Lucas Taggart is the best con man in the business, so to speak.A former-geek-turned-hottie, Luke is now an image consultant and life coach to the rich and privileged in New York City. His eight-week program is designed to transform ugly ducklings into swans by instilling some much-needed confidence, and hey, a makeover never hurts.
But when Ainsley Carrington signs up as a client, Luke’s world is thrown into a tailspin. Ainsley doesn’t need an image consultant; her image is already perfect just the way it is. Luke immediately finds himself grappling with his attraction to the introverted beauty as all his old insecurities come bubbling back to the surface.
The thing is, Luke doesn’t date his clients. Ever. But fighting his desire for Ainsley is proving more difficult than he ever imagined. Especially since the cocky and arrogant “confidence man” has just completely lost his cool.
***CON MAN is a romantic comedy novel intended for ages 18+ due to some offensive language and graphic sex/sexual situations.***
READ WHEN YOU’RE IN THE MOOD FOR: cocky, fun, dramatic, insightful, relatable.
The two of us were seated at a prime patio table at Ocean, a fairly classy restaurant bordering the south end of Central Park. We’d been having a pleasant conversation from our outdoor post, enjoying the mid-summer breeze which was made blessedly cooler from the shade of our umbrella. We’d been planning to indulge in a leisurely meal as we talked, but Charise’s question ensured that this little luncheon was going to be cut rather short.
I eased back in my chair and assessed the fiery-haired bombshell seated across from me. Her invitation was unmistakable, and I found myself letting out with an exasperated breath. “I think there’s been a misunderstanding.”
“Well, maybe I should have been a little clearer,” she purred, sliding a finger to trace along the swell of her ample breast. “I’m hoping you’ll be able to, ah, teach me a thing or two about what a man really wants.”
“That’s not what I do.” I’d encountered this scenario a time or two, and I’d learned it was best to just confront the situation head-on, without mincing words. “Look, Charise, I think you’ve been misinformed about what kind of service I provide. I’m not a sex therapist; I’m an image consultant.”
I’m the founder and CEO of Swan, Inc., New York City’s preeminent makeover service. People who felt stuck in the “ugly duckling” stage of their lives came to me for transformation. My services provided much more than a simple makeover, though. Aside from helping these ladies out with a new hairdo and some clothes, I also offered some intensive remodeling of a client’s self-esteem. Reputedly, these methods helped to unleash a woman’s inner sexpot.
It kinda went with the territory. The sex appeal was simply a happily unexpected side effect of the confidence training I provided.
Charise blinked a few times in my direction, clearly confused. “I was told that you teach women to be absolute maneaters. And after I saw the change in Darla Haagen… I mean, she was positively glowing by the time you got through with her. She said you were a godsend. She said she never experienced a better eight weeks in her entire life. I’m sorry. I guess I just assumed…”
“Sometimes people do. I’m not offended.”
Most of the time, a new client and I will have engaged in a series of emails prior to our first meeting. Even if we haven’t, it was easy enough for them to do their homework on their own; my website clearly lays out what it is that I do. But sometimes, like in the case with Charise, here, people jumped to their own conclusions and thought they were merely hiring a high-priced escort. Hell, even if I was in the sex therapy business, actual sex isn’t a part of the therapy provided.
I gave Charise a smile, trying to put her at ease regarding the mixup. Essentially, the woman had just offered herself up on a silver platter only for me to turn her down. Rather than dwell on her undoubtedly bruised ego, I decided to point her in the right direction. “In fact, if you’re looking for a sex therapist, I can recommend someone for you. I have a friend out in Arizona—his name is Justice Drake and he’s the best at what he does. But he and I don’t work in the same field, understand?”
Charise tipped her head to the side and eyed me curiously. “No. I guess I don’t understand. I thought I was hiring you to teach me how to please a man.”
“Yes, to a point. Essentially what I do is teach you how to please yourself.” Charise’s lip curled, confirming that her mind was spinning all over again. Before she could jump to another conclusion, I added, “I teach confidence. That’s it. When you think about it, that’s the sexiest trait of all, wouldn’t you agree?”
I could see the shift in her posture as my words finally sunk in. “But I already have confidence.”
“Yes, you certainly do. Rightfully so.”
She gave me a flattered smile for that. “So, I guess this isn’t going to be a good fit, is it?”
“I’m sorry, no, it’s not.”
There was an awkward pause between us as the situation sank in, until finally, she let out with a resigned sigh. “Well,” she said agreeably as she rose from her chair. “It looks like my little sex-school adventure is going to turn into a shopping marathon instead.” She gave me a smile and held out her hand. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Luke.”
I came around to her side of the table to give her a hug. “You too, Charise.”
When we pulled away from each other, there was a devilish twinkle in her eye as she purred, “You know, Luke… Just because I’m not hiring you for sex, that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun off the clock. Armed with nothing but false information and your photograph, I flew all the way out here from Houston, and I have to say, you’re even more delicious than your picture. I’d hate to think the sexy vacation I was planning is actually going to be a complete letdown. I could use some company over the next couple of months while I’m here.”
I couldn’t contain my smirk as I answered, “That is one tempting offer, Charise. Truly. But I’m going to have to respectfully decline your generous proposition. Something tells me you’re going to have one hell of a vacation without me. Here,” I added, pulling out my wallet and digging around for my friend’s business card. “Maybe after you’ve torn up New York for a few days, you’ll decide to reroute to Sedona. Give Drake a call. He really knows his stuff.”
She took the card from my hand, flicking it around her fingers as she said, “I will. I promise.”
One of my brows raised as I added, “Although you strike me as someone who’s already well-schooled in this area.”
Charise grinned as she gave me a last peck on the cheek before jaunting across the patio and into the park.
My morning appointment was a bust, and my afternoon appointment wasn’t scheduled to be here for another two hours. Since now I had some time to kill, I decided to take a walk to clear my head. I asked Fernando to hold my table, then slipped out of the gated patio and into the courtyard.
There were a few high-end boutiques that bordered this end of the park, so I did a little window shopping. Eyed up a new suit in the display at Brooks Brothers; checked out a new watch in the front case of Tiffany’s. When my stomach started growling, I became aware of my abandoned lunch, and stopped off at a corner pushcart to get a dirty-water dog with the works.
I loved the city. New York was the best place in the world to test a person’s mettle. You could live out your every dream or disappear into a sea of faces. Do whatever you wanted to do; be whoever you wanted to be.
I headed back to Ocean and hit the men’s room to clean up before my next appointment, throwing a couple bucks in the attendant’s tray and giving a quick glance in the mirror as I ran a hand through my hair.
I wasn’t always this good-looking.
Before you can accuse me of being an arrogant, conceited jerk, I’ll tell you that the personal assessment of my handsomeness is mentioned without spectacle or vanity of any kind.
Well, maybe a little pride, but that’s it. And I’m only proud because it took a ton of hard work to get myself looking this way. Countless hours at the gym, consultations with fashion gurus, and a whole helluva lot of mental reprogramming all combined to create the man you see standing before you today.
Fact is, before I was one of the “beautiful people,” I used to view an attractive person with the same sort of indifference as I would an air balloon.
Pretty to look at, but there’s no substance to it.
Strange that I should’ve made my living as an image consultant, right? If I had such disregard for external beauty, then why did I make it my mission to help women achieve the height of theirs?
And no. Before you can ask, I’ll tell you emphatically that I did not start this whole venture as some elaborate scheme to pick up chicks. I’m not looking to hit on them. I’m looking to help them.
Unfortunately, the sad fact is this: I’ve been where these women are now. I know from firsthand experience what it’s like to be ignored or downright snubbed for not looking like those people you see on your television screens. Society as a whole has always been impressed with such superficial qualities in a person. Looking good is the easiest way to catch a guy’s eye, and if a woman is coming to me to help her land a man, she’s going to have to understand that men appreciate external beauty above all else.
At least they think they do.
That’s why the second part of my service is even more important than the first. Yes, I’ll whip your body into shape. Yes, I’ll hook you up with hair and makeup professionals. But while all that is happening, I’ll be working on your internal assets. Pointing out your positive attributes, trying to teach you how to use them to your advantage. Building your confidence in little baby steps until you’re ready to do it on your own.
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