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Designed For Passion
By Francine Craft Kimani Copyright © 2008 Francine Craft
All right reserved.
It was the last Sunday in May and Melodye Carter frowned as she answered her door. She was rushing to leave for her boutique and design studio for the plus-size woman, and she wanted no distractions. The twins were with their godmother for the day, so Melodye could bring sketches back home to work on.
Looking out of the peephole, her heart nearly leaped into her throat as she saw the tall, familiar figure. She opened the door to Detective Jim Ryman, one of Crystal Lake, Virginia's police department's finest. "Oh, Jim, come in."
The man grinned, stepped inside and hesitated. He wanted to hug her, but something held him back. He hadn't seen her since he'd investigated her husband's death in a robbery over two years ago.
"I haven't seen you in far too long. You're looking fabulous."
His eyes roved her face and voluptuous body. She'd gotten even more beautiful than he remembered. Her straight, off-black hair was worn in a shoulder-length flip with bangs made to order for her oval face. Yeah, he remembered the thickly fringed, long black lashes. He smiled a little as he looked into her dark eyes.
He apologized for stopping in on a Sunday. She said it was okay. He knew then why he hadn't hugged her. She was fine wine and she went to his head. And he didn't like it one bit. He wasn't looking to be romantically drawn to awoman anytime soon and maybe never again.
His face grew somber then. "What I'm here to see you about is going to hurt you and I'm sorry." He gave her a minute to prepare herself. "I've been assigned to your late husband's cold case and I've collected enough evidence to tell me Rafael's death was a premeditated murder. It wasn't just your ordinary business robbery."
"Oh, my God," she breathed as dizziness set in, and he reached out to steady her. Electricity flashed between them, startling both. He drew a deep breath and guided her to the sofa where they sat down. She was trembling and it wasn't from what he'd just told her.
"I'm going to need your help, Melodye. I've been able to pinpoint who I think is behind this, but it's liable to be the devil to prove. We think there's at least a small mob tie-in."
She looked at him steadily as a finger of dread traced along her spine. "Am I in danger then?"
He looked at her keenly, shaking his head. "I don't think so, but there'll be protection for you just in case. We're moving fast on this one so far, and the guy knows he's in our crosshairs."
"Do I know him?"
"Turk Hylton, Rafael's partner."
Her heart lurched and she felt cold. Turk had come on to her the whole time she and Rafael had been married. After her husband's death, he had gotten bolder until she'd turned him away.
"I see," she said, "I'll give you every bit of help I can."
Jim drew a quick breath. He saw he was making her nervous, but he couldn't stop feasting his eyes until they landed on her moist and full, luscious lips. Without wanting to, he imagined sucking the bottom lip, his eyes nearly closed with desire. He was fighting it all the way. Since Elyssa's death, he hadn't been with another woman.
"How're your twins? Mom still talks about them and their terrible two's," he said.
Melodye smiled with her head slightly thrown back in that way he remembered from their high school days. His mind flooded with memories of the days when they'd been friendly, although they'd moved in different crowds. She had been shy and one year behind him. She hadn't dated, but boys had admired her full figure extravagantly. He used to wonder if she was shy because they came on to her so hard or if they came onto her because she was so shy.
She was busy with her own memories of high school. "They're fine, with plenty of the two's left over. Their godmother has them for the day. Hey, I'm delighted to see you. Your mom told me you were coming back and I thought I'd run into you before now."
"Yeah," was all he said.
How calm she sounded, Melodye thought, as if he'd come by with good news instead of this shocker. And as if he were just any man and not a six-foot-two hunk. He had always carried an edge of danger that thrilled her.
It was warm for May. He was dressed in a long-sleeved white tee that failed to hide his rippling pecs, biceps and abs and stonewashed jeans. She stifled a groan at what his body did to her. His voice was still slightly husky, as if he were recovering from a cold. The coal-black hair, straightgrained and rough, the stormy hazel eyes and the thick black silk brows made her stomach ache a little with wanting to run her fingers over his long, angular face.
The trouble was, after Rafael, she felt she never wanted another man to hurt her the way he had. It was okay, she told herself. She could handle her feelings for Jim. It was simply physical hunger and the desire to be wanted, the way Rafael wanted her in the first years of their marriage.
"Have you had coffee?" she asked.
"Just one cup, and that only starts me for the day."
"Have another. I made fresh coffee from beans I ground myself."
Again she thought how calm she sounded, as if a thousand butterflies weren't fluttering in her stomach. He was giving her a chance to digest his news and she wasn't sure how she felt about it. She wasn't surprised. Her late husband had long had dangerous friends and lived a dangerous life.
Jim was the detective assigned to Rafael's robbery. It was his first case after moving back from New York. Jim himself had been shot in a street robbery not too long before Rafael's death. Both cases had gone cold. She tensed. She didn't want to think about Rafael. He had hurt her enough.
They took their coffee and raspberry Danishes to the breakfast nook, which was flooded with sunlight. In the morning light she was beautiful, he thought. He smiled inside, remembering that he sometimes brought her home in his souped-up hotrod.
But her mother had put a stop to even that. Melodye had looked sad when she told him. Jim raced cars and was the community heller who had more than his share of girlfriends. Everybody wondered how his mother, that sweet Miss Belle, and his strict father, Paul, could raise such a son.
"Hey, you're lost," Melodye gently prodded him. "What're you thinking?"
Jim laughed then, his head thrown back. She drew a sharp breath as she watched his wide, wickedly sensual mouth. Heat ran rampant throughout her body.
"You don't want t'know." His eyes were half closed. He'd been thinking about the steady, raunchy pipe dreams he'd had of Melodye in their youth. She was stacked, even then. Voluptuous with her womanly hips and large, perky breasts. From the top of her head to her beautiful feet she was fine, he reflected, and she hadn't changed.
He grew somber then. "You're still beautiful," he told her, feeling his crotch begin to swell and tingle. The heller he had been as a boy had turned into a man who brooded and kept his own counsel. People considered him aloof, but he was talking to her, paying her compliments. Something about her still seemed to need reassurance and he was more than happy to provide it.
She shook her head. "You always said that, and I never was. I was always too big, too awkward. I'm out of fashion and you've never realized that. Out of fashion. Out of season."
He smiled, his eyes on her. "But you're coming back into fashion. The rail-thin woman is going out of style."
As he looked at her, Jim felt his loins tighten. This wasn't going to do. These weren't just friendly feelings, but he had sworn off anything like desire and passion since Elyssa and his unborn son died. He had lived a bleak life since then. It was getting better, but there was no room anymore for love and romance. Plough on, he told himself. You didn't come here to ogle her. Still, he found himself saying it because she looked wistful and a little lost, the way she'd looked long ago.
"You never knew you were beautiful," he told her. "I used to want to drill it into your head that you were. Those few times I ran into you and we talked. I know Papa France and your grandmother told you, but you always chose to believe your mother and your sister. You're Cinderella, babe, and I thought by now you'd know it."
She shrugged. "I'm just another overweight sister who doesn't look too bad."
His leg brushed hers, and she thrilled, fever running throughout her body, then fought it.
"Sorry," he said.
"Don't be. He didn't have to know that every nerve in her body was thrumming with excitement. What in hell was wrong with her? If she could handle his raging teenage hormones, she surely could handle her feelings now.
For a moment, Jim held his breath. She was feeling something for him; he was sure of it, but he didn't intend to lead her on. "We need to talk about Rafael's death again. What happened after I left?"
She breathed shallowly, remembering that time. "Not much, but one thing, Turk Hylton asked me if I'd found a large sum of money he said Rafael left for him. I searched and found nothing. I told him, but I don't think he believed me. I've never been able to bring myself to go through Rafael's study ."
She hated talking about Rafael, remembering only the shattered dreams and what he'd put her through.
He cleared his throat. "You miss Rafael, I know, and I can't tell you how sorry I am. The worst part of being a detective is breaking news of a murder to the spouses and families."
She longed to tell him then that Rafael had long destroyed her love for him by the time he died. At first, he had been everything she'd dreamed of in a husband. Well, maybe not everything. From the beginning, he'd been hard to get along with. He had wanted her to have an abortion when she found out she was pregnant with twins. He'd railed that he didn't want children. He'd never told her that when he was courting her.
She'd been adamant. No abortion. He'd sulked and stayed away later. After the twins were born, he'd criticized her for not being good company. "Hell, they're your whole life. Where do I fit in?" He'd been drunk half the time and spent more and more time at Steeped In Joy, the nightclub he owned with Turk Hylton. She'd suspected he cheated and she'd thought about hiring a private investigator, but by then, it hadn't mattered. He also gambled heavily, something else she hadn't known before they were married.
"I don't miss him," she said flatly, and he looked at her, startled at the vehemence in her voice.
His head went to one side, keenly interested, empathetic. "Want to talk about it?"
She thought a moment before scalding tears stung her eyes. "Later," she said, "and thank you."
What had hurt so much was the brutal way Rafael had criticized her person. She had gained little weight with her pregnancy, but he said she had and that he didn't like it. The final straw had been when he compared her unfavorably to Lucia, her thin, fashion-model sister, saying, "You two sure aren't cut from the same cloth. Take a page from her book. I'm putting you on a diet."
She hunched her shoulders, still too vividly aware of him. She wasn't looking for a man, not even Jim. "Do you still miss Elyssa?"
He thought a moment and found he couldn't talk about it. It still hurt too much, even after almost three years. He shook his head. "As you said, later. Mom told you I moved back."
"Oh, yes, she told me even when you were planning to. She needs someone since her heart attack. She misses your father."
He wanted to talk about his pain and how much it had hurt that he wasn't going to get to be a father. Suddenly his attention was caught by a large framed photo on the table beside them. "The twins," he said, and picked it up. God, they were beautiful, each with an arm wrapped around Melodye's neck. He could only croak out, "Very nice," and it was like saying a brilliant sun was nice. Not nearly good enough.
"They're a handful," she said, laughing. "They're often sick and I wonder about it."
"I understand children are. Fevers, that sort of thing." She pressed her legs back against the chair so his leg wouldn't brush hers again, and bit her lip.
Jim looked thoughtful. "We know Rafael was a heavy gambler, but not a very good one. You would know he went everywhere from Vegas to Monaco Atlantic City."
"Yes." That was one of the things they had quarreled about.
"I think he was a hit. We've questioned Turk Hylton. His kind would hire it done, of course. I think Rafael double crossed him. Turk's got mob ties ."
She shuddered. "I think he's a dangerous man."
"He knows how to play it safe. I don't think he'll bother you." She crossed her arms over her breasts, and he noted the protective gesture. "Like I said, I haven't gone over Rafael's things because I haven't wanted to face what he left behind, but you'll need me to, won't you?"
"Yeah. I'd appreciate it if you did."
She felt cold then. "I don't like danger, Jim. If I'd known there was any chance that Rafael even knew a mobster, or that he gambled heavily, I wouldn't have married him. By the time I found out, it was too late."
His heart went out to her. He wanted to talk about old times, but now wasn't the right moment. They had to talk about Rafael's murder. He drew a deep breath, asked her what she remembered about the night Rafael died. She told him everything, thinking back to the shock and of that night. Rafael had been a night owl, especially with owning and running a nightclub. He had been killed at 3:00 a.m. His wallet had been missing, but not his expensive diamond ring and watch. He was known to carry large sums of money and it seemed a simple open-and-shut robbery case.
Jim listened intently. Finally he asked, "Men living the life he lived have enemies. Do you personally know of any?"
She shook her head. "He kept his business to himself. He wasn't fond of Turk, although they'd once been best friends. He often talked of buying him out, but Turk wasn't selling. One thing he did tell me when we were close "
She was silent and he gently prodded. "One thing " She drew a deep breath. "He said he was loosely connected to the New York mob, that he couldn't get where he wanted to go without them. He was worried that they demanded more and more and he thought Turk was really in bed with them. The police never said anything about that and I didn't tell them. I was just too much in shock."
Jim nodded. "That's understandable."
She closed her eyes. "How much time do you have?"
"Any amount you need." She was affecting him so. He tried to tell himself she brought back the old, carefree days, but that didn't explain it all. He was conflicted. Right now, he neither wanted, nor needed a woman. He had expected to feel what he had felt in the pasta lighthearted, friendly, sexy attraction. An emotional small car. But from the moment she opened her door, her presence was on top of him like a Mack truck. Damn! He was well trained to keep his emotions in check. Well, that training wasn't serving him.
His mind told him he could handle it, but his feelings wandered.
"Would you go through at least some of his things with me?" she asked.
"Have you had breakfast?"
He shook his head. "I don't usually get really hungry until later on."
"Could you down a grilled cheese?"
"I'd like that."
They didn't tarry after eating; she took him straight to Rafael's study, to the secret panel that she opened electronically. It was a small room with shelves and built-in drawers. Everything was tidily arranged. Rafael had been a neat freak. She felt cold with dread and memory. They looked at papers and money in packets, but there were no large sums from the cursory search they made.
Jim was relieved that, in the course of sifting through Rafael's things, he was a little less aware of the way Melodye drew him. His gut was still tight, but thank God for small favors. The saucy, perfume she wore wasn't helping.
"Do you see anything here that'll be helpful to you?" she asked.
Excerpted from Designed For Passion by Francine Craft Copyright © 2008 by Francine Craft. Excerpted by permission.
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