Friday, May 10, 2013

The Perfect Con

One of the great writing practices we have in the Harlequin online community is a Writer's Challenge. The challenge: write no more than 1,000 words on a given topic. It provides a great opportunity to practice your craft, since you get feedback from other forum members, and it also allows you to see how much diversity can come from one simple topic. This is one of my old, unused entries from the challenge. Maybe someday it will grow up into a full fledged story!

The Perfect Con

Jack Piper hated the holidays. He’d barely survived his latest job in the glitter and glamour of Carmel; even now, the prize resting in his jacket’s hidden pocket was only a reminder of all his sacrifices. Now that it was New Year’s, he was holding out hope that maybe his life would finally get back to normal. After he dropped off the flash drive in Philadelphia, that is.

A quick glance at his gate showed that few people had arrived for the miserable red-eye flight. Who would he sit next to tonight? A grandma with her young grandson? She glared at him, a clear warning that he wasn't welcome. No problem, grams. A business man, already talking obnoxiously on his cell phone barely one day after Christmas? All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. But there, sitting quietly in a corner and staring blankly at the wall, was someone…intriguing.

Normally he wouldn't have given her a second glance. Plain was her best descriptor. A closer look though showed that her fair complexion didn't require makeup, and she didn't need the enhancement jewelry would provide. Her posture was impeccable, her luggage carefully tucked away next to her, her fingers drumming on a paperback. She probably enjoyed her invisibility.

Jack made his living by being invisible. And he knew it could be lonely, so he may as well talk to her, even if the only words to fall from her surprisingly kissable lips would tell him to shove it up his…

“Going to Pittsburgh too?” 

Sarah Jameson looked up at the man who had spoken to her, expecting to see an airport worker. It only took half a second to realize this man couldn't possibly be that, not with his worn jeans and leather jacket. Honestly, he would have been completely forgettable, if not for being just a few inches too tall, his hair just a hint too dark, and his jaw just a bit too strong. The light smile on his lips when he noted her slow perusal quickened her pulse.

Not wanting to give too much information, she settled for, “Yes.”

“That’s a bit of a climate change. From Santa Cruz with its sun and sand, to Pittsburgh with its...”

Giving in to his charm, she finished, “Snow and smog? I wouldn't go except I promised to visit my mom and her new husband.”

“You don’t sound excited.” He looked her over carefully, leaving her flushed and more than a little confused about his interest. “I know what it is!” he finally crowed before asking sympathetically, “First time flying?”

Embarrassment swept over her and she gnawed at her lip. “Is it that obvious?”

He chuckled and sat two seats down. “You've got new luggage, a paperback that doesn't even have the binding cracked, and I’m guessing from how you keep shifting in your seat that you followed airport suggestions exactly and arrived three hours before your flight.”

“Are you...are you some kind of security person? Have you been watching me? Because, I swear, I haven’t accepted packages from anyone, and I made sure to pack all my liquids in my checked bag...”

His rolling laughter stopped her mid-sentence. “No, I’m not security.”

“Then how do you know all of that about me?”

He pursed his lips, and for some inexplicable reason she found herself waiting with bated breath. A slow, smug grin spread across his face and he leaned in confidentially. “Can you keep a secret?”

Jack couldn't resist, even though he knew he should. But if he didn't do something crazy, she’d stop talking to him. And for some bizarre reason, he didn't want to end the conversation. “I’m a con man,” he confided.
For a second, she looked confused. Then her eyebrows raised just a hint. Her shapely lips parted and she moistened them with the tip of a pale pink tongue. She started to say something, but reconsidered.

Maybe she was going to make some comment about that being a poor joke, or she’d string him along for a bit before she realized he was serious; he wasn't counting on that though, since she looked more like a church mouse than a flirt.

Instead she surprised him.

Relief flitted across her face before turning into a spine-tingling look of sheer canniness. “You’re a con man?”

He nodded. She really wasn't reacting the way he’d expected.

She shook her head. Sprawling back in the uncomfortable seat, Jack was fully aware that his grin had widened and he was itching for some sort of argument. Which was crazy, since he never let a woman get him riled. But something about this one set fire to his blood.

He didn't immediately catch that she wasn't trying to argue. Instead, she was asking, “How much would it cost to hire you for this weekend?”

“Excuse me?”

“I need to hire you.”


Her eyes narrowed and those full lips tilted downward. “Because I refuse to show up at home without a man by my side.”

“Interesting. Why not?”

“My mom’s husband is my ex-boyfriend from college.”


That earned him a wary look. “Do you really think I could make something like that up?”

“Not unless you’re the best con artist I've ever met, lady.”

“Would you do it?”

Sarah knew her question was ridiculous, but she was desperate and this man - this stranger Fate had thrown into her path - seemed the perfect answer. Still, it would make sense if he refused her or even laughed in her face.

She did not expect him to pause momentarily before casually answering, “Why not? I have a few days to kill.”

“You’ll do it?”

His eyes caressed her figure once more and he added, “For a price.”

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