Harlequin Blaze
www.girl-gear . . .
ISBN 0373790368
March 2002

She'd made a deal with the devil… and he took her to heaven.

Chloe Zuniga, VP of gIRL gEAR cosmetics and accessories, needed a man to save her reputation--even though her enjoyment of the opposite sex and her potty mouth was what got her into trouble in the first place. Her old friend Eric Haydon agreed to be her "steady date" for three company events-if she granted him three wishes.

Eric just knew that he and Chloe were going to be lovers sooner or later. He simply had to figure out when and how. And once he'd done that, there was nothing left to wish for…except Chloe's heart along with her body.

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The Comfort of Favorite Things - Bliss and the Art of Forever - The Sweetness of Honey - Beneath the Patchwork Moon - Boots Under Her Bed - A Blue Christmas/Jingle Bell Rock(Digital Edition) - Unforgettable - The Second Chance Café - Unbreakable - Undeniable - Holiday Kisses/This Time Next Year - Twenty-One Hours/SEAL of My Dreams - At His Mercy - Playing Love's Odds (Digital Edition) - Love Me Tender (Digital Edition) - Love In Bloom - (Digital Edition) - The Icing On The Cake - With Extreme Pleasure - One Good Man - No Limits - A Long, Hard Ride - Maximum Exposure - Kiss & Tell - Deep Trouble - In Danger - At Risk - Tex Appeal - The Perfect Stranger - Beyond A Shadow - Infatuation - The Complete Idiot's Guide To Writing Erotic Romance - Deep Breath - Goes Down Easy - Red Letter Nights - Totally Charmed - Kiss & Makeup - Undressed - Larger Than Life - Sara Smiles/Beach Blanket Bad Boys - The McKenzie Artifact - The Beach Alibi - The Samms Agenda - The Shaughnessey Accord - The Bane Affair - Mother, Please! - Indiscreet - Wicked Games - A Blue Christmas/Jingle Bell Rock - Striptease - The Sweetest Taboo - Bound To Happen - No Strings Attached - Roped Into Romance - All Tied Up - Love In Bloom - Four Men & A Lady - Love Me Tender - The Badge And The Baby - The Grinch Makes Good - The Heartbreak Kid - Call Me - Playing Love's Odds

"Are you going to share that popcorn or do I have to get my own?"

She slapped his hand away when he reached toward her lap. "You said you didn't want any popcorn. That's why you bought the Milk Duds.">

Yeah, but that was before the bucket of popcorn had been sitting where it was sitting. "I changed my mind. I'll share if you'll share."

"Hmpf," she muttered, then shushed him as the lights went down and the curtain rose.

When the original preview trailer for The Philadelphia Story began to play on the screen and Chloe got her first glimpse of Jimmy Stewart, Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant, she seemed to forget all about Eric's wandering hand.

She didn't even appear to be breathing. She didn't move a single muscle, even the ones it took to blink. And Eric would have noticed had she batted an eye. His gaze was focused on her face and not on the black-and-white action of the trailer. And then she smiled. A killer smile that hit him where it hurt.

She was beautiful. A fact that he'd realized for as long as he'd known her but for some reason had never fully appreciated until the last few weeks of her company. Even now, with only the flickering film for light, he could see what he'd been missing.

It was her vulnerability that was doing him in. The soft edge to her hard insistence on continually busting his chops-and those of anyone who crossed her. She tried so hard to be tough. And she was tough. He'd seen her play volleyball, he'd seen her stand up to Poe.

But he also saw what he imagined her girlfriends saw, the traits that drew their loyalty and affection and solidified the friendships that had endured, not only the years, but the stresses and hardships of working together and building the business of gIRL-gEAR.

Those were the traits that brought him back even after it seemed she'd whacked him off at the knees. She had a lot going for her. But she had just as much going against her. And he couldn't help but think that her attitude about men was going to be what eventually ruined their friendship or their chance at anything more.

He needed to have fun with a woman and Chloe never failed to show him a good time. He needed great sex, which he knew their eventual coming together would bring. What he didn't need was to fall for a woman struggling with "issues". He'd promised himself at the first of the year no more damsels in distress.

A soft noise brought his attention back to the movie. An Affair To Remember, he thought the marquee had said this one was. Apparently a classic, though he wasn't much into these old productions. Even the ones that had been made in color . . . or was this one colorized? Hard to tell, the print was so grainy.

He turned to ask Chloe, figuring she would know, finding that she'd grown perfectly still at his side, her hand hovering over the bucket of popcorn in her lap, her eyes wide and unblinking as she stared straight ahead.

And then he heard it again, a cross between a sniffle and a sob, so tiny, nearly imperceptible, and had he not seen the hitch in her chest he might not have realized she was the one who was crying.

Chloe crying. What the hell was there to cry about? Oh, he wasn't up to dealing with this. Nope. He wasn't. But he did shift in the old-fashioned seat and lean toward her, slipping his arm around her shoulder.

He didn't even have a chance to pull her close because she was moving his way on her own, tucking her shoulder up into his armpit, her head into the crook of his neck. She was cold, that was it. Her bare arm was dimpled with goose bumps. He rubbed his palm up and down her skin.

She was cold and probably premenstrual, what with the crying coming from nowhere.

And the sappy movie wasn't helping, not that he'd paid much attention to what was going on between Cary Grant and the actress. But now it looked like someone had died, and there was an old lace shawl that meant something to Grant's character.

Eric brought his lips close to Chloe's head and whispered, "I'm sorry."

She looked up, her expression one of confusion, her eyes wide and wet and intoxicating in the inconsistent lighting thrown by the film.

"For what?" Her question was mouthed more than spoken.

"I should've picked out something more upbeat." He nodded toward the screen, lowered his whisper another notch. "But I knew you liked this stuff. I thought it would be fun. I didn't think it would make you sad."

"Don't be so stupid." She reached over and laid a hand on his cheek, her soft touch at odds with her name-calling. She leaned even closer and whispered, "I'm not sad. I love this movie. It's so romantic."

Romantic he didn't know about since he hadn't been paying much attention to the story unfolding onscreen. But even now what was happening with the film was nothing compared to what was happening here, with Chloe's breath heating the skin of his cheek just below his ear, where even now she seemed to be nuzzling with her nose.

A soft nuzzling. A gentle brush of her chilly skin to his that was warmer, and rougher. He really should've shaved. But the bristle of his beard didn't seem to be a problem. Chloe hadn't backed away. And when he shivered at touch of the tip of her tongue, she cuddled even closer.

"You're missing the movie," he muttered, and she responded, "I don't care," tearing him up as she said it. He wanted her to stay right where she was. He wanted her to climb into his lap. He wanted her to turn her attention back to the screen and leave him alone with his honorable intentions.

He pulled back to look into her eyes, to see if she'd stopped crying, if she was using his cheek to hide her tears or just as a toy for her tongue. And if he hadn't been sitting against the wall with a dozen legs between his seat and the aisle, he would've popped up and out for a drink he didn't need.

What he saw cracked open his vow to avoid all damsels in distress with frightening ease. It bashed against his resolve to leave her at her front door at the end of the night. Ripped apart his determination to pay attention to the rest of the film so they could talk about what they'd seen later over drinks.

As it was, he couldn't pull his gaze away from her face. And when she raised her head, her eyes questioning, her lips trembling and seeking, he lowered his mouth to hers.

It was the first time they'd kissed and he knew he'd remember it forever because she tasted like salt and warm buttered popcorn.

They'd once shared a kiss meant for show while under the influence of an audience and too much tequila. But this wasn't that kiss. This kiss was real, possessing more true intimacy than the sexual encounters they'd shared.

Her lips were soft and tentatively searching, as if she wasn't sure he'd want to accept the sweet offer of her mouth. As if she was afraid he'd turn her away. He'd never known a woman so contradictory, so confounding, or a woman he wanted to kiss more.

He settled his mouth over hers and answered her unspoken question. The kiss was nothing more than a brush of contact, a moment of simplicity and innocence. But it stabbed Eric in the gut with its sharp insistence that simplicity and innocence weren't what they appeared to be.

Chloe had never been innocent. He knew virtually nothing about her past but he tasted her strong desire to be wanted, her deep piercing need for acceptance. And he knew. As her tongue touched his lips and moved into his mouth, he knew.

It didn't matter that she claimed to know men, that she professed to have experience in relationships, that she said she knew all about romance. Eric knew better. He knew the truth. Her mouth told him.

With the gentle rubbing press of her lips over his and the tender caress of her tongue, her mouth told him.

She was simply looking to be loved.