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Danger, Sweetheart

MaryJanice Davidson

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  Table of Contents

  About the Author

  Copyright Page

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  This one’s for me, and for you: lovers of romantic tropes everywhere. Whether it’s an amnesiac sheriff or an uptight city boy trapped in the country or a feverish hero being tended to by the heroine (three of my faves), this is for readers who not only defined the genre but also demanded more and never tire of it.

  Author’s Note

  I love Shaun of the Dead. It is, possibly, one of the finest movies in the history of cinema, second only to Starship Troopers. It’s got everything: a clueless hero, a puffy sidekick who can imitate an orangutan, Bill Nighy (my old-man crush), a supernice mom, a nerdy bespectacled frenemy in love with the hero’s ex, Queen on the sound track (Is there a more beautiful sight than a bunch of British twentysomethings whacking a zombie with pool cues while “Don’t Stop Me Now” blares in the background?), debunked dog myths (“Dogs can look up!”), and innocents getting hit by darts.

  Oh, and zombies. Lots of zombies. I love everything about Shaun of the Dead, but I love how they handled zombies the most. Their love for the genre shone through virtually every minute of the film as they poked fun at themselves and the genre, and I never once felt like they were mocking me or the movies I like: we were in it together. It was the first movie I ever thought of as a conscious gift to the audience: here’s something we liked; we think you’ll like it, too.

  So: this book. My editor and I love the romance genre (not atypical for writers and editors who work in the romance genre, and thank goodness). We love historicals and paranormals and contemporaries and Regencies. We love the silly stuff and the BAMF stuff and the sexy stuff. We love kick-ass heroines and damsels who need to be rescued every twenty minutes. We love alpha heroes and beta heroines, and we love it the other way around, too. (We’re dirty girls, and so flexible, too!) We love heroes who are SEALs and farmers and sheriffs and doctors. We love heroines who are biochemists and Vikings and captives and wardens. We love third person and first person and audio and electronic and paperbacks and classic hardcovers.

  And the romance tropes, oh God, the tropes. We love those most of all; for us, tropes make the romance.

  For the uninitiated, Wikipedia defines “tropes” as “the use of figurative language—via word, phrase, or even an image—for artistic effect such as using a figure of speech.” Did that help? Because it didn’t help me even a little. I had to keep reading: “The word ‘trope’ has also come to be used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative works.” Oh. Okay. That’s a little better, Wikipedia. Stop trying to impress me and just define stuff, okay? Maybe with pictures next time? I like pictures.

  A “trope” is when you’re watching a new show about a cop who’s set to retire next week/month/year and you know that cop will never retire. It’s when the slutty pretty teenager in a horror movie says, “I’ll be right back!” and you know she’s toast. It’s knowing the hero and heroine who at first loathe each other will fall in love. It’s a way for the writer to let the reader/viewer know what to expect without having to, you know, write. (Shut up! We’re doing the best we can.)

  A trope is the thing that brings you back to the same genre again and again, because the stuff you loved in the first book will pop up in other books and you’re always chasing that feeling, the giddy excitement of reading about a hero and heroine, or hero and hero, or heroine and—you get the picture; whoever they are, you know they are destined for love, and you want to watch. (Not in a creepy way.) Even more: you want to fall in love, too.

  And while we were listing our fave tropes (and everyone in the office was getting in on it, and when I mentioned it to my book club they couldn’t wait to list theirs, too) my editor said, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a book that paid homage to the romance tropes? Not in a mean way, like the Scary Movie movies.”

  “In a fun way,” I replied, “like Shaun of the Dead.” And wouldn’t it be great, we thought, if the audience was in on it?

  And that’s how Danger, Sweetheart came about. A romance novel that pays respect to romance novels, where the readers are in on the joke. Unless you skipped this Author’s Note, in which case I cannot help you.

  For those of you in a hurry, I’ve listed all the romance tropes used in the writing of this book at the end, so you can peek and see if any of your favorites are there. Dunno about you, but I can never resist a hero with a high fever, all delirious and adorable, being tended to by a (reluctantly) adoring heroine. I also like the fish out of water trope and the first sex is perfect sex trope. I even got to have some fun with tropes I find annoying (I’m looking at you, Hero Keeping a Big Secret).

  If you’re new to the genre, this is a fun place to start because: tropes! I’m basically throwing you into the deep end, but unlike when I was tossed into the deep end at the helpless age of twenty-seven, I think you’ll enjoy it.

  Other things you might want to know (or things I want you to know and your feelings on the matter are nothing to me, nothing!): No tropes were harmed in the creative process. Also, I’m not as gross as readers might assume: it really did rain urine in the bathroom at the Plaza Hotel and Casino, courtesy of a leak one floor above. I did not make that up. God, I wish I had made that up. “Urine” and “rain” and “hotel” are three words that never belong in the same sentence.

  The T-shirt Natalie wears (“One by one the penguins slowly steal my sanity”) is a thing! You can get it at Amazon. As I did. And the pink-and-black skull leash sported by the White Rose of York also exists in real life.

  Finally, as of this writing, you can’t hop an Amtrak from Las Vegas to Minot, North Dakota. This is a crime against humanity. Long train rides rock. Minot does, too (my bias: I was born on the Minot Air Force Base).


  Armed with only a cork-topped plastic tray, I encounter the best and worst people on Earth. Every night.

  —SARAH VENTRE, “Why Your Cocktail Waitress Hates You”

  If we are to feel the positive feelings of love, happiness, trust, and gratitude, we periodically also have to feel anger, sadness, fear, and sorrow.

  —JOHN GRAY, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus

  The fish are watched working their way up the shallows … when they come to the shelter of a ledge or a rock it is their nature to slide under it and rest. The poacher sees the edge of a fin or the moving tail … instinct, however, tells him a fish ought to be there, so he takes the water very slowly and carefully and stands up near the spot. He then kneels on one knee and passes his hand, turned with fingers up, deftly under the rock until it comes in contact with the fish’s tail. Then he begins tickling with his forefinger, gradually running his hand along the fish’s belly further and further toward the head until it is under the gills. Then comes a quick grasp, a struggle, and the prize is wrenched out of his natural element, stunned with a blow on the head, and landed in the pocket of the poacher.


  [My daughter] starts walking out toward the ponies, she’s like “Can I go?” I’m an idiot … “Go on out there, honey, you’re only outnumbered fifty to one. What could possibly happen?” And there’s this one beautiful speckled pony … she walks up to the pony … the pony bites her on the fucking leg. And she screams: “Why, Daddy?” She calms down … she wants to look [ponies] up and learn about them. And we go look up ponies. And it turns out they’re assholes. They bite all the time.


  Pretendian: A wannabe American Indian. Usually exhibited by white people but blacks do it too. Claims to be ¼ th Native American or a lesser percentage, but usually have no definitive proof of it or of what tribe they’re from … if such ancestry exists, they tend to exaggerate the very small amount that they have after generations of their family neglecting this heritage.

  The most annoying thing about these people is the smugness that they claim this lost heritage with. Upon being told by some senile relative or actually finding proof, they suddenly claim to know EVERYTHING about Native Americans and press for tribal membership while buying ambiguous, commodified Indian-themed jewelry and merchandise like dream-catchers. It’s usually the first thing they put on their MySpace biographies, and they get miffed when people don’t refer to them as Native American or take them seriously as such (but say that they don’t want people to “judge them for embracing their ancestral roots”). They also spend their time discrediting other white people who display Indian Princess Syndrome or people who actually have accountable Native ancestry.

  These people often have no grasp on Native culture and issues, both historical and contemporary. In the end, most people with accountable ancestry don’t whore their heritage in order to look “exotic” and interesting.

  —The Urban Dictionary

  There’s nothing trashy about romance.

  —PARRY in The Fisher King



  “I know.”

  “That was the best awkward sex I’ve ever had.”

  “Yeah, baby, it was good for me, t— What?”

  “A new winner.” Shannah Banaan sat up in bed and began rooting around for her clothes. One good thing about a lackluster performance: her stockings were intact. “Pride of place went to the awkward sex in Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, right next to Hugh Hefner and his life partner, Michael Jackson.” At his puzzled stare, she elaborated. “My date and I rearranged some of the couples, mostly because I thought Madonna and Elvis deserved a chance to be together. And I honestly thought I’d go to my death with unsettling wax museum sex in the number-one slot. But you fixed it.”

  “I don’t get it.”

  “Mmm.” She climbed into her clothes while keeping a wary eye on her surroundings. She’d been hot—and he’d been gorgeous (if somewhat selfish and unimaginative in bed)—but not so lust crazed that she would let herself forget that she worked, and now had sex, in a hotel where it had once literally rained urine.

  “You liked it,” her now-disgruntled bang pro tem was grumbling. “My ears are still ringing; that’s how loud you were.”

  “I had little choice; you weren’t responding to my hand signals. No need to get miffed. You got off. I almost got off.” She shrugged. “Now we’re off on our separate ways and ne’er the twain shall meet.”

  “You don’t talk like a waitress.”

  “Incorrect, since I am in point of fact a waitress.” Ah, the beloved all cocktail waitresses are slutty and stupid cliché. And that observation from a man who was unable to calculate 15 percent of $150.15.


  So gorgeous, she thought with mild regret, and so dim. He really was almost stereotypically handsome: penetrating blue eyes, deep blond hair with gold glints, long, long legs. She’d always had a weakness for the tall ones with good shoulders.

  “Don’t call me,” she said as she threw him a smile and gathered up her de rigueur overtly sexy uniform, “and I won’t call you.”

  He had by now managed to sit up in bed and looked adorably rumpled and confused. He rubbed his (blue, bleu, azul) eyes with the heels of his hands and squinted up at her. “Look, we can’t see each other again. I’m sorry, but it was one of those boats passing in the night things.”

  “Ships.” She managed not to add you gorgeous moron.


  “I will never understand how men are struck deaf post-orgasm.” She pulled on her underpants, then wriggled into the rest of her uniform. The rest = a long black satin suit jacket that buttoned low and fell high. Someday she would have a job that required her to wear pants. Hold fast to your dream, she thought, then straightened, turned, and spared a look at the gorgeous moron she had taken in a moment of insanity/horniness/loneliness.

  He was blinking up at her like a confused, handsome possum caught in headlights. “So, going?”

  “Yes, going. Thank you for six minutes of your time.” She was grumpy and anxious to get home where she could let her Hitachi, Sir Shakes-A-Lot, finish her off. But no need to be an utter bitch. She’d keep it at 30 percent. “It was nice to meet you.” And it was. He was all superficial charm and classic good looks: trim and tall, with eyes of direct Monet blue (post the artist’s cataract surgery of 1923) and a brilliant smile she had first felt in her knees and then … higher. But not too high.

  “Sorry it didn’t work out. Listen, I come here quite a lot—”

  “Yes. Your coin-bucket collection was a giveaway. As were the many times I’ve brought you Sea Breeze after Sea Breeze over the last few months. A bold choice for a straight man, by the way.”

  “—and if our paths cross again, even though I’d love to see you again, I’m hoping we can be adult about this.”

  “Right. Because nothing says adult like an exchange of bodily fluids followed by pretending the other person never existed to avoid conflict.” She managed (barely) to soften the observation with a smile. “Don’t worry. I guarantee you will never, as long as you live, ever see me again.”

  * * *

  “I have to see you again.”

  “How come?”

  “Idjit! Not you,” she added when she heard his affronted huff, “me.” She couldn’t believe her accent had slipped. Never had the word “idjit”—argh, “idiot,” she meant “idiot”—been hurled so accurately.

  “Are you going to invite me in?” She looked around at the gold wallpaper, gold gilt mirror, and slightly less gold carpet as if seeing them in their tacky glory for the first time. “Or are we going to have this discussion in the hall?”

  Benjamin Tarbell’s bemused expression never faltered. “Look, I understand what you’re going through,” he began, shifting immediately into practiced soothe mode.

  She blinked. “In fact, you don’t.”

  “But what we had was too magical to cheapen with regular sex.”

  She made a fist, then bit it to swallow the hysterical guffaw the word “magical” brought forth. “Ggghh. Mmmm?”

  “So I’ll have to ask you to leave,” he finished, swinging the door closed, “with only your precious memories of a lost love. It’s killing me, too, baby! But it’s the only way.”

  Pretty rich boys should never take on country girls; she shoved past him, into the suite, and after a long nonplussed moment he shut the door and followed. She took in the dirty clothes draped on the desk, his wallet and rental car key, the room service cart, and the devastation that had once been his meal. The man had the table manners of a farrowing sow.

  “There are French fries,” she observed, “on every surface of this room.” Then she stuffed her fist back into her mouth. She needed to wrap this up before she hit bone. Or vomited. Maybe both. “The reason I— What are you doing?”

  He looked up from shrugging out of his robe. “Don’t worry; I changed my mind.”

  (don’t ask, What mind? don’t ask, What mind? don’t)

  He sat, crossed long, muscled legs, then patted the bed, which boasted ruc
ked-up sheets and French fries. “I’m glad you came. Pretty soon I’ll be glad I came.” He punctuated his idea of a bon mot with a lopsided leer as he stroked his burgeoning erection, which, she hated to admit, was impressive. Ah-ha! Now I remember what I saw in you.

  She tittered around her fist. Was this really happening? “Listen to me, you beautiful dolt. I am not here for another five-minute sweaty interlude.”

  “No?” He wiggled dark, perfectly groomed brows (my first tip-off; what had I been thinking? he has the eyebrows of a cologne model!), then took a firmer grip on his penis and angled it toward her, as if it were a microphone and she his interview subject, or as if he was afraid she would have trouble finding it. Unfortunately, that would never have been difficult. The lovely dumb ass was hung like a steer. “You sure, um…” His inability to recall her name put an end to her giggles, for which she was grateful. And at least he had the grace to be embarrassed.

  “I’ll give you a hint: it means lily.”

  “Is it Lily?”

  “No,” she sighed/groaned (grighed? soaned?). “It’s not Lily.” Their chat had the welcome side effect of softening his erection. Shannah (English/Hebrew origin; diminutive of Shoshannah, meaning: “lily”) had confidence that her next statement would wilt it entirely. “It’s not Lily, you’re not getting laid tonight—by me, at any rate—and I’m pregnant. By you.”

  Going, going, gone. Farewell, Benjamin’s erection. I barely knew ye.


  “I understand,” she said kindly, “because that was my exact response when the stick turned blue. No, and then there may have been screaming. Followed by sobbing. But it’s true. I’ve since had a doctor confirm.”

  “It’s not mine.”

  “No need to take my word for it.” Never, she would never, never let him see how that hurt her. His reaction was expected, knee-jerk from a quintessential jerk.

  And it hurt.