A tiny tidbit of Kickout Clause

Now that DIY-7, Home for the Homicide, is safely on its way to New York and Berkley Prime Crime – and a week ahead of schedule, too! – I am reading through the first 144 pages of Kickout Clause, the 6th Cutthroat Business mystery, preparatory to getting back to work on it.

And I thought I’d share a little teaser for those of you who are eagerly awaiting the new release. It’ll be sometime in May. Early May if the going’s good, later May if something comes up or I can’t keep up at my usual crazy pace. I have a little over half the book to go – 50,000 words or so; maybe 170 pages – and then it’s yours, all yours.

But in the meantime, I thought you might enjoy this little excerpt from somewhere in – I think – chapter 4. Please forgive any errors; this is an unedited, unproofed excerpt and may or may not change in revisions.

I fully expected Rafe to slink in after I’d turned out the lights and attempted to go to sleep for a second night in a row. Imagine my surprise when he showed up around dinner time, as I was curled in a chair in the living room, deeply invested in the romance novel I had picked up at the grocery story this afternoon along with the hot chocolate and the cookies. I was enjoying a cup of cocoa and a few of the cookies too, since they’d only go to waste if I didn’t eat them.

The book was your classic tale of contemporary love, between the cold-hearted, money-grubbing billionaire and the sweet woman who turned him human. The tall, blond, gray-eyed hero had quite a lot in common with my ex-husband Bradley, not to mention Todd Satterfield, my brother’s best friend and the man my mother had designated as my second husband.   

My mother isn’t terribly fond of Rafe. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if there existed a list of all the men in the world my mother could imagine me getting involved with, Rafe would be at the bottom.

There are lots of reasons for this, beginning with his mother, his father, his grandmother, the rest of his family, his illegitimate child, his skin color, his past, his present, the fact that he seduced me, the fact that he knocked me up, the fact that he left me, the fact that he came back, the fact that he’s risked my life more times than mother is comfortable with—never mind the fact that he’s saved it a few times too. Most of all, it’s simply because he isn’t Todd. Mother wanted me to marry Todd. She’s dating Todd’s daddy, Sweetwater sheriff Bob Satterfield, while my brother Dix remains Todd’s best friend. If I were to marry Todd, it would set mother’s world to rights. And when I chose Rafe instead, let’s just say she wasn’t best pleased. Our relationship became official at Christmas, and she hasn’t quite gotten over it yet. I’ve done my best to keep the two of them apart since then, since my life is a lot easier that way.

Anyway, I was sitting there reading when Rafe walked in. First I heard the key in the door, and then steps in the hallway. A couple of thuds were the sound of his boots hitting the floor. A rustle was his leather jacket being hung on one of the hooks. And then I heard his footsteps padding down the hallway toward me, past the kitchen and the half bath, into the living room/dining room combination.

I looked up from the book, but I didn’t say anything. He didn’t either, for the first few seconds. We just looked at one another. And as usual, even in the midst of my worry and anger, the sight of him took my breath away.

It’s not just because he’s beautiful, although he is. Six foot three or so, all hard muscle and golden skin. LaDonna Collier was a blue-eyed blonde like me, while Tyrell Jenkins was black, and the combination is gorgeous. It’s also served Rafe quite well in his ten years of undercover work. He can look African-American, he can look Hispanic, he can look Middle Eastern or Greek, and dressed up in a suit and tie, he fits in quite well with the upper crust, too, as long as he tones down that far-from-upper-class Southern drawl.

At the moment he was dressed in a black T-shirt that pulled tight across his arms and shoulders, and a matching pair of cargo pants. With his hair in its usual barely-there crop, and with the viper tattoo on his arm peeking out from under the sleeve of the shirt, there was nothing refined or civilized about him at all. He looked hot as hell, and he also looked dangerous. I recognized the getup from early December, when he’d used it to play bouncer at La Havana nightclub.

As if to complete the picture, he reached behind him to pull out a gun and lay it on the coffee table, as easily and without fanfare as if it were an everyday occurrence. For him it was, or used to be. For me, it was becoming more so.

And then he sauntered around the table to brace his hands on the arms of the chair I was sitting in, one on each side of me. “Evening, darlin’.”

When he leaned in to kiss me, I turned my face aside. “You smell like smoke.”

There was a beat while nothing happened, and I could feel his breath against my cheek. Then he straightened. “Yeah?”

I already wished I could take it back, but it was too late. He didn’t wait for me to answer, just turned on his heel. “Guess I’d better take care of that.” He peeled the T-shirt up over his head as he sauntered toward the door to the bedroom and the shower beyond. Muscles moved smoothly under golden skin, and my tongue got stuck to the roof of my mouth. So much for pretending I was unaffected.

I thought he might disappear into the bedroom without looking back, but I guess he knows me too well. When he glanced over his shoulder as he passed through the doorway, the look on my face as I watched him must have told him everything he needed to know, because he winked. “Hold that thought, darlin’.”

No problem. I closed the romance novel and used it to fan myself.
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