Read an Excerpt
Let's Pretend ...
By Gail Martin
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Chapter One"Blast it!"
Peering past the useless windshield wipers into the heavy downpour, Jessamy Cosette felt the thud-thud of a flat tire. She'd driven 270 miles from Cincinnati without mishap, and in two more miles she'd reach her destination. Royal Oak. But her journey was like a dart game - hitting somewhere near the center wasn't the same as scoring a bull's-eye.
She edged to the freeway shoulder and smacked her fist on the steering wheel. Her images of the lovely Michigan Indian summer washed from her mind as quickly as golden red leaves drifted away on the wind. Storming dusk had settled across the sky, and the high walls of the freeway rose around her like a cement canyon. The only thing she could picture now was her drowned body floating down this aqueduct of highway ... lost forever.
Since Meg Sullivan's call two weeks earlier, Jess had had second thoughts - then third and fourth. Coming home for the high school's centennial celebration and seeing her dearest high-school friend sounded wonderful, but staying in the same house with Meg's younger brother, Derek Randolph, weighed on her like a bad case of food poisoning.
Jess hadn't seen the hulking, obnoxious football player since she'd graduated from high school and he had been in the tenth grade. But he'd remained in her thoughts, her torment for years. If he called her "String Bean" or "Frenchie" again, she'd kill him.
Facing the dreadfulpossibility of murdering her best friend's brother, she stared at the vanishing taillights of one car after another flying past her like a Concorde along a runway. If anyone was going to change her tire, it looked as if it would have to be her. And since she'd never changed one in her life, she was faced with that horrible reality, too.
As she stared into the relentless downpour, another fear knifed through her. Was this the Detroit freeway where people were car-jacked ... or worse?
The sky remained slate-gray, and the rain gave no sign of letting up. With a sigh, Jess harnessed her fortitude, then reached down and pulled the trunk release. Maybe, something in there would look familiar.
While vehicles sailed past sending rooster-tail sprays, Jess stepped into the pelting rain, envisioning her new, colorful umbrella at home on a closet hook.
Drenched within seconds, she lifted the trunk lid and stared inside. An ice scraper gazed back at her.
Rivulets of water ran from her hair and down her face, joining the tears that crept from her eyes. She felt like a weepy child as she looked down at her rainsoaked cotton blouse clinging to her like plastic wrap.
Headlights lit the inside of her trunk. Jess swung around and stared at the halting SUV with panic. Had the driver stopped to offer help ... or doom?
A tall, strapping male slid from behind the wheel, deftly unfurling a black umbrella. Silhouetted in the headlights, his broad, athletic shoulders, like a giant, jutted beyond the waterproof shelter.
Anxiously trying to catch a glimpse of his face, she peered at the stranger stepping across the expanding puddles and asked herself a question. Would a thief use an umbrella? Not likely.
"Problem?" he asked, capturing her beneath the waterproof canopy. A fresh, woodsy smell wrapped around her as she faced him, nose to broad chest. She cringed as her usually bouncy hair adhered to her wet scalp.
"A flat," she answered, viewing a flash of his chiseled good looks in the passing lights through the blur of rain. She pointed to her back tire. "I don't seem to have a spare or one of those ... pump things."
His eyes crinkled, taunting her with a sense of familiarity. "A pump thing?" he asked.
She searched his face and demonstrated with her hand. "You know, one of those gadgets that lifts the car."
"A jack?" His full, resonant voice rippled with good humor.
Humiliated, she glued her attention to the flat, sensing that her mascara had probably made an ugly black trail down her cheeks. "A jack," she mumbled.
But her worry was pointless. The man wasn't looking at her face. Instead, he'd focused on her drenched blouse that clung to her figure with such detail he didn't need an imagination. She gaped at her clearly visible breasts, punctuated by tiny nubs, then raised her hand to cover herself.
When she did, his attention darted upward, and a grin flickered across his face. "Guess I'd better find your `pump thing.' Will you hold the umbrella?"
Using her free hand, she grasped the handle and held it above him.
Reaching into the trunk, he lifted a section of the floor to reveal, to her surprise, a tire and jack. "Why, look what we have here," he said, eyeing her over his shoulder.
She squirmed, mortified that she had no concept of car repair. "Thanks. Now I know where to look." She'd definitely put car maintenance on her "to do" list. At twenty-eight, the time to learn had come.
"Too bad you picked such a rotten day for a flat. Otherwise, I'd give you a lesson." He turned back to the tire and hoisted it to the trunk edge.
Had he read her mind? Jess's gaze swept across his broad back and down his corded triceps. From him, she might enjoy a lesson.
Astounded at her wayward thoughts, Jess jammed the pitiful fantasy into her mental wastebasket. She'd been tied to her flourishing catering business for a long time, bound in the kitchen with dough-sticky fingers and a flour-coated body. Dating wasn't on her menu.
When Jess refocused, she faltered at the sodden vision of rain rolling down the stranger's arm and dripping from his elbow. Where would she have been without him? "I'm sorry you've gotten so wet. I can't tell you how grateful I am that you didn't pass me by ... like so many others."
He pivoted. "Don't think I didn't consider it, but I'm too much of a gentleman." He gave her a wink while his teasing blue eyes sent her pulse on a sprint.
The man was truly a gentleman, and she chuckled, thinking of her earlier fear. "When you first pulled up, I worried you might be a mugger."
He dropped the tire to the ground, and she followed its descent, then let her gaze wander upward to his trim hips and taut belly beneath his form-fitted jeans.
"Disappointed?" he asked.
She snapped her head upward, then noticed his eyes were on what she'd been inspecting - the area below his waist. A hot flush rose up her neck. "Disappointed? I'm not sure what you mean."
One corner of his mouth lifted in a wry grin. "Disappointed I'm not a mugger?"
Excerpted from Let's Pretend ... by Gail Martin
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.