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Authors: Heather Webber

Trouble In Bloom

BOOK: Trouble In Bloom
5.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
As always, for my family.
And to David McG, because he asked so nicely.

Table of Contents

Title Page

Dedication Page


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five


About the Author

Nina Quinn Mysteries by Heather Webber

Copyright Notice

About the Publisher


Thou, Nina Colette Ceceri Quinn, shall
never, ever, resort to a bad comb-over if thou should hap
pen to go bald.
I hoped I wouldn't, but if I did, this commandment would zoom to the top of my personal list fast. Right up there with never wearing dark socks—or any socks for that matter—with sandals and never letting the hair on my upper lip grow to the point where someone thinks I have a moustache.
Some things in life were just a given.
Horrendous was the only way to describe the comb-over on Willie Sala. Five thin greasy clumps of dark brown hair swooped from his left ear to his right, hugging his shiny head for dear life.
Maybe five-five, 160 pounds, Willie also had the darkest, beadiest eyes I'd ever seen.
Fortunately, he had good teeth. A girl could overlook a lot for good teeth.
Willie Sala was the producer/director of the local TV reality show
Hitched or Ditched
, which filmed right here in Ohio. Forget
, HoD was currently Cincinnati's claim to fame. Sad as that was to say.
It was a show where couples signed up to test their re lationships. Ultimately, the home audience would decide whether contestants should get hitched . . . or ditch each other.
I glanced to my right. The man sitting next to me in the Cracker Jack–sized conference room at the HoD studio was tall with shoulder-length wavy blond hair and broad shoulders—an overall great build. Beautiful light blue eyes crinkled at the corners from good humor, and his lips were tantalizingly kissable. The Florida sun had bronzed his fair skin to golden perfection. He was the epitome of the allAmerican boy next door.
It helped that he was calm, confident, gorgeous, sexy, and good in bed.
His name was Bobby MacKenna, and I knew about that bed part because I'd slept with him.
Notice the past tense?
He looked over, caught me ogling and winked. He'd been raised in Texas and had the wink down pat.
Bobby and I happened to be one of the couples on this week's show. Mario and Perry were the other couple. The four of us, along with HoD's boyishly charming host, Thad Cochran, and a handful of TV people, listened to Willie bark about being "real" on TV yet "dramatic" enough to keep viewers tuned in every night.
My life leaned toward dramatic, so I didn't think I'd have trouble with that part.
The "real" part might be a problem. Seeing as how Bobby and I were pretend contestants, here on the show undercover to help Bobby's lawyer cousin nail Willie for sexual harassment.
"We want to see everything." Willie spoke in short staccato bursts, a rapid-fire verbal machine gun. "Little things. Washing dishes, to work, to fights. We love fights." His weasely voice bounced off the cracked mushroom-colored walls, but the smarmy edge was undercut by the dark industrial carpet so old it was probably laid in 1932, when the studio was built. "And sex! Lots of sex too! A ratings booster if there ever was one."
Bobby's eyebrows waggled.
Danger! Danger!
It would be hazardous to my mental state to pick up our sex life where it had left off.
Just over six weeks ago Bobby had left Ohio to take a job as an elementary school principal in Tampa, Florida, and it hadn't been any bond with me that brought him back. Mac, his grandfather, had fallen and injured his hip and needed Bobby's help finding long-term care.
Murky would be a good way to describe the relationship between Bobby and me right now. There were still feelings between us. His move hadn't changed that. I'd fallen for him hard and fast soon after the breakup with my ex-husband Kevin Quinn. And because I'd been so confused about my sudden feelings, Bobby had gone ahead and taken his dream job in Florida. We'd agreed that a long-distance relationship wouldn't be fair to either of us.
Which was true.
But now he was back in town—on a temporary leave of absence to help Mac, and to do the show.
And to use Bobby for sex while he was here would be wrong.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Or so I told myself to keep sane.
I'd thrown a serious pity party for a good solid month when Bobby first left. Then I woke up one morning wondering who the hell I was. What defined me? What did I really want out of life? I burned with questions I'd never taken the time to figure out. All I knew was, I didn't like who I'd become, all mopey and depressed.
So here I was, currently on day ten of a serious self-discovery quest. With resolutions for a healthier lifestyle, some serious self-examination, and most important: no men.
The whole kit and frustrating caboodle.
The no men part had been fairly easy with Bobby gone. But now he was suddenly back in my life.
As if that alone weren't bad enough, we also had to pretend to be engaged in front of the whole Cincinnati viewing area.
My temples throbbed. Pondering fate gave me headaches.
Willie stood while the rest of us sat. He jabbed his finger in the air to punctuate his choppy speech. "For four days cameras will record parts of your normal lives. Each night you'll come here to play
" He wiped a bead of sweat from his head, dislodging one section of his combover. It flopped down over his forehead like a wilting daisy.
was HoD's ripped-off version of the
lywed Game
. It was filmed several hours before actual broadcast, in order to edit out any bleeps or blunders.
Thad Cochran, the picture-perfect host of HoD, motioned to Willie's wilting hair while saying to us, "Be honest with your answers, people. The truth always comes out in the end." He had a deep cleft in his chin that bobbed when he talked.
Willie pushed the errant hair back onto his moist head. It stuck without a fight. "I'll be up front. Big name executives will be in and out of the studio all week. HoD is going national. We must make this week a good one. Nothing can go wrong. Got it?"
Great. Added pressure.
One of Willie's assistants poked her head in the door and said, "Mr. Sala, Mrs. Sala is here."
A sultry feminine voice said, "Willie, sweetheart, may I have a moment?"
I craned my neck to see what kind of woman would marry that kind of man.
She stood in the doorway. Six feet of perfection. Long ebony hair, dark exotic eyes, fl awless olive skin, curves in all the right places.
Perry, one of the other contestants, leaned in toward me. He had a smooth deep voice full of inflection. It rose and fell as he spoke. "That's Genevieve Hidalgo Sala, Willie's brand-spanking new wife." His eyes sparkled. They were a shade of gray-green I'd never seen before. "She's also the new hostess of the show. She's Vanna to Thad's Pat Sajak." His pale eyebrows arched, lifting his whole forehead a half inch. "Wonder how she got that job, wink, wink, nudge, nudge."
Ooh, that was an interesting tidbit. "What happened to Jessica Ayers?" I whispered, playing dumb. After being abruptly fired eight weeks ago, Jessica Ayers claimed she'd been sexually harassed by Willie while on set, and hired Bobby's cousin Josh, a two-bit sleazeball lawyer, to file a lawsuit.
"Oh, that! Well, I've heard—"
"Perry, stop gossiping," Mario chastised.
With dark hair, dark eyes, and beautiful mocha-colored skin, Mario was Perry's significant other. Partner? I wasn't sure of the proper term these days for gay lovers. In the few hours I'd known the two of them, they seemed headed toward ditched, in my opinion. Mario was a stick in the mud. He hadn't stopped griping at Perry since they arrived, nitpicking about this, nagging about that. He kind of reminded me of my mother.
"We'll talk later," Perry whispered.
I'd make a point of it. Curiosity burned. Did he know anything that could help Josh's case? After all, that was why I was here.
Participating in this torture.
All because of a favor. One Bobby promised Josh in order to get off the phone when we'd been, ah, indisposed.
True, I probably could have finagled my way out of doing the show. However, I felt as though Bobby and I had
made the promise to Josh that day, and if there's one commandment I strictly adhere to, it's keeping my promises.
And, since the HoD cameras would be following me during the day, it would be great—free—PR for my landscaping company.
But, I confess, I'd had another motive to do the show. I'd wanted to have this week with Bobby. To see if I had made the right decision in letting him go. To see if we were well and truly over for good.
That had been my grand plan, at least. Unfortunately, it had only taken two minutes of seeing him again to know I'd probably made the biggest mistake of my life by breaking things off with him.
I loved him. Simple as that. I loved him, and I'd let him go.
But I'd made my decision, and now I had to live with it. There was no other option. I couldn't ask him to come back—being a principal was his dream job. And I couldn't leave Ohio. This was where my family was, my job, my friends.
It was clear I was just going to have to suck it up, live with the decisions I'd made, stay strong, and get through this week without falling back into that dark hole I'd been in after he left.
This week would be all about self-preservation. Of keeping my distance from him, physically and emotionally. Easier said than done, though, because I wanted nothing more than to fling myself at him.
Another reason why self-discovery could only be a good thing for me.
"Give me a minute," Willie said to all of us as he walked over to his wife. Genevieve towered over him by a good four inches. He kissed her hand (Perry
) and led her into the hallway, closing the door behind them.
Bobby brought his head close to mine. He smelled good, a little bit laundry detergent, a little bit of coffee, a little bit of just . . . him. It was a scent I couldn't quite describe, but it did funny things to my stomach.
"This is going to be fun," he murmured.
The way my stomach fl ippity-flopped, this was going to be cruel and unusual punishment, spending a week with him, pretending to be his fiancée. "What doesn't kill us."
"You'll cave."
He'd already tried to get me into his bed twice since being back.
A lazy grin crept across his face. "Oh, you will."
I had a sinking feeling he might be right. I was weak where he was concerned.
Since I had goals for my mental health, I needed to stay strong about the sex part.
Wrong, wrong, wrong to use him,
I told myself again. But it would be so easy to give in . . .
Perry leaned in. "What are you mumbling about?"
My cheeks flamed. If he only knew. "Nothing, really."
His eyebrows dipped. "You bipolar?"
I laughed. "No." Glancing at Bobby, I easily saw him naked in my mind's eye. Suddenly warm, I tugged on my shirt collar. "Ever been on a diet, Perry?"
"Have I ever." He patted a slightly rounded stomach.
"And could use one again," Mario put in, clearly eavesdropping.
Perry rolled his eyes. "Ignore him, he's nervous. He's always crabby when he's nervous. Go on."
"Well, you know that feeling of wanting something really badly but not being able to have it?"
Solemnly, he nodded.
"Let's just say I need a cookie."
He squeezed my hand, seeming to know I wasn't talking about cheating on my low-carb diet. I'd just started it, hoping to lose a couple of pounds, and it was killing me.
As was the no-sex thing.
Self-discovery was a bitch.
"You know what you need?" Perry asked.
BOOK: Trouble In Bloom
5.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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