Sexy is as sexy does. And in Plum Orchard, sugar, it does!
Emmeline Amos is sick of her ex saying she's boring and prissy. After all, she works for a phone-sex company! (As general manager, but still.) On a rare girls' night out, fueled by blender drinks and bravado, Em accepts a shocking dare—to handle a call herself. But it's tipsy Em who gets an earful from an irate single father on the other end of the line. Awkward.
But not as awkward as discovering that same mad dad is Call Girls' gorgeous new programmer. Jax Hawthorne is still upset that his daughter called the "girlfriend store" on his behalf, but he can't deny he'd choose a hot-librarian type like Em if he were looking for love. Which he's not.
Em wants to do more than just talk the talk. So she makes a bawdy bargain with Jax. They've both been burned before—this time, they'll keep it strictly physical. Except as soon as they settle on no strings attached, things start to get tangled....
Dakota Cassidy lives and writes in Oregon in a castle high on a hill, overlooking her quaint mobile home village, and she has a husband that puts the heroes in her books to shame.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
"Hellooo," Emmaline Amos growled comically slow into her cell phone. "This is Mistress Taboo. Are you worrrthy?" The infamous line her best friend Dixie Davis had perfected during her three-month stint as a phone-sex operator bounced off the walls in the offices of Call Girls Inc., sounding ridiculous coming from her lips.
As a follow-up, Em looked in her best friend Dixie's direction, and attempted to mimic her famous sultry gaze. Or what their group of mutual friends had all officially dubbed the "Dixie Smolder."
The smolder was a combination pack—one part come-hither glance, one part dreamy half wink of her eyes. When Dixie did it, all the men fell at her feet in a big pile of redneck limbs and puddles of drool.
When Em tried it on for size like she had tonight during girls' night out—it was as though she'd invented the unsexy.
From behind her reception desk, Nella Carter, Call Girls' new operator in charge of assigning calls, began to giggle until she had to hold her stomach and cover her mouth.
When she caught her breath, she pointed at Dixie. "You," she snorted, "were Mistress Taboo, boss? I still get calls for her. Seriously, you?"
Dixie rolled her eyes at the mention of her former phone-sex operator nom de plume. "Em's had too much wine. I absolutely never, ever sounded or looked like that," she protested, sipping her glass of wine with a giggle, knowing full well she had.
Em reached for the bottle of wine between them on Nella's desk and nodded her head, the giddy buzz in her brain making her mouth work overtime. "You did, too. You sounded just like that, all sexified and naughty."
"Then we can all thank heaven Mistress Taboo is officially retired from phone-sex operatin' and instead became the owner of Call Girls, 'cuz that was plain painful to my ears." Dixie mocked a shudder.
Em poured herself another glass of wine, the fluid sloshing in time with her liquid-filled stomach. "Do not deny the win that encompasses Mistress Taboo, Dixie Davis. Just look what that very naughty name, and winning this crazy phone-sex contest Landon thought up for you and Caine, got you."
Nella adjusted her headset, her hazel eyes wide with surprise. "You won Call Girls? In a contest?"
Em slapped her hand on the desk. "You bet she did. Not only did she win a multimillion-dollar phone-sex company, but she won a house the size of Atlanta, with that camel you pass by every day in the backyard, no less. She got Sanjeev, the personal assistant from heaven above. The whole shebang, lock, stock and flyswatters posing as floggers. To boot, she also found her way back to the arms of your other boss, Caine Donovan, a man so divine, angels weep with longin' for him." She waved a wobbly hand around the lush guesthouse office where Call Girls was headquartered and grinned. "And she talked me into running it all as general manager. This wasn't just a win, it was an epic win."
Dixie grinned. "Who better to keep us all in line when Cat and Flynn ran off and got married and are now preparin' for their first child than you, Em? If you could keep me and Caine on the righteous path, you could keep Satan himself honest."
Nella gave her lush surroundings a fresh eye. "So Call Girls Inc. belonged to Landon Wells, right? The one everybody's either callin' richer than God or crazier than a bedbug?"
"Uh-huh. Rest his soul. And now it belongs to Dixie here." Even two months later, Em still hadn't quite digested the situation.
Nella frowned. "I don't get it. How do you win a phone-sex company?"
"You have the most amazing best friend ever, who even on his deathbed, knew what was good for you. Landon was both Dixie's and Caine's best friend. Dixie and Caine were engaged ten years ago, but they had a fallin'-out to beat the likes of World War Three, broke up and left town."
Dixie shook her head of red curls with a giggle.
"Your general manager exaggerates. It was not like World War Three."
But Em disagreed. "Hah! Lest you forget the fire and rain… Anyway, Landon, in all his wisdom and hilarious sense of humor, knew they belonged together. So when Dixie and Caine came back for his funeral, he left this very company to them in his will—with one stipulation. They had to become phone-sex operators and work the phones. Whoever collected the most calls at the end of two months won the company."
Nella suddenly grinned. "So that's what all the talk about the Phone-sex Hunger Games is? I hear the rum-blin's in town all the time about you and Caine and how you two got back together. I ignored the bad and focused on how romantic it was under such a crazy set of circumstances."
Yeah. Em sighed and nodded at Nella. "The most romantic set of circumstances ever. Friends like Landon don't come along often. He loved these two so much, he meddled from the afterlife."
Dixie's smile was misty-eyed and blissful at the same time. "I'll always wish Landon was here to see it—see us finally together. Maybe walk me down that aisle now that Caine's proposed. And see you and I such good friends after a long spell of resentment." She patted Em's hand, tipping the glass she held upright to keep more liquid from sloshing out.
"Oh, I heard all about you and Em from that Essie Guthrie. My, she can talk," Nella confided.
Em waved a finger. "Never you mind what that Essie tells you. She'd just as soon Call Girls was banished from Plum Orchard for good."
The Mags, Plum Orchard's generations-old society of women of prominence, had really given running Call Girls out on a rail their best efforts. They'd made all sorts of pleas to the mayor and the county—even the state of Georgia, and in the process, they'd attempted to make everyone's life associated with Call Girls miserable.
Landon had done his homework when he'd moved the company here, and so far they'd been lucky, but Em still worried those bunch of gossipmongers might come up with a way to shut them down.
Dixie wrinkled her nose. "Just you forget about those awful Mags, Em, and let's focus on the good stuff. Like how I also got LaDawn, Marybell and Cat as the best employees and friends a girl could ask for. For that, I'll always be grateful. So a toast to Landon?" She raised her wineglass toward the ceiling in silent salute to her best friend.
"Hear! Hear!" Em cheered. Though her sigh, hot on the heels of her good spirits, was forlorn and wistful.
Nella leaned forward on her desk, folding her hands. "If you don't mind me askin', how did you become involved in all this, Em?"
"I don't mind at all. I worked for Landon's lawyer, Hank Cotton, at the time. So I spent his last days with him, doing all sorts of things he needed taken care of, and that's when he asked me to oversee Dixie and Caine if they decided to stick around and accept the terms of his will. He said it was time Dixie made an ally here in Plum Orchard. I thought it was the throes of death talkin', knowin' how Dixie and I didn't get along in school, but how could I say no to a man I'd come to love and respect in the course of our dealin's? He was dyin'. I'd rather have died myself than say no to him."
Dixie rubbed Em's arm. "But he left her a letter to open once things settled down with Caine and I to explain everything, didn't he, Em?"
Now Em's smile was wistful. "He did, and once I read it, it all made sense. But to think, he'd appoint prim and proper Emmaline Amos, once Dixie Davis's biggest target in high school, the mediator of her phone-sex contest… Well, everybody thought it was just crazy. They still talk about it now, almost three months later."
They talked because she was the most unlikely suspect. Who'd believe good-girl Em knew much of anything about sex?
They talked plenty about how scandalous it was that an actual phone-sex company was housed in the middle of their quaint little town, and how horrible Dixie was for talking dirty.
They talked. That's what Plum Orchard did, and though Em loved her small town and almost everyone in it, faults and all, they'd forgotten the core of what Landon had intended with all those machinations.
The purpose, the driving force behind Landon making Dixie and Caine play his game—the reason he'd gone to such great lengths to see his two best friends happy, had been lost in the mire of gossip Dixie's return had created.
Love. Landon's love for his friends, their love for each other—one that even after almost a decade, hadn't died.
The kind of love Em found herself feeling a pang of yearning for as of late. One that lasted—one that filled her soul. One that didn't want to divorce her because he wanted to cross-dress and become Miss Trixie LeMieux and he'd been too ashamed to tell her…
She cupped her chin in her hands and sighed again, listening with fondness to the music of the chirping phones from the back offices, where the on-duty operators took their calls from clients. They'd hired four more operators since she'd taken over as GM. Business was good, even if her jump back into the dating pool wasn't.
She was certain she wasn't destined for the kind of love Dixie and Caine had fought so hard for. You only bore witness to something like that once in a lifetime, and if what Clifton said about her was true, she was too conservative and prissy to ever find that kind of passion.
But she had her new job here. She didn't care what the people of Plum Orchard said about it, either. Working for Call Girls made her happy—gave her purpose. "Look how far we've come, huh?"
Dixie grinned, twisting a long strand of her red hair around her index finger in dreamy satisfaction and sighed. "I can't even believe what's come to pass in the past few months since I've been back from Chicago, Nella. For both of us. Did you know, not four months ago, Em was in the middle of divorcin' that cheater Clifton, I was up to my britches in debt, Caine and I were at each other's throats trying to beat each other at phone sexin', and everyone here in good ole Plum Orchard, Georgia, still hated me because of my mean-girl high school days—Caine included. So much has changed," she marveled.
Em's smile was wry. It was true. But Dixie still wasn't very popular. She'd tried hard to put to rest her wrongful ways since she'd returned, but some just couldn't let go of the past. She popped her lips with a smack of a reminder. "Well, not everything's changed."
Dixie flapped a dismissive hand at the implication Em made in reference to her archnemesis. "Thank you for reminding me Louella Palmer still sniffs the air when I walk by as though I've been dipped in cow dung."
No one wished Dixie more ill than Louella. Dixie's old high school rival still held her responsible for allegedly stealing Caine Donovan out from under her nose.
For the past few months since she'd become such close friends with Dixie, Louella and her fellow group members, the esteemed Magnolias, had outright shunned Em for forgiving Dixie and her jaded Plum Orchard past.
A burp threatened to escape Em's lips. She swallowed the acidic bite back with a wince before saying, "I just want you to know your enemies. I can't have Louella sneakin' up behind you when you're not lookin'. Remindin' you of the people that wish you ill is my duty as your person."
Dixie cocked her head, her pretty blue eyes playful. "This person thinks your person's had too much to drink tonight. I know your theory is Jesus drank wine, and that's supposed to make it okay to indulge—and usually, I'd roll with it. But He didn't go out on girls' night with you tonight—and I'm pretty sure He never had a hangover. So, it's my duty as your person to tell you, you might suffer one come mornin'."
But Em wouldn't hear of hangovers and Jesus. She'd spent two minutes too long thinking about disapproval and Plum Orchard when there were other things to attend. Like learning to smolder—it was what brought all the boys to your yard, or so she'd heard.
She focused on watching her reflection in her phone as she tried once more to perfect this thing Dixie did with her eyes while men lined up for her.
It would be nice to have just one man stand in a grocery line, even if it was just next to her. Like the man she'd shared the longest, most breathtaking stare with in the square the night her life had almost fallen apart. The night when she'd accused Dixie of something so deplorable, she still couldn't breathe from the horror.
She'd overheard the man's name was Jax, but in her mind, when she daydreamed about him, he didn't have a name. To use his name was too intimate—too personal. Attaching his name to her fantasies was akin to writing him personalized love letters. Once you knew a person's first name, next you were inquiring about their well-being, and that always led to personal details you were better off not knowing. Fantasies didn't have morning breath or scratch their unmentionables.
So the man on that night in the square was simply him.
And she hadn't seen him in well over two months. Em "smoldered" again at Dixie, putting her back into it and rolling her shoulders, pretending she was seducing him. "How's this?"
Dixie patted Em's hand, wrinkling her nose. "When you smolder at me, do it like you're thinkin' about doin' the do, not like you're squinting because the sun's in your eyes, honey. More Marilyn Monroe, less like you have bug guts in your eye," she teased lovingly, pulling Em to her office and waving back at Nella to carry on with her calls.
Em gave her a pouty expression, plunking her phone down on Dixie's desk with a sigh. "I guess you'll just have to stay the Smolder Queen, Dixie. I try and try. Practiced all week for girls' night tonight, but I just can't seem to look anything other than a darn fool. Just ask that poor man at the bar who thought I used those drops you get at the ophthalmologist to dilate my eyes." She batted her eyelashes for effect, only to have them stick together from the extra mascara she'd applied.
She was officially a girls' night out failure. Maybe everyone saw what Clifton saw, and trying to change that perception of her was a waste of time.
Dixie brushed Em's hair from her face with a chuckle of sympathy, her slender fingers gentle, her blue eyes warm. "If there's one thing I've learned in the business of smoldering, it's all about the subtle at first. Stop trying so hard to be someone you're not. You're beautiful and funny and sweet all on your own. You don't need the smolder or anything other than just you to do the talkin'. Turn down the volume on the sexy, Em."
"Way down," LaDawn Jenkins, fellow employee, friend and the best fetish-related phone-sex operator Call Girls had, advised, strolling inside from the guesthouse pool area.
Marybell Lymen, another operator and friend, followed behind, handing an open bottle of wine to LaDawn, who slugged back the l...
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