The Hired Hand
Stranded in a Dallas hotel room with nothing but a red spandex dress, stiletto heels and thigh highs, with directions on where to meet a gigolo, was not how Marlow Smith planned on spending her thirtieth birthday. But when her best friend leaves her knowing Marlow is so anal she’ll dress up and go fire the man, she does exactly that. Except the firing. She finds him sitting at the end of the bar and somehow ends up back in her hotel room with him. After a night filled with the best sex of her life, she leaves, thinking never to see the man again, and returns to her boring, stable life.
Business consultant, Liam Campbell, can’t believe that little Jane Smith actually thinks he’s a gigolo. She’s curvy and cute, and he can’t resist talking her into bed. And once he gets her there, and on the couch, and in the shower, he doesn’t want to leave. The only problem is he never quite gets around to telling her the truth. He wakes up the next morning with a hundred dollar tip and no way of finding his “client”.
Three months later, Liam shows up at her family business as their hired business consultant. Marlow hopes that he doesn’t remember her and when he does, she wants to pretend that nothing happened. But little does she know the moment he sees her again, Liam has plans for not only her body but also her heart.
Readers’ Choice #1 Torrid Bestseller Of The Month
Bestseller List Every Month Of 2005
Bestselling Torrid Title Of The Year
2005 EPPIE Finalist, Contemporary Romance
Read an Excerpt
"You hired me a what?" Marlow Smith asked from behind clenched teeth.
"Marlow," Joey said, as if talking to a five-year-old. "It's a birthday present. You need to cut loose. You need a break."
Marlow stared at her best friend and administrative assistant, wondering if she'd taken to drinking in the middle of the afternoon. Joey stood before her, a red spandex excuse for a dress in her hands, a calm look on her perfect face. Yep, she'd been hitting the bottle.
"A break? A break does not include hiring a gigolo for the night!"
With an exasperated sigh, Joey tossed the dress on the bed. "Listen, hon, you've been working like crazy the last few months. The problems with the company…well, you need to get laid."
"Yeah, I know, but…a gigolo? Josephenia Vernon! A gigolo!"
"Listen, you haven't dated anyone since Vic. You need this, and Clarice owed me."
Only Joey would have a childhood friend who became the owner of an escort service. Marlow didn't even want to contemplate what favor Clarice owed her. "There is no way on earth this is going to happen, Joey."
"No, I'm not the type of woman who needs…"
Joey placed a hand on each hip and raised an eyebrow.
"Okay, I'm not the type who wants a gigolo." Joey snorted but kept her mouth shut. "Now, how much time do we have?"
Joey's eyes widened. "I thought you said you didn't want to go."
"I don't want a gigolo but we're going to the club and firing him. I can't let him sit there all night, wondering what happened."
"No. We're going and I'm going to stand there while you'll explain you're the one who hired him and I don't desire to avail myself of his services for the evening!" She still couldn't believe Joey pulled this! "When were we supposed to meet him?"
"Ten. And it was supposed to be you, not both of us."
Marlow glanced at her watch. She had less than an hour. There was no reason to panic. They'd meet the man and tell him what happened. "I'm going to take a quick shower. I feel funky." She grabbed her toiletry bag. "Don't try anything while I'm gone."
She emerged from the shower ten minutes later, the grime of the two-hour car trip after a long day at work washed away. Immediately, she realized her clothes were no longer sitting on the counter where she had placed them. She shrugged it off, thinking Joey must have grabbed them up. After hurriedly drying her hair, she wrapped the towel around her body and walked out the door into the empty bedroom.
"Joey?" Silence. "Joey?"
Uneasiness crept into her stomach, souring the contents. "Joey?" Still nothing.
She walked into the living room and the worry increased when she found it empty as well. Thinking to get dressed as fast as possible, she dashed into the bedroom. Only her suitcase was no longer sitting on the luggage rack.
"Joey," she groaned. She paced the room, chewing her thumbnail. Joey was outrageous, unpredictable, and outspoken but Marlow never thought she'd leave her in a Dallas hotel room without anything to wear. Thinking there might be something in the dresser, she ran to it and began opening drawers. But, as she found each one empty, her panic increased and the pounding in her head became unbearable.
Every bit of her clothing was gone, including her underwear. She couldn't believe Joey had done this. They'd been best friends almost since the moment she'd hired Joey. Marlow shook her head. Even with her over-the-top personality Joey would never leave her in Dallas without clothes. At least Marlow didn't think she would.
Marlow wandered back into the living area and realized the closet door was ajar. She walked to it, hoping Joey had just left her things in there. Her heart sank when she pulled it open and found only the red dress Joey had bought her hanging there. Draped over one shoulder, was a pair of off-black thigh highs and a lacey red pushup bra over the other. Resting on the floor was a pair of matching stiletto pumps.
A piece of hotel stationary had been stuffed into the top of the dress. She yanked it out of the dress, dread settling into her stomach.
You can kill me when you get back to Abilene. Mr. Jones will be at the club wearing a green shirt, sitting at the bar. He's supposed to be over six feet, blonde with green eyes. Don't do anything I wouldn't do.
Marlow wadded up the piece of paper and threw it in the wastebasket. How could Joey do this to her? Marlow didn't need a break. What she needed was a new administrative assistant!
She looked at the dress and shook her head. It would barely cover her butt. There was no way she was going to meet a hired escort dressed in that. She didn't care if he sat there all night. She really didn't.
"I'm very sorry, Mr. Jones, but I have no need for an escort tonight," Marlow said with a frown.
No, that didn't sound right. How did one fire a gigolo and not sound like an idiot?
She hurried down the street to the club and sighed when the neon sign came into view a block ahead. The flashing red and white letters pierced the dark street, illuminating the entrance. With each step she took, the stiletto heels jarred her feet. When she returned to her hotel room tonight, she'd consign the red torture devices to hell and soak her feet for a month.
She paid the doorman and hurried into the nightclub. Goosebumps exploded across her skin when she stepped from the sultry Texas heat and into the cool air of the nightclub — a glaring reminder that her chest was almost as bare as her back. She shivered and crossed her arms.
She was going to kill Joey when she got a hold of her. The red spandex sheath clung to her hips and rear end, highlighting every extra jiggle. With each step, the hem of it rose and she hoped it wasn't rising above the top of the lacy thigh highs Joey had left for her.
Marlow mentally reminded herself of Joey's description of the man she hired: at least six feet tall, blond hair, green eyes, and wearing a green shirt. She glanced around the room and was surprised when more than a couple pairs of eyes stared back, inspecting her like a piece of meat from the stockyards.
Usually, Marlow Jane Smith did not attract attention. Small-boned and short, she lacked the feminine attributes most men thought of as sexy. Well, at least what beer commercials told them was sexy. Marlow rubbed her arms, and scrutinized the men who were line dancing. Hmmm, lots of good-looking blonds, none of them were wearing a green shirt.
Unwilling to abandon her search, she decided to make one trip around the club. Marlow walked past a few of the tables, looking over the men but not making eye contact. The ache in her feet intensified with each step.
Joey had left those clothes, knowing Marlow would never let the man sit there all night. All the rules of etiquette were so ingrained in her she had to tell a male hooker she wouldn't need his services for the evening. If her compulsion to do exactly the right thing weren't so sad, she'd have laughed at the foolish thought.
She glanced around the club again, and almost shrunk under the scrutiny. Ignore them, she could almost hear Joey whisper in her ear. Determined to make it through the crowd and find Mr. Jones, she threw her shoulders back, causing her chest to rise, and raised her chin a notch. Then she saw him—sitting at the end of the bar with a redhead practically in his lap.
Marlow glanced at the woman, who gave her a dirty look, and then cut a look at the man.
Although he draped his arm across the back of the other woman's chair, he was staring at Marlow. She shivered as his gaze dropped down from her eyes, then to her shoulders and finally, her breasts. He continued his frank assessment down to her toes and then all the way back up. One corner of his mouth quirked, and an eyebrow was raised.
Before she could allow herself to contemplate how to approach her paid escort, he leaned over and whispered something into the woman's ear. Her smile faded and she shot Marlow another dirty look before flouncing away. Marlow glanced back to the man to find him gazing directly at her, his intense stare causing a heated blush to rise from her chest to her face.
Marlow walked slowly toward the end of the bar. She inhaled deeply and took a seat.
Be short and to the point.
"Mr. Jones, I think there's been some kind of mistake."
"Darlin'" he said, his voice as smooth as the whiskey he was drinking, "I'm not Mr. Jones. Although, I have to say," his eyes traveled down her body again and returned to her face, "I wouldn't mind taking his place." His sensuous lips curved and a couple dimples appeared.
She swallowed twice, gathering the courage to explain who she was. If she were in a boardroom in her own clothes, she wouldn't have had a problem confronting this man. Joey would flirt. Marlow rarely used flirtation. She never understood the finer points. Uncomfortable in any kind of man-woman situation, Marlow had failed miserably during her last stint on the dating scene. Never one to spend a Saturday night dateless, Joey badgered Marlow about finding a man, but Marlow avoided the discussion. She wanted to find a nice man who wanted to settle down. Marlow wasn't looking for a great passion. A dependable man, who wanted a quiet life with a wife and kids, was fine with her.
Joey thought she was crazy hence the escort.
He sat there, smiling at her, with those blasted dimples and an expectant look on his face.
"I know that's not your real name," she said, aware her Texas accent had grown more pronounced, "but there's been a mistake." He leaned forward, placing his arms on the bar, confusion darkening his green eyes. "I'm not the one who hired you, but I promise you'll get paid."
"Hired me?" he almost croaked.
"Yes," she said nodding, never allowing her eyes to wander to his open collar. A glimpse of golden brown hair curled in the V of his green shirt, and she fought the urge to tell him to button it up. At the same time, she had to resist reaching out to comb her fingers through those curls and feel the hard, hot muscle of his chest beneath them. Why the hell was she thinking about his muscles? "A friend thought that it would be a good idea to hire a man for me on my thirtieth birthday." She watched the dimples disappear. "Like I said, you'll get paid, I just don't see a reason for buying a man." Even if he's built like a Greek god.
He raised one thick, dark blonde eyebrow. "Well, at least let me buy you a drink."
She searched his expressionless face. Other than that perusal, he didn't show any more interest in her than he probably would have shown any other woman. He definitely wasn't overcome with lust so she said, "Sure, but then I really have to go."
Liam Campbell stared at the petite woman beside him while she placed her order with the bartender. He felt free to look his fill while she leaned over the bar and ordered a club soda.
She was little. Small-boned and delicate, she couldn't be more than five-foot-two in her stocking feet. When he first saw her walk through the club, he'd thought she was taller. But the killer fuck-me heels she wore gave the illusion of height.
It didn't really matter. He loved all women. Tall, short, skinny, fat, any hair color, he loved them. He didn't personally love as many as his brother, Heath, claimed he did, but he was never at a loss for a date. He had strict guidelines about who ended up in his bed. Women he dated knew the score: a fun time, no strings attached.
He'd been sitting at the end of the bar waiting for Heath, thinking that he'd stood Liam up for work once again. He was about to call it a night, after he called Heath to gripe at him, when a flash of red caught his eye.
What struck him first about her was her demeanor as she carefully stepped through the crowd, avoiding contact with most of the people there. She walked across the floor like a deb on the night of her coming out, but dressed like sin.
The red dress she wore left little to the imagination. It clung to every curve she had. Her mass of inky hair cascaded down her back, making him want to bury his face in it. He couldn't make out the color of her eyes, but they looked to be some shade between blue and gray, surrounded by thick lashes. She wore little makeup, but her bee-stung lips were painted almost the same shade of red as her dress and she had the cutest little overbite. At the moment, she was worrying her bottom lip when he realized he was staring at her mouth, wondering what it tasted like.
He met her gaze and saw apprehension. She may have strutted through the bar like a self-assured woman, but she was nervous. Well, who wouldn't be when trying to tell a paid escort to take a hike?
"Now, Ms.—" he said, leaving it hanging and waited for an answer.
"Smith. Jane Smith."
He chuckled. "Smith and Jones?"
She sat up straighter, thrusting her chest out. "My real name is Smith." Ah, interesting. Maybe Ms. Smith was using another first name.
"Ms. Smith, why don't you explain why you don't need an escort for the evening?" He knew he was attractive to the opposite sex and enjoyed when a woman was bold enough to approach him, just as much as he enjoyed chasing after them. But in all his years, he'd never had one of them try to pick him up, claiming she'd paid him for the evening. No, someone else had paid.
She heaved a sigh, drawing his eyes to her breasts again. Not huge and spectacular, although the pushup bra he knew she wore did wonders for them. No, they weren't big, but he'd bet the farm they were beautiful. They were probably petite, just like the rest of her, but smooth as a baby's bottom with pink nipples that would taste so sweet. He looked back up to her face, and even through the smoke of the club, he could see her blush.
"I don't need an escort. A very misguided and soon to be unemployed friend decided I needed a man for the evening. I wouldn't have come, but I couldn't leave you sitting here waiting for me."
"No. It's just not done." Her voice had taken on an icy edge but that probably had to do with his eyes dipping down to look at her cleavage every few seconds. He really wanted to see those breasts. He wanted to see if they were as smooth and ivory as the rest of her skin. At that moment, Liam knew he was going to seduce the birthday girl.
"Ms. Smith, maybe we could go somewhere a little quieter?"
"No, Mr. Jones, I don't think that's a good idea."
He leaned back in his chair, trying to look nonchalant. Not a man used to rejection from any woman, Liam stared at the woman for a minute or two. She squirmed under his scrutiny, and he felt a little satisfaction.
"I appreciate the offer, really, but I need to get back. I have to get up and drive home tomorrow and truthfully," she said leaning forward just a bit, allowing him a wonderful view down her dress, "I'm usually in bed by ten o'clock."
He looked into her eyes to see if she was flirting with him, but saw only honesty.
"I'm usually in bed by ten, too." He found her attempt to give him the brush off irritating. So what if he wasn't her paid escort for the evening?
She jerked away from him and she blushed again.
"I'm sure you are in bed, Mr. Jones, but I am usually asleep."
He looked at her, nonplussed for a second, and then laughed. So the sweet little woman had some bite to her. Sweet and spicy. Even better. He was mentally rubbing his hands together.
"Besides, your friend wouldn't be happy if you left just yet."
Liam wondered how she knew he was meeting his brother, but he noticed her looking over his shoulder. He turned around and saw the redhead who had told him she could tie a cherry stem with her tongue. He smiled at her and her friends but turned back around.
"Oh, I just met her. She sat down next to me and bought me a drink."
"I don't doubt it, Mr. Jones." She stood and gathered her purse. "I really understand that you're worried about your payment, but there's no reason. Joey will make sure you're paid in full for the night. She's very good friends with Clarice."
He shrugged. Since he had no idea who Joey or Clarice was, he figured it really didn't matter.
"Thank you so much for understanding, Mr. Jones, but I really need to go."
"I'll tell you what," he said, standing, "why don't we have a cup of coffee? My treat. That way I won't feel guilty about getting paid for tonight. There's a great little diner within walking distance."
Okay, so that was lame. He really didn't want this woman to leave. At least, not without him. He pulled his wallet out and threw a couple of tens on the bar.
She looked up at him. He thought he saw a flash of annoyance in those big blue eyes, but it disappeared behind a mask of polite manners.
"You would feel guilty about taking money you didn't earn?" she asked.
"Yes. My parents drummed things like that into my head." He used her sense of right and wrong to get her to come with him. He knew it was really beneath him, but, hell, whoever heard of someone so bent on doing the right thing they show up at a nightclub, dressed like a wet dream come true, to make sure the hired escort for the evening didn't waste his time waiting on her?
She stared at him, as if trying to guess if he was handing her a load of manure, and then she smiled her first real smile. Her face really lit up when she smiled, and a slice of warmth slid into his gut. He knew there was no way in hell he was going to let her go back to the hotel room to celebrate alone. She was going to celebrate with him.
"Okay," she said, still smiling, "but only one cup of coffee."
Marlow took a sip of coffee and almost sighed out loud. The hot liquid slid down her throat and warmed her belly. She brought the cup back up to her mouth, closed her eyes, and inhaled the deep aroma.
"You seem to be taking an inordinate amount of pleasure in drinking that cup of coffee."
She opened her eyes and studied her coffee companion, her hired gigolo. Talk about warming my belly. His golden brown hair, mussed by the Texas wind, curled around the top of his collar, the tips of it kissed by the sun. His green eyes, a shade lighter than she thought they were, looked exotic against his tanned skin. The skin around them crinkled around the corners each time he smiled. She figured, given his demeanor and his profession, the little wrinkles had more to do with smiling than with age. Full, sensuous lips curved in a perpetual smile, like most people were around for his amusement. The only imperfection she found on his face was a tiny scar on his chin. That imperfection on a particularly perfect backdrop looked out of place.
She glanced back up into those mesmerizing eyes and saw a twinkle of humor. It was then Marlow realized she'd been sitting there, staring at him like a fourteen-year-old with a crush.
She cleared her throat.
"Well, I don't drink much coffee."
"Mr. Jones—" she said, but he didn't let her finish.
"Jane, I really think that since I was hired to pleasure you, and you won't allow me that privilege, you should grant me one wish."
She glanced around, wondering whether or not the other patrons had heard the comment.
"I would like you to call me by my first name."
"Okay." Really, how much could it hurt? "What's your first name?"
"Liam," he said.
"Liam. Unusual name."
"Named after my grandfather on my father's side of the family. Now, explain to me why you don't drink a lot of coffee."
"Oh, I like it with lots of cream and sugar." He smiled and she remembered him silently watching her doctor her coffee. "I also have a stressful job. Caffeine is not a good thing to add to the mix."
"What kind of job do you have?" he asked as he sank back into the booth.
The tip of his boot nudged her ankle as he sprawled out, and she moved her feet a little to her right to give him room.
"I work in the family business. We're having a little trouble right now, and it's been a struggle keeping the stress down." That was an understatement. All the stress started building up, knotting her neck and left a stone weight in her belly. It seemed to have taken up residence there six months prior and had yet to break the lease. At least she'd finally convinced her father to hire a consultant.
"Must be hard to work so closely with your family."
Liam didn't touch her ankle again. He shifted slightly, and she tried not to notice the shuffling beneath the table. She really had no idea what he was doing down there, but she didn't have the nerve to ask him. Then she heard the thunk of his boot on the floor while his other foot hit the table, rocking it, causing a little of her coffee to spill onto the table.
She grabbed some napkins and cleaned the table. Before she looked up, though, his sock encased toe nudged her ankle. Slowly, she looked up from the table at him. From his lazy smile, she knew it hadn't been a mistake. The silk thigh highs she wore slid with his toe, slithering against her skin and wreaking havoc with her concentration.
She looked at him, wondering what he wanted. When she didn't answer, his smile widened.
"Is it hard to work with your family?"
Oh, yeah, he had asked a question. She cleared her throat again.
"Sometimes." Her voice had taken on a husky edge she had rarely heard before.
"In what way?" he asked, still running his toe along the side of her ankle.
"Hmmm, oh, well, it's hard to get away from problems at work and enjoy time with the family."
"Ah, so part of celebrating your birthday was for you to relax."
"Yes. Joey worries," she said, trying to control her voice. Liam had moved his toe behind her ankle, sliding it up her calf.
"Joey, the woman who hired me?"
"Yes, Joey said I needed a break."
His eyelids were half closed, and his lazy smile had taken on a seductive edge.
She attempted to move her feet to the left, over his feet, but as soon as she placed them back on the floor, he started to rub her right ankle. Slowly, he moved his toe around to the back of her ankle, following the same path up her calf that he had on her other leg. Warmth seeped into the pit of her belly with each brush of his warm foot.
Marlow's pulse hitched, and her nipples tightened against the lacy fabric of her bra as he continued to move his toe, slowly up and down the back of her leg. His eyelids had drooped so much, only a hint of his green eyes showed through the slits. His nostrils flared slightly, and she realized he was aroused.
"Mr. Jones—" she started, and his eyes opened slightly.
"You said you would call me Liam." He rose up from his slumped position.
She looked down at her clasped hands resting on the table. "I did, Mr. Jones, but—"
"Liam," he said, his voice taking on a slight edge.
She glanced up, and found a mixture of arousal and determination in those gorgeous green eyes.
"Liam," she said and watched him relax, sinking back against the back of the booth again. "I really don't think you understand, and I'm sure this," she said, nervously pointing her finger back and forth between the two of them, "might be second nature for you. But, really, you don't have to put on a show for me. I understand."
"You understand?" he asked, his voice neutral.
"Yes, I'm sure in your line of business, you're used to, well, must be forced, well…" She stopped, trying to keep herself from looking like a fool.
"Listen, Jane, whatever you're thinking, it's not because of the job."
"Oh," she said, feeling her face heat, "I'm sorry for the mistake."
His toe fell away and he sat up straight. "No, it's not a mistake. This," he said, angrily mimicking her movement with his hand between them, "has nothing to do with my job." He took hold of her hand and turned it so the palm faced up. "This has everything to do with chemistry."
A shiver of excitement raced through her as his fingers slid sensuously in a circle over the palm of her hand. The heat that had invaded her belly now slid down between her legs. She shifted, trying to quell the searing inferno blazing through her system. It did no good.
"Chemistry. You and me." His voice deepened. "We have chemistry. What I can't understand is why you don't want to act on it."
"You find me attractive?"
He slowly nodded.
"You want to sleep with me?"
"Well, sleeping wasn't what I had in mind, Ms. Smith." His lips curved into a smile that promised he had more than one way to stay awake.
She shook her head. "Liam, I understand you may feel obligated to fulfill your contract. Really, I won't tell a soul."
He said nothing. He stood and walked around the table and sat down next to her. His eyes never left hers as he moved his fingers to the plump skin directly below her thumb. His spicy scent and heat surrounded her.
Up and down and around, again and again, he stroked the tender skin. Each caress tingled, all the way to the tips of her toes. Her heart beat wildly against her chest. Up, down, around. His eyes, dilated with arousal, totally focused on her. Up, down and around.
Still he said nothing.
"Liam," she said, half reprimand, half plea. Every fiber of her being was focused on his caress. Wet heat slid to her sex and her breasts ached.
"Jane, what's going on in that pretty little head?" he asked, his voice whisper soft. "Are you trying to come up with another idea to stall me?" He leaned closer, his lips almost touching her ear. "Or are you thinking about my fingers, hmm? Are you thinking what I could do with them, by chance?" His heated breath caressed her lobe, and she shivered.
"No." But she was now. His callused fingers continued their feather-light assault, and all she could think about was what it would feel like to have those fingers caress her breasts. She shifted again, and felt his lips curve a little bit more.
She found herself leaning closer to him. The temptation to lean against his shoulder, allow his body heat to seep into her, warm her from the inside out, almost overwhelmed her. She wanted to allow this man to run his fingers all over her body.
Marlow had fantasies, just like every average woman. But they were usually about celebrities, or nameless, faceless men.
Not any more.
Next to her sat six-foot-one of pure female fantasy. Trying to seduce her. With his golden brown hair, twinkling green eyes and dimples, he could charm an armadillo out of its hide.
Just like Vic. Vic, who had come to work for the company and charmed her into bed. Vic, who several weeks later, had told her he wanted nothing to do with her if she didn't help get him promoted.
Marlow jerked away from Liam, reminding herself of her promise: never let another man charm her and use her.
"Liam," she said, the husky desire still lingering in her voice, "I really don't think this is going to work. I'm just not interested."
"Jane," he chastised, "you're lying. I felt your pulse quicken. I bet your nipples are puckered so tight they hurt. You know you want me."
"I don't want to want you. That's what's important."
"Ah," he said, and he rubbed his thumb over the pulse on her wrist. "You don't want to want a man whom you control? Someone there for your pleasure? Does that scare you?" His eyes were now almost emerald green. "Jane, let me be yours for the evening. You tell me what gets you hot. You tell me what to do to you."
The thought of having a man at her command, who was schooled in the seductive arts, caused her heart to thump rapidly. She looked at that smile, his green eyes and knew this was a once in a lifetime chance. She would be the one in control of the situation. She would be the one calling the shots, directing the show. Excitement bubbled up at the thought of ordering this man to pleasure her. One night, no attachments. No way for her heart to get involved. Still…she wasn't into one-night-stands.
Then she thought about going back to her hotel room, sleeping in that big bed all by herself. All alone. No one to cuddle with. No one to kiss goodnight. She looked at Liam. What would it be like to sleep next to him? To have him to spoon with, his arm draped over my stomach through the night. The very heat of him warming my back. She wanted that. For this one night, she deserved that.
Marlow Jane Smith, a woman who always plotted and planned, a woman who left nothing to chance, never stepped out of her comfortable shell, ran as fast as she could and jumped off a cliff.
"Follow me to my hotel."