Authors: Avery Flynn
Tags: #Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Romantic Comedy, #Suspense, #Contemporary, #Mystery, #Romantic Suspense, #Series, #Romance
(Laytons Book One)
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2011 by Avery Flynn. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary
rights, please contact Avery Flynn at [email protected]
Visit Avery’s website at www.averyflynn.com.
Edited by KC
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition: 2011 (Temptation Creek)
Revision: May 2015 (Dangerous Kiss)
To JGC for everything.
I couldn't have done this without the help of so many people including: the Lethal Ladies (and laddies), Avril and D'Ann, my crazy adopted family on PGL and, of course, the Tim to my Wilson. Thank you!
Dangerous Kiss was first published in 2011 as Temptation Creek, but has since been revised.
laire Layton readied herself to placate a dragon.
Not a real one, of course; that would be easy. But if Chef Carlos Alvarez had to be imagined as any kind of animal, the only answer was a fire-breathing, thick-scaled, roaring, flying beast.
The temperamental Guatemalan had holed himself up in Harvest Bistro’s walk-in refrigerator. According to his sous chef, Dena, Carlos had screamed about the slow prep work and stormed off to pace amongst the heads of romaine and blocks of asiago cheese while chain-smoking skinny brown cigars and threatening to walk. If the health inspector heard about this, Claire couldn’t imagine the fine. If the hundred customers restlessly waiting for their food in the dining room found out the chef was AWOL, she’d get run out of town on a rail.
Why were all chefs headcases? Her ulcer twitched in response to all the drama.
Whose stupid idea had it been to offer a gourmet, seven-course meal once a month on the night of the full moon anyway? Oh yeah, the Full Moon Special had been
She swiped a bottle of tropical-flavored antacids from the hostess stand and knocked back the fruity tablets like a Frat boy with a shot of cheap whiskey. She prayed Carlos hadn’t yet graduated to rum.
Though eager to speed through the dining room in time with her panicked heartbeat, she forced her feet to slow down. She couldn’t afford to spook the customers. Gritting her teeth, Claire pasted on a friendly smile and waved to the regulars, many of whom she’d grown up with in Dry Creek, Nebraska.
Seating was family style, with group tables for parties of less than eight. Folks had to drive five hours to Denver for anything close to the mouth-watering food she served during Harvest’s Full Moon Specials. For the past six months during the full moon, every seat had been taken.
But tonight, one chair sat empty at table four.
A cute blonde, probably in her early twenties, sat next to the unclaimed seat with her cellphone glued to her ear, a gold charm bracelet glittering in the candlelight. Claire couldn’t hear what the girl said as she fiddled with a small yellow piece of plastic. However, judging by the dirty looks the other diners at the table were sending the girl, they’d heard too much.
Pausing, she caught a nearby server’s attention. “Kaylee, will you bring a bottle of house white to table four?” She pointed toward the girl. “They’re starting to look restless and I have to talk Carlos back into the kitchen.”
“Sure thing.” Kaylee grimaced. “Good luck back there.”
Straightening her shoulders, Claire girded herself for the battle that awaited her in the walk-in refrigerator. Damn, what else could go wrong tonight?
Six very long hours later, Claire glared at the trail of dark goo winding across the pointed toe of her gunmetal-gray stiletto. Call it Murphy’s Law, fate or just plain old bad luck, but the last bag of kitchen garbage always leaked.
Holding the black plastic bag at arm’s length, she strode across the deserted parking lot as fast as she could in four-inch heels. The kitchen crew had left at midnight, so at least no one saw her awkward rush to the Dumpster.
Thank God for small favors
Eager to get home, Claire leaned in close to the chest-high Dumpster and pushed up the metal lid. Stink socked her right in the nose. Involuntarily, she recoiled, took a few steps back and held her breath. Sure, the garbage had been baking all day in Nebraska’s blazing-hot August sun, but its putrid scent was worse than normal.
Never again would she make a bet with the kitchen staff that included garbage duty as the payoff. Carlos had giggled like a tween girl the first night he’d spotted her, the restaurant’s owner, taking out the garbage. That had been a week ago.
Stupid soccer game
Holding her breath, she heaved the dripping bag toward the gap. It plunked against the lid, bounced back and smacked her in the chest. Air whooshed out of her lungs. A glob of lukewarm mystery slime slid between her breasts and she squawked in disgust. Grossed out, she grimaced as she wiped it away.
Great. What a perfect way to end a busy Saturday night
She couldn’t wait to get home, rip off her dirty dress with its itchy label and kick her stained stilettos to the back of the closet. She hated those shoes, but pride shoehorned her into them. Her mammoth-size brothers had spent their lives teasing her about being one of the wee people. As a result, she made up the height difference however she could.
Changing into a tank top and yoga pants skyrocketed to the top of her to-do list. She’d grab a beer and head out to the deck to snuggle with her dog, Onion. Sure, she’d prefer cuddling with Mr. Tall, Dark and Amazingly Talented Between the Sheets, but he’d yet to appear naked in her bed. She’d thought she’d found him once. What a dud that cheating jerk had turned out to be.
Claire shoved the lid all the way open and hefted the bag into the Dumpster. The tension in her shoulders evaporated. Another Saturday night of work finished. Now it was time to relax.
As she reached around to close the lid, a golden glint sparkled in the moonlight illuminating the garbage bags. Curiosity piqued, she stretched herself as tall as her five-foot, two-inch frame could go, and leaned in for a closer look.
The scene registered like a grisly slideshow. A gold bracelet circled a thin, feminine wrist. The woman’s hand, with short nails painted black, stuck out from underneath a worn plastic tarp. That tarp ran the length of the Dumpster and covered what looked like a body.
Claire yelped. Loud and high-pitched, her scream shattered the silence on Dry Creek’s Main Street. Her stomach clenched and she whipped her head away from the Dumpster. Heart racing, she gulped in a deep breath of warm summer air.
Forcing herself to look again, she prayed the dim light and late hour had messed with her mind. With a jittery hand, she reached for the tarp corner buried underneath a pile of garbage bags. It crinkled as she pulled it from where it had snagged on the bracelet.
First, the rest of her arm appeared.
Then, tangled bleach-blonde hair.
Finally, a young woman’s unblinking eyes stared back at her.
Claire scrambled away from the Dumpster
Hank. She had to call Hank. He’d know what to do.
But what if the murderer was still around? He could be watching her right at this moment. Her skin crawled and panic bubbled up inside her.
Crouching like a cornered animal, she scanned the parking lot for someone lurking in the shadows. A few crushed bushes with broken branches surrounded the lot. Dark liquid formed a small pool near the Dumpster. A newspaper skittered across the parking lot, pushed by the warm breeze.
Her jagged breathing echoed in her ears as her heart beat wildly. She was alone in the parking lot and danger seemed to hide behind every bush. It wasn’t safe to call from here, she needed to seek shelter.
She’d be safe inside the restaurant. Once inside, she’d call Hank, snag a cast-iron skillet from the kitchen and play home-run derby on the killer’s melon. Yeah, she could do that.
Her gaze jumping from one potential hiding spot for the killer to the next, she fumbled around inside her orange hobo bag for the keys to Harvest. Sweat dampened the back of her neck and she couldn’t catch her breath as she pawed through it. Anxiety tightened her chest, forcing her to work harder to draw in breath. Each second lasted an eternity. Pushed to the breaking point, her frustration peaked. Claire dumped out her bag onto the ground, foraged around in the resulting small mountain and grasped the keys and her cell.
Finally, the vise constricting her lungs relented. Her heart lifted and she hurtled toward Harvest’s entrance. Until tonight, she’d never realized she could sprint in four-inch heels. All it took was the right motivation.
The click of the door’s deadbolt sounded better than anything she’d ever heard in her life. It took two tries before she punched in the right numbers for the Dry Creek County Sheriff.
“Hey, sis, what can your newly elected county sheriff do for you tonight? Did you run out of gas again?”
Claire hunched over her phone. “Hank! Th-th-there’s a gi-gi-girl in my Dumpster.” Hysteria sharpened her voice. “She’s dead, Hank. She’s dead!”
“Okay. Calm down, Claire.” In a heartbeat he turned all business. “Take a breath. Tell me where you are.”
“I’m at Harvest. In-n-side.”
“Claire, listen to me. Stay where you are. Don’t let anyone in. I’m on my way.”
Despite the night’s heat, a bead of cold sweat crept down the back of her neck and she darted a glance out the window. Though frightened to look, she found she couldn’t turn away. A numbing stillness covered the parking lot. Even the breeze had stopped, as if it had been scared away. Inside Harvest only her panting broke the heavy silence.
The air conditioner clicked on with a whir and she nearly jumped out of her skin.
Get ahold of yourself
Enough with the trembling at shadows and unexpected noises. Inhaling deeply, she tried to calm her jangling nerves. Freaking out wasn’t doing her any good. If the killer hid in the parking lot, she needed to be focused and prepared to defend herself.
Clamping her jaw tight, she tucked her long hair behind her ears and flipped off her heels. Like a boxer before a big match, she bounced on the balls of her feet, flexed her fingers and rolled her shoulders back and forth. Her heart slowed and her hands didn’t shake anymore. Well, not as much.
Time to get the skillet.
Claire didn’t loosen her white-knuckle grip on the omelet pan until Hank’s cruiser squealed into the parking lot five minutes later. By then, she’d pushed the terror back with the determination of a soon-to-be bride at a seventy-five-percent-off wedding dress sale. Leaving the heavy cast-iron pan on the hostess stand, she hurried outside to meet her brother.
She kicked a twig from one of the mangled bushes out of her path. Harvest was the center of her world. No psycho would scare her away from her own restaurant, or its parking lot. At least not twice in one night.
She’d started Harvest three years ago with a small inheritance from Granny Marie and a massive loan from the bank. Her inability to boil water had killed her dreams of being a chef, but she wouldn’t let that destroy her dream of owning her own restaurant. She’d lost buckets of sweat and tears to building Harvest up from the long-vacant remains of the abandoned Grand Hotel. For three years she’d spent nearly every waking hour here. Seven days out of seven, she was here for at least a few hours. Most days she arrived hours before the first line cook and left long after the final customers paid their bill. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d gone on vacation, taken the day off to drive five hours to go shopping in Denver or even gone out on a date. Hell, she hadn’t even had sex in forever.