Excerpt: For the Love of Pete

Excerpt: For the Love of Pete

Contemporary Romance

CHAPTER ONE

Thursday, 4:16 p.m. 

Things finally came to a head between Zoey Addler and Lips of Sin the afternoon he tried to steal her parking space.

Okay, technically, her upstairs neighbor’s name wasn’t really Lips of Sin. She knew the guy’s occupation, but not his name. Since the man was drop-dead gorgeous, Zoey had taken to calling him ‘Lips of Sin’ in her mind. And yes, technically, the parking spot in question might not legally have been hers–she hadn’t paid for it or anything–but she had shoveled it. This was January in Chicago. In Chicago in winter, shoveling out a parking spot made it yours. Everyone knew that. 

Everyone but Lips of Sin, that is.

“What the hell are you doing?” Zoey screamed at him. She body slammed the hood of his black Beemer convertible, which was sitting in her stolen parking spot.

Lips of Sin, behind the wheel of said Beemer, mouthed something she couldn’t hear. He rolled down his window. “Are you insane? I could’ve hit you. Never get in front of a moving vehicle.”

Oh, like he had the right to lecture her. Zoey straightened, planted both Sorel-booted feet firmly, and crossed her arms. “I shoveled this parking spot. This is my parking spot. You can’t take it.” 

Her words emerged in white puffs into the frosty late-afternoon air. They’d already had eight inches of snow the night before, and it looked like it might very well snow again. All the more reason to keep this spot.

The Beemer was at an angle, half in, half out of the parking place, which was almost directly in front of their apartment building. Every other parking space on the block was filled. There was a yellow Humvee, hulking in front of the Beemer, and a red Jeep to the back. Her own little blue Prius was double-parked next to the red Jeep. It was a sweet parking spot. Zoey had gotten up at five freaking a.m. to shovel it before she went to work at the co-op grocery. She’d marked the spot with two lawn chairs and a broken plastic milk crate in time-honored Chicago tradition. Now, returning after a long day of work, it was too much to find Lips in the act of stealing her space.

“Jesus,” Lips said. “Look, I’m running a little late here. I promise to shovel you another parking place tonight. Just get out of my way. Please?”

Obviously he wasn’t used to begging. Gorgeous guys didn’t beg. He had smooth, tea-with-milk brown skin, curly black hair, and bitter-chocolate eyes, framed by lush girly eyelashes. Except the girly eyelashes helped emphasize the hard masculine edges of his face. In fact, the only soft things on his face were the eyelashes and his lips of sin. Deep lines bracketed those lips, framing the cynical corners and the little indent on the bottom lip that made a woman wonder what, exactly, the man could do with that mouth. 

Perfect. 

He was perfectly perfect in his masculine beauty, and Zoey had hated him on sight. Gorgeous guys were always so damn full of themselves. They strutted around like they were God’s gift to women. Please. Add to that the fact that the man was always dressed for corporate raiding in suit and tie and black leather trench coat, and he just was not her type.

Lips was getting out of the car now, looking pretty pissed, his black trench coat swirling dramatically around his legs.

Zoey leaned forward, about to give him what-for, when the front doors to their apartment building burst open and a middle-aged guy in a red puffy jacket came running out. He had a baby under his left arm like a football. Zoey froze, her heart paralyzed at the sight. In his right fist was a gun. His bald head swiveled as he caught sight of them, and his gun hand swiveled with it. Zoey’s eyes widened, and then a ton of bricks hit her from the side. She went down into the frozen gray slush on the street, and the ton of bricks landed on top of her. An expensive black leather sleeve shielded her face.

BANG! 

The shot sounded like it was right in her ear. Zoey contracted her body in animal reaction, trying to make herself smaller beneath the heavy bulk of the man on top of her.

“Get behind the car,” Lips breathed in her ear, and she had the incongruous thought that his breath smelled like fresh coffee.

Then a flurry of shots rang out, one right after the other, in a wall of sound that scared her witless. The weight lifted from her body, and she felt Lips grab the back of her jacket and haul. She was on hands and knees, but she barely touched the ground before she was behind the Beemer on the driver’s side. She looked up and saw Lips crouched over her, a black gun in his hand.

“Don’t shoot,” she gasped. “He’s got the baby!”

“I know.” His gaze was fixed over the roof of the car. “Shit.”

The word was drowned out by the sound of a revving engine. Zoey looked around in time to see the yellow Hummer accelerate away from the curb, the bald man at the wheel.

“Come on!” She grabbed the door handle of the Beemer and pulled, scrambling ungracefully inside. There was a moment when she thought she might be seriously tangled in the console between the seats, and then she was on the other side, pulling out the passenger-side seat belt. She looked back, and Lips was still standing outside the car, staring at her. “What are you waiting for? We’ll lose him.”

He narrowed his eyes at her but thankfully didn’t argue. Instead he threw back his coat and suit jacket, holstered his gun in a graceful movement Jack Bauer would’ve envied, and got in the car. He released the emergency brake and shifted into drive.

He glanced at her once assessingly and said, “Hold on.” 

The force of his acceleration slammed her against the Beemer’s lush leather seat. Then they were flying, the car eerily quiet as they sped through Evanston.

“Do you think he’s a pedophile?” She clutched at the car armrest anxiously.

“No.”

The yellow Hummer had turned at the corner onto a medium-sized boulevard lined with small businesses and shops. Zoey was afraid they would’ve already lost him by now, but two stoplights ahead, the Hummer idled at a red light.

She leaned forward. “There he is. Up ahead at the stoplight.”

“I see him.” The words were quiet, but they had an edge.

Well, too bad. “Can’t you go any faster?”

He sped past a forest green minivan.

“The light changed. He’s moving again.” Zoey bit her lip, trying to still the panic in her chest. “We can’t lose him. We just can’t. You need to go faster.”

Lips glanced at her. He didn’t say anything, but Zoey heard a kind of scraping sound, like he was grinding his teeth. She rolled her eyes. Men had such delicate egos. She hauled her cell out of her jacket pocket and began punching numbers.

“What’re you doing?” he asked. The Beemer swerved around a Volkswagen Beetle in the left lane, briefly jumping the concrete divider before thumping down again in front of the Beetle.

Zoey righted herself from where she’d slid against the passenger door. “Calling 911.”

He grunted, and she wasn’t sure whether that was an approving sound or not. Not that it mattered.

There was a click in her ear and a bored voice said, “911. What is the nature of your emergency?”

The Hummer had turned right at the light onto Dempster. Lips steered the Beemer into the turn going maybe forty mph. The Beemer’s tires screeched but didn’t skid. Points to BMW engineering.

“A baby’s been kidnapped,” Zoey said to the 911 operator. “We’re chasing the kidnapper.”

The operator’s voice perked up. “Where are you now?”

“On Dempster, near uh . . .” She craned her neck just as Lips swerved again, nearly sending her nose into the passenger-side window. “Shit.”

“I beg your pardon,” the operator said, sounding offended.

“Not you. I know we’ve passed Skokie Boulevard–“

“We’re on Dempster and Le Claire,” Lips said tightly.

Zoey repeated the information.

“Tell 911 that it’s a yellow Hummer,” Lips said as he accelerated around a postal truck, imperiling the paint on the Beemer’s side. “The license plate’s obscured by mud, but there’s a dent in the back left panel over the wheel.”

The Hummer suddenly swerved into the right lane and took a ramp onto the Edens Expressway.

Zoey gasped in the middle of her recitation. “He’s gotten onto the Edens going north.”

The Beemer barreled up the ramp and abruptly slowed. In either direction on the freeway, as far as the eye could see, was a four-lane-wide trail of cars. 

“Shit,” Zoey muttered.

“I beg your pardon,” the operator said again. Must get sworn at a lot in her job.

“Not you,” Zoey replied and then said to no one in particular, “This is why I never take the Edens after three. They’ve been doing road construction for, like, ten years here.”

“I’ll be sure and tell the guy that when we catch up with him,” Lips ground out.

If they caught up with him, Zoey thought and bit her bottom lip. The Hummer was already several cars ahead and moving, whereas their part of the traffic jam was stopped dead. There was a good possibility that they’d lose the Hummer in the traffic. She kept her eyes firmly fixed on the massive lump of yellow steel. She wasn’t letting it out of her sight. That truck contained a kidnapper with a gun and a very important little piece of humanity. ’Cause the kidnapper hadn’t taken just any baby. 

He’d taken Pete.