A Jezebel Jinx Mystery, Book 1
by Jolie Pethtel
eBook ISBN: 978-1-927085-68-4
Jezebel battles her worst fears at a writing conference where love tangles, bitter rivalry and murder stalk the bestseller lists.
“Are you positive you aren’t a stripper?”
It wasn’t every day Jezebel found a hottie gift wrapped on her doorstep. Sad to say, her only visitor under fifty was the pizza delivery boy staying with his retired grandmother for the summer. Naturally she came to the most obvious conclusion—strip-o-gram.
“Your editor, Julie Grace sent me. How you can take that and deduce stripper is beyond me,” he replied.
Wow, even a highbrow snooty tone could sound appealing when spoken in a sexy Irish brogue, Jezebel mused. She’d always had a weakness for men with accents, even humorless would-be strippers.
“I’ve known Jules since we shared detention in high school. Sending a strip-o-gram to embarrass me on my birthday is exactly the sort of thing she would do. So if you aren’t a stripper, who are you?”
“I’m Finn Mackenzie, your new publicist.”
His smile came across a bit condescending, his eyebrow lifted just so, even his posture was stiff and rigid. He towered over her like an eclipse blocking out the sun. The frostbite was chilling.
“Jules sent me a publicist? In all honesty, I have to say—worst gift ever.”
It wasn’t that she wanted him to be a stripper. Sure, a little eye candy would be nice in the proper setting, but a naked stranger dancing around for her alone seemed a trifle sad and desperate. Self-imposed exile certainly had its downside. She was human, after all. She missed being around people. She missed men. A little company might be nice, but despite the sexy accent and killer bod, Mr. Uptight Publicist appeared about as entertaining as a dead fish.
“I suppose you’ve come a long way to see me?” Jezebel asked, unable to disguise her displeasure. Oh, how she wished she could slam the door in Mr. Mackenzie’s face with a clear conscience, but it wasn’t in her nature to be openly rude without provocation. Jules, however, would pay dearly for this.
“If you’re referring to the extensive flight from New York to Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, and then a four hour trek through the mountains by rental car in blistering desert heat, to reach this charmingly rustic cabin in the woods that you call a home, then yes, I’ve come a long way to see you.”
Jezebel bit her lip to keep from laughing at his rant. “Pardon me if I don’t feel too sorry for you, won’t you?” She raised an eyebrow and pointedly glanced around his broad shoulders toward the luxury rental car. “BMW? A/C and GPS? I’m sure you suffered horribly.” He paused a moment, running a hand through his hair, ruffling it slightly, before changing tactics.
“I believe we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot here, Miss Jinx. Shall we begin again? My name is Finn and it is indeed a pleasure to finally meet you.”
He offered a lopsided smile, which caused her heart to skip a beat or two—maybe three. Who was counting? She could learn to like this side of Finn Mackenzie, if he dumped the stuffy publicist routine. When he held out his hand, she accepted it with an answering grin. “Call me Jezebel.” She found his boyish charm incredibly appealing, not that she’d ever admit it out loud. The stick-in-the-mud had become a total stud, with tousled brown hair the shade of her favorite decadent dark chocolate, eyes as gorgeous as the rolling green hills of Ireland and those full, sensual lips—talk about a mouth made for sin! Could anyone blame her for mistaking him for a stripper? The man was H-O-T and it had nothing to do with the Godforsaken desert.
“May I come in?”
“Oh!” Jezebel forcibly shook off her inappropriate thoughts, her cheeks burning with embarrassment at being caught staring. She’d been alone way too long to have forgotten herself this way. Hopefully he didn’t notice the lapse. She didn’t want to appear desperate. “Come in.” Jezebel led Finn into the cabin, watching his every pause and stray glance from beneath her lashes. Where he came from, people no doubt paid decorators to tell them what to like. She designed this place herself with a western motif, lining the walls with Native American talismans from various tribes. Her little cabin in the woods would never grace a magazine cover, but she found it homey.
Mr. Mackenzie studied her décor with a curious expression. Jezebel supposed her collection of dream catchers and medicine wheels would be interesting to a non-native, but here it was commonplace. There were several Indian reservations in Arizona and they sold this stuff at every tourist trap.
“They’re supposed to provide good luck and protection.” Jezebel spoke in a casual manner, but something about her demeanor must have caught his attention.
“Is that why you live on top of a mountain, in the middle of nowhere, because you think you need protection?” He turned away from an intricately webbed dream catcher, gracing Jezebel with his undivided attention, but she kept her poker face. Her reasons for living on the mountain were her own and she had no interest in sharing them with a virtual stranger.
“Maybe the world needs protection from me.” Her lips twitched slightly. His disbelieving expression was comical. She could well imagine what he was thinking. What harm could a fine-boned five foot nothing pixie-of-a-woman do? Fortunately for Mr. Mackenzie, he wouldn’t be around long enough to find out.
“Pinetop is a peaceful place to live. Why wouldn’t I want to live here?”
“Retirees,” he scoffed. “You can’t be older than what—twenty-five? Don’t you think that’s a bit young for this lifestyle?”
“I’m twenty-seven.” As of today, she added silently. As for her lifestyle, the word implied a choice she lacked.
“Somehow, I can’t picture you playing nickel slots at the Indian casino with senior citizens.” “I can’t either. I don’t get out much.” Jezebel smiled wryly at the inside joke. In all actuality, she didn’t go out at all. She hadn’t left this cabin since the day she moved in over two years ago. “I’m hoping to change that. Is there somewhere we can talk?” Finn asked abruptly. “I’m on a pretty tight schedule.” If he wanted to keep things strictly on a business footing, that suited her just fine.
“I’m sure you’re anxious to return to the city. I’m working on a deadline myself. Have a seat.” She gestured to the Southwestern style sofa a few feet away and took up residency on the matching love seat.
Jezebel felt considerably more secure with the expanse of the coffee table between them. This was a business meeting, despite the informal setting, and she mustn’t forget that. It didn’t matter at all that he was the first man she’d been attracted to in years. She was just feeling restless. It had more to do with the time of year, than the man himself. A lot of people in the world found birthdays lonely and depressing. It would pass. Besides, she had an entire cast of characters inside her own mind to keep her company and most days that was enough.
“Now tell me why Jules sent you.”
Finn placed his leather briefcase on the table, popped the latches and removed a sheaf of papers with several areas highlighted in yellow. Highlighting was never a good sign, she thought, all warm and fuzzy feelings toward Finn rapidly fading.
“As I’ve said, I’m a publicist—your publicist. Do you know what that means?”
“Why don’t you spell it out for me?” Jezebel rolled her eyes. “I try to leave the magic to the bookmaking elves and bestseller list fairies.”
“It’s my job to give your novel exposure, which translates to sales. Voracity Publishing wants to expand your fan base.”
“I’m certain you’ll do an excellent job, but I don’t see what any of this has to do with me. I write the manuscript, do the revisions and collect the royalty checks. That pretty much sums up my involvement in the process.” She shrugged. “Most authors participate in book signings, public appearances and so forth. It’s called self-promotion.” His broad hint wasn’t lost on Jezebel.
“I’m not most authors. Surely Jules explained that to you. I value my privacy.” An understatement, if there ever was one.
“According to your contract, you’re required to make a specified number of public appearances.” He indicated those damned highlighted areas. Jezebel knew they were up to no good.
“Circumstances have changed since I signed that contract. Jules has managed to work around my limitations.”
“Nevertheless, I’ve been sent here to escort you to a book lovers’ expo, where you’ll be expected to participate in various events designed to generate publicity for your new novel,” Finn insisted.
Jezebel released her pent up breath, before pasting a polite smile on her face. Don’t shoot the messenger. Don’t shoot the messenger. Don’t shoot the messenger. She repeated this silent mantra, until able to speak calmly.
Just the thought of stepping outside made her skin crawl. She unconsciously rubbed her arms in reaction to the unpleasant, albeit familiar sensation.
“What you’re asking is impossible.”
Finn leaned forward, his tone a conspiratorial whisper, as if someone might overhear what he was about to say. “I’m fully informed about your unique—condition.”
“Jules told you about the agoraphobia?” Jezebel reeled in shock, but quickly regained her composure. “Then you are aware I don’t leave my home—ever.”
“Surely that’s an exaggeration.”
He still didn’t understand.
“Why do you think I moved to a retirement community?” She waved her hands in agitation as she spoke. “They are equipped to handle the needs of the homebound. Everything I need is delivered. I haven’t left this cabin in over two years and I’m not about to start now. I’m sorry you came all this way for nothing.”
“You know, I came here expecting to play nursemaid to some homely, shrinking violet.” Finn gathered his contracts and put them back in the briefcase, closing the latches with asnap, but didn’t rise to his feet as Jezebel expected. “You aren’t what I expected at all, but it changes nothing. I can’t afford to walk away now.”
“I think it would be best if you leave.”
“I have a lot at stake here. We leave together or not at all.” The engaging smile did not reach his eyes, which had gone all hard and flinty.
Jezebel recognized determination when she saw it. He really had no intention of leaving and she had no intention of going. A declaration of war then—so be it. Time to retreat and prepare a strategy for the upcoming battle. Jezebel filled with grim determination, smiling through gritted teeth. This should be interesting.