Take a chill pill, pal. This is a make-up emergency.
Pouting into her rear-view mirror, Ruby Delisantro tuned out the blare of a car horn from behind her and concentrated on applying a quick coat of Rose Blush Everstay lipgloss to calm jittery nerves.
She’d had the small but exclusive chain of Hampstead brasseries on her hit list for over a year. It had taken her months to get this afternoon’s appointment with their chef and she wanted to look her absolute best before she started the long search for a parking space.
The squeal of brakes and the teeth-jarring jolt that followed was a little harder to ignore though — as it shot her forty-quid tube of Rose Blush straight up her nose.
‘For Pete’s sake!’
Extricating the lipstick from her left nostril and hastily repairing the damage, she leapt out of her Volkswagon Beetle. Having some bozo rear-end her was not the best way to prepare for her career-defining moment. Plus she’d just had Scarlett serviced and MOT’d at a cost of two hundred and twenty pounds. If any harm had been done to her beloved Bug, someone was going to die.
‘Hey, hot shot. What’s your problem? Don’t you know where your brake pedal is?’ she yelled at the man shielded behind the windscreen of the fancy Italian convertible pressed up against her bumper.
Typical. Only in Hampstead. A boy racer driving a lot more car than he could handle.
Gripping the top of the windscreen, Boy Racer jerked upright and jumped out of his car in one athletic movement. Ruby’s lungs ceased to function and the fervent wish that she’d actually lost the six pounds she’d been debating loosing for nearly a decade flitted through her mind.
This was no boy. This was most definitely a man.
A tall, strong, long-limbed, super-gorgeous man with close-cropped dark hair, broad shoulders and slim hips expertly displayed in worn, low-slung jeans. His eyes were disguised behind a pair of expensive sunglasses, but the manly dent in his chin and the shadow of stubble defining chiselled cheeks wasn’t doing a thing for Ruby’s breathing difficulties, especially when his head dipped.
Is he checking me out?
‘What’s my problem?’ He threw up his hands, making his muscular torso ripple under a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan: Barristers do it on a trial basis. ‘What’s your problem, lady? You’re parked in the middle of the road?’
Ruby gulped in air to kick-start her lungs and took a moment to consider her response.
The good news was, Ruby Delisantro loved to flirt. And she was remarkably good at it. She adored the spark and sizzle of sexual attraction, the tantalising tension of verbal foreplay — and a chance to flirt with someone this good-looking didn’t present itself every day. Not only that, but the figure-hugging dress she’d picked up at Camden Market last week turned the extra weight she’d been carrying around since she was seventeen into a major asset.
The bad news was, Mr Super-Gorgeous also had a super-large stick up his backside about women drivers and seemed to be virtually oblivious to her fabulous frock. Which meant he was either gay, a misogynist or didn’t have a sense of humour. Any one of which should have been a major turn-off.
Unfortunately they weren’t. Quite.
Hold it right there, Ruby.
She raised her gaze from her contemplation of his pectoral muscles. What was she thinking? She didn’t have time to flirt with this guy — no matter how spectacular he might look in a dorky T-shirt. She had to see a man about some cupcakes.
‘There was more than enough room to get past me,’ she replied tartly, sending him a hard stare. ‘And anyhow, it was an emergency.’ Sort of.
The direction of his gaze dipped to her mouth. She mentally crossed ‘gay’ off her list as her tongue slid out to moisten lips that had suddenly turned to parchment.
No flirting, Ruby. This is non-negotiable.
He huffed out an incredulous laugh. ‘Since when is putting lipstick on an emergency?’
‘I had my parking lights on,’ she continued, ignoring the jibe. Men were hard-wired not to understand the importance of lipstick, so she wasn’t about to explain how the simple act of putting it on could bolster one’s confidence in a business situation. ‘And you ran into me.’ She strutted towards him, grateful her four-inch heels went some way to correcting the height disadvantage.
Maybe she didn’t have time to flirt. But she certainly had time to make him suffer.
‘And if you had ever bothered to read your highway code,’ she added. ‘You’d know that puts you in the wrong. No matter how much testosterone you’re packing.’
She flicked a contemptuous glance at his crotch to emphasize the point. Only to have her gaze snag on the prominent package displayed by the loose-fitting denims. A flush burned the back of her neck, stunning her even more — Ruby Delisantro was not and had never been a blusher.
He stepped forward —making her far too aware of exactly how tall he was — and her breasts tingled.
‘Those are hazard lights,’ he said, the rich, masculine voice low and amused. ‘Not parking lights.’ He crossed his arms, making his biceps bunch under the short sleeves of his dorky T-shirt, and Ruby lost her train of thought completely.
‘And if you’d bothered to read your highway code you’d know that.’ He continued. ‘No matter how much oestrogen you’re packing.’
His head dipped again, the glint of August sunlight on the dark lenses of his shades doing nothing to disguise the fact that he was staring straight at her cleavage.
‘And while I can see that’s rather a lot,’ he continued, a superior smile curving sensual lips. ‘It’s no excuse not to follow the rules of the road.’
Ruby’s nipples pebbled into hard points and the throb of something hot and uncomfortable swelled between her thighs. She resisted the urge to squirm. Barely.
Okay, this was just plain wrong. He was telling her off and turning her on at one and the same time. She might love to flirt, but she was not a masochist.
She slapped a hand on her hip.
‘I don’t do rules,’ she purred, thrusting a coral-tipped nail into the centre of his chest. A muscle in his jaw clenched and power surged through her. ‘It makes life so dull don’t you think.’
She lifted her finger, satisfied she’d won, only to gasp when his hand shot out with lightning fast reflexes and long fingers clamped on her wrist. He pulled off his sunglasses, and she shivered involuntarily, stunned by the deep forest green of his irises.
‘Sounds to me like you need more than just driving lessons,’ he murmured, the emerald stare so penetrating her thigh muscles turned to mush.
She tugged her hand free, hoping he hadn’t felt her pulse hitting warp speed under his thumb. ‘And like all men, I suppose you think you’re man enough to teach me,’ she scoffed. So what if she was playing with fire? She could see the heat smouldering in his eyes, making the rush of adrenaline so intoxicating it didn’t leave much room for caution.
He gave a gruff chuckle. ‘I’m not like other men,’ he said softly, his confidence matching those come-to-bed eyes.
Ruby rubbed her wrist where the skin sizzled. ‘That’s what they all say.’
‘No doubt,’ he said, not sounding daunted. ‘But I can prove it. The question is are you woman enough to let me?’
The husky invitation detonated the heavy weight already pulsing at her core.
Ruby blinked, and stepped back.
Whoa there, Ruby. Slow the hell down.
The situation had spiralled out of her control, and she wasn’t sure how.
She might be an incurable flirt but she wasn’t about to date a guy after knowing him for approximately ten seconds — even if he had the uncanny ability to short-circuit her hormones.
Plus her sixth sense was yelling at her that this guy was nowhere near her type. Beneath those mouth-watering pecs and that sexy, laid-back self-confidence, Ruby detected a control that was unnervingly focussed and intense.
She flicked her long curls of chestnut hair over her shoulder. ‘What a tempting offer,’ she said with as much sarcasm as she could muster. The guy’s ego was enormous enough already. ‘But I’ve already got a date this afternoon,’ she said, ensuring her appointment with the chef at Cumberland sounded personal. ‘And I don’t do threesomes.’
The rich, resonant sound of his laughter rippled up her spine as she waltzed back to her car. She sasshayed her hips — to make it clear this was a dignified retreat, and in no way a surrender.
‘Pity,’ he called after her. ‘And there I was thinking you were a bad girl.’
She glanced at him as she opened the door of her Beetle. ‘Wrong again,’ she shot back, stifling the twinge of regret. Did he have to look quite so spectacular leaning against his sports car, the sun turning his short dark hair to a gleaming ebony and the challenge in those striking green eyes all but irresistible?
‘I’m not a girl. I’m a woman.’
Callum Westmore laughed as the statuesque young beauty climbed back in to her fire-engine red VW. ‘You got that right,’ he murmured appreciatively.
The car suited her, he thought, as it puttered to life. With its classy curves and bold, in-your-face style. He winced at the crunch of gears. And like it’s owner, it wasn’t used to being driven.
As the car pulled away, she flicked her hand out the window in a flippant wave. He chuckled and sent her an equally flippant salute back. Not easy with the heat pulsing hard in his groin.
A slow grin split his features. And the heat pulsed harder.
Wasn’t that a surprise.
When had he ever found a firebrand like her so tempting? And one who had given him the brush-off for no good reason. Because he’d bet a month’s salary the date she’d mentioned didn’t exist. He’d seen the way her glaze faltered — the classic tell for an unreliable witness.
His smile died as the VW Beetle paused at the end of the leafy London lane, and he noticed the cracked brake light and the tilting bumper. The car turned onto Hampstead High Road and he read the words ‘A Touch of Frosting: Bespoke Cupcakes’, a web address and a telephone number written in glittering pink lettering on the door.
The Beetle disappeared into the traffic and he turned to examine the front of his own car, astonished to realise he’d been so distracted by their sparring match he hadn’t checked to see if there was any damage to his treasured Ferrari.
Luckily there was only a small scuff mark on the bumper. He rubbed it with his thumb, then climbed back into the car and retrieved his Blackberry from the glove compartment.
However much he might have enjoyed arguing with the girl, the fender bender had been primarily his fault. She may have been double parked, but he’d taken the corner too fast and run into her. And as she’d pointed out so provocatively, the Highway Code was fairly clear on the subject. He keyed her number into the Blackberry.
Cal always played by the rules. The law wasn’t just his profession, he demanded order and accountability in his personal life too. So he’d have to track the girl down and pay for the damage.
He squinted into the sun and put on his shades, the smile returning.
Somehow the thought of seeing her again wasn’t the least bit unappealing. He usually preferred the women he dated to be predictable and undemanding. Which made his instant attraction to The Lush Ms Reckless a bit disconcerting. The woman had high-maintenance written all over her — in mile-high neon letters.
But his social life had been non-existent ever since Gemma had called a halt to their occasional sleepovers a month ago — just because he’d refused point blank to let her move in. He liked his own space, his solitude, what was so hard to understand about that? With two high-profile cases lined up already for next month, he’d resigned himself to a celibate summer.
But now the thrill of the chase beckoned — and he had the whole of the August Bank Holiday weekend to play.
Cal tapped his thumb on the steering wheel, remembering the petal soft skin on the inside of the girl’s wrist, the frantic punch of her pulse and the way her brown eyes had melted to a molten chocolate. The live-wire attraction between them had been mutual. He was sure of it.
Cal’s grin widened as he turned on the ignition. The smashed brake light and damaged bumper gave him the perfect excuse to tussle with Ms Reckless again. And next time she wouldn’t be able to give him the brush off so easily.