Authors: Nancy Warren
Nancy Weatherley Warren
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Welcome to the Crane Series, a trilogy of romances that cross oceans to bring the perfect partners together — whether they know it or not. The series begins with Sun Kissed, then Sea Kissed, then Star Kissed. I hope you enjoy these fun, sexy reads.
Please note, these are updated versions of stories originally published in Bad Boys Downunder.
Lise Atwater grabbed the back of her neck as though it were a dog’s scruff and tried to give herself a shake. The tendons beneath her squeezing fingers were like iron stakes. She was on day four of a tension headache that showed no signs of taking a break. Even her shoulder-length brown hair felt heavy.
“What’s up?” her assistant Sonia asked.
“My hair feels heavy.”
“Lighten it. Try going blond, hon.”
Lise groaned. “That is so bad I should—”
“Think about it. Lighten your hair, lighten your load, lighten up! You are killing yourself. Repeat after me. We are not feeding starving children, curing cancer, or saving the environment. We are selling products people don’t really want and convincing them there’s a need.”
“Do you think you’re being helpful?”
“I see my role more as a thorn in your side. Cassandra, St. Paul, and Mother Theresa all rolled into one.”
Sonia was a vivacious Argentinian with just enough of a Spanish accent to sound adorable, dark sparkling eyes, and skin that always looked sun-kissed. She made Lise feel preternaturally pale, even as Sonia’s fun-in-the-sun wardrobe—all of which seemed to highlight an impressively sexy cleavage—only made Lise feel dowdier. Not to mention more flat-chested. Some people could make a navy suit appear chic, but Lise turned even expensive suits dowdy. She wasn’t quite sure how she did it. Partly it was her shoes. Grandmother shoes, Sonia called them. But high heels gave her corns and she preferred comfort to fashion.
“Who’s the hottie?” Just looking at the photos spread over her desk made Lise feel even more dull. The tension wires in her neck creaked tighter.
“Jennifer Talbot’s sending him to me for training. She sees him as the spokesmodel for Crane Surf and Boogie Boards when they launch here in the States.”
“Mmm, very nice. You should be doing the salsa on your desk, not holding your head like you are in pain.”
Lise dragged off her glasses and rubbed her eyes, trying to remember how many hours it had been since her last dose of pain relievers. She couldn’t remember and decided analgesic poisoning was preferable to the headache anyway. She opened her desk drawer for the bottle. Might as well kill two birds, she decided and washed the pain relievers down with a swig of Maalox for her stressed stomach.
“He’s all wrong,” she said, after grimacing and wiping her mouth with a tissue.
“Are you crazy? Tell me one thing that is wrong with this man?”
She stared at the four glossy eight-by-tens tacked to her corkboard and at the rest spread over her desk, and took another swig of the antacid. “He’s all wrong,” she repeated, unable to articulate exactly why. “I feel it in my gut.”
“Is that why you’re giving yourself ulcers?”
“Ulcers are caused by bacteria. This is stress stomach.”
“I get a feeling in my belly, too, when I look at him. And it’s not stress.”
“His smile’s too wide. His shoulders are too broad. His eyes are too big. His hair is too wavy. He’s too tall, his skin’s too clear, his nose is too straight.” She snapped her fingers as she realized what was bothering her. “He’s too damned perfect. No one will believe he’s real.”
Sonia plucked one of the photos and held it between copper-painted fingernails. “He’s not perfect,” she said in triumph. “Look at that. Right there.”
She pointed to the left side of his grinning mouth. Lise squinted, then remembered she didn’t have her glasses on. She shoved them onto her nose and tried again. “All I see is a dimple.”
“Exactly. And look on the other side of his mouth. He doesn’t have one. Only one dimple. He’s not perfect at all.”
She gazed at that gorgeous—too gorgeous for his own good or any woman’s—face and felt twitchy. “I don’t understand it,” she finally said in frustration. “Jen’s got the best instincts of anyone I know. She didn’t have a second of hesitation about this guy. How could she not see he was all wrong?”
“What exactly is wrong with him?”
“Nothing. That’s what I keep telling you. People don’t buy products from perfect-looking people. They don’t trust them. They want advice from the woman next door, the guy who could be their doctor. Sure, a man they find attractive—but this . . . this is way beyond attractive. He’s in a whole new league. And, worst of all, he isn’t even American. We might, by the skin of our teeth, be able to use an unbelievably handsome American to sell product, but it’s like we’re saying, if you want perfect, you have to go to the other side of the world. You’ll be lucky to find anything passable on this continent.”
“Honey, I’d go to the other side of the world for this one.”
“For sex, maybe, but would you buy a surfboard because he told you to?”
Sonia stared thoughtfully at the print. “Maybe he’s not so perfect when you see him in person.”
Just thinking about picking him up at the airport later today had Lise chugging more Maalox. “I seriously think Jen’s judgment is impaired since she dumped Mark Forsythe for Cameron Crane.”
Sonia blew her bangs off her forehead. “Well, I guess it’s up to us to save Jen’s butt. What are we going to do? Could we ugly your perfect man up some?”
Lise laughed. “Airbrush in some blemishes? There’s a switch.” But her friend’s words had given her an idea. She squinted and tipped her head to one side. “Let’s try this . . .”
She grabbed a black felt pen and dotted in a five o’clock shadow, dulling that far too-perfect complexion. She tilted her head to the side. “Better.” But the hair. No one had hair that looked so naturally sun-streaked. She had no idea who his hairdresser was, but the guy must cost a fortune. And the result was too perfect. She shook her head.
“The streaks have to go,” she said, attacking the hair with a brown marker.
“Stop, I can’t bear to watch,” Sonia said, shielding her eyes. “I’m going back to my desk. You take a beautiful man and make him ugly? It’s like rubbing dirt into a diamond ring. You are one crazy woman.”
By the time she’d finished with the markers, Lise was feeling more hopeful. The man in the picture was still striking, but he looked more like a real man than a gift from the gods. Speaking of which, she was going to have to pick up Jen’s gift to the surfing world at the airport.
“Aaaah,” she cried when she looked at her watch. At the same moment, Sonia came into Lise’s office.
“You’ve got to be going or you’ll be late picking him up.”
“I know, I was hoping I’d get time to do a couple more things today.”
“Do you want me—” Sonia started hopefully.
“No. I need to see him in person and get a feel for how Steve Jackson is going to be to work with. If he’s a prima donna type, I need to know it right away. Did you check that his suite’s ready? I don’t want to start out with any temper tantrums.” They grimaced at each other. They’d dealt with some colorful characters in their time.
“It’s ready,” Sonia assured her. “And I checked the flight; it’s on time.”
“Great. I’ll make it if I hurry. Knowing models, he’ll have so much baggage he’ll take an extra half-hour anyway.”
In one move she shoved her arms into her suit jacket and reached over to close the file on her computer screen. It wasn’t one of the most coordinated moves of her life—and since her life was fairly chock-full of uncoordinated moves, that was saying something. There was a small and insignificant sound of plastic hitting a solid surface, then Sonia’s cry of “watch out.” Startled by the cry, she glanced down and saw she’d knocked the Maalox bottle over and it was spilling thick, white, stomach-acid quelling, ulcer-coating gunk down her suit jacket, her skirt, and pooling in a globby puddle in her lap. Sonia righted the bottle, but the damage was already done.
“I guess I forgot to tighten the cap,” she said. “Stupid, stupid.” She rose, grabbing a tissue and dabbing at the gooey mess.
“You can’t go out looking like that. I’m not even going to tell you what that looks like.”
“I have to. No time to change.”
“Honey, no male model is going to be seen with you looking like somebody barfed their vanilla milkshake all over you.”
“I thought you weren’t going to tell me what that looks like,” Lise reminded her assistant.
Sonia sent her a knowing smirk. “I was being polite. What that really looks like is worse.”
Another glance down and she got the general idea. “Eeew, gross,” she cried and pulled out another wad of tissue, though what she thought it was going to do she had no idea.
Now she was leaving behind bits of tissue on her suit fabric along with the chalky white stuff. Sonia, meanwhile, reached for Lise’s phone and pushed a couple of buttons. “Eddie? Can you bring Lise’s car around to the front door in five minutes? I’ll leave the keys out on my desk for you.”
She snapped her fingers and Lise, realizing she was going to do whatever Sonia told her to because she was tired, her head ached, and she had officially lost it, obligingly scrabbled in her purse and passed them over.
“Now strip,” Sonia said.
“I’m meeting our model in my underwear?”
“We’re switching clothes,” Sonia said, wrinkling her nose. “And believe me, I am expecting a gigantic Christmas bonus.”
But there was no point continuing, since Sonia was already running out of her office, the keys jingling in her hand. Lise took one more look down at herself and slipped out of her jacket. When Sonia returned, she shut the door to Lise’s office and reached behind her for her zipper. Lise was already down to her underwear.
“The bra and camisole have to come off.”
One look at the strappy sundress and Lise could see the woman’s point. Okay, so her smaller breasts would be swimming in a too-large bodice. It was better, she supposed, than showing her underwear under that dress. Or wearing her own soiled suit.
“Come on. Off.”
It was only for an hour, Lise reminded herself. She had to chauffeur a guy who, for sure, was going to be a lot more interested in his own looks than hers. Wearing a wardrobe that was a little on the wild side and skimping on underwear was not going to ruin her life. But being late to pick up an international model, one whom Jennifer Talbot considered critical to the campaign she was running, could ruin her life. She yanked off her camisole, unsnapped her bra, and, as the much less modest Sonia, wearing nothing but a thong that looked anorexic even for a thong, wafted the bright colored dress over her head, she pulled the bra off.
“You’re bigger than I am,” she complained as the straps settled on her shoulders, leaving her modest cleavage immodestly on display.
“Attitude, babe. Stick your chest out and no one will notice.”
She tried sticking her chest out and the dress did sit a little better, though she still felt like a little girl playing dress-up in her big sister’s gown. Still more naked than not, Sonia bent and pulled off one of her high heels.
“And here, take the shoes.”
“My shoes are fine.”
“Fine to be buried in. You are not wearing those shoes with my dress.”
Feeling as though a clock were embedded in her esophagus, ticking away the seconds, she kicked off her shoes and stepped into the orange strappy things Sonia passed her. They were slingback and didn’t fit too badly if she didn’t actually try to walk.
“Great, thanks.” She wobbled for the door, only to feel her hair practically dragged out of her scalp.
“Ow. What are you doing?”
“Lipstick,” Sonia begged.
“No time.” But even as she closed her lips on “time,” a gold cylinder was aimed at her lips and—swipe-swipe—she was lipsticked. She really hoped it wasn’t the same shade as the shoes.
“Now, go,” Sonia said, giving her a sharp pat on the behind.
Lise was not a woman who got swats on the butt, but somehow, she felt a woman in a dress like this was going to be vulnerable to butt-swatting. She’d have to be vigilant. Although, she suspected her chances of breaking her leg—or neck—in the shoes was going to be a greater danger than itinerant airport gangs of bottom-slappers.
“Don’t forget the sign,” Sonia reminded her.
Lise nodded. As she passed Sonia’s desk she picked up the placard with STEVE JACKSON emblazoned on it, then slapped her prescription sunglasses on her face and rushed out into the sunshine. By the time she made it to the arrivals lounge, out of breath and with cramped Achilles tendons from running in those stupid, damn, ice-pick heeled shoes, the flight, of course, had hit some kind of delay.
She sat down to wait. Not a problem, she told herself. She’d practice those relaxation exercises her doctor had given her. Except she’d never felt less relaxed. The air conditioning was goosebumping bits of her that weren’t normally exposed, and her mind began cataloging everything she had to do. Somehow, this was all Mr. Too Handsome’s fault.