Maura Mahoney expects to spend her thirtieth birthday the way she's spent so many others. She'll work at the Cherry Lane retirement community, have a quiet dinner with her parents, and end the evening with a solo hot chocolate before turning in early. Sedate, but safe. Then Jesse Blue turns up at Cherry Lane, ready to do community service to avoid jail time. And suddenly, prim, by-the-books Maura can't stop thinking about a sexy, motorcycle-riding bad boy who seems wrong for her in almost every way.
But beneath his gruff exterior, Jesse is a man of surprises. He's filling the once drab community center with color and life. He's bonding with the residents. And he's prompting scorching, wild dreams Maura would never be bold enough to act on. Or would she? Because the way Jesse looks at her, Maura could swear that this heated, smoldering attraction runs both ways. . .
"A skillful combination of sexy and smart." --All About Romance Reviews
"You can't go wrong picking up a Susan Fox book." --Romance Reviews Today
"A contemporary love story sure to make readers go weak in the knees. Well-crafted story lines and richly observed characters bolster a strong erotic element in this delightful, memorable romance." –Publishers Weekly (starred review) on His, Unexpectedly
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By SUSAN FOX
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Susan Fox
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Chapter One"Whatever else happens today," Maura murmured to herself as she clicked the SEND icon on her screen, "this is a great beginning to my thirtieth birthday." She smiled with pure satisfaction and stretched back in her office chair. Cherry Lane's tax filings were done, and now she'd turn to the budget—and prepare one that was so brilliant it would blow the Board of Directors out of the water and they'd offer her the promotion she craved, from accountant at the seniors residential facility to general manager.
Maybe then her adoptive parents would stop pressuring her about being an underachiever.
Thinking of Agnes and Timothy, her mind leaped ahead to the end of the day, and her birthday dinner. They wouldn't dare bring a man, would they? That was the other area in which she failed to meet up to their expectations. She could hear Agnes's voice in her head: A girl shouldn't marry too young, Maura, but nor should she marry too late.
For the last two or three years, her parents had been introducing her to men—men they were perfectly compatible with. They assumed the same would be true for her.
And it should have been. It really should. After all, she'd been raised by a history prof and an archaeology prof—her real dad's aunt and uncle—since her birth parents died when she was six. Maura was most comfortable with intellectual types like the colleagues Agnes and Timothy tried to match her up with.
Yes, comfortable. A little bored. Definitely not excited. The reality was, she'd never dated a man who excited her. Was she crazy to wish for that? Had her brain been warped by the movies and TV shows that were her secret vice? Her adoptive parents had banned them from the house: They're trash, a complete waste of time—the intellectual equivalent of white sugar, and equally unhealthy.
Maura did stay away from junk food, but she was well and truly addicted to junk entertainment.
As for men, it was probably impossible to find one who was compatible with boring, introverted her, and who also excited her. Much less was excited by her. No, she couldn't imagine that happening.
Likely, she was doomed to be single. "And that's just fine." Yes, a part of her longed for romance, love, a home and children, but not all women were designed for that kind of life.
She'd never been the typical girl, and now she wasn't the typical woman. So what if she chose to celebrate her birthday by coming in early on a Saturday to finish up the year-end tax filings and start on the budget? So what if she got her thrills from accurate, disciplined figures, neat and tidy and controlled, supplemented in the evening by clicking on the TV and indulging in her guilty pleasure? So what if she hung out with senior citizens rather than people her own age?
She'd built a life around the things that made her happy. She'd come to terms with that, and so would her parents, even though the thought of disappointing them in even the tiniest way sent an acidic twinge through her stomach. She owed them everything. But for them, she'd have gone into the dreaded "system" when her parents were killed in a car accident.
She was deliberating whether to call and confirm that it would be just the three of them for dinner tonight, when the phone rang.
"Cherry Lane," she answered. "Maura Mahoney speaking."
"Maura, thank heavens." It was Louise Michaels, the human resources manager. "I'm so glad you're working today."
"Hi, Louise. I came in to finish up the tax filings. Things were too busy yesterday to focus on them." Two weeks ago, Cherry Lane's general manager had suffered a heart attack and, though he would be all right, he'd taken early retirement. Louise and Maura had agreed to fill in until a replacement was chosen. Then, two days ago, Louise and her husband had received a surprise call saying they could adopt if they did it right now, and Maura'd agreed to cover for her as well. Not only had Maura's workload increased, but some of the added duties were stressful. She was much more comfortable with numbers than with HR work, yet she had to work on her people skills if she wanted that promotion to general manager.
"How are things going with the expectant mom?" Maura asked.
"Really well, but no labor pains yet. Don and I are so impatient, we have to keep reminding ourselves to breathe."
"I bet." Maura smiled, happy for them. They were such a terrific couple, so beautifully compatible, and they'd give a wonderful, loving home to their new baby. She felt a momentary twinge of envy, then reminded herself that she was perfectly happy with her own life.
"Brittany, the mom, is totally committed to adoption. She wants to get back to being a teenager. Same with her boyfriend."
"That's great." It would be horrible for Louise and Don if the girl changed her mind about putting her baby up for adoption.
"But that's not why I called," Louise said, her voice going brisk. "I forgot to tell you something."
Maura clicked her pen open. "Shoot." While she used computers for most of her work, there was something satisfying about task lists written in notepads.
"Don't kill me for this."
"There's a young man coming in—"
"Maura?" another female voice broke in.
Maura lost the rest of what Louise was saying as she peered over the top of her reading glasses at Gracie, the young redheaded receptionist, who stood in her doorway. "Louise, hang on a minute. Gracie, is it urgent?"
"Sorry, I didn't realize you were on the phone. But there's a Mr. Adamson here. Something about community service?" Gracie widened her already huge eyes.
What on earth? "Community service?"
"He arranged it with Louise Michaels?" A question, not a statement, and Gracie's mobile features formed a comic "don't kill the messenger" expression.
The receptionist reminded Maura of the I Love Lucy Lucille Ball, and her expression made Maura smile momentarily. Into the phone, she said, "Community service, Louise?"
"That's what I called about. Sorry, I know it's not the kind of thing you like doing."
Maura reminded herself that she should welcome any opportunity to develop her people skills and impress the Board of Directors. All the same ... "We've never done that before. This person's a criminal? Aren't you concerned we'll be putting our seniors at risk?"
"I don't think that'll be an issue," Louise said, "and this young man deserves—" She broke off, and Maura heard excited voices in the background.
"She's in labor!" Louise screeched, then there was a click, followed by silence.
Slowly, Maura hung up. She gazed across the room at Gracie. "The good news is that Louise's baby is on the way." On her own birthday, though she was too private a person to share that information with co-workers. "The bad news is, I guess we're stuck with community service." A juvenile delinquent at Cherry Lane. Aagh! Louise really had too soft a heart. Tilting her head, Maura eyed Gracie. "How scruffy is he?"
"Not." She shook her head vigorously, curls bouncing. "Like, seriously. He's wearing a suit and tie. Good smile, too. Want me to bring him in?"
"No." She didn't want a petty criminal in her office. "I'll meet him out front."
"I'll tell him you'll be right out." Gracie hurried away.
Maura groaned. So much for digging into the budget. Now she'd have to dream up some kind of community service and supervise a young troublemaker.
What had this boy done? He hadn't been sent to juvenile detention, so his offense couldn't have been too serious. She guessed Louise had been about to say that the kid deserved a chance, which probably was true. It didn't mean Maura had to like it, though.
She stuffed her reading glasses in the pocket of her tailored dove gray shirt, then picked up her notepad and pen. Steeling herself, she strode out of the office. Though she felt the familiar trepidation at meeting a stranger, this boy would never see her nervousness. As a scared, lonely child taken in by middle-aged academics, she had mastered poise at an early age. Act mature, never act childish, and don't let people know you're afraid or vulnerable, Agnes and Timothy had counseled.
Maura hadn't learned the kind of social skills that built close friendships—her adoptive parents' own relationships were based on academic connections—but at least no one saw her insecurity. She'd even, for the most part, managed to control the tendency to blush that went along with her Irish coloring.
As she walked into the reception area, a figure standing near the front door turned to face her. Her first thought was of the young Ron Howard.
The boy who stood near the front door was Richie Cunningham from Happy Days, right down to the ingratiating smile and reddish-blond hair, close to her own hair color. Maybe this wasn't going to be so awful. What was the worst he could have done? Shoplifted a can of beer because he hadn't hit the legal drinking age?
"Barry. And you're Ms. Mahoney?"
He mispronounced her name, as most people did. "It's Ma-honey." She was darned if she'd give a delinquent her first name, no matter how cute his smile.
"Sorry." He nodded and mumbled, "Think of bees, honey, Mahoney," then gave her another of those sweet grins. "It's my trick for remembering things."
"I'm filling in for Ms. Michaels while she's on leave. I gather you're going to be doing community service with us."
His eyebrows flew up and he gave a hoot of laughter. "Not me! You thought it was me? No, I'm Jesse's lawyer. I know Louise through Toastmasters and she was kind enough to arrange this."
A lawyer? So he must be in his mid to late twenties, though he didn't look old enough to have finished high school. Her shoulders sagged. She'd known he was too good to be true. Why hadn't Louise remembered this earlier, so Maura could have read the file? Always be prepared, her parents had counseled. Being caught off guard made her seriously anxious. "Where's your client?"
He glanced at his watch. "Should be here any minute, and—"
The roar of a motorcycle engine cut him off. Maura glanced through the door, open as usual when the weather permitted.
A huge, shiny black bike pulled into the parking lot.
The bad feeling was back, in full force. A juvenile delinquent on a motorcycle, wearing a black leather jacket. Like Marlon Brando, in that film where bikers terrorized a little town. The Wild One. Double-aagh. Why did this have to happen on her birthday?
The machine pulled to a stop under one of the flowering cherry trees that gave the place its name.
The rider slung his right leg over the bike and got off. A breeze stirred the tree and a drift of pale pink blossoms fluttered down, onto his leather shoulders.
"Let me guess," she said wryly.
"That's Jesse. Jesse Blue." Barry Adamson stepped through the open door and Maura followed, jaw firm and head held high.
The bike rider's back was to them. He stretched, and Maura realized how big he was. Well over six feet, with broad shoulders and lean, jean-clad hips. The build of a man, not a teenager.
His head was hidden by a black helmet so shiny it reflected the light. Lazily, he reached up, unfastened the helmet, and pulled it off. As he leaned forward to hook the helmet over a handlebar, cherry petals drifted to the ground like delicate flakes of pink snow. Then he stood tall, legs apart, and ran his fingers through the wavy black hair that fell to his shoulders. Finally, he turned to face his welcoming party.
Oh yes, this was Marlon Brando, James Dean, Russell Crowe, all the bad boys come to life. To my life! She was going to kill Louise. She doubted this man's crime was shoplifting beer. Possession of drugs, perhaps? Car—or motorcycle—theft? A brawl in a bar?
She gripped her notebook tightly as Richie Cunningham went down the steps to meet Marlon Brando. The men shook hands, the biker dwarfing the lawyer. Then they walked toward her and she got her first good look at Jesse Blue.
He was a gypsy. A rugged gypsy with bronzed skin, winged eyebrows, a craggy nose, and full, sensual lips. He even had a gold earring: a small hoop in his left ear. The longish wavy hair would have looked feminine on another man, but not on Jesse Blue. He was the single most masculine creature she'd ever seen in her life. She felt a fizz in her blood, a tingle low in her belly. The kind of feelings that—to date—she'd only experienced when watching sexy actors in sensual love scenes. Triple-aagh! She definitely wasn't herself today. Is this what being thirty—and incontrovertibly single—did to a woman?
Standing beside the boyish lawyer, Jesse looked close to her own age, and his face said he'd seen things she wouldn't dare even imagine. His eyes were slitted against the sun and she couldn't tell their color. Nor could she understand why she was curious.
He was studying her from head to toe in a lazy, insolent way that brushed tingly heat across her skin. It startled her as much as it offended her, and she felt color—that embarrassing color she tried so hard to control—flush her cheeks. She wasn't used to a man looking at her like that. A guy like Jesse couldn't be interested in a plain, tailored woman like her—not that she wanted him to be—so in all likelihood he was trying to throw her off balance. Little did he know, she'd been off balance since the moment she first heard of his existence, not to mention laid eyes on him.
Speaking of laying eyes, she realized she was still examining his features, trying to figure out if he was Native American or maybe Hispanic, wondering exactly what ethnic mix had combined to form that strikingly male face.
She firmed her jaw again and narrowed her eyes. He was an offender and she was the boss here. He'd do well to remember it.
So would she.
Jesse squinted through a dazzle of sunshine to see the woman who stood in the doorway. The woman who controlled his future. This lame-ass community service thing was fucked up. But he had to admit, it was way less fucked up than doing jail time.
And hell, he'd done what he had to do to protect Consuela, and now he would take the consequences like a man. With any luck, this supervisor person would give him a few straightforward chores and leave him alone to get on with them.
As he walked toward the porch, his first impression was of height. She had to be around five ten, only four inches shorter than he was.
He mounted the steps, the overhang cut the sun, and he saw the woman fully. Awareness rippled through him, and an unexpected throb of arousal.
She was lean, that ritzy leanness that verged on skinniness but never got too close. Oh, yeah, she had curves. His gaze lingered on small, high breasts and gently rounded hips as he scanned her from head to toe. Boring shoes and plain clothes—a tailored shirt and pants. Kind of classy, but Jesus, they were gray. What woman under the age of eighty wore gray?
How old was this one? She could be a few years older than his own twenty-seven, or a few years younger. Her kind of poise and elegance made it hard to tell. He didn't have much experience with classy women like this—and what he had told him to steer clear.
His gaze returned to her face, guessing from her coloring that she was Irish. Framed by pulled-back reddish-gold hair, her features were flawless. If she wore makeup, it was just a touch to darken brows, lashes, and lips. The flush on those ivory cheekbones was all her own, as much as the freckles that dusted them.
Her eyes were incredible, somewhere between blue and green. He'd seen that color in Hawaii the time he went there on holiday.
And then, saving the best for last, there was her mouth. Fuck, what a mouth. It was one of those wide, lush ones that got a man hard just thinking what she might do with it.
She reminded him of someone, in a good way. Who was it? In the crowd he hung out with—mostly other construction workers and their girls—he didn't see women like this. An actress maybe?
Her brows arched and suddenly he knew who she looked like: a lingerie model he'd seen on the cover of one of his friend Consuela's Victoria's Secret catalogs. Oh, the clothing was way different—the model's dynamite body was barely covered by sexy scraps of black silk and lace—but the women had the same vibe. Elegant, yet lush, and totally self-contained. Both had hair pulled back in a knot, calling attention to every perfect feature of a classic face. Gorgeous eyes, though the model wore glasses, thin-framed ones that magnified rather than disguised those stunning eyes. Somehow, all that prim-and-proper stuff that should've been a turn-off actually had the opposite effect. The advertising folks knew what they were doing.
Thank Christ his new boss didn't wear glasses. Already, Jesse's temperature was climbing and his dick thickening as he tried to imagine what lay under all that buttoned-up clothing.
Stick to your own kind, he reminded himself. The couple times he'd forgotten that rule, he'd ended up feeling like crap.
Excerpted from Body Heat by SUSAN FOX Copyright © 2012 by Susan Fox. Excerpted by permission of BRAVA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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