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Multi-award winning author Cara Summers loves writing for Blaze because it allows her to create strong, determined women and seriously sexy men who risk everything to achieve their goals. “It’s a dream job,” says Cara. And she thanks her mom for first introducing her to Harlequin books. Visit Cara at www.carasummers.com.
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Short, Sweet And Sexy
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA. J. Potter needed a break. As the taxi careened around a corner into Central Park, she threw out a hand to brace herself against the door and glanced down at the address she'd recorded in her Palm Pilot. She was not running away. All she was going to do was move into an apartment, not ten blocks away from her aunt and uncle's.
In comparison, it wasn't considered running away when you asked a judge for a postponement in court.
And that's all she needed - a postponement from her family, a little vacation from her Uncle Jamison and her cousin Rodney who sat at the dinner table every night, talking about the cases Rodney was being assigned at the law firm and she wasn't. Most of all she needed a reprieve from her Aunt Margery whose mission in life was to match her up with a man who wouldn't bring disgrace on the Potter family name. If she had to endure another date with one more Mr. Perfect handpicked by her aunt, she was going to ... do just what she was doing. Move out!
Leaning back, A.J. closed her eyes as the taxi wound its way through Central Park. Somehow in the seven years she'd spent away at college and then in law school, she'd forgotten what a misfit she was in the Potter family. But living with them for the past year had certainlyrefreshed her memory. Worse than that, it was beginning to undermine her confidence. Ever since Uncle Jamison and Aunt Margery had taken her in at the age of seven, she'd tried - and failed - to prove to them that she could be a Potter, that she wasn't at all like her mother.
A.J.'s eyes snapped open the minute the taxi lurched to the curb.
"The Willoughby," the driver said. After paying the fare and stepping out onto the sidewalk, A.J. studied the building. It was small with the same kind of understated elegance that characterized her aunt and uncle's building. She sighed. Her aunt would definitely approve.
The real estate agent who'd given her the tip about the apartment had hinted at something different. Pushing down her disappointment, A.J. slipped her Palm Pilot into her purse and strode toward the door of the Willoughby.
The moment she stepped inside, she stopped short. The scene in front of her was definitely a tad unusual - even for New York. The fact that it was taking place in the lobby of a Central Park West apartment building had her thinking that she'd tumbled down a rabbit hole into Alice's Wonderland.
The woman with the wavy brown hair appeared normal enough. The suitcases and slightly out-of-style clothes, as well as the confused expression on her face, pegged her as a visitor to the Big Apple.
The man was an entirely different matter. He was wearing a baggy blue polka-dot bathing suit and standing in the middle of a small wading pool decorated with cartoon fish. Sun poured down from a skylight, turning the zinc oxide he'd smeared across his nose a bright shade of lime green. "Surfin' USA" blared out of the boom box beside his striped deck chair.
A.J. smiled slowly. If she wanted a reprieve from the stuffiness of her aunt and uncle's condominium and from being a Potter twenty-four hours a day, she couldn't have picked a better place. She was definitely going to take this apartment.
"Password!" the man with the green nose shouted above the pounding rhythm of the Beach Boys.
The woman with the suitcases shook her head. A.J. moved forward. "I'm waaaaiiiiiting." He sang this time instead of shouting.
Nice voice, A.J. noted, and now that she was closer, she recognized the tattoo on his left forearm. The moment the Beach Boys faded, she said, "Toto."
"Close but no cigar," he said and then sang the opening stanza of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
"Are you here for the apartment?"
"Yes." A.J. found herself speaking in unison with the suitcase woman.
"You and about forty others," he said, peering at them over his sunglasses. "Tavish Mclain is the man you'll have to convince, and this is his day of glory - the day he dreams of the other 364 days of the year. He is surrounded by women, and each one of them is willing to do whatever it takes to get his apartment."
"We'd like to join them," A.J. said. The real estate agent had warned her that there would be an auction, and she needed to size up her opponents.
He glanced quickly around, then leaned closer and spoke in a stage whisper. "You might try naming the actor who played the cowardly lion."
"Bert Lahr." A.J. and the suitcase woman spoke again at the same time.
A grin split his face. "Excellent."
"Bert Lahr is the password, then?" A.J. asked.
"No. But I like the fact that you're Wizard of Oz movie buffs, so you may pass."
"Thanks," A.J. said as she hurried toward the elevator.
Oh, this was getting better and better. She definitely wasn't in Kansas anymore.
"The name's Franco," the man with the green nose called after them. "Franco Rossi. You're going to see it in lights someday."
A.J. pressed the elevator button and when the door slid open, she helped the suitcase woman muscle the biggest one in.
"Thanks. I'm Claire Dellafield," the woman said.
"A. J. Potter." She looked the woman up and down. "I guess we're competitors."
Claire nodded. "Do you think the apartment's going to be expensive? If so, I don't have enough money to be much competition."
A.J. thought the apartment might be very expensive. She'd heard about it through a broker for whom she'd done a closing that morning. Tavish Mclain, an eccentric and thrifty Scot, had money to burn and just couldn't miss an opportunity to make more. Rather than allow his apartment to sit empty for three months while he went off on holiday, he ran what the broker had described to her as a sort of auction-lottery to rent it for the summer. The moment she'd heard that it was a rental and that she could move in immediately, A.J. had taken it as a sign. And the fact that the address was Central Park West would stifle some of her family's concern.
When her mother had left the family home she'd moved to a coldwater flat in the Village with the man who'd become A.J.'s father. A.J. would never do that to her family. The address of the Willoughby would definitely reassure her aunt and uncle of that. And the money wouldn't be a problem for her because of the trust fund her mother had left her. But Claire Dellafield looked as though it might be a problem for her. She also looked beat and a little lost. Manhattan could be a tough city for the uninitiated, and A.J.'s heart went out to her. "Want to join forces and bid together?"
"I don't know. I -"
A.J. nodded as the door slid open. "Smart girl. Someone warned you about the big bad city." Unzipping her purse, she pulled out a card. "I have a hunch that the bidding might be brutal and I intend to win. Think about it."
The noise was coming from the apartment at the end of the hall, and dozens of people were jammed around the door of 6C. At barely five feet tall, she couldn't see over them, so she wiggled and elbowed her way through. Reaching the door and finding Claire right behind her, A.J. helped her heave the suitcases into the foyer.
The room was packed with women, mostly blondes in various shapes and sizes. They ranged in age from ... A.J. figured the one in the latex capris and midriff-baring tank top to be about twenty, and the one just entering with the bouffant hair and the poodle had to be in her seventies. That poodle lady might have money, she decided. The huge rock on her right hand looked very real.
Eyes narrowed, A.J. rose to her toes and peered around shoulders to scan the room again. She caught glimpses of a tacky Southwestern decor. Could that have been a longhorn cow over the fireplace? It was only by leaping up that she finally spotted the broker who'd tipped her off to the auction. Roger Whitfield, who was handling the sublet for Tavish, stood on the steps leading up to the loft.
When she landed back on her feet, her eyes collided briefly with a tall woman - not a blonde - who carried a package under her arm and had a determined look on her face. Very determined. Well, A.J. was determined too.
Someone waved a check high over her head. "Here it is, folks. Good faith money. Forty-five hundred dollars - three months - up front."
Excerpted from Short, Sweet And Sexy by Summers Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.