UPDATE: The winner is…ButtonsMom!
* * * * *
I have a new-old story out! One of the stories returned to me by a former publisher. I’ve been working hard to get them all revised/expanded/refreshed so that I can share them with a brand new audience.
This time, it’s Frannie and The Private Dick! If you’ve read the rest of the Night Fall stories, then you know what to expect—humor, some suspense, and lots of sexy bits. Frannie has an extra pinch of humor. I’m sharing the first chapter here for you to sample. I hope you enjoy it—my gift to you!
For a chance to win a free copy of one of Frannie’s prequel books,
tell me how you plan to spend your Saturday!
Hope you enjoy this peek inside! ~DD
Frannie and The Private Dick
Bent on catching her cheating fiancé in the act, Frannie Valentine got sidetracked by a little thing like dying. When she awakens, Frannie learns her pampered life will never be the same, so she turns to the man responsible for her undeadness and demands he take on the responsibility of giving her a little job training—in the PI biz.
Niall Keegan never intended to make himself a mate, but Frannie’s string of minor disasters, which ended with her dying in his arms, took the decision right out of his hands. While the mating part isn’t bad, making the disaster-prone Frannie a PI may just be the death of him.
FREE FOR KINDLE UNLIMITED SUBSCRIBERS!
Get your copy here: Frannie
Francesca Valentine had died and gone to hell. No other explanation made sense. She swam back to awareness through a molasses-thick void to find herself suddenly spat out from a dark womb into a cold, hollow space. Blind, and so still she knew she didn’t breathe, her mind turned over like a sluggish engine before revving into high gear.
Quickly, she assessed what she knew. She lay on a hard surface, covered with a scratchy square of thin fabric, unable to move a muscle. A low whine, like that of an air-conditioner, came from the opposite side of the space. Harsh light shone from above, warming her face, but hurting her closed eyes. So, she probably wasn’t blind after all. But she was definitely dead. Stone-cold. Her chest wasn’t moving in and out, but she didn’t feel starved for air.
She knew who she was and what had killed her, but hadn’t a clue what new fix she’d landed herself in. From nearby came the scrape of footsteps and a tentative humming, then…
“Bee-ooot-ee-foll Dreeeeamer, wake unto me…”
She was in hell all right. A demented spirit hovered over her, emitting an off-key warbling that set Frannie’s teeth on edge. By the rusty sound of the grating voice, her tormentor must be an ancient female, and the she-devil was trying to remove the skin from her face in slow, abrasive circles with…apricot-scented facial scrub? Frannie’d had a chemical peel the week before. The last thing she needed was a dime store product applied to her professionally maintained skin.
God must be punishing her for the sin of vanity—for all the hours she’d spent being teased, plucked, painted, and waxed. Each moment endured to make her the perfect trophy for Vinnie to parade around his “business associates” for them to kiss, pinch, and swat.
Now she wished she’d gone to Mass more often, or hadn’t lusted after the young Irish priest, or hadn’t snuck out her bedroom window to canoodle with Vinnie. Especially that.
Her mother had predicted just such a fate when Frannie got engaged to Vinnie Ricchione, and had even sworn to wear black to the wedding.
But Mama had described the fire-and-brimstone version of the ultimate southerly location in vivid detail. Obviously God hadn’t designed hell as a one-size-fits-all-sins destination.
“Star-liiiight and dooo-drops are waiting for thee…”
She could almost see her mama now, shaking her finger at Zia Grazia. “What did I tell that girl? Vinnie’s no good.”
Zia Grazia would nod her gray head and masticate on her slipping dentures, too deaf to care about Donatella Valentine’s latest tirade.
But that wouldn’t stop Mama. She’d scoot closer to shout into her aunt’s ear. “Do you think a daughter listens to her mother? Now look at me. No daughter. No grandbabies. I told her Vinnie’d come to a bad end—and her along with him!”
Well, Mama had only been half-right.
Paralyzed, forced to submit to a facial flaying and the demon’s ear-shattering trills, Frannie’s penance had a certain poetic justice.
She was dead because of Vinnie.
While her death hadn’t been precisely his fault, she’d never have followed him if he’d been the faithful sort of fiancé.
He’d said he was meeting the boys. “Don’t wait up, hon. We got shipments comin’ in.” But Frannie had known better. One time too many, he’d come home smelling of cheap whiskey and even cheaper perfume. This time, Frannie would catch the cheating bastard in the act.
That night, she’d teetered on three-inch boot heels on a wooden crate behind his shipping company office, peering into a darkened room. She’d almost decided Vinnie had slipped the noose when she heard a commotion coming from beneath the window where Vinnie’s desk sat. At first, she hadn’t understood what she heard, then the sounds had grown louder—punctuated by groans, bumps, and slurps too large and energetic to be two mice doing the bunny-hump.
Irate, she’d screeched and toppled off the crate. But falling into the trash bin wasn’t what killed her.
“Sounds of the ruuude world heard in the daaaaay…”
She’d crawled backward out of the dumpster, glad the only things clinging to her hair were bits of packing peanuts, when she heard a door slam and footsteps entering the alley. She brushed herself off, picked up her purse from beside the overturned crate, and stalked toward the street.
“Hon, what the hell are you doin’?” Vinnie shuffled toward her, tucking his shirt into his pants. “Now, baby, I can explain—”
She raised her chin, held out her hand, and stomped right past him, proud she kept her chin from wobbling. The bastard’s not gonna make me cry.
She quickened her pace and turned the corner onto the sidewalk. As luck would have it, a taxi was driving straight toward her. She started to run, waving frantically at the car, but it didn’t slow. She stepped into the street, but her foot tilted on the edge of a gutter, and her ankle turned. The heel of her boot snapped, and Frannie threw out her arms as she stumbled into the path of the taxi.
But the taxi hadn’t killed her either.
The cab screeched to a halt, and the driver flung open his door. “Lady, you okay?” He was a big, burly guy—Irish, she’d have guessed, by the look of his dark brows and square, rugged jaw if his faintly accented speech hadn’t already given him away.
“Please!” She held out her hand in his direction.
“Francesca! Honey, don’t move,” Vinnie shouted.
She didn’t have to force a tear into her eye. Her ankle throbbed. She stared at the driver and gave him what Vinnie called her “diamonds-or-flowers” look—the one guaranteed to make a man do her bidding.
The Irishman straightened his shoulders and pushed back his shirtsleeves, revealing thick wrists and muscled forearms. “Is this man botherin’ you, ma’am?”
She nodded and let her chin wobble.
The driver bent down and swept her easily to her feet. Frannie let herself lean against his broad chest just long enough to test the depth of his indrawn breath. She could tell a lot about a man’s attraction from a telltale gasp, and she needed this man’s attraction to flare long enough for Vinnie to notice.
The driver’s chest expanded, and the arms that held her tightened fractionally.
“I’m not a man—I’m her husband,” Vinnie shouted. “Get your hands off her!”
“You’re not a husband until we share joint checking and a last name!” she shouted back. The driver hesitated, and she clutched his sleeve. “Please, help me! I swear he’s not my husband.”
“Near enough!” Vinnie said.
Looking up at her rescuer from beneath her lashes, she added softly, “I have to get away.”
His gaze locked with hers for a moment before swinging to pin Vinnie to the spot. “Looks like your lady doesn’t want anything to do with you at the moment.” The driver gently pushed her behind him. “Ma’am, you go ahead and get inside.”
As she limped toward the cab, Frannie looked over her shoulder.
Vinnie’s face was a mottled red. “Now, look here—”
“I think you’d better back off.” The burly Irishman clenched his fists.
Vinnie peered around the mountain-sized man at Frannie as she ducked into the back seat of the taxi. “Frannie, you come back here. We gotta talk. What you seen wasn’t nothin’, I swear! It wasn’t even me!”
Frannie pulled the door shut and waited for the driver to back his way to the taxi.
Vinnie stood in the middle of the street, his shoulders drooping. She almost felt sorry for him, until the door to the company office swung open. Raeline Curtis, Vinnie’s secretary, hurried down the street, tugging at the seat of her tight skirt.
Frizzy, over-bleached blonde hair, broad hips, and cheap shoes—Vinnie’d cheated on her with Raeline? Confused, Frannie peered through the back window as the taxi drove away, Vinnie’s swarthy, slender face and slumped shoulders growing smaller in the distance. He’d wait at home—and be truly, miserably sorry for the pain he’d caused her. And she’d probably forgive him—after her pride had been soothed with lots of groveling and gifts.
But tonight, she needed to make the snake sweat.
“Where can I take you, ma’am?”
“To another life?” she muttered. Louder, she said, “Drop me at Lizards ’n’ Suds.”
“You sure about that? That joint’s kinda rough for a lady like you.”
“A lady like me?” I live in sin with a man whose “business associates” send Christmas cards from the federal penitentiary. Frannie sniffed. “Thanks for your help back there, but I’ll be just fine.”
He shrugged his massive shoulders. “Whatever you want. It’s your dime.”
What she’d wanted was something she’d never have now.
“Lull’d by the mooonlight have all passed awaaaay…”
That’s me all right—all passed away. A tear trickled down the side of her cheek.
“Well, that’s one for the books,” the quavering, aged voice said. “Wouldn’t think you’d have any juice left.”
Something soft and spongy swept away the tear, and then the sponge was back with the familiar smell of makeup. A cheap musty foundation, if Frannie’s nose was any judge. This place was hell all right.
“Such a shame. You were a pretty little thing. And that man of yours is cryin’ buckets over you.”
As well he should—the lying, cheating bastard! She hoped he was very, very sorry, that his privates shriveled to nubs, and that he’d be haunted by her beautiful face for the rest of his life.
Then maybe he’d feel a tenth of the hurt she’d felt as she’d tried to drown her sorrow at that skeezy bar. The first beer had tasted sour, and the bubbles made her burp. She’d looked around to make sure no one noticed, but the music was so loud she quickly lost her inhibitions and burped again. The second beer was much sweeter, but her tummy pressed against the waist of her skirt and everything felt tighter.
Especially her engagement ring.
She’d glared at the shiny solitaire and tried to tug it off her finger, but couldn’t get it past the first knuckle. After a stealthy glance over her shoulder, she dunked her hand into her icy-cold beer. Perhaps the chill would make her skin contract.
“You know, most people drink their beers.”
Frannie blinked and glanced to her right.
The taxi driver slid onto the stool beside her.
She glared. “Are you following me?”
He grinned. “I was due a break. Decided I’d hang around and see if you needed a ride home.”
His smile was killer—white teeth, full lips framed by dimpled cheeks. She hadn’t noted much about his appearance before—just his immense size. But even in the subdued light shining from behind the bar, she could see he was a very handsome man—if you were into black-haired paddies with blue eyes. His hair was on the long side and scraped back into a ponytail. The dark-blue shadow on his jaw added to his rangy, masculine appeal.
She realized she’d been staring. “I don’t need a ride—in your car, that is.”
Oh God, she’d just said that out loud.
His lips curled at the corners, but he looked at the bartender and raised a finger. A cold brew was deposited in front of him, and he took a long draw before setting it down. “Is there a good reason your hand’s in your glass?”
“Oh!” She pulled out her hand and dried it with a napkin. “I was just trying to get this off.” She tugged the ring again, but it still didn’t budge.
“Let me try.” His large hand enclosed hers, and he pulled it toward his face.
Frannie’s heart fluttered, and then heat swept across her cheeks. Was he going to kiss her hand?
Instead, he opened his mouth and swallowed her finger.
She was so surprised she yelped and tried to draw back her hand.
His grasp tightened. Then his gaze never left hers as his teeth closed gently around the ring and slid it slowly off her finger.
Sure she was well on the way to melting into a puddle at his feet, Frannie sighed with relief when he released her tingling fingers.
The diamond sparkled brightly between his white teeth as he grinned. He plucked it from his mouth and dipped it in his own beer before handing it back.
Frannie clasped her hands firmly in her lap. “I don’t want it,” she said, her voice flat.
“You’re just angry. You’ll want it later.” He slid it over the tip of his pinkie finger. “I’ll keep it for you—for now. What’s your name?”
Frannie jumped. “Why do you want to know?”
“Just in case I lose you in this crowd—I’d like to know who to return the ring to.”
Frannie watched his expression closely for a clue to his true intent. The explanation sounded reasonable enough, but Frannie knew every guy had an ulterior motive for every good deed—and it usually had something to do with sex.
He held up both hands. “Honest. I’m not askin’ for a date—I don’t go for almost-married ladies.” He wiggled the finger with the ring. “This doesn’t look like a knock-off. When you’re over bein’ mad, you’ll want it back.”
Frannie sighed and stuck out her hand. “Francesca Valentine.”
His much larger hand swallowed hers, but he gave her the gentlest squeeze and let her go. “Niall Keegan.”
Frannie felt a reluctant smile tug at her lips. “I knew you were Irish.”
He lifted one dark, perfectly shaped eyebrow and grinned deliciously. “Must have been my stunning good looks.”
That she couldn’t deny, but she’d be the last woman to feed another man’s ego. “You’ve a trace of a brogue in your voice,” she said, imitating his accent.
“Me mother would be mortified, she would,” he said, exaggerating the lilt. “She sent us all to school to learn to speak like Americans.”
Frannie tilted her head. “Why? I think your accent’s lovely.”
“She didn’t want us taken for every other Irisher straight off the boat.”
“That’s kind of an archaic sentiment in this day and age. Who in this city isn’t right off the boat? In your profession, especially—I don’t know when the last time was I caught a cab with someone who could actually speak English.”
Niall shrugged. “Well, it was a long time ago. Things were a little harder in her day.”
“She sounds like Zia Grazia.” At his quizzical expression, she added, “My mama’s aunt. Now, she was straight off the boat from Italy. Literally.” She started to raise her glass again, and then remembered the places her hands had been tonight. She wrinkled her nose and set it down.
“Would you be wantin’ another beer?”
Frannie sighed. The man wasn’t going to leave her alone to wallow in her misery. “I suppose so. But I’ll buy my own. This isn’t a date.”
He waved at the bartender. “Another beer for the lady.”
Frannie pulled out a ten, quickly laid it on the counter, then gave him a warning glare.
Niall stared at the bill. “Don’t go gettin’ nervous, now. I’ll let you pay.”
“I’m not…nervous, that is. It’s just—”
“I know. This isn’t a date.”
The bartender replaced her beer, and an awkward silence fell between them.
“So, you want to talk about what happened back there?” Niall asked quietly.
Frannie didn’t have to guess what he was talking about. She supposed it was pretty obvious what had happened at the shipping office, what with Vinnie half-dressed and Raeline slinking away. But admitting to this man that her fiancé had cheated on her was too galling. She stared at her glass, at her lacquered fingertips—anywhere but into his knowing eyes. “Nothing happened.”
“All right. I can take a hint.” He leaned close, and his voice dropped. “But I’m a good listener. You’d be surprised the things I hear.”
Her mind went momentarily blank as she breathed in the spicy scent of his aftershave. “Oh yeah. I suppose taxi drivers hear plenty.”
“See plenty, too.”
She glanced up to see a wicked gleam shining in his eyes. And that was all it took. One wicked gleam, and she relaxed—and forgot about the louse waiting at home. The man sitting beside her was too tempting, too large to ignore. His warm, deep-timbered voice and navy eyes seduced her into letting down her guard. At least, that was the excuse she gave herself for gifting him with a smile.
His eyelids dipped, and his gaze fell to her lips. Then he drew a deep breath and glanced away. “He’s a bloody damn fool,” he gritted out.
The roughness in his voice had Frannie squirming on her barstool, recognizing his awareness, feeling excitement pricking the tips of her nipples and an unexpected curl of warmth settle in her belly. She felt almost giddy with this sudden sensual dawning. She hadn’t known this feeling since her earliest days with Vinnie. And she couldn’t recall it ever being this intense or urgent.
Never one to question an impulse, Frannie leaned toward Niall. “Would you mind kissing me?”
He drew back his head sharply and stared into her eyes. “I’m not goin’ to be your revenge, sweetheart.”
“It’s not revenge…not really.” Her cheeks flooded with heat. “It’s just I haven’t been with anyone but Vinnie for years, and I was…curious. I mean, what if I died tonight? I might never know the difference.”
“The difference between what?”
Frannie shrugged, feeling embarrassed and a little foolish. Perhaps she’d misread his interest. Before she lost her nerve, she blurted, “Between lust and love.”
His nostrils flared. “Sweetheart, there are kisses…and there are kisses. The kind I’d give you wouldn’t answer your question.”
She looked at him from beneath her lashes. Her “look” had worked before. “Try me?”
Some dark emotion flickered in his eyes, and he leaned close. He was so large and his expression almost angry that she felt a moment’s alarm. But Frannie closed her eyes tight and tilted her head.
His breath brushed her lips a moment before his lips briefly touched hers.
She blinked and opened her eyes, giving him a frustrated frown. “I’ve given Zia Grazia kisses more passionate than that.”
One dark brow quirked upward. “Oh, you were lookin’ for passion?”
“Well, you could have shown a little enthusiasm,” she muttered. She was a fool—a selfish, self-centered little fool. Just because Vinnie and Papa had told her there wasn’t a more beautiful girl in the whole wide world didn’t make it so. The Irishman probably thought she was an idiot. “This was a bad idea. I’m sorry.” She bent to reach for her purse on the ledge at her feet.
His hand closed over her arm. “I just needed for you to spell it out, sweetheart.”
Frannie shot him a startled glance, and her body tightened with desire at the flare of heat she saw in his eyes.
“Ah, you’re a temptation, Francesca Valentine. But if you’re wantin’ to experiment, it may as well be with me.”
She licked her lips in anticipation of another, deeper kiss.
He shook his head. “Not here. Not sittin’ at a bar. I’ll want to touch you.”
Oh, she wanted that too! But only enough to ascertain whether her attractions were universal. Seeing the woman Vinnie had chosen, and was willing to risk her affections over, had dented Frannie’s confidence. If she could tempt a handsome man like Niall, she knew her appeal wasn’t withering on the vine.
Not that she’d stand for anything too intimate—she was almost a married lady after all. A kiss with a little caressing wasn’t really breaking her vow. Besides, Vinnie had earned a little tit for his tat with Raeline. “Where then?”
Niall searched her face, shaking his head. “You’re a reckless girl.”
“Then you’ll just have to make sure you keep me safe.”
“I’ll kiss you outside…on the way back to my cab. Then I’ll take you home to that man of yours.”
Francesca let him help her from her stool with a light touch of his hand on her arm and leaned down to pick up her purse. Niall led the way out of the club and into the street.
Outside, the sky was cloudy, starless, and a mist reflected light in rainbow-hued halos around the streetlamps. His taxi stood alone near the corner of the street. Niall tugged her hand, pulling her toward it.
Frannie’s heart pounded fast and furious, and a trembling excitement tightened her stomach, making her slightly queasy. Funny, she didn’t remember lust making her sick to her stomach.
Just as they neared the cab, Niall pulled her within the shelter of a shop doorway. Into the shadows. Then his hands slid between the lapels of her leather jacket and parted the jacket to smooth over her breasts and around to her back.
Shock and delight made her body quiver. It was too much, too fast. I have to stop this now.
“Give me your mouth.”
Frannie decided that was just about the sexiest thing a man had ever said to her, or maybe it was just his tone—deep, resonant, wickedly masculine.
The extent of Vinnie’s romantic vocabulary was, “Why ain’t ya in bed already?”
She leaned toward Niall, yearning for his caress. His face was hidden in shadows, his body loomed, large and blatantly male. Frannie reached to slide her hands across his chest. The broad expanse was so hard she couldn’t resist squeezing the muscle she found there. At the ripples that rolled beneath her palms, her heart hammered faster.
His hands settled on her bottom. Before she had a chance to so much as give a startled squeal, he dragged her up on her toes. As Niall’s head descended, Frannie’s breath left in a rush.
Now this was a kiss! What Niall’s mouth did to hers couldn’t be described with such a short, innocent word. His lips molded hers, drew hers into his mouth where he sucked and bit, first the upper then her lower lip.
Frannie gasped, and his tongue forged into her mouth, gliding along hers, tangling with it, until they surged together in rhythm with the movement of his hips as he pressed his long, hot erection into her soft belly.
Frannie’s hands clutched his shoulders, her nails raking upward, digging into his scalp to keep his mouth clamped right where it was.
His thigh pressed between hers, and Frannie’s heart galloped like a spooked mare. But she opened her legs and strained upward, rubbing the top of her mound against his cock. Damp lust spilled from her body to soak her panties. His hands tightened on her ass, holding her still with a bruising grip, and she rose higher to meet his shallow thrusts. Ohmygod! Ohmygod!
Niall groaned into her mouth.
Frannie began to shake, feeling near to explosion—and her with every stitch of clothing still intact!
Vinnie had cheated her of more than just his fidelity. Vinnie!
Frannie tore her mouth from Niall’s and stared at his hard, strained face, horrified.
If Niall lowered his pants, she’d be tempted to let him take her here and now. With a Herculean effort, Frannie shoved at his chest. “Let me go!”
Niall closed his eyes for a long moment, and then lowered her until her uneven heels met the ground.
Still shaking, Frannie backed away and wrapped her arms around her stomach.
“I’ll take you home now,” he said, his voice hoarse.
“No!” Good lord. Vinnie would take one look at her face and know something had happened. What had she been thinking? One little kiss did not erase three years of waiting for Vinnie to set a date. “I’ll catch another cab.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Mine’s right here.”
She backed away, afraid he’d touch her with one little pinkie and reignite the fire banked in her loins. “No! I can take care of myself.” She took another step backward.
Niall’s eyes widened. “Frannie, stop!”
She whirled and stepped out—and off the curb. A loud honk and a bright light were all she knew before she found herself flying through the air.
Only it wasn’t the bus that hit her—it was the Irish freight train behind her that knocked her to ground.
“Get off me!” she gasped, trying to suck air back into her lungs. Why was he sitting on her chest?
No, he was at her side, his forehead creased with concern. He lifted her in his arms and carried her back to the sidewalk.
Still she couldn’t seem to catch her breath, and from there her memories grew fragmented. She had the impression she’d slept for a time. She moaned and shook her head.
“Don’t move, sweetheart. I’m so sorry, love,” Niall said, his voice laced with regret. “You’ll only hurt for a moment.” Although his face was inches above hers, Niall’s voice sounded like it came from the bottom of a deep well.
“Don’t hurt,” she muttered. “Tired. Cold. Can’t…breathe.”
“Hold on, sweetheart.” He gently tilted her head to the side.
Frannie felt the heat of Niall’s amazing lips clamp on the side of her neck, followed by a pricking pain. Then her world narrowed as darkness closed around her.
No, the Q59 bus to Flushing hadn’t killed her.
Niall Keegan had.