Read an Excerpt
By SHANNON MCKENNA
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2006 Shannon McKenna
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSilver Fork, Oregon Nine months later
Abby Maitland rummaged through her bag again. And again. No house keys. Not possible. Not tonight. Oh, please.
She leaned her hot forehead against the door of her apartment and tried not to sob. The evening bag yielded up wallet, cell phone, and lipstick. Sheba meowed from inside as if she hadn't been fed in weeks.
Edgar, the blind date from the bowels of hell, rattled his car keys. "Makes it tough to invite me in for a nightcap, huh?" His voice was an oily ooze of insinuation.
Yeah, jerkwad. I'd only rather be dipped in boiling lead. She stomped on the words only for the sake of Dovey, her well-meaning coworker who had set up this date. She had freely agreed to spend an evening with this puff-toad, and it was classier to keep her mouth shut.
It wasn't really a blind date. She'd met him at a reception for a new exhibit at the science museum in Portland. He'd seemed promising; i.e., nice-looking and articulate. The flirtatious e-mail exchanges had been fun. The first hour of the date hadn't been bad.
After some wine, though, the illusion of wit and charm had faded. His face went red, he stopped listening to anything she said, his gaze dropped to her chest and stuck. By the time the food had arrived, she'dbeen casting around for a polite escape route. She should have called her car service then and there. She hadn't realized how drunk he was until he was driving her home. He'd scoffed at her offer to drive, of course, macho turd that he was. "I don't want any more company," she said, for the eighth time. "And you've had enough to drink."
"I did knock back a few. Can't drive back to Portland like this. You'll let me stay, won't you, dollface? I'll make it so worth your while."
Dollface? "In your dreams, Edgar," she said. "Get a room."
"Cool idea. Let's go check into that No-Tell Motel down on the highway." He swayed toward her. "Cheap, sleazy motels turn me on."
"Nope." She swayed back, to minimize the stupefying effects of his garlic-and-wine breath. Her landlady lived on the ground floor, but she was eighty, and would not appreciate being dragged from her bed just because Abby couldn't keep her purses organized.
"Break the kitchen window," Edgar suggested. He hefted her doorstop, a swirl of driftwood attached to a chunk of petrified wood.
"No!" Abby grabbed the doorstop, staggering under the momentum of Edgar's enthusiastic downswing. "Do not help! I'll deal with this problem myself. In fact, you can go. Now. Please. Feel free."
She fished out her cell phone and punched in the number of her friend Elaine, the only person besides Mrs. Eisley who had a set of keys.
Elaine picked up on the fourth ring. "Abby? What's up? You OK?"
"I'm fine," Abby said. "Sorry to call so late, but I was a ditz and locked myself out. I figured you'd turn the cell off if you were asleep."
"Um, well ... I'm out."
"You're what?" Abby was startled. Shy, homebody Elaine was never out on a Wednesday night. Or any other night, for that matter.
"Out. Actually, I'm sort of, ah ... involved, right now."
Abby's mouth worked for a moment, but she rallied swiftly. "Really? Whoo hoo! Good for you, girlfriend! I had no idea."
Elaine's giggle sounded nervous. "It's been a secret. I just met him recently. But later for that. Are your keys to my house locked in, too?"
"Yup." Abby recoiled as Edgar kissed her neck. His sour breath made her gag. She swatted him away. "Edgar, do you mind?"
"Abby, are you in trouble? Do you want me to call someone? Like the police?" Elaine's voice sharpened.
"I can handle the situation," she assured her friend. "Could you grab the Yellow Pages and find me a locksmith?"
"Coming right up."
Edgar chortled as Abby batted his hand away. He seemed to think they were playing a game, like an unruly dog hanging on to a stick.
"Abby? You still there?" Elaine asked anxiously.
"Hanging in there," Abby said grimly, rummaging through her bag. "Edgar, do you have a pen?" Edgar pulled a gold pen out of his pocket. Abby snatched it out of his hand. "Go ahead, Elaine."
"Let's see, let's see ... oh, perfect. Night Owl Lock and Safe. It says, 'nighttime lockouts are my specialty.'"
"Great." She wrote the number Elaine recited on her thumb.
"Call me when you get inside," Elaine said. "If you don't call within twenty minutes, I'm calling the police."
"I'll call," Abby soothed. "Be ready to spill juicy details tomorrow."
She broke the connection and eyed Edgar with trepidation.
It was going to take some serious, hardcore rudeness to pierce his protective layer of self-absorption.
She sighed to herself. How squalid and depressing.
Zan was perched on the fence on Lookout Drive, wondering if that high, fast-moving cloud was going to hit the moon, when his phone vibrated. He checked the display. Unknown number. Lockout job.
Not tonight. He was in one of his moods. He was better off focusing on neutral things, like the moon on the ocean.
The vibration of the phone tickled his thigh. He didn't answer. He didn't feel like hauling his ass back down to the world of people. Their problems, their opinions. His family, for instance. Granddad and his brothers were constantly in his face, which was one of the reasons he was in this funk to begin with. Everybody telling him to change his coping mechanisms, his career, his whole goddamn personality.
Just thinking about it was getting him all wound up again. He focused on that smudge of stars on the horizon to chill himself out.
Hard to do, when the damn phone kept ringing.
Maybe he should phase out locksmithing altogether. He certainly didn't need the money. His computer consulting kept him busy . He kept his locksmith license current only because he enjoyed pitting himself against locks now and then. Besides, he didn't sleep at night. Nights could get long and boring. Sometimes he welcomed something to do.
But not tonight.
The caller gave up; the phone went still. He let out a sigh of relief and tried to get back into his groove, blissing out on the pulsing surge of the surf. Moonlit foam, in gleaming swaths over the beach. Full moon, clear night. Rare for the Oregon coast. He'd stay till dawn. The view was better than his computer screen, or the ceiling over his bed.
The phone buzzed against his thigh again. He resisted the urge to hurl the thing over the cliff, if only because he despised littering.
It kept ringing. He counted the number of rings stored in his short-term memory. Twelve. Curiosity started to poke at him. Sixteen, seventeen. Wow, someone was desperate. Or just stubborn. Nineteen, twenty. Aw, what the hell. He clicked TALK. "Night Owl Lock and Safe."
"Oh, thank God. Finally. I thought I'd misdialed."
A woman's voice. Low, husky. Sexy Southern accent. He was intrigued, in spite of himself. "Nope," he said.
He offered no explanation. After a puzzled silence she pushed on. "I'm locked out of my apartment. It's 2465 Tremont. Are you nearby?"
Tremont was just down the hill. He was about to say he'd be there in a few when a male voice said something loud but unintelligible.
"Stop it, Edgar." The sexy voice was muffled, no longer directed at the mouthpiece. "Keep your hands off-hey! Back off! I'm not-"
Thunk. The phone went dead.
Zan stared at it, hit the caller redial. Let it ring, eight times.
He felt jarred. Prodded by urgency. Like it was his responsibility to gallop of f and solve this girl's problems with this dickhead Edgar.
Not my problem. Repeat after me. Not. My. Fucking. Problem.
The litany didn't do any good. Something was revving up inside him, part knee-jerk chivalry, part curiosity. If he didn't make sure the Southern belle was OK, he would worry all night. If he then found out that something bad had happened to some girl on Tremont, he would blame himself and feel like shit. He had to make sure she was safe.
And find out if her face and body matched that soft, sexy voice.
He laughed at himself as he headed for his van. Maybe this was all about his poor neglected libido. His self-imposed celibacy was biting his ass particularly hard lately.
No point in analyzing it, though. A guy had to do what a guy had to do.
Chapter TwoAbby's shove knocked Edgar almost of f his feet. He caught himself against the porch railing and glared at her. "So that's the way you're going to be."
"You forced me to be rude to you, Edgar. I tried to avoid it."
"Try harder," Edgar said. "And give me back my goddamn pen."
His eyes had turned to glittering slits in his flushed face. Abby wedged herself into the corner of the porch and held out his pen. He jerked it out of her hand. Her phone, which had dropped to the floor in the scuffle, started to ring. She made a move to pick it up. Edgar kicked it out of reach. "Go ahead," he jeered. "Bend over, sweet cheeks. It's my favorite position."
Her insides went icy cold. The phone kept ringing, but she barely heard it, with his crude words and ugly tone ringing in her ears.
Oh dear. She'd taken Edgar for a harmless jerk. He'd just mutated into something nastier. Her belly cramped. Elaine had said, what, twenty minutes before she called the cops?
A lot could happen in twenty minutes.
One last shot at pseudo-politeness while she psyched herself up to scratch and gouge. "The locksmith is on his way, Edgar. There's no reason to wait. Bye-bye."
He sensed her nervousness, and liked it. He oozed closer, until her back was pressed against the wall. "Scared, Abby?"
She forced herself to smile. "Nothing to be scared of, is there? Look, we're going to wake up my landlord if we keep yakking. He's a cop, and he works weird hours, so he won't appreciate being bothered."
"You're scared," Edgar repeated, delighted by the discovery. "Of me." He grabbed her wrists and pinned her to the wall.
She struggled, panic squirming in her belly. His face was slick with sweat. Oh, gross. It became unpleasantly evident that he was excited. She tried to remember tricks from the self-defense course she'd taken at the gym, but the only thing that came to mind were house keys. Good for eye jabbing, face raking and the like. Hah.
Edgar licked her neck. Her stomach lurched. She dragged in a deep breath and drove her spike heel into his foot, with all her weight.
Edgar howled. Whap, the back of her head smacked painfully into the shingled wall. "You bitch!"
"Let go of her," said a deep voice.
Edgar swiveled his head. "Who the fuck are you?"
Abby wrenched out of his grip, catching herself against the wall.
It was hard to follow what happened. It was dark, the stranger wore black, her eyes were watering, her head spun from the blow.
Edgar whipped around like a rag doll and flailed, facedown on the floor. The stranger sank down on top of him, twisting Edgar's hand behind his back, pinning his shoulder to the floor with his knee.
She blinked tears from her eyes, squeezed them shut. Tried again.
Yes, the man was still there, crouching on top of Edgar. He was real. Dark hair hung long and loose over a battered black leather jacket. Keen eyes studied her, thoughtful and curious.
He grabbed Edgar's hair, jerked his head up. "Apologize to her."
"Fuck you," Edgar wheezed. "I'll have you arrested, you scumbag piece of shit. I'll ruin your goddamn life!"
The guy let go of Edgar's hair and chopped the edge of his hand down onto the bridge of Edgar's nose. He shrieked. Blood bubbled.
"Wrong answer," the stranger said mildly.
Edgar made wet choking sounds. The man shot her a questioning glance. "Want to call the cops? I'll verify that he was assaulting you."
She shook her head.
"You want me to hit him some more?" the man prompted.
She forced sound past the lump in her throat. "If you could, ah, just make him go away, that would be great, thanks."
"OK." He yanked up on Edgar's hair. "This is your lucky day, pusbag. The nice lady doesn't feel like watching you get stomped. Which is better luck than you deserve. You should thank her."
Edgar made gurgling noises.
"Too bad," the man murmured. "Another lost opportunity."
Edgar shrieked as the stranger jerked him to his feet, hand still twisted up behind him. He doubled over, moaning as the guy hustled him down the stairs. Abby clutched the banister, white-knuckled.
The men were soon lost to sight around the corner of the house. The stranger said something in a low, intense tone. Edgar coughed and gasped in reply. A car door slammed. Lights came on, a motor hummed to life. The Porsche revved up and crushed Mrs. Eisley's pansy beds as it cut a corner out of the driveway and sped away. Silence.
She wondered if the guy was just a wishful hallucination.
The shadows in the bushes at the base of the stairs resolved into a tall, dark form. He climbed until Mrs. Eisley's porch light shone full on his face, paused, and waited. She got the sense that he was trying not to scare her. Letting her get a good, long look at him.
She couldn't have stopped looking if she tried. The guy was straight out of a naughty dream, the kind she woke up from hot and damp and achingly lonesome. Tall and solid-looking, sharp cheekbones, an angular jaw. His eyebrows were a slashing black line. His dark mane had the look of a long-ago haircut that he hadn't bothered to refresh. There was a tattoo on his neck. He looked hard, seasoned. Dangerous.
The kind of guy she'd sworn off for all time.
"Are you all right?" he asked her, his voice hesitant.
She clamped down on the hysterical laughter. "Yes, thank you."
His eyes flicked over her body. In the porch light, she could finally decipher the bright color. Not blue or gray. Topaz gold.
She looked down to check what she was wearing. The Diego Della Valle. Low-cut, slinky, short. She'd been regretting her outfit all night, the way Edgar had drooled over her cleavage all evening.
This was different. The stranger's brief, discreet once-over made her feel stark naked. She shivered, and let go of the railing to cross her arms across her breasts. She swayed, groping for the banister.
He leaped up the remaining stairs with pantherlike swiftness, grabbing her around the waist. "Whoa! Steady there."
"Sorry." Her hands fluttered. She had no idea where to put them. He was all around her. The only place to rest them was his shoulders, tangled in his hair, wrapped around his waist. Gripping his butt. Whoa.
He wore black cargo pants, covered with utilitarian pockets, all of which appeared to be in use. A gray T-shirt was stretched out across a broad, muscular chest. He smelled good, too. Like herbs. Rain on the earth, with faint accents of metal and woodsmoke and sea air.
"Here. Sit." He pulled her until she stumbled down two steps, and coaxed her into sitting down on the top step. "Put your head down."
She pressed her face against her knees as much to hide from those intense golden eyes as to recover from the head rush.
"How about you let me run you over to the emergency room?" he offered. "Your lips look kind of bluish."
Lovely. So she looked like death, too. "No, thanks," she mumbled.
"But he bashed your head against the wall." He reached around and touched her head. The contact gave her a tingling shock.
She leaned away. His hand dropped. "I'm fine, thanks."
She sneaked a quick peek at his tattoos as she struggled to her feet. On his neck was the swirling knotwork of a black Celtic cross. The one on his hand was a pair of crossed cutlasses. Pirate swords.
"OK, whatever," he said. "Just go slow, OK?"
They stood there looking at each other until his brows knitted in a puzzled frown. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
"I, uh ..." She floundered. "I guess I was just sort of surprised to find you still here, after Edgar left."
His eyes narrowed. "Why wouldn't I be?"
She shook her head, embarrassed. "It seemed so improbable. A mysterious guy pops up at the eleventh hour, like Batman. He does his thing, saves the day, and whoosh, he disappears."
A faint smile touched his lips. "But I haven't done my thing yet."
What was that supposed to mean? Mrs. Eisley was deaf, and the night was dark, and she was shaking so hard, she could barely stand.
He backed down two steps, hands lifted. "I don't mean anything sinister. I just meant that I haven't done the job you called me for yet."
"Called you for ... for what?" She was utterly lost.
"The locksmith. Remember? Your lockout?"
Her jaw dropped. "You're the locksmith?"
"Yeah." His sidelong glance was delicately cautious. "And, uh, exactly why is this so hard to believe?"
She looked over six feet and some odd inches of lethally gorgeous male. "I've never called a locksmith," she babbled. "I expected someone with a potbelly and a bald spot. In a blue coverall. Named Irv. Or Mel."
Excerpted from HOT NIGHT by SHANNON MCKENNA Copyright © 2006 by Shannon McKenna. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.