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Playing with Fire

Playing with Fire

4.2 290
by Gena Showalter

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Twenty-four-year-old barista Belle Jamison dreams of a better job and a decent love life. Until a crazy scientist spikes her mocha latte! Suddenly Belle can wield the four elements—earth, wind, fire and water—with only a thought. Coffee too hot? No problem. Hair in need of a blow-dry? Done.

Gorgeous government agent Rome Masters has been sent to


Twenty-four-year-old barista Belle Jamison dreams of a better job and a decent love life. Until a crazy scientist spikes her mocha latte! Suddenly Belle can wield the four elements—earth, wind, fire and water—with only a thought. Coffee too hot? No problem. Hair in need of a blow-dry? Done.

Gorgeous government agent Rome Masters has been sent to neutralize Belle. But he's not the only one after her. Together they must outrun the rogue agents on their trail and find a way to control her powers. There's just one problem: the sparks Belle and Rome generate are even hotter than the ones flying from her eyes—and with her future on the line, now is the worst possible time to fall in love….

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Publication date:
Tales of an Extraordinary Girl , #1
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Read an Excerpt

Isn't it amazing how one seemingly innocent decision can change your entire life? For me, that decision came in the form of a grande mocha latte.

Allow me to explain.

The day began normally enough. Translation: I rolled out of bed thirty minutes late, rushed through a shower and hurriedly dressed in the standard black slacks and white button-up top every Utopia Café employee is required to wear. Unlike the other employees, I left the top three buttons of my shirt undone, revealing hints of the white lace (push-up) bra I wore underneath. Don't judge. Some people are mammarily challenged and need a little boost. Anyway, if I showed a little cleavage my pervert boss wouldn't care that I was late. Again.

He might even thank me for coming in at all.

Was it wrong of me to rely on the girls to get me out of trouble? Probably. Did I give a shit? Hell, no. In fact, I unabashedly adjusted them for ample display. I was single, twenty-four and determined to keep this job. Anyone who objected could blow me.

See, my dad suffers from massive heart problems and I'm the "responsible party" in charge of his bills, not to mention the one who finances his stay at Village on the Park, a nearby assisted living center. I would have loved for him to live with me (not that there's enough space in my one-bedroom efficiency), but it's best that he stays there. They have twenty-four-hour monitoring and make sure he takes his medications, which he "forgets" to do when left to his own devices.

Besides, he claims he's never been happier. The women there are "silver foxes," he says, and eager for masculine attention. Dare I mention those silver foxes cost more than high-priced hookers because my dad is always popping the Viagra he buys from his friends?

I'll do anything to ensure my dad's happiness, though, the way he unselfishly ensured my happiness throughout my entire childhood. So I desperately need to keep my current job and get the one I'm interviewing for after my shift.

Can't be late, can't be late, can't be late, I mentally chanted as I searched for my coffee-stained tennis shoes. I've spilled more cappuccinos on them than I've served to high-class snobs. Needless to say, I've served a lot of high-class snobs.

"Aha! Found you, you dirty little bastards." When had I put them in the refrigerator? I tugged them on, shivering as my toes grew numb from the cold.

Meanwhile, the clock ticked away more precious minutes.

I hastily applied blush, mascara and gloss. You'd think the need for money would inspire me to wake up bright and early every morning no matter the circumstances, but you'd be wrong. I was too tired to do bright and early today, even for a stack of greens. Last night I'd bartended a bachelorette party until 3:00 a.m. Me, a girl who knows nothing about alcohol. Sex on the Beach—sure, with the right man. Fuzzy Navel—uh, shower, anyone? Tom Collins—who the hell?

Of course, I'd pretended to be the expert I'd claimed to be in the interview, mixing anything and everything I could get my hands on. My drinks hadn't been the tastiest, but they'd certainly created the desired results. By the end of the evening, all of the women drunkenly swore they loved me and my "wicked nasty" concoctions.

The clock chimed the hour: 6:00 a.m.

"Damn it." I rubbed my tired, burning eyes—then froze when I realized the mascara hadn't dried. Freaking great. I probably looked like a boxer who'd lost the big match. As I scrubbed my face with a wet washrag, I watered my dry, brittle plants, multitasking to save time. What would it take to make the little green monsters thrive?

Finally ready to leave, I dug my keys out of the fishbowl. How many drinks had I sucked down last night? I didn't remember dropping my keys in the water. At least the bowl was presently devoid of fish. Martin, my betta, had kicked it a few days ago. Natural causes, I assure you.

"I hope you're rotting in the sewers," I said, looking down. No way he'd made it into heaven. The little snot had hated me, had always fanned his gills and hit the glass whenever I walked into a room. He'd been a present from my last boyfriend, aka the Prince of Darkness. Was it wrong of me to wish the ex had died with the fish?

No time to ponder the ethics of that dream now. I needed to go. Dressed? Check. Shoes? Check. Keys? Check. Résumé? Check. I'd stuffed it in my work pants last night in preparation for an interview today. Ugh. Yet another menial job. If only I could crawl back into bed, snuggle under the covers and continue my X-rated dream about Vin Diesel and an easy-squeeze tube of chocolate syrup. Double yum! Something about that bald head drove me wild.

Stop daydreaming, woman. I trudged to the front door just as the phone rang. Sighing, I raced into my bedroom. Probably my boss, Ron, but I wanted to double-check just in case. A quick peek at caller ID revealed it was actually my dad. Late as I was, I didn't even think about letting the machine pick up. I grabbed the receiver and held it to my ear. "Hey, Daddy."

"Hey, doll. What'cha doing?"

"I'm headed off to work. Everything okay?"

"Fine, everything's fine." His deep, rumbling voice never failed to comfort me. "You work too hard."

"Ah, but you know it's what I live for," I said, and my voice held only truth. I'd never, never let this selfless man know I didn't like my job(s). He'd go off and get one of his own, the old teddy bear. Anything to take care of me. No wonder I loved him so damn much. "I'm not happy unless I'm working."

"Just like your mother, God rest her soul. Never did understand that mind-set, myself," he said. I pictured him shaking his head in wonderment. "I won't keep you. I just got to looking through old photo albums of you as a baby. I know you visited the other day, but I still wanted to hear your voice."

See? He's a sweetie. "Now you're trying to make me cry. But I'm glad you called. I missed you and your voice, too."

He chuckled. "Aren't we just a pair of mushy—"

"David!" I heard a woman call.

"Oh, hell," he said to me. To the woman, he grumbled, "Not now, Mary. I'm on the phone with my best gal."

"Did you or did you not kiss Janet in the gardens last night?" Mary demanded in the background.

"Double hell," my dad whispered. Then, "Oh, crap. I think she's wheeling her chair into my room." He paused. "I guess I should have resisted Janet's invitation for a stroll."

"I guess you should have," I said with a laugh.

"I have to go now. Love you, doll," he said.

"David!" Mary called, closer now.

"Love you, too, Daddy."

We disconnected, and I stared at the phone for a minute, a smile hovering on my lips. Shaking my head, I rushed out of my tiny apartment with only one wistful backward glance.

"Let's get this day over with," I muttered.

Outside, the dim spring morning proved wonderfully fragrant with the scent of magnolia, but oppressively hot, the air sticky with humidity. Ah, crap. I'd forgotten to bring a little towel to pat away any sweat. In a few minutes, my clothes were going to be plastered to my body. Oh, well. Nothing I could do about that now.

Not wanting to arrive at work hungry (hungry = bitchy and bitchy = fired), I stopped for a caramel glazed doughnut on my way to the bus station—and missed my bus. MARTA, Atlanta's premiere miss-it-and-you're-screwed transportation system, being what it was, the delay set me back another twenty minutes.

By the time I raced into Utopia, lines were long and winding. Customers were pissed about the wait and quite vocal about it. I yawned. I mean, please. Cry me a river, Richie Richersons. Jeez. Anyone who could afford a daily six-dollar cup of joe didn't need to be complaining about anything.

Ron, my boss, spotted me and gave me a you-are-so-dead scowl.

I squared my shoulders, thereby tightening the material of my shirt, and offered him a chocolate sundae smile, smothered in whipped cream and cherries. Hmm, whipped cream. That would fit nicely in my Vin Diesel fantasy.

Ron's gaze connected with the girls. He paled, looked away and crooked his finger in my general direction. Without glancing to see if I noticed, he pivoted on his heel, a silent command for me to follow him. Great. Freaking great. This didn't bode well.

Breathing deeply of the cinnamon-and-vanilla-scented air, I passed several men and women who were using the tables as mini work spaces, their computers, faxes and shredders surrounding them. I stepped into Ron's small, cramped office.

"You wanted to see me, Mr. Pretty?"

"It's Peaty, and shut the door," he said, his voice devoid of emotion. He plopped onto his chair, the cluttered desktop shielding his belly paunch. His black gaze remained lowered, not touching any part of me.


Palms now sweating, I did as commanded. The smells of dust and cloying aftershave immediately assaulted me, wiping away any lingering hint of baked goods. Without waiting to be told, I claimed the only other seat in the room. A stiff, uncomfortable step stool I liked to call the Naughty Chair. File cabinets pressed close on both sides of me, making me feel pinned.

I studied Ron. He had thin lips, and right now those lips were pressed tightly together, barely visible slashes of pink in the contours of his rotund face. His sandy hair stood on end, as if he'd plowed his fingers through it one too many times. Lines of tension bracketed his eyes, and his brow was furrowed.

Ron had been pissed at me a lot these last few weeks, but he'd never radiated such disgruntled irritation. Such grim determination. I recognized the look, though. I'd gotten it from other bosses over the last year, right before they fired me.

I smothered a sigh. I hadn't always been a bad employee. For nearly five years, I'd worked as a waitress during the day and a maid during the evening. I'd made enough to pay for my living expenses and support my dad, as well as build a nice savings account—a savings account I'd used up during my (forced) hiatus, aka the two months that it had taken me to land this job at the café.

Why couldn't I hold back my restlessness anymore? Why couldn't I quash my discontent, as I had for so many years, and stop sabotaging my only source of revenue?

Though I didn't want to admit it, I knew the answer. I'd woken up one morning and realized life was passing me by, moving at high speed while I wallowed behind. Dissatisfaction had filled me—and had only grown since.

"I'm sorry for anything and everything I might have done," I said, when Ron opened his mouth to speak.

"You're late," he growled. "Again."

The fact that I didn't utter, "Thanks for stating the obvious," should have earned me major good-girl points. "I know, and I really am sorry." When his expression didn't soften, when he still didn't glance in my direction, my heart slammed against my ribs. "I worked another job late into the morning and had trouble waking up."

He stared at the wall clock just behind my head and adjusted his chocolate-smeared tie. "While I like the image of you lingering in bed—"

Sick bastard. Gross. Just… gross. I might have thrown up in my mouth. And yes, I understand the irony here. You brought it on yourself, Jamison. What else did you expect, unleashing the girls like that? Suddenly hoping to hide them from view, I hunched my shoulders.

Wait, Ron's mouth was moving. He hadn't stopped talking.

"—that's just not a good enough excuse. I mean, I can make an exception for it once, twice, but we've had this same conversation seven times now. And you've only worked here a few weeks."

"I'll be on time tomorrow, you have my word. I'll go without sleep if necessary." Did I sound as desperate to Ron as I did to myself? Probably. Damn it. I hated to let him see my desperation. Hated, hated, hated. The more desperate he knew I was, the more he could pull my strings and make me dance like a performing monkey.

He tapped a pen against his desktop. "That's what you said last time. This is a small, independent operation, Belle, and we rely on our employees to provide superior service to keep us in business."

"I do provide superior service," I gulped, adding, "when I'm here."

Frowning, he dropped the pen and pushed a hand through his hair, causing more of the sandy locks to spike straight toward the ceiling. "You think you're good with customers? Really?"

"Yes, really." I knew what was happening here. He teetered on the brink of firing me and was simply trying to work up the courage to utter the words. And, I realized with shattering fear, I might not be able to talk him out of it this time. By this point in our previous talks, he was usually sending me on my way with a stern (but perverted) warning.

Had his irritation given him a supersonic determination no amount of sweet-talking persuasion could penetrate?

My eyes narrowed; my hands clenched into fists. I wouldn't allow him to get rid of me easily. Somehow, some way, I was going to penetrate that wall of nefarious determination. I could not lose this job. Lately very few businesses were willing to take a chance on me, so I could only imagine how long it would take to land another.

"Stupid jobs," I muttered.

"What was that?" Ron asked, his gaze sharpening.

Had I said that aloud? "Oh, uh, nothing." I straightened in the chair. "You were saying?"

He pushed out a sigh. "You have no people skills, Belle. Instead of smoothing ruffled feathers, you set them on fire."

"I'm telling you, I'm a good employee," I said through clenched teeth. And that wasn't a lie. Sure, I usually arrived late, always cussed, sometimes bitched and—and this is not an admission of guilt—(allegedly) borrowed from the stock room. But I worked weekends, holidays and overtime whenever possible. That counted for something, right?

"I can't believe you're making me do this." Ron flipped open a file and ran a blunt-tipped finger down the front page. "Complaint—server is rude and pushy. Complaint—server made tea instead of coffee. Complaint—server is rude. Complaint—server is rude. Complaint— server is rude. Shall I go on?"

"I don't let the customers yell and scream at me." Indignation gave me a sense of bravery, and I sat up even straighter, shoulders squared. Did people have nothing better to do with their lives than complain about a lowly server? "That doesn't make me rude, it makes me human."

"Jenni doesn't yell at customers even when they yell at her."

"Jenni is a brown-nosing moron."

Meet the Author

Gena Showalter is the author of sexy paranormal romances including The Stone Prince, The Pleasure Slave, and Heart of the Dragon, with many more on the way. She also writes a dark alien huntress series: Awaken Me Darkly and Enslave Me Sweetly. In May 2006, she begins her hardcover debut with Animal Instincts, a fun contemporary romance. For more information about Gena and her books, visit her web site.

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Playing with Fire (Tales of an Extraordinary Girl Series #1) 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 288 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Along come mad scientists, secret sub-government agencies and...control over the four elements? In a non-stop thrill of a laughter-inducing ride, one simple gal just trying to make a buck finds out there's more to life than coffee and the next lame job. Only problem is, will her new talents consume her, or will she master the potentially volatile forces? Belle Jamison needs a new job to support not only her needs, but those of her elderly father too. She's trying extra hard not to screw up the job she has currently as well as the interview she's got later the same day. Only problem is she's a bit of a smart alec and she's hanging by a thread because of it. When a man bursts into the coffee shop where she works, begging for help, it's Belle who catches his eye. Hours later, after being detained by some pretty convincing agents, Belle's not feeling so hot. All she had was a mocha latte, so why the sudden flu-like symptoms? In a haze, she stumbles through her interview and barely makes it home where she collapses. The next morning doesn't bring any relief and to make matters worse, there's a hot man at her side--only his hotness is not the issue--his wanting to kill her is. With new powers come all new problems and Belle has to find a way to get back to simple `ole her. Only, she might be starting to like the new her... Belle's story is in first person, so anyone not fond of those need be aware of this. Belle is perhaps one of my most favorite female leads I've ever encountered in a romance. She's determined, loyal to the good side and she knows what she wants and goes after it. Plus, she's got some faults and she's not afraid to admit it. It's the combination of her pluses and minuses that make her so unique. The dialogue throughout, with whomever she interacts with, is riddled with laugh-out-loud wit and I was very impressed with how the secondary characters shown through. Rome's role as hero was no less emphasized than Belle's and he is hot, hot hot! The addition of his family lent the story a desperate feel at times as he and Belle strive to make the world a safer place for people like them. If you are a fan of first person comedy/paranormal romances, heroines that save the day make you smile, heroes that make you sigh and a great cast of secondary characters, then I can't recommend this one enough. The plot wraps up very nicely, but sounds as if it might continue with more? Either way, I was thrilled and would love to see more if Ms. Showalter chooses to do so.
lizzy1022 More than 1 year ago
Ever since the first book i read from Gena Showalter i keep buy her books, now i ran out! I read them all, she is an amazing writer. I love her humor and story lines are original. Overall a great read, can't wait to the sequal.
Vivi24 More than 1 year ago
I picked this book up on impulse and absolutely loved it! I'll be reading many more of Ms. Showalter's books now. The characters in this book were wonderful. Belle was charming and the first person narrative was funny and sassy. Rome was sexy, Tanner was awesome. The other character were great and I can't wait to read more about them. Great gift for dialogue in teh writing. Glad this book will be a series. I'll be reading the other books her Ms. Showalter's other series now too!
catweber More than 1 year ago
Found this on the shelf and thought, hey a Gena Showalter I haven't read? So grabbed it and smiled and chuckled the wholr way through.Not that there aren't any suspensfilled moments, there are. I love the Tanner character, I have met him and eah, he's just like that! Belle and Rome are at first at odds with each other but as trust builds so does their relationship. In a story where the good guys and the bad guys are pretty much the same, the storyline just shimmers with glee. Have already checked out sequelTwice As Hot and am ready to enjoy myself tremendously.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
love a strong female with a snappy mouth. guys watch out.
FastReaderMJ More than 1 year ago
You can never go wrong with Gena Showalter! Every book that she has written keeps you turning the pages. I loved how Belle has attitude even if she does seem a little flaky and every girl deserves a man like Rome! I will definitely be reading the next one!
Aimis More than 1 year ago
I have a hard time putting books down, but it still normally takes me a few days to read a whole book. This book I read in under a day! I had to know what happened next! There was no breathing point, no spot where i thought, 'if I'm going to stop, this is a good place,' because I couldn't stop. It was all action. I loved that the main character had her own mind and wasn't going to let anyone make it up for her. And it was so funny. There's no other character like Tanner, and yet almost all the teenage guys i know are like Tanner. It was great.
bratkat1976 More than 1 year ago
During the first couple chapters I thought I wasn't going to like it very much. It was a little hard to get into but then it took off and I found it to be a highly entertaining book. It's not terribly serious, I found myself laughing frequently and I have full intentions to read the second book.
Gardenart More than 1 year ago
I was pleasantly surprised by this book...written in a fun and energetic style and was offbeat just enough to where you didnt guess the ending in the first chapter...very enjoyable, can't wait for #2
teamjacob16 More than 1 year ago
This is one of those books ,that you read once.And then immedeatly have the desire to reread it.I personally loved it
Guest More than 1 year ago
I find myself reading this one again and again and again. It's one I wouldn't let a friend borrow, I'd get her a copy of her own 'cause this ones not leaving my possesion. A story about hard choices when first impressions seems wrong. A lesson that love and romance is difficult when the older we get the more past we have behind us. I love how Rome isn't your typical lone warrior hero guy. He had a past relationship and because of his daughter 'whom he loves to distraction as any good hero would' he is still involved in a family life. This makes a possible relationship with Belle even more complicated. The author treats this sensitive subject very well, taking something that could be bleak and heartbreaking and making it understandable and still realistic. And all this during the non-stop action. LOVE IT! Wish there was a sequel with these characters - would love to see how their relationships continue to develope, espechially Rome and Belle's. Let's keep up the danger so they can keep saving each other.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was suprised at how much I liked this book. I didn't expect it. The first few pages were a bit slow, but it definately picked up by the second chapter. I liked how the action started right away, because I'm an impatient reader and if it isn't exciting by the second chapter, I put the book down and move on, but that didn't happen. You should definately read it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ok, you REALLY need to read this book. It's F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S! You really need to. Its the best book I have ever read. Belle is a funny charater who will keep you guessing and laughing. Tanner is such a freak (but in a good way), and Rome is a total mystery and a real hottie
Guest More than 1 year ago
Not only was this Extremely Sexy and dangerous, It was HALARIOUS. I could not get over the fantastic personalities of the characters. Definetely a keeper!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just so happened to pick this book up, and honestly, never put it down until I was finished! Bella is sassy and brassy, and not above using her deadly `twins¿ when in a situation, becomes deadly sick after a life-altering drug is slipped into her latte mocha from a mad (and freaky) scientist on the run from (cough) CIA agents while at work in the coffee shop. Waking up in her somewhat charred bedroom in different underwear to Rome, a tall, dark and handsome PSI agent sent to `neutralize¿ her, Bella amazingly finds out that she has four more great powers (besides her natural deadly twins). While on the run Bella finds out fast she ready to fry, freeze, throw earth balls and shoot lightening bolts at SCRIMs or other enemies who¿s trying to use her as a human guinea pig or hurt the people she loves. First she has to learn to control her feelings that are linked to her newfound powers or risk hurting those she loves along with the enemies. Example: Thinking of how Rome makes her feel she gets hot and start smoking and sets small blazes, LITERALLY! Bella aka Wonder Girl aka Periodic Table Chick aka Four Elements Girl takes you on a revitalizing and elemental ride through the world of the romance and experimentation.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In Atlanta, twenty-four years old Utopia Café waitress Belle Jamison has major bills since she covers much of the expense of her ailing dad living at the expensive Village on the Park assisted living center (and home to the silver foxes). However, barely keeping her job (only thanks to her twin ¿girls¿ ¿ boobs that is- coming to her rescue), she calls 911 to save some guy¿s life from assailants when she learns the enemy is the CIA.------------------ Now a week later, the worst coffee wench in history is having personal problems ever since the incident as the endangered dude slipped a powerful Mickey into her latte. Now this hunk Rome Matthews hovers all over the bewildered Belle explaining she was caught in a paranormal war between two adversaries. He further informs her that her body is changing due to the spiked latte she drank and his job is to bring her to his side¿s lab for testing to see if she can become a superheroine or perhaps neutralizing her, which means being comatose. Too young to consider not having children, Belle Superhero flees with a determined Rome in hot pursuit.----------------- PLYING WITH FIRE is a romantic update of the Greatest American Hero though Ralph Hinkley was at least a competent teacher. The story line is action-packed, fast-paced and filled with twists as two sides want Belle. While Rome finds himself falling love with her, he knows he still might have to neutralize her especially if the enemy gets her. Fantasy romance fans who enjoy a zany amusing tale will appreciate this wild fun ride that starts with a résumé filled with firings and ends with a save the world scenario job.----------------- Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't give you a number on how many times I've read this book! I fell in love with it from the start! Highly suggest you buy and read it! Woth your money and time
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I really tried to give this story a chance. I really, really did. I only managed to make it through about half the book with sheer bull-headededness before I put the book down in disgust because I just cannot stand Belle. The premise of the book is an interesting one, but the way she reacts to the situation is by far the most idiotic and ridiculous manner possible. When you have the power to destroy the world (or at least a lot of innocent people) at your fingertips and absolutely no control over them, you don't run amok, thanks.
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