Read an Excerpt
By Patricia Rosemoor
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. All right reserved. ISBN: 0-373-79099-6
Chapter One"We don't want you here ... so go away ... and don't come back some other day!"
Helen Rhodes led the cheer and the march in front of the pale green tile facade of the building,
which had recently been restored to its former glory. Several other small business owners and a
handful of neighbors were picketing with her - all of them concerned the neighborhood's flavor
would be ruined by a big flashy establishment like this one promised to be. The old Polish Baths
had been closed down for years and - unless she stopped it from happening - would be
reincarnated into Hot Zone, a superthemed coffee-house and singles meet-and-greet venue that
would put her out of business in short order.
"If you ask me," her friend Annie said over the rumble of the rapid transit train passing nearby,
"Helen's Cybercafé is so solid - and so different from this place - it can stand on its own."
The expression in the gray eyes behind the frameless glasses looked utterly sincere.
"From your lips," Helen mumbled. But having given up so much in the way of financial security
to be her own boss, she wasn't mollified. "Combining coffee with relaxing massages and sexy
hot tubs - how brilliant is that?"
"That it is," Annie admitted, "but while Luke DeVries will givethem a place to relax, you'll give
them a place to work. Different strokes and all that. Just like you and me."
Grinning down at Annie, Helen hugged her friend and affectionately yanked her ponytail.
Despite the August heat wave that had rivulets of sweat running down her own back, Annie was
hiding in black leggings and an oversize cotton T-shirt. Nothing at all like her own magenta calf- length pants and orange top, cropped to show off the time she spent in the gym.
"You and I might get along with our shops side by side, but we're friends and we don't have
competing businesses," Helen observed.
"Well, then ..." Annie said, then raised her voice to shout, "We don't want you here ... so go
away ... and don't come back some other day!"
She was nothing if not loyal, Helen thought, joining the chant.
As sweat-drenched workers went in and out of the building, they glared at the people in the
The eclectic group was representative of a neighborhood in transition, but at this point the
businesses were all small and privately owned, and everyone was afraid of having that balance
upset. Part of a national chain, this Hot Zone threatened them all. The nearby six-corner area
where Milwaukee, Damen and North Avenues intersected and Wicker Park and Bucktown
bumped up against each other boasted intimate restaurants, a performance and dance club that
was building a name, boutiques that sold funky clothing and accessories, and unique stores that
carried comic books and horror memorabilia. The most conservative of the picketers wore
business gear - jacket off, tie loosened - the least conservative wore more jewelry than
Whatever the workers thought of the mix, not one of them said a word.
"You would think someone would object, would try to get us to disperse."
"So Nick can get it on video," Annie said knowingly.
Helen was aware that Annie didn't really want to be here - her friend had been on the
receiving end of a picket line when she'd first opened her risqué shop,
Annie's Attic, now possibly the most popular nonfranchised lingerie store in the city. But Annie
Wilder and Nick Novak had been her best buddies since college days, so they were both here
Helen looked toward the man behind the camera at the curb and he grinned at her, then gave
her a thumbs-up. Nick used to shoot news clips for a local station. And though he now owned
his own fledgling video business, she figured with his old contacts, he might be able to get them
on tonight's broadcast, assuming it was a slow news night.
Assuming anything interesting ever happened ... like the money-grubbing owner coming
out of the building to face her!
"Luke DeVries is a coward," she muttered, then realized she was addressing the air - Annie
had fallen back to talk to Nick.
Starting up the chant once more, Helen shifted the Just Cool It, Hot Zone sign she was carrying
to a more comfortable position.
"That getting too heavy?" came a low-timbered voice.
"A little," she said, turning to face the man who was now marching alongside her.
For a moment, Helen felt stunned by the dark-eyed hunk who'd taken Annie's place. Spiked
gold-tipped brown hair topped a broad forehead, high cheekbones and a strong chin. When he
smiled at her, his left cheek was licked by a sexy dimple.
And Helen nearly dropped her sign.
"Can I carry that for a while?" he asked.
As he wrapped his hand around the wooden pole, his fingers grazed hers. Helen gasped, then
covered with a cough.
"Allergies. Chicago summers are a bear to get through."
"I've heard that."
"You're not from around here," she guessed, both from his comment and a hint of southern
"I am now. Beautiful city. Even more beautiful women."
He was staring at her in a way that heated her blood.
"Do you live close by?" Helen asked. It was nearly noon, and plenty of people were out for
lunch, which was the reason she'd chosen this time to stage her protest. She realized he could
be taking a lunch break, so she added, "Or is your office in the neighborhood?"
"Yes. And yes. So why are we picketing?"
"Because whenever a Hot Zone pops up in a new neighborhood, similar businesses get killed."
"Killed? Isn't that overly dramatic."
Helen sighed. He wasn't the first to accuse her of blowing things out of proportion. "Well, fail,
"But that's competition, the nature of business."
"If you had your own business -"
"I do. And I think as long as a man runs his business ethically -"
"Well, Luke DeVries doesn't. He's a shark in man's clothing."
He arched a brow at her, triggering her pulse. His face was all planes and angles, cover-model
handsome. No man should be this good-looking, Helen thought. Or have such long eyelashes.
Thinking maybe he was a model ... or gay ... she squinted at him to make sure the lashes weren't
enhanced by additions or mascara. Nope, real.
Excerpted from Hot Zone by Patricia Rosemoor
Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.