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Honk If You Love Real Men
Four Tales Of Erotic Romance
By Carrie Alexander, Pamela Britton, Susan Donovan, Lora Leigh
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2005 Carrie Antilla, Pamela Britton, Susan Donovan & Lora Leigh
All rights reserved.
The man had abs that could stop traffic. No need for safety cones or warning flags.
The blazing sun had bronzed him like an Aztec god. Against the fluorescent orange of an unzipped safety vest, his brown skin gleamed with sweat. Dirt rimmed the corrugated muscles. They flexed in rippling perfection as his arms swung high, freezing against a diamond flash of sunshine before he brought the pickax down to slam it into the crumbling edge of the pavement. A cloud of red dust rose, caking his jeans. They hung heavily off his lean hips, the downward drag producing a gap at the waistband between his hipbones and flatiron stomach.
The carved shoulders and the hard jaw were admirable, but it was the gap in his jeans that had tormented Estrella Ianesque's imagination since the road construction had begun. She'd fantasized a hundred times about the pulse and fullness and hot satin skin promised to her if only she could slide her fingers into that tempting gap.
She rubbed at the bus window with her sleeve, moving around the smudges to get a better view. At twenty-six, she was too old for panting against the glass, but young enough to squirm with a tingling blood rush of desire for a road construction worker.
And daring enough — perhaps — to make plans to act on that desire.
The question was how? To him, she was only another staring face in a vehicle window.
Brenda Ventano nudged Estrella's arm. She was a big-haired redhead who rode the city bus to her job as a waitress at a little coffee shop on Alvarado Boulevard. "I haven't seen a better chest since Brad Pitt stripped to his skivvies in Thelma and Louise."
"Yes, but he was a callow boy." Estrella's tongue curled around a puff of warm breath. Maybe she wasn't too old to pant. She pressed a fingertip to the window, wishing she could melt glass and reach across Highway 201 to stroke the worker's body, making one long leisurely trip from lip to navel before her fingers spread to take hold of his surging penis. "That — that's a man."
"A mighty fine man."
Estrella's head tilted against the window. "I wonder who he is. What's his story? I think he's so ..." She couldn't finish. There was no one word to describe him.
"Sexy? You and every woman on this bus with a pulse."
After a minute, Brenda nudged again. "Want me to find out?"
"You can find out?"
"I have connections."
"What?" The word popped out in soprano. Estrella's heart drummed.
In the distance, the truck-mounted stoplight switched to green, and one of the crew flagged on the halted traffic. The bus lumbered forward, edging past the barrier of orange-and-white-striped barrels. Estrella's eyes followed the sun god, appreciating the fine-tuned mesh of strength and thoroughbred grace as he swung the ax up and down, up and down, a mesmerizing rhythm that got her thinking of what it would be like to have that driving force between her thighs.
"My neighbor's husband worked with a city crew until he hurt his back," Brenda said. "He might know, or at least know who to ask. If you want, I'll try."
The bus picked up speed. Estrella looked forward with a fevered face. "What good would a name do?"
"It'd be a start."
"A man like that probably has women flinging their bras at him from passing convertibles."
"You backing out?"
"He's only a fantasy." One she'd love to make true.
Brenda pushed the hairpins deeper into her pouf. "Right. He's not a match for the likes of you anyway. You're going better places, muchacha."
Estrella shrugged, temporarily dismissing her rock-solid goals. "I don't want to actually go anywhere with him." Her gaze slipped sideways, dreaming out the window to avoid the reality of the smelly bus and her drudge job, a necessary means to an end.
"Except to bed?" Brenda's knowing laugh sputtered like a tailpipe.
Estrella smiled to herself. "He doesn't look like a man who needs a bed to make my fantasies come true."
"Is he there?"
"I can't see." Frustration scraped at Estrella's nerves. The bus was moving too fast, grinding gears with a nauseating whiff of diesel. "Why are there so many men standing around?"
"Have you never looked at a construction site before? It's a law that five men must stand by and watch the one who works." Brenda settled back and honked into a tissue. "Damn allergies," she added gummily.
Estrella decided to skip lunch at the coffee shop. The day's schedule was already too busy. Eve was going on a business trip, and Estrella had a list of chores that would have to be finished before the airport departure at two.
She gazed outside as the bus rolled past the barrels and flags marking the end of the construction zone. Missing her usual morning's eye candy would make the day that much longer.
Suddenly he was there. Striding over the dirt berm that had been created for the widening of the road. His boots dug deep among the chunks of earth and stone. Uneven footing, but his chin was high, his eyes on the swaying fronds of the palms that bordered the boulevard.
Dark eyes, Estrella believed, to match his black hair.
In her imagination, they were seeing eyes. Really seeing. Eyes with so much fire and knowledge they would melt her insecurities as easily as her bones.
"Drum," Brenda said in her ear.
Estrella's head gave a quick nod, but she didn't look away. Every detail must be memorized. The height, somewhere over six-four unless her perceptions were distorted by his sheer presence. There was the fit of his jeans over his firm ass and thighs, the swing of his arm, the vitality in his strong profile.
Today he wore a shirt — a wifebeater. Horrid name. A chill chased across her warm skin. She shivered, distracted from her perusal until his head turned and she caught an unexpected glint. An earring? Why hadn't she noticed that before? She didn't know if she liked the thought of an earring, although that wasn't as bad as tattoos. So far, she'd spotted none of them, thank you, Jesus.
Huh. Not that her preferences mattered. He exuded the confidence of knowing himself, of being sure of his place in the world. She was envious of that. It had taken her years to feel halfway sure of her choices.
He looked toward the bus as it drove away. At her window? Estrella's hand went to the collar of her polyester blouse, as if she could catch the hope and longing that leaped into her throat.
The bus moved beyond range. She scoffed, getting her senses back. He hadn't been looking at her. She was a nobody.
"Drum," Brenda repeated. "That's his name."
Now that he was out of sight, Estrella could concentrate on the conversation. "Drum? What kind of name is that?"
"Dunno. Maybe he's a musician."
"What else did you find out?"
"Not a lot. Supposedly he keeps to himself. But you were right. He has lots of women."
Estrella's stomach twitched. "Of course."
"Even a Hollywood agent stopped once, to give him a card."
"He's a wannabe actor?" Too bad.
"Kris's old man didn't think so. That was only a story he'd heard once about Drum, along with the gossip about the women who holler their phone numbers out of passing cars. Heh. Or other invitations." Brenda nudged elbows. "The guys like to be on Drum's crew, 'cause they get plenty of boob flashers."
"That doesn't mean Drum likes that type of woman," Brenda said. "Only that he attracts them. Easy to see why."
"He does look like the Calvin Klein version of a road crew worker. Most of them are short and stocky, kind of grizzled."
"Kris's hubby sure is. The guy looks like he stuffed a six-pack under his grimy T-shirt. Where Drum —"
"Wears his sex-pack well."
Brenda chuckled. "Sex-pack?"
Estrella pressed two fingers to her grin. "Oops. Did I say that?"
"Yep. That man's got you unhinged. Never thought I'd see the day, but I guess it took a Grade A prime beefcake to catch your interest, huh?" When Estrella didn't respond, Brenda peered closer, a tissue wadded under her reddened nose. "What's the plan?"
"How do you know I have a plan?"
"You always have a plan."
Estrella blinked. She and Brenda had met on the bus, discovered they lived within a few blocks of each other, and become friends. At first, fresh from her divorce and the accompanying trauma, Estrella had kept their acquaintance casual. She wasn't ready to trust.
Brenda's warm acceptance and caustic attitude had won her over. They'd never sat down and had an actual heart-to-heart, but during the course of the year Estrella's past had leaked out: the early marriage that had blossomed into a huge mistake, the troubles she'd had in breaking it off, the eventual decision to start her life over, even if she had to leave everything that she knew and begin at the bottom, alone, hundreds of miles from home.
"Eve is going out of town for a week."
Brenda's penciled brows arched. "And?"
"She's leaving me the Miata."
"That trippin' red convertible? You're kidding me!"
Estrella nodded. "She trusts me."
"You get to take it home and everything?"
"No. She doesn't trust me that much. She thinks the car would be stripped bare in ten seconds flat in our neighborhood."
Brenda laughed. "Ack. She might be right."
"I'm only to do the chores in it. Knowing Eve, I'll have a list of exactly where to go and what routes to take. She may have even calculated the mileage. But that doesn't mean I can't ..." Estrella flipped a thumb over her shoulder.
Brenda closed her open mouth. "Mm-hmm, girl! You're gonna drive by the construction zone and catch Drum's eye."
"You'll have to dress different."
Estrella looked down at her pink polyester. "Ya think?"
Brenda was calculating the situation with her reddened eyes pulled into slits. She squinted at Estrella. "You gonna throw your bra at him?"
Only under more optimal circumstances, Estrella thought with an extra fillip of anticipation, though she said in an utterly calm way, "Course not. But I'll come up with something."
The bus had slowed with a wheeze of the brakes. Estrella swung up out of her seat. "Here's my stop. I'll see you tonight, Bren. Pop an Advil so you can make it through the day."
"I'm already dosed up." Brenda sneezed into the damp tissue. "Bud nod flyin' as high as you."
Estrella laughed as she skipped down the bus steps, as light as the churros her mother used to make every Saturday morning — crisp golden dough, sizzling with hot sugar. She'd been practical and hardworking for too long. Why not find a way to entice this Drum person to share the fantasy?
Jesse Drummond wasn't sure how many times the tempting bit of fluff had passed before he noticed, but once he had, he was looking for her continually. When the red Miata reappeared and his jackhammer sputtered out of control for the third or fourth time, Tea's head came up. Jesse's coworker switched off his machine, took out a grimy red bandanna and wiped the sweat from his brow. "Hey, Drum," he yelled. "You're spittin' gravel. Got somethin' botherin' you, boy?"
"Nothing." Jesse leaned into the machine, the vibrations going straight through him, rattling his bones. They were drilling out an old sewer cap, which would have to be moved back twenty feet.
He shot a glance at the stalled traffic and said it again, to himself beneath the racket of the hammer. "Nothing."
The convertible gleamed in red and silver, freshly waxed and polished. Behind the wheel, the driver's ponytail swished to the heavy bass beat of a popular rap song.
Tea didn't follow the distraction. He shrugged and mouthed, "All right."
Jesse continued hammering while he watched the other man walk away, fighting for balance on the torn-up earth. Frank "Sweet Tea" Williams was a middle-aged former football player from Alabama, a strapping man gone doughy at the middle, whose easy manner gave the impression that he wasn't the sharpest tool in the box. What mattered to Jesse was that Tea had a big heart and a stalwart disposition. He stood up for what was right. They'd covered each other's back since the first days on the job, when their foreman had tried to bully Tea into taking the blame for a cracked water main.
The hierarchy on the road crew was not much different from what he'd faced in prison. Jesse had learned early on to keep his mouth shut until he ran smack into trouble and push came to shove. Then he shoved back with all his might. That had always been enough to maintain his survival.
But he'd been out for nearly eight months now and mere survival was losing its appeal. He wanted more.
Not a woman in a red convertible, he said to himself, stealing another look toward the road. A chunk of concrete gave way and he automatically pulled back, flicking off the jackhammer's switch. That way lay danger. His parole officer had drilled it into his cranium: Keep your cool, do your job, stay out of trouble.
Pussy was always trouble, one way or another.
Especially when it came packaged as a woman who radiated a certain spirited sexiness from fifty paces. Kindness was there too, somehow evident in the shape of her face or the sincerity of her smile, regardless of the flashy car and pounding music.
Jesse shook his head. Hard, sharp women knew the score. Crazy chicks he brushed off like lint. It was the nice ones he had to watch out for. They had a way of getting under a man's skin. Turning his head. Making him lose balance.
Leave this one alone, like all the rest. He heaved the hammer to one side, leaning it against a pile of rubble, then shook the stinging sweat from his eyes. The vehicles in the eastbound lane were being waved on at last.
On the other side of the barrier, the convertible was stalled. The woman's head bent low over the wheel as she cranked the ignition. Other drivers hit their horns. The ponytail bobbed. As the honking escalated, her slender brown arm rose in the air, flashing a sassy hand gesture.
Jesse laughed, but he didn't move. The car trouble ploy wasn't even original.
Tea lumbered past with two water bottles in his hands, sloshing the contents as he climbed the slope to the stalled car. Jesse heard the deep graveled voice. "Gotcha some engine trouble? Can I help you, ma'am?"
He missed her response, but within two seconds Tea was waving to Jesse, then hunching behind the bumper to push the car out of the way.
"Shit," Jesse said as he took off up the steep slope. Leave it to Sweet Tea to volunteer both of them to play Sir Galahad.
"Put her in neutral, ma'am." Tea grunted at Jesse's arrival. "We got to roll her over a few feet."
Jesse barely glanced at the driver, although he felt her eyes on him as he moved to the rear of the car. The vehicle resisted for an instant, then rolled smoothly over the small stretch of pavement that remained between the traffic lane and the barrels that marked the construction zone.
"Please don't scrape the car," she said, becoming anxious as the nose of the convertible tipped a cone.
"Turn the wheel a little to the left," Jesse directed. "We have to get your rear end clear of traffic." Hell, yeah.
A wary "Eeeep" whistled between her teeth, but she complied. The car coasted to a stop, the right side within inches of the barricade. Jesse and Tea stayed close as the delayed vehicles streamed by.
"Let's pop the hood," Tea said when the flow of traffic had switched to the other lane.
Jesse looked into the pit. The foreman had stepped up to a vantage point to watch them, one meaty hand wrapped around the frame of the earth mover. Jesse lifted a fist in acknowledgment, flashing his fingers. Five minutes. "Uh, Tea. We need to get back to work."
"We can spare five minutes." Tea smiled at the woman behind the wheel.
She did the grateful eyelash flutter of the helpless female. "I don't know what's wrong. The car is kept in tip-top condition."
"Lemme take a look."
"Thank you." She reached for the lever and Tea disappeared behind the hood.
Jesse couldn't keep his eyes off her any longer. "I'm Drum and that's Tea."
Her face tipped up. Her mouth pursed expectantly as if she had to savor her words before she spoke them. From his vantage point, she was all eyes and lips and honey-colored skin. Bare shoulders and arms, more than a hint of rounded cleavage in a plunging neckline, and firm naked thighs revealed by an excessively — and successfully — short skirt. Even her kneecaps were provocative.
Her mouth opened. Lips so pink and ripe, they seemed almost obscene, if only because of the thoughts they put in Jesse's head of what he could do with them.
Tea's head poked around the side of the hood. "That's no way to introduce yourself to a lady." He nodded at her. "I'm Frank Williams, ma'am, and he's Jesse Drummond."
The blow-job lips curved into a smile. "Estrella," she said. "Pleased to meet you, Frank." Her eyes widened at Jesse. They were dark blue, liquid as the pond at his grandpa's farm, where he'd once skinny-dipped at midnight, never again so easy and free. "You too ... Jesse."
He nodded. Keeping it cool.
"Shew." She fanned her face. "It's hot out here in the sun."
No hotter than you. But that was what she wanted him to say.
An awkward silence swelled, as heavy as the heat rising off the pavement.
Tea's head appeared again. He shot an encouraging look at Jesse. "Sure is, ma'am. Damn hot. Pardon my French."
Excerpted from Honk If You Love Real Men by Carrie Alexander, Pamela Britton, Susan Donovan, Lora Leigh. Copyright © 2005 Carrie Antilla, Pamela Britton, Susan Donovan & Lora Leigh. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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