Incidental Contact ~ Chapter 1

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What if a random kiss with the wrong woman feels like more than incidental contact?What if you sense every mistake brought you to this place, with this person?What if you know you'll have to clean up your bad-boy past and can't offer her much of a future, but you're determined to win her heart? What if you're having... performance issues?Welcome to Eric De Marco's world.First person to say 'go hard or go home' gets his ass kicked. 

Headed for a NASCAR career at seventeen, by thirty-three, Eric's just a small town Romeo, servicing mini-vans by day and women he doesn't care about by night. Not the man for Amy Sizemore, a college senior bound for a career in community service. An unexpected kiss shows Eric a woman's curves and desires lurk beneath Amy's bulky clothing. Desperate to change his life, he sets out to make himself into a man the part-time sports referee could love. 

"Incidental Contact is a sexy love story but it is so much more than that; it’s a story about a community coming together to help others that have been wronged, those less fortunate, and those that just need to know someone cares."
 ~ Slick, Guilty Pleasures Book Blog

"...this book has a lot of swoon worthy moments and at times I felt like I wanted to wrap Eric in my arms and take him home with me I could not put this book down 5 massive. stars"
~Goodreads review

"I freaking loved this story..I dont like 2 give away spoilers so I will just say this book had it all, love,suspense,laughter, tears, healing, and sorrow..but through it all families stuck together and supported each other, and well lets just say true love won out in the end in more ways than one."~ Amazon review

"INCIDENTAL CONTACT is romance at it’s best. I can’t think of what I didn’t love about this story. It had great characters, an incredibly engrossing story, and truly I thought this one was the best of the series."
I <3Bookie Nookie Reviews

Chapter One

        While the country song blaring in Eric De Marco’s Dodge truck might say the singer’s exes all lived in Texas, too damn many of Eric’s worked in his town’s only mall. Navigating the drive leading to the sprawling commercial structure, he felt more like a clay pigeon at a firing range than a man about to grab a sandwich and get his hair cut.

        He’d made the haircut appointment with Dee Wilkerson two days ago. Today, three people had come by the garage Eric owned with his brothers and made a point of mentioning Dee and her husband had separated.

        His oldest brother, Dan, was a hard-ass about several things. “Never go bareback unless you’re prepared to be a father,” was a favorite sermon. Their baby brother had decided he was exempt from that rule. Now, Colton was expecting a baby with a local widow, Lila Walker. Colton seemed thrilled. The same couldn't be said for Lila, making Eric worry how that situation might shake out.

       Another was, “Don’t screw around with married women.” Dan didn't yap about the moral consequences, although he was the poster child for the ‘one-woman-man’ concept. Instead, Dan insisted messing with married women was bad for business. Eric and his brothers owned a garage and towing service. If this town got any smaller, they’d have to take up a collection and buy their dot on any self-respecting map.

        Problem was, women on the rebound came after Eric like heat-seeking missiles. Any other time, he’d blow off the haircut until after Dee and Jeb made up—they always did. Despite Dan’s warnings, Eric had comforted a few women after their breakups. Every last one told their boyfriend they’d slept with him, because pissing off the ex had been the point all along. Then of course, they—and their friends and families—took their cars somewhere else to get fixed. Making Dan right again.

        He glared at his vibrating cell phone, reluctant to pick the damn thing up. Dee had texted him twice today, each time sounding real flirty. He thumbed the button. This message was from her, too. Can’t wait to see you, sweetheart.

        Eric jabbed the power button, sighed, and turned the big Dodge 3500 toward the food court entrance. Dee was supposed to be his friend, and he could sure use one of those about now. Besides, he had to sacrifice his long hair and he didn’t trust anyone but Dee to do the honors. The last thing he wanted was a crew cut. But goddammit, it hurt to think she’d use him this way.

        By thirty-three, Eric had eased out of so many relationships, his brother’s girlfriends called him Honey Bee. He didn't find the nickname as amusing as he let on. He could admit he took advantage of the way women found him attractive. What was starting to hurt was how easily they fell for the routine he used to get rid of them.

        Except, all of a sudden, he wasn’t rid of them.

        The mess started when John Carpenter, Eric’s neighbor and a man he’d known all his life, confessed that he’d argued with Eric’s mother the day she went missing, when Eric was five years old. John swore he’d slapped Cammie De Marco and she’d fallen and hit her head. Before he could get help, she was dead. The old farmer claimed he’d panicked and hid her body until the search had been called off.

        Last August, a storm toppled the scrub pine that’d grown over the site where the old farmer buried her. Eric felt like that tree had uprooted his entire life, along with his mother’s bones. The mother he’d grown up believing had abandoned him had been killed the same day she walked out on his family.

       The day after Carpenter’s stunning confession only weeks ago, Dan decreed they weren't to talk to anyone about the case, except the police. No interviews, no casual comments to friends. They could talk to each other, Dan insisted. Only, it seemed to Eric, his brothers got their talking done with their women.

        Everyone else he knew only wanted to talk about his mother or her killer. Turned out, his father had kept a life insurance policy on his mother. There wasn't any way to keep a secret in a town this small. The next thing Eric knew, all his exes were calling and dropping by the garage. But every single one asked if it was true he’d inherited a third of a huge insurance policy.

        He didn't want to think about that money. He couldn't come up with one damn thing he could buy to honor the love and loss that’d put it into his pocket. All Eric wanted was to grab a bite to eat and get his fucking hair cut for tomorrow’s meeting with the district solicitor.

        Not true. He wanted a do-over, for his entire life. If he’d only known his mother hadn't come home because she was dead, maybe he could had what his brothers had found, which was starting to look damn good to a man stuck out in the cold.

        Knowing what was wrong with his life didn't tell him how to fix things. Was there a vaccine for his severe commitment-phobia?

        If so, would he have the guts to roll up his sleeve and take the shot?

        Dan and Colton were always telling Eric he needed to date smarter women. Easier said than done. He had no idea how to change his reputation for being a walking vibrator with the optional tongue accessory. After all, he’d brought that rep on himself. Women already knew he’d never be a rich man, so they sheathed their claws pretty fast when he gave them his patented, dumb-redneck routine. Now, he seemed to be a victim of his own success, because smart women didn't look his way—unless they wanted to piss off their exes.

        Or thought they could sweet talk him into spending that damn insurance money on them.

        He was early for his appointment. Thanks to turning down offers of female companionship right and left, and his inability to talk about the only topic anyone wanted to talk about, he had nothing better to do. He could only endure watching all the loving affection between his brothers and their women so many nights a week.

        He chose a space at the end of the row farthest from the building, the only spot wide enough to accommodate a truck with four doors and just as many rear tires. Stewing over the way his life sucked, he started the trek to the mall. No point in hurrying. Showing up early would only give Dee the wrong impression.

        Halfway down the row of parked cars, he halted. A woman leaned into the trunk of a blue Honda. Denim pulled taut over her butt and hugged her thighs. She was so short, the excess length pooled over her feet. Moving closer, he noted the student parking pass in the rear window.

        Danger signals flashed in his head. He was attracted to Amy Sizemore, despite the fact she had the fashion sense of a football team. This woman, above all, was one he should avoid. Nothing could be dumber than fooling around with the best friend of Colton’s woman. Her head was wedged inside her trunk, so Amy hadn't seen him yet.

        He almost walked past, but she stretched an arm over her head. The shirt rode up, revealing a generous stripe of pale skin over low-cut jeans. Eric felt like he’d been hit with a high-voltage wire.  Hot damn, that’s one cute pair of dimples.

        He kept his attention glued to that soft-looking expanse while he debated. Her Honda had run fine five hours ago. If she was having engine trouble, she was smart enough to know she was looking at the wrong end of the car.

         Though her car appeared to sit level, she had to be digging for the spare and jack. He was tempted to stroll on by. The temperature hovered in the low thirties, but when the bleak sun disappeared behind the mall, the parking lot would feel ten degrees colder. The sky looked like rain—or snow.

        He disliked the way Amy always looked like a billboard for a sporting goods store, but he did like her curves and common sense. As Lila’s best friend, Amy was practically family. She showed up at his brother’s place all the time, often helping Eric’s nephew, Jonah, with his Algebra or Chemistry homework. He suspected her real motive for coming by was to make Lila laugh. The widow’s pregnancy wasn't going well.

        Since his mother’s skeleton had been found, laughter had become a precious commodity, it seemed to Eric. The stress of waiting to learn what would happen to her killer was doing a number on his entire family. If Lila lost Colton’s baby—Eric couldn't bear to think what might happen then.

        Walking by’s out of the question. Amy was a college senior, studying to become a teacher. She was the respectable kind, even if she did look like a ragamuffin. She didn't impress him as a gold-digger.

        Come to think of it, she didn't seem impressed by him at all. Amy might be the only woman he knew who didn't see him as a sex toy. She never flirted with him. Even better, since the young woman was in the family’s inner circle, he wouldn't have to watch every damn word he said.

        Eric began to see a way around his immediate troubles.

        He’d call the garage’s wrecker driver to come fix the flat. Then, he’d bribe Amy into going with him to get his hair cut in return for buying her supper. When Dee saw him with Amy, she’d find another way to get even with Jeb.

        Best of all, with Amy on his arm, he wouldn't have to worry about all his other exes—the circling vultures. He hadn't decided what he’d do with his part of the insurance money, but he didn't plan to blow it on pussy, like Dan seemed to expect.

        As Eric started forward, Amy cried, “Goddammit, what a waste of time.” She wriggled out of the trunk, clutching a tent spike. She hurled the slender metal bar atop the massive pile of clothes heaped into the back of her car. Jamming her hands on her hips, she muttered like she thought she could cuss those clothes off the spare compartment. For the first time all day, Eric felt like smiling. Amy reminded him of a teddy bear—short and plump, with dark brown eyes, always ready to laugh. A teddy bear that cussed like a sailor was awesome, in his book.

        “Is your closet being exterminated, short stuff? How the hell do you manage not to trip over those jeans?” He stepped behind her and tugged a thick lock of black hair.

        She whirled. Tipping her head back, she spat, “At the moment, I don’t have a damn closet. And the only pair of jeans I ever bought that weren't too long were Capri pants.”

        He barked with laughter at her pants remark. Unsure what she meant about her closet, he pulled his cell phone from his jacket pocket and powered the device on. “Got a flat?” Amy had a boyfriend, although she seemed to spend more time with Lila than with Drew Pearsall. He and Drew had gone to school together, and Drew was one person Eric couldn't care less about pissing off. The dipshit probably didn't know how to operate a tire iron. Besides, he wasn't asking Amy to have sex, just stroll around the mall and grab a sandwich.

        The sleeve of her shirt slid past her fingers when she waved her hand. “What I have is the sneaking suspicion I dropped my only pair of heels in Drew’s front yard the night I moved out. Can’t find my fucking dress, either. Gotta buy new.” She puffed out her cheeks and blew her bangs out of her eyes. “I have to build a professional wardrobe any damn way.”

        She said the two words in a tone Eric reserved for “bottled water” and “market price” menu items. Flapping the sleeve again, she struck herself on the hip, making him grin.

        “My mama’s riding my ass like a jockey, hounding me to start buying clothes for student teaching in March.” She smiled. He felt a jolt of annoyance. Thanks to overlong bangs, he never could see her damn eyes. He’d always had the feeling Amy hid behind that unflattering haircut.

        Raking his hair from his eyes, Eric pictured Amy in a dress. He imagined bending her over the back end of her car, flipping the hem up around her waist, and yanking down her panties. He just wasn't sure why. Habit, maybe. Or deprivation. Or the cute way she said “fucking”. Okay, so the jockey comment had him going. The part in her hair was crooked. A dyed-in-the-wool tomboy if he’d ever seen one, right down to the freckles on her unpowdered nose.

        Not his type. Except….

        He’d dated a few coeds. He always ended up resenting he hadn’t had the advantages they took for granted, or got pissed off because they thought a college degree was the only indicator of brains. Amy, on the other hand, was working her way through school as a sports official. Thinking back, she’d never once made him feel stupid. Hell, she even liked NASCAR.

        Shoving his phone into his pocket, he placed his hand on the edge of her trunk lid. “Got your keys?” She bobbed her head, jangling a key ring. Plucking the ring from her fingers, he placed them in his inside jacket pocket, grinning at the way her mouth rounded. “Purse?” he asked, though he’d never seen her with the iconic female accessory. Shoving her sleeve up her forearm, she rooted in the tangled clothing, finally pulling out a small clutch. Eric slammed the trunk closed, then took custody of her wallet, tucking the item next to her keys.

        He had to stoop to grab her hand. “You sound like a woman who could use a fried chicken sandwich and a tall glass of tea. I’m buyin’. After I get my hair cut, if you act real sweet, I’ll follow you around the mall and carry your packages. Buy really high heels. Goddamn, you’re short.”

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