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Fortune Hunters #1
August 1, 2006
Available in: Paperback, Audio, e-Book
Trouble in High Heels
Brandi Michaels moves to Chicago to be with her fiancé—only to discover he’s flown to Vegas to marry his new girlfriend. Worse, he wants his diamond ring back. So of course she pawns the diamond, buys some kickass shoes, and spends one sultry night in the arms of a gorgeous Italian stranger named Roberto Bartolini…
But when she returns home, she discovers her apartment had been ransacked, someone is trying to kill her—and Roberto Bartolini is not what he seems.
What’s a girl to do?
Put on her best kickass shoes and do what comes naturally. She’s TROUBLE IN HIGH HEELS.
TROUBLE IN HIGH HEELS was named one of Booklist's Top Ten Romance Novels of 2006! That means that out of the approximately 2300 romance titles released this year, the American Library Association's magazine decided TROUBLE IN HIGH HEELS was among the top .0043%! (I would posted this sooner, but I had to do the math.) Thank you, librarians!.
If Brandi's caller ID had been working, she would never have picked up the phone.
But it wasn't, and she did, and that just figured, because it had been one hell of a week.
Not that Brandi hadn't expected it. Anybody with a lick of sense could predict that moving from Nashville to Chicago in the dead of winter would be difficult, and Brandi prided herself on her good sense.
But she'd picked the coldest weather Chicago had seen for a century, which made the pipes in her apartment building freeze, which meant that her movers had had nothing to drink, not that that had stopped them from using her toilet, which for the lack of water didn't flush, and using it with such typical male abandon that she didn't dare sit on it even in the most dire circumstances because there was no way to clean the seat. One guy caught her talking to herself while she tried to wipe the seat with a wadded-up Kleenex out of her purse, and the son-of-a-bitch had the gall to inch away as if she were crazy.
She didn't know anybody in this town except Alan and Mr. McGrath — for years now she'd called him by the honorary title of Uncle Charles — but where were they while she crammed her entire life into a one-bedroom apartment?
In a lovely piece of irony, the icy roads had sent the truck carrying her new oversized sofa and armchair careening into an empty Marble Slab Ice Cream Shop. The delivery men wrestled the oversized furniture up to her four floor apartment by tilting it sideways in the freight elevator, a maneuver that made her cover her eyes and pray to the gods of furniture placement.
Her entreaties must have worked, because they planted the sofa and the chair in front of the small propane fireplace, put the ottoman between them, and moved her end tables into place. The sofa wasn't damaged. The colors and fabrics were the way she ordered them. It was only later that night when she stopped unpacking long enough to drop into the chair, put her feet up on the ottoman and look, really look at the furniture, that she realized the sofa was eighteen inches too short.
She'd received the love seat, not the full-sized sofa she'd ordered. Now she had to wait another six weeks until the furniture she had actually ordered arrived, and for a few minutes it seemed as if that sucked more than anything else that had happened in this horrific, endless week.
Until the phone call she picked up because she thought, honestly thought, Alan was calling to tell her he was coming over at last.
Instead, it was her mother. "Well? How did the move go?" As always, Mother sounded like a cheerleader bolstering her team's spirits before the big game.
Brandi stared around at the endless parade of boxes. Empty boxes piled catawampus against the wall. Flattened boxes stacked by the door. Boxes, far too many boxes, still taped shut and scratched with black magic marker. An endless supply of boxes, no stereo system in sight, and pizza for dinner again. "I've been unpacking for a day and a half and I haven't seen Alan. Not once."
"Now, sweetheart, I'm sure he's busy. After all, he is a physician." Mother's Tennessee accent sounded soft and tender.
Brandi didn't know why she'd bothered to complain. It was pure exhaustion and loneliness that made her give into her irritation and criticism her fiancé to, of all people, her mother. "He's not a physician. He's a resident."
"That poor boy. I saw on Sixty Minutes how those hospital administrators work their residents ninety-six hours at a time."
For once, Brandi wished her mother would take her side. About anything. "He hasn't called, either. He may have emailed, but I don't get connected to the internet until next week."
"I hope you didn't call him. A nagging woman is an unpleasant creature." Tiffany was the personification of nineteen-fifty Southern womanhood.
"Yes, Mother, I know, although if he'd remember me, I wouldn't be seized by this overwhelming desire to nag him." Brandi scratched her nails against the grain of the fabric on the couch, watched as the brocade rose in four welts, and wondered which one of them she wanted to scratch -- her mother or her fiancé. "But I'd like to point out that I'm a lawyer who relocated from a lovely, soft, warm city to be close to my fiancé. I'm about to start my first full-time job at a major Chicago law firm and I'm going to be working all the time. He could at least call to see if I've frozen to the side of the dumpster taking out my trash."
Mother's voice took on that pious tone that made Brandi want to shriek. "To keep her man, a woman always has to give one hundred and ten percent."
"How did that work out for you?"
The sound of her mother's shocked inhalation brought Brandi to her senses. She loved her mother, she really did, but Mother had been Daddy's first trophy wife and he'd left her and the quietly anguished eleven-year-old Brandi for his twenty-three year old secretary and a new baby, a son guaranteed to give him what he needed — a football-uniformed mirror image of his youthful self.
"I'm sorry, Mother. I'm a bitch."
"No, you're not."
"I'm pretty sure I am." Not always a bad thing, in Brandi's opinion. "Let's face it, Daddy has proved he doesn't know what he wants. Not in a wife. Not in his kids."
"Your father is a good man." No matter how much Daddy screwed Tiffany over, she never said a nasty word about him.
That was why Brandi had gotten engaged to Alan. He might not be a man of fire and passion, but he was steady and dependable -- or he had been until she needed him.
And Mother was right about that, too. He probably had a whopper of an excuse. But Brandi -- who'd broken a fingernail down to the quick, whose deodorant had failed hours ago, who was dehydrated and didn't dare drink her bottled water because she couldn't flush -- wasn't in the mood to hear it right now.
"Alan'll be by soon." Mother used a conciliatory tone. "Maybe he'll come tonight to take you out to dinner."
"I don't want him to take me out. I want him to help me unpack." Yep. Definitely bitchy.
"No, go out! You should seize every chance for a good time right now while you're young." About this, Tiffany sounded fierce.
And that made Brandi squirm with guilt. The reason Tiffany hadn't been out there kicking up her heels was because she'd been trying -- not succeeding, but trying -- to make a living for Brandi. "Mother, you're not exactly old. You're not even fifty. You could get out there and have a good time."
"Men my age want women your age, and men who want women my age are too old to have a good time. In every way." Tiffany's voice was droll. "But actually, I've been thinking …"
"What?" It wasn't like her mother to be coy. Quite the opposite.
"I wish I could be there to help you!" Tiffany burst out. "I miss you!"
Brandi would have sworn that wasn't what Tiffany intended to say. But she was too tired, too dirty, too disheveled to dig for the truth. "I haven't lived at home for seven years. You can't miss me that much."
"I know, but it's different with you so far away. When you were at Vanderbilt you were right across town. Now …"
"I'm okay, Mother. I'm good at taking care of myself." A lot better than you are at taking care of yourself.
"I know. You are capable. I'm proud of you." But Tiffany sounded fretful. "I just wish Alan was there. He's so reliable."
Except now. "Tomorrow night, he's going to take me to a party at Uncle Charles's." And if he did this disappearing act and didn't show for that, she didn't care what excuse he came up with, she was going to kill him.
"A party?" Tiffany inhaled with excitement. "At Charles's home? Oh, that is a showcase. He recently had the foyer remodeled. I wish I could see it! Do you like Charles?"
Her mother's leaps from one subject to another made Brandi blink. "Sure. I've liked Uncle Charles since he used his legal expertise to wring child support out of Daddy."
"Your father was confused by that woman he married."
"So we're hoping he's pussy whipped instead of morally corrupt?"
"Don't use that term, Brandi. It's not at all attractive in a young woman."
"Yes, ma'am." Interesting that when Tiffany got motherly, Brandi felt more secure.
"Tell me all about the party."
"It's a charity ball to raise money for the museum. There'll be a silent auction and I'm sitting at the McGrath and Lindoberth corporate table." Of course she was. She might be new, but she'd earned straight A's out of Vanderbilt Law and that was no small feat. She'd won this job fair and square.
"What are you wearing?" Tiffany asked.
Uh-oh. "That black sheath I bought for parties at the law school."
Tiffany didn't say Oh, but you bought it at Ann Taylor or, But that's two years old. Instead she said, "Darling, black? That's so New York. Show those Chicago lawyers how good a Southern girl can look! Wear red. Men adore red."
"I don't care what men adore," Brandi snapped, then took a long breath. Tiffany had never changed her mind. She'd lived through fourteen years of miserable existence and she still thought a man was a woman's best friend -- a man and the gifts she could get from him.
"But the sheath doesn't show off your figure."
"Thank God. Do you know how hard it is to dress for business with a chest like mine?"
"Women pay good money every day for a chest like yours. Marilyn Monroe made a fortune with a chest like yours. With a figure like yours!" Tiffany laughed, that kind of throaty purr that said she knew a lot about how men and women played.
Unwillingly, Brandi laughed, too. It was true. If she hadn't become a lawyer, she could have been a Las Vegas showgirl. She was all hourglass figure. During interviews, she'd mashed down her bosom so the women wouldn't immediately hate her and the guys would look at her face. "I can't afford a new dress right now. I bought furniture" -- furniture that was the wrong size -- "and paid first and last month's rent on the apartment. And starting this month I'm paying Daddy back for my student loans." Before Tiffany could object again, Brandi added, "Besides, with Alan there I don't need to worry about catching a man."
"No, but you need to make sure his gaze is riveted to you and he never leaves your side for fear that the other men will whisk you off!"
Brandi laughed again, but wryly. "Alan's stable. He's professional. He knows he can depend on me. He's not the jealous type."
"Given the right incentive, every man is that type."
No use arguing. Tiffany did know her men. "But I don't want that type. I consider marriage a meshing of equals, a … a calm in the midst of the storm of modern life." Brandi's modern life -- a life whose touchstones are good sense, moderation in all things, and a logical progression toward her goals of not being like her mother, proving her father wrong, paying back her debt, and being a model citizen.
"Good heavens," Mother said blankly. "You don't mean that you and Alan are calm in bed?"
"No, don't be ridiculous." Although since Alan had entered medical school he was brief and businesslike and lately, on the infrequent weekends he managed to get off, too tired to perform at all. "We have our moments. But there's no shrieking fights or huge dramas."
"You're annoyed with him now, but you're not going to shriek at him?"
"How often have you seen me shriek?"
"Never." In a tone that indicated total cluelessness, Mother said, "You were almost frighteningly calm, even as a child."
Because her parents were playing out the big dramas. "When I see Alan I'm going to explain that he needs to be more sensitive to my needs." Brandi injected humor into her voice. "You can't have it both ways, Mother. I can't be sensible enough to know that he probably is too busy to remember that I moved this week and cherish such a huge passion for him I can't survive without his very presence."
"No, I … no, I suppose not. It's just that those first few years when your father and I got together in bed we erupted into flames --"
Brandi pulled the phone away from her ear. "Euw, Mother, don't tell me that!"
"It seems so early in your relationship to be so cavalier." Tiffany's voice brightened. "And that's why you need a new dress!"
Brandi sighed deeply. "I'll think about it." For about three seconds.
"Get your hair highlighted, too, honey. You've gone a kind of mousy brown."
"I'd call it dishwater blonde." Brandi fingered the split ends -- Tiffany would have a spasm.
"Dishwater blonde is just as attractive as it sounds. Get highlights."
Then, for once in his life, Alan came to the rescue. He beeped in and Brandi got to say, "Let me take this call, Mother. This could be him!" She cut Tiffany off in the middle of her goodbyes and said to Alan, "Where have you been? I've been worried about you!" Which sounded better than I've been irritated at you.
"I'm in Las Vegas." His normally flat Massachusetts accent vibrated some violent emotion.
"Las Vegas?" She was so dumb. She didn't suspect a thing. "What happened? Is someone sick or something?"
"Sick? Is that your best guess?" So much for the calm in the storm. Alan was shouting. "My girlfriend's pregnant. I just got married. And this is all your fault."
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