The Reluctant Beauty(7)

By: Laurie Leclair

“I’m sleeping over at Rico’s.” Her teeth chattered.

“I’ll join you two.”

She smiled then—a wobbly one, but it was a smile. “You have no idea what you just got yourself into, buddy.”

Chapter 3

A sleepover? Rico would love this. Peg used her key and unlocked the door to Rico’s apartment. She reached over and flicked on the light.

“Pink and white?” Austin asked, eyeing the freshly painted loft Rico had taken over from the King sisters.

“That’s our Rico,” she said with a smile in her voice. She kinda liked what he’d done with the tiny space. White paint, white furniture, and with pink accents, it made the space look bigger and brighter.

She watched him slowly enter and check out the place. “Rico, boy or girl?”


“Your best friend, right? Couldn’t pass him off as your date?”

Peg nodded to the interior decorating. “Whatcha think?” She pointed out. “Not too subtle, you know. My folks would never buy that one.”


“He’s happy as a lark,” she said, smiling widely.

Austin chuckled, and then dropped his duffle bag near the door. “Doesn’t he have friends he could hook you up with?”

Kicking off her shoes, resting her clipboard and pencil on a nearby end table, and shucking off his coat, she snorted. “He’s got mostly girl friends. Hey, now that’s an idea, I could bring a girl and freak my folks out even more. Yeah, Ma and Pop, this is my honey; she’s willing to get impregnated so we can have that little bambino in one point eight years just like you want.”

They both began to laugh.

“Or I could bring you,” she said offhandedly.

The laughter died in both their throats. Silence ticked. Her heart thumped. She stared at him, wide-eyed and blinking like the owl guy at the restaurant. “Hey, that’s not a bad idea.”

He held up his hands, backing up. “Don’t look at me. No can do.”

“Ah, come on, I’ll make it worth your while…”

Austin took a few more steps backwards. She followed, sizing him up as her gaze traveled the length of him, and back up.

Her body hummed. He gulped.

“You owe me, remember? Not the other way around,” he pointed out.

Still, she advanced, backing him against the wall. Crossing her arms over her chest and tapping her foot, she said, “They’ll be shocked when I introduce you. But, they might buy it, for a while. Then, when you dump me in a week or two, they’ll cluck with sympathy and understand why you wouldn’t want to be with me.” A slow smile edged up her lips. “This just might work. They’ll back off for a while, thinking how heartbroken I must be and won’t pressure me.”

“No,” he said with a firmness in his voice. It didn’t stop her.

“Fat chance, bub,” she said. “I’m too busy to keep looking. They’re coming next week. And I’ll pay you. Cold, hard cash. Oh, and I’ll give you a place to stay for the next week and the few days they’re here in town. You can’t refuse me.” He was the answer to her prayers.

“Wanna bet?”

“I’ll cry.” She sniffed, but there were no tears. She dropped her hands and inched closer.

His back hit the wall, hard.

Peg leaned close, settling her hands on the wall around him, snaring him in a trap. “Now, Austin, you wouldn’t want me to disappoint my family, would you? Geez ’em Pete, I’m their only daughter. I’m an anomaly in the family. All these generations of perfectly proportioned, perfectly height appropriate beauties—even the guys are beautiful—and boom, I come out looking like a squalling twig without a tuft of hair on my beanie old head and they cry for weeks and months, praying I’ll grow out of it.” She smirked. “I’m already a disappointment to them.”


Austin frowned. Her eyes gave away the hurt she felt. His gut twisted.

She was so close, watching him. Dropping his stare to her lips, he tried to stop himself. But he couldn’t. He kissed her.

Slow. Long. Deep.

He felt the shock ripple through her. Still, he persisted. The soft little catch in the back of her throat shot straight to him. He groaned.

Grabbing his head in her hands, she kissed him back.

Bold. Hot. Wet.

He couldn’t catch his breath when she broke contact. His heart thumped widely in his chest, just like he got right after he left the stage at the end of one of his concerts. The rush. The walking on air feeling. The natural high. What did she do to him?