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Zelda touched her fingertips to the short curls, reminding herself, and not for the first time that day, that her hair was now as short as a boy’s. Or rather one of Jakub Pawel’s regular customers. The first sight of her new hair cut had shocked her a little, so it was probably no surprise that Mr. Grumpy was staring at her as if she’d grown an extra head.
But even so, did he have to look quite so ruggedly handsome in his creased shirt and suit trousers with that fierce scowl on his face?
Apparently Ty Sullivan’s demeanor hadn’t improved a bit from last night. If anything it had gotten worse. And all her efforts at schmoozing him by spending the better part of six hours sifting through, clearing out and/or filing away his precious stuff had not had the desired effect.
She took a deep breath to contain the urge to tell him where he could sling his crappy attitude. She needed him on her side if she was going to get him to agree to let her camp out here for the next three days.
She let her hand drop from her hair. Refusing to be intimidated by the glare of disapproval as she placed the sheets in the cupboard by the bathroom door. One thing she was not going to be was defensive. “I had it cut by Mr. Pawel at the barber’s shop on Knapp St. I think he did an excellent job.”
Ty dumped his briefcase on one of the chairs next to the small table at the end of the space and then slung his jacket across the back. She curbed the urge to tell him to put his briefcase away and hang the jacket up in the bedroom wardrobe—where it belonged, next to the rest of his newly dry-cleaned suits. She would not allow his slovenly habits to turn her into a neat freak… Or at least not until she’d schmoozed him into a weekend invitation.
“It looks…” His gaze roamed over her hair, and a wash of heat hit her cheeks, which was bizarre for two reasons. She never blushed. And she had absolutely no interest whatsoever in what Ty Sullivan thought of her new hairdo.
“Cute,” he said with more surprise than enthusiasm. “But how do you plan to earn your living now? Who’s gonna shell out millions of bucks for an ad campaign for shampoo featuring a model with no hair?”
The critical comment sliced under her ribs like a knife. She let the quick stab of temper mask the idiotic hurt. What did she care what this self-righteous do-gooder thought of her career?
“Are you always such a charmer when you return from work in the evenings?”
No wonder he didn’t have a girlfriend, or a significant other. What woman would want to spend time living in this dump with a grump like him? Not that she’d looked through his wardrobe for any signs of female cohabitants, particularly. She just happened to have gleaned that information in passing while gathering up his junk and doing his laundry.
“You want charming don’t get me up at two a.m. in the morning.” He glanced round the barge. “And don’t mess with my stuff without my permission.”
“If by your stuff you mean the decades-old takeout box from Mr. Po’s Chinese Restaurant or the very interesting substance I found bonded to the underside of your sink, I’d have to wonder what exactly is so precious about it.”
“By my stuff, I mean the court reports and case files, which I need at my fingertips. Where the hell are they?”
“Oh, you mean the paperwork that was doubling as a mountain range of crap the size of the Andes?” She flicked a regal hand towards the filing cabinet tucked under his desk which had been empty until she’d gotten to work. “They’re filed in alphabetical order. You ought to be able to figure out how to find them,” she continued, unable to resist the droll stare. “Assuming you know how to alphabetize.” She slapped her hands together. “Now, why don’t you wash up so we can have some supper. I found the fabulous Russian Market on Cherry Hill and made us some dinner that didn’t come out of a box.”
“Did I ask you to make me supper?” he countered.
The surly statement, delivered with the gruff murmur of righteous indignation was too much for a saint. And Zelda Madison had never been a saint.
The ungrateful son of a bitch. She’d worked her butt off today to clean up this crap heap, sort his laundry, file his precious paperwork, and even prepare a nutritious and delicious meal. And this was all the thanks she got?
She glanced at the plate of potato salad, nestled among the array of cordon bleu entrees she’d spent over an hour slaving over in his newly scrubbed kitchen. “I see. Are you telling me you’re the only man in America who doesn’t like potato salad?”
“That’s not the damn point and you know it?”
“Fine.” She scooped up a generous handful of potatoes, homemade mayonnaise, capers, and pimentos. “If you don’t want to eat it, how about you try wearing it.” And let it fly.
It smacked into his forehead with a gluey plop and imbedded itself into his hair.
He cursed as he dug the cement-like mixture off his brow before it could drip down his face. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
The laugh popped out without warning. He looked so furious, with his dark hair sticking up in an indignant tuft like a single devil’s horn. “Oh, I don’t know,” she managed to get out ’round a slightly hysterical giggle. “Maybe it’s that I’ve spent the whole day trying to make this place nice for you and you’ve got about as much gratitude as a spoilt two-year-old.”
“Yeah?” The furious glare narrowed, going squinty round the edges, but then to her astonishment his sensual lips hitched up on one side in a challenging grin that made his misty green eyes sparkle with mischief. The sight took her breath away.
Good lord, Ty Sullivan was even more of a lady-killer when he bothered to smile.
Unfortunately she was too busy admiring the lopsided half-smile to clock the sly tilt to his lips, until one of her Caribbean crab patties splatted against her breastbone and dropped into her cleavage.
He sucked the crab paste off his thumb, the crooked smile now a fully blown smirk. “Damn, this tastes pretty good.” His grinning gaze wandered pointedly down to her boobs. “Looks great on you, too. You should wear it more often.”
“You bloody, buggering bastard.”
“Now, now, Miss Priss,” he said, raising his hands as she armed herself by dipping a Ukranian dumpling in cream cheese. “You don’t want to go messing up all your hard work,” he added, chuckling at her aggrieved expression.
“Like you care.” She hurled the dumpling, aiming for the spot on the center of his forehead again.
Unfortunately he ducked this time, and caught it in his fist. Then lobbed it straight back at her. She dodged to the side but cream cheese skidded off her eyebrow—proving he had a much better throwing arm than his empty laundry basket suggested.
It was a declaration of all-out war.
Suddenly patties and pastries were bulleting across the room, salami slices hurtling like discuses. Cream cheese and homemade guacamole exploded against the kitchen counter accompanied by the gasps and shouts and grunts of battle. She got in a couple of direct hits, but he was sneaky and fast and a much better shot. She redoubled her efforts until the ammunition ran out. He made his move while she was stooping to scoop some tabouleh off the floor. Charging her, he trapped her throwing arm, wrapping strong arms around her body. They crashed onto the bunk together in a hail of herbs and spices, his hoot of triumph echoing around the barge with the peals of her laughter.
Manacling her wrists above her head, he settled on top of her. “Gotcha, you hellcat.”
Tears had formed in his eyes; he’d been laughing so hard, giving the misty green added sparkle.
“Look what you’ve done to my minidress,” she cried, trying for outrage, but failing miserably thanks to the breathless giggles bubbling out of lips coated with… She swiped her tongue across her bottom lip … Mmm, Hungarian hummus.
His gaze locked on her mouth, the husky chuckles cutting off. The searing appraisal trailed down to her cleavage napalming everything in its path. Her breasts heaved, swollen and heavy, pinned down by the hard contours of his chest.
“Uh-huh?” he murmured. “Funny how your minidress looks mighty familiar.”
She squirmed, but he had her caught fast. Not just by the weight of his body, but the mesmerizing intensity on that harsh handsome face. The dimple in his cheek looked particularly incongruous for a guy who, until ten minutes ago, she would have sworn walked around with a stick permanently shoved up his butt.
The ragged pants of their breathing added spice to the scent of freshly chopped coriander hanging in the air.
Her nipples puckered into rigid peaks, the lack of a bra suddenly very obvious with the thin cotton of his T-shirt soaked in papaya juice.
“I can’t think why?” she countered, the weight in her abdomen sinking low. She widened her legs, her thighs straddling his hips so the satisfying bulge forming in his trousers could settle against her aching clit.
“Yeah? I’m thinking I should ask for my Fruit of the Loom back.” The comment was gruff and surprising. Who knew Ty Sullivan had a naughty streak?
She rocked her hips, suddenly desperate to feel that heavy length inside her.
She hadn’t had sex in months. Not since a one-night fling with the photographer on her last photo shoot in Rome—which had turned sour when he’d offered her a line of cocaine to complement her afterglow.
“You want it back,” she dared. “You’re going to have to take it back.”
“Don’t think I won’t.”
“All I hear is talk,” she challenged, loving the flare of his nostrils.
Holding her wrists in one hand, he kept his eyes locked on hers as he lifted the hem of the T-shirt. His hand swept up to cup one naked breast. She arched her back, loving the feel of his callused palm as the nipple swelled and hardened.
“Damn, but you’re beautiful,” he said, on an anguished sigh.
She’d been called beautiful before, but never with that rough combination of desire and stunned disbelief. The evidence that he didn’t want to be attracted to her, was like a red rag to a bull.
She tugged her hands from his grip and sank her fingers into his food encrusted hair to draw his mouth down to hers. She licked and nipped against the seam of his lips, until he opened for her. Thrusting her tongue inside, she directed the kiss, until his tongue tangled with hers and a dance of dominance and surrender began. The battle for supremacy became wild and reckless until they broke apart, the pants of their breathing deafening despite the rumbling hum of the conditioning unit.
End of Excerpt