Carly Phillips

Simply Sinful

The first book in the Simply series, 2000


LET HER BE CHARMED! Step inside and be transformed.

Kane McDermott peered through the space between the closed curtains in the brownstone’s window. He got a brief glimpse of chin-length blond hair and a body with enough curves to make a centerfold jealous. It was a cold autumn day but the unexpected jolt of desire kicked in fast, warming him from within.

If he had to wine, dine and proposition her at least he wouldn’t be bored. But he still resented the hell out of this assignment. Coming off a tough case, his superior thought he needed a rest. Captain Reid hadn’t used the words burned out, but Kane heard them in the lectures anyway. He disagreed. Just because a drug bust had gone down wrong didn’t mean he needed R &R. Having grown up on the Boston streets, he knew better than anyone when he was in danger of losing his edge. Now wasn’t it.

He could wish to hell and back the wrong kid hadn’t gotten hit in the crossfire but it wouldn’t change the fact that he had. It wasn’t Kane’s bullet. The kid got taken down by his own brother. Logically, Kane knew it wasn’t his fault, but that didn’t lessen Kane’s sense of guilt. Nor his remorse. Though no one could have anticipated the arrival of the dealer’s little brother, Kane would live with the mother’s screams for the rest of his life. He’d refused time off-he knew it wouldn’t help him forget-so the captain figured Kane might as well pretend he’d taken leave.

Any rookie could verify whether Charmed! was a legitimate etiquette school for men or a front for a prostitution ring. Kane groaned aloud. As far as he was concerned, any guy who needed lessons in dating etiquette was as pathetic as this fluff assignment. What the hell kind of dork needed charm school to make headway with a woman? Especially one that looked like her.

He shook his head. What a waste. Then again, giving lessons to geeks was preferable to any other kind of service she might be performing for her paying customers. Considering she’d worked for her late aunt and uncle when they’d held the reins, she definitely knew the score. Whatever that was.

He might not know her agenda, but he knew his own-and this ridiculous case wasn’t it. He’d pulled serious undercover work with drug dealers and pimps, yet here he was gearing up to make his awkward pitch to Charmed!’s sexy owner. He still had his doubts he could pull off the geek act and had a contingency plan in case he blundered. He wouldn’t know until he got inside.

He placed his hand on the doorknob. The metal was ice-cold from the cool spring air. Was she or wasn’t she? It was time to find out.

KAYLA LUCK threw a disgusted glance at the old heater, which refused to cooperate with reasoning or common sense. Heat was unnecessary in the spring but the cleaning crew seemed to have forgotten. They’d turned the heater up last night and turned the brownstone into a sauna. Kayla had finally gotten the dial to move, but the darn thing continued to pump heat. Between the rising temperature and the effort she’d exerted trying to fix it, she was hot and uncomfortable. Definitely not the way to begin a new class, so she hoped all the men received the cancellation message.

Unable to take the layers sticking to her skin, she peeled off her jacket, leaving herself dressed in a silk shell and trousers. When that didn’t help, she pulled at the light camisole that stuck to her skin. With a frustrated sigh, she glanced upward, at the bi-level unit she’d inherited along with the business.

While her sister Catherine’s share of the inheritance had enabled her to fulfill her dream of going to culinary school, Kayla had put off her own dreams in favor of running the business and bringing in income. The old brownstone was quaint, offering two levels and too many rooms. For years, her aunt had run an old-fashioned service offering ballroom dancing and dating etiquette. There was a time when those kinds of services had been in demand, but the last decade had seen a steady decline in business. Kayla had hoped to guide her aunt and help bring things out of the stone age. Her aunt had remarried last year and brought her new husband into the business. Kayla hadn’t had a chance to broach the newlyweds about business changes. Her aunt and new uncle had died too soon.

Kayla intended to carry on anyway. Men today didn’t need dating lessons but many executives required instruction on how to conduct themselves in social settings and learning foreign customs when entertaining international guests. With her language skills, she could add a modern dimension to an old-fashioned business. Ordering off foreign menus would no longer be a challenge for the American executive or traveler. And thanks to her well-targeted advertising, she’d just begun getting calls from the larger downtown corporations with offices overseas.

A far cry from the old-world charm school Charmed! had once been. Instead of giving class to the heathens as her aunt had been fond of saying, Charmed! would offer a broader, more modern range of services. When she’d inherited the school, the irony wasn’t lost on Kayla. The class bimbo with the classless mother, giving charm lessons. The memories still hurt and gave her an even stronger incentive to upgrade and modernize Charmed! until it no longer resembled its roots.

Much as Kayla had done for herself. She’d grown up on the poor side of town in an otherwise well-to-do area outside of Boston. While the other kids always seemed to sport designer labels and the latest fashions, she and her sister had worn their clothes until they were threadbare. Problem was, Kayla’s figure had developed early and her clothes never fit properly. The girls thought her a joke and the boys figured if she dressed in tight clothes, she wanted to be noticed. By the time she hit high school, there wasn’t a guy who didn’t claim he’d gotten lucky. She’d buried herself in her books and told no one except her sister the truth. No one else would have believed her if she had.

Despite the heat, she shivered at the painful memories, then forced them aside. Those days were behind her and Charmed! wasn’t a joke. It wasn’t a dating school for the awkward man. Not anymore. It was a legitimate business meeting legitimate needs. She wasn’t thrilled with delaying her life, or putting off going back to school to obtain her language degrees. She’d even toyed with the idea of becoming an interpreter, but not at the expense of family. Charmed! was a family business and family was one of the few things Kayla and Catherine held sacred. Antiquated or not, neither she nor her sister had been ready to part with the school. Her aunt’s sudden death two months earlier was too fresh and raw.

She grabbed for her pad and pen. The repairman still hadn’t returned her call and she made a note to nudge him every half hour. She had a head for numbers, and the ability to memorize whole passages of books at a glance, but if she didn’t record the little details in life, nothing got done.

Her projections indicated Charmed! would see a large profit next year and she’d be able to stop renting the mirrored dance room out to exercise classes. She walked back to the storage room. With classes canceled, she could use the free time to begin going through her late aunt and uncle’s books. But first she needed fresh air. She walked into the outer room, intending to open the doors and windows. Without warning, the chimes signaled that an unexpected visitor had entered. She glanced up and nearly tripped midstride.

She’d heard the expression sucker-punched before, but Kayla thought she and her wary heart were immune. Her visitor made her rethink that notion.

From his wing-tip shoes to his tawny and immaculately groomed hair, the man emanated strength and power cloaked in a double-breasted suit. Her breath caught in her chest. She was grateful she had been too hot and uncomfortable to eat because her stomach lurched in an unfamiliar combination of excitement, trepidation and awe. Heat settled over her in a huge wave that had nothing to do with the broken unit in the back.

She’d wanted to cool off? Not even the spring breeze blowing in behind him would cause her blood to chill now. At a professional glance he looked every inch the executive she wanted to target with her new business angle. From a personal standpoint, he set her body tingling with one long glance. “Can I help you?” she asked.

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