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YOU DON'T KNOW JACK
By ERIN McCARTHY
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2006 Erin McCarthy
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJack Davidson had become a stalker. Retired from Wall Street at age twenty-nine, stalker at age thirty. That was attractive. He followed Jamie Peters down into the subway, keeping an eye on her ginger hair as she paused in the crowd. She dug in her purse, cell phone to her ear, lips moving rapidly.
He felt like a complete and total idiot following her, the music to Mission Impossible tripping across his brain. Spying wasn't exactly his area of expertise, given that he was an exstockbroker and day trader. Numbers he could follow, but people were a whole different skill set, and he was pretty sure he looked ridiculous and obvious. Not to mention he didn't normally even breathe without planning it in a spreadsheet first.
But staying out of Jamie's business wasn't an option. Not if she was caught up in something illegal without her knowledge. Or with her knowledge, which would be worse. Even though he'd never actually met her, she was his sister Caroline's good friend, roommate, forthcoming bridesmaid. He was concerned for her safety. It was the right thing to do. Motive good and pure.
That didn't make him feel any less of a jackass, though.
And it was starting to occur to him that maybe he had too much time on his hands since retiring, if discoveringillegal day trading activity in a social services agency got him this excited.
Deciding to switch it up a bit, he got on the train first, so maybe she would think it was a coincidence that he'd been following her for three blocks. The bag of food in his hand was a decent alibi, too. Hell, he'd needed some kind of reason to be hanging around outside her office for two hours.
His cousin Steve had warned him this was a stupid idea, and Jack was inclined to agree with him now as he held on to a pole with one hand and turned to face out. The doors were about to close, and Jamie wasn't even on the train yet. She was still digging in her suitcase of a purse. Christ, she was going to miss it altogether. Maybe he should get back off.
Or maybe he should go home and rearrange his DVDs alphabetically, which was probably a smarter use of his time.
But after depositing her phone back in her purse, Jamie suddenly realized the doors were closing, and she went into action, skidding through sideways, bracelets jangling and hair bouncing. She was about to collide with a rather hard looking ex-hippie type in dirty jeans, tattoos up and down his arms.
Jack quickly shifted in between them and took the impact of Jamie slamming into his chest.
His pasta box burst inside the brown bag, leaking oil.
Oh, yeah. This had been a stupid idea.
Because when she looked up at him, horror stamped on her face, Jack felt like someone had grabbed his nuts and given them a good twist.
Surprise, surprise. Jamie Peters was gorgeous.
Jamie shifted her large duffel bag that served as part purse, part file folder for her cases and waited for the train as she tried to decipher what Beckwith was saying. He had called her on her cell, sounding frantic, and in three minutes solid the only thing she'd managed to understand was that it wasn't a life-threatening emergency.
"Why do I need to check my make-up, Beck?" It was the end of the workday in July. The little make-up she'd started the day with had probably slid off hours ago.
"Because it's now! Or like really soon, anyway. I was at the handbag sale at Saks-got the cutest little Kate Spade-anyway, it just hit me, right there, at the counter. You're going to meet him today."
"Him?" Jamie repeated, this call finally starting to make sense. She had a pretty good idea of where Beckwith was going with this. The tarot card prediction. Intrigued-no, make that freaked out-she stopped trying to shove her subway swipe card in her bag.
"It's been five months since your prediction, and so far, nothing." Thank goodness. The problem with believing in Beckwith's psychic ability was now that he had predicted something she'd really rather he hadn't, she was stuck waiting for it to happen.
Why couldn't she be a total skeptic like Allison?
At first Jamie had been seriously on the lookout for Mr. Right, the dishonest dream man. She had walked cautiously past the melons in the grocery store and had scrutinized the deliveryman carefully when she'd ordered a veggie pizza twice. She'd even taken to using the stairs at work instead of the elevator like she normally did since movement had been integral in Beckwith's prediction.
Nothing. No scary accidents with men fated to make her happy. But Jamie was optimistic by nature. It served her well in social work. She had figured the man Beckwith had described would show up eventually, which did not thrill her in the least.
Not only was it a little unnerving to imagine accidents around every corner, but she was absolutely certain she had no clue how to handle a man whose personal assets added up to more than his T-shirt collection and a carton of Marlboro Reds. Since the thought of both breaking her leg and meeting a man who wore a suit or something crazy like that gave her cold sweats, she had pushed the prediction to a back corner of her mind.
It was going to happen sooner or later, she was convinced, but if that time was now, why couldn't she be looking cuter? As it was, she probably resembled a Brillo pad with eyes.
"There's no time frame on destiny," Beckwith said with great dignity.
Nor was destiny something she sat around and thought about on a regular basis. It certainly hadn't been in her thoughts that day at all. And at the moment she just wanted to get home and pull a pint of ice cream out of the freezer and inhale it. Then she could meet the man of her dreams. After she'd gained five pounds from the mint chocolate chip. Shoot, that would make a bad situation worse. If her fated soul mate saw her and ran screaming, she would be humiliated on top of everything else. Maybe she should skip the ice cream and have a salad with low-cal dressing.
"I'm on my way home, you know. And I wasn't planning to do anything tonight but paint my toenails, so I don't see how I could meet anyone. Maybe the handbags interfered with your radar. Maybe I see him tomorrow." That would be better anyway.
Digging through her purse to put her swipe card away, she sensed movement and realized everyone around her was surging forward.
Dang it. The train was here, and she would be last one on. There was nothing worse than folding yourself into a full subway car and sharing your personal space with approximately thirty people of various age and odor.
"Gotta go, Beckwith! I'll call you later, sweetie."
Running as fast as wedge sandals would allow her, she launched herself through the doors as they began to close and grabbed for the nearest available surface to hold on to.
Not fast enough. The car moved again with a frantic lurch, and Jamie went stumbling forward, her handbag clipping the woman in the seat to her right.
"Watch it," the woman said.
But Jamie couldn't apologize. She couldn't speak.
Because the man she had collided with in her forward motion was him.
Him of the tarot cards. Him of the light brown hair, the minor accident ... She looked at his chest. And the food.
Now crushed against him in a brown bag that was leaking some kind of oily sauce from multiple directions.
"Oh," she said. Beckwith had been so completely right. It was disarming, unsettling, weird, not as bad as she'd thought. It even felt a little ... wonderful.
His hand was on her arm, gripping it firmly to keep her steady.
It was a strong hand. A warm hand.
Oh, my. Jamie stared up at him and smiled in spite of herself. "I'm sorry," she ventured, not exactly sure what she should say to the man of her destiny.
He smiled back, showing white teeth in a somewhat crooked grin. "I'll be alright, but I don't think my shirt will ever recover."
When he shifted the bag of food, she saw that he was now wearing a red sauce on his white T-shirt. Her hand came up without thought to brush it, but he shook his head. "It's without hope. Don't bother."
"Aaaah. I'm such a klutz. I'll pay you for the shirt."
The train came to a stop, and Jamie was pushed and jostled as four or five people moved around her to get off. She was pressed up against him, a blush starting to creep up her face.
They were close enough that if she were to tilt her head up, they could kiss.
He had a strong jaw and smelled like soap and tomatoes.
The need to fan herself was overwhelming. Either the air-conditioning was on the fritz, or she was experiencing an explosive burst of lustful heat. Chances were it was the latter.
He shrugged, the movement drawing her attention to his broad shoulder. She fought the urge to squeeze his biceps. Beckwith hadn't warned her about the sexy factor. This guy was built like a race horse. No, that didn't sound right. He was ... was ... lickable.
Before Beckwith had spouted off about marriage, her original thought had been that she was destined for a rather fun affair, her first strictly steamy relationship. Looking at super sexy in front of her, she thought he was probably capable of fun with a capital F.
Hopefully unaware of her lecherous thoughts, he said, "Don't worry about it. I mourn my ruined dinner more than my ruined shirt."
"Italian?" she guessed, thinking of the tomato scent.
A stale, hot pocket of air fluttered over her as he nodded. "Spaghetti and meatballs. With garlic bread."
Of course. A traditionalist. No trendy pesto for this guy. He probably didn't even own a suit, given how comfortable he looked in his jeans. And his eyes were blue, swimming with amusement and perhaps hunger. For his pasta.
"I'm so sorry about your dinner. I'd offer to take you out to replace it, but you could be weird or something." Weird? Oh, geez, why had she said that? Jamie wanted to groan. Followed by a mental kick in her sundress-covered behind. It was intelligent and important for a single woman to be cautious, but heck, she could have phrased that differently.
But he only grinned. "No weirder than anyone else in New York."
Staring up at that cute grin, Jamie knew she couldn't let this moment pass. He had to be the man in Beckwith's prediction, and she couldn't let him get off this subway without making plans to see him again, in a safe, public place. Even if she had to drag one of her roommates with her for security, she was not going to let this guy get off this train and turn her life into a romantic tragedy.
This wasn't about marriage. Beckwith had said soul mate, and that phrase had the word mate in it, which was really a polite way to say sex. Maybe that's what this really was. They would date. Sleep together. Then he would move on like all the other guys, and she would whistle as she walked away, heart intact and body happy for a while.
Not that she'd ever engaged in a wild, steamy affair before. Men didn't see her that way, and she was more inclined to pack a man's lunch than to grope him. She was modest to a fault when it came to her body, and maybe this was what fate had in mind for her. Sensual liberation. Just looking at him made her feel pretty darn liberated.
Dang, that sounded like a good plan. For once, to just let it all go, to be the sexy one, to have a man look at her and want, want, want.
"That's true, there are plenty of weirdos running around. And I do feel just terrible." Then she added in a breathless rush before she lost her nerve, "So how about dinner, then?"
He studied her for a second, his blue eyes darting down to her chest and back up again. She wished she had worn one of those body-clinging dresses that Allison favored, but instead she was covered in one of her standard loose-fitting, draping, no-waist dresses.
When the silence drew out, a sudden horrifying thought popped into her head. "Unless you're married, or dating someone or something. That's fine. I just thought that I could, you know, make it up to you, because of what happened when I tripped. I wasn't implying anything ..."
Shut up, shut up, shut up, she told herself. Babbling was never a good thing.
"What's your name?" His hand was still gripping her arm, only it loosened and relaxed, until he was stroking her skin.
A shiver ran through her. "Jamie. Jamie The Klutz."
He grinned again, little lines forming in the corners of his very close, very moist, very kissable lips. "Well, Jamie The Klutz, I'm Jack. Jack the unmarried and unattached."
Stroke, stroke on her arm.
She struggled to control herself.
It would be very embarrassing if she fainted on the subway. Her dress would probably slide up, and everyone would see her underwear, which was unbleached cotton. Environmentally responsible, but majorly unsexy.
"And I would like to go out to dinner with you, Jamie The Klutz. Tomorrow? Neutral territory?"
"Sure. But what's neutral?"
"Times Square. If I'm weirder than you thought, then you can ditch me in the crowd of tourists."
She laughed. As if. He would probably need a fire hose to get her off of him. "That sounds good."
"Seven? Mama Luigi's on Forty-fourth? They have a patio, so if you need to escape you can leap over the fence to get away from me."
He looked around her. "This is my stop."
"Okay." Nothing brilliant, witty, or original came to mind to say, so she smiled again as he let go of her and stepped off the train.
"See you tomorrow." He waved, clutching his leaky pasta bag and grinning at her.
Jamie gulped as the doors closed, then turned in search of a seat to sink into. She needed it before she collapsed in a heap of tangled legs to rival Jack's spaghetti.
She had met him.
Chapter TwoJack watched the door close in fascinated silence. What the hell had just happened?
He sucked at this spy thing. The point of following someone was to stay incognito, which he hadn't exactly done. Garlic was more subtle than he was.
But he hadn't wanted her to crash into Free Love, the aging hippie.
He had thought to save her discomfort and embarrassment. Now he was standing on the platform with a giant red stain on his shirt, staring at Jamie The Klutz as she smiled shyly at him.
It was a smile that went straight to his groin.
Damn, she was hot.
It was true. There was a rosy, peach color to her everywhere, from the rich auburn of her curly hair to the blush of her cheeks, to the riotous flowers on her dress.
She was just ... peachy.
Which made him hungry. And made him want to see what she looked like naked. See where else she might be peaches and cream.
He came close to groaning out loud at the thought.
The door had long since closed, the train pulled away, and he was still standing there, like the horny idiot that he was. He checked his watch. Only twenty-five and a half hours until he saw her again. He could survive.
As long as he didn't think about her chest, hiding behind that loose floral dress, but glorious nonetheless. It brought to mind all sorts of metaphors about flowers and fruit, with words like ripe, budding, and juicy rising up and tormenting him.
He took the stairs to the street two at a time and ordered his hormones to lie down and play dead. It didn't work. His sister owed him an explanation. Never once when talking about her roommate had she mentioned Jamie was a sexual goddess with breasts that could stop traffic, war, and obliterate the need for Jack to hang on to the Victoria's Secret catalog that had been accidentally delivered to his apartment.
Ten lust-filled minutes later he stepped into his grandfather's room at the nursing home and found him sitting in his recliner, watching a game show. "Hey, Pops, how are you?"
"Stuck in this hell hole, but other than that, no complaints."
"Come on, Pops." Though Jack could sympathize with his grandfather. Living in a nursing home must be an anticlimactic ending to life. It was a rehabilitative facility, but Jack got the impression Pops felt this was the beginning of the end. One stay led to another until you never went home. "It's nice here. It doesn't smell or anything."
"Hah. You haven't been here on taco day." Pops turned and studied him. "What's all over your shirt?"
"Your dinner." He'd bought it for his grandfather in the first place, being more of a pesto sauce, lean chicken kind of guy. But he wasn't sure how appealing it was going to be now that it had bounced around the inside of the bag. "Spaghetti. It got shoved against me by this woman on the subway."
Pops narrowed his eyes as his gaze dropped. "You've got a hard-on, Jack."
Excerpted from YOU DON'T KNOW JACK by ERIN McCARTHY Copyright © 2006 by Erin McCarthy. Excerpted by permission.
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