MY HOLIDAY GIFT: AN EXCERPT OF GABE’S BOOK!!
Merry, Happy, and Ho Ho Ho to all my readers, friends, fans, and visitors! I hope the Madness of December is under control enough that you find time to relax and read and remember the reason for the season. I’m busy with the usual Christmas prep — have a few parties scheduled and the kids are coming home from college and law school (yay!!) but mostly I’m hard at work writing Barefoot With a Bad Boy. This book, so long awaited by many of you loyal readers, has been an absolute blast to write. One of the rare “gimme books” that comes along once every few years and makes me anxious to get to the keyboard every day.
Barefoot With a Bad Boy will be released in mid-February. But I know you don’t want to wait! So here is my holiday present to you…a bitesize taste of Gabriel Rossi. This is from an early scene in the book, moments after Gabe meets a woman who could be a spy or overly interested admirer or…someone else completely. (NOTE: everything is subject to change in revisions…this is fresh off my keyboard, a first-pass manuscript. Forgive any clumsy phrasing or typos.)
There were two possibilities. The blonde was a sex-starved lonelyheart stuck in paradise and looking for a roll on the sand…or she was an operative sent to contact him and deliver information about Isadora.
Gabriel…like the angel.
Weren’t those the first words Isadora had spoken the day they met at Langley?
Yeah, he’d been in the business long enough to know a codeword when it landed in his lap. Along with a room key. His money was on operative.
Except, her voice…it was identical to Isadora’s.
Gabe inhaled deeply, trying to clear his head of ridiculous thoughts, but the Florida air held more than sickeningly sweet honeysuckle and magnolia tonight. The path to Rockrose was sliced with the spice of Chanel No. 5, a scent that twisted his gut and made him want to howl at the moon.
But he kept walking toward the villa at the northern most tip of the Casa Blanca property, still checking off possibilities.
Horny tourist with good taste in perfume? Or an agent about to mess him up bad? He glanced down at the paper he still held.
You will be told that I’m dead. I am not.
Well, there was one other possibility.
“I knew you’d come.”
He didn’t react, even though the voice in the dark – British, now — totally took him by surprise.
Okay. He’d put his money on a spy. Anyone who could sit on a patio in the moonlight ten feet from him and be so still he didn’t know she was there? Trained. Well trained.
He approached the walk that led up to deck that wrapped around the villa, the whole house and patio raised off the sand by stilts. He let his eyes adjust to the sight of her leaning into the corner, her arms crossed protectively, her shimmery white clothes catching the moonlight.
Isadora’s ghost? That was another possibility, he supposed. But wouldn’t a ghost remotely resemble its former owner?
“Of course I came.” He walked closer, pausing at the bottom of the stairs that led up to the deck, giving her a considerable advantage of height and power. “I find that room keys handed to me from a beautiful woman can open up the most interesting doors.”
She laughed, soft and throaty and…familiar. Like a favorite old song he hadn’t heard for years. Like a taste of something he used to love but hadn’t enjoyed for a long time. Like…Isadora.
He put his hand on the wood-carved newel, hoping it wasn’t obvious he needed to brace himself thanks to stupid thoughts.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
“That you would call me beautiful.”
Using just the moonlight, he took the closest examination of her he’d had to date. He’d definitely seen her on the beach a few weeks ago, while Mal and Chessie were in Cuba on mission miserable. He’d noticed her then and, of course, tonight.
No, she wasn’t classically, traditionally, by-the-book beautiful. Not like Isa. He shook his head again, had to get rid of that thought.
“Then you agree,” she said.
“I didn’t say anything.”
She inched out of the corner, shimmering again, a long, lean woman who was no stranger to the gym but managed to keep it all very feminine. Under the thin silk tank top, trimmed with rhinestones that sparked and twinkled, he spied small breasts, perky enough to skip the bra, and chilly enough to pop with sweet little gumdrops.
A narrow waist, tiny even. Decent hips but nothing like…
Damn it, stop comparing.
“You don’t have to say anything,” she said. “I’m fluent in body language.”
He stumbled on the first step as a memory flashed in his head. A bar in Beijing. Smoky. Loud. Some dickwad annihilating a Black Eyed Peas song with bad karaoke. And Isa, across from him, her emerald eyes full of concern.
I can tell something’s wrong, Gabe. I’m fluent in body language, too.
He regained his cool so quickly, it was possible she hadn’t noticed the slip. Yeah, and maybe Santa flew down from the North Pole and pissed in the middle of the party he’d just left.
“My body is saying nothing but hello,” he assured her, taking the next two steps as one, just to prove how steady he was.
“Then…hello.” She came to the top of the stairs, still more than a foot above him, maintaining control of the situation, which he’d have to change.
She reached her hand out for a standard shake, but he grabbed her wrist, and tugged her down, forcing her off balance. In a flash, he was up two steps and she was down two, and that left them face to face, eye to eye, and mouth to mouth. And she didn’t even ask why he’d done that, so she must not have been too surprised. Come to think of it, she barely lost a moment’s control.
A spy. Definitely a spy. Because, by the very realness of the slender wrist he still held, he could rule out ghosts. And she certainly wasn’t Isadora.
She swallowed and held his gaze, her eyes so dark it was impossible to tell where iris ended and pupil began. Smoky, seductive eyes that…did not belong on the face of a woman with platinum hair.
Each clue led him right to the same truth. CIA. Or something deeper and darker?
He tipped his head, feigning casual interest. “This is a pretty elaborate come-to-mama ploy, blondie. What gives?”
Her eyes flickered and she drew back, but didn’t retreat completely, he noticed. If anything, she subtly squared her shoulders and lifted her jaw. “I wanted to talk to you.”
“Talk?” He dropped his gaze, noticing how her chest rose and fell with tight breaths and a little vein in her neck pulsed.
A vein that…
Damn it. Every fucking woman has that vein, Gabe.
He brushed by her and bounded up the last two steps, landing on the deck with enough force to announce that he’d officially taken charge. “Great. Let’s talk inside. Got any booze?”
She turned slowly, forced to look up at him, while he loomed over her, openly checking her out. Face to tits to hips and down to the cute red toes that he’d seen on the beach.
While he was reading his letter from a dead woman.
She stayed where she was for a split second, then nodded. “All right, we’ll do this your way.” She came up the steps and walked across the deck, tipping the power scales again, but he snagged her before she got to the door.
“Do what?” he demanded. “Am I going in there to unwrap a Christmas present or you planning to slam a bullet in my brain?”
Her eyes widened, the response genuine enough to put that possibility out of his head. “I’m not going to shoot you. But I might…” She slipped out of his grip and used her free hand to casually graze his jaw, the touch so light it could have been air. Hot, electric air. “Rock your world a little.”
She went inside and he stayed right where he was. Okay then. World rocking sounded…promising.
A few seconds later, he entered a dark living room, hearing ice clinking in a glass in the galley kitchen, dimly lit by soft under the counter halogens. He followed the sound – and the perfume — and found her a pouring amber liquid into two rocks glasses.
Not just any amber liquid. Johnnie Walker Blue. His brand of scotch.
She set the bottle on the counter and looked right at him. “Single malt scotch is for try hards who like craft beer.”
His words – spoken in private more than five years ago – burned like lousy scotch going down.
“I’ve heard that.” Only, if his memory served him right, he’d said something more like ‘single malt scotch is for snot-flicking hipster try-hards who like craft beer.’
She handed him the glass. “And Johnnie Walker is highly underrated.”
So what the fuck was she going to do? Throw back his quotes all night? How the hell was that even possible? Were the rooms bugged when he’d been with Isadora? Or maybe…
No. Impossible. That thought was from an overactive imagination, an overdose of hope no one should have to swallow. He didn’t reach for the glass, but only because he wasn’t entirely sure his hand would be steady.
She inhaled as if gathering her thoughts, then lifted his drink to her lips, staring at him over the rim. “If it makes you feel any better, I’m more nervous about this than you are.” She underscored that with a healthy gulp, and no girly flinch as it went down.
She handed him the same glass, the intimacy of sharing not lost on him. He drank some, swallowed, and set the glass hard on the counter. “Okay, you’ve proven you’re not poisoning me. Those form fitting clothes aren’t hiding a pistol. What in the name of everlovin’ fuck is your deal, woman?”
Then she flinched. Hard.
“Fair warning. If dirty words turn you off, you picked the wrong guy to lure into your holiday honeytrap.”
“No words turn me off,” she said, just pointedly enough to make him wonder if she was stating a fact or was she singing a linguist’s song? Why? Was she trying to pretend she was Isadora? Was like Isadora?
Because she wasn’t. She didn’t have curls or freckles or a light in her eyes. She didn’t have a turned up nose or a delicate chin or luscious D’s and a handful of hips. But she had words and memories and stuff no one but Isadora could have. And that scared the shit out of him.
“Then let’s get this party started.” He took the glass and pivoted, heading to the hall that led to the bedroom on his left or the living room on his right. “Sofa or sack? Pick your pleasure, Mata Hari.”