All Fired Up, Excerpt

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Cara stepped out into the hallway of her apartment building, pondering the etiquette of canceling a date by post-it note. Maybe it wasn’t a real, honest-to-God, chance-of-nookie date but it had certainly sounded like one.

She never missed her Tuesday night pilates class, not even when she’d had stomach flu and the thought of contorting her body was enough to make her more ill. An office yoga session might have made up for it but she didn’t even have that on today’s résumé.

Damn Shane.

Her equilibrium was shot, that was certain. Left behind in Las Vegas along with her single girl status and a very expensive pair of Christian Laboutin leopard-print pumps.

Sorry, something came up, the note said in her very neat script, penmanship Sister Mary Margaret had said was the envy of the entire school at Casimir Pulaski High. Envy of the nuns perhaps. The other kids didn’t seem so envious when they pulled her hair for being so perfect. Her gaze fell to the note once more. Emily Post would not approve.

Heart thumping madly, she took another step toward Shane’s apartment, only to get the fright of her life when something furry glanced by her bare legs. She looked down and saw ... it.

Because it couldn’t possibly be described as anything else. The sorriest bundle in the world stared back up at her, all eyes and fur and defiance. A broken, scrawny thing. Too big to be a kitten, too small to be a cat, it coughed out something plaintive from its throat, then devolved into a sneezing fit.

“Who are you?” she asked, while looking around for a possible source. There were only two apartments in the building, hers and Shane’s, but sometimes the front door was known to stick. Her husband—no, her neighbor—probably left the door open, an invitation for all manner of riff-raff to make themselves at home. Standards were definitely slipping.

Gingerly, she picked it up. Its eyes locked onto hers. A small, not insignificant, gash on its nose appeared to be on the mend. It sneezed again, right in Cara’s face, and her heart broke on the spot.

Cara didn’t possess a mushy bone in her body, but lately she had felt itchily sensitive, as if a whole layer of emotion was hovering beneath her skin’s surface waiting for an open vein. Or a gawky stray with missing patches of gray fur and what looked like the remnants of an alley fight marking its sad little body.

They were meant to find each other. Two creatures buffeted like corks in a cruel and unfeeling sea. She smiled to herself at that thought—she’d always had a knack for melodrama. Raising her hand purposefully, she jumped when Shane’s door opened as if it had been waiting for her touch. Her world suddenly became smaller as a mess of hot male crowded her senses.

“Hey,” Shane said. His gaze dipped to the package in her arms. “Ah, grand, you found him.”

Him? Cara was sure he was a she. “He’s yours?”

Before she could adjust, Shane extracted her charge and dropped her—or rather, him—to the floor inside his apartment.

“When I moved in, he moved in with me. Just walked in off the street and made himself at home.”

Oh, definitely male, then. So much for thinking they had a connection. Pushing her disappointment down deep, she refocused on her current problem. All six feet of him.

“I was just—”

“I’m afraid this isn’t going to work, Cara.”

Shock froze her in place. He’d better not be canceling. “It’s not?”

He made a sweeping motion with his hand that took in the line of her body, still bedecked in her grey pinstripe suit, coral silk shell, and four-inch Manolos. She’d changed from her sweats to business attire for a late-afternoon appointment with a client.

“Well, you look wonderful as always.” How he could make a compliment sound apologetic, she had no idea. “But that outfit’s not suitable for where we’re going.”

He stepped into the hallway and closed the door behind him. Gripping her elbow, he gave an unsubtle push back toward her apartment. “You need to change.”

“I do?” Jeez, she couldn’t think straight. Only single syllable words were making the cut today.

“Where we’re going is pretty casual.”

Her chest constricted at how fluidly he tossed out that word. Casual. There was no such thing in Cara’s regimented world. Did he mean a casual bistro? The taqueria on the corner? Mickey D’s?

“About that. I’ve already eaten and—”

“That’s okay, I won’t be hungry until later anyway.”

Relief loosened her muscles, allowing her lungs to fill to capacity. With narrowed eyes, he assessed her crazy overreaction but didn’t question it.

“For now you need to change into something more like what I’m wearing.”

If that wasn’t an invitation to look, she’d eat her heels. Starting at his neck, she drank him in and took her fill. A faded grey Henley beneath an even more faded blue button down shirt with sleeves rolled up to the elbows accounted for the top half. Butter-soft jeans, torn in inviting places, molded taut against his thigh muscles, reminding her of how they had cradled her while they slept the sleep of the dumbass ten days ago. The outfit was topped off, or bottomed out, by those cowboy boots he must take showers in. She knew for a fact that not even his wedding night was worthy of their removal. They looked like they were ready to split where the soles met the uppers, their mileage competing with the rips in his denim for supremacy.

“I don’t think I have anything like what you’re wearing,” she said seriously.

He stalked her and she backed into her apartment like a sleep walker.

“Just throw on some jeans and meet me out back. I’ll give you five minutes.” He turned to leave, then double-backed with a jaunty turn similar to his dance steps at Gina’s wedding. She loved how he moved. It was the first thing she had noticed about him as they walked down the Sunset Strip. A loose-limbed insouciance, lithe grace in every sinuous stride. So languid she wondered how he managed to stay upright.

His dig into his pocket pulled her gaze to his burrowing hand. He passed something off, brushing his fingers with hers. An electric shock sizzled through her as her hand closed over a small metal object, still warm from its heated cocoon.

“My spare key.” From her other hand, he extracted the crumpled post-it note and scanned it. “Something’s come up all right.”

Without waiting for a reply, he bounded off down the stairs to the street. He made a lot of noise while doing it, too.

Lithe grace? Ooh, that clodhopper had some nerve.

Fifteen minutes later—it had only taken her six minutes to change, but she sat on her sofa for nine—she walked around back, clad in Rock and Republic dark wash stuffed into calf length red cowboys with a stacked heel. She’d countrified her white waffle weave Oxford by turning up the sleeves and tying the shirttails at her midriff.

Shane leaned against the hood of her royal blue BMW Z4 roadster, giving it a wary examination. On her approach, his gaze swept over her, making her tingle.

“You look beautiful,” he said in a tone Barry White might want back.

“Thanks,” she murmured, as if she’d never heard it before, and in a way, she hadn’t. Not like that. When Shane said it, the compliment sounded new and meaningful. That Irish accent had a lot to answer for.

Stepping away from her car, he plucked a helmet from the seat of his death trap, known in some circles as a motorcycle.

“Put this on.”

She gave the helmet her most dismissive glance. “I don’t think so.”

“You can’t ride the bike without it.”

“Fine by me. I have no intention of riding that thing. My cousin Tad has one and he’s already wiped out twice on it.”

“I’m not your cousin.” He delivered an insolent grin, making it clear that they were in no way related, at least not by blood, and her stomach fluttered madly. More likely, the thought of placing that steel time bomb between her thighs was making her jumpy.

The motorcycle, she insisted. The motorcycle.

“We can take my car,” she said, thumbing behind her.

He looked unimpressed. “It’s cute, like you. But I’m not riding in a girl’s car.” Before she could muster a response, he placed the helmet over her head. Its heaviness stopped her in her tracks.

“I know it’s probably a touch big, but you should be okay.” He adjusted the strap, his knuckles brushing against the underside of her chin.

She gestured to the bike again, feeling discombobulated by the weight on her head and the nearness of him and, oh yeah, the fact that she was headed out on a date with her husband. The means of transport seemed like the least of her problems.

“I’ve never done this before,” she said, having no clue to what she was referring. The motorbike, the man, the marriage.

His fingers grazed her jaw. “Don’t worry, LT. I’ll take care of you.”

The sincerity in his voice and his use of that nickname brought back the flutter. Well, it had never left, but now it felt like her stomach housed a swarm of butterflies attacking a mango. He straddled the bike, and her body fired in appreciation at how his jeans stretched tight over his most excellent ass.

Cut that one out, frame it, stick it in the Art Institute.

He threw a glance over his shoulder, and his lips hooked up at one corner. Because she had been noticing his assets and he had noticed that she noticed.

“You ready to have fun?”

“I don’t know.”

He grinned broadly. “That’s my girl.”

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