seduced friends & lovers
Hit Men, Hi-Jinx and Hot Sex…
Sofia Marino is a kick-ass heroine. Her role on the cheesy TV sitcom “Spy Girl” has garnered her a male cult following, fan sites, and a hefty bank account. Okay. So it’s not Scorsese or Spielberg, but at least she’s in front of the camera doing what she was born to do. Faster than a director yells, “Action”, her life goes from Hollywood to Hollyweird when she wakes up in Arizona, disoriented and caked with blood. With several hours of her life unaccounted for, Sofia finds herself on the run and under the protection of burned out FBI agent, Joe Bogart, a man who once broke her heart with a single kiss.
Sofie and Joe embark on a mission to save not only themselves, but also their friends and family. If they succeed in staying alive, will these two jaded souls then risk their hearts on each other, or will they forever remain. . . Seduced?
friends & lovers / book 3
medallion press, may 1, 2005
- print version features original cover art
what people are saying
“You’ve got to be kidding. What kind of set up . . .?”
“It’s not a set up and I don’t have time to argue. I’ll call you from the onboard mobile as soon as I’m able.” Chirp.
Joe tossed his cell phone on the passenger seat. Murphy’s voice rang in his ears like a knell. “Sofia’s in trouble. She sounds upset.”
And he was supposed to drop everything and race to her rescue.
Okay, so it’s not like he had major plans for the evening. It’s not like he’d even cleared the Valley of the Sun. All he had to do was make a U-turn and head back north into Scottsdale. Actually, Lincoln Drive was closer to Paradise Valley, one of the many offshoots of Metropolitan Phoenix. If Scottsdale was the Beverly Hills of Phoenix, Paradise Valley rivaled Bel-Air. Posh. Almost exclusively residential. Lavish homes, many owned by celebrities. Given Sofia’s recent notoriety, it made sense that she’d chosen accommodations in the star-studded area. But, man, the Camelback? She had to be raking in the dough.
He gritted his teeth and swung the jeep in the opposite direction. Just his luck she was in his neck of the woods. Or was it vice versa? Of all weekends for Murphy to be visiting. Of all nights to have to drive him to Sky Harbor International. “It’s not a set up.” It sure as hell felt like one.
He gunned the accelerator, exited Highway 143, and peeled onto 44th Street. The sooner he handled whatever mess she’d gotten herself in, the sooner he could leave. A straight shot until he got to McDonald Drive, a short jog onto Tatum, and then a right onto Lincoln. “Sofia’s in trouble.” It had to be a man. With Sofia it was always a man.
He spent the next few minutes steeling himself. She’d prick his anger, annihilate his last vestiges of inner calm. She’d piss him off worse than Murphy. She had a real talent for pissing him off. The last time he’d seen Sofia in person he’d gone ballistic. She’d put herself in danger in order to salvage a drug bust. As if that weren’t enough, earlier that day she’d challenged a piece-of-shit, persistent ex-lover, and then buckled. She had more moxy than common sense. More sass than substance. In spite of her scorching, exotic beauty and confident, cocky demeanor, she was insecure as hell. And like three-quarters of the male population, he wanted to fill her needs.
With several inches of morning pride.
Oh, yeah. He was a bona fide bastard. Then again, she was a shallow seductress. Toss up as to who was worse for whom.
By the time he parked the jeep and pushed through the doors of The Camelback Inn he’d spun himself into an iron cocoon. She couldn’t affect him if she couldn’t get to him. He’d solve her problem and hit the road. He wouldn’t feel a thing.
Then he saw her.
Who could miss her? Glossy red hair. Shiny yellow coat. She threw back a shot of liquor, and then pursed those enticing, full lips around a cigarette, somehow managing to turn a nasty habit into something erotic.
He was toast.
Jaw clenched, he tamed an untimely hard-on by reminding himself that her troubles probably revolved around a man. Someone she’d slept with in hopes of advancing her career. Someone who’d turned the tables and used her and dumped her, or used her and stuck around. He told himself that he preferred her natural sable hair color to the studio’s Bing cherry red, and that she looked ridiculous in that shapeless, yellow rain slicker. He watched her slam back another shot and then polish off a half a bottle of beer. He noted her slouched posture and pegged her intoxicated. Watched her light up another cigarette, thinking if he kissed her right now, the way he was dying to—slow, deep—she’d taste like an ashtray. He mentally nit-picked and criticized Sofia Marino with every step in her direction.
By the time he dropped into the seat across from her he was thoroughly annoyed. It was a hell of a lot better than horny.
Cigarette poised between two slender fingers, she gaped at him through glassy eyes. “Christ.”
“Nope.” He summoned a smartass grin. “Although I have managed a miracle or two in my time.”
Elbows on table, she dropped her forehead against the heels of her hands. “How could Murphy do this to me?”
“I hear you, babe.” He nabbed the cigarette, crushed it out in the ashtray alongside several other stubs. He nodded toward the beer and two empty shot glasses. “How much have you had to drink?”
“Not enough.” She straightened and tossed a sloppy wave toward the lone waitress in the room. A perky, young blonde who beamed at Sofia as though she were her hero. An obvious fan of “Spy Girl”. Or rather Cherry Onatop, the classified operative who kicked evil-doer-ass. “Two more, Lisa,” she called in a husky slur. There’d be no ass-kicking tonight. He doubted if she could find her own just now, let alone someone else’s. After two tries, she crossed her arms over what he knew was an amazing chest—hard to appreciate her luscious breasts when they were concealed beneath a fisherman’s slicker—and smirked at Joe. “Anything for you?”
“Pass.” They glared at each other for several seconds. He silently cursed her smudged mascara, evidence that she’d been crying. Cursed the fact that her hand trembled as she fired up another cigarette. She cocked a defiant brow and blew out a stream of smoke. She was playing it cool, but man, she was stressed. He rolled back his shoulders, cocked his own damn brow. “Expecting an indoor monsoon?”
She glanced down at the rain slicker, momentarily flustered. “Oh. No. This isn’t mine. I just . . . borrowed it. My clothes were ruined and I . . . ” She looked up, registered his blatant appraisal. “Screw you.”
I wish. She looked confused, disheveled, and too damned gorgeous to be real. An explosive combination of Jennifer Lopez and Sophia Loren. A hot-blooded, almond-eyed, wide-mouthed sex kitten. Mocha skin. Voluptuous curves.
Holy Jesus, he was scum. She was upset and he was fantasizing about what she did or didn’t have on beneath that slicker. His agitation quadrupled. “What’s the problem, Sofia?”
“No problem. You can leave.”
“I’d like nothing better, but Murphy would have my ass.”
She glanced away. “I shouldn’t have called him.”
“But you did, and now he’s worried.”
She smiled at the waitress, “Thanks, Lis,” and Joe found himself wishing she’d smile at him like that, all warm and fuzzy. Christ, he was pathetic.
Lisa set down two shots of amber liquid. She looked expectantly at Joe. “Are you sure I can’t get you anything, Mr . . . ”
“Special Agent Joseph Bogart. One of the good guys,” Sofia supplied with a derisive snort, then downed a shot.
“Just Joe,” he countered. “And just the tab, thanks. We’re leaving.”
“A fed. Wow. But not a real one, right? Because don’t they have, like, short hair and wear dark suits and stuff? You’re an actor, right? You’re . . . ” Lisa leaned closer, lowered her voice to an awestruck whisper. “Omagod! Johnny Depp?”
“Afraid not.” He forced a smile. “Could we get the check, please?”
Lisa straightened. “Sure. And don’t worry, Mr. Depp. Your secret’s safe with me.” She winked and slipped away.
He shook his head in wonder and reached for his wallet.
“I’m not ready to leave,” Sofia said.
She grabbed the beer bottle like a lifeline and reached for the second shot. “I’m not done.”
He shanghaied the glass and tossed it back. Tequila. No salt. No lime. Plenty of disgust. He’d lost two days compliments of Jose Cuervo while undercover a lifetime ago in Tuscon. Suppressing a shudder, he slammed the glass to the table, chased it with the remnants of her beer. “I’ll walk you to your room.”
“I don’t have a room.”
“You’re not staying at the Camelback?”
“Not that I know of.”
What did that mean? He glared, waited.
She took a long, slow drag off that damned cigarette, her full lips caressing the filter, pursing seductively as she blew out a thick stream of smoke. Hypnotized, he had an explicit vision of her working another kind of magic with that mouth.
He jerked his mind out of the gutter, shifted in his seat. It’s not like she was coming on to him. She just oozed sex. She could belch and he’d probably get a boner.
Her sable brown gaze bounced from the empty shot glass to the table’s flickering candle. She looked frazzled and tired, and he had to fight like hell not to reach across the table and stroke his thumb across those million-dollar cheekbones. “I don’t know where I’m staying,” she finally said in a far-off voice. “I don’t know why I’m in Phoenix, Scottsdale, whatever. I guess I’m shooting on location, but I lost the crew.”
Great. Not just intoxicated, but totally whacked. As of last week, “Spy Girl” was on hiatus. Unless she was shooting a commercial. Cherry Onatop hawking an energy drink or some stupid shit.
“It’s probably nothing. Probably a prank. My stunt double doesn’t like me. She’s pulled some mean spirited jokes, but . . . it has to be a prank.” She bit her lower lip, shook her head. “This isn’t real. This isn’t happening.”
He dragged a hand down his goatee, summoned the patience of a Zen master. “What’s not happening?”
“I woke up with a gun, but it wasn’t my gun. I mean, it wasn’t Cherry’s gun.”
His senses buzzed as this meeting took on a heightened edge. He leaned in and lowered his voice. “Woke up where? What gun?”
“The shed.” She motioned over her shoulder in a vague direction. “I woke up holding a prop gun.”
She dipped into the pocket of the slicker, slid a pistol across the table.
Prop gun my ass. How about a freaking Beretta 92FS? Using his bandanna, he shifted the semi-automatic to his lap, checked the chamber—empty—and then the magazine. Twenty round 9mm ammo. The high capacity factory magazine had been banned from civilian use in ‘94. It was also down three rounds. Damn. “Where’d you get this?”
“I told you, I woke up and . . .”
“Here you go.” Lisa placed a leather binder on the table between them, clearly unsure as to who was footing the bill.
Joe discreetly tripped the safety and slipped the Beretta in the jumbo pocket of his cargo shorts.
Sofia glanced apologetically at him. The first time since he’d sat down that she’d looked at him with anything other than hostility. “I, um, don’t have my purse.”
As if he’d allow a lady to pay. His dad, an old-world Italian, would’ve smacked him in the back of the head.
“We accept all major credit cards,” Lisa said, flashing him a toothy smile.
He flipped open the binder, eyed the total. Holy shit. Any other woman would’ve been under the table by now. He didn’t know whether to be impressed or concerned. He covered the bill with cash and a generous tip, tamping down his impatience when Lisa asked them both for their autograph. Wanting to make a quick getaway, he penned, Love that smile, J.D.
Lisa accepted their autographed cocktail napkins with a teary thank you, and graciously took her leave.
Joe pocketed his wallet and stood.
Sofia stared up at him with a funny look on her face.
“Yeah. I know. That was dishonest.”
“Actually, it was really nice. You made her night.”
The compliment made him uncomfortable. Sofia made him uncomfortable. He barely knew her and yet she’d monopolized his thoughts and dreams for nine solid months. He glanced away, not wanting her to see the frustration and longing in his eyes. Damn.
He blew out a tense breath, feigned interest in the solo guitarist. “Yeah?”
“I don’t know how I got here precisely. I mean, I don’t think I have a car. I don’t know where my purse is. I don’t have any money so I can’t get a room. I can’t remember . . . ”
Her voice hitched. Yeah, boy, that got his attention. He glanced down and caught her rubbing her temples.
“I can’t remember.”
He touched her then. Like he had a choice. Like he hadn’t been dying for an excuse to touch her since he’d walked into this ritzy bar. He grasped one of her hands and gave what he hoped was an impersonal, but comforting squeeze. “Come on. We’ll find your car and purse tomorrow.”
She looked up at him with watery eyes. “But I don’t have . . .”
“You have me.”
She burst into tears.
He’d seen her cry before. After her ex-boyfriend, ex-agent had tried to coerce her into her grandmother’s house for a quick lay. But, Christ, this was the vulnerable Sofia. The one that scared the hell out of him.
So much for the iron cocoon.
He made some sort of dumbass comforting sound, then offered her his bandanna and shifted to shield her from the bar. The last thing he wanted was attention. Especially when he had an illegal Beretta in his pocket and a plastered celebrity under his protection. Whether he liked it or not, thanks to Murphy, he was now responsible for this woman.
She mopped her tears with the kerchief, smearing more mascara, rubbing her nose red. Still gorgeous. Man. He brushed her hair from her face. “Come on. Let’s get you out of here.”
She managed a terse nod, pushed back from the table and shot up like a rocket. Off balance, she tripped, and fell into his arms.
“Damn flop flips,” she blubbered.
He held her steady, trying not to think about how good she smelled—vanilla and musk? Trying to decipher her words. Then he glanced down at the cheap thong sandals she’d stumbled out of. Flip- flops. Somewhere in the vicinity of a size eleven. One of the first things he’d noticed about Sofia all those months ago, aside from her gorgeous face, mouthwatering yabos and shapely legs, was her penchant for wearing spike-heeled or funky-heeled, but always three-inch high-heeled shoes. Size seven. During their initial face-to-face meeting, she’d jammed one of those heels down hard on his foot, nearly breaking his toes and emblazoning her favored footwear in his memory. “Guess you borrowed those sandals too.”
She leaned heavily against him, sighed. “My head hurts and my legs are numb.”
“Nine shots and three beers will do that to you, kid.” And she was a kid. Not even thirty. Which almost qualified him as a dirty old man. Now there was a depressing thought.
She clutched his T-shirt as her knees gave way. “I don’t want to cause a scene,” she said, slowly sliding down his body.