Molly Devaney needed a hero.
She could think of no other way to solve her dilemma.
She’d been tossing and turning at night for the past two weeks, obsessing over what she’d done, wishing and praying and hoping she could figure out how to fix things and fix them fast.
It had taken fifteen days and fifteen hellish nights to come to the conclusion that she needed some help—and pronto—and there was only one man who could save the day, just like he’d previously saved her on plenty of other days.
Her hero of all times, ever since she was three and he was six, and Molly and her sister, Kate, recently orphaned, had ended up living with his rich and wonderful family in their San Antonio mansion.
Julian John Gage.
Okay. The guy was definitely no saint. He was a ladies’ man down to his very sexy bones. He could have any woman he wanted, in any way he preferred, at any time he felt like, and the stupid meathead knew this. Which meant he was determined to sample them all.
It really rankled her sometimes.
But while he was an incorrigible rake with the ladies, a handful to the press due to his position as head of PR for the San Antonio Daily, a problem to his brothers and a bane to his own mother, to Molly, Julian John Gage was nothing short of the bomb. He was her greatest friend, the reason she’d never really found a man until now and the only person on this earth who would be honest enough to tell her how to seduce his hardheaded, annoying older brother.
The problem now was that Molly could’ve found a better time to expose her wicked plans to him. Bursting into his apartment on a Sunday morning was not her brightest idea. But then she was losing precious time and urgently needed Garrett, his older brother, to realize he loved her before she all but died from the misery of it all.
Now, if only Julian would stop staring at her as if she’d lost it big time—which he’d been doing for the past couple of minutes, ever since she’d blurted out her plans.
The guy just stood there, easily the most magnificent work of art in his flawless contemporary apartment, his feet braced apart and his steely jaw hanging slightly ajar.
“I can’t have heard right.” When at last he spoke, his husky morning voice was laden with incredulousness.“Did you just ask me to help you seduce my own brother?”
Molly stopped pacing around the coffee table and, all of a sudden, she felt very much like a tramp. “Well…I didn’t actually say ‘seduce.’ Did I?”
An awkward silence followed as they both thought back to five minutes ago. Julian lifted a lone eyebrow. “You didn’t?”
Molly sighed. She couldn’t remember either. She’d been a little tongue-tied when the living sculpture—aka Julian—had opened the door, gloriously bare-chested and wearing only a pair of low-slung drawstring linen pajama pants. The pants were so low-slung and sheer, in fact, that Molly could clearly make out the dark vee of hair starting just under Julian’s flat, bronzed navel, a tidbit which was playing havoc with her mind since she’d never seen a man partly naked before.
Plus, Julian was not just any man. He looked more like David Beckham’s younger brother.
The hotter one.
Good thing their friendship made Molly immune.
“Okay, maybe I did say that, I can’t remember.” Molly shook her head and fought to get back on track. “It’s only that I’ve just realized I need to do something drastic before some bimbo steals him from me for good. I need to get him, Julian. And you’re the expert seducer, so I need you to tell me what to do.”
His eyes—green like the leaves of the oaks outside—flared slightly in concern. “Look, Molls. I don’t quite know how to explain this to you, so let me just get it out there.” He started pacing. “We all grew up together. My brothers and I saw you in diapers. There’s no way Garrett will ever look at you and see anything else but a little sister, the key words here being little and sister.”
“All right, so it’s too late to do anything about the Pampers issue, I get it, but I have solid reasons to believe Garrett’s feelings toward me have changed! I mean, has he ever even said he only thinks of me as a little sister, Julian? I’m already twenty-three. He may actually think I’ve grown up to be quite a sophisticated and sexy lady.” With really nice breasts that he quite happily fondled at the masquerade, she thought smugly.
But Julian regarded her attire—certainly not one of her best outfits, she’d grant him that—with a look that was the opposite of thrilled.
“Your sister, Kate, is sophisticated and sexy. But you?” He stared pointedly at her boho skirt and paint-splattered tank top, then plunged his hand through his sun-streaked hair as though supremely frustrated. “God, Molls, have you stopped by a mirror recently? You look like you’ve been smacked, kicked, then put for a spin inside a blender.”
“Julian John Gage!” Molly gasped, so genuinely hurt her heart constricted. “My next New York solo exhibit happens to be in four weeks—I don’t have time to care about how I look! Plus I can’t believe you’re giving me crap about my work clothes when you stand there half nak—”
A door slammed shut in the depths of the apartment, and Molly whirled around with a scowl, ready to keep shouting. But she spotted someone approaching out of the corner of her eye and in that instant, she lost all power of speech. That someone was, of course, a woman.
The leggiest, blondest blonde Molly had ever seen was currently stepping out of Julian’s bedroom. She was carrying a gold clutch purse and wearing a pair of crimson stilettos and one of Julian’s button-down shirts, which seemed to barely contain what was easily a set of enormous breasts that made Molly’s girls suddenly shrink before her eyes.
Now that woman looked like she’d been inside a blender. But at a really marvelous speed. Molly wished she could pull off that tumbled look so well.
“I have to go,” the mystery woman told Julian sultrily from afar. “I left my number on your pillow, so…” She made the universal call-me sign and puckered her lips. “It was really nice meeting you last night. I hope you don’t mind me borrowing a shirt? My dress didn’t seem to fare as well as I did.” She released a soft giggle, and when Julian remained unmoved by her sexiness and Molly only gaped, she gracefully crossed the room to leave.
The instant the elevator doors shut behind her, Molly’s gaze jerked back to Julian. “Seriously?” Annoyance flared through her with such force that she stalked forward and shoved his rigid shoulder. That womanizer! “Seriously, Julian? Do you have to sleep with every woman you meet?”
She shoved him again, but his shoulder budged as much as a concrete building would.
With a rumbling chuckle, Julian grabbed her hand and forced her fingers into a fist. “We aren’t talking about my love life. We’re talking about yours.” He frowned down at their fisted hands and briskly released her. “And the fact that you have paint on your nose, in your hair and on your shoes, and this starving-artist look is not going to do anything for my brother.”
Molly shot him a harsh glare, then shoved past him and stormed down the hall. “Oh, just let me grab one of your shirts! I’m sure that will do wonders for my pitifully unsexy and unsophisticated looks.”
“Aw, heck. Molly! Come on, Molls. Moo, baby. Get back here and just let me wrap my head around all this, all right? You know you’ve always been pretty, and I know that’s why you don’t give a damn.”
Julian reached her in three long strides, promptly snatched her arm and dragged her back to the living room. Molly glared at him at first, but when she heard the low, deep sigh that worked its way up his chest, the sigh that said he just didn’t know what to do with her anymore, her anger vanished.
It was just too hard to stay angry with Julian John.
Molly knew he’d do anything for her—and maybe that was why she was here. On a Sunday morning. And why she continued to be a pain in his great-looking butt. Because nobody had ever done the things that Julian John had done to make sure she was safe and protected, except maybe her sister, who had practically assumed the role of a mother when they were orphaned.
Kate had put her through school, coddled her, raised her and loved her every second of growing up without a mom and a dad. So the fact that Julian had been there for her almost as much as Kate said a lot about a man who insisted on pretending he was nothing but a playboy.
Which he first and foremost was.
But that was precisely why Molly was happy that he was just her friend and not the man she had set her romantic sights on.
“Look,” she said as he released her, feeling herself blush as she remembered her and Garrett’s stolen kiss. “I know you might not understand this. But I love your brother so much, I—”
“Since freaking when, Molls? He’s always annoyed the crap out of both of us.”
She stiffened defensively. “True, okay. But that was when he was so rigid, you know. Before.”
“Before…before I realized that he…” Wants me. Before he said the things he said to me when he kissed me. Her stomach wrenched at the painful memory. Anxiously, she pushed her red tresses back behind her shoulders and tried again. “I—I really can’t explain it, but something has monumentally changed. And I just know he loves me back, I just know it in my soul, Julian—please don’t laugh.”
She couldn’t bring herself to look him in the eyes for some inexplicable reason, so she spun around and slumped down on the leather sofa. The silence ticked by, and within seconds, she became aware of some extremely strange vibes coming from the vicinity of where Julian stood.
The laugh that broke the silence was worst of all. It was anything but mirthful. “I can’t freaking believe this.”
Molly held her breath and peered up at him, finding that a harsh frown had settled on his strong, tanned face. She had never seen Julian truly mad, but if that black scowl was a good indicator, he was getting there, and fast.
Her stomach clenched when she once again took a peek at his flat, muscled navel, the dark vee dipping into those super-loose drawstring pants and leading into—okay, enough of that. She had to focus on getting Garrett. Now.
“Julian…” She really had to say something. Sighing, she signaled at that perfectly tanned, perfectly perfect torso. “Look. While we discuss this, can you put on one of your remaining shirts? The chest and the six-pack and all that you’ve got going on are just…let’s just say it makes me want to go take a peek at Garrett.”
Julian scoffed and flexed one seriously impressive bicep. “You know damned well my brother doesn’t have these guns.”
“He does too.”
He flexed his other bicep. “I may be his baby brother, but I can take the guy down in five seconds flat with these.”
“Oh, puleeze. The only thing you’re probably better at doing than him is screwing around—and you deserve that after saying I look like I live in a blender.”
“Ahh. So once again, you missed the part where I said you were pretty.” Julian fell down on a chair and for a long moment, they sat there, both staring pensively into space.
When he at last spoke, Molly was relieved to hear that his voice had regained its usual playful note. “Yeah. You’re right. I am better at screwing around than both my brothers put together. Not that Landon would ever look at another woman now that he’s married.”
He leaned back and watched her with the beginnings of a smile that carried a hint of danger while he linked his hands behind his head in a deceptively relaxed pose.
“So let’s screw around with Garrett. Why not? He’s always been ridiculously protective of you and Kate. He’d go Donkey Kong if he ever found out you were dating someone. Especially someone with a bad reputation. You don’t even really have to date the guy, just make him agree to play your doting lover for a while, ask him to be convincing enough to yank ole Garrett’s chain.”
Delighted that Julian was at last addressing her predicament, Molly almost jumped out of her seat and found herself clapping twice. “Yes! Yes! He sounds charming. But the question is, do I actually know such a man?”
Julian’s smile was perfectly wolfish. “Baby, you’re looking right at him.”