his style of seduction
“I don’t want to win awards, dude. I want to sell little red sports cars to sexy young women. How hard can that be?” Jackson Locke trotted down the first two steps of a winding central staircase, his attention on his bare feet as they navigated the high-sheen polish of the wood, his brain flipping through various slogans and discarding them just as fast.
“But what’ll I tell the client?” The account exec whined on the other end of his cell phone. “It’s eight o’clock on Friday night and he’s still sitting in the conference room refusing to move until he talks to you or Mr. Wilding himself about this commercial.”
“Forget Reggie. He should be in the air on his way to Nantucket,” Jack said. “That is, if he can even get here in this storm.”
“He only left the office at five. He’s running really late.”
“What a surprise.” Reggie Wilding’s hours were legendary. He was the first to arrive at the offices of Wild Marketing and generally the last to leave. But then, that was his name on the door – or part of his name.
“Listen,” Jack continued. “Tell the client you talked to the creative director and I say that the ending stays, the blonde stays, the dog stays, the tagline stays, and, trust me, the sexy babes will --” He froze as his gaze moved from his feet to the foyer below, then he released a silent whistle of air. “Show up when you least expect them.”
“What?” The account exec sounded baffled. “Is that a new slogan or something?”
“No. You handle this, man. I gotta run.”
He flipped the phone closed and slid it in his jeans pocket as he studied the back of a rain soaked woman and a sizeable suitcase, both trickling water over Mrs. Slattery’s precious pine floors. The woman exchanged money with a cabbie, who was just as wet, but still grinning at her like she was some kind of mermaid that just floated up from Nantucket Sound.
It wasn’t unusual for Wild Marketing to haul in an outsider or two for the creative brainstorming weekends held at Reggie Wilding’s Nantucket Island second home. But Reggie generally warned Jack ahead of time if someone who wasn’t part of their small but colorful ad agency staff would be attending.
And he had definitely not been warned about this addition. In fact, Reggie had been uncharacteristically quiet about the whole agenda for the weekend.
Was this the reason why?
Tucking a fallen strand of hair behind his ears, he continued his descent, slowing his step to time his last for the moment she turned around. Until then, he’d enjoy the rear view.
Hair the color of midnight plastered over squared, narrow shoulders fell halfway down her back. What was probably once a nice looking winter-white dress had turned grey with rainwater and molded to every lethal curve on a long, lean body. Through the magic of moisture, he could see straight through the soaked material and could make out...nothing. She was wearing a thong or...not. Either way --
A bolt of white lighting smacked down to the black water of Nantucket harbor, visible in the distance through the open door.
What kind of campaign were they concocting this weekend, anyway? Didn’t Reggie say they might be pitching a sportswear company?
Oh, of course. She was a model. And from the shape of her, he’d put his money on the most elite of the species: a swimsuit model.
He resisted the urge to look skyward in gratitude. Sometimes the advertising gods were just too good to him.
Just as he reached the last step, she closed the door behind the cabbie, turned around and met his gaze with a tiny gasp that might have been an echo of his.
Definitely a model. And definitely a gift from the gods, with hand-carved cheekbones, creamy translucent skin, and a mouth designed to eat the camera. Among other things. The rain had smeared a bit of makeup under her eyes, giving her a haunting, mysterious look. He let his gaze travel down the revealing wet linen, already visualizing the layout of the ad...she’d be on the beach, a sliver of something tropical barely covering high, firm breasts, her eyes dark with a hungry invitation. The tag line...Swimwear That Seduces.
Okay, so maybe the copy needed a little work.
She tore him right out of his creative reverie with her question. “Are you here to take my bags?”
“Only if they’re going to my room.”
Eyes the color of cobalt glass sparkled, and for one heart-stopping instant, he thought she’d say yes.
She lifted a strand of hair and pushed it over her shoulder, evidently unfazed by her appearance.
“Let me take a wild guess,” she said, her voice low and sultry, and, considering her current sodden state, pretty damn confident. “You...” She pointed a single finger at his face. “Are not the housekeeper.”
He laughed, using the excuse to linger over her curves again. Definitely a bikini body. “Would you believe the pool boy?” he asked.
She gave him a quizzical look, a hint of a smile lighting her eyes before it got to her mouth. “You’re kidding.”
“Usually.” He took the last step and held out his hand. “But I do have the power to bribe Mrs. Slattery, who is the housekeeper, to give you the room next to mine.”
He deliberately held her cool, damp fingers for the duration of a thunder rumble.
“Are you sure Mrs. Slattery takes bribes?” She glanced around and lowered her voice to a stage whisper. “I called from the airport and she seemed kind of stiff and New Englandy, if you know what I mean.”
He tried to look offended. “I’m from New England, and I’m not stiff.” A trickle of rainwater meandered down her breastbone and straight into her cleavage. “Not always, anyway.”
She drew back. “You’re kidding again,” she announced.
“No, I’m not. I was born just thirty miles across that Sound.” He indicated the view he’d just seen out the front door. “Raised over there in Cape Cod.”
“Ah, Cape Cahd.” She drawled out the last syllable and nodded knowingly. “Now I hear the accent.”
“A model and a linguist?”
That earned a quick laugh. “Neither. I’m Lily Harper and I’m here as the guest of Mr. Wilding.”
He regarded her closely. She didn’t flinch at the examination, regardless of the fact that her makeup had run and her hair looked like a mop dipped in India ink. Who was this woman? “Reggie’s never mentioned a Lily Harper.”
“Maybe Mr. Wilding’s keeping me a secret.” She shrugged. “Wouldn’t be the first time.” The first time? “You’re really not a model?”
“You’re really not the pool boy?”
He laughed, taking a step closer to inhale the rain on her, mixed with something spicy and sharp. “So what brings you to the weekend brainstorm, Lily Harper? Are you with a research firm? A focus group? A prospective client?”
She gave her head a quick shake. “None of the above. How about you?”
“I’m the creative director of Wild Marketing. Without me, there is no brainstorm.”
“Ah,” she raked him with a long, slow appraisal that sent all sorts of red blood cells racing south to wake up the boys for a possible party. “So you’re the infamous Jackson Locke.”
“I prefer legendary.”
That made her laugh. Not quick, this time. A slow, throaty chuckle that revealed perfect white teeth and a hint of dimples. A laugh that sounded like pure sex.
“Maybe there isn’t going to be any brainstorm,” she said, then looked away, suddenly making a keen study of the high ceilings, the casually elegant Nantucket-style living room to her right, and a formal dining room to the left of the center hall. “Nice place, isn’t it?”
“Of course there’s going to be a brainstorm,” he assured her.
It really didn’t matter why she’d been invited. Whatever Reggie had planned would be revealed in time. In the meantime...Jack could play.
He picked up her suitcase and laid a possessive hand on her lower back. “Why don’t we find out where your home base is, and get you out of those clothes?”
She paused mid-step and killed him with one look.
“Into something dry,” he added.
“You’re a cool one, Jackson Locke. I doubt you really need my services.”
His mind whirled through the possibilities of what her services could be, landing on...nothing Reggie Wilding would condone on a weekend dedicated to the business.
“Cool, huh?” he asked, dipping a little close to her ear to whisper, “Of course, I can do hot, if that’ll get me some services.”
Goose bumps rose on her arms. “I bet you can,” she said softly, looking up at him with those blueberry eyes. “But Mr. Wilding probably has something else in mind.”
Reggie Wilding was the boss, conservative as hell and one of the truest friends a man could have. Reg must have a damn good reason for inviting sharp-talking, great-looking, nice-smelling Lily Harper. And Jack wasn’t about to question the wisdom of his mentor.
Just then, Dorothea Slattery barreled out of the kitchen and into the hall, ignoring Jack and narrowing steel gray eyes that perfectly matched the streaks in her wiry hair. “Miss Harper! I apologize for keeping you waiting.”
“No apology necessary,” Lily said with a reassuring smile. “I’ve only just arrived.”
The housekeeper beamed at Jack, reassuring him that she was still his biggest fan. “Oh, thank you, Mr. Jack, for taking care of her. I’m afraid I have some very bad news.”
She let out an exaggerated sigh. “First of all, Mr. Wilding called and they have shut the Nantucket airport completely. This storm is only going to get worse and he won’t be here until tomorrow.”
“That’s too bad,” Lily said.
“That’s fine,” Jack said at exactly the same time.
They exchanged a quick look, but the housekeeper continued, “But I’m so sorry that I cannot stay to serve you dinner. The power’s gone out on the other side of the island and I have to get to my father to set up his generator. He’s on oxygen.”
“Of course,” Lily said, moving toward the woman with an outreached hand. “You go. We’ll be fine.”
“Do you need me to take you over there, Mrs. S?”
Mrs. Slattery clasped her hands together and gazed at him with adoring eyes. “Oh, thank you, no, Mr. Jack. You are so good to me. But I can drive in this rain.”
“Are any of the other Wild Marketers here yet?” Jack asked. “I can get things started even if Reggie can’t come until tomorrow.”
Mrs. Slattery looked from one to the other, then frowned again, her expression unsure. “There is no one else here this weekend, Mr. Jack. Didn’t Mr. Wilding tell you that?”
Jack almost dropped the bag. “No, he didn’t.”
But Lily, he noticed, didn’t seem at all surprised.
“I left an assortment of dinner selections in the kitchen,” Mrs. Slattery continued. “And there’s wine and dessert and--”
“Please,” Lily insisted. “Go take care of your father. We’ll be fine.”
“Absolutely fine,” Jack reassured her. “Don’t worry about us. Just let me know where I should I take this bag.”
Mrs. Slattery pointed straight up the central stairs. “She’s across the hall from you, Mr. Jack.”
He resisted the urge to kiss his favorite housekeeper, who had just confirmed what he never took for granted: Jackson Locke lived a charmed existence.