PARANORMAL ROMANCE

Enjoy the first chapter of all our paranormal romance books from Reatha Beauregard.

WHEN HE KNOCKS

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CHAPTER 1: NO JOBS IN THIS PLACE

KNOCKThe Squiggly Drip was a jazzed-up, rustic little spot on the corner of Lovenia Street and Fourth, two bumpy roads in a mountain town in the middle of nowhere. Tova Greene had considered the café her headquarters for years.  Anytime she needed to get away from the world, she’d toss her clunky, out-of-date laptop into her ratty backpack and trek to the place where the baristas knew her name. Today she needed to get away more than usual.

She was goaded out the door of her studio apartment by a stack of angry late notices haphazardly piled on her writing desk, and she was warned to stay gone for a while by the flashing light of the voicemail machine she never checked. The bill collectors were making their monthly harassment calls again. She groaned glumly when she turned to lock her front door and discovered an eviction notice tacked to the doorframe.

“What the—! Aw, hell!” Tova griped as she tore it off and unceremoniously tossed it.

Instead of going to the coffee shop to malinger, she should’ve been hopping into her beat-up Jeep to head to work. Unfortunately, the supermarket where she had lasted a record three months had fired her the other day. Something about her lack of time management skills and propensity for daydreaming rather than doing her work.

But Tova was a dreamer. She couldn’t help it. She didn’t want to help it. Life was boring enough without stifling people’s dreams.

“Hey, hey, Evan!” she called out as she pushed open the dusty glass door, bringing in a stiff winter breeze and a flurry of snow dust around her boots.  The smooth smell of roasted coffee beans was welcoming.

“Tova, my java-lova from another motha.  Having the usual?” Evan greeted her. He tapped a large cup on the countertop, knowing anything less wouldn’t do for her.

“You know it.” Tova’s artless smile brought a blush to his face that she pretended not to notice, but it felt nice to be catered to. Evan reached a tattooed hand over to turn on the coffee machine, and he leaned across the countertop with a flirtatious smile. Spying the newspaper tucked under her arm, he chuckled wryly.

“Goddamnit, girl. Looking for a job again?” His hair fell over his forehead and he brushed it back. Bright, curious eyes watched her. Evan was cute, but Tova wasn’t looking for cute boys. She was looking for employment.

“Don’t you know it? It’s the luck of the draw, Evan. Luck of the draw.”

“Yeah, well, you better play your cards right this time. You’re running out of prospects. No jobs in this place.”

Her lips quirked to the side. She had been through six mediocre positions at various and sundry companies in town since reaching her maturity. “I’m working on it,” Tova sighed.  “If I had a business, I’d hand out jobs left and right. I wish more people would invest in this place. It’s a special town.”

“Oh, yeah? Count me in if you ever get a big business up and running.”

“Pfft, yeah, right. Like that’s ever gonna happen. Student loans are kicking my ass, fucking online universities, man.”

He groaned sympathetically and reached for her cup when the machine dinged it was done. As he fixed her drink the way she liked it, Evan peeked over at the girl he’d had a crush on since high school. She caught his look and blushed and looked away. He chuckled softly. “Anyway, when are you gonna take me seriously? I want to go out with you.” Tova grinned and frowned at the same time.

“Evan, c’mon! Don’t do this,” she giggled. “We’re friends. We’ll be friends forever.”

“Friend zoned forever. Ouch!” He grimaced. She reached across the counter and slugged him in the chest, and he pretended to be mortally wounded.

“You’re too much of a playboy for me,” she teased, sticking out her tongue. Evan rolled his eyes. He was a flirt, but he’d drop the Casanova behavior for her. Tova just didn’t know how very special she was. Aloof and airy, she was always somewhere daydreaming or lost in a book, and it made a man like him wonder what ticked inside her pretty little head.

“Then, what’s your type?” he murmured, leaning closer. Her green eyes met his. She looked up, as if thinking about it.

“Tall.” She ticked it off on her fingers.

“Uh-huh. I’m—what—six-four? That’s tall-ish, right?”

“Dressed in all black.” She ticked off.

“Got it. Gothic. I can pull that off. Maybe dye my hair.” He tugged at the chestnut waves and turned to the side. “Mohawk or no Mohawk?”

She giggled. “With wings,” she added with a wink.

“Oh! Almost had it,” he growled, laughing heartily. Evan handed her the large quadruple espresso macchiato, no caramel, little foam, and put two fingers to his forehead in salute. “Pleasure to serve you, as always, Mistress of the Dark. Hopefully you find your winged lover, but if you don’t…you know where to find me.”

“Thanks, man.”  She accepted her drink with a grin and ducked away to a quiet table at the back of the empty café. Tova got comfortable, shaking out the newspaper and digging out a notepad and pen. She wanted to make note of any jobs she remotely qualified for because, like Evan said, there weren’t many in this place, and she had already gone through most of the companies in town.

The bell above the café door tinkled quietly as the regular morning patrons trickled in and eased out. Tova listened to the steady plop of coffee percolating, punctuated by the hiss of steam and the dribble of the espresso machine. Emotive rock music sifted through the scratchy speakers, rife with guitar riffs and hollow screams.  Not quite coffeehouse music, but Tova could dig it.

It made her think of her Dark Lord Fantasy Boy. Her half-closed eyes took on a dreamy cast as she looked off and thought about arms crisscrossing her torso as he took her higher on powerful black wings, his cool chest against her back and their bodies fitting together perfectly like puzzle pieces…

The bell above the door dinged again, bringing her back to reality, and she shook her head. Why couldn’t she have the fantasies of a normal girl? Tova chuckled self-deprecatingly. It was so easy to let her thoughts wander, which was an uber-big problem. Over here in the real world, the Dark Lord wasn’t going to keep her lights on. “Focus,” she muttered.

She had two lists in front of her labeled “Jobs I Qualify For” and “Bills I Gotta Pay” in her tight, diagonal handwriting—one too short and one entirely too long. Tova scanned the newspaper again for anything she might have missed, but she hadn’t missed a thing.  There just weren’t many job opportunities in her isolated little neck of the woods. Tova dejectedly put her hands to her temples and pushed her head down, tiredly running her fingers through her thick, black hair. “This is pointless,” she muttered.

She peeked over her shoulder to see what Evan was doing. She needed a break. She was about to call him over to shoot the shit, if he wasn’t too busy, but then she noticed a woman with a disgruntled look on her face staring at her from the counter while she waited for her order. Dressed in a form-fitting red suit, tapping the pointy toe of her high heels, she didn’t quite fit the feel of the place. When the woman noticed Tova noticing her, her eyes unhurriedly found another target.

“Could you hurry up?” the suit said sharply.

Evan was having trouble with one of the machines. They routinely broke. He looked up, flustered, as two more customers entered the shop. “I’m working on it,” he said in a sing-song voice.

Tova tried to ignore the distraction, turning back to her lists, but the woman waiting was getting more irate by the second. “I have an open-heart surgery to perform in fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes! I can’t be late. Now, I’ve already paid you, so do what you have to do to get me my order.”

“Ma’am,” Evan said with a shake of his head, “I am so sorry. I’ve told the manager a thousand times that this thing does this and he just— Look, I don’t want to hold you up. Why don’t I give you a complimentary coffee on the house next time you come?”

Her bitter laugh cut through Tova’s concentration. “I want the coffee I ordered. How about less talking and more fixing? What if I were to say, ‘Gee, sorry, patient. I can’t do your surgery because I’m incompetent, but next time it’s on the house’? You see how stupid you sound?”

“Whoa!” Tova murmured, offended on Evan’s behalf. He didn’t deserve this. She glanced back and saw him getting red in the face. “Uh-oh.” She knew that look. He could go from apologetic to pissed in five seconds flat. Tova grabbed her coffee and hurried over to the counter to provide a much-needed diffuser to the tense stand-off.

“Hi, I’m Tova…” She waved her hand in an arc before the woman’s face to draw her attention.

The woman glared at her. “Can I help you?”

“I couldn’t help but overhear. You said you’re an open-heart surgeon? That sounds fascinating!” A quick sideways glance showed her Evan was closer to having the system back online. She smiled brightly at the woman in the red suit and continued to improvise. “I’m actually job hunting, and…and, um…I was wondering, would you happen to know if there are any positions opening up over at the hospital? In your department, maybe? One girl to another, I could use all the networking I can get.”

She would sooner work in a coal mine than side by side with a woman like this one, but that was beside the point. The woman’s face softened at the feminist “us girls” talk, and Tova thought she had her right where she wanted her.

“Job hunting? Oh, really? That’s lovely. Sounds like you need to get back to it.”

Tova pulled back in surprise at her harshness.  The woman dismissively looked past her. The two customers waiting in line behind her, a guy and his wife, shared a look with Tova. The man muttered, “It’s just coffee, lady, Jeez.” Tova was about to dredge up a witty rejoinder, but Evan rescued her from having to be equally undignified.

“Got it!” he announced. Suddenly, the drizzle of coffee increased to a downpour, and the crisis was averted. The terrible doctor had her cup in hand and slinked out the door at a sedate pace that belied her rush-rush rude behavior.

“You should’ve spit in it,” Tova muttered angrily. Evan chuckled, but out of professionalism he avoided openly agreeing with her. The others who had witnessed the verbal assault had no problem seconding the motion. Smiling, Tova went back to her table to avert a few crises of her own.

It was late afternoon by the time she gave up the hunt and packed up to take it in for the day. “Any luck?” Evan asked. Tova shook her head with disappointment and shouldered her pack. “Hey, before you leave, you’ve gotta let me thank you properly.” Evan skirted the counter and came around to pull her into a hug.

“For what?” she asked.

“For stepping in before I flipped tables,” he said with a rueful grin.

“That’s what friends are for, right?”  Tova smiled and turned away but he halted her again before she could escape.

“So, why won’t you give me a chance…honestly?”

She thought back to a past littered with so much pain it had left indelible scars. Self-consciously, Tova pulled her sleeves down over her wrists.

“Who hurt you?” he murmured intensely.

Tova smiled sadly and shook her head. How could she tell him the truth? That her heart belonged to some sexy spook she’d made up when she was seventeen. Her hair slid across her face to hide her blush. “Let’s just say I’m waiting for my soulmate,” she said with a wink. “Catch you later, Ev.” He chuckled and threw his hands up in surrender.

She breezed out the door and briskly walked to her Jeep. As she fumbled in her pack for her keys, she noticed white paper fluttering against her windshield, tucked beneath her wiper blade. “Ah, no!”

Tova ran closer to examine what she was sure was a parking ticket. She always parked in the fire lane. But, it wasn’t a ticket. It was a folded napkin and on it a message was written in red ink: “If you’re serious about a job, then come to this address for an interview tomorrow morning at nine o’clock sharp. Don’t be late.”

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