THE GIRL’S GUIDE TO (MAN) HUNTING – 1st Chapter Sneak Peek!Posted by in Blog - Jessica Clare | Blog - Publishing Stuff | Jessica Clare | promo
As promised, here's the first chapter of GGTMH - for more info on it, check out my page. As a reminder, this will be under my JESSICA CLARE name and comes out on May 1st!
CHAPTER ONE... (behind the cut!)
Like everything else bad that happened in Miranda Hill’s life, rear-ending old Mrs. Doolittle was purely the fault of Dane Croft.
She could have sworn that she’d recognized the broad shoulders, tight ass, and familiar swagger of her nemesis walking into the local coffee house. Her most hated enemy. The man who had ruined her life. In fact, she’d been so busy craning her neck to see if it really was Dane Croft that she hadn’t paid attention to the stoplight . . . and had plowed right into the car in front of her.
Yet another thing she could add to the list of reasons why she hated him.
Miranda put her pickup in park and slid out of the cab to look at the damage she’d caused to the other car. Mrs. Doolittle drove a Buick that was older than Miranda herself, and the thing was built like a tank—a big, powder blue tank. The bumper wasn’t even dinged, not that Mrs. D cared. The old woman crawled from the belly of the tank and scowled at her.
“You hit my car, Miranda.” If Mrs. Doolittle had a cane, she probably would have shaken it in Miranda’s face. “What on earth were you thinking, girl?”
Miranda gave Mrs. D an apologetic look and self-consciously tugged at the high collar of her pink sweater set. “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Doolittle. I was just . . . distracted.” She was still distracted, actually. Her gaze strayed to the Kurt’s Koffee on the far side of the street, but the windows were tinted and impossible to see into.
The elderly woman peered at her. “Young lady, were you using the Twitters while you were driving? You know—”
“No Internet,” Miranda blurted, tugging on her collar again. “I just wasn’t paying attention. I thought I saw . . . something.”
A car pulled up behind them. No surprise, given that most of the streets in downtown Bluebonnet were single lanes, with just enough room in the city square to park in front of one of the two restaurants. She waved for the driver to go around them, and then continued apologizing to Mrs. D, even as they exchanged insurance information. Anything to get out of the street and appease her curiosity. She kept glancing at the coffee house as she scribbled down her contact numbers.
Finally, Mrs. D was on her way, satisfied. Miranda pulled her truck into a parking space across the street and sprinted toward the coffee shop, but didn’t go inside. Instead, she pressed her hands to the glass and peered in. A few people were seated, but she didn’t see the man she was looking for.
No Dane Croft. Was she crazy? Had she imagined that she saw him? Chewing on her lip, Miranda straightened the front of her sweater set in the reflection and then went inside.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t the Boobs of Bluebonnet,” said Jimmy Langan from behind the counter. Jimmy was the town rebel, with purple, red, and black Rasta braids, a face that had never seen a tan, and enormous ear gauges that he’d probably regret when he was seventy. He grinned at her, giving Miranda the up-and-down look that she’d become far too accustomed to in the past nine years. “What can I do for you?”
“Shut up, Jimmy,” she said. Three weeks. She could deal with the jokes and the sneaking glances at her breasts for three more weeks. Moving past the counter, she peered down the hallway at the restrooms. No Dane Croft. She resisted the urge to open the door, and instead wandered back to the counter. “Is anyone in there?”
“You want me to go and check under the stalls for feet?” Jimmy said dryly.
“Well, no,” she stammered, her hand going to the collar of her sweater. “Maybe.” She hesitated, reluctant to say the name of the man she was looking for. If she even so much as uttered Dane’s name, the rumors would start flying all over town again.
You know that nice Miranda Hill? She never quite got over Dane Croft. She was asking about him in Kurt’s Koffee. Poor thing.
Remember that man in the photos with Miranda Hill? She’s still sweet on him. I heard she’s still got the hots for him and that’s why she hasn’t married.
The town librarian? She’s a slut. Want to see the pictures? She spent seven minutes in heaven with Casanova Croft back when they were both in high school. They even took photos of it. Just google “Boobs of Bluebonnet” and you’ll see them.
Miranda clutched the collar of her demure sweater even harder. “So what kind of customers have you had today?”
Jimmy shrugged lazily, adjusting the thick black-frame glasses on his pasty, scruffy face. He’d been a stoner back when they’d graduated from high school together, and he was a stoner still. Asking him to remember the customers he’d had that morning might be beyond his pot-riddled memory. “Couple soy lattes, couple double espressos, a venti mocha frap with double Splenda . . .”
Great, just what she needed: a rundown of coffee orders. She feigned interest, her eyes skimming the restaurant as Jimmy rattled off a litany of special requests.
“And a certain someone you might recall,” Jimmy added slowly, his gaze dropping to her breasts. “We went to high school with him.”
She crossed her arms over her chest, doing her best to hide what the underwire minimizer wouldn’t. Her heart was thudding hard in her chest, but she forced herself to be nonchalant about the information. “Oh? Someone from high school? Who’s that?”
To her surprise, he reached behind the counter and pulled out a brown and green pamphlet. “You remember Dane Croft? Casanova Croft? Star of the Las Vegas Flush?”
The guy she’d been making out with in the closet? The one with his hand on her boobs and the other down her pants for all eternity thanks to a few ill-timed photos and the magic of the Internet? Who’d left the next day to be drafted into the NHL and become a star while she’d been stuck in town as her mother had a nervous breakdown? The Casanova Croft who’d been booted out of the NHL six years later for sleeping with the coach’s wife? Life-ruiner and all-around jerk?
Yeah, she knew who he was. “I’m familiar with the guy.”
“He’s moved back to town,” Jimmy said, offering her the pamphlet. “Him and two other guys we went to high school with are starting a business here. Something about survival training classes. They bought the Daughtry Ranch on the outskirts of town.”
“The Daughtry Ranch?” Miranda echoed, taking the pamphlet from him and forcing her shaking fingers to open it. The Daughtry Ranch was ten thousand acres of private property, and when old Mr. Daughtry had died without an heir, the ranch had gone up for auction. No one in town knew who’d ended up buying it. Sure enough, there in the picture on the pamphlet were three men she recognized: Grant Markham, Colt Waggoner, and her nemesis—Dane Croft. The three of them were dressed in black T-shirts and camouflage pants, and the top of the brochure proudly proclaimed, “Wilderness Survival Expeditions: Bushcraft Training for Corporate and Military Groups.”
Survival training? The Dane Croft she remembered was a hard-partying playboy who refused to do anything that didn’t involve beer or girls—or both. She remembered Grant and Colt—one was a jock and one had been the richest guy in her class. Both had moved away when they’d graduated, just like Dane. And now they were back . . . just like Dane.
Could today possibly get any worse?
She tucked the brochure into her pocket, feeling faint. “Thanks, Jimmy. Can I get a green tea latte, please?”
“Sure,” Jimmy said lazily, his gaze sliding to her breasts again. “Venti, grande, or tall? Iced or hot? Two percent, whole, skim, or soy?”
Miranda had her phone out, dialing, and ignored Jimmy. Her other hand fluttered back to her pocket repeatedly, touching the brochure again and again.
“Right. I’ll just make something up,” he drawled, then turned away to make her drink.
Beth Ann picked up the office phone on the second ring. “California Dreamin’,” she answered in a chirpy voice. “We do waxes, haircuts, highlights, and perms. Can I make you an appointment?”
“It’s me,” Miranda hissed into the receiver, covering the phone and turning away in case Jimmy planned on listening in. “You’re never going to believe who’s back in town.”
“Dane Croft,” Miranda gritted.
There was a long pause on the other end of the line. “The Dane Croft? The Vegas Flush player? The one we went to high school with?”
“The one who put his hand down your pants—”
“I’m clearing my lunch appointments,” Beth Ann declared. “Be here in twenty minutes and we’ll talk.”
For Beth Ann, a “talk” usually involved waxing Miranda’s eyebrows, a trim for Miranda’s split ends, and a manicure. They’d been friends ever since the fifth grade, and if there was one thing that Miranda knew about Beth Ann, it was that she liked her hands busy while she chatted. Her small salon was nearly empty at noon on a Wednesday, and Miranda waited patiently as Beth Ann unlocked the back room that housed a tanning bed and let in a teenage blonde.
“I keep telling Candy that she’s going to look like a handbag by the time she’s thirty, but she won’t listen to me,” Beth Ann said with a shrug, returning to the barber chair Miranda sat in. “And the tanning bed brings in almost as much money as manicures do.” She spun the chair around, turning Miranda toward the mirror, and flung the pink satin styling cape over her clothes. “Now, honey, tell me your problems.”
“My problem is Dane Croft,” Miranda said, digging under the cape and pulling the brochure out. She held it toward Beth Ann. “He’s moved back to town—permanently. And he’s started a survival business with Grant Markham and Colt Waggoner.”
“Survival business?” Beth Ann tucked a lock of perfectly highlighted blond hair behind her ear and gave Miranda an odd look in the mirror. “That doesn’t sound like the Dane Croft we went to high school with.”
“It’s him—look at the picture.” Miranda slumped in the salon chair, wishing this day would start over again.
Beth Ann’s eyebrows rose as she stared at the pamphlet. “Professional survival services? That’s kind of strange.”
“I know,” said Miranda flatly.
“Mmm. Just look at them. They’ve all filled out rather . . . nicely, don’t you think?”
Miranda scowled and snatched the pamphlet back, glancing at the photo again. All three men were tall and fit, she supposed. Dane’s arms were especially toned with muscle. He had a dark tan and his black hair was cut incredibly short. The white smile on his face was as familiar as her own. He actually looked like a hunky, Hollywood version of a survival instructor. That made her feel worse. “This is just awful.”
“Why is it awful?” She began to comb out Miranda’s long, dark brown hair and trim the ends. “This is the perfect time for him to come back. You’re leaving for that big job in the city in three weeks, remember? You only have to avoid him until then.” And she sighed.
Miranda ignored Beth Ann’s sigh. She’d heard enough of them to feel permanently guilty about the fact that she wanted to leave Bluebonnet behind for a job in Houston. A job with real benefits and a chance to move up the corporate ladder. A job that could lead anywhere, maybe even chief information officer. Or higher. Miranda Hill, the Boobs of Bluebonnet, would have a fancy title and an even fancier job. She could actually do something with her master’s in Library Science instead of just re-cataloging books and taking complaints from old ladies who wanted the “dirty vampire books” removed from the shelves. “This is my chance to do something, Bethy. To get out of town. To be something other than the Boobs of Bluebonnet.”
“It’s what you’ve always wanted,” agreed Beth Ann. “It doesn’t mean that it won’t make me sad to see you go.”
Miranda regarded her friend through the mirror, watching as Beth Ann clipped her ends with careful, precise fingers. “I know. I’ll come back and visit you all the time.”
In the mirror, Beth Ann gave her a wry smile. “Sure you will.”
Miranda glared down at the pamphlet and the three tanned, attractive men on the cover. “You know, I was hoping for three quiet weeks to relax and get things settled. My last day at the library was yesterday. My apartment in Houston is leased. The house is almost packed. I’ve got nothing to do for the next three weeks except stare at this picture and stew. Except every time I look at this, I see them.”
“Three sexy beasts?”
“Not them. The pictures.”
The images were ingrained into her memory. If she lived to be eighty, she’d never forget one single detail of those grainy, horrible photos—her torso facing the camera, an expression of complete and utter abandon on her face. Her T-shirt pushed up around her neck, her breasts facing the camera. Dane’s mouth on her neck and his hand down the front of her panties. Then the picture of her kneeling in front of him, as if she was about to give him a blow job.
She’d never known that there’d been a camera in the closet. Or that he’d pack up and leave town practically the next day to join the NHL, without a single word to her. Miranda had been forced to pretend that she wasn’t hurt by his abandonment, but abandonment had soon given way to horror as soon as the pictures surfaced.
And with a town as small as Bluebonnet . . . everyone talked. She hadn’t slept with Dane, but that didn’t matter. She’d tried going to the police when the pictures first went up, but her mother had been so upset and sheriff had looked at her like she was trash, and she’d dropped the entire thing rather than acknowledge that the pictures were of her and Dane. At the time, she’d hoped it’ll all just go away. No such luck.. Everyone in town assumed she had slept with Dane, blown him in the closet at a party, and they looked at her like she was dirt. In their eyes, she was dirt. The town slut. It had taken patience, a stiff upper lip, and years of a quiet existence as the town’s librarian before she’d managed to grasp a semblance of her reputation again.
Beth Ann put down the scissors and leaned over the back of the chair, smiling into the mirror at Miranda’s frown. “Well, you’ve got three weeks to burn, and your infamous ex is back in town. You can pretty much do what you want and you won’t be here to suffer the repercussions. So what do you want to do? TP his house? Key his car? I’m sure we can think up something totally juvenile and completely satisfying.”
Miranda stared down at the pamphlet, at Dane’s confident smile. But what she saw was pictures of herself on a webpage, in e-mails forwarded to thousands of people. Tossed up on the Internet and forever linked to her name. Pictures of his hand down her pants, her breasts angled at the camera like twin beacons.
And she stared at Dane’s casual, confident brochure smile again. Professional survival training, the pamphlet read.
Casanova Croft, kicked off of the Las Vegas Flush for sleeping with the owner’s wife.
Professional survival training. Professional.
“I think I want revenge,” Miranda blurted, then turned to stare up at her friend. “I know it’s not rational, and I don’t even care. Is that crazy?”
“Not at all,” soothed Beth Ann. “What did you have in mind?”
Miranda held up the brochure, an idea forming. “I want to ruin his career like he did mine.”
“I’m listening, honey.”
Miranda flipped open the pamphlet. “They’re just starting a business, right? What if pictures of Dane Croft surfaced on the Internet? Naked pictures of him? Naked, compromising pictures of him?” The idea began to grow in her mind, and she jumped out of the chair, almost trembling with excitement. “Naked, compromising pictures of him in a survival situation?”
Her best friend’s blond brows furrowed together. “And where would you get such pictures?”
“I’d take them myself.”
Beth Ann raised an eyebrow. “And just how are you going to do that?”
Miranda held up the brochure triumphantly. “I’m going to sign up for a survival course and use the legendary Boobs of Bluebonnet against him. Casanova Croft won’t stand a chance.”
“Are you sure that’s wise?”
“I’ve never been wise around Dane Croft,” Miranda said, thinking of the last time she’d seen him.
“Seven minutes in heaven,” Chad announced, shoving Miranda and Dane toward his bedroom closet. Giggling teenagers surrounded them, and Miranda felt her cheeks heat with embarrassment, but she didn’t let go of Dane’s hand.
Dane nudged Chad and grinned. “Do me a favor, bro, and skip the timer.”
She could have protested, said she wasn’t that kind of girl, but she said nothing, not even when the door shut behind them. She wanted to be that kind of girl with Dane.
Chad’s closet smelled like sweaty football gear and dirty clothes. It was crammed full of boxes and clothing on hangers, the single flickering lightbulb overhead not offering much in the way of light. She wrinkled her nose at the musty smell of the closet and waited, her breath catching. Would Dane make a move on her tonight? They’d flirted for weeks, held hands for the last one, and kissed under the bleachers. Given time, she knew she wanted him to be the one to take her overdue virginity.
But time was the one thing they didn’t have. They’d graduated earlier that evening and after the cap and gown ceremony, they’d headed to Chad’s for the last senior fling.
It was now or never.
She gestured at the light overhead as it flickered again. “Should we turn that off?”
“Leave it on. I like looking at you.” Dane’s hand gave hers a squeeze and he smiled at her. “You okay?”
Yes, she wanted to say. I’m fine. Did you have a nice time at graduation? But it came out as a whimper, the words lodged in her throat.
Dane chuckled at that. “I guess I should be telling you ‘Happy eighteenth birthday,’” he said. “You’re as old as me now.”
Eighteen, and they’d be going off to college soon. The thought ran through her mind, urgent curls of heat rushing through her. Instead of responding, she pulled him close and began to kiss him instead, her mouth seeking his.
“Whoa,” Dane whispered, but his hands went to her ass and he pulled her against him, grinding his hips against her own. His tongue slid into her mouth, delving deep and tasting her in the sweetest kiss she’d ever had. His mouth pulled away from hers after a long moment and he breathed hard in her ear. “Damn, Miranda.”
Her own breath thrilled at that, and she slid her leg between his . . . and stumbled, landing on him.
He cursed, trying to shift his weight, pinned between a row of jackets and a stack of boxes.
“Sorry,” she whispered meekly, shaking her high-heeled boot. “I think my shoe got caught in his helmet.”
They fumbled in the cramped quarters, and Miranda grabbed onto a shelf and pulled herself up, then turned to remove the football helmet from her boot.
Dane shifted behind her, his hands sliding around her waist. “That’s better,” he whispered against her neck. Something tickled at her waist, where her shirt rode up—his fingers.
Her hand covered his, and she moved it farther up under her shirt, quivering with pleasure. “Touch me, Dane. Please.”
“Love to,” he whispered in her ear, and pressed a kiss against her neck, making her squirm. “You are the hottest damn thing in this town, Miranda Hill.”
“You know it, Dane Croft,” she whispered, craning her neck so his tongue could glide along her throat. Heat pulsed through her body. She didn’t protest when his hands slid to her shirt and pulled it over her head in the near darkness. She even unhooked her own bra, since his fingers fumbled at her back for a long moment. But then his hands were cupping her breasts, his fingers warm against her skin. Fingers teased her nipples and she gasped, lifting her arms and twining them around his bent head.
From behind her, he pressed a kiss against her bare shoulder and she could feel his erection against her jeans. His fingers tweaked her nipples again, and her breath caught in response. “Dane,” she whispered. “God, do that again.”
“I’ll do even better,” he said against her neck. One hand grasping her full breast, his other slid down her belly and undid the button on her jeans. Her entire body tensed, tingles of excitement running through her. Was he going to touch her . . . there?
His fingertips slid into her panties, brushed the curls of her sex, and she let out a whimper of delight. Two seconds later, his fingertips slipped into her panties. One finger swept past the lips of her sex, grazed her clit. Oh yes. His hand squeezed her breast at the same time that he stroked her there, and her entire body stiffened, the anticipation of being in the closet with him rushing her toward an orgasm—
Miranda froze in place. Dane continued to finger her, biting at her shoulder, and she pulled away from him, sliding his hand out of her panties. “Did you hear that?”
His hands reached for her, brushed against her breasts again. “Didn’t hear anything.”
“I thought I heard a noise,” she said softly, staring at the closet door. It was still shut, and the doorknob didn’t move. Overhead, the light flickered again. Nothing. Maybe she was imagining things. Paranoid at being caught. If she listened hard, she could hear her classmates giggling in the other room, waiting for them to emerge.
She started to protest, but he bit her shoulder and pleasure crashed over her, and she didn’t protest when his hand slid back into her panties once more.
Looking back, she had been so very, very dumb. She should have guessed that Dane would have hidden a camera in that damn closet. Should have guessed that he’d want all his buddies to see that he’d gotten into curvy Miranda Hill’s panties and made her writhe against his hand in a closet. She hadn’t blown him, either, but no one would believe that from looking at the photos.
And she should have guessed that he’d disappear as soon as the NHL came calling. Who was she to him? No one, it seemed, but a quickie in the closet.