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Heat Of The Moment
By Lori Herter
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe floor vibrated and the water in the glasses on the table rippled. Josie Gray paused, alert. "Is that ...?"
"Oh, my God!" Ronnie exclaimed. "Should we duck under the table?"
Josie looked out the window of Delmonico's restaurant and saw a huge truck rumbling by. "Relax. It's only that big semi going by outside." She laughed. "I could have sworn it was at least a 3.5."
"Well, if it fooled you, the expert, I don't feel so bad," Ronnie said, still looking shaken as she ran her hand through her multihued blond bangs. "Quakes scare the bejeebers out of me!"
"Me, too." Josie smoothed back her own dark brown hair, pushing in stray ends that had fallen out of the twist at the back of her head.
"Oh, come on. You love them! You went all the way to Turkey - by yourself - to study one!"
"It was for my dissertation," Josie replied. "I don't love them. Who would? You think I'm waiting with bated breath for the Big One?" Josie grew somber. "That's why I liked my job." The small company she and Ronnie both worked for researched ways to retrofit old bridges and buildings to make them earthquake-proof.
Ronnie, who worked in payroll at Earthwaves and had no scientific background, seemed to rethink her statement. "I just meant that you know so muchabout earthquakes, you take an interest in them. While the rest of us panic and scramble for the nearest table or bed to hide under, you're running to look at the seismograph. You're brave!"
"Nothing wrong with hiding under a heavy piece of furniture. That's exactly what you should do."
As she reassured her longtime friend and co-worker, Josie couldn't help but feel sheepish at being called brave. Ronnie Pulaski was afraid of earthquakes - a perfectly normal fear. Josie was wary of men ... and sex. Earthquakes could be measured, quantified, perhaps one day even predicted. Men, on the other hand, were disastrously unpredictable.
But that didn't seem to bother Ronnie. Tall, blue-eyed, twenty-seven and single, she always had a date for the weekend and often juggled more than one man at a time. In her circle of friends, she was affectionately known as Ronnie the Hottie, a name she enjoyed. Her sex life was active, but seldom complicated. When she wasn't at the office, she dressed in whatever showed off her long legs, her belly button, or her cleavage - or all three attributes at once. She'd taken to the modern dating scene like peanut butter took to jelly.
In that respect, Ronnie was Josie's opposite, but the two had formed a fast friendship despite their different lifestyles. They'd felt an instant rapport when they'd met at Earthwaves, and it had come as a surprise that their attitudes toward men were completely opposing. Josie often wished she could be more like Ronnie, but a certain man years ago had forever altered Josie's old romantic image of the male of the species.
More recently, she'd held the expectation that her employer would behave in a morally upstanding manner, but she'd been disillusioned on that score, too. It seemed she had a tendency to place too much trust in the goodness of other human beings, especially the male ones. Now that she was pushing thirty, she needed to wise up and learn to be a better judge of people.
Ronnie looked worried. "Wait, you said that's why you liked your job at Earthwaves. Past tense? You aren't following through on your crazy notion of leaving, are you?"
Josie swallowed. "Yes."
"Ethically, I have no choice, Ronnie. Promise me you won't say anything. It's best for you if Lansdowne doesn't know I told you." Martin Lansdowne, their boss, ran Earthwaves like a small-time tyrant. A control freak, he'd recently had his dog put to sleep because he couldn't train it to stop barking. Josie had heard this from Lansdowne himself, but she'd decided not to tell Ronnie, knowing how much her friend loved animals.
"But Josie, you shouldn't make such a big decision on the basis of a rumor. This talk that Lansdowne hacked into our competitor's computer system - how do you know it's true?"
Ronnie's dismissal of the information as a mere rumor didn't surprise Josie. An easygoing, trusting person who had never had her illusions shattered as Josie had, Ronnie tended to hear and see no evil.
"Two days ago I saw the evidence for myself, Ronnie. By accident I found the downloaded files from Frameworks Systems. If Lansdowne is unethical enough to do that, it's not such a stretch to think he may have been responsible for Peter Brennan's accident."
Peter Brennan was the managing partner and the driving force behind the small but enterprising Frameworks Systems. Martin Lansdowne viewed Brennan's company as Earthwaves' main competitor. Both companies were engaged in a frantic race to perfect a new method of retrofitting structures. Whoever got their system on the market first would rake in millions of dollars. California had no shortage of aging freeway overpasses, or earthquakes.
Ronnie rubbed her forehead. "Even if someone from our company broke in and sabotaged the overpass structure on Frameworks' back lot, maybe it was just so it would mess up their testing and put them behind schedule. It doesn't mean it was a murder attempt."
Josie knew there was no proof of her suspicion. But under the circumstances she simply could not in good conscience continue working for Martin Lansdowne. In fact, she wondered how she could have worked for him for so long and not have recognized his underhanded character until now. "My mind is made up, Ronnie. I can't sleep at night. I have no choice but to leave."
Shaking her head in dismay, Ronnie seemed at a loss for words. "But ... what'll you do? The people at Earthwaves are your whole life. You don't socialize much, despite my best efforts to get you out and circulating. You'll be all alone."
"You and I can still be friends. We can meet often for lunch or dinner. With you in payroll and me in Research and Development, we didn't see each other at the office all that much anyway. And I have my family and some old friends."
"Your family is on the East Coast."
"I can telephone them anytime."
Ronnie sighed. "You practically live like a nun as it is. I worry about you. You turn down attractive men who ask you out. You won't let me fix you up with guys I know. If I throw a party, I have to plead with you to come. You prefer to sit home and read National Geographic. You have no life! And now you're going to quit a job that provides your only social outlet."
Josie's chin rose. "Excuse me, but I'm happy with my life. I'm productive, I'm competent, working in a field I love, doing what I can to make the world a safer place. Just because I don't date much or have wild sex while swinging from chandeliers doesn't mean I'm ... unfulfilled, or ... whatever." Josie's protests began to sound hollow even to her own ears.
"Never mind wild sex. You don't have any sex at all, as far as I can tell."
Josie felt edgy, remembering a night seven years ago. When she was twenty-two, a bookish and virginal college senior aspiring to graduate summa cum laude, she began to realize there was more to life than studying for her career in science. All her dorm friends had boyfriends, and she realized that in her social life, she was lagging way behind. Not wanting to be left out of the dorm sex talk any longer, she took a look around.
She noticed Max Garner, an athletic blond hunk with chiseled features and a regal manner in one of her chemistry classes. He also noticed her, and a subtle flirtation began. She'd been happy when he asked her out, and they dated steadily for a few months. He wasn't exactly her warm and witty ideal, but she told herself such a man probably didn't exist anyway. She began to think maybe she was falling in love with Max. When he asked her to spend a night with him, she decided it was high time she discovered what sex was all about.
But the beautiful first experience she'd anticipated and prepared for had turned into a trauma. If that was what men were like during intercourse, she didn't want any more of it.
Excerpted from Heat Of The Moment by Lori Herter Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.