"Day delivers a lively romance." RT Book Reviews
Nothing invigorates the five Carter brothers more than an honest day's workand the right woman to come home to at night…
Douglas Carter never expected the summer job he took at the post office ten years ago to become his career. But now, at twenty-eight, he has zero regrets. He's happy to have a regular paycheck, good friends, and a sweet plan for retiring early. If only his cute but oh-so-uptight new coworker felt as content as he does…
Janice Baker only works at the post office out of necessity. Her real dream is to become a singer. At thirty, she may be considered over the hill in the entertainment industry, but that just gives her a sense of urgencyand a resolve to date only men of means and ambition. Douglas is obviously not a candidate, despite his good looks. Yet as work forces them to get closer, they discover there's far more to each other than meets the eyeand that two actually work better than oneon and off the job…
"Sexy, hot deliciousness…this power couple light up the page like a 100-megawatt bulb." USAToday.com on Bad Boy Seduction
About the Author
Zuri Day has been enthralled with the wonder of words since mouthing her first oneTuffy, the name of the family dogat less than a year old. When this bestselling, award-winning author is not penning novels, she's a voracious reader and world traveler, always ready to search out the next exciting locale for a juicy story. Besides her beloved Caribbean islands and southern California's wine country, Zuri enjoys theatre, sports, working out, and whipping up vegetarian meals for her family and friends. Visit her online at ZuriDay.com.
Read an Excerpt
A Blue-Collar Lover Novel
By Zuri Day
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Zuri Day
All rights reserved.
"Why didn't you tell me about the new girl?"
Doug Carter barely looked up from the stack of mail he prepared for the sorter. His friend and coworker, Joey, the branch's official pretty-boy playboy, was always yapping about something or other, as if he'd die if he didn't talk.
"It doesn't matter. I met her anyway."
"Good for you."
What Joey needed to worry about were the two women he was juggling between the morning and afternoon tours. At times, Doug was tempted to use his supervisor status and move them both to the second tour, the one they were working right now, just to watch him squirm.
"You're over there being real quiet about it. Must have tried to hit on her already and been turned down." Joey palmed a Priority package like a basketball and "shot" it into a bin.
"Believe that if it makes you feel better." Doug reached for another bin of mail and set it on the sorter.
"What man wouldn't? Thick caramel cutie with that stop-traffic booty? Stop acting like you didn't try and get her phone number."
"I could get her number without trying, if I wanted it. Which I don't. I'll agree that she's attractive. But unlike you, I don't play where I get my pay. Finally learned my lesson about that, and I'm a changed man. Right, Pat?"
The unofficial office matriarch who'd worked at the post office for almost forty years, at this branch for the last fifteen, popped a wad of gum as she passed them. "I'm not even trying to be in you all's business. Joey has a better chance of walking on the moon than going out with that cute new girl, but I'm not listening to a word being said."
Doug, Joey, and other nearby coworkers laughed as Pat placed her purse in one of a row of nearby lockers and left the room. In this wide-open space with sounds easily bouncing off the high ceiling and plasterboard-covered walls, now boasting skeletons and witches for a Halloween theme, there weren't many words spoken that couldn't be heard by everyone in the back room. Pat definitely didn't miss much. She wasn't a busybody. Doug knew this for sure. But if needing advice or someone to listen, Pat was usually the go-to choice. She could hold a confidence and wasn't a backstabber. And she knew where all the post office skeletons were buried. Had buried some herself.
A few minutes later, the new cutie walked into the room and over to where Doug sorted mail.
"Excuse me, Doug?"
He turned. "Hey, Janice. How's it going?"
"Okay, I guess."
"It's going fine, from what I can see." Joey turned off the processing machine and walked around the long steel table over to where Doug and Jan were conversing. His obvious flirtation went unnoticed. At least by the one for whom it was intended.
"Is there a certain time for breaks?" Jan asked. "Or should I coordinate with the others at the counter?"
"There is no specified time. Is Pat back up there?"
"Then just make sure she knows you're leaving."
"Okay. And I prefer being called Jan, remember?"
"Oh, right. Sorry about that."
"No problem." She smiled, revealing half-moon dimples on each cheek. Doug found himself wondering if there were dimples in other places, then mentally chastised himself for the thought.
Joey refused to be ignored. "Jan Baker, right?"
"See, unlike my coworker, I remember the important things."
"If that were true, you'd remember to keep your mouth shut." Doug's retort was immediate, with perfect aim. Only the chuckle that followed made it less deadly.
"You'd better listen to him, Joey." The sugar-coated voice of another coworker standing two tables over was paired with an impish smile as she turned around. "When it comes to anything involving the mouth, Doug knows what he's talking about."
Doug's smile faded. Never could keep our business private. That's why being with you wasn't a mistake I made twice.
Except for the quiet tittering of the worker hired right before Jan, the room went quiet. Those who'd witnessed the short but fiery hookup between the Normandie Post Office location's nice guy and the one now called Messy Mel did not find her taunt funny. They knew it had been meant to mark territory that Melissa didn't own.
Even Joey ignored the comment, choosing instead to stay focused on Jan. "I thought the two of you would have nothing in common." He took a couple steps forward. Jan took a step back. A slight smirk was the only outward sign that Doug had seen what she'd done and gotten her message. Back off.
Joey neither got the message nor stopped advancing. "It's probably the only thing y'all have in common."
Jan finally looked at Joey, confused. "I don't understand."
"Ha! Don't worry, Jan. Most of the time none of us do either."
Joey dismissed Doug's comment with a wave of his hand. "Don't pay him any attention. That's what he wants." He turned warm eyes back to Jan. "Doug's first name is Douglas. About the only one who still calls him that, though, is his mom. If she uses his full name she's probably angry. When Miss Liz is upset, you don't want to be anywhere around!"
From the would-be respondent? Blank stare.
"Now you and me," Joey continued, even though by now he shouldn't have needed to phone a friend to get a clue. "We can probably connect on several levels. Even our names go together. Joey and Jan. Jan and Joey. Know what I'm saying?"
"No, I don't." Jan spun on her heel and walked down the hall.
The back room erupted.
"Ouch!" Doug's words were for Joey, but his eyes were on Jan, admiring her strong, sure stride and alluring backside as she left the room. This morning, when he'd given her a quick tour of the office located on the street made famous during the Rodney King riots, and set her up at her cashier position out front, she'd seemed quiet and reserved. Now he knew that hidden behind that calm façade was at least a little fire. He wondered what it took to turn that into a flame. Both his heart and his nether heat tightened at the thought of finding out, as the room reacted.
"Whoop, there it is!"
"I guess she told you!"
"Give it up, pretty boy. She's not interested."
"Calm down, everyone." Joey quieted his "audience" with raised hands. "Y'all are all reading the woman wrong. Jan is acting the way someone does when they're totally smitten, overcome with undeniable attraction."
"You got the denied right," said a coworker, appropriate snicker attached.
Doug laughed, too. "I don't know what body you were reading, but the language I picked up said you are dismissed."
"Just give me a minute," Joey confidently responded. "I think she's going to be my next boo thang."
"It's more likely she'll give you the boot," a coworker said. Those listening laughingly agreed.
* * *
Jan returned from her break to an empty lobby. An afternoon with few customers was the last thing she needed. Boredom provided too much time to think about things that shouldn't concern her. Like Joey, whose flirting was as subtle as the smell of popcorn at a movie theater concession stand. If lies were bricks, she could have built a house with the ones men with good looks like Joey had told her. Took her a year to lose the extra twenty-five pounds gained after breaking up with her own good looker. One who'd wormed his way into her heart and promptly put a hole in it. She'd tried to fill it with hot wings and chocolate-chip ice cream, but all of the extra ended up on her stomach and hips. A calorie counter and so many Zumba classes she felt she could speak Spanish had her finally back in her size fourteens. Which is why her handsome supervisor wasn't going to work her nerves or her nana. If something got started and didn't work out, it could cost her a job and some emotional-eating-induced extra junk in the trunk. Though she couldn't help but be curious whether or not he was involved with the coworker who'd butted into their conversation. The way she'd looked at him suggested to Jan that something was going on between them. So what if he was? It didn't matter to her.
Still, her mind's eye conjured up Doug's stocky body, lazy smile, and easygoing demeanor. He seemed like a nice enough guy, good for casual conversation and as a comrade in the workplace. Nothing more. After her last breakup she vowed to only date men who were headed in the same direction she was traveling ... to the top of the music charts! A man like hip-hop artist and producer Nick Starr, who was making a major comeback after ten years out of the game, had just last week told her she had real talent and was in a position to help Jan reach her goal. She didn't look like the average size two pop star, but successful performers like Adele, Kelly Clarkson, and Jill Scott were living proof that in the cutthroat world of entertainment there was a place for somebody who could sing the paint off the wall and look like her.
Jan looked beyond the quiet, empty customer area in the small branch office to the posters lining the far wall. Limited-edition stamps. Information on passport services. A smiling postal worker thanking the troops. They taunted her, mocked her. Reminded her that she was someplace she'd rather not be doing something she'd rather not do. For years she'd lived the life of a struggling artist trying to break into the big leagues. She'd waited tables, done telemarketing, landed a few temp jobs — anything that would bring in enough money to pay the rent on her Hollywood studio. Those carefree years where she dreamed and planned and believed life would happen just the way she wanted seemed a lifetime ago. Back when life was normal. Before the accident, when everything changed.
She turned and reorganized an already neatly arranged box of stampers, just for something to do. Music played in the background, the radio tuned to an old-school station. An Anita Baker song came on. One of Jan's favorite singers. She bobbed her head and quietly sang along.
"Girl, you sound good."
Jan looked over at Pat's pleased expression. "You could hear me?"
"Just barely. But enough to know that you have skill, and a beautiful voice. Do you sing in church or something?"
Or something, she thought. "No," she said.
"Well, with a voice like that you should be singing somewhere. Lord knows there are enough people on the air now who can't hit a note with a two by four."
Jan laughed. Of all the people she'd met so far, she liked Pat the best. Her straightforward yet warm personality was inviting, and the sincerity with which she spoke made those who heard it feel good. Before she knew it, Jan was opening up and sharing with Pat the part of her life that she'd not planned to mix with the day job.
"I sing around town sometimes."
"You do? Where, in nightclubs?"
"Clubs occasionally, but more often at weddings and other smaller special events."
"Well, if you're ever going to be somewhere public, let me know. I love music and would definitely come and support you."
Jan nodded at the older man now waiting to be called up and noted two customers behind the next woman at the counter busy filling out an Express Mail label. Though she was lucky to have this afternoon shift, or tours as they were called, she couldn't wait until six, when the counter closed, and nine, when her day would be over. If she hurried, there might be time to make it to On That Note's Open Mike Night, where Nicholas Starr was holding a chance-of-a-lifetime contest. For the next ten weeks, reality TV hopefuls would compete for a chance to be on his new show — Starr Power — where ten singers would be groomed by Starr for the entertainment world. At the end the winner would get $25,000 and a record deal, either one of which would change Jan's life. What made this opportunity unique is the ten-week talent search for these ten contestants, happening at the club where she'd performed open mike for years. Each week, contestants who'd survived the preliminary tryouts could sign up for one of twenty last round audition spots. Some would be eliminated, some would advance, and one would be selected to be on the show. The contest started last week. She had advanced. Getting the afternoon tour that went until nine had almost eliminated her chance to compete. But a phone call to the club's bartender had kept her in the running. They'd known each other a long time. He had her back, and would personally make sure her name was on the list. All that was left was doing her part and making sure she was one of the ten on the reality show.
Jan thought about the jazzy rendition she'd arranged for the hit by Meghan Trainor and got excited. It didn't matter that she'd been up all day, slept little last night, and was exhausted. Five minutes on stage was more than worth the forty-five minutes it would take her to get there. After eight hours of doing work she detested, she would have driven twice that to do that which she most loved.CHAPTER 2
Thank God for light traffic.
Jan flicked her blinker, veered her car left, and zoomed past the SUV with stick figures depicting the family of four and giving their names to all who found themselves stuck behind the slow-moving driver. Jan shifted back to the right lane and accelerated her car to eighty miles an hour, smiling that the sticker had even included the family pet. It reminded her of Crystal, her married cousin with a brood of eight: a husband, four kids, two cats, and a dog. Back in the day, her cousin had dreamed of babies, a husband, and the white picket fence. But for as long as she could remember, Jan's fantasy had always been the stage. Crystal's dream had come true. Jan hoped there was still time for hers to materialize. But she knew the entertainment industry highly favored the young. Time was running out.
Her cell phone rang. Thankful for the interruption from her thoughts, she tapped the telephone icon on her steering wheel and answered the call. "Hey, Chris."
"Hey, Jan. How's it going?"
"Okay. How are you doing?"
"The usual Herndon household craziness."
"How's the baby?"
"Fine. It's his mama who's ready to run away from home."
"Uh-huh. I told you to think twice about having another child. But no, you had to have balance — two girls, two boys."
"It looked good on paper."
Jan laughed. "Are y'all done now?"
"Hubby wants more, but I told him if that happened, he would have them." Jan laughed. "How's work at the new location?"
"Like I thought it would be. Slow. Boring. I miss the bustle of being downtown. Plus, that was closer to a lot of my gigs."
"But you're closer to home."
"And the people you work with?"
"Nice, so far, for the most part. Though one guy who thinks he's God's gift to women is already on my nerves."
"On your nerves or on your radar?"
"Trust me, I'm not interested."
"Why not? Is he married?"
"Don't know. Don't care. After all it took for me to get over the womanizer? I'm there to make a paycheck, not a love connection. Plus, the man for me doesn't work in a post office."
"How do you know that?"
"I just do." Jan honked her horn as a car bogarted its way in front of her from a merging ramp. "Crazy Cali drivers," she mumbled under her breath.
"You're on the highway?"
"Where are you headed?"
"Where I'll be every Monday for the next nine weeks. On That Note's Open Mike Night."
"You're still doing that? I thought when you started working at the post office last year you'd put all of that behind you."
"All of that, as you call it, is my dream. My passion. I'll never stop singing. Ever."
"I didn't mean it like that. Of course you'll always sing. But isn't that where they're holding the auditions for Nick Starr's new reality show?"
"Are you sure this is less about singing and more about the crush you've had on him since you were twelve. You were going to marry either him or Usher. Remember?"
"Yes, I remember, and no, this isn't some little schoolgirl crush. Although since he was only fourteen at the time, marrying him is within the realm of possibilities." Jan waited. Silence. "You were supposed to agree with that."
"I would if I believed it."
"Forget you, heifah." They both laughed. "At any rate, getting that recording contract, heck, even all the exposure of just getting on the show could change my life."
Excerpted from Packing Heat by Zuri Day. Copyright © 2015 Zuri Day. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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