© by Lucy Monroe
Cowboy Contemporary Romance Novella
Electronic Re-Release of a novella originally published in print only Anthology
Samhain Publishing – December 4, 2012
The words reverberated through Bella Jackson’s head as she stepped out onto the catwalk.
“A man could get frostbite touching you. You’re all smoke and no fire, babe. If the world knew what a total fraud you are, you’d never get another modeling job again. Who wants the original ice queen modeling clothes for today’s sensual woman?” Curt’s vitriol echoed around her, drowning out the announcer’s modulated voice, even though the confrontation had taken place miles away and days ago.
She couldn’t forget.
Maybe because Curt had taken his story to the press and her face and body were plastered all over the tabloids with headlines that made her cringe.
Bella Jackson, Ice Queen or Sexpot?
Model Freezes Boyfriend Out of Bed
Lexi’s Creations Cover Model Fraud
Ex-boyfriend Says This Model’s Bed Needs an Electric Blanket to Stay Warm
And the one that had given her mother heart palpitations: Ex-boyfriend Speculates Bella is Gay.
She’d done hundreds of trunk shows in her ten year modeling career, but never had she been so nervous stepping onto a stage.
Had everyone in the audience seen the stories? Were they laughing behind their hands as she modeled clothes that only a woman extremely in touch with her own sexuality would wear?
That woman was not Bella.
She didn’t have hang-ups, no matter what that jerk, Curt had said. It was just that she’d been so career minded since her teens the whole man-woman thing had pretty much passed her by. Not to mention the fact that she wasn’t interested in getting intimate with a man who couldn’t see beyond her body to the woman inside.
She’d had her bad experiences with idiots who thought her bra size was equivalent to her I.Q. and men who wanted a trophy on their arm, not a living, breathing woman in their life, so she’d pretty much stopped dating. Until Curt.
When he’d pressed for sex, she’d been unable to share her secret with him…or her body.
The truth was, she hadn’t wanted to.
His kisses and what he’d wanted to do afterward had left her as cold as he’d accused her of being.
She was a twenty-six year old virgin with a reputation for extravagant sex and a supposed list of lovers the length of the Miami yellow pages. It wasn’t her fault that the press speculated, or that men who hadn’t made it to first base had bragged about their homeruns, but neither had she denied the rumors. Lexi said her reputation was good for the line and Bella had considered it another cost of her career.
Her bad-girl reputation had done its own job keeping her insulated from the type of men she could actually want. The men attracted to the persona she presented to the world were very rarely the type of men she could be honestly attracted to.
Curt had been different, or so she’d thought.
She’d found out too late that the conservative accountant had only wanted the bad girl, not the real Bella. He’d wanted to take a walk on the wild side with her as his tour guide.
The last daywear model was returning up the catwalk when the announcer introduced Lexi’s eveningwear and Bella began her signature glide down the Plexiglas stage, her hands damp and her heart beating too fast.
Subdued lighting made it possible for her to make eye contact with the audience, but that was the last thing she wanted. Still, she couldn’t help subtly scanning the patrons seated in the ultra classy Dallas hotel, looking for signs that the tabloid stories had done their damage.
But this audience seemed just like all the others, their gazes fixed on her shocking white silk dress.
She was halfway down the catwalk when her gaze snagged on a pair of green eyes. The color of new grass, they were set in a face as hard as granite and as sexy as sin.
The look in those eyes caught her as effectively as if the man’s hands had closed over her shoulders and halted her mid-step. She did in fact stop, her body freezing with a blast of sensations totally alien to her. Sensations that belied every one of the nasty headlines.
Her pause lasted only a second, but she felt the first blush she’d had in years crawling hotly up her skin.
The man’s thin lips quirked in a knowing smile.
Obviously aware that he was the cause of her hesitation, his expression reflected a mixture of mocking humor and blatant male approval.
She’d spent years learning to ignore the masculine admiration her body elicited. For her, the perfectly proportioned curves were a tool of her trade, nothing more, but this man’s look went zinging to the very heart of her.
Frissons of awareness skittered along her nerve endings, leaving goose bumps of sensation in unlikely places.
She stopped at the end of the stage, which happened to be right in front of his table while two other models wearing eveningwear came down the catwalk to flank her.
His eyes flared with pleasure as she stood in a mannequin still pose before him and his dark blonde head tilted slightly, as if he was adjusting his angle to look at her better.
An electric current vibrated across the space between them, inexorably connecting them. Unbelievably, her nipples grew hard and her breasts felt tight while her thighs trembled with the effort it took to maintain her pose.
She’d never reacted during a show this way. Not ever.
Only years of practice and discipline made it possible for her to move through her choreographed routine with the other two models. However, no matter which direction she turned, she felt that amazing connection.
It was scary.
Relief mixed with disappointment when the announcer cued her to return up the catwalk. She walked away from the green-eyed man, supremely aware of the almost non-existent nature of the back of her gown.
It dipped to a V that ended right above her bottom, the white silk semi-transparent. She wore minimal undergarments and if he was looking closely enough, he would see the shadow of her cheeks and the outline of her legs beneath the fabric. Shards of excitement speared her inner thighs at the thought.
For the first time in her modeling career, she felt exposed, as if her body was more than a living mannequin used to show off a designer’s creations.
That the dress was in fact showing her off.
She could not help wondering what he thought of an outfit that left so little of her body’s secrets to the imagination.
Jake Barton watched the beautiful brunette retreat up the catwalk with the biggest, most painful hard-on he’d had in years…maybe ever.
It was such an unexpected turn-on that he wanted to howl at the moon. “Damn it, Lise, you didn’t tell me this was going to be a lingerie show.”
“Shh,” his sister hissed from her seat beside him, not turning to look at him. “Haut couture tends to be more revealing. The lingerie comes later.”
“No, I’m not. It’s on the program if you’d bothered to look at it.”
He looked at it now and sure enough, there was a finale of nightwear by Lexi.
He didn’t know how he was going to stand seeing the model who had been introduced as Bella in anything sexier without coming in his pants.
That little lady was a walking work of art. A perfect pocket Venus. She definitely didn’t fit the current trend of boy-thin, Amazon tall models that graced most magazine covers.
The other models in the show for Lexi’s Creations designed especially for petite women were small in stature too, but none of them had this model’s voluptuous curves or the air of sensual promise her pouting lips gave her. Despite those sensual lips, her brown eyes had reflected an unconscious vulnerability that he found every bit as enticing as her sexy body.
For the first time since his sister had talked him into attending a series of trunk shows with her while she researched the professional world of fashion for her latest book, he thought he just might enjoy himself.
The program said the sexy beauty was the official cover model for Lexi Creations, which meant she would no doubt feature in all of the shows. Considering the number of them he’d promised Lise he would attend, he would have ample opportunity to meet Bella. He smiled, the prospect affecting his mood and his libido in a very definite way.
His dick was already making emphatic statements about what it wanted to do when they met and it wasn’t to engage in polite conversation.
For the first time in the hour since the after-show schmoozing began, Bella found herself alone. On a normal night, she would disappear about now, going back to her hotel to enjoy some solitude, but she was hoping to see him, the man with the green eyes and the smile that made her insides shake.
A hand materialized in front of her holding a flute of champagne. “Drink?”
Bella turned and looked up, knowing before she did who the deep drawl would belong to.
Towering above her own petite five feet, four inches, he exuded palpable sexual heat and she felt burned simply standing so close. This man would not need a tour guide for an extended trip on the wild side.
She took the glass of champagne. “Thank you.”
“My pleasure.” He lifted his glass.
She automatically clinked hers against it. “Salud.”
“To new friendships.” The slow Texas drawl went through her like the vibrations from a bass guitar, making her shiver.
His brow rose.
“It’s a little cold.” Not. But no way was she going to admit the real reason for her body’s betraying quiver.
“It feels pretty hot in here to me.” He slipped off his suit jacket and slid it around her shoulders, engulfing her as effectively as if he’d put an overcoat on her. The man was big. “There, now, we’ll both feel better.”
Her usual flirtatious façade abandoned her and she nodded dumbly.
His scent surrounded her, expensive and masculine, making her ultra aware of the intimacy of wearing his jacket.
“Better?” he asked.
“Yes.” What else could she say?
That the way he was looking at her made her much warmer than the extra layer of clothing and she hadn’t been cold to begin with?
She took a gulping sip of the bubbly wine.
His lips twitched. “You must be thirsty.”
“Maybe I should have gotten you a glass of water instead.”
“Actually that wouldn’t be a bad idea.” For more reasons than that she normally stuck to fruit juice, or other equally innocuous beverages at the after show soirees. She had a feeling she needed all her wits about her because this man could turn her brain to mush with a look. “It’s hard to stay hydrated during a trunk show.”
“You look hydrated to me.” His green gaze slid down her body with tactile pleasure and the tone of his voice was enough to make her insides liquefy.
“It’s the clothes,” she said automatically. “Lexi’s Creations always make me look my best.”
He pulled one side of his jacket away from her body to reveal the clothes beneath it and took his time looking them over. “I don’t remember that outfit from the show,” he said finally, releasing his suit coat.
“It’s from the daywear line.”
The short skirt and button up man-style shirt worn loose with a hip chain belt was a lot less revealing than the eveningwear or lingerie she’d modeled during the show, but it was still signature sexy.
“That explains it.”
“You weren’t wearing it.”
“You mean you weren’t watching the other models?”
He shook his head. “There was only one who could hold my interest.”
“The clothes are supposed to hold your interest.”
“They did. When you were wearing them.” He reached out to touch her cheek. “Feels real enough to me.”
“What do you mean?” She’d lost the thread of the conversation somewhere along the way.
“You said it was the clothes and I don’t agree. No outfit, no matter how appealing, can give a woman such a flawless complexion or petal soft skin.”
She couldn’t believe the urge she had to turn her face into his big hand, to inhale his scent from his skin, to taste him.
“The right food and exercise,” she choked out.
His hand dropped away and he smiled. “Maybe, but I think you were probably born with some of it.”
“I guess.” She shrugged, trying for an air of nonchalance she did not begin to feel. “Did you see anything you liked in the show?”
It was a stock question she’d asked on numerous occasions after a show, but this time she felt her cheeks heat with embarrassment at the possible double entendre.
He moved closer, hemming her in until the rest of the patrons and models ceased to exist. “Oh, I’d say so.”
His eyes left no doubt that he wasn’t talking about one of Lexi’s creations, the dark blonde hair on his head cut in a conservative, modern style at odds with the primitive and almost wild cast to his features.
She laughed nervously. “There’s nothing subtle about you, is there?”
“I don’t play games.”
“That’s nice to know.” But she couldn’t say the same.
Her whole approach to the male species was based on a game of pretend that had come crashing down around her ears when Curt walked away from her and sold his story as her ex-boyfriend to the tabloids.
And when this man saw the headlines and heard the new rumors about her, the burning look of passion in his eyes would grow as cold as she was purported to be in bed.