Read an Excerpt
By Karen Kelley BRAVA BOOKS
Copyright © 2005 Karen Kelley
All right reserved.
Jessica Nelson was out to impress only one person today. It was going to be a damn good impression. She wouldn't settle for anything less.
She adjusted her rearview mirror and caught a glimpse of her reflection. One eyebrow cocked upward. She could easily see herself as the poster girl for female real estate agents across the country. I am woman, hear me roar!
John Bitters would make an offer for the property and she'd prove to her family once and for all she could make it in a job outside law enforcement, the fire department, and the blasted medical field. She'd turned in her badge ... and made the right decision.
Her hands tightened on the steering wheel. Yes, it was the right decision.
"You are a female," she told herself with conviction. "No more uniforms. No more guns. No more being Jess, one of the guys." She drew in a deep breath-just like the spiritualist had taught her on the discounted CD she'd found in a bookstore bin. "Yom-da-da-da-da."
This was her day to shine.
POP! Psssssstttttttt! Thump-thump-thump-thump ...
She flinched. Or maybe not.
Damn! Not today. She slapped her turn signal on and limped her car into a vacant parking lot. No, not today of all days. She eased her foot down on the brakeand when the car jerked to a stop, shifted into Park. Great, she thought as she glanced around. The streets were practically deserted on this side of town, and she knew why: broken windows, bottles, and graffiti decorated the buildings. If she called a service station it would be at least an hour before anyone showed up.
One glance at her watch and she began twisting the top button on her blouse. She was supposed to meet John in ten minutes. She had everything timed so she wouldn't appear overeager to sell him the property. Now, she was going to be late.
Deep breaths. Calm. She closed her eyes. "Yom-dada-da ..."
Oh, screw it. She'd just change the damn tire, and if she was late, she'd apologize. It wasn't as if she hadn't changed a tire before. Maybe growing up with mostly male cousins and a brother hadn't been that horrible. She'd come away with a few useful talents.
She opened the door, grabbed her keys out of the ignition, and hit the button that popped the trunk. Good thing she had a spare-even if it was the doughnut. The smaller tire would get her to her appointment, then to a service station.
She cringed as she strode past the flat tire. They were practically new.
Once she was at the back of the car, she raised the trunk and leaned inside, flipping aside the gray carpet so she could get to the spare. You'd think the manufacturer would ...
"Hey, baby. I like what you're showing me so far, but I think you can do better than that."
"The lady looks sweet, Frankie. Maybe she wants to party with us."
Her father would tell her it was her own fault. She'd taken a shortcut to get to the property, right through the seediest part of town.
"Come on, baby, show us what you got."
She shrugged. If that's what he wanted. She slid her hand to the right, lifting the lid off the small, wooden box that she always kept in the trunk of whatever car she owned at the time. It was a gift from Daddy on her sixteenth birthday eleven years ago, along with the 9mm.
"Maybe she don't hear so good." His voice hardened. "We want to see more, baby."
The gun felt good in her hand-almost like an old friend. She turned, pointing the barrel at them. "And just what exactly do you want to see, boys? The bullets? I have a full clip. I can show you a hell of a lot more than you expected to see."
Ah, Jessica, shame on you. They couldn't be more than seventeen, and wearing baggy pants that showed more than half their dingy underwear. They didn't look like gang members. At least, they didn't wear the colors. She sighed. But if they wanted to play with the big boys-or in her case, girl, then they had to take the consequences.
They raised their hands and backed away. "Hey, lady, we didn't mean nothin'." His laugh was more like a high-pitched squeak.
"Yeah, lady. We were just jokin' around."
She twirled the gun once, not an easy feat with a loaded 9mm, bent her knees, and waved the gun back and forth between them, making the face that always scared the hell out of her cousins when they were growing up. It was a cross between sucking on a lemon and baring her teeth all at the same time. "I just got out of a mental institution. Maybe I would like to play. What say, boys?" She began to twitch her right eye, then her shoulder. "Are you up for a little Russian roulette? But I get to hold the gun."
"Shit!" They turned and took off so fast she'd be surprised if they hadn't broken some kind of speed record.
She shook her head. "Kids." Apparently they didn't want to play, after all. She laughed. Her gaze fell on her watch. Damn! She had to be at the property in five minutes. She replaced her gun, and brought out the jack.
By the time she'd loosened the lug nuts she was hot and sweaty. It was worth the few seconds it took to toss her jacket into the backseat. Better. Cooler, if nothing else. She glanced at her watch: one minute before her meeting.
"Hurry, hurry, hurry." She tugged on the punctured tire. It came off with a whoosh. Rip! She landed on her butt with a splat.
The tearing sound couldn't have been her skirt. Not good. Her pulse quickened.
"Yom-da-da-da-da." Deep breaths. She could almost hear the spiritualist's soothing voice, like gentle rain on a tin roof, "Relax the mind, then the body."
Assess the situation, she told herself. With one eye closed, she glanced down. She jerked her head up. Don't hyperventilate! It wasn't that bad. The slit in the side of her skirt was only ... only a few inches higher. She twisted her button, wanting to scream. No, she wouldn't scream.
She was a big girl-having a really bad fucking day!
Okay, she could get through this. Gathering her wits, and her dignity, she stood. All was not lost ... if she hurried. She grabbed the smaller tire and slapped it on, throwing all her one hundred and twenty pounds into tightening the lug bolts.
Ten minutes later, she put the bad tire in the trunk, and pulled out of the parking lot. Her gaze moved to the dash clock. If nothing else slowed her down she might not miss her appointment. Any normal person would wait a few minutes.
She glanced in the rearview mirror and flinched. So much for looking professional. Ten minutes in a bathroom would do wonders for her appearance, but she just couldn't spare the time. She wiped her hand across the smudge on her cheek. Her lipstick was gone, and she'd lost the clip that had held her hair in its tidy little French twist. She could live with loose hair. She just wasn't sure about the run in her hose. Okay, more like the Boston Marathon.
After all this, John better be waiting.
The closer she got to the downtown property, the slower traffic became as people rushed home from work. The minutes ticked by until finally, she pulled behind the property and parked her car.
Jessica rushed around to the front of the building, smoothing her hands down the sides of her skirt. She was only twenty-five minutes late. Maybe John was still waiting.
The sidewalk was empty. No one waited.
Damn! Damn! And double damn! She strode up and down the sidewalk, twisting the top button on her blouse and frowning.
I've probably lost the sale.
This couldn't possibly be happening to her ... Okay, so maybe she didn't have the best luck in the world. But today?
She drew in a deep breath to calm her jangled nerves and inhaled the acidic taste of fumes from the rush-hour traffic. Her eyes were already starting to water from the noxious odor.
Her gaze skimmed the commercial district of White Plains, or at least what she could see of it. Not one blue car zoomed past. Every color in the rainbow except blue.
Come on, John, show up!
The ink wasn't even dry on her real estate license. This would really impress her boss, and her family was already taking bets she'd return to the force within six months. Her pride wouldn't let it happen, but if John didn't show in the next ten minutes, she'd be forced to grovel and hope he'd reschedule. She'd wanted this sale to go smoothly. Stupid flat tire ...
As she strode up the sidewalk, she caught her reflection in the plate-glass window. Her belly flip-flopped. She slowly walked closer. Oh, this was really bad. She furiously twisted her button in the opposite direction. If the slit were any higher, she'd be arrested.
Good thing her father was the police chief.
She almost laughed, but remembered her predicament and sobered. This was no time for hysteria.
Okay, think. Troy had told her that his brother John would meet her at the property around five-thirty. She glanced at her watch. After six. Had he already been here and left?
Exhaling a sigh of regret, she walked to the small parking area behind the building where she'd left her car and unlocked the door. Maybe Troy would know something.
Grabbing her cell phone, she dropped her keys inside her purse and made herself comfortable on the seat, then punched in Troy's number.
Great. What was this-Friday the thirteenth? As she stood, she tossed the cell phone on the seat and slammed the door.
It only took her a couple of seconds to realize the door was locked and her keys were in her purse, which had slid to the floorboard when she sat down.
Take a deep breath, she told herself. "Yom da-da-da-fucking-da!"
She strode back to the street front, trying to regain her composure with each step she took. Think positive.
Maybe John Bitters hadn't arrived yet. He'd probably show up in a few minutes, they'd laugh about her absolutely horrendous day, she'd sell the property and make a big commission. She'd prove to her family she could do her job and do it well. She rubbed her fingers over the smooth surface of the button, twisting the other way as she sought composure, peace, and tranquility. Anything that would calm her freakin' nerves!
Deep breaths. She inhaled, and coughed. No, bad idea. Her throat was already getting scratchy and her eyes were watering from inhaling fumes.
Think about something peaceful. Like where she would vacation when she got her first big check. A cruise, maybe. In fact, her commission would probably be at least ...
The imitation pearl button came loose in her hand. Her gaze dropped to her white blouse and the amount of cleavage that showed. At the rate she was going, the damn cruise ship would blow up if she were aboard.
Her boobs were practically spilling out. She looked like a slut. Oh lord, she didn't want to look like a slut.
When she'd gotten dressed this morning, she'd looked like a professional real estate agent: crisp, black skirt; a white blouse with little imitation pearl buttons; heels; and a tailored black jacket. She'd even combed her hair into a sleek twist. Damn, she'd looked good. And now her clothes were ripped and dirty.
The longer she stared at her reflection in the window, the worse it became. She finally dragged her gaze away, no longer able to look at her reflection, and walked back to the curb. No two ways about it, she looked like a slut. If John Bitters did arrive, she'd be the last person he'd want to buy property from. He'd probably run away as fast ...
A blue Oldsmobile pulled to the curb.
Oh, crap! Troy had told her that his brother drove a blue car. She thought he'd said Lincoln, though. Whatever. She scrubbed her hands across her watery eyes, brushed her hair behind her ears, and pasted a smile on her face. At least she hadn't entirely blown the sale ... yet. He turned the engine off, opened his door, and stepped out.
Tall and dark. He fit the description she'd been given. She smiled. Friendly, that's how she wanted to appear. Like they'd known each other for a while, rather than just meeting for the first time. Real Estate 101-Be their best friend.
"John?" She inwardly winced. She'd inhaled so many fumes that her voice was raspy. No time to worry about that now. Shake it off. You're a professional. She walked closer, smile widening.
The man hesitated before he walked around the front of his car toward the sidewalk where she stood. Jessica gave him a quick once-over. Then went back for seconds. Troy certainly hadn't mentioned scrumptious, sexy, and downright delicious. Not that he would think of his brother like that.
Her gaze blazed a trail past wide shoulders and across a broad chest covered by a maroon polo shirt before her glance slid downward.
Liquid heat coursed through her veins. There was just something about a man who wore his jeans low on his hips. It was almost as if he were telling the world he didn't really give a damn, and telling women he could fulfill their every desire.
His jeans pulled taut across nicely developed muscles as a booted foot stepped to the sidewalk. Drawing in a ragged breath, she forced her gaze back to his face, and the knowing look in his eyes.
Oops. Caught staring.
She mentally shrugged. As sexy as he was, he should be used to appreciative looks from women.
"How much?" His roughly textured words scraped across her skin, leaving a heated flush in its wake.
Her thighs trembled. "You don't waste any time, do you?"
"We both know what I want."
"Wouldn't you like to see it first?" Did he turn a little red? She mentally shook her head. It was probably just the way the sun had hit his face.
He cleared his throat. "Why not get the trivial details out of the way? Then we can ... concentrate on other things."
His rich, southern drawl wrapped around her, causing a small earthquake inside her body. Three leisurely steps and he stood in front of her. Slowly, his gaze slid over her, lingering, touching, caressing.
At least six feet four inches of raw male magnetism invaded her space. She inhaled and caught the scent of his musky aftershave. Much nicer than car fumes.
Pull yourself together. Business before pleasure. Yeah, right, at this rate she'd give him the damn property and take the payment out in trade. Okay, deep breath. Jeez, what brand of aftershave was that? Pheromones for Men? She couldn't think with him this close. Turning away, she walked a short distance down the sidewalk to clear her muddled brain.
Think about the property.
The building was nice. Not too large. Taxes were low. Only single-story, but it would make a great travel agency, which is what Troy said his brother wanted.
White stone pillars gave the small, commercial building a more prestigious appearance. She bit her bottom lip. Some of the ceiling tiles needed to be changed-water damage, but the owner had replaced the roof. A couple of the interior walls had rather large, gaping holes, though. In fact, the inside of the building needed a major overhaul. Personally, she thought the asking price a little steep, but the facts remained: it was in a prime location, the Texas town was growing, and this district had the fastest rate of improvement.
Only one teensy-tiny problem.
The eyesore across the street. Triple X's flashed on the marquee of what used to be an old movie theater. If that wasn't bad enough, three scantily clad ladies had arrived a few minutes ago to stand on the corner. She grimaced. That wasn't good.
At least there were only three this evening. Two blondes, and she wasn't positive, but the third hooker's hair color looked deep purple. The one in question raised her hand and waved.
As unobtrusively as possible, Jessica motioned for them to leave. One cast her a grin and flashed a little leg. Great. She could see her sale gurgling as it choked its way down the drain.
Oh lord, he was probably staring at them right now. Maybe she could redirect his attention away from the women of the night, and focus it on the property once again.
She wheeled around.
His gaze riveted on her chest.
Well, her boobs practically thrown in his face had certainly drawn his attention.
Her hand automatically fluttered toward the next button before she stopped the nervous habit from making her more exposed. She pointedly cleared her throat. He didn't seem in any hurry to raise his head or appear a bit embarrassed at being caught staring.
Excerpted from Temperature's Rising by Karen Kelley Copyright © 2005 by Karen Kelley. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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