encounter to her name, Lane knows she needs help in that department, and fast – before David loses interest.
So when Adam, her best mate’s brother (with his own impressive reputation), agrees to her bizarre proposal, she’s ready to learn everything he has to offer about how to please a guy in bed. But as she soon discovers, there is no textbook for love…
He was late.
Thirty minutes late.
Late enough for her to wonder if he’d changed his mind and wasn’t coming.
Lane tried to get her head around the fact that she may need to go back to the drawing board and find someone else for the job, but she couldn’t bring herself to face that possibility. It had seemed like fate, the way things had fallen so quickly into place and presented Adam Quinn as the answer to her dilemma; she couldn’t give up on fate yet.
Instead, she recalculated how long it would take him to drive from his house in super-cool Newtown to her house in not-quite-so-cool Mascot at this time of night. Maybe longer than the fifteen or twenty minutes she’d initially thought—especially if he’d got stuck in traffic. That happened sometimes, when people were driving to her place; it was one of the downsides of living near Sydney Airport.
Maybe he wasn’t even coming from home. Maybe he was coming from some far-flung construction site, where he’d been bricking a wall or laying concrete or … or whatever it was that builders did. There were lots of reasons he could be running late that had nothing to do with standing her up.
And anyway, she knew he’d turn up because his sister Sarah had said he would. Sarah could get any guy to do anything she asked—and she’d assured Lane that was doubly true of her big brother, who’d been like a one-man vigilante squad smoothing her path in life ever since she’d been born. Sarah had promised she’d laid it all out for Adam and that he not only knew the score, he’d already agreed to the score as well. Tonight was just a formality. Signatures on the page. Therefore he—would—turn—up!
‘ So—stop—freaking—out!’ she ordered herself.
But despite the stern order, and the cool-headed reassurances she’d given Sarah and her other best friend Erica when she’d shared her grand plan with them last night, she was finding it almost impossible to subdue her roiling insides now the moment was upon her. As evidenced by her hands—always the most reliable clue to her state of mind—which were clenching and unclenching. She wiggled her fingers, trying to ease the coiling tension in them, but it seemed a lost cause.
She looked around her living room, checking one last time that nothing was out of place, taking a series of deep, silent breaths in an effort to calm herself down.
She hated being nervous. Hated nerves. Had perfected the art of not letting them show, because the dithery fluttering of them made her look like an unsettled flamingo.
Logical, rational financial economists weren’t supposed to look like fluttery flamingos. They weren’t supposed to pace floors. Or chew fingernails. Or clench their hands into fists. Logical, rational financial economists stayed unemotional and invulnerable as they crunched numbers and analysed data and predicted market trends with level-headed precision.
That was how she’d approached drawing up the contract for tonight, how she’d prepared the checklist for each of them to review before the contract was signed. Rationally, unemotionally, with a level, invulnerable head. Because she would not be vulnerable. Not ever, ever, ever again. And okay, that was two more evers than required, which didn’t suggest a lack of emotion, which meant she had to work harder to get herself under control. Like now.
Maybe taking one more look at the checklist would do the trick. Checklists always soothed her.
She walked swiftly to her briefcase and slid out the relevant paper-clipped pages. Three of them. Neat. Error-free. Black type on white paper.
She drew in another one of her silent, secret, calming breaths as she skimmed the introductory description of Adam Quinn she’d compiled from the details Sarah had provided, even though she already knew it by heart:
• twenty-nine years old
• works for AQHP, a small architectural construction company
• no unmanageable character flaws unless you consider ‘obscene’ (Sarah’s word) self-confidence a problem
• no disgusting habits
• obsessively clean
• attractive but with a few rough edges
• not a psychopath—underlined, because Erica and Sarah’s chief concern had been that Lane would end up with one of those.
Sarah had summed him up as ‘the quintessential alpha male’, with hordes of women making booty calls with impressive frequency. When Lane had told Sarah she didn’t really believe in the concept of a ‘quintessential’ alpha male, Sarah had laughed her head off and told Lane she’d change her mind within five minutes of meeting her brother.
‘Not that it matters how we describe him,’ Sarah had added. ‘All that matters is that Adam has all the credentials for the job. You don’t have to look at anyone else, because if he can’t do it, I promise you nobody can. So stop looking. As of now.’
And Lane had stopped looking—well, she hadn’t had time to even start looking, really, because Sarah had rushed the Adam solution at her first thing this morning.
It was too late now to start wondering why she’d never met Adam before given he and Sarah were so close. Too late to start worrying that she didn’t actually know him. Knowing him hadn’t seemed important as long as Sarah vouched for him. Looks were immaterial, too, which was why she’d been happy enough with the grainy, out-of-focus photo of him that Sarah had emailed to her, even though it was basically nothing more than a looming dark shape with a white slash where his teeth were.
But now that she was on the very verge, and she suddenly realized she had no idea what to say to him when he arrived …
Uh-oh, there went her hands, clenching again. For a moment, all she could do was stand there trying not to crumple the checklist in her convulsing fingers. What if she said something stupid? What if he hated her on sight? What if he didn’t hate her on sight but decided he didn’t like her after they signed the contract? Why hadn’t she put those questions on the checklist?
The checklist, focus on the checklist. Okay, deep breath, another, another … Better.
The checklist had everything that was important and nothing that wasn’t. It didn’t include anything about saying something stupid because it didn’t matter if she said something stupid—talking wasn’t required. Liking her wasn’t required either. They probably would like each other, though. Lane liked Sarah; Sarah liked Lane; Sarah liked Adam. Logic suggested there would be a mutuality of liking in there that would encompass Lane and Adam in some way. Especially since she knew Sarah had described her to Adam—looks and personality—and whatever she’d said apparently hadn’t scared him off.
Or had it?
Because he still wasn’t here.
She slid the checklist back into her briefcase, walked to the entrance hallway, and listened carefully at the door for sounds of arrival.
She checked her watch. She’d give him ten more minutes.
She caught sight of her face in the mirror above the glass-topped hall table. Pale—but that was normal. Blue eyes almost too calm—so deceptive. Lips very faintly smiling—nicely controlled. Hair pulled off her face—no stray wisps.
Perhaps the hair was too severe? She tugged a few strands free of the confining band and tried to arrange them around her face. Hmm. Messy. She removed the band completely and retied her hair into a ponytail at her nape. In the absence of her housemate Erica and her miraculous curling wand, Lane’s normal hairstyle would have to do, so she gave up on the mirror and ran her eyes, as best she could, over the rest of her.
She hadn’t had a clue what she should wear tonight and had ended up staying in the square-cut navy suit she’d worn to work. Plain. Businesslike. Possibly … boring?
Ugh. It was just so hard, the clothes thing. Especially in situations like tonight’s. How did you go about styling yourself to look attractive, but not flirtatious? Appealing, but not desperate? Like you weren’t trying too hard, even when you were? Why hadn’t she thought to ask Sarah what he was likely to be wearing? Not a suit, if he was coming from a building site—that seemed certain.
Oh God, didn’t that mean her own suit was a poor choice? He was going to take one look at her and realize she didn’t know how to dress, and he was going to run away before even getting inside the house, which would mean she’d failed before she’d even started.
All right, she officially hated this!
She was calling it off. He was too late. It was too late. The whole thing was too rushed. More planning time was required.
She walked purposefully back to her briefcase and this time she didn’t slide out the checklist, she wrenched it out. The two copies of the contract, too. She was going to get all ‘symbolic’ for once in her life, the way Erica was always telling her to do, and rip every page in half.
And then it came.
A car pulling up.
Stay calm. Breathe.
Car door slamming.
Breathe. In—out—in—out. Maybe it’s not him.
Front gate squeaking.
Oh God, he’s here. He’s actually here.
Something was muttered—a curse, definitely a curse—outside the front door.
Oh. Oh, oh, oh.
The knock was loud and short. Two raps.
Lane closed her eyes, just for a moment, gathering her courage. To settle herself, she neatened the edges of the pages that were thankfully unripped and positioned them precisely on one end of her glass-topped coffee table …
And then she headed for the door. He wouldn’t notice the tremors in her fingers, she told herself, as she reached for the door handle. And next minute, the door was open, and there he was, but Lane found she wasn’t quite ready to look him in the face so she kept her eyes down. His feet were challenging enough —the size of them! In tough-looking work boots, so yes, he probably had been on a building site. Except that he smelled like soap. Clean. Obsessively clean. No disgusting habits. Tick and tick.
She heard him breathe. In—out. And at last she managed to start slowly raising her eyes. Blue jeans … long legs … slim hips … black shirt … broad chest, as in broad, with a tiny peep of dark hair showing where his top two shirt buttons were undone. Strong neck. Chin like granite beneath a five o’clock shadow. Hard mouth. Strong nose. Dark eyes … burning. Ohhhhhhh, God. She was looking up into his eyes—and she was five feet ten!
Her mind went blank. She was staring. She knew she was staring, but she couldn’t seem to stop. She took in his eyebrows now: bold, dark slashes, one bisected by a fine white scar. And his hair, which was black and close-cropped in a style that seemed to say, Don’t mess with me. He looked … he looked … good. Not conventionally handsome, and—yes—rough around the edges, but so good.
The whole package seemed to scream at her that the concept of a quintessential alpha male was real after all, and it was mesmerizing to have it personified and standing on her doorstep.
He waited for her to finish her perusal, unsmiling.
And then, feeling caught out, Lane said a breathless ‘Oh’ and thrust out her hand to shake. ‘You must be—’
‘Yes, I must,’ he said, and took her hand—not to shake it but to hold it. As she blinked up at him, he drew her close.
Close enough that the soapy scent of his skin slid right into her nostrils. He smelled wonderful.
He drew her a little closer and she stumbled, catching her heel on the hallway rug. He reached out his other hand to steady her, gripping her arm. Two hands on her now, reeling her in. ‘Careful … Lane,’ he said softly.
Her heart lurched, then started thumping as their eyes locked. His eyes were so dark they looked black. Laugh lines fanned out from the corners. He must laugh all the time, Lane thought. But he wasn’t anywhere close to laughing now. He seemed about to pull her even closer—could she get any closer?—then stopped. Frowned as though he’d lost his train of thought. Released her and stepped inside, then kept walking without a backward glance, through the hallway and into the living room.
Lane rubbed at her arm just above the elbow where his hand had gripped her. He hadn’t hurt her, but she’d felt him right through the dermis and down to the bone.
Squaring her shoulders, she closed the door and followed him into the living room. He was standing in the middle of the room, looking around without any indication he liked what he saw—which was basically her mother’s cast-off furniture.
Lane saw him glance at the canapés she’d arranged on a white oval platter, centred on the glass top of the coffee table. She fought a blush. It was obvious, now she’d seen him, that Adam Quinn wasn’t a canapé eater; he was the type to consume a whole wild boar thrown on a campfire. And suddenly she felt like she was pretending to be a grown-up. Blue suit. Canapés. What would he expect next? Scrabble board, lap rug, and cup of hot cocoa?
He turned and faced her. His lips were smiling but his eyes were not. ‘Now where were we? Ah, yes, I must be—’
The smile vanished. ‘Adam Quinn. Reporting for duty.’
Duty? Reporting for duty? Another deep breath. ‘I was hoping we could approach this situation with a degree of sensitivity.’
Adam looked down at the coffee table. ‘It will take more than smoked salmon on rye to achieve that.’
Lane felt her stomach dip. ‘Sarah said you were willing.’
‘I know what she said.’
His voice was almost a growl. Like he was angry. That couldn’t be right, could it, when he’d already agreed? She ran her eyes over him again trying to work out what was wrong, and her heartbeat, which hadn’t yet recovered from his entrance, kicked up an extra notch. He wasn’t only tall, he was incredibly big, too. He filled her living room the way an army tank might. The fact that he was watching her just as intently as she was watching him made a funny, jittery feeling that wasn’t exactly nerves erupt in her stomach.
What was he seeing? Was she the thing that was wrong? Could he tell just by looking at her what a massive job he had ahead of him? Was he regretting telling Sarah he’d do it? Was he going to ask to be let off the hook? Should she just give in and release him without being asked? Hadn’t she just been thinking more planning time would be good?
Maybe she should look further afield and see who else was out there. Or maybe she could ditch her plan altogether and buy a book or a download a how-to documentary or try an online chat room. There had to be chat rooms for this kind of thing, didn’t there?
Adam moved his hand—impatient. It was only a small movement but enough to have her catch a waft of his soapy scent, and her nostrils flared as though by reflex. And her mind was made up at that instant.
She was not going to resort to the internet or a book or a documentary, and she was not going to find someone else. She had her bird in the hand and from the look of him, he was worth way more than two in any bush. He’d already agreed and she was holding him to it. He would just have to suck it up and make do, regardless of what he thought of her. She didn’t care what he thought of her; she wasn’t paying for his thoughts. So he was going nowhere, and she would make that very clear to him!
She set her jaw. ‘Adam, have you or have you not agreed to help me?’
‘Good,’ she cut him off. ‘Regarding the smoked salmon, I was aware of the inconvenient hour I chose for this meeting, so I thought you might like some refreshments. But of course, you’re late, and I imagine you’ve eaten dinner, so I’m happy to get down to business immediately.’
Adam crossed his arms over his chest in what Lane assumed was a ‘quintessential alpha male’ pose. ‘By all means, Lane, let’s get down to business,’ he said. ‘Oh, sorry, should I call you Lane? Perhaps you’d prefer Miss Davis? Ms Davis? It’s not Dr Davis, is it? Because Sarah tells me you were some ace university student, so I guess a PhD isn’t out of the question.’
Lane did not allow even the flicker of one eyelid as she picked up her briefcase and retrieved the all-important paperwork off the coffee table. ‘It’s Ms, but Lane is fine.’
‘All right. Lane it is.’ He drew out the sound of her name until it was thick and honeyed and beautiful.
Lane caught her breath before it could hitch in her throat. Checklist. Checklist. Concentrate on the checklist. But her eyes didn’t seem to want to focus on that perfect document in her hand. ‘Then let’s move on,’ she said. ‘We can get away from the smoked salmon by sitting at the dining table. This way, please.’
She could feel him following, though he lagged several steps behind. The knowledge of him was as pervasive and intimate as a layer of musk oil on her skin.
She was about to contract Adam Quinn for three months of sex.
God help her.