Read an Excerpt
The Care and Feeding of Unmarried Men
By Christie Ridgway
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Christie Ridgway
All right reserved.
"Leader of the Pack"
"A" side, single (1964)
The rain was pouring down on the Palm Springs desert in biblical proportions the night he stalked into the spa's small bar. He was a big man, tall, brawny, the harsh planes of his face unsoftened by his wet, dark hair. Clint Eastwood minus forty years and plus forty pounds of pure muscle. Water dripped from the hem of his ankle-length black slicker to puddle on the polished marble floor beside his reptilian-skinned cowboy boots.
She flashed on one of the lessons her father had drilled into her. A girl as beautiful as you and with a name like yours should always be on guard for the snake in Paradise.
And as the stranger took another step forward, Eve Caruso heard a distinctive hiss.
The sound had come from her, though, the hiss of a quick, indrawn breath, because the big man put every one of her instincts on alert. But she'd also been taught at the school of Never Showing Fear, so she pressed her damp palms against the thighs of her tight white jeans, then scooted around the bar.
"Can I help you?" she asked, positioning her body between him and the lone figure seated on the eighth and last stool.
The stranger's gazeflicked to Eve.
She'd attended a casual dinner party earlier that evening -- escorted by her trusty tape recorder so she wouldn't forget a detail of the meal or the guest list, which would appear in her society column -- and hadn't bothered to change before taking on the late shift in the Kona Kai's tiny lounge. Her jeans were topped with a honey-beige silk T-shirt she'd belted at her hips. Around her neck was a tangle of turquoise-and-silver necklaces, some of which she'd owned since junior high. Her cowboy boots were turquoise too, and hand-tooled. Due to pressing financial concerns, she'd recently considered selling them on eBay -- and maybe she still would, she thought, as his gaze fell to the pointy tips and her toes flexed into involuntary fetal curls.
He took in her flashy boots, then moved on to her long legs, her demi-bra-ed breasts, her shoulder-blade-length blonde hair and blue eyes. She'd been assessed by a thousand men, assessed, admired, desired, and since she was twelve-and-a-half years old, she'd been unfazed by all of them. Her looks were her gift, her luck, her tool, and tonight, a useful distraction in keeping the dark man from noticing the less showy but more famous face of the younger woman sitting by herself at the bar.
Eve placed a hand on an empty stool and gestured with the other behind her back. Get out, get away, she signaled, all the while keeping her gaze on the stranger and letting a slow smile break over her face. "What would you like?" she asked, softly releasing the words one by one into the silence, like lingerie dropping onto plush carpeting.
"Sorry, darlin', I'm not here for you," he said, then he and his Southern drawl brushed past her, leaving only the scent of rain and rejection in their wake.
Eve froze in -- shock? dismay? fear? "I'm not here for you."
What the hell was up with that? Granted, life hadn't been going her way lately, but though she knew not to depend on men, surely she could depend upon their reactions! Blonde hair and blue eyes, long legs and big breasts . . . they'd never failed her before.
What did it mean? What was the world coming to? Rain in the desert. Men underwhelmed by her beauty. Next the dead would rise from their graves. A shiver rippled down her spine. Come to think of it, just a few weeks before that had actually happened.
"What the hell are you doin'?"
The sound of the man's next words released Eve from her paralysis. She spun around, but his wide shoulders blocked her view of the person he was speaking to. Eve could imagine her, though, huddling in her corner, big-eyed, her broken arm hugged tight against her thin body. She remembered the feeling herself, she remembered feeling lost and helpless as the darkness closed in, squeezing the air from her lungs, choking her throat. Her first experience with the claustrophobia that could still make her cower.
Then the light, the voice. "What a pretty girl. I'd never hurt you."
The man's impatient tone banished the memory, and Eve's pulse skittered. A second shiver bolted down her spine. Move, she ordered herself. Get between them again.
Or get out, her weaker self reasoned. You're no Wonder Woman, we both know that. Do what you do best.
Look out for #1.
Trapped by indecision, Eve heard the scrape of the barstool's legs and tensed. If Jemima Cargill decided to run for it, Eve would be right behind her. The Clint-clone looked that dangerous.
The younger woman's fingers gripped the man's slicker sleeve and yanked him forward. "Oh, sod off, Nash," she berated in a soft, pseudo-British voice, "and sit down and have a beer."
To Eve's surprise, he merely grumbled, then obeyed. Jemima Cargill, Hollywood's latest and greatest waif-actress, looked over her shoulder, all enormous dark eyes and sharp pointed chin. "Would you mind serving the dope a drink?"
Eve obeyed too, moving around to the other side of the bar, her wariness easing a little now that the big man was sitting down, even though he couldn't look less dopey as he narrowed his eyes at the young woman seated beside him. "Don't mess with me, Jem. I've been doing the whole trains, planes, and automobiles thing for the last" -- he squinted down at the watch on his burly wrist -- "thirty-eight hours."
"I didn't call for the cavalry," Jemima answered, her British accent evaporating into her usual California-speak. "As you can see, I'm just fine."
Excerpted from The Care and Feeding of Unmarried Men by Christie Ridgway Copyright © 2006 by Christie Ridgway. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.