Shields up, sugar—things in Plum Orchard are about to get real.
Marybell Lyman is notorious for two things:
Her look. The wicked hairstyle, multiple piercings and practiced sneer that say: "Stay back—I bite."
Her voice. The syrupy lilt that's her bread and butter at Call Girls, the prim little town's flourishing phone-sex company.
Hunky handyman Taggart Hawthorn is mesmerized by the contradiction: such sweet tones inside such a spiky shell! He wants to know more about mysterious Marybell, to hear more of her sexy talk—all for himself.
But Tag's attentions, delicious as they are, have Marybell panicked. She's been hiding a long time. She's finally got a home, a job and friends she adores. She won't have it all snatched away by another stupid mistake—like falling in love. So when Marybell's past comes calling, she and the Call Girls will prove no one handles scandals like a Southern girl!
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Dakota Cassidy lives and writes in Oregon in a castle high on a hill, overlooking her quaint mobile home village, and she has a husband that puts the heroes in her books to shame.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Heaven and a ring o' fire…
Under normal circumstances, Marybell Lyman would have laughed at her employer and friend Dixie Davis's shocked words when she pushed her way into her small basement apartment, stopped dead in her tracks and tipped her head to the side as if she'd just witnessed the second coming.
But this circumstance wasn't normal.
Dixie stood poised in her doorway for a moment, the cold draft from the late-winter evening ruffling her knee-length burgundy sweater. Dixie, never without words, stared at her, speechless. She tucked a strand of her long auburn hair behind her ear and hummed something else Marybell couldn't quite hear because of her clogged ears.
Marybell scurried back to her couch without a word, plunking herself down on the new sofa she'd just had delivered. She huddled into her bathrobe, keeping her head down as far as she could without making her nose begin running again.
When her friends from work had all shown up to coddle her with chicken soup and some good ol' Southern love, she'd panicked. Her heart racing, her head full of cotton, throbbing an endless, crushing beat, she'd battled with whether to answer the door.
No one saw her this way—unmasked—ever, and definitely not Dixie, the owner of the phone sex company where she worked as a phone sex operator.
But it wasn't as though there was any hiding from the three pretty faces full of concern, pressed against the glass of her front door like a trio of suction-cupped Garfields in the back of a car window.
She couldn't simply shoo them away or make up some excuse to keep them from barging in even if she truly wanted to. As a whole, Team Call Girls was unstoppable. If you told them no, they yelled, "Bless your heart," and trampled all over you and your nos with their cute heels.
Why, oh, why hadn't she thought to pull the shade down over the glass before she'd taken those cold meds and fallen asleep?
Breathe, Marybell. Act natural.
Ha! Easy for the voice inside her head to say. It didn't have to fend off three gawking mother hens, as well meaning as they were, and remain calm while its in-sides twisted into a knot fit for a Boy Scout.
LaDawn Jenkins, coworker, friend, best phone sex operator in the universe, stood next to Dixie, a woven basket with a red-checkered napkin covering what Marybell suspected were freshly baked rolls, and cocked her platinum-blond head. "I have rolls," she mumbled, dropping them on the end table next to her box of tissues. "With butter," she added, her brow furrowing.
Marybell hunkered farther down in her bathrobe, fighting another violent shudder of chills, almost too feverish to care about her friends seeing her for the first time devoid of what she'd secretly dubbed her "people shield."
She should be in the process of making a break for it. Or at the very least, putting a paper bag over her head. But she'd spent herself simply finding her gel eye mask and answering the door. Her legs were so weak, her chest so congested and tight, it would take everything she had left in her to move again.
Instead, she cast her eyes toward her feet, covered in fuzzy black calf-length socks with the slipper-grippers on the soles.
There's nowhere to hide but in plain sight now, Marybell Lyman. You 're stewed. Try not to look obvious.
Emmaline Amos, soon to be Emmaline Hawthorne if the way things were shaping up between her and Jax was any indication, almost fell smack into Dixie and LaDawn when she rushed in the front door. The skid of her conservative black pumps screeched to a halt against the wood floor.
She gasped in her "clutch your pearls" way but covered by quickly clamping her lips shut. Naturally, she didn't mean for her mouth to open before her brain properly filtered her shock. Em was nothing if she wasn't the epitome of Southern decorum.
That Southern diplomacy was why Dixie had given her the position of general manager at Call Girls Inc. She was tactful, kind and able to appease even the crankiest of customers.
And she always did what was right and decorous—even if it killed her. Though, mostly this behavior was due to her incredibly kind heart. She'd earned Mary-bell's deepest respect since coming to Call Girls, newly single after her ex-husband had all but abandoned her and her boys to live his life as a cross-dresser.
Em was down-home tough. Soft and pliable like Play-Doh on the outside, but made of steel parts of resolve on the inside. There wasn't a coon dog's chance in purgatory she'd acknowledge just how astonished she was.
Instead, she carried in a large Crock-Pot bowl with two heart-covered oven mitts over her hands to protect them from the heat. Em assessed Marybell for a moment, brief and fleeting, before her eyes flickered, and proper Em was firmly back in place. "We brought you…" She almost stuttered the words, gazing down at Marybell. But then she caught herself reacting and forced her shoulders to square and her spine to straighten. Em cleared her throat. "Soup," she finished with a warm smile full of perfect white teeth and ruby-red lipstick. "Chicken soup—for your poor, flu-riddled soul, you sweet, phlegmy angel." Em set the Crock-Pot on the old chest Marybell used as a coffee table, dropping the mitts next to it.
Marybell murmured a thank-you into the collar of her bathrobe.
Em flapped her hands in the way she always did, signifying that her kind gesture was much ado about nothing. "Did you really expect we'd let you suffer all alone? Not on my watch, miss. Mercy, we've been worried to death about you ever since you called in sick earlier today, sugarplum. Dixie said you sounded like a congested bullfrog, and weak as a kitten to boot. You hafta feed that cold. Which is why we all cooked up something and forced our way in here like the interfering henpeckers we are."
"Rolls," LaDawn repeated again stiffly, clearly still experiencing aftershocks of the "holy Hannah in a wet suit" variety. "I brought rolls. With butter" She pointedly tapped the basket.
Marybell smiled in an abstract, afraid-to-meet-their-eyes way, too cold to pull her hands from the confines of her bathrobe to take a roll, too rattled to move. "Yum, butter. How kind. Thanks, girls." She dabbed at her eyes, red-rimmed and drippy under the mask.
Now that formalities and justifications were made, she waited, quietly, if not inquisitively, for an answer to the unspoken question.
Why haven't we ever seen who the real Marybell Lyman is?
They all waited.
For an explanation about her appearance, with plenty of side-eye and questions in the form of an entire conversation played out with only the expressions on their faces.
Em folded her fists at her waist, resting them on her slender hips, her teeth working the corner of her lower lip.
Dixie placed her forearm over her chest, resting her other arm in the crook of it, and cupped her chin with her hand, blatantly stumped.
LaDawn just left the opportunity for flies to congregate in her mouth, which was now, unabashedly, wide-open.
Marybell waited, too. Her fuzzy, medicated brain was searching for a way to handle this without turning it into a topic of long discussion wherein she explained why no one ever saw her freshly scrubbed face.
Under any other circumstances, mentally guessing who'd crack first under the pressure of etiquette would have been as much fun as watching Nanette Pruitt bluster when Marybell sat next to her in church and sang "Onward, Christian Soldier," loud and entirely off-key.
The stunning difference between this MB—sans red-and-green-spiked Mohawk, heavy eye makeup, nose ring and facial piercings—and the one sitting before them had to be killing them.
This was the Marybell Lyman not a solitary soul had seen in at least four years, except her bathroom mirror just before she spent an hour applying the "people shield."
If she were a bettin' kind, she'd lay bets on LaDawn, the most vocal of their group, and while Southern to her last breath, she was also unashamedly opinionated and outspoken. There was no subtext to LaDawn, and it was probably one of the things Marybell loved most about her. She was an ex-lady of the evening, or as she jokingly called her former profession, a "companionator." Words weren't something LaDawn struggled with.
Yet nothing. The old clock on her coffee-with-cream-painted wall ticked away the seconds while each woman internally struggled with her appearance and fought not to visibly squirm.
Marybell's sudden sneeze into a crumpled tissue made all of them jump, forcing her to address the issue. If she made light of it, they would, too and she needed them to make light. She prayed they'd follow her lead.
"My nose ring is at the cleaners," she teased, breaking the ice with a honking snort into a brand-new tissue.
Dixie finally spoke, her voice just above a whisper, as though if someone heard her, she'd be tagged responsible for letting the cat out of the bag. "If I didn't know this was your apartment, I'd never have—"
"Known you from a hole in the wall!" LaDawn crowed, her voice now located. She planted her hands on her hips, encased in her usual skintight jeans, and pushed her hair over her shoulder with daggerlike-tipped fingers of glittery purple. "Dang, girl." She pulled the words from her lips as if she were pulling a thick milk shake from a straw. "You'd better hurry up and get better so you can do up that hair before the town fair starts next week. I'll never be able to find my way to the cotton candy stand if that Mohawk o' yours isn't stickin' out in every direction, pointin' me to the land of sugary pink heaven." She chuckled, leaning forward to tweak a wet strand of Marybell's hair with affectionate fingers.
Marybell sniffled, wincing at the sharp tug to her sinuses, afraid to let loose a sigh of relief. Keeping her chin tucked inside her bathrobe, she forced a chuckle. "Oh, you hush, LaDawn. You don't need me to do that. You have Doc Johnson to light your way."
LaDawn chuffed, popping her dark-purple-lined lips. "Don't you talk to me about Doc Johnson. That man hasn't come callin' in three solid days."
Em, obviously unable to stand it anymore, plopped down on the couch next to her, directing LaDawn to bring her a bowl and ladle from the kitchen. She smoothed the fan of her skirt over her knees. "First off, Cat sends her love. She didn't want to, but we made her stay home. Wouldn't be good for her to catch somethin' from you with the baby on the way."
Marybell loved Cat Butler. A free spirit, a hugger, one of her first real friends, and now madly in love with Flynn McGrady and well on her way to beginning their family. "Tell her I said thank you, and keep that bun in the oven safe."
Em popped her lips. "So, how is it that we've been friends for all this time now, and we've never seen the true Marybell?" She plucked at the eye mask, making Marybell swat at her hands. "Well, almost the true Marybell. You've seen us in all sorts of manner, miss. Drunk, seminaked, riding a mechanical bull, for heaven's sake. Fair is fair." She asked the question as though it were some slight for Marybell never to have revealed herself without her makeup and gel-spiked hair.
She really wanted to ask why they'd surprise-attacked her with food and hospitality when she'd expressly told Dixie she'd be fine and back at work within the week. All she needed was some rest and cold medication. She'd done that with the fervent hope they wouldn't catch her exactly as they'd done.
But leave it to Em and Dixie to have to see for themselves she wasn't going to do something as dramatic as die of the latest illness they'd hunted down on WebMD.
Still, her friends made her smile. They were a reason to get up these days when for so long, there wasn't any reason at all.
They were loving, nurturing machines, the lot of them. Give them an ailment, and they were fixing it with age-old home remedies and more smothering love than you could shake a stick at. How could she be angry with them for caring about her?
But she hadn't been prepared for their insistent knock on her door. It left her more than uneasy without her cloak of heavy makeup and piercings in place. There was always the chance, even in small-town Plum Orchard, Georgia, she'd be recognized. The people here had been ever so slow to come to terms with how different her appearance was from the likes of them.
Yet she'd sucked up the strange looks and whispers behind hands at Madge's Kitchen where she had dinner almost every night before her shift for a reason. It beat the livin' daylights out of the alternative.
Rather than answer Em, Marybell deflected, looking her friend square in the eye. She was the master of deflection. "Do I ever see the true Emmaline?" she asked with mock innocence, glad for the cloak of her congestion concealing her weak attempt at subterfuge.
"Bah! You most certainly do see the true Emmaline. You see her with lipstick." Em pursed her lips, dragging a throw from the back of Marybell's couch to cover her with it. She tucked the edges under her chin with gentle fingers, pressing the back of her hand to Marybell's forehead with a wince.
Marybell coughed, turning her head and using her arm to shield Em from her germs. "Exactly." She smiled.
"Gravy," Dixie murmured, patting her on the back while setting a cup of steaming lemon tea laced with honey on the end table, her eyes perusing Marybell's freshly scrubbed face. "Even stricken with the flu and a gel eye mask, you're beautiful. I don't like this turn of events Ms. MB," she joked with her infamous flirty smile. "I'm glad Caine didn't see you without your goo or I'd be a goner. Plus, you're younger than me by six years. I simply won't have you, or anyone in this town, bein' prettier than me."
Em clucked her tongue, shooting Dixie a chiding finger. "Are you sayin' Caine wouldn't fall for her with her makeup and the pointy green-and-red things all over her head? Are you sayin' he doesn't love you for what's on your insides, Dixie Davis? That he's nothing more than a shallow shell of a man with a heartbeat and a chiseled jaw?"
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Descrizione libro Harlequin MIRA, 2014. Condizione libro: New. Ships from the UK. BRAND NEW. Codice libro della libreria GRP78033143
Descrizione libro Mira Books, Canada, 2014. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. Shields up, sugar--things in Plum Orchard are about to get real. Marybell Lyman is notorious for two things: Her look. The wicked hairstyle, multiple piercings and practiced sneer that say: Stay back--I bite. Her voice. The syrupy lilt that s her bread and butter at Call Girls, the prim little town s flourishing phone-sex company. Hunky handyman Taggart Hawthorn is mesmerized by the contradiction: such sweet tones inside such a spiky shell! He wants to know more about mysterious Marybell, to hear more of her sexy talk--all for himself. But Tag s attentions, delicious as they are, have Marybell panicked. She s been hiding a long time. She s finally got a home, a job and friends she adores. She won t have it all snatched away by another stupid mistake--like falling in love. So when Marybell s past comes calling, she and the Call Girls will prove no one handles scandals like a Southern girl!. Codice libro della libreria BTE9780778316312
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Descrizione libro MIRA, 2014. Mass Market Paperback. Condizione libro: New. book. Codice libro della libreria 778316319
Descrizione libro MIRA, 2014. Mass Market Paperback. Condizione libro: New. book. Codice libro della libreria 0778316319
Descrizione libro MIRA (June 24 2014), 2014. Soft cover. Condizione libro: New. 1st Edition. Mass Market Paperback: 442 pages Publisher: MIRA (June 24 2014) Language: English ISBN-10: 0778316319 ISBN-13: 978-0778316312 Product Dimensions: 10.5 x 3 x 16.9 cm. Codice libro della libreria 805
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