She shouldn’t be so nervous about catering for a bunch of muckety-mucks, but Pippa Laingley wanted everything to be perfect for her friend Ashley Carter’s housewarming.
And really, why should she be nervous? Just because the net worth of the assembled guests was more than the national debt shouldn’t be cause for her to sweat. Okay, and there was the fact that Pippa was on the verge of opening her own storefront café and catering business and she needed this to go off without a hitch so there would be good word of mouth and maybe a few referrals.
She spun around in Ashley’s huge kitchen, mentally taking stock of what was ready to go out. Where were the damn waiters?
On cue, the door swung open, and a guy who couldn’t be more than twenty hustled through. Pippa took one look and groaned.
“Where’s your uniform?”
He gave her a blank look.
She sighed and closed her eyes. “White shirt? Black slacks? Nice polished shoes? Preferably well-groomed hair?”
His mouth worked and then he snapped it shut. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I’m the emergency fill-in. I just assumed whatever I needed would be here.”
Pippa blew out her breath. “First day on the job?”
“Yeah,” he mumbled. “A friend told me about part-time gigs that paid good money. I’m sort of filling in for him.”
Her gaze narrowed. Great. She wasn’t even getting an official employee. Some moron had decided to skip and had worked a deal with his buddy to split the proceeds for a night’s work. No way he was going to handle a room full of people. Which meant she was going to have to wade in and help.
So much for having a nice glass of wine with the girls and gushing about Ashley’s new house.
Grabbing the kid by the arm, she pulled him toward the stairs. “Come on. You have to get into something better than that.”
He blinked but allowed her to drag him all the way to Ashley and Devon’s bedroom. She barreled into Devon’s closet and hurriedly riffled through his clothing until she found something appropriate.
“Strip,” she ordered crisply.
A dull flush rose up the kid’s neck.
The sound of a clearing throat was Pippa’s first warning that she and the kid weren’t alone.
“Perhaps I should come back later.”
The low drawl shivered over Pippa’s nape and she squeezed her eyes shut in mortification. Now she and the kid both were blushing fools. She turned to see Cam Hollingsworth leaning lazily against the door, his eyes flashing with amusement.
“Why, Pippa, you cradle robber.”
She could never understand why the man always caught her at a disadvantage. She was an intelligent, well-put-together, very articulate career woman. She owned her own business, never took any crap off anyone and people rarely intimidated her. And yet, every single time she crossed paths with Devon’s friend, she always made an ass of herself.
No way she was going to let this spiral into a mire of humiliation. She glared at Cam and then stalked over, tossing him the shirt and slacks.
“Get him into this. I need him downstairs in two minutes.”
To her utter delight, Cam blinked in surprise. She’d caught him off guard. Then he frowned and looked beyond her to where the kid still stood.
“What the hell? Aren’t these Dev’s clothes?”
“I need a waiter or no one is going to get food or drink,” she gritted out. “He’s all I’ve got. I’m not letting Ashley down tonight and neither are you. So get your ass in gear.”
She stomped past him and hurried down the stairs, not waiting to see Cam’s reaction to her dictate.
When she got back into the kitchen, she quickly lined up the trays, set wine and champagne glasses out and then grumbled under her breath about having to help ferry food and drinks to Ashley’s guests.
She’d asked for three servers. She’d gotten some college kid in need of beer money. Just great.
A moment later, college kid presented himself, and to Pippa’s surprise, he’d cleaned up well. The pants and shirt were a bit too large for his lanky frame, but he looked neat and presentable. His hair had been combed back until he looked almost polished.
She gestured him over, shoved a tray of lobster tarts into his hands and then pushed him out of the door toward the living room, where Ashley and Devon were entertaining their guests.
Then she returned to the island and began pouring wine into half the glasses. She filled the rest with champagne.
“Would you like some help?”
She whirled around, still holding the bottle, and darn near tossed the contents onto the floor.
Cam nodded slowly. “Assistance? You look as though you could use it. How on earth did you think you’d manage this on your own? Ashley was nuts for allowing you to cater the event.”
Pippa was horrified by the offer and then, as she processed the rest of the statement, she was just irritated as hell.
“I’d hate for you to sully those pretty hands,” she snapped. “And for your information, I’ve got this under control. The help didn’t show. Not my fault. The food is impeccable if I do say so myself. I just need a way to deliver it into the hands of the precious guests.”
“I believe I just offered my assistance and you insulted me,” Cam said dryly.
Her eyebrows drew together. Oh, why did the man have to be so damn delicious looking? Why couldn’t he be a toad? Or be bald? Although on the right guy, bald was totally hot. Why could she never perform the simplest functions around him?
“You’re Ashley’s guest,” Pippa said firmly. “Not to mention this isn’t your thing. You’re used to being served, not serving others.”
“How do you know what my thing is?” he asked as he reached for one of the trays.
She had absolutely nothing to say to that and watched in bewilderment as he hefted the tray up and walked out of the kitchen.
She sagged against the sink, her pulse racing hard enough to make her dizzy.
Cameron Hollingsworth was gorgeous, unpolished in a totally sexy way, arrogant and so wrong for her in so many ways, but there was something about the man that just did it for her.
She’d seen him often enough ever since Ashley had become involved with Devon Carter. Cameron and Devon were close friends and business partners in a consortium of luxury hotels and resorts. As Ashley’s best friend, Pippa had been to many of the same social events as Cameron. He’d been paired with her at Ashley’s wedding, and that had been ten sorts of hell, being close enough to smell him, and him so perfectly indifferent to her.
She sighed. That could be what irritated her the most. He was a luscious specimen of a male and he couldn’t be any less interested in her.
Maybe she just wasn’t his type. The problem was, she didn’t know what his type was. She never saw him with other women. He was either intensely private or he didn’t have much of a social life.
She was itching to shake his world up just a little.
Realizing she was spending far too much time mooning over Cam, she grabbed another tray, took a deep breath to compose herself and then headed toward the living room.
Pippa smiled brightly, hoping her lipstick at least was still visible. The rest of her makeup had probably melted off by now. She made her way through the room, relieved to see that many of the guests now held wineglasses. Cameron had indeed delivered the goods.
“Pip, what are you doing?” Ashley hissed.
Pippa jerked around to see her friend staring aghast at her.
“Hey, Ash, how is everything going? All your guests arrived?”
“Stop acting like the hired help,” Ashley said with a frown. “Why are you and Cam walking around serving drinks and hors d’oeuvres? And who’s the kid wearing Devon’s clothes!”
“Don’t get worked up, Ash. It’s not good for the baby,” Pippa said cautiously.
Ashley folded her arms over the noticeable baby bump—really, it was so adorable—and pinned Pippa with her most ferocious stare. Not that anything Ashley ever did could exactly be called ferocious. Could puppies or kittens be ferocious? “Pip, I asked you to do this because I wanted to help. Maybe get the word out about you, but I didn’t want you working yourself silly at my housewarming party. I need my best friend beside me, not serving me!”
Pippa sighed and handed Ashley one of the yummy snacks off her tray. “Look, the help didn’t show. All you got is me, the kid wearing your husband’s clothes and Mr. Mouthwateringly Gorgeous over there.”
Ashley’s eyes widened. “Cam? You’re talking about Cam?”
Pippa gave her an exasperated look. “I’m damn sure not talking about the infant wearing Dev’s clothes!”
“Whoa,” Ashley breathed. “I had no idea. I mean, yeah, Cam is hot in a broody kind of way, but I had no idea that was your thing.”
Pippa couldn’t even look over at him without getting a betraying flutter in her belly. “I’d like to lick those brooding lips,” she muttered.
Ashley giggled and then clapped a hand over her mouth. Her eyes sparkled merrily.
“Stop staring at him!” Pippa hissed. “You may as well be holding a sign up announcing we’re talking about him.”
Ashley turned her back to Cam, a grin still flirting with her mouth. “So how’d you get him to help out? Did you bat those gorgeous green eyes?”
“I don’t even know,” Pippa said in bewilderment. “He offered. I was kind of rude to him.”
Ashley snickered. “You? Rude?”
Pippa glowered at her. “Shut it.”
Ashley put her hand on Pippa’s arm and rose up on tiptoe to look over her shoulder. “I think I’m being summoned. Seriously, though, Pip. I’m not worried about the food so much that I want my best friend to be the serving wench for the evening. Go put the tray up and join us for a drink.”
Pippa switched the platter from one hand to the other as she surveyed the room. There were too many important potential clients to just shrug off such an opportunity. Ashley had given her the chance and she wasn’t going to squander it.
“I’ll check with you later, Ash. I have mingling to do. Your guests look hungry.”
Before Ashley could respond, Pippa was off, wading into the crowd, a bright smile on her face.
* * *
“Are you out of your mind?”
Cameron turned to see Devon staring at him as if he was nuts. Cameron set the empty tray onto the sideboard and grinned at the look of absolute what-the-hell? on his friend’s face.
“Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been asked that.”
“You’re playing waiter tonight?”
Cameron shrugged. “Pippa needed help. She looked like she was close to melting down. I figured that wouldn’t make Ash very happy.”
Devon frowned as he studied Cameron for a long moment. “I think you’re full of crap.”
But Cameron ignored Devon as his gaze caught Pippa melting into the crowd. She moved with effortless grace. She was mesmerizing to watch. He tracked her progress across the room as she smiled and greeted many of the guests. She laughed, and irritation sparked that he hadn’t been able to hear what it sounded like.
He’d been watching Pippa for months. She’d drawn his notice the very first time he’d seen her. He hadn’t actually met her then. They hadn’t been officially introduced until the third time they were at the same event. Even then he’d treated her as he treated most people. Cordial politeness. Faint disinterest. But he’d been anything but disinterested.
She hadn’t realized it, but he’d marked her from that very first moment. Like a predator marking prey. He watched and waited for that perfect moment. Working up to when he’d take her to bed and lose himself in that satiny skin and silky mane of glossy dark hair.
He could just feel the strands brushing through his fingers and falling down around them both. Her astride him, head thrown back as he pulled her down onto him again and again.
He muttered a foul curse when his body reacted fully to the erotic fantasy. He was at a housewarming, for God’s sake. The focus was supposed to be on babies, happy homes, puppies and rainbows. Not how fast he could get Pippa to his house a half mile down the road so they could indulge in a night of hot sex.
He was certain she was as attracted to him as he was to her. Often when she thought he wasn’t looking, her eyes glowed warm with lust as she fixed her gaze on him. He enjoyed those stolen glances because that was when he could see the honesty in her eyes.
The rest of the time she hid behind that brassy facade, the take-no-crap-off-anyone exterior. But inside? He was absolutely sure she was warm and gooey and all feminine purr. He couldn’t wait to run his fingers over her body and elicit that throaty sound of pleasure.
“Cam, what the hell, man? Hello? Anyone home?”
He blinked and turned to see that Devon was still standing there. He scowled. “Don’t you have a wife to tend to?”
Devon shook his head. “Do you have any idea how pathetic you look mooning over her from across the room?”
Cameron’s nostrils flared. “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”
“Keep telling yourself that,” Devon said with a snort. “Good God. Just go over there and get it done with. And then get a room, for Pete’s sake.”
“Oh, I’ll get a room,” he said softly. “She’s going to be locked in mine the entire night.”
Devon made a strangled sound of annoyance and then turned as if he couldn’t get away fast enough. Cam was too busy watching Pippa to care, though. He could see that her tray was empty. Her gaze was searching the rest of the room, a slight frown on her face. She was looking for the kid, and she didn’t look happy.