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By day, she's Jacqueline Ann Parkton, Ph.D. But come nightfall, she lets her hair down.
The patrons of the swanky gentleman's club Allegory, Inc. know her as Jackie Parks, the chestnut-brown beauty with legs up to there, who serves them drinks with a wink and a sultry smile. Business mogul Warren Holcomb has taken a particular interest in Jackie — though she's not exactly the type of woman you'd take home to mama.
Or is she? As Warren is about to find out, things aren't always what they seem. Will Jacqueline's charades put an end to their hot new romance — or will the truth set them free?
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Gwynne Forster is an Essence bestselling author and has won numerous awards for fiction, including the Gold Pen Award, the RT Book Reviews Lifetime Achievement Award.
She holds a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology and a master’s degree in economics/demography and has traveled and/or worked in sixty-three countries.
She lives in New York with her husband.
Jacqueline Ann Parkton closed her laptop computer, put it into her desk drawer and locked it. She had one hour and twenty minutes in which to go home, change and get to her evening job on time. For the past three years, Jacqueline had worked two jobs in order to maintain her standard of living while providing the best possible care first for her mother, when her father's resources had become depleted, and then for her father.
She stepped out of the building on Fifth Avenue and West 30th Street in Manhattan, which housed African American Woman magazine, took a taxi to her apartment on West End Avenue, and began the metamorphosis that she underwent every evening that she worked. Jacqueline Ann Parkton led a double life, and she was plagued by a constant fear that someone in one of her two worlds would appear in her other world and recognize her.
In less than two hours, she transformed herself from the conservative and sedate senior editor and crime reporter for AAW (African American Woman magazine) to a sexy bombshell who served drinks at the most prestigious private men's club in New York City.
On that cold November day, Jacqueline Ann Parkton, known as Jackie Parks at Allegory, Inc., the men's club in which she worked, adjusted her micro-mini pleated pink skirt, tied the strings of her tiny pink paisley apron and gazed down at the three-inch, pencil-slim heels of the sandals on her feet. "These things are a blueprint for curvature of the spine," she said aloud and began brushing out the wig that nearly reached her hips. She put the brush on her dressing table and looked around at the sand-colored walls, the royal-blue and beige Kiernan carpet, the antique gold-framed mirror and her chair with the same antique gold finish. At least she had a comfortable and attractive dressing room.
When the bartender rang her bell, Jackie glanced at the mirror for a last inspection and went to work. With her right hand, she balanced a large silver tray filled with vodka martinis and gin comets against her shoulder and headed for the private lounge where Warren Holcomb entertained half a dozen business moguls.
As she approached the lounge, the unmistakable feel of a hand on her buttocks nearly caused her to spill the drinks. Normally, she showed the powerful men her perfect white teeth or winked when they became familiar and pretended not to mind, but that one had stepped over the line. He'd touched her. She had no tolerance for that order of brazenness and, by reflex, her left hand raised immediately as if in defense. However, her presence of mind returned just as fast, and she lowered it. Don't forget girl. You need this job.
"Keep your hands to yourself, mister. No man paws me."
"Do you know who I am?" It came out as a growl.
"Who you are makes a difference to me only when you stay in your place and keep your hands to yourself."
She walked on, but she made a mental note to watch him. As far as she was concerned, he stood out in that group of men with a street quality that belied his status and position.
Ignoring the man's face-saving remarks, she entered the private lounge and walked over to Warren Holcomb, a man with a commanding presence, but whose demeanor otherwise bespoke kindness, or was it sensuality? Maybe it was both.
"Good evening, sir. Would you like me to serve now?" She thought his smile should be patented, and that his large, almost obsidian eyes should be hidden. Every time she looked at him, carnal thoughts filled her head.
"Please. And thank you for bringing my order right away."
"My pleasure, sir," she replied and meant it. She pretended not to see Warren Holcomb discretely cataloging her feminine assets, but tiny, pinprick-like jolts of heat shot through her when his gaze landed on her breasts and settled there. She'd have given anything if she could rub them. Thank God, he didn't pick that moment to shift his gaze to her face. She couldn't even take a long, deep breath without giving herself away. A few minutes in the man's presence would discombobulate her if she were less resolved.
"Anything else, sir?"
He didn't seem to have heard her; a newcomer who sat nearby had his attention. That man, whom another guest had referred to as Mac, seemed out of place in Allegory, Inc., especially among Warren Holcomb's guests. Jackie looked for a reason to linger. She wanted to observe the man closely.
"Did you say that was all, sir?" she asked, stalling for time.
"Well, perhaps you could bring us some hot hors d'oeuvres."
She went to a phone about five feet from where he sat and phoned in the order, watching Mac as she did so. He was a misfit, and as a reporter, such characters always arrested her attention. Whenever she was in the club, her antenna didn't stop working, for she had much to lose by working as a cocktail waitress in that high-profile, rich-man's club, and she was always on the lookout for anything unsavory.
Where is my head? she asked herself when she was serving the hors d'oeuvres, suddenly aware that she moved at a much slower pace than usual. She justified it by telling herself that to move slowly and graciously rather than to gallop like a horse was more feminine.
Besides, it wouldn't hurt to know what Mac was saying to one of the other guests. Never good at fooling herself, Jackie was smart enough to know that Warren was her main reason both for lingering there and for wanting to seem more ladylike than she appeared in the skimpy and revealing uniform.
Whenever she looked at him, or when he looked at her, she got a warm feminine feeling all over, and she couldn't remember when last a man could lay claim to causing that.
"Anything else, sir?" she asked him, her right hand on the doorknob as she prepared to leave the private lounge.
"No. These are delicious. Thank you."
"You are welcome, sir."
She felt a small amount of pride as she noticed his failed attempt to appear businesslike. His furtive glances set her blood to racing, and what a pity that was. She had told herself time and again that she didn't want an involvement with any man who frequented the club, and she believed she meant it, but Warren Holcomb was the epitome of temptation. Whenever she met him in the club corridors or saw him standing talking with someone, she thought of him as a young bull. Trim and powerful, the man's six-foot four-inch physique made most of the club members suffer by comparison. It wasn't his race but his bearing that distinguished him, and if he realized what a standout he was, he didn't show it.
The following morning, she telephoned a former classmate, a law enforcement officer in Washington, D.C. "Hi, Clayton. This is Jacqueline. What can you get me on a guy named Mac with this description?" She described Mac.
"Right on, girl. Have it for you in a couple of hours. Why don't you give up magazine editing and stick with crime reporting? You're good at it, and I'll bet it pays more."
Let him think whatever he liked. "Because I like to eat, and AAW pays me a regular salary."
"Marry me. You'll be as poor as Job's turkey, but when you're in bed every night, you'll be as happy as a little pig in hog heaven. How about it?"
Laughter flowed out of her as it always did minutes after she began speaking with him. "You're a certified nut, but at least you're a first-class one."
"Thanks for nothing. Call me at one this afternoon."
"Will do. Thanks, friend."
By one-fifteen, she knew that Mac had been indicted twice for acting as a pimp for a Washington, D.C. madam, but had no convictions. She wondered whether Warren Holcomb knew Mac's record. If he did, why would he associate with such a person?
At five-thirty each evening that she worked, Jackie Parks removed her eyeglasses, inserted prescription contact lenses that changed her irises from dark brown to dark hazel, donned a black wig that had hair that hung almost to her hips, put on a heavy coat of makeup, dressed and headed for the club. On this particular evening, to shorten the distance to her dressing room, she entered the club through a side door rather than through its imposing Fifth Avenue entrance, intending to take an elevator that she rarely used.
She was about to enter the elevator when Warren Holcomb charged out of it and sent her sprawling. Stunned, she lay on the floor, gazing up at him.
"Damn!" he said. "Have I hurt you? Are you all right?" Even as the words left his mouth, he hovered above her, reaching for her. And as if her five-foot, nine-inch frame didn't weigh one hundred and forty-five pounds, he lifted her as he would a small child, cradling her in his arms.
"I'm...I'm okay. J-Just a little shaken up." He didn't release her, but held her and stroked her back. "I'm so sorry. You're the last person I'd want to hurt." Jackie knew she should get out of the man's arms, but her whole body tingled. Alive. Warmer and getting hotter. He had an aura of power, but to her, he communicated warmth and gentleness. Mastery. She wanted to put her head on his shoulder and rest it there. Her mind told her she was insane, but her body wanted to be close to him forever. Coming to her senses, she stepped back from him, found a spot beyond his shoulder and focused on it.
"Sure you're okay?" he insisted. His voice, mellifluous, low and urgent sent tremors through her.
The first to reclaim her wits, she tried to smile, but failed. She bent to pick up her pocketbook but, simultaneously, he attempted to retrieve it, and their heads collided. "Ooh," she said and, immediately, his arms went around her as if to soothe her.
"Looks as if I'm trying to kill you, but believe me, I'm not." It seemed to her as if he hugged her; at least, she'd swear that he held her closer. He gazed down at her, his eyes ablaze, less with concern than with desire.
"I know that. Accidents will happen." He was dragging it out, playing it for all it was worth, she knew, but she didn't feel like calling him on it.
"Am I forgiven?"
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Book Description Harlequin Kimani Romance, 2006. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P111583147713
Book Description Harlequin Kimani Romance, 2006. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M1583147713
Book Description Harlequin Kimani, 2006. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Ships with Tracking Number! INTERNATIONAL WORLDWIDE Shipping available. Buy with confidence, excellent customer service!. Seller Inventory # 1583147713n