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Careful What You Kiss For
 


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Careful What You Kiss For


  Careful What You Kiss For

  Jane Lynne Daniels

  Avon, Massachusetts

  This edition published by

  Crimson Romance

  an imprint of F+W Media, Inc.

  10151 Carver Road, Suite 200

  Blue Ash, Ohio 45242

  www.crimsonromance.com

  Copyright © 2012 by Dawn Gothro

  ISBN 10: 1-4405-5432-3

  ISBN 13: 978-1-4405-5432-2

  eISBN 10: 1-4405-5433-1

  eISBN 13: 978-1-4405-5433-9

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.

  Cover art 123rf.com, istockphoto.com/©Antagain

  For P.G.G., with love

  Contents

  CHAPTER ONE

  CHAPTER TWO

  CHAPTER THREE

  CHAPTER FOUR

  CHAPTER FIVE

  CHAPTER SIX

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  CHAPTER NINE

  CHAPTER TEN

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

  CHAPTER NINETEEN

  CHAPTER TWENTY

  CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

  CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

  CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

  CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

  Also Available

  CHAPTER ONE

  The sidewalk sign, scuffed at each corner, teetered on three legs in the breeze. Madame Claire, Psychic. Predictions with a 95% success rate.

  Great. Tensley could see the follow-up survey now. On a scale of 1 to 10, how accurate was the prediction that you would continue to fall for lying, cheating bastards … ?

  Still, she’d promised her best friend Kate she’d drive clear across town to see Madame Claire. And a promise was a promise. She squared her shoulders and marched up the stairs.

  Once inside, she jammed her sunglasses on her head and looked around, letting her eyes adjust to the change in light. The room was small, with wood floors, an overstuffed sofa, two straight-backed chairs and candles scattered on a tray atop a black table. The smell of incense floated through the air as soft music played.

  A door opened and out stepped a woman whose face was a good fifteen years younger than her neck, around which hung a necklace with a large ruby-colored pendant. She wore a shade of lipstick so bright that it drained most of the color from her cheeks, and on her feet, red heels.

  The woman clasped her hands together. “So you have come.” An unfamiliar accent hovered around the edges of her words. Russian? Transylvanian?

  “Madame Claire?”

  “Indeed.” A deep nod. “I have been waiting for you.” She stepped aside to motion Tensley through the door into a room lit only by a small lamp with crystals dangling from its edges.

  Once they were seated on opposite sides of a table, Madame Claire closed her eyes and bent her head. After a moment, she opened her eyes and reached across the table to take Tensley’s hands. “You have regrets.”

  Tensley’s laugh burst like a popped balloon. “Me and every other human being on the planet.”

  Madame Claire’s brows formed a deep V.

  “Sorry.” The woman deserved a chance, at least. “Go ahead. Please tell me what you see in my future.”

  Dark eyes met hers. “Your regrets concern a man.”

  “They do not.” Her swift answer carried a warning.

  “I see him.”

  Perfect. A psychic who didn’t have the sense to back away from a cement wall when she smacked into it. “Doesn’t matter,” Tensley said, teeth clenched. “I’ve moved on — ”

  “He hurt you.”

  “I don’t want to talk about it.”

  “Like the sharpest knife, this hurt.”

  Tensley pressed a fist against her stomach. If it weren’t for the promise to Kate, she would have put money on the table and left without saying another word. Instead, she made a conscious effort to keep her butt in the chair and her mind clear of emotional derailments. “Tell me what you see in my future.”

  “You did not understand what he was trying to do.”

  Ha. She understood, all right. Bryan-with-a-y-not-an-i had wanted sex, over and over, before returning to the wife and baby he hadn’t thought to mention. Only Tensley had thought it was something else.

  “He was young. So young,” the psychic went on.

  He was a player. A freaking French-speaking player. He was — wait. So young? Not that young. Thirty-two, same as her.

  “His name … ” said Madame Claire. “It begins with M. Martin. Matt … No … ”

  Hold on. This woman did not know — she couldn’t. “Stop. Talk about me!” Tensley’s voice hit the high-pitched tremble that gave her away when she was nervous. She hated when that happened. “I’m going to get a fabulous new job.”

  “No.”

  “I’ll get my same job back. With a raise.”

  “No.”

  Bet you don’t get many repeat customers. Tensley tried to pull one hand away, but the psychic kept it locked in hers, rings pressing into Tensley’s skin.

  “Ahhh,” breathed Madame Claire. “Yes. His eyes are blue. An unusual blue. Dark. Like the depths of the ocean.”

  Tensley froze. Not possible. She couldn’t know about Max. It had been years ago. A lifetime ago.

  Once again, the psychic’s eyes met hers. “Your first love.”

  Tensley stopped breathing. The feel of Max’s warm, strong fingers stroking her body, cupping her breasts with fierce tenderness and moving slowly downward … came rushing back. The moon shining down on them. Max’s body, muscles rippling, ready to take her places she’d never been, wrapped in his arms. The smell of the grass that cradled them, mingling with the clean Tide smell of the blanket they laid on. Max’s blue eyes darkening with passion.

  Heat flowed through her at the remembered imprint of his body on hers. How it had felt to have him inside her. Filling an emptiness she hadn’t known existed until then. Like nothing she’d ever known before. Or since.

  Tensley’s eyes squeezed shut. “Next topic,” she managed to say.

  “A woman, she never fully lets go of her first,” Madame Claire said.

  He’d whispered how beautiful she was, how she took his breath away, how there was no one else like her. She’d believed him. “Not true. I let go of my first.” Her voice broke, betraying her.

  “This may be what you believe.”

  Tensley’s eyes flew open. If she were prone to violence, this woman would be in trouble. “So I made a mistake. A big one. Lucky me. He had to be my first.” She’d caught Max kissing another girl.

  “I tell you this, with love comes mistakes.”

  “Not like this one.” Tensley yanked her hands away. “I should have known better. Should have known someone like him wouldn’t care about someone like me.” Even after all these years, it still hurt to say, to think.

  “Ah, but he did. You trusted your eyes instead of your heart. You did not understand.”

  “I should have stood around waiting to ask?” Tensley leaned forward, her voice rising. “When he came up for air?”

  Seconds ticked by as Tensley swallowed the memories. Instead of going down, they caught in her throat, making it ache. Damn it.
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  “Every woman, she knows her worst mistake. Yours has to do with this man.”

  Tensley arched a brow. “Really.”

  “Tell me, please,” said Madame Claire, “if you could have … ” She gestured with her hands, as if they could help her find the right word, “a do-over … yes, that is it, what would it be?”

  “This isn’t Nordstrom. You can’t return parts of your life.”

  “In your world, perhaps. However, in mine, it is different. You can once. But only once.”

  Ohh-kay. Maybe Kate had been inhaling the anesthesia in her vet office when she’d sworn Madame Claire would help Tensley move on from Bryan. “A do-over.” Tensley eased her fist from her stomach and threw out the first thing she could think of. “I guess I would have punched Rhonda the Skank when I had the chance.” Instead of running away in tears.

  “Rhonda … the Skank?” Madame Claire’s lips pursed.

  “Rhonda Reardon. From high school.” Tensley could still picture Max’s hand on the tight jeans that covered Rhonda’s ass, his mouth on the lips of the girl who allegedly carried a knife and boasted about a tattoo most of the football team had seen.

  Rhonda the bad girl and Max the bad boy. It made a hell of a lot more sense than Tensley the awkward girl and Max the bad boy.

  Tensley started to tell Madame Claire to forget she’d brought up something so stupid, but stopped before the words came out. She’d always regretted not letting Rhonda have it. Awkward girls had their dark sides, too.

  “I see,” said Madame Claire. “If this is what you choose, then it shall be so.” She sounded relieved.

  Tensley straightened. What did she mean by that?

  “We all have regrets,” the psychic went on. “Yours, however, run deeper than many. It was the same with your friend Kate.” A pause. “Before.”

  “Before what?” A bad feeling crept up Tensley’s spine.

  “She was at one time in a very different place. But she carries this regret no longer and that is why she sent you here.”

  “But — ”

  “When you leave here, you will have indeed punched Rhonda … the Skank, as you call her, when you had the chance.”

  “That’s — not possible.” Then Tensley pictured her fist connecting with Rhonda Reardon’s nose. Saw the blood mix with layers of Cover Girl makeup to form a globby mess that ran down the front of Rhonda’s tight shirt and made suicide leaps off the ledge of her gigantic boobs.

  Tensley smiled, surprising her face muscles, which had been as good as frozen for days. What was the harm in pretending? She got it now. Why Kate had sent her here.

  With a glance at the clock, Madame Claire said, “But you are to tell no one. You must make me this promise.”

  Tell them what exactly, that a psychic had told her she could do the impossible? Then her mind made another leap, imagining Max’s stunned expression if she had decked Rhonda. She saw herself walking away from them both, chin held high, while Rhonda wailed and Max left her there to cry into her giant boobs/flotation devices and instead follow Tensley.

  “You are to promise,” the psychic repeated, louder this time. “If you speak of this, events would unravel most unpredictably.” She shook her head and muttered something under her breath.

  Tensley leaned forward. She’d only caught a few of the words, but they’d sounded like all hell would … “Excuse me?”

  “Make. This. Promise.”

  Tensley sat back, folding her hands in her lap. “Even Kate? She’s the one who sent me here. If I don’t report back, she’s going to wonder.”

  “Only her. No one else must know.”

  Sure, she’d play along. “Fine. I promise.”

  Madame Claire stood. “Our time has ended. You will go now.”

  Not a moment too soon. Tensley’s chair screeched as she pushed it back to also stand. She hesitated, though, before turning to leave. “You do also see good things ahead for me?” She hated how much she wanted the answer to be “yes.”

  For the first time, the shadow of a smile curved around Madame Claire’s lips. “That is up to you and how you look at your journey.”

  Her journey. So far, Tensley’s journey had veered from her internal GPS at least a dozen times. Any more route recalculations and she’d be watching Jeopardy! in a nursing home before she decided whether she wanted to have kids.

  “Right.” As though it would have been so hard for the woman to throw her a crumb, like hearing from an old friend, getting unexpected good news. Something.

  Sometimes Kate had great intentions, but really bad ideas. Tensley lifted her hand in goodbye and power-walked toward the door to the shop. As her foot crossed the jamb, she heard a noise behind her and turned to see Madame Claire raising her arms slowly, silent lips moving. A white light flashed over the psychic’s head and sparks rained down, obscuring the woman.

  Holy shit. Tensley stumbled and had to put a hand out to catch herself. When she looked back, the psychic had gone. So had the light. If … it had ever been there in the first place.

  Seriously. Tensley needed to filter her best friend’s ideas a little better.

  Feet squarely beneath her this time, Tensley stepped outside, the bright sunlight such a painful contrast to the dark shop that her eyes squeezed shut. She barely had time to take a breath before there was a whoosh that whipped her hair straight back from her head. When she managed to open her eyes again, the light was muted, different. Not sunlight.

  No. Not sunlight at all.

  • • •

  Tensley peered into the dim light. As soon as her vision adjusted, she snapped her eyes shut, unable to believe what she had seen. A large room with dark corners. Men. Hungry-looking men, drinks in hand, staring up at a stage.

  A stage she was standing on.

  Music played all around her, in a pulsing beat that reverberated through every part of her body. She breathed in air laced with sweat and alcohol while glasses clinked and voices hummed, punctuated by rough, scraping laughter. She clenched the fingers of one hand so hard, her muscles screamed.

  She wasn’t on the stairs. Or on the sidewalk in front of Madame Claire’s shop. She didn’t know where the hell she was.

  One by one, Tensley opened her eyes again. To her left, a woman bathed in blue light writhed to the beat. She was working her bare boobs and ass for everything she was worth, gaze fixed on an open-mouthed man in a business suit. With one hand, he reached inside his jacket, drawing out bills. The fingers of his other hand curled, as though longing to grab a handful of her. Or himself.

  Tensley turned back. The room before her was crowded with tables and chairs, with a large bar at the back and Greek pillars, silhouetted in footlights, lining the walls. Candles, some with flames dancing, others barely lit, dotted the tables.

  A spotlight jumped to life. Tensley flinched, looking down to see her body glowing at center stage, one hand gripping a brass pole. It was her body, all right. Minus the five pounds she’d put on since the Bryan incident and at least fifteen more. Her nipples stood at attention, pointed toward the ceiling. She wore a tiny red thong, plexiglass stilettos and nothing else.

  Ohhhh. M-m-m-m. G.

  A paunchy man with caterpillar eyebrows staggered to his feet, his drink held high. “Give it to me, baby!” he yelled, spittle flying from his mouth.

  He was talking to her. Tensley Tanner-Starbrook. Vice president of Tanner, Inc., her family’s cable television business. A girl who loved taking bubble baths and chocolate cake shots, hiding sexy, barely-there lingerie beneath her tailored suits, and curling up on a rainy day with her dog and a good book.

  Now standing naked. On a stage. In front of strangers.

  Several pairs of eyes trained on her, scanning every bare inch. From the corner of her eye, she saw a burly man in a T-shirt two sizes too small move forward, his gaze fixed on the guy with out-of-control eyebrows. Think, Tensley. Her other hand also moved to the pole, holding on tight.

  Madame Claire. That fla
sh above her head. Like a sparkler, on the Fourth of July. The offer of a do-over. A do — Oh God. It couldn’t be —

  Goose bumps crawled up her arms at the same moment sweat broke out on her forehead. The room began to bob and weave.

  Footsteps shook the stage. A minute later, fingers tipped with crimson daggers closed over Tensley’s death grip on the pole. “What’s going on?” an unfamiliar female voice demanded in her ear.

  For the second time that day, Tensley jerked her hand away from a stranger, this time hunching her shoulders inward and folding her free arm across her breasts.

  “You’ve got back house rent to pay, Starbrook,” the woman hissed. “So you’d better start shakin’ your ass.”

  Tensley owned an upscale one-bedroom condo she’d barely furnished because she wasn’t at all sure what went with a paint color called Butterscotch Tempest. And her ass hadn’t shaken since — um. Ever.

  The woman released her and took a step forward, holding her hands up for the audience’s attention. The music slid into the background and even the transfixed man and the dancing girl in the corner turned to look.

  “It’s okay,” the woman on stage announced. Her voice dropped to a purr that carried all the way to the back wall. “Lila Delightful’s just feeling a little shy tonight. Guess you’re all going to have to show her how friendly I know you can be.”

  Lila Delightful?

  The male voices roared encouragement in whoops and hollers and the woman, in a black leather dress so tight that most of her pale skin spilled over the top, spun back toward Tensley, her smile glittering a warning. As she passed by, she paused long enough to lay a hand on Tensley’s arm and say in her ear, “If you’re loaded, I swear I’m going to throw you and all your shit out on the street.” She turned to give the crowd a broad wink and then half-walked, half-danced off the stage, blowing an exaggerated kiss before she disappeared into the darkness.

  Loaded? It would explain some things, but she didn’t think —

  She jumped yet again as a new song crashed through the loudspeakers.

  “Come on, honey,” caterpillar brows called, slurring his words. “Keep goin’.”

 
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