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You Make Me Crazy
Mystery of Love, Book 5
© 2019Jennifer Skully
All books in this series are standalone, connected romances.
“Skully has a talent for smooth dialogue, fun, sexy characters and delightful humor.”
~ Romantic Times
“Jennifer Skully is a master at romantic comedy!”
~ Single Title Reviews
Google Search: How to persuade a woman dead set against relationships to have a relationship with you, particularly when you’re a funeral director?
Joe Swann wants the whole shebang—marriage, kids, the white picket fence. And he’s determined to go after the woman he wants—Kate Carson.
Joe’s not your typical bad boy. But he’s very very bad for Kate because he’s nesting. And that’s a scary thing for a career-minded woman. Besides, right now, Joe’s life is a complete mess—especially consideringthe hastily buried body Kate and Joe stumble over—and the smartest thing Kate can do is steer clear at all costs.
If only his kisses didn’t set her on fire and his touch didn’t drive her crazy. How’s a girl—even a career woman—supposed to resist?
Series in order:
Drop Dead Gorgeous (Madison & T. Larry)
Sheer Dynamite (Opal & Jack)
It Must Be Magic (Lili & Tanner)
One Crazy Kiss (Kate & Joe novella)
You Make Me Crazy (Kate & Joe)
You Make Me Crazy
© 2019 Jennifer Skully
Cemeteries creeped her out.Even if it was one o’clock on the first Wednesday in May, the spring sunshinewarm on the top ofKate’s head.Cemeteries creeped her out no matter the season or the time of day or the sweet aroma of freshly cut grass. Even the breeze didn’t help as it brushed through the ring of redwoods circling the sloping one-acre lot on the outskirts of Hideaway Creek, California, a town of little more than three thousand residents at last census.
That number didn’t include the dead people in the Hideaway Creek Cemetery.
Kate Carson stood two feet from the yawning mouth of a freshly dug grave. Several yards away, a blue tarpaulin covered a mound of earth that would later be put to use. From somewhere in the surrounding trees, a peacock cawed mournfully. Or was the sound it made called something else? Cats meowed, dogs barked, crows cawed. But a peacock? Its loud eeeiu carried eerily across the green lawns and between the gravestones. The markers farther up the hill were older and weathered, the ones closer to the road much newer. There was little room left for expansion.
She shuddered. Really, she didn’t want to look down.Despite knowing the grave was empty.It would remain empty until four o’clock.
Then it would be... filled.
She shrugged away the unpleasant image.Death wasn’t one of her favorite topics even if her flower shop made a good profit margin on producing funeral arrays.“You could have called to tell me you received the wrong flower arrangement.I would have believed you.”
Joseph Swann shook his head, a hint of a devilish smile lurking on his lips.“No, no, Kate, a picture is worth a thousand words.”He stretched out a hand to encompass the horrific horseshoe-shaped wreath at the head of the open grave.“This had to be seen to be believed.”
Kate had to admit the horseshoe,made entirely of green carnations, was atrocious.It didn’t look like Sasha’s work at all. Carnations were the most unimaginative flower.Kate carried them in the shop for men who were too cheap—sorry, too thrifty. Or they feared their wives’ wrath should they dole out the family cash for roses.The dreadful horseshoe was more suited to a St. Patrick’s Day parade than a funeral.Being a witch, Sasha—who was Kate’s best designer if you didn’t count Lili Goodweather’s amazing wildflower creations—didn’t celebrate religious holidays, and according to her, anything with a saint as part of its name was a religious holiday.Sasha would never make such a mockery for a funeral.Even if it was requested.
Kate was diligent about checking everything that went out the door. Today, however, she was late returning from a morning supplier meeting over the hill. The delay’s culprit was an overturned truck on Highway 17, the mountain road between San Jose and Santa Cruz. The forty-five-minute trip took over two hours and Oscar, one of her two delivery drivers, had already left with the orders destined for Swann’s Funeral Home. Joe Swann had caught her almost as she’d walked in the door and driven her over to the cemetery because, as he said, this had to be seen to be believed.
Joe set his hands on his hips, his suit jacket brushing her sleeve as he perused the abominable flower creation.“That certainly isn’t what Mr. Leach was thinking of when he asked for something tasteful.”
Kate backed up a step, which brought her that much closer to the hole in the ground.“I assure you that didn’t come from Flowers by Nature.”Flowers by Nature, her store, her brainchild, her life’s work, and her reputation at stake.
“You think it was an anonymous drop-off?”Joe shifted from one foot to the other and regained half the distance she’d put between them.
“There’s no tag.”Kate always had her designers put a discreet identifying tag in an unobtrusive location.It was good business.The carnations had no visible label at all.“Someone else must have sent it.”
“The obituary specified any memorial wreaths be sent directly to Swann’s. We’ll transport all the flowers here after the memorial service in our chapel.”
“And that’s where Oscar was supposed to deliver,” she insisted. “Not here.” She’d called his cell but gotten no answer.
Joe was owner and director of Swann’s Funeral Home, her biggest customer.Kate had worked with him for two years.There’d never been a mix-up like this.
Then again, Joseph Swann had consistently pursued her on a non-professional basis for the past few months.“This isn’t some weird routine of yours to get me to go out on another date with you, is it?”
Because the man had some plan in mind designed to make Kate succumb to his funereal charms. Joe was the opportunity guy, and he’d take it when he could.
He smiled, a full-blown, devilishly attractive grin. And out came that dimple of his, making for a deadly combination that heated her up in a way that had nothing to do with the lovely spring sunshine.
He was too good-looking and too charming for his own good.For her good.Not to mention that he was kind to babies, animals, and old ladies.
He held up his hands in surrender.“I already conceded defeat on that point.”
They’d had two dates, though she’d tried to forget the second disastrous dinner date they’d had last Sunday.But she couldn’t forget the two anything-but-tame kisses they’d shared.She was still in recovery.Which is exactly why she’d told him not to ask her out again. Because Joe definitely knew how to kiss, and he’dgotten under her skin. She fantasized about him.At night.In the dark.In her bed. That was bad. And very good.
If only he didn’t work with dead people.It was the man’s only flaw. Except for the fact that he was looking to settle down with Mrs. Right.Kate didn’t have time for a relationship, let alone marriage and children.She had a flower business to grow.Flowers by Nature was the most important thing in her life.An affair, though?She might have managed that.If it weren’t for his chosen livelihood. And that he was angling for a company merger—which would probably end up as a hostile takeover if she let it go too far. Although hostile wasn’t really Joe’s style. He would try to persuade her with logic and good intentions. But he’d still take over.
All right, Joe had too many flaws. And some of them, like his kissing, were just too good to ignore.
That was her whole problem. He was good, really good, way too good.
“Besides,” Joe went on, “if I wanted to seduce you, I wouldn’t plan to do it by the side of an open grave.I remember clearly about your fear of death.”
She snorted, trying to sound disgusted rather than afraid.“I do not have a fear of death.”
It simply made her uneasy, bringing back bad memories of her mother’s passing when Kate was only twenty-one.That was a normal reaction to a painful event, especially considering the day her mother had taken her to a funeral home to make all the arrangements. Her mother had been a planner, just like Kate, and when Mom found out she had cancer, it was only natural for her to plan her own funeral. She hadn’t realized the lasting effects it would have on her daughter.
“All right.”Joe spread his hands.“You’re uncomfortable with your own mortality.”
Joe had gorgeous dark blue eyes—lapis-colored eyes, Lili called them—deep mahogany hair that enticed a woman to run her fingers through it, and a strong jawline that set her libido humming. Kate couldn’t say why it was his jaw that did it for her even more than his muscular chest and honed body encased in that expensive pin-striped suit. Or even that sexy dimple when he smiled. Some things defied reason, they just were.
But he had this fixation about death. It was natural since he was a funeral director. That he dealt with death all the time wasn’t the only reason for her aversion to him.There was also that I-want-to-settle-down-and-impregnate-you look he sometimes leveled on her.She suspected his libido was as active as his insemination reflex. Of course, all he’d said he wanted was an affair, just sex.
But she knew.
Kate sidled farther from him, and, unfortunately, closer still to the gaping grave.“I’m not dating you.”
“I didn’t ask.” He put his hand dramatically to his chest. “My poor bruised male ego couldn’t take another beating.”
Right.Getting a no each of the six times he’d asked her outdid not indicate he had a male ego to bruise.In fact, it wasn’t normal to keep on trying after the first two or three rejections. But Joe had smiled and tried again. Kate could honestly say she’d never seen the man ill-humored. It was unnatural.
She’d agreed to go out with him on the seventh attempt, and yes, the eighth time, too, just to show him how incompatible they were.It worked. At least for her.
Except for his kisses.Her lips still tingled with the memory, and it was difficult to concentrate while looking at his mouth.She kept remembering how he’d felt.His taste. His intoxicatingly male scent.Dammit, she shouldn’t still be thinking about those two crazy kisses. Over and done. He’d promised not to ask her out again.She didn’t want him to.Not really.
Joe glanced at his watch.“Do you think you can have a replacement for the horseshoe by three?”
“Of course.”Kate whipped her cell phone out of her purse pocket, thankful for the excuse to do something, and quickly dispatched the problem when Oscar finally answered.
Joe crossed his arms over his chest and watched her with a half-smile.What was going on in that mind?God forbid it had something to do with sex.Kate felt herself heating from the inside out.At thirty-five, she was too young for hot flashes.This was just… a flash of heat.
Hanging up, she said, “Mystery solved.” Her voice cracked the tiniest bit under Joe’s intense blue-eyed gaze.“The truck broke down.Oscar hasn’t delivered a thing, but he’ll be at Swann’s in fifteen minutes.I don’t know whose horseshoe that is, but it’s not one of ours.”God forbid.She would never let that thing out her back door.“We can cart it away for you, if you’d like.”
“I’ll check with Mr. Leach first. Just in case he knows anything about it.”Joe smiled, that devilish dimple appearing full force.“Thank you for your usual efficient handling of the matter.I can always count on your professionalism, Kate.”
“But—” Kate beamed him a patently phony smile. “—we could have solved the problem a lot more efficiently if you’d told me what was wrong when you called.”She tapped her watch face as if to show that time was money.
Joe continued to smile.“I’ll remember that next time,” he said.
Of course, he’d try the same thing again. The man would use any excuse.
One of these days, she’d fall for it.
Oops, she already had. Twice. With those two crazy kisses.
If he’d simply called, Joe wouldn’t have had the pleasure of seeing her.And seeing Kate Carson had become one of his ultimate pleasures.
Miss Kate Carson was a challenge.Joe admired her business savvy and her determination, her intelligence and her direct manner.He also admired her rear in that skirt, businesslike yet exceedingly feminine right down to the way it hugged her curves and showed off the play of muscle when she walked.
Months ago, he’d made hints about her ticking biological clock—big mistake—but it was actually his alarm beeping.At thirty-eight, he was ready to settle down.He’d been thinking about it for a year or more, but with the birth of his nephew a few months ago, he’d gone from thinking to resolved.He wanted a life like his brother Sam’s.And he wanted Kate Carson.Simple as that.The fact that she was a tenacious businesswoman didn’t matter. Women were great multitaskers, much better than men. At the very least, they should get to know each other better on a personal level.
In the biblical sense would be nice, too.
Joe hated missed opportunities.He wasn’t going to let this one slip through his fingers because Kate was afraid of what he did for a living.
“I wouldn’t have seen you today if I hadn’t driven you out here.”He closed the distance between them. He didn’t care about the rows of headstones surrounding them. He thought of this place as a park, the peace, the sloping lawns, the scent of redwoods. The peacock was a nice touch, too. “I have definitely missed seeing you, Kate.”
“It’s only been three days, Mr. Swann.”
He smiled.She made him hot when she referred to him formally.It was like imagining a Victorian lady with all her layers of petticoats and manners, and the delight of stripping everything away until she was totally naked and totally his.Kate used formality to put artificial distance between them. If she needed to manufacture a façade of detachment, then she definitely wasn’t immune to him.
She backed up.He held her arm.“Watch your step.”
The heel of her stiletto was only a few inches from the edge of the freshly dug grave.That was another thing he liked about Kate, spike-heeled shoes.A petite, blue-eyed blonde, Kate didn’t like feeling short, and she augmented her height with amazing stilettos. At least most of the time, their last date being the exception.At six foot one, he was still several inches taller.He could easily tuck her beneath his arm, and he liked the proprietary feeling it gave him.Her top-knot hairstyle, again designed to give her height a boost, was tumbling endearingly.He wanted it down.He wanted her hair spread around him on his bed.
He stroked a hand up her arm.“Wouldn’t want you to fall in.”He stroked back down.Her hot blue eyes widened.Her exotic scent enticed him.
Kate had nowhere to go. “I’m glad to see you. Because I should have called to find out if you’d found your sister-in-law.”
Though the scent of Kate clouded his mind, her words were enough to make him take one step back and drop her arm.
Kate knew how to throw a bucket of freezing water on a burning man.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t found her.”
She cocked her head. “But all those texts on Sunday night?” Her voice trailed off in a question.
“You mean all those texts that interrupted a very nice kiss?” An out-of-this-world kiss that had kept him up for hours that night. And the next night. And the one after.
She coughed. Recovered. “Yes. Those texts.”
He sighed, closed his eyes, opened them again to look at her. She was so beautiful. And smart. Amazing Kate. “Rafe thought he saw her. That’s what the texts were all about.”
“Rafe is the—”
He helped her out. “Middle brother. Between Sam and Nate.” There were five Swann brothers; Joe was the eldest, next came Sam, then Rafe, Nate, and finally Theo. All two years apart. He didn’t expect Kate to recall his family tree.
“I do remember our conversation. It was only three nights ago.” She touched her temple in a please-I’m-not-stupid gesture. “And Theo’s the youngest, with the missing wife. But Rafe didn’t actually see her on Sunday night?” Her expressive blue eyes grew a little sad. Concerned.
That was his Kate, always caring. Even when she was trying to get rid of him. On Sunday, he’d told her the whole sordid family story. When they should have been concentrating on sweeter things.
“False alarm,” he said.
“I’m so sorry. How’s Theo doing?”
Theo’s wife Amber had disappeared six months ago, after cleaning out their small savings. And possibly having an affair. Then this past Saturday, she’d turned up again, a couple of sightings from afar, like a ghost to haunt the family.
And she was pregnant. Close to nine months. Theo hadn’t known about that.
Then just a like a ghost, Amber vanished again. No one could find her. The family, including his mom and dad, had searched every nook and cranny in Santa Cruz County with no luck.
“Theo’s going a little crazy right now. I’d like him to hire a private investigator.” He shrugged, the only way to express his frustration and helplessness without smacking his fist into his hand. “He just needs some more convincing to do it.”
Kate put out a hand as if she wanted to commiserate. Or comfort. But like Kate always did, she drew back before she touched him.
He wasn’t the type to have dark moods, and he brushed this one aside. “But it’s bad manners to think about unpleasant things—” Like his brother’s missing pregnant wife—when I’m out with a beautiful woman.”
Kate laughed. Though it might have been more of an incredulous snort.
“Joe, we aren’t on a date. This is business. And we’re in a graveyard.”
The peacock chose to call out at that moment, its cry almost a shriek on the moving air currents. He was disturbed that his mate wasn’t answering.
Joe knew the feeling precisely.
Joe didn’t have a problem with graves or cemeteriesor dead bodies. Not like Kate. She didn’t like this graveyard in particular. Maybe it was the shrill pitch of the peacock’s cry.
“It doesn’t have to be business,” Joe said.
“You promised not to ask me out again.” She infused the words with a singsong lilt to politely keep him at bay.
Hepreempted her.“I don’t embalm people, you know.”
“I can’t believe you just said that.” She knew he didn’t do the actual work. He dealt with families and arrangements and managed the employees who handled all the details.
“I don’t even touch them.” He smiled ever so reassuringly. Like a loan shark who gave you money and charged 500 percent interest.
Kate stared at him. Somewhere along the way she’d mentioned that death made her uncomfortable.But really, to discuss it out here? By an open grave?
Another benign smile seemed like her only defense. “Do you also try to seduce grieving widows by their husbands’ gravesites?”
“That’s a low blow.” He moved in. Close enough for her to scent his haywire male hormones. “I’ve only tried to seduce you.And I don’t care if it’s by a grave or anywhere else.”
Kate huffed. She would have stamped her foot if she wasn’t afraid her heel would stick in the grass. “We’ve been through this, Joe. I’m not changing my mind.”
“Both dates were stupendous.”He nuzzled her hair, breathing her inand dislodging a lock from her top-knot.
The man made her crazy. He made her forget where they were. Made her forget all the reasons he was bad for her.
“No means no, Joe,” she saidin the voice she’d used to reprimand Oscar for not calling to inform her the truck was out of order and his deliveries would be late. But that erotic sniff Joe had given her jumbled her major organs.
“One more kiss.” He stopped a beat, letting her remember the two amazing kisses they’d already shared.“If no means yes after that, we can skip my asking you out and you saying I’d promised not to ask you out and just meet back at my house tonight.”He smiled, cocked his head, and spread his hands in a what-do-you-thinkmotion.
She laughed. What else could she do with Joseph Swann? Unless she totally gave in. “Is it your profession that allows you to just blurt out whatever you’re thinking?I mean, most people hold it in.”
“You’d be surprised how much I have to hold in during the course of my duties.”
She’d seen him in action. Joe was the soul of discretion in dealing with bereaved families, his job being part psychologist, part sympathetic human being, and part event planner.
“But my career has taught me that one shouldn’t waste a moment. In case there isn’t another moment to be had.”
Her heartfluttered. “I agree wholeheartedly.But a kiss isn’t going to change my mind about dating you or sleeping with you.”
“If it won’t influence you one way or the other, then you’ve got nothing to lose by doing it,” he challenged. The sneaky man knew she didn’t like to back down from a challenge. “Kiss me, Kate.” He whispered the words just the way he had on Sunday night. When she’d decided to do exactly what they both wanted.
She put her finger on his chest, pushed him, and stepped back to give herself distance. “Joe,” she started.
The heel of her shoe slipped more deeply into the grass, putting her off balance. She tried to compensate, but the other heel slid, too. Then the whole wall of the grave was moving.
And sucking her into the hole like an avalanche.
Far far away, the peacock cried out its mating call like a bad omen. Or maybe that was Joe shouting her name.
She came to a rest at the bottom, dirt in her mouth, in her nostrils, in her eyes. She put her hand out.
And touched something cold. Something stiff.
She blinked one eye clear.
Then she screamed like the girl at the end of Carrie when the hand reaches out of the grave to grab her.
Just like Kate was holding a cold, dead hand sticking out of the dirt at the bottom of Mrs. Leach’s grave.