Excerpt – The Burn List

Excerpt from Chapter One

Home on her thirtieth birthday by seven thirty. How wild. How crazy.

How sad.

There’d been nothing special about the day. Nothing to distinguish it from any other boring day of her life. Well, unless she counted the piece of double-chocolate fudge cake she’d devoured.

Normally she didn’t let herself have dessert.

Abby Simmons slammed the door to her Honda Civic and started the depressing trek to her front door. What had happened to her? Where was the exciting life she’d dreamed about? So far, she hadn’t done one exciting thing in her whole miserable life.

Weary, she sighed. It was official. She was throwing herself a nice little pity party and intended to enjoy every minute of it.

“Hey, Abby.” Neighbor Lukas Marlow’s gorgeous head shot up over the bushes separating their houses.

She jumped and let out a screech, dropping her work bag on the sidewalk. “Don’t scare me like that!”

From behind the shrubs that separated his house from hers, he rose like a Greek god to his full six-four.

She gulped. Of course he was shirtless. Toned muscles, probably honed by hours in the gym to stay in shape for all his heroic rescues as a firefighter, gleamed in the fading evening sun.

The deep dimple on his left cheek creased when he smiled. “Sorry about that. How’s the birthday girl?”

She wanted to snarl. Instead, she picked up her bag and slung it over her shoulder.

Why was he so freakin’ unbelievably good-looking? With his stupid chiseled jaw, full mouth, thick dark brown hair and hypnotic matching eyes, he was the poster child for tall, dark and dangerous. The big jerk.

He’d lived next door for a year, and it had taken her six months of run-ins before she could talk to him without stammering like an idiot. Even now, she practically salivated every time she saw him. It was humiliating!

Not that he suffered from the same affliction. Nope. Not even a little bit. Quiet, reliable little Abby was the best-friend sidekick, never the object of desire. Lukas treated her with nothing but respect. The bastard.

That dimple still on full display, he winked. “How was dinner with your parents?”

She wrinkled her nose. What was there to say about dinner with the folks? Other than singing “Happy Birthday” they’d spent the rest of the time dealing with her big sister’s latest drama. Eden always stole the show.

And like the good girl Abby was, she sat quietly, nursing her one glass of wine and thinking she’d rather be curled up on her couch watching TV. “No big deal.”

Those dark brown eyes sparkled with good-natured friendliness. “So, the big three-o… You stopping home before heading out on the town for a wild night?”

Ha! Her wild nights consisted of watching The Daily Show followed by The Colbert Report in bed before drifting off to sleep. “Nope, I have to work tomorrow.”

A grin Lukas probably reserved for returning lost kittens to their elderly owners flashed across his stupid gorgeous face. “Saving your celebrating for the weekend, huh?”

Revealing her boring weekend plans of going to a movie with her best friend Jane to the man whose weekends probably consisted of nonstop sex romps with a couple of orgies thrown in for good measure was not on the to-do list. The last thing she needed was his pity on Sunday as he pushed his latest glamour girl out the door.

With considerable sarcasm, she said, “You know me, one party after another.”

He ran his hands over his washboard stomach, wiping away the dirt that clung to his perfect body. Hell, if she got to touch that, she’d cling too. She scowled.

“Good for you, but remember what I told you,” he said, completely missing her scorn.

Annoyed…and getting crankier by the minute, she parroted back his favorite line. “Yeah, yeah… Stay away from guys like you.”

“Good girl.” Lukas was a whole three years older than her, and therefore had taken it upon himself to act like her much older, much wiser brother.

It made her want to jab him with a sharp object. Maybe then he’d pay attention.

When he’d moved to the quiet tree-lined street, nestled on the outskirts of Chicago, she’d known he’d never give her more than a passing glance. The treatment she received was exactly the treatment she expected from a man like Lukas. If she were Eden, it’d be a different story. But Abby knew her place and expected nothing different.

Still, the knowledge grated.

“Sure,” she said, wanting to get away from this miserable conversation. She turned, starting back up her front walk.

“Happy birthday, Abby,” he called.

She waved over her shoulder, wishing she could flip him off without looking like a lunatic. In ballet flats that looked fashionable on other women but sensible on her, she bounded up the stairs two at time, desperate for the comfort of her house. Moments later, she’d shut out the outside world and slumped against the cherry wood front door.

This sucked.

At fifteen, she used to lie on her bed and dream of the day she’d be free. She’d dreamed of traveling to exotic lands, going to fantastic parties where some mysterious, powerful man would sweep her away. Obviously she’d spent too much time sneaking her mother’s Harlequins.

Now, fifteen years later, she was a bored, dissatisfied thirty-year-old accountant who’d never really done anything remotely interesting. What had happened to that girl who’d craved adventure? She threw her purse on the foyer table, kicked off her shoes and padded into the living room.

Unable to help herself, she walked to the big picture window, watching as Lukas attacked his bushes with a hedger. Those heavily muscled biceps bunching under the exertion, gleaming with sweat. He was to die for.

She hated him.

Sick of her own pathetic thoughts, she turned away from the window and stomped into the kitchen, yanking open the refrigerator. She reached for a bottle of water only to freeze when a bottle of readymade margarita mix she’d forgotten caught her eye.

She stared at it. A good stiff drink, that’s what she needed. She nibbled her bottom lip. Did she really want to drink alone on her birthday?

What the hell. She was damn tired of feeling sorry for herself.

She pulled out the bottle, grabbed the tequila hidden in her top cabinet and a glass with ice. She filled the tumbler half full of alcohol and splashed some of the margarita mix in to take out the bite.

She’d have her own freakin’ party.