Harlequin Blaze, November 2009
ISBN 13: 9780373795079
Bestselling author Michelle Rowen makes her Harlequin Blaze debut with a spirited novel that proves oil and water can mix — over and over and over…
Everybody knows there’s no love lost between paranormal investigators Amanda LaGrange and sexy Jacob Caine. They can’t even stand being in the same room together….
Well, unless it’s an enchanted bedroom.
And they’re trapped there, at midnight.
And the sexual tension suddenly becomes too powerful to resist…
Then that bedroom gets really hot, really fast! But come morning, they still can’t keep their hands off each other. Are they cursed forever? If so, neither one’s complaining….
Order HOT SPELL!
Hot Spell is also available as an audio book from Audible.com!
C h a p t e r 1
Amanda LaGrange shook her head so vigorously it felt like it might come loose from her shoulders. “Please, not him. Anyone but him.”
“Jacob’s the only agent currently available and we need this house investigated tonight. The owner paid extra for an immediate assessment.” Her boss, Patrick McKay’s voice was firm.
It was pointless to argue. Knowing Patrick, there was no way she’d be able to get out of this. Besides, making a fuss about her last official assignment working for the Paranormal Assessment and Recovery Agency would make her look silly and childish.
She finally sighed. “Okay, fine. I’ll do it.”
“I don’t understand why you two can’t stand each other after all this time. Why is that again?” Patrick sounded both curious and distracted. He was a born multitasker and was currently having a conversation with Amanda while he replied to a long list of text messages from other agents on his BlackBerry.
“It’s…it’s just…many reasons. Too many to list.”
PARA hired Jacob Caine two years ago because of his empathic abilities. He could get a sense of people and places just by touch. Before that, he’d worked as a private detective for five years. Both talents came in very handy at an agency that investigated paranormal phenomena. PARA agents were called in to assess haunted property and/or cursed or enchanted objects, and would then take the necessary precautions to ensure no one was harmed.
Jacob had it easy, much like many of the other agents in-house. He hadn’t even known he was psychic until recently.
Amanda? Not so much.
She’d seen her first ghost — and had a pleasant conversation with him, in fact — when she was only eight years old. At the time, it had been so natural and not scary at all. However, this encounter led to many others in quick succession, and some of the ghosts weren’t as friendly as the first. Her frightened parents tried to get her to stop, but it wasn’t as though she’d been trying to attract otherworldly attention — it just happened. Ghosts were drawn to her. One ghost, annoyed at being interrupted by her father, had pushed him down a flight of stairs. Luckily, other than a twisted ankle, he wasn’t injured, but the event did its damage in another way.
Not able to deal with his daughter being a “ghost-magnet freak,” which is how he’d put it at the time, Ed LaGrange had packed his bags and left Amanda and her mother that very night. She’d never spoken to him again.
The memory still brought a painful lump of emotion to her throat.
Her mother blamed Amanda, and blamed her clairvoyant ability, for shattering their home. She’d had to take two jobs to support them as Amanda grew up feeling like more of an outcast every day of her childhood. Her being a psychic had destroyed her family. The scars of this weren’t visible, but they were deep.
Being at school didn’t help, either. Normal kids gave her the nickname of “Amanda the Strange,” which, while not a terribly original taunt, continued to scar her psyche and came to verbally represent everything she hated about herself. She was a freak — she was strange — and nothing would ever change that.
Therefore, she tried as hard as possible to ignore her psychic abilities. It worked for a while, at least until PARA came to her college looking for potential agents. Patrick McKay had seen Amanda’s file, met with her personally, and offered her enough money to justify dipping back into her despised abilities.
Other than the money, the bright side of working for PARA was it showed her a place she could be accepted; that there were other people, who subsequently became her good friends — kind of like a bizarre extended family — who accepted their own powers without question. She was invited to their weekly “tequila and sÅ½ance” parties. She’d gone a couple of times since her best friend Vicky, another clairvoyant, rarely took no for an answer in wanting Amanda to get out and have more fun, but it wasn’t really her scene.
Even though she was surrounded by happy psychics who liked her and she liked them in return, she’d never gotten over her father’s rejection and her childhood traumas. It had made her the woman she was today, for better or for worse.
As far as her dating life — well, she tried not to tell her boyfriends about her psychic abilities at all, if possible. PARA agents were a close-knit group, but “normal men” outside of that circle didn’t understand or were scared off by anything unusual — just like her father and schoolmates had been. When Amanda’s boyfriends ultimately found out her secret, though, they usually found the nearest exit as quickly as possible.
And then there was Jacob Caine. Decidedly not a normal man.
She’d met him at a staff party held at O’Grady’s, a local pub, two years ago, shortly after he’d moved to the area and joined the agency. Her friends, especially Vicky, had already told her how hot the new recruit was, how devastatingly charming, and how most of them — the single or even not so single — wanted to have extremely imaginative sex with him. Like, immediately.
And he was. Hot, that is. Darkly attractive with short, scruffy black hair and flashing green eyes framed with thick black lashes. He dressed casually — no tie for him. She could vividly recall his navy blue shirt being unbuttoned at the neck that night to reveal a glimpse of his obviously chiseled torso. He was six feet tall with broad shoulders, lean hips…and an amazing ass.
At least, that had been her first impression.
Amanda’s mouth had literally watered at the sight of him despite the fact she wasn’t usually romantically drawn to fellow psychics. Then again, she’d been celibate for over a year after a bad break-up — another guy who’d freaked at the thought she could talk to ghosts — so she was certain that was to blame for her heightened sensitivity to such a fine specimen of male hotness.
From across the room, Jacob caught her staring and their eyes met. She was sure he’d be able to tell just from a glance that she wanted to climb onto his gorgeous body and do things to him she wouldn’t even trust to her diary.
He disengaged from the throng of cleavage-revealing women and came toward her with his hand extended.
“I’m Jacob,” he said without losing her gaze. “And you are?”
“Amanda.” She inhaled sharply as she felt the strength and warmth of his long fingers wrap around hers. An unbidden surge of desire curled inside of her. His aftershave was a spicy musk with just a hint of cinnamon and a whole lot of man.
He frowned, but she had no idea why. Maybe it was because she was practically drooling on him.
Pull yourself together, she commanded herself.
“Something wrong?” she asked when his grip tightened.
“No…” But his frown deepened as he looked down at her hand. “It’s odd. It’s like you have a psychic wall up around yourself. I normally get a sense of someone when I touch them for the first time, but I’m getting nothing from you at all.”
“You can get something from me if you come over here!” Vicky called from their far left before laughing suggestively. Amanda repressed a smile and an eye-roll at her friend’s enthusiasm and returned her attention to the gorgeous man in front of her.
“No walls, I assure you,” she said. “Maybe I’m just special.”
His eyes snapped back up to hers. “Maybe you are.” The frown disappeared, replaced instead by a killer smile. “Amanda, you said?”
He nodded. “They already told me about you. You’re the one they call Amanda the Strange, right?”
She tensed. “It’s LaGrange. But yeah, that’s me. Strangeness incorporated.”
An ice-cold sensation immediately swept over her at the sound of the despised nickname that represented everything about her that she hated. Why would he say that to her? To get some sort of a reaction? And who’d told him that?
So much for letting down her guard and getting drunk on tequila with Vicky and the gang last week and sharing soul-crushing childhood stories. That wouldn’t happen again.
She finally yanked her hand back from Jacob’s. He looked at her oddly.
“Is there something wrong?” he asked.
“Wrong?” Her jaw felt tight. “No, of course not. I…uh, I have to go.”
Damn, she’d been having such a good night, too. How was it possible that three little words could ruin everything?
Jacob grabbed her wrist. “I thought we might be able to talk for a bit.”
So he could insult her more? Yeah. That sounded like a plan.
“I guess you thought wrong,” she said, the iciness in her voice matching the chill she felt inside. “There are lots of women here who will be happy to talk to you. Or more, if you like. Trust me, you won’t miss me.”
“Amanda, wait –”
She fixed a frozen smile on her face. She needed to get out of there. “Welcome to PARA, Jacob. I’m sure everyone will be as delighted to meet you as I’ve been.”
He raised a dark eyebrow. “Is that sarcasm I hear?”
“You’re very insightful. You must be psychic.”
He studied her closely. “I guess first impressions are misleading. I thought we might hit it off.”
Amanda had no idea why she wanted to cry. Why was she letting this guy affect her so strongly? It felt as though he could see right through to the vast and varied weaknesses she tried desperately to hide from everyone. Hell, maybe she did put up psychic walls around her without even realizing it.
Just being near him suddenly made her very uncomfortable.
She gave him a practiced withering look that helped to hide when she was feeling more than a little vulnerable. “I guess you thought wrong.”
“Well, then, it was delightful meeting you too, Amanda.” He turned away, but then glanced back over his shoulder, his green eyes narrowed. “By the way, that was also sarcasm.”
And then he went back across the room to his waiting swarm of admirers and didn’t look back.
Vicky ran over to see how everything went during her conversation with the new hottie. Amanda kept her answers vague and then excused herself from the party early. She’d had enough.
It was definitely true what they said — don’t judge a book by its cover. Jacob Caine had a mighty fine cover, but she wasn’t interested in reading any further.
But for a moment there, when their eyes first met…that rare instant attraction she’d felt…
Well, it didn’t really matter. Amanda was much too practical to believe in love at first sight.
She’d felt strongly enough about their unpleasant meeting that she’d asked Patrick not to pair her and Jacob for any assignments together and he’d agreed. PARA had two dozen agents working in the area so it was an easy problem to avoid. If she saw Jacob in passing, she’d make polite small talk about the weather or traffic, but even then she tried to get away from him as quickly as possible.
From the tightness in Jacob’s jaw whenever they spoke, it was obvious that he wasn’t all that fond of her either.
It was really unfortunate that, despite everything, she still found him as devastatingly attractive as she had the first time she’d seen him.
And now, after all this time, Patrick was going to make them work together.
Less than a week and she’d be saying good-bye to her friends at PARA — the ones who made life as a psychic almost bearable — and moving to New York City to work for her boyfriend, David K. Smith’s advertising agency. Selling advertising was about as far removed from investigating paranormal phenomena as you could get…and that would be a huge relief for her. She was starting her life all over again at the ripe old age of 27.
While David knew she worked for PARA, he didn’t know in what capacity. She’d hadn’t told him she could talk to ghosts at all. Better safe than sorry.
And he didn’t have to know. When she left Mystic Ridge for good she’d put her past behind her and get the chance to be completely and totally normal.
“Jacob will pick you up outside in ten minutes,” Patrick said. He’d finished answering his e-mail while she’d been lost in her thoughts.
He glanced up at her from his high-tech wheelchair. He’d had a run-in with a very unpleasant poltergeist six months ago that had sent him head-first down a flight of stairs — a scary reminder of what happened to her father. Patrick was still recovering from a near-fatal spinal cord injury. Since he was the head of PARA, as well as a great boss and friend, Amanda was just happy and relieved he’d lived to tell the tale.
“Are you doing this on purpose?” she asked.
He raised an eyebrow. “What are you talking about?”
“This assignment tonight with Jacob. You’re mad I’m leaving, aren’t you?”
Patrick put his BlackBerry down on his desk and spread his hands. “You have to do what you have to do, Amanda. As long as you think quitting PARA will make you happy, then I fully support your decision.”
She nodded stiffly, swallowing past a huge lump that had formed in her throat. Quitting PARA would make her happy — she knew it. The only thing that made it hard was knowing she wouldn’t be seeing Patrick, Vicky and the others on a daily basis anymore.
“However, we are throwing you a going away party.” He grinned at her and his blue eyes twinkled with good humor. “And attendance is required. Tuesday night at O’Grady’s. Drinks are on me.”
She couldn’t help but smile at that. Patrick would find any excuse for a party. “I’ll be there.”
“I’m picking up the cake, too. Got a preference? Chocolate, vanilla…maybe rum?
“Rum,” she said as her smile widened. “Definitely rum.”
She could use a little bit of the booze right now. A nice slab of rum cake might make spending the rest of her evening with Jacob Caine remotely bearable.
Patrick watched Amanda leave his office. She was uncomfortable at the prospect of being partnered with Jacob. It was obvious.
But it had to be done.
Maybe it was because he’d been stuck in the damn wheelchair for so long that he’d started interfering in people’s lives. Too much time to sit and think…and observe.
Amanda was making a huge mistake by quitting PARA and leaving the friends who loved and accepted her behind to go off with a man she obviously, to him at least, didn’t love. He saw it in her eyes, a growing dullness, an acceptance that life was not supposed to be extraordinary.
Since his accident, Patrick knew first-hand that life was a gift — every damn day was — and if you didn’t accept it, sooner or later it might be snatched away right in front of you.
He’d seen a spark of passion in Amanda’s eyes, though. Whenever the beautiful brunette saw Jacob she seemed to fill with life. She claimed to dislike him for reasons she’d never properly explained, but Patrick was far from convinced when that flush came to her cheeks as it had just now. And he’d seen the same intensity in Jacob’s gaze as well.
Patrick rubbed his temples. When exactly had he been appointed resident cupid? Hell if he knew, but it was the least he could do when the evidence presented itself so clearly that they two of them belonged together.
One attempt. That’s all they got. Make them work together, make them spend time together before Amanda left for good for what she considered her shiny new life, and see what happened.
Maybe they’d kill each other. That was possible. It might be better than the grudging acceptance both of them seemed to have with their current lackluster lives.
However, forced to spend a few hours in each other’s company, Patrick was fairly certain something might happen between them. The only question was…what?
Jacob’s knuckles had already turned white. He gripped the steering wheel of his ’68 black Mustang convertible currently parked at the curb in front of the PARA office’s front entrance and tried to breathe normally.
Even if he had to be stuck with her on this assignment, why exactly did Patrick insist that they drive to the location together? It was ridiculous. Not to mention stupid. Dumb. Pointless. Annoying. All of the above.
His boss obviously had it in for him by pairing him up with Amanda the Strange tonight. Did he want Jacob to quit?
Honestly. If he didn’t love his job — the only damn thing in his life that gave him any sense of purpose anymore — then he’d quit in a heartbeat. He didn’t need this kind of trouble.
And here she comes now, he thought with a sinking feeling. Miss Trouble, herself.
The tall glass doors of the office building opened and Amanda slowly made her way toward his car. He could already feel the ice-blue gaze that seemed to penetrate right down to his very core. Her dark hair was pulled back from her gorgeous face in a sleek ponytail. Long bangs swept over her forehead. Today she wore a thin teal v-neck sweater over dark blue jeans. Casual for her, he thought absently. The sweater was tight enough for him to clearly see the generous swell of her breasts. His own jeans became tighter at the sight of her — but only in the front.
His knuckles whitened even more on the steering wheel.
He hated that she affected him like this. Other than lusting after her body for two years now, he honestly couldn’t stand the woman.
Why should he? She obviously despised him.
With one contemptuous look at the party where they first met, Amanda had stared a hole right through him to the other side as if her beautiful baby blues had laser beams hooked up to them. He’d felt naked and exposed, and not in a fun handcuff-and-bedpost sort of way.
What the hell had happened? he wondered, and not for the first time since that night.
He still didn’t know. One moment they were introducing each other, and he was falling very quickly into those gorgeous eyes of hers, and the next moment she was giving him the freezing cold shoulder. He just wished he’d been able to get an empathic read on her. It would have helped to pinpoint exactly what had turned her off about him. She’d said she didn’t have psychic walls up to block him, but he was less convinced.
It would make things much easier if he’d been able to forget about her and not want her nearly every day since. What did they say about the unattainable? Made it that much more exciting?
It wasn’t exciting. Torturous and uncomfortable, yes. Exciting, no.
She was definitely his weakness. And he had to overcome his pointless attraction to her. Tonight would be a great chance — especially since he’d heard she was quitting PARA soon — to finally get the beautiful clairvoyant out of his system.
Hell, two years ago he hadn’t believed in any of this psychic stuff. He’d been a regular guy with a regular job and a fiancÅ½e he planned to marry — that is, until he caught her in bed with his best friend. Sounded like the ultimate clichÅ½, but for a clichÅ½ it still stung like hell.
At the time, PARA had been secretly checking out his background. They found out he had certain abilities, abilities that he’d only discovered a few months earlier himself, and they offered him a job at exactly the right time. He enthusiastically took the chance of leaving his old life to come to the small town of Mystic Ridge in upper New York state, where the PARA headquarters were located. But the scars had already formed over his heart. He’d trusted not one but two people, and they’d both screwed him over. Or, he supposed, they’d screwed each other and he’d simply been left out in the cold.
Then they’d gotten married four months later claiming that they were madly in love. Insult to injury. Definitely.
His plan for revenge? To drink a great deal of alcohol. Also to have sex with as many women that would let him. To his surprise, there were a whole lot of women who would and did, which was great for a while, fantastic even, at least until he realized that maybe he wanted a bit more than a series of empty one night stands.
Then he’d met her — Amanda LaGrange — and for the briefest of moments when their eyes met across the room that night he felt his scarred heart start to pound a little faster. At least, until she dug her designer stiletto heel into it.
He took the hint.
Whatever. He was happy working for PARA and having an exciting and varied sex life. It worked for him and he hadn’t received any complaints yet.
He tensed as Amanda opened up the passenger side door of the Mustang and got in. She had that fake, frozen smile plastered on her face. He recognized it. It was the same fake, frozen smile she always wore in his presence.
The smile just made him focus on her full red lips and wonder what they’d taste like.
No, he thought immediately. She has no affect on you anymore, remember? Be strong.
“Jacob,” she said simply.
“That’s my name,” he replied. “How’ve you been, Amanda?”
“Wonderful,” she said.
“Good to hear.” He shifted into first gear and pulled away from the curb. “I don’t think you’ve ever been in my car before.”
“No, I haven’t.”
And that was about the end of his reserve of small talk questions. With a two hour drive ahead of them, that might pose a bit of a problem.
“Patrick briefed me on the assignment earlier and wanted me to fill you in.” She reached into the bag she’d brought with her to pull out a notebook filled with page after page of her neat, precise handwriting. “A woman named Sheila Davis recently inherited the property from a distant uncle. While doing a walk-through last night she heard strange noises and had a sense of being pushed out of the house. That’s when she contacted us for an immediate assessment.”
“She’s scared to live there?”
“No. Actually, she thinks a haunted house will reduce the property value. She wants to sell and turn a quick profit and is planning an open house next week. So we go in, determine if there needs to be an exorcism preformed, and then we leave. I figure it won’t take more than twenty minutes.”
She was wearing that perfume he liked.
Dammit to hell, he thought angrily.
He shifted position in his seat trying to ignore her very warm, feminine presence so close to him. Was it the fact that he knew he couldn’t have her that made him feel this way?
But, no. He didn’t want her. He could have any woman he wanted, and Amanda the Strange was not even on the list anymore.
Vanilla, he thought then. Her perfume smelled like vanilla. Edible. Delicious.
His grip on the steering wheel was so tight by now he thought he might be able to yank it right out of the dashboard if he tried. He’d quickly realized that taking on this assignment tonight had been a huge, regrettable mistake. But Patrick had practically begged him and he didn’t want to let his boss down.
“Are you listening to me?” she asked after a moment.
“Yeah, sure. Haunted house. We’re checking it out. Routine stuff. In and out in twenty minutes. No problem.”
She eyed him skeptically. “Is everything all right? You seem a bit distracted.”
He pushed a reasonable facsimile for a smile onto his face. “I appreciate your concern.” He concentrated on the road ahead. “So is it true?”
“You’re quitting PARA? Heading to the Big Apple?”
She closed her notebook and slid it back into her bag. “It’s true.”
“When are you through?”
“This is my last field assignment.” She gazed out of the passenger side window. “Patrick says they’re throwing me a going away party Tuesday, so I get to say good-bye to everyone. I’m going to miss everyone so much. But other than that and packing, I should be out of here the day after.”
Less than a week. The thought that she was leaving soon should have given him a sense of relief, but it didn’t. Not even close. In fact, it made his stomach twist unpleasantly at the thought that he’d probably never see her again.
It made no sense to him at all. Why did he give a damn either way? The woman could barely stand to be in the same car as him.
Holding onto that thought should have made things much simpler.
No such luck.
Order HOT SPELL!