Read-a-Chapter: Flood, Flash, and Pheromones, by Shelley K. Wall

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at As the Pages Turn! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring the romantic thriller, Flood, Flash, and Pheromones, by Shelley K. Wall. Enjoy!

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FloodFlashPherom2_850

Title: Flood, Flash, and Pheromones

Genre: Romantic Suspense, Literary Romance, Suspense, Thriller

Author: Shelley K. Wall

Website: http://shelleykwall.com

Publisher: Soul Mate Publishing

Purchase link: http://soulmatepublishing.com

AMAZON

Cassie Nunez has devoted her career as a research scientist to developing an implant which will suppress violent urges in sex offenders. If successful, it will be the first known mechanism to prevent these crimes. When Hurricane Amy threatens the gulf, she stows the precious cargo in her car and plows through three-foot deep water toward safety.

Greg Davidson, a private investigator, is headed to a meeting with an influential client. When rain floods the freeway, Greg is forced to swim to safety on a nearby truck. Cassie is whisked into the water and he subsequently pulls her from near-drowning. Every local news helicopter and van catches his daring rescue on video and they become an instant sensation, a story of survival against the weather.

Cassie and Greg’s worlds collide when the very company Greg is investigating has potentially ominous ties to Cassie’s research. How can he investigate it in full view of the television crews without getting caught? How can she set her life in order when trying to avoid deadly forces after her research AND her annoying attraction to Greg?

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Chapter One

There was no logical reason to be at work in the pounding rain that accompanied Hurricane Amy to the Texas coast. Cassie Nunez defied logic to stay until she safeguarded the research she’d accumulated during the past year.

An evacuation order had been decreed by the mayor. She preferred to weather the storm in her lab, but the police had made it clear that wasn’t going to happen. Just as she turned the door to leave, a noise caught her attention and she hazarded a glance down the hall toward her research partner’s, Dr. Michael Rashad’s, office. Hmmm. The light was still on. She thought he’d left several hours earlier. She slackened her grip on the knob to check on him when the cold steel was yanked from her grasp by a gust of wind.

“He’ll be fine,” she muttered, plunging into the silver sheen of rain toward the dark spot that must be her car. The black fireproof box she tossed in the back seat better be waterproof. Their entire last two years of work was nestled within on flash drives and backup disks. She stored the other copies in the safe at the office, along with all the specimens. Cassie questioned whether the cold packs she’d wrapped the beta skin implants with would be sufficient to keep them cool until the storm passed.

As she sat in her car, waiting for the red taillights in front of her to change color and signify that traffic moved again, regret surged through her shoulders in a shudder. She forgot to turn on the alarm before she rushed out. The grunt she’d heard from Michael’s office had been a surprise—and a sidetrack. Only a research psychiatrist on the brink of something huge would be in that little building while gale-force winds whirred through its cracks and windows. Still, there wasn’t any way to leave behind the work that might end the violence that so many had suffered. She flicked open her cell and punched in a text to the security company. They’d handle it. No way to get back in this mess. With traffic at a crawl and the phone still in her fingers, Cassie dialed her sister’s phone number.

It would be impossible to make it to dinner with Christy and her husband, Lewis, in the pending flood—and she was thankful for the excuse. Lewis had never cared for Cassie so evading another debate over politics was a blessing. When Christy’s voice signaled for her to leave a message, Cassie was further relieved. Good, no need for a long discussion.

“Chris, this is Cassie. I’m stuck in—” She yelped as the water surged around her car and lifted it from the pavement. She should have chosen another route; this was the only section of freeway surrounded by concrete—a virtual funnel for water to rage through. Too late now. Her mustang floated dangerously toward the headlights she’d stared at for the past few minutes. Without control of her vehicle, the two collided like bumper cars at the fair. The crunch jolted the phone from her grasp. Get out of the car! her mind screamed.

Cassie scrambled to find the metal box she’d spent the last few hours filling with data. Her hand flailed in the space behind the seat. Searching. Damn. Another bump as the car turned and rammed the vehicle again. No time.

She lowered the window and immediately was sucked out of the car and into the swell. Visibility was impossible. As she rushed by the minivan she’d hit, she realized it was empty. Her body was pulled uncontrollably past.

“Give me your hand!” A voice shouted from above. The voice of her potential savior.

In the torrential downpour, with swirling water that threatened to pull her down, she didn’t see the voice’s owner. Amy had blessed the entire city with a surprise drenching. All weather reports had predicted it to pass over with sporadic rainfall, but that didn’t happen. The storm settled over Houston as if it had no intention to move on. Cassie flailed in panic as the roof of her car disappeared under the water twenty feet beyond. She prayed once more that the container in it was watertight. And that she’d see her car again. Then she concentrated on living. Where had the voice come from?

“I’m too far,” she answered.

Cassie gulped in water and spit it out as the current pulled her farther and farther from safety. Panic rose to her throat, but she squelched it and paddled her arms to stay afloat.

“Over here. Swim. Come on, I’ll catch you.”

She forced her eyes open and peered through the raindrops that felt like hard candy pelting down. There! She saw him, standing on the hood of a delivery truck. He waited for her—a man holding his hands out, with water lapping around his ankles. The blessed cavalry of one, which at the moment was enough. It meant she wasn’t alone. Being alone in this storm had the potential to mean…don’t think it.

“Come on, SWIM!” he demanded.

As her body hurled toward him in the swirl, Cassie realized the brevity of the situation. This was it. This was the moment that determined whether she lived to see another day or drowned in this filthy brown water. This was the moment she proved she had never been a quitter, never been a weakling. All the problems she’d dealt with at work today seemed trivial. The thought that her project’s funding had been halted and her research might end flitted by. The fact that they were racing against time to complete their work, which could entirely change so many lives, was also unimportant. She should have left early rather than take the time to lock it up. What was the point anyway?

Cassie struck out a hand and shoved water behind her. One more time. And another. Adding her feet to the mix, she felt something below and pushed off it. The momentum helped move her closer toward him and she kicked and swam until his arms loomed within feet of her.

Cassie concentrated on those hands that waited to catch her. Strong hands that, if she could just reach them, would pull her from this muck and offer another day of life. And she vowed that, given the chance, she’d seize it fully.

“It’s okay. I’ll get you. Just swim.” The most reassuring voice ever accompanied those hands, but she had barely cast a glance on the man. She trusted that he kept his promises, not that he had made any. A flapping pounding noise muffled his voice and she didn’t hear the remaining commands. As the swift water pulled her toward the truck, it smashed her against the bumper and started to push her away again. She rolled to her back without control, gasping in more water.

“Shit!” Panic rose again. She missed him. There wasn’t anything else to grab. If she didn’t get on that truck, the water would suck her under as it barreled down the narrow canal that once was a street.

She felt her jacket collar catch and jerk. Those strong hands squeezed under her armpits and pulled her backward. She kicked and kicked until she felt the solid hood of the truck under feet. She scrambled backward, clawing for traction. She made it! She was safe. He had saved her.

“Hold onto me,” she pleaded of the man who had a death grip on her arms. She didn’t mind that his hands had somehow cupped around her waist and settled in a hammock under her breasts. “Don’t let go.”

“I’m not.” The voice softened and whispered against her ear, “I’ve got you. You’re okay.” His strong arms still circled her. He squeezed her ribs with one reassuring hug then turned her to face him. The rain pelted them both and the water lapped angrily at their ankles. The coldness of the water soaked through her clothes. She swiped wet, clumped tendrils aside and peered up at her savior.

“You’re okay,” he repeated. A tanned smiling face with the most gorgeous hazel eyes on the planet looked down.

And she hugged him. Actually, she squeezed the breath out of him as she clamped her arms around his neck. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

The man choked out a laugh and returned the hug. “You’re okay. I’ve got you,” he repeated.

Cassie was elated, and alive. Not drowned.

Not rolling lifeless down a torrent that had risen in the middle of the freeway and hurled cars and people helplessly from safety. She was alive and this gorgeous, wet, hazel-eyed angel had saved her.

Gratitude flooded her like a tidal wave. She pressed kisses to his neck, his ear, his cheek. He laughed and clamped his hands back on her arms to pry loose. She put her mouth on his and kissed him, full-on, hard, filled with relief.

And whoa, if there wasn’t something more. Her eyes popped up and met his. Just for a second, warmth rushed through and thawed the chill, and then she broke away. The word awkward shot through her brain.

“That was quite a thank you.” The man grinned.

The loud thumping noise she’d heard earlier caught Cassie’s attention and she raised her eyes to find the source. A television helicopter from Channel 2 News thumped the air above them. Her entire rescue had been caught on live camera. Great.

“You’re a hero.” She pointed up. “Thank you.” She hugged him again, then felt the full length of him pressed against her and backed up. Awkward again.

“Don’t go too far.” He reached out a hand and held her arm. “There’s not much room and the water’s rising fast.” He motioned to their feet, which had disappeared below the surface.

“We need to get higher.” Cassie realized she stated the obvious, but speaking made it all seem oddly okay. Surreal. She scanned the swirling water that lapped at their temporary safety. Nothing okay about it. Rain pelted her in the face.

He pulled her with him to the cab of the truck.

“You first.” Without hesitation, he grabbed her waist and tossed her on the cab of the truck, then clamored up and sat. She prayed that the contents of the eighteen-wheeler were heavy enough to anchor them. If the it started floating, they’d never hold on. “There’s only one more level to climb on this little mountain, hopefully that’s all we’ll need before help arrives.”

They sat side by side, legs dangling over the windshield. Her shirt clung to skin that felt clammy and cold. His arm against hers was warm and promised heat. She didn’t care if he was a stranger; she sidled up against him to soak it in. Funny how it took a hurricane for her to drop her normal reservations. “I’m freezing.”

“Yeah, it’s an awfully cold rain for this time of year.” He pulled her in, wrapped both arms around, and it felt heavenly. She still shivered. “No help?” he asked.

The flapping of the helicopter blades were muffled by her ears pressed into the warm cocoon of him. “I’m Cassie, by the way, and thanks again.”

“Cassie, the water’s still rising. We need to move one more level.” He pulled arms away, grasped her hand, and lifted her. This time, he slipped one hot and muscled bicep under her back and another under her knees and swept her up as a new groom would his bride. He landed her feet on the roof of the truck’s trailer and she stood, then offered a hand. He grasped it but didn’t need to; it took the guy one leap to position himself next to her.

“Well, this is as far as we can go. Guess we just wait here ‘til it goes down.” He patted the roof next to him. “Care to sit?”

It dawned on Cassie that the helicopter’s blades manufactured the wind causing her shivers. She glanced up, willing them to find news elsewhere. Her legs were icy and brown water dripped down them. Her shoes were gone. Her lab coat was also gone. The man noticed the fire engine red polish on her slimy wet toes. It almost glared. Her skirt was hiked to her thighs and the blouse that had once been tucked into it, clung like a second skin. The jacket was heavy with water and weighed on her shoulders yet somehow added warmth. He took it all in with a swift glance.

She shivered again.

He grabbed her legs, pulled them to his lap, and started rubbing. “I’m Greg.”

She watched in awe as the water trickled lovingly down his arms and dripped to her thighs, vibrations of warmth spread through her calves and feet at his touch. She should pull away. She should remain in control of the situation. But…the guy had good hands.

Rain continued to pelt them yet the panic was gone. She was high away from the swell—not high and dry, nor completely safe, but circumstances had definitely improved in the last few minutes. The prognosis was good and Cassie decided she’d have a new outlook on her research going forward. No more days and nights at the lab. No weekends either. Time to concentrate on some of the other pheromones that science had put such emphasis on. The ones that make a person want to—

“So, Greg, what’s in this truck? Were you moving or delivering something when this came through?”

He shook his head. “No idea. It’s not mine. Look there.” He leaned next to her to get at eye level and raised a finger toward the water. “See the wire sticking up about a hundred feet in front of you? That’s the antenna on my truck. I was headed to a meeting. The water didn’t look that deep from the nice warm seat. It stalled out and I looked for higher ground. This just seemed a little safer so, like you, I swam. I’d only been here a few minutes when I saw you.”

Cassie wondered how many other vehicles were down below and more importantly, what happened to the people in them?

The helicopter hovered in circles above. Two men in it peered at them and motioned. Another person leaned out the back with a camera. In the rain, she was amazed that they could even see the couple sitting atop the truck.

Couple. They weren’t a couple.

“Let’s let them know we’re okay and maybe they’ll go away,” she said.

Greg shrugged and lifted a hand to wave. She copied the action and while they smiled to the camera above, he grabbed her hand and held it tightly above also. A gesture of triumph against the weather. A gesture of unity.

The next thing she knew, a rope had been extended with a hammock-like sling attached. The helicopter crew lowered it. “Put your wife in the sling and we’ll get her first, then you,” a voice called.

He grinned and shrugged. “I guess we’re their story today. You up for another rescue?”

“Surely the water’s going to drain away before it gets to the top of this truck?” She tried not to let her reservations show. Adventure wasn’t really her style. Actually, it had nothing to do with style. Her life revolved around work. She had no time for anything frivolous. That sling didn’t look safe.

“Most likely, but that could be hours from now. How long do you feel like sitting out here in the rain?”

“Good point.” The harness hit the top of the truck next to them and Greg grabbed it before the wind shoved it against their legs. It flapped dangerously and threatened to knock them from their perch, then jerked right out of his hand. The wind swept it high and away then slung it back toward them.

“Christ, it’s going to knock us off! Watch out!” Greg threw both arms around Cassie and swirled her away just before the harness swooped across the roof and twisted past. He looked up and motioned them off. His arm furiously pointed for the copter to leave and he shook his dark, wet locks in frustration.

The pilot got the message and realized that killing the two lovebirds on national television wasn’t such a good idea. “We’ll get you out,” the voice called. “But we’ll have to come back. Too windy. Hang tight.”

Greg gave them the thumbs up and looked at Cassie. “You okay?”

The harness rose back to the copter as it turned and pulled away. “Yes, but if you don’t mind, I think I’ll stay right here for a while. This roof top looks pretty cozy compared to that.” She motioned a finger at the air and sat back down. Greg’s shoes squeaked as he sloshed closer and dropped to the roof next to her, resting an arm across his raised knee. When Cassie wrapped her soggy arms around her legs and drew them tight to still the shaking, he lunged to his feet again.

“I think I saw a blanket in the cab. Hang on a second.” He squished to the edge, eased himself down, and leaned inside. From her vantage point, she could see the full outline of his body as the wet fabric clung to every inch in a snug and loving manner. Greg was fit, that was sure. He pulled a blue, tan, and black plaid flannel cover from the vehicle and returned to her side.

“Here we go. This ought to help a little, at least until it’s soaked through too.” He shook the blanket open and wrapped it tight around her neck and snuggling up under her nose. “Better?”

Cassie nodded. Except I can’t stop thinking about work and I have to get that case out of the car.

***

Michael ignored the bang of the door just as he did when it slammed shut behind Cassie. He knew she’d done a great job of safeguarding the data and the specimens. She had locked up the implants as best as possible, too. The howling wind assured him he had little time to do much more so he’d better rush. For lack of a better solution, his own set of implants was jammed in next to hers. Timing was everything and he’d have to be the first to return after the storm. He crammed the additional flash drives into a Ziploc and slid them into his backpack. Sure, it wasn’t the best way to ensure dryness but if he had asked for more fire-proof boxes, she’d have asked questions.

The slam of the door in the wind jolted him again. Damn it Cassie, you could have at least latched it completely. The wind had gradually increased to a low roar. He glanced at the gold-flecked eyes of Pudge, his yellow lab. The fear in them was punctuated by the shaking fur and rumbling growl. Michael stooped down and gave him a soft pat on the head.

“No worries, Pudge. We’re leaving now.” Michael slid the dog a rawhide chew in reward for his patience.

“Mind if I take that backpack before you go?” a soft voice asked.

Michael wheeled around just as the world went dark.

***

Cassie sat for what felt like eons while water pelted them before she realized Greg was cold, too. He didn’t shiver or flinch, just tucked his head into the collar of his shirt and jacket. She whisked a cloth-covered arm out and scooted against him, wrapping the cloth tightly around those large, life-saving shoulders. The action brought their faces together and the heat of their breath mingled under the blanket. Greg tightened the cloth over them and they quickly became nestled in a teepee all alone, with the steady beat of rain tapping against the roof of their makeshift respite.

“Thanks. I don’t know why I’m cold, it’s July for Christ’s sake. When the rain stops, we’ll be miserable.”

“And we’re not now?” Cassie grinned.

Greg smiled in return. “Good point. I think I’d take the heat rather than this. What about you?”

The warmth of his words tingled across her neck; she could smell him now. He was so close. So wet, and the damp fabric outlined his chest in the most provocative way. They were cuddling as if lovers under this wet blanket in an attempt to stay warm and safe. The situation, the closeness in the blanket, and his warm sexy voice, all contributed to the false sense of intimacy. It’s just the damn pheromones, she reminded herself. The science of it all was likely enhanced by their situation.

“Everything okay, Cassie?”

“Huh, oh yeah—I’d take the heat too right now.” She recognized the sound of the approaching helicopter as the thwup, thwup, thwup of the blades roared above the patter of rain.

“Sounds like the news crew has returned.” Greg peered out the small opening in the blanket, then ducked his head back in. “I don’t know about you, but the last thing I need right now is to have my face plastered all over the news as a rescue victim. It’s kind of humiliating, don’t you think?”

“If they’re going to get us out of this mess, I don’t really care. I’ll worry about humiliation some other time.”

Ignoring the comment, he pulled the blanket tighter above them. “This isn’t so bad right now, is it? It’s pretty cozy in our modified tent. Here, come in just a bit.” Greg slid one of his long legs to her other side and pinned her between them.

Cassie swallowed hard. His legs wrapped around her, touching her hips and sides. That wasn’t enough though—he then wrapped his arms around and pulled her in tighter. It oozed with intimacy and possessiveness. He’s just trying to keep warm. It doesn’t mean anything.

Cassie turned her head up toward the small hole where Greg held the fabric together over their heads. She searched the sky for the helicopter but saw nothing. Still, the sound assured it was circling. When she lowered her face, he was there. Right in front, her nose pressed into his cheek and the roughness of whiskers rubbed even more heat into the situation. He smells good. It popped into her mind suddenly. She closed her eyes and breathed in the scent. Great. Now I’m part of my own damn science experiment.

Greg rubbed a cheek against hers, accidentally of course, and Cassie thought she heard a hitch in his breathing. He stilled instantly, and they sat for seconds not moving, their mouths a hair’s breadth from each other.

It angered her that she wanted to kiss him. This stranger in the blanket that just drew her out of the water. She’d already kissed him in gratitude and that was all it had been. This was different.

She really, seriously, hungrily wanted to taste him right here in the middle of a flood under a flannel blanket with a helicopter hovering above them. It was stupid. Crazy. So incredibly hot. And so not like her. She pinched her nose.

“Yeah, crazy.” He laughed softly against her lips and met her eyes.

“I said that out loud, didn’t I?” Cassie asked, trying not to focus on him.

“Mmm, mmm,” he acknowledged. She tightened the grip on her nose, her knuckles paled to white. “Don’t worry, we’re safe. No one can see us. Do I really smell that bad?”

She drew back, even if only by an inch. Uh-oh. She hadn’t intended to infer that. Put your hand down girl. “Safe? Really?” It was hopeless; she couldn’t seem to concentrate anywhere else under the circumstances. After all, there wasn’t anything else to look at, just his damn sexy face. “Are you hiding from someone or something?”

The startled expression in his dark features confirmed her words. She’d hit on something. He sought his words carefully.

“No. Why would you think that?” Greg asked.

Maybe because whenever the copter flies over, you close the blanket to hide us. She looked up at the soggy cloth draped across their heads, then returned his gaze.

He laughed. “Okay, I’m a little paranoid. I just don’t like to be a spectacle. Tell me, how’d you end up out here anyway? What is so important that you’d brave a storm like this?”

“My work. I’m a psychiatrist. A research doctor, not the kind that sees patients. I’m working on a project that has lasted a little over two years and the data was at risk if we didn’t get it safeguarded. As well as a new implant that we’re testing.”

He frowned and she could tell that was the last thing he expected. “So you dispense mood drugs.”

“No. I make them.” The brows furrowed more. Obviously that didn’t go over well. “I work for a research firm. We do some pretty innovative stuff related to addressing psychiatric issues associated with violent criminal behavior. It’s not really drugs but more of an implant. Drugs can be abused or—not taken.”

“Hmmm. Sounds interesting.” If a man’s eyes could cloud over, his just had.

“It is. Really. We’re researching pheromones.”

“The smell of sex.”

“I hate it when people say that. There are a lot of different types of pheromones, you know. They don’t all have to do with sex.”

“So, then you’re not researching the sex ones?”

“Technically, I am. But not so that it attracts the opposite sex. Or any sex, for that matter.”

He grinned. “Any? Isn’t any better than none?”

She noted the water dripping from the fringe of hair around his temples. He had to go there. Typical man. “Come on, you know I wasn’t talking about quantity. I was talking about partners.”

“Plural? This is getting good. Definitely interesting.”

“No. Not plural. Not singular. Not anything. Stop twisting my words around.”

The grin erased from his face. “Sorry. I’ll be serious. So, you had to get your research locked away before the storm hit. That’s why you nearly killed yourself.”

“Yes! I mean—I didn’t nearly kill myself. I just. Well—”

He quirked a brow and waited. Drops of rain managed to seep through and drip on her nose. The wind immediately swirled and she got another whiff of him. She staved off the desire to pinch her nose again. Instead she shifted her gaze into the dark blanket and changed the subject. “Enough about my boring job. What brought you out into this mess?”

“I had a meeting with a client.” Greg held up a hand. “I know. Who, in their right mind, does a client meeting on a day like this? That’s what you were asking next, right?”

She slammed her lips tight and lifted the blanket to peek out.

“I represent an investment firm that wanted me to do some background meetings for them. They’re considering investing in a fund that’s based here in Houston.”

Whatever that means. “Well, shit,” she exhaled. Her lab coat floated past in the water. It reminded her that she’d left the window down and there was still precious cargo in that car. She had to get that box.

“Sorry if it’s a disappointment. What did you expect? A truck driver?”

“Huh? Oh, no. I didn’t mean you. My coat.” She pointed to the murky cloth that rolled in the water, caught on a piece of—tire?

“It’s yours?” He tossed the blanket back and lunged toward the white-ish cloth. “I’ll get it.”

The roof of the truck had slickened from the rain and his body slid over it. Cassie grappled for his feet to keep him from completely swooshing off.

“Got it.” An arm flew up from the other side of the very fine and wet backside. The lab coat was a white flag in the rain.

Cassie tugged hard on his legs and Greg scrambled toward her. He quickly returned to their cocoon and dropped the wet rag in her lap.

He pointed at the cloth. “Must be your married name.” The black lettering on the lab coat spelled C.M. Rashad, M.D. Maybe that was an attempt to fish information but doubtful.

“Oops. I grabbed the wrong coat on the way out. That’s my research partner’s.”

“Well, he’ll be glad you saved it.” He grinned. The thumping of helicopter blades rolled toward them. “Our news crew returns.”

 

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