Authors: Nicola Marsh
Copyright © Nicola Marsh 2013
Burlesque Bombshell Basics
Sexy on the inside translates to sexy on the outside
Jess Harper was the first to admit, sex made her uncomfortable.
Not the act itself, despite the lackluster efforts by her ex, but the paraphernalia that surrounded her every time she stepped into Burlesque Bombshell, her cousin’s Vegas dance venue.
The nipple tassels and diamante thongs and shiny poles made her feel inadequate. Like all that overt sexiness screamed she was a failure in the boudoir. She wasn’t. It was the dorks she allowed in there that needed lessons: Getting It On 101.
She pushed through a phalanx of fuchsia feather fans and slipped into the main dressing room, only to be confronted by nudity.
“Jeez, put some clothes on,” she said, unable to resist brushing against the vermillion velvet walls as she entered. The plushness of this room never failed to bring out her inner vixen.
“Don’t like the view? You know where the door is.” Zazz, Burlesque Bombshell’s premier dancer, leaned closer to the gilt edged, beveled mirror and puckered up, before slicking vivid crimson across her lips.
“Not a problem. But then who’d plan your gargantuan wedding, huh?” Jess picked up an armful of feather boas and draped them over a mannequin before slouching on a plush peacock blue suede daybed. “Wedding of the century, babe. Your quote, not mine.”
“Whatever.” Zazz batted her eyelash extensions and pouted. “Table arrangements finalized?”
“Yep. Ruby linen tablecloths. Matching chairs tied with black bows. Elongated glass vases filled with ebony crystals and long feathers. Silverware. Black candles. And bling name holders—”
“Whoa. Detail overload.” Zazz held up her hands. “As long as it matches the pics of that swank London Goth wedding you showed me in a bridal mag, I’m happy.”
“Easy to please.” Jess used her hand as a fake notebook and jotted with an imaginary pen. “Not.”
“You’re snooty because I haven’t told you the venue yet.” Zazz sniggered. “Trust me, you’re going to love it.”
Jess didn’t have to love it. In fact, she couldn’t give a flying fig if the venue had rope swings hanging from the roof and chains from the chandeliers. The faster she was done doing this favor for her mom, who’d coerced her into planning this wedding from her sickbed, the faster she could figure out what she’d do with the rest of her life.
One thing Jess knew for sure; it wouldn’t be helping Pam, her flamboyant mom, plan any more crazy weddings.
“And wait ‘til you hear about the food.” Zazz shrugged into an emerald satin kimono embroidered with topaz crystals. “Michelin starred. Exotic. To die for.”
“Good. Faster I know about the cake, faster I can get onto the cake table decorations.”
Zazz cinched the sash at her waist, accentuating her knockout hourglass figure. “The chef should be here shortly so you can sit down together and go over boring deets like which canapés go with which wines.”
“Goody.” Jess clapped her hands in fake excitement. Last thing she felt like doing today was collaborating with some temperamental, egotistical chef. Visiting her mom first thing had been bad enough. “Getting back to the venue. You know I can’t finalize everything ‘til I see the room, get a feel for the layout—”
“Relax. We’re flying you and the chef out to the island end of the week.”
“Island?” Jess’s jaded soul couldn’t help but perk up at the idea of a free trip to some exotic island. “Where?”
“Never heard of it.” Not that Jess cared. Any place with island in the title? She was there with flip-flops on.
Zazz smirked. “That’s because my darling fiancé owns the island. Six star resort and private villas. Totally exclusive. Invitation only.”
Jess clutched her heart in mock shock. “Serious?”
Zazz laughed. “Yeah, who would’ve thought Dorian would be a romantic?”
Nothing the doting groom did would surprise Jess. Dorian Gibbs owned most of Nevada and ruled Vegas but held his coveted bachelorhood as the biggest prize. Until he’d attended a Bombshell soiree, taken one glimpse at Zazz and fallen head over heels.
Jess didn’t believe in clichés but there was something undeniably electric when Dorian and Zazz were in the same room. Pity the odd lightning bolt or two couldn’t strike her. She could do with a good jumpstart. Her love life was on par with her career—down the toilet.
“Dorian would gift you the world on a silver platter if he could.”
“I’m worth it.” Zazz wriggled her fingers into a white satin glove and rolled it up to her elbow, smoothing it before repeating the elegant action on the other arm. “You are too, hun, and you’d know it if you’d ever let me fix you up with one of his friends.”
“I prefer my guy to be in the same decade.”
“Bitch.” Zazz laughed. “Trust me, there’s something to be said for an older man.” She shimmied her hips, complete with a few crude pelvic thrusts. “They have the moves and know how to use them.”
Jess winced. “If that’s an indication of Dorian’s moves, you can keep them.”
“And relish them twice a day.” Zazz propped on the end of her dresser and folded her arms. “Seriously, when’s the last time you had a date?”
Jess opened her mouth to respond and Zazz rushed on, “One that didn’t involve battery operated apparatus.”
“I get out.”
Zazz harrumphed. “Taking your mom to rehab doesn’t count.”
“She needs my help.”
“She’s had a stroke and is taking full advantage of the fact to have you at her beck and call.” Zazz shook her head. “Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate you stepping in to take over as my wedding planner. But Pam’s milking this for all she’s worth.”
Didn’t Jess know it. Sure, she felt sorry for her vibrant mom suffering a stroke that rendered her left side immobilized. And she didn’t begrudge helping her. What she couldn’t stand was the constant interference in her life when she’d escaped Pam’s smothering years earlier.
They may live in Craye Canyon, an hour out of Vegas, but that’s where the similarities between her life and her mom’s ended.
Pam went through boyfriends like coffee filters. She pranced around town in mini skirts and tube tops, had her hair blow-waved daily and cleaned out the town’s cosmetic supply on a regular basis. She planned weddings with panache and style, at odds with her loud, brash self.
Little wonder Jess had chosen an occupation far removed from her mom’s flamboyance. Town librarian was staid, unassuming and quiet. It suited Jess just fine. Until she’d heard rumors the local council considered Craye Canyon Library a dead loss and would downsize soon, so she saved them the trouble and quit, leaving her jobless and directionless.
In a way, planning Zazz’s wedding had given her breathing space to decide where she went from here. One thing Jess knew, she was tired of her boring life. Sick to death of it. Zazz was right. She needed to shake things up a little.
“You need an island fling.” Zazz snapped her fingers, her grin positively evil. “Hot stud. Sun, surf, sex.”
Sounded pretty damn perfect. “And here I was, thinking you were flying me to some island to plan your wedding.”
Zazz waved away her concern. “It’ll happen, I have full confidence in you.”
“The wedding or the sex?”
“Both.” Zazz’s eyes narrowed as she smirked. “How do you like your eggs in the morning?”
“The chef?” Zazz fanned her face. “Unbe-freaking-lievable. Sex on legs.”
“Yeah, right.” Jess rolled her eyes. “Those black and white checkered pants do it for me every time.”
Zazz laughed. “Trust me, once you get a look at this guy, those ugly pants won’t be staying on for long.”
“Chefs aren’t my type.”
The moment the lie tumbled from Jess’s lips, memories long suppressed flashed before her eyes.
An outback holiday in Australia. A cattle station cook. A kiss that defied belief. And a refusal that burned, real bad.
Jack McVeigh graced TV screens the world over these days, a constant reminder of what she’d once wanted and couldn’t have. With that bad boy stubble, murky green eyes and lazy smile, no great surprise he’d won the hearts of viewers glued to his gourmet cooking show with the same ease he’d won hers.
Pity the celebrity chef preferred to break hearts along with eggs.
“Trust me, babe. If this chef can’t get into your panties, no one will.”
Unease rippled down Jess’s spine like a premonition. “Who’s this mystery guy?”
Zazz glanced at her watch. “You’ll see for yourself in five minutes. I asked him to meet us here.”
Jess ignored the persistent tingle that maybe, just maybe, Zazz’s chef could be Jack.
Impossible, considering Jack was based in Sydney and had enough gigs to keep him busy into the next century. Yeah, she Googled him, so what?
Besides, Zazz had said the chef catering the wedding was an old friend of Dorian’s so the guy had to be the same vintage.
She didn’t know what bothered her more: the sliver of disappointment she wouldn’t see Jack face to face after a decade or the inhuman leap of her libido at the thought of a little one-on-one island time with the sexy chef.
“I need to check my final show times with Chantal.” Zazz slipped her dainty feet into a pair of marabou feather mules and tightened the sash on her robe. “I’ll be back in time for our meeting.”
“What’s his name—” Jess called out to Zazz’s retreating back, wishing she had half the hip wiggle the sassy dancer had.
When Jess walked, men didn’t stumble or gawk. She didn’t warrant second glances or come-ons. She achieved exactly what she wanted to—anonymity and serenity, two qualities far removed from her boisterous, cringe-worthy mom.
With a sigh, she stood and wandered around the room, her fingertips stroking the satins and silks, savoring the lush fabrics she could never wear in a million years.
Her fingers snagged on a set of gold spangled pasties complete with sparkly-fringed tassels and she picked them up, held them over her nipples, and grimaced.
So not her.
Shock ripped through the carefully constructed poise Jess had honed to a fine art over the years as her hands fell to her sides.
She’d envisaged her first meeting with Jack over the years. Kinda inevitable, with her brother Reid being his best mate.
In her scenarios, their first meeting after a decade didn’t involve nipple pasties. Or a smoother-than-whisky voice that made her palms sweat, her skin prickle and her inner bombshell want to strip on the spot.
Not quite the scintillating opening gambit she’d imagined. Then again, having this big, bronze Aussie cross the room to stand less than a foot away had thrown her brain into chaos and her body into meltdown.
His fingertip toyed with the nipple tassels hanging limply in her hand and she stiffened.
In the past, she would’ve responded with a blush. But after what he’d done to her? The way he’d humiliated her? Not a chance in hell she’d give him the satisfaction of seeing her cave again.
She held them over her breasts, vindicated when those impossibly green eyes widened, the pupils constricting. “Care to see them on?”
He took a step back. “Don’t play with fire.”
She took a step forward. “Maybe I’m in the mood to get hot?”
He swore. “You and me? Not going to happen.”
“So you’ve said before,” she drawled, giving the tassels a twirl for good measure, reveling in his discomfort as he tore his gaze away from her breasts. “But a decade is a long time.”
“Not frigging long enough,” he muttered, casting a desperate glance at the door.
So she ramped up the tension.
“These?” She waved the tassels in his face, deliberately taunting. “Tip of the iceberg in my new wardrobe. You should see me in the purple suspenders and sheer, crotchless—”
“Enough.” A low, warning growl she had no intention of obeying. “Is this the way you treated your fiancé? Not surprised he bolted.”
Just like that, her bravado faded, replaced by the dogged insecurity that tainted her botched relationship with Max, and fury at Jack for judging her.
“Fuck you.” She eyeballed him, willing away the incriminating tears stinging her eyes.
That’s when she saw the glimmer of victory in his eyes and knew he’d deliberately insulted her to push her away, like he had ten years earlier.
He turned and headed for the door, but not before she heard his murmured, “Babe, you have no idea how much I wish for that.”
Burlesque Bombshell Basics
Fire engine red is the go-to color for any vixen
Jack wanted to punch something. Hard.
He settled for pacing the ridiculously narrow hallway backstage at Burlesque Bombshell.