When a woman stands five feet two inches, a hundred and
ahem pounds (the ahem mainly located below the neck and
above the waist), it's a bad idea to attend an afternoon
business meeting in a low-cut, flesh-colored evening gown.
Throw in spaghetti straps and a few gold sequins, and the
fact that it was the most crucial business meeting of said
woman's careerâ€”make that her lifeâ€”and the bad idea turned
Jilly Skye realized this. But she also realized she didn't
have a choice. Not if she wasn't going to be unforgivably
Still, she hesitated before pressing the intercom button
this side of a pair of black, we-mean-business, ironwork
gates. They were the last in a long line of hurdles she'd
scrambled over since early this morning, when Rory Kincaid
had agreed to meet with her. Thanks to a buddy's tip, she
knew Rory wanted to dispense with a house crammed full of
old clothing and costumes. Jilly was a vintage-clothing
dealer who wanted into that house. Badly.
Despite tight-fitting chiffon, Jilly's stomach executed
several rabbit-worthy hops. Madness was the word, all
right. Because even though the emcee of this morning's
charity fashion show had rambled the event into an hour
overrun; even though Jilly's assistant had left with all
the clothing that her shop, Things Past, had brought to
the show, including the business suit Jilly had intended
to change into, even though her frantic phone calls to
Rory Kincaid to explain her holdup had resulted only in a
disinterested busy signal, nothing was going to keep Jilly
from this meeting with Rory. Too much was atstake.
Determination renewed, she reached through her car window
to press the intercom button. But her whole hand was
quaking so, she snatched it back. "Cahn down, calm down,"
she muttered to herself. "This is no way to get a job.
Take a deep breath." But her obedient inhale turned into a
gasp when her ahems threatened to pop over the dress's
deep decolletage. Oh, my. Pinching the top of the bodice
to pull it up, she wiggled all the strategic body parts
back down. Her cheeks went hot. What had seemed fun and
fanciful to model at a for-women-only fashion event now
Darn Rory Kincaid! Her predicament could be partially
blamed on him, too. If she'd been able to cut through
those irritating busy signals and reach him this
afternoon, she could have made time for a crucial wardrobe
What the heck was he doing on the phone so long? The only
thing that kept a number tied up that continuously was a
long-distance romance or some heavy Internet surfing.
It was bound to be the Internet. This Rory Kincaid was
supposed to be some kind of software mogul. Like Bill
Gates, he was young, successful and rich.
Hey. Bill Gates! Jilly's heartbeat slowed a smidgen. Bill
Gates. She mouthed the name to herself again and her
nervousness was reduced by a few more degrees.
When she pictured Rory Kincaid as someone like Bill Gatesâ€”
someone bespectacled, shaggyhaired, and more interested in
floppy disks than fashion statementsâ€”she could feel nearly
confident. If cliches could be believed, techie-nerds lost
track of timeâ€”well, practically all the time. And
certainly he wouldn't care what she wore. If she didn't
say anything about the evening gown, he probably wouldn't
even notice it.
The Bill Gates idea worked better than Alka-Seltzer.
Stomach settling down and heart feeling light, Jilly stuck
her arm out the car window and confidently jabbed the
intercom with her forefinger. This job was hers. She
lifted her chin and threw back her shoulders. As the gates
slowly opened, she pressed down on the gas pedal, all the
while mentally chanting her brand-new mantra,
Her car slowly climbed past the empty gatehouse and up the
steep, curving driveway She shifted in her seat, trying to
wiggle herself more securely into the almost-nude evening
dress. Yes, she told herself, this meeting was going to be
just fine, as long as she held onto that BillGatesian
image of Rory Kincaid. BillGatesBillGatesBillGates, she
whispered silently, willing the idea to take deep root.
just fine, she assured herself once again. A guy like she
was picturing probably wouldn't even notice she was a tad
over, or rather, under dressed.
Alerted via the intercom at the front gates that his tardy
afternoon appointment had finally arrived, Rory Kincaid
walked out of the Spanish-style Caidwater mansion and into
winter air hovering at an obscene eighty degrees.
He grimaced with distaste.
A dry breeze brushed over him, carrying with it the light
scent of orange blossoms and the heavier sweetness of
flowering jade plants.
He held his breath.
All around him, birds twittered mindlessly, joining the
unceasing good cheer of water bubbling up and over the
eight fountains in the eight themed gardens surrounding
the forty-four-room house.
The noise grated against his nerves.
Another breath -of overhot, too-sweet wind wafted past,
and Rory's grimace deepened. It was as close to Paradise
as January in southern California could get and Rory hated
everything about it.
This was Super Bowl season, for Christ's sake. If he must,
he'd forgo rain and snow, but surely a nip in the air
wasn't too much to expect in the dead of winter? L.A. took
its reputation as the land of fantasies and wishes-come-
true much too seriously. It always had.
Shoving his hands in the pockets of his jeans, Rory moved
away from the shadows beside the house. Immediately,
diamond-hard sunlight assaulted his eyes and he
automatically reached for the wraparound Ray-Bans in his
The only decent thing growing up in Hollywood had ever
given him was an appreciation for a good pair of