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The Complete Anthology
By Suzie McLean
Artwork by Moira Nelligar
Copyright 2016 Suzie McLean
All characters in this book are 18 or older.
Table of Contents
1.)Phoebe’s Crazy Idea
12.)“Rock Me Gently”
13.)A New Business Plan
15.)Just One Taste
20.)Moonlight and Roses
22.)One Step Too Far
“We can do this!”
Phoebe MacIntyre looked around the cozy old sorority house that had become her second home, and decisively nodded her head. “I’m telling you, we can!”
Her eight sisters—two by birth, the other six through a lifetime of close bonding—were clustered around the battered dining room table where they’d shared laughter, tears, pizzas, beers, homework assignments, and mega-tons of good old-fashioned love.
The past four years had melded them from longtime friends into a close-knit family. Mess with one member of Alpha Beta Xi (or the BetaZeds, as they called themselves, in honor of their favorite Star Trek heroine), and you messed with them all. It hadn’t taken long for that reputation to spread—and the college boys who’d initially seen them as easy marks had learned to step lightly, and keep their hands to themselves unless specifically invited.
They were a diverse group, she thought as she studied each of them in turn. In the old days, when ethnic heritage had counted for more than character, they probably would have been bitter enemies. Here’s to a more enlightened age, she mused with an impish quicksilver grin.
Nina had the shiny long black hair and exotic high cheekbones of her Blackfoot Indian ancestors. Petite dusky-skinned Tamika was a third-generation Japanese immigrant. Antonia was as Italian as her name suggested, and the acknowledged beauty among them.
Astra and Elle were nearly identical ethereal blonde twins. Muriel’s skin was an intriguing coppery hue, and her short ruler-straight black hair highlighted her elfin features. Her own sisters, Selena and Andrea, were slender honey-streaked brunettes with hazel and green eyes, respectively.
Phoebe took a rare moment to consider her own appearance.
She was attractive enough, she supposed, although she rarely wore makeup, and was the least clothes-conscious member of the entire group. Tami might prefer elegant wraparounds, while Muriel favored bold jungle prints…but given the slightest choice, she chose faded jeans and well-worn t-shirts. They were just plain a lot more comfortable!
Her hair was a rich auburn that sparkled in the sunlight and fell in thick waves to her shoulders—when she didn’t have it casually tucked under a tattered bandanna or pulled back in a stubby ponytail. Elle, their cosmetology major, had long-since taken command of her haircuts, or she might have hacked it boyishly short just so she didn’t have to mess with it.
But the one thing she did have…the one trait they all shared, and that had convinced her they could make this crazy venture work…was a body that just wouldn’t quit.
Her legs were long and slender; her waist was narrow; her firm breasts swelled into generous mountains that made men of all ages double-take, and gape after her in lustful yearning. On those rare occasions when the others harassed her into tidying up and wearing fancy clothes, they followed her around in panting droves. It was rather annoying, really, which was just one more reason she rarely bothered.
But now…yes, now she could finally see a reason to exploit her lush physique. And the others could benefit just as much!
“Listen to me,” she insisted when she saw the nervous looks they were exchanging across the wobbly old table. “We’ve done it before, and haven’t we brought in customers by the hundreds?”
“Well, yes…” Muriel made the admission cautiously. “But Phoebes, running our own business! There’s a world of difference between helping out at the college fundraisers, and making a living at it!”
Phoebe fixed her with a piercing glare. “Do we, or do we not, consistently score higher than any other team?”
“You know we do.” Tami was an instinctive peacekeeper, and soothingly spread her small hands wide to diffuse the growing tension. “But Phoebes, Muriel is right. Waving signs to attract customers while the guys do all the hard work is totally different than doing the whole thing ourselves.”
“Rent,” Toni crisply informed her. “Security deposit. Property insurance. Liability insurance. Business licenses. Equipment maintenance. Accounts receivable, payable, and payroll. And it only gets uglier from there!”
“I know.” Phoebe had done her research, and stared at facts and figures until her eyes had nearly bled. She hated numbers; they had a slippery way of changing without warning if she blinked twice.
But this wasn’t one of her crazy brilliant-today-moronic-tomorrow brainstorms. She’d been kicking around the idea for nearly six months now. If that didn’t deserve some serious consideration from her soul-sisters, she didn’t know what did.
“We have absolutely everything going for us,” she insisted. “Brilliance, creativity, and boobs men would die for. If Hooters can do it, why can’t we?”
“Hooters,” Astra pointed out in her gentle whisper-soft voice, “is a gigantic worldwide company with nearly unlimited funds. It wouldn’t matter if we had Einstein on our team. We don’t even have enough money between us to buy a Big Mac.”
Selena winced. As Phoebe’s younger sister, she’d been subjected to more crazy schemes than she could count. But honesty had been drilled into her from birth. “Actually,” she hedged, in the tone of voice normally reserved for those moments when she was dreading a well-deserved smack down, “that’s not entirely true.”
“What?” Toni’s head whipped in her direction. “Why not?”
“Well…” She bit her lip, and looked about twelve years old. “I was saving this for a graduation surprise for all of you. But I guess this is as good a time as any.”
Nina flashed the younger girl a mocking grin. “If you robbed a bank, you could have at least invited us to the party!”
That made Selena laugh, and shake her head. “No bank robbery. But something almost as good…I hope.” Her cautious gaze slid toward her fiery-haired older sister. “Last summer when I was working at the diner, I set aside all my tips, and had Randy invest them for me.”
“You what?” That was from Andrea, and she goggled in disbelief. “You trusted our brother with your hard-earned tip money?”
“Well, he’s been making a killing in day trading!” Selena protested, jamming both hands on her slender hips. “You know Dad said he has a real gift for it!”
“Yeah, but…” Dazed, Andrea shook her head so vigorously that her short bangs danced across her tanned forehead. “Sele, you might as well have fed it to the manatees! How much did he lose?”
Selena fixed her fraternal twin with a cool stare. “He not only didn’t lose any of it, he made a tidy profit. I have nearly eight thousand dollars sitting in my savings account.”
“Eight thousand!” Phoebe wasn’t the only one to gape at her in stunned disbelief. “Holy cow!”
“I was going to give each of you one thousand as a going-away present,” she said to the four girls who were going to graduate next month, “and then keep the balance as a seed pile for when the rest of us graduate.”
Pandemonium reigned as they all tried to talk at once. But finally Tamika raised her slender hands, and out of long habit they all fell silent again.
“Sele, that’s the most incredible gift anyone could possibly have given us,” she said in her soft, lightly accented voice. “Not the money, which we could never accept, and you know it. But the love behind it is staggering. And that we all accept, and return, in full measure.” She reached across the table to clasp the younger girl’s hand, and wasn’t surprised when every one of them reached into the center to lay their own hand onto the growing pile.
“We could use it to start our own business.” Phoebe’s quiet suggestion broke the momentary silence. “Jobs are getting harder to find every year. Not even Hooters is hiring, and we’re all well qualified to work there. By this time next year, we might have to move away, or risk starving.”
Nina had no qualms about moving; she’d already set her sights on the noisy bustle of New York City. No matter what it took, she was determined to perform on Broadway. And if she actually got up the courage to reach for her dreams, Muriel would probably follow her. They’d been tight right from day one, and were rarely separated.
But the others didn’t share her travel lust, or her yearning to dance on that great curving stage. They were homebodies, content to stay right here where they’d been born.
Toni would probably go to work in her father’s accounting firm, and next year Tami would finish up her psychology degree. Astra and Elle had opted for massage therapy and cosmetology, and hadn’t a new full-service spa just opened up on the other end of town?
Selena and Andrea wouldn’t graduate for another three years, but Sele was already making good money as a freelance graphic designer, and Andi was pushing hard for a full medical degree. She had no doubt they’d come out on top wherever they ended up.
And Phoebe? Well, who knew what Phoebe would do! She’d coasted through college with a jaunty shake of her cheerleading pompoms, finally settling on a secretarial degree because nothing else had caught her fancy. She’d only attended, she’d confessed one night while the other girls were fussing with radical new hairdos, because her folks had insisted—and her stellar high school grades had earned her a generous scholarship.
“I have the location all picked out,” she was continuing in the same intense tone, “and I’ve already spoken to the property owner on the phone. He’s willing to meet with me tomorrow morning to discuss terms for lease and renovation of the existing building.”
“Yeah, and how much is that going to cost?” Toni demanded with a worried scowl. “Wasn’t it pretty well destroyed in the last hurricane?”
“Not destroyed.” Phoebe vigorously shook her head. “The bays were damaged by some flying debris. But it’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a little ingenuity and elbow grease.”
“And you expect us to provide the elbow grease.” Elle had kept silent during the entire debate, but now she leaned forward to add her own worried concerns.
“I’ll be right in there with you.” Phoebe waved one hand in airy dismissal. “But we won’t need the bays, at least not for several months. We can fix them up in our spare time.”
“What exactly will we need?” Muriel was a big believer in laying things out on the table so everyone could see all the pieces. “Not vague concepts like ingenuity and brilliance. Hard, cold facts.”
“Start-up money.” Toni answered for Phoebe, and ticked items off on her fingers. “First and last month’s rent. Possibly a security deposit as well. Property and liability insurance. Utility deposits…especially to the water company. Money for our business licenses. Supplies to get started. That means long hoses with variable nozzles, sponges, soft-bristle brushes, squeegees, liquid soap, and a couple thousand chamois cloths and towels.”
“Bikinis,” Phoebe interjected with a wicked grin. “Really skimpy ones. Several of them for each of us, in different styles and colors that are sure to attract plenty of attention.”
“Signs,” Nina added. “Durable, but light enough to hold for hours at a time.”
“You won’t need to hold it for several hours if we all take turns,” Andrea pointed out, with rising enthusiasm.
“200-SPF sunscreen!” That was from Astra; Elle and she were so fair that they burned lobster-red every time they stepped out of the house without floppy hats to protect them from the fierce Florida sun.
“Eventually we’ll need to think about paid advertising,” Selena murmured thoughtfully. “But to start with, a bunch of stacked babes in G-string bikinis should bring in enough attention to get the traffic flowing.”
“Seriously stacked babes!” Muriel snickered, nudging Phoebe hard enough to make her lush D-cups sway in a seductive rhythm. “That’s one thing we really do have going for us!”
“And once the hoses start flowing, we won’t have to worry about overheating,” Tami chipped in with an encouraging smile. “There’s no reason we can’t spray each other down a lot. If we’re gonna do it, let’s put on a show that will keep them coming back again and again!”
“Then we are going to do it?” Elle looked at each one of them in turn, and anxiously chewed on her bottom lip.
“I could design a logo and make the signs,” Selena offered. “And Andi can take lots of promo pictures of us for a website.”
Enthusiasm kindled in Nina’s dark eyes. “I could design the website. I got a lot of compliments on the one I did for the student union.”
“Tami can write up the promo for it. She always knows exactly the right thing to say,” Andi suggested with a warm smile.
“I guess I could take a look at the broken equipment, and see what it’ll take to fix it,” Muriel reluctantly agreed. “I’m the only woman in an all-male engineering class…I might as well get some use out of it.”
“Astra can rub our shoulders if we work too hard.” Elle winked at her sister, then added with a sudden burst of inspiration, “We could even set up a booth in one of the bays and offer full-body massages while you guys are outside! That would keep us out of the direct sunlight…and you know the customers would eat it up!”
“See?” Phoebe looked smugly pleased. “Brilliance and ingenuity. So what do you say, Toni? Do you think it will work?”
Antonia chewed on her thumbnail for a moment, then briskly snapped her fingers. “Pencil and paper?”
Andrea was closest to their communal computer desk; she reached over and grabbed the legal pad she’d been doodling on before dinner.
Silence fell across the room as Toni scribbled, studied her figures, scribbled again. Tension began to climb as she squinted, pushed dark hair from her eyes, erased a number, tried again.
Finally she glanced over at Phoebe—and the excitement shining in her chocolate-brown eyes told its own story.
“It all depends on how much the property owner wants for rent. But if it’s not too high—and you can get him to waive the security deposit—I think we can do it.”
The property owner was a jerk. It didn’t take Phoebe more than two minutes to reach that decision, and he did nothing throughout the entire property tour to change her mind.
Oh, he was reasonably attractive, if you discounted the fact that he’d just turned fifty. She supposed he deserved some points for having kept himself in pretty good shape when so many men his age were getting fat and lazy. He definitely wasn’t decrepit as he stalked around the once-shiny carwash bays, and kicked at cheap beer cans and broken wine bottles that had been left by college students during any of a dozen wild parties.
“I put up a fence to keep ’em out,” he grumbled, “and the damned kids climb the fence. So do the homeless vets who hang out in this area. No respect for private property. Can’t even clean up after themselves. I wouldn’t mind it so much if they did, but they don’t. Just leave a huge mess for me to clean up later. Like I have that much time on my hands.”
Since it looked like half of the cans had been sitting in jumbled heaps for a couple of years, she didn’t figure Riley Thompson spent much time cleaning up anything. The jerk.
“We don’t mind cleaning things up and repairing the equipment,” she said, pretending she was Tamika to hide her irritation. “Muriel’s a whiz at fixing things.”
He stopped suddenly, and turned toward her so rapidly that she took an involuntary step back. “Tell me again exactly what you’re planning to do here.”
She’d already told him once on the phone, and again this morning when she’d walked into his cramped little trailer office across town. But Phoebe wanted this lease, wanted it so badly that she could nearly taste it. So she bit back her impulsive retort, and patiently went through it again.
“There are nine of us…my younger sisters and my sorority sisters. We want to start a carwash, but not an ordinary pull-your-car-into-the-bay-and-let-the-machines-handle-it kind of carwash. We want to expand on the carwashes we’ve done for college fundraisers, and turn it into a regular business. We’ll be washing the cars ourselves, using brushes and sponges and hoses. That way we can make sure the cars are absolutely sparkling clean, and put on a good show at the same time.”
An unnerving light began to gleam in his dark eyes. “Are all your, ah, sisters as pretty as you?”
She felt the heat of his keen gaze on her full breasts, and nearly flinched. “Prettier,” she said firmly. “Plus two of them are dancers, and we’re all on the cheerleading team. So we know how to attract male attention, and keep it fixed exactly where we want it.”
Slowly he licked his lips. “Yeah, I’ll just bet you do.”
The nasty old lecher! Why, he had to be as old as her father!
“We’ll take shifts, with some of us doing our cheerleading routines along the sidewalk to draw in traffic, and the rest of us washing cars as they come through. Two of us can scrub down a car, top to bottom, in about twenty minutes. So we can do two cars at a time, maybe three.
“Andrea wants to set up a concession stand over there,” she pointed, “and sell hot dogs, bratwurst, chips, sodas, and maybe even canned beer if we can get the proper licenses for it. She’s a pretty fair cook—and we could put our ice chests and coolers in the empty bay right behind her for easy access.
“Oh…and while the customers are waiting for us to finish, our Scandinavian twins will be providing full-body massages in the last bay, the one that had all the equipment ripped entirely out of the wall.”
He sucked in a deep breath, then gradually let it out again. “You’ll have ’em all standing at attention, won’t you?”
Somehow she didn’t quite think he was talking about customers lining up in neat rows, and a hot flush stained her fair cheeks. She was no innocent virgin, but his sly innuendoes were starting to make her a little uncomfortable.
“That’s the plan,” she replied, with just a touch of cool reserve. “It won’t take long before we’ll have so many customers that we’ll need to hire extra girls.”
A faint shudder seemed to ripple down his long body. “And they’ll all look like you. Wearing hot G-string bikinis, doing sexy dance routines, looking like they just crawled out of bed and are itching to climb back in.”
She supposed that was one way of describing it, but he didn’t have to be quite so crude about it. And the raw lust gleaming in his eyes was…disturbing.
“It really is a shame to let this property go to waste,” she commented in, she hoped, an off-handed tone. Toni had coached her for twenty minutes on all the things she should say, and all the things she shouldn’t. She hoped she’d be able to keep it straight in her mind as they began walking again, this time around the back of the battered carwash to stare at the gentle slope beyond the lot. “It’s in a fairly decent part of town; a lot of traffic zips by every day.”
Yes, Toni had said she could mention the traffic, but downgrade the lot’s prime location to pave the way for lower rent. She’d gotten that part right.
“Still, there’s an empty lot over on Crawford Street that might work nearly as well, once we erect a few of those detached single-car garage bays.” She said it in a musing undertone, as if she’d forgotten he was there. “If we can tap into the water main…”
When his big hand descended on her shoulder, she didn’t have to feign surprise; she hadn’t expected him to touch her.
“You don’t want that lot.” He said it firmly, and turned her around to face him. “There’s no proper drainage, and the guy who owns it is a total asshole. He’ll charge you twice what it’s worth, then keep your equipment when your business folds.”
Forget about pretending to be Tami…she was getting sick of his patronizing attitude! Sparks began to sizzle in her sapphire-blue eyes as she jammed both fists on her curving thighs. “That’s what you’ll be doing if we fix all your broken equipment,” she retorted with considerable spirit. “And what makes you think we’re going to fold?”
His lips curved in a slow grin. “Good, you do have a temper! I was starting to wonder if you did, considering that pretty red hair of yours.
“There’s no way you could make it work if you were being charged double the going rate,” he said bluntly. “But I think, just maybe, you could do it on what I’ll charge you—if we can reach an agreement.”
She wanted to blurt out, “Anything!” But Toni had warned her not to show any enthusiasm. So she choked back her instinctive surge of excitement, and did her best to eye him coolly. “What are your terms?” There, she’d gotten that part right, too. She’d let him bring up the question of a lease, and left the ball in his corner. That gave her the upper hand…she hoped.
Thoughtfully he chewed on one knuckle, and looked her over very, very slowly. “I go to all the games,” he finally said. “My nephew is on the football team. I’ve seen you out there flaunting your gorgeous little body. You and your ‘sisters’ are a sight for sore eyes, Miss MacIntyre.” His low voice was subtly mocking. “Can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone home and whacked off really hard, thinking about how sexy you gals look in those skimpy cheerleading outfits.”
He’d managed to shock her, and she took a defensive step away. “Mr. Thompson…”
“Riley.” His lips curved in a lopsided grin. “I didn’t mean to offend you…just saying it like it is. You gals are the highlight of the entire event. And I think you’re gonna grab all the men in this town by their collective dicks, and drag them in here whether they need a carwash or not.”
She wasn’t sure if she should be offended or flattered. “That’s the plan,” she repeated…but this time her voice was a little shaky, and so were her legs.
His smile widened. “Let’s head back to my office, and we’ll discuss terms. I think we’ll be able to reach an agreement that works well for both of us.”
She swallowed hard, and tried not to edge past him when he politely gestured toward the street again. But she didn’t breathe comfortably until a few feet of space were between them.
This was ridiculous! She didn’t like him, she didn’t entirely trust him, and she didn’t think he was sexy.
When he’d laid his hand on her shoulder and spoken so bluntly to her, she’d felt a bewildering surge of heat arrow right through her belly. It was still there, churning around like molten lava, as he fell back into step beside her and led the way across the empty lot to his weatherbeaten pickup truck. Slick wetness began to glide between her thighs as he slid a big hand down her back, courteously ushering her through the heavy chain link fence, and then securely locked it behind him.
Briskly he boosted her up into the cab, and slammed the door behind her. More points for him, she supposed. Damned few men bothered to open a door for a lady anymore. Not that she considered herself a lady, especially. She was way too much of a tomboy—always had been, always would be.
The truck smelled like stale take-out food and motor oil. It was an odd mixture that should have nauseated her, but was somehow comforting. Her own battered van usually smelled like stale French fries. And with three brothers who were all used to fixing their own cars, she was no stranger to the pungent scent of motor oil.
Mr. Thompson…Riley, she reminded herself with an uneasy pang…swung up beside her, and revved the engine. His hands looked strong and competent as he gripped the wheel, then spun it in a tight circle and merged with oncoming traffic.
“How old are you?” he demanded as they slid through a yellow light with only seconds to spare.
“I’ll be twenty-one next month.” Her voice emerged a little breathless. She hoped he didn’t notice…and if he did, that he’d write it off to nearly running a red light.
“Don’t look it.” He slid a sideways glance in her direction that seemed to linger on her proudly jutting breasts. “I’d have guessed sixteen at the most. How is it you’re graduating so young?”
Not that it was any of his business, but… “My sisters and I took advanced classes in high school, and graduated two years early. That’s how we were all able to get good scholarships.”
“How about the other girls?”
Why hadn’t she noticed his musky, arousing scent on the ride over? “My sisters…my real sisters,” she amended, trying to steady her pulse, “are nineteen. So are Astra and Elle. Tami’s twenty like me, and the others are twenty-one.”
His long fingers drummed restlessly on the wheel. “Tell me about them.”
No problem…if her brain would just focus! What the hell was happening to her? Riley Thomson was not sexy!
“Um…” Briefly she shut her eyes, and tried to concentrate. “Nina’s half-Indian. American Indian, I mean. Her mother’s a Montana Blackfoot, and her father grew up just outside the reservation. They moved here about nine years ago.
“Tamika is…” She chuckled suddenly. “She’s such a little thing that we’re always threatening to pick her up and play football with her! Barely reaches my shoulder. Her grandparents emigrated from Japan, and were caught up in that whole Pearl Harbor thing, when all the Japanese citizens were herded into concentration camps even though they hadn’t done anything wrong.
“Toni’s our business major…”
It helped to talk about each of them, helped to see them in her vivid imagination. Soon, if an agreement could be reached, other people would be seeing them strut their stuff in skintight bikinis, and whistle with admiration as they scrubbed bumpers and windshields. She had no doubt they’d draw a huge crowd; they’d always stopped the show at halftimes.
Before she knew it, Riley was skidding to a stop in the dusty parking lot bordering his cramped little trailer office. A single intense look stopped her from opening her own door, and she waited with a thudding heart while he hopped out and swung around to her side, then courteously opened it for her.
He opened the trailer door, too, and then carefully closed it behind her before nudging her toward his low-slung hideaway couch, and perching casually on a corner of his desk. “Now,” he said firmly, “we talk terms.”
Phoebe’s palms began to sweat. “All right.”
His eyes narrowed a little, and again she felt the heat of his rapt gaze sweep slowly over her tensed body.
Maybe she shouldn’t have worn her skimpy thigh-high workout shorts and jogging top after all? But even at this early hour, the heat and humidity were explosive. And as the sun rose higher, it would only get worse.
And that didn’t even take into consideration the fire that was burning in her belly, and spreading all the way through her body in rippling waves! She knew the air conditioner was running hard; she could hear it humming across the room. But the snug little trailer felt sultry, claustrophobic.
Riley didn’t seem to be feeling the heat…
Or was he? Were his tanned cheeks starting to flush a little? Was his breathing starting to quicken?
Oh, nonsense, she was just imagining things. He really was old enough to be her father. He might think she was sexy at half-time, but surely he wasn’t seriously starting to lust after her!
Slowly his tongue slid around his lips. She nearly moaned with rising anticipation.
Then he flashed her a feral grin that made her blood run cold.
“Three thousand a month,” he said firmly. “First and last month’s rent due immediately, plus an extra month’s rent as security deposit, if you sign a one-year lease. I’ll consider dropping it some if you’re willing to sign a two-year lease.”
She’d sign a ten-year lease if that would bring her dream to fruition! But nine thousand dollars! That would eat up everything Selena had managed to save, plus some! And what about all the other expenses Toni had listed on her detailed spreadsheet?
Weakly she shook her head, and felt sick to her stomach. “We can’t go that high. There’s no way… We just can’t!”
He considered her pale, clammy face for several moments. “All right, then, give me a counteroffer,” he finally suggested.
“We can’t afford more than two thousand a month.” She blurted it without thinking, then nearly groaned as she realized her blunder. Hadn’t Toni warned her not to reveal how limited their budget was? Now she’d lost her negotiating leverage!
Her legs trembled when she tried to force them into motion. “I’m sorry to have wasted your time,” she managed through lips that felt frozen with disappointment.
“Sit down, Phoebe.” He said it quietly, then impatiently curled his fingers around her bare arm when she didn’t seem to hear him. “Damn it, girl, you look like you’re about to pass out. Sit down for a minute, catch your breath, and then let’s discuss this. Maybe we can reach some kind of acceptable compromise.”
Bonelessly she slumped back onto the couch, and stared up at him in bemusement. The gap between nine thousand and two thousand was astronomical! Even if he waived the security deposit, that dilapidated old carwash was so far out of reach that she might as well try reaching for the moon!
The vulnerable tragedy in her huge blue eyes touched him deep inside, and he scowled. He was a businessman, damn it, not a charity worker. Why was he even considering cutting into his own profit margin to help this perky kid?
“Tell me,” he said slowly, settling onto the couch beside her, “exactly why you think this business of yours will succeed. No, not your business plan; you’ve already told me that three times. Why do you believe it’ll work?”
“Because men love to ogle sexy women,” she said dully. “We’re all stacked, and we’ll be wearing skimpy bikinis and wet t-shirts, and splashing each other with hoses. Guys driving by will see us, and want us, and come in to get their cars washed even if they don’t need to, just so they can watch us up-close. Andi will sell them sodas and hot dogs while they wait…and Astra and Elle will rub their backs. And we’ll do that for free if we have to, just to build up repeat traffic.”
“They will come back again and again.” His dark eyes bored intently into hers.
“They would if we could afford to actually do it.” Despair sharpened her gaze, and she glared bitterly at him.
“They will,” he repeated firmly. “Because you girls aren’t a bunch of tramps; you’re a class act. Every single one of them will pant and lust, and happily pay for a carwash to see you in action.
“Those who have wives or girlfriends will go home and bang the living hell out of them, to relieve the needs you stir up in them. And those that don’t, like me, will masturbate half the night, and fantasize about talking you out of those sexy little outfits.” To emphasize his point, he tweaked the thin strap of her skintight jogging top with his thumb and index finger.
“Could we talk you into giving it up?” His deep voice dropped to a low, husky murmur. “Would you be shy at first, or take the lead? What kinds of things do you like? Would you suck me off and swallow every drop? Or would you rather spread your pretty legs and let me plunge in hard and fast?”
Every fierce word sent hot jolts of excitement racing through Phoebe’s veins, and she moaned in helpless longing. Why hadn’t she noticed before how broad Riley’s chest was, how muscular his shoulders were? His temples were lightly accented with silvery hair, but somehow that only emphasized how thick and dark the rest of his hair was.
“Do you like it slow and seductive, Phoebe?” His urgent voice crackled in her ears. “Or do you like it hot and hard? If I offered you a really low rent, would you spread your legs for me, and let me fuck you all night long?”
Riley’s last words echoed back and forth several times, resonating in her ears, before they sank in. He was leaning so close that she could feel the heat of his rugged body, and his eager fingers were only inches away from her bare thighs.
“Would I… What?” Stunned, she rocketed up and shot across the room. “You rotten sonofabitch! I don’t care how much I want that property, I’m not going to become your whore to get it!”
“Phoebe!” He was faster than she’d realized, and blocking the door before she could charge outside in outraged fury.
“Let me go!” Angrily she pounded on his wide chest with both fists. “I swear I’ll scream rape if you don’t let me go!”
The hot pressure of his mouth on hers cut off her tirade so abruptly that she nearly stumbled back and fell. Wide-eyed, she gaped up at him in numb confusion.
Sweet Jesus, he was sexy. It didn’t matter how old he was, or how crazy it was. He was sexy as hell. Horny as hell. And if he touched her again, she was going to crumble and beg him to quench the fires burning through her trembling body like molten lava!
Appalled, she whirled away—and slammed painfully into the edge of his desk. The sharp stinging blow helped to clear her head, and she jammed both fists against her mouth to keep from bursting into confused tears.
“Phoebe.” He said her name again, gently this time, and laid his hands on her quivering shoulders. “I’m sorry. It was cruel of me to taunt you that way. But I needed to know just how far you’d go to get what you want…and that was the only way I could think to do it.
“I want you desperately, and I won’t deny it,” he admitted with a troubled frown. “But I swear I won’t use the carwash as bait to entice you into my bed—or make that a condition of lowering your rent.”
He sounded genuinely contrite as he slowly turned her back around to face him. “Will you listen to the proposition I’d like to make you? The business proposition,” he quickly clarified when hot flames kindled in her eyes again. “This other thing…” He swallowed hard, and tried very hard not to stare at her heaving breasts. “It’s totally separate. I promise.”
“Let me go.” Her voice was very small, and her lips were trembling. But she faced him without flinching until his hands fell away, and he backed up two whole paces. Then she squared her chin, and the fire in her angry gaze shifted to ice. “I don’t want to hear anything you have to say,” she grated. “We’ll find another place to start our carwash. And if you ever set foot on it, for any reason at all, I’ll have you hauled away as a trespasser, and thrown in jail until you rot!”
Riley nearly laughed with delight. Nothing was fiercer than the little dog defending its territory against the entire world, and he had no doubt that sexy Phoebe MacIntyre would defend her tiny share of it against anyone or anything that threatened it.
“Listen to me anyway,” he coaxed with an amused half-smile. “And if you’re still pissed at me when I’m done, I’ll help you draw up an iron-clad restraining order to keep me away. Deal?”
She didn’t trust him. How could she, when he’d nearly managed to seduce her with his bone-deep hunger and rich husky voice, then brutally slapped her across the face with that incredibly insulting proposition?
Or had he? Now that she played it through again, he hadn’t actually asked her to sell herself, had he? He’d only asked if she’d be willing to.
Bad enough. He’d had no right even hinting at such a disgusting thing. She might enjoy having sex, but she was no whore. And she chose her partners carefully. She didn’t just fall into bed with any horny stud who happened to be available.
Besides, he was probably too old to even get it up anymore, she consoled herself with vindictive satisfaction. And if he could, he was probably a ten-second preemie. The jerk.
He watched the quicksilver emotions darting across her face, and barely managed to hide another admiring smile. He’d shocked her, all right, but she was rebounding fast. Damned if that didn’t make him want her even more!
“Fine.” When she finally met his steady gaze, her voice was clipped with icy hostility. “Say what you have to say. Then I’m leaving. And I’m not coming back.”
The urge to tease her one last time was irresistible. “Oh, now, don’t be making promises you might not be able to keep,” he chuckled.
Then he spread both hands wide in mute apology, and shifted into what he thought of as his professional mode. Serious, cool-headed, to the point. “All right, I’ll stop baiting you.
“So here’s where we sit. You want to lease a broken-down old carwash facility, fix it up, and start a new business in the worst economy since the Great Depression,” he said, easing past her to sink into his creaky old chair. “But you can’t afford even the lowest possible fair market rent, let alone the security deposits or most of the other start-up costs any new business requires.
“I want to lease it to you… Oh yes, Phoebe, I do,” he added when she quirked a disbelieving eyebrow at him. “It does me no good sitting there empty. Apart from the rowdy college kids who use it for their midnight frat parties, entropy is claiming its fair share…and I still have to pay taxes on it, whether it’s being rented or not. So I have a vested interest in finding someone who will fix it up properly, and pay me for its use.”
This was a new side of him, she mused as she folded both arms across her ribs and stared cautiously down at him. On the phone last week, he’d been stiffly formal. This morning, he’d been just a touch too casual with his deep-south slang and brazen compliments. Fifteen minutes ago, he’d been so incredibly seductive that she’d nearly thrown herself into his muscular arms without thinking twice—and that just wasn’t like her under any circumstances!
What surprises was he holding in store now?
“Since you know we can’t afford what you’re asking, obviously you have some compromise in mind,” she said coolly. “What exactly do you want…other than me?”
The faintest hint of a smile curved his lips—but she noticed he didn’t contest her blunt challenge.
“A partnership.” He watched her blink in surprise, and leaned casually back in his chair. “There are nine of you. I presume all profits will be split equally after you repay your little sister her initial investment. Eleven percent each, with the final fraction tossed into the kitty for emergencies and future investments. Am I right?”
He could have been reading directly from Antonia’s meticulous business plan, and that was just plain creepy. Phoebe shivered a little, then slowly nodded. “That’s right.”
She looked so gorgeous as golden sunlight slid over her magnificent breasts, highlighting every quick breath, that his blood was stirring just a little too much. And if much else stirred, she’d be able to see it from her higher vantage point. So he reluctantly sat back up, and eased forward until the desk was shadowing his painfully rigid erection. “I want you to adjust your figures very slightly,” he said calmly. “Instead of taking eleven percent, I want each of you to take ten…with the final ten going to me.”
She wasn’t stupid, but still it took her a few minutes to figure out exactly what he was suggesting. “You want to become our business partner.”
“That’s right.” Idly he toyed with an old-fashioned letter opener. “In exchange for ten percent of your business, I’ll waive the security deposit, the last month’s prepayment, and I’ll even lower the rent to fifteen hundred a month for the first twelve months. That should give you enough budgetary leeway to cover unexpected expenses—and I can guarantee you’ll run into plenty more than you ever imagined.”
All the air slammed from her lungs, and she sank back down onto the couch in dazed confusion. “But…you could be gambling on ten percent of nothing,” she finally managed to stammer.
Slowly Riley nodded. “I could, but I don’t think so. You’re young, strong, and motivated to make this work. You’re also, as you so accurately pointed out, sexy as hell, and good at twisting a man’s brain into knots until he’ll do any damned thing you want.”
“I never said…”
“Trust me.” His lips curved into an ironic grin. “You can. And that being the case, I’m confident you can make this the most successful carwash in the entire state.
“You do that, Phoebe, and my ten percent will be far higher than any paltry security deposit.”
It was too much to process. Helplessly Phoebe closed her eyes, and tried to concentrate on drawing in a steady breath.
Okay, then, work it through piece by piece.
Each of them would be sacrificing one percent of the possible profits…which, if he was wrong, could amount to exactly nothing. In exchange for that one percent apiece, the nine thousand dollars had plummeted to a mere fifteen hundred, which was well within their limited budget.
He was losing nothing by waiving the additional deposits, because he obviously had no other interested parties who could outbid them. Anything was better than nothing, especially in this horrible economy…and by lowering the price, he actually stood to make far more money, in the long run.
Excitement began to kindle in her veins. In exchange, the BetaZeds were being given a prime location, and incredibly reasonable terms. She didn’t mind the hard work it would take to fix the place up; she was used to working hard. If they all pulled together, they could have the carwash ready for a grand opening in no time.
Besides, how could they possibly fail? Any red-blooded male who didn’t climb the curb when Toni or Nina strutted their stuff was thirty minutes past clinical death!
Slowly she opened her eyes, and found him perched on the corner of his desk again. “Where do I sign?” she asked, and was surprised by how steady her voice sounded. She didn’t feel steady, she felt as giddy as a child in a supersized candy shop!
Riley arched one dark eyebrow. “Don’t you need to discuss it with your sisters first?”
“No. Oh, I will, when I go home,” she agreed with a shaky nod. “But they gave me the authority to strike whatever deal would benefit us most…and you and I both know I’m not going to get a better one, no matter where else I go.”
He accepted that with a sober nod of his own. “Then I’ll draft up an agreement this afternoon for your review and approval. Once you’ve all signed it and had it notarized, you pay me the first month’s rent, and I’ll give you the keys to the front gate.
“And after that,” he added with a quick grin, “you’re on your own. I don’t envy you the amount of work it’s going to take to make the place useable again.”
It was still tough to breathe, and Phoebe wondered how long she’d feel lightheaded. Did she even dare to drive like this? “Thank you, Mr. Thompson,” she said, wobbling a little as she managed to push herself upright. Her hand trembled when she reached to shake his.
Politely he clasped her fingers…then maintained his gentle grip until she stared at him in blank confusion. “Now we need to talk about the other matter,” he said softly, and subtly tugged her closer.
“Other matter?” Her brain was whirling with dizzy reaction. Because she was a new business owner, she quickly assured herself. Not because his proximity was disturbing…no, arousing. Unbearably arousing!
A fleeting smile danced across his lips as he lifted his other hand and slid it over her rich auburn hair in a sensual caress. “We’re going to be working together, you and I,” he reminded her in a low, hypnotic voice. “Win, lose, or draw, we need to settle this now, or it could seriously damage our partnership down the road.”
Phoebe’s mouth opened and closed, but no sound emerged.
Very slowly, he slid off the edge of the desk and straightened to his full height. Phoebe wasn’t short, but suddenly she felt dwarfed by his broad shoulders and rugged physique.
“I want you more than you could possibly imagine.” Just like before, his deep voice thrummed across her nerve endings and made them quiver with reaction. “If the answer’s no, I’ll accept that as final, and I won’t ever mention it again.
“But if there’s even a chance you could say yes…” He curled one big hand around her chin, then tilted it up so she had no choice but to meet his intense gaze. “I need to know, Phoebe. Otherwise it’s gonna tear me apart.”
He cut off her faltering confusion by bending to brush a whisper-soft kiss across her trembling lips. “You feel it, don’t you?” he whispered as his mouth roamed further, gliding sensually over her cheek and then sliding down to taste her throat. Her pulse was throbbing hummingbird-fast, and it drove him crazy! “I know it’s insane—we’re so totally wrong for each other! But you want me just as much as I want you. Don’t you?”
Her response was a low, throaty moan of pleasure when his strong hand boldly cupped her full breast. Shockwaves jolted through her lush body, and she swayed before he steadied her with his other arm.
“Make love to me, Phoebe.” His hungry mouth returned to cover hers, and this time his kiss was hotter, more urgent. “Here, now. I’ll do anything you want, anything at all!”
Her entire world was reeling in dizzy confusion. “Riley, oh God!” It emerged as a helpless whimper as her sensitive nipple rose beneath his clever palm. “Oh, God!”
He swallowed her frantic cry, and felt savage lust tear through him like razor-edged claws. “Tell me yes, Phoebe!” he panted, tugging her skimpy top up so he could stroke her pearly flesh. Suddenly the need to taste and touch and caress was like a fever burning inside, consuming him with desperate hunger! “Tell me yes!”
The furnace-hot touch of his mouth shot her over the first peak so fast that she nearly screamed, and her short nails bit painfully into his bare arms. Then she simply melted against his chest, and raggedly gasped for air.
Stunned, Riley lifted her with effortless ease, and laid her across the low couch. “Do you always cum that easily?” he marveled, stroking a damp lock of hair from her flushed forehead.
“No. Never.” She could barely even pant the words as the room dipped and spun around her. “Jesus, Riley! What did you do to me?”
That made him laugh. “Nothing yet. But I will, if you’ll let me.”
She moaned, low in her throat. “This is insane.”
“I think I already said that.” Very slowly, he began to slide his hands over her bare ribs. She looked so incredibly sexy with her lacy white bra and flimsy blouse pushed up high over her luscious breasts! Would she let him ease them completely off her, then tug off her tight little shorts? Did he dare risk trying? Or would sanity return, and make her scramble away in panicked refusal?
Phoebe softly groaned as his fingers traced electrifying patterns over her taut flesh, and her other nipple rose into a hot, hard peak. Enchanted, he bent to glide his tongue over it. She gasped, and arched so fiercely that it thrust right into his open mouth.
Quickly he slid his hands beneath her, and popped the clasp on her forgotten bra. A soft sound escaped her when it sagged free…but he distracted her by sucking hard on her quivering breast, and teasing her other nipple with his free hand. Phoebe’s helpless cries rose as his teeth closed delicately over her.
When she fell back with a ragged sob, he pressed eager kisses against her flat stomach, and began to ease her shorts down over her hips. Frantically she bucked again, and her clutching fingers tangled in his thick hair.
She shaved her pussy! The vibrant shock of it nearly made Riley explode with sheer raging lust. Panting, he gritted his teeth, and struggled for control. He’d never been so close to disgracing himself and erupting like a horny teenager!
“Phoebe…please…let me…” He wasn’t even sure what he was begging for. But then she dug her heels into the faded cushions, and arched her slender hips in an erotic ballet. Instinctively he flicked his eager tongue over her soft flesh, and tasted sweet wetness. “Oh, God.” She tasted so good! “Sweetheart, let me…”
Her thighs parted easily beneath the urgent pressure of his hands, and he dove in to plunder her delicious flesh. Desperate shudders racked her lush body as he pushed her into another wild climax, and then another.
His own clothes were too damned tight. Feverishly he tore them off, and moaned with relief when his aching shaft burst free and rose to smack against his flat stomach.
“Riley?” Phoebe’s eyes were glazed with delirious pleasure as she struggled to focus on his flushed face. Instinctively her small hands rose to explore the muscular planes and angles of his broad chest. The thick mat of fur covering it pleased her, and a giddy smile curved her lips.
“Close your eyes.” He slid up and pressed gentle kisses against her fluttering eyelids. “Don’t see. Just feel.” He didn’t dare let her remember the vast difference in their ages right now. “Let me give you pleasure.”
Her eyes nearly crossed as his long fingers began to probe her tight wet passage in quick, clever strokes. “Oh God…Riley, please…”
He wanted to watch her cum again, because it was so incredibly erotic! But his chest was starting to heave with fierce arousal, and he wasn’t sure how much more of this delightful torture he could stand.
If he let her stroke him, would it shatter the moment? He was adequately built, but he was no super-stud…who knew how he’d suffer in comparison to the football jocks who normally warmed her bed?
No, better not risk it. Besides, he wasn’t sure he could control himself if he felt her nimble hands gliding seductively up and down his aching cock.
Well, he might not be hung like a stallion, but he had an extra thirty years’ worth of experience on his side. He’d probably forgotten more ways to pleasure a woman than those jocks had ever learned. That would have to be good enough.
She bucked beneath his big hand, and her voice rose into a ragged moan of delight as he finger-fucked her hard and fast. Then he varied the pace, and lavished attention on her sweat-slick breasts while he teased her erect little nub.
“How do you like it best, Phoebe?” he panted against her throat when he finally eased over her and slid his knees between hers. Sultry heat enveloped him, and he groaned in exquisite agony. How long had it been since he’d made love to a woman? Could he keep going long enough to make her cum one last time?
She could barely even breathe, and the nonstop barrage of awesome climaxes was making her so dizzy that the room was whirling in giddy circles. “Anything!” She moaned it, and clutched feverishly at his lean hips. “Please! Ohhhhhhh…”
She gasped sharply when he began to fill her in deliciously slow thrusts. Oh yeah, he could definitely get it up…and it felt so good as it stroked every sensitive nerve! Was it curved, was that why it felt so delightful?
Riley felt her inner muscles clench around him, and muffled her instinctive cries with the pressure of his hungry mouth. So far, so good. She was tight…surprisingly tight, he thought as he sank a little deeper, and rotated his hips in a seductive rhythm. Maybe she wasn’t as experienced as he’d thought?
No, she definitely knew what to do, as she curled her long legs around his waist and tried to arch eagerly against him.
Maybe she was so tight because she was so athletic? He didn’t know, but the sultry heat and pressure were driving him absolutely crazy! And so were her firm breasts, as they erotically stroked his chest every time he moved above her!
“Easy, sweetheart!” Air began to rasp in his lungs when she arched against him again. “Slow and easy! I want it to last!”
So did she…but it felt so good! She’d been so busy studying for her upcoming finals that she hadn’t been with a man for ages. How could she have forgotten how wonderful it felt to be filled right to the brim with sizzling heat?
But why was he holding back? “Deeper, Riley!” she panted, kissing him with frenzied passion. “I don’t care if you cum fast, I just want to feel you all the way inside me!”
It was a plea he couldn’t resist. White-hot ecstasy ricocheted through his straining body as he obeyed, and her fiery wetness enveloped him. Shuddering, he ground his hips against her soft thighs, then began to hump against her in fierce erotic thrusts.
Phoebe’s eyes snapped open in stunned surprise as every quick plunge sent exquisite pleasure racing through her veins. He wasn’t a ten-second preemie, either! And oh God, it felt so incredible as he pounded vigorously, over and over, and his long spine began to arch as his eyes went blind.
“Riley…oh! Ohhhhh!” Shock made her cry out in startled wonder as the first hot spasms erupted from his pulsing cock, and pushed her right into another dazzling orgasm. “Yes yes yes!”
“Unh!” When the second fierce wave crashed over him, he stiffened and grunted fiercely. Thick milky bursts gushed into her tight passage, filling her, flooding her with his potent slick heat. The sweet ecstasy was almost unbearable!
Silky hair caressed his flushed cheek. Groaning, Riley tried to lever himself to one side so he wouldn’t crush her. His exhausted muscles refused to respond…or was it because Phoebe was clasping him so tightly as her slender body quivered in the first of several exquisite aftershocks?
She’d rocked his world. He’d heard the phrase before, and thought he’d known what it meant. Who could have known just how earthshattering having sex with Phoebe MacIntyre would be? An ironic laugh rumbled in his chest, and he pressed his lips against her damp hair in a gentle caress.
“What?” She sounded breathless as she blindly turned her face toward his, then sighed with pleasure when his lips moved tenderly over hers. “Mmmm. God, that was incredible!”
Incredible. Smug delight made him feel ten feet tall.
Then her gaze slowly sharpened, and she studied him so thoughtfully that he felt a sudden pang of uneasiness clench in his chest. “Regrets?” he murmured, stroking her cheek with one gentle hand.
She shook her head, but her eyes were troubled. “No, how could I possibly regret that? It was…wow! But what the hell happened to us, Riley? I don’t even like you. Or I didn’t, earlier this morning. Now I’m not sure what I feel.”
He didn’t have an answer to that…at least not one she’d want to hear. “Natural chemistry?” he suggested with a charming lopsided smile.
“Explosive chemistry,” she corrected, and managed a faint smile of her own. “No one…no one…has ever made me feel this way before. And I don’t mind telling you, it’s a little scary.”
More than a little, because he was pretty sure he was falling head-over-heels in love with her. And if that wasn’t totally insane, he didn’t know what was.
But…she wasn’t going to want to hear that. Not now, and maybe not ever.
So Riley prudently changed the subject in the only way he knew how…he kissed her again, hard and fierce and so passionately that she sucked in a startled gasp, and instinctively bucked beneath him.
“I need a little time to recharge,” he teased, curling nimble fingers around her taut nipples just to see pleasure blur her wondering gaze. “But if you’re willing to wait a few minutes, I’ll bet we can do even better the next time.”
Her low, languid moan kick-started his racing heart a few more notches, and an answering quiver of excitement began to harden his eager cock.
“And this time, I’ll bet we can figure out lots of other new things to try…”
“Riley Thompson is a jerk!”
Andrea blinked in surprise at her irate sorority sister, and pushed damp brunette bangs away from her flushed face. “Are you kidding? He’s sexy as hell!”
“He’s a jerk,” Toni repeated, and angrily slammed a rusted beer can into the oversized trash bag propped against the derelict carwash’s battered wall. “And a slob. Look at all this mess he’s left for us to deal with.”
“Now, Toni.” Tamika soothingly shook her head from the other end of the bay, where she was delicately picking through a similar mound of decomposing trash and sodden windblown leaves. “He’s a busy man. There’s been no need for him to do regular housekeeping since the place has been sitting vacant for nearly five years.”
“So he left it for us to do.” Muriel’s white teeth sparkled against her coppery skin as she flashed the other girls a quick grin. “That was part of the lease terms. We all agreed to it when we approved the contract…no point in bitching now.”
Toni sighed, and reached for another crumpled can. Muriel was right, of course. And they’d all been so excited when they’d reviewed and signed Riley’s concise agreement. Their own business! They were sure they could make it work!