Aug 4 2012 6:00pm
A two-volume collection featuring Into the Night and Man Around the House—two early classic romances by New York Times bestselling author Cindy Gerard, now available again in eBook!
Into the Night
It began as a gimmick to promote their new radio show, but the spirited sparring between Jessie Fox and Tony Falcone soon has listeners demanding to know more about their steamy romance. Jessie swears that the fire burning in Tony’s eyes can’t be real—until he sets a seductive trap she can’t escape. Can Tony persuade Jess he’s never letting her go?
Man Around the House
Answering his neighbor’s cry for help, Matthew Spencer finds himself rescuing a sassy blue-eyed temptress. Katie McDonald is a walking disaster who falls off ladders into his arms and awakens his hunger with the speed of a summer storm, and her infectious spirit has him rediscovering the joy in life.
Matthew makes her feel too much, want more than she can have, and dare to dream of being loved, but Katie knows she’s all wrong for a man with a child. Despite the passion between them, Matthew needs someone nice and normal, not wild and reckless. And once he learns her deeply buried sorrow, can he love her for all time?
Into the Night
The world was full of heroes. So where were they all when she needed them? She wasn’t greedy. She’d settle for one. One single, solitary hero. In a beat up pickup from Tijuana. She didn’t care! And she wasn’t picky either. If he had a potbelly and a bald spot, she was his if he’d just get her out of this blessed rain!
Head down, shoulders hunched against the downpour, Jessie Fox kissed the prospect of a rescue and her sweet disposition good-bye as she slogged through the mucky, wet grass along the side of the freeway. So much for Big Al’s Garage and his “Satisfaction Guaranteed Is Our Motto.” Al could take his guarantee along with her reconditioned carburetor and put it where the sun don’t shine. Which, she acknowledged as she dragged a heavy fall of wet hair out of her eyes, was exactly where she was—stalled in the dark on I-8 without a dry spot or a hero in sight.
The traffic shot by her. All these cars, and not one person could find it in himself to stop. Welcome to friendly southern California, she thought bleakly. She considered screaming in frustration, but she was too weary to make the effort. Not just because of her car and the mess it had left her in but because of all the changes in the last year. The strain of coping made her feel more vulnerable than was warranted and more self-pitying than she’d ever allowed—even during the divorce.
“Buck up, Fox,” she lectured herself. “You made the right move. It’s a good job. A great opportunity.”
And tonight and a few other minor incidents notwithstanding, great things had happened to her since she’d uprooted herself from Kansas City three months earlier.
San Diego for instance. Now, there was a real plus. She loved San Diego, the color, the ocean, and usually the weather, she reminded herself as she skidded through a puddle and narrowly avoided landing face first in the mud. She still missed the Midwest, but Sarah was here. Being close to her daughter took the edge off Jessie’s occasional pangs of homesickness.
Her heart softened, as it always did, when she thought of Sarah. Yes, being close to her was great, even though her independent little coed sometimes didn’t see it that way.
Once more with feeling, Jessie rallied as the wind picked up and pelted rain full into her face. It was great being in San Diego. It was just that with her jacket and jeans taking on water weight like a leaky boat and her feet sinking into mucky clay, it was a bit of a stretch to gain the upper hand over pessimism.
“An aging accountant with a rash,” she muttered as she plodded on. Any hero in a pinch, and this had gone long past pinching. She was wet. She was cold. She was tired. And she was so anchored in her misery that at first she didn’t notice the vehicle that had pulled into the breakdown lane, slowed to a crawl, and begun keeping pace beside her.
With a grateful, sidelong glance Jessie sized up the car—which wasn’t really a car. It wasn’t really a truck either. It could once have been a van, she decided, then quickly recatalogued it as a relic from the flower-child generation that had mated with an urban assault vehicle. It was also creepy and just cause to reconsider the “any port in a storm” philosophy she’d been spouting since she’d abandoned hope and the dry interior of her car about a mile back.
No way was she getting into that van. Without breaking stride she checked out the overextended axles that set a black chassis three feet above the river running along the pavement. The rusted-out body had been painted by an artist who had clearly been in the midst of an identity crisis, and depicted a veritable weed garden of psychedelic flowers that vined from hood to doors and mingled indiscriminately with shooting orange flames. Shocking-yellow letters declared PEACE—a concept that more than one other vehicle had taken exception to, if the dings and dents along the body were any indication.
By California standards it probably wasn’t all that unusual. Her midwestern background, however, couldn’t quite come to terms with it. She couldn’t stall a shiver, this one as much from apprehension as from cold.
When one final glance confirmed that the dark silhouette behind the wheel could not possibly belong to a woman but could possibly belong to a serial killer, she decided that being wet wasn’t as rankling a notion as it had been a few minutes ago. And, she realized with considerable relief, she was more discriminating about her rescuer than she’d originally thought. Clothes might make the man, but his mode of transportation spoke volumes about his character. Even though she couldn’t make out the features of her prospective “hero,” she’d pass this time, thank you very much.
“It’s not getting any drier out there,” a deep voice rumbled through the rain.
Now, there was a news flash. A regular Einstein had been dispatched to save her. Einstein in the van from hell.
“I’m fine,” she said, even as she flirted with the notion that there was something familiar about his voice—something teasing and taunting that sent a tune of recognition humming through her senses.
She chalked off that possibility to hysterical hope. Between the traffic noises, Daughtry’s sex and gravel raspy rendition of “Every Time You Turn Around” wailing from the van’s radio, and the rush of rain-soaked wind whipping against her face, she could hardly recognize her own voice, let alone get a bead on his.
But it did sound familiar. Eerily so. A very real fear teamed up with that niggling recognition, when she recalled the spooky phone call she’d fielded on the radio station’s request line last week. That call remained vivid in her mind. That call had had her looking over her shoulder ever since and stepping up her pace right now.
When he matched her speed, she gave a dismissive wave of her hand, motioning him away.
Just enjoying a walk in the rain, her suddenly springy steps implied. Yeah, right. Pneumonia wasn’t an idea she’d like to cozy up to, but neither was the prospect of being tomorrow morning’s lead news story: “Local radio celebrity, Jessie Fox, of the Falcon and the Fox late-night duo, was found murdered near her abandoned car on 1-8 early this morning.”
Another violent shiver, triggered by that thought, had her clenching her jaw to keep her teeth from chattering. More determined than ever to take her chances with the rain, she waved him on again.
“Thanks just the same. There’s a station up ahead,” she added for emphasis, and prayed he’d take the hint and move on.
He didn’t. She tried to ignore the squeal triggered by complaining brakes. When the passenger door swung open with a serrated creak and a sinister invitation, however, she stopped in her tracks. Her heart kept right on chugging.
Compelled by a riveting combination of curiosity and fear, she squinted into the dimly lit interior of the van. Muzzy shadows and an overall impression of size and strength didn’t do much to slow down the trip-hammer beat of her heart. She couldn’t see his face from this angle, but what she could see sent another shiver rippling down her spine.
The shoulders and chest filling out a black V-neck sweater were both broad and solid. The arms visible beneath the sleeves he’d pushed up to mid-forearm were toned and tan. A swirl of dark chest hair peeked out of the V-neckline, and the column of his throat was drawn from lines both sinewy and strong.
No ninety-pound weakling here. And no chance of holding her own if he decided to do things “his way.”
No doubt about it, Jessie told herself, she should be running, not gawking. Yet she stood there, her eyes wide open and her mouth pinched shut.
“For Pete’s sake,” he muttered. “This is ridiculous. Would you just get in?”
Even through the rain and traffic noise, his tone implied that his was the voice of reason.
Despite her doubts, she grappled with that persistent impression that she knew more about him than she was able to piece together.
Still, she declined with a hesitant “I don’t think so.”
“Suit yourself . . . but I’ve got pizza.”
Pizza? She was going to be lured to Lord only knew what kind of fate by the promise of pizza?
No sooner had that implausible thought settled than a few brain synapses finally snapped together and made a connection with the resonant timbre of that voice. She dragged her sodden hair out of her eyes and bent down for a better look.
Eyes as black as midnight and just as mysterious stared back at her from a face shrouded in shadows and a curtain of rain. They were dark, dangerous eyes that glinted in amusement . . . and familiar invitation. Still, it wasn’t until he shifted behind the wheel to fully face her and the glare of headlights from an oncoming car set a flash of silver shimmering at the hollow of his throat—an artfully molded falcon suspended from a silver chain—that the believer in her KO’d the doubting Thomas.
She almost laughed with relief.
God was good. Even if he did have a warped sense of humor.
It was the falcon she recognized, just as she finally recognized the smile of the man who wore it. Only one man she knew had a smile like that, encompassing, inviting, flirting yet guileless. Sinful yet sweet.
Man Around the House
All her life Katie McDonald had been warned: Cats with less curiosity than hers, hadn’t made it past two of their allotted nine lives. Couple that particular character trait with her notorious errors in judgment, and the general consensus was that one day she’d do herself in. Today appeared to be the day that the prophecy was finally going to come true.
Not that she didn’t deserve to be in this fix. She did. It was just that she’d always thought that when her time came, she’d go down in a blaze of glory, her life snuffed out like the flame of a flickering candle as she boldly went where no consumer advocate had gone before and, in the process, sacrificed her life to the cause.
She sighed deeply. Apparently that climactic scene wasn’t in the cards. It seemed she’d just been dealt her final hand, and it was playing like a cheap game of strip poker.
Naked as a saturated jaybird, Katie sagged deeper into her bathtub and wondered if a person could die from overexposure to bubbles and bath water. By rights, drowning—poetically appropriate to the situation—would do the trick. She’d already ruled that out, though, because she really didn’t want to get her hair wet.
She eyed her big toe, which she’d decided about a half an hour ago was wedged for eternity—or forever, whichever came first—inside her bathtub faucet.
She’d lost track of how long she’d been stuck this way. Long enough, she knew, that with the exception of her captive toe, every other part of her body was shriveling. Prunes should look so good.
Calling on her dwindling power of concentration, she tried to will the stubborn critter free. When that approach didn’t work any better than the others, she narrowed her eyes, gritted her teeth, and out of sheer desperation, gave a mighty tug. Pain shot all the way to her ankle, yet her swollen toe refused to budge.
Leaning back in defeat, she muttered a disgusted “Damn.” Because it felt so good, she said it again, this time with feeling. For good measure she gave the water a slap. A showering spray hit her full in the face.
Snapping her mouth shut, she swiped a cascade of bubbles from her eyes and cursed the day she’d ever seen the rerun of that old sitcom. She’d laughed back then at the ridiculous premise. She wasn’t laughing now.
Like the star of the show, she’d had a hard day and decided to treat herself to a hot bath before dinner. She’d lain back and relaxed, enjoying the steaming water, the luxurious bubbles, and the subtle scent of a new bath salts she’d splurged on called Spring Sunset. Then she’d made her fatal error. Was it really possible, she’d wondered, to get your big toe stuck in a faucet?
Well, she wasn’t wondering anymore. And she wasn’t grinning.
Not only was it possible, the odds of it happening were roughly the same as the odds of the late, great Erma Bombeck making a crack about her age, her weight, or the fuzzy green things growing in her refrigerator. Katie’s big toe was stuck tighter than tights on an overweight ballerina.
“It’s no use,” she moaned miserably, and sank deeper into despair. “Help,” she cried for the umpteenth time, straining to cast her voice out the high bathroom window. “Help, help, help, already! Can’t anybody hear me?”
“Lady, I hear you, but where the devil are you?”
She yelped when the deep masculine voice boomed into the bathroom. Sinking lower into the rub, she frantically tried to cover up with bubbles before it dawned on her that he, whoever he was, was standing outside the house, beneath her bathroom window. He couldn’t see her any more than she could see him.
“Are you all right in there?” he asked.
“Fine,” she squeaked, spitting out bubbles. “Just . . . fine.”
Heart racing, she frowned toward the window. The silence told her he was probably frowning too.
The rich, rumbling voice drifting into the bathroom managed to make her feel even more exposed. “Yes?”
“That was you calling for help, wasn’t it?”
“I, uh . . .” She swallowed, knowing where this was leading and not knowing how to avoid it. “Yes,” she admitted dismally. “It was me.”
“Well, is there anything I can do to help you?”
Katie crossed her fingers and shot for the moon. “You could tell me you’re the neighbor lady and you’ve got a bad chest cold.”
“I beg your pardon?”
She sighed, resigned to the reality. Before she’d even asked, she’d known that a voice like that could only belong to someone who had intimate knowledge of men’s locker rooms, five-o-clock shadows, and power drills. “Never mind. I . . . I’m afraid I really could use a little help here.”
“Name it,” he said. His voice held a sensuality that had her associating him with midnight, satin sheets, a carton of chocolate ice cream and a single spoon.
She shivered at the sensual rush that picture created then gave herself a mental head slap because dementia had obviously set in. She had to get out of here. Fast. And to do that, there was nothing for it but to come clean with this total stranger.
“This is really a little silly,” she began, affecting a gee-aren’t-I-just-the-one tone, “but I seem to have gotten myself stuck in here.”
The inflection he managed to place on that one word shredded the thin hope that she might get out of this with her dignity intact.
She scowled at her uncooperative toe. “Yeah, I’d say ‘stuck’ pretty well sums it up.”
“Stuck how, exactly?”
Twenty years from now, maybe she could look back and laugh. At this very moment, however, having her food sent in until she figured out a solution was a supremely appealing option. “Look. I don’t want to impose on you, but if you could just make a phone call for me? My friend can come over and help.” She rattled off Rachael’s number.
“That’s a Liberty prefix, right? Liberty’s clear across town, a good hour away. You really want to wait that long when I’m right here and perfectly willing to help?”
He was right, and his practicality made her situation seem all the more ludicrous. But despite popular opinion, and current circumstances, she was a cautious person. Sometimes. After all, she didn’t even know this guy’s name or, for that matter, if he was a neighbor or just made a habit of skulking around backyards with breaking and entering on his mind. And to consider letting him into her house just because he had a lay-me-down-and-do-things-to-me voice didn’t mean she was willing to lay herself down and let him.
And where had that come from, Katherine Irene McDonald? The fact that she was even thinking along those lines—if only fleetingly— spoke volumes about her soggy state of mind.
“Maybe this would be a little easier for you if I introduced myself,” he said, unintentionally making matters worse by having the sensitivity to understand her misgivings. “I’m one of your new neighbors, Matthew Spencer. I’d heard this place had been sold and that someone had moved in, but I was out of town until yesterday, so I haven’t had a chance to come see you and welcome you to the neighborhood.”
She looked down the wet length of her body. It seemed unavoidable that he was about to see her soon. Great gobs of her. And he was wrong. Nothing was going to make it easier.
“Hey, are you still with me in there?”
Like she could possibly go somewhere?
She scowled at her foot, suspended from the faucet like a sausage in a butcher shop. If she could have pulled the plug and slithered down the drain with the bathwater, she’d have cheerfully done it. But there was the toe to consider. It seemed particularly attached to her foot. She muttered an expletive under her breath.
“I’m sorry, I missed that.”
She let out a fatalistic sigh. “I said, don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere. It’s nice to meet you, Matthew. I’m Katie McDonald and someday when this is a memory, I’m going to be very glad you came to my rescue.”
“It’s nice to meet you too, Katie. Now what can I do?”
She took one last stab at avoiding what now seemed to be inevitable. “There wouldn’t happen to be a Mrs. Spencer around somewhere, would there?”
“We don’t got a Mrs. Spencer,” a new and obviously young male voice piped up. “It’s just me and Dad.”
Just me and Dad, Katie thought, mulling over the possible reasons for that scenario. It was now two to one, and she could kiss the hope of female camaraderie good-bye.
“Sorry, Katie,” Matthew added. “Looks like you’re stuck with Joey and me.”
She groaned. “I’m going to pretend you didn’t just say stuck.”
He laughed. The sound was as sensual and as tummy tightening as his voice.
“You want to tell me exactly what the problem is?” he asked. “My imagination is doing cartwheels trying to pin this down. And I’m starting to feel a little silly standing here talking to a window.”
He couldn’t begin to comprehend the meaning of the word silly. And if she could have ignored the fact that her skin had taken on the tint and texture of wet elephant hide, she might have pressed him again to call Rachael before he discovered what silly really was. But she wanted out. Preferably before Halley’s Comet made another appearance.
She hung her head, giving up and giving in. The hell with death before dishonor. Now was not the time to look a gift rescuer in the mouth.
“Let’s just hope your imagination has a sense of humor,” she said, tasting the bitterness of the pride she swallowed. “I lost mine about two hours ago.”
Cindy Gerard has won the RITA Award for Best Romantic Suspense novel. She is the author of the bestsellingBlack Ops. Inc, series, the bestselling Bodyguards series, and more than thirty contemporary romance novels. She lives in the Midwest with her husband.