Too Hot to Handle (Romancing the Clarksons #1)
by Tessa Bailey
When rescue looks like a whole lot of trouble…
The road trip was definitely a bad idea. Having already flambéed her culinary career beyond recognition, Rita Clarkson is now stranded in God-Knows-Where, New Mexico, with a busted-ass car and her three temperamental siblings, who she hasn't seen in years. When rescue shows up—six-feet-plus of hot, charming sex on a motorcycle—Rita's pretty certain she's gone from the frying pan right into the fire…
Jasper Ellis has a bad boy reputation in this town, and he loathes it. The moment he sees Rita, though, Jasper knows he's about to be sorely tempted. There's something real between them. Something raw. And Jasper has only a few days to show Rita that he isn't just for tonight—he's forever.
Rita and Belmont were sitting silently on the sidewalk, staring at the decimated restaurant, when a sleek, white Mercedes with the license plate VOTE4AC pulled up along the curb, eliciting a sigh from them both. Rita shoved a hand through her dyed black hair and straightened her weary spine. Preparing. Bolstering. While Belmont’s modus operandi was to hang back, take a situation’s measure and then approach with caution, her younger brother Aaron liked to make a damn entrance, right down to the way he exited the driver’s side. Like a Broadway actor entering from stage left into a dramatic scene, aware that eyes would swing his direction. His gray suit boasted not a single wrinkle, black shoes polished to a shine. His golden boy smile had made him a media sensation, but for once, it was nowhere to be seen as he approached Rita and Belmont.
Aaron shoved his hands into his pants pockets. “Fuck. Right?”
“Yep,” Rita said, swallowing hard.
Her politician brother did a scan of the dire scene, brain working overtime behind golden brown eyes inherited by all the Clarksons. Except Belmont, whose eyes were a deep blue, on account of him having a different father. A fact that Rita forgot most of the time, since Belmont had been there—an unmovable presence—since the day she was born. Aaron had come later. The second coming.
“Are you all right?” Aaron asked her abruptly, a suspicious twinkle in his gaze. “You must have been in there a while with the smoke. The soot around your eyes—”
“Hilarious, dickhead.” Her heavy, black eye makeup and general fuck off appearance were a constant source of amusement for her clean-cut younger brother. “You have a funny way of showing concern.”
“Thank you. What do I need to handle?” Aaron adjusted the starched, white collar of his shirt. “Did you make a statement yet or anything?”
Rita allowed the steel to leach from her spine. “I’ve been kind of busy just sitting here.”
“Right.” Aaron feigned surprise at finding Belmont on the sidewalk with them. “Jesus. I thought you were a statue.”
“You smell like the ocean.”
“You smell like the blood of tax payers,” Belmont returned.
“Well.” Rita finally found enough presence of mind to yank the smoky apron over her head, chucking it into the street. “I think I just remembered why we haven’t hung out since Mom died.”
Truthfully, even before that rainy afternoon, the time they’d spent together as a family had felt mandatory. Organized by their mother and fled from in almost comical haste.
“Oh. My. God.”
At the sound of their youngest sibling, Peggy’s, voice, all three of them cursed beneath their breath. Let the family reunion officially begin. It wasn’t that they didn’t love their baby sister. And in many ways, Peggy, a personal shopper to San Diego’s elite, was still a baby at twenty-five. Her big coke-bottle curls and cheerleader appearance guaranteed she got away with just about everything. Including neglecting to pay her cab driver, if the irritated-looking man following her with a receipt clutched in his fist was any indication.
“How did this happen?” Peggy hiccupped, playing with the string of engagement rings dangling from her neck, as Belmont wordlessly paid the cab driver. “I just had dinner here two weeks ago. Everything seemed fine.”
Rita battled the compulsion to lay down on the sidewalk in the fetal position. Oh God. Her mother had bequeathed her an award-winning restaurant and she’d burned it down. On Rita’s first day back.
Aaron was busy scrolling through his phone, the screen’s glow illuminating his perfectly tousled dark blond hair. “Look at the bright side, Rita. Now you can pursue your dream of being a Hot Topic register girl.”
Rita barely had the strength to flip him the bird. “Jump up my ass.”
When Peggy approached, Rita couldn’t look her in the eye, so she focused on her younger sister’s toes, peeking out of strappy silver sandals. “Hey. I’m glad you’re okay.”
Rita’s throat went tight. “Thanks, Peggy.”
“I’m sorry about the restaurant, too. I know how much you loved it. How much Mom loved it.” Her youngest sibling nodded and cast a discreet glance over her shoulder, turning back with a charming half smile. A smile responsible for four marriage proposals over the past three years. “Mom probably would have wanted me to talk to those firefighters, though. Am I right?”
Rita groaned up at the sky.
Meet the fucking Clarksons.
Tessa Bailey is originally from Carlsbad, California. The day after high school graduation, she packed her yearbook, ripped jeans, and laptop, and drove cross-country to New York City in under four days. Her most valuable life experiences were learned thereafter while waitressing at K-Dees, a Manhattan pub owned by her uncle. Inside those four walls, she met her husband, best friend, and discovered the magic of classic rock, managing to put herself through Kingsborough Community College and the English program at Pace University at the same time. Several stunted attempts to enter the work force as a journalist followed, but romance writing continued to demand her attention.
She now lives in Long Island, New York with her husband and daughter. Although she is severely sleep-deprived, she is incredibly happy to be living her dream of writing about people falling in love.
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