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Authors: Janet Evanovich

Hero at Large

BOOK: Hero at Large
5.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Janet Evanovich
Hero at Large

(Originally published under the name Steffie Hall)

To Mom, Dad, Pete, Alex, and Peter—
thanks for everything


Chapter 1

Chris Nelson muttered an indiscernible oath and expelled a cloud of…

Chapter 2

Chris dried her skate blades and put the custom Harlicks…

Chapter 3

Chris sat in evening rush-hour traffic, one hand resting on…

Chapter 4

Chris looked at the slim gold watch on her wrist…

Chapter 5

“Come on, sleepyhead.” Ken's voice was as gentle as the…

Chapter 6

Ken leaned forward in concentration, his right hand hovering over…

Chapter 7

Chris watched the patterns of moonlight on her bedroom wall…

Chapter 8

Edna smacked her lips together in satisfaction as she surveyed…

Chapter 9

“Holy cow! You look awful,” Bitsy exclaimed.

Chapter 10

Ken sipped at his coffee and studied the financial section…

Chapter 11

At five-ten Monday morning Chris pulled the silver Mercedes into…

Chapter 12

Chris stood at curbside, looking balefully at her new car.


Chris Nelson muttered an indiscernible oath and expelled a cloud of frost into the bone-chilling early-morning air. Even in the inky predawn blackness, it was clear that a new splotch of oil had mysteriously grown beneath her battered tan hatchback during the night. She plunged her key into the lock and wrenched the dented, rusting door open, then slid behind the wheel and tried the ignition. Nothing.

“Just start one more time, and tomorrow I'll get you fixed,” she pledged, knowing full well that it was an empty promise. She didn't believe in getting cars fixed—she felt too hopelessly intimidated by car mechanics. As a world-class athlete she'd conducted media interviews with the aplomb of a seasoned celebrity. She'd displayed good-humored optimism as a runner-up and honest satisfaction as a winner, and earned a worldwide reputation for her feisty personality and quick wit under
pressure. But she knew in her heart of hearts that while she could hold her own with the president of the United States, she would never be a match for a man holding an air wrench. She cringed at the memory of her last experience, when she'd paid an exorbitant amount to fix a glamus—while meekly suspecting that no such part existed.

No, she decided, keeping her thoughts silent—and thus secret from the car—it was much more sensible simply to drive the dying machine into the ground, walk away from it with whatever dignity she could muster, and buy a new one. She gingerly tried the ignition one more time and almost cheered out loud when it caught. She pulled away from her Fairfax, Virginia, town house with a glorious feeling of victory, closing her eyes to the red light flashing on the dashboard. Dismissing the clouds of gray smoke as condensation, she bravely eased the sputtering car onto the highway.


Ten minutes later when she stopped for a red light on the Little River Turnpike, the car shuddered, belched an acrid blast of opaque exhaust, and stalled out. Chris felt her heart drop to her stomach. “Please,” she whispered, wrapping her fingers gently around the steering wheel, “tell me you're not ready for the big junkyard in the sky.”
She narrowed her eyes and patted the dashboard. “I'll let you rest a minute, and then we'll try it again.” The light changed. Traffic rushed past in the November gloom: Northern Virginia was en route to the Pentagon and downtown D.C. Chris held her breath and tried again. Nothing.

“Dammit.” She peered into her rearview mirror at headlights waiting patiently behind her. Throwing her hands up in frustration, she punched the button that turned on the emergency flashers. The lights shining into her back window were high. Probably a truck. That was good—men who drove trucks always knew a lot about car engines, she reasoned. She watched hopefully as the driver emerged and strode toward her, then shifted her gaze to the flashing red light she'd so easily ignored only minutes ago.

Knuckles rapped on Chris' side window. “Got a problem?”

Chris' eyes stayed glued to the warning light on her dash. “It just suddenly stopped. I think it might have something to do with this little red light.”

“Why don't you try to kick it over one more time.”

She turned the key and listened morosely to the churning motor.


“Only thing in decent working order on this whole crummy car is the stupid warning light,” Chris muttered through gritted teeth. Her peripheral vision registered a shift of weight, and she felt rather than saw the grin of good-humored masculine resignation.

“Maybe we should push it over to the shoulder, and I'll take a look under the hood.”

Several minutes later, Chris stomped her feet in the cold as she watched him poke around at the engine. He was very tall—maybe six-two, she guessed—and nicely put together. He wore scuffed, waffle-soled construction worker's boots and well-washed jeans that clung suggestively to long, muscular legs. A faded navy blue hooded sweatshirt draped comfortably over broad shoulders. A smudged tan down vest hung unbuttoned over the sweat shirt.

He flicked a flashlight beam over rubber tubing and fan belt, his black hair falling in unkempt waves over his eyes. A heavy beard made his dark skin look villainously swarthy, and the tousled hair curled over his ears and halfway down his neck. He made an attempt to brush it back onto his forehead and noticed Chris watching him. “I need
a haircut,” he explained, flashing a boyish grin that displayed perfect white teeth.

Chris felt her heart tumble unexpectedly at his  disarming smile and immediately an image of Little Red Riding Hood and the big bad wolf popped into her head. What a ridiculous thing to think of—yet there was definitely a predatory air about him. Wolfish, in an attractive sort of way, she decided. And incredibly handsome…but a slob. Probably on his way to pour a foundation or dig a septic system.

Determined to prove herself invulnerable to his charms, she leaned on the front quarter panel and stuck her head under the hood with him. “Well?” she asked expectantly, “what do you think?”

“For starters…there's not a drop of oil in it.”

Chris looked up and found herself staring into magnetic blue-black eyes made even more compelling by thick curling lashes and crinkly smile lines that testified to an active, outdoor life and a generous sense of humor. She watched dry-mouthed as he directed his flashlight to the riot of yellow-orange curls that surrounded her perfectly oval face. His inspection traveled from her almond-shaped hazel eyes, down to her small pixie nose and her bow-shaped mouth that shone with just a
touch of pink lip gloss. She licked her lips and answered in a voice that suddenly sounded strangely husky, “Is that bad?”

The look of incredulity that fluttered across his eyes was replaced immediately with a gently mocking curiosity. He played the light over her ringless hands. “I think you need a new man in your life.” The timbre of his voice lowered. “Someone who takes better care of your…mechanical needs?”

Chris rolled her eyes. She was late for work, her car had just succumbed to terminal neglect, and her feet were freezing. She was in no mood to field a double entendre from a scruffy stranger…even if he did make her heart skip a few beats. She stood abruptly, hitting her head on the inside of the hood. There was a loud
, and Chris jumped away just in time to see the hood come crashing down on two long, sweatshirt–clad arms.

His breath hissed from between clenched teeth. He swore softly, resting his forehead on the cool metal of the car. “Nice work, lady,” he rasped. “Do you always cripple men who stop to help you? Or am I special?”

Chris opened her eyes wide in horror. “I'm sorry—it was an accident!”


Chris glared at him. “Well, you shouldn't be making passes at women you stop to help. It's like Sir Walter Raleigh carrying some grateful lady over a mud puddle and then trying to sneak a look under her skirt when he sets her down. This was a well-deserved accident. An act of God,” she tagged on for dramatic effect.

He nodded his head in mute agreement. Beads of sweat had begun to appear at his hairline. “Do you suppose God would mind if you got the damn hood off my arms?”

“Sorry.” She held the hood while he awkwardly started to move his arms. He flexed one gingerly, then winced when he tried to raise the other. Chris Nelson was the sort of person who rescued baby birds and felt guilty about stepping on ants. She cried when people were hurt on television, and sent money to aid starving children, but she found it difficult to muster any sympathy for the man standing in front of her. He was so big and capable looking, and so aggressive. He was so roguishly shabby. And he silently emanated a casually checked sexuality that she suspected could knock her socks off if she gave it half a chance.

Standing to his full, imposing height, he cradled
his left arm tenderly against his body. “My right arm seems to be okay, but the left is definitely broken.” His voice was quiet, calm. “Is there a hospital near here?”

“There are two hospitals in the area—both about ten minutes away. Maybe a little longer in morning traffic.”

He looked at her expectantly. “Well?”

“Well, what?”

“Lady, you just broke my arm. Aren't you at least going to offer to drive me to the hospital?”

Chris looked at him tentatively, her lip caught between her teeth, while she debated the danger of being alone in a car with him.

“For Pete's sake, I'm not going to attack you. I've got a broken arm.”

“You look disreputable.”

His gaze drifted down over himself in amazement. “I suppose you're right.” He tipped his head back and laughed softly. “I've been called lots of things, but you're the first person in a long time to tell me I'm disreputable looking.” He motioned to his truck. “I hate to be pushy, but my arm is killing me, and I can't both drive and shift my truck with only one arm. Since you're the cause of this disaster, I think the least you can do is drive me to a doctor.”

He was right, she thought dismally. “Okay. I'll take you to the hospital.” She shook her finger at him in warning. “So help me…if you make one false move I'll drive you straight to the state police.”

His gaze swept slowly over her, and Chris felt suddenly unaccountably flustered—self-conscious of her tousled curls, her slim, athletic body bundled in her gray running suit and bright red vest. “You're not a minor, are you?”

Chris pulled a large athletic bag from the back seat of her car and locked it. “I'm twenty-nine, and if you tell me I look like Little Orphan Annie I might break your other arm.”

“There is a resemblance.”

“Don't push it.” She stood facing his truck. It was a single cab Toyota Tacoma, dark gray with large wheels—and it seemed to be in perfect condition. Sure, it's easy for him, she thought grimly. He probably knows if it has a glamus. A huge black dog sat behind the wheel. Chris looked at the man beside her. “There's a dog in there.”


“That's the second-biggest dog I've ever seen.”

“It's a Rottweiler.”

“It must weigh two hundred pounds. We won't all fit.”

“Of course we will. This truck seats three.”

“This truck would have to have rubber doors to seat three.”

He swung himself into the truck and settled beside the panting Rottweiler. “Come on,” he coaxed. “He's a good dog. See? He's smiling. He likes you.”

Chris set her bag on the floor between his feet and trudged around to the driver's side. “Why me?” she groaned. “Why do these things always happen to me?” She opened the driver's side door and slid in next to the mountain of dog, trying politely to nudge him over. He didn't move. He  draped his huge head on her shoulder and drooled down the front of her red vest. Chris rolled her eyes in disgust. “Oh for goodness' sake. Hey, you!” she called between the dog's ears. “What's your name?”

There was a brief hesitation. “Ken Callahan.”

“Ken Callahan, I can't drive with your dog drooling on me.”

He sighed. “Okay.”

The passenger door opened and slammed shut. Chris watched Ken Callahan jog around the truck. Not her type, she told herself, but she had to admire his style. Even with a broken arm, he moved with the fluid ease of an athlete. He opened
the door and jerked his thumb at Chris in an obvious order. “Out!” Maneuvering his large frame behind the wheel, he used his good arm to shove the dog clear to the window. He settled himself next to the Rottweiler and straddled the gearshift. “Is this better?”

“Do you drool?”

“Another ten minutes with you, and I'm going to be drooling and babbling and committing mayhem.”

Chris slid behind the wheel again and found herself pressed thigh to thigh with Ken Callahan. There wasn't an inch to spare between the dog and the man. And the gearshift was hopelessly lost from sight between Ken Callahan's legs.
I should have left well enough alone
—she grimaced—
I was better off with the Rottweiler.

“Um…Ken?”—she tried to shift in her seat—“We don't all fit in this truck.”

“If I'd known you were going to break my arm, I would have left my dog at home.” His voice was rapidly losing its calm modulation.

Wriggling again, Chris shot him a black look. “Don't get cranky. For two cents I'd leave you stranded here.”

“I'd give you the two cents, but I can't get into my pocket with my broken arm.”

Chris narrowed her eyes and counted to ten. “Can't he ride in back?”

“He'll jump out—and please don't suggest that
ride in back…it's starting to rain.”

Chris squinted miserably at the windshield. He was right. It was raining. “Fine,” she said through clenched teeth, “just keep out of my way.” Ken Callahan made a fruitless attempt to move his long legs while she turned the key in the ignition. She switched the lights on, but the interior was barely lit by the glowing dashboard. Pressing her lips tightly together, she reached between his legs in search of the gearshift.

There was a sharp intake of breath, and the man squirmed beside her. “Lady, if you'll just tell me what it is you're looking for…I'll be glad to help you find it.”

She swallowed and willed her voice not to quaver. “I'm looking for the gearshift.”

He took her hand and placed it on the plastic knob. “Maybe you could be careful when you put this thing into second? This is a little cramped quarters.”

She eased the stick back into gear and felt her thumb brush against the inside of his thigh. She closed her eyes in disbelief and scorching embar
rassment. “This is impossible! Can't you scrinch into the seat a little?”

“I'm scrinched as much as I can scrinch. If you'd just get moving, you could put it into third, and we'd all feel better.”

Chris spun the wheel and peeled out into the stream of traffic.

BOOK: Hero at Large
5.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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