Kristie Clark had not planned on the visit, but as she was passing by the banquet hall where her sister was hosting an event, she decided to stop by. Now she fervently wished she hadn’t.
“Sorry,” Kristie shook her head emphatically. “I cannot do this, Anna. No.”
“You mean you won’t do it!” Anna cried in frustration. “Please, please help me out,” she begged, switching from her belligerent tone. “I am desperate. I stand to lose Events Inc. if I blow this opportunity. Maddie, my entertainer, calling in sick, has me in a quandary. I have fifty men out there waiting for a birthday cake. Come on, Kristie, help me out, or I’ll lose my business.”
“Oh, cut the drama, Anna! If those coyotes want a cake, give them a cake. Only, I will not be jumping out of it. Besides, I am not employed by you, and there are union rules to consider.” Kristie had little patience for Neanderthal men who got a thrill from barely clad women jumping out of cakes.
Anna wrung her hands together, a clear indication that desperation was setting in. “They’ve paid to have someone jump out of a cake. You are the only one I know, on short notice, who can sing and will fit into the costume.”
Kristie grinned, holding up two minuscule scraps of glitzy fabric. “This, my dear sister, is not a costume. It’s a lethal weapon, considering the testosterone flying off the walls in that lounge.”
“Don’t be such a prude. All you need to do is shimmy out of the cake, sing Happy Birthday, and leave. I guarantee there’ll be no physical contact with anyone.”
“Fifty pairs of ogling eyes are more contact than I want, thank you. My answer is no.”
“Kristie, please help me out, I am desperate.”
Kristie knew she was losing the battle when the tears started to spill. She was a pushover when it came to tears, especially her younger sister’s. “Anna, I hate this, you know that. However, against my better judgment, I’ll do it, but don’t ever ask me to do anything like this again.”
Twenty minutes later, Kristie was shimmying out of the cardboard, pseudo-cake aglow with mock candles and blue and white streamers to a chorus of raucous wolf-whistles and lewd catcalls from fifty partially inebriated males letting loose. If there were awards for dumb, hers would be gold, she thought disgustedly. Taking a deep breath, Kristie emerged from the cake and sashayed across the stage crooning “Happy Birthday” to Dave Davis. The best plan of action, she decided, was to train her gaze on a fixture in the back of the room and avoid looking directly at anyone.
Two and a half minutes to go and counting. As Kristie’s blank gaze skittered across the back wall, the intent perusal of a pair of blue eyes skimming over her scantily clad body with lazy amusement caught her attention. Sexy eyes, sexy mouth, and a killer smile that sent prickles of awareness coursing through her. She almost stumbled. No! No, it could not possibly be! She looked again, and their eyes met and held, sending a jolt of current zapping through her veins. His intense and familiar gaze moved over her body with slow, sensual intent. Resisting the urge to cover herself with her hands and run from the room, Kristie slowly gyrated towards the exit, managing to fix a blank look on the wall fan.
Max Malone! Ten years after their breakup, and she would have never envisioned meeting him again under such circumstances. Graduation day flashed before Kristie’s eyes, and she recalled the harshness of their breakup. She had seen him kissing another girl, and when she challenged him, he claimed the girl was kissing him, not the other way round. Kristie had screamed at him, using language that would have made a sailor blush. They never saw each other again until now. She groaned inwardly.
As she neared the exit, her eyes once again refocused on Max Malone. His blue gaze was on her, following her every move, making her feel like she was stark naked rather than wearing the one-piece mesh that she had insisted upon, instead of the two pieces of fabric her sister tried to corral her into using. As their gazes collided, Kristie’s skin broke out into fine goosebumps, her face awash with color as she slid from the room to the crashing bars of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”
Max Malone hadn’t slept well. He was irritable and crabby, and desperately in need of a shot of caffeine. It had been ages since the thoughts of a woman had dogged his sleep. The last time was when Kristie Clark walked out of his life ten years ago. She was even more beautiful than he remembered, long limbs, and nicely curved in all the right places. About five feet six inches tall, with auburn colored hair that shone like a halo around her head, she still had those deep green eyes that a man could drown in. From the instant their eyes connected, he’d felt his pulse race and the blood pool in his groin. Max groaned. How could she possibly have become a stripper? He idly wondered which old geyser at the party the previous night had got lucky with Kristie, and it angered him that any one of them would have laid their hands on her.
“Morning,” Max greeted the parking attendant as he guided his BMW into a designated spot marked ‘Director, Historical Association, Dorset.’ He was only there as a stand-in for the Director who was away for the week. As Chief of Restoration and Rezoning for the Province, Max didn’t generally stand-in for local heads, but the Director had called in for a sudden compassionate leave the day before, and there wasn’t enough time to recruit anyone else. As there were several essential meetings in Dorset that needed immediate attention, he decided to do the honors himself.
As soon as he settled himself behind the Director’s desk, he buzzed for the secretary. She entered with a steaming mug and a fistful of folders. Max thanked her and took a deep gulp of the hot black coffee. It tasted like mud, but he was grateful for the caffeine it provided, which he badly needed to get his mind off Kristie Clark, the last woman he ever expected to see gyrating half-naked in front of a roomful of men. And, the only woman with whom he had ever had a serious relationship. Max drained the contents of the mug while leafing through the folders the secretary had left. The first appointment was an application for a new adult-entertainment establishment on Main Street. Unbidden, the image of Kristie sashaying across the stage stirred his senses. He shifted in his chair to ease the shaft of physical awareness that shot through him. He groaned and quickly opened the folder on his desk, concentrating on pushing everything from his mind but the business at hand.
He depressed a button on the intercom on the desk. “Please send in the …er.” Max flipped through the loose sheets of paper inside the top folder, searching for the applicant’s name. Before he could locate what he was looking for, the door opened. Max glanced up, and his mouth went slack at the sight of the woman that had dogged his thoughts all night, stepping into the room, smiling politely. She stopped short when she saw him. Her eyes widened, and her mouth fell open. The shock mirrored in her liquid green eyes was palpable. Nothing compared to his, though, as he watched her hesitate in the center of the room. Hell, did she seriously want to start up a strip joint in the middle of small-town Dorset? Max tried to keep the grin off his face.
Kristie’s heart went zinging down to her toes. What was Max Malone doing behind that desk? Jason Little was the Director. Where was he? Of all the dumb luck! Talk about a double whammy, Kristie thought nervously. First, seeing her ex-boyfriend and the only guy she ever had any real feelings for, and then him sitting there in the Director’s chair after seeing her sashaying around a roomful of whistling and chortling men with barely any clothes on. After last night, convincing him that she was a respectable member of the community would be an uphill climb. Kristie was there to lobby for a group home for abandoned and homeless teenagers and required the Historical Association’s approval for the use of their premises. With any luck, Max may not have recognized her. One look at his amused expression, however, told her she was hoping in vain. Closing her gaping mouth and fixing the best smile she could manage on her face, she moved forward.
“Max? What are you doing here?” Kristie’s voice emerged like it was squeezing out of her throat.
“After ten years, that’s all you have to say?” Although there was amusement in his voice, his gaze held a trace of resentment.
Kristie shrugged her shoulders. What was she supposed to say? Offer regret? Apologize? And for what? It was him who had been unfaithful to her. It was him who needed to apologize.
“I’m not here to reopen old wounds. I’m here to conduct business, and I would like to keep it that way.” Kristie hoped her shaky voice didn’t belie her words.
“Well, in that case, I don’t know that I approve of an adult-entertainment joint right on Main Street. However, I may be amenable to changing my mind, with the right incentive, of course.” He directed a leering glace over her trim business suit. “You can wear what you had on last night.”
Kristie almost choked. Bight red suffused her cheeks. “You arrogant, conceited, male…. wait a minute! Adult-entertainment? What on earth are you talking about?”
“Your application for a strip joint. Perhaps if you want to show me what you’ve got, I’ll consider your request.”
Furious as she was, Kristie suddenly felt mesmerized and disoriented by the familiar killer smile that lit up his blue eyes. She closed her own eyes briefly, trying hard to maintain her focus on why she was there. “Huh?”
Max laughed. A deep, sexy sound that sent her pulse into overdrive. “I just got a little glimpse of what you had to offer last night, and I must admit, my memory of ten years ago isn’t that spot on. I’ll need to see a lot more if you want me to approve this application.
Kristie’s head snapped up, and her anger quickly resurfaced. When did he become such a jerk? “I honestly don’t know what you mean. Jay Little was reviewing our application, and that’s what I’m here to discuss. Where’s Jay, anyway?”
“Jay?” Max felt an inexplicable shaft of anger shoot through him. How friendly was she with the Director?
“Jason Little, the Director.”
“You call him Jay? How familiar are you with him?”
Kristie shook her head. The whole conversation was starting to feel surreal. “That’s hardly any of your business,” she responded heatedly. “I’m here to get a permit to run a group home for disadvantaged teenagers. I am the Director of Social Services. Have you not read the file?”
The smile and the amusement quickly left his face as he shuffled the folders on the desk. A weary expression marred his handsome features when he finally looked at Kristie again. “I, um, I believe I’ve got the appointments mixed up. Yours is the Social Worker one.”
He made it sound like an insult, but Kristie was past caring. She was used to being treated like an infectious disease when anyone mentioned social work. “Yes, that’s me,” she said. “My 9:00 am appointment was with Jay Little. But I assume that’s not going to happen.” She picked up her purse and folders, ready to leave.
“Look, Kristie,” said Max in a calm, persuasive voice. “We can’t pretend University never happened. We need to start over.”
Kristie looked at him. She wondered what it was that he wanted to start over. “With my application?”
“That too.” Max came around the desk towards her. “But first, let’s go back ten years and talk about what happened that night.”
Kristie realized that she desperately wanted to, but she was cautious. What could come out of talking about it after all that time, and more importantly, what did she want to happen? If she were honest, Kristie would admit that she wanted to know the events of that night and what happened after she left. Did he get together with the girl? Was he with her now?
“What good would that do?” she asked skeptically.
“A whole lot of good, for sure. At best, we would resolve some unresolved issues, don’t you think?”
After a brief pause, Kristie agreed. “I suppose we would.”
“How about we start with lunch and see where we go from there?” Max suggested.
Kristie reluctantly capitulated. She hoped this wasn’t something she was going to regret.
Several months later, Kristie and Max were dating seriously.
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