BEYOND BREATHLESS
The Red Choo Diaries Mini-Series
Harlequin Blaze
January 2007
ISBN 0373793014

available at

Amazon or Barnes & Noble

Nicknamed "The Porcupine," Jamie McNamara has a tough-as-nails attitude that makes her a force to be reckoned with on Wall Street. So it's a shock even to her when she seduces a sexy investment broker in a Hummer limo on the way to a business meeting. But when her erotic escapade becomes the topic of the "Red Choo Diaries" sex blog and threatens to destroy her steely persona, Jamie realizes a fling isn't always frivolous.

Used to getting what he wants, gorgeous man-about-town Andrew Brooks knows a good thing when he sees it—and he sees and wants Jamie. Her drive and passion have him consumed. He's determined to transform their passionate limo encounter into a long-term merger—and he's prepared to negotiate!

"A great situation, characters, humor and laugh-out-loud dialogue make Beyond Breathless (4.5) by Kathleen O'Reilly a winner." --- Romantic Times

"You are going to L-O-V-E this tale. A successful hero who desires the love of an up-and-coming successful heroine, a believable plot, and a romance you will never forget. I am more than ready for book two!" --- Detra Fitch, Huntress Reviews

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of the men with money, and the difference between the reality and the fantasy. Most millionaires are actually fairly conservative with their own lives and live simply, and I wanted to capture that in Andrew. My original title for Mercedes’ blog was Lady Chatterly, but HQ thought it sounded too arcane, so we went with the Red Choo Diaries, which works for me, too.

• Finalist for the 2007 Golden Leaf Best Short Contemporary
• Finalist for Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence
• #1 contemporary seed in the Dear Author - Bitchery Writing Award for Hellagood Authors (was trounced in the fourth round by Jessica Bird (JR Ward), but I can live with my defeat!
• Romantic Times Top Pick for January (I’ve never been Top-Picked before)
• Nominee for Romantic Times’ Reviews Choice of Best Blaze for 2007 (Julie Leto’s Stripped was the winner, so I’m still happy, because I thought Stripped was awesome <g>).

 
   

Jamie McNamara stood on the street outside Grand Central Station and shook her head in disbelief. Two million commuters were sharing the same miserable situation. Stranded, stuck, marooned in Manhattan.

"It's not an insurmountable problem," said a deep, ear-tickling voice behind her, obviously not privy to the rage that was precariously close to boiling over inside her.

Insurmountable. Yeah, right. Like she could just walk the ninety-five miles from Grand Central to Stamford -- in Jimmy Choo heels, no less. Not in this lifetime.

Why today? Of all days. Why not tomorrow, when Connecticut really didn't matter?

Jamie whirled around, partially to condemn the smug voice, but there were parts of her -- devious, womanly parts, that wanted to see if the face matched the vocal chords.

"Thank you for that bit of blind optimism," she said, caught by the serious, dark eyes. Almost black. Then she noticed the suit, the leather briefcase, the same gray jacket that had nearly run over her earlier as she'd dashed for what was the last running train.

Very hot, but very rude.

Just her luck. People talked about the luck of the Irish, but you never heard about the luck of the Scottish. That's because they didn't have any.

The dark eyes flickered over her again. Efficiently, like an accountant jumping right to the bottom line. Jamie felt a slight flush and then mentally flogged herself for the lapse in confidence. She was classically tailored, buffed and polished herself. "Study hard," her mom used to tell her. "There're women who coast by on their looks. We're not them."

"Excuse me," Jamie said, brushing past the tightly-muscled frame. The suit didn't hide his physique; it magnified it, as only a good custom job can do.

Italian wool, too. Probably Sergai Brand. Then she realized what she was doing and stopped, reminding herself she was currently in a man-free phase, which sounded much more elegant than "my last boyfriend married my secretary, Amber."

Todd had whined continuously about her work hours, but not to Jamie. Oh no, he spent his quality time on the phone with Amber. She'd ask him "What's wrong?" "Nothing," he'd said. Jamie read the engagement announcement in the New York Times before he had the guts to tell her in person. That'd been nearly two years ago and she'd restricted her relationships to mostly non-existent since then.

The old anger erupted inside her, flowing through her like hot liquid goo. Jamie elbowed the suit's briefcase, not quite an accident, and jumped right into the 42nd street traffic, fighting all the other commuters for the six cabs that were currently on-duty. She raised her hailing hand, stepping in front of a mousy touristy type.

"We should split a car," the suit said, stepping into traffic with her.

Jamie's hand lowered. A cabbie (occupied, of course) honked for her to move, and she jumped back to the curb, before taking another long look at the suit.

Split a car with him?

It was a fascinating suggestion because it couldn't be economic reasons that prompted the invitation. Clearly she and he shared the same financial echelon. It could be practicality, two strangers needing to find a way out of the city when a power outage stopped mass transit.

But what if the reasons were more carnal? Good, old-fashioned lust.

Thoughts of lust during business hours weren't Jamie's standard operating procedure, business was her ruling passion, but she felt the dizzy pull of -- him.

It was rash, it was spontaneous. It was thrilling.

Briskly -- because she'd already had three cups of coffee -- she gave him an efficient once-over, starting at the spit-polished wingtips, then over long, long legs, up past lean hips, beyond the ogle-inducing broad chest and shoulders, taking note of the tiny dimple in the left side of his mouth, before finally coming to stare into those dark, velvety eyes.

Just her luck, the one time she felt a spark, the dark eyes were distinctly sparkless. Instead they just looked puzzled.

Jamie dismissed the moment of fantasy and sighed.

"Where are you going?" she asked.

"New Haven. You?"

"Stamford."

"It would make sense," he said with a curt nod.

He seemed polite, logical, with that extra quotient of testosterone that fluttered her insides.

Jamie didn't need fluttered insides today, or any day, so she started to tell him no.

But those eyes.

Intense, sexy, and slightly geeky. Those eyes currently held her tongue in check.

You need to get to Connecticut. He was right.

Weak, very weak, McNamara.

Her insides fluttered again, and she found herself nodding once in return. "Okay." She held out her hand. "I'm Jamie. Pleased to make your acquaintance."

Last names were verboten when dealing with unknown males. A female alone in Manhattan could never be too careful, and Jamie was nothing if not careful.

"Andrew," he said, offering no last name either, which made her brows pull together in consternation. What did he have to hide? His hand touched hers briefly. Nothing too personal. The handshake was crisp, businesslike.

Her brows furrowed even further.

He spoke again, and embarrassingly, it took her ten to realize he wasn't speaking to her. This time he spoke into the wireless earpiece hanging low next to his mouth.

It was a nice mouth, if you were a woman who noticed the male mouth. Jamie usually didn't, but this bottom lip belonged to a man who probably never spouted poetry or renegotiated a deal. Firm, decisive, driven.

Just like her.

For a moment, Jamie let herself relax. Her mother had always said she was too driven, and was going to have a heart-attack before she was thirty-five. Maybe, but at least Jamie would know that she had tried. She had plans, goals, ambitions, and she could get there, heart-attacks none-withstanding.

In the city of Manhattan, you had to be hard, driven, and relentless in order to make it.

And sometimes, you needed a reward.

Jamie fished in the briefcase, finding the inside pocket that held her secret stash. She broke off the tiniest of pieces, just a bite, just a hint, just a taste, and popped it in her mouth while no one was looking.

The milk-chocolate sugar rush washed over her, and she closed her eyes in bliss.

Oh, God, that was good.

Immediately the cravings struck again, but some of her mother's lectures were too deeply ingrained, so with a look of longing, she closed her briefcase, and put it away.

But tomorrow was another day.

They waited on the crowded sidewalk, frustrated commuters surrounding them, until finally Andrew tugged at her arm. They walked to the south end of the block, past the endless line of occupied cabs, hurrying pedestrians, and honking cars.

Eventually he stopped at a car and her mouth nearly fell open.

'Car' was a euphemistic term only.

This monstrosity was a white Hummer limo that was as close to tacky as a black-velvet Elvis.

The big chrome wheels trimmed in gold, the endless line of doors, the tinted windows -- it screamed of junior proms or drunken women flinging their bras out of the roof.

Oh, God, he was in the music business.

A neat little man emerged from the driver's seat and then opened the passenger door. "Continental Cars, at your service."

"This?" Andrew asked, and Jamie was relieved to hear horror in his voice.

"It's all we have, sir. Cars are in big demand now since the trains aren't running."

Jamie averted her gaze from the vehicle, the block long engineering defect making her corneas burn.

"Maybe a Town Car?" Andrew asked the driver hopefully.

He shook his head. "We're fresh out. Take it or leave it."

Andrew looked at Jamie, a question in his eyes.

She wanted to flee, alligator-trimmed heels poised in a northward position, but instead she weighed her options, her sensible side telling her to call Newhouse and reschedule.

Newhouse.

Now there was a name to pull her right into a Hummer.

It'd taken her three months, fourteen phone calls, and three Powerpoint presentations to get one heel in the Newhouse door.

A lesser woman would have abandoned the situation, put a minus in the credit column and walked away, but the prize kept her in the game. Newhouse was one of the few software companies to not just survive, but thrive during the tech bust, and now they were rolling in cash. Cash that needed to be strategically invested because the bread crumbs that their current firm was earning for them were pitiful. Bond-Worthington could change all that, and Jamie, the top client-relations rep at the firm, was the one assigned to recruit them. To date, it had been an uphill battle. But Jamie was made of tough stuff.

The name Jamie McNamara meant nothing to Newhouse and his gorgon of a secretary, but they would soon learn…

Assuming she could get to Connecticut before lunch.

She took another look at the vehicle and tried not to shudder.

Hummer limos were for sleazy account managers, girls gone bonkers, and South Beach.

She didn't like this ostentatious hulk of metal on wheels, but the Newhouse account was calling. If she had to ride in a Hummer limo, well, suck it up McNamara, there are worse things in life.

She took a deep breath and nodded, echoes of a porno soundtrack spinning in her head.

Andrew held open the door, and before she could change her mind, Jamie climbed inside.

*****

Andrew Brooks had a conference call in ten minutes and idle conversation wasn't his forte, but thankfully, the woman didn't seem to expect him to talk. Instead, she pulled out a copy of the Wall Street Journal and began to read.

He nearly smiled, because he knew just how she felt. People got in the way of productivity. Always wanting to ask him advice, or talk about a hot date, or worse yet, analyze Survivor. Survivor: The Wall Street Edition, that's what they needed. That was one game that Andrew would win. Every time.

The limo was hideous, red leather seats and the ceiling was covered with sparkling lights that blinked on and off. He thought there was a pattern, but was afraid to discover what it was.

He glanced over at "Jamie," wondering what her story was. She was tall and sleek, clad in a dark suit that was almost masculine in its severity. But those black shoes…

He had an odd compulsion to talk to her, find out where she worked, what she did, what corporate prize resided in Stamford.

He pushed back the purple curtain over the window, saw the endless line of gridlocked cars, and sighed. Not a good day for heading to Connecticut.

Not a good day for heading anywhere.

Their lead insurance analyst in New Haven had scheduled a lunch meeting to discuss the impact of the flattening bond market. A two-second phone call could have rescheduled the whole business, but then he had bumped into the sleek dark suit, the curvaceous body, and the stiff blue eyes, and he couldn't resist. His brother would have leered, his sister would have cheered.

Andrew was just intrigued.

So what was it in Connecticut? He didn't think she was meeting a boyfriend or a lover. Ten in the morning was too early for social obligations and there wasn't any softness about her, any excitement in her eyes. And although he wasn't big on fashion, he didn't think that women wore pinstripes on a date.

"Job interview?" he asked, because she seemed nervous, her eyes straying every now and then to her briefcase.

She peered at him over the financial page. "Excuse me?"

"In Stamford," he said. "Do you have a job interview there?"

She shook the newspaper page to straighten it out. "No," she answered, and then continued reading, dismissing him.

He checked his watch. Another six minutes until his call. "Business meeting?" he asked, trying again.

This time she lowered the paper. "Yes," she answered, just as the limo jerked to a halt.

Andrew thumped against the back of his seat.

"Sorry, sir," said a voice over the loud speaker. "The Triboro is backed up tight. Want me to try the Deegan?"

There were cars stretched out over the bridge and beyond. Nothing was moving. Not the air, not the brake lights. Andrew pressed the speaker button to talk. "An accident?"

"No," said the voice. "Just the entire city thinking a power outage is a great way to gain a four-day weekend."

Jamie leaned forward, and he caught a whiff of perfume. "Can't he go faster?" she whispered.

Andrew pressed the talk button again. "Do whatever's fastest," he said, knowing in his gut that he could've flown to Connecticut and back in the time it was going to take them to travel forty-five miles. He didn't have the heart to tell her, though. She looked like she could chew nails, but no way was that getting them across the bridge.

"Whatever you say, sir. If I hear any updates, I'll let you know."

The voice cut out, leaving Andrew and Jamie alone.

"Do you think I can be in New Haven in an hour?" she asked.

"Truth or lie?"

"Lie," she said without hesitation.

"Sure. Without a doubt."

He watched as she reached a hand around, kneading the tendons at the back of her neck. Her arm lifted her breasts under the fitted suit jacket, and his eyes flickered down. Only for a minute. But she caught him and lowered her arm.

"I have a call," he said, exorcising the lust from his voice. "Do you mind?"

She looked relieved. "No, go ahead. Do what you need to."

It wasn't meant as an invitation, but the image of her, skirts up, flashed in his head. A subliminal message that came and went. He frowned, and spoke into the telephone headset, commanding the phone to dial the Chicago office. He'd always been a touch claustrophobic and trapped in the car, even if it was forty feet long, was messing with his head.

He began to speak, trying not to look at her. She took her own cell out of her briefcase and dialed, holding it up to her ear.

She wasn't overtly pretty, no argument there, but there was something so controlled inside her, a pressurized spring, tightly wound. Andrew's brother and baby sister always said he was too tightly wound. That he needed to relax and get a life. One way to relax would be to pry apart those tightly wound thighs and bury himself inside her.

"Andrew?"

He jerked back into the conversation. "Repeat that please?"

And so the boring meeting went on. He had a life. A successful, fulfilling, organized life. But it was another kind of fulfillment, sexual fulfillment, or lack thereof, that was currently tenting his pants. He took a pad of paper from his briefcase and laid it strategically across his lap.

Just in case she noticed.

She hung up on her call, putting her cell away, and pulled out a notepad of her own.

Tiny voices buzzed his ear, the words making less and less sense.

All he could think about was the one white pearl button that was three inches below her throat. Such a small, sensible button.

Andrew had the oddest desire to take the white pearl button between his teeth and pull. Just like Everest -- because it was there.

****

The car was starting to heat up. Not from the warmth in the air, but the tension. He was having a normal, mundane conversation that Jamie had heard many times before. An assortment of numbers, buzz words, and run-on sentences that permeated corporate buildings across America, yet every time she heard that voice, it was like a shot of tequila straight to the brain. The car was going to her head. Jamie didn't even like tequila.

She tried to concentrate on the paper in front of her, but his eyes were feasting on her throat, making him impossible to ignore. After a futile struggle to remain calm, she finally put the notebook away. She crossed her legs, uncrossed her legs, before settling herself with both feet planted firmly on the floor.

There was no reason to be nervous. She'd graduated Summa Cum Laude with all of three dates. She scared men off, mainly because take-no prisoners ran in her family. A genetic trait that appeared when an army general mated with a dentist.

But this one…

Andrew.

There was something about him that called to her. Something besides the immaculate Italian wool suit. Something, well… earthy.

It was new and exciting, and to be fair, new and exciting didn't happen to Jamie very often. Nothing happened to Jamie very often, which was probably her own fault, but this feeling inside her, this tiny bubble of passion, was better than chocolate.

Much better than chocolate.

Her hand moved to her throat, and his gaze sharpened.

With one tiny flutter of her hand, his eyes had narrowed, and she heard the quiet, indrawn breath. A primitive thrill pumped through her system, a feeling usually reserved for corporate IPOs and the year-end bonus. Quickly her hand dropped to her lap.

Just as quickly, the hunger faded from his eyes, and she watched as he scribbled efficient notes on the yellow-lined legal pad in front of him.

She crossed her legs, trapping a thrill between her thighs.

A moment gained, a moment lost.

Instead, her fingers drummed impatiently on her tightly-crossed legs.

His gaze locked on her fingers. Realizing what she was doing, she stopped.

He shot her a tiny smile of gratitude.

And of course, he had lots of reasons for gratitude. He hadn't been chewed out by Newhouse's warden of a secretary, only moments ago, saying that "A power line is no excuse for tardiness."

Being a woman in the financial industry wasn't easy. A lot of men either wanted her to be a secretary or a willing vassal for their penis, never an equal.

A man like Andrew wouldn't need to prepare like she had for one of the most ambitious deals in the history of Bond-Worthington Financial. No, he looked happy as a clam, chatting away about margins and puts. Probably because he had a blond secretary with plasticized implants. Probably named Amber.

A tiny sigh escaped from her lips.

He was attractive, he was successful, he was a man.

There was a lot of injustice in the world. Because of today, she was probably going to lose her deal, and she never lost a deal. She would face the walk of shame back at the office, having to explain to Walter why she couldn't leap over tall buildings in a single bound, why she couldn't start an electrical-powered locomotive, and God only knows that she couldn't stop bullets with her chest, much less traffic.

But Jamie liked being the star performer in the office. More importantly, she couldn't live without it.

It was all she had.

No, life was definitely unfair. Deliberately, her hand rose to her throat.

Tossing caution to the wind, she unfastened the tiny button. It was a small, insignificant gesture, nothing overt or slutty, but for one slow second in time, she wanted to disrupt his manly existence, to explore this new feeling inside her.

He stopped talking.

Blinked twice.

Swallowed.

Mission accomplished.

top.

It was a small half-inch of flesh. Not golden tan, more like pale peach. Andrew valiantly attempted to keep up with the back and forth of the conference call, but failed. Instead he was mesmerized by the lure of naked skin.

It wasn't cleavage or thigh. It was nothing but an uncovered throat.

God, he was losing it.

He dragged his eyes away from the sight of temptation and studied the lined paper in his lap, but the words blurred together. The voices in his ear buzzed like a mosquito on a summer's day and he struggled to make out the words:

'a marketing strategy to focus on old-fashioned honesty in our financial dealings'

Okay, that made sense.

"Dave, do you think traders will really buy into that?" he asked, rather proud of himself for coming up with a half-way lucid contribution.

Even better, he could ignore her. He could ignore the raging hard-on that had blood streaming down from his brain to his cock. He could ignore the fact that he hadn't gotten laid in eight months.

Okay, that one he couldn't ignore.

It explained much of his current situation.

He'd never been a New York playboy like his younger brother, Jeff, who chased after supermodels and party-girls. Most of the women who Andrew dated were classy, but not clingy. Never clingy. The idiosyncrasies of a relationship took too much time, so by default the ones who lasted were the ones where the female participant made few demands.

Whatever worked.

His gaze traveled upward, leaving the relative security of the legal pad to skim over nicely turned breasts, past the lurid throat, and finally coming to rest on her face.

Jamie of No Last Name looked to be hell on wheels. A woman who threw you down on the bed, and…

No, no, no…

He'd seen guys in the office succumb to the lure of the velvet power of the p-whip, but not Andrew. Too many people were counting on him.

That thought helped gird the loins that were currently raging with lust.

But she was cute, although he suspected she'd kill him if he said it aloud. Certainly she wasn't cute in a kitten and babies sense -- thankfully. Her brown hair was pulled back in an elegant pony-tail, her light blue eyes were never still, blinking to one side then another…

…blinking mindlessly while he was pounding inside her.

The loins came ungirded.

Damn.

"Drew, do you have anything to add?" asked the voice in his ear.

He cleared his throat. "No, I think we've covered it. Thanks everyone for dialing in. It's been a productive meeting."

It was all bullshit, and Andrew didn't usually go for bullshit, but there was a time and place for it, and when you're currently having Technicolor fantasies about the woman sitting across from you in a tank of a limo – well, bullshit didn't seem out of the question.

He snapped his briefcase closed with a bang that seemed obscenely loud. She looked up at him, and he saw a quick flash of panic. She was nervous, too.

Andrew stared out the window, away from the cold sweat of her gaze, and watched the cars inch forward at a snail's pace.

Distraction. He needed a distraction.

He pounded on the speaker button. "Driver, how're we doing?" he asked, like he couldn't tell.

"Two hours to Connecticut. We've almost made it across the Whitestone, sir."

"Thank you," he said politely, and then heaved a breath. While he obsessed over the currently unclothed throat of the mono-monikered Jamie, the oxygen was turning thin -- all at one hundred feet over sea level.

He needed to label her, use the brand like a wedge, because it was obvious that the three feet between the car seats wasn't going to do it.

Urges, when unchecked, were a dangerous thing, leading to forgotten responsibilities, sloppily completed tasks, and poor credit scores. Andrew had deferred gratification his entire life; there were other things more important, namely food and rent.

Drew looked over at the object of his current urge, while considering extremely inappropriate behaviors. Desperate times called for desperate measures, and frankly, the state of his hard-on was about as desperate as he'd ever been.

"SoundDesign. Gross receipts last year over forty-seven billion."

"I beg your pardon?" she asked, quirking one brow.

"The speaker company," he answered in his flattest, most monotonous voice.

"Forty-seven billion?"

He nodded. "Price per earnings of nine point seven. Low. Hold recommendation."

"You're a broker I assume," she said, eyes sparkling, one lip curling up in that cocky half-smile that was going to haunt him for days.

"Sort of," he answered, omitting that he actually managed a half-billion dollar hedge fund that he turned a neat twenty-one percent annual profit over the last five years, beating the market average three times over.

"Fascinating," she said, the mischievous light dimming from her eyes. Definite progress.

One of Andrew's most valuable skills in the fight against ties that bind was the ability to bore a date to death when he wanted to dump 'em.

Worked every time.

"Sergei Brand," she said.

"What?" he asked.

"Your suit. Sergei Brand. Number one maker of semi-custom. Break-out sales in the late nineties when they limited their inventory to only smaller, boutique type tailors and cut off the big department store chains altogether. Sales climbed thirty-seven percent in the first year, and then tapered off to a blazing twenty-three percent for the next three years."

Andrew's heart stopped. Cardiac arrest at the age of thirty-six. "Are you in fashion?" he asked helplessly.

"Wall Street," she told him, casually studying her nails.

Holy, Alan Greenspan.

"Oh," was all his razor-sharp wit could come up with.

Then she looked up, her face poker-steady, but the light blue eyes were saying something entirely different. "Next year's market outlook?" she asked coolly. The words were a gauntlet, a threat…a turn-on.

So this was a game to her? Two could play at that, and Andrew's smile turned predatory. "Slow in the first quarter, but gaining speed in the second, and third, and then a slight downturn in the fourth."

She licked her lips, and he followed the provocative movement with his eyes. "Nope. First quarter is fast out of the gate."

"What about the January affect?" he asked, his voice huskier than normal.

"Not a factor. Gains in the entertainment sector will outpace all others," she said, one flirtatious thumb absently caressing her throat, a slow up and down motion that his whole body was following with avid attention.

His mouth opened, a high-school caliber proposition sat on his tongue. And then he remembered his age, his college degrees, his supposed maturity. "What makes you say that?"

"The American consumer is ready to play."

She was wrong, and he knew it. "Disagree," he argued.

Furiously she shook her head until one lock of dark hair fell loose from its tight confine. The minx was playing with him, just waiting until his instincts honed in for the kill. "The burgeoning consumer market is too crowded," he continued. "Everywhere there's distraction. More, more, more, everything pounding at the brain like a hammer. Eventually there's steam, billowing smoke. Before the year is out it's gonna implode because a consumer can only take so much before he erupts. It's Krakatau, Vesuvius, Mt. St. Helens. Mark my words, it'll blow."

She leaned forward in her seat, one stocking-clad knee inches from his own. Her cheeks were flushed, her pupils dilated. "That same stress will force the consumer to increasingly turn to things to take their mind off economics, politics, foreign affairs, and the price of oil. They'll need to wind down, relax. TV, movies, gaming, the net, those are the only things large enough to fill the void," she said, her gaze locked with his, and his brain flickered off. His hands itched to pull the pony tail loose. His fingers curled, aching to follow the line of her throat, finding out what lay beneath the demure suit jacket. And his cock, well, his cock didn't need an instruction manual. No, all current thinking was going on below the waist.

God in heaven, she was seducing him.

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