Nicole Fleming and Dante LaPalma have nothing in common except an old man's legacy. Joe Corbet has promised that a great treasure awaits them--if they're clever enough to solve his riddles within a six-month time frame, that is. According to Joe's will, Nicole and Dante must participate in several excursions. After each adventure, a new clue will be presented that will lead them to their next obstacle. Only when they've completed every task can they discover the treasure meant just for them. Along the way, Nicole and Dante are forced to share their secrets and place their faith in one another. If they can learn to work together, they'll discover what's truly important in life. And maybe, if they're lucky, they'll find the greatest treasure of all: love.
Dante's one of my favorite heroes. Beneath his alpha exterior, he's full of vulnerabilities and has a major league sweet side that only the heroine, Nicole, can pull out of him.
On the opposite side of the road, a mint green Jaguar pulled a rolling stop, and then cut left in front of him.
“What the--?” He turned right and followed the idiot in the Jag.
Seconds later, the Jaguar sped up and into Nicole’s driveway where it slammed to a halt.
Well, now this is getting interesting…
Curiosity burning, Dante pulled over a few houses away and cut the engine.
A man, tall as Dante but not as broad, stepped from the Jaguar. A speeding Nicole launched herself from the back porch into his open arms.
Okay, so who was this clown? And how long should he wait before punching his lights out?
The intense expressions on both their faces drove a spike through Dante’s chest, and he rolled down the window to hear their conversation, but had parked too far away to discern their low voices. When the clown stroked Nicole’s hair and she buried her face in the crook of his neck, Dante’s hands clenched the steering wheel with enough force to strangle it.
Meanwhile, still wrapped around each other, the couple ambled up the steps and into the house.
Now what? A sane voice told him to turn around and go home. One love triangle in a lifetime was more than enough. No way would he go through that misery again.
Shifting in his seat, he reached to turn on the ignition when the two exited the house again. The clown held two suitcases, and Nicole toted a red plaid box that he guessed was a pet carrier. With her shoulders hunched and her eyes staring at the ground, she had the posture of a beaten woman.
Leaning over the dashboard, Dante squinted and peered harder through the windshield. Hard to tell from this distance, but she sure didn’t look happy.
Okay, pal. All bets are off if you’re making her cry.
Before his saner side could talk sense into the furious side, he opened the car door and stepped out. Fists clenched and ready for action, he strode forward, prepared to pummel the guy into a bloody pulp his own mother wouldn’t recognize. As he drew nearer, their conversation grew clearer. The guy had a namby-pamby voice some might describe as “cultured.” Dante preferred “snotty.”
“…Unless you need a drink or anything to settle your nerves first,” the guy said.
“No, thanks,” Nicole said, her tone flat and emotionless. “I just want to hit the sheets.”
With this guy? Was she kidding?
“Don’t sell yourself short, Nic,” Dante called, sarcasm sharpening the words. “Hold out for dinner at least.”
She stopped abruptly and stared, open-mouthed. “Dante? What are you doing here?”
“I changed my mind. Thought I might like to spend a little more time with you before I went home.” His cold gaze took in the clown. “I didn’t realize you’d get so desperate for a man you’d order one from Schmucks R Us.”
The clown had the nerve to laugh.
Nicole, on the other hand, shot red-hot lasers through her eyes. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I think it means he’s jealous,” the clown replied. “A girl like Nicole doesn’t sit home alone for long, Mr…?”
“LaPalma,” he replied through gritted teeth.
“Mr. LaPalma. As a matter of fact, I suppose I should let you know that Nicole spends quite a lot of time with me.” He flashed Dante a snake-like smirk. “In my house. In my bedroom.”
“Jason!” Nicole shouted, placing the cat carrier at her feet. “Stop it! You’re not funny.” The clown turned toward her, innocence etched on his finely chiseled features. “What? I’m only telling him the truth.”
“You’re twisting it,” she retorted. “Deliberately. Keep it up and I’ll tell Farrah.”
His laughter grew loud enough to shake the trees. “Okay, fine. You win. I’ll just put these in the car while you calm the savage beast.” Hitching the suitcases up, he jerked his head in Dante’s direction. “Mr. LaPalma. Nice to meet you.”
“Yeah, right,” Dante replied, barely able to repress the urge to punch the guy square in the face.
“Are you out of your mind?” Nicole shouted. “Jason is Farrah’s husband. There’s nothing romantic between us.”
“There could be,” Jason sing-songed from the trunk of the Jag.
“You’re not helping,” she sing-songed back, and then returned her attention to Dante. “He’s harmless. Really. It’s a long story. I was upset and called Farrah. She’s still at work so Jason showed up to help me out.”
“Yeah, well, you’re not riding in a car with him. He drives like an idiot. He nearly got us both killed at the intersection back there.”
“Oh, please. I blew the stop sign,” Jason said from behind him. “So sue me. I was in a rush to reach our girl.” He sidled up to Nicole and draped his arm across her shoulder. “Come on, sweetheart. Let’s get you settled. Mr. LaPalma, you’re welcome to follow along. Nicole can tell you the whole story when we get to my house.”
“No.” He grabbed Nicole’s wrist and tugged her out of Jason’s hold. “She can tell me on the way. I’ll drive her.”
Jason looked ready to argue, but Bomber chose that moment to meow her frustration at being penned. Jason dropped his gaze to the carrier, then looked up at Dante, grinning. “Okay. But if you’re taking Nicole, you take the cat, too.”
“Oh, no. You take the cat.”
“No way. It’s a package deal. You think I want to listen to that thing howl all the way back to my house? Forget it. We’re not splitting up the set.”
“Hell-o?” Nicole interjected. “I’m standing right here. Could you stop talking about me like I’m the dotty old auntie no one wants? Bomber and I will ride with Dante. We have a few things to talk about anyway.”
“Sounds good to me,” Jason said.
Yeah, sure it did. Bomber was caterwauling and lucky Jason had just danced out of putting up with the noise for however long the drive would take.
“But, Dante?” he added. “Let me give you fair warning. Nicole’s been through enough today. You hurt her and--”
“And what?” Dante straightened to full height, fists at the ready. “Are you planning to take me on?”
“Me?” Jason gave a mock shiver. “God, no. I’m a lover, not a fighter. My wife, on the other hand, will destroy you.”
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