Blood and Fire

Book Eight in The McCloud Series

Now that the McClouds have finally found their long lost brother Kev, they have to contend with Kev’s prickly, intense adopted brother Bruno…

Her secrets tantalize him…

Bruno Ranieri has a lot in common with his adopted brother Kev McCloud’s newly discovered biological family, right down to the dangerous secrets in his past—the ones that are about to explode in his face.

Bruno’s working around the clock to keep his own toy business going, while also saving the family diner. Then the stunning fugitive Lily Parr shows up in the middle of the night, on the run from mysterious killers. Bruno is helplessly drawn to her…but Lily insists that Bruno’s long dead mother is somehow mixed up her troubles, which is flat-out impossible. The woman has to be hallucinating…but the violence that overtakes them is undeniably real.

Running scared…

Lily doesn’t know where to turn. All she knows is that whoever murdered her dad is now after her—and her dad’s last words pointed her toward Bruno Ranieri’s family for answers. When thugs attack outside of Bruno’s family diner, he fights like a demon to defend her. No matter his doubts, he can’t leave her unprotected, and soon they are both drawn into a desperate struggle against violence and greed, and a desire they cannot deny, or control…

Note: This is a slightly revised and reissued edition.

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I have important things to do. You are not one of them.

The non-verbal message vibing off the hard-ass brunette’s haughtily turned back was impossible for Bruno to misinterpret. But perverse, self-flagellating idiot that he was, it went straight to his dick.

She’d walked into Tony’s Diner at 3:45 AM, and he’d swear to God, he’d felt her coming before she even turned the corner and moved into the light under the awning outside. He was primed for her, after the last two nights of torture and titillation.

Fate had been kind. After hours of anticipation, finally the follicles on his skin tightened, lifting hairs on end in a breezy, ticklish rush of animal awareness. The bells over the doors jingled. Ta-da.

His hair follicles weren’t all that lifted and tightened. Good thing he wore an apron over his jeans. When the chick with the black pageboy sashayed into Tony’s Diner, no matter how blitzed from lack of sleep he was, his glands promptly pumped a substance into his body that made him want to break into an old time movie dance number. An incredible rush. A tingling sense of infinite possibility, combined with a mega-boner. A huge, awestruck “wow” from the depths of his being.

She’d chosen a table today, rather than the counter. Each seating option offered different viewpoints, with varying advantages and disadvantages. He hadn’t yet settled on his favorite. The back view was nice for legs, ass, the graceful nipped-in curve of her back, the nape of her slender, soft looking neck, and he could do a lot of easy, blatant ogling in while hustling around behind her back. When she took a table he got more frontal scoping action, but had to resort to old tricks from adolescence, developed before he’d discovered the ease and simplicity of mirrored sunglasses. Take it in, in one sweeping glance, and then pore over the gathered data in the privacy of his own dirty mind. He could never gulp enough of this girl in a single glance, though. He wanted to sit down across from her. Fix her with an unblinking, predatory stare.

Not that she’d notice, of course. She probably wouldn’t even look up. Her powers of concentration were world-class.

He kept trying to pin down what it was about her that got to him. It was a thorny problem, requiring detailed, up-close research and analysis, he decided, preferably conducted in bed. Maybe the sharp, up-tilted angles of cheekbone and eyebrows, maybe the big, mysterious green-gold eyes, set at an exotic slant, accentuated with bold eyeliner, heavy with mascara. She wore cat-eye glasses with fake gems in the corners that should’ve made her look grotesque, but they didn’t. They looked quirky, sassy, playful. They threw her beauty into sharp relief. She could wear anything and look great. Anything or nothing. Mmm.

And that mouth. She’d painted it a bright scarlet that was supposed to make her look super tuff, but it didn’t work. The fullness of the upper lip made her look vulnerable, almost childlike. And the severe jet black hair, all wrong for her luminous skin.
The look was Salvation Army sexpot. Shabby black stretch lace shirt, showcasing an enticing nipple hard-on. Frayed denim miniskirt, a little too tight for a luscious ass. Tiny bulge of snowy pale muffin top coming out the low-slung waistband where her shirt rode up, that made him want to grab and squeeze. Scuffed red fuck-me peep-toes with outrageous heels. Shapely legs in black stockings with so many rips and runs, it had to be on purpose. He was usually good at decoding what girls said with their clothes, but he couldn’t read this chick. She dressed like she wanted attention, and yet she stared into that netbook like her life depended on it, black-tipped finger-tapping in a ceaseless, buzz. Eyes frozen wide. Glasses reflecting the screen’s blue glow.

Denying Bruno’s very existence upon this earth by the massive force of her indifference, even while ordering food from him. Bad tipper, too. But the nipple hard-on made up for that sin, abundantly.

There was that other quality, too, that he barely knew how to articulate. An intangible glow you could only see if you weren’t looking at it. He’d grown sensitive to it hanging out with Kev. Who, mellow as he was, always carried a disquieting aura of danger about him. A sense of things about to happen. Good things, bad things. Big things.

But whatever big things were about to happen to the brunette, a romantic encounter with Bruno Ranieri was unlikely to be one of them. She’d been there every night for three nights, and she’d ignored him completely. Maybe he was an arrogant putz, but he was accustomed to getting attention from women. This girl could give a flying fuck.

Amazing, that his glands were stirring at all, after covering the night shift for a month. Zia Rosa was AWOL, supervising the new McCloud kid’s first month of life. Bruno couldn’t remember which brother’s kid it was. He couldn’t keep any of Kev’s long lost McCloud brothers or their spawn straight, not for the life of him. Dirt blond hair, bright green eyes, everywhere you looked. And they bred like rats, so the problem was just going to get worse with time.

He’d tried to hire more staff, but one guy that he’d hired a couple weeks ago just got a call from an ex-girlfriend in Costa Rica and off he went, to follow his heart. Then Elsa ripped a tendon in her knee skateboarding. So here he was, swathed in an apron, eyes burning from lack of sleep. Flipping burgers, dipping fries, bussing table and baking pies. Just like old times. His current schedule involved a full day running his own outfit downtown, then an uneasy catnap, and working graveyard at the diner until dawn.

But hey, presto. Tonight’s outfit zinged him into perfect wakefulness. Those holes in her tights just made his palms sweat.

Maybe she played for the other team. He didn’t think so, though. He had lesbian friends, he knew the vibe. She didn’t have it.

One thing she did have was a sweet tooth. She’d been working steadily through the dessert menu, limited though it was with Zia gone. Bruno was a fine short order cook, and a good pastry chef when he put his mind to it, but Zia was the true pastry goddess, and she was off in Seattle, making beef broth for whichever McCloud wife had just reproduced. To promote lactation, like nonna in Brancaleone used to do.

Sure enough, the thought of lactation made his eyes fall to the pert, here-I-am! jut of the brunette’s nipples, at the exact, fateful moment that her gaze darted up without warning. Yikes. Busted.

Oh, man. Eye contact. It was too much. Her gaze cut straight into his brain, like a hot knife through butter. He practically yelped.

Eye-contact revealed fresh, fabulous details. Her eyes were hazel green, a hodge-podge yellow and brown and green. She smiled, a hard, knock you back on your ass smile. Not a come-on. A back-off smile.

She whipped the glasses off, laid them on the table. “Yes?”

He wanted to glance around himself, for the man trap with the spikes. “Um, ah . . .what can I get for you?” What, was he stammering?

Her chin rose. “What have you got?”

Highly inappropriate answers whirled through his mind, like a swarm of crazed bees. He bit down hard, forced himself to act professional. “The menu’s reduced right now, since Zia Rosa’s gone. Tonight, we’re down to rice pudding, banana cream pie, coconut cream pie, cheesecake, and brownie sundaes. But all of them are great.”

Her stare was unblinking. A gunslinger in a high-noon duel. “And this Zia Rosa has been gone for how long now?”

The question taxed his brain severely, since all his blood had pooled elsewhere. “Ah. Um, I don’t know. Five weeks?”

“That’s how old the desserts are? Or did she fill the freezer?”

He recoiled, in outrage. “Hell, no! The desserts are made fresh, all the time!”

Those big eyes got even bigger. “Ooh, cut you to the quick, did I?” she murmured. “Made fresh by who?”

His chest puffed out. “By me.”

Her eyes narrowed to glittering slits. “No way.”

He bristled. “Way! Why would I lie?”

She propped her chin on her hand, and gazed up. “To impress me?” she suggested. “To distinguish yourself from the anonymous, sweating, teeming masses?”

Bruno considered that. “I didn’t know I was competing with any anonymous teeming masses, sweaty or otherwise,” he said. “And I’ve never had to work that hard to hard to impress girls.”

“Hmm.” The eyelashes swept down as she pondered her next jab. “So you prefer to hang out with girls who are easy to please?”

Her attitude was starting to piss him off. “And why would it be a bad thing to be easily pleased?”

The eyes opened, wide and innocent. “Did I say it was bad?”

He closed his mouth. “Never mind,” he said. “I’m lost in the maze of this conversation, and I can’t find my way out, so I’m bailing. But if I actually were going to try to impress a girl, the first clever ploy that would come to my mind would not be lies about pastry making.”

“I see,” she said. “Well, that really begs the question. What clever ploy would be the first one to come to your mind? I’d love to hear it.”

He thought about it, shook his head. “I don’t step into holes in the ground that big,” he said. “Certainly not at four in the morning, after a long shift. I’ll pass.”

“Suit yourself.” Her X-Ray gaze bored into his head, so intently he practically started to blush. “I just can’t see a guy like you making grandma food like rice pudding or banana cream pie. Brownie sundaes, maybe, but . . . no. Not unless you’re gay, of course. Are you gay?”

He let out a slow breath, biting the insides of his cheeks to keep from smiling. “I’m an excellent pastry chef. My pie crust is better than my Zia Rosa’s. Come on back to the kitchen. I’ll make a chocolate cream pie before your very eyes. I’ll feed a piece of it to you by hand. And by the time I’m done, you’re not going to be asking me if I’m gay anymore.”

She cleared her throat, gaze darting down. “Is that so.”

It is,” he said. “On your feet. Come on back to the kitchen. I mean it. I’m dead serious. It’s pie time. And I am so ready for you.”

End of Excerpt

Oliver Heber Books | Dec 6, 2022