Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cruel to Be Kind by Stephanie Vaughan

Cruel to Be Kind by Stephanie Vaughan
February, 2007 - ISBN 978-1-59426-947-9
$5.50 eBook (five formats), coming to print - Buy Now!
Author's Backlist: Stephanie Vaughan

He could feel her eyes on him. A prickle of awareness raised the hairs on the back of his neck, and he knew he was being watched. That it was a woman doing the watching he had no doubt, although if pressed he couldn't have said how he knew. He just knew.

Steve Eriksson leaned an elbow on the bar in front of him and let his eyes scan the room.

Goldie's was nothing special as bars went. No sophisticated game room or huge selection of microbrews on tap the way Off Limits did across town. But then, Goldie's didn't cater to the tourist crowd, either. It was just a no-frills, working class watering hole where a good burger and a cold beer could be had for a decent price. A pool table in the back and a competition dart board had constituted all the value-added features the regulars needed to keep Goldie's in the black since it had opened.

The group of four women near the front door wasn't the source of his itch. They each wore a variation of the young professional's uniform and had their sights set on the group of equally upscale looking men in suits at the far end of the bar that presently supported his weight. The women looked like the type that Tivo'd Sex and the City and rated the quality of their lives by the size and content of their shoe closet.

No thanks.

His eyes moved on past Evan from the custom leather goods shop, looking like he was about to hook-up with the new teller from the savings and loan, to the room's only table of one.

In profile she didn't look old enough to be in a bar in the first place. A baseball cap on her head, a ponytail of shiny dark hair pulled through the opening in the back. Steve could tell only that she wasn't dressed to kill and she appeared intent on whatever it was she was doing. A small laptop computer in front of her, a stack of papers to one side, she slowly turned over sheets from the pile while she glanced at first one, then the other while she typed one-handed on the computer.

But what made the picture especially intriguing was the rest of the tableau: an arm's-length away, a full meal sat untouched. A flat tureen that had to contain Goldie's infamous shepherd's pie and a tall glass of foamy, dark beer stood silent watch on her labors. That both had been sitting for a while was obvious from the shrinking trail of foam at the top and the rivulets of condensation that trickled down the side, while the pie's crust of mashed potatoes remained smooth and unbroken.

Unable to reconcile the high-powered buzz he'd felt with the slight figure seated at the table, Steve was about to move on. Until she lifted her head and the previously downcast eyes moved from the computer screen and locked on his.

Direct and dark, they reached out and grabbed him by the balls. A jolt of electricity ran through his system, as though he'd forgotten to disconnect the power source before opening up an outlet to work on it. Those eyes snaked down into his soul as though to look around. Size him up. Think about moving in.

Then her eyes slipped over his shoulder and looked away, breaking the connection, and he could breathe again.