Rush me, p.1
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       Rush Me, p.1
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          part  #1 of  New York Leopards Series
Rush Me


  Rush Me

  By Allison Parr

  When post-grad Rachael Hamilton accidentally gate-crashes a pro-athlete party, she ends up face-to-face with Ryan Carter, the NFL’s most beloved quarterback.

  While most girls would be thrilled to meet the attractive young millionaire, Rachael would rather spend time with books than at sporting events, and she has more important things to worry about than romance. Like her parents pressuring her to leave her unpaid publishing internship for law school.

  But when Ryan’s rookie teammate attaches himself to Rachael, she ends up cohosting Friday-night dinners for half a dozen football players.

  Over pancake brunches, charity galas and Alexander the Great, Rachael realizes all the judgments she’d made about Ryan are wrong. But how can a Midwestern Irish-Catholic jock with commitment problems and an artsy, gun-shy Jewish New Englander ever forge a partnership? Rachael must let down her barriers if she wants real love—even if that opens her up to pain that could send her back into her emotional shell forever.

  89,000 words

  Dear Reader,

  April is when the romance conference season really starts to get busy for me. Every spring, I attend the RT Book Reviews convention, a gathering of about 500 authors, readers and publishing professionals who come together to celebrate their love of both romance and genre fiction. Each year, I come away from that conference, and the many others I attend that are focused on the love of books (like the Lori Foster Reader Get Together in Ohio), with a renewed enthusiasm for diving back into my to-be-read pile. As well as a long list of authors and books to add to that to-be-read pile! But because it’s a busy travel time of year for me, that also means more time on the plane and in airports for reading.

  Maybe you’re like me—traveling to conferences and in need of some plane reading. Or maybe you just need one more book to add to your to-be-read pile. Possibly you’ve got a newborn baby who keeps you up at night and gets you up early in the morning, and you need something you can read on the ereader in one hand while the baby is in the other. Or perhaps you’re just in search of a good book. You’re in luck; our April books can fill all those needs!

  The first book in our newest genre addition, New Adult, releases this month. If you love contemporary romance, sports romance, a (mostly) Jewish, spunky heroine and a hero who will make your heart melt, you’ll want to read Rush Me by debut author Allison Parr.

  This month, I’m pleased to introduce the first book in a six-book series written by four authors. Ginny Glass, Christina Thacher, Emily Cale and Maggie Wells kick off a series of contemporary romance short story collections with Love Letters Volume 1: Obeying Desire. Each volume will center around a different seriously sexy theme. I’ll bet you can’t guess what the theme of the first volume is, with a title like Obeying Desire! Look for the second volume, Love Letters Volume 2: Duty to Please, releasing in May 2013.

  Fans of contemporary romance will enjoy Saved by the Bride, the first book in a new trilogy by RITA® Award-winning author Fiona Lowe. Who knew that being a klutz and combining it with a distrust of wedding bouquets could lead to a black eye?

  Joining Fiona and Allison in the contemporary romance category is Kate Davies, with Cutest Couple, book two in Kate’s high-school reunion trilogy, Girls Most Likely to... Look for the conclusion of the trilogy, Life of the Party, in May 2013.

  Co-authors Anna Leigh Keaton and Madison Layle deliver another scorching Puma Nights story with Falke’s Renegade, while Jodie Griffin joins them in heating up your ereader with her third erotic BDSM Bondage & Breakfast book, Forbidden Fires.

  On the paranormal and science fiction front, we have a number of titles for fans. Veteran author Kate Pearce begins a new series with Soul Sucker, in which Moonlighting meets The X-Files in San Francisco Bay and two worlds collide. Kat Cantrell, winner of Harlequin’s 2011 So You Think You Can Write contest, joins Carina Press with her first science fiction romance, Mindlink, while returning author Eleri Stone gives us another jaguar shifter in Lost City Shifters: Rebellion, book three in this compelling series.

  Clockwork Mafia by Seleste deLaney brings us back to the Western steampunk world of Badlands. Inventor Henrietta Mason is retiring from airships and adventuring to return home to Philadelphia. Determined to erase all trails leading to her late father’s duplicity, she dismantles his lab and removes all records of the Badlands gold. And last but certainly not least in the paranormal category, Night of the Dark Horse by Janni Nell continues the adventures of Allegra Fairweather, paranormal investigator.

  This month, Bronwyn Stuart follows up her fantastic debut historical romance, Scandal’s Mistress, with her unique regency romance, Behind the Courtesan, featuring—you guessed it—a courtesan heroine.

  On the non-romance side, Jean Harrington brings us the third Murders by Design cozy mystery installment, Killer Kitchens.

  And joining Carina Press with an epic fantasy trilogy, Angela Highland tells the story of a half-elven healer with no control over her magic. Faanshi has always been a pawn of the powerful, but after healing two mysterious and very different men, she faces a choice that may decide the fate of a whole kingdom. If you love fantasy, pick up Valor of the Healer, book one in the Rebels of Adalonia trilogy.

  As you can see, April is full of books to distract you wherever you are, whatever you’re supposed to be doing, and even if you have a baby in your arms. I hope you enjoy these titles as much as we’ve enjoyed working on them.

  We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to generalinquiries@carinapress.com. You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

  Happy reading!

  ~Angela James

  Executive Editor, Carina Press

  www.carinapress.com

  www.twitter.com/carinapress

  www.facebook.com/carinapress

  Dedication

  To my parents, who believed in me even when I didn’t.

  Acknowledgements

  So many thanks to my editor, Angela James, and to the amazing team at Carina for everything they’ve done.

  To all my friends who let me talk their ears off—love and hugs. Special thanks to Jess B, my critique partner who really helped pound this into shape, and to Reiko and Monica for insights and coffee.

  And, of course, to Rach (and Rachael, and Rachael)—thanks for letting me steal your name.

  Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Epilogue

  About the Author

  Copyright

  Chapter One

  The invitation arrived at 8:37 on a Friday, right before Eva and I left for a party. I read it curled up on the couch, my laptop burning my legs and the words scarring my retinas:

  Can you believe it’s already been five years since graduation? We’ve booked the Ashbury Inn for the reunion, and we’ll have dancing, drinking, and a slideshow of all our favorite moments. I can’t wait to hear what all of you have been up to!

  Go Pir
ates!

  Sophie Salisbury, Class President

  “You look as though you swallowed a toad,” my roommate said.

  I glanced up from my email. Eva watched me in the warped glass of our cheap mirror, where she stood smudging on wine-dark lipstick. She’d already carefully layered for the evening, belting a red cardigan over a short black and white dress. I wore one of her cast-offs, a slinky green thing she swore brought out my eyes.

  “Did you know high schools have five-year reunions?”

  Now she turned fully around. “They do not.”

  “Apparently mine does.” I stretched out my legs. “I just got an email from my brother’s girlfriend. We’re going to have a slideshow of ‘all our favorite moments’. Gag me.” Sophie Salisbury’s favorite moments probably included winning Homecoming Queen and tripping me at graduation.

  A smile worthy of the Cheshire Cat slid across Eva’s face. “That sounds brilliant. Oh my God, maybe you can connect with your old high school crush—”

  “Ha! Not likely.”

  “Or show up the mean popular girl—”

  “Your theatre background’s showing. Besides, Sophie’s dating my brother. We’re supposed to play nice.” I read the email a little more critically. Was “I can’t wait to hear what all of you have been up to” actually passive-aggressive, or could Sophie genuinely be interested in the lives of other people? “Besides, I don’t have anything I could use to show anyone up.”

  Eva shot me an irritated look. “Well, not if you go in with that kind of attitude.”

  I smothered a laugh and slid my computer off my lap, crossing the room for the bottle of Pinot gris. “You’re right.” I gestured widely at the kitchenette that bled into the tiny living room, and the two box-size bedrooms off it. “I’ll tell everyone about our stellar apartment—though maybe I’ll bump us up to Park Slope—and about my fabulous publishing internship—I think I’ll pretend it’s a salaried job.” Come to think about it, this reunion seemed like a really bad idea. I leaned against the counter in defeat. “Oh, God. I haven’t done anything. I’m going to show up and be a failure.”

  “‘Oh, woe is me,’” Eva said from back at the mirror. “‘To have seen what I have seen, see what I see!’”

  That was the problem with living with a former theatre major. Sometimes she rebuked me with Shakespeare.

  “You could bring John with you.”

  I swallowed too much wine and grimaced, the cheap taste of six dollars curdling in my stomach. “Eva.”

  “What?” She thrust her glass out behind her and I topped it off. “He’s gorgeous. And you said he asked you out again.”

  “There are so many problems with that suggestion.” Apart from the idea that I should impress my former classmates with a guy, rather than my own success, John and I hadn’t exactly dated. I mean, I’d thought we’d been dating, but it turned out I was just the third wheel in his open relationship.

  “Come on. Maybe it was total serendipity that you ran into him this afternoon and also got that reunion invite.”

  I flopped back down on the sofa, the old cushions sagging beneath me. Alcohol sloshed back and forth in my water glass. “Or maybe it’s the universe telling me I’ve had too much excitement for one day and I should just stay in tonight.”

  “Unacceptable.” She blurred a thick line of grey above her lashes. “You need to be cheered up.”

  The encounter this afternoon hadn’t been depressing, just embarrassing. I’d met John two months ago when temping at his ad agency, and I’d been charmed by his good looks and my own desire to stop being boring, staid Rachael Hamilton. This was New York! The happiest place on earth! Where dreams came true!

  Except, wait, that was Disney World. So never mind.

  After a week, I’d discovered he had a girlfriend, and I’d stopped seeing him. Today had just been the salt in the wound when he tried to convince me to get a drink with him; he honestly hadn’t had a clue what my problem was.

  Just once, I wanted a functional, monogamous relationship. And in lieu of that, I’d like to stay home with Ben & Jerry’s and a bad disaster movie.

  “Look, you can either stay here and sulk, or you can be at a kick-ass party dancing until four in the morning. This is not a difficult choice.”

  I gave it one more try. “What happened to not leaving Brooklyn on the weekend?”

  “Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures,” Eva said. “Now drink up.”

  We slung on sweaters and scarves and headed out. Three—and four-story buildings lined the streets of Sunset Park, their ground floors filled with dim sum restaurants and bakeries. The bright green of ash and oak trees stood out sharply against the red brick, shading the sidewalks filled with people. This early in September, only the slightest chill kept the night from feeling like summer. A light breeze lifted my hair off the back of my neck. Above us, soft clouds slid across the imperfect moon, while the city’s ambient light hid the stars.

  We sat shoulders together on the crowded N train, flip-flops dangling off our feet, comfortable in our silence. I’d known Eva since our freshman year of college, but I’d only moved in with her this summer, after finishing off my year in AmeriCorp. While I’d been working on an adult literacy campaign, Eva had been in an intense theatre program, and she’d just landed a role in the world premiere of Pride and Prejudice: The Musical! She played a singing maid. There were mob-caps involved.

  As we pulled into the 8th Street station, Eva slipped on the sparkling heels she’d carried in her lap, and we headed up into the Village. Unlike our part of Brooklyn, Washington Square Park had money. We walked along the northern edge of the green, and I dragged Eva to a halt when we passed the illuminated arch. Like its Paris inspiration, white marble gleamed in a traditional triumphal arch, but here George Washington’s words and likeness were carved into the stone. I let out a deep sigh before allowing Eva to lead on to smaller streets. I’d moved to New York for my internship, but these sights were why I wanted to stay.

  We walked by NYU halls and bright hotel windows before turning on a side street of tall 19th century buildings. The party, which Eva had heard of through the off-off Broadway circuit, took place in a glamorous old brownstone, and a dozen or so people lingered on the sideway. One of them squealed my roommate’s name and drew her into their circle.

  I followed, less inclined than usual to make small talk. I liked Eva’s friends, but I’d never met this batch before, and the run in with John still had me disconcerted. Maybe I should’ve insisted on staying home. I could have watched The Day After Tomorrow and laughed at the hilarious CGI wolves, accompanied by a pint or so of ice cream.

  I was deliberating between flavors when my phone rang. Relieved by the excuse to stop smiling and nodding, I waved at Eva and wandered down the sidewalk. Surprise jolted through me when I saw the caller ID, and I stopped under a caged tree to answer. “Hey, Thomas.”

  “Rachael! How are you?”

  The warm tenor of Thomas Brewer, unrequited love of my teen years, acted as a shot of comfort. I couldn’t remember the last time he’d called me—before junior prom, to see if I thought my friend Sara Milton would say yes if he asked her?—but our circle of high school friends had remained close, and we saw each other on breaks and holidays. Hearing his voice, I fell back into the easy patterns of familiarity we’d established at fifteen, a silly, perky smile crossing my face. “I’m really good. I’m in New York. What about you?”

  “Oh, yeah, I saw Kate a couple weeks ago and she mentioned you’d moved there. What are you doing?”

  I smiled at the branches above me, lit by a tall, elegant black street lamp. “I’m interning at Maples&Co. It’s great; I get to work with young adult books. What about you? Didn’t I hear you got a job working on video games?” With Benson Industries, one of the lead manufacturers of action-adventure games for kids age eight to twelve. But there was no reason to let him know that I accidentally-occasionally read his profile page.
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br />   “Oh, yeah—I’m one of the creative architects. I help design the game plot. It’s really sweet. I grew up playing these games, so it’s awesome to work on them. You probably get that, working with kids’ books.”

  “Yeah.” I felt the same warmth that always flared when Thomas and I recognized a similarity. Of course, I didn’t exactly work with children’s, I did young adult and women’s fiction. Still. “It’s great.”

  “Yeah. Listen, Rach, you’re coming home for the reunion, right? Zac and Liz and I are organizing a shindig the night before for our group. You in?”

  “Definitely.”

  “Great.” He listed off the dozen or so of our friends that were being contacted, just in case he’d left anyone out.

  “No, that’s everyone. Hey, Thomas, I’m really happy—”

  “One sec, I got another call.” He paused for a second. “Oh, it’s my girlfriend. Hey, Rach, it was great to talk to you. See you soon!”

  He clicked off without waiting for me to say goodbye.

  Et tu, Thomas Brewer? My jaw hardened. Fine. Whatever. It wasn’t like I thought he would see me at the five-year reunion and fall madly in love with me. It wasn’t like every other girl in Ashbury hadn’t had a mad crush on him.

  God, I was an idiot.

  I headed back up the street, looking for Eva, but I didn’t see anyone sitting on the stoops. After several minutes, uncertainty started to bloom. Shouldn’t I have run into her by now? The buildings all looked the same, but I hadn’t walked that far while on the phone. Had I?

  She didn’t pick up when I called, and the uncertainty heightened to alarm as I looked at all the buildings. Damn. What was I supposed to do if I couldn’t get in touch with her? Go home?

  Laughter caught my attention. To my right, half a dozen girls dressed to the nines slipped into one of the buildings. Relief filled me and I hurried after them, falling in behind the last and following them up the stairs and into an apartment at the end of the hallway.

 
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