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Just Breathe
by Dee Davis
Ballantine, 2001


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CHAPTER 1

Sudbahnhof, Vienna - Present Day

“So tell me, dear, have you ever actually had a multiple orgasm?”

Chloe Nichols’ eyes widened as she pulled her Sony walkman’s earphones from her head. “I beg your pardon?”

“I asked if you’ve ever had a multiple orgasm?” Charlotte Northrup tilted her head to one side, one perfectly penciled eyebrow raised in question.

Chloe’s face heated to lobster red. Great, she resembled a crustacean. Not exactly glamour girl material. The train rumbled along, its clickity-clacking rhythm seeming to underscore the question. She struggled to find words, trying not to stare at her seatmate. Charlotte pursed her lips, obviously waiting for an answer. She looked so earnest -- so interested.

“I mean these books,” the blue-haired dowager tapped her well-manicured finger against the cover of her romance novel knowingly, “make it sound so wonderful.” The last was more of an exhale than a word. “My ex-husband barely gave me enough time for one orgasm, let alone a whole slew of them.” She leaned forward, eyeing Chloe as though she were the shaman of sex. “So have you? Had one, I mean.”

If possible, Chloe’s face burned even hotter. She hadn’t had a single orgasm in, well, ever. And frankly, romance novels depressed her. All those happy endings. Chloe sighed, wishing their other companions would return. She needed reinforcements.

On the other hand, maybe that wasn’t such a great idea. Wilhelmina Delacroix and Irma Peabody were cut from the same cloth as Charlotte Northrup. Willie and Charlotte had been friends forever. Lord, they probably talked about these sorts of things all the time. And Irma? Well, her Midwestern practicality would certainly shed new light on the subject. The thought of the three of them, together, discussing multiple orgasms was simply beyond comprehension.

For better or worse, the compartment door stayed stubbornly closed, and Charlotte raised an eyebrow again, obviously waiting for some snippet of coital wisdom. Chloe struggled to think of something to say. Charlotte looked so hopeful. There was nothing to do but lie. It was the only way. She opened her mouth to answer, just as the train lurched to a stop.

Static crackled over the loud speaker, a message blaring in three languages, all equally unintelligible. Thank goodness, a reprieve. “I think we’ve arrived.” Chloe glanced out the window at the train platform. It was an underground station, and the dim lighting made it hard to see anything clearly.

“We’d best hurry.” Charlotte closed her book with a snap and stuffed it into her bag. “You know what Thomas said about getting off the train quickly.”

Chloe nodded and gathered her luggage, tucking the walkman under her arm. Thomas Hardy -- obviously a man with a literary mother -- was their tour director. She smiled thinking of his dour face and neatly trimmed beard.

He reminded her of someone’s butler, or what she imagined a butler to be like. She’d never had any first-hand experience with that sort of thing, but definitely if there was a butler type, Thomas fit the mold. And right now, the memory of his clipped accent was ringing in her ears, warning them that European trains didn’t stop for long. ‘Look sharp, ladies, and move quickly.’

Chloe followed Charlotte, stopping at the compartment door to adjust the strap of her bag, balancing it against the weight of her overstuffed backpack, and wondered what in the world had made her decide to carry all this stuff when there was a perfectly good porter assigned just to them.

Chloe sighed. She’d blame it on all those years as a Girl Scout. Be prepared. Or was that the Boy Scouts? Well, either way, a girl never knew what she might get into. Chloe winced. She was certainly walking proof of that statement.

She stepped into the crowded aisle of the train, squeezing between other departing passengers. Charlotte had already disappeared from sight and the rest of the group was nowhere to be seen either. They’d probably already disembarked. She’d best get a move on. Thomas was a stickler for punctuality. And given the circumstances, she didn’t want to do anything else to annoy him.

The woman directly in front of her was obviously a devotee to the Chloe Nichols’ plan for lugging luggage. She was loaded down with three suitcases, and trying to juggle them as she struggled along seemed to be more than she could handle.

With a muffled and rather unladylike curse, the woman fumbled her burden, two of her suitcases tumbling to the floor. Chloe skidded to a stop and something hard and solid slammed into her back. She looked over her shoulder directly into a pair of amused gray-green eyes set into a wonderfully masculine face. Chiseled was the word that came to mind. Chiseled and gorgeous. Her heart actually did a half-gainer into the general region of her stomach.

His hand steadied her elbow as the overloaded woman scrambled to retrieve her fallen luggage, the one piece still remaining in her possession swinging precariously as she struggled to maintain her balance. “I don’t think she understands the meaning of ‘pack light’.”

His whispered words sent tremors of heat chasing through her, adding to the electricity of his touch. At this rate, she would be answering Charlotte’s provocative question affirmatively without ever removing her clothing -- or even knowing the man’s name. She smiled at the ridiculous turn of her thoughts.

Another passenger stepped out of his compartment, pushing between them before she could respond. A surge of disappointment rocked through her, surprising her with its intensity. Luggage lady finally moved forward, and Chloe followed, pushing all thoughts of the handsome stranger firmly out of her mind.

The steps down from the train were daunting, and she paused, trying to figure out the best way to approach them. The last thing she needed was to wind up sprawled on her butt in a pile of her unmentionables, especially with Mr. Make-Her-Heart-Sizzle somewhere back there.

A ferret-faced little man, cursing all women and their suitcases, shoved past her, pushing her off balance as he descended the steps. She teetered, then fumbled for footing, hanging onto her luggage like a lifeline. Not that it was doing a bit of good.

She felt her stomach drop three stories, and then she careened downward, something stinging her arm as she collided with the pushy man. He broke her fall, but did nothing to preserve her dignity. She ended up straddling him, blood staining the sleeve of her blouse, her skirt hiked up to her thighs, her self-respect taking the next train out of the station.

Amazingly, the platform had cleared and there were only a few people milling about. She grabbed an errant lipstick and comb, stuffing them into her purse, then fumbled for a CD that had managed to escape its case, sighing when she saw the condition of her walkman. It was doubtful it would ever play again. Except for the throbbing in her arm, she seemed to be unhurt, and she was thankful no one was staring. At least there were no witnesses to her latest debacle. It seemed even Mr. Wonderful had disappeared. She breathed a sigh of relief.

As if on cue, he materialized, kneeling beside her, his face a scant two inches from hers. She could smell his aftershave. Feel his heat. Charlotte’s words slid down her spine again. Multiple orgasms.

“Move.”

Her addle-brained daydreaming vanished in an instant. She slithered off the ferret-faced man, noticing for the first time how still he was. “Are you all right?” The little guy didn’t move. In fact, he hadn’t moved since she fell. Concern spiked through her, and she reached out to touch him.

“Come with me. Now.” Mr. Wonderful, who was rapidly turning into Mr. Bossy, yanked her to her feet.

She turned to face him, meeting his steady, green-eyed gaze. “He needs help. We have to do something.” Her voice wavered, uncertainty battling with common decency.

Mr. Bossy started to move, pulling her with him, his eyes sweeping across the platform, looking for something. “I’m afraid there’s nothing you can do for him now.”

“Of course there is. It’s my fault that he fell. The least I can do is call for some help.”

He urged her forward as he increased the pace. She struggled to hold onto her luggage, grateful when he took it from her. “Right now, the most important thing we can do is get you out of here.”

“But the man -- ” She looked back over her shoulder.

“Is dead.”

Excerpted from Just Breathe by Dee Davis. Copyright © 2001 by Dee Davis. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.











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