Happy Friday all! Here’s an excerpt from story 4 in the Hot Zone series! Enjoy!
When all hell breaks loose, sometimes you just need someone to cover you…
Neena Williamson struggles to keep her high-pressure job from overwhelming her, and she thinks the demons of her past have long since disappeared. One night, she sees a man wearing the most hideous Hawaiian shirt on earth and vows he’d never fit her image of a hot bod for a local charity’s new hot male calendar. Then the evening erupts in violence, and he proves that first impressions can be dead wrong.
Sometimes having a simple cup of coffee can turn into a complicated situation…
Mitch Gilroy hides in plain sight, enjoying his low-key handyman job. His former life isn’t open for discussion, and Clarksville, Wyoming is the perfect place to find peace. Then a gunman forces his hand, and Mitch must remember everything he’s tried so hard to forget. Thrown together, Neena and Mitch quickly discover how tangled their emotions can become, and only by working together can they banish the monsters that haunt them and heal a lifetime of regrets.
She registered the heat and hardness of his body. Her breasts mashed to his chest, his hips and thighs pressed along hers. Close up, his face held the chiseled hardness of an old west movie hero, without anything fancy to pretty him up. A cut jaw, a nose slightly on the big side. Only his mouth was sculpted, lips just right on a man—not too big, not too thin. He felt so warm, so protective…
He released her and walked toward the door. He tried the knob. When it didn’t budge, he slammed one palm against it. He tried kicking it down, but the door wouldn’t budge. She realized the room was a huge pantry with shelves on three sides. No way out.
Handyman tried budging the door one more time to no avail. “Damn it!”
That’s when true fear slammed her. Like it or not, she was trapped in a locked room with a total stranger. Tears gathered in her eyes and spilled over her eyelids before she could stop them. Handyman turned toward her, striding across the room until he cupped her shoulders.
“Hey, it’s going to be all right.”
She nodded and buried her face in her hands. “I know. I just…”
Tears spilled, and a sob escaped her.
“Hey, hey. Easy.” He gathered her close once more, and she found her hands buried in his big shirt again. As tears spilled from her and she gulped and sobbed, she tried to regain control. Embarrassment sliced her with cruel fingers. His touch slipped through her hair, gently massaging her neck.
“It’s all right. He’s gone.” Velvet and husky, his voice held safety and comfort.
Poor fashion sense or not, his voice was to die for.
So was the body pressed along hers. She felt muscles. Lots and lots of glorious muscles. Or maybe the fear had destroyed her reasoning ability and she wanted the man holding her to play the hero. Right now, with a tenderness that put her off guard, he fit the lead part in her adventure movie down to a capital T.
Only difference is, he hadn’t whipped out a gun and gone Kung Fu on the bad guy’s ass. Which in reality made perfect sense. If Handyman had played knight on a white horse, they’d be dead. She shivered and then did another stupid thing. She slid her arms around his waist and held on. Yeah, he has a trim waist, too. Hmmm…
“When that jerk pointed his gun in your face, I thought he was going to kill you right in front of me,” she whispered through a sob.
“So did I.”
His voice rumbled deeply, so matter-of-fact she couldn’t believe how distant he sounded. His arms tightened around her in a gentle squeeze, the only sign that he felt anything about his near miss with death.
“You had a gun pointed at your head, and here I am babbling like an idiot.” She gulped back another sob.
“So did you, remember? You were looking right down the barrel for a long time.”
Right. She had. Her tears started to dry, and the fright calmed somewhat. She forced herself to pull back out of his arms. “God, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to go all girly like that.”
“It’s okay. What just happened scared the shit out of me, too.”
A man who’d admit his fear. Interesting. His expression might show no fear and his voice gave no indication of the trauma he’d faced. Yet he could speak the words.
Neena became aware of a shift in perception. Not a smidgen of change, but a whopping ugly belief that she’d altered in the last few minutes. That the world had undergone a drastic, nasty transformation. She’d never believed in a rosy world, but this one had sharp thorns. She held her hands in front of her. They shook. A heat wave and then a cold flash washed over her in relentless strokes. Her stomach curled. Shaking, she put her back against the one wall minus shelving and slid downward until she plopped on the floor. Cold and hard, the landing felt brutal against her ass. Incongruously she noticed a run in the right calf of her thigh-high stockings. A jagged, gaping slit that might have been there before the robber came into the coffee shop, or maybe happened sometime in between. Who knew? Who cared? For a second she gave a damn. A really big damn. Then she took a shaky breath. She was acting like an immature, shallow twit. She’d buy more. Ten pairs more if she survived her stay in this stupid pantry. Then she wanted to smack the robber across the face with her purse for the inconvenience.
“Damn it.” Handyman glared at the door. He peered through the half dozen bullet holes that had come through the doorway. “The bastard put something heavy in front of it. Can’t see a thing.”
“You think?” she asked, her voice laced with sarcasm. Then she regretted her snarkiness. “I’m sorry. I’m just…pissed off.”
“You think?” he asked with a smile.
She cracked a reluctant half grin in response. “I’m sitting here getting twisty headed because I have one big-assed tear in my stockings. How messed up is that?”
Her hands still quivered, and she hated that even more.
“Hey.” He knelt down in front of her. He touched her forearm and gently squeezed. “You look like hell.”
His frown deepened. “You’re trembling.”
“I hate to admit it, but I feel sick.”
His big hand caressed her hair, pushing it back from her face. This surprised her so much she gazed into his concerned expression with curiosity.
“Probably adrenaline. You just came down from a big rush.”
“You know about adrenaline?”
“Yep. Take deep breaths if you feel dizzy.”
She put her hands to her head, in case she needed to hold her skull on her shoulders. “Good idea.”
He stayed kneeling in front of her while she sucked in one big breath and then another. It worked.
“Much. Thank you.”
His gaze, mysterious yet calm as a slow flowing river, captured and held hers. “You ever see a man shot?”
She put her hands down. “Are you kidding? I hate guns. It was so…loud.”
“Yeah. In a confined space. In any space.”
“Why did you ask me that?”
“Because it would explain your reaction. It’s not because that coffee cake is making you sick.”
“Never. Davina makes the best coffee cake there is. Hey, wait. You noticed what I was eating?”
“You noticed something about me. I saw you glaring at me a few times.”
Under the circumstances, she couldn’t dredge up the energy to feel embarrassed. Misdirection had worked for her often. No need to stop now. “Have you ever seen a guy shot?”
His eyes hardened, as if he’d not only seen a man shot, but perhaps witnessed far worse. “Yeah. Yeah, I have.”
He peered around the room. Handyman observed the corners, as if assessing any reasonable escape route. Determined not to be a girly girl anymore, she stood on wobbly knees. He followed. She rubbed her hands down over her hips, aware that her serviceable white blouse and blue gabardine skirt felt hot. The room probably didn’t have much ventilation.
Hands on hips, he turned to her. From here, his shirt was still ugly. But something about Handyman was different. Less…geeky. She sensed a hard core inside him, and her intuition told her she’d been wrong about him in more than one way. Neena’s earlier concern arose. She didn’t know him. And she was stuck in here for God knows how long.
Yet her priorities had changed, too. In one striking moment, she understood things about herself she’d stayed blind to for a long while. She’d start off the rest of her day with a fresh slate. She also had another revelation. Handyman probably wasn’t a rapist or mad murderer, thank God. That would have really capped her day. Instead she’d felt his strength of character, and a solidness that gave confidence.