As a former cheerleader turned member of an all-female PI firm, Summer O’Keefe knows how to flirt with sexy bad boys and take down dangerous bad guys. But sometimes it can be tricky to tell the difference…
Summer’s new neighbor, Jason Parker, has gorgeous eyes and a mighty cute butt. He’d be a good choice to put an end to her romantic dry spell…if she hadn’t spotted him in the middle of the night, burying something—or someone?—in his backyard. Not to mention his distinct resemblance to the international arms dealer she’s tracking online. Either way, he’s definitely wanted…
Jason has a few secrets, and he’s not sharing them with the slightly nutty Summer—at least not yet. Though he’s finding it hard to say no to her, with her scrumptious curves and impressive computer skills. He’s so far gone he’s even taken in a pregnant cat, just to see the smile on Summer’s face. But when a local woman disappears, it’s time for them to team up and use their combined brains, brawn, and beauty to crack the case…
“A fun rom-com with a dose of mystery that will keep readers on their toes. This is a story you’ll want to gobble up quicker than a slice of pie.” —RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars
About the Author
Visit Cheryl’s website at www.CherylAnnSmith.com or visit her on Facebook at Cheryl Ann Smith Author.
Read an Excerpt
The Sweetheart Game
By Cheryl Ann Smith
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Cheryl Ann Smith
All rights reserved.
Summer O'Keefe, former kiddie pageant star and Miss Precious Universe, fired NFL cheerleader, and private investigator, saw movement in the backyard garden of the Nealy house next door from her third floor window, and she immediately jumped to an ominous conclusion.
A shadowy shape stood near the seven-foot-tall bean cage shaped like a Christmas tree and her imagination overrode common sense, convincing her that a slobbering perv was waiting for her lights to go out so he could press his icky face against her bedroom window and watch her sleep.
All this without a speck of evidence to back it up.
Unfortunately, the wood and metal frame kept her from getting a clear view to justify her suspicion, and the shadow was too far away to confirm that he was indeed a creepy peeper and not a trick of moonlight and oak tree branches. But she was sure someone was there. She felt it in her bones.
"What the heck?" The shadow was making too much noise for someone trying to lurk around a winter-ravaged pumpkin patch for a chance to peep at her in her skivvies. Still, she wasn't about to let go of the peeper theory altogether.
"Who else would be out at this hour other than a troublemaker?" It was almost midnight on a Monday night. Only raccoons and college students wandered around this late. Most of her neighbors would be asleep in preparation for work tomorrow. Or having sex.
Sigh. She missed sex. She was probably the only person on the block with cobwebs down there. Maybe that was why her mind shot right into the gutter?
"Okay, this is getting weird."
Could it be a thief, someone out to steal garden tools, or Mrs. Johnson's garden gnomes from her yard directly behind Summer's? She did have quite a collection of the creepy little figurines. She wouldn't put it past drunken college students to make off with an armful of the plaster and plastic eyesores, as a prank gleefully hatched in their alcohol-soaked brains.
It wouldn't be the first time. Mrs. Johnson had wept and wailed to Summer over their shared fence about the time she'd come home from the International Gnome and Pink Flamingo Yard Art Convention to find herself five gnomes short.
The police had been called and everything.
Squinting, she leaned forward and peered out. From what she could see, Mrs. Johnson's yard appeared quiet. A second flash of movement caught the corner of her eye near the Nealy tool shed and then nothing. In an instant, the shadow had vanished.
Feeling like a woman who spent too much time looking for criminals under every rock and behind every bush, she clearly needed a new hobby. Something light like collecting ceramic bunnies or maybe even ... garden gnomes.
"You're seeing things," the rational, if often disregarded part of her brain, told her. Taking one last look, she reclaimed her seat at her computer. If someone was out for gnomes, Summer wouldn't be sad to see them go. If he was looking for a place to relieve himself from too much drinking, she was happy that it wasn't her bushes he'd chosen to target.
"Summer, let it go." Her computer chimed with a new message. The gnome thieves were forgotten as she jumped back into the game. The Hunters were waiting.
JBeam: HSN are you still there?
Hotsummernites: I'm still here. Okay, I'm two terrorists and one assassin down this month. Anyone else?
Jbeam: I have one kidnapper and a terrorist.
Sexyvixn: You both have me beat. I got nada.
Poefan7: I've got one Ponzi scammer and a foreign dictator.
Summer, aka Hotsummernites, aka HSN, clapped her hands and did a funky-geek dance in her chair with a lot of arm waving and feet stomping. She'd won again for the fourth month in a row! Of course, it would be rude to be publicly smug. These were her friends. But a little chair spin was not out of order, she thought, as she whirled into a three-sixty. After all, no one could see her do it.
Hotsummernites: Well done everyone!
JBeam: You are smokin' HSN!
Hotsummernites: Thanks JBeam. I'll add our captures to the board and send the info on to the appropriate agencies. See you all on Sunday!
Poefan7: Night HSN.
Her stomach did a little hitch. Although she'd never met Poefan7, or seen a picture of him, there was something about the way he messaged that was oddly sexy. She grinned. Yes, she was indeed a dork.
Hotsummernites: Night Poe.
A chilly breeze slid through the crack under the open window and she rubbed her goose bump–covered arms. Logging over to the leader board, she wrote out all the captures and sent off emails to her contacts at the FBI, CIA, and Interpol, as well as a couple of others. She belonged to an anonymous group that hunted international and domestic criminals on the run, for fun. They called themselves unoriginally, "The Hunters." The club was made up by a dozen fellow geeks who dug through crimes and rooted out criminals through extreme deep-web investigations. They only knew each other by their code names for safety.
Her day job was as the cyber PI for Brash & Brazen, Inc., a female private investigation firm. Summer loved working with her friends, and adored her boss, Irving. Life was good, albeit a bit lonely. The only man in her life was a cyber crush online. Poe.
Twenty minutes later, she finished up, glanced at the clock, and logged out. It was after one. She'd be drained tomorrow if she didn't get to bed.
Walking to the window, she looked out toward the Johnson house. All was quiet in Gnomeville. She shrugged, slightly disappointed that all the gnomes were safely tucked in.
The figure was probably just a shadow and the snick, thump the sound of the garden shed door blowing open and closed on rusty hinges. Over the last year, poor health had kept Mr. Nealy from anything but basic gardening, so the property and shed had fallen into disrepair.
She'd tried to help revive the weed patch, but he brushed her off, thanked her sweetly, and decided to let the garden grow over. No more garden goodies in the fall for his neighbors.
The bright moon caught her attention and drew her eyes up. It was beautiful in the night sky. She stood and enjoyed the view for several minutes before a yawn reminded her to get to bed. Movement below stopped her.
A hooded human shape carrying what looked like a stuffed black garbage bag, crossed the Nealys' yard and circled around behind the bean cage. This time she wasn't overtired.
Her senses zipped into overdrive. She hadn't been seeing a trick of moonlight earlier. Someone had been out there. Was out there. Her heart skipped.
The person dropped the bag and reached for a shovel.
The strange sound had been him, or her, digging a hole in the dormant garden. And she had a feeling he wasn't getting an early start tilling the soil for rutabagas.
With dark clouds passing over like harbingers of doom to block the moon and add to the creepy-factor of the situation, she quietly shoved up the pane and leaned out for a better look. Darn the bean cage.
She tried to make out the grim reaper's face beneath the black hoodie to confirm it was either Satan's minion, or the newly arrived grandson from Mr. Nealy's old framed photo, but it was too dark and too far away to make a match. She'd rather the visitor was the latter, but if he was in fact the former, that would be cool, too.
Lord, she was losing her mind.
Fearing he'd look up and catch her spying, she reached and flicked off the light on her desk. It wouldn't be respectable to be caught spying, as her grandmother had told her many times. "If one wants to spy, don't get caught," Nana had said with her thick Texas drawl. As if spying was okay if the spied-upon was unaware, and the spy stayed respectable.
And Texas-born Summer was always respectable.
"Darn. Who is he?" She concluded by his carriage that the figure wasn't the elderly Mr. Nealy, yet it was a man nevertheless. She was pretty sure the senior had been moved to an assisted living facility by his grandson, whom she hadn't yet met, but saw a picture of on Mr. Nealy's desk. Could this mystery gardener be Jason Parker, the grandson? If it was, why was he digging around the garden at midnight?
Hooked, she couldn't look away. Thank goodness for the moon or snooping would be nearly impossible!
After digging into the dirt about two feet, the man jammed the head of the shovel into the ground, shoved the bag into the hole, and pressed it down with one foot. Taking up the shovel again, he filled the grave halfway and stomped the earth flat by marching over the grave like a drum major in a tall hat.
Now she was beyond curious and into suspicious. What was in the bag that was so important it had to be buried under the cover of darkness?
Only a man with something to hide would act so suspiciously. He must be hiding something. Toxic pollutants? Stolen loot? A body?
Wait, she hadn't actually seen Mr. Nealy move out. And there were rumors that the senior had squirreled away a large retirement fund. Could Jason have turned on his grandfather, chopped him up, and was now hiding body parts in the garden?
Shuddering, she turned away from the window and weighed the probability of her actually catching a murderer in the act. The odds were against it. Still, weirder things were known to happen. She did watch a lot of Investigation Discovery.
"Don't be silly," she scolded herself before her imagination turned the man into a serial killer. "There is a good explanation, I'm sure. What you need is confirmation."
There was only one thing left to do. Get a closer look. Squashing down misgivings, she eased the window all the way open and went for it. After hooking one leg over the frame, and taking a deep breath for courage, she slowly went out the window in her shorty pink PJs and fuzzy bunny slippers.
How hard could walking around on a roof be anyway? She'd seen college boys do it all the time, and while carrying beer cans and collapsible camp chairs. Her fitness training was top notch, and she loved James Bond movies. If anyone could successfully accomplish some rooftop recon, it was her.
The sound of her heartbeat whooshed so loudly that he had to hear. But he kicked more dirt into the hole as she crept across the narrow and slanted second floor roof, arms outspread for balance. He seemed unware of her presence.
See. Easy. Now to find a place to sit.
Turning back, she saw the man fill in the hole, tuck the shovel into the garden shed, and close the door. He paused and looked up at her window. Moonlight gave her a brief glimpse of his face beneath the hoodie. That same light left her open to be spotted. She flopped belly down onto roof, half onto a patch of damp leaves from the huge oak nearby and the other half on slippery mildew-y shingles.
Had he seen her? The office light was out and the dying streetlamp was a few houses down, so probably not. But she waited for a full minute before pushing up to her knees to peer over the edge of the roof. There was no sign of him.
The advantage of living in a very tall three-story house with an attic turret for office space was that she could see for several blocks either way. Spying on her neighbors was no problem. Being a floor down gave her an advantage of being closer to the garden.
Until now she hadn't had a reason to spy, or to climb out a window. Most of her neighbors were just normal people.
Still, she wasn't a snoop at heart, well, except for the whole hunting criminals thing. And she believed in personal space. Most of the time. This strange occurrence warranted at least some minor investigating.
Wrong. Still, it was too late to back out now. Perched on the roof, she was kind of committed. Sadly, there was nothing to see. The man was gone and the bean cage still halfway blocked the view of the hole.
"Drat." She moved slightly and her foot slipped on the leaves. She looked down her body to see green slime on her top. Yuck. She'd have to pitch the PJs.
"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea." She moved her foot to a dry shingle to brace herself. The effort proved futile and her body shifted slightly downward, the slimy leaves turning into a slippery ski ramp.
"Oh, no." She dug her fingernails into the roof but the shingles didn't give an inch. The effort produced the same success as a declawed cat on a scratching post.
The feel of shifting plant refuse beneath her sprawled body caused a squeak of panic. She was two stories up!
That was her last clear thought as gravity propelled her down, down, down, and over the edge of the roof into a vortex of darkness.CHAPTER 2
The gods in heaven and all of the angels playing their harps and singing were looking out for Summer that night as she caught the edge of the gutter one-handed and stopped the downward plunge to her death. Or at least a full body cast of broken bones. She swayed like a pendulum, her fingers clutching the gutter, while fire and brimstone from the gaping and toothless mouth of hell below her vanished and her vision cleared. The leafy yard appeared as crickets chirp-laughed at her dilemma from somewhere in the bushes.
Okay, she was being a tad melodramatic, but impending death did that to a person.
"Now what?" Summer whispered to herself as four fingers from a most likely ruined manicure, and a bunny face hooked on a shutter kept her from the rest of the fall. She was still too high up to jump, and she'd never passed the pull-up test in gym class, so lifting herself back up onto the roof was out.
Thank goodness for excellent gutter installation, fitness training, and decent upper body strength. Still, she couldn't hold on forever. What would 007 do?
As if on cue, her fingers twitched. A solution had to come quickly before her friends found her in a crumpled heap of bloody gore in the morning!
Her phone! As with any good twenty-something addicted to electronics, it was always either attached to her hand as a semipermanent part of her anatomy, or in her pocket.
Reaching over with her free hand, she felt the welcome bump in her PJ bottoms pocket and fished it out.
Thankfully, she didn't drop the darn thing. Then she'd be toast.
There was only one person who lived close by and was strong enough to save her. She bit back her reservations, swiped the phone open, and dialed. When he answered, relief flooded through her. "This is Summer. I need help." She rattled off her address and shouted, "Hurry!"
For a moment, when outright panic rose to a crescendo and her life passed through her mind — or rather the imaginary life she wanted to have — Summer fantasized that she'd called the Ann Arbor fire department for rescue and a hunky fireman with bulging biceps had arrived to save her. He'd back his fire truck over the killer next door — and she'd receive full credit for the capture — raise his ladder, and her internal temperature, and race up to save her. He'd cradle her against his rock-hard chest, confess that his name was Poefan7, and they'd ride off into the sunset on his shiny red fire truck.
"Are we going to do this?" came an impatient male voice out of the darkness and startled her. "I was in the middle of something important."
She glanced down at the face staring up at her. The something important was probably eating puppies, she guessed. He looked the type.
From his place below, Alvin the Ape, as she, Taryn, and Jess had called the hairy behemoth of a man when he'd been the bodyguard of her old boss, Willard, stood with his large arms crossed as he scowled up at her. After he'd been hired to kill Taryn and somehow ended up guarding the body of her new boss, Irving, she'd chosen to ignore his existence.
Now he was waiting, looking very un-fireman-like, for her instructions, and grinning a hungry shark grin while she was rapidly losing her grip on the gutter.
"Nice PJs. Are those bunny slippers?"
"Shut up." He was likely looking up her shirt.
The frozen claws that were once her perfectly manicured hands were shaking under the downward drag of gravity on her curvy body. There was no time to worry about modesty.
"Do something," she hissed quietly through gritted teeth. She should be grateful that he'd come at all, but now was not the time to show her appreciation. It was time to cheat death. "I. Can't. Hold. On."
Excerpted from The Sweetheart Game by Cheryl Ann Smith. Copyright © 2017 Cheryl Ann Smith. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Sweetheart Game is the 2nd book in the Brash & Brazen series (but can be read in any order or as a stand alone) This story focuses on former cheerleader Summer O'Keefe & her investigation into her sexy but mysterious new neighbor Jason Parker. The author does such a great job creating unique & interesting characters. And the mystery part of the story is fascinating. Already started the next book in the series. I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book.