Read an ExcerptHOT AND BOTHERED
By DIANNE CASTELL
Copyright © 2008 Dianne Kruetzkamp
All right reserved.
Springtime in Savannah with pink, purple and white azaleas, magnolia blossoms the size of punch bowls and a warm breeze declaring winter never really happened at all. With things this perfect outside RL Investigations, how could it be so pitiful inside?
An empty in-box, an empty out-box, no phones ringing and-was that a spiderweb across the monitor? The online course said, "Imagine yourself a PI and you'll develop the instincts of one." Propping her feet on the oak desk like some gumshoe from a dime novel, Charlotte deShawn grabbed her coffee, and doughnut, and pictured a gray fedora and crumpled trench coat, as Griffin Parish III hustled into the office.
Dripping red jelly onto her white blouse, she stared at Savannah's primo bachelor. Next time she'd imagine a Porsche and being a size four. Jerking her legs from the desk, the chair reeled over, spewing coffee across the room.
"Sweet Jesus!" Griff hunkered down beside her sprawled body. "Are you okay?"
She faked a grin. Appearances mattered in Savannah no matter how painful or embarrassing the situation. "Caught me a little off guard is all." She scrambled to her feet and kicked doughnut shrapnel under the desk. This never happened in those dime novels. There it was a pack of Camels, a dark alley and a secretary named Trixie.
Griff loosened his tie and handed her a handkerchief. April in the Low Country was hot but not that hot. "I need some investigating done, and I need it to be kept private."
"In this town? Good luck." She paper-toweled the mess as he paced the office of metal file cabinets, two pleather club chairs and a percolator with a broken switch that did up the best coffee east of Bull Street. West of Bull, bragging rights went to Scrumptious Savannah, but the point was, Griff fit in as well as she did at his hotel. So why was he here?
"As much as I appreciate the business, you need to know that Daddy's the real investigator and he's laid up with a broken leg and I'm filling in and, truth be told, not doing all that great a job, as everyone realizes since I mistook Mr. Austin's visiting mother for his current mistress, though in my own defense, she was wearing pink spandex. So if it's something small, I can help, but if it's big, then-"
"I want you." His eyes met hers, and he didn't blink. She blinked a lot because she never expected to hear those three little words from Griff Parish's sexy mouth. For a split second, fifteen years of glances across crowded rooms and accidental-on purpose passing touches all came crashing together. She figured the two of them would go on secretly flirting forever. Urban sport, hunting and fishing city-style, except no one got caught or stuffed and mounted, though the mounted part crossed her mind a time or two.
"I suppose you've heard the conditions of Otis's will," Griff said, snapping her back to the moment with legal stuff about his stepfather while she contemplated sex and the single guy. Little wonder they never got together.
"Latest word from the kudzu vine is Otis bequeathed Magnolia House to you and Jaden Carswell, daughter of his old partner, who was murdered along with his wife twenty-five years ago, and your mama emptied a Thirty-eight Special into Otis's gravestone when she found out you weren't sole heir. Blew it to smithereens, marble chunks everywhere."
"Thirty years ago," Griff paced the other way, "the baby daughter was sent up east, but no one knows where she is now, and Camilla's in Tuscany. Her nerves are ..." His brow furrowed.
"I'm truly getting to hate that word." He ran his fingers through his thick black hair, making it not quite so perfect and a lot closer to tool-belt-and-T-shirt Griff Parish, restorer of historic treasures. Indiana Jones meets Casanova meets grits and pecan pie. "The bank along with my suppliers are getting antsy, with me not owning Magnolia House outright."
"But you managed to break the will-least, that's the latest buzz."
"I'm the one who started that buzz, and now I have to find this daughter without stirring up any more talk." He gave Charlotte an intent look. "The bottom line is, I need to buy her out so I can get on with business."
Okay, how was she supposed to say something with those big blue eyes focused straight on her? "Uh ... meaning no one will suspect you'd hire the likes of me when you have lawyers on retainer."
"I'll pay you well." He took a check from the breast pocket of his suit coat and handed it over. "This should cover your expenses."
Pay? Well? Her heart raced, blood pressure surged, and it had nothing to do with gorgeous Griff but more with his gorgeous bank account. "There is an abundance of zeros on this paper."
"It's settled then. You can start today, and I mean really today and not Savannah today, which can be anytime in the next month or two." He held out his hand to shake. "There is absolutely no breaking the will. God knows I've tried everything, and I do mean everything." He muttered, "I can't believe it's come to this."
She studied the check, thought of rent on the office, taxes, Daddy's no-insurance medical bills and her little white lie to him about how great the agency was doing. What was there to consider except she wasn't exactly Sam Spade? Heck, she could imagine Spade! "You got yourself a deal."
She took Griff's hand, their fingers and gazes meeting, her heart flipping even worse than it did in the chair.
"You sure you're okay? You look ... confused."
So much cash and maleness in one place was enough to confuse the stuffing out of any girl. She pulled her hand back and slapped the handkerchief in its place. "PI cover. I'm practicing."
"Terrific." Except his terrific sounded more like a good God, what have I gone and done! He headed for the door, calling over his shoulder, "I'll be waiting."
"But ... but ..." Griff was gone, his footsteps retreating down the hall, her pulse thumping to the cadence, a million questions humming in her brain about the case but the biggest question of all being, Why was she so fascinated by this guy? Always had been. She fanned herself with the check. "Holy Moses."
"Honey," said BrieAnna Montgomery as she backed into the room pointing through the open door. "I don't know who you're looking at, but the only thing Moses and the Biscuit have in common is one went and got the commandments and the other breaks them on a regular basis, and everyone around here knows who's who."
BrieAnna parked her perfect size six next to Charlotte's size twelve on the edge of the desk as they considered the doorway. "The man surely does deserve his name. Whenever I lay eyes on him walking off like that, I'm reassured Griff Parish has the finest butt in all Savannah. One yummy Southern Biscuit, just what every woman around here wants to sink her teeth into, especially you, since you're the one who went and gave him that name."
Together they exhaled an appreciative sigh over broad shoulders, tapered waist and superb ass. "I came up the front stairs to drop off these garden-tour flyers and saw him going down the back. So, what's his excuse for sneaking around and making you dribble jelly? Something a little ... clandestine, I hope? Finally? At last!"
Charlotte handed over the check. "Forget the hanky-panky eye roll. This is business, all business. Besides, we both know Camilla would rather her only beloved offspring be cloistered in a monastery than the Parishes have anything to do with the deShawns, and on this particular issue Griff seems content to honor his mama's wishes. Just last week, the woman tried to run me over with her Caddy right there on Abercorn. Tire tracks still on the sidewalk. I wonder what got me caught in the crosshairs of Camilla's Escalade?"
"A three-vodka gimlet lunch, no doubt." BrieAnna peered at the check and frowned. "What would make the Biscuit give you all this money?"
"My superior investigative skills, which he's in dire need of."
Prissy St. James floated into the office like springtime does Kate Spade, or at least a Kate knockoff. "Oh, now that is a hoot. You can't find your way around Target without getting lost. And did you know there are bare-chested, well-tanned and probably very well hung males in hard hats digging up Broad Street, and the good lunch tables at the Pirate House suitable for afternoon viewing will be taken if we don't get a move on? And why are you wearing coffee and jelly, Charlotte deShawn?"
"Less fattening than eating it, and they moved the shoe department at Target, so it wasn't my fault for getting lost."
BrieAnna flashed the check at Prissy. "Looky here. Charlotte's springing for lunch."
Prissy snagged the paper and gasped, dropping the check on the desk. She jumped back, losing her left shoe, and held out her arm to Charlotte. "Look, goose bumps. My goose bumps have goose bumps. Burn it! Burn that check, Char, right now, before it's too late. It's bad news!"
Charlotte snagged the paper. "It's signed, and the commas and periods are in the right places. This is alleluia and bless-the-man's-hide all rolled into one."
"And such a nice hide, too," Brie added as Priss pulled in a deep breath, her black eyes clearing. "You're right. It's me, all me. Sometimes I just get this ... feeling."
"Me, too, honey," BrieAnna sighed, hooking her arm through Charlotte's and handing Prissy her shoe. "Not having a date in three months can do that to a woman. Long time to be without some. We are so in need of lunch and those hard hats on Broad Street."
What the hell had he started, Griff wondered as he cut across Oglethorpe Square fighting the damn top button of his damn shirt to get it damn-well closed and colliding headlong with Daemon Rutledge. "Holy hell, if you're here, who's minding the hotel?"
"With some luck, not a new owner. So, did she take the case? Did you persuade her?"
"I think my checkbook did the persuading." Griff focused on the ever-present fresh red rose in his manager's lapel and remembered the red jelly on Charlotte's T-shirt about where her nipple would be. Nipple ... Charlotte ... Oh, damn! He tried to concentrate on the coffee smears instead of the jelly, like that was going to happen. "Let's hope her investigative skills are considerably better than her doughnut skills or this plan to keep things quiet and find Jaden is going to fly like an albatross."
"Your daddy's will sure did throw a monkey into the mix, all right. I've been at Magnolia House since Otis opened the doors and never expected he'd leave things brewing the way he did."
They crossed State, then rounded the corner to the hotel, yellow pansies spilling from flower boxes, wrought-iron porch and the brass and glass double doors twinkling in the sunlight. "I'm thinking Otis was cramming for finals. Afraid if he didn't give William's daughter her rightful share, he'd get a one-way ticket straight to swindler's hell."
"Seems to me that what happened in the past should stay where it belongs."
"Hell, all of Savannah is running around in the past. The place is one big time warp. Just look at this hotel. If the mortar on the back wall isn't crumbling, there's a new crack in the foundation. And who knows what's happening on the second floor with things moving around. Lee had his last picture taken here, and I think he decided to stay. Least he didn't bring his damn horse."
They helped the doorman unload luggage from a BMW idling in front, then Griff cut across the lobby to the back courtyard, making note of the smudge on the marble floor, a light out in the brass chandelier and the need to give the doorman a raise. Guests lunched under blue umbrellas, and he clued the waiters to water Mrs. O'Hara's martinis or she'd wind up face-first in her okra soup or maybe dancing on the table. Hard to tell which way she'd go.
Heading for the back alley by the ivied carriage house, Griff wondered how much longer he'd be in charge of the hotel. He'd worked at Magnolia House his whole life, lugging suitcases at twelve when they couldn't afford a real bellhop, or much other help for that matter. Griff Parish could scrub a tub, do up a bed and put mints on pillows with the best of them.
It hadn't been all that many years ago that Savannah teemed with gangs instead of tourists, the big old decaying homes with their wide verandas, winding stairways and high ceilings setting empty and selling for tax money. He thought of his seventh birthday, sitting on the steps of Lillibridge House playing Go Fish with Otis so the bulldozers couldn't tear the place down before they scared up a buyer. He and Otis saved more than one place that way-though Go Fish morphed into poker-but Magnolia House was always the prize, their lady. Griff intended to keep her, even if it took every blasted penny he had to buy Jaden Carswell's share and-
His neck snapped as someone grabbed his tie and yanked him inside the carriage house, the dark interior making it impossible to see who did the yanking.
"What the-," he gasped as the wood door clicked closed. He stumbled, his body flattening a woman's against the wall, giving him a soft landing that made the choking worth it. He caught the faint aroma of coffee and doughnuts as breasts swelled against his chest, his body reacting as if he hadn't had sex in months. Hell, maybe he hadn't. "Charlotte?" he croaked through a shrinking trachea. "We need to talk."
"Wish I could." He loosened his tie and gave a quick glance around the narrow hall, his eyes adjusting to the dim light. "Consider using a telephone?"
"Someone might overhear and I know you don't want that, and I was heading for my house to change and I saw you coming and ..." She took a deep breath, her face scrunched in question as she peered up at him. "So why did you really come to the office?"
"The will? The missing daughter? Keeping things quiet? Stop me if you've heard this before. You sure you didn't whack your head when you fell off that chair?"
Her breath came fast and was getting faster. Her eyes lit with fire-even in the dim light he could tell. "Why me?" she whispered, the implication having nothing to do with the case but with the two of them together now in this hallway after all these years of dancing around.
His brain refused to function, probably because the part of his anatomy below his belt was overfunctioning. "You run an ad in the yellow pages." Maybe. He had no idea about anything right now except Charlotte and wanting to kiss her and knowing he shouldn't. Things between them were complicated-always had been and getting worse by the minute. He studied her delicious mouth, wanting and waiting for his. Make that getting more complicated by the second, and if his plan worked, complicated would be a huge understatement and their lives would be totally fucked.
He touched Charlotte's cheek, her skin soft and smooth, as her body leaned into his, setting him on fire.
"We don't have an ad." She bit her bottom lip. "You're right, I should have phoned," she said with a shiver. "But we're here now." She yanked his tie again, bringing his face to hers, and she kissed him right on the mouth, her lips full and moist and delicious and opening. Did they have to open? Closed lips were a lot easier to dismiss, but this was not a dismiss, kind of kiss, especially since he'd wanted it for so many damn years he'd lost count.
She released his tie, her arms sliding around his neck as his tongue touched hers and he lost his mind. Dumbass!
Their tongues mated, and his hands dropped to her sweet round bottom, pressing her softness to his hardening dick. There'd always been an attraction between them, but this was pure jump-her-bones-and-do-her-right-now lust ... and he liked it more than he ever imagined.
She sucked his bottom lip into her mouth, the motion suggestive as hell as her legs parted, nesting his erection tight against her heat. God, she had great heat! He slid his hands into the waistband of her skirt, her firm rump fitting so well into his palms. His mind warped, there was a ringing sound ... no kiss or ass-grabbing had ever made his head ring before, especially to the tune of "Moon River" ... a Johnny Mercer song ... his favorite. Ah fuck! His cell!
It was like a bucket of freezing snow dumped on his head. The instant sanity kicked his gut-tightening lust through the goal post of are you out of your freaking mind. He stepped back, his vision clearing, his body in big pain from what it wanted but couldn't have.
Excerpted from HOT AND BOTHERED by DIANNE CASTELL Copyright © 2008 by Dianne Kruetzkamp. Excerpted by permission.
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