Open Season

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Overview

Daisy Minor is bored. Worse than that, she's boring. A plain, small-town librarian, she's got a wardrobe as sexy as a dictionary and hasn't been on a date in years. She's never even had a lukewarm love affair, let alone a hot one. So when she wakes up on her thirty-fourth birthday and wonders how it is that she still lives with her widowed mom and spinster aunt while her friends have all gotten married and started families, she decides it's time to get a life—and a sex life. And as far as she can tell, good girls...
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Overview

Daisy Minor is bored. Worse than that, she's boring. A plain, small-town librarian, she's got a wardrobe as sexy as a dictionary and hasn't been on a date in years. She's never even had a lukewarm love affair, let alone a hot one. So when she wakes up on her thirty-fourth birthday and wonders how it is that she still lives with her widowed mom and spinster aunt while her friends have all gotten married and started families, she decides it's time to get a life—and a sex life. And as far as she can tell, good girls don't attract nearly as many men as bad ones.

Can a lifelong good girl turn bad? No, not exactly.

But they can pretend, right?

One makeover later, Daisy has transformed herself into a party girl extraordinaire. She's letting her hair down, dancing the night away at clubs, and laughing and flirting with men for the first time in, well, forever. With a new lease on her own place, she's found a new lease on life—and it's open season for man hunting.

But on her way home late one night, Daisy sees something she's not supposed to see. Suddenly the target of a killer, she's forced to put her manhunt on hold. But the very moment she stops looking might be the moment she finds what she's wanted all along. Trouble is, before he can share her life, he might just have to save it.

Seemlessly blending heart-pounding romance and breathless intrigue, Linda Howard has once more proven herself a masterful storyteller, writing this stylish and provocative novel that absolutely defies readers to put it down.

...on her way home late one night, Daisy sees something she's not supposed to see. Suddenly the target of a killer, she's forced to put her manhunt on hold. But the very moment she stops looking might be the moment she finds what she's wanted all along. Trouble is, before he can share her life, he might just have to save it.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
For Daisy Minor, it's open season on men. The small-town librarian is tired of being a good girl, living with her widowed mother and spinster aunt. She wants to experience life and love, to have some fun, to meet a man. Before she starts her personal manhunt, she sets out to reinvent, or at least redecorate, herself. She seeks out a new look to match her new attitude, moves into her own place, and sets out in search of all the fun and adventure she's been missing. Soon she's dancing her nights away, flirting with men, and thoroughly enjoying her new free-spirited lifestyle. Then, late one night, she sees something that no one was supposed to see and finds herself in deadly danger. Suddenly, a killer declares it's Open Season on Daisy Minor, and Daisy's one hope, for life and love, is to find the perfect man to save her life -- and share it.
From the Publisher
The Orlando Sentinel A thriller...with deftness and charm.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781410400062
  • Publisher: Gale Group
  • Publication date: 8/28/2002
  • Edition description: Large Print
  • Pages: 461
  • Product dimensions: 5.42 (w) x 8.58 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Linda Howard is the award-winning author of eight New York Times bestsellers, including Mr. Perfect, All the Queen's Men, Now You See Her, Kill and Tell, and Son of the Morning. She lives in Alabama with her husband and two golden retrievers.
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Read an Excerpt

Prologue

Carmela nervously clutched the burlap bag that held her other dress, some water, and the small package of food she had been able to save for the trip north, across the border. Orlando had told her that they wouldn't be able to stop, for food or water or anything, until they reached Los Angeles. She was locked in the back of an old truck that bounced and swayed, throwing her from side to side if she didn't manage to wedge herself into a corner and brace her back and legs in the small V, making sleep impossible because the moment she relaxed, she was sent tumbling across the rough wood bed of the truck.

Carmela was terrified, but determined. Enrique had gone across two years before, and he'd said he would send for her. Instead he had married an American, so he could never be deported, and she had been left with her dreams destroyed and her pride in shreds. There was nothing left for her in Mexico; if Enrique could marry an American, then so could she! And she would marry a rich one. She was very pretty; everyone said so. When she married her rich norteamericano, she would find Enrique and snub her nose at him, and he would be sorry he had lied and betrayed her.

She had big dreams, but she felt very small, bouncing around in the back of the truck as it charged across uneven ground. She heard grinding metal as Orlando changed gears, and a soft exclamation of pain as one of the other girls banged into the side of the truck. There were three others, all young like her, all wanting something better than what they had left behind in Mexico. They hadn't exchanged names, hadn't talked much at all. They were too preoccupied with the danger of what they were doing, and both sad and excited: sad at what they were leaving behind, and excited at the prospect of a better life. Anything had to be better than nothing, and nothing was what Carmela had.

She thought about her mother, dead for seven months, worn out by a lifetime of hard work and having babies. "Never let Enrique touch you between your legs," her mother had lectured, time and again. "Not until you are his wife. If you do, then he won't marry you, and you'll be left with a baby while he finds another pretty girl." Well, she hadn't let Enrique touch her between the legs, but he had found another girl anyway. At least she hadn't been left with a baby.

She had understood what her mother meant, though: Don't be like me. Her mother had wanted Carmela to have more than she'd had. She hadn't wanted her to grow old before her time, forever laden with a baby in her arms and another in the womb, and dying before the age of forty.

Carmela was seventeen. By the time her mother had been seventeen, she'd already had two babies. Enrique had never understood Carmela's insistence on remaining a virgin; he'd been, by turns, angry and sullen at her steadfast refusal to let him make love to her. Perhaps the woman he had married had let him do that to her. If that was all he wanted, then he had never truly loved her at all, Carmela thought. Good riddance! She wasn't going to waste her life mourning a...a fool!

She tried to keep her spirits up by telling herself everything would be better in America; everyone said that in Los Angeles there were more jobs than there were people, that everyone had a car, and a television. She might even be in the movies, and become famous. Everyone said she was pretty, so perhaps it was possible. The fact, however, was that she was seventeen and alone, and she was frightened.

One of the other girls said something, her voice drowned out by the laboring engine, but the tension came through. In that moment, Carmela realized the other three were as frightened as she. So she wasn't alone, after all; the other three were just like her. It was a small thing, but she immediately felt braver.

Bracing herself against the lurching as the vehicle wallowed from one rut to the next, she scooted across the rough wood of the truck bed until she was close enough to hear what the girl had said. It was daylight now, and enough light seeped through the cracks that she could make out the faces of the others. "What is it?" she asked.

The girl twisted her hands in the worn fabric of her skirt. "I have to relieve myself," she said, her voice thin with shame.

"We all do," Carmela said in sympathy. Her own bladder was full to the point of pain. She had been ignoring it as best she could, unwilling to do she knew they would eventually be forced to do.

Tears rolled down the girl's face. "I must."

Carmela looked around, but the other two seemed as helpless as the weeping girl. "Then we will do what we must do," she said, because she seemed to be the only one capable of making a decision. "We will designate a corner...that one." She pointed at the right rear corner. "There is a crack there, so it will drain. We will each relieve ourselves."

The girl wiped her face. "What about the other?"

"I hope we stop before then." Now that the sun was up, the heat inside the truck would be climbing steadily. It was summer; if Orlando didn't stop and let them out, they might well die from the heat. He had said they wouldn't stop until they reached their destination, so surely they would be in Los Angeles soon. She had paid Orlando only half of his usual fee; if she died, he wouldn't be able to collect the other half. Normally everyone had to pay in full before the coyote would take them across the border, but because she was so pretty, Orlando said, he would make an exception.

The other girls were pretty, too, she realized. Perhaps he had made an exception for all of them.

Relieving themselves was a group effort, because of the bouncing of the truck, and Carmela organized that effort. In turn, with herself going last, each squatted in the corner while the others wedged themselves around her to hold her upright. At last, feeling exhausted but much better, they sank down on the truck bed to rest.

Abruptly, with one last bounce, the truck began rolling smoothly. They were on a highway, Carmela realized. A highway! Surely they were close to Los Angeles now.

But the morning hours ticked away, and the heat inside the truck grew stifling. Carmela tried to breathe normally, but the other girls were panting, as if drawing in extra air would help cool them. Since that air was hot, it didn't seem logical. At least, the way they were sweating, they wouldn't have to relieve themselves again very soon.

She waited as long as she could, because she had no idea how much farther they had to go, but finally her own thirst grew unbearable and she took her small flask of water from her burlap bag. "I have water," she said. "Just a little, so we must share equally." She gave each of them a hard look. "If you take more than one sip before passing the flask, I will slap you. And just a small sip, too."

Under her fierce dark gaze, each girl obediently took one small sip and passed the flask. Somehow, in organizing them to relieve themselves, she had gained the position of leader, and though she wasn't very tall she had the force of will they all recognized. When the flask reached her, Carmela took her own one small sip, then passed the flask around again. When they had each had two sips, she capped the flask and put it back in her bag. "I know it isn't much," she said, "but I don't have much water and we must make it last."

There was, perhaps, enough water for them each to have another two sips. That wasn't much water, not when they were losing more than that in sweat every hour. Perhaps it would be enough to keep them alive. Why hadn't the other girls thought to bring food and water? she thought irritably, then forced the irritation away. It could be that they hadn't had anything to bring. As poor as she herself was, there were always others who had even less. She must be kind, in thought as well as deed.

The truck began slowing, the difference in the sound of the motor signaling the change. They looked at each other with hope bright in their eyes.

The truck pulled off the highway and stopped. The motor wasn't turned off, but they heard the slam of the door as Orlando got out. Quickly Carmela grabbed her bag and stood; since he had said they wouldn't stop for anything until they reached Los Angeles, then they must have arrived. She had expected more noise, though; she couldn't hear anything other than the sound of the truck's engine.

Then there came the sound of a chain rattling, and the roll-up door of truck was shoved up on its tracks, letting in a blinding glare of sunlight and a blast of air that was both hot and fresh. Orlando was just a black shape, silhouetted against the white glare. Shielding their eyes, the girls all stumbled to the rear of the truck and awkwardly climbed out.

As her eyes adjusted to the sunlight, Carmela looked around, expecting...she didn't know quite what she expected, but at least a big city. There was nothing here but sky and sun and scrub bushes, and drifts of gritty gray soil. Her eyes wide, she looked at Orlando in question.

"This is as far as I take you," he announced. "The truck is too hot; you would die. My friend will take you the rest of the way. His truck has air conditioning."

Air conditioning! In Carmela's small village a few people had owned cars, but none of them had air conditioning. Old Vasquez had pointed with pride to the controls on the dash of his car that had once made cold air come from the vents, but they no longer worked and Carmela had never actually felt such a thing. She knew about it, though. She would ride in a truck with air conditioning! Old Vasquez would be so jealous, if he knew.

A tall, lean man wearing jeans and a plaid shirt came around the side of the truck. He carried four clear bottles of water, which he gave to the girls to drink. The water was cold, the bottles wet with condensation. The thirsty girls gulped the water while he talked to Orlando in English, which none of them spoke.

"This is Mitchell," Orlando finally said. "You are to do what he says. He speaks a little of our language, enough for you to understand what he wants you to do. If you disobey, the American policemen will find you, and throw you in jail, and you will never be freed. Do you understand?"

Solemnly, they all nodded. They were then swiftly hustled into the camper shell on Mitchell's large white pickup. There were two sleeping bags in the tossed on the truck bed, and a small stool with a hole on top, which on inspection turned out to be a toilet. There was no room to stand up; they had to either sit or lie, but after their sleepless night they didn't care. Cold air and music, both of which were incredibly soothing, were pouring into the camper shell through the open sliding rear window of the truck. After spreading out the two sleeping bags so they could all lie down, the four girls quickly fell asleep.

She hadn't thought Los Angeles as so very far away, Carmela thought two days later. She was tired of riding in the camper, of not being able to stand up and move around. Stretching kept her muscles as limber as possible, but what she really wanted was just to walk. She had always been an active girl, and this restriction, though necessary, was maddening.

They were fed regularly, and given water to drink. They hadn't been able to wash, however, and they all smelled really bad. Sometimes Mitchell would stop in a deserted area and raise the back gate of the camper shell, letting the camper air out, but the freshness was never complete, and never last long anyway.

Peeking through the rear window of the truck, Carmela had watched the empty desert turn into flat grasslands. Then, gradually, wooded areas had appeared, and finally, this last day, there were mountains: lush, green, rolling. There were pastures dotted with cattle, and pretty valleys, and dark green rivers. The air felt thick and humid, and perfumed with the scent of a thousand different varieties of trees and flowers. And cars! There were more cars than she had ever thought to see in her life. They had passed through a city that had seemed enormous to her, but when she had asked Mitchell if this was Los Angeles he had replied that, no, it was called Memphis. They were still a long way from Los Angeles.

America was unbelievably huge, Carmela thought, for them to have traveled for days, and still be a long way from Los Angeles!

But late at night on the second day, they finally stopped. When Mitchell opened the back of the camper and let them out, they could barely walk from having been cooped up for so long. He had parked in front of a long trailer; Carmela looked around, searching for anything that would indicate a city, but they still seemed to be far from any such thing. Stars twinkled overhead, and the night was alive with insect chirps and bird calls. He unlocked the trailer door and led them inside, and all four girls sighed at the luxury. There was furniture, and the most amazing kitchen with appliances they had no idea how to work, and a bathroom such as they hadn't imagined in their dreams. Mitchell told them they were all to take a bath, and he gave them each a loose, lightweight dress that was pulled on over the head. The dresses were theirs, he said.

They were amazed at such kindness, and thrilled by their new dresses. Carmela smoothed her hand over the fabric, which was smooth and light. Her dress was white with little red flowers all over it, and she thought it was beautiful.

They took baths in water that sprayed out of the wall, and used soap that smelled like perfume. There was special soap for their hair, liquid soap that foamed into mountains of suds. And brushes for their teeth! By the time Carmela left the bathroom, having waited until last because the other girls seemed at the end of their strength, she was cleaner than she had ever been in her life. She had been so enthralled by the richness of the soap that she had bathed twice, and washed her hair twice. Warm water stopped coming out of the spray, there was just cold water now, but she didn't care. It felt so good to be clean again.

She was barefoot, and she had no under things to wear because they were all so dirty, but she pulled on her clean new dress and twisted her damp hair into a knot at the back of her neck. Looking in the mirror, she saw a pretty girl with smooth brown skin, lustrous dark eyes, and a full red mouth, much different from the bedraggled creature who had looked back at her before.

The other girls were already asleep in the bedroom, snuggled under the covers, the air so cold that chills raised on her arms. She went into the living room to tell Mitchell goodnight, and thank him for all he had done for them. A television was on, and he was watching a game of American baseball. He looked up and smiled at her, and indicated two glasses filled with ice and a dark liquid, on the table beside him. "I fixed you something to drink," he said, or that was what she thought he said because his Spanish really wasn't very good. He picked up his own glass and sipped from it. "Coca-Cola."

Ah, that she understood! She took the glass he indicated and drank down the cold, sweet, biting cola. She loved the way it felt on the back of her throat. Mitchell indicated she should sit, so she did, but on the other end of the sofa the way her mother had taught her. She was very tired, but she would sit with him for a few minutes to be polite, and in truth she was grateful to him. He was a nice man, she thought, and he had sweet, faintly sad brown eyes.

He gave her some salty nuts to eat, and suddenly that was just what she wanted, as if her body needed to replace the salt she had lost during the first part of the trip. Then she needed more Coca-Cola, and he got up and fixed another one for her. It felt strange, to have a man bringing things to her, but perhaps that was the way things were in America. Perhaps it was the men who waited on the women. If so, she only regretted she hadn't come sooner!

Her fatigue grew greater. She yawned, then apologized to him, but he only laughed and said it was okay. She couldn't keep her eyes open, or her head up. Several times her head bobbed forward and she would jerk it up, but then her neck muscles just wouldn't work any more and instead of lifting her head she felt herself sliding sideways. Mitchell was there, helping her to lie down, settling her head on the cushion and stretching out her legs. He was still touching her legs, she thought dimly, and she tried to tell him to stop but her tongue wouldn't form the words. And he was touching her between her legs, where she had never let anyone touch her.

No, she thought.

And then the blackness came, and she thought no more.

Copyright © 2001 by Linda Howard

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First Chapter

Chapter One

"Daisy! Breakfast is ready!"

Her mother's voice yodeled up the stairwell, the intonation exactly the same as it had been since Daisy was in first grade and had to be cajoled into getting out of bed.

Instead of getting up, Daisy Ann Minor continued to lie in bed, listening to the sound of steady rain pounding on the roof and dripping from the eaves. It was the morning of her thirty-fourth birthday, and she didn't want to get up. A gray mood as dreary as the rain pressed down on her. She was thirty-four years old, and there was nothing about this particular day to which she looked forward with anticipation.

The rain wasn't even a thunderstorm, which she enjoyed, with all the drama and sound-effects. Nope, it was just rain, steady and miserable. The dreary day mirrored her mood. As she lay in bed watching the raindrops slide down her bedroom window, the unavoidable reality of her birthday settled on her like a wet quilt, heavy and clammy. She had been good all her life, and what had it gotten her? Nothing.

She had to face the facts, and they weren't pretty.

She was thirty-four, never been married, never even been engaged. She had never had a hot love affair — or even a tepid one. A brief fling in college, done mainly because everyone else was doing it and she hadn't wanted to be an oddball, didn't even quality as a relationship. She lived with her mother and aunt, both widowed. The last date she'd had was on September 13, 1993, with Aunt Joella's best friend's nephew, Wally — because he hadn't had a date since at least 1988. What a hot date that had been, the hopeless going on a mercy date with the pitiful. To her intense relief, he hadn't even tried to kiss her. It had been the most boring evening of her life.

Boring. The word hit home with unexpected force. If anyone had to pick one word to describe her, she had a sinking feeling she knew what that word would be. Her clothes were modest — and boring. Her hair was boring, her face was boring, her entire life was boring. She was a thirty-four-year-old, small-town, barely-been-kissed spinster librarian, and she might as well be eighty-four for all the action she saw.

Daisy switched her gaze from the window to the ceiling, too depressed to get up and go downstairs, where her mother and Aunt Joella would wish her a happy birthday and she would have to smile and pretend to be pleased. She knew she had to get up; she had to be at work at nine. She just couldn't make herself do it, not yet.

Last night, as she did every night, she had laid out the outfit she would wear the next day. She didn't have to look at the chair to envision the navy skirt, which hovered a couple of inches below her knee, both too long and too short to be either fashionable or flattering, or the white, short-sleeved blouse. She could hardly have picked an outfit less exciting if she had tried ­ but then, she didn't have to try; her closet was full of clothes like that.

Abruptly she felt humiliated by her own lack of style. A woman should at least look a little sharper than usual on her birthday, shouldn't she? She would have to go shopping, then, because the word "sharp" didn't apply to anything in her entire wardrobe. She couldn't even take extra care with her makeup, because the only makeup she owned was a single tube of lipstick in an almost invisible shade called "Blush." Most of the time she didn't bother with it. Why should she? A woman who had no need to shave her legs certainly didn't need lipstick. How on earth had she let herself get in this predicament?

Scowling, she sat up in bed and stared directly across the small room into her dresser mirror. Her mousy, limp, straight-as-a-board brown hair hung in her face and she pushed it back so she could have a clear view of the loser in the mirror.

She didn't like what she saw. She looked like a lump, sitting there swathed in blue seersucker pajamas that were a size too big for her. Her mother had given her the pajamas for Christmas and it would have hurt her feelings if Daisy had exchanged them. In retrospect, Daisy's feelings were hurt because she was the sort of woman to whom anyone would give seersucker pajamas. Seersucker, for God's sake! It said a lot that she was a seersucker pajamas kind of woman. No Victoria's Secret sexy nighties for her, no sirree. Just give her seersucker.

Why not? Her hair was drab, her face was drab, she was drab.

The inescapable fact was that she was boring, she was thirty-four years old, and her biological clock was ticking. No, it wasn't just ticking, it was doing a countdown, like a space shuttle about to be launched: ten...nine...eight...

She was in big trouble.

All she had ever wanted out of life was...a life. A normal, traditional life. She wanted a husband, a baby, a house of her own. She wanted SEX. Hot, sweaty, grunting, rolling-around-naked-in-the-middle-of-the-afternoon sex. She wanted her breasts to be good for something besides supporting the makers of bras. She had nice breasts, she thought: firm, upright, pretty C-cups, and she was the only one who knew it because no one else ever saw them to appreciate them. It was sad.

What was even sadder was that she wasn't going to have any of those things she wanted. Plain, mousy, boring, spinster librarians weren't likely to have their breasts admired and appreciated. She was simply going to get older, and plainer, and more boring; her breasts would sag, and eventually she would die without ever sitting astride a naked man in the middle of the afternoon — unless something drastic happened...something like a miracle.

Daisy flopped back on her pillows and once more stared at the ceiling. A miracle? She might as well hope lightning would strike.

She waited expectantly, but there was no boom, no blinding flash of light. Evidently no help was coming from On High. Despair curled in her stomach. Okay, so it was up to her. After all, the Good Lord helped those who helped themselves. She had to do something. But what?

Desperation sparked inspiration, which came in the form of a revelation:

She had to stop being a good girl.

Her stomach clenched, and her heart started pounding. She began to breathe rapidly. The Good Lord couldn't have had that idea in mind when He/She/It decided to let her handle this on her own. Not only was it a very un-Good Lord type of idea, but

...she didn't know how. She had been a good girl her entire life; the rules and precepts were engraved on her DNA. Stop being a good girl? The idea was crazy. Logic dictated that, if she wasn't going to be a good girl any longer, then she had to be a bad one, and that just wasn't in her. Bad girls smoked, drank, danced in bars, and slept around. She might could handle the dancing — she kind of liked the idea — but smoking was out, she didn't like the taste of alcohol, and as for sleeping around — No way. That would be monumentally stupid.

But — but bad girls get all the men! her subconscious whined, prodded by the urgency of her internal ticking clock.

"Not all of them," she said aloud. She knew plenty of good girls who had managed to marry and have kids: all her friends, in fact, plus her younger sister, Beth. It could be done. Unfortunately, they seemed to have taken all the men who were attracted to good girls in the first place.

So what was left?

Men who were attracted to bad girls, that's what.

The clenching in her stomach became a definite queasy feeling. Did she even want a man who liked bad girls?

Yeah! her hormones wailed, oblivious to common sense. They had a biological imperative going here, and nothing else mattered.

She, however, was a thinking woman. She definitely didn't want a man who spent more time in bars and honkytonks than he did on the job or at home. She didn't want a man who slept with any road whore who came along.

But a man with experience...well, that was different. There was just something about an experienced man, a look in his eyes, a confidence in his walk, that gave her goosebumps at the thought of having a man like that all to herself. He might be an ordinary guy with an ordinary life, but he could still have that slightly wicked twinkle in his eyes, couldn't he?

Yes, of course he could. And that was just the kind of man she wanted, and she refused to believe there wasn't one somewhere out there for her.

Daisy sat up once more to stare at the woman in the mirror. If she were ever going to have what she wanted, then she had to act. She had to do something. Time was slipping away fast.

Okay, being a bad girl was out.

But what if she gave the appearance of being a bad girl? Or at least a party girl? Yeah, that sounded better: party girl. Someone who laughed and had fun, someone who flirted and danced and wore short skirts — she could handle that. Maybe.

Big maybe.

"Daisy!" her mother yodeled once more, the sound echoing up the stairs. This time her voice was arch with the tone that said she knew something Daisy didn't, as if there was any way on earth Daisy could have forgotten her own birthday. "You're going to be late!"

Daisy had never been late to work a day in her life. She sighed. A normal person with a normal life would be late at least once a year, right? Her unblemished record at the library was just one more indicator of how hopeless she was.

"I'm up!" she yelled back, which wasn't quite a lie. She was at least sitting up, even if she wasn't out of bed.

The lump in the mirror caught her eye, and she glared at it. "I'm never going to wear seersucker again," she vowed. Okay, so it wasn't quite as dramatic as Scarlett O'Hara's vow never to be hungry again, but she meant it just the same.

How did one go about being a bad girl ­ no, a party girl, the distinction was important ­ she wondered as she stripped off the hated seersucker pajamas and wadded them up, then defiantly stuffed them in the waste basket. She hesitated a moment ­ what would she wear to bed tonight? ­ but forced herself to leave the pajamas in the trash. Thinking of her other sleepwear ­ seersucker for summer and flannel for winter ­ she had the wild thought of sleeping naked tonight. A little thrill ran through her. That was something a party girl would do, wasn't it? And there was nothing wrong with sleeping naked. She had never heard Reverend Bridges say anything at all about what one wore, or didn't wear, to bed.

She didn't have to shower, because she was one of those people who bathed at night. The world, she thought, was divided into two groups: those who showered at night, and those who showered in the morning. The latter group probably prided themselves on starting the day fresh and sparkling clean. She, on the other hand, didn't like the idea of crawling between sheets already dirtied by the previous day's accumulation of dust, germs, and dead skin cells. The only solution to that was to the change the sheets every day, and while she was sure there were some people obsessive enough to do just that, she wasn't one of them. Changing the sheets once a week was good enough for her, which meant she had to be clean when she went to bed. Besides, showering at night saved time in the morning.

Like she was ever rushed for time anyway, she thought gloomily.

She stared in the bathroom mirror, which confirmed what she had seen in the dresser mirror. Her hair was dull and shapeless, without style. It was healthy but limp, without any body at all. She pulled a long brown strand in front of her eyes to study it. The color wasn't golden brown, or red brown, or even a rich chocolate brown. It was just brown, as in mud. Maybe there was something she could put on it to give it a little bounce, a little oomph. God knows there were zillions of bottles and tubes and sprays in the Health and Beauty section of the WalMart over on the highway, but that was fifteen miles away and she usually just picked up a bottle of shampoo at the grocery store. She had no idea what the products in those zillions of bottles and tubes did, anyway.

But she could learn, couldn't she? She was a librarian, for heaven's sake. She was a champion researcher. The secrets of the earth were open books to those who knew where and how to dig. How difficult could hair products be?

Okay. Hair was number one on her list of improvements. Daisy went back into her bedroom and got a pad and pen from her purse. She wrote the number one at the top of a page, and beside it wrote: HAIR. Below that she quickly scrawled MAKEUP, and below that CLOTHES.

There, she thought with satisfaction. What she had was the blueprint for the making of a party girl.

Returning to the bathroom, she quickly washed her face, then did something she almost never did. Opening the jar of Oil of Olay Aunt Joella had given her for her birthday last year, she moisturized her face. Maybe it didn't do any good, but it felt good, she decided. When she was finished, she thought that her face did look smoother, and a little brighter. Of course, anything that had been greased looked smoother, and all that rubbing was bound to have reddened her complexion, but one had to start somewhere.

Now what?

Nothing, that was what. She had nothing else to do, no other ointments, none of the mysterious and sexy little squares of color or dark colored pencils with which other women lined their eyes and darkened their lids. She could put on her lipstick, but why bother? It was virtually the same shade as her lips; the only way she could tell she had it on was by licking her lips and tasting. It had a slight bubble gum flavor, just as it had when she was in junior high ­ "Oh, God!" she moaned aloud. She hadn't changed her shade of lipstick since junior high!

"You're pathetic," she told her reflection, and this time her tone was angry. Cosmetic changes weren't going to be enough.

She had to do something drastic.

Two gaily wrapped boxes were sitting on the kitchen table when Daisy went downstairs. Her mother had made Daisy's favorite breakfast, pecan pancakes; a cup of coffee gently steamed beside the plate, waiting for her, which meant her mother had listened for her footsteps on the stairs before pouring the coffee. Tears strung her eyes as she stared at her mother and aunt; they were really two of the sweetest people in the world, and she loved them dearly.

"Happy birthday!" they both chimed, beaming at her.

"Thank you," she said, managing a smile. At their urging she sat down in her usual place and quickly opened the boxes. Please, God, not more seersucker, she silently prayed as she folded back the white tissue from her mother's gift. She was almost afraid to look, afraid she wouldn't be able to control her expression if it was seersucker ­ or flannel. Flannel was almost as bad.

It was...well, it wasn't seersucker. Relief escaped in a quiet little gasp. She pulled the garment out of the box and held it up. "It's a robe," said her mother, as if she couldn't see what it was.

"I...it's so pretty," Daisy said, getting teary-eyed again because it really was pretty ­ well, prettier than she had expected. It was just cotton, but it was a nice shade of pink, with a touch of lace around the collar and sleeves.

"I thought you needed something pretty," her mother said, folding her hands.

"Here," said Aunt Joella, pushing the other box toward Daisy. "Hurry up, or your pancakes will get cold."

"Thank you, Mama," Daisy said as she obediently opened the other box and peered at the contents. No seersucker here, either. She touched the fabric, lightly stroking her fingertips over the cool, sleek finish.

"Real silk," Aunt Joella said proudly as Daisy pulled out the full length slip. "Like I saw Marilyn Monroe wear in a movie once."

The slip looked like something from the nineteen forties, both modest and sexy, the kind of thing daring young women wore as party dresses these days. Daisy had a mental image of herself sitting at a dressing table brushing her hair and wearing nothing but this elegant slip; a tall man came up behind her and put his hand on her bare shoulder. She tilted her head back and smiled at him, and he slowly moved his hand down under the silk, touching her breast as he bent to kiss her...

"Well, what do you think?" Aunt Joella asked, jerking Daisy out of her fantasy.

"It's beautiful," Daisy said, and one of the tears she had been blinking back escaped to slide down her cheek. "You two are so sweet — "

"Not that sweet," Aunt Joella interrupted, frowning at the tear. "Why are you crying?"

"Is something wrong?" her mother asked, reaching over to touch her hand.

Daisy drew a deep breath. "Not wrong. Just — I had an epiphany."

Aunt Jo, who was sharper than any tack, shot her a narrow-eyed look. "Boy, I bet that hurt."

"Jo." Sending her sister an admonishing glance, her mother took both of Daisy's hands in hers. "Tell us what's wrong, honey."

Daisy took a deep breath, both to work up her courage and to control her tears. "I want to get married."

They both blinked, and looked at each other, then back at her.

"Well, that's wonderful," her mother said. "To whom?"

"That's the problem," Daisy said. "No one wants to marry me." Then the deep breath stopped working and she had to bury her face in her hands to hide the way her unruly tear ducts were leaking.

There was a small silence, and she knew they were looking at each other again, communicating in that mental way sisters had.

Her mother cleared her throat. "I'm not quite certain I understand. Is there someone in particular to whom you're referring?"

Bless her mother's heart, she was an English teacher to the core. She was the only person Daisy knew who actually said whom ­ well, except for herself. The acorn hadn't fallen far from the mother oak. Even when her mother was upset, her phrasing remained exact.

Daisy shook her head, and wiped the tears away so she could face them again. "No, I'm not suffering from unrequited love. But I want to get married and have babies before I get too old, and the only way that's going to happen is if I make some major changes."

"What sort of major changes?" Aunt Jo asked warily.

"Look at me!" Daisy indicated herself from head to foot. "I'm boring, and I'm mousy. Who's going to look at me twice? Even poor Wally Herndon wasn't interested. I have to make some major changes to me."

She took a deep breath. "I need to spruce myself up. I need to make men look at me. I need to start going places where I'm likely to meet single men, such as nightclubs and dances." She paused, expecting objections, but was met with only silence. She took another deep breath and blurted out the biggie: "I need to get my own place to live." Then she waited.

Another sisterly glance was exchanged. The moment stretched out, and Daisy's nerves stretched along with it. What would she do if they strenuously objected? Could she hold out against them? The problem was that she loved them and wanted them happy, she didn't want to upset them or make them ashamed of her.

They both turned back to her with identical broad smiles on their faces.

"Well, it's about time," Aunt Jo said.

"We'll help," her mother said, beaming.

Copyright © 2001 by Linda Howard

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 140 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(85)

4 Star

(39)

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(11)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 140 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 24, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    One of her best

    I love Linda Howard, although she has been known to do a "clunker" from time to time. This is an older book, it's being re-released. I love the characters in this book! The humor that they have makes you want to meet these people in reality. It's worth re-reading, but you don't want to buy it again, thinking it's a new story.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2009

    One of my all time favorites!!

    There is just something about Daisy Minor that gets you into this novel from the first page. In the same way you get into Blair Mallory's head in Howard's novels featuring her, Daisy Minor makes you smile. I don't want to deceive anyone, she's nothing like Blair - she is sweet, irreverent, innocent - but her romance with Jack (a tough cop) is definitively explosive. Also, equally enjoyed the mystery plot and romance plot in this one. Some of Howard's mysteries can seem a bit tired/weird - Angel of Death, anyone? - but this one is a real goodie.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2012

    Addicting

    This was the first book i read by linda howard. I lost my first copy and with only 50 pages every readers nightmare. Actually bought the book a second time and it was soo worth it.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 6, 2012

    Cute

    This was a cute book. It was written more in Linda Howard's earlier style, a cute romance...very enjoyable.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2012

    Best Linda Howard book!!

    I read this book about 10 years ago and never forgot it. It was hilarious and I just read it again last month. I am a huge fan of romantic suspense and this was a very pleasant surprise because it was so funny yet kept the romantic suspense aspect. Linda Howard wrote another book too that was a funny romantic suspense and I wish she would write more!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 22, 2011

    Highly Recommended

    Highly Recommended

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 28, 2011

    loved it!!

    l loved this book. I read it back when it first came out in paperback and now that I have a Nook I have added it to my ebook library. I love linda howard!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 28, 2011

    Chuckler

    I love this book. Talk about jumping out of a rut in the most entertaining way. Of course there is murder and mayhem going on. The cop is clever and figures out pretty quickly he needs to snatch up the girl. Ive read this and many more of Linda howards books and i have to say she rarely misses. Kind of a spoiler here...the grabby guy in the bar gets his.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 10, 2011

    Loved it!

    I truly enjoy Linda Howard's books and this one is over the top. I was laughing so hard I couldn't see for the tears running down my face. If you need a laugh a minute, this book is for you. I can so relate to the "heroine" in this book and our "hero" is really hot. It's a little bit mystery, a little bit fluff, and I've recommended it to all my friends.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 29, 2011

    Great book!

    This is another funny, sexy read by Linda Howard. I love the interaction between street-smart cop Jack Russo and naive, small-town librarian Daisy Minor. Underneath her prudish exterior, Daisy is feisty and sassy as heck!
    If you enjoyed this romantic suspense novel, you may also like: Shades of Twilight, After the Night and Mackenzie's Mountain by the same author. You might also try: a Thin Dark Line by Tami Hoag, anything by Lavyrle Spencer and The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye.
    Happy reading!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2014

    This book was one of the best action, romantice, erotice pact bo

    This book was one of the best action, romantice, erotice pact book I have read so far. 
    The main character falling in love for the first man to try to protect her since her "Big Change". 
    Her first night out husband-hunting and she starts something that will help her find her love.
    Her second night out on the town and she see's something she shouldn't have but doesn't know it yet!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2014

    Bella

    Here

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2014

    Great read, lots of typos

    Great, addictive story, but there are many typos and formatting errors. Still recommend reading, but wonder what happened to publishing standards, though Howard's talent should not be demeaned because her publisher was sloppy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2013

    Loved it!

    I loved this book. It was so funny, the characters were great. Daisy was such a character, I love how she re-made herself and her formerly sleepy life changed from sedate to being in the middle of a major drama. This book made me laugh out loud. I read some of the other reviews and am not sure if it is one of Linda Howard's older books, but either way, it's steamy, funny, a really good story, with lots of suspense, bad guys, action, pretty much everything you could ask for in a book without being outrageously unrealistic. Highly recommend. Great book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2013

    Excellent read

    Enjoyable

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2012

    Best

    This is the best book Linda Howard has written. All her others that I have read, (which is almost all of them) are good. This is great. Humor, suspense, passion. All put together in a wonderful story about two very likeable people. Three people, Linda Howard, Nora Roberts, and Sandra Brown, best at what they do.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2012

    Has everything!

    This book had it all. It had mystery, romance, and some super funny episodes.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2012

    My favorite Linda Howard. Sexy,romantic and quite funny, the cha

    My favorite Linda Howard. Sexy,romantic and quite funny, the characters bicker and fall in love with ease. And Aunt Joella is hilarious.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2012

    What a refreshing story. Loved all the characters. Great plot an

    What a refreshing story. Loved all the characters. Great plot and Jack is my new favorite hero.
    Not going to go on and on...just worth every penny.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2012

    Loved it!

    Just discovered this author. I love her. Very sexy combined with murder mystery

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 140 Customer Reviews

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