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Posted Jan 31 2013, 9:43 pm

I hope you enjoy the first chapter of my upcoming release, On the Corner of Heartache and Hopeful–KIRA, set to go live on Valentine’s Day!


Chapter One


Kira Schafer knew the instant he entered her deli. She always did. No matter that the blistering Nebraska temperature outside could cook a thick t-bone steak to medium-well, a chill of awareness skated along each of her vertebra whenever he came within twenty feet of her.

She kept her attention focused on her task, piling a double scoop of Rocky Road ice cream onto a waffle cone, rather than on the electric blue eyes that were tracking her every move. It wasn’t conceit which made her confident he was watching her. It was the fact the only other person in her ice cream slash deli shop was seventy-something Alfred Toole.

Kira handed the sweet, chocolaty treat to the spry older gentleman with a smile. “Here you go, Mr. Toole. That’ll be three twenty-nine.”

Alfred laid a five on the counter while licking a melted drop of ice cream from his thumb. She returned his change, which he promptly dropped into her tip jar. “Thanks, Mr. Toole. Have a nice day now.”

The septuagenarian winked. “You too.”

Her gaze followed Alfred out the door after which she inhaled a breath to steady her nerves. She then confronted her next customer.

Stance wide and arms crossed, Hunter Rice stood examined the deli menu on the wall behind the freezer display case with intense interest. She knew he’d memorized her meager, yet wholesome, list of available items by heart. He’d been coming in for lunch every day for the past six weeks, ever since he bought the gym next door. But this was an unspoken game they played. He studied the unchanging inventory of sandwiches and quiches while she waited patiently for him to order lean roast beef on whole wheat with lettuce and tomato, brown mustard, no mayo. He’d then either add in a side of her homemade potato or pasta salad, a kosher dill and water to drink. He’d sit at the same table to watch the small flat screen TV she’d hung in the far corner.

She crossed her ankles and arms, leaning a hip on the padded stool behind the cash register and drawing in another lungful of air. Even with the pungent aromas of chopped onions mingled with baked bread, she detected the faint earthy scent of perspiration. The lining of her belly quivered. Lordy, she loved how a man smelled after he worked up a sweat. And having that man be Hunter Rice was a bonus. Double bonus, in fact.

A recently “retired” boxer, Hunter boasted the classic stature of a man who used to earn his living in the ring. Powerful and compact, if a bit on the short side. The sleeves of his stone gray t-shirt stretched over impressive biceps, the tattoo of a snake’s head winking from beneath the material. His shoulders weren’t overly broad, but broad enough to taper to narrow hips and a deliciously tight butt. Today he wore sweat pants, but she still caught glimpses of his thick leg muscles through the loose material.

Aside from his physique, Hunter didn’t look like the typical boxer. His round baby face with matching caramel brown hair and eyes, gave him more the appearance of a trustworthy doctor or compassionate veterinarian rather than someone skilled in the art of beating the crap out of another person. Then there was his heart-stopping, killer half-smile which showed just a peek of straight white teeth. And of course, his voice. Kira could listen to the low rumbling baritone for hours. It brought to mind sipping expensive brandy in front of a fireplace on a wintery night.

Finally, his hands. Dear God, the man’s hands. Wide, calloused palms with fingers that were just the right length and width. Ideal for a myriad of practical, and not so practical, uses.

His only physical characteristics which suggested he held a less than lily white collar job were his slightly broken Roman nose and the perpetual five o’clock shadow that graced his cheeks and firm chin.

But it was more than his looks that captivated Kira. There was an air about him, an essence of confidence which seemed to ooze from his pores. He was cool and poised. In control. Dominant. A flush heated her neck and she dropped her gaze to her folded hands least he see how badly she reacted to him.  

In the short time Hunter had owed the club, the only other existing business in the tiny strip mall on the corner of Heartache Avenue and Hopeful Drive, he’d turned the bordered up business into a semi-booming endeavor. He taught boxing basics to anyone interested, male or female, and also gave free lessons to high school students three afternoons a week during the summer break. She was glad for his success because it translated into more customers for her. Who wouldn’t want a nutritious snack or thirst-quenching drink after a hard workout?

Still, Kira didn’t know how Hunter made ends meet, or why he was even in Tatum. Having come from Las Vegas, he groused more than once about the small town atmosphere where “all the streets and sidewalks rolled up at eight p.m. sharp on weeknights and nine on the weekends.” Then there was the lack of a Chinese restaurant, decent or otherwise, within a fifty mile radius. But what had he expected when he moved here? Tatum was no Vegas. Hell, it wasn’t even a suburb of Vegas.

Maybe he was just an eccentric ex-boxer, who loved to complain and live off his prize money. Kira wished she had a bit of prize money stashed away. Maybe then she wouldn’t have to sleep in a corner of her back room amongst the various cartons and boxes of food product.

Her “apartment” furnishings consisted of a too-soft twin bed, a mismatched dresser and nightstand and a round kitchen table and single chair. All of which she’d gotten from the Salvation Army. Since she could barely afford the payment on her shop, renting an actual apartment was out of the question. But she hadn’t skimped a bit on the state-of-the-art, industrial grade refrigerator and freezer which hummed her to sleep each night. Kira realized sleeping on the premises of Deluxe Deli, while not the most comfortable of arrangements, made it eminently more convenient to start baking at zero-dark-thirty in the morning.

And all of this was a small price to pay, she reminded herself, considering her other options. Which she didn’t have. She just had to keep on keepin’ on, as the saying went. Though her recent string of bad luck certainly didn’t help anything.

First, the water stopped working. Kira feared a busted pipe, but it turned out the culprit had something to do with the water main out in the street. The utility company fixed it at no charge. Sweet. Next her almost new air conditioner decided to go on the fritz. Luckily the repair guy had a severe weakness for chocolate chip cookies. If he got a complimentary dozen every week, he’d keep her shop at a refreshing sixty-eight degrees for the remainder of the summer. 

Then, just yesterday morning, when she stumbled from bed at three-fifteen a.m., none of the lights had worked. She’d stubbed both of her big toes, rooting around for a flashlight and checking the fuse box, positive this was the final straw. No way could she pay to fix a big electrical problem. If the electricity in the building was faulty, she’d have to say good-bye to her business venture—and her independence. Luckily, it turned out just a breaker had tripped. Even her expensive inventory of icy treats was none the worse for wear. Thank God.

Kira hoped the old adage that bad things happened in threes was true. That meant she was in the clear. At least for a while.

Thoughts of her challenging financial situation and mishaps flew from her mind as magnetic eyes honed in on her. She straightened, both feet on the floor. “What can I get you?”

“How’s the broccoli quiche today?”

“Made fresh this morning.”

He pursed his full lips. “When this morning?”

Kira looked at her bare wrist pretending to check the time. “I pulled it from the oven at seven-thirty. Just before opening up. As usual.”

Hunter squinted back that the menu board. “Was the bread baked this morning too?”

“Of course.”

He pulled in an exaggerated breath. “I’ll have the roast beef, on whole wheat, with lettuce, tomato and brown mustard. No mayo.”

Kira bit the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling. Opening the insulated bag which kept the bread warm through the lunch hour, she pulled out a loaf and placed it on the cutting board. She sliced off a healthy chunk. “Can I get you anything else?”

“Is the potato salad any good?”

She paused in slathering on the mustard to peer at him. “What’d you think?”

His half grin kicked up one side of his mouth. “I’ll take a side of potato salad and a pickle.”

“Anything to drink?”

“Just water.”

“Is that for here or to go?”


Kira nodded then wiped her hands on a towel and rang up his order. “Six fifty, please.”

Hunter paid with a ten then plopped a buck fifty into her tip jar.

“Thank you. Have a seat and I’ll bring out your lunch.”

He ambled to his “usual” table and sat while she sanitized her hands then finished making his sandwich. After cutting the sandwich on the diagonal, she arranged it on a ceramic plate— no paper or plastic for her. She dished a generous portion of salad on the side and added a pickle. She poured ice water into a tall glass, walked to Hunter’s table and set his lunch and fork in front of him. “Enjoy.”

The half-smile returned to his lips. “I always do. Thanks.”

“Have a nice afternoon.”


Hunter picked up his sandwich, watching Kira’s reflection in the large front window as she retreated behind the counter. That woman had one fine ass. Two curvy globes, swishing in harmony and filling out her jean shorts nicely. Very nicely.

Her pale yellow apron covered the front of her sleeveless shirt, but her sculpted arms were on display. She had great arms, too. Delicately chiseled biceps flexed each time she moved with flawlessly formed deltoid muscles that ended in the perfect point of a teardrop just below her shoulders. Golden streaks highlighted her ponytailed blond hair and several escaped strands fluttered around her heart-shaped face which sported a tiny star-shaped scar on her left cheek. Combined with her button nose, sensuous lips and incredible celadon green eyes, even a blind man could see Kira Schafer was one fine looking woman.

Fighting to ignore the image of Kira’s sleek legs wrapped around his waist, Hunter bit into his lunch and barely stifled a groan. Not only did Kira have an amazing figure and face, she also made an amazing sandwich. Yes, it was only a sandwich, but the roast beef, sliced thinner than rice paper and piled high, carried the cured flavor of pepper and molasses. This was not your standard grocery store meat. Add the tangy mustard, which he was convinced was homemade, plus bread so light it floated in his mouth, and this wasn’t just a sandwich. It was heaven.

Every day he came here for lunch, he vowed to try something different, but never did. If Kira’s roast beef sandwich was an addiction, he was totally hooked. Eating this sandwich and watching her rounded ass were the only good things about this bleak town. Tatum, Nebraska made an armpit look attractive.

He swallowed, then sipped his water. Fuck. Even her water tasted awesome. It didn’t have the metallic aftertaste of bottled and it sure as shit hadn’t come from the Tatum’s town well.

Hunter forked a heaping of potato salad into his mouth. This time a small rumble of appreciation escaped. Liberal hunks of red and white potato, mixed with bits of celery and onion, were coated in mayo and seasoned just right with fresh garlic—not salt—as well as dill and sweet pickle. He took another bit. No doubt about it, Kira Schafer knew her way around the kitchen.

But why shouldn’t she? She was, after all, the only offspring of Nickolas Schafer, founder, owner and CEO of Schafer Foods, the third biggest name in the food industry behind Kellogg’s and General Mills.

The door opened and in walked one of the mechanics from Anderson’s Garage, which sat across the street. Why anyone would have an automotive business at this location was a mystery. The corner of Heartache and Hopeful was about as far from downtown Tatum as you could get. As though Tatum could even be called a town. Hunter couldn’t understand why people would actually choose to live in this dried up excuse of a municipality. He had different reasons for being in Tatum. Very different reasons.

Kira handed the younger mechanic three large paper bags. “Here ya go, Boyd. I made macaroons this morning so I put some in as a treat. ”

A huge smile split Boyd’s face. “Cool. Thanks Miz. Schafer.” He gave her several bills then picked up the bags and left without saying a word.

Hunter watched Kira clean up behind the counter. The woman beat down every preconception he’d held about “Trust Fund Baby,” Kira Schafer. She was neither snobby nor vain nor aloof. Instead, she emanated a genuine warmth and graciousness toward people. He’d seen her exhibit the patience of a saint even when kids sampled every one of her ice cream flavors without buying a thing. Hardly the reputation of the spoiled, rich diva, in line to inherit just north of a ten billion-dollar company.

Hunter finished his lunch, staring out at the dismal noontime traffic, a frown pulling at his mouth. Nothing about Kira made any sense. She was obscenely wealthy, could have probably anything she wanted, hell anything anyone could want, so why was she busting her hump to maintain this miniscule business, located in the middle of fucking nowhere Nebraska?

Maybe eking out a sad semblance of a living was a bizarre condition for her inheritance. Maybe, but he doubted it. If that was the case, Hunter wouldn’t be in Tatum.

Thinking about the reason that brought him here unsettled Hunter’s meal. He downed the rest of his water, stood and carried his plate to the counter. Kira, scrubbing down the grill, glanced over her shoulder with a quick smile of appreciation at him for bussing the table. She had a nice smile, too. Damn it. Was there nothing about Kira Schafer he could hate on? Evidently not.

He pulled open the door and a furnace blast of summer heat hit him square in the face. His cell phone buzzed in his front pocket. Checking the ID, he walked the two dozen steps to the entrance to his own establishment and his upset stomach roiled a little harder.

Nickolas Schafer. Great.

Hunter unlocked then shoved open his door. “Hello.”

“Goddamn it, Rice!”

He jerked the phone from his ear.

“You’ve been there more than a goddamn month. You said you’d get results. Well the results are that my daughter remains in some goddamn, godforsaken part of the state and not home here in Omaha where she belongs. I want her home, Rice. Yesterday, I wanted her home.”

“I know, Mr. Schafer. But it’s like I’ve told you, your daughter is managing quite well in spite of the setbacks I’ve given her. It’s gonna take a little more time to convince her she needs to go back to Omaha.”

“I don’t have any more time!” the older man bellowed. “More importantly, you don’t have any more time, Rice. I did not set you up in that gym to get no results.”

Hunter raked a hand through his hair, listening.

“I thought you were motivated to get an inquiry into the doping charges against you. I thought getting back into the ring was what you wanted. If so, then get my daughter home. Pronto.”

Angry frustration growled in Hunter’s throat. He’d never done drugs a day in his life, let alone steroids. If it weren’t for those trumped-up charges, he wouldn’t be in this fucking hell-hole. “What do you expect me to do, Mr. Schafer? Kidnap her?”

“If that’s what it takes, yes. Put a bag on her head and throw her in the back of your car. I don’t care. Just get her back home.”

The line went dead. Hunter imagined the older man slamming his phone down so hard, the poor hand receiver shattered into pieces. Good. Maybe then he’d stop getting all these harassing calls. His short laugh rebounded in the empty gym. Not likely.

He tossed his phone on the marred card table which served as his desk, then scrubbed both hands down his face. God, he was tired. This cloak and dagger shit spying on Kira, plus sabotaging her deli, was taking a heavy toll. But her old man was paying to get her back to Omaha so he needed to suck it up a bit longer. The sooner dear little Kira was safe in the bosom of her family, the better. For him.

Hunter climbed into the regulation size ring, which dominated the interior space of his gym, and shadow boxed slowly, given he’d just eaten. A group of high school kids would arrive in less than forty-five minutes for their training and he wanted to be good and loose.

Throwing repeated jabs with his left hand and circling around the ring, he thought again about the situation between Kira and her father. He just couldn’t figure why Schafer was so insistent she return to Omaha. But Hunter didn’t need to understand that or anything else. The only thing he needed to know was that Kira’s triumphant homecoming meant the chance to get a hearing into those bogus charges. And if that happened, the lifetime ban on his boxing career might get lifted.

As he moved around the ring, Hunter tried—unsuccessfully—to ignore the guilt pecking at his conscience. Kira seemed like a decent, nice person. She seemed happy running her own sandwich and ice cream shop. What was the reason “daddy dearest” wanted her back home bad enough to hire a banned boxer? Was there a family secret Schafer feared would be revealed? Was something darker and more sinister involved? Revulsion rippled along Hunter’s skin at that possibility. After all, hadn’t he just been given the go-ahead to kidnap his daughter? What sane, loving father okays such drastic action?

None of that mattered, Hunter berated himself firmly. He needed to stay focused on the prize of getting his reputation restored. If none of his other schemes worked in getting Kira to go home, then he’d take her there by force.

It’s what had to happen.

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