Available December 2012

Christmas scandal is comin’ to town…

He’d better watch out.
Because she’s not at all shy.
She’s looking for a bad boy
And he’s just the guy!

She’s making a list
Because her life needs some spice
And he’s gonna show her
How being naughty is
nice…

It’s almost Christmas, and fashion-obsessive librarian Jade Carson is stuck. Stuck with her family, stuck in the town of Diablo Glen and stuck in her lousy life. Thensuper hot bad-boy detective Diego Salvador roars into town, looking for a criminal known as “the panty thief.”And Jade decides—right then and there—that the only panties he’ll be touching are hers….

He’s on her list…and she’s checking him out!

ISBN: 978-0-373-79730-1 ¦  0373797303

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Chapter Two

“What do you think of a sheer peekaboo red nighty with white fur trim paired with over-the-knee patent boots?”

Cringing, Jade Carson shook her head so hard she almost dumped a whole spoonful of red sugar on cookie Santa’s jolly face.

“I think those are three things that should never go together, Beryl,” Jade told her younger sister decisively.  “It’s like mixing beer, chocolate truffles and mashed potatoes.  They’re all fine on their own, but together they’re every kind of wrong.”

“Ew,” Ruby agreed.

“What’s wrong with beer and mashed potatoes?  I mean, I wouldn’t have the truffle at the same time, but maybe afterwards for dessert?”

“Are you sure we’re related?” Jade asked her younger sister, shifting her focus from lining the chocolate jimmies around Santa’s boots to peer at Beryl.

A silly question.

Nobody peeking through the greenery-festooned garden window could take them as anything but siblings.  Any of the Carson sisters could have graced the top of the Christmas tree, with their flaxen hair, wide green eyes and dimples.  But when it came to personalities, they were as different as their hairstyles.

Ruby, the oldest of the three, was labeled the smart sister.  A CPA, her hair was as practical as she was.  A sleek pageboy long enough to be pulled back for exercise or tax season, both of which she claimed kept her in prime shape.

Beryl, the youngest, was deemed the sweet sister by the good people of Diablo Glen.  Her blonde curls waved to her shoulder blades.  The romantic look, combined with her soft heart and slightly ditzy personality, gave her a fragile air.

The creative sister, there was nothing practical or fragile about Jade.  Her hair was long, edgy and razor straight with low swept bangs sassy enough to counteract the dimples.  Her style was more rock star than small town, and she often said that her attitude was her best accessory.

“You are the one with the degree in fashion,” Ruby pointed out, just this side of snickering.  “Why don’t you explain to her why the style doesn’t work.”

That was the thing about fashion, though.  It was all subjective.  What made one person feel fabulous would make another cringe, and yet another feel like they were dressed in an alien costume.  And though most people would cry foul over tennis shoes, a tank top and a tuxedo together, she’d seen it pulled off with panache.  Fashion always depended on the person, and whether they had the attitude to pull the look off or not.

“Maybe I’m just a prude when it comes to my sisters,” Jade muttered, shrugging away her odd discomfort.  She, herself, didn’t know why the idea of Beryl dressing as slutty Santa for her fiancé was so cringe-worthy.  So there was no way she could explain it to her sisters.

“Right,” Ruby agreed as she slid the spatula under a chocolate reindeer to transfer it from the baking sheet to the cooling rack.  “Except you were the one who threw my lingerie themed bridal shower four years ago.  And you helped me get ready for my wedding night, remember?”

“Didn’t Jade buy you that black satin merry-widow with red lace trim?” Beryl asked.

“She did.  She also showed me how to adjust it so my boobs looked their perky best,” Ruby acknowledged.  She wiggled her brows at Jade and tossed a melting chocolate chip into her mouth before adding, “Ross appreciated your artistry, by the way.  Anytime you want to work your magic again, feel free.”

Jade grinned.

“That is just so sweet,” Beryl said with a happy sigh, licking peppermint frosting off her knuckle before rinsing the bowl in the wide country sink.  “Four years married, and you and Ross are still a googly over each other.”

“Googly and giddy,” Jade agreed, just as thrilled as Beryl over that fact.  She loved seeing that happy ever after was actually possible.

The sisters had lost their dad five years ago.  Their mother, who was diagnosed soon afterward with Multiple Sclerosis, had taken it really hard.  As they did with everything, the girls had found a way to share the care of their mother while keeping her life as normal as possible.  As Opal’s MS progressed, Ruby had taken on her mother’s finances and responsibility for the general upkeep of everything.  Beryl chose a local college so she could live at home, always there to help with mom’s needs.  And Jade, after her dreams of turning her fashion degree into an awesome, exciting career in a big city went kaput, had moved back to Diablo Glen and taken a job at the library where Opal was head librarian.

“That’s what I’ll have with Neal,” Beryl predicted.  “Years and years of googliness.”

Jade’s smile dimmed.  She didn’t know why.  Instead of commenting, she dropped her gaze to the tray of sugar cookies, as if messing up the decorations meant the end of Christmas as they knew it.  There was nothing wrong with Neal.  Maybe he was a little boring, and not quite the type Jade would have picked for her flighty sister.  But he was a nice enough guy who earned a decent living and most of all, he treated Beryl like a princess.

A princess he planned to make his queen in the New Year, and haul off to a castle of her own.

Beryl, like Ruby, would be married.  Off living her own life.  And like Ruby, who’d moved to Santa Clara for better job opportunities, Beryl would likely be fleeing the Diablo Glen nest, too.  Neal was already talking about where he wanted to go.  Leaving Jade trapped in this small town, with the full responsibility for their mother’s care falling on her shoulders.

And on top of it all, Beryl would be getting regular sex.

Which was probably the part Jade was most jealous of.

And didn’t that make her quite the ultra bitch.  Horny ultra bitch, she corrected.  A sad, sad combination.

“You need googliness too, Jade.  But you’re so picky,” Beryl decided, her voice muffled because she had her head inside the refrigerator.

Jade frowned.  Was that any better than horny ultra bitch?  Instead of denying it, she made a humming sound that could be agreement.  Or Jingle Bells.

“Oh, I know,” Beryl exclaimed excitedly.  The younger woman bumped the fridge door shut with her hip, then set the batch of cream cheese cookie dough on the counter for the next round of treats and gave an excited clap of her hands.  “I’ll have Neal set you up with someone.  He’s got a huge family, with people always in and out of their house.  He has a whole slew of cousins visiting for the holidays, even.  I’m sure he can find a great date for you.  What do you think?  Maybe we can double this weekend?”

“God, no!”  Shock and horror sped through Jade’s blood at equal speed.  A blind date, set up by her little sister’s boyfriend?  Why not just force her to parade through town, naked except for ugly discount store shoes?  That sounded a little more fun and much less humiliating.

“Why not?  It’d be fun.”

“I’m not interested in dating.  And if I were, I definitely wouldn’t need my little sister’s boyfriend finding me a pity date.”

“Fiancé, not boyfriend,” Beryl corrected, smiling softly as she tilted her hand from side to side so the diamond glinted.  “And you should be interested in dating.  It’s been four years since that jerk, Eric, ran off to join the circus.  You’ve hardly dated, and when you did, nobody lasted more than a month.  C’mon, Jade.  Give it a chance.”

Join the circus was her sisters’ disdainful dismissal of Jade’s fiancé ditching her at the altar to follow his dream of being a big city attorney.  She knew he figured he’d done her a favor by not making her choose between him and her responsibility to her family.  So she tried not to be bitter.

But being a good sister, and hey—a girl’s got the right to be a little bitter about losing her wedding night—she never bothered to correct their nasty comments about Eric.  Why ruin the fun?

“Don’t nag, Berry,” Ruby chided as she arranged the last of three dozen chocolate peppermint sandwiches in a decorated tin for the bake sale.  “If Jade wanted to date, she would.”

“Well she’s got to want sex,” Beryl argued, giving Jade an arch look of inquiry.  Unable to deny that she didn’t hate this long, dry spell, Jade just shrugged.  “Aha.  See!  So unless you’re planning to call Horny-for-Hire, you have to do some dating to get to the sex.”

“Horny-for-Hire?” Jade asked, laughing too hard to be offended.  Besides, Beryl was right.  She was a big fan of sex and seriously missed the opportunity to enjoy it on a regular basis.  It just wasn’t worth going through the dating drama to get it, though.

“You know what I mean.”

“I know that you’re a sweetie who wants everyone to have what you do,” Jade said, truly appreciating that her sisters cared enough to want her as happy as they were.  “But it’s not that simple.  Nor is it something I have the time—or the inclination—to deal with right now.”

“Aren’t you the one who’s always saying that it’s the everyday choices that count most?  Or that there’s no time like the present to get off your ass and fix your life?  Or, you know whatever those other feel-good sayings are that you’re always quoting from those empowerment classes you teach?”

“You’re paraphrasing the message just a little, there,” Jade grimaced.  Still, Beryl was right.  That was pretty much the message Jade included in all her presentations.

The classes had started out as a simple Dress for Career Success talk for teenagers that she’d offered at the library.  Somehow mid-talk, she’d sort of drifted from making an impression through clothes to why every woman deserved to pursue her dream career.  Since Jade was currently working in a library—where, let’s face it, fashion was closer to a word in the dictionary than an actual trend—she’d felt a bit like a fraud.  But the kids—and many of the parents—had loved the presentation.  So much so that the following month, she’d been asked to tweak the presentation for the Ladies Club.

A year and a half later, Jade still felt like a fraud, but her workshop repertoire had expanded to include fashion and career empowerment, but also Embracing Sexuality, The Art Of Saying No, and Lingerie for All Ages.  Not too bad for a woman who wasn’t living her dream career or getting any regular nookie.

Still, it was enough to make her want to dig into the bowl of chocolate chips for a little comfort.

“Isn’t being empowered about creating a life that makes you happy?” Beryl prompted.  “And for that, you need a man, of course.”

Shocked, Jade dropped the chocolate morsels back in the bowl and stared.  She couldn’t have heard that right.

“Of course?” Ruby repeated, so offended, her voice hit five different decibels.  “Nobody needs a man to make them happy.”

“They do if they want sex,” Beryl countered with a gloating smile only a sheltered and slightly spoiled twenty-two year old could pull off.

Ruby and Jade exchanged eye rolls, but neither was willing to delve into the ins and outs of self-pleasuring during their baking marathon.  But Jade made a mental note to add a Sexing Solo workshop to her spring workshop offerings.

“Part of being empowered is being able to say no,” she pointed out gently instead.  “It’s also empowering to accept someone else’s decision with grace.”

Beryl’s lower lip poked out for a second as visions of fun double dates burst in her head.  Then, in her usual cheerful fashion, she shrugged it off.  “Fine.  If you don’t want to date, that’s your call.  So, where’s the cookie press?”

Used to Beryl’s verbal one-eighties and non sequiturs, they all scanned the kitchen.  The three large green and red bins they’d hauled in that morning to start preparing for the Carson Holiday Open House were stacked against one wall.  Held every year on the twenty-third, it was a little over two weeks away.  Just enough time to make and bake every delicious holiday treat in mom’s cookbook, Jade sighed.

“We’re missing one bin,” Ruby realized.  “It’s probably still in the garage.”

“I’ll get it.”

Jade waited until the kitchen door shut behind Beryl before shaking her head.

“A blind date,” she breathed in dismay.  “Seriously?”

“The mind boggles at the horror,” Ruby agreed.  Then she gave Jade a long, considering looks.  “She’s right, though.  You do need a date.  Just not a blind one.”

“I don’t think so.  In the first place, I have no interest in dating.  In the second, even if I did have an interest, one of the joys of small towns is that there is nobody here to date.  The men are all too young, too old, too married or just too icky.”

“Not all of them,” Ruby objected.  “There are one or two nice, single guys within your optimal age dating range.”

“Optimal age dating range?” Jade repeated with a laugh.

“You know what I mean.”

Sliding the tray of decorated cookies toward her sister and accepting a new one of raw shapes, Jade sighed.  “Sure.  Charlie Lake is home for the holidays and asked me out last week.  Mark Dinson is managing the bank now and he’s invited me to dinner a few times.”

“But…?”

“But while they might be within the optimal dating age range, and non-icky, they just don’t do it for me.”  Jade gave a discontent shrug.

“You’re not still holding onto—”

“No!” Jade interrupted, knowing exactly where her sister was going.  “I’m not hung up on Eric.  I’m not letting his leaving me at the altar affect my trust in the opposite sex.  And believe me, the sex with him wasn’t so great that it ruined me against orgasms for life.”

“How long’s it been since you got lucky?” Ruby asked, not looking convinced, but obviously not wanting to argue.

Her last block of resistance crumbling, Jade scooped up a handful of mini milk chocolate chips and tossed a few in her mouth.

“It’s been awhile,” she acknowledged, figuring that sounded better than admitting it’d been eighteen months, long enough to make her feel almost virginal.  “But what are the options in Diablo Glen?  I mean, it’s not like I can just go up to one of these guys who live here and say ‘Hey, I’m not really attracted to you, you don’t melt my panties, and I don’t want a future together.  But d’you suppose you could scratch an itch for me’ now can I?”

Coming over to sit at the table with Jade, Ruby pushed the sleeves of her red sweater up before carefully counting out twelve chocolate chips for herself.

“You know, most of the guys around here would probably go for that just fine.”

“Which brings us back to icky,” Jade pointed out.

Yet another reason to wish she lived in a big city.  The anonymity offered so many sexual possibilities.  Not that she was looking to turn her life into a series of one night stands.  But a chance to scratch an itch, a few delicious orgasms here and there, and the freedom of not having to see the guy again unless she actually wanted to?

That dream appealed to her almost as much as the dream of a career as a fashion stylist.  Ever since she’d been old enough to dress her Barbies, she’d loved creating looks, putting together outfits and developing signature styles.  By eight, she’d even taken her Ann doll from raggedy to bohemian with just a little tie-dye and tiny pair of faux leather boots.

“Speaking of icky,” Ruby said, finishing off her measly dozen morsels and getting to her feet as the timer dinged.  “Did you hear the latest in the Panty Thief Caper?”

Jade wrinkled her nose.  “There’s nothing caper-ish about a creep who sneaks into women’s bedrooms and steals their undies.”

“Men, too,” Ruby said, setting a tray of cookies on the cooling rack and putting another in the oven.  “I heard Old Ben Zimmerman was having a fit.  He won’t say what was stolen, but he’s still screaming up a storm.”

“He’s going to scream louder when his unmentionables end up paraded through town.  This creep left the latest pair of panties hanging from the top of the cart corral at the grocery store this morning, along with a note that said No Peeking.”

“What do you think it’s all about?”

“It’s a nuisance.”  Jade shrugged.

“That’s it?  A nuisance?  Don’t you worry, living alone like you do?  How do you know your panties are safe?”

“Oh, please,” Jade dismissed with a laugh.  “Just a few minutes ago you were trying to get some guy into my panties.”

“Don’t joke, Jade.  This might not seem like a big deal now, but you don’t know what could happen.  Someone this unstable could easily shift from stealing when people aren’t home to sneaking in when they are.  From taking panties from the dresser to tearing them right off women.”

Jade wrinkled her nose.  It was hard to be scared of something that screamed prank.

“I think you’re reaching a little.”

Ruby got that stubborn look on her face.  The one that said she’d made up her mind and wouldn’t let it go until she’d made up everyone else’s too.

“I hear that Mayor Applebaum is bringing in a detective to solve the case,” Ruby added, her tone triumphant.  As if that proved her right for worrying.

“A cop?  For this?”  Jade laughed.  “And not for the pumpkin smashing spree from a few months ago?  Or the spate of dirty phone calls everyone was getting last summer?  I mean, talk about sexual harassment.”

“Or Persephone’s holiday property destruction binges?” Beryl said as she returned with another green bin.

“Hey now,” Jade chided with a laugh.  “Leave my cat out of this.”

“Well you have to admit, she is a nuisance,” Beryl pointed out, setting the bin on the floor by the others.

“But she only breaks into holiday displays and drags decorations around town,” Ruby defended tightly, clearly upset that her sisters—who, unlike her, still lived in this town—weren’t taking it seriously.  “The pumpkins were tossed by kids on a dare.  And those dirty phone calls, didn’t someone trace them to an out of town number?”

“And this is someone with a panty fetish,” Beryl said, laying out the cookie press and accessories.  “No big deal.  It’s not like he’s keeping them and doing pervy things.”

“That we know of,” Ruby snapped.

Beryl’s chin lifted, her posture echoing Ruby’s angry one.  Time to change the subject.

“Let’s switch jobs for awhile,” Jade suggested to Beryl, waving her hand toward the table full of deliciously tempting edible decorations.  “I’ll press spritz cookies, you dress Santa.”

“You sure?” Beryl said with a frown as she glanced from the cookie disks she’d spread across the counter to the decorations.  “You’re usually so territorial about making the cookies look just right.”

“Yep, I’m sure.”  She glanced at Ruby, then asked, “We have two weeks until the Open House. What else do you want to make today besides cookies?”

While hers sisters debated fudge or pumpkin rolls, she filled the press.  She needed the distraction.  Not because she was worried about a creep with a panty fetish.  But all this talk about panties, dating and sexual droughts was making her crazy.

If she wasn’t careful, she’d start eating to numb the sexual frustration.  She’d done that after Eric had left, putting on twenty pounds as she tried to deal with the emotional blow.  For a girl who topped out at five-four, that’d been a quick wakeup call in how fast things could get out of control if she wasn’t careful.

Still, it was a better option than finding herself a real Horny-for-Hire.

As Jade pressed out the first dozen star shaped cookies, she pretended they were flying across the sky and made a Christmas wish.

Please, let a sexy, gorgeous man sweep into her life just long enough to fulfill her every sexual fantasy.  Give her enough good loving to last until she’d sorted out the rest of her life, then scootch on out without any hard feelings, leaving things simple and complication-free.

And if she couldn’t have the latter two parts of the wish, she’d settle on having a few of those sexual fantasies come true.

After all, she’d been a really good girl.

Wasn’t it time she had a chance to be a little bad?

 

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