I'm still not really reading anything (the 5th of the Stephanie Plum novel, every now and then) so I thought I'd do something different and post the opening of my upcoming book, Savin' Me (scheduled to release 3/10/10 from The Wild Rose Press).
I'll post the first half of Chapter 1 this week, and the 2nd half next week. I hope you enjoy it!!
Oh man, not the strawberry…not the strawberry…aw, shit.
Erik Monteague clenched his jaw and steeled his defenses against the impending carnal assault. The laughing guests, jazz band, overflowing food tables—everything at the Sinclair Marketing Group open house—faded into the woodwork as his field of vision narrowed down to ruby lips. And the damn lucky strawberry about to be devoured.
Her pink tongue flicked across full, luscious lips, then scooped a bead of chocolate from the bottom of the large, ripe fruit. She opened her mouth, slowly slid the berry inside and wrapped her lips around it.
God Almighty. “I can’t believe I’m jealous of a piece of fruit,” Erik muttered, as he shifted his stance and stifled a moan.
A familiar chuckle pushed through the haze, and his view once again widened to include the other guests milling about, as well as his best friend, Steve, who seemed to be enjoying himself at Erik’s expense.
“What the hell are you mumbling about?”
Erik flicked a glance in Steve’s direction, noticed his friend had come armed with an extra beer and grinned. The smirk on Steve’s face indicated he knew exactly what Erik found so intriguing and what he’d been mumbling about. Instead of answering the rhetorical question, he asked one of his own. “You drinking both of those, or did you plan to share?”
Steve handed one of the bottles over to Erik. “You looked like you might be overheating.” He tipped his bottle in the direction of Erik’s temptress. “I’ve never seen her before. Who is she?”
Erik stared at Steve for a moment, perplexed. He knew Steve wasn’t asking if she, like them, was a client of SMG’s. Or as was more likely to be the case, if she worked at SMG. Steve wanted to know the personal connection. It was a simple question that shouldn’t have required much thought. But for some reason, Erik didn’t want to answer.
He pinched the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to ward off the explosive memories of her and their night together.
Her mouth—warm and slick—wrapped tightly around him…
Her beneath him, bottom lip caught between her teeth in an effort to hold back her screams…her mouth dropping open to gasp for air as she cried out her release…
Him waking, reaching for her and finding himself alone…
He swallowed hard and scrubbed his hand down his face. “I don’t know who she is.” Erik was known for his honest, straightforward manner, but in this case, he decided knowing someone intimately didn’t mean you really knew them.
Steve quirked a pierced eyebrow. “Bullshit.”
At times, having a friend who was closer than a brother was a true blessing. This wasn’t one of them, and Erik cursed the fact that Steve knew him better than anyone. “Sometimes you’re a real pain in the ass.”
Steve’s lopsided grin grew to obnoxious proportions. “Yep.” He took a sip of beer and waited. When Erik didn’t elaborate, he pressed the issue further. “What’s the deal?”
Erik took a long drink of beer, studied the floor and fought the urge to shuffle his feet like a teenager being grilled by a pissed-off parent. He and Steve had been friends since kindergarten, and in their twenty-seven year friendship he hadn’t ever kept anything from Steve.
No way would he analyze why he wanted to keep her identity private. Rather than wade into the troubled waters implied by that revelation, he gave Steve a sly grin and said, “My friend, we have shared many things. But whatever I might know about her, I’m keepin’ to myself.”
“Damn.” All traces of amusement dropped from Steve’s face, and he whistled low. “That sounds serious.”
Erik stiffened and bit back a snarl. Instead of letting it out, he nailed his smile in place and said, “It is.” He took a moment to enjoy surfing the shock waves rolling off his friend, then said, “Serious lust. You know—the kind that results in sex that’s mind-altering. Not life-altering.”
As soon as the last words left his mouth, he mentally winced. He’d left an opening big enough to drive a truck through, and, as expected, Steve barreled in. “Dammit, Erik, it’s been ten years. When are you gonna let it go and move on with your life?”
Erik rolled his head in a circle, attempting to loosen the muscles in his neck and shoulders that’d suddenly snapped into tight bands. They’d had this conversation too many times, and he didn’t want to have it again. Not tonight. Not ever. Instead of delving into the past—a past he couldn’t change or forget—he decided to ignore Steve and shifted his attention to something more appealing.
Kat. He chuckled as he considered for the first time the possibility she might have given him a false name. That would certainly explain why, on all of his subsequent trips to Charlotte and multiple attempts to find her, he’d hit nothing but roadblocks.
Funny, but the name fit her so well he found himself hoping she hadn’t lied. Tall and lithe, her movements were fluid and graceful, like those of a cat. And when stroked just right, she damn near purred. He scowled. She’d also crawled under his skin and become a constant source of irritation—kind of like Cat Scratch Fever.
He crossed his arms over his chest, leaned against the wall and studied her. She looked different than she had the night they’d met, and, at first, he’d thought his mind was playing tricks on him. But the more he watched her move through the crowd, mixing and mingling and interacting, the more obvious it became. Even her conservative business suit couldn’t hide her tempting curves or disguise the way her body moved with a natural sensuality.
She still screamed “sex,” and his body still wanted her to the point he ached.
His stomach—and khakis—tightened as more memories of her uninhibited passion assaulted him. Her green eyes, locking gazes with his; her black hair falling across his chest while she rode him to oblivion. He’d almost forgotten all the reasons he avoided commitment and professed true love that night.
It was probably for the best that she’d snuck out on him while he slept. It had prevented him from doing something foolish, like falling for her.
Erik jumped, startled by Steve’s voice. The wicked gleam in his friend’s eye set Erik’s nerves on edge, and his irritation flared. “What?”
"I hate to wake you from your wet dream, but Elise has been watching you watch…whoever she is that you claim you don’t know. And now Elise is headed this way.” He laughed and slapped Erik on the back. “You’re on your own with this one, I’m out.”
Shit. Erik closed his eyes and pulled a long drink from his beer, wishing he had a keg tapped straight to his veins. There wasn’t enough alcohol in the world to make Elise tolerable, and the only reason he tried to be civil was out of respect for their mothers’ friendship.
Elise stopped in front of him, crossed her arms under her large, surgically enhanced breasts and pierced him with an icy look males from every corner of the world recognized. And loathed.
There wasn’t any reason to play games or dally around. Best to get right to the point and be done with her. “What do you want, Elise?”
“Oh, nothing.” She pecked a talon against her cheek. “I couldn’t help but notice your interest in my competition.”
Despite his intentions to stay aloof, Erik felt his eyebrows rise in surprise. How could Elise and Kat possibly be in competition for anything? One was like a Rolls Royce. Compact with overdone curves, high maintenance and pretentious as hell. The other—he flicked a glance to Kat—was like his Harley. Sleek, commanded attention, represented wild abandon, and provided the ride of a life.
“Competition?” he asked, not wanting to encourage further conversation but needing answers Elise seemed capable of providing. Primarily, why was Kat in Riverside?
“Yeah, the new account executive Rusty hired.” She looked at Kat with a truckload of disgust. “She’s from a big agency in Charlotte, and she’s got ninety days to prove she’s better than I am.” She snorted. “As if.” Mumbling more to herself than to him, she said, “I can’t figure out why she’d leave a large agency to come here. Something’s not right about all that.”
Erik suspected he knew why she’d left her old job. Probably for the same reason she’d been in the bar drinking the night they’d met. But no way in hell would he arm Elise with that kind of information. First, he’d never give Elise any kind of ammunition that might be harmful to another. Second, he was quickly realizing he had an inexplicable protective streak where Kat was concerned.
And he didn’t like it.
“What’s her name?” he asked, pleased to hear he sounded casual and only moderately interested.
“Kat Owens.” Elise shuddered as she returned her attention to Kat. “Appropriate, really—I hate cats. They’re nasty and sneaky.”
As if sensing she were the topic of conversation, Kat began scanning the crowd while continuing to pick at the food on her plate. Her gaze skimmed past Elise and settled on Erik as she took a bite from another strawberry.
Her eyes widened and she froze in place, strawberry stem caught between her finger and thumb, berry half sticking out of her mouth. It would have been humorous, if his nerves weren’t surfing on a razor’s edge of irritation.
And if she weren’t choking.
He’d already started moving in her direction when she grabbed a drink and took a few sips. The coughing stopped and she appeared to be okay, so he forced the tension from his body and relaxed back against the wall.
When she glanced at him again, he wanted to smile. But his overriding thought was, Why’d you run out on me like that? and he knew his expression must be fierce.
Her shoulders sagged as she dropped her gaze to the floor. She slipped her feet into her previously discarded shoes, then briskly moved toward a small group standing nearby.
His gaze snapped to Elise, and he held his breath, waiting for her reaction to Kat’s admittedly odd behavior.
She blinked a couple of times, then turned to face him. Shit. He could see the wheels turning and smell the rubber burning.
“Well, that was…interesting.” She watched him, steady and unblinking. “Do you know her?”
With Steve, he’d found a way to work around the truth to justify his evasion. With Elise, he had no qualms with flat-out lying. “No. Should I?”
Elise narrowed her eyes and studied him. “I don’t know.” He knew she wanted to say more. To ask more. But Elise wasn’t called the Queen of Scheme for nothing. And after years of practice, she knew how to hold her cards close to her disproportionately large chest.
Her nose almost twitched as she sniffed the air, looking for answers and knowing there had to be more to this story than she’d been told. Not even trying to be nonchalant about her devious pursuit, she said, “Well, it’s been fun…and informative, but I’ve got to go. Things to do and all.” She added a little finger wave and said, “Ta-ta,” before heading across the room, no doubt in search of a pot to stir.
Erik rubbed a hand over his eyes. Part of him wanted to yell Hell yeah! at his good fortune. He’d spent thirteen months looking for Kat, and here she was. As beautiful and sexy as she’d been the night they’d met.
But dammit, he’d wanted to find her in Charlotte. With him living at the coast, that put the entire state of North Carolina and a five-hour drive between them, thereby limiting the feasibility of establishing what could be misconstrued a true relationship.
He didn’t do relationships—at least not any which lasted for more than twelve hours. And while he enjoyed more than his fair share of female company, he always made sure there were no misunderstandings about what to expect after those twelve hours were over. That wasn’t to say he wouldn’t sleep with a woman more than once. But he always put enough time between encounters to make sure everyone knew where things stood. And he never spent time thinking about them.
He hadn’t been able to forget her or let go of hoping to see her again. Now, here she was in his hometown. Looking very much like she belonged and very much like she intended to stay. And that presented a problem. The fire between them burned too hot, and he doubted he’d be able to ignore it now, any more than he’d been able to ignore it thirteen months ago.
So where did that leave him? Avoid her and hope the simmering embers eventually cooled and she became a distant memory? Or work her out of his system by picking up where they’d left off?
One thing he knew for sure. Before he made any decisions about the future, he needed her answer to the question that had driven him nearly insane for the past thirteen months. Why had she walked out on him without so much as a good-bye or a kiss my ass?
Have a wonderful weekend!!
Peace and love,