Read an ExcerptRight Here, Right Now
By HelenKay Dimon BRAVA BOOKS Copyright © 2008 HelenKay Dimon
All right reserved.
Chapter One "This isn't working."
There they were. To Gabrielle Pearson the phrase stood second only to "It's not you, it's me" as the most lame male excuse on the planet for cutting out of a date before the dessert menus hit the table.
Gabby glanced around the upscale restaurant looking for reinforcements. If anyone heard Reed Larkin's big kiss-off over the rumble of conversation and clanking of silverware, they were not letting on. No one held up a roll ready to lob it at Reed's fat head. A shame, really, since his over-inflated ego made it the perfect target.
"Gabby? Did you hear me?" Reed asked with his suddenly not-so-kissable mouth turned down in concern.
"I'm not deaf. I was thinking." Thinking that a woman never had a vial of strychnine when she needed one.
He frowned. "I was-"
"It's interesting, don't you agree?"
He switched to squinting. "You lost me."
She lowered her fork to the white tablecloth, but not before toying with the idea of stabbing Reed smack in the center of his perfectly angled chin. One hit of the sharp prongs and no woman would ever be lured in by his inviting, sexy smile again.
"I'm talking about your timing, Reed. You waited until you were done with your meal to make this announcement. You skipped the appetizer course and choked back your undercooked steak without taking a breath." Now she knew why.
Reed was a man on the run.
The big weasel.
Here she had thought tonight, formal date number nine, might be the date. The one to capture all the heat pulsing between them with a bedroom ending. Hell, she'd be lucky to get cab fare out of him now.
Reed took a long swallow of water.
When he didn't choke, Gabby cursed life's unfairness. "I'm assuming I'm the part of the relationship that's not working."
"Look, it's not you. It's-"
Oh, no, no, no. "Don't finish that sentence."
If he continued down that road, the half of the salmon filet she had managed to swallow would make a repeat performance all over his expensive navy suit. Tempting, but not going to happen.
"What's wrong with you?" he asked as if he actually did not know.
"Just don't." She pointed a finger in the general direction of Reed's heart to back up her threat.
Those ice blue eyes that were so attractive up until five minutes ago blinked several times. "Gabby, we should-"
"Stop talking before someone loses a body part." Her gaze dropped to her fork. "Preferably you."
The sexy sparkle behind his eyes faded. For the first time since they sat down to eat, Reed's usual assurance slipped. Nice of him to show some reaction.
She learned long ago to control her emotions. To keep her reactions neutral and her anger at bay. No matter how fast that ball of anxiety started spinning around in her gut, she held it all in. Forced her outside to defy her insides.
She had been through far worse than a broken relationship, weathered much and never broken. But something about the silliness of the scene, of Reed cutting her off at the same time she mentally planned his seduction, broke open the dam inside her and sent anger spewing in every direction.
Her chest clenched as her cheeks grew hot. Her jaw pulled tight enough to make her back teeth ache.
Pissed. She was down-to-her-bones pissed. A new sensation and one she chalked up to a building of stress unable to find any release. One that refused to go away quietly.
If Reed intended to hand her a relationship pink slip, then she planned to give him an ending to remember. "Tell me something."
He smiled at the older couple sitting at the table next to them. "Sure."
"Where did it go wrong for you?"
Their relationship hadn't taken any wrong turns for her. They had cruised along just fine with her getting more interested and attracted every single day. Then the waiter put the entrees on the table and everything went to hell.
"The 'it' is ...?" he asked.
"For a smart guy, you seem to be experiencing some trouble with small words."
He stopped glancing around the restaurant and focused on her instead. "Talk slow and I'll try to keep up."
"Fine." Actually, the scene was anything but fine, but she clearly did not get a vote. "Us. You and me. The relationship. Since we never even had sex, I mean."
He clamped his lips together. "Is this really necessary?"
Definitely. "Maybe there's something you forgot to tell me? You know, about your preferences and such."
Color rushed back into his cheeks. "Wait a damn second."
"We've gone out. Had a good time. It's called dating, in case you didn't know." This anger thing felt good. Freeing. Rather than fight it, Gabby let it flood through her.
"The next step between normal, healthy adults would have been sex." The step she had been imagining ever since he walked into her favorite morning coffee shop about a month before, forgot his wallet, and borrowed money and a seat at her table.
As if she needed another reason to give up caffeine.
"So?" She balanced both elbows on the table, blocking out the low rumble of conversation from the other diners. Dropping her voice down to a conspiratorial whisper, she asked, "What was it?"
Reed tugged on his ear in a nervous gesture she might have found endearing on another night, in another situation. Not on this one.
She leaned in until only her fury separated them. "Not the kissing, because that was good."
Okay, the lip action had been great. Score one for the tech nerd with the linebacker shoulders, pouty mouth and irresistible crooked smile.
She kept all the positives to herself. Now was not the time for an ego stroke. In fact, she did not plan on stroking any part of Reed Larkin ever again.
"And the touching ... well, come on," she said, warming to the subject the longer she talked. "Let's be honest here. We both know that part worked for you."
"Damn it, Gabby." His harsh whisper sent the waiter scurrying in the other direction without stopping to pick up the discarded plates.
She snorted. "I may not see when a guy loses interest, but I know when he's aroused."
"Lower your voice," Reed said in a tone that grew louder with each word.
The faster he unraveled, the more in control she felt. "Yeah, that's what I asked. Why?"
"For starters, we're in public." He exhaled as he tugged on his ear a second time.
"You should have thought about that before you chose the how and where for your big scene."
He waved the waiter away when the poor man ventured toward the table again. "If you'd stop talking for five seconds and let me finish a sentence, we could have a civilized conversation about this."
She noticed how Reed said "we," as if he had the first clue about what she really needed. If "he" did, then "they" would be testing her newly washed soft sheets by now instead of listing her shortcomings over surf and turf.
"You want to talk, Reed?" She sat back and folded her arms across her chest. Even tapped her foot a few times. "Go ahead."
"Give me a minute to catch up."
"Stop stalling." Her frustrated voice lifted above the soft jazz playing in the background, causing a few diners to look her way.
"Just say it."
"Fine," he shot back. "I need more excitement."
A sharp silence followed his bombshell.
"Damn it." He shook his head on a deep inhale.
"You can say that again." She pushed the words out past the numbness in her throat.
"Do you see now why I tried to do this a different way?"
"You just called me boring." She said the words nice and slow, trying to process them as she spoke.
"I did not say that."
"Sure sounded like it."
If only he knew about her real job ... but he couldn't and that was part of the problem. He had to see her as a forensic accountant and nothing more. Everyone did.
"I'd like to point out that you develop computer programs for a living. Not exactly a career chock-full of excitement, unless, of course, you enjoy talking to things that don't talk back," she said.
"How I work really isn't the point."
"You have one?"
His broad shoulders stiffened until most of his six-one frame loomed over the other side of the table. "The issue is about meeting needs."
"Did we even get to the needs part of our relationship?" She had needs. Like the need to strangle him with his blue patterned tie.
He picked his napkin back up and folded it, unfolded it and refolded it again as he visibly regained his control. "Look, I didn't mean for the comment to come out that harsh."
"There is nothing wrong with you."
"We just don't connect. I'm sorry."
For some reason his mumbled apology ignited her rage even more. Probably because it sounded so lame.
"Let's just skip to the part where we say goodbye," she said in the lightest voice she could muster over the roaring of blood in her ears.
A half smile returned to Reed's lips. "Exactly. This is not personal."
"Of course not." She just experienced an impersonal personal rejection. Right. Whatever.
"I knew you'd be reasonable about this."
"Yeah, that's me. Miss Reasonable." That fury bubbled up inside her unchecked and ready to spill over.
"We can be adult," he said in his most rational computer guy voice.
"We could, but you know what, Reed? I prefer acting like a child." She stood up and dumped the contents of her wineglass over his head.
"Gabby!" He shoved his chair back too late. The liquid hit him straight on before dripping down his face and onto his suit jacket.
"And, thanks for the wine recommendation. I'm happy I went with the house red. The color goes so much better with those little horns on your head."
"Why did you-"
"Because I didn't have a brick." Gabby smacked the glass against the table with a clink. "Thanks for the interesting evening. It's been great. Really."
Chapter Two Reed considered being soaked with wine while thirty or so restaurant patrons looked on about as far from "great" as possible. Waiters scrambled to clear a path for Gabby while liquid dripped off his chin and down his shirt. The rest landed in a puddle on the table.
With a quick wipe of his face and a nod to the gawking crowd, he sat back down. Ignoring the chuckles and finger-pointing proved a bit harder.
He had known Gabby for weeks and never seen her get riled. She stayed calm, including in the face of heavy rush-hour traffic. He never expected to see a spark under that cool self-confidence.
Knowing what lay beneath the surface, seeing the way her butt swished from side to side beneath her slim black skirt as she walked away, sent a spark of a different kind shooting through him.
Where did all that heat come from?
And why the hell hadn't she unleashed it before now?
Petite and all of five-foot-four, Gabby possessed a sweet, round face and huge hazel eyes. She looked more like a recent college grad than a woman of twenty-eight. Vibrant and alive with a sexy little smile that lit up her face.
Well, it did up until about three minutes ago. Amazing how the undercurrent of attraction disappeared along with her control. He had the puddle of wine in his blazer pocket to prove it.
"Well done." The sarcasm behind the comment shot through the transmitter and directly into Reed's ear.
"Shut up," Reed muttered just loud enough to be picked up by the small microphone dot planted on his tie.
Pete Thompson's voice echoed in the earphone. "Do you know anything about women?"
"That should be obvious. No." Certainly less than Reed thought he did before he sat down to eat.
"That was one hell of a crash and burn."
Reed could picture his partner sitting in the van, grousing about drawing the surveillance side of this job and wishing he were the one inside the restaurant with Gabby instead of out in the parking lot by himself.
"Thanks for your support," Reed grumbled, keeping his voice low enough to prevent attracting more attention.
"I'm here for you, buddy."
"Hate to hear what you would say if you were against me."
"How's the wine?" This time Pete asked the question over a round of chewing and laughing.
Good thing someone found this situation funny. For Reed, it sucked. No girl. No leads. The case got more screwed up every second. That was why he wanted Gabby out and safe. Why he sat in a pool of alcohol rather than on a bed between Gabby's bare legs.
Pete whistled. "I can see Gabby out front by the valet right now."
"How does she look?"
"Mad as hell. But, oh so fine. There's no way I'd push her out of bed."
Reed found the conversation less funny by the second. "Drop it."
"Of course, you wouldn't know anything about being in bed with her since you skipped the sex." Pete cleared his throat. "Why was that again?"
Because I'm an idiot. Reed could not come up with a better explanation than that.
He had sure as hell thought about sex with Gabby. About spending a few hours in her bedroom doing something other than searching. He had started leading with body parts other than his head the day after he met her.
She could hold a conversation on almost any topic and stop a man's breath with her wide smile. Her shoulder-length light brown hair she wore tucked behind her ears with a few strands brushed across her forehead. Small features but rounded everywhere a woman should be rounded. And she was smart as hell.
For some reason, her drenching him in wine did not make her any less appealing. If anything, her show of outrage made her all the hotter to him, sick bastard that he was.
"Boss lady says you blew the assignment." Pete was not chuckling now.
"When did Charlotte call in?" Reed pretended to cough into his napkin so that no one would think he was talking to his dinner plate.
"About ten minutes ago." Pete stopped crumpling food wrappers and eating long enough to explain.
"And you waited until now to warn me?"
"I was busy watching Gabby."
"You do know you're supposed to be on my side, right?"
"Then let me clue you in on your next problem. Charlotte's been watching your scene with Gabby. Saw the whole thing."
Now there was a stinking heap of bad news. "Charlotte's with you in the van?"
"Worse. She's in the restaurant with you. Sitting nearby with her own listening device. Which, lucky for you, she turned off when Gabby started talking about stroking you." Got the call to cut transmission right about the time you broke up with Hot Legs."
Gabby's legs. Yeah, those were the last two things on the planet Reed wanted to think about at the moment. He knew cutting her loose was the right choice, the only choice under the circumstances, but the decision stung. Especially now that he had witnessed Gabby's more passionate side.
He thought ... actually, it did not matter what he thought as far as Gabby was concerned. He not only had burned the bridge, he had torched the land at both ends.
"Charlotte's headed your way," Pete said. "Should be at your table any minute."
"One question for you, genius. If the boss said cut, why are you still tuned in?" This time Reed wiped a hand across his mouth for cover.
"Wouldn't miss a front-row seat to your ass kicking by two women in the span of ten minutes for all the money in my wallet."
Charlotte Rhames's high heels clicked against the marble floor as she walked up behind Reed. Without a word, she slid her almost six-foot frame into Gabby's abandoned chair. Her pale blue eyes zeroed in on him with laser-like precision.
Looking across the table, Reed wondered which woman could kill him faster, Gabby or Charlotte. Too close to call.
"I didn't know you were here," Reed said as if that fact were not obvious.
Commanding in designer suits and expensive gold jewelry, Charlotte could have been forty years old or sixty. No one dared to ask. The woman was scary enough when not ticked off. No need to invite her anger.
"I am here to assess your job performance."
He wiped off the rest of the wine the best he could and threw the napkin on the table. "How am I doing?"
"Not well." She signaled for the waiter without breaking eye contact with Reed. "Would you care for something to drink?"
"I'm good with the beverage I'm wearing, but thanks."
Charlotte ordered white wine and waited for the server to leave before returning to the conversation. "Is there something you wish to tell me?"
Almost never. "The steak is good here."
Excerpted from Right Here, Right Now by HelenKay Dimon Copyright © 2008 by HelenKay Dimon. Excerpted by permission.
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