Phi Beta Bimbo

Phi Beta Bimbo

Trish Jensen

June 2014 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-414-3

He can't take his eyes off her IQ.

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Big blond wig. Do-me shoes. A bra that could serve as a floatation device. She’s about to take her genius IQ for a walk on the bimbo side.

Someone’s pilfering company secrets at Just Peachy, a giant cosmetics firm owned by hunky Steve Smith. When he decides to do some undercover security in disguise as "Stephanie” Smith, his sister Leah, a sociologist working on her doctorate, grabs her own undercover opportunity to prove her theory that nerds stand no chance in the world. She interviews for a low-level security job first as "Leah the super-nerd” then as "Candi Devereaux,” a stereotypical out-to-there bimbo. To her shock, security specialist Mark Colson hires both of her.


Mark isn’t fooled—Leah/Candi are obviously the same woman, a suspicious character, and quite likely the corporate thief. He’ll stay very close to her . . .


As for Leah, the highly unsettling and extremely irresistible Mr. Colson begins to rattle all her assumptions about what a man wants from a woman. It’s about honesty, unfortunately . . .


In the meantime, "Stephanie” has met his match in corporate rival Kate Bloom, who is determined to best the smart new woman in the company. And yet, Kate feels flustered by Stephanie’s strangely masculine appeal . . .



"Fans of Susan Elizabeth Phillip'sNobody's Baby But Mine will go for this hilarious romp, too.” -- Booklist



Chapter One

"AM I A SEXPOT, or what?”

"Or what.”

Leah Smith laughed as she emerged from the Luscious Lingerie dressing room. "What do you think?” She thrust back her shoulders for maximum effect, straining the cotton threads of her cherry-red T-shirt. "Are these boobs or are these boobs?”

"I’d be really impressed,” her brother, Steve, observed dryly, "if more than fifty percent of them were actually yours.”

"Very funny,” she said, eyeing his own 40Cs. "Considering yours are one hundred percent fake—”

"Hey, hey, hey, little sister,” Steve said in his Stephanie voice—which Leah estimated to be about an octave lower than Vin Diesel’s. He crossed his panty-hosed legs, winced slightly, then uncrossed them quickly and stood instead. "Not in public. You wouldn’t want to ruin my image, now, would you?”

Leah rolled her eyes, strutted past him to the store mirror, and stared at herself. "Wow. I’m built.”

"Literally.” She scowled, but didn’t answer him. The same green eyes and mouse-brown hair stared back at her, but the sight of her artificially enhanced chest made her look foreign.

"Stephanie’s” pumps clicked on the tile floor as he clanked up to her and took in her image over Leah’s shoulder. "Kinda makes you feel a little wicked, eh?”

"Wicked’s not what I’m going for.” Well, not completely, anyway.

"Then you probably don’t want them so pointy. Pointy definitely says ‘wicked.’”

"What says ‘bimbo’? Is that the same as ‘skank’?”

"It all depends on what you do with it. You need cleavage. Lots of cleavage.”

Leah glanced to her left and saw the store clerk eyeing them strangely. She could just imagine what the girl was thinking. "Back off, bro,” she whispered over her shoulder. "People will talk.”

Steve stepped back and glanced around. When he spotted the clerk, he gave her his best Stephanie smile. "Would you be a dear and bring us one of your ‘Pump You Ups’?”

Leah was almost positive she didn’t want to know, but she asked anyway, "What in Hades is a Pump You Up?”

"You’ll see.”

"Sure,” the girl said. "Any particular color?”

"Oh red, definitely red,” Steve said.

The girl smiled and left.

"Doesn’t she need to know what size?” Leah asked.


"Dare I ask why not?”

"It’s all in the pump, toots.”

"The pump,” Leah said faintly. "This doesn’t sound good.”

"It’s painless, I promise.”

Leah glanced at her brother, dressed in his Stephanie drag attire. It always amazed her how he fooled so many people with his female persona. Even with the wig and makeup and Donna Karan numbers, he still looked like Steve to her. How no one else had caught on all these years she couldn’t fathom.

"Why are we ‘Stephanie’ today?” she asked him.

"Board meeting,” he said, scowling as he took in his appearance in the mirror. "God, I hate this getup.”

"I thought you said it would be over soon.”

"Three months, two days, and eighteen hours, but who’s counting?”

"How are you going to do it?”

"Stephanie’s going to send out a company-wide memo announcing a mandatory meeting. And then me, as me, will tell them all that their CEO has decided to seek new horizons, and has named me—her—as general manager, to take charge.”

Leah turned from the mirror. "You hate this charade. The company’s doing well. Why are you keeping it up?”

"Because I feel obligated to my backer. He wanted a woman in charge; now he’s got a woman in charge. Once I pay him off, I’m free. No more Stephanie.”

"I hope no one will fault you for the tiny deception if they find out the truth.”

"Tiny?” Steve snorted. "Baby sister, I’ve been wearing drag for almost five years now, and I’m mighty sick of it.”

Leah truly sympathized. Even though Steve had to don panty hose and boobs only on rare occasions, she knew how much he hated the ruse. So she quickly changed the subject. "Thanks again for letting me do my experiment at Just Peachy,” Leah said.

He waved. "Anything for my kid sister. But tell me, why are you doing this again?”

"Pure research.” Sort of.

"Doesn’t sound very pure to me, brainiac. Or scientific. Besides, you already turned in your thesis.”

"It’s not meant to be scientific. It’s more like a case study. The sociologist in me wants to test a theory.” Sort of.

"Testing a theory is going undercover as a Kardashian wannabe?” He looked pretty skeptical.

Leah shrugged, but didn’t respond. If she were totally honest with her brother, she’d have to admit that part of her just wanted to see how the other half lived. Being a bookish, lackluster nerd had begun to grow old after twenty-eight years.

"What’s the title of your masterpiece again?” Steve asked.

"‘An Ad Hoc Inquiry into the Contribution of Physical Presentation Toward Vocational Advancement Opportunities.’”

"Uh-huh. Translate that into English, please?”

Leah threw back her shoulders and faced the mirror once again. "It translates as ‘Who gets the job? The stacked, brainless man-pleaser or the flat, smart, wisecracker?’”

"One of these days Gramps and I will be able to convince you that you’re beautiful just as you are.”

"Sure you will.”

"Thorndike will not hire the bimbo.”

"Oh, I can almost guarantee he’ll hire the bimbo.”

"What’s the bet?” Steve asked, waggling his Slap-on Nails. "My company hires only the best. Thorndike’s not going to go for the incompetent-but-gorgeous routine.”

"I’m betting he will,” Leah said, always ready to kick her brother’s butt in any wager. "Name the stakes.”

"Hmmm. All the laundry for one month?”

"Not a chance. I’m not paying to wash your panty hose.”

"Like I’d enjoy footing the bill for laundering your sweats. You don’t exactly come home in pristine condition after your morning torture.”

She could argue, but she’d lose. "Okay, how about this? If I win, you go out on a date with the woman of my choosing.”

"A blind date? I don’t think so.”

"You need to get a life, bro.”

"Yeah, and you’re just painting the town red. When was the last time you had a date?”

Leah was pretty sure it had still been the twentieth century, but enough about her. It was about time for Steve to find a good woman. He’d been working too hard for too long. Especially those times when he’d had to work in heels. "I win, I set you up.”

"I win, I set you up. In fact, I know just the guy. He’s doing some contract work for me at the office.”

Leah hesitated only for a second, because she was fairly damn sure she’d win. She stuck out her hand. "Deal.”

While Steve fidgeted with his high-tech hosiery, Leah admired her bust in the mirror once more; strangely feeling like it changed her in some intrinsic way. "This ‘being-built’ thing feels really different.”

Steve frowned, looking like he wanted to argue her decision once again. But then he just shrugged his shoulders—which in Leah’s opinion were way too wide for anyone to believe he was actually a woman. But he’d been fooling people for years now. People apparently saw what they wanted to see. And since Stephanie was supposed to be Steve’s twin, people figured the resemblance made sense. At least, that was the only explanation Leah could figure.

"When do your interviews start?” he asked.

"The party girl’s is Monday morning. I’m Monday afternoon.”

Steve laughed. "Oh, jeez. Gramps is probably going to have a seizure. It’s bad enough that his only grandson dresses in drag.”

"He already knows about the plan,” Leah said. "He’s trying to be real twenty-first-century about it. Besides, he understands it’s just an experiment.”

"He’s probably been watching The View—oh, damn,” Steve said, going stiff.

Leah followed his gaze to spot a gorgeous brunette entering the store. "Someone you know?”

"Unfortunately. That’s the crook, Kate Bloom.”

"Kate Bloom? The president of Apple Blossom Cosmetics, Kate Bloom?”

"The one and only,” Steve said, his voice coming out in a low growl that would have passersby wondering what kind of steroids Stephanie Smith was ingesting.

"Uh-oh.” Leah had heard plenty about Kate Bloom in the last few years. None of it flattering. "The competition.”

"And the reason I just spent a fortune on a state-of-the-art security system. And why I had a setback paying off the loan. But soon this is all going to be over.”

"A fortune on a security system. Why in the world?”

Another feral growl escaped his frowning lips. "That woman and Apple Blossom Cosmetics are just one too-small step behind us whenever we introduce new products.”

Leah stared at her brother, whom she loved more than anyone else in the world, save Gramps. "You’re not saying... she’s stealing from you?” Indignation burrowed right up from her tummy to her throat. No one, and she meant no one,messed with the only family she had left.

"Damn straight,” he said. "And I’m going to prove it, and then Kate Bloom and Apple Blossom are going down hard. I almost relish the image of her wearing very unflattering prison stripes.”

Steve glanced away and began to pretend great interest in a display of tiger-print thongs. But in the mirror, Leah could watch the woman behind her, and she knew the second Ms. Bloom spotted him. The stunning lady hesitated a moment, then came strolling over with a grim smile on her face. "Well, hello, Stephanie.”

With a nasty smile of his own, Steve turned. "Kate.”

"I’d never have pictured you shopping at this store,” the head of Apple Blossom Cosmetics said, her blue eyes shooting sparks. "Do they sell padded bodyshapers here or something?”


"Something to soften up your narrow, tight ass?”


"Taking time off from corporate espionage to get yourself some more edible underwear?” Steve countered. He’d taken lessons to get his deep voice to a believable level of feminine charm, but to me he still sounded like a frog imitating a parakeet.

"Ma’am,” the sales associate said, unaware she was walking right into a minefield.

With a barely audible groan, Steve turned to the young girl. "Yes?”

She held up the glowing red item. "Here’s your ‘Pump You Up.’”

"HOLY SHIT! Check out this babe!”

Mark Colson, founder and owner of Colson Complete Security Systems, Inc., glanced up from one of the five computer monitors in the small but efficient security office. "Hmm?”

"Check this out! This babe is hot.”

Mark wasn’t real thrilled that Just Peachy’s new chief of security was into such unprofessional observations about employees and visitors to his company’s offices. After all, the man couldn’t be effective if he got sidetracked this easily. Not only that, Mark had recommended him for the job. But Mark would address the man’s inappropriate comments in a moment. Right now he was just a little curious. In the few weeks they’d been testing the new security system, Bernie Mills had never had an outburst like this one before.

Mark stood and strolled over to the third monitor, the one Bernie was transfixed to. It was labeled HUMAN RESOURCES.

Mark immediately understood why Bernie’s tongue was hanging out. Standing beside Harold Thorndike’s massive desk was Harold himself and a blonde with beamers out to there plus enough visible cleavage to hide a Fed Ex delivery.

Wowza! He sucked in a breath and silently paid homage to Mother Nature.

She was the epitome of his type of woman—unless that killer body also contained a sneaky mind, selfish ambitions, and a steel heart. Been there, got hurt by that.

His initial reaction was that she was fairly tall, but he revised that conclusion when Thorndike waved her into a seat and she crossed those luscious legs. That was when he noticed the bright-red stilettos that probably added at least four inches to her stature. Between that and the highly teased hair, her height was deceptive. Without them she probably rang in at around five foot six.

She was slender. Almost too slender for that chest of hers. She wore a fitted red skirt and jacket—the kind of jacket that had only one button on it, at her waist. He sure hoped, for her sake, that the threads on that button were the extra-strength variety. Or maybe not.

The outfit—suit or not—was less than demure. Men would have a hard time keeping their minds on their laptops around this woman.

Mark reached down and pressed a couple of keys, pumping up the volume a few notches. "Go monitor lab two, Bernie.”

Bernie made a barely audible smirking sound, which Mark ignored.

He sat down and typed commands into the keyboard, signaling the video camera hidden in the office to zoom in on the woman. He could argue that his FBI training taught him to catalog her features, but he wasn’t into lying to himself as a rule. Any red-blooded man would take a minute to admire this woman. Below that teased blond look, she had a pretty, sloped, unlined forehead, brilliant eyes, and a pert nose. Her skin was soft looking, and her neck was long and smooth, just the right kind for a man to bury his face in.

While she waited in silence, probably while Thorndike reviewed her resume, he watched her fidget just a little, tugging on the bottom of her suit jacket, her foot jiggling nervously. That was when he noticed one of the sexiest things about her—and that was saying plenty, considering the rest of the package—a delicate gold bracelet encircling her left ankle.

Visions of chains encircling her hands and ankles danced through his head. He was so distracted by the enticing images that it took him a while to realize the interview had commenced, and he must have missed the opening pleasantries.

"It would seem, Ms. Devereaux, that you’ve worked in many, many places.”

"Oh, yes, indeed,” the woman said in a breathy voice that would have made Marilyn Monroe proud. "In my youth, mostly. I was trying to find my calling.”

Mark snorted. "Couldn’t hold down a job,” he interpreted.

"Waitress. Cosmetics salesperson, personal fitness trainer...” There was a pause right then, and Mark could just imagine the same thought flitting through Thorndike’s mind that was crossing his own: How in the hell could she jump up and down without her breasts smacking her in the face?

". . . boat expo model—that one came close to being my career choice.”

"I see,” Thorndike said in a voice that sounded strangely strangled. "What changed your mind?”

"Too many captains were looking for a first mate.”

"What about the three months you spent doing flower delivery?”

"Fun, but not much room to grow.”

"Ms. Devereaux, you do realize that this job involves a lot of routine labor, typing and filing.”

"Typing? Filing? Is that what administrative assistants do?”

This was the point where Mark, were he doing the interviewing, would force her to recite the alphabet.

"And answering the phones.”

"I can do that!” she said with a breathy, triumphant squeal.

"Well, that’s good. But the problem I’m having is that, although your resume certainly shows you to have a varied background in the workforce, none of these jobs actually trained you for this position.”

"I learn fast!” The woman leaned forward, probably giving Thorndike an eyeful. "And I really need this job, Mr. Thorndike. I’d be so grateful if you gave me a chance. You won’t regret it.”

"Well—” At that moment, Mr. Thorndike’s phone buzzed. He picked it up and spoke softly into the receiver while Blondie squirmed some more in her chair.

Mark was an expert, in his opinion, of judging people in stressful situations. After interrogating hundreds of crooks during his years with the FBI, he knew "uncomfortable” from "guilty” in a heartbeat.

This wasn’t just a woman squirming because she’d squeezed herself into an outfit that was at least one size too small. This wasn’t a woman who was worried about the impression she was making. This was a woman who had deception written all over that pretty little forehead of hers.

His senses began to tingle, and it wasn’t from the face and body that wouldn’t quit filling his field of vision.

Thorndike dropped the phone into its cradle and stood. "If you’ll excuse me a moment, I have a matter to clear up. It won’t take more than a minute.”

"Take your time, sugar.”

Mark rolled his eyes. The woman had just committed interview suicide. But once Thorndike stopped staring at her as if she’d beamed down from Mars, he cleared his throat, fidgeted with his tie, then marched out of the room.

Mark hit a few more buttons, and the camera zoomed in closer. If he wasn’t mistaken, the woman had a bead of sweat running down her temple. She swiped it away.

At the same time, she uncrossed her legs and kept adjusting the back of her skirt. Or what was underneath it.

Suddenly she began muttering under her breath. Too low. He adjusted the volume even more.

". . . damn idiot probably couldn’t remember the color of my hair, much less my eyes,” she grumbled, scratching at the moisture on her temple. While she scratched, that blond hair moved,and he spied a flash of brown underneath, before she shook her head and adjusted her blond locks with a grimace.

The woman was wearing a wig.

She stood up and wiggled around, fussing with her butt area. "If Steve ever tries to talk me into thongs again, I’m killing him.”

Her voice, he noticed, had lost the breathy quality. It was now almost gravelly with anger and disgust.

And intelligent sentence structure.

And she was wearing a thong. That information didn’t exactly diverge from the persona she’d taken on, but he filed the information away just the same, merely because he could think about it later in greater detail.

"Whoever invented this equipment deserves to hang in it,” she said, then began adjusting her cleavage.

Adjusting her cleavage?

Mark’s eyes almost bugged out as her cleavage actually moved. Not in normal ways, either. Up, down, left, right—she was itching her way through a mound of what was supposed to be her, and it wasn’t shifting naturally.

She steered the mounds by sticking a pen down her jacket while muttering swear words, she was spitting them out one letter at a time. And they were pretty complicated ones, too. Then at the end of each one, she kept saying, "Sorry, Gramps, I’ll make dinner tonight.”

He stared in fascination as she kept digging into her cleavage with a pen, until a sudden szzzzzt sounded loudly through the speakers, and he watched one of her breasts deflate.

The woman wiped away tears, all the while scrambling through her purse. She began stuffing her deflated boob with tissues, mints, anything she could stick in there. She even used her cell phone to pad herself.

God, he wished he had her phone number.

She looked lumpy as hell when she was finished. And boy, she was finished. No way would this woman land the job. But he was landing her the moment she left the building.

His job was to ferret out the possible corporate spies Stephanie Smith felt certain were either already working here, or were trying to infiltrate the company. She was a prime candidate. A total impersonator—"imbreastinator?”—using cleavage to get the job done. How cheap and crude. What man could resist? She’d make the perfect spy.

With that in mind, Mark went out to meet Just Peachy’s very first suspect.


Chapter Two

LEAH WOBBLED out the front doors of Just Peachy’s offices, muttering under her breath while trying to juggle a briefcase, her purse, and her stuffed breast. She was deep in thought, wondering whether Mr. Thorndike had noticed her slightly changed appearance when he’d returned, mulling over how to satisfyingly murder her brother, staring down at her shoes, willing them to keep her in a vertical position until she could make it to her car and kick them off, when she ran straight into a rock-hard wall. And to her horror, that wall set off the cell phone stuffed in her right breast, causing it to beep three times.

With an oomph she glanced up sharply, only to realize the wall was a chest, and her nose reached right to the center of it. The chest was clad in a denim shirt, which smelled faintly of a combination of sandalwood and—strangely enough—plaster. An odd but not unpleasant mixture.

"Excuse me,” a deep, almost amused voice said, and Leah risked raising her chin slowly up, up, up, while she took in a male throat, nice chin, full lips tilted in something of a smile, a nose that was somewhat thin, but with a small bump at the bridge, and then into a pair of the darkest blue eyes she’d ever seen. Almost black, really.

And those eyes were crinkled in a smile that matched his lips, but with a glint of something a bit cynical that said he’d seen a lot in his thirty-five or so years. Not all of it Mister Rogers happy.

To avoid the eyes, she completed the trip up to his hair. Wavy brown with streaks of gold that bespoke time in the sun.

It suddenly occurred to Leah that her perusal had taken more than a couple of seconds, and she was still plastered to his torso, and if she wasn’t careful, her second pump was going to burst from the pressure.

She scrambled backward about as gracefully as a warthog, and mumbled, "I’m sorry,” as she averted her gaze, looking at anything but the man in front of her. She felt her cheeks go fire-truck red. Her breast had beeped at him.

And he’d obviously noticed, as his gaze honed right down on it. "Funny, I’ve never heard of a woman arming her body with a security alarm before.”

"That was... ummm, my cell phone. I didn’t have any room left in my purse,” she said, coming up with about the lamest excuse ever uttered, but quick retorts had never been her strong suit.

He was either a real gentleman or a moron, because he just nodded. "Women have so much to carry around with them. I don’t know how you do it.”

She voted for moron. Although a really cute one. If she were into dense stud muffins, she might stick around. "Well, if you’ll excuse me,” she said, and moved to walk around him, concentrating on not toppling over on the damn shoes that were killing her.

"Wait!” he said, stepping right back in front of her again. "I haven’t seen you here before. Do you work here?”

That was when Leah realized she’d forgotten to keep up the bimbo pretense in the embarrassment of the moment, and if she did miraculously land this job, he might be one of her colleagues. Although, considering his attire, she felt sure he must be in maintenance or something. No tie, denim shirt, and—after a quick glance downward— jeans said he probably wasn’t on the board of directors.

She tried to think fast. She managed to meet his eyes again, and batted her lashes at him. "I’m sorry about being abrupt,” she said, letting her voice go a teensy bit breathier so he didn’t notice the drastic change right off the bat. Then again, if he bought the beeping breast bit... "I was just so mortified at not watching where I was going.” Oh, great, Leah, fun-loving airheads wouldn’t know how to pronounce mortified, much less know what it means. You suck at this subterfuge business.

To her surprise, he thrust out his hand. "Mark Colson.”

She hesitated before taking it. Then she held hers out, palm side down, and said, "Charmed, I’m sure,” which managed not only to make her look like a Southern-belle hussy, but to make her purse slide down her wrist and drop to the brick walkway. It splattered open and everything inside bounced out, which included her wallet, brush, lipstick, face powder, and about a dozen condoms.

Now she had bleating breasts and a horny purse.

This was worse than anything she could possibly imagine.

Once again, the idiot didn’t seem to see anything wrong with this picture—including the fact that she could have stashed about twelve cell phones in the damn purse, which would negate her earlier assertion that she had no room in her Air Force One-size purse for anything else.

Leah wasn’t certain why she’d packed the purse full of condoms, except that Gramps had told her it would set the mood, according to Sandra’s Sex Tips, a talk show he had embraced fully... philosophically, of course. According to Sandra, a woman should carry things that would make her feel naughty. Since Leah hadn’t felt naughty in all of her twenty-eight years, she decided to take the advice to heart. So on the way to the interview she’d stopped at a drugstore and stocked up on king-size condoms.

Leah was considering suing Sandra at the moment.

Since all of those condoms were causing a shiny glare, lying on the sidewalk in the early-afternoon northern Virginia sun, she had the feeling even this dumb-as-a-dandelion handsome guy couldn’t fail to notice them.

"Come prepared, do you?” he asked.

Once again, her spontaneity skills eluded her. "My gramps says they’re good for a flat tire,” she said. Inside she cringed, waiting for the cynical laughter, witty comeback, smart-aleck remark. She got none of those.

Instead he asked, "Do you blow them up yourself?” And he really sounded sincere, and still dumb as a stump.

Breathing a sigh of relief that his stellar body didn’t house a stellar brain to match, she gave him her best smile. She could handle this conversation. "I have good lungs.”

It was a bad comeback. His eyes immediately reverted to her awfully unbalanced and sad-looking chest. She held her breath and tried to appear busty. When she was pretty certain she wouldn’t be able to pull that off, she bent down to shovel her stuff back in her purse.

Another mistake. He bent to help her, which put his face right at a level with her one-sided cleavage. To the hunk’s credit, he didn’t ogle, just helped her gather her spilled belongings.

"You didn’t answer me,” he reminded her. "Do you work here?”

"Well, I’m hoping to,” Leah said. "I just finished an interview. But I don’t think I did very well.” She chanced a glance at his face while she slowly stood. "How about you?”

"You could say that.” He rose, too. "You still haven’t told me your name.”

Leah had to take a second to remember it. "I’m Candi Devereaux,” she said, letting her voice get just a bit more breathy. "That’s Candi with an i, not a y.”

"Hello, Candi with an i,” he said, and that slight grin was back. "It was very nice—and interesting—to run into you, so to speak.”

"Thanks for your help,” she said, wanting desperately to get away and get her own breasts back.

"Wait!” the clod said, taking her arm in a grip that wasn’t punishing, but also was unrelenting. "I notice you’re not wearing a wedding ring.”

"Aren’t you Mr. Observant,” she snapped, then nearly bit her tongue in half. Sticking to the script was proving difficult. A good actress she was not. And having foreign objects stuck down her bra was making her testy.

Once again, her tone slipped right over his very tall head. He smiled. "Does that mean you’d be free to have dinner with me?”

"Pardon me?”

"Dinner. You know, meat, starch, vegetables.”

"I don’t think so. But thank you so much for asking.”

"Why not?”

"I’m... busy.”

"How do you know? I haven’t picked a night.”

"I’m busy most nights.”

"If you don’t want to go out with me, just say so. I won’t be offended.”

"I don’t want to go out with you.”

"Why not?”

Trying desperately to reprise her role as a decorative idiot, Leah started batting her lashes at him, but recognized her mistake when her blue-tinted contact lenses began slipping on her eyeballs. "Look, you seem nice. I’m just not interested.”

"Are you involved with someone else?”

"No,” she blurted before she thought it through. Damn honesty.

"Then why not have a free meal on me?”

This time she did think about it. Why not? Her social life was all but nonexistent, and the guy was definitely a looker. Dumb as a moon rock, but very easy on the eyes. And even though her thesis didn’t include the effect of appearances in social situations, it would still be an interesting study. What would it be like to go out in public playing the part of a siren?

She shot him what she hoped passed for a coy smile. "How do I know you’re not a convict or anything?”

He laughed, a low, rumbly sound that drummed in her belly. "Clean as a whistle, I swear. I’m just a poor working Joe who thinks you’re pretty.”

No one had ever told her she was pretty. Well, except for Gramps and her brother, but they were kind of required to say so. It sort of bit that she had to be disguised to finally receive that compliment, but it felt good, too. "Just dinner?”

"We could also take in a movie if you like. I’ll even let you pick, and won’t complain if you choose a chick flick.”

"Actually, I prefer suspense thrillers. Preferably with muscle-bound men.”

She realized her mistake instantly because he shot her a pleased smile. She wouldn’t be surprised if he started flexing his biceps at her. The big clod.

"Perfect,” he said, sliding sunglasses onto his nose. "When?”

"Next year?”

He grinned, which really annoyed her, because he was apparently too dumb to be insulted. "How about tomorrow night?”

"A Tuesday night? I don’t know. I’ve got to work on my”—just in time, she stopped herself from saying bra—"resume.”

He quirked a brow. "I thought you said you’d already interviewed.”

"I’m not sure I did real well today,” she said. Now there was an understatement. She wouldn’t hire herself to clean litter boxes.

"I’m sure you did just fine,” the man assured her. He whipped up a killer smile. "Then how about Friday?”

This was about the dumbest idea she could possibly entertain. But there was that niggling desire to see how the public received Candi— with an i—Devereaux. "Well, I suppose I wouldn’t mind getting a free meal. Where?” she asked, figuring that, the way he was dressed, wherever he took her would have a drive-through window.

Then she mentally gave herself a slap. Not only was that an unkind thought, it was pretty judgmental. Gramps would be so disappointed.

"I’ll surprise you,” he said with a wink.

Leah had never liked men who winked. To her, it had always signaled shorthand for a person who knew he was full of bull. But somehow his wink was cute.

"That would be kind of difficult,” she replied, "if I don’t know where I’m going or how to dress.”

"I’ll pick you up.”

Not in this lifetime. "I’m sorry,” she said between gritted teeth. She had a terrible feeling this was going to be a disaster. "But I have a personal rule: I take my own car on first dates.”

His eyes narrowed for just a minute, then cleared, and the twinkle reappeared. He nodded. "That’s very smart of you.”

She couldn’t tell if his tongue was poking his cheek or not, but played it up, fluttering her hand. "Thank you. I don’t hear that very often.”

His lips twitched. "Okay, how about Clyde’s at Tyson’s Corner?”

Okay, Clyde’s wasn’t a fast-food joint by any stretch. It also wasn’t the swankiest restaurant. Actually, it was almost a perfect choice. And considering it was known for being something of a pickup joint, it would give her lots of opportunity to observe reactions from men and women alike. "What time?”


"It’s a date, Mr.... I forgot your name.”

"Colson. Mark Colson.”

She tapped her chest. "Candi.”

"With an i. I remember.”


Leah rolled her eyes as she closed the door to her grandfather’s Great Falls home. Either Gramps was emulating his hero, Emeril Legasse, or he was watching a knock-’em-down novelty sports show. Gramps had two passions: cooking and offbeat ESPN competition. Give him a Lumberjack Logrolling Marathon and he was happy.

Leah loved Gramps more than just about anyone, save Steve. But the man who had basically raised her and her brother had some really strange ideas of what constituted entertainment.

She shucked her torturous shoes by the door and walked the mile-long trek into the kitchen. "Mmmm, smells good. What are we having?” she asked, stretching up on tiptoe to kiss his cheek.

"Thai chicken.”

"Mmmm,” she said again, beelining straight for the antacid tabs that prevented heartburn before it began. Somehow she hadn’t inherited Gramps’s iron stomach.

Leah glanced at the TV. A ping pong player was attempting to knock balls through the center of donuts from a dozen yards away. "Why are you watching that, Gramps?”

"What, you’d prefer I watch soaps?”

"I’d prefer PBS. You could learn to paint or knit or be British.”

Gramps—Edward James Smith to the IRS—grunted. "Why don’t you just kill me now?”

Leah grinned and hugged him. "How was your day?”

"Is your chest... lopsided?”

"I unpumped.”

"I don’t want to know,” Gramps said, turning back to the oven.

"It’s all Steve’s fault,” she said.

Gramps ignored that, as always. He’d gotten used to Steve and Leah pointing fingers at each other whenever they found themselves in hot water. And he had the annoying habit of shrugging his shoulders and looking disappointed until the guilty one confessed.

Which was what he was doing now. And Leah folded like a badly built house of cards. "Okay, so I popped a boob balloon by mistake. But Steve’s the one who told me to buy the contraption.”

"Sally used to say that you have to love the ‘real you’ first,” Gramps opined.

"It’s just an experiment, Gramps.” Leah spied a huge thingamabob she’d never seen before resting on the counter. "What the heck is that?” she asked to change the subject. "It looks like a spaceship.”

"Food dehydrator. I’m making jerky, dried bananas, and dried tomatoes all at once. Sherry the Shining Chef swears by it. She’s on PVS. The ‘Price Value Savings Show.’”

"Uh-huh. Well, I think I’ll go change.”

"Into yourself? Good. I like you better as you.”

"Gramps, this disguise is just for fun.” Leah shook her head and tried to figure out how to explain her compulsion. Gramps was such a forward-thinking man. Or he tried to be. But when he didn’t like something, you knew about it—he bought weirdo kitchen tools and went into mad-scientist mode, concocting things. And that contraption in the corner of the kitchen—making jerky, for crying out loud—was proof she’d probably upset him big-time.

"It’s an experiment, Gramps. I swear. A social case study.” And I just want to feel wild for a while.

"I don’t like it; you’re beautiful just as you are,” he said, stirring the sauce in the pan furiously.

Which was why she didn’t think she’d mention just yet that a complete stranger had asked her padded-bra self out on a date. Worse, that she’d accepted. Gramps would be on the phone in a nanosecond ordering a solar-powered blender or something.

She hugged him once more. "I’ve got to go change. Leah has an interview this afternoon.”

"You didn’t say how today’s interview went.”

"I’m a very bad sexpot.”

"You’re a very pretty woman, but more important, smart.”

"You’re a very sweet liar about the pretty part.”

"Lord, no. You look so much like your mother. She was a beauty, all right.”

Although her real-life memories of her mother were fairly sketchy, Gramps kept tons of pictures of his only son and daughter-in-law all over the house. And though Leah didn’t think she came close to the ethereal beauty that had been her mother, Gramp’s compliments always warmed her. "Can I do anything for you, Gramps?”

"You can tell me why you and your brother still share a house with me. Him the head of company and you on the verge of getting your PhD. Admit it. I’m acting funny and you’re getting ready to put me in a Happy Acres home, right? You’re here because you think I need watching out for.”

Leah’s heart flopped. "Are you sick of having us here?”

"No, I love having you here. But I don’t want you two hanging out here just to keep an old man company.”

"We’ve got money, but we prefer to save it. We live here because the rent’s cheap.”

"I always taught you to be practical.”

"Yes, you did.” She gave him a teasing nudge with her shoulder. "That’s the only reason we’ve stayed so long.”

Leah and Steve had made a decision a long time ago to stay with Gramps as long as possible. They were the only family he had left, and he was all they had left. The house was huge, so it wasn’t like they were stepping over each other. But they were there if he needed them, and they had always needed him.

Not to mention, Gramps loved the home. It was where he had lived with Nanna for forty-five years, and where he’d raised his only son, and then his grandchildren. It held too many memories to move. At the same time, it was becoming too big of a burden for him to keep up on his own, even as vital as he was at almost eighty-five.

As long as they could, they were going to make certain he was able to stay in his home. But heaven forbid he ever thought they stayed for any reason other than love. He’d kick them out in a heartbeat.

"I adore you,” Leah said, hugging him.

"You should. I’m the only sane person in this house,” he said as he lifted the lid on his dehydrator to check on his jerky.



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