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Roughing It With Ryan
By Jill Shalvis
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSuzanne Carter glanced between the apartment-for-rent ads and the balance in her checkbook. No matter how much she squinted, added or subtracted, she was pretty much S.O.L.
With what she had, she'd be fortunate to get a place that had four walls and a roof, never mind such luxury items as hot water and a bathtub.
And yet, anything would be better than where she currently lived, which was nowhere. As of this morning, her fiancé - ex-fiancé, she reminded herself, her very ex-fiancé - had politely stacked her things outside the apartment they'd shared. Honest to God, she'd thought he'd been kidding.
Until her key hadn't worked. Seemed the joke was on her. Damn if the joke wasn't always on her.
In any case, she'd finally realized the truth. She was relationship cursed. If she hadn't been, then she could blame any one of her other ex-fiancés - there had been three in total, not that she was counting - for the relationship failures, but the fault was hers alone. She seemed to possess the single-handed ability to destroy a good man. She'd destroyed Tim to the point he'd cried every night, wanting her to talk about her feelings, begging her to open up. She'd felt horrible, but deep down she knew she didn't want a man who also cried atlong-distance commercials and when he talked to his mother on the phone. Daily.
Not that Tim hadn't helped commit their relationship to doom by getting caught performing sexual gymnastics against the front door with his cleaning lady. But he'd pinned that on Suzanne as well, saying his heart had been so broken by her distance and lack of commitment that he'd needed the release.
This latest relationship disaster only confirmed in her own mind that she was cursed. And so, as of this moment, she was vowing to give up men to save them from herself. Too bad no one could save her from these dismal rental listings. Maybe she should have fought for the apartment, but she no longer wanted it. With a sigh she lifted her red pen and circled the very cheapest ad in the paper she could find. That's right, get thrifty, she could hear her mother say with approval. And regimented.
Everyone said Suzanne needed some regimentation. Well, everyone but her father, from whom she'd gotten her "lack of." Just ask her mother.
The ad she'd circled boasted a cheap, cheap, cheap one bedroom/one bathroom walk-up. Cheap, cheap, cheap sounded right up Suzanne's alley, given that, one, she was currently homeless with no savings, and two, contrary to popular belief, chefs made next to nothing. Home Sweet Home, she thought, she hoped, and got in her car.
Being a Monday, South Village was hopping in a way she still couldn't get used to. When she'd been young, the area, just outside of Los Angeles, had been little more than an outdated, neglected area of commerce, the buildings all falling apart, the homeless camping on the corners. Then some historical committee had come along, and the next thing Suzanne knew, the place had incorporated and rebuilt itself, creating a delightful cosmopolitan area that people came from all over to visit.
It was considered the hot spot, filled with trendy cafés and restaurants, art galleries and unique shops, all designed to draw in urban singles by the BMW-load.
She managed to park her not-even-close-to-a-BMW at the correct address and pulled her sunglasses down her nose to get a better glimpse at the building.
It didn't help. No matter how she looked at it, the view was the same. Bad. The building's turrets, mock balconies and many windows, while charming, couldn't quite disguise the fact that it needed major repairs - or demolition.
However, this was South Village, which meant that on either side of the falling-off-its-foundation-dump sat beauty personified. For blocks in either direction, all the other once decrepit old buildings had been restored to their former glory.
Not that she could afford one of those places. But that wasn't the point, she reminded herself. Today was a new day, and a chance to prove to the world she could do this without screwing up and without bringing another man to ruin. This was her chance to learn to be responsible and mature. To be regimented.
Which, really, by the age of twenty-seven, she should have learned already. "So. It's come to this," she said to the building in front of her, and slid out of her car.
The bottom floor appeared to be meant for commercial use, though its glory days were long past. There were two storefronts, with surprising potential given the picture windows and brick work, but both were vacant and dark, the area out front overgrown with weeds.
Since the apartment listing read walk-up, she assumed she needed the second or third floor, and was sort of hoping maybe she'd gotten the wrong place altogether when the tree right next to her started to shake. It was an oak tree, full and majestic, one of many surrounding the building.
And it was shimmying and shaking like crazy.
In her next breath, a man dropped right out of the thing. And not some normal man either, but a tall, dark, leanly muscled man, and given his scowl, she could add attitude-ridden to the list.
Straightening his broad shoulders, she got a quick impression of wavy sable hair and deeply tanned features while he stared up at the tree. Still not noticing her, he shoved his sunglasses up on his head, then put his big hands against the huge trunk and ... pushed?
Suzanne's gaze dropped from the back of his head to his now straining body in shocked curiosity. For the life of her, she couldn't look away.
He was beautiful.
Maybe beautiful was the wrong word, as it brought to mind female qualities and there was nothing feminine about this man and his superb form. Holy smokes, just looking at him, she needed a cup of ice to soothe her suddenly parched throat.
Excerpted from Roughing It With Ryan by Jill Shalvis Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.