THE HUNKA HUNKA AND THE PENNY-PINCHER

Paradise Anthology

July 1999
Leisure Books

ISBN: 0843945524

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The lush, tropical beauty of Hawai'i has inspired plenty of romance. But then, so have the croonings of a certain hip-shaking rock'n'roll legend. In these tales of love by some of romance's brightest stars, four couples put on their blue suede shoes and learn they don't need a Hawaiian vacation to find paradise. Whether they're in Las Vegas, Nevada, or Paradise, Pennsylvania, passion will blossom where they least expect it - especially with a little helping hand from the King himself.

 



 
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PROLOGUE

“Elvis will set you free!”

“Oh, brother,” Candy muttered. She stretched to get a better view of the hypnotist and her stepdaughter over the heads of Hawaiian-shirted tourists crowding the small club.

“You will fall into glorious lust with the hunka hunka burning love nearest you when the King sings. Ah, amour.” The small man kissed the tips of his fingers in ecstatic enthusiasm.

Candy couldn’t keep quiet. “What if there’s only a hunka hunka burning jerk near her when the King sings?” She grunted as a waiter complete with sideburns, pompadour, and a tray of Hawaiian Hound Dawgs elbowed her on his way to the bar.

“Sorry, li’l darlin’,” he apologized.

The hypnotist cast her a quelling glance. “What is passion without danger? But do not worry. I am an artiste.” He pressed a hand to his heart. “If necessary, I will stand beside her when Elvis sings.”

Candy frowned. “That’s what I was afraid of.” The hypnotist glared. “Silence.” He returned his attention to his victims. “When I snap my fingers, you will awaken.”

He snapped his fingers, then turned to his audience. “These ladies”—he gestured at the row of women taking part in the group-hypnosis session—“are now under my suggestion.”

While husbands filed up to stand beside their wives, Candy cast a frantic glance into the audience. There must be someone besides the “artiste” who could stand beside Julia.

She’d settle for a big green frog. At least if Julia kissed the frog, she’d have a shot at a prince.

Nope, no frogs. Only a few lounge lizards.

A gurgled groan brought her attention back to the hypnotist.

Excuse-moi. An urgent message. I must leave for a few moments only. When I return, I will complete my demonstration, then erase the suggestion.” He rushed from the stage.

Twenty minutes later, Candy glanced impatiently at her watch. Blue Hawaii would close in ten minutes. The other women had left with comments about it being only entertainment. Huh. She wondered how entertained they’d be when their husbands caught them kissing the butcher to the tune of “Love Me Tender.”

“Tell me what the suggestion was, Candy.” Julia sipped her drink. “I didn’t hear because I was thinking about Wonder World. How about rubber fish? They don’t go belly-up like the real thing, so there’s no replacement cost.”

Candy scanned the room. Even Half-wit the Hypnotist was better than listening to more of Julia’s money-saving ideas. She gave up with a sign. “What do rubber fish do?”

Julia shrugged. “You’re right, Connally wouldn’t go for it. I could tell from his picture he’s the inflexible type.”

“Really? Wasn’t that the picture of him the gorilla suit?” One more minute; then she’d go hypnotist hunting.

“Okay, so I couldn’t see him, but if I could hed’ have stubborn written right across his forehead. And what kind of man dresses up in a gorilla outfit? Anyway, I didn’t hear the suggestion because I was concentrating on the park. So tell me.”

“In…” Candy paused as a man walked to the microphone.

“Monsieur Dupre had to leave. An emergency. He’ll be unable to return tonight.”

“He’s got the runs,” a loud whisper explained. “Locked himself in the john. Says he won’t be out till next year.”

“He hopes you all had a wonderful time and will return to Blue Hawaii soon.” The speaker disappeared into the crowd.

Julia stood. “Guess we can leave now. Whatever suggestion he made didn’t work because I don’t feel any different. Why’d I let you talk me into coming here? I could’ve been back at the motel looking at discount catalogs.” She made her way to the exit. “By the way, you still haven’t told me what the suggestion was.” Julia didn’t turn around.

Possibilities. “Nothing, dear. Just something about kissing a frog.” Or a gorilla. Candy smiled.


CHAPTER ONE

“Okay, you’re the King. Give me some kingly advice. What should I do about Julia Raine?” Dylan Connally tugged at his gaping shirt. Pirates needed more buttons.

“Hard Headed Woman, uh-huh,” the Elvis figure agreed.

“Yeah. Tell me something I don’t know.” He adjusted his eye patch, then cocked his head so he could see better. “Even as we speak, the Wicked Witch of Weird Ideas I climbing on her broomstick. Wants to nix all my virtual-reality ideas. Can you believe it? So what should I do about her?”

“Return to Sender.” His companion swiveled his hips to emphasize the advice.

“Great. I’ll UPS her right back to the mainland.” He turned to glance at other figures frozen on ministages around the cavernous room that was his Rock ‘n’ roll Legends theme building. No use asking them. If the King couldn’t help him…

Funny, he’d put the same sweat into programming all his figures, but he’d always felt a little something extra for the King. As if there were a kind of connection. Dumb.

“God, I love this place.” He breathed deeply, absorbing the smell, the special excitement he always felt here. “Maybe I’ll give a listen to her ideas about the rest of the park, but if she tries messing with you and the rest of the legends, it’s war, baby.” He pulled at the waist of his pants. No way could pirates make it with fair maidens in this outfit. Too tight. No expansion room. “Hmm. Maybe her broomstick will run into a headwind. Slow her down a little.”

He turned at the sound of an opening door. Damn. No one should be here this early. This was his time alone with his friends. Sure, their vocabulary was a little limited, but he did his best thinking around them. He’d just kick out the intruder.

Maybe not. The woman walking toward him was…incredible. He liked tall women with curves that were curves and not acute angles. He liked long golden hair touched with the red of a Hawaiian sinrise, uh, sunrise.

She stopped in front of him, and he shifted his gaze to her face. Wow. Killer eyes. Blue eyes that reminded him of—

Without warning, Elvis shattered the silence with “Mean Woman Blues.” What the… He could have sworn that song wasn’t in the King’s programming. He’d talk to Carlos.

Forget talk. As he stared into the woman’s eyes, something so strong it made him catch his breath flowed between them. Her eyes widened and her full lips parted.

He had only a moment to realize that she felt the current, too, before she stepped back and stumbled over an exposed cable.

Too stunned to move, he watched her teeter, then totter. Do something. Any second she’d go bump on her beautiful behind. In the end, instinct took over as he flung himself to his knees and caught her just before she bounced off the red carpet.

Fragmented thoughts fought for dominance. Sex. This must be the software saleswoman he’d expected. Sex. Why was she here so early? Sex.

He shook his head to clear it.

So close. She gazed up at him, and he could see his own confusion mixed with the heat of instant flame reflected in her eyes. She skimmed the side of his face with shaking fingers, then touched the medallion that lay against his chest.

Sexy software saleswoman. He’d never appreciated the beauty of the S words before. Enough. He had to get up off the floor. Kneeling was not a great position from which to being a business relationship. If he could get up. No wonder pirates always looked mad. Tight pants didn’t make for happy faces.

But even shrink-wrap pants couldn’t keep his attention from her. She sure had a winning sales approach. He’d buy—

She kissed him.

Kissed him long, hard, and with her mouth still open to tell him whatever she’d been about to tell him.

Vaguely, he noted that the King had switched to “All Shook Up.” Things were out of sync. He’d have to check…

Then her mouth moved against his, and he forgot everything.

He slanted his lips across hers, absorbing the scent of vanilla and the taste of desire. Hers or his? Who cared? Deepening the kiss, he savored the hot sweetness of her mouth, closed his eyes to the spiraling excitement that her small moan of pleasure loosed, felt her deep shudder of regret, withdrawal.

Too soon. He wasn’t ready for it to end. His hard-and-ready-to-party engine was just revving up.

The last notes of “All Shook Up” ended. Uh-oh. Sexual-harassment suit. He’d kissed her. No she’d kissed him. He brightened. It was all her fault.

Turning her head from him, she scrambled to her feet. He followed—more slowly, more carefully—listening for the tell-tale sound of ripping seams.

When she finally looked at him, he saw the memory of their kiss warm and alive in her gaze. Good.

“That shouldn’t have happened. I’m sorry. I didn’t know why I…” Distractedly, she brushed at a nonexistent spot on her suit skirt. “I’m Julia Raine, and I’m looking for Mr. Connally. The man at the gate told me he was in here.” She glanced around. “He said today was Mr. Connally’s gorilla day.”

Dylan narrowed his gaze. Betrayed. Sure she had killer eyes, eyes that reminded him of Malia’s Siamese cat, Regret, just before it pounced on an unsuspecting lizard. “Ah, the Queen of cheap has arrived. Wanted to get an early start on your reign of terror, right?” He smiled his deadliest smile. “Oh, and today is Mr. Connally’s pirate day.”

She blinked. “You can’t be.”

Her gaze slid the length of his body, and his body responded with interest. No, not interest, anger. Definitely anger.

She sighed, and his gaze followed the lift of her breasts beneath the silky blouse she wore, remembered their softness pressed against him. He forced his attention back to her face.

Classic. Okay, so maybe her nose looked a little bent out of shape right now. Maybe her lips were a little tight. He guessed having someone call her the Queen of Cheap could do that.

“Look, I don’t want to be here either.” She opened her eyes wide as thought she could see more of him that way.

He sucked in his breath at the mule-kick affect those eyes had on him. “Great. We agree. You can leave now.”

She shook her head, and he was momentarily diverted by the golden swirl of her hair as it fell across one shoulder.

“Sorry. It’s not that easy. Dad’s your major investor. He wants costs down and profits up. I’m here to make it happen.” She glanced around. “For starters, I’d update this place. Limited appeal. Bring in figures to attract young kids.” Her eyes glowed. He could almost see dollar signs reflected in them. “I have it. Cartoon characters. And we could sell T-shirts by the door. Maybe you cold program the figures to remind people to buy a shirt before they left. What do you think?”

“It stinks.” He gazed around him, seeing it through her eyes. The ministages, the plush seats and red carpeting.

He closed his eyes, remember his first rock concert. The Stones. His father had yelled that he’d raised his son to appreciate good music, classical music. Dylan had responded that he was old enough to make his own decisions. After that, he’d moved away from his parents’ influence and never looked back.

He opened his eyes. She wanted to get rid of the legends! His anger gathered force and violence, like on of those monster hurricanes surging in from the Pacific. No Beatles? No Van Halen? Julia Raine intended to turn his vision into a sale at Buddy’s Bargain Barn. No way! She’d cut him where it hurt.

“You’re letting your emotions get in the way.” She tilted her head. Probably so all her blood could flow to the left side of her brain. She didn’t need any right-brained warmth and creativity creeping into her cold logic.

“I could’ve sworn Elvis just winked at me.” She leaned forward to get a better look.

“Lady, you’re crazy if you think I’ll get rid of my Rock ‘n’ Roll Legends.” The rest o his theme park was for the public, but this…this was for him. His passion.

She frowned. “There He did it again.”

“You’re seeing things. Elvis isn’t programmed to—“

She offered him a tentative smile “Well, if he were programmed to wink it’d be a cute touch.”

He heaved a sigh of resignation. “Right.”

Dylan glanced away from her mouth, still swollen from his kiss. Ignore her mouth. Remember the cartoon characters. He’d think ugly thoughts of Bugs Bunny, and that should take care of his body’s renewed clamor of interest.

“Guess I’m suffering from jet lag. My stepmother and I had a long flight from New Jersey. Got in last night; then Candy dragged me to that club and—“ Her smile faded. “Look, we don’t have to be enemies. I know you’re not receptive right now, but give my ideas a chance.”

“What ideas? If they’re all like the cartoon character one, forget it.” He didn’t trust her. Wouldn’t trust anyone who suggested he get rid of his Rock ‘n’ Roll Legends.

She shrugged. “We can discuss them tomorrow. I’m still tired, so now that I’ve met you, I think I’ll head back to my mote.” The champion of careful spending turned to leave.

“Wait.” Why had he stopped her? His best sight all day would be the view of her rounded bottom swaying out the door. “This park means a lot to me.” The fun I never had, the reality I was never part of. “I won’t stand by and let anyone trash it.”

She lifted the weight of her hair from her neck, then let it slide through her fingers. The dim light lent each stand a golden sheen. Sighing, Julia looked back over one shoulder. “No one’s going to trash your park. Believe it or not, Connally, I do know when to bury the best and say to heck with the cost.”

“Like when?” He wondered how much their kiss would cost. She might be a cost-cutting dynamo with his park, but with her kissing? Her kissing was pure spend-it-all-then-borrow-more.

“I like rich, smooth ice cream. Strawberry.” She offered him a teasing smile. “I like fine wine. Red.” She strolled toward the door. With each step, her hair swung like a pendulum of temptation. “And I like—“ Janis Joplin interrupted to be her lover to “take another little piece of my heart.” When the volume lowered a moment later, he caught “—big and bold.”

What? What did she like big and bold? Dylan had to know. “Wait. You didn’t see the rest of the legends.”

She glanced one last time over her shoulder, and she’d stopped smiling. “I’ve seen all I need to see. I’ll admit it’s…extraordinary.”

Ask her. “What do you like big and bold?”

Her lips curved up slightly, a coming-attraction smile. “Horses, of course. I love horses.” She pulled open the door.

“Wait. I’ll walk you back to the mote.” Shut up, Connally. You don’t need to walk her anywhere except to the airport. She’s dangerous. Got it? D-A-N-G-E-R-O-U-S.

But hey, he couldn’t waste a chance to force hr to listen to his side of the story, make her see the logic of spending more on new technology, to quote a few statistics. It wasn’t as though he wanted to walk her anywhere. Nope, this was battle strategy.

“Uh, thank you.” She didn’t look thankful. “I’ll wait outside.” She slipped out the door and slammed I behind her.

“Shoot.” Dylan stared at the closed door. “Horses.”

Who would’ve thought? He’d expected her to be thin lipped, beady eyed, a woman of few words and no laughter. So much for preconceptions.

He glanced up at the King. “I don’t know who’s been messing with your programming, but Carlos’d better fix it.”

“Uh-huh,” the King agreed.

#

Julia leaned against the closed door of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Legends building. If Dylan opened it now, he’d knock her flat on her face. Okay, be honest. He’d already done that.

Dad had said Dylan was brilliant and financially impulsive, but he hadn’t mentioned physically spectacular.

The eye patch was a stroke of luck. One hazel eye framed by a thick, dark fringe of lashes was all she could take at first shot. She’d work up to both eyes later. High cheekbones, a determined mouth that refused to look harsh with its sensual slant. Sensual slant? Yep. She had tactile proof of that. And his hair—dark, long. With that white shirt practically open to Texas, and those tight black pants…

Then he smiled. The power of that smile had almost blown her back to her reasonably priced apartment in the reasonably priced section of Haddonfield, New Jersey.

She wondered how much pirates were going for on the open market. Heck, she’d pay full price of him.

But why had she kissed him? She wasn’t impulsive. Sure, those incredible lips just inches away had tempted her, but she’d spent a lifetime resisting temptation. Not like Dylan Connally. Never like Dylan Connally. It had to be jet lag. She was too tired to think straight.

Recovering enough to push away from the door, she waited.

When he finally emerged, he’d removed the eye patch. He smiled at her.

She started walking. Not now. She didn’t have the strength to deal with two eyes and the smile at the same time. Instead, she stared at the scenery. “It’s almost too much, isn’t it?”

“What?” He sounded distracted.

“The sky, the water, the plants. Colors so intense they hurt your eyes. Too lush. Too rich.” She turned to him and found him staring at her. She looked away again. “You know, when you eat something so sweet it makes your teeth ache? You love it, but you can’t take too much.”

His deep chuckle moved across her skin and she shivered.

“That’s why I had to walk you back to your mote. Kauai is dangerous country.”

Julia couldn’t let that go. She turned to cast him a skeptical glance. “Right. A kukui tree tried to mug me on the way in this morning.”

He grinned.

Good, she thought. She hadn’t even twitched.

“There’re dangers everywhere. You can’t be cheap with your emotions here. The island won’t let you.” He ran the tip of his finger the length of her jaw, then traced the curve of her neck—a searing line of heat. “How much are you willing to spend, Julia?” Her name on his lips was a husky whisper.

Uh-oh. Time for a conversational detour. “That hotel over there.” She pointed. “I’d love to stay there, but I guess it costs a bundle.”

She frowned. Did she sound wistful? Wistful was bad. She should sound contemptuous of any place that cost more than $39.99 plus tax per night. She called up Dada’s mantra—A bathroom, a bed, that’s all anyone needs.

Her frown deepened. Dada. This was all his fault. He was the one who’d insisted she could make Dylan Connally toe the mark. Huh. Not likely. She knew zip about theme parks, had never been to one. Theme parks came under the heading of extravagant spending for Dad. And after she had gotten old enough to pay her own way… Well, theme parks were for kids, weren’t they?

Cost cutting? Sure, she knew about that. Dad had taught her the power of saving a buck. He had the first penny he’d ever made. He had a lot of people’s first pennies. She banished that cynical thought.

“This must be your motel. It’s the cheapest one around.”

“Huh?” She blinked. “Oh, yes.” She cast one last glance at the shining hotel in the distance. Room service, satin sheets. Plush carpet, satin sheets. Panoramic views, satin sheets. Hmm. There seemed to be a pattern forming here.

Looking away from the hotel, she gazed up at Dylan, a living, breathing pirate who’d already managed to steal a big chunk of her peace of mind. She cherished the little that was left.

He plucked a feathery red blossom, then carefully tucked it behind her ear. He skimmed the length of her hair, running his fingers through the strands, and like a serious attack of static electricity, she felt the tingle in every nerve ending.

“It’s ohia-lehua. In early Hawaii, the blossoms were considered sacred. Chiefs made leis of them for Pele, the volcano goddess.” He grinned. “Suits you.” He walked away.

Kauai was beautiful. She couldn’t deny the undeniable as she touched the flower.

Watching him stride away, she admitted another truth. She’d wanted to go on a spending spree all her life. And like a lifetime dieter, she had to beat back the temptation daily. Her fear? Dylan Connally had outrageously expensive stamped on every delicious inch of his body.

#

The next morning, Julia shuffled out of the bathroom feeling only marginally less tired than the day before. She should’ve been too exhausted even to turn over during the night, but her dreams of a broad, tanned chest exposed by an open pirate shirt refused to leave her.

Flop. On her back, staring at the ceiling. The smile transfixed her.

Flop. On her side, staring at the bureau mirror. Those hazel eyes taunted her.

Flop. On her stomach. Hah! She wouldn’t see anything now. Wrong. Dylan Connally’s total amazing package stared at her from the white surface of the pillow. Give it up. She needed a cup of coffee.

Candy stood in the middle of the motel room, her petite form rigid, arms outstretched, eyes closed.

Julia walked around her stepmother, then poured herself a cup of coffee. Caffeine. She’d need all the stimulation she could get today. Hmm, stimulation. No, she wouldn’t go there.

She sat down on the bed and asked the question she knew her stepmother had been waiting for her to ask. “What’re you doing?”

Candy took a deep breath, opened her eyes, then relaxed. She reached for her cup of herbal tea. “Visualizing you.’

“Good.” No harm in visualizing.

“With a man.” Candy smoothed her gauzy purple nightgown. The shiny gold moons and stars scattered across its surface made Julia blink.

Nothing new. Candy was always visualizing her with a man.

“He’s tall, dark, with long hair, and he’ll fulfill your sensual destiny.”

Julia carefully set her cup on the nightstand. “I think I see where you’re headed, and that road’s closed for lack of interest.” Would her nose start growing now?

Candy fluffed up her bright red hair, then cast Julia a sly glance. “I’ve placed you both within a protective white light. Together.”

Oh, no. Trapped in a white light with Mr. Spare-no-expense-Connally. “It won’t work, you know.”

Candy took a sip of tea. “He’s very big.”

“Right. Broad shoulders, yadda yadda.” She sounded indifferent. Too bad she didn’t feel the same way.

Candy cast her an impatient glance. “No. I mean he’s very big.” She made the appropriate shape with her hands.

Great. She could look forward to another restful night. Flop. She’d land on her belly and come face-to-whatever with Mr. Big. She could already feel the heat level rising. “Give me a break, Candy. You have no way of knowing that.”

Candy moved deliberately toward the bathroom, but before she closed the door she flung an unarguable dart at her stepdaughter. “Gifted psychics know these things.”

It was going to be a long day.

Julia dressed carefully while Candy hummed what sounded lika Gregorian chant in the shower.

Jeans. No shorts for her. Too exposed. Plain white blouse. One button undone to indicate casual indifference. No more than one. Two buttons might give him the impression she was interested, which she wasn’t. Sturdy walking shoes to show him she was ready to get down to the business of cutting the fat from his business. She liked that image. Of course, he personally had no fat to cut. She’d noticed that.

By the time Julia had dressed, Candy emerged from the steamy bathroom. Her stepmother cast Julia a long-suffering look. “I suppose your clothes are mean tto proclaim your complete obliviousness to the male animal?”

Julia sighed. “They’re just comfortable clothes. No statement.” Liar.

“Hmm.” Candy picked up her tarot cards, which were wrapped in silk. “Perhaps a reading might get to the bottom of this.”

“No!” Thank heavens Candy had to do her yoga and wouldn’t be tagging along with her this morning.

“You’re resistant to the spirit guides trying to help you fulfill your destiny, dear.”

“Guides? What guides?” Julia cast a quick glance to either side of her. Sometimes Candy was downright scary.

Candy closed her eyes. “I see one now. He has sideburns, a pompadour, and is so bright I can hardly watch him.”

“Sequins.”

“Sequins?” Candy’s eyes popped open.

“You’re seeing Elvis. Probably one of the waiters at the club you dragged me to the other night. Blue Hawaii, wasn’t it? I can’t believe you talked me into that group-hypnotism session.”

Candy brightened. “Wonderful. Imagine. Elvis is your spirit guide.”

“Sheesh. Elvis is not my spirit guide.” And Elvis had not winked at her over Dylan’s shoulder. Dylan had said that Elvis wasn’t programmed to wink, and she believed him on that. Only that. Not other things. Definitely not other things.

Candy’s gaze turned thoughtful. “Are you sure you don’t remember the suggestion?”

Julia edged toward the door. “Nope. Everything’s sort of vague and blurry.” Vague and blurry, hah. The truth? She’d been so tired from the plane ride she’d fallen asleep the minute the lights had dimmed and hadn’t wakened until the hypnotist snapped his fingers. She’d never admit it to Candy, the Energizer Bunny of the baby boomer set, because Candy would just brew up some noxious potion for her. Julia had experience with Candy’s potions.

“Vague and blurry?” Candy grinned. “Good. Oh, I have a few errands for you to run before you see Mr. Connally.” She pulled out a list that in Julia’s mind almost reached the floor.

“Fine.” Julia grabbed the list. Talk about opposites attracting. Candy spent money as though it were her sole duty to keep the world’s economy afloat, and Dad never said a word. Go figure. At least Candy’s errands would give her time to ready her ammunition for Wonder World’s free-spending owner.

#

“I don’t know about the vampire outfit, Malia.” Dylan studied his secretary. “Undead isn’t you. Too tanned, too—“

Malia glared at him. “I’m a big woman. You have something against vampires?”

“Hey, I love big vampires, but most vampires I’ve seen look sorta…unhealthy. Guess it’s their basic blood diet. You look way too healthy, Malia.” Whew.

“Like I had another choice, boss?” Malia’s gaze narrowed. “Werewolves have fuzzy faces. No way I do the tweezer thing at home, then come to work and glue hair back on my face. And ghosts wear white. White’s fattening. And I don’t do mummies. Daddies, maybe, but not mummies.” She grinned.

Dylan breathed out on a gust of impatience. Bad jokes were the price he paid for having his office in the Haunted Castle.

Okay, so he insisted everyone in the park dress in a costume. He watched Malia study one of her perfectly manicured, inch-long nails. Okay, so the nails matched the outfit.

“I’ll be out for most of the day, Malia. Have ot make sure Julia Raine doesn’t run my Rock ‘n’ Roll Legends into Toon Town. Oh, and if Raddock calls, tell him to go to hell.”

Malia’s attention never wavered from her nail. “Should I schedule that for A.M. or P.M.?”

Dylan raked his fingers through his hair. “I don’t give a damn.” He turned toward the door, which was disguised as an iron maiden.

“One more thing, boss.”

He almost groaned. He couldn’t take one more thing.

“There’s someone waiting in your office.” She shuffled some papers on her desk, which was disguised as a coffin.

“Who? Why didn’t you stop them? That’s in your job description. It’s even on your desk.” He pointed to the small nameplate. “Malia. Keeper of the Gate to Hell.”

Malia avoided his gaze. “Couldn’t stop her. Threatened to break all my nails if I got in her way.” She made a mouse of apology. “A girl’s gotta protect her best assets. Can’t let loyalty get in the way.”

“Right. No loyalty. Remind me of this when it’s time to negotiate your next raise.”

Dylan flung open his office door, stepped inside, then slammed the door shut behind him.

The overpowering scent of vanilla pushed him back against the door, and he glared at the lit candle glowing happily on his desk. Then he glared at the woman sitting next to his desk.

Must be a full moon tonight. The stars dangled from her ears. Every stone known to man and some he suspected had originated on alien planets hung from her neck. She was petite, with purple shorts and red hair. Hmm. Trouble.

He opened his office door and pointed. “Out. Whatever you’re selling, I don’t want any.”

Her smile said she was serenely unimpressed. “I don’t think you want me leaving right now. Julia just came in toting a whole list of major changes for your park. You need my help.” Her smile widened. “Oh, and I’m Candy, Julia’s stepmother.”

He peered out the door, then slammed it shut again. Rats.

“I admire big men secure I nether masculinity.” Her gaze drifted down his body, then stopped.

Uh-oh.

From outside, Julia’s voice drifted through the door. “Why can’t I see him? I told him—Ohmigod! Those spiders are a foot wide.”

Candy sighed. “But that’s not why I’m here. Here’s something you need to know. Julia will disturb your cosmic balance, but she has the potential—under the right guidance—to release her inner passion and become one with the universe. She needs you to channel her inner sensuality in a way that will create a calm, fulfilled aura. I hope you’re a Scorpio.”

“Huh?” Dylan scowled. How could he concentrate with Julia making all that noise?

“I demand to see him right-- did you know there’s a severed head in the file drawer you just opened?”

Dylan massaged the bridge of his nose. “Get to the point.”

Candy blinked at him. “Let me guess, a Taurus.” Her smile returned. “Anyway, I love Julia like she was my own, and I want her to be happy. At her age I was slave to passion, but she’s just a slave to her store, Cheap Chic. Every woman should experience some lust in her life. What do you think?”

“Right. Lust is good.”

Julia’s voice grabbed his attention once again. “I think I need to use your rest room.”

He drew in a deep breath of inevitability.

“We’re going to do each other a favor.” Candy rooted through her purple beaded purse, then pulled out a tape of Elvis’s greatest hits. “Elvis is the answer.”

And here he hadn’t even heard the question. Oh, boy. Where was his faithful secretary, she of the inc-long nails able to rip out Godzilla’s heart at a single swipe?

He forgot about Malia, though, as Julia’s shriek shattered the semisilence. “The ghosts of Alfred Hitchcock is sitting on your toilet! Ghosts don’t need to go. I do.”

Candy looked unconcerned. “She’s screaming, so she’s alive. Anyway, Julia has a small cosmic blip in her personality. She becomes passionate when she hears Elvis sing.” She thrust a purple-nailed finger at his chest. “Passionate with the nearest man when the music begins. That’s going to be you, handsome.”

Crazy. The woman was crazy. But a part of his body that shouldn’t be listening was starting to pay attention.

Julia’s voice sounded faintly through the door. “I think I’ll sit on your couch for a moment…as soon as I pry this body part from between the cushions. Where should I put it?”

Candy droned on. “It’s a win-win situation. You distract Julia from cutting all your expensive upgrades, and Julia experiences a fun time with a good-looking man.”

She gave him no chance to respond as she put down the tape and hurried from his office. He heard Julia’s surprised exclamation before he quietly closed the door behind Candy.

What a crock of… Then he remembered. The kiss. The heat of her body pressed to his. The sweetness of her mouth. She’d kissed him.

When? He close dhis eyes. Elvis. “Mean Woman Blues.” His eyes popped open. Impossible. Then as urprising stab of disappointment. If what Candy said was true, then Julia’s…enthusiasm had been Elvis-induced, not for him at all.

Dylan glanced at the Elvis tape. Tempting, but he still had some ethics. He slipped the tape into a drwer, then blew out the candle with more enthusiasm than the act warranted. Maybe he had a few cosmic blips in his personality. He liked vanilla; he just didn’t like it rammed down his throat—or up his nose, in this case.

He’d spent a lifetime battling to build this park, to be himself. He’d thought the battle was over, but he was wrong. First Julia’s father, now Julia. And if that wasn’t enough, Phil Raddock, like a damned hyena, was still sneaking around in hopes of being in on the kill. The slimeball thought that if Dylan went belly-up, he could move in and buy the park cheap.

Not in this lifetime. He yanked open the desk drawer and pulled out the tape. Slipping it into his jeans pocket, he turned toward the door…and found Julia watching him.

 

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