I’m so excited to be part of the launch day of the First Undressing Blog Hop (#), inspired by this great video! It’s happening all week, organized by the fabulous Audra North! Here’s the schedule for the rest of the week, featuring some of my very favorite romance writers!
BTW–did you notice I have a gorgeous new website? It’s designed by the fabulous Amber Shah at Book Beautiful. She does covers too, and she’s great to work with! To celebrate, anyone who hasn’t yet signed up for my new newsletter will be entered in this giant book giveaway. Winners chosen Friday, books mailed Tuesday!
Blog hop rules: strangers meeting and undressing for the first time on camera! A pretty tough set up…I hope you enjoy my attempt
Lisa, Queen of Love
The formally dressed singles filed into the hotel ballroom. Their excess of glam layers and accessories made for a festive atmosphere, but dampened their elegance. Oh well, the party vibe was the important part.
“I still say this will never work.” A grudging smile colored Brad’s words. The crowd was far bigger than they’d expected.
Anxiety squeezed Lisa’s chest so tight her sternum might crack in half.
It had to work!
In college she’d matched six couples who’d wound up happily married, earning herself the nickname Queen of Love. Since then, she’d turned her gift into a career. Or, she’d tried. Brad had funded her matchmaking business twice over. Both times, her dating services had built momentum, landed a few successes, but never quite managed a profit. Brad had gently suggested it was time to throw in the towel.
Instead, she’d devoted herself to studying what attracted young singles in San Francisco–avant garde events, bordering on the absurd. Hell, at this very moment, in the hotel next door the crazy-popular new cunnilingus-as-meditation club met.**
Let a stranger go down on you to find inner peace?
Whatever rocks your little birdie, girls.
Like the stereotypical matchmaker, she’d neglected her love life and had self-rocked her own birdie for months, but she wasn’t willing to go that far. Still, if her potential clients wanted an adventure, she would create one for them. She’d thrown her last funds into one final hurrah—Take off that Black Tie!
The rules were simple. When the music paused, dance partners would remove one item of each other’s clothing. When the tune started again, they could keep moving, or stick together for the next round.
Brad had roped his buddy Sean’s band, The Incidents, into playing. As serious up-and-comers, they’d drawn a big crowd.
“I’m so glad he volunteered.”
“He wanted to meet you.”
Brad had been trying to set them up for years. She’d listened to Sean’s CDs, watched videos on Youtube. “Leave the matchmaking to me,” she’d always said. The edgy musician had magnetic appeal, but guys like that weren’t for keeps. She preferred men like Brad—clean-cut, professional, safe. “When are you going to introduce me to your straight identical twin?” In reply, he’d rolled his eyes.
Across the room, Sean saluted Brad–an odd pair of friends, but true ones. The wiry singer wore no coat, his black tie was askew, and the cuffs of his tight, white tux shirt were rolled up to reveal ropy forearms. His jeans fit his rangy body like an adoring glove. Her mouth went dry–his sexy mockery of “black tie” was hot as hell, and she wasn’t the only one to notice. Droves of girls stared up at him as he tuned his guitar and half-smiled, gazing down with languid eyes.
“I told you he was something.” Brad snickered, as if reading her mind.
Even more so in person—he vibrated with charisma. “So not my type.”
“Mine either, unfortunately, but I still like to look,” he drolled, surveying the crowd. “I can’t believe these buffoons paid fifty dollars each to come in here and strip.”
He was reading their conspicuous use of accessories all wrong.
“They paid to see each other strip, silly. To see how they handle the scene and wear their own skin.” Personally, she preferred coffee for a first date, but these people were in search of a partner, a future, and she desperately wanted to help. It made it easier believe she’d have a future eventually too.
“Hhmph.” Brad raised one brow, looking her over.
A sleek halter–style dress and her grandma’s diamond stud earrings–the lack of accessories made it clear she was the hostess, not a player.
If Brad weren’t gay, she might have thought his intense regard of her cleavage meant he was checking her out. “You’re not planning to join in?”
“I’m on the clock. I need to mingle, make sure the vibe is fun and relaxed. And I’ll be guiding the videographer.”
“Everyone signed waivers at the door. No nudity. Just tasteful shots. We need this to go viral for business to pick up.”
“Indeed we do. Look, time to kick things off.”
It was. She wound around the edge of the crowd and stepped onto the stage.
Guitar slung over his shoulder, Sean watched her cross to him, his gray-green eyes as intense as one would expect of a soon-to-be rock star. She tried not to let it unnerve her, but a surprising twist of desire tightened her core. He probably looked at every woman like that.
God maybe she did need to get tongued into inner peace next door.
He stuck out his hand. “Finally, I meet Lisa, Queen of Love.”
He made it sound exotic, almost erotic. Not like the silly, playful nickname she’d built her brand around. And how would those calloused fingertips feel on her body?
He smirked and tugged his hand. “I’ll be needing this back.” Something odd about his voice caught her attention.
He strummed the guitar and the room went quiet.
“Evenin’, y’all. Time to get this party started.” A layer of long, lilting Irish vowels lived underneath his southern twang. Holy shit. The man had two accents, working together in an alchemy of sex appeal. Why hadn’t Brad warned her about that?
“Our lovely host, Lisa, Queen of Love.”
That time, her nickname in his mouth coiled through her pelvis, a hot, liquid counterpoint to her tension. He stepped back from the mic with a courtly bow. With her whoosh of exhaled breath, the high-stakes night nearly slipped out of her control.
The expectant faces of the crowd reminded her why she was there–last chance to be the Queen of Love. That vise of anxiety squeezed her heart again. She swallowed her nerves and delivered her speech. Everything came out clunky and stilted. As she spelled out the rules of the night, Brad cringed.
Sean, on the other hand, wore an s-shaped grin, like she was the most amusing thing he’d ever seen. He leaned so close to the mic she couldn’t help but look at his mouth.
“Like the pretty lady said, dance.” He strummed his guitar again and began to croon.
Lyrics with a fast, biting punk rhythm, sung in his deep, smooth voice–the unexpected dissonance mesmerized her.
Then her skin grew tight all over. Something was wrong. She looked at the crowd.
The camera guy was panning five hundred frozen bodies, their awkward stares caught, like insects in amber. Even the die hard band groupies stood still. Her stomach plummeted. At the end of the first chorus, Sean brought the song to a screeching halt. There was a collective shuffle.
“Folks. Y’all look like a bunch of grade-schoolers, afraid to spin your first bottle. So me and Lisa are gonna show you how it’s done.”
Sean strode across the stage, long legs in black jeans. He took hold of Lisa’s hand, then gave her a leisurely once over. Damn it if her nipples didn’t pearl.
Into the mic he said, “I don’t suppose it would be fair to snag your dress first?”
The crowd chuckled nervously.
He dropped to his knees and grabbed her ankle, sliding off one high heel then the next. His calloused fingertips shot tingles up her legs. He rose and held up his spoils to a cheer.
In the corner of her eye, the cameraman moved, boxing her into his shot. Oh, God. This was not the plan. But if it would save her business…
“Your turn.” She crossed her arms over her tight breasts. “Let’s have that shirt.”
Sean set the guitar in its stand. She reached for his collar. A hundred tiny buttons joined the pleated plackets. Underneath, his skin radiated heat. She bit her lip and focused on the task.
He took hold of her shaking hands and whispered, “Relax. They need to see you’re into this, that you’ll play along. I’ll help.”
She met his eye and saw kindness there—strangers bound by a mutual friend.
Then those green irises took on a sparkle. “And best to make it look a little sexier.”
Her palms prickled in response and she gulped. “I’ll try.” She pulled his open shirt from his jeans, wanting to touch the dark trail of hair there. No. Too intimate.
She put her hands on his shoulders instead, dragging the sleeves down strong, sinewy biceps, lingering and stepping closer. She smiled up at him, hoping it was gratitude and not lust showing on her face. He grinned back.
Gloriously bare chested, he leaned into the mic, keeping Lisa in his line of sight. “I’ll tell y’all a secret. Couple a years back, I saw a picture of Lisa here on my pal’s fridge. Every time I’m there, I look again, but she’d never agree to meet me. Until tonight, and I’m going to take off her clothes.”
Lisa’s skin burst into flames as the crowd burst into a raucous cheer.
“Pretty Lisa, Queen of Love, this song is for you. And while I sing it,” he pointed both his index fingers at the crowd, “y’all need to find somebody to get naked.” A few fans woo-hood. The energy in the room shifted again, becoming more relaxed. People began to mingle as he sang a soft ballad. She tried to slink off the stage.
Brad blocked her way. “Sweetheart, the success of this evening very likely depends on you letting Sean take your dress off.” He nodded at the camera crew. “Hope you signed your waiver.”
The chorus ended. He leaned into the mic while staring right at her. “Earrings, or dress?”
The crowd roared, “Dress!”
“Yeah?” That time the question was for her alone.
Her cheeks blazed.
“Is this a punishment for not wanting to meet you?” she whispered.
He flinched. “Christ, no. I only wanted to help, when Brad said how much you wanted this.”
They’d never met, and yet he’d done this for her. Her throat tightened so she could only whisper. “Thanks.”
He spun her so she faced the band, which would spare her some embarrassment. It was the most gentlemanly thing anyone had done for her in ages.
“Want to get a coffee sometime?” she blurted.
“Love to.” His grin was something wicked.
She waved at the drummer, who gave her a stoic nod. Sean reached behind her neck and untied her halter, baring her breasts.
“Love to,” he repeated, gazing down at her very hard nipples. “Gents,” he raised his voice, “if you had this view, you’d all sign up for Lisa’s matchmaking services, and wind up broken hearted over her.”
A laugh rumbled behind her.
“Panties?” he asked, one hot word in her ear.
“If it’s any comfort, I’m commando, and likely to be sporting quite a hard-on if you take my trousers. Makes it damn hard to play guitar.”
She laughed. “I think I’ll let you keep them, then. Let’s hope my bare ass is enough to keep the natives from getting restless.”
He circled behind her, shielding her, and unzipped the lower half of her dress, letting it fall to the floor.
Again, the crowd cheered, but she only felt his gaze burning into her. “Even more beautiful than I imagined. Why wouldn’t you ever have a drink with me?”
She glanced over her shoulder, somehow seeing subtle hints of his vulnerability, as if she’d known him for years. “Because I wanted to too much.”
His wicked grin grew wider. “Immediately after this, Lisa, Queen of Love, I’m taking you out for coffee.”
“It will be one A.M.”
“Decaf, then.” And he pecked the peak of her shoulder before stepping aside, and exposing her to five hundred people, who whistled and clapped.
She didn’t care a bit. Averting his eyes, Brad handed her a wadded up tablecloth. Heart aflutter, she wrapped herself in it, and watched Sean sing.