Exclusive First Chapter: Gray Matter by Becky McGraw
Today we have Becky McGraw stopping over and sharing an exclusive with you all. She has the first chapter of her book and the prologue.
About the book:
Can a sexy bean counter find the wise guys who are after a mafia maiden?
Grayson Jennings likes calm in his life since leaving the FBI five years prior, and he's found it with his job as a forensic accountant with Deep Six Security. That peace remains until he is charged with helping to staff the new east coast office of Deep Six Security, and Michaela Girabaldi sweeps into his life like a Texas tornado.
The smart-mouthed Jersey girl, who is hired as the office manager, brings with her baggage, which gives him plenty of sleepless nights. When it's not thoughts of her smoking hot body keeping him awake, it's figuring out ways to stay one step ahead of the mobsters who are looking for her to find their missing money. According to Mickie, only her cousin knows where it is. Gray is determined to follow the money trail to find that woman so he can get the mob off of his new office manager's back.
But then the feds launch an investigation into her late uncle and former employer's business dealings, as well as his murder, and they want to talk to Mickie about both. Gray and the team set out to find answers to clear her, but getting involved might buy him a reservation for a six-by-six cell at the federal country club too, for obstruction and abetting the beautiful fugitive.
When a hit is taken out on Mickie, and rolling on her uncle could be her only protection, will she take the deal, even though she'll be put away? Or will Grayson find her cousin first? And if he finds the money, will he turn it over to the feds to save himself, or the mob to save her?
FIRST CHAPTER EXCERPT
“Uncle Vinny?” Mickie called as she walked into the too-quiet office at Girabaldi Enterprises on Friday morning at nine-thirty. When there was no answer, her brow knotted as she put her purse down beside her desk, then leaned around the corner to glance down the hallway.
The light was on in her uncle’s office and the door ajar, so he had to be in there. Vinny never left his door unlocked when he wasn’t in, because his safe was in the closet. She strode down the hall and frowned when she passed her cousin Teresa’s office and found the light was still off.
She was thankful to see it, because that meant her reaming from her cousin for being thirty minutes late would not happen until she had her latte, but it was odd. Teresa was never late, but then she’d never left sick before either, and she had yesterday afternoon during a heated argument Vinny was having with an associate. But her arms and bags had been loaded down with work when she left, of course.
Mickie had no idea what the argument was about, because Vinny and Teresa didn’t include her in their business dealings, but she heard every word. It was that loud. She didn’t ask questions, because she didn’t want to know. She was perfectly happy being the oblivious office worker, errand girl and barista here, who was given as much notice as the potted plant beside her desk. She was paid well to keep her nose in her own business, and she did.
Hear no evil. See no evil. Speak no evil. Get a paycheck.
Stopping at her uncle’s office door, Mickie pushed it open wider and walked in, but stopped in her tracks. Her fingers went numb and she dropped her lunch bag. She ran over to drop to her knees beside her uncle, who lay face down on the Persian rug in front of his desk. From the doorway, the red rug masked the red blood that had soaked in all around his head.
Her hand shook as she reached to feel his throat for a pulse. When she didn’t find one, she started to try to turn him over, but her eyes landed on a small, charred hole at his hairline, which told her she wouldn’t be finding one. The biscotti she’d eaten on the way in lunged up to her throat to choke her as she shrank back to put a violently shaking hand over her mouth.
Her eyes darted to a pistol laying in front of the chairs across from her uncle’s desk. It was her uncle’s thirty-eight that he kept in his drawer. He must’ve tried to defend himself, but the gunman shot him first.
What if the killer came back? Mickie’s heart raced as she scrambled on her knees toward the chair, but her eyes darted to the open closet door. She saw the light, heard someone ruffling through things in there and froze.
Oh, Dio! The killer was still in that closet!
Mickie grabbed the pistol, but it slipped through her sweaty palms twice before she got a good grip on it. Her hand shook so badly, she dropped it again as she crawled back to her uncle. That told her she would never be able to shoot it at whoever was in that closet anyway, so she left it there.
The best thing she could do was sneak out of there like she’d come in. Before whoever was in the closet realized she was there and shot her too! The rug burned Mickie’s knees as she race-crawled to the office door and used the door jamb to pull herself to her feet.
Feeling a bullseye between her shoulder blades, she ran on the toes of her stilettos toward the front door and her heart didn’t beat once until she was outside. A junky, beat up car on the other side of the lot caught her eye, and her heart stopped again when she saw a head in the passenger side of the vehicle.
God, how could he have missed her going into the office? How could she have missed that car?!?
Thank God she relied on the bus instead of driving, and that it was later than usual today. Well, she wasn’t going to give that lookout another chance to see her, she thought, streaking down the sidewalk, toward the side of the building. When she rounded the corner, she saw her only hiding place in the wide open space would be the garbage bin.
The thought of climbing inside that bin nauseated her, but not enough to make her want to die to avoid it. Mickie ran there, lifted the lid and gagged as the odor of hot garbage surrounded her. She held her breath, stepped up on a cardboard box beside the bin and fell inside on top of the pile of refuse. Eventually she had to breathe, and lost her biscotti for her first few breaths. After an hour or so, she got used to the smell and settled in. Every so often, she’d lift the lid to look down the alley, but she stayed there.
Three hours later, Mickie got brave and decided to go to the corner to see if they had gone. She had to go back inside the office to get her purse and call the police, but she would not be there when they arrived. They would ask questions to which she didn’t have answers. She knew who did have those answers, but that woman was conveniently absent today.
The day her uncle was murdered.
Mickie was not going to be Teresa’s scapegoat. They didn’t pay her enough for that.
She lifted the lid on the bin, light poured in along with fresh air that reactivated the rank odor, making Mickie gag again. She looked down as she started to climb out and the flowered straps of a familiar canvas tote bag caught her eye. It was obviously the bag that Teresa had used for many years to carry work home with her. One she’d had with her when she left yesterday afternoon.
Mickie stopped, rested the lid on her back so she could see, then pulled the bag out from under the mound of paper it was buried under, which appeared to be company memos and documents, but Mickie was more interested in what was inside the tote. Unzipping it, she spread the sides apart and saw a journal and several notebooks.
The odor inside the dumpster overwhelmed her and alerted her that this was not the place to examine those things. She quickly re-zipped the bag, tossed it to the ground, then climbed out of the dumpster. She would do that in Teresa’s office, where she might also find other things that could tell her what was going on here. Before she called the police.
Uncle Vinny was dead, and a few hours wouldn’t make him less dead.
“Yes, I need a venti wet caramel macchiato, short and skinny, please,” the short and curvy caramel-colored woman ordered frustrating Gray. He’d suspect she was Italian from her sleek black hair and attitude. He needed coffee badly, had five minutes to get back to the office before his next interview, and she had to be a coffee aficionado?
Just order a damned extra-large espresso with low-fat milk and a dollop of caramel with no foam.
He knew her type, because, during college, he’d dated enough of the Millennial-yuppie types looking to show how urbane and sophisticated they were.
Well, honey, you ain’t impressin’ anyone, as Lou Ellen, their office manager, would say. But her body sure impressed him, he thought, as his eyes fell on her round ass again as she reached over the counter to snatch two paper napkins from the dispenser.
When he first laid eyes on those curves after she walked through the door, it was love at first sight, if Gray believed in such a thing, which he didn’t. Lust at first sight, maybe. But that could be because he’d been on a five-year sexual hiatus.
At thirty-six, Gray was a Millennial too, just barely, but he would have better been born in the Baby Boomer era like his father. That was the generation he identified with best. Probably because of his staid upbringing in a DC political family as an only child.
He imagined this woman, from her accent, may be from Jersey, which would explain a lot.
East Coast Italians were a bunch who didn’t pick up on little social cues like throat clearing, which he and the five people behind him had done at least twice. Or she just didn’t care. That was more likely. It was her turn at the counter, so she was going to take every minute of it, and they could just wait.
The barista delivered her drink and, of course, only then did Jersey decide to dig through her enormous Louis Vuitton bag to find her wallet. But first, she had to remove a variety of items from her purse: a plastic lunch container, a notepad, a bright floral silk scarf that matched her red suit, a box of tissues, a makeup bag, a dog leash?pink jeweled of course, a Cosmo magazine, and a sheaf of pink linen paper in a plastic protector that looked to be her resume. When she finally extracted a thick, dog-eared romance novel with a muscle-bound guy in camo pants on the front cover and plopped it down on top of the pile, Gray wanted to slap his forehead.
He squinted to read the title of the book. Ryker’s Revenge.
I work with those ex-military types, sweetheart, and trust me, Jersey, you don’t want to know them or date them, unless you have a boatload of patience and a horse whip.
That her taste in literature ran to the erotic did not surprise him in the least, but it sure titillated him. She leaned more to dig elbow-deep in the purse, the hem of her short, red-flounced skirt edging up to just beneath her cheeks, and he stopped breathing.
Just an inch more and I’ll know what color underwear you’re wearing—or if you’re wearing any.
He swelled, adjusted himself, then cleared his throat. Gray needed to stop that train of thought right there, before everyone in the coffee shop knew what he was thinking. But damn if his eyes didn’t go back to the ruffled edge of her skirt.
Who wore ruffled skirts anymore?
Gray had to admit the two-era-old suit sure looked good on her, though. Chocolate-dipped sex, wrapped in a red bow is what she reminded him of in that red suit—and damn if Gray didn’t want to unwrap her and take a big bite.
It was an analogy he would never voice in his politically correct universe, but one he could sure pin on her in his thoughts. He was a guy after all, a nearly five-year horny one, and she was beautiful. His thoughts weren’t hurting anyone, or getting him a slap in the face. She was holding him up, and he had nothing else to do right now, other than appreciate the scenery.
She turned to the side and spread the sides of the purse wider to get more light, and he bit back a groan as his eyes slid to her cleavage again.
Gray gave his fantasy free rein, because what the hell?
Due to her coloring, he’d bet her areolas would be dusky pink, her nipples a shade darker, probably dime-sized if he had to guess. Gray’s pants got a little tighter with his musings, and he licked his tingling lips. Hell, he’d almost been able to catch a glimpse of them earlier, because as she walked to the counter, the lapels of her too-tight suit spread and her lacy black bra peeked and hid with each step.
With a sigh, Gray dragged his eyes away and shifted his stance while reciting calculus formulas. He needed to get laid so he wouldn’t be lusting after irritating women in coffee shops. But he didn’t have time to meet a woman—or didn’t make time. Work kept him distracted enough to forget. Mostly. Except for times like now.
His one attempt to move on—through an online date—did not end well, so Gray just decided to go into sexual hibernation until he got past the hang-ups Mona left him as a parting gift. Getting intimate with a woman required a level of trust he just didn’t have in him anymore.
That thought served to cool his jets fast and he diverted his gaze to the cream station across the room and kept it fixed there. Two minutes or so later, the guy behind him growled and Gray glanced back at his red face, then swung his eyes to the woman in front of him, who was still digging in her purse. He finally lost it.
“Lady, could you please finish playing Let’s Make a Deal with that purse? I have to get back to the office,” he asked, trying to leash his anger. There was no doubt in his mind she’d win the show with that bag, but she definitely wasn’t winning any friends here by backing up the line, which was now to the door.
“Can’t you open another line?” the man behind him asked the barista angrily. “Let her stand there all day, but I have to get to work too.”
“I’m sorry, but the other register is broken,” she replied, and the man grunted.
Jersey finally found her wallet, unzipped it and handed the clerk her debit card. Gray’s shoulders relaxed as he watched the barista swipe it through the reader. The clerk waited a second, wiped the card on her shirt then frowned as she swiped it again.
Gray knew what was coming next, so he pulled his wallet out of his back pocket, because he’d pay a hundred dollars to have her move along.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but your card was declined,” she said, and the woman stomped her foot in her stiletto heels.
“But it can’t be! I have exactly five dollars and twenty-five cents left in my account—just enough for my coffee.”
And you’re spending your last five dollars on a yuppie coffee?
“Sometimes when you have less than ten dollars in your account, it won’t accept purchases,” the barista informed with a shrug and a tight-lipped smile.
With a feminine growl, Jersey dove back inside her bag, probably to try to dig up change to pay for her order, and he was done. With a growl of his own, Gray flipped open his wallet, pulled out a twenty and handed it to the barista over the woman’s shoulder. She was still digging in the purse when the clerk handed him his change.
“Um, you’re good to go,” he said, nudging her aside to get to the counter. Her pile of things fell off the counter, scattered on the floor and he groaned as he bent to help her pick them up. Their heads collided, he fell back on his ass and stars danced before his eyes.
Good, God could this day get any worse?
“I’m so sorry,” she said with a gasp, reaching for him, but he scooted away, then scrambled to his feet. He didn’t want this train wreck of a woman anywhere near him.
“It’s fine…just get your things and move,” he grated, reaching up to feel the tender and quickly growing knot at the edge of his hairline.
“Fine, be a dick. You could at least say please,” she grumbled as she gathered up her things, giving him a prime view of the real estate between the lapels of her low cut jacket.
“And you could at least say thank you because I paid for your coffee,” he shot back, unable to believe she’d just called him a dick after he paid for her coffee, which just cemented she was an entitled, loud-mouthed, and socially inept east coast Millennial.
“I didn’t ask you to pay for it, did I?” she countered with a hot glare as she opened her bag wide and stuffed her things back inside. “Meet me here tomorrow at the same time and I’ll buy you a coffee. I definitely wouldn’t want to owe you anything.”
“I have no desire to ever see you again, lady. Especially in line at a coffee shop when I’m in a hurry, so, no thank you. Since you have no social graces, I’ll tell you the only reason I paid for your coffee is so we wouldn’t be here all day!”
She stood, slid the strap of her bag over her shoulder, then glared up at him like she was six-feet-three, even though the top of her head barely reached the center of his chest.
“Well maybe you should slow down, cazzone.” She stabbed him between his pecs with the tip of her index finger. “Life is too short to hurry through it, or to be an asshole to people.”
A dick and an asshole. Gray got a double helping of insults for his generosity.
“You’re not helping things, buddy,” the guy behind him grumbled. “Stop arguing and let the airhead scooch get out of here. Just get your damned coffee—please.”
Gray turned around to address the guy, but before he could say a word, a huge black bag whooshed past his ear. He ducked and the bag slammed into the face of the man behind him with a loud clank. He staggered back, then crumpled to the ground holding his nose.
A woman further back in the line grabbed a fistful of napkins from the counter then knelt down to hand them to him. The barista gasped, the crowd scattered and others tried to help the burly, blue-collar worker back to his feet.
Jersey Girl made tracks to the door, pushed through it and hooked a right. His last sighting of her was a red blur as she ran past the window. Gray snatched a cold, bottled coffee drink from the cooler by the register and slapped his change from the twenty on the counter.
He headed for the door and decided right then he wouldn’t be back to chance seeing that woman again. Tomorrow, he would make coffee in his hotel room, even if it was true that female flight attendants washed their underwear in those machines.
That was as close to a woman as he’d been in five years, so he’d probably enjoy it.
GRAY MATTER, Copyright © 2017, Becky McGraw
New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Becky McGraw writes happily-ever-afters with heat, heart and humor. A Jill of many trades, Becky knows just enough about a variety of subjects to make her contemporary cowboy and romantic suspense novels diverse and entertaining. She resides in Florida with her husband of thirty-plus years, is the mother of three and grandmother of one. Becky is a member of the RWA, Sisters in Crime and Novelists, Inc.
New York Times Bestselling Author of Contemporary Romance