THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN BOW

Unwrapped Anthology

October 2000
Love Spell

ISBN: 0505524031

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Sometimes the best things don't come in small packages.

Sometimes a girl has visions of more than sugarplums in her head.

Sometimes we're dreaming of something steamier that a white Christmas.

For every woman who has better plans than sitting on Santa's lap, who fantasizes about washboard abs instead of a bowl full of jelly...

Here are the hottest, happiest love stories of this holiday season!

 



 
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CHAPTER ONE

She wanted a bad man in the worst way. Bad as in hot and hard. A man able to steam up car windows with his kisses and make her dance naked in the street. A man with wicked hands who’d touch her in places that would make her scream.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t here. She’d already checked under the couch. All she had was this video Carole had loaned her.

Jenny Saunders wasn’t too sure about the video. She chanced another glance at the couple on the screen, then picked up her phone and called Carole.

“Carole’s Baskets and Gifts. How can I—“

“Carole, about this video—“

“Jenny! You’re watching the video? Is it seriously hot or what? Puts you in the mood, doesn’t it? I love it when they—“

“I don’t believe real people do it in those positions. Okay, maybe in New York, but not here in South Jersey.”

“Listen, girlfriend, you’ve gotta get into a different mind-set. Anything is possible when two people are carried away by passion. Billy and I did it five times last night. That video inspired us.”

Five times?” She was twenty-eight years old and missing out on one of a woman’s greatest experiences while her friends left her in their dust. What if she died tonight? She’d never know.

“Of course, maybe things’ll settle down after we’ve been married a few more weeks. Wait just a sec.” Jenny could hear Carole talking to a customer. She watched the video while she waited. Hmm. That position had possibilities. “Okay, I’m back. Look, if you’re going to lose the big V, then you have to be willing to experiment.”

“The big V? Virginity isn’t a disease, Carole.”

“Don’t know about that. Anyway, it’s all set with Sloan. He’s on his way, and he doesn’t suspect a thing. The rest if up to you. Are you wearing that little black bra I bought you?”

“Sure.” She’d never wear that bra. There wasn’t enough of it to wear. “Are you sure Sloan will show up?”

“Hey, have I ever lied to you? I can’t believe you don’t love that video.”

“If I were a chiropractor, I’d love it.” She turned her head sideways to see if she could catch any fleeting expressions of passion on the faces of the couple now in a pretzel position. Nope. No passion. A little pain, but no passion. “I don’t know about this plan, Carole. A lot could go wrong. I haven’t seen Sloan in ten years. We’ve exchanged a few letters, a few phone calls, but that’s it.”

“So whose fault is it you were away the other times he came home? Sloan’s my cousin. He’s family. Nothing will go wrong.”

“But—“

“Don’t you dare back out. I will not let them carve ‘She Died a Virgin’ on your tombstone. You think too much.”

“That’s what I do, Carole. I’m an accountant and accountants think. And right now I think I might’ve made a—“

“Uh, gotta go. Another customer just walked in. Talk to you later.”

Jenny stared at the phone. Just like Carole. Her friend set a trap, then ran for the hills before the tiger arrived. Not that Sloan was a tiger. He was a comfortable friend from high school, someone she’d grown up with, someone who wouldn’t make her nervous. Someone you haven’t seen in ten years.

She flicked off the TV. Carole was right. She couldn’t back out. She wanted this. Jenny Saunders wouldn’t spend another Saturday night alone with only her lustful thoughts for company. And no way would she come home one day to find the state putting a historical marker outside her door—The Last Living Virgin in New Jersey.

Besides, no one would ever believe it. She could talk the talk, think the thoughts, but she’d never managed to walk the walk.

It wasn’t as thought she hadn’t tried. Shed scoped out men until her eyes crossed. Sue her for being picky, but Lenny who owned the bagel shop down on Broadway and whose date conversation centered around which cream cheese tasted best on his raisin bages did not make her heart beat faster. Besides, she couldn’t get physical with a guy who was as soft and doughy as his bagels.

Jenny smiled. Sloan had called after that horrific date. He was funny, comforting, and talking with Sloan was a laser light show compared to the Lennys of the world. Maybe he wasn’t long-term-relationship material, but…

Jenny’s doorbell interrupted more in-depth analysis.

She put her eye o the door’s peephole, but all she could see was a giant basket. At last. Her Christmas basket, delivery man, and the possibility for one glorious life-fulfilling fling had arrived.

Jenny opened the door only as far as her security chain would allow. “Yes?” The basket was beautiful. Now if she could only work up the courage to look at the delivery man.

“I have a basket here for Jenny Saunders. Are you Jenny Saunders?”

She looked at him. He smiled. Yes. They should distribute protective glasses with that smile.

“I might be.” Something was wrong though. She’d bargained on her good old high school buddy, Sloan. Someone she could feel comfortable with on her fling. Someone attractive, but not too attractive. Someone sexy, but not too sexy. Someone who wouldn’t intimidate the heck out of her. This was not Sloan Mitello. This was intimidation with a capital “I.”

“You’re not the delivery man I expected. I don’t open my door to strange men carrying baskets. Look what happened to Little Red Riding Hood. She ended up with a wolf in her bed.” Stupid, Saunders. She must have bed on the brain.

“I think Little Red was the one carrying the basket, not the wolf. And it was her grandmother’s bed.”

“Whatever. It’s the concept.”

“Don’t you remember me, Jenny?” His eyes gleamed with laughter and a promise that he’d be well worth remembering.

“Nope.” She would swear she’d never met him. This man was tall, with broad shoulders, lean hips, muscular thighs, and shoulder-length black hair. He also had a wicked grin that suggested he was on good speaking terms with sin. She wouldn’t forget someone like him.

“Sure you do. It’s me. Sloan. Carole said she had baskets backed up to here.” He pantomimed a line on his throat.

Nice throat. She had this crazy urge to put her lips on the spot where his blood pulsed hot and strong. Jenny frowned. Crazy urges could be dangerous. As dangerous as the man standing on the other side of her door.

“Anyway, she asked me to help out by deliver a few of the local orders. So here I am with this basket from—“ he glanced at the card—“a secret admirer.”

“Sloan Mitello?” She narrowed her gaze. Tall and gangly Sloan Mitello? Short hair, semi-geeky? No, Sloan Mitello never looked like this man. “I don’t think so.”

He shifted the basket onto one hip and pulled his wallet from the back pocket of well-worn jeans that showed every muscular curve of thigh and hip. Wonderful jeans. “Okay, here’s my license.” He held the wallet up to the crack. “And just to make sure, how about a trip down Memory Lane?”

“Memory Lane?” Sloan? Absolutely, positively not. No way cold she have a wild fling with this Sloan Mitello. He was too…too much.

“Your couch. Senior Week. We’d gotten bored with the people we were with, so we ended up together watching an old movie, The Man with the Golden Gun. You said you’d rather have a man with a golden bow.” He leaned closer. “Would you have opened the door if I showed up wearing nothing but a big flasy gold bow, Jenny? Would you have let me in?” His voice was dark seduction.

“Umm…” Say yes, you wuss. The woman she wanted to be wouldn’t hesitate. The woman she was couldn’t make up her mind.

“I really wanted to wear that bow, but I ran into a couple of problems.”

Sure. Problems. “Sloan Mitello. I can’t believe it.” She was smiling. The same silly smile Sloan had always drawn from her, back when she’d allowed herself silly smiles.

“I know, I know. The bad penny.” He grinned at her.

She drew in a deep breath. She’d forgotten. His body might’ve changed, but he’d always had that killer smile. And one she got pas the way he looked, he still sounded like her ol high school buddy.

“First problem. It’s cold outside. I could throw a coat over the bow and me but what if I got in an accident on the way over? How would I explain to the cops why I’m just wearing a bow?” His grin widened. I’ve changed, Jenny. Time was when I wouldn’t have given a damn what anyone thought.”

“Changed? You?” One of the things that had separated them. He’d been a brilliant free spirit, a never-has-to-crack-a-book kind of guy.

She’d had to work after school to help her family make ends meet after Dad’s latest money-making scheme crashed. And she hadn’t been brilliant. She’d had to study long into the night. She hadn’t had time to think about…

Okay, so she’d thought about him, but she knew too much about the Sloans of the world to risk more than friendship with him. Besides, in high school it had been hard to imagine making love with someone who, in third grade, had given her a dead spider neatly nestled in a Godiva chocolate box he’d found.

“Next problem. How do I get the sucker to stay right here?” He backed away from the door so she could see exactly where here was. “Hey, I’d have to cover up the gift part so it’d be a surprise. Know what I mean?”

The visual had her gulping in another life-saving supply of oxygen. Okay, no more of the virgin-who-would-be-bad routine. Shed wanted a hot and hard man, so here he was. Now what was she going to do with him?

“Besides, you have a nosy neighbor downstairs. She’d be punching out 911 before I even got up the stairs.” He moved close to the door again until only one vivid green eye was visible. “I’m cold out here, Jenny. Let me in.”

Said the wolf. Jenny unhooked the chain, then opened the door.

He swept into her tiny living room bringing cold air and memories.

“So you’re back in town?” Well, duh?

“Yep. I have some unfinished business.”

All motion and energy, he looked out of place next to her calm ivory furniture.

Placing the basket on her coffee table, he swung in a circle, glancing briefly at her furniture, at her few tasteful bought-to-fit-with-the decor pictures, at her neat and perfect everything. And judged. She what he’d say before he said it, because despite the years they’d been apart, she remembered Sloan.

He turned back to her, his long dark hair sliding across the shoulders of his short leather jacket. “You need some red in here, Flame.”

Flame. Some dusty corner of her memory smiled at the almost forgotten nickname He’d said if he had hair her shade of red, he’d grow it down to his butt. Looked like he was working on the butt thing while her hair was a short smooth cap.

“I don’t need red. The decorated said this living room was me. “ She didn’t need Sloan back in her life either—all the colors of the rainbow wrapped in shades of intense emotion.

But she wanted him. Give her a few days to adjust to the new Sloan and he’d be a perfect fit for her brief-encounter-of-the-sexual-kind. For the first time in her life she’d walk the walk.

His glance slid across her hair, lingered. “You’ve got red whether you want it or not, Jenny. Make the most of it.”

He moved close. Close enough for her to smell the promise of snow on his open jacket, the scent of warm male on his black T-shirt, to watch the swell of chest muscles as he took a deep breath.

Close enough for all of her breath to leave her in a startle whoosh as he ran callused fingers over her hair, then continued until he touched the spot where her pulse beat a tom-tom response.

“You need long hair, Jenny. Long ribbons of fire rippling down your back, over your shoulders, down to…”

His husky murmur died away as his fingers traced a path down the vee of skin exposed by her blouse, paused where the vee ended, seemed bent on traveling to new and unexplored places.

She was sweating even though she knew darn well she’d set her thermostat at a perfect seventy-two degrees. But her body’s thermostat was measuring a different heatwave right now. One with long dark hair, hot green eyes, and a hard, beard-shadowed jaw.

The Sloan Mitello she’d known had never messed with her personal heat indicator. What was he doing? She stepped back, then sank onto her decorator-approved couch. Hard. Her bottom didn’t even make a dent in it.

Hard. There was nothing soft about the new and improved Sloan Mitello.

Mental picture. Position four on Carole’s tape. Jenny draped over her ivory couch, Sloan’s dark hair trailing between her thighs. His lips…Jenny smiled. Bring on the chiropractors. A new woman was about to be born.

“Thanks for delivering the basket, Sloan.” Time to get back to the mundane so she could regroup and plan her strategy. She wasn’t used to impulsive. She’d spent her whole life thinking things through carefully, weighing all the angles, making informed decisions.

“Mind if I catch the end of the Flyers’ game before I leave?” He turned to search for her remote.

“Sure, go ahead.” Think. What to say? Wow, I was just dreaming about Mr. Hard-and-Hot, then I open the door and there you are. She might be the queen of flip, but her lips wouldn’t form the worlds. Perhaps something a little more subtle.

He located the remote and reached for it. “It’s a week until Christmas and Carole’s business is booming. I’d barely gotten in the door when she handed me some baskets and told me to deliver them. Couldn’t believe the coincidence when I saw your name on one of the baskets.”

“Right. Coincidence.” How about orchestrated with all the finesse of a bulldozer.

“How’s life been treating you, Jenny?”

“Life’s been good.” She frowned as he turned on the TV. “My accounting business is growing and I—“ Ohmigod! She’d forgotten about the video. She’d turned off the TV, but not her VCR.

Too late. She was toast. Her life flashed before her eyes, but Sloan didn’t notice. He was gazing raptly at the screen.

The silence stretched on…and on…and on.

“Uh, you can catch the end of that game if you hurry.”

He didn’t look at her. “Nice camera angle there.”

“I don’t believe real people do those things.”

He finally looked at her. His gaze trailed over her body like Little Red’s wolf planning his day’s menu. “Believe it.” His eyes lit with laughter. “Want to try?” He hit the stop button.

As the baddest virgin in Jersey, she should’ve swiveled her hips, winked at him, and murmured, “Thought you’d never ask.”

Instead, she resorted to babbling, a skill she’d honed to an art form. “A friend gave me that tape. It’s not mine. I was just sorta glancing at it when you came.”

Silence.

“Look, I don’t need to watch tapes. I know about things like that.” Say something before I gag on my own foot.

“Really?” He looked intrigued.

“Sure. First there’s the come-on.” Let me do your tax returns, and I’ll find so many loopholes and write-offs Uncle Sam will be paying you for the next twenty years.

“Then there’s foreplay.” Come to my office and we’ll do the paperwork. Bring your receipts.

“Finally, there’s the climax.” My refund check came! I love you.

“Sounds impressive. “ He rose to put the remote on top of the TV.

Numbers were her game. What was the probability of another man having buns exactly like Sloan’s? Firm. Male. One in ten thousand, one in a million? Interesting research question.

“It figures you’d end up as an accountant.”

“What? What figures?” Suppose he had shown up with just a gold bow? He’d need a way to keep it from sliding off. Of course she hadn’t gotten a look at is… If that was big enough, nothing would slide off.

“It figures you’d work with numbers.”

“What’s wrong with numbers?” She wondered if they sold stick-on bows with a Post-it backing. Something that wouldn’t be an owie when you pulled it off. She thought about pulling it off and licked her lips.

“They’re safe. Always the same.”

“I prefer reliable. Reliable’s important.” A ribbon thong had possibilities too. She could picture the gold ribbon snaking down between those amazing buns, separating, delineating.

“What about exciting, fun. Isn’t fun important, too?”

“Exciting and fun can’t be counted on. If I add a column of figures, there’s only one right answer. Exciting and fun can have an infinity of answers. I wouldn’t know which was the right answer. How would I know which way to go?”

Go? Where would the ribbon go next? Hmm. It could slide between those yummy thighs and come out…

“It’s hot in here. Does it feel hot to you? Feels hot to me.” She bounced off the couch and reached the thermostat in record time. Without looking, she flicked it down to what she hoped was Arctic Zone level.

Turning back toward him, she met his gaze across the room. “What were we talking about?”

“Haven’t a clue.” His grin touched her, swept away the ten years he’d been gone along with the strangeness that had frozen her brain cells.

Relaxing into the remembered familiarity, she walked back to the couch and sat down. “I’m surprised you thought of that gold bow thing.”

Abandoning the remote, he moved to the couch and sat down beside her. She fought to retain her old-friends-meeting-again attitude. But he didn’t feel like an old friend. She wasn’t sure what he felt like, but it definitely wasn’t an old friend.

“I have a great memory, Jenny.” He edged closer.

“Right. Great memory. Gee, I wonder what’ sin my basket?” Reaching out, she lifted the basket from her coffee table and plunked it down between them. Not exactly the Great Wall of China, but it’d do in a pinch.

Hello? You’re supposed to be encouraging upclose and cozy. But she needed some time. Her decision to have a fling had been a cerebral decision. She was a cerebral person. The man sitting next o her appealed to a completely different body area, and she hadn’t had enough time to make the move from penthouse to basement.

The laughter glittering in his green eyes mocked her puny effort. “Are you telling me you don’t remember the movie?”

She removed the red cellophane wrapping from around the basket. Concentrated on the satisfying crinkling sound. “Nope. I don’t remember a thing.”

“That’s because you’d chugged four beers.”

“I never drank four beers.” She carefully removed the first item from the basket. Lavender bubble bath.

“Sure you did. You were fun that night.” A line formed between his eyes as he studied the bubble bath. “Looks like your secret admirer’s in touch with his feminine side.”

She stopped to stare at him. “How much fun?”

His grin widened. “Not that much fun. Anyway, it was close to Christmas, and you said you’d rather have a man with a golden bow any old time.”

“I remember. Vaguely. Doesn’t sound like me, though.” She lifted out the next item. Peppermint foot balm.

“Exactly. That’s why you were so much fun.” He peered at the foot balm. “wow. A clue. Know any men with a foot fetish?”

She paused in the midst of pulling out a soothing vanilla candle. “I was fun because I wasn’t me? Correct me if I’m wrong, but that sounded like an insult.”

He shrugged, and for the first time looked a little uncomfortable. “Hey, everyone’s more fun when they lose a few inhibitions.” He took the candle from her. “You know if you drip candle wax on a man’s bare chest—“

“You’ll set his chest hair on fire?” Now she was getting mad. “I guess you were never more fun then, because you didn’t have any inhibitions to lose.”

“Yeah. Hot wax would burn like hell. Warm chocolate syrup might be fun, though. Have any in the kitchen?” He reached across the barrier of the basket and tugged at apiece of her hair. She jerked her head away and soothed the hair back into place.

“Getting a little ticked off, are we?” He didn’t try to hide his laughter.

“Never. She yanked a bag of potpourri from the basket and slapped it down on the couch with such force the cellophane split. Unidentified dried vegetation drifted around her on a sea of flowery scent strong enough to clog her nasal passages. “I never get upset.”

“What the hell is that?” She’d finally found something to put him in full retreat. He slid to the end of the couch and eyed the bits of leaves with suspicion.

“Flower Garden of Desire.” Lord, what a dress. She’d have to drag out the vac after he left.

His bark of laughter startled her.

“You’re kidding. No man in his right mind would give that kind of junk to a woman.”

She narrowed her gaze. “A sensitive man would.”

“Who is this secret admirer?”

“I don’t know. If I knew, then he wouldn’t be a secret admirer anymore, would he?” Uh-oh, time for a shift in topic. “So what’ve you been doing with your life lately, Sloan? Last I heard, you were working for some electronics company. And before that it was public relations. I’ve lost track of the others.”

He shrugged. “Oh, this and that.”

A dreamer. Sloan Mitello had been a dreamer in high school, would always be a dreamer. Just like her dad.

“Anything permanent?” Dreamers might be great men, but they made lousy providers. Always moving onto the next big dream, then when that failed, moving onto another, then another.

“Sorta.”

“So let’s hear about it.” Dreamers dragged their families along for the ride, getting up hopes that the next venture would be the big one. It never was. She knew. Been there, done that.

“I have a business, Jenny.” He edged closer again.

“Where?” Maybe she’d misjudged him.

“On the internet.”

Not substantial enough. A business should be something you could touch, go to each morning at nine o’clock.

She gave herself a mental head-slap. He doesn’t have to own a Fortune 500 company to be great in bed. “What’s the name of your business?”

He glanced at his watch. “Sorry, I didn’t realize how late it was. I have two more baskets to deliver. Look, I’ll get back to you.”

Oh-no. She couldn’t let him go yet. They hadn’t worked out a fling arrangement. If she wasn’t such a wimp, they’d be in her bed by this time. But she was a wimp, and she couldn’t abandon completely the habits of a lifetime. She had to work up to things slowly.

Okay, relax. Carole said he was staying till after Christmas. You can just order another basket. Lucky she was on vacation from work till after Christmas. She’d have plenty of time to orchestrate this fling.

Her panic eased. But before he left, she wanted to know something. “What’s the name of your business?”

He’d risen and was already at the door. Opening it, he glanced back and smiled. “Desiresfulfilled dot com.” Then he quietly closed the door behind him.

Jenny sat amid the clutter of the basket she’d ordered for herself. Desiresfulfilled dot com? Sounded like a porn site to her.  

 

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