4 1/2 Gold Top Pick!
"Brimming with romance and adventure--and told by some of today's best-known authors in the fantasy, science fiction and romance fields--Irresistible Forces is a must-read for all romance fans. This anthology has been much anticipated for good reason--it delivers great writing and wonderful, vibrant characters on every page."
~Romantic Times Book Club
After two years, Nick Riley still wasn't used to the clean, white, fluffy kingdom. Sure, the Pearly Gates and golden thrones were nice, but he was a third-class resident, stuck on the lower levels of Heaven until he proved himself.
"How the hell am I supposed to--"
"Your language is more like a trucker's than a lawyer's--though I'd rather deal with a trucker than a lawyer any day."
Nick looked around for his ever-vigilant watchdog, Séamus--a former New York City cop, overblown with self-importance as Chief of the Mortal Watch Division.
Séamus crossed his arms over his chest and wore a stern expression on his not-so-angelic face. " Two years and still can't mind your tongue?"
"My father was a marine before he was a real estate tycoon. I probably learned to cuss before I learned to walk." Nick shrugged and pointed at the monitor. " I saw Margo again. She doesn't look any happier."
Séamus sighed dramatically. " Of course she isn't."
Nick didn't argue. How could he? " She didn't love me, but I made her think she did."
"You were too busy playing big man on campus--trying to win at everything," Séamus said, his tone filled with disapproval. " Well, you won Margo."
"And now she's alone down there and you're up here, though I still can't figure out how you slipped through the Gate."
"I wish I could go back and fix things for her." Nick meant every word. He regretted his selfish, short-sighted lifestyle. And short-lived.
"Maybe you can."
He glowered at his superior. "Chief, don't..."
"Believe me, it wasn't my idea." Séamus looked upward for emphasis. " A higher authority wants you to go back and help Margo get on with her life."
Nick's thoughts exploded with possibilities. Return to fast cars, expensive vacations and--
Séamus cleared his throat.
"I keep forgetting you can read my mind,"Nick said sheepishly and glanced at the monitor again. " Tell me more. When?"
"Now, but only to help Margo."
"What will she think? I mean...seeing me?"
Séamus grinned. A mischievous twinkle glittered in his eyes. She won't see you. You'll have a different appearance."
Now that had possibilities. He'd always wanted to be taller. "I'm ready. What are we waiting for?"
"Close your eyes."
Nick obeyed, but he saw images anyway, similar to when he'd died. First there'd been the car crashing into the brick retaining wall...pain...blackness. Then bright lights, a tunnel and images of people and places he'd known. After the pain, it had all been rather pleasant until he saw Margo's misery.
Soon he'd see her in person, could tell her he was sorry....
A chorus of male voices greeted Nick's arrival in the sauna at his favorite health club. At least Séamus had seen fit to send him somewhere he'd enjoyed when he was alive. But he didn't feel right. Something was different. Missing. And...new.
Nick glanced down at what he thought was his body, but it couldn't be. Séamus wouldn't have...
"Did you catch the playoffs last week?" A gruff male voice interrupted Nick's thoughts.
Blinking in the steamy environment, Nick tried to discern the identity of the other occupants. The last thing he needed was for someone to recognize Nick Riley with boobs.
Nick pulled the towel up from his waist to cover his chest, an area of his anatomy he'd never seen a need to conceal before. " Séamus, if you weren't already dead, I'd kill you myself," he muttered. Is that my voice? That silken drawl couldn't be his.
"Who--what?" A familiar voice sliced through the steam. "Hey, this is the men's sauna."
Nick tried to make out the face through the steam. That had to be his former law partner's voice. " Warren, is that you?" There's that weird voice again.
Wolf whistles filled the small tiled area. " Hey, Warren," one man yelled, " does your wife know about her?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Warren growled. "Lady, you should go to the women's sauna before you cause any more trouble."
"Uh, right," Nick agreed in his new timbre. A woman--Séamus had sent him back as a woman. What a sick sense of humor.
He clutched the towel across his voluptuous chest and beat a hasty retreat. Feeling more exposed and vulnerable than he had in all his life, Nick jogged through the blessedly vacant men's locker room, down the corridor and into the ladies' facility.
Stunned, he stood frozen in the center of the once forbidden sanctuary. Women of all assorted shapes and sizes walked around in various stages of undress.
Now this is Heaven.
Then he caught sight of the most gorgeous redhead he'd ever seen--a natural redhead. She was an Amazon, with shapely legs he would've given almost anything to feel wrapped around his body in a clinch of--
"Whoa!" Perspiring, he lifted his hand to touch the reflection. His reflection.
Nick Riley was a drop-dead, brick shit-house babe.
"I can't believe I let you talk me into this." Margo Riley sank even lower in her chair at center stage. Any moment now the runway in front of her would fill with nearly naked, sweaty men. What in the world had possessed her?
Steph giggled and drained the contents of her glass. "Admit it, sis," she said. " You've always wanted to do this. Now you have an excuse."
Unconvinced, Margo shook her head and took another sip of club soda. Maybe she should have ordered something stronger. Anything to take her mind off where she was and what was about to happen. "This is so crude."
Steph ordered two more drinks from the passing waiter. "Hey, c'mon, Margo. It's a story. This is work. Your job? Remember?"
Simultaneously nodding and grimacing, Margo looked up at the still empty stage. "I always wondered what men saw in watching naked women undulate their bodies in places like this." She shrugged. "Now I guess I'll find out--sort of."
Steph paid the waiter and pushed a drink that looked suspiciously unlike club soda toward her sister. Maybe it was the fruit and little umbrella that gave it away.
"Just imagine what Mom'll think," Steph whispered with a wink.
Margo sucked in her breath. " You wouldn't dare."
Steph arched her delicate blond eyebrows and pursed her full lips in a feigned pout. The innocent look vanished as quickly as it had appeared. "Maybe. Maybe not."
Wrinkling her nose at her sister, Margo took a tentative sip of the tropical drink. After removing the paper umbrella, she took a second taste and nodded in satisfaction. "Not bad. What is it?"
"Something yummy." Steph flashed her a grin. "So what made that old prude boss of yours give you such a sweet assignment?"
"'Sweet' is a matter of opinion, I suppose." Margo sighed and leaned back in her chair. "I know what he wants for this story, but I'd rather tackle a more important issue."
Steph covered her face. "Not the First Amendment. Why not write about the guys, especially if that's what your editor wants? And the reason women like to come here?" She looked around the nightclub. " In case you haven't noticed, the place is packed."
Margo glanced around, amazed to discover that every table in the club was taken. "I had no idea."
"That's my point, and I'll bet it was your editor's, too," Steph said in her sarcastic, get-a-life voice. She leaned forward, elbows on the table. A shock of blond curls fell across her forehead. " Women come here for one reason--to look at hunks. Take notes, journalist."
Stunned, Margo studied her sister's expression. "What makes you such an expert?"
Steph reddened, laughing. "I've been here lots of times."
"Yeah, it's fun."
"It's embarrassing," Margo whispered, looking around again. Why were so many women here? She bristled, hating to admit her sister was right. "Okay, so there's a story here, but that's all it is to me."
Shrugging, Steph pointed to the stage. "Showtime."
Margo moaned in self-chastisement. How had she gotten herself into this mess? She should have suggested her new editor to take the assignment himself, though looking like Ernest Borgnine might have been a liability in the Studfinder.
"Here we go." Steph whooped and cheered with the other insane women while Margo groaned again. Music with a heavy disco beat reverberated through the small club. Varicolored lights rotated and flashed as the emcee announced the first performer.
"Good evening, ladies and welcome to the Studfinder," he said dramatically. "And I guarantee you will find more than a few studs." The women roared with laughter and applause. A few wolf whistles rose above the din. " Now get ready for Tarzan."
Tarzan? The ultimate male domination fantasy. Margo suppressed a shudder of revulsion. It's a story. Get a grip.
Removing a notepad from her purse, she leaned back and started writing down everything she saw, heard, felt in the dim room. This was freedom of speech and expression in action. She had to remain focused. If people wanted to watch exotic dancers of either gender, that was their business. Government had no business dictating morals. Satisfied she'd found the proper mind set for this assignment, Margo glanced up at the stage. "Oh. My. God."
A man--an almost naked one--stood directly in front of her. Smiling. Very slowly, his hips undulated to the music, displaying his well-endowed physique in intricate detail. He wore only an exotic leopard print breechcloth. "Oh, my God."
"You said that already. You'll be all right, sis." Steph squeezed Margo's hand in reassurance. "Him Tarzan. You Jane. Chill."
Margo averted her gaze from the grinning god and jerked the umbrella and fruit from another drink. She drained the contents in one smooth gulp, refusing to look again at the wriggling, pulsating male in front of her. "Why'd we have to sit so close, Steph?"
"For your story, of course."
Ignoring her sister's laughter, Margo turned her attention back to her notepad. She made more notations about the subject in the breechcloth, leaving out certain details regarding his anatomy. Her editor wouldn't consider that newsworthy, though Margo couldn't help wondering if perhaps the Guinness Book of World Records might be interested.
The dancer released what could only be described as a Tarzan yell--one that would have had Cheetah, Jane and Boy running to the rescue.
Her sister's reaction made Margo look up. God, how she wished she hadn't. The man chose that particular moment to shed most of his skimpy attire, leaving only a G-string between the ogling women and his family jewels. The crowd went wild.
Margo went into shock.
"I'm out of here. This is disgusting." She stood and the contents of her open purse rolled onto the floor. "Damn."
The dancer seemed to think her upright position had other implications. He moved closer to their table, lowering himself in front of her until his pelvis was within reach.
Steph, obviously far more astute than Margo in such situations, rose to the occasion. She held a folded bill toward the man and deftly tucked it into his G-string.
Still staring in horror, Margo tried to swallow, but her throat was too dry.
"You need another drink, sis," Steph calmly suggested as the music faded and Tarzan returned to his jungle. The waiter made rounds during the brief intermission.
Uncertain how or when, Margo found her spilled belongings back in her purse, and herself back in her chair with another drink. Immediately removing the fruit, she sipped steadily. Some of her tension vanished beneath the heady power of demon rum. Her limbs felt warm and heavy. This was better. Much better.
When the music again increased in volume, Margo was still uncertain why women paid money to be embarrassed like this, but she was considerably more willing now to investigate the possibilities. The alcohol had numbed her somewhat and loosened her inhibitions, which was probably why she rarely imbibed. Steph had always accused her of being a control freak.
"This is the show with the Eroticops. It's great. I heard they have fresh meat--er, dancers." Steph sighed dramatically. "If all cops looked like these guys, I'd run stop signs on a regular basis."
Eroticops? Steph seemed awfully familiar with the Studfinder's performers. Just how often did she come here? Margo cast her sister a cursory frown just as the lights dimmed again. The announcer, along with police sirens and flashing red and blue lights, signaled the beginning of the next set. Pencil and paper readied, she looked across the table at her sister.
"Where'd they find him?" Steph asked in undeniable awe.
Curious, Margo sought the catalyst for her sister's reaction and spotted him instantly. Her pencil fell from her grasp and rolled impotently across the table. Her note pad dangled unproductively from the fingertips of her left hand.
This man was even better looking than his predecessor, and at the moment he was still fully clothed. A blue policeman's uniform hugged every bulge and hollow of his body to perfection. The bill of his hat shadowed part of his face and eyes. Dark hair curled at his temples and neckline. For some imprudent reason, she wanted to know what color his eyes were.
She felt her sister's gaze on her and jerked her attention away from the man on the stage, but only for a moment. A very brief moment.
"Nice, huh?" Steph asked in that infuriating way she had of knowing what someone else was thinking. Four other "police officers" joined the first, flanking him in pairs to mimic his seductive movements.
Margo could only nod. Despite her best intentions, she turned her gaze back to the stage, discovering that the lead dancer had moved to the front of the runway and seemed to be dancing just for her. In your dreams, silly. His stare never left her as he gyrated his hips and bent his knees, lowering himself for her inspection.
Her face was hot--and the rest of her body wasn't exactly cool, come to think of it. The man still hadn't removed any of his costume, even though he'd been on stage for several minutes. Some members of the audience were suggesting--loudly--that he should proceed as expected. After all, the other four men in uniform had already shed most of their attire.
For some unexplainable reason, Margo wanted to see what this beefcake looked like unwrapped. Flustered, she reached for her glass and drained the contents. Her head swam as he tossed his hat into her lap in one smooth motion. The smile he broadcasted was deadly.
Margo couldn't speak. It couldn't be....
He peeled away his shirt and now wore nothing but his trousers. She swallowed hard, unable--unwilling--to drag her gaze from the mesmerizing specimen on the stage. She had to know.
Much to her dismay, he blew her a kiss. It headed straight for her as if it had DNA and free will, planting itself right on her lips. She felt it--really she did. A strange, fluttering sensation commenced in her belly and spread.
She stole a peek at Steph. Her sister was riveted, as were the other women in the audience. Margo glanced quickly around the room, but her gaze was lured back to the dancing figure as if her optic nerves had a homing device. A blue spotlight suddenly bathed him, illuminating his features clearly.
Realization hit home. With trembling fingers, she retrieved her pencil and made notes, though she knew her scribbles wouldn't make any sense later.
Jared. Why now, after all this time?
She felt his gaze boring into her as he danced and swayed on the stage. He must have recognized her, too. Commanding herself not to look, she bent her head over the tablet, scratching away as his shadow passed to and fro across the table amid the flashing lights.
Oh, but she wanted to look.
The hammering in her chest was almost as distracting as the heat inside her body. She'd gone two years without even wanting a man, let alone acting on it. A trickle of guilt filtered through her, but her natural instincts overshadowed it.
Had Jared removed anything else? She had to know. Just one little peek...
Garbed in nothing but a light blue metallic loincloth, he thrust his hips toward her in a timeless movement that never went out of style and never would. Heat suffused her, but she couldn't tear her attention from his gorgeous glistening and--God help her--achingly familiar body.
Dark hair fell across his forehead in disarray. His jaw was square and strong. Of course, she didn't have to see his eyes to know they were blue--bedroom eyes, she'd once told him.
See, Margo, this is what happens when you're celibate for two years. Of course, her reaction was reserved for this man, and only this man.
She drew a deep breath, trying to ignore the twisting, squirming, dazzling male displayed for her simultaneous pleasure and torture. But she couldn't. Lifting her gaze, she found him staring. He gave her a slow, sexy smile when their gazes met.
Oh, yeah, he definitely recognized her.
It was magic.
Just like in the movies.
"This is a raid!"