He had better not be looking up my dress.
Charmaine Evans eyed the man who held her feet in his hands while she stood on his shoulders. Benson Harris turned his head in the opposite direction. She rolled her eyes. Good thing her nude colored bra and undies matched. “When I give the word, give me a push.”
She did not get an answer. He was looking up her dress.
Charmaine dug her feet into Benson’s broad shoulders. His muscles strained and he wobbled a bit struggling to maintain his grip but Charmaine didn’t care. “If you want your eyes, you’d better focus them somewhere else. Or you may feel the effects of a well-placed foot in your face.”
Benson shifted his gaze and cleared his throat. “Sorry. I’m ready when you are.”
Charmaine forgave him. Her long legs were well toned from hours in the gym. She would be offended if he did not look. “Okay, on my count, get me over this fence. One … two …”
Benson gave her a hard shove, and Charmaine went airborne over the fence.
“Ahhhh!” Charmaine crash-landed through some azalea bushes onto spikey mulch. Like a cat, she sprang to her feet. “Benson, I didn’t say three! And now I’m all banged up! Throw me my shoes.”
Benson tossed her the flat-heeled shoes. He crawled over the fence and dropped next to her. “Sorry.” At six foot-three, Benson had been an officer in the navy before he retired at thirty-eight. He still maintained his strict workout regimen running four miles a day and he ran marathons for sport.
“Look at my knees.” Jagged lines and red welts marred her skin. The Inquisitor did not pay her enough for this mess. Okay, they did pay her enough—when she delivered a picture worthy enough to grace the front page.
Charmaine dusted mulch and dirt off her yellow Ann Taylor dress and jammed her feet into the gold flats. If she had known this morning, she would be jumping a fence she would have worn her jeans and a shirt. But when a tip came in, you jump on it. No time to run home and change.
Benson handed Charmaine her prized Nikon SLR 70 mm camera. Charmaine had paid serious money for it. “Let’s go,” she whispered.
They made their way across the lawn. Skulking in the shrubs, Charmaine held back her whoop of jubilation. They had done it. They had infiltrated NFL quarterback Jasper Orion’s stunning 11,000-square-foot brick home in Alpharetta, Georgia.
Her conscience pricked. This was trespassing. She was invading someone’s privacy. Just as quickly, Charmaine shoved away the thought. She was going to get that picture. Word was the NFL’s most outspoken Christian was shacked up with Amanda Moon, the model and girlfriend of Jasper’s best friend, Matthew Lands.
Social media buzzed. Everybody chatted it up and wanted to know how much of a hypocrite Jasper was. Charmaine’s picture would give them the answer—and add twenty-five thousand dollars to her piggy bank. Cha-Ching!
“They’re on the move!” Benson whispered. He pointed inside the house.
Charmaine scurried to the window, glad she had had bribed the gardener to secure Jasper’s Dobermans for the night. She released short rapid breaths as she and Benson scuttled around the back of the house.
“I can’t get a shot,” she moaned. Even though she was five-eleven, the privacy screens were a foot above her head.
Charmaine was not going to give up that easily. She moved to stand in front of Benson. “Put me on your shoulders again.”
Benson cupped his hands. Charmaine stepped into them and climbed up until she straddled his shoulders. Her dress was a hindrance. In a swift move, Charmaine yanked her Anne Taylor dress over her head. Whatever had possessed her to wear bright yellow was beyond her. Even though it was September, it was in the eighties. Thank God for beautiful Atlanta weather. She tossed her dress to the ground.
With expert precision, she peered into the lens. Charmaine scanned the living area taking in the crystals hanging from the chandelier. She noted the deep purple drapes, firelights and the orchids lining the wedding arch. Her mouth drooled at the two-tiered white wedding cake resplendent with silver beads and flowers taking center position on a large cherry wooden table. Charmaine snapped several pictures and wiggled with excitement.
“Keep still,” Benson said, gripping her legs.
Charmaine giggled. “We’re going to get paid.” Her eyes took in the blond head belonging to Jasper Orion. She wished she could have captured those stunning blue eyes of his up close.
Charmaine shrugged. The world knew his backside. They would know it was Jasper. She adjusted her lens and waited for him to turn around.
Amanda entered the room dressed in a chiffon white gown. The styling was deceptively simple, but Charmaine knew it had set the model back several thousand dollars. Her glorious dark hair, which had been featured in hair commercials, was pinned with cascading curls.
The couple hugged. Yes! Charmaine could see their faces. Here was her money shot.
Focus. Aim. Click.
Flash? Oh, goodness. When had she turned on the flash? Jasper and Amanda turned toward the window.
“We’ve been made!” Charmaine cried. “Let me down!”
Charmaine swung her legs behind Benson’s shoulders and slid down his back. She handed him her camera. “Run!”
Benson grabbed it and sprinted across the lawn.
“They’re on the move!” a voice yelled.
Charmaine took off for the fence and saw Benson disappearing over the top. Instead of turning to assist her, the oaf left her behind. She turned her head and saw Jasper hot on her trail.
“Stop!” Jasper yelled.
Like a good reporter, Charmaine had studied the layout of Jasper’s immense property. She knew there was a patio on the side of his house overlooking the ravine. Think, Charmaine, think! Where was the patio? She closed her eyes to pull up a mental picture. Yes. She could see it. It was on her left. She executed a sharp turn and bolted in that direction.
As Charmaine ran across the lawn toward the trees, her brain registered a strange sound. Her eyes widened. Howls. She heard the distinct sound of howling. The dogs. Someone let the dogs out. She dodged around the trees, willing herself not to panic.
“She’s over there!”
With every ounce of athleticism she possessed, Charmaine made her way to the patio. She edged closer to the two-foot brick fence. Charmaine bent over to look into the darkness of the valley below and gulped. The distance to the ground had to be at least two hundred feet. Charmaine trembled. I hate heights!
“I think I see her!”
Charmaine hyperventilated. You have to do this, she told herself, battling the sudden urge to pee. When she heard heavy panting and several howling dogs behind her, Charmaine knew she had no choice. She gripped the brick fence, twisted her body and flipped over. Holding on tight, Charmaine dangled over the cliff. Her hands were cutting into the scaly brick chips. Charmaine considered her next move. There were shrubs and very tall trees a few feet behind her. If she jumped at an angle, she might land in one the trees and she could hide out until morning. As the voices drew closer, Charmaine knew what she had to do.
Taking a deep breath, she hurled her body toward the trees.
Taking a deep breath, she hurled her body toward the trees.
“She jumped!” Matt Lands yelled pointing to the patio. He raked his hands into his red curly hair, his eyes wide with disbelief. His once crisp white dress shirt hung over his pants, and he had popped several buttons.
Jasper Orion squinted and shoved past his burly friend. “She wouldn’t.” What would possess someone to jump over a ravine?
Jasper’s two Doberman Pinschers, Compass and Atlas, barked, baring their teeth. Jasper bent over to rub the dogs’ ears. “It’s all right, boys. You did well.”
He peered over the cliff.
Jasper cupped his mouth. “Are you down there?”
The men heard a distinct feminine shriek. “She’s in one of the trees,” Jasper said.
“Help me!” she screamed.
“She fell!” Matt’s eyes were wide with horror.
Amanda Moon raced to their sides. She had taken off her heels, and her feet were wet and muddied from the dirt and dew. Amanda held a flashlight, which she aimed toward the voice. Amanda’s green eyes widened and the men stared. Jasper saw a woman garbed in nude undies, tangled in a tree branch.
“Who are you?” Jasper asked. His eyes scanned her chocolate skin.
Matt gave a slight whistle before Amanda poked him in the chest.
“My name is Charmaine Evans,” she said. “I’m with The Inquisitor.”
Matt groaned. “A reporter. I should have known.” He shook his head.
“She’s not a real reporter,” Amanda said. “That’s a trash mag.”
“Paparazzi,” Jasper snarled. He looked at Matt and Amanda. “Sorry about this, guys. I didn’t mean to ruin your wed—”
Amanda placed a finger against her lips.
Jasper understood. The interloper was no doubt listening.
“Amanda, go call the cops.” Jasper crooked his head at Matt. “Let’s get this invader and bring her inside.”
Jasper made his way to the small fence. He saw the young woman huddled in the branches with her arms wrapped about her. He stretched a hand toward Charmaine. Matt held onto Jasper’s other hand to keep him stable. “Make your way to the edge of the branch and give me your hand.”
“I’m afraid,” she chattered. “I’m afraid of heights.”
Jasper scowled. “Then why on earth did you jump?” He did not bother to wait for an answer. Instead, he motioned at her with his fingers. “Let’s go. The police will be here any minute.”
“No, I can’t be on the news!” the woman shouted.
“Oh, but it’s all right for you to plaster my face all over your filthy paper.” Resentment filled him.
The young woman grabbed a branch and attempted to climb down.
Jasper swung an arm to grab her hand. He encountered thin air. “Matt hold my legs,” he said.
“Just leave her and let the cops handle it,” Matt said.
“She’ll freeze. The temps are already dropping,” Jasper said. He plunged over the fence and reached a hand out. “Charmaine, take my hand,” he yelled.
She shook her head. “I’ll fall.”
“I’ll catch you. Trust me,” Jasper said. He turned to face Matt. “Hold me.”
Matt nodded. Jasper inched over the cliff so his upper body hung off the cliff. He felt two large hands clamp his legs.
Charmaine held out both of her hands. In a powerful motion, Jasper scooped her in his arms. He heard Matt grunt behind him.
“Hold on, Matt,” Jasper said from between clenched teeth. It took serious strength but Jasper flipped Charmaine onto his back.
Charmaine bucked her body against him. His mind registered muscle and a well-toned body.
“Help!” Charmaine screamed.
Jasper recognized her fear. “You’re not going to fall. Calm down.” He heard Matt yelling the same thing but Charmaine was a mean fight. He was getting scratched and kicked in places he could not mention. She was in full panic mode.
“Grab her, Matt!” Jasper screamed.
Matt released his grip on one leg to snatch Charmaine off him. Jasper twisted, hoping to rely on his upper body strength to grab the fence. But Matt’s grip slipped and gravity worked against him.
Jasper felt his body arch backwards, almost in slow motion. At that moment, Jasper knew his fall was inevitable.
He saw Matt skid to the ground. He flung a hand Jasper’s way. “Jasper!”
Jasper grabbed at air. His arms flailed backwards. He hunched his body preparing for impact.
“No!” Matt screamed. “Jasper!”
Jasper’s body bent further backwards.
“Jeeeeessssusssss!” Jasper screamed as he flipped over the precipice.