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Authors: Jacqueline Diamond

Designer Genes

BOOK: Designer Genes
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Designer Genes


Jacqueline Diamond





my longtime trusted mechanics, Ed and Keith



Digital edition published by

K. Loren Wilson

P.O. Box 1315

Brea, California


Copyright 2000, 2013 by Jackie

First print edition published by
Harlequin Books
This edition has been revised and updated.


No portion of this book may be reproduced or
transmitted in any form without permission of the author except short excerpts
for review or promotional purposes. And you may read funny passages aloud to amuse
your friends. Thank you.




Chapter One



She’d been a
striking woman with long blonde hair. He couldn’t remember the shape of her
face, though. Oval? Rectangular? Octagonal?

Her image
remained indistinct. But their first contact in that hotel conference room had
been memorable enough to haunt his dreams ever since.

She’d gazed
deep into his eyes, and he felt it all the way down into the pit of his
stomach, which thrummed as if its throttle were stuck.

Her voice
flowed over him like the sound system in a Lexus. She was murmuring something
about a donation, a fund-raiser. And he was always game to help raise money for
his favorite charity.

But he hadn’t
counted on this kind of donation. Maybe a small-town Texas mechanic just didn’t
understand the ways of big-city L.A. And where had the beautiful woman gone...?

With a groan,
Carter Murchison rolled over. Instantly, something screamed in his ear.

“What? What?”
He sat bolt upright as Buffy the cat let out another shriek of protest and
leaped off the bed. He must have rolled on top of her.

Carter started to get up and discovered that, oddly, he was wearing his boots.
Even more oddly, his bedroom smelled of grease and motor oil.

His eyes got
unstuck and confirmed what he already suspected. He’d fallen asleep on the
couch in his garage, which was his place of business. At the moment, an old
Chevy with a shot transmission and a pickup truck with a broken axle occupied
half the space.

Through the
wide-open lift door, he noted that a warm April dusk had fallen. On the other
side of Cross Street, lights blazed at Nowhere Junction K-8 School.

Carter wiped
his forehead, and realized from the sticky sensation that he’d just smeared his
face with motor oil. What was wrong with him anyway, falling asleep so early?

been out late last night, helping a rancher whose truck had broken down. And
he’d jogged four miles this morning, double his usual.

One thing he
knew for sure: the cause wasn’t booze. Carter never drank, not since he’d made
a fool of himself one weekend in high school.

Except, of
course, for accidentally imbibing at that school board convention in Los
Angeles last year. Thirsty from the unaccustomed dry heat, he’d downed five or
six cups of tropical fruit punch that was so sweet he hadn’t suspected it
contained alcohol.

All he
recalled of his subsequent actions was seeing a pretty lady in a conference
room, taking a trip to a fertility clinic and making a most peculiar donation.
The next day, the hotel manager had apologized for accidentally serving punch
intended for a fraternity party.

Carter never
saw the pretty lady again, except in his dreams.

He didn’t
think he was the only one who’d made a fool of himself that evening. His friend
Quade Gardiner had sure worn a smug expression the next morning. Being a
good-looking, wealthy rancher, Quade had probably had no trouble attracting
female attention.

Thinking of
Quade, who was chairman of the school board, made Carter wonder why the school
was all lit up tonight when the district had so many financial problems. Now,
if it were the first Tuesday of the month, he could understand, but according
to the calendar from The First National Bank of Nowhere, it was.. .impossible
to say, because he hadn’t turned the pages for two months.

Well, no
wonder. He hadn’t wanted to get motor oil on that tantalizing photograph of
Lilibeth Anderson, the town beauty queen.

Now that he
was awake, he realized this must be the night of a board meeting. That was why
Finella Weinbucket, the perpetual PTA president, had said, “See you later!” at
lunchtime when she’d passed Carter in front of Popsworthy’s Dry Goods Store.

He’d figured
she was planning on getting her car tuned up. Then he’d forgotten all about it.

Carter checked
the wall clock. In fifteen minutes, he would be late for the school board
meeting. Considering that he lived across the street, the others would rag on
him mercilessly.

He was dirty
and hungry. Although they had a potluck dinner at the school board meetings,
which might be tempting, he knew that if he ate there, he’d have to take a
helping of Finella’s Spring Salad or risk offending her. And eating that muck
was a fate he wouldn’t wish on a car thief.

under his breath, Carter exited through the back. He left the garage open, in
case anyone wanted to drop off a car for him to repair first thing in the

As he headed
across the yard to his house, he remembered the cans of imported sardines he’d
bought on sale at Gigi’s Grocery last month. As usual with Gigi’s specials, the
cans had been dented, a sign she’d bought them cheap from the wholesaler.

He’d meant to
save them as treats for the cat. Tonight, however, he needed them more than she


Buffy Arden
was as tolerant of cow droppings as the next person. Also of cactus,
barbed-wire fences and giant red-ant hills. Since she’d never seen them
close-up before, she held no ingrained prejudices.

However, she’d
already figured out that she didn’t like them anywhere close to her sports car
or to her six-month-old daughter. Or to the thousand-dollar shoes that her
husband—her soon-to-be ex-husband, she amended mentally—had bought her. Paying
for everything was his only redeeming quality, as things had turned out.

By her
calculations, the car had broken down twenty miles short of her destination,
which was not the way she’d planned it. While Buffy hadn’t expected her engine
to die precisely in the middle of town, she’d hoped it might gasp and moan
pathetically enough to justify taking it to the mechanic. That was why she’d
postponed her maintenance and spent the past five hundred miles ignoring a
lit-up dashboard.

Now she’d
landed in the middle of nowhere.
Scratch that.
If this truly
the middle of Nowhere, she’d be fine. But nowhere without a capital “N” as in
Nowhere Junction didn’t count. Her carefully laid plans had gone miserably

A calculated
breakdown had seemed a graceful way to introduce herself and, more importantly,
her daughter to Carter Murchison. But now she’d have to summon a tow truck from
the nearest town, and according to her GPS, that was a place called Groundhog

She should
have expected this kind of mishap. Things hadn’t gone right in months, not
since Roger called from Japan to say he wanted a divorce. The fact that he’d
phoned her in the maternity ward had made his treachery all the more odious.

Now night was
falling and she was standing on a cactus-strewn roadside strip next to a
barbed-wire fence, being eyed by a row of cattle. The spring air was redolent
with their leavings, which probably contributed massively to global warming,
and at any moment she expected to discover the nearest source with her much too
expensive but irresistible shoes.

So much for
inspecting the terrain. She didn’t see a single house, barn or other sign of
civilization anywhere.

Sliding into
the car, Buffy shoved back a strand of champagne-blonde hair and turned the key
in the ignition. Not a peep. “Look,” she told her car, “Can’t you hold it
together a little longer? Is twenty miles too much to ask?”

From the rear
seat, Alison gurgled with amusement. The baby had enjoyed the entire trip from
Los Angeles, even though she had no idea that she herself was the reason for
it. She was cute and sweet, and made everything worthwhile. Buffy could hardly
wait till her daughter grew up so they could be best friends.

She’d heard
that some girls didn’t get along with their mothers. Things would be different
for the two of them, she’d known from the moment she gazed into her little
girl’s loving face.

However, that
had been several hours before Roger’s phone call. And now here they were en
route to their future, if she could ever persuade this vehicle to move.

Buffy decided
to take a sharper tone. “What is your problem?” she demanded of the car.
“You’re being unreasonable.” How unfair that it should die now, after making it
through the Snoring Desert, which was kind of like an endless beach with
neither an ocean nor good-looking surfers.

It wasn’t
actually named Snoring, although it deserved to be; it was the Sonoran,
whatever that meant. Thank goodness for GPS, since geography had never been
Buffy’s strong point. Having grown up in Los Angeles, she viewed the United
States as consisting of three major coastlines dominated by L.A., New York and
New Orleans. Anything in between had a squishy name that started with a vowel,
such as Omaha, Ohio or Utah.

She’d made it
this far thanks to her navigation system, which conveniently reduced each
segment to a straight line with the occasional crossroad. In addition, she’d
brought an auto club guidebook that showed cities and towns with a cluster of
supposedly helpful symbols. She couldn’t decipher those except for the tepees,
which must mean either a campground or Indians. Buffy had been hoping to meet a
few Native Americans because she’d love to learn how they fashioned jewelry out
of feathers.

“Enough is
enough,” she told the car. “Do we have an agreement?” It didn’t answer. “I’ll
take that as a yes.”

Once more,
Buffy keyed the ignition. The spark thingy must have been listening, because
there was a cough and sputter, and the vehicle rumbled to life.

She’d told
Roger repeatedly that inanimate objects responded to a stern approach tempered
by empathy. He’d laughed. Wouldn’t you know that when she proved him wrong, he
wouldn’t be around to see it?

She eased onto
the two-lane highway and resumed her interrupted journey to Nowhere.


Gardiner, chairman of the Nowhere Junction Board of Education, straightened his
rough-hewn frame and tapped his gavel on the folding table. Carter braced
himself in case the table collapsed.

He was not
being paranoid. Furniture collapsing would be typical, given the events of the
past year.

five-member board had formerly sat in a semicircle on the auditorium stage,
until—due to unsuspected dry rot—part of the stage gave way during a meeting.
Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.

The trustees
had moved their chairs and tables to the foot of the stage. That worked fine
for three months until the first major rainstorm of the season revealed a leak
in the roof directly above the board’s annual financial report.

It had been
the only copy, since the rainstorm had also wiped out the school district’s
computer, which hadn’t been backed up for over a month. Although the district
secretary routinely copied documents onto a flash drive, she’d accidentally
thrown that away along with a pile of sodden notes. These had been scooped up
by Mazeppa the Bag Lady, who’d recovered the drive from the bottom of her
shopping cart on request. She’d handed it over in exchange for a lot of begging
and a short list of demands, including eye shadow, shoe inserts and breath

The board now
arranged its seats to one side, beneath a striped canopy borrowed from the
local scout troop. They faced an assemblage of about fifty citizens, some of
whom wore hard hats.

“Please come
to order,” Quade said, although the only one talking was Mazeppa, who stood in
the back muttering to herself. “Can we dispense with the reading of the March

Finella, who
sat to Quade’s left, glanced up from her knitting. Although only in her early
forties, she had embraced middle age like a long-lost lover. Sun-seared lines
etched the corners of her mouth and eyes, while her short light-brown hair was
turning a splendid mouse gray. “So moved.”

“I second the
motion,” said Horace Popsworthy, seated next to her. Thin of hair and watery of
eye, he was running for mayor in June, so he could be counted on to agree with
almost anybody.

“I’m sorry to
report that the state has denied our request for emergency funds to rebuild the
school,” Quade said.

A groan arose
from the audience. “What’re we gonna do?” somebody yelled.

“Let’s post it
on Kickstarter,” someone else suggested.

“You think
those geeks are gonna support our small-town school?” came an angry mutter.
“They’ll just tell us to put the classes on-line.”

School board
meetings in Nowhere Junction were the closest thing left in America to true
participatory democracy, Carter mused. Sometimes, the results proved
satisfying. Mostly, they proved the old saying about too many cooks spoiling
the broth. And also, occasionally, the rule about things tending to descend
into chaos.

The chairman
raised his hand for silence. “I know how we all feel about taxes,” he said,
“but I believe we need to put a bond issue on the June ballot. Because of the
deadline, we’ll have to vote on it tonight.”

BOOK: Designer Genes
8.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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