Angelica and Matthew are victims of un-synchronized mishaps.
Matthew Lockwood hired entertainment for his nephew’s birthday party.
Instead, an Angel showed up, wearing killer heels, carrying a bouquet of balloons and a body that was heavenly—except she had an attitude that was anything but angelic.
Unfortunately for Angel Montgomery—life doesn’t have auto-correct.
“Nan, it’s all fun and games until I look like a hooker.” Angel Montgomery stared at her image from the bedroom mirror. She swung around and faced her grandmother. “It’s too much.” She grabbed a cotton ball and rubbed some of the eye-shadow off her lids.
“It’s not too much and you don’t look like Pretty Julia.”
“You mean Pretty Woman?”
“Yes that one.” Nan Clara picked up the small brush and dipped it into the bright blue eye-shadow. “And you need more of this.” She smeared more shadow over Angel’s eyelids.
Angel closed her eyes so Nan wouldn’t gouge them.
“Ah, this glittery stuff will really help you pull this off.” Nan patted multi-colored sparkles over Angel’s cheekbones and forehead. “Stop fidgeting, love.” She ignored her granddaughter’s impatience and sprinkled silver stars in Angel’s hair.
“Oh, wait. Almost forgot.” Nan went to the adjoining bathroom and came back holding a bottle of perfume.
“Nan, you’re not coming near me with patchouli oil.”
“It’s not patchouli. Now, hold still.” Nan sprayed perfume on Angel’s neck and shoulders then sniffed the air. “Smells good, but you need more.”
“Whoa.” Angel took the bottle away from her and put it on the dresser. “I don’t need to marinate in the stuff.” The lavender scent assaulted Angel’s nostrils¾she smelled like an explosion at an Avon factory. “Forget hooker. I’m a Madame.”
“Twenty-eight is too young to look like a Madame.” Nan laughed. “Now, if you were fifty-something like one of those tigress ladies, maybe.”
“You mean cougars?”
“Well, them too.” Nan handed Angel a tube of bright pink lipstick. “Aren’t you glad my papa sent me to beauty school? My skills came in handy today.”
Angel dotted her lips with the lipstick. “Sure.”
Seeing the enjoyment on her grandmother’s face, Angel bit her tongue, stopped fidgeting and shoved her apprehension aside.
Nan pinched Angel’s cheek. “Don’t forget to shake and wiggle like that actress Donna Moore in that movie Jilly and I watched the other day.”
“It’s Demi Moore.” Silver stars flew in front of Angel’s eyes as she shook her head. “And I’m not performing a striptease.”
Angel grabbed the contract off the dresser, held the paper up and read it over. “I’ve never taken this type of order before. You’re sure you wrote all the details down accurately?”
“I did.” Nan ran a short, purple tinted fingernail along the contract in Angel’s hand. “Like it says right there, it’s a bachelor party.” Her grandmother swiveled her seventy-five-year-old hips. “Just do some bumping and grinding like Demi. Can you rent that DVD for us again?”
“Focus, Nan. Did you explain that I’m not a stripper?” If food and shelter weren’t necessities, she’d have shredded the contract into confetti. But the client had forked over a hefty wad of cash for this stint. “I’m just delivering the party favors and singing one congratulatory song, right?”
“Yes, that’s all you have to do.” Nan continued gyrating and Angel couldn’t help but giggle. “While you’re there, pick yourself up a nice bachelor.”
“It’s only been a few months since your hip replacement,” Angel said. “Be careful with the expensive hardware. Which reminds me. You have a doctor’s appointment Monday afternoon and I’m busy. Do you mind if I ask Mr. Pratt to take you?”
“I don’t mind.” Nan stopped dancing and winked. “Does that mean you have a date on Monday?”
“No, I have an interview for a contract position and it could run late into the afternoon.”
Nan handed Angel the card with the bachelor party address. “But Monday’s Valentine’s Day. You should be spending the day getting all dolled up to be wined and dined, not stuck in a stuffy office with some old coot.”
“Not to worry. I’ll leave the old coots for you.”
“Smarty pants,” Nan said. “No old geezers for me. I like them young, wearing chaps that show off those cute buns. And how about that fireman guy with the suspenders and no shirt on?”
Angel slipped on her heels, using the bed post for support. “I should never have taken you to see Magic Mike.”
“You’re right.” Nan pulled out a few singles from her apron’s pocket. “When we get some extra money, we should hit one of those shows and see the Chippy dancers in person.” She waved the bills in the air, grinning as if she’d won the lottery. “It’ll be fun to slip a few of these down their pants.”
Maybe I should have let her gouge my eyes. “Nan, please, not a good visual.”
“Oh, you,” Nan said, putting the bills back in her pocket. “You’re too serious. You need to go out and enjoy yourself more.” She touched the ends of Angel’s hair. “I have an idea.” She opened the top drawer and pulled out a curling iron. “Sit down so I can curl and tease your hair.”
“Hair is fine.”
“Your hair is pretty, but you need to be more adventurous with it,” Nan said. “It needs a lot more height. You know, like those girls on the Jersey Lake Show.”
“Jersey Shore, Nan.” I seriously need to cancel cable TV. Her movie addiction is bad enough.
“I could style your bangs something like this.” Nan raked her fingers through her own salt and pepper short hair, loaded with gel, making the ends stand up straight.
The last time Nan had experimented with a curling iron she’d singed Angel’s left eyebrow. Angel adored Nan, but not enough to let her wield that weapon near her head again.
Angel had moved in with her widowed grandmother six months ago to help her out financially and upkeep the house her grandparents had lived in most of their lives. More importantly, Angel wanted to live there to nurse Nan back to health after her hip replacement surgery and assist her with some minor health issues.
Nan had been quite the hairdresser slash cosmetician in her day when white eyeliner and bouffant hair was all the rage. Angel had managed to dodge Nan’s fondness for reliving her beauty parlor day’s using Angel as her guinea pig to make her over, until today.
Today she gave in and indulged her grandma. All for the sake of Angel’s small business.
Angel stared in the mirror again. She hardly recognized herself.
I look like a pole dancer. This guy’s check better not bounce.
Nan plugged in the curling iron.
Angel unplugged it and glanced at her watch. “We don’t have time for a new hairstyle.”
“Right.” Nan took the curling iron and put it on the dresser. “You don’t want to be late.” She waved toward the doorway. “Now get going. The handsome young man suggested you arrive after lunch.” Nan’s cheeks took on a rosy hue when she smiled. “Guess you’ll be dessert.”
“Oh, yeah.” Angel patted her behind as she picked up her coat. “There’s always room for Jell-O.”
“Matt, thanks for helping me out today,” Tracy Dixon said to her twin brother as she placed her son’s birthday cake on the dining room table.
Matt flipped another Spiderman paper plate across the table and grinned with satisfaction as it settled perfectly between the plastic fork and spoon. “Anything for my favorite nephew.”
“Not for long.” Tracy smiled and rubbed her pregnant belly. “In about four months you’ll have another favorite nephew.”
“Congrats.” Matt high-fived his sister. “I was going to ask if you found out yet.”
“We just had the ultrasound yesterday and I want to tell Mom and Dad in person, so act surprised when I tell them.”
She placed a package of Spiderman paper napkins on the table. “While we’re on the subject, when are you going to think about getting married so you can make me an aunt?”
“Marriage would take all the spontaneity out of dating.” Matt picked up three paper cups and juggled them, whistling the Spiderman theme song.
Tracy rolled her eyes. “So you had one bad experience.”
Time to pull out his switch-the-subject gun. Matt would even risk listening to her gush about her husband. “Tell me about Jake’s new job. Sucks he had to leave so early this morning. When is he coming back from Texas?”
“We celebrated with birthday muffins at breakfast. He loves his new job and he’s coming back in three days.” She flicked her black hair away from her shoulders. “And quit changing the subject. Not every woman is after your fortune.”
“Did I say they were?” Truth was he hadn’t found someone who challenged him enough to alleviate the boredom he felt after a few dates and someone who enjoyed spontaneity as much as he did.
“Well what’s your issue then?”
“Not having this conversation.”
Tracy planted her hands on her hips. “Nora Bates has plenty of her own money. She’s still single and¾”
“I’m not interested.”
“Did you hire an assistant yet? Because my friend Heidi would be perfect—”
“Again.” He stacked the paper cups on the table. “Not interested in any fix-ups.”
“Paranoid much?” Tracy said. “Heidi’s looking for some office work and if you two happen to hit it off then—”
“I already have three candidates lined up.”
“You could still interview my girlfriend.”
“Thanks for the offer.” He tore the plastic wrap off the napkin package. “But I’ve contracted a temp agency to do the head hunting.”
“How about I invite you and Heidi over for lunch next week?”
“I never take a lunch break,” he said, plopping the pile of napkins on the table.
“Make an exception.”
“No can do, sis.” He bunched up the plastic wrap and tossed it in the garbage bin. “Look at that. Great shot.”
“You’re impossible.” Tracy blew out an audible breath. “Let me set you up just this once—”
The doorbell chimed.
“I’ll get that,” he said, heading toward the hallway. “That’s probably the clown I hired. Can you take the kids outside and keep them there for a few minutes? I want the clown to be a surprise.”
“Fine, but we’re not finished talking about this.” Tracy then called out to the kids who were sitting around the big screen TV after their pizza feast, watching cartoons. She quickly lined them up and followed them outside.
Matt reached the front door and swung it open to greet the…clown?
For a couple of stunned beats he took in the woman’s tall figure wrapped in a short black trench coat, holding a bunch of balloons. He raked his gaze from the crown of her long blonde hair to her bare legs, and the tips of her red, four-inch stilettos.
A clown who wears do-me heels?
Once he rolled his tongue back into his mouth and regained the skill to string a coherent sentence together, he asked, “Angel’s Party Solutions?”
“Hi. Yes. I’m…I’m Angel,” she said with a subtle nervous hitch in her voice. She held up an index card to her face and he noticed her long, bright pink colored nails with gold stars painted on them.
Didn’t clowns wear big white gloves?
“And it’s Caleb’s big day?” she said. “Do I have the guest of honor’s name right?”
“Yup. You do.” He reasoned that the balloon bouquet she clutched with a death grip was a sure sign she was indeed a clown. “I’m Matt. Please, come in.”
He stepped aside as she entered the living room and wondered about the absent red nose and baggy clown pants. Not that he minded. He hadn’t missed the perky nose below her round bedroom blue eyes and her firm, enticing looking calves above those fantasy inducing heels.
Time for a mental head slap as he remembered the reason for her visit. “Caleb’s outside with ten of his buddies.” He mustered up a welcoming grin and tossed it her way. “Can’t wait to see his face when he sees your magic tricks.”
“Tricks?” Panic colored her voice. “What exactly do you mean by that?”
“You know.” He shrugged. “The usual stuff.”
“I’ll sing.” She appeared unsteady on her heels. “I agreed to one song.” Wincing, she wobbled to the right. “I don’t have the contract with me, but that’s what was written on it.”
Looking like she was about to fall over, Matt offered his arm for support. She clung on to him for a few seconds and the hairs on his forearms bristled.
“Sorry,” she said. “I borrowed these shoes and I’m not used to them yet.” She let go of his arm, straightened and took a few steps around the room. “Okay, that’s better. I’m good now. Thanks for your help.”
“No problem,” he said. “Did you want to change into another pair of shoes?” Like appropriate clown shoes?
Her brows knitted together, confusion written on her face. “No, I won’t be here long enough for a costume change.” With one hand, she unbuckled the belt on her coat.
“Okay, then,” he said, walking away to call Tracy and the kids in. “You can go ahead and set up. I’ll be right back—”
“Wait,” she said, halting his steps. “I was told six guests in total. Did you say ten of his friends?”
Matt nodded. “Yup, most of his football team is here.”
“A football team?” There was that panic in her tone again.
“Are you nervous?” he asked.
“Is this your first time?”
“No. I’ve been nervous before.” Her full lips formed the letter ‘O’ as she exhaled a loud sigh. She shoved the index card she’d been holding into her coat pocket. “What’s your sign?”
“What month were you born in?”
“The month you were born in,” she repeated, speaking slower as if he were a two-year-old.
“In May, why?”
“End or beginning of May?”
“The tenth. Again, why?”
“Taurus. The earth in spring. Sounds safe enough.”
Great, he’d hired a 1-900 astrological kook. “So, is this hocos-pocus astrology stuff part of your act? Because I gotta tell you, this bunch won’t get it. I hope you have something more age appropriate to get them excited.”
“Excited?” Her eyes widened. “And just how excited do you expect them to get?”
“As long as they’re having fun and nobody gets hurt, we’ll let them get as riled up as they want.”
“Oh, geeze. I don’t like the sound of that,” she said between bouts of short breaths as if she’d just finished running a marathon. “Is that the best you can come up with?”
Confused as hell, he wasn’t sure how to continue the conversation given her obvious anxiety. He held his hands up in mock surrender. “I’ll stay out of it and let you do your thing, your way. Okay?”
She looked up at the ceiling, tiny beads of sweat glistened on her forehead. “Why did I agree to this?”
“Because I contracted your services for an hour of entertainment.”
He took a step back as her icy glare hit him like a slap.
“Okay, it’s too late to change my mind,” she said. “Listen carefully. I have strict rules. I don’t want any of them touching me. Actually, have them all sitting down back there against the wall.” She pointed to the far side of the room. “I’ll stay by the door.” She shook a finger at him. “And they’d better behave.”
“They’re boys. You know how rowdy and naughty they can be.”
“Exactly my point.” Scowling, she took a few unsteady steps toward him. Serious, bitch-slapping kind of steps. “Just keep them far away from me.”
Perfect. A neurotic clown who smelled like she swam in a sensuous pool of perfume, disliked little boys, and was prone to panic attacks. “Not a problem,” he said. “I’ll keep them under control.”
Why did he sense that his week should have started a lot later, like after his idea of hiring a clown? “Any other requests, Ms. Angel Party Solutions?”
“Yes. I’d appreciate it if you could please shut all the drapes.” She wiped a trembling hand down the side of her coat. “Look, I’m sorry. I’m not usually this snippy or tense, but it’s my first time performing like…well, in this sort of environment.”
“I get it,” he lied.
He didn’t get it at all, but he wasn’t about to drill her about her apparent anxiety, especially since she looked like she was on the brink of a meltdown. Which totally baffled him.
How hard could it be to hand out balloons and make knock-knock jokes to a bunch of kids for an hour?
Maybe she was an introvert?
An introverted clown for hire. Yeah, that makes sense.
“Hey, Ms. Angel,” he said. “Don’t worry about this crowd.” He walked around the house, shutting the drapes. “If it will make you more comfortable, go ahead and throw in the horoscope gig.” He injected a don’t-sweat-it tone into his voice, hoping it would help her relax. “Trust me. This gang is undiscriminating. They’ll enjoy whatever you have planned for them.”
“Okay,” she said, as she placed the balloon bouquet by the sofa and unbuttoned the top button of her coat. “I’m ready. Let’s get this over with.”
He went to the patio door and opened it to let Tracy and the kids inside.
In neck-snapping speed, Matt witnessed his sister drop a bowl of potato chips, watched eleven pint-sized squealing, running linebackers rush the room.
He was speechless as he noticed the clown had peeled off her coat, and stood in the middle of the commotion wearing a neon pink bikini.
Staring at the dazed clown-turned-stripper he found his voice. “What the hell?”
“This is so not funny.” Tracy punched his shoulder. “What were you thinking?” She pulled back the curtain and glanced out the window. “Great. Mom and Dad just drove up.”
Four of the kids dived into the balloon bouquet, untying the string. Balloons were now scattered around the room.
Tracy picked up a stray balloon and thumped him across his back. “I’ll get you for this.”
Balloons? Those weren’t balloons. Upon closer inspection Matt realized what those babies were. He’d used enough of them.
He rushed to Angel. “Who the hell are you?”
“Matt,” Tracy warned, “don’t swear in front of the kids.”
“Where’s the clown I ordered?” Matt asked.
“Nan did it again.” Angel slapped her forehead and paced the length of the living room and then back to him. “This is a kid’s party?”
“What did you think?” he asked. “That I’d hire a stripper for my five-year-old nephew?”
“Of course not. What do you think I am, stupid?”
He snatched the afghan from the sofa and flung it over Angel’s shoulders. “Are you asking me if I think you’re stupid, or did you just call me stupid?”
She pulled the afghan closer to her admirable chest. “You seriously want to have this Q and A right now?”
The kids were hitting each other over the head with the so-called balloons.
Tracy stuck two fingers inside her mouth and whistled, just like Matt had taught her years ago. “Hey, everyone, listen up.” She clapped her hands. “All of you. Go to the dining room and take a seat around the table. Now. Please.”
Two little troopers ignored Tracy’s pleas as one wolfed down the fallen potato chips while the other crushed chip crumbs into his nephew’s hair.
“Oh, brother,” Tracy yelled. “Matt, look at this mess you created.”
Matt clutched Angel’s wrist to hustle her out the back door.
Angel tripped and fell onto the sofa.
His leg caught under the afghan, causing him to land on top of the startled clown-stripper.
He struggled to break free while Angel thrashed her arms and legs.
The strap on one of her stiletto’s hooked into his shoelaces, and the clasp on her bracelet tangled in his shirt button.
The front door opened. “Surprise,” Isabel and David Lockwood bellowed in unison.
Using his arms as leverage Matt heaved himself up, causing him and Angel to tumble to the floor, reversing their missionary position to woman-on-top.
“Matthew Joseph David Lockwood.” It was never a good sign when his mother shouted all his given names. “Why is there a half-naked woman on top of you?”
His father chuckled. “I could’ve used a party like this for my sixtieth.”
“David, stop that,” his mother rebuked. “Let’s help Tracy with the kids.”
Matt sighed. “I thought this only happened in movies.”
“Welcome to my world.” Angel wriggled her bottom. “We’re really stuck here.”
In an effort to stifle her gyrations, he rested his hands on her oh-so-curvy hips.
“Can you please watch where you put your hands?” Angel said.
“That’s rich, a bashful stripper.” A heel dug into his ankle. “Was that on purpose?”
“You’re the smartass,” Angel said. “You figure it out.”
The pain in his ankle wasn’t half as bad as the scene unfolding around him.
Turning his head to the side he took in his sister cursing the day she shared a uterus with him while his parents bickered. Little boys behaving like a herd of baby elephants let loose in a china shop, tipping every bowl filled with goodies upside down.
He glanced up and saw two miniature comedians pulling each other’s fingers and giggling at the outcome.
Straightening his neck, he found himself head on with Angel. His mouth was a mere inch away from her lips. He noticed a white scar on her eyebrow and thought it was sexy, in a kick-ass chick kind of way.
Any hot blooded guy with a pulse would be tempted to plant a kiss on her full lips. However, this hot-blooded guy—emphasis on his blood heading south and in danger of heating to a full boil—was positive that if he attempted something that stupid, she’d probably rip his arm off and use it to beat him to a pulp.
Instead, he tried to charm Angel. “Told you boys could be naughty and rowdy.” She didn’t respond, so he cranked it up and tried for a lopsided grin that usually worked with the sexier gender. “Look at the bright side, Angelface. At least the kids are too busy turning the house upside down to pay any attention to us.” He nodded to the side. “Come on, you have to admit, this is a little funny?”
“Anyone ever tell you that your timing sucks?” she said with her lips pressed together. “You. Need. Help.”
“Can’t argue with you there,” he said. “You can help by not wiggling around so much.”
“Matthew,” his mother shouted. “Get off the floor and help us with the kids.” She covered her grandson’s eyes and shooed him from the room. “Your father is no help at all. He’s too busy laughing at all of this. Whatever this is.”
Angel’s silky hair brushed against his jaw as her lower body pressed against his, up close and personal.
His brain was in danger of shutting down as the pressure in his jeans mounted. Not quite to an uncomfortable level. Yet.
“Hold still,” he pleaded. “Please.”
“I can’t. We’re all tangled up in here.”
“Thank you, Captain Obvious,” he said.
“You’re welcome, Private Sarcasm.”
At least the dirty looks she shot him and the cynicism in her tone helped relieve the pressure on his zipper.
“Oh, my stars,” Angel yelled in his ear, and as if on cue, silver stars literally floated into the air as she swung her head toward the children grabbing the balloons. “Don’t let them do that,” she implored everyone in the room. “They’re busting them. Oh, this is bad.”
Exasperated, Matt ground his molars. “You turned this party into an X-rated affair, and you’re worried about busted condoms?”
Her body jerked up and down as she yanked her wrist and ripped the button off his shirt with her bracelet. “There’s adult prizes in them, you idiot.”
“Stop squirming or you’ll get a prize.”
“I have to stop them.”
She managed to kick her shoes off and jumped up.
During her escape, her knee connected with his boys. Hard.
Not only did he see stars but dots and zigzags as well. Son-of-a-bitch.
She succeeded in busting his jewels as the pain zinged directly through his groin.
Now they’re black and blue. Thanks, Angel-from-Hell.
“Was. That. Necessary?” he asked in a strangled voice.
“Sorry,” she said over her shoulder as she retrieved two floating condoms. “You should’ve laid still while I untangled myself.”
He inhaled deeply, resisting the urge to rub the pain away. Not a great idea to ask for a bag of ice for his sore-as-hell sack in front of his family and a bunch of kids.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Cowboy up. Shake it off.
After a few minutes, he managed to sit up and absorbed the chaos.
A clown-turned-stripper chasing condoms. His father playing pied-piper with seven little guys following him out the patio door, and his mother and sister’s frustrated expressions clearly expressed revenge against him.
The pain in his groin had now dulled to non-swearing status. He grabbed a stray balloon by his side, stood and walked over to Angel. “Nice touch.” He flicked it back and forth. “Ribbed and glow-in-the-dark. Part of your strip act?”
“Look, Chuckles.” Angel bopped him over the head with a condom. “I’m not a stripper. I was hired to sing a song at a bachelor party and—”
“No, Caleb,” Tracy shouted from the other side of the room. “Don’t eat that. Matt, what did your girlfriend put in those balloons?”
Angel darted toward Caleb. “Yikes, the edible underwear.”
Matt caught up with his nephew first and tugged the candy panties out of his small hands, and discreetly handed it over to Angel. He hoisted Caleb on top of his shoulders. “Hey, buddy, great party, huh?” He looked up and winked at his nephew’s wide grin. “Am I still the coolest uncle or what?”
“Yeah, cool.” Caleb rewarded him with a squeal of laughter, pumping his little fist in the air the way Matt had taught him. “You’re the funnest and bestest uncle.”
Once the coast had been semi-cleared of kids, Matt flipped Caleb over and set him down.
“Uncle Matt.” Caleb pointed to Angel. “Is the balloon lady my birthday present?”
“Not this year, buddy.” He ruffled his nephew’s dark hair, dislodging some chip crumbs. “Maybe when you’re twenty-one.”
Caleb scampered toward Tracy. “Uncle Matt’s gonna buy me a balloon girl when I’m old.”
“You have a twisted sense of humor.” Angel pinched Matt’s upper arm. “And you’re not the bestest or funnest.”
“So you’re into pain?” he said. “Where’s the whips and chains?”
Angel loudly clicked her tongue. “Why I never—”
“Keep your frat boy comments to yourself. Do you have to embarrass me like that?”
“My mistake. I’ll go back to letting you do it yourself.”
He couldn’t quite catch what Angel said under her breath as she stomped away from him, and started to clear up some of the busted condoms from the floor.
Tracy bounded past Matt, giving him a dirty look while Caleb and three over-stimulated party guests crunched potato chips, jelly beans and cookies beneath their feet and tracked their way outside.
Matt contemplated reminding Tracy that after they’d shared a womb thirty years ago he let her out into the world first. But a guy could only tap into his sister’s sentiment for so long. Diamond earrings. That should restore some lost brotherly points.
Angel placed a small pile of busted rubbers on one of the end tables. She walked over to him, waved her hand around the room and said, “Why don’t you help out with this mess instead of annoying me?”
He nodded toward the cluttered room. “I’m annoying you?”
“Are you always this aggravating when there’s a mix-up?”
“It’s a gift.” He pointed to Tracy. “Ask my sister. She’ll back me up.”
Angel picked up a stiletto lying on the floor beside her and held the shoe like a loaded Smith and Wesson. “Keep it up.”
He looked passed Angel’s cranky attitude and instead enjoyed her smokin’ body and her nicely shaped balloons.
Under different circumstances, I’d have no problem keeping it up for a long time.
Tracy picked up the other stiletto and held it out. “Here, pound him one for me.”
Angel walked over to his sister, took the shoe from Tracy, shoved her feet into both of them then grabbed her coat off the sofa.
Matt folded his arms across his chest as he witnessed his traitorous twin bonding with the stripper.
“My deepest apologies.” Angel’s tone softened as she spoke to his sister. “My grandmother, I mean, my assistant made a mistake.” Her voice and baby blues may have resembled those of an angel, but there was nothing heavenly when she looked his way. “She confused this party with another one.” She rubbed her forehead. “This is so embarrassing.”
Tracy held her hand up, turned and shot Matt her patented you-are-so-dead expression. “I’m sure it’s not your fault.”
“I’ll deliver your refund in the morning.” Angel slipped her coat on. “Somewhere in Long Island, my friend Nancy is at a bachelor party with my alter ego, Giggles the Clown.”
Tracy gave her a warm smile. “You’re a professional clown?”
“It pays the bills. I’m also a freelance graphic artist and photographer.”
Tracy removed a piece of busted condom out of Angel’s hair. “I’d love to see your work sometime.”
Any minute now Matt expected his sister to invite the stripper to dinner.
Tracy pointed to her belly. “I’d like to discuss a photo-shoot. A surprise for my husband. You know, like those nude pregnancy photographs that seem to be so popular.”
Matt bent his head and covered his eyes, determined to get that image out of his head or he’d never have sex again.
To cleanse his mental pallet, he filled his mind with a visual of a nude Jessica Rabbit shaped Angel.
Now, that’s a good image. Actually, a real good image.
“I haven’t done a photo-shoot like that, but I’ll keep it mind,” Angel said to Tracy, interrupting his momentary fantasy. “Thanks.”
“I better see what the kids are up to out there.” Tracy opened the patio door. “Don’t worry about a refund. My brother can afford this. He enjoyed it as much as the kids did.” Tracy’s grin was loaded with mischief. “Matt, isn’t her bikini the same color as the dress you used to wear?” she asked, heading outside.
He heard his father’s throaty chuckle from the patio. “I forgot about that. Remember the time he wore your mother’s pearls….”
Matt rushed to the door and closed it, smothering the rest of his father’s trek down embarrassing memory lane and Tracy’s high-pitch laughter.
“You have more nerve than a sore tooth.” Angel folded her arms and tapped her foot. “You dared to criticize me?”
“I was six years old.” Matt made a mental note to enlarge copies of Tracy’s bloated-phase pictures. “And it was Tracy’s idea, and…never mind.”
“Matthew?” His mother tapped him on the shoulder. He swung around to see her quizzical expression. “What does one do with these?” She dangled a pair of red velvet handcuffs.
Angel bent her head, rubbing her temples. “Will this day never end?”
“Christmas tree ornaments, Mom.” Matt took the handcuffs from his mother’s grasp. “Go join Dad and Tracy. I’ll call you all in after I’ve cleaned up.”
“Matthew, look at the poor girl. She looks upset, maybe I should talk to her and¾”
He guided his mother to the patio door and nudged her out. “Mom, I’ll handle it.”
He went to the kitchen, opened a cupboard and grabbed a large plastic bag. He walked around and loaded the bag with the remainder of the adult surprises; four black feathers, two small vials of cherry flavored massage oil, and another pair of edible panties.
“Thanks.” Angel accepted the bag he handed her. “I’d like to stay and help you clean this mess, but if you don’t mind I’d rather leave.”
“It’s okay, you go ahead. I’ll take it from here.”
She dug out a set of keys from her coat pocket and walked toward the door. “I will reimburse you and…I sincerely apologize for the mix-up.” Her cheeks reddened under her make-up, making her look sunburned.
“Not necessary,” he said. “You’ve earned it, and the kids had a good time.”
He followed behind her and watched her leave with a strange surge of disappointment. He wanted to call her back and apologize for goading her, but she had already disappeared behind the thicket of bushes aligning the porch. He went to the closet for the broom and dustpan.
Matt swept the floor and stopped as the broom snagged an object under the table. He crouched and retrieved a black and white blindfold with a business card twisted inside it. He unfolded the card out and read the blue embossed lettering; Angel’s Party Solutions. Angelica P. Montgomery.
Where had he heard that name before?
He glanced out the kitchen window and watched Angel drive away in a yellow vintage Beetle. As her taillights disappeared from his view, he wondered who Angelica P. Montgomery really was under the heavy make-up and stripper facade.
Hmmm, why does that name sound familiar?
He dug into his memory bank and the pieces clicked into place. He laughed out loud, dangling the blindfold in front of his eyes.
“Oh, man. This is priceless.”
On Monday afternoon Angel sat in the president’s office of P&M’s Ad Agency, smoothing her dark green skirt for the tenth time. Why did she wear this linen suit? The material wrinkled every time she sat or moved. Even a twitch caused a major crease.
She turned her chair toward the window, leaned over and looked down at the people rushing across Madison Avenue.
This suit is the only good outfit I own. And if I don’t nab this temp assignment, I’ll be selling it to pay the electrical bill.
Lately her life resembled a losing baseball team.
Strike one. Saturday afternoon when Nan mixed up the clown-stripper order. The bachelor party client wasn’t as understanding as the kid’s birthday party client, and she had to empty her meager savings to pay back the bachelor party to make up for the losses.
Strike two. On her way to the job interview, Old Yeller, her untrustworthy Beetle, decided to shed a muffler as she rolled through a stop sign in front of one of New York’s finest, who in turn ticketed her.
Well, at least she still had one more pitch left. Besides her artistic talents, she was confident in her office skills. The temp agency had assured her that she was a top candidate for this assignment, guaranteeing a regular pay check for the next six weeks.
Home run time. Right out of the ballpark.
The sound of the office door opening caught her attention.
Angel swung her chair around and rose, ready to introduce herself to the interviewer.
Instead she had to concentrate on keeping her jaw from dropping, and stood motionless.
She stared into a pair of dark brown eyes.
At the moment, they were filled with recognition. She knew first hand¾had felt first hand¾his tall and lean, hard build.
This man’s jet-black hair and rugged features would make a lesbian question her sexuality.
Damn. Strike three.
She shuffled her feet, as though she could magically dig a hole through the hardwood floor and sink beneath it. She let out a quiet breath and managed a tentative smile.
Ignoring her pounding heart she took a step forward. “Good afternoon.” She stretched her arm out with a lot of trepidation. “My name is Angelica Montgomery. And right now, I’m hoping that over the weekend you hit your head, causing a slight amnesia problem. Not too serious of course. But say, wiping out the last seventy-two hours or so?”
“Matt Lockwood.” He shook her hand. “Nice to meet you. Again.” He walked around his desk and faced her.
The corners of his mouth quirked upward and a dimple appeared on his cheek. She hadn’t noticed the dimple before.
“Ms. Montgomery, knock me off my feet….” His grin reached the twinkle of mischief in his eyes. “I apologize. Wrong choice of words. Impress me with your office skills, and I’ll come down with a case of selective memory.”
If it weren’t for the pile of bills the height of Mount Rushmore awaiting her, she would have made a quick exit.
“Call me Matt. This is a creative and informal environment.”
“Okay…Mr…I mean, Matt.” She was surprised how comfortable it felt saying his name. “And please, call me Angel.” He nodded and she concentrated on keeping her tone confident, professional and even. “I know we literally got off on the wrong foot on Saturday. But I assure you, I’m a hard worker and I’m qualified for this position.”
“Please. Have a seat.” He sat in a black leather chair behind his desk. “I’ve read over your resume, and I’m already impressed.”
Angel sat and smoothed her skirt, which at the moment seemed a tad short. Heat crept into her cheekbones as she noticed his gaze lingering on her legs. She waited to see if he’d stop staring—no it was more like gawking.
Fidgeting she tugged on her skirt, trying to pull it down further. Damn, I think it shrunk. It seems shorter than I remember. “Before we continue with this interview, I’d like to make something very clear if that’s okay?”
He nodded. “Sure.”
She wheeled her chair closer to his desk and leaned forward. “Just because a misunderstanding had me dress like the pet of the month, it doesn’t mean you can…well, you know…pay so much attention to my legs.”
“I apologize if I gave you that impression. But I wasn’t staring at your legs. My partner, Peter Richards, who usually handles human resources, suggested I place a few business cards and magazines in disarray on the coffee table and a few files on the floor. Peter theorized that if the candidate tidied up the mess it would indicate that we have ourselves someone who takes initiative.”
He pointed toward the area behind her. “I was staring at the table and the files on the floor. Your legs happen to be in my direct line of vision.”
Angel swallowed hard and slowly turned her head.
It was true. She had been so preoccupied dwelling over the botched up weekend and her financial woes that she had walked right by and never noticed the disorder in his office.
To give herself some time to get it together she avoided looking at him and instead scanned the contents on his desk. Had she done so earlier, she would have noticed a framed picture of Matt holding his nephew, both wearing baseball caps and making faces. After recognizing him in the picture she could have made a quick getaway.
Too late now.
She sat straighter and acted like she knew the files and mess were there all along.
“I don’t think that shows initiative,” she said with more confidence that she actually had. “It would have been presumptuous and rude of me to come in here and assume I could just start straightening up your office.” Deep down she felt she had probably blown her chances of being hired, so she decided she may as well spout her honest opinion. “Besides, do you want an assistant or maid service?”
“Fair enough.” He steepled his hands on his desk and regarded her for a few moments. “You have a lot of fight inside you, don’t you?”
Yeah, fighting for employment every single day.
She pushed her shoulders back and nodded in agreement. “Yes I do, along with a bundle of nerves right now.” And no contract thanks to my big mouth. Not the first time, but I’m not a defeatist. Something else will open up, somewhere. I come from humble, but strong stock, just another bump in the road that I’ll have to smooth out. Again.
“It’s understandable. Most people are nervous during an interview.” He leaned back in his chair. “My philosophy is that anyone we hire and who chooses to come on board works with us and not for us. I have an open door policy. All opinions and suggestions are appreciated, whether I agree with them or not. We discuss them and figure out what works and what doesn’t, then take it from there.”
She was fairly certain his answer was the employment equivalent of the classic; you’re a nice person. It’s not you, it’s me, kiss-off. Letting her down with a backhanded compliment and a warm, friendly smile. Correction. Drool-worthy smile.
Oh, mercy. Now I’m channeling Nan.
Saturday, I couldn’t get myself off of him fast enough and I wanted to pound him. Today…well, today, I’m a total mess. Screwing up an interview and being a big hypocrite.
She accused him of gawking at her legs, when she had been checking him out like it was her career, parking her gaze on his dazzling smile and tanned forearms.
Geeze, snap out of it.
I have to get out of here. Pretty sure this interview is coming to an end.
She was about to stand up, thank him for his time and race out of his office when a knock on the door interrupted them and the door swung open.
The elderly woman, who had introduced herself as Liz when she showed Angel into the office, poked her head inside. “I’m sorry to have to interrupt you, Matt. Sheldon is on line two. He refuses to leave a message. He’s been calling every five minutes and threatened to come down here and storm your office. I told him you were busy in a meeting, but he demanded to speak to you right away.”
“It’s okay, Liz, I’ll take the call.” He nodded toward Angel as Liz left. “Excuse me.”
Angel got up to leave but Matt motioned for her to stay. “This won’t take long.”
She welcomed the respite and decided not to bolt, since she sensed he wanted to continue the interview. She crossed her fingers and hoped.
If by some miracle she was still in the running for the temp assignment and she was hired, she’d red light the slight attraction she seemed to have toward Matt, even though she still thought it was twisted, given their exchange on Saturday.
Perhaps Nan was right, she’d been too busy with worrying about money and work she’d shoved dating into the back of the closet. It was time to get out and put herself out there. That is, after she secured some work.
Now, back to the important things in life. Like this job I need. If not here, maybe he could recommend another company?
Right. I don’t only need a pay check, I need a reality check. If he thinks I’m not qualified for this position then he probably wouldn’t give me a recommendation.
That thought brought back her anxiety, so she stamped it out of her head and concentrated on mentally rhyming off all the office skills she possessed, and the speech she had prepared, regarding her strengths she would bring to the organization.
All this helped her to recuperate her confidence. Taking a silent deep breath, she was back in control. That’s better.
She sat back and scrutinized Matthew Lockwood.
Gone was the playful banterer of Saturday afternoon as he had now morphed into full professional mode and based on his conversation he was attempting to calm an irate client.
She tried not to eavesdrop, but it was virtually impossible. From the bits of conversation she overhead, she gathered that his client was Harrison Cosmetics. Sheldon Harrison was well known in town to be obsessive about his newest venture, Sinful Perfume.
Obviously, Matt’s firm had secured this account, but from the sounds of it there wasn’t an ad campaign ready to appease the notorious crotchety Harrison.
“I realize today is Valentine’s Day.” Matthew furrowed his brow as he continued talking on the phone. “Your legal department had the contract and agreements delivered late Friday afternoon. Like I told your marketing VP, there’s no way we’d be able to launch a campaign in time for today or have billboards designed and assembled this morning.”
Matt picked up a pen and tapped it against his coffee mug. “Have you reconsidered my initial idea of using a She-Devil type of character for the ad campaign?”
Angel’s creative juices flowed through her mind faster than the bus in the movie Speed as she picked up her briefcase and rifled through the papers.
She took out her Angel’s Party Solutions flyer which depicted an impish angel holding balloons in one hand. She unzipped the side of her briefcase and took out two markers; red and black.
Rapidly, she shaded out the image of the balloons with the black marker and drew a picture of a bottle of perfume in the angel’s other hand. She scribbled Sinful Perfume on the bottle.
She then used the red marker and wrote a caption on top of the angel’s head in big, bold letters.
Satisfied with her creation, she held up the paper in Matthew’s view and was rewarded with a wide grin that had tingles zigzagging their way down from the pit of her tummy to her happy valley.
Willing the euphoric sensation to disappear. Again. She momentarily visualized Nan gyrating next to Magic Mike.
That worked to eliminate all tingles.
She returned to paying attention to Matt’s conversation with Mr. Harrison.
“Sheldon,” Matt said, his tone filled with cool confidence. “I guarantee you’re going to love what my new assistant has just proposed for the campaign.” He paused and gave Angel a thumb’s up. “Correction. What my newly hired graphic artist created.”
Matt picked up the paper and stared at it. “Forget the She-Devil idea. I’ve got an angel holding a bottle of Sinful Perfume with the caption, Tempted by an Angel.”
She was hired for the temp assistant job?
Wait. Matt said graphic artist.
Yes. A creative assignment. Finally, work that I’m passionate about.
Angel tamped down the inclination to jump up, dance, and sing, then decided that may eliminate his temporary amnesia. Instead, she relaxed as she waited for Matt to finish the phone call. And from the sounds of it, Matthew Lockwood hit a home run with her fastball pitch.
Matt hung up, rose, walked around his desk, and stood in front of her. “I apologize. I got ahead of myself regarding the graphic artist position.”
Her elation busted as quickly as the condom bouquet she had delivered to his sister’s party. “I understand,” she said. “The temp agency told me the interview was for a short term administrative assistant not—”
“That’s not what I meant.” Smiling, his dimple resurfaced and so did her damn tingles. “I should have offered you the position before assuming you’d want to work here full time.”
“Your assumption this time is accurate,” she said, standing up. “Did you say full time?”
“With benefits,” he said. “The other good news is that you won’t be working directly with me, but I’m sure we’ll work on certain projects together from time to time.”
“Yes, that is good news.”
He lifted his brows. “You’re so good for my ego.”
“Oh, no, that’s not…” She let out a nervous giggle and composed herself. “The good news is that it’s a full time job.”
He held his hand out and she shook it with a lot of enthusiasm this time.
Pure employment joy massaged all her tension away.
“Welcome to the P&M team,” he said.
“Thank you. I’d like to make a suggestion if I may?”
“Like I said, I have an open door policy.”
“How about you develop some of that amnesia again and forget what I said about hiring a maid and other things I may have said all in the name of nervous energy?”
Matt nodded. “How about we discuss this amnesia problem I keep having over lunch next week?”
His aura was positive and bright. She felt his sincerity and warmth, right down to her toes.
“Yes, I’d like that.” She truly meant it.
He held up the flyer she had designed. “This was genius.”
“Thank you, I have a lot more where that came from.”
“I have a feeling you’re going to do well in this business.”
“Nan always said that I have a mind for business and a body for sin.” The minute the words were out she wanted to take them back and chew them hard. “I can’t believe I just said that. You see my grandmother is a movie buff and she tends to take dialogue from movies and…well, never mind.”
She knew she should feel more embarrassed but she didn’t. She actually wanted to burst out laughing at the stunned look on his face.
And that’s exactly what she did. She burst out laughing.
Matt threw his head back and joined her. “Now I’m tempted by an Angel.”
The beginning of something special.