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She's Gotta Be Mine -- Jennifer Skully

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She's Gotta Be Mine
Cottonmouth Book 1
Copyright 2011 Jennifer Skully

4 1/2 Stars, Top Pick! “Skully's novel is a triumph. It's fabulously funny, with top-notch dialogue, terrific pacing and witty compelling characters.”
Romantic Times

“A witty novel that will keep you engrossed until the very end!”
Huntress Reviews

“An absolute delight.”
Road to Romance Reviews

Dumped? For her husband’s high school sweetheart he hasn’t seen in twenty years? Roberta Jones Spivey isn’t going to lay down for that, no way. Instead, she decides to reinvent herself. The new Bobbie Jones—new haircut, new name, new attitude—will follow her soon-to-be ex to the small Northern California town of Cottonmouth. And there she’ll show him—and his sweetheart—what a big mistake he made.

What better way to show him what he’s missing in the brand new Bobbie Jones than taking up with the town’s local bad boy—who’s also reputed to be a serial killer. Nick Angel is devilishly handsome and sexy as all get-out. In a word, perfect.

It’s all going exactly according to plan...until a real murder rocks the little town of Cottonmouth. Of course, Nick didn’t do it...did he?

~Previously published in 2005 as Sex and the Serial Killer~

The Cottonmouth series
She's Gotta Be Mine
Fool’s Gold
Can't Forget You

Read Excerpt

She’s Gotta Be Mine
Copyright 2011 Jennifer Skully
Prologue

A mixture of red dye and sweat trickled down her forehead, hovered on her eyebrows, poised to drizzle into her eyes. Soon to be blinded by runaway hair products, Roberta Jones Spivey could force nothing more than a mousy squeak from her throat. She was about to go deaf, too, from the hairdryer blasting her eardrums, and still, she couldn’t open her mouth wide enough to shriek. Any moment now, her hair would spontaneously combust. They’d smell the smoke first, then the aroma of singed hair, but by the time any of the umpteen stylists scurrying about The Head Hunter’s main salon came to her rescue, she’d be bald. If not charred to a briquette.

Help me before my demise becomes a fifteen-second slot on a tabloid show. Now was not the time for a panic attack.

Drip, drip, drip, from her eyebrows to her eyelashes. In a last ditch effort to save herself, she squeezed her eyes shut. Burning tears leaked out to mingle with the caustic fluids. She clamped onto the chair’s arms, a death grip, terrified that if she touched the stuff, she’d end up rubbing her flesh off, too.

Someone. Please. Notice me.

The bowl of the dryer was suddenly jerked up, cool air from the overhead fans wafting across her scalp.

“Bobbie, honey, why didn’t you tell me the color was running?” Mimi was the only person who’d ever called her Bobbie.

Roberta dragged in a breath of air to explain, then collapsed in a spasm of coughing as the stench of chemicals, dyes, perm solution, and her own terrified sweat swooped down her throat.

Mimi’s shoes clicked-clacked away, then back again. “Here, drink this.”

Water had never tasted so good. All Roberta had wanted was a new look. Okay, so she needed a new life, too. Instead, she’d almost died, and her heart was still pounding like the Pony Express. She handed the empty paper cup back to Mimi, who crumpled it, executed a perfect free throw into the trash can, then tugged at a few squishy locks on Roberta’s head, and pronounced, “You’re cooked.”

Roberta was cooked all right. Roasted, basted, filleted, flambéed. And limp as a wet noodle to boot. Residual quivers made her knees wobble as she tried to stand up.

Mimi put a hand beneath her elbow. “Bobbie, honey, you okay?

“I’m fine.” Well, except that Warren had walked out on her three weeks, six days, and seven hours ago. On April eighteenth. Three days after tax day. Two days after he’d left for his little mission up north. In Cottonmouth, California. He’d dumped her with nothing more than a phone call telling her he wasn’t coming back. Ever.

Roberta blew out a breath. “Yeah, Mimi, I’m just fine.”

“Good, for a minute there under the dryer you looked a little panicky.” Mimi patted her arm and led her to the rinse bowl.

“I didn’t want to bother you while you were busy.” Her, panic? Just because her husband of fifteen years had left her for his long-lost, recently-located-through-the-Internet high school sweetheart? The love of his life. The teenage bimbo who’d broken his heart, then disappeared off the face of the earth—or at least left the San Francisco Bay Area for parts unknown. Cookie. What kind of name was that anyway? It made her think of some hairy blue monster on a morning kids’ show. Warren was bound to see he’d made a mistake.

Okay, so she’d made a mistake, too, by actually helping him search the Net. And mailing the hundreds of letters—because he was nervous about calling all those women looking for the right one. And letting him drive to Cottonmouth all alone that fateful weekend. She’d only wanted to help him solve his problem. Because his problem was her problem.

Mimi pushed her head back into the bowl and began rinsing with warm water. Roberta closed her eyes. The water turned off, the soothing scent of citrus conditioner replaced the stinging dye in her nostrils, and gentle fingers massaged her scalp.

“Bobbie, honey, you’re tense. Is work getting to you?”

“No, it’s fine.” Except for those dreaded whispers of “restatement” trickling out of the audit committee, and her boss Mr. Winkleman’s finger pointing firmly in her direction, as Director of Accounting. But she wasn’t worried; she knew every balance, every detail, inside and out. Her numbers were solid.

She gave herself up to the finger pads working her scalp and the little knots at the base of her skull. Her breathing relaxed, the whir of her mind’s gears slowed. Ahh.

“So, where’s your husband taking you for your birthday?”

Roberta’s eyes flew open, and all that lovely mellowness fled through the soles of her low-heeled pumps.

“He’s picked out this new restaurant he heard about on Nob Hill.” The lie just sort of slipped out. Roberta believed in little white lies to keep everyone comfortable. Except that there wasn’t anything comfortable about turning forty. Or about being dumped. What was next? Menopause. Old age. Death. “It’s very exclusive, very dressy, and very San Francisco, he says.”

She wouldn’t have had a thing to wear because she’d lost ten pounds since Warren left. But if Warren was taking her out for her birthday, then she wouldn’t have lost the ten pounds because he wouldn’t have left, and then she would have had something to wear. Her temples throbbed. Everything was so confusing.

“You’ve really got yourself a prince there.”

Yeah, a prince. She just hadn’t realized that princes needed Prozac. Or that a good psychiatrist cost upwards of two hundred dollars an hour—excuse me, fifty minutes—just to say, “Mrs. Spivey, you must realize that antidepressants will have a negative impact on your husband’s sex drive.”

He had no sex drive. That’s why he’d gone to a doctor to begin with.

Tears suddenly pricked the corners of her eyes. “Yes, Warren’s a wonderful man.”

At least she’d thought so. But he’d gone off the drugs for the Cookie Monster, for God’s sake. And the woman was married. Another dumpee in the making. Maybe Roberta should call Mr. Cookie Monster to commiserate.

Maybe she should sue Warren’s psychiatrist for putting the idea of finding closure with his high school sweetheart into his mind in the first place. Instead, she’d dyed her brown hair red.

“Maybe I need a new haircut, too.”

Easing her to a sitting position, Mimi wrapped a white towel around Roberta’s head and squeezed the water from her hair.

“Something bouncy and short?”

Her head enshrouded in terrycloth, Roberta nodded.

“Thank God, Bobbie. I’ve been telling you your hair is naturally curly, the length and weight just pulls it all out.”

Mimi tugged Roberta to her feet and guided her to a chair. The towel came off. What she’d thought would be red was merely a darker brown. Richer maybe, but still brown.

“Don’t pout. It’ll look red when it dries. Now, how short shall we go?” Mimi fluffed the drying strands.

Roberta pointed to her shoulders.

Mimi grimaced in the mirror. “That’ll drag your face down. As we get older, we need to make sure our faces don’t drag.”

Who was this we? Mimi was a pert, perpetual twenty-nine-year-old with lively black hair, wood-nymph brown eyes, and unlined skin. Without opening her mouth, Roberta skimmed the bottom of her ears with shaky fingers.

Mimi beamed. “Perfect.”

Then she started snipping, clipping, drying, and poofing. Roberta squeezed her eyes shut amidst the cacophony of voices, laughter, running water, and blow dryers.

“You can open them now.”

A scintilla of the hysteria she’d felt under the dryer tingled along Roberta’s nerve endings. Then she looked in the mirror.

“Oh my.”

Behind her, Mimi bounced with expectation. “Whad’ya think?”

Roberta didn’t recognize the face framed in silky red hair just brushing the tips of her ears, hugging her nape, gently curling across her forehead. Her hazel eyes looked greener, lush, like new spring grass. Her lips looked fuller. And the tired lines pulling at her mouth seemed to have vanished.

“It makes you look like you’ve lost weight. I think you need to buy a new outfit to celebrate.”

The woman in the mirror needed a whole new wardrobe. Business suits and tailored blouses just wouldn’t go with that face. That face needed vibrant colors and short skirts. Four-inch spike heels.

The hand in the mirror touched the full lips. Lipstick. Something overstated. “Maybe I need some new makeup, too, Mimi.”

“I’ve got just the thing.” Mimi disappeared from the mirror, click-clacking across the linoleum.

Yes, she needed new makeup.  Because fixing your whole life couldn’t be accomplished simply by changing your hairstyle.

No, that new hair needed new makeup, new clothes, new shoes. And a new name. Like Bobbie. Bobbie Jones. Without the Spivey, which had always made her think of the word spineless. Spineless Spivey. Warren? Or herself?

And Director of Accounting would never do for Bobbie Jones. Bobbie needed something...exciting. A job where she’d meet new people every day. Doing something she’d shine at. Where she couldn’t help but be noticed.

Where there were no Mr. Winklemans pointing their fingers and saying, She did it. Fire her.

God, could she really do it? Could she really quit, try on another career like a new outfit?

What on earth was standing in her way? There was no Warren. And there was money in the bank to tide her over until she found just the right job.

Could she? Would she? She stared at the familiar yet changed woman in the mirror. That woman could do anything she set her mind to. That woman would find a new goal in life.

Roberta sat straighter, squared her shoulders, put a hand to the brand new curls that overflowed the top of her head. Bobbie Jones wouldn’t have to worry about negative impacts on a man’s sex drive. Bobbie Jones would have her pick.

Roberta Jones Spivey could stick with a job she hated and grovel at the feet of the Winklemans of the world. Roberta Jones Spivey could have panic attacks under a hair dryer because she’d decided to change the color of her hair. Bobbie Jones had better things to do. Important things to do. One all-important thing.

Bobbie Jones was going to Cottonmouth to show Warren what he’d thrown away when he drove off into the sunset to find the Cookie Monster.

Oh yeah, and one more really important thing. Bobbie would have sex for the first time in...much too long.

 

Chapter One

 

Bobbie Jones—she’d tossed out Roberta along with her job, her tailored suits, and her frilly blouses—tapped her brilliant crimson lip with the tip of a matching manicured nail. A new woman with a new attitude. And no ugly, painful thoughts.

“I must have that cottage.” No, no, we can’t possibly do this. Bobbie quashed another annoying little Robert-whine. She was getting so much better at doing it, since that day in the salon, a little less than a month ago, when she’d decided every page of her life story needed revising.

Top selling real estate agent and self-proclaimed Cottonmouth maven, Patsy Bell Sapp’s mouth opened so wide, the wrinkles marring her tanned face vanished. Almost. “You don’t want that.”

Bobbie smiled. “Yes. I do.” No, we don’t. Buzz off, Roberta.

The house, little more than a cube tucked into a postage-stamp lot, was the antithesis of the pristine residence on the stately San Francisco street. Warren had chosen the property over having children, a plan she’d, no, Roberta had gone along with because being a parent was too awesome a responsibility.

“But the serial killer lives right across the street.” Patsy hacked out a cough, her penciled-in eyebrows disappearing into the fringe of her bouffant hairdo. With a vigorous shake of her head, multiple shades of gray sparkled in the sunlight.

“Excuse me?” Was the woman serious? Probably not. If she was, why would she even bring Bobbie by the rental?

Still looking at her, Patsy pointed at the shaded, two-story house across the street. “He’s a serial killer,” she mouthed.

The title had a ring to it, even if it was most likely a town joke. Serial killer. Didn’t that fit her mood to a T? Her mood, not Roberta’s. She itched with a mixture of danger, disbelief, and anticipation. Heavy on the disbelief part. But still, he must be a real bad-boy type to fuel such rumors. Back home in Head Hunters salon, she’d sworn to herself she was going to have sex with someone. And sex with an alleged serial killer sounded risky. Edgy. Exciting.

Just the kind of thing a Bobbie Jones, not a Roberta Spivey, would do. It would tweak Warren’s nose right out of joint.

And that’s what this whole excursion to Cottonmouth was about. Right?

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