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Falling for the Lone WolfFALLING FOR THE LONE WOLF

Silhouette Special Edition #1932
October 2008
ISBN: 978-0373249329

Go-getter businesswoman Jenny Hunter was used to living life on her own terms, and there was little the beautiful, brainy blonde couldn’t conquer.  But with her career skyrocketing, she’d decided to put love on the back burner—except for a little innocent flirtation with a hunky loner at her neighborhood Laundromat.

Although Liam McCree had nursed a crush on Jenny for months, the wannabe Web entrepreneur was convinced he was no match for the woman of his dreams.  But when she faced an unexpected health crisis, Liam was there to boost Jenny’s spirits and to send her heart rate soaring in the process.  Would these two opposites find that love was truly the best medicine.

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Excerpt from FALLING FOR THE LONE WOLF

Liam McCree’s day never really started until Jenny Hunter walked through the Laundromat’s door.

As always, she spiked his male radar, and his blood raced a little faster as he instinctively glanced up from his computer, which he’d been tapping away at in his corner of The Suds Club. 

His pulse beat in his ears, making him feel like he was being tossed around in one of the dryers near him.

From the first time Liam had seen her over a year ago, when he’d initially moved into the neighborhood, his fantasy machine had been set to play reel after reel of Jenny 24/7—during the night, during the day…and especially during the limbo that spanned consciousness and slumber.

Nope, he never failed to fall asleep while picturing how her short, smartly styled blond hair curled to a nape he’d love nuzzle.  How her blue eyes sparkled with the wit and dry humor that attracted so many friends…and probably admirers.  How her plump, cherry lips shaped into something sweet and red, as if ready to be tasted.  How her pale skin covered a figure blessed with womanly, ample curves. 

Normally those curves were decorated with chic clothing whenever Jenny appeared in The Club during her one-day-a-week, work-from-home lunch hour.  In fact, she liked to dress as fashionably as a 50s movie goddess who lounged in a swank living room while she posed for photos in a feature article about domestic bliss.

But today, there was a difference in Jenny.

In his lone corner, Liam leaned his chair back against a wall-bound dryer, quietly assessing her.

As she made her way to the seats in front of the television, her expression seemed dazed, and she had her arms folded in front of her chest.  Her usually perfect hair was pulled back into a tiny ponytail, as if she hadn’t taken any care with it.  She also wasn’t wearing makeup, and even though she hardly needed it, the lack of pizzazz made her seem…softer.

Sadder?

But, most noticeably of all, she wore a drab, oversized, long-sleeved shirt over baggy khaki pants with sneakers.

Definitely not like Jenny at all.

Something was clearly up with her, but…

Well, Liam wasn’t sure why he should involve himself by asking about her mood since he seemed to be the bane of her existence anyway. 

So he went back to typing in HTML codes for a Web site he was designing for a nearby jewelry boutique.  Today, Web sites.  Tomorrow, full-on small business consulting.  That was Liam’s plan. 

But Jenny kept drawing his attention, and maybe that only made sense since he’d often teased her about teaming up with him to start a consulting firm.  After all, Jenny Hunter had a reputation as a crackerjack businesswoman, and she would be a great asset.

However, she always brushed off his jokes, even if he wasn’t 100% kidding…. 

She hadn’t taken a seat yet.  In fact, she seemed to be shying away from all the hellos the other Sudsers were offering.  A few ladies discretely traded questioning glances when she wasn’t looking, and this told Liam that they also suspected something was happening with the usually confident businesswoman.

But…come to think of it, Liam thought, Jenny had been getting quieter and more pensive lately, hadn’t she?

The final minutes of a game show that preceded Flamingo Beach—the main reason everyone gathered in The Suds Club at this hour—played out on the TV.  One of the women, an Eastern Indian named Evina, tried to draw Jenny into conversation.  Yet the object of Liam’s awareness merely held up a finger, told Evina she would be right back and headed straight for the soda machine, as if retreating.

Her path would lead her past him, and his belly tightened.

He righted his plastic seat, the movement sending a twang to his right leg, where underneath his threadbare jeans, scars tangled over an ache that was keening more than usual today.

Maybe the reminder of his injury—and the habit of covering it with a smart-ass personality—urged him to stop Jenny as she passed.  Or maybe it was because her sorrowful gaze somehow didn’t sit right with him.

Whatever it was, Liam closed the lid of his laptop, offering her a grin while folding his hands behind his head.  “Halloween come a few weeks early this year?”

She slowed down, just now seeming to notice that he was in his usual corner.  Then, as she came to a full stop, her eyes lost their haziness, sharpening to a focus. 

In their blue depths, Liam noticed the color of anxiety…maybe even fear.  He’d seen the same hue in the mirror years ago, after his accident….

Should he ask her what was wrong?

“Your clothes,” he continued, nodding toward her blasé garb.  “It’s…just a different look for a fashion plate like you.”

Okay, that was close enough to inquiring about her personal life.  For him, anyway.

She frowned, glancing down at her wardrobe, then almost absently pulled the hem of her shirt away from her chest, as if making her clothing even baggier.  She was obviously not comfortable in them.  Not comfortable even being here.

Liam’s brows knit together, but he didn’t venture another comment. 

Could her attitude have something to do with how she’d missed her usual Wednesday-work-from-home lunch hour this week?  She never failed to show up at the appointed time, but she’d been conspicuously absent yesterday.

He’d been all too cognizant of that.

“You had a lot of work going on yesterday?” he asked.  Translation:  What’s with your change in schedule and appearance?

Jenny swallowed, hesitated.  Then a change seemed to envelope her, as if she were forcing herself to put on some act.  She even tilted her chin a little higher, taking up the argumentative stance she always assumed around him.

But there was something missing—heart.  Spirit.

“Yeah,” she said.  “I was really swamped with a project, and I needed every hour available to me.  Today’s better.”

“Must’ve been some project.”

“It was.”  Her eyes got that faraway look again.  “Huge.”

Liam motioned to his corner of the Laundromat.  “Just set up your office in here.  There’s plenty of room, and you’ll never miss Flamingo Beach at The Suds Club again.”

He’d hoped to see a sign of the old Jenny: planting her hands on her hips as she often did while bantering with him. 

McCree, she would say.  Squatting in a Laundromat instead of renting real office space might be the gypsy thing to do, but I need more organization.  More room.  More professionalism.

But now she only ran a gaze over him, like she was seeing him for the first time: a guy in a corner who wore a slight goatee, longish, shaggy brown hair, comfortable clothes and that gypsy attitude.

His body temperature spiked, and she looked away, catching herself.

Hell, Liam almost thought she was interested.

Doubtful.

“Things going okay at work?” he asked.

She was a hot dog at the Kendrick Corporation in San Francisco proper, where she dreamed up home organizers for big accounts.

“McCree,” she said.  “If you’re going to tease me about working for your hardly existent business today….”

“It’ll exist.”

“Oh, I don’t doubt it.”  She gripped the hem of her shirt again.  “Just not with me.”

“Hey.”  He leaned forward.  The change in position sent a thread of discomfort through his leg, but he ignored it.  “Any time you want to get away from all the corporate red tape at Kendrick, you just let me know.”

Truthfully, the offer was genuine, and she seemed to realize that for the first time, her hands dropping to her sides as she turned her face away.  Then she nodded, biting her bottom lip.

Her innocent gesture blasted him.  He’d imagined the feel of those swollen lips so many times, wished to experience the cherry taste of them.  A million shivers scratched over his skin as he told himself it would never happen, not with a woman who had always seemed to think he was more of an irritant than a true possibility.

Besides, Liam doubted he had it in him to make any woman happy in the long run, after she saw beneath all his coverings and witnessed the injuries, the damage.

But when Jenny’s gaze met his, a jolt of electricity seemed to zap between them. 

His vision went white, his body shredded--

Then she looked away again.

A few heartbeats thudded by, marking the seconds, the burning aftermath.

Had she felt it, too? 

He shifted in his seat again, and his leg screamed—a sharp reminder of his imperfections.

Of reality.

Meanwhile, Jenny’s hands still hung at her sides, and her eyes had gone back to that misted shade that blocked any sparks he’d seen during these past few seconds.

Strangely moved by that, Liam found himself overstepping his bounds.  “Jenny, is everything really okay with you?”

As her eyes widened—what, did she think she could hide it from him?—she twisted the hem of her shirt and pulled it away from her body, neutralizing every natural, beautiful curve. 

“I’m fine,” she said, her voice sounding choked.

Before he could follow up, she rushed toward the soda machine, where she presented her back while digging into her huge pants pockets for money.

It felt as if the oxygen had been shoved out of his lungs, but he didn’t allow her dismissal to linger.  He was used to Jenny shining him off and then eventually wandering past him again to continue whatever argument they’d been having before.

Yet now?  He doubted she’d be back.  Not when they both knew she was lying about being okay.

While Jenny kept her back to Liam, one of The Suds Club’s women turned up the TV’s volume.  Flamingo Beach was on, and everyone in the Laundromat had deserted their washers, their folding, and gravitated toward the seats in front of the show.  Earlier, they’d been guessing what might happen at Trina and Dash’s wedding today, but now there was respectful silence as the bride got ready to walk down the aisle.

Liam flipped up the top of his computer and re-immersed himself in his work.

By the time the bell on the Laundromat’s door dinged, ushering in Mei Webb, Liam was already well into pretending to have no interest in the soap—or the other people in The Suds Club—whatsoever.

Even though he was much too aware of Jenny standing with her back still to him at the soda machine.

 

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From the book: Falling For the Lone Wolf
By: Crystal Green
Imprint and Series: Silhouette Special Edition
Publication Date: 10/08
ISBN: 978-0373249329
Copyright: 2008
By: Chris Marie Green
R and TM are trademarks of the publisher.
The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
For more romance information surf to: http://www.eHarlequin.com