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Small-town Sheriff Jonah Vogel’s peaceful weekend is disrupted when he receives a mysterious delivery. After the truck drives off he opens the crate and out pops, of all things, a voluptuous genie! Or, at least, a blonde who does some scorching-hot justice to a genie outfit.
Amanda Brindle is trying to land an advertising account with an ice cream empire mogul for her Madison Avenue firm. One little problem: Her cohorts delivered her to the wrong address. Now, with a fast-moving blizzard moving in, Amanda is stranded with the hunky, bossy sheriff, who has a unique way of dealing with that sexy genie’s mischievous streak.
“You look like something that should be curling around a pole at the Curvy Kitten Gentleman’s Lounge.” Ivy Rappaport sniffed.
Amanda Brindle rolled her eyes and tilted her head to the side. What had she expected? For her boss to take her seriously? Hell, she was standing there in a skimpy harem girl outfit, complete with shoes with the toe end curled upwards and her cleavage exposed—while she stood in Ivy’s office in the firm’s Madison Avenue office, no less.
“I look like a genie, Ivy,” she disagreed respectfully but firmly. “This particular genie.”
She pointed to the empty carton of Delight Ice Cream. Specifically, an integral part of the relatively new company’s logo: a pretty, hourglass-shaped genie, standing in a flirtatious pose that invited the consumer to sample her creamy product with a wink.
Amanda had waited all day to make her pitch to Rappaport, as soon as all the other employees had signed out for the day. Once the office was empty except for her and her boss, she’d changed into the costume she’d had designed and paid for herself and laid out her plan to win over Delight’s CEO.
Since it was winter, night had come earlier to New York. Through the corner office’s windows, the Manhattan night was lit up with thousands of lights beaming from the neighboring skyscrapers. That wasn’t the first time Amanda had seen that magnificent view, though it was the first time she’d seen it and wondered how long it would be before she could exchange her lowly little cubicle for an office with a kick-ass view like that.
Ivy shook her head stubbornly. “Nope. Can’t let you do it. Sorry, Amanda. Don’t think I don’t appreciate the effort, though—”
“Can’t do it?” the thirty-year-old repeated with the onset of both disappointment and panic. “Why not?”
“Well, for one, it’s too dangerous.”
“What danger? I’ve already talked it over with Bradley. If you’re on board, he’s willing to get me in a crate, pop me into a pickup, and play delivery man for us with Mr. Whitley.”
The executive’s face registered amusement. Ivy Rappaport was a handsome woman, twenty years or so Amanda’s senior. She was the type of person who, by her own admission, didn’t have patience for shopping, taking time only to enter Sak’s Fifth Avenue, find something suitable in her size, and hand over her American Express Platinum to pay for it.
Amanda hoped to be able to do that. Someday. This scheme with Delight Ice Cream’s genie seemed just the fuel she needed to get further up the corporate ladder.
“Oh, you and Bradley Cassidy have discussed this, have you?” Ivy chuckled.
“He’s the only one who knows,” Amanda vowed, referring to her coworker and friend. “He’s also done some research, along with me. It seems Mr. Whitley has a sense of humor.”
“Mr. Whitley is also around a hundred and thirty years old. You jump out of a crate in his front yard, and you’re liable to send the poor old man into cardiac arrest.”
Damn, it was getting cold in that skimpy get-up. Without being too obvious, Amanda wrapped her arms around her bare midriff.
That was something else. Another woman, preferably a willowy size 2 or 4, would have been the perfect live, flesh-and-blood, breathing version of Delight Ice Cream’s sexy little genie.
Amanda, on the other hand, was a size 12. Standing just an inch over five feet, she resembled the genie…if she was a little more filled out, possibly after indulging any of the ice cream’s variety of fifteen flavors. Running regularly and hiking kept her toned, but she hadn’t had much luck dropping those pesky twenty pounds that had crept up on her figure over the past few years.
“We need this account, Ivy,” she made her final plea. “We need to sign Mr. Whitley before our competitors do.”
At last, she saw a chink in Ivy’s armor, a small shrug of her shoulders in that Armani business suit.
“I suppose that’s even more necessary,” the boss admitted, removing her glasses and pinching her nose with a well-manicured, slender hand. “Now that we’ve lost the DeSanti account.”
Amanda jumped to the occasion. “Desperate times call for desperate measures, as they say.”
“Yes, well…” Ivy eyed her severely. “It’s—oh—a really out-there plan.”
“But it should work.” And it’ll be a feather in my cap; the younger woman thought but wisely chose not to add. “Mr. Whitley lives up in western New York. Bradley figures he can get me up there in about four hours.”
“You shouldn’t be in the crate all that time.”
In her excitement, Amanda’s voice rose an octave. “So…you’re on board with us doing this?”
“You’re crazy—and I’m not much saner, letting you do it.” Ivy paused, and then added, “Bradley will drop you off, but I’ll be the one to pick you up. That way I’ll be there to finesse the deal, just in case Mr. Whitley isn’t amused.”
“I think he will be.”
“So do I.” The executive flashed an appreciative smile. “Nice work, kid. I love you thinking outside the box like that. Now go home and get some rest. You have a deal to seal tomorrow night.”
As she made her way back to her cubicle, Amanda broke into the lighthearted skip of a little girl.
Pulled that off! Cooooooool! When she’d first dreamt up the plan, she thought for sure her boss would give one of those imperial little laughs of hers and dismiss it altogether. There was also the danger, if it worked like a charm, that Ivy would claim it had been all her idea and take the credit. The woman was, at heart, a narcissist and a sneak. She virtually lived and breathed the mantra “It’s all about me.” Other people at Chandler & Associates had gotten burned that way.
Still, that was fine. Amanda would put garnering the account on her resume—leaving out having donned that silly, revealing genie outfit, of course—and head straight for another advertising agency. Chandler & Associates weren’t the only game in town. Besides, after three years under that tyrannical witch’s thumb, Amanda had enough experience under her belt as an administrative assistant to move on to a position as a junior account executive. Eventually, maybe even bigger and better things.
“Hey, buddy! I take it it’s a go?”
She whirled around to see Bradley Cassidy peeking over the partition that divided his cubicle from hers. He was one of those cute geeks, sheer creativity dressed in denim. He was no metrosexual, which was refreshing considering how many guys she crossed paths with were, but he did keep his brown hair stylishly spiked.
“I didn’t know you had a project to work on,” she said with the hint of a question.
“I didn’t. I hung out for you. Moral support and all that.” He winked at her. “Soooo…are we on, my magic genie?”
She hunched up her shoulders and giggled. “Oh, we are so on!”
“Tomorrow. Rappaport doesn’t want to waste any time.”
“Yikes! That’s a tall order. Okay, I’ll get a hold of a couple friends of mine. Hardest part will be finding a crate big enough. Mr. Delight Ice Cream, here we come!”
“I have to change. Can you—”
“Yeah, sure. I’ll wait so we can walk out together.”
When she emerged from the ladies’ room in her jeans and sweater, the genie costume folded neatly and in her canvas gym bag, Amanda felt like Melanie Griffith’s character in Working Girl. She’d rented all those movies, from Nine to Five to The Devil Wears Prada. It had been a long journey from her small Pennsylvania hometown to college, where she’d earned her degree in marketing. Then, on to famous Madison Avenue.
She hadn’t gone to school all those years just to be somebody’s assistant forever. Maybe this was her ticket to the big time. Perhaps she finally was going to make something of herself after all.
That night it felt as if New York City was the Center of Everything, and she was its queen.
* * * *
Lately there was always something.
Jonah Vogel didn’t get much time off, especially in the past few months when circumstances had forced him to put it off. When he did get vacation, he savored every minute. That week had been appreciated, even if it had felt too short, and that being a Friday night marked it was rolling to an end. Hell, five days, or fifty, he’d take the chance to get away from the office. His only regret was that it hadn’t been in the summer, when he could have fit in as much fishing, and hiking as the hours would allow.
In any event, he had two days of his vacation left—the upcoming weekend—the two days of R&R still coming to him. He rose to his feet, nodding in approval at the fire he’d started in the hearth. A Vince Flynn novel and a Coke waited for him on the coffee table. Jess, his half-German Shepherd, half-golden Lab, was already making himself cozy beside the couch. It wasn’t exactly a wild, debauchery-filled bachelor night—he’d had his share of those for what seemed an eternity ago, and then basically he’d grown up—but he’d get to indulge in some more tranquility.
At least that was the plan before that truck pulled up in front ofhis lawn.
He couldn’t help it; he was naturally cautious. After his years in law enforcement, that just came with the territory. Jonah’s gaze flew to the clock on the mantle that read 6:42. Wasn’t that too late for any kind of delivery? He wasn’t sure. He hadn’t ordered anything nor was he expecting anything from family or friends. Taking long strides, he made his way out of the house.
And just what the hell was in that thing? Three guys in their thirties, one with spiked-up hair, had hopped out of the truck and were unloading a huge wooden crate onto his property. What came in a crate? Large appliances like fridges or freezers came in those heavy-duty cardboard boxes. This had to be a mistake.
“Evening!” he called out to the men.
The one with the clipboard, a slim African-American with wire-rimmed glasses, turned and smiled. “Hi, there! We got a special delivery for you, sir!”
“Special delivery?” Jonah mumbled under his breath. “I really don’t think so.”
“This 2030 Windyrush Road?”
“Well, then, there’s no mistake,” the spiky-haired one announced with an air of confidence. “Oh, uh, you’ll want to open this box right away. That’s about it. Have a good night now, sir.”
Jonah narrowed his eyes at him. “This is a delivery, right? So don’t you want me to sign for it?”
The three guys, even the heavyset blond one, moved like a flash to close up the rear of the truck before they jumped right back into the truck. It occurred to him that it could be a mistake…or, even more probable, it smelled like somebody’s idea of a joke.
“Have a good night, Mr. Whitley!” Spiky Hair shouted to him from the truck’s driver’s seat.
“Mr. Whitley?” Jonah sighed out a cuss word.
This had his dastardly cousin’s name written all over it. Without a doubt, that had to be the explanation. Jonah’s stomach sank. It wasn’t that he couldn’t take a joke. In the past, he’d usually been a good sport when it came to Randy’s antics. But the timing couldn’t have been worse, since all he’d wanted to do that night was to enjoy what was left of his damn overdue vacation. He didn’t want to contend with a big, old box on his property.
“Hel-lo! Anybody out there?”
“What?” he sputtered, his deep voice slightly higher in pitch with surprise.
Aw, no. Hell, no! he thought. There was not a real, live person inside that thing. Just wait till he got a hold of that cousin of his.
“Uh…Mr. Whitley? You there, sir?”
“Again, with the Mr. Whitley nonsense,” he muttered, more to himself. “Hey, Miss—can you hear me in there?”
“Yes! Yes, I hear you!”
“Hold on. You hear? Don’t move. I’ll get you out of this thing.”
Don’t move? Was he kidding? The woman was locked up in a crate like some ripe strawberries being shipped to a supermarket. Where was she supposed to go? Jonah stalked back into the house, then through the kitchen to the garage, where he found his tools. A crowbar would’ve been ideal, if he had one, but his hammer would do in a pinch.
He thought about stopping to grab his cell phone and calling Randy. After his cousin’s initial Ha-Ha-I’m-Some-Comedian-Huh moment, Jonah would light right into him, asking him what he was thinking.
Whoever said nothing ever happens in Small Town USA obviously had never been to Lake Meridian, New York.
“You doing okay in there?” he asked as he began wresting nails out with the hammer.
“Oh, I’m wonderful tonight, Mr. Whitley! How about you, sir?”
Well, she was pretty chipper for a woman with a limited oxygen supply. Jonah pursed his lips, deciding that had to be one of his cousin’s flighty girlfriends.
Or had this been a real delivery but to the wrong address? Whitley. Wasn’t that the name of the elderly gentleman who’d bought all those acres of land about half a mile down the road? He’d heard the story from one of his deputies, one of those amazing rags-to-riches success tales. It seemed Simon Whitley, a retired teacher, had started a little ice cream business five years ago, that had eventually taken off. Now he was a millionaire several times over. Or was it a billionaire? Jonah didn’t know. He knew, as a sheriff, he didn’t have to worry about things like staggering fortunes.
Whatever the size of the man’s bank account, that was a lot of ice cream. From the time Jonah had gone into the house for the hammer and returned, that Nor’easter they’d predicted had begun with those first fat flakes. His hands were cold, making him wish he had his gloves. Between that and his irritation with this surprise delivery, the last thing he wanted to think about was ice cream.
“Aw, I’m doing great! Not that I’m used to having ladies delivered to my front yard.”
One last nail to pry. The door to the crate was already beginning to come loose.
“Oh, um, I—I hope I’m not disturbing you.”
If that was one of Randy’s girlfriends, at least she was apologetic. Jonah softened in spite of himself. Nevertheless, the sheriff in him maintained that hard edge to his tone.
“Not a problem, Miss. I’m sure you have a perfectly good explanation for doing something that’s, well, not exactly legal. And I’d be real interested in hearing it, too.”
The door to the crate completely loosened, then nearly falling on top of him before he managed to get out of the way in time. It tumbled to the ground with a loud thud, but it didn’t take long for his attention to be drawn away by the crate’s living, breathing contents.
Out of the box stepped, of all things, a genie. The only thing more scorching-hot would have been her bursting out of one of those crazy bachelor party cakes. His Coke, his book, his late dinner of a frozen pizza, all that peace and quiet he’d yearned for, that all got shot to hell as those little shoes with the curled-up toes brought her closer to him. Jonah stared at the curvalicious little refugee from a male fantasy, this golden-haired harem girl with her blue chiffon pants and see-through veils. She stepped right up to him, holding something in the crook of her left arm, and gave a little bow. Up close, he could see she was holding a carton of Mint Chocolate Chip Delight Ice Cream.
Her lips parted in a naughty smile. “Don’t you wish you had some…ice cream?”
That question, together with her full and rounded bosom nearly popping out of that genie costume top, inspired a couple of very innovative uses for the frosty dessert. Any flavor, he didn’t care. He hadn’t been with a woman in some time, and this one had every nerve ending in his body fired up.
He cleared his throat. “Wow….”
Jonah could almost tell the very moment reality dawned on that sexy little kitten. He saw her look around, her smile fading, that hint of horror in her eyes.
“You’re not Mr. Whitley, are you?” she asked.
“Okay. So—so—who are you?”
“I’m Jonah Vogel. Sheriff Jonah Vogel.”
“Sheriff?” He watched her swallow hard. She was also shivering from the cold. Jonah supposed genie costumes weren’t meant to be worn in impending snowstorms. “Where’s Simon Whitley, the ice cream magnate?”
“In his home, I guess.”
“In his home? Where’s his home?” That was one flustered little genie.
“About half a mile, uh, that way.” Jonah pointed toward the north. “I think your friends dropped you off at the wrong house, Miss…uh…Genie.”
“Are you cold? Why don’t you come in the house and warm up?”
She ignored his offer, instead flinging the ice cream carton into the crate angrily. He was fascinated, watching her pat her sides and the pants’ waistband.
“Looking for something?” Jonah asked.
“My cell phone. I hope I didn’t leave it in the truck.” Groaning, she slapped her forehead. “Oh, I left it in the truck! Shit!”
Jonah flinched slightly. Maybe he was old-fashioned, but he’d never gotten completely accustomed to women swearing, especially one as comely as this one.
“It’s not a big deal. You can come into the house and call them on my phone.”
“I can’t do that, either.”
“Because Bradley’s number was programmed into my phone. I don’t know it by heart. I know my boss’ by heart.”
“That’ll work. So call him.”
“Her,” the genie corrected him testily. “And I can’t do that. I can’t tell her this got all screwed up. That I screwed up. I can’t tell her that.”
“What got all screwed up? And where do you think you’re going?”
“To catch that truck before it gets any farther!”
Unfortunately, she was also insane. She was attempting to follow a truck that neither of them could even see anymore on the road. Jonah trotted and caught up with her, bringing her to a halt with both his large hands on her waist.
“You’re not going to catch them,” he said sternly. “Now come into the house and call your boss. Tell her to come pick you up.”
“I can’t do that! This wasn’t supposed to work out this way. Don’t you see?”
Her voice cracked on that last word. She was several inches shorter, so it was necessary for her to tilt her head back when she looked intensely at him, blinking back tears. It took effort for him not to comfort her with an embrace, effort to keep his hands to himself when all he wanted to do was touch her.
“I see that you’re gonna get frostbite if you don’t get out of the cold right now,” he lectured. “Now come into the house. I don’t know what you were trying to do here, Miss, but it’s obvious that it didn’t work out. Just call your boss and face the music.”
Evidently, that was the wrong thing to say to her. The sexy genie suddenly employed a tough girl act. Not that she was all that convincing with her lower lip quivering and her eyes moistening. Jonah mused that he was dealing with a high-maintenance lady who was accustomed to getting her own way.
“Fine. Thank you for the offer.”
It didn’t sound like a thank-you at all. The words sounded like they had ice dripping from each and every one of them. The genie turned on her heel and proceeded to march in the direction of the house, all heart-stopping fire and jiggle. Jonah was sorely tempted to deliver one good, stinging swat to that delectable behind. That would’ve taken care of her little attitude problem very nicely. She was the one who’d disturbed him, after all. Wisely, he restrained himself.
He would let her borrow his phone. Her boss would then pick her up and fire her for all he cared, and then the little troublemaker would be out of his life as quickly as she’d been dropped off into it.
Then, just maybe, he’d finally get to finish his vacation.
That is, after a very cold shower that hopefully made him forget the part of him that one little genie had revived.