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STRIDING DOWN a line of cubicles, Kathryn Walters
checked her wristwatch, the Tag Heuer she'd treated herself to after her promotion to San Diego Times book editor a year ago. Eight forty-five. She huffed a breath, mentally cursing the nonstop phone calls she'd juggled this morning, more than she typically received in an entire day, all in response to her book review in yesterday's Sunday edition. The way people were reacting--most titillated, a few outraged--you'd think she'd marched naked through the streets twirling a flaming baton, not merely reviewed a murder mystery.
An erotic murder mystery.
Kathryn loved experimenting with the book section, introducing little-known authors and cutting-edge stories. She'd purposefully chosen Bound in Brasilia for its darkly erotic tone and kick-ass murder mystery, both of which lured the reader into its world of sex, crime and suspense. Especially the sex.
She couldn't help but smile to herself. It had been a calculated risk reviewing something certain people might view as porn, but she'd figured the word of mouth could garner her more reader votes for the coveted Crest of the Wave award for best Times editor. The fifteen-grand prize meant she could finally make the down payment on the beach condo of her dreams. Her own home. Security.
It'd been three long years since she'd lost both, along with her career, reputation, friends--the list felt endless. Funny how naive she'd been back then, thinking that speaking up about a corporate scam was the right thing to do. She knew better now. Much smarter to keep your mouth shut, mind your own business, keep your nose to the proverbial grindstone.
Win that prize and own her home again.
An intern stumbled to a stop in front of her. "Gr-great review, Ms. Walters."
She halted. "Thank you."
"Are those, uh, books the kind..." A shy smile exposed braces.
She glanced around, her five-eleven stature giving her a bird's-eye view into the cubicles. Interesting how many people had stopped working, looking up at her with titillation written all over their faces. Nice to know so many people had read Sunday's book section.
"The kind?" she prompted, looking back at him.
He shuffled in place. "Are those books the kind you'll be reviewing again?"
"If you mean, will I be reviewing more...thought-provoking books, the answer is yes."
She eased past the intern, biting back a smile. Thought-provoking? More like body-provoking.
A few weeks ago, when she'd selected Bound in Brasilia for her next review, she anticipated it would shake up readers. What she hadn't expected was how deeply it would shake up her. The protagonist's journey into the steamy South American jungle while she tracked a shaman who ignited buried dreams had nudged Kathryn into thinking about her own long-ignored personal needs. She couldn't even remember when she'd last taken a vacation or treated herself to a manicure, or just been lazy for an entire day. It was as though she was terrified that if she let up on herself for even a minute, she'd lose the opportunity to earn back what she'd lost.
While reading that book, she'd especially yearned to rekindle one specific long-lost need. Sex. In her zeal these past few years to rebuild her life, she'd managed to shove her libido into some deep freezer and lock the door. Thanks to Bound in Brasilia, however, that door had blasted open. Oh, she stayed focused on work, still put in more overtime than anyone else at the Times, but her overstimulated brain cells were tickling and teasing her at every opportunity, fabricating all kinds of scorching, experimental fantasies.
And all of them with a certain man.
Of course, what woman didn't want Coyote, the Times"s cocky and impossibly sexy sports editor? The man had the dark, sultry looks of a Johnny Depp, the gambling instincts of a Donald Trump, the sexual aura of a Bono. She'd sometimes wondered if his parents had actually named him Coyote, or if he'd adopted it as he became more like the mythical animal--part trickster, part outlaw, with a gleam in his eye that said he had an appetite for all things. No wonder he invaded her daytime--and especially night-time--fantasies. Oh, to be wicked with a man like that.
But her attraction was more than just superficial hots. At odd moments, she'd caught glimpses of her former self in him, those parts she'd once enjoyed and had worked hard to bury. Sometimes it was the sound of his boisterous, carefree laughter that made her recall a time when she didn't worry so much. Other times it was the gleeful way he went after something--a story, a bet--that made her miss how she'd once lived life greedily, eager for the next experience.
Occasionally she even had the crazy thought that experiencing Coyote would transform her. Not into the woman she once was--that woman was long gone--but into someone new, someone unafraid to live fully again, who celebrated her self instead of denying it.
Brushing back her shoulder-length hair, Kathryn strode into the kitchen, smiling at the crossed-out S in the Watch Out for Spillage sign over the sink. Being early November, people were revving up for the holidays, getting in a more playful mood. A cork bulletin board on the far wall was covered with everything from a calendar of upcoming events to worker's comp regulations. Doughnuts were piled on a plate on one of the nearby tables. The room smelled of coffee, cinnamon, and a telltale hint of Forbidden, her best pal Zoe's--the Times gossip columnist--favorite perfume.
"Kath, baby," murmured Zoe, peering at her through her ever-present prescription sunglasses while pouring coffee into a mug. Zoe, born to wear a miniskirt, came across as all flash and spark but Kathryn knew differently. That slight New England accent gave away her friend's privileged roots.
"I knew you were reviewing a hot new book, but you didn't tell me how hot." Zoe touched a finger to her tongue and made a sizzling sound as she pressed it to her denim-skirted rump. "That book review should keep you in the lead for the Crest of the Wave."
Kathryn tossed her heavy tote on the counter, promising herself for the nth time she'd stop lugging around so many books. "If it doesn't piss off the conservative types too much."
"Lots of people act incensed at anything that hints of sex, but deep down they love it. Trust me, Kath, you're a little over a week away from making that down payment on that killer condo and taking that exotic vacation."
"Condo, great. Vacation, who cares?" Kathryn helped herself to a mug.
"All work no play makes Kathryn--"
"A dull, but successful girl."
Zoe blew on her coffee, giving her a knowing look. Zoe was one of the few who knew about Kathryn's crash-and-burn past, empathized with it, but didn't approve of her friend's workaholic tendencies to make up for it. In Zoe's world, there were far better ways to soothe old wounds.
"So," she said conspiratorially, "how many times did you reread the good parts?"
Kathryn glanced over her shoulder to ensure they were alone, turned back to filling her cup with hot water. "Oh, maybe two times."
"Two times what?"
"Anyone ever tell you you're incorrigible?"
"All the time."
Giving up a grin, Kathryn dipped a tea bag into her cup. A light scent of chamomile laced the air. "If you must know, enough times to memorize a particular scene on a train and add a few jungle-hot details of my own."
"Girl, it's time to make those fantasies come true."
"Like I have the time."
"Hon, make some."
Kathryn started to retort something about her priorities, when a familiar, boisterous laugh filled the room.
Her body went on alert.
It was him. The man who'd been stoking her fantasies, driving her crazy with desire, making her nights damn near unbearable.
She slid a look over her shoulder, watching Coyote stroll into the room with one of his staff sports writers. He dipped his six-foot-plus height to catch his buddy's comments. Coyote's chocolate-brown eyes twinkled as they joked, his teeth flashed white against the mocha of his skin. He was, quite literally, tall, dark and handsome. Not the kind of commercial handsome seen on billboards and TV, but a rougher-edged look, a raw masculine appeal that wasn't completely polished.
Today he wore a tangerine-colored Polo shirt that accentuated his broad shoulders and tan khaki pants that covered thick, drawn-out legs. He wore his hair rakishly long, which was either a trend, his derision for convention or simply the fact the man had better things to do than remember mundane events like haircut appointments.
She'd often seen him jogging at lunch, his muscular body barely concealed beneath tank tops and shorts, and had thought his grace of movement belied his cockiness. The same way his laugh lines contradicted the arrogance in his articles.
He turned and caught her looking at him.
Heat feathered over her.
They held each other's stare.
Her inner thighs tingled as his gaze flicked downward, slowly following the line of her body, then back up until those lethal brown eyes met hers again. What she read in his look was blunt, hot, candid.
Just when she thought her hormones couldn't take any more, one corner of his mouth lifted in a lazy, sexy grin, pushing her mind into that train scene....
The hero and heroine in a darkened compartment. Outside the window, a swirl of lush jungle foliage, the cry of a bird. Inside, the air drenched with humidity and lust. The man and woman morphing into Coyote and Kathryn, panting for breaths as they ripped and tugged at their clothes, the wheels clattering faster, their hearts racing, the temperature rising--
"Kathryn," said Coyote, interrupting her thoughts,
"looks like it's just the two of us."
"The two--?" Had he read her mind?
He held up his hand, fingers splayed wide. "I'm only five votes behind you for Crest of the Wave."
Crest of the Wave. Right. "Great," she lied. "Cool, there's still some left," he said, distracted by the plate piled with baked goods. He helped himself to a doughnut. As he took a bite, he shot a glance at Kathryn that made her insides liquefy. A long moment passed as they stared at each other again.
Coyote grabbed a second doughnut, then left the room with his buddy, the two of them arguing good-naturedly about the Lakers' ability to pull off a three-peat.
Left alone again with Zoe, Kathryn unbuttoned her jacket. "It's hot in here."
"It's hot wherever that man goes," Zoe said with a wink.
"I think he likes you."
"He likes anything in a skirt," Kathryn muttered as she grabbed her tote. Rummaging through it for a breath mint, her fingers wrapped around a small, clear plastic bottle she used to keep vitamins in. She pulled it out, frowned at its current contents--a pale, somewhat viscous liquid. She smiled.
"I'd almost forgotten I had this--remember?" She held it up for Zoe to see.
"Is that the bohunk potion that strange little man tried to sell us a few weeks back? I thought Ethan turned it over to the police crime lab."
Ethan Ramsey, the crime-desk reporter and their happy-hours pal. "He did. After I filched a sample."
"Kathryn Walters! Ms. Law-Abiding Citizen stole something?"
"Filching isn't stealing, is it?" She laughed. "Blame it on that book. Lately I just have these urges to...well, break a few rules."
"About time. Life isn't a dress rehearsal, you know." Zoe held the vial up to the light. "It sparkles a little."
Kathryn peered at it. "Where?"
Zoe tilted the vial. "There. See?"
If anything, it had a luminescence to it, like moonlight on water. But then, Kathryn and Zoe often had different takes on things. "Uh-huh," Kathryn said noncommittally.
"So, did you try it out?"
Kathryn rolled her eyes. "Yeah, sure, while in my jammies watching Jay Leno. Seriously, even if I'd remembered it was in my tote, the stuff's bogus."
"That shop owner told a pretty compelling story, though. How it's a Yucatán love potion extracted from the jaguar, known for its mysterious scent that seduces the other beasts of the jungle. Had some kind of funky name--"
"Balam K'am-bi. A Mayan dialect that stands for 'jaguar' and 'sex."
"Count on you to remember the details. I really dug the part where he said the stuff gives the world's greatest sexual experiences to those who dare to use it."