Investigative journalist Annabelle Carlyle is stunned by the personal twist of her latest assignment: her best friend Vanessa is missing. Annabelle goes undercover in the Old South to search for answers. Full of thick accents and a way of life rooted in the past, Charleston is as foreign and strange a place as any she's visited. Before finding a single clue, Annabelle encounters a sexy man she can't shake.
Tall, dark and charming, Mark Dering is happy to show the gorgeous Yankee his hometown. He's captivated by the quick witted, quick tempered redhead. But when they're shot at, he realizes she's far more than just another tourist. Soon they're deep into a mystery that goes way back to the Civil War. For once Annabelle is in over her head. Desperate to find Vanessa, she reluctantly accepts Mark's help and it isn't long before romance blooms.
The stakes grow higher when a body is discovered. Someone is willing to kill to keep a century old Confederate secret hidden. With her best friend missing and a killer on the loose, it's the worst possible moment for Mark to try and unlock Annabelle's heart. Or is love exactly what her life's been missing?
Read on for a peek at the first chapter of Carolina Heat:
“Ready to go?” Mark slid in beside her.
“You have no idea. I’ve been fantasizing about getting horizontal.” She leaned her head against the seat with a sigh.
“Really?” He drew out the word slowly.
“You’ve known me for five minutes and you’re already fantasizing about me?”
Heat rushed to her face as her unintentional double meaning registered. “Oh, no. I mean, that certainly wasn’t an invitation.” Now he probably thought she was either a slut, or incredibly rude. This wasn’t going well.
Mark’s laugh rumbled from deep in his chest. “It’s okay. I’m not that easy.”
Annabelle twisted to face him, relieved he had a sense of humor. “I’m so sorry. I’ve completely lost the ability to form a coherent sentence that isn’t a come on or an insult. You see, I’ve been awake for two days straight, and three different zones of jet lag caught up to me the moment I stepped off the plane.”
“Not a problem. In fact, why don’t you sleep on it, and decide tomorrow if you’d like to repeat either the insult or the come on. Your choice.”
Annabelle surprised herself by giggling. The tall, dark and hot man was both funny and remarkably even-tempered. She could hardly remember the last time she’d flirted, let alone been on a date. His easy smile stirred something in her long dormant.
The assignment here probably wouldn’t be too taxing. Charleston wasn’t known as a hotbed of intrigue. A little fling might be just what she needed to shake off the boredom and dissatisfaction that had been dogging her steps.
“It’s a nice offer. Surprisingly nice, since I’ve acted like a complete idiot in the five minutes since we met.” But then her reporter’s instinct kicked in a healthy dose of suspicion. “Why are you so desperate for a date? Are you married? Hoping to squeeze in a little action while you’re in town for a conference?”
Mark held up both hands in a time-out gesture. “Whoa! Do you always go from zero to sixty in less than a minute?”
Pretty much. “I don’t like wasting time. And I don’t mince words.”
“Yeah, I noticed. Happen to be a big fan of telling it like it is myself. But you took a mighty big leap from us splitting a cab to labeling me a low-life cheat.”
Annabelle’s eyes stayed locked on his. “It was more of a question than an accusation. Plan on answering?”
Mark shoved a hand through his hair. “Not married, not seeing anyone, and I live right here in Charleston. If you need more extensive qualifications, I can pull together a resume and list of references by breakfast.”
“Point taken. Sorry, I’ll dial back the interrogation.” She dropped her gaze to her lap. “I’m not embarrassed to admit I’ve been burned a few times. It’s possible I overreacted.”
“Could also be possible you don’t give yourself enough credit.” Mark gently lifted her chin. “Annabelle, you’re a beautiful woman. Refreshingly honest, and it’s obvious you don’t play games. Why assume that desperation is the only reason I want to spend time with you?”
Relief flooded through her as the cab slowed to an idle in front of a long picket fence. It was all the excuse she needed to duck his question. “This must be my B&B.”
The back of his knuckles met her cheek in a light caress. “Thanks for sharing the cab. But I’m afraid you can’t escape so easily.”
“What do you mean?”
“Can’t let you leave until I know if you’ll meet me tomorrow. I want a chance to take you on a real date, find out what’s going on behind those shimmering green eyes. Hell, I don’t even know your last name, or what you do.”
It took all of Annabelle’s willpower not to rub against his hand. He had a magic touch. “If I told you now, what we would talk about tomorrow?”
A wide grin took over his entire face. “Great! It’s a date.”
She gave a quick head shake. “Not quite. But I am open to the possibility. I’ll take your advice and sleep on it. You know where I’m staying, so come by tomorrow afternoon.”
“Fair enough.” He scooted out and retrieved her bags.
“I’m taking a chance here, Mark. Don’t disappoint me,” she warned.“Wouldn’t dream of it. But there’s a good chance I’ll dream of you tonight, Miss Annabelle.” His appraising look was more intimate than a touch, so much so that her skin tingled as the cab pulled away.