facebook ""Susan Andersen""

 

He Could Be Her Fantasy Man

Tall, dark and intense, Detective Jason de Sanges excites all kinds of fantasies in Poppy Calloway. But when she discovers the hot cop has a cold heart for kids at-risk, all bets are off. Free-spirited Poppy suggests the three teens caught spray-painting a Seattle neighborhood be given art-related community service. By-the-book Jason thinks they should pay, not be rewarded!

If He’d Just Bend A Little

With the men in his family always in the slammer, Jase was raised in foster care. He knows what it takes to walk the line: following the rules. And his number one self-imposed rule? Avoiding his hunger for sexy, irresistible Poppy, who challenges him on everything. Especially that number one rule...

 

Bending the Rules
July 2009

Harlequin • ISBN: 0-373-7739-35

 

 

 

Here I am, with another peek at a Seattle neighborhood! Bending The Rules' Poppy is a catch-as-catch-can artist—she does café and store backboard menus and specials, she designs greeting cards and she teaches art to at-risk kids. Consequently, she’s all over town. But since she lives in Fremont—a fun, funky 'hood.—I thought I'd give you a taste of its flavor. Here are a few shots of the  area—some are even used in the book. :)

Queen Anne
 
Belltown
The Troll Under the Aurora Bridge
 
The Epi, a well known Fremont condo, the type of which Jase expected Poppy to live in the first time he went to her place.

 

Queen Anne
 
Belltown
Piece of Mind, which unfortunately has been largely painted over now so that it looks like any other business in the world. Poppy’s kids used this as a jumping off point for their mural.

 

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A word about the original epilogue to Bending The Rules

Bending the RulesWhen I wrote this epilogue I wanted to show a little of Poppy’s family, who were referred to in Bending The Rules, but never actually made an appearance. When the original epilogue was finished, however, it became clear that it just wasn’t right. The Sisterhood Diaries series has always been about Jane, Poppy and Ava’s friendship—and readers were going to want to know why I dropped the ball in the very scene that should have wrapped everything up to everyone’s satisfaction with a big red bow.

So here it is, strictly for fun. If you haven’t read the book yet, you might want to hold off, because never having been one to waste my hard-won writing if there’s a way I can salvage at least parts of it, I took the effective portions and simply reworked them into the conversations and actions as seen through the Sisterhoods’ eyes.

Hope you enjoy this peek into my process for what it is: Me tippy-toeing and sometimes barreling my way through the book to the bitter end. :)

EPILOGUE

I feel like the sun is shining out all my pores!

Memorial Day

Staring out the French doors her dad had recently installed in the combination kitchen-dining area of her parents’ Ballard home, Poppy found herself suddenly unable to concentrate on the items her mom had sent her to gather for the picnic table. Her gaze was locked on Jason doing the guy thing at the grill with her dad and Murphy and Uncle Bill, his head tossed back as he roared one of his rare, full-throated laughs. The sight stopped her in her tracks and her heart swelled so fast and furiously she thought it might burst.

“Someone’s got it bad,” Aunt Sara murmured, stopping beside her in a jingle of bangle bracelets and swinging chandelier earrings. She removed the uneven stack of hand-tossed pottery plates from Poppy’s hands.

Then she abruptly set the load down on the tile-topped buffet with an uncharacteristic disregard for Beth’s handiwork. Her mouth a perfect O, she snatched up Poppy’s left hand. “What’s this?” she demanded, staring down at the antique white and yellow gold diamond ring on Poppy’s finger. “Beth! Have you seen this?”

Her mom came over, pulling her reading specs from the pocket of her khakis. Leaning over she inspected the ring on Poppy’s finger, then raised a gaze that was ablaze with excitement. “You’re engaged?”

“Yes!” Poppy laughed and hugged her mother, then did the same with her aunt of the heart. “Jason gave me this little beauty just last night! Isn’t it gorgeous?” Holding out her hand, she admired anew the fine detail work wrought in the bi-colored golds of her beautiful antique ring.

“Engaged,” Sara murmured. “To a man who wears a gun for a living.”

Poppy whirled on her. “That gun saved my life!”

Her aunt looked stricken. “Oh, darling, I know. I do know that—and I’ll be grateful for it until the day I die. It’s just...”

“He’s not the kind of man you thought I’d end up marrying.” She shrugged. “Me, either, Auntie. But now I simply can’t imagine spending my life with anyone else.”

“Then that’s good enough for me. I’ll have to read his palm.”

And Jason would let her, Poppy knew. He might not put any stock in the results himself, but he’d let her do her thing. She  loved watching how enamored he’d become of her parents and she had a feeling he would be equally so with Sara and Uncle Bill once he was around them long enough to appreciate their open hearts.

“We’ve been getting to know him,” her mother told her oldest friend. “And one thing I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty: his love for Poppy is fierce and true.” She looked back at the ring’s octagonal setting and flush-set round diamond. “And he obviously knows you well, if he picked this out himself. It’s absolutely beautiful but without the sort of flash that would make you feel self-conscious wearing it around your low-income kids. It looks very old,” she said, inspecting it. “And it has an aura of being well loved.”

“It’s Edwardian--from around 1910 or so. And the diamond is large enough to satisfy my sparkly jones--but not so big I’d feel the need to swing it around to avoid rubbing it in the face of kids who could pay the rent and buy groceries for a year on what it cost.” She held it out to admire once more, then dragged her attention away and glanced up at her mother. “He hired Ava to take him to a couple of estate dealers, but she told me this morning that he not only picked the ones he liked without input from her--he made her stand across the room when he made his selection so she wouldn’t know which one he’d bought until I saw it first.”

“Smart boy.” Her mother picked up the stack of plates. “Grab the napkins and rings out of the drawer there and Sara, you get the Sangria. The basket of napkins and silverware are already on the table and we can get the rest of the stuff when the guys have finished charring the chicken. It’s time to join the party.”

“Where are your friends today?” Aunt Sara asked Poppy as they carried their load out onto the deck. “They usually show up at Pete and Beth’s dinners.”

“I know, but Janie’s inlaws are having a do and since Ava’s been campaigning for one of Dev’s sisters to work for her occasionally, she decided to join them.”

Bending the RulesWhen Poppy skimmed down the deck steps into the yard ahead of her mom and her aunt moments later, Jase’s attention immediately wandered from the story her Uncle Bill was relating. The guy’s shirt held the faint scent of marijuana, he had a cannabis leaf tattooed on his forearm and Jase half expected him to wander off behind the garage at any minute to fire up a joint. But while Bill might be a toker, he was also a decent, easy-going man who clearly loved Poppy. He’d regaled Jase and Murphy with some great stories of the cute and funny things she’d done as a kid.

But she was here in the flesh now. Catching himself about to simply walk off without a word, he excused himself and crossed the grassy yard to meet her.

She looked so pretty in her red dress, little white sweater and radiant smile. She must have kicked off her sandals in the house because her feet were bare even though the sun kept going in and out of the clouds and it was warm only part of the time.

“Hey,” he murmured and bent his head to give her a kiss. Then he twirled her around and pulled her back against his chest. Wrapping his arms around her waist, he rested his chin atop her warm cloud of hair and cupped his fist around her left hand so he could rub his thumb over the diamond he’d put on her finger last night.

He felt happy, peaceful and possessive and grinned with no-bones-about-it exhilaration at his girl’s mama as she approached them, bearing a pitcher of wine with sliced fruit floating in it. This little diamond said Poppy was his.

Beth stopped in front of them. “That ring you bought my baby girl is beyond perfect,” she said and raised a gentle hand to cup his cheek. “It shows you pay attention and that you know who she is. Welcome to the family, Jason.”

He stilled beneath her touch, his heart giving an odd lurch. It had been almost three decades since he’d felt a mother’s touch and releasing Poppy’s fingers, he lifted his hand to cup Beth’s, leaning into her capable hand for a moment. Then curling his fingers around hers he brought them to his lips to press a quick buss against her fingertips before releasing them. “Thank you. I’m going to take such good care of her. I promise you.”

“Oh, honey, I know you are. And she’s going to take good care of you, too.” Tears swam in her eyes for a second but blinking them back, she gave him a blinding smile, then turned to the rest of the party. “Did Jason tell you his news?” she demanded. When Pete and Bill and Murphy simply gave her blank looks, she shook her head. “Men. Poppy, want to do the honors?”

“We’re engaged!” She thrust out her hand and wiggled her fingers, displaying her ring.

“Well, for God’s—“ A grin splitting his face, Pete shook Jase’s hand and thumped him on the back, then pulled his daughter in for a tight hug. “Congratulations, son,” he said over her head.

“Yeah, you got yourself the best girl in the world,” Bill agreed.

“And she’s getting the best man,” Murphy said and thrust his hand at Jase. “Congratulations, kid.”

He grasped it and Murph yanked him in to give him a gruff hug. Slapping him on the shoulder, the older man stepped back, looking away as he swiped the back of his hand across his cheeks.

Sara took his place, rising onto her toes to give him a peck on the cheek. “Congratulations, Jason. Poppy looks happier than I’ve ever seen her. Keep her that way and you’ll have Bill and my undying gratitude for life. She’s always been very special to us.”

She handed him a glass and Beth filled it from the Sangria pitcher, then the two women went around the group, seeing that everyone had a glass.

Toasts both sentimental and silly were made, then the chicken came off the grill and the women brought out salads, bread and veggies and everyone gathered around the picnic table on the deck.

Sitting with Poppy’s shoulder pressed against his arm, Jase listened to the conversations going on around him and felt so content he barely recognized himself. He almost regretted that his brother Joe and his girlfriend hadn’t been available to attend the Calloway’s barbeque after all. He’d had mixed feelings when he’d followed Poppy’s instructions and invited them, but he wouldn’t mind his brother being here now to share in his happiness. Joe had already had plans with his girl’s family, however--and that was okay. He seemed to be doing well, so maybe he really was serious about staying out of jail this time. Jase sure hoped so.

As if she knew what he was thinking, Poppy gave his knee a squeeze under the table. He leaned into her.

“I knew I wanted you the minute I clapped eyes on you,” he bent his head to murmur in her ear. “But I sure never knew I could feel a love like this. I thought that was for other people. Real people.”

“You are real people,” she said with a fierceness that caused the conversations around them to stumble. Then Murph laughed at something Pete said and the volume picked up again.

“I know,” he said in a low voice. “That didn’t come out right. I guess what I meant was that I thought it was for people from families like yours. Not for guys with my kind of messed up background.”

She tilted her head back to look at him. “I don’t care what your background is. I don’t love your antecedents, Jason. I love you.”

Bending the Rules“Aw, Poppy.” He rested his forehead on hers for a minute. Then he gave her a soft kiss and his lips curved up in a smile against hers. “That day I walked into the merchants’ meeting to settle Cory, Danny and Henry’s future?” he said tenderly.

He snapped his fingers. “Luckiest day of my life, doll.”

Poppy’s lips curved to match his. “Me, too,” she said softly. “Me, too.”

 

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A Deleted Scene from Bending The Rules

Bending the Rules

Rendered so lethargic and satisfied by Jason’s lovemaking that she could barely stand up, let alone locomote, Poppy stumbled into the bathroom. She’d never had sex quite like that and if she died this minute, it would probably take an entire mortuary full of undertakers to get the sappy smile off her face.
Or she could just look in a mirror. Catching a glimpse of herself, she stared, her eyes bugged in horror. And screamed.

Jason burst buck naked through the door, his sex swinging between his thighs and his hard-eyed gaze sweeping the room in sync with a gun that looked like a cannon to her unaccustomed eyes. When he apparently found the small space danger-free, he lowered the still primed pistol until it pointed at the floor.

And nailed her with his gaze. “What the hell?”

Okay, she felt stupid. Still...

“Look at this!” Grasping handfuls of her drying, frizzy hair, which had grown to gargantuan, fuzzy, lackluster proportions, she tugged the hanks outward in display. Then, releasing them, she slapped her hands to his bare chest. “No, don’t!” She tried to push him out of the room. “God, I can’t believe you made me forget to use my Phyto. Women with naturally curly-hair cannot forget their products!”

Seeing the bewildered expression on his face, she shoved harder. “Don’t look at me! Get out of here.”

He didn’t budge. And his dark eyes gave the mess growing out of her head a comprehensive study. The corner of his mouth twitched. “Damn, Blondie. That’s downright scary.” He grinned at her. “I must be even better than I thought, if I drove the possibility of that out of your head.”

She shoved a third time, but it merely slid her fingers deeper into the cloud of hair on his chest. “You’re a real comedian, de Sanges.”

“Hey, think about it.” He licked his bottom lip. “Have you ever, with any other man, forgotten your miracle gookumpucky?”

“It’s a balm, not a gookwhatever.”

“Still, you concede the miracle part, right? Because, honey, I’ve never seen your hair look anything like this.”

A snort of laughter escaped her. “Yeah. I was a happy girl the day I discovered this defrizzer.”

“I bet.” He brushed a hank of horrendoe hair away from her temple. “So, admit it,” he murmured. “I’m good.”

She flashed him a demure smile. Circled his flat copper nipple with a fingertip. “Yes, you are. But obviously I’m better.”

“And you figure this. . . how?” He lifted her onto the small counter top next to the sink, then leaned over her, his hands braced, palms flat, on either side of her hips. She couldn’t help but notice that his sex was no longer dangling, but was instead quickly straightening in pulses toward his flat stomach. She watched in fascination until Jason bent his knees to bring their faces on a level. His voice, saying her name, recalled her to the fact he’d asked a question.

She tore her gaze away and met his. Gave him a cocky smile.
“Well, it’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? Like you said, this is one scary ‘do. So by rights I oughtta require a paper bag over my head before the idea of sexing me up would even occur to you. Yet it didn’t slow you down at all, did it? You were so hot for me you couldn’t wait to get in my undies.”

“I suppose you could make a case for that argument,” he agreed, slowly lowering his head. “Hell, if you squint at it real hard from the corner of your eye that seems almost reasonable. So, I’m not even gonna play the guy factor card.“

“Which is probably a good thing since I have no idea what that is.” And she wasn’t going to ask, either.

He merely gave her a crooked smile and kissed the angle of her jaw.

And, dammit, she couldn’t stand not knowing. “Okay, you’re clearly dying to tell me, so what’s the guy factor card?”

“It’s more like a rule—one that states a naked woman trumps scary hair every time. But that’s not the important issue here.” He took a bite out of her lower lip. Licked the small hurt and pulled back a little to look into her eyes.

His were so dark, so hotly attentive, her heart skipped a beat. “What’s the important thing?” she whispered.

Bending the Rules“You said I couldn’t wait to get in your panties? Well, Poppy, mine? I still can’t.”

She returned his stare. Then like an idiot zeroed in on the least important part of the statement. “I’m not wearing undies at the moment.”

“Yeah, I noticed. And I’ve got just one thing to say about that.” His long, clever fingers worked their way into her Wild Woman of Borneo hair and tilted her head back. “Even better.”

 

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Bending the Rules: Best of 2009

TOP PICK! Bending the Rules was named #5 on Amazon's Best of 2009, Top Ten Books: Romance. (posted 11.03.09)

BESTSELLER EVERYWHERE! Bending the Rules debuts on Pubishers Weekly at #12 and spends another week on the The New York Times and USAToday bestseller lists.
(posted 7.20.09)

NYT BESTSELLER! Bending the Rules makes its first appearance on USA Today and debuts on The New York Times at #14! (posted 7.09.09)

“This delightful follow-up to Cutting Loose works on several levels. A witty, lighthearted romance, it is also a sensitive exploration of troubled teens and family ties. The characters are full bodied, the plot is well developed and the style is just plain fun. Once you get into this one, you will definitely be after the first, and on the lookout for the third."

Romantic Times BOOKreviews awarding Bending the Rules
a HOT 4 1/2 STAR review and Top Pick
(posted 6.02.09)

“Andersen (Cutting Loose) creates a sexy, feel-good contemporary romance starring down-to-earth Seattle artist Poppy Calloway and handsome but rigid police detective Jason de Sanges... Palpable escalating sexual tension between the pair, a dangerous criminal on the lose and a cast of well-developed secondary characters make this a winner."

Publishers Weekly (posted 6.02.09)

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Bending the Rules

Prologue

Dear Diary,
I will never understand why people paint their walls white. If it were up to me I’d color the world .

June 13, 1992

“So what do you think?”

Anchoring herself against the ladder she stood on to paint the Wolcott mansion’s morning room wall, thirteen year old Poppy Calloway looked at her friend Jane, who had asked the question. All but swallowed up by a man’s paint smock, her slippery brown hair falling out of the banana clip she was using to hold it off her face, Jane gazed back at her from the west wall where she had painstakingly painted the woodwork around the bank of mullioned windows. Through the panes behind her, rain clouds blew across the sky over Lake Union. The Space Needle, however, had a halo of pure azure above it.

“It looks wonderful, Janie,” she said, admiring the velvety cream-colored wood against the deep melon wall. “Doing trim is the hardest.” Blowing a blonde curl out of her eyes, she flashed Jane a grin. “Which is why I gave the job to you.”

A wry smile lightened Jane’s solemn expression. “So I’m the chump of the Sisterhood?”

“Nah. I just knew you’d do it right.” Then she turned to their redheaded friend, who was eating a Milky Way and dancing to Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit over by the boom box they’d brought with them to Miss Agnes’ mansion. “You planning on actually giving us a hand sometime today?”

Generous hips swiveling, arms moving in rhythmic counterpart, Ava met Poppy’s gaze across the room. “In a minute. I’m communing with Kurt Cobain.”

“You’ve been communing with him since you bought the Nevermind tape—what?—six months ago? Do it with a roller in your hand.”

“Aw, Pop. You know I’m not good at the physical stuff.”

“Hello!” She eyed the fluid movement of Ava’s body. “Aren’t you the one who dances good enough to star on an MTV video?”

Dimples punched deep in Ava’s cheeks as she smiled in delight. But almost immediately she made a scoffing sound. “Yeah, right. Like they’d ever put my fat ass on one of those vids. Those are for skinny girls like you and Jane.”

“Well, lose the candy bar and pick up a paintbrush--maybe you’ll burn a few calories.”

“Poppy,” Jane remonstrated.

She merely shrugged and turned back to her own painting, feeling both guilty and impatient. She knew that was mean, but sometimes it was just hard to dredge up the proper sympathy. Ava’s weight was a constant source of unhappiness for her friend. Yet she never did anything about it.

Still, she felt bad and watched from the corner of her eye as Ava trudged over to an empty paint tray and squatted to pour paint into it.

“Dancing burns calories,” Ava muttered as she brought the tray over to start rolling color onto the lower part of the wall where Poppy’s roller hadn’t reached.

“That’s true. It just doesn’t help paint the walls.” Still, Ava had a point and she offered the first olive branch that popped to mind. “That Courtney Love is all wrong for Cobain.”
“I know!” Ava rubbed her cheek against a plump shoulder, dislodging the bright strand of hair that had swung forward to stick to the corner of her mouth. Dimples peeped again in her round cheek when she flashed a look up at Poppy. “I think he’s just killing time with her until I’m old enough to marry him instead.” She nodded sagely. “Men need sex, you know?”

“I’m sure that’s the reason.”

“Without a doubt,” Jane agreed.

 “But you can have Cobain,” Poppy added. “I’m holding out for the Sheik.”

Ava and Jane howled, because that was the fantasy man they’d invented last year during a back yard campout. Secretly, Poppy had to suppress a shiver. Because the dark, larger-than-life, lean-fingered man of their combined imaginations was her private ideal.

A regular real-life boyfriend wouldn’t be too shabby, though.

“Are you girls ready for a break?”

Bending the RulesAt the distinctive sound of Agnes Bell Wolcott’s deep voice, all three of them turned toward the door where she stood decked out in designer couture from her snow white, exquisitely coiffed hair to her expensively shod feet. They’d met Miss A at an event at Ava’s house two years ago and shortly afterward, she’d invited them for tea at the infamously ugly Wolcott mansion as a thank you for spending time with an eccentric old woman known in certain circles for her adventurous travels, beautiful wardrobe and exquisite collections. She’d given them their first diaries at that tea and it was then that they’d started referring to themselves as the Sisterhood, after Miss Agnes said their connection to each another reminded her of such. They’d been coming for tea at least once a month ever since--and often dropped by—either as a group or individually-- simply to talk to her in between times.

When Poppy had Miss Agnes to herself, conversations often turned to philanthropic endeavors. The older lady’s enthusiasm for “giving back” left an impression on Poppy. There was just something about Miss A that made you think about things in ways you’d never done before, and Poppy wouldn’t be surprised if she was sporting the same fatuous, pleased-to-see-her smile now that she saw on Jane and Ava’s faces. To make up for it—conscious as she was about her dignity these days--she said sternly, “If you’re going to be in here, you need to put on a smock.” She nodded toward the pile that her parents had supplied. “I will not be responsible for ruining that outfit.”

“And I will not ruin the beautiful lines of my Chanel with a paint-spattered lab coat,” Miss A said crisply, stepping outside the doorway so she was safe from wet paint but still in their line of vision.

Poppy grinned at the old lady’s acerbic tone. One of the things she adored about Miss A was that she never insulted their intelligence by pulling her punches. “There’s a plate of homemade oatmeal-chocolate chip-walnut-raisin cookies for you on the sideboard in the dining room,” she said. “Mom said since I was no doubt my usual pain-in-the-patootie self trying to get you to agree to painting this room, the least she could do was supply a little sugar to sweeten the deal.”

“How lovely of her. She obviously knows you well.” The latter sentiment was offered in a dry tone, yet accompanied by a fond smile. “I’ll tell Evelyn to add some to our dessert platter. Speaking of which, are you ready to break for lunch or would you prefer to finish your wall first?” She studied the completed one that was a deeper, more dramatic shade of the pale melon that Poppy and Ava were applying to the adjacent wall and nodded approvingly. ”Divine color, by the way. It’s going to look amazing with the draperies. You do have a wonderful eye for this sort of thing, don’t you?”

“She’s got the best eye,” Ava agreed. “And if you don’t mind, Miss A, we’ll finish this wall first.”

Slipping a foot from the ladder rung, Poppy gave her friend an affectionate nudge with her toe. For she knew how much Ava loved Miss A’s luncheons; knew, too, that she was sacrificing the immediate gratification of sitting down to one for her. She looked back at the older woman. “It shouldn’t take more than ten or fifteen minutes, if that’s okay.”

“Darling, I’m getting free labor and beautiful new walls. You take all the time you want. I’ll just go tell Evelyn.”
She disappeared down the hallway and Poppy turned back to her painting with renewed energy. She knew the old lady was indulging her by letting them paint the room when she could afford to have it done professionally every month of the year if she wanted. That was the thing, though—Agnes didn’t want the bother of it—she cared about the beauty of her collections, not the rooms they went in.

Even so, Poppy couldn’t prevent the satisfied smile curling her lips. “I’m gonna talk her into letting me paint the parlor next.”

“Good luck with that,” Jane said from her position in front of the baseboard where it angled around the corner. She rose from painting the trim and stretched out her back. “That’s where nine-tenths of Miss A’s collections are kept. It would be a killer undertaking just to move everything.”

“Still. I’m gonna do it. I’ll wear her down—just wait and see. Dad says that’s what I do best. And once I do?” She smiled dreamily. “We’re going to paint it a lovely creamy yellow.”
Jane and Ava exchanged glances. “We,” Jane said. “Well, lucky us.”

“Yeah,” Ava agreed. “Sometimes there’s a definite downside to this sisterhood business.”

But her two best friends picked up their painting tools and went back to work.

 

 

Chapter One

Of all the rooms in all the field houses in all the parks in Seattle, he had to walk into THIS one?

Bending the RulesWhat the hell is he doing here?

Poppy did her best to continue her conversation with the manager of the Ace hardware store. But the man had a tendency to drone on at the best of times and with the new arrival striding through the milling crowd of business owners as if he owned the joint it was difficult to focus her attention. Her gaze kept wanting to follow his progress. That was de Sanges, right?

She just barely swallowed the self-derisive snort that tickled the back of her throat. Because, please. This might be the last place she expected to see him, but of course it was.

Considering their one and only encounter, however, she didn’t feel a burning need to beat herself up for allowing her mind to shy away from the admission.

Still, the truth was, it had taken no more than a glimpse to recognize the tall, lean, muscular body she’d seen only once before. She’d documented the prominent bony nose, those sharp cheekbones and that black-as-a-crow’s-feather hair. Was familiar with those long, white-nailed fingers and the dark olive skin that she had a feeling owed more to genetics than exposure to the sun.

And

Oh

My

God

Really remembered those dark, chilly eyes. Which she’d watched go hot for a few insane minutes last fall as they’d stood toe to toe in Miss A’s parlor.

Whoa. She firmly corralled her wayward thoughts. Don’t even go there, girl. Okay, so it was Detective Sheik, as Janie insisted on calling him. Big deal. But her face went hot and her mouth went dry, and she had to fight like hell not to squirm at the memory of Ava saying that for a minute there she’d feared Poppy and de Sanges—a man none of them had even met until that afternoon—might start going at it hot and heavy in the middle of the parlor.

Because her friend had been right. Poppy had never experienced anything quite so visceral as what she’d felt that day with the tall, dark cop.

“Everyone seems to be here,” Garret Johnson, the president of the Merchants’ Association said over the babble of conversation in the Park Department’s field house conference room. “Let’s take our seats and get this meeting underway.”

Eking out a breath of relief at having the plug yanked on that particular memory, she watched de Sanges from the corner of her eye until he pulled out a chair at the rectangular table. Then she took a seat at the opposite end.

It would have been even better if she could’ve nabbed one on the same side. That way she wouldn’t be able to see him at all without making a concerted effort. But Penny, the owner of Slice of Heaven Pies, beat her to the last chair on de Sanges’ side. Oh, well--too bad, so sad for her. Taking a seat across from the other woman, she exchanged idle chitchat for a few moments until the president rapped his knuckles on the wooden tabletop to call the meeting to order.

“Okay, as everyone knows,” he said the instant the last holdout conversation fizzled into silence, “we’re here today to decide what to do about the three boys who were caught tagging our businesses. But before we get into that, I’d like to introduce everyone to Detective Jason de Sanges from the Seattle Police Department. He’s on the Mayor’s special task force to reduce burglaries and has kindly agreed to sit on our panel. Detective.” He turned toward the cop and Poppy automatically turned in her seat to look at de Sanges as well. “Allow me to introduce you to our motley crew.”

He went around the table performing introductions and when he came to her, said, “This is Poppy Calloway. She’s not actually a merchant, but she’s on so many of our “boards” that we consider her an honorary member of the association.”

Bending the RulesIt was a standing joke, since she did the menu and “Today’s Specials” black or white boards for several of the business owners here today.

De Sanges nodded and looked at her for a suspended instant with those dark, uncompromising eyes. “Miss Calloway and I have met.”

Everyone present turned to stare at her and she could almost taste the rampant curiosity and speculation. “Don’t look at me as if I were a suspect in one of his cases,” she said dryly. “You all heard about the theft we had at the Wolcott Mansion a few months ago. Detective de Sanges came out to take a report when we were dissatisfied with the response we got from the first officer on the scene.”

De Sanges had been dissatisfied as well--that Ava had used one of her many contacts to have him brought in. So he hadn’t been there voluntarily, and he and Poppy had definitely gotten off on the wrong foot when she’d taken exception to what she’d perceived as his lack of concern over a break-in at the mansion that she, Jane and Ava had only recently inherited from Miss Agnes’ estate. Well, could you blame her? He had all but said he’d been yanked off a real job in order to look for their silver spoons.

Which was nothing short of ironic when you considered that only Ava had been born to money. She and Jane came from working-class neighborhoods. They’d all met in the fourth grade at Country Day school—Janie attending on a scholarship and her own tuition paid by Grandma Ingles who was herself an alumni. Even today–despite inheriting an estate that was short on cash but long on priceless collectibles and valuable real estate--Ava was the only one of them who had any discretionary income. Jane was still inventorying Miss A’s collections and the mansion was a long way and a small fortune from being saleable, which was their ultimate goal.

Still, in the wake of Jane’s run-in with the thief, they’d learned de Sanges hadn’t just blown them off but had interviewed Jane’s coworkers at the Metropolitan Museum—had in fact spent the most time talking to Gordon Ives. And since Gordon had eventually been arrested for the crime, Poppy thought she could probably cut the detective some slack and agree he had done his job after all.

“I’d like to open the meeting for discussion,” Garret said. “I know everyone here was disturbed about how young our “artists” were and you no doubt want to thrash out whether or not to press charges against them. Anyone whose business was tagged is, of course, free to do so at any time—this isn’t a case of majority rules. But we’re here to entertain all reasonable suggestions, both pro and con. So lets get some dialog going, people.”

No one said anything for a long, silent moment, then Jerry Harvey, whose H & A on the Ave on the corner had taken the biggest brunt of the vandalism, said, “I’d like to know who’s going to clean up the side of my shop.” He’d been the first to spot one of the kids tagging the café across from him when he’d gone to lock the front door of his funky home decorations and art framing shop for the night.

A few of the merchants grumbled agreement. The Ace Hardware manager pushed for pressing charges.

Poppy took a breath and quietly released it. “I have a suggestion,” she said. “I know I don’t have the same stake in the outcome of today’s meeting as the rest of you. But I was at the Hardwire when Jerry caught the kids, and frankly I was disturbed by how young they are. The officer who came in response to your call, Jerry, said this is their first brush with the law. Rather than see them thrown into the system I’d like to offer an alternate solution that directly relates to your question.”

All the merchants involved in Friday night’s excitement gave her their undivided attention. De Sanges’ eyes narrowed.
“I think it might benefit all of the businesses to give the kids something to keep them busy,” she said. “To provide them with an artistic outlet that I believe we’d find more palatable than tagging--which I freely admit I don’t get. At the same time we could teach them to take responsibility for their actions.”

 “How?” Garret asked.

“First by having them clean up the tagging with a fresh coat of paint that they either have to provide themselves or work off by sweeping or handling other odd jobs for the businesses they defaced.”

“I like that so far,” Penny said thoughtfully. “Except Marlene’s place is brick, so how does that benefit her?”

Bending the Rules“There are gels and pastes that dissolve paint from brick, and the same rules would apply: they’d supply whatever’s needed.”

Almost everyone nodded-- including Jerry. But he also pinned her with a suspicious look. “So where does the “artistic outlet” part come in?”

Poppy knew this was where things could go south. But it wasn’t for nothing she’d grown up with parents who got involved in causes on a near-daily basis. Not to mention the way this tied in to her own personal passion: bringing art to at-risk kids. Drawing a deep breath, she gave Jerry her best ‘Trust Me’ smile, then quietly exhaled. “I propose we keep them off the streets by letting them paint a mural on the south side of your building.”

 

Oh, for cri’sake. Jase leaned back in his chair and examined the woman he had privately labeled The Babe. Which, okay, wasn’t exactly a hardship since the whole package--that lithe body, exotic brown eyes and cloud of curly Nordic-pale hair--was very examinable.

He knew from experience, however, that she was a pain in the ass. And didn’t it just figure? She was a damn bleeding-heart liberal to boot.

Earlier, when he’d walked in and seen her chatting up one of the guys in this group of small business owners, you could have knocked him off his feet with a blade of grass. He hadn’t understood why she was here, since as far as he knew she wasn’t a merchant herself. Hey, as far as he could see, she didn’t do anything useful. Of course since he had firmly resisted the urge to run a check on her after their previous run-in, he could be wrong about that.

In any case, the president of the merchants association had explained it when he’d said that Calloway was a board member.
Well, of course she was. He should have figured that out for himself after meeting her and her two rich-girl buddies when they’d used their connections with the mayor last fall to have him yanked off a job where an old lady had been hospitalized by a mugger in order to look for their missing tea towels.

Okay, so it had turned out to be more than that—a lot more. But contrary to the Babe’s accusation that he couldn’t be bothered to do his job, he had been following the exact letter of the law when he’d told her there wasn’t much he could do for them. But he’d nevertheless been digging into Ives’ background when he got the call that a patrol officer had just arrested the man for another break-in at the Wolcott mansion—this one involving a threat against Jane Kaplinski’s life.

All of which had squat to do with today’s situation. He listened for a moment as Calloway outlined her hare-brained scheme. He kept waiting for someone to shoot it down, but when he instead saw several of the merchants nodding their heads, he couldn’t take it any longer. “You’re kidding me, right?”

Slowly, she turned her head to look at him. “Excuse me?”

“I figure this has to be a joke, because you can’t possibly be serious. They broke the law. You want to reward them for that?”

Her eyes flashed fire, giving him an abrupt flash of his own--of déjà vu. Because he was no stranger to that phenomenon—Calloway’s eyes had done the exact same thing when she’d leaned over him in the chair where he’d sat in the mansion parlor, taking their report last year. Serious chemistry had flared to life between them, but he was damned if he planned to fall prey to that again.

Maybe she was thinking along the same lines because she didn’t climb over the table to get in his face the way she had last time. Instead, she said coolly, “No, Detective, I am not kidding. I’m pretty darn serious, in fact. These aren’t hardened criminals we’re talking about-- they’re children, the oldest barely seventeen years old.”

“Yeah, they start em young these days,” he agreed.
“It’s not as if they committed a violent crime--they didn’t mug an old lady or attempt to rob someone at gunpoint at the ATM machine.” Her eyes narrowed. “Or commit a burglary of any kind,” she said with slow thoughtfulness, and he could almost smell the circuits burning as she followed that thought to its logical conclusion.

“They didn’t commit a burglary,” she repeated, gazing around the table at the other occupants. Then she looked him dead in the eye. “So why are you sitting on this panel, again?”

Excellent question. When Greer had offered to put his name in for the Mayor’s task force he’d given his lieutenant an immediate firm, “thanks, but no thanks”. Then, like an idiot, he’d let Murphy—the old cop who had stepped in years ago to take him in hand before the de Sanges genes could screw him up entirely-- talk him into changing his mind. Murph had insisted that if Jase wanted to wear those lieutenant bars himself someday—which he did--he needed to start making his name known to the Powers That Be. And a good way to do that was to be part of these task forces—even if this particular one was more about election year public relations than the war on crime.

So here he sat, proving once again that no good deed goes unpunished.

Not letting his thoughts show, however, he merely met her suspicious gaze with the cool straightforwardness of his own, evincing none of his reluctance to be part of this dog-and-pony show. “Because this is how we so often see it begin. Baby street punks grow up to be full-fledged street punks. Today it’s tagging or stealing some other kid’s lunch money at school—if they even bother to show up at school, that is.”

“So perhaps we should make that a condition of my proposal. No school, no participation in the art project.”

Slick, he thought with unwilling admiration, but said as if she hadn’t spoken, “Tomorrow it’s mugging some little old lady in the parking lot at Northgate.” Pulling his gaze away from the Babe’s, he included the entire table of merchants in his regard. “Or right here in your own community.”

Okay, so maybe he was overstating the case a little, adding a dash of drama to get his point across. He was so tired, however, of watching punks bend the rules and not merely not be called on it but get special treatment for their efforts as well. That was just bogus. And it happened too often.

Still, he was surprised at the impact his words had. The business owners’ voices started buzzing around him at the table as they discussed the repercussions of allowing hardened criminals into their neighborhood business sector.

Wait a minute. His brows snapped together. Had he given them that impression, that the boys in this case were hardened criminals? Jesus, de Sanges, the Babe is right about that much at least, they’re kids who committed their first offense.

Bending the RulesAs if she could read his thoughts, she said to the group around the table. “They’re kids, you guys. Barely past puberty kids without a single police record between them. Please keep that in mind.”

“I’m keeping in mind that Detective de Sanges said that’s how all street punks start,” the man who had been introduced as the manager of Ace Hardware said.

“I didn’t say all,” he disagreed. “But I do see enough juvenile offenders to make it one factor to consider.”

“Surely,” Poppy insisted, “most of those that you see are involved in an actual robbery or mugging.”

“True. Most—but not all--are.”

“Does anyone else have an argument, either pro or con, that they’d like to throw out for discussion?” Garret asked.

“I’d just like to reiterate that these are kids who have never been in trouble with the law,” Poppy said quietly. “I’m not saying let them skip out of their obligations. Just, please, let’s not be the ones to give them their first police record.”

“Anyone else?” Garret asked. Getting no response, he said, “Does anyone plan on pressing charges?”

When no one said anything to that either, he said, “I’ll take that as a provisional no. He turned to Poppy. “Can I hear an official proposal?”

She straightened her shoulders, which had temporarily slumped. Shook back hair so thick and curly the entire mass quivered. “I propose we teach the three boys who tagged your businesses a sense of accountability by making them cover or remove the vandalized areas with paint and/or paint dissolvers that they provide at their own expense. I further propose--”

“Let’s do this one motion at a time,” Garret interrupted. He looked around the table. “Would anyone like to second that?”
“You can’t just turn kids that young loose with buckets of paint and a few brushes and hope for the best,” Jerry said to Poppy. “Are you willing to supervise the project?”

Jase figured this was where her idealism would meet the reality of giving up her salon appointments or charity boards or however she spent her days in order to ride herd on three kids who—if his own experience was anything to go by--would be far from grateful.

He sat back, waiting to hear how she planned to get out of it.

But she merely gave Jerry a serene dip of her head. “Yes.”

“I’ll second the motion, then.”

Garret looked at Jase. “Since we invited your and Poppy’s opinions, we agreed to give you both a vote in this as well.”

He was too astounded by the way Calloway had busted his expectations to respond.

Garret turned his attention back to his group. “All in favor?”

Poppy and seven of the eleven merchants raised their hands.

“Against?”

The remaining four raised their hands. Jase abstained.
“The Ayes have it.” Garret gave Poppy, whose smile was so bright Jase was tempted to whip out his shades, an avuncular smile. “I take it you have more to say?”

“Yes. I further propose we take this opportunity to teach these boys a more constructive way to decorate the buildings in their neighborhood. A way that, in the end, will benefit the entire community by giving us something we’ll all enjoy looking at, and incidentally perhaps give them the self esteem to redirect their creative urges in a more acceptable direction.”

“Again, I have to ask,” Jerry said. “You supervising?”

 “Yes.”

“I second the motion,” Penny said.

“All in favor?”

Poppy and five merchants—one of them Jerry, the owner of the building she proposed the kids paint--raised their hands.
Garret looked around the table expressionlessly. “Against?”
The six remaining merchants raised their hands, and all eyes turned to Jase to break the tie.

He should abstain again and let them fight it out among themselves. What the hell did he care if they rewarded these kids?

Except. . .

He knew from personal experience what chaos could come from bending—never mind breaking--the rules. He fought the temptation to do so every day and saw no reason to pass that temptation down to another generation. Teach them young to stay on the straight and narrow—that was his motto.

Raising his hand, he threw in with the Against group.

End of Excerpt.
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