by Anne Kane
Ebook ISBN: 06175-01983
[ Comedic Romance, MF ]
When government tax auditor Nick finds himself obsessed with the work of erotic romance author Khloe Matters, there’s only one thing to do. Audit her! But getting a closer look at the sexy author in her own home just makes him switch his obsession from the writing to the writer.
“What do you mean you’re disallowing ninety percent of the expenses I claimed?” Khloe tried not to scream at the smug smile on the auditor’s face. Hard to believe her libido had jumped to attention when he’d first showed up at her door. Just went to show how bad a judge of character she was. “You can’t do that. They are all legitimate business deductions.”
“Really?” The man raised one of those perfect brows. “Care to explain how a trip to Spain qualifies as a business expense? You’re a writer. You don’t have to leave the house. You don’t even have to get dressed.”
Khloe gritted her teeth, taking a deep breath to calm herself down before she answered. She knew his name. Nicholas Carver. She just didn’t think a government auditor deserved such an impressive name. Calling him a dumb-assed bean counter probably wouldn’t help her situation, though. “Although I have not claimed any clothing expenses, I assure you I do have to get dressed. My neighbours are a conservative bunch. I do have to leave the house occasionally, and I generally make a point of putting some clothes on before I do. That trip was for research.” Well, duh, what else would it be? Maybe this guy got all the looks and none of the brains. “My last mystery novel was set in Madrid during the running of the bulls. I needed to be there to get the feel of the place and understand the atmosphere, how the crowd reacted. I wouldn’t stay in business long if I didn’t pay attention to the little details. Readers can smell a mistake a mile away, and if I lose their trust I’ll be working at the grocery store for a fraction of what I make writing.”
The auditor snorted. “Quite the drama queen, aren’t you? I might accept the research excuse if the tone came through in your work, assuming we’re talking about a published manuscript. Do you have a copy of that alleged book?”
The sceptical tone of his voice, not to mention his use of the word “alleged,” set Khloe’s teeth on edge. How dare he sit there in his perfectly pressed suit and make her justify every item on her tax return? Oh right. He was the almighty tax department auditor! Maybe it would help if she curtseyed or kissed his ring or something.
She smiled sweetly. “Of course.” Turning, she ran her fingers along the spines of the books on the shelf. Plucking Bullfighter’s Downfall out, she handed it to him. It took quite some effort to keep her smile from turning into a snarl. “I hope you enjoy it. It spent two months on the New York Times Best Sellers list.”
He took the book, his brows rising at the cover picturing a couple in a passionate embrace against a backdrop of the famous bull run. Turning the book over, he read the back cover before looking up at her. “Romantic suspense? You’re one of those kinds of authors?”
Okay, he might be the big-shot auditor, and he had the ability to make her life, not to mention her finances, a living hell, but he had no right to use that tone of voice when describing the genre she loved.
“Exactly what do you mean by that?” She straightened up to her full five feet five inches and glared down at him. “If you mean one of those authors who can take two characters, introduce them to each other and make them fall passionately and fervently in love while they dodge bullets, murder, mayhem and other nasty plot points, then yes. I’m one of these kinds of authors. And in case you don’t believe me, you might want to ask the thousands of readers whose buying habits have put me on the New York Times Best Sellers list time and again.”
“No need to get defensive. It’s hardly War and Peace but I’m sure it’s a very nice story.”
It took all of her willpower not to grab the heaviest book on the shelf and smack him over the head with it. War and Peace indeed! “Have you ever tried to read War and Peace?” She took a step forward, gratified at his flinch. “My books are meant to entertain people and take them away from their everyday lives, not bore them to death.”
He had the grace to look uncomfortable. “Well, no, I haven’t actually read it. I’m more of a John Grisham fan. Lots of war but not much peace.”
She felt the tension in her gut relaxing a bit. He wasn’t quite the pretentious prig he looked like. Actually, if she took an honest look at him, he resembled the cover models for some of her steamier books.
And that gave her an idea.
She gave him her best conciliatory smile, the one that used to work on her agents when she wanted to charm them into letting her do something outrageous. “I think you should consider coming to the writers’ festival with me this weekend. You can see firsthand what the business is like and get some insight into why all those expenses on my return are legitimate.”
“Writers’ festival?” He looked doubtful. “You want me to attend a writers’ festival with you?”
“Of course. It’ll be fun!” At least it would be for her. She could already picture the gals from her chapter of R.W.A. going green with envy when they saw her with the auditor hanging off her arm. Best of all, they’d stop pitying her for last year’s engagement fiasco. Mr. Auditor was the most scrumptious piece of eye candy she’d seen in ages.
As a plus, he would get some idea of what the life of a writer was really like and that might just help her out with the audit. She didn’t just sit at her desk and invent stories off the top of her head. There were workshops, promotions, and interaction with other authors and readers. And then there was the Saturday night ball.
She really needed a hot date for that, and the auditor would be perfect! Her ex would be there, and she so needed him to know she’d moved on. She let her gaze stray to the auditor’s broad chest. Moved on in style!
She hoped her enthusiasm, coupled with the inevitable male curiosity, would win him over. The more she thought about this, the better the idea seemed. “We won’t tell anyone about you being an auditor, of course. You can pretend you’re someone more likeable. Like a mechanic. Or a plumber.”
“A plumber?” A glimmer of humor shone in his eyes. “I think not. I have no intention of showing half my ass off to amuse your…” He paused as though searching for the correct phrase. “Your fellow authors.”
Hmmm. He just might be more amenable than she’d thought. After all, no one with shoulders like that could be all bad. “So what would you like to be? If you weren’t a bad-assed auditor, that is.”
The grin should have warned her, but it was so unexpected. He’d spent the last week sitting at her kitchen table acting like a perfect jerk. “A male model. You could tell them I’m auditioning for the cover of your next book.”
“A male model?”
“Yes. You don’t think they’d believe it?”
Oh they’d believe it. Problem was, he might have a year’s worth of jobs lined up by the end of the weekend. “It’s not that. If you’re a model, you need to have an agent. Since you don’t, you’d be swamped with offers from agencies by the end of the weekend and you wouldn’t have any time to observe my spending habits.” His grin widened, and he spun the chair around, lounging backward as his warm eyes danced with mirth. How had she ever thought him straightlaced?
“So you admit I could be a cover model?”
Lordy! When had this conversation gotten out of hand? If he were game, she’d be more than happy to play make-believe. Tenting her hands on her hips, she studied him, pausing for a brief second on the bulge at his groin. “Given the right outfit, or lack thereof, I’m sure you’d be adequate.”
“Adequate? That’s it?” A hint of a growl roughened his voice. “I’ll show you adequate!”
He rose to his feet with the fluid grace of a wild animal. In the blink of an eye he closed the space between them, sweeping her into his arms. The hard length of his body pressed against her, and she could feel his thick cock nesting into her belly as his mouth closed over hers.
Passion flared deep inside her. His lips were hard, moving over hers with a possessive arrogance that demanded surrender. He slid his tongue along the seam of her lips, coaxing her to open them. And she did. This was so crazy.
Tax department auditors weren’t people. They were soulless beings who came into your life and drove you crazy until you finally gave into their demands and paid them money you knew you didn’t owe just to get rid of them.
When had the auditor become a person? And not just a person, a mouth-watering alpha male who made her knees melt and her pussy clench in anticipation!
He took immediate advantage of her weakness, his tongue delving deep to explore every nook and cranny of her mouth. Cradling the back of her head in the palm of one big hand, he tilted it to give himself better access.
Khloe hesitated for a second and then gave in to the erotic heat racing through her veins. Raising her arms, she surrendered to temptation and ran her hands across his wide chest. Rock-hard, just as she’d suspected. He must work out when he wasn’t busy squeezing pennies out of hardworking writers.
Auditor. Writers. Money.
How could she have forgotten for even a second? This man was the enemy! What the hell was she doing letting him explore her tonsils while she fondled his abs? A small squeak of alarm escaped her throat, and she opened her eyes.
“Stop it. Now!” That really would have had more impact if it weren’t for the wistful note in her voice. She pushed against his chest, ignoring the tiny voice in the back of her head that wanted to escalate this incident into a full-blown naked-bodies-writhing-on-the-floor kind of encounter. When had her inner slut managed to overcome her better judgment?
The auditor’s lips lingered on hers for one last soul-destroying caress before he raised his head. His gorgeous green eyes held sensuous promise as he studied her face. He uttered the one word, the one single question that she had no answer to.
Because you’re a tax department bloodhound and I’m the taxpayer? Because this is insanity of the highest order? Why indeed! Paperwork and the tax department be damned. It had been way too long since she’d had that kind of instant response to what had been, after all, nothing but a kiss.
“Because it’s a bad idea.” She took a step backward, putting some space between them even though every feminine instinct urged her to throw her arms around his neck and hang on for the ride of her life. “We have a business connection and sex would just complicate things.”
“Sex? I was only kissing you, but if you’re interested in a horizontal liaison…” His voice trailed off suggestively as a sensuous smile curved the corners of his oh-so-kissable lips.
Khloe groaned in frustration. Did the gods really have nothing better to do than toy with the libido of a romance writer just trying to make a living? Would it have been so hard to make the auditor an ugly frog and some nebulous fellow-writer a mouth-watering hunk of man-flesh? Really? “I am not suggesting we have sex. I’m saying we need to keep our priorities straight. You’re the auditor. I’m the auditee.”
“I’m not sure auditee is a word but I get your point. You don’t want to mix business with pleasure.”
“Exactly!” She gave him a grateful smile. “You understand.”
“Of course.” In less time than it took her to blink, he turned back into the stone-faced auditor she’d been dealing with all week. He pulled a tablet out of his briefcase. “Now, about this writers’ festival. How did you want to approach it? Should I meet you there?”
The sudden shift from amorous lover to business-like auditor caught her off guard. “It’s upstate, about a three-hour drive, so we might as well drive up together.”
“And that would be where?” He paused, his fingers poised over the input screen.
“Gardenville. It’s just south of the capital. The festival is held at the Inn on the Lake.”
The auditor keyed the information in. “I take it accommodations are available on a drop-in basis?”
Damn! The hotel had been booked up for months. The gods really did have it in for her. “No, but I have a junior suite reserved. Two double beds, so I’m sure we can work something out.” She could feel the heat stain her cheeks. People shared rooms at these kinds of things all the time. Not a big deal. There were two beds, and even a bit of a sitting room. Nothing wrong with that. She couldn’t bring herself to look at him.
“Sounds excellent. Given the accommodations, I assume you will tell people I’m a romantic interest? It puts a damper on conversation when I’m introduced as a government auditor. I’ll pick up the tab for my half of the room, of course. When should I pick you up?”
“Pick me up?” She was starting to feel less and less like a successful author and more like a fumbling teenager with her first crush.
“What time do we need to leave in order to get to this writers’ festival on time? I am the worst possible passenger you can imagine, so I will pick you up and drive us to Gardenville.”
He sounded so calm, so reasonable. As if just minutes ago he hadn’t had his arms wrapped tight around her while his tongue played hide-and-seek with her tonsils. “Umm…” Khloe did a quick mental calculation. Three-hour drive. Add half an hour for unexpected complications. An hour to check in and get unpacked. Another hour to change into clean clothes for the informal meet and greet that started at six. “If we leave here by noon we should have plenty of time.”
“I’ll see you then.” He collected his notes from the table and carefully stacked them back into his briefcase, placing Bullfighter’s Downfall on top of the stack. “Meanwhile, I’ll go through the rest of your receipts and let you know if I have any other questions.”
Khloe took a step toward him. “You can’t keep my book. That’s a signed ARC.” The moment the words were out she regretted them. The last thing she wanted to do was antagonize this man. “Never mind, of course you can keep it. I can get more from the publisher.”
A crease marred the smooth line of his brow, and he looked confused. “I thought it was just a book. What’s an ARC?”
Khloe sighed. “Advance Reader’s Copy. The publisher gives me a certain number of them in advance of the release, and I use them for promotional giveaways. I always keep one for myself.” It sounded silly when she tried to explain. “Anybody can buy the book at a store, or order it online, but only a few lucky people have access to the advance copies. It’s kind of like a good-luck thing.”
He nodded as if it made perfect sense, plucking the book out of the pile and handing it back. “I can get a copy at the bookstore across from my hotel. I wouldn’t want to spill my coffee on your lucky copy.” A ghost of a smile flitted across his face as he closed the lid and snapped the locks. “Maybe you can sign it for me when I pick you up.”
“Sure.” She put Bullfighter’s Downfall back in its spot on the bookshelf, not sure what else to say.
“So I’ll pick you up on Friday at noon.” The auditor hefted his massive briefcase in one hand and held out the other toward her.
Really? After that soul-destroying kiss, he wanted to shake hands? “Sounds good.” She reached for his hand.
The auditor’s warm fingers enveloped her smaller hand. Catching her totally off guard, he drew her toward him to place an achingly sweet kiss on her lips. “See you then.” Before she managed to regain her balance, he headed out the door. Damn, even from the back view, the guy had major charisma!