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SEX, LIES, AND BEAUTY AIDES by DEB JULIENNE
Sex, lies, and beauty aids finally earn the girl next door a little respect.
Sabrina Thompson, editor of Skin Deep Magazine’s successful Natural Beauty Secrets column, is handed the challenge of her life. Take over the Love and Sex column or lose her job. What does a twenty-four year old virgin know about love or sex when she’s never been on a third date? To complicate matters, there’s a new guy at the helm. Her only crush’s clone is issuing orders. While his pompous and ambitious twin dries out, playboy and ne’er-do-well Trent Wellington must assume his identity and save his family’s flailing magazine. The bright spot amid staff cuts and content restructuring is the plucky editor he once made a fool of himself in front of at a family gathering. Fooling everyone isn’t easy, especially when Sabrina inspires his true self to be more than he ever has.
Years of hearing she’s too nice to date have left Sabrina’s frustration simmering. It boils over when she discovers Trent’s deceit and she vows to make him pay. Getting even has never been so much fun.
SEX, LIES, AND BEAUTY AIDES by DEB JULIENNE
“Oh for the love of God.” Bent over the tiny sink in the office restroom, Sabrina Thompson cupped cold water in her hands and splashed her lips.
Shocked, she stared into the mirror. Her reflection didn’t lie. Who’d have thought her skin could burn so badly without actually being on fire?
Of all the dumb-assed idiotic gimmicks. Why had paraffin wax, petroleum jelly, and jalapeno extract sounded harmless? Hindsight. Redder, plumper lips without lipstick seemed like a reasonable goal. She’d never expected this. If there were a Mick Jagger look-a-like contest, she’d count on a rejection. Even he wouldn’t want these lips.
“This is what I get for trusting the Internet.” Her lips vibrated like a kazoo when she spoke. The recipe probably had a tag for great April Fools pranks and some fifteen-year-old boy wrote it while he laughed his ass off. It crossed her mind to take a picture of the results to show what not to do.
Why today, of all days, to have an early morning meeting in the boss’s office? Thank God her boss was also her best friend. Sure, Kat would have questions about her lips. And yes, there’d be laughter at her expense, like that was something new.
Sabrina gently blotted her lips with a moist paper towel, and prayed she’d removed it all. She checked the makeup covering the scar on her right cheek, peeked out the bathroom door to be certain the coast was clear, and headed to Kat’s office. At least since she’d come in early, nobody was around to witness her humiliation.
Kat had been out of town, on the East Coast, something to do with her family. Other than a quick email to schedule this meeting, she hadn’t heard from her in over a week.
She stopped by the water cooler. Ice water in hand, she dropped into one of the ultra-modern leather chairs opposite Kat’s desk. Dunking her sore lips in the water, she made a mental note to run by her favorite consignment shop during her lunch to check out the Manolo’s that had just come in. Tina said they were her size. A perfect gift to herself for her promotion to Senior Editor. She admired the framed covers of past magazine issues lining the office. Kat made the magazine what it was today. She was proud of the periodical.
“Sabrina, right on time, as us—” Kat stopped mid-stride. “What the hell is wrong with your mouth? You look like a fish.”
Startled, she sloshed water on her skirt and tried to act casual as she wiped herself off. “The recipe didn’t mention possible swelling, only increased blood supply to the lips.” Better than what you do with yours, caught in her throat at Kat’s colorless expression. So much for hoping it wasn’t that bad.
Kat turned away, took boxes from the closet and began transferring files to them.
“What’s wrong?” Sabrina asked.
Kat didn’t respond.
“A bit early for spring cleaning, aren’t you?”
“In case I haven’t told you, I really appreciate your punctuality. Especially today.”
“What’s so special about today?” Something in Kat’s tone set her on edge, making her cautious of Kat’s behavior.
Wishing she were anywhere but here, Sabrina slid her tongue over her plump, burning lips. Mid-lick, her worst nightmare and hottest fantasy walked in, past her chair, and behind Kat’s desk. No. First her lips, then her job, now him. The man she’d dreamt of for years.
Maybe if she pretended to be calm, cool, and collected, and ignored the fact she felt like a circus clown, he wouldn’t notice her or her enormous lips.
He winked and grinned at Kat, who merely nodded and went back to her files.
Struggling to set the cup on Kat’s desk, her vision swam, the desk weaving in and out of her reach. Her hands shook so badly she was sure to dump the rest of the water on herself. She folded her hands in her lap, knuckles white, and smiled as if it was any other day. She could do this. And maybe, she’d even pull this meeting off without thoroughly humiliating herself in front of him, again.
When he glanced her way, his brows shot up and his grin only added to her paranoid misery.
She wished someone would hurry up and say something because her jangled nerves had re-ignited the jalapeno oil.
Trent—not Kat—took the seat behind the desk.
Kat studied the carpet, blinking watery eyes.
* * * *
Mimicking Travis, his twin, Trent Wellington squared his shoulders, held his tie to his chest, sat and pulled the chair up to the desk. He withdrew a pair of heavy rimmed glasses from his inner suit pocket and pushed them into place. “Good morning, Sabrina. I’m Travis Wellington. It’s nice to finally meet you. I’ve heard so much about you from Kat.”
Sabrina’s jaw dropped.
He’d managed to pull off this con, made her believe he was his identical twin, Travis. “Is something wrong?”
She frantically shook her head, auburn curls bouncing off her cheeks. She took a deep breath, sighed, and gave him a dazzling smile. “It’s nice to meet you, Travis.”
Buying time to keep from snorting with laughter, he rifled through the desk drawer.
She’d changed a bit over the years. Still a classic beauty with a great smile, cute upturned nose, and kissable lips.
“Kat do you have Sabrina’s file?”
“No.” Kat didn’t bother to look up.
He’d met Sabrina once, at Kat’s twenty-first birthday party, a long weekend at the family compound in Massachusetts, and she’d made quite an impression. When Travis mentioned the switch involved working with Sabrina, he’d been eager for a chance to see her again.
But, it hinged on fooling Kat. As long as she was distracted, he’d be fine. Otherwise, without his brother’s journalism background, he’d fail at impersonating Travis and as editor in chief of Skin Deep magazine.
The family had compiled reports of Sabrina’s success for the past several months. He opened his briefcase, pulled out dozens of folders his brother had given him and thumbed through, locating Sabrina’s file.
“Ah, here it is.”
According to Kat, Sabrina was a genius as the natural beauty editor. In the two-and-a-half years she’d been with the company, subscriptions had doubled thanks to her popular column.
Kat closed up one box and set it aside, then continued removing files from the cabinet.
He was counting on Sabrina strengths to inspire him. He had definite plans for Sabrina, wondering if she was as good as his fantasies. His gaze locked with hers and he forced himself to remember he was supposed to be standing in for his brother. What would Travis do now?
“Would you like some coffee?” Oh shit, his brother was never polite. Business was business. Damn it.
Wrinkling her nose as if he’d offered her arsenic, Sabrina shook her head. Opened her mouth twice but nothing came out. Her wide eyes were the color of the Mogul Emerald he’d seen auctioned at Christie’s in London. She turned away and picked non-existent lint from her red blazer. Her lips were quite swollen. Shiny. Getting redder by the minute, as if she’d spent hours making out.
“Ah.” His mind went blank. He didn’t mean to stare. If he tried to speak now he’d guarantee it’d come out as high-pitched squawk. He reviewed the file before him, loosening the tie that felt more like a noose. How did Travis stand these things? He unbuttoned the top button of his shirt. Cold sweat ran down his back. “Are you all right? You seem a bit nervous.” If he didn’t get his focus off himself, he’d surely screw up.
Another rapid-fire headshake. She grabbed a foam cup from the desk.
God, he hoped Sabrina bought this act instead of remembering the scene in the pool. He owed her an apology, but it was impossible without blowing his cover. It’d have to wait. Grateful for the mahogany desk between them, he extracted another file from his briefcase then stowed it under the desk.
“Let’s get started.” He scanned the cheat sheet his brother had prepared before they’d separated at the airport last night. Travis even wrote like an ass.
“As you know, the Board of Directors met last week. While Kat hoped to deliver some good news to you today, I find myself in the precarious position of dishing out the good news/bad news shtick to everyone.”
Sipping, Sabrina held his gaze and nodded.
He shifted in the chair and rotated his shoulders. “Due to a shaky economy, I have six months to make Skin Deep profitable or it will be sold. Unfortunately, advertising dollars have drastically dropped. It’s imperative to change the magazine’s format to bring the lost accounts back.”
She wasn’t sipping the water, but holding it to her mouth.
He continued, “First off, I can’t give you the promotion you and Kat previously discussed. Secondly, there will be a number of layoffs among the staff.”
Her brows shot up, eyes widened, lips thinned, and she fumbled as she set the cup on the desk, spilling a bit. She jumped out of her chair and grabbed a tissue to blot it up.
“On a more positive note I was able to salvage your job, but only because of the wonderful success with your column. In order to maintain our high standards and in light of the reduction in the work force, everyone will have additional responsibilities.”
“The beauty column takes most of my time, but I can handle a little extra responsibility. What do you have in mind?” He could see the relief on her face as she settled into the chair, crossed long, slender, shapely legs and adjusted her skirt.
He took a deep breath and forced himself to make eye contact, when what he really wanted was to take a cold shower. “I’ll be snea—ah—speaking with the other employees today, however I wanted to talk to you first. You’ll need to work with the editor you’ll replace.” God, this was all he needed, to trip over his tongue. The back of his shirt was soaked. At this rate, he’d need that cold shower before this meeting ended.
“An additional job? How long will I have to learn the ropes?”
“She’ll be leaving at the end of the week and you’ll need to be up to speed for the February issue.” He’d never managed people before, much less fired or laid someone off. He hoped he didn’t make a mess of it and land the company in a lawsuit.
“What? I only have until the end of the week to learn another position?”
“Luckily, we’ve already put January’s issue to bed.” Saying the word bed, to Sabrina no less, put all sorts of ideas in his head. He squelched the inviting grin he wanted to give her. “That said you’ll have four weeks before you face your next set of deadlines.”
“Whew.” Closing her eyes, Sabrina let out a breath then drummed her fingers on the sleek metal armrests.
He fidgeted with a paperweight on the corner of the desk. Some swirly girly glass thing Kat probably adored. He searched for the right inflection, needing confidence in using phrases his brother had jotted down for him. “I realize you’ll have a learning curve, but you’ll have plenty of time to gain as much knowledge as possible for your new columns.” Travis wouldn’t fidget. He sat back. “After talking to Kat, I fully believe you’ll handle the new position with the same professionalism you’ve already exhibited in your current job.”
And man, he’d love to be her tutor. He’d definitely be first in line.
While some say truth is stranger than fiction, Deb Julienne’s experience runs more along the lines of slap-stick comedy. She believes when life tosses you lemons it’s best to turn it into Limoncello.
As a long time member of both Romance Writers of America (RWA) and her local RWA Chapter, the Sacramento Valley Rose, Deb fills the hours she’s not writing romantic comedy and romantic suspense with her day job at a Silicon Valley Corporation, playing in the kitchen concocting her award-winning jams (with alcohol of course).
Born and raised in San Jose, California, she now resides in the Tahoe National Forest Basin, her own bit of heaven on Earth, with her husband of 33 years, with three sons and one daughter, and two very precocious grandkids.
Links to Deb’s website, blog, books, etc.
**SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Deb will give away a print or ebook (reader’s choice) copy of her book, SEX, LIES, AND BEAUTY AIDES to one of her lucky readers who comments on her Monday Interview or Wednesday Book Bench blogs!! Don’t miss this chance to read this story!! Thanks, Deb, for sharing your stories with us!