Read an Excerpt
Driven to Distraction/Winging It
By Tina Wainsco
Harlequin EnterprisesCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe woman next door was driving Barrett Wheeler to distraction, and he hadn't even seen her. This was not a good thing since he had exactly seven days, one hour and four minutes to complete his research study for a grant on the mating habits and preservation of tree snails for the University of Miami. The university would then take the data and approach the government with a plan to preserve these important inhabitants of the Everglades.
He'd trudged through the swamps of Everglades National Park for a year, sure that he had finally found what he'd been seeking the last twelve years - the life goal his father had been haranguing him about since he'd graduated high school when he was fifteen. He was sure biology was what he should have gotten into in the first place. That's where he belonged. But that's what he'd thought when he'd undertaken course work in physics and mathematics, too. Now, though, he had his PhD and was satisfied with that. He was. He only needed to figure out what field of biology interested him and stick to it. Instead, he kept choosing different kinds of projects, hoping to find the one field that grabbed his interest permanently.
He did care about the plight of the endangered tree snail, and he always gave his all to whatever project he wasworking on. He was proud to be part of the effort to preserve the dwindling tree snails. Even if his mind was already wandering to the endangered seahorses. Or maybe survival aspects of the big cats in Africa.
Maybe he just didn't know what he wanted. He was ashamed to admit it, even to himself. He started a project with all kinds of interest and lost some of that steam along the way.
It wasn't his mental meanderings that were hindering his progress on the tree snail study. First, there had been a mistake made on the due date of the study. Barrett had three weeks less than he'd planned on to complete his study. Then his sister, Kim, had shown up at his condominium with her husband and four kids needing a place to stay after the pipes in their house burst. That crisis was averted by a colleague's offer. Since his parents were going on a cruise, Barrett could stay at their house in Sunset City, a retirement community. It sounded perfect. He'd stick to himself and complete his study with nothing but the occasional call of "Bingo!" to disturb the quiet.
At least in theory. Sunset City wasn't exactly what he'd envisioned. It was, in fact, a small city, with a grid layout lined with cozy homes and quaint yards. A large community center and pool were situated in the middle of the city, and toward the front entrance was a small store and gas station. Instead of being a quiet, restful place, it bustled with activity. When he'd pulled in evening before last, he was nearly run down by a pack of women wearing T-shirts with bright pink flamingos who were doing a remarkably good imitation of a power walk. Instead of rocking chairs on the porches of the small, neat homes, there were threewheeled bicycles and even a Harley. A yoga class was doing their moves in the park, striking storklike poses to Chubby Checker tunes. Three men were dismantling a classic Mustang's engine under a covered driveway.
Well, the sign had said Older Persons Community, not a word about retirement. Still, no one should bother him here.
At least in theory. Normally, his theories were sound. What he hadn't factored in was the woman next door. Yesterday, he took his files and laptop computer onto the back porch after his morning jog to enjoy the gorgeous fall weather. Maybe reward himself with a dip in the small pool in the backyard if he were particularly productive. The yard was small and private, surrounded by thick, tall hedges. He settled in to work, fingers poised above the keyboard.
That's when her voice had floated through the hedge that separated their yards. He couldn't see into her yard to verify, but she had to be an older person. Yet her voice had a young, provocative sound to it. He didn't know why it had caught his attention. He usually immersed himself in a project and didn't come up for hours. He was utterly embarrassed at the stirrings in his body. Come on, it was a voice, for Pete's sake!
He had tried to ignore her when she called to her husband. Then she crooned about how handsome he was despite the fact that he apparently drooled a bit. But Barrett got completely off track when she said, "Would you stop licking me, Frankie? I swear you've got the biggest tongue I've ever seen."
Mental images like that he did not need. He'd gone inside.
Early that evening he'd taken a break and eaten his TV dinner on the porch. Again, her voice floated through the hedge. "George, did you fart again? Holy stink bombs, honey, no more beef Stroganoff for you! I don't care how much you beg. And I know how much you love to beg."
George? Wasn't she with Frankie earlier? Was he staying next to a senior citizen floozy? For a moment, he actually felt a spark of curiosity, an urge to peek through that hole in the hedge and see who this woman was. But that kind of nosy curiosity was impractical, at least outside his research. It didn't serve much purpose in the real world.
Not that he could claim to be part of the real world in any sense. He'd been raised by his father, the man from whom he'd inherited his one-hundred-eighty-five IQ. His mother had gotten bored with her scientist husband and his scientist friends and even having a son who was smarter than she was by the time he was twelve. So she'd taken his sister, Kim, and moved to West Palm Beach. Barrett and his father moved onto the university campus and, at fifteen, Barrett entered University of Miami's program. Because he was years younger than his peers, he felt more comfortable hanging out with his father's contemporaries. Even now, professors and other research scientists were the people he related to best.
"Aw, do you love me? I love you, too," she crooned, and Barrett thought he heard an answering groan. "Give me some sugar." She'd giggled, a sound that sent a trill through his stomach. Then she'd squealed. "That tickles!"
He'd gone inside. This morning she was with Buddy. He hadn't said much, but the woman was rambling on as though they were old friends. "You're one big boy. Oh, you want your butt scratched, do you?"
He'd almost gone inside then. The words, "Oh, you like that, don't you? Mmm," stopped him. He tried to put an older woman's face to the voice, but couldn't.
"Oh, goodie, sit on me, why don't you?" She made a grunting sound, as though trying to shove the guy off.
"Get off me, already! Geez, you weigh a ton!" After sounds of a struggle, she said, "Stop pawing me, you animal!"
It wasn't his curiosity that finally propelled him to that hole in the hedge. The lady obviously required some assistance. He could tell himself that, anyway.
The hole, unfortunately, wasn't as deep as it had looked. He had to bend down, stick his head into the gap and push branches aside before he could see into her yard.
The first thing he saw was pink spandex wrapped snuggly around a behind that wasn't anywhere near octogenarian. He took her in as he would any fascinating specimen - slowly, analyzing each part. White sneakers with pink balls at the ends of the laces, shapely calves, then the pink spandex - forget about the pink spandex - a white tank top and short, brown hair.
"Get off my foot!" she said as she shoved Buddy aside.
Buddy was a large, tan horse dog that was sitting squarely on the woman-who-wasn't-a-floozy's foot. And Buddy had no intention of moving ... until he spotted something more interesting.
That something more interesting, unfortunately, was Barrett. Buddy stampeded toward the hedge, a string of drool hanging from his sagging lips.
Barrett was at Buddy's face level. He pulled back, but the hedge had other ideas. It pinned him in place with branches and one well-placed sharp edge against his neck. Buddy screeched to a halt in front of Barrett, some of the drool flying forward and just missing him. The dog was staring at him, its head tilted in utter fascination.
Excerpted from Driven to Distraction/Winging It by Tina Wainsco Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.