As promised, here’s a little teaser from Desperado, my June release from Berkley. Enjoy the first scene…
P.D. Raines had learned early in life that she couldn’t give up, couldn’t give in—even though it sometimes felt as if the world was out to get her. Take her name, for instance. The moment P.D. announced she was Prairie Dawn Raines, it was a foregone conclusion that strangers would assume she was a stripper or a fanatical, tree-hugging activist. Even worse, with such a fanciful name, they assumed she didn’t have a brain in her head–and she wasn’t being overly sensitive. Time and time again, she’d been told she would never amount to anything.
But P.D. refused to believe that she was predestined for failure because she’d been raised by a pair of drug-addicted, free-loving parents who drove from place to place, searching for Nirvana in a home-on-wheels fashioned from a refurbished school bus. Defying the odds—and the lack of a public school education—she’d sworn to herself that she would go to college, get a degree, and have a career. One that would pay for a house with a foundation dug solidly into the earth, honest-to-goodness electricity, and indoor plumbing.
Her determination hadn’t always been so iron-clad. Even her parents had scoffed at her plans, telling P.D. that her dreams were the “milksop of a blind Western capitalist society” and even worse, a denial of the freedom the elder Raines’ had taught her to value. Nevertheless, as the years had piled one on top of the other, P.D. had grown increasingly dissatisfied with her parents’ itinerant lifestyle. She wanted to live like the other families. Those with warm golden windows that flashed past her as they traveled down back road highways to the next “perfect spot.” She wanted to know what it was like to sit at a table and eat casserole from a steamy dish or cuddle on overstuffed couches in front of a glowing television set. More than anything, she wanted to belong somewhere. To be…
In the end, P.D. had refused to let her parents dent her enthusiasm–especially when it became more and more apparent that Summer and River Raines thought she was an inconvenience, a burden that detracted from their own need for oblivion, and worse yet, a voice of conscience when they really didn’t want one. She’d ignored their lack of physical and emotional support as well as their callous regard of her dreams, and she’d begun to plot out her own future.
Unbeknownst to her parents, P.D. had taken what little home-schooling her mother had provided to keep Social Services at bay, and she’d read anything she could get her hands on: art, literature, philosophy, science. As soon as she’d turned eighteen, she’d struck out on her own, finding a community center that would help her to complete her GED, take the ACT, and win a plum, full-ride scholarship. Within another four years, she’d earned double degrees at Nebraska State University. And the minute she’d had that diploma in hand, she’d vowed to put the pain of her adolescence in her rear view mirror and forge a future for herself as a world-class physicist.
But life had a way of biting a person in the butt by giving them what they wanted most. After a failed relationship with a coworker, and a stint in a research lab which had been nothing short of torture, P.D. decided to follow her passion rather than a paycheck. She’d returned to the one spot on earth where she’d felt most at home during her childhood wanderings.
The name itself was inspiring.
But even with the courage borne of such experiences, as P.D. pulled to a stop in front of Elam Taggart’s half-built cabin and the dust settled around her rattle-trap truck, she knew she couldn’t go through with this. She could not ask a man like Elam Taggart for help.
“I’ll talk to him first,” Bodey Taggart said, gathering his crutches and opening the door. “Don’t come out unless I give you the signal.”
But just as she’d been about to beg Bodey to drop the whole thing, a figure rounded the corner of a half-finished upper deck at the rear of the house. In that instant, P.D.’s protests died before they could ever be formed.
Oh. My. God.
A man stood illuminated in the late afternoon light. As if the moment had been staged for a special-effects shot for the Hallmark Channel, rays of gold slipped across the contours of his bare chest, the faint patch of dark hair at his breastbone, and down, down, to the low-slung jeans and dusty boots.
“That’s your brother?” P.D. whispered.
“Yeah, that’s him.”
Elam Taggart stood still for several long moments, one hand raised as he tried to discern who had interrupted his solitude. At the sight of wide shoulders, well-developed arms, and a set of abs that looked like they’d been carved with a chisel, warmth flooded P.D.’s body, settling low in her belly and causing her breath to hitch in reaction.
God bless America, she thought, echoing the code phrase that her best friend Helen used whenever a fine specimen of manhood crossed her path.
Bodey struggled to slide from the truck with his crutches, orthopedic boot, and cowboy hat intact, but P.D. hardly noticed. Elam Taggart bent and grasped the edge of the deck with his hands, then swung down to the ground, the muscles of his arms, shoulders, and back rippling. He landed softly—making the “dismount” look as effortless as jumping from the curb.
He walked toward the pump a few feet away, his jeans slipping even further to reveal the weight he’d lost and a killer set of obliques. As he moved, P.D.’s gaze followed the hard ridge of muscle separating his abdomen from his hips until her eyes came to a stop at the faint line of dark hair that disappeared beneath his fly. She’d always been a sucker for low-slung jeans on a well-built man—not that she’d seen anyone in Bliss who could qualify for being truly “gawk-worthy.”
Unaware of her prurient behavior, Elam unlatched the pump handle and waited for the water to run cool. Now that he was closer, P.D. could see that his bare arms and chest gleamed with sweat and a fine layer of sawdust. Over six feet tall, Elam was built like a runner, all lean, sinewy strength. The work he’d done on his cabin had given him a tan that blended well with the coffee-colored hair that brushed his shoulders and a beard that darkened his jaw.
When he leaned over to duck his head beneath the running water, P.D. could not have yanked her gaze away if her shoes were on fire. Instead, she watched like an adolescent Peeping Tom as he thoroughly doused his head, then snapped back to attention, droplets of water flinging into the air around him. The movement could not have been choreographed better had he tried. Bits of liquid scattered jewel-like into the air while rivulets cascaded down his face and chest. Then, he stood there, dripping, waiting for Bodey to approach.
Thunder Down Under, eat your heart out, P.D. thought. Because this wasn’t a man who manipulated his sexuality. He was completely unaware of the powerful picture he presented—or the fact that he could probably bring any woman to her knees with a single glance.
Shifting in her seat, P.D. knew she should look away.
Dear sweet heaven, she should definitely look away.
But she didn’t.
Not when she knew that at any moment, Elam would realize he was being watched by someone other than his brother and reach for the shirt that lay a few feet away.
And wouldn’t that be a shame.
Bodey had finally managed to traverse the uneven ground to his brother’s side, but P.D. had grown so distracted, she didn’t bother to listen to their conversation as they exchanged the internationally-recognized male-to-male greeting ritual—an awkward hug with lots of back slapping, an exchange of insults, then a punch to the arm. But P.D. was probably the only one who realized that–even though Elam went through the motions–the happiness that radiated from Bodey never even touched Elam’s eyes.
In an instant, the whispers of gossip that P.D. had heard in town raced through her head.
…too young to be a widower…
…Navy EOD…injured in Afghanistan…
P.D. had always dismissed the stories as being exaggerated and fanciful—and the nickname they’d given him, Desperado, had seemed ludicrous. But watching Elam now, in this unguarded moment with his brother, she began to believe that everything she’d heard was true—true and probably only the tip of the iceberg. It was obvious from the sharp, too-lean contours of his face and the raised scars that wrapped around one side of his waist, that Elam had been through hell and back—and he was pissed at the world. Even his posture–head slightly forward, shoulders tensed, hands held away from his body—relayed his wariness at what other obstacles Fate might throw his way.
He was the kind of man who could help P.D. with her current dilemma. Strong, determined, and stubborn–which was a moot point now. Because there was no way in hell that Elam Taggart would ever agree to her proposal. Even though, as was her prerogative as a woman, she had suddenly changed her mind again. She really, really wanted his help.
Geez. She was freakin’ out of her mind for even considering it.
P.D. killed the engine and strained to hear over the ticking metal. Bodey was talking now, and despite the growth of beard on Elam’s face, she could lip-read most of his end of the conversation.
What the hell happened to you?
He winced at Bodey’s response.
Don’t you know any better than to get out from under a horse before he rolls on you?
Then, he grew still, listening intently to what Bodey was saying.
P.D. froze, her fingers gripping the steering wheel, knowing that Bodey would now be presenting her case. Her gut tightened in apprehension and she was at once embarrassed and nervous.
Elam would probably say “no”.
There was no way he’d say “yes”.
But what if, miracle of miracles, he did agree? Did she really want to ally herself with someone so…intense? Could she withstand four days and nights of constant contact with a man like Elam without completely cracking from the strain? Or worse yet, begging him to—
P.D. brought her thoughts to a screeching halt, banishing the images of Elam Taggart wearing nothing but a smile. But the tingling that pooled low in her belly couldn’t be so easily dismissed.
She was nuts. Absolutely nuts.
Or maybe, much like Helen had repeatedly warned her, it was time P.D. brought a halt to her self-imposed “dry spell” where men were concerned and let it rain. Granted, a man like this would never look to someone like her for a meaningful, long-lasting relationship. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t have some fun if it were offered.
“I am so going to hell for even thinking about Elam Taggart that way,” P.D. whispered to herself. He was Bodey’s brother, for heaven’s sake. You didn’t mess around with a friend’s brother. It was an unspoken rule. Worse yet, it was asking for trouble.
But for the first time in her life, P.D. wasn’t sure if the “friend code” really made a heck of a lot of sense.