“I’m on it.”

She held up a wait-a-moment finger. “By research, I don’t mean anything tawdry. You know that, right?”

Trish was always careful to respect boundaries. We might work for risqué clients, but she’d never ask an employee to do anything that would make them uncomfortable.

“I absolutely know that. I can research this online and in bookstores, no problem. And with my eyes.”

She smiled, exhaling deeply. “Of course you can. You’ll be fantastic. You’re observant like a detective. Maybe circulate through the clubs and try to spot any other escort services engaged in role-playing. Bring a friend if you want.”

“Not a bad idea.” Be observant, like a detective.

Would Jake approve of Trish’s assignment?

Jake and his hot kisses.

Jake and his confidence.

Jake and his offer.

But there was no room for Jake on the role-play marketing menu.

I didn’t have the luxury of a no-work weekend. I had an all-work weekend.

Trish picked up a pen, tapping the edge of her desk. “Why don’t you build off the ideas that you shared when we started—the notion of deserving a girls’ night out. Spend the weekend researching it. We can meet for lunch on Sunday to review and see where we’re at, ahead of the pitch on Monday, if that works for you.”

“That sounds great.”

“And before then, perhaps you could meet with one of the escorts.”

My brow furrowed. Why would she suggest a road test when she just told me to stick to observation? “You think that’s a good idea?”

“Yes. Try Antony. For research,” she added with a smile, like she’d seen my confusion. “Just talk to him, I mean. Hear his perspective. It could be interesting, as well as helpful. He’s studying for his master’s degree in aerospace engineering, and he’s interesting.”

“Sure. Antony sounds great.” I kept my voice even. Antony the escort-training-to-be-an-astronaut already fascinated me.

“I’ll get you his info. You can hear from him about what Sin City’s clients want, and we’ll brainstorm how we can convey that. I want all the women who haven’t tried it to say, ‘That’s what I want to get my best friend. This is the ultimate gift.’”

“It is,” I said with a crisp nod. “Because it’s a great gift.”

“It’s an all-I-want-for-Christmas kind of gift. A stocking stuffer and the ultimate naughty-list present rolled into one.”

I laughed at how obviously she relished her part in providing these types of sensual experiences for women. She’d made me find the joy and humor in it too.

In a sweet, demure voice, I chimed in with “Dear Santa, I’d like a hot guy dressed as a police officer with a pair of handcuffs under the tree, please.”

Trish’s eyes sparkled with mischief. “Dear Santa, I’ve been so very wicked. I’m going to need a billionaire in a suit to put me on his lap and spank all the bad girl out of me.”

“Dear Abby,” I said, “is it wrong that when I go home to my family ranch for vacation, I’m hoping Mama has hired a hot new stable boy for me?”

“Dear Heading Home for Vacation, all I can say to that is giddyap, cowboy!” Trish dropped an imaginary Stetson to her head and pretended to ride off, snapping the reins.

We both laughed. Then she told me the bonus I would earn if we won the account, and I stopped laughing and nearly popped out of my chair.

It was enough to cover the rest of Damon’s debt. It was a light at the end of the freaking tunnel, and I could hardly breathe through the excitement that threatened to bubble over.

“That sounds great,” I squeaked.

She smiled kindly. “That should do it, right?”

I blinked. Do it? Did she know about my troubles with Damon? I kept those close to the vest, but she might have overheard a phone call. Or did she mean do it, like that would wrap up our meeting?

I wasn’t sure at all, so I kept my answer ambiguous too. “Yes, of course.”

It was a huge understatement. A bonus like that would put me free and clear of banks and headaches and hassles that I hadn’t earned but had no choice but to shoulder. If I wanted good credit, I had to deal with the wreckage from my ex.

A few months into dating, Damon had moved in with me briefly, saying he was desperate for a place to live as he looked for a new job.

I’d wanted to help my sweet, romantic boyfriend, so I’d said yes, and for a few weeks, I’d shared my space with him.

Never had I intended to share my good name, but he’d helped himself to it, signed up for credit cards with it, and used those to buy watches, phones, and other goods he could quickly sell on the street.

He found a job all right.

As a crook.

Then he found a plane ticket out of the country and left me behind with all the charges.


Tags: Lauren Blakely The Gift Erotic
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