Read an Excerpt
By Nancy Warren
Harlequin Enterprise Ltd.
Chapter OneGenna Monroe cursed the managing partner for choosing to host a law firm retreat in the most unbusinesslike city she had ever visited.
New Orleans. The Big Easy. Except it was not easy to be a businesswoman in this city that, as far as she could tell, treated laziness as a virtue. It wasn't easy that it took an extra five minutes to gel her hair into submission, fighting the humidity that teased it into a frizz. It wasn't easy wearing a suit and panty hose in the sticky springtime heat.
And the time it took to have a simple conversation! She hated to think of the billable hours wasted here in the South just by the accent, those syllables being drawn out in that oh-so-relaxed Southern drawl till they begged for mercy.
Time was a commodity Genna took very seriously. She had career deadlines, a life timetable. She had no time for dawdling, drawling, Southern warmth and hospitality.
Give her Chicago any day. Efficiently cold in the winter, a businesslike use of air-conditioning in the summer. And no damned magnolias to drive a person to dreams.
Magnolias. They were so ridiculously, over-the-top gorgeous, heavy with a spicy-sweet scent that made her think of romance. As did all of New Orleans, come to that. It was so extravagantly sensual, this crazy city, that she couldn't keep her thoughts straight.
Every sense prickled, as though each of them was waking from hibernation, as she leaned over the curlywrought-iron railing and drank in the beauty of the night. She gazed into the walled garden tangled with dark-green vines that flirted with moonlit statues, wrapping coy arms round their stone shoulders.
Behind her, inside the hotel ballroom, she heard the drone of more than a hundred lawyers and law-firm employees talking, arguing, schmoozing - just as she should be. Like they didn't do enough of that back in Chicago seventy hours a week. But ahead of her was the soft sound of water trickling from an unseen fountain, soothing and somehow cooling to her overheated imagination.
Her nostrils twitched as she breathed deeply of a heady combination of scents, only a few of which she could identify. Magnolia hung heaviest, mixed with lighter notes. Jasmine, she was certain; rose; some kind of sharper scent, maybe an herb. Even the earth smelled rich and fruitful. Warm, heavy, moist air pulled at her with caressing fingers, urging her to step out into the garden.
She glanced back through the lighted doorway where clusters of lawyers swarmed. Would anyone even notice she was gone?
In her navy cotton dress she'd blend right into the deep shadows of the garden. She stepped down one shallow stone step, then another, and finally another, with each step feeling her breath come easier and the surface irritability she'd tried to ignore all day deepen into a kind of sadness.
Why was she here, in this romantic garden, alone? She wandered, pensive and frustrated, pausing to touch a waxy green leaf here, to inhale a fragrant blossom there. The unfamiliar taste of a mint julep was still on her tongue, as foreign as this feeling of dissatisfaction.
She was on track to being the youngest lawyer ever to make partner at Donne, Green, and Raddison. She had the world by the tail.
She sighed and sank to a stone bench, sheltered under a cloud of fragrant, creamy magnolia blossoms. Giving in to their spell, she shut her mind off and let her senses take over.
The air was as moist and heavy as a kiss. The scent so pure and sweet she wanted to weep. The night sounds were so exotic she held herself still, as though she could become as much a part of this garden as the statue of Aphrodite, whose stone smile mocked her from across a twisting, shadowed pathway.
Above her glowed the moon, a heavy gold ring surrounded by stars as bold and sparkly as costume jewelry. The gaudy sky suited the energy of this city that always seemed to be preparing to party, partying, or cleaning up from a party.
And, for the moment, Genna was tired of the party. For a woman who was always in a rush, it was wonderful just to sit still. Not to think, plan, research, or argue - just to be. She closed her eyes, letting her muscles relax and her senses indulge.
"Tell me what you want." The whisper was husky, masculine and as sinfully rich as bourbon.
Tell me what you want. Had the voice come out of her psyche? What was the answer? Did she even know?
"Tell me." Intimate and assured, the whisper wasn't coming from inside her, but somewhere very near. Goose bumps danced over her flesh, but Genna held her eyes tightly shut.
The lawyer in her pondered the import of that question. She could open her eyes and find a waiter asking about a drink order. It could be her best friend and fellow lawyer, Nick, suggesting they go to a jazz club.
Or it could be a mystery lover. She smiled at the absurdity of that last one. There was nothing mysterious about her love life these days - it was as null and void as a bounced check.
This time-sucking romantic atmosphere must be getting to her. She'd best go back to the reception. Filling her lungs once more with fragrant air, she slowly lifted her eyelids.
"I want you to make love to me." This voice was female, decidedly sultry and lilted with a Spanish accent.
Genna's eyes flew open. She heard rustling behind her and the unmistakable sound of kissing. Deep, wet, hungry kissing. It was coming from right behind her, on the other side of the bush that sheltered her.
The man's whisper held a hint of humor as he answered. "Your note hinted as much."
"Were you insulted?"
"Intrigued. You're beautiful." There was an undeniable sexual rhythm to the conversation between these two strangers that fascinated Genna. They used words like kisses.
"So are you." The foreign woman laughed softly. "I saw you and I thought, `That is a man who knows how to please a woman.'"
"I do my best." More kissing. She heard bodies shifting and three or four white petals drifted onto her navy skirt while she sat, rigid with embarrassment, and yet so enthralled by what she heard she couldn't move.
"It is only for tonight, querido. Tomorrow I must leave."
Were they seriously going to do it right there? In the garden? A few leaves and branches away from Genna?
There was a pause, and sudden stillness. "Are you married?"
The woman laughed softly. "A moral man. How unusual. No. I'm not married ... anymore. I prefer my freedom."
"Good. So do I," replied that seductive, whispering masculine voice. "We'll make it a night to remember."
Genna leaned back slightly, wishing he'd recite poetry or something, anything to keep him talking. His whispering voice fascinated her, made her feel things ...
Excerpted from Whisper by Nancy Warren
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.