A beautiful lady cop overdue for some mistletoe mojo...
A hot hunk on the lam from the mob...
A New Year's Eve wish made on the New Moon...
A sexy second chance at life, lust -- and love...
Sometimes Christmas isn't just a day of the year, it's a state of mind.
Baltimore street cop Mandy Delinski isn't expecting any miracles this Christmas. She's thirty, a little too round, still very single, and she lives with her parents. So who would have guessed that her whole life would change before New Year's Eve? That a simple job policing a Christmas party would find her in the arms of sexy-as-sin bartender Josh Thornton? That they would be on the brink of making love before the night ended?
Sunday, December 24th
Hours to Christmas: approximately six, oh, joy! Countdown to New Year’s Eve, the hands-down worst night of the year to be thirty and single: exactly one week. Calories consumed: 8,000 give or take. (It’s only 5:30 PM–crap!). Evil bosses on list for strangling: one, but could never get hands around thick, bulldog neck. Yet another dream dies on the vine. (Sigh). Times so far today mother looked up at velvet painting of Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus and asked when am going to settle down and start having babies like a good Catholic girl: only five so far but haven’t been home since breakfast.
The Baltimore Museum of Art visitor parking area was filling up with BMWs and Porsches when Officer Mandy Delinski turned off Art Museum Drive and pulled into the lot. Bypassing the valet parking guys, she swung her squad car into one of the Staff Only spaces next to the catering truck, stole a quick glance in the rearview mirror, and then reached across the passenger’s side to the glove compartment where she’d stashed her diary and, most importantly, her lipstick. Why I bother I don’t know, she thought, and then rolled the lipstick on anyway. She didn’t usually wear bright colors, let alone red, but somehow the name, Blaze, seemed to promise all sorts of wonderful, sexy fantasies come-true, including a much thinner version of her decked out in Santa cap, fur-lined red mini-dress, and black fishnet stockings crooning the lyrics to “Santa Baby” to an as yet faceless, nameless hunk.
Mandy, you’ve got to get a hold on your libido. Better yet, you’ve got to get a hold on your life. Your love life, specifically. Actually, first you’d better get a love life, and preferably before your head blows off your damned shoulders.
Capping the tube, she tucked a curly red strand of hair behind her ear, and stepped outside to join the glitterati of Baltimore society filing up the steps to the columned entrance. Inside, she moved through the marbled foyer, following the crowd toward the bank of elevators.
Once inside, the chief of in-house security, Mr. O’Brien signed Mandy’s time slip, and they spent the next few minutes reviewing the security protocol. It was meat-and-potatoes stuff – check to make sure the photo id matched the guest and then of course, the name on the list, then issue one of the peel-off adhesive name tags that nearly everyone ripped off the moment they crossed over inside but what the hell.
He’d just wrapped up the short orientation when his walkie-talkie went off, spewing out a stream of static and coded radio chatter that Mandy had grown used to deciphering over the years. In this case, a woman had wandered into the roped off area into the American Decorative Arts exhibit.
Signing off, he turned to Mandy with a look of apology. “Gotta go. You okay here on your own?”
“I’ve got it covered. Thanks.”
For the next hour, Mandy kept busy checking in the steady stream of guests filing through. Around eight o’clock, the newcomers slowed to a trickle. Smothering a yawn, she turned inside to survey the festivities. From what she could see, the artwork was the liveliest thing about the event. Even with a function in full-swing, the atrium vibrated with a tomb-like dullness, the formally attired guests speaking in the hushed tones usually reserved for libraries and funerals, the professionally decorated Christmas trees occupying each of the room’s four corners done up in monochromatic silver and gold. Even the thready notes struck up by the classical quartet from the city’s renowned Peabody Institute seemed a sad substitute for the classic Christmas carols her pop would have blaring from the old hi-fi record turntable as he and her mom decorated the tree with the hodgepodge of ornaments amassed over the years.
Her gaze landed on the white-skirted bar set up for the event, conspicuously devoid of any server but with a line of thirsty-looking patrons queuing up in front. Too bad I’m on duty because a Cosmo would go down really good just about now. She was about to turn away when a blond head popped up from behind the bar, joined in short order by a set of broad shoulders, leanly muscled torso, and narrow waist. Oh-my-God. Her brain froze and her breath stuck in her lungs. Talk about drop-dead gorgeous. The bartender who’d just surfaced with a magnum bottle of champagne and an easy smile looked like he was poured into that tuxedo, not to mention being a thirty-something dead ringer for England’s Prince William. Certainly he was the hands-down most amazing hunk of male she’d clapped eyes on in a long time – make that, ever.
And amazingly, he seemed to be looking her way. Nice fantasy, Delinski, but it’s time to get real. With a sigh, she turned to greet the gorgeous model-type woman who surely must be approaching check-in only to find the alcove empty. Oh-my-God. She whipped around. He was still staring at her, his hot-eyed gaze shooting across the room like flame from a blow torch. Mesmerized, she watched him pour a glass of champagne and then raise it to her in a mock toast. She thought his lips–his amazingly sensuous lips–mouthed, “Merry Christmas” but couldn’t be sure.
My God, he’s flirting with me. Me, of all people! She felt her face heat along with other more southern portions of her anatomy that had lain fallow for far too long.
Keep an eye on the door for any latecomers, but otherwise feel free to walk around, stretch your legs.
Maybe it was the whole turning thirty thing or the yet-another-Christmas-alone thing or a bit of both but for whatever reason, Mandy found herself moving across the room toward the bar as if drawn there by an invisible cord. She walked up just as the last patron moved away, affording her an unobstructed view of her “target.”
“Can’t… I’m on duty.” Jesus Christ, Mandy, that was smooth – not! What next, recite a line from Dragnet?
“Coke, then?” One side of his sexy mouth kicked up into an even sexier grin, and suddenly Mandy felt as if the room was spinning around her like a carousel.
She managed a reasonably steady “N-no thanks, I’m good” and then added, “You’re not… you’re not from around here.”
He hesitated. Smile slipping, he asked, “What makes you say that?
“Your accent, it sounds kind of New England.”
The smile made a come-back only this time it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Oh, it’s my accent, is it?”
“I like your accent. It’s distinctive… like you.”
Distinctive, huh. Distinctive could be good or bad depending on the circumstances. Given the sultry looks he was sending her, she decided she could safely take it as a compliment, or better yet, a gift – the best Christmas gift she’d gotten in a long, long time.
“Thanks, hon,” she said with a wink, deliberately exaggerating the infamous truncated Baltimore “o.”
He threw back his head and laughed, a deep baritone that had her thinking of her favorite Godiva dark chocolate – rich, complex, and full of sensual promise. Suddenly the hunk in her “Santa Baby” fantasy had a face, and it was staring back at her now as if its wearer wanted to eat her up. All she needed to wrap up the fantasy in a big red Christmas bow was a name.
As if reading her mind, he stuck out a broad-backed hand. “I’m Josh by the way.”
Mandy hesitated, and then slipped her hand in his big, warm one. Glancing down, she considered the many other “uses” to which the strong, sensitive fingers might be put, and a jet of warm moisture splashed between her thighs.
Her throat, in contrast, went sawdust dry. Swallowing, she said, “I’m Amanda...Mandy, actually.”
“Mandy, hmm? Pretty lady, pretty name.” He glanced down to their clasped hands, and she realized she’d forgotten to let go.
Palm tingling, she slipped her hand from his. “Sorry.”
He stared straight at her, blue eyes blazing. “I’m not.”
Suddenly the room was too hot, he was too hot. Too hot to handle, though images of her doing just that, running her hands over him from head to foot with some studied stops in between, sped through her mind like racers on a NASCAR track.
A cough from behind had her glancing over her shoulder. A Roland Park grand dame stood at her back, silver-blue hair piled into a bouffant and liver-spotted hand wrapped about an empty champagne glass.
“Okay, I won’t.”
She stepped aside and half-walked, half-floated back to the check-in station. Throughout the next hour, beautiful people in beautiful clothes milled, about quaffing drinks, noshing on appetizers, and pretending to study the mosaics while not-so-secretly studying each other and yet Mandy’s eyes kept coming back to one person. Him. Josh. And the most amazing, unbelievable and altogether wonderful part was that every time she looked over, she caught him looking back. Who would have thought she’d meet her dream man behind a makeshift bar pouring out rotgut chardonnay to blue-haired old ladies?
By 8:05, most of the crowd had dispersed. Despite the few stragglers, the caterers were breaking down the set-ups, including the bar. Her spirits, which had been dancing on air, started to plummet. Both the evening’s assignment and the fantasy were about to end.
By the time O’Brien returned to sign her out, her feet were planted squarely back on terra firma. Pulling out his fountain pen, he asked, “How’d your night go?”
Ordinarily it would have seemed an innocent enough question, and yet Mandy felt her face heat. Flirting on the job wasn’t exactly unethical, but it wasn’t the most professional behavior, either. Hoping he hadn’t seen her hanging around the bartender, she said, “Fine, thanks.”
They said their goodbyes and there was nothing left to do but head for home. Still, Mandy couldn’t help sending one last look in the vicinity of the bar. The stock had been packed up onto a cart, and it looked like Bartender Josh had packed it in as well. He must have slipped out through a rear exit door while she was finishing up with O’Brien. Holding in a sigh, she pulled her cell phone out of her belt clip. It was early yet, and she didn’t really feel like going home and being pressed into tree decorating duty. Maybe her friend, Suz, would feel like grabbing a bite to eat.
A tap on her shoulder sent her spinning around, the cell clattering to the floor as she reached a hand toward her gun holster, the palm of her other hand coming smack up against a very broad, very firm chest.
It was the first time she’d been near him without the portable bar as a buffer. Except for the rumpled white tuxedo shirt, he’d changed out of his uniform. If possible, he looked even sexier in softly worn jeans, scuffed boots, and a faded black leather jacket than he had in the formalwear dangling from the drycleaner’s hanger in his hand.
When he seemed in no hurry to go, she found herself searching her sex-soaked brain for something smart to say. “You’re uh…done for the night, too, then?” Brilliant, Delinski, really stellar. You’ll make detective yet.
Oh-my-God. Had he just asked her out? For the second time that night, Mandy had to resist the urge to look back over her shoulder. Okay, a) I have a brain tumor that’s causing me to hallucinate, b) I’ve hit my head and gone into a coma or c) I’m already dead and hanging out in Heaven. Pick any of those three, and as long as I don’t have to come to or come back, I don’t care.
“Don’t tell me you don’t fraternize with civilians?” He raised one sandy-colored eyebrow and regarded her, waiting.
Set at ease by his teasing, she found her voice. “I can’t drink in uniform but uh…coffee sounds good. Only it’s Christmas Eve. There won’t be much open at this hour.”
There it was again, that sexy, half-cocked smile that had her heart doing somersaults – and more southern portions of her anatomy going very warm and very wet.
“In that case, I should probably mention I make great coffee.”
Holy Mother Mary, he wasn’t just asking her out, he was asking her back to his place! Talk about moving with lightening speed. But as much as she’d been fantasizing lately about sex with a red hot stranger, thinking and doing were separate activities. Beyond giving up her good girl self-image, there was the very real, very deep-seated fear that because of her weight he might consider her desperate, an easy mark.
Reining in the heat, she took a step back. “Actually, I know of this great locals’ place, The Daily Grind. It may still be open.”
If he was disappointed, he hid it behind a smile. “In that case, officer, lead the way.”
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Name: Sweeney after
Sweeney Todd, the barber who shaved 'em too
close for comfort
Cop heroine, Mandy, is constantly fighting the battle of the bulge and so I thought it would be fun to pair her with a similarly calorically-challenged feline companion. Like his fictional counterpart, my real-life Sweeney is a former stray though not a shelter cat. My neighbor had nabbed him for the crime of eating her outdoor cat's food and was planning on taking him to the local shelter where a cat of his er... girth probably wouldn't have done too well in the "cute and cuddly" competition for a home. I took one searching look into his jade green eyes and begged her to give him to me so I could find him a good home. Several trial "good homes" later where the sin of fighting off the resident cats at the food bowl was repeated, Sweeney came home with me on New Year's Day. He got a good home after all -- mine!
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Outstanding Great Read!, December
“What a suspenseful journey through the holiday season this is! Ms. Tarr's take on the life of a female Baltimore street cop really trips my trigger. I adore Mandy and Josh. Their characterization really makes the story sing. Anyone looking for a little excitement to heat up their holiday season has a sure bet if they choose this brilliant book.”
1/2 stars, Top Pick! December
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