The stranger who shows up at Kelly Branigan’s bar tells her his name is Baker. No first name. No intimate details. The attraction is instant—and unstoppable. They share a sizzling, toe-curling kiss. But Baker is off limits because Kelly has one ironclad rule: Never date a cop. If she only knew . . . Baker didn’t just happen to walk into the Brooklyn tavern by chance. Before this night is over, Kelly will become an unwitting pawn in a sting to take down a dangerous criminal.
For Baker, getting close enough to win her trust is one thing. Falling for the sensual beauty who hails from a long line of cops just ratcheted up the stakes. Now, keeping Kelly safe is the number-one priority for the Chicago cop. Keeping his hands off her is a close second . . .
This ebook features an extended biography of Mary Kay McComas.
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About the Author
Mary Kay McComas is an acclaimed romance novelist and the author of twenty-one short contemporary romances, five novellas, and two novels. McComas has received numerous honors and prizes for her work, including the Washington Romance Writers’ Outstanding Achievement Award and two Career Achievement Awards from Romantic Times (one for Best New Novel and another for Most Innovative Romance Series). She has recently contributed to Nora Roberts’s J. D. Robb fantasy anthologies, with highly praised paranormal romance stories. McComas and her family live in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
Read an Excerpt
Kiss Me, Kelly
By Mary Kay McComas
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1991 Mary Kay McComas
All rights reserved.
It was one of those nights.
The air was hot. Half-capacity from the cooling system was all Kelly could hope for until the repairman came, a week from next Tuesday. Her nerves were growing thin and raw. Smoke hung in the air like a cloud and stung her eyes. She listened to the background static on the old and over-used records in the jukebox and thought of fingernails on a blackboard. One more ribald joke, one more dirty glass, one more Kelly-honey, Kelly-baby, or Kelly-sweetheart, will you get me this or that? and she was going to scream—just for the novelty of it.
She took a slow survey of her surroundings. Cigarette smoke and dim neon lights lent a nebulous quality to solid objects, but years of familiarity helped her to distinguish live forms from the inanimate, harmony from the disorder. She saw nothing out of the ordinary. The atmosphere was calm, yet it was one of those nights when expectation loomed like something neglected and long overdue. She couldn't identify exactly what it was, but she knew she was waiting for something to happen. She wanted something to happen.
"Kelly. You're a sight for sore eyes. How is it that you get prettier every time I see you, huh?"
The scream for something original shriveled in her throat. She released a soft, futile laugh, shaking her head as she smiled at the man across the bar. He was the most unoriginal man she knew, but he meant well. It wasn't his fault that she was out of sorts.
"Gee, Howy, I don't know. Maybe you need stronger glasses," she answered, and watched him push his glasses higher up on his nose with one finger.
"None of that now. You're the prettiest bartender in the whole city. Haven't I told you so a thousand times?" he asked, rocking back and forth on his bar stool until he was comfortable.
"Well, you just keep on telling me and maybe one of these days I'll start believing you," she said, automatically wiping the bar top in front of him with a damp towel, waiting for his usual comment on the weather. "What'll you drink in the meantime?"
"A real cold beer." He brushed aside the swag of dark brown hair that fell across his forehead and looked to either side of him to see how many of the other patrons he knew. "It was hot enough to blister your brains out there today."
Kelly knew she wasn't expected to reply. His glancing around was an indication that their conversation was over, brief though it was. If she were anything but a bartender, his behavior would have been considered extremely rude. But Kelly had stood behind the bar in The Library for a long time, and she knew that the abrupt shift of his attention wasn't meant to be offensive.
After all, people didn't come into The Library to talk to her. They came to relax and drink and talk to one another. Talking to the bartender was something one did when there wasn't anyone else to talk to. She was a substitute companion at best.
Yet Kelly understood that her invisibility was as much a compliment as it was an insult. She knew more about the men and women who came into The Library than most of them knew about one another. While they didn't always speak to her directly, she was privy to their personal and professional lives through their conversations with others.
She wasn't an eavesdropper, mind you, but she wasn't dead either. She heard things as she moved freely in and out of private discussions, replenishing drinks and emptying ashtrays. Aspirations, memories, individual preferences, and confidential affairs went in one ear and out the other, but always seemed to register in her mind somewhere along the way. And because she rarely spoke unless she was spoken to, and because she never repeated any of this information, the patrons of The Library trusted her.
Their trust was no small thing. A majority of them were cops. Police officers whose trust was won, not given. Men and women who cultivated a suspicious and guarded nature, or died trying to do their job.
"I guess he's not here yet," Howy said abruptly, catching Kelly unprepared.
"Who?" she asked, scanning the room quickly.
"The new guy. Shaw's new partner."
"Something happened to Del Rio?" she asked, not hiding the concern in her voice. She hadn't seen Shaw or Del Rio in over a week, but as they weren't daily visitors, she hadn't given their absence much thought.
"No, no," Howy said. "The new guy is temporary and the captain partnered him with Shaw for a while. Del Rio pulled rookie duty," he added, chuckling.
Del Rio's disdain for rookies was well-known. He called them "puppies with guns" and did everything in his power to humiliate them. Kelly had personally witnessed him degrade a young female officer until she broke down and cried. Del Rio was not one of her favorite people, but his partner. Tommy Shaw, was a good friend.
"So, who's the new guy? Where's he from?" she asked as she set a frosted glass tankard of beer in front of Howy.
"Name's Baker. I can't remember where he's from, but he's either one hell of a cop or he's crazy." Howy shook his head and laughed in disbelief.
"Why do you say that?" In Kelly's mind, hotshot cops and crazy cops were synonymous and very dangerous.
Before Howy could answer, a rumbling wave of recognition passed through the bar. Both he and Kelly turned toward the street entrance and saw Tommy Shaw. Behind him came a tall, sandy-haired man wearing pleated pants, a cotton shirt, and a broad, beguiling smile. Del Rio followed him.
The newcomer had his hand shaken, and sustained several well-meant blows to his back as he worked his way around the tables, trying to keep up with Tommy. "Kelly! Break out a bottle of Grandpa's Scotch," Tommy shouted, still several feet away from the bar. "We've got some celebrating to do and I'm buying." He turned and looped an arm around his new partner's shoulder, propelling him up to the bar beside him. "Howy, how you doin'? You met Baker yet?"
While Tommy introduced Howy to his new partner, Kelly was distracted by an angry-looking Del Rio as he elbowed his way between customers to stand on the other side of the newcomer. She was familiar with the menacing gleam in his eyes, and it didn't bode well for Tommy's new partner.
"There. I told you she was the prettiest librarian you'd ever meet in your life," Tommy said, instantly drawing Kelly's attention away from Del Rio. Tommy laughed and added to Kelly, "You should have seen the look on his face when I told him we were going to The Library to celebrate."
"You had me worried," Baker said, smiling. "But you were right. She is very pretty."
His smooth, rich voice seemed to vibrate in the small of Kelly's back and send little shivers racing up her spine. Not an unpleasant sensation, but certainly a surprising one. His words and the way he was looking at her, however, were a bit disconcerting.
"It's got to be the oldest joke in town, and everybody falls for it," she said automatically. "The Library opened just before Prohibition, when wives and nice girls didn't frequent saloons, and didn't approve of their men loitering around such places either. Going to The Library was an acceptable, but very deceptive, excuse to get out of the house in those days."
"Still is," Tommy said, grinning. "Only nowadays the nice girls tend the bar, and your wife brings the kids in for lunch every Thursday afternoon."
Tommy winked at Kelly, and she grinned. She and Tommy had grown up on the same block and gone through twelve years of parochial school together. They shared a law enforcement background and a first kiss, which had linked them as friends for almost twenty-five years. Next to her grandfather and her brothers, Tommy knew Kelly better than anyone else on earth.
She had filled three old-fashioned glasses with her grandfather's favorite Glenlivet and set one in front of each man. Only one of them caught her eye and said, "Thank you." The stranger.
A quiet riot broke out deep inside her. It was a peculiar sensation that wouldn't subside, even after she looked back toward Tommy.
"The last time you drank Papa's Scotch, Angie wound up pregnant again," she reminded him, eager to hear the cause for the celebration. Eager, actually, for any distraction at all. Unintentionally, she glanced back at the man sitting beside Tommy and found him watching her intently. Her breath caught suddenly, and she looked away once more.
"Well, tonight's a night for taking chances," Tommy said, "for living dangerously and blowing the whole week's beer budget on a round of Scotch. It isn't every day you get to put Brian Joseph Hart behind bars, you know."
"You got Joey Hart today?" she asked, her awe and excitement quite evident.
"Not me. Him," he said, pointing his thumb at Baker.
Once more her gaze shifted to the sandy-haired man. His eyes met and held hers as if he'd been waiting for her to look at him again. In a flash of awareness, she had the strangest feeling that he somehow knew all her secrets, her dreams, and her desires—and then she felt foolish. It wasn't possible. He didn't know anything about her, she assured herself, but she still was uneasy.
Before she glanced away, he smiled at her. It was a slow, soft smile that lit up his eyes and made her stomach flip over and quiver. It was a smile she couldn't possibly ignore.
Not that she was trying to ignore him. Why should she? He was a customer and she was used to having the customers watch her, for one reason or another. Some watched her because there wasn't much else to look at behind the bar. Others seemed fascinated with her personal techniques of drink mixology. And a few of the men seemed to think it was a suave way of showing their interest in her as something other than a bartender. It was no big deal.
Still, something about Baker's gaze unsettled her and went beyond the looks she was accustomed to. It unnerved her; it demanded her attention.
"So, you arrested Joey Hart single-handedly," she said, unable to hide her disbelief. From past accounts, she knew Hart was as slippery as an eel. She couldn't count the times she'd listened to tales of how he'd sneaked through traps and slithered through cracks in the justice system.
"I was lucky," he said with a shrug. "I just happened to be at the right place at the right time."
"It was more than that," Tommy broke in. "He—"
"Kelly. Two more and a Tom Collins," Imogene called from the far end of the bar, as she set two empty tankards on the counter. "And you'd better check on the old man before he starts another row."
"Excuse me," Kelly said absently as she turned her attention to the opposite end of the long rectangular bar where her grandfather occupied his regular seat. By rote, she filled two frosted tankards with beer and mixed the Tom Collins, while watching the heated discussion between her grandfather and a man who obviously didn't know what he was up against.
She placed the drinks on Imogene's tray and shook her head at the petite, dark- haired woman who had recently come to work for her.
"I ought to hang a sign on his back that says, 'If you don't want to fight, don't talk to this man,'" Kelly said, referring to her grandfather. "If he wasn't so old, he'd get punched out two or three times a week, just for being bullheaded."
"Oh, he's not so bad. The trick is in knowing when to agree with him and when to keep your opinions to yourself," Imogene said, showing her uneven teeth as she grinned.
Kelly laughed. She liked Imogene. In her late thirties, Imogene seemed like a solid, down-to-earth person. Although they hadn't gotten to know each other very well yet, Kelly had a feeling that hiring Imogene was one of her best decisions lately.
If only things were as easily managed where her grandfather was concerned, she thought, turning wearily toward the tall, stiff-backed, and entirely too robust eighty-two-year-old man. Aside from his thick glasses, a set of hidden hearing aids, and the natural pull of gravity, time had had little effect on him. No one could ever doubt Kelly's love for her grandfather, but Lord, the man was a pain in the neck when he had a point to make.
She released a short puff of air, ruffling the red-russet curls that dangled loosely about her head and neck, defying all methods of chemical control. Midsummer heat was exhausting. It drained her energy as well as her patience and made the most ordinary and familiar situations extremely stressful.
Knowing she would soon have to step in to referee her grandfather's argument, Kelly glanced quickly around the room to be certain the bar was running as smoothly as possible. She wasn't too surprised when her gaze came to rest on ... Mr. Baker?
Officer Baker? Detective Baker? What was his whole name? she wondered, as she studied his straight light brown hair and the way it was brushed back from his face. She took another second or two to examine his well-defined profile and the silly little dimple that played peekaboo in his cheek as he talked animatedly with his new friends.
Actually, he had a pretty nice face, she decided. Nice mouth too. She stared at that mouth for just a few moments—long enough for her to realize that while she'd been observing him, his gaze had shifted in her direction. Embarrassment warmed her cheeks and weakened her smile. She knew there was no cause to feel so absurd. One good stare deserved another, after all. But the confidence in his eyes and the deliberate smile he returned flustered her and made her feel at a distinct disadvantage.
Who was this guy, anyway? she wondered, irritated by the strange sensations he evoked in her. Never one to be curious for long, she made up her mind to find out.
She picked up the two empty tankards and walked back to her central position behind the bar. She was acutely aware that she still had his undivided attention as she began to soap and rinse the glasses.
"Tommy thinks that introductions," she said, glancing at him, "are those things you look at last when you're trying to figure out how to put something together. I'm Kelly Branigan."
"I was going to introduce the two of you," Tommy broke in with a mock defense of his character. "I was only letting the tension and anticipation build."
Kelly presented him with a stolid glare.
"I'm Baker," the man said, chuckling at Tommy's tactlessness.
"Just Baker?" she asked, frustrated. She wanted to know his first name, and whether or not he had a middle name. Come to think of it, she wanted to know quite a few other things about him as well. "Not Officer Baker? Or Detective Baker? Or Tom, Dick, or Harry Baker? Just ... Baker?"
"Just Baker," he said, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes challenging her to discover his secrets. Kelly loved a good challenge.
"Okay. So, Just Baker, where are you from and what brings you to town?" she asked in her best television interviewer's voice.
"That's what I was trying to tell you," Tommy interrupted again. "It wasn't luck that he nabbed Joey Hart today. This guy has been doing some great detective work. You're going to love this, Kel," he said, squirming on his bar stool as he prepared to launch himself into Baker's story.
"From the looks of things," Baker said to Kelly, forestalling Tommy, "you probably hear almost everything that goes on in and around the precinct house."
He looked a little self-conscious, almost reluctant to let Tommy brag about him. Kelly rather liked this humble side of him, but she wouldn't have missed the telling of his story for anything. And it wasn't only because she was unusually interested in him. One of the things she liked best about her job was being able to listen to victory stories.
So often a cop's job seemed like one failure after another. Kelly never thought of it as a succession of failures, though. Most of the force didn't think that way either, or they'd have given up long ago. They knew they weren't failures until they stopped believing in good beating out evil. But it was an endless and mostly thankless job.
Excerpted from Kiss Me, Kelly by Mary Kay McComas. Copyright © 1991 Mary Kay McComas. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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