Astra's Craving - Suzie McLean - ebook
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The grand opening of their fantastic new Bikini Babes’ Carwash is only two weeks away, and Astra is working hard to remodel the damaged bay that will become their luxurious ‘massage parlor.’ She doesn’t need sexy Jared Montrose sniffing around, trying to cozy up to her sorority sisters, just so she’ll hire him!Or is a job the only thing he wants? Astra has always assumed he’s gay…but what if she’s been wrong? Just how far can she trust him…with their new business, or her vulnerable heart?~~~~~ Excerpt ~~~~~“Hey, Astra!” Phoebe popped out of the farthest bay, where she’d been cheerfully talking with Riley. “You’ve got company!”“Who?” A welcoming smile began to curve Astra’s lips…but then her spine stiffened when Jared Montrose stepped out into the bright midday sun and lifted a hand in greeting. “I thought I told you ‘no!’”“Hello, Astra. Morning, Elle.” He identified them effortlessly, which only annoyed her more, and aimed his most charming smile at her twin. “If I chip in toward lunch, can I snag a wing or two?”Astra wanted to throw the entire bucket of fried chicken at him. And that, she mused with a puzzled frown, wasn’t like her at all. He hadn’t irritated her this way when they’d studied physical therapy together, so why should every single thing about him be striking a raw nerve now?He was too damned charismatic for his own good, she decided. And Elle was too sweet and innocent to see through him. She’d get hurt…and then Astra would have to rip his head off and stuff it up his extremely fine ass. No one, but no one, messed around with her sister and got away with it.“What brings you out here, Jared?” she asked crisply, brushing past him. “I distinctly remember telling you that we aren’t hiring.”He snagged one of the heavy buckets, and casually bumped shoulders with her. “I hadn’t forgotten,” he said mildly. “Call it curiosity. You girls are the talk of the town, you know, between deciding to fix up this old place and finding that big bag of money buried under all that trash.”A sudden pang of uneasiness rippled down her spine. “Stories grow in the telling,” she retorted. “It was a small bag—and it’s already been returned to its rightful owners.”“I know.” He flashed her an amused grin. “But it’s still one helluva good story.”Astra tried not to watch the way he was easily flirting with her sorority sisters. He could be utterly charming when he chose…but he’d always baffled her. Something about him didn’t quite ring true. Maybe it was just that he seemed larger-than-life, with his muscular body and broad shoulders, rich golden-blond hair, and classic chiseled features.All the girls in her therapy class had goggled when he’d stepped through the door on that first day of class. How could a woman not gape in wondering awe when a man was just that drop-dead gorgeous? But he’d seemed so oblivious to their fascination, and to their often-obvious flirtation ploys, that she’d reluctantly written him off her short list of potential dates.He hadn’t seemed interested in the other men who were attending the class, either…but was that only because he already had a boyfriend of his own? If he did, he’d been remarkably close-mouthed about it; no one had ever seen him hanging out in the local gay bars.But if he wasn’t gay, then why hadn’t he taken up at least one of the girls on their breathless open-ended offers? What normal red-blooded man would bypass multiple offers to go out and…anything?All in all, he just didn’t add up. And that was probably why her nerves were humming, she thought grimly. Well, that combined with the way he was cozying up to Elle, and the overly casual way he’d mentioned that double-damned bag of money…

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Bikini Babes’ Carwash

“Astra’s Craving”

By Suzie McLean

Artwork by Moira Nelligar

Copyright 2016 Suzie McLean

All characters in this book are 18 or older.

Chapter 1

A New Business Plan

The entire world had gone crazy.

Well, maybe not the entire world. But life for the Alpha Beta Xi sorority had certainly gone topsy-turvy ever since that crazy evening when their de-facto ringleader, Phoebe MacIntyre, had unveiled her brilliant plan for starting a new business that would benefit them all.

It had seemed foolproof at the time. Expand on their very successful college fundraising efforts by opening a hands-on carwash staffed entirely by stacked babes in outrageously sexy bikinis. Some of them could stand out on the sidewalk, waving signs while they did their acrobatic cheerleading routines. Others could wash the cars as they came through, and provide just as much of a show by splashing each other with hoses and soapy buckets of water.

That would work just fine for Nina, Muriel, Tamika, Antonia, Phoebe, and her two younger sisters, Andrea and Selena. But Astra and Elle were identical tall white-blonde Scandinavian twins who had to wear floppy hats and high-powered sunblock every time they ventured outside. So instead of waving signs and risking dangerous sunburns, they’d whipped up their own clever brainstorm: They were turning the first empty bay into a luxurious ‘massage parlor’ where they could rub the aches and pains from customers’ shoulders while the rest of their sorority sisters basked in the hot Florida sunlight, and did pretty things with sponges and soapsuds.

That had been the plan, anyway. And it had been a good one. No one could have foreseen, six weeks ago, how nutty everything would get once they began to restore the abandoned old carwash they’d optimistically leased from Riley Thompson.

First Phoebe had gotten seriously depressed, and none of them had known why. Then Antonia had been given bogus information by a now-fired county building inspector, so their exciting grand opening had been delayed for a full month while they scrambled to repair all the damaged bays immediately.

Hard on the heels of that, Nina had discovered a weird-looking trash bag buried deep inside one of the disgusting piles of garbage they were removing. And when they’d opened it, they’d found nearly two dozen bundles of money inside! Riley had reclaimed the part that had been stolen from him several years ago, and then become the talk of the town by returning the balance to the other local businesses who’d been robbed.

Then he’d worried that the BetaZeds might be targeted by the original thieves, so he’d hired a retired-cop-turned-private-investigator to covertly protect them…and just as they were recovering from that little bombshell, Andrea had nearly been killed in a freak swimming accident!

It had been an insanely hectic six weeks. And Astra was very much afraid the craziness wasn’t over yet.

Oh, it was starting to come together, in bits and pieces. Hadn’t she been the one to suggest that maybe Phoebe was falling in love with Riley, even though he was nearly thirty years older than her? She didn’t know whether to be pleased or dismayed that her guess had been accurate. But it was awfully good to see Phoebe’s eyes sparkling again with that same old devil-may-care exuberance they’d all come to know and love so well.

Toni’s eyes were sparkling, too. And over the past two weeks, Jason, the new building inspector who’d replaced treacherous old Broderick Millstadt, had become a fixture in their rambling sorority house. Astra liked him, and always had to laugh when he rang their doorbell and asked, very politely, if Miss Zanetta was home. It had become a tongue-in-cheek joke that they all enjoyed.

But who could have figured that their pretty Jamaican engineering major, Muriel Cristobal, would be falling head-over-heels in love with the retired cop, Ben Corey? She was the last person Astra would have expected to take the tumble. And if she had…well, Astra had always thought that Mac and she were best suited for each other. They were both clever mechanics with a flair for cobbling things together from discarded bits and pieces.

Instead, Reid…their own local MacGyver…had bonded with Andrea when she’d broken her wrist and nearly drowned in the college swimming pool a few days ago. Andi had told them, with a pretty blush, that they’d always adored each other, but never had the courage to admit it. Now…weird, but cool…they were planning to get married as soon as she graduated!

Astra hoped, for both their sakes, that it worked out. She loved Andi like her own sister, and Mac had become the brother she’d never had.

She’d just started to think maybe things were finally settling down again…

But then she’d gotten a surprise call from Jared Montrose, one of her massage therapy classmates! He’d heard about their new business, particularly the ‘massage parlor’ Elle and she would be running, and wanted to offer his services…

No, no, and no! It was bad enough that Riley had insisted on becoming their silent partner in exchange for dramatically lowering the rent. At least he wouldn’t be hanging around the carwash all day like a protective father figure! But this was supposed to be an all-woman business! How could it stay that way if they started hiring men?

And if they did, how on earth were they supposed to pay him?

No, absolutely not. He might be built like a legendary Greek god, with burnished-gold hair and an incredibly gorgeous sculptured face. But he had no place in an all-woman business.

It really was a shame he was gay, she thought with a brief wistful sigh. If ever she could be tempted, he’d be the one…

Well, there was no use in fretting over things—or people—she couldn’t have. Jared Montrose was strictly off-limits, in every possible way. So she’d just better get her head back in the game, and finish the job she’d set out to do this morning.

Mac had already measured the carwash bay they were renovating…and she trusted his work, she really did. No one could whomp up a quick-fix to a problem like their very own MacGyver!

But this was her project, and Elle’s. She wouldn’t rest easy until she’d done the math herself. It made the room seem more theirs, somehow.

“Ready?” She flashed a quick smile over at her sister, and brandished Mac’s borrowed tape measure.

“Ready.”

“Okay.” Carefully she weighed down the edge, then tugged the sturdy gauge down the long carwash bay. “Twenty-three feet, four inches.”

“That checks.” Elle nodded. “Add four extra inches for each brick wall, and it totals twenty-four feet like the other bays.”

“Perfect.” Astra’s teeth flashed in a satisfied grin. “I knew we could trust Mac, but still I feel better now.”

“Always double-check it yourself,” Elle agreed, quoting one of their father’s favorite sayings. “Okay, what’s next?”

“The back wall, and then the other long one.” Astra freed the angled metal tip, and repeated the procedure at the far end of the bay. “Sixteen feet, almost exactly. And…yep, twenty-three four, right on the mark.”

“Got it.” Elle looked smugly pleased. “Now get the height at all four corners, and then let’s take a few random measurements to make sure the roof doesn’t sag anywhere.”

A wry grin twisted Astra’s lips. “You’ve really been doing your homework, haven’t you?” she teased.

“Well.” Her twin blushed slightly. “It just makes sense. We can’t afford to buy duplicate materials if we measured wrong…and who wants to do all the work twice, too?”

“Good point.” Dutifully Astra took readings in nearly a dozen different places. “Okay. We have a slight dip on the right side, just before the center point, but it’s only a quarter inch difference. Otherwise, the roof is uniformly twelve feet high all the way around the bay.”

“Excellent.” Elle scribbled a few more numbers, then leaned back against the wall and surveyed the barren little room with narrowed eyes. “I’m thinking honey-toned wood siding if we can get it at a decent price, and a really plush stain-treated brown carpet that will hide or repel dirt.”

“Oh, sure.” Astra facetiously rolled her own eyes. “No problem. I’ll just whistle up my magical genie, and get him to supply everything.”

“Dad promised to chip in some money,” her sister reminded her with an impish grin. “That will go a long way. And carpeting’s not that expensive, not if you bargain-shop.”

“Paneling will be. And so will the massage couches we want.”

“Maybe not.” Elle thoughtfully chewed on a fingernail, then caught herself and quickly stopped. “Didn’t Jared tell you that the college is replacing some of their older ones? But even if we have to buy them brand-new, they’re only about $100 each.”

“Only, she says.” But Astra softened her sigh with a weary smile. “I guess it’s not really that much, in the grand scheme of things. But honestly, every time I have to go to Toni for supply money, I cringe. She’s a demon with our finances!”

“She’s a business major,” Elle said simply. “That’s her job.”

“I know.” But that didn’t make the prospect any more pleasant. And Riley had been right…the deeper they’d gotten into this crazy venture, the more unexpected expenses they’d incurred. Toni’s cash drawer was perilously thin, and they were still a good two weeks away from opening their gates to paying customers.

“Well, I think we’re done here…so let’s go do some shopping,” she exclaimed, and tried to muster some enthusiasm for the job.

She needed every bit of enthusiasm she could muster. Paneling, even the ultra-cheapo flimsy stuff, was a lot more expensive than she’d anticipated. And it only came in eight foot lengths. “We’ll need fifty percent more than we expected because the ceiling is so high,” she groaned.

“Unless Mac can rig up some kind of drop-down ceiling,” Elle suggested, glancing back at one of the other crowded aisles they’d passed.

“No.” Already she could see the horrified look on Toni’s face, and it made her wince. “Let’s just pick up some joint compound, and have Mac smooth that on the walls to hide the stucco. Then we can paint over it.”

Elle looked as unhappy as she felt. “Yeah, I guess we’ll have to. I really wanted something nicer, though.”