Southern Exposure

Where Southern Comfort ends,
Southern Exposure begins
Southern Exposure



Chapter One

     The charged air sizzled and snapped with an undercurrent of expectation. Somewhere, the steady thudding
​​of a drum echoed. Moisture dotted Logan Hart’s upper lip. He could almost see the saliva dripping from sharp
​​teeth, hungry predators waiting to pounce on their next victim.

     ​What the hell am I doing here?

     ​He wiped his sweaty palms down the sides of his black leather pants—like that helped a whole hell of a
​​lot—and let the curtain fall back into place. “How did I get myself into this mess,” he muttered under his breath.

     ​“I’ll tell you,” his brother spoke up. “You made a bet you could do any job for one shift. Then you promised
​​the devoted readers of your newspaper column that you’d write a monthly update on your adventures.” He
​​didn’t try to control his snicker of amusement.

     ​“Thanks for reminding me.” He frowned. “What’s the old saying about blood being thicker than water?

​​You’re not lending much moral support. The least you could do is help me figure a way out of my
​​predicament.”

     ​“And miss all this?” He swung his arm in a wide arc.

     ​“Damn it, Kevin, you’re not helping.” He lowered his voice when one of the prop men glanced in their
​​direction. “I’ve done everything the people of New Orleans have thrown at me. Sales at the newspaper have
doubled since I started writing these articles.” He ticked off the list on his fingers. “I’ve managed to jump out of
​​a plane, get battered in a football game, dig ditches, tend bar, add figures until I was dizzy, package meat,
work in an assembly line and lay brick. But this is ridiculous. I mean”—he waved his hand down his
​​body—“look at this getup. I feel like an idiot.”

     ​Black leather pants and a vest. No shirt or shoes. And a blasted thong! He wanted to rip the strip of leather
out of his ass. Whoever invented this instrument of irritation should have their head examined.

     ​Kevin’s eyes narrowed as he studied Logan. “I bet the women will think you look . . . sexy.”

     ​“I’m glad you find this whole thing amusing, little brother.” He could tell Kevin was biting the insides of his
​​cheeks to keep from laughing. Logan would probably hear about this at the next several family gatherings. He
​​inwardly groaned. One family member would tell another, and that one would tell another. Why did he have to
​​be born into such a large family? And why did Kevin decide to visit him this week? Things couldn’t get any
worse.

     ​Taking a deep breath, then expelling it in a whoosh of air, he peered from behind the heavy curtain again.
Things certainly hadn’t gotten any better. If anything, the crowd had swelled to alarming proportions.

     ​“I can’t do it.” He started to turn away.

     ​“Giving up? When you only have this project and one more before you complete your ten assignments?”

     ​Kevin sidestepped two prop men carrying a fake palm tree. As soon as they were alone, or at least as
​​alone ​​as they could get backstage, he continued.

     ​“If you don’t supply the readers with a story everything you’ve done will be for nothing. Do you want that? 
Besides, you’ve been practicing this for weeks. All that hard work will go to waste.” He straightened to his full
​​height of six feet three inches. “And I might be two years younger, but in case you haven’t noticed, I’m as tall
​​as you. I’m not that little anymore.”

     ​Damn it, Kevin was right—on both accounts. Kevin was as tall as him, and Logan was almost finished with
​​his challenges. It would be crazy to pull out now.

     ​“The job of assistant editor isn’t a shoe-in,” he reminded Kevin. “Don’t forget about Hank. He’s still in the
​​running.”

     ​“But this will put you a step ahead of the competition.” He gave Logan a hard look. “Will it really be that
​​bad?”

     ​Logan took a deep breath and stared once more between the curtains. Okay, so maybe all of it wasn’t
​​going ​​to be a hardship. The woman seated at the front table stood out from the rest, grabbing his attention.

     ​​The ​​​​music had changed to a more sensual beat. As she swayed to the rhythm, her straight, jet- black hair
​​brushed ​​her shoulders. Her sultry movements had him wanting to stride from behind the curtain and scoop her
​​into his ​​arms like a warrior with his prize.

     ​He groaned when her eyes closed, and her lips parted slightly. He imagined her naked, lying beneath him,
​​and looking just like she did right now. A flash of heat stole over him. The Velcro on his pants crackled.

     ​This was all he needed.

     ​“Okay,” he growled. “Let’s get it over with.”

                                                              ​* * *

     ​The music filled Jody, spinning around inside her head, touching her, caressing her soul. She swayed to
​​the ​​​​sensuous strains, losing herself in the swirling colors of erotic sounds.

     ​She could almost touch each note, could almost feel the beat of each drum. The tempo suddenly changed
​​and the haunting notes of a flute floated over her. She closed her eyes, letting the melody sweep her into
another realm.

     ​Her reverie was unexplainably jarred as a different sensation washed over her. Her eyes snapped open.
Someone watched her. She could feel his gaze . . . burning, caressing.

     ​She glanced to her left. Her friend Andrea had struck up a conversation with the woman next to her. The
​​girl ​​had never met a stranger. Slowly, she moved her gaze around the room, stopping at the heavy, black
​​velvet ​​curtains that ran across the middle of the low stage. The hairs on the back of her neck tickled.

     ​The knowledge someone watched her grew stronger. Not the same as the intuitions she had when she
worked her beat as a cop in the Big Easy. This time was different.

     ​Goose bumps covered her arms. She leaned back in her chair and stared at the curtains, wondering what
​​lay behind the velvety folds.

     ​With a certainty born from experience, she knew something was going to happen tonight.

     ​Andrea had said her life had become too routine—to the point of predictability. She had a feeling all that
was about to change.

     ​Her grandmother once told her if she paid attention, Jody would be able to sense the changes in her life
​​before they happened. Sometimes her grandmother would go into a deep meditative state for hours to
interpret ​​if it would be a good change, or a bad one.

     ​Jody wasn’t quite sure she believed everything her grandmother said or did, but sometimes Mamere was
so accurate it made her ways more believable.

     ​“So, did I surprise you, birthday girl?” Andrea asked, interrupting her thoughts.

     ​Jody smiled. “You couldn’t have given me a better present.”

     ​“I still be wantin’ to get you a gift. You know, the kind you open. It’s not a true birthday unless you can
​​unwrap something.”

     ​They were an unlikely pair. Andrea, with her blonde hair curling wildly around her face, blue eyes and perky
​​personality. Everything Jody wasn’t. But on the inside, where it counted, they were the same. Two lost souls
​​who came together and formed a bond of friendship. Two kids who’d grown up in the Louisiana bayou. Jody
​​had managed to lose most of her accent. Occasionally, when she was very emotional, Andrea’s accent
​​​became more pronounced.

     ​“You need to get out more,” Andrea continued.

     ​“I do. I patrolled the streets of New Orleans just last night.”

     ​Andrea crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair. “That’s not what I meant and you know it.”

     ​A slight shift in the music, a subtle difference in the sound, pulled Jody’s attention back to the stage. She
​​nodded toward the curtain. “The show’s starting.”

     ​Andrea paused in reaching for her drink. A few seconds later, the curtain rose. “How do you know these
​​things?”

     ​“I’m paid to know. Remember, I’m a cop.” Not that Jody thought that was the real reason. Being a cop
​​helped, but again, her grandmother had taught her to use her five senses—really use them. Then she went a
​​step further and taught her how to read signs, like when the weather was going to change. Anyone could do
​​as ​​much, if they only took the time to listen.

     ​And she’d always had the ability to sense when something was about to happen—like now. Premonitions. 
​​​Everyone had them. It was no biggie.

     ​Except she’d never had a premonition quite like this.

     ​Excitement skittered up and down her spine, even though she wasn’t as comfortable around people as
Andrea. Which was odd, since they were both raised deep in the swamps where people were scarce. They
​​hadn’t even met until Andrea came to work at the police department. As different as night and day, Andrea
seemed to crave people, whereas Jody could spend days by herself.

     ​Multi-colored lights began flashing overhead. Jody concentrated on her surroundings, absorbing the deep
​​reds, vibrant blues, and emerald greens that dazzled her eyes.

     ​She strained to see onto the shadowy stage. A man melded with the darkness, head bowed, legs spread
apart, arms at his sides.

     ​The crowd grew silent. Jody held her breath. A deep voice blared over the intercom system.

     ​“The Eighth Wonder of the World Casino and Hotel in fabulous New Orleans, Louisiana, welcomes Hot
Southern Men! And to start off tonight’s performance, please welcome our newest heartthrob . . . Logan Hart!”

     ​Bursts of fire shot up from the floor around him. The boards beneath her feet vibrated as the roomful of
women roared to life. Onstage, the lone male began gyrating his hips, slowly at first.

     ​Lights bathed him in hues of cool yellows and hot reds.

     ​Nice package. “I think I’ve decided what I want to unwrap for my birthday,” Jody said close to Andrea’s ear.
Tonight she wanted her life to be different. She wanted more.

     ​“I thought you’d like the show.” Andrea grinned and began stomping her feet and whistling along with the
​​​rest of the women.

     ​Jody reached for her drink, wrapping her fingers around the glass without taking her gaze off the performer.
​​Logan Hart certainly affected her senses. Broad shoulders and lean, oiled muscles. The open vest he wore
​​didn’t even come close to hiding his rock solid chest from her hungry eyes. Her gaze moved lower, to his taut
stomach, to the leather pants riding low on his hips, hugging every sinewy muscle. She returned to his face,
​​but it was hidden from view by a dark cowboy hat. She wondered what the shadows concealed, and if his face
​​could be as mouth-watering as the rest of him.

     ​Raising her glass, she drank the last of her tequila sunrise and set it back on the table. The alcohol did little
​​to quench her sudden thirst.

     ​Music blared across the room, women screamed and began waving different denominations of bills. He
seemed oblivious to his surroundings as he continued to keep time with the music. A flash of light shot from
the ​​ceiling, illuminating his features as he raised his head and seemed to look straight at her. She drew in a
sharp, ​​ragged breath.

     ​A five o’clock shadow outlined a strong jaw. Had not shaving been intentional? Probably. It worked. At least
​​for her. She liked the slightly rough, less than perfect look about him.

    ​She barely stayed focused as he danced toward their tiny table. Surely he wasn’t coming toward her? She
​​glanced toward her friend. Andrea oozed lush sex appeal. She had to be his target.

     ​But when she looked up, her gaze collided with his. He didn’t seem aware of Andrea. He danced closer, his
​​body undulating with every pounding beat of the music. Raw, male magnetism oozed from every pore.

     ​She tried to swallow and couldn’t. She reached for her glass, remembered she’d finished her drink, and
drew her hand back to her lap where she clasped her fingers in nothing less than a death grip.

     ​His gaze slid down her body touching every part of her with a hot, melting look. Her face, her shoulders,
her ​​​​breasts. She licked dry lips and could almost taste the salt of his skin. The crowd faded. Andrea faded. It
​​was ​​just the two of them in the room. A man, a woman.

     ​Her normally cautious nature fled, right along with her inhibitions. She tossed back her hair, challenging
​​him. He cocked an eyebrow, then grinned, a slow, sideways smile. He accepted.

     ​When he held out his hand for her to join him, she hesitated, a moment of panic washing over her. What
was she doing? Andrea nudged her, but Jody couldn’t go up on the stage.

     ​Something in his eyes just before he turned away said he thought she’d have more courage.

     ​Was she going to take that?

     ​She watched him saunter away all of two seconds before she stood, her chin jutted out. The sudden
​​whistles and yells of encouragement from the throng of people had him turning around. Approval reflected in
​​his eyes.

     ​She walked up the two steps to the stage floor, an exaggerated sway to her hips as she sauntered past his
​​outstretched hand with barely a glance in his direction. A few feet away, she whirled around and faced him.
Their gazes locked.

     ​She began to dance. For him. Her body melted into liquid heat as she moved to the music. Shoulders
swaying, arms raised, the pulsating beat consuming her. Her eyes drifted shut as the music enveloped her.
​​She fed off the sound, hips slowly rotating from side to side.

     ​She didn’t flinch when he came up behind her, sliding his hands down the sides of her body, past the
contour of her breasts, fanning over her hips and down her thighs, then returning to her waist. She leaned
​​against him, their bodies touching, moving as one to the beat. His hot breath scorched her neck where he’d
​​pushed her hair to the side. Flames shot up around them, but it couldn’t compare to the heat building inside
​​her when his tongue slid up to her ear and he tugged the lobe with his teeth. She drew in a deep, shuddering
​​​breath.

     ​He slid his arms up hers. Her back pressed intimately against his front. She felt his need. Taking her wrists,
​​he spun her around to face him, his eyes heavy-lidded and filled with barely restrained passion. A surge of fire
shot through her, flames licking ... burning. Their breath mingled and fused. Her breasts were crushed against
his chest, her nipples hard and sensitive.

     ​Was she caught in a vivid dream? Would she wake any moment and discover this man only a ghost lover?

     ​Her fingers splayed across his chest, feeling the thump of his heart. This was real. She moved her hands
down his sides, gliding over the contours of his hard body.

     ​Once more the music changed tempo. The wild drums slowed and were replaced with the haunting strains
of violins. Logan tossed his hat and brought her hands to rest on his shoulders. He stared down into her eyes
as he danced her around the stage. Suddenly she didn’t want to be alone anymore. At least, not tonight. She
​​liked the way his arms enclosed her in a cocoon of sexual fantasy, and she didn’t want it to end here.

     ​​“Who are you?” he asked.

     ​Having freed her mind and body from restraints, she laughed up at him. A deep, throaty sound, but she
didn’t tell him what he wanted.

     ​As they came to a stop, he rubbed his thumb across her lips. “Meet me later.”

     ​Careful what you wish for. It was almost like her grandmother whispered in her ear.

     ​But isn’t this what she wanted? No entanglements? A one-night stand?

     ​He dragged her hands downward and hooked her fingers into the loops at the waistband of his pants. “Say
yes.” He nibbled her neck. “Right after this number is over. Meet me out back. I want to know you better. ”

     ​“Yes,” she breathed.

     ​A slow sideways smile appeared on his face. “Pull.”

     ​“What?”

     ​Logan tugged on her fingers. “Jerk real hard.”

     ​She did and his pants came away in her hands, leaving him wearing only a black leather G-string. Her gaze
moved back to the pants she held. With a swift kiss on her lips, he took them and strode offstage. The cheeks
of his butt were just as tanned as the rest of him.

     ​The applause behind her was deafening, but she barely heard it over the pounding of her heart. A desire to
have this man take her in his arms again burned its way down her body, leaving in its wake a need to be
​​satisfied.

     ​She walked back to the table, said a quick good-bye to Andrea, grabbed her purse, and headed toward the
door as the next act began.

​​

                                                                                  * * * * *
REVIEWS

"Wow, I really enjoyed Southern Exposure! Karen Kelley did an incredible job weaving erotism into a well-written plot that threatens romance with murder and betrayal. And many kudos for the secondary romances as well! Southern Exposure is quite simply...fantastic!" -- Elizabeth Benway, Louisiana Lovin'.

"Sassy and bold, SOUTHERN EXPOSURE by Karen Kelley will definitely find its way into the hands of many!" -- Courtney Michelle, Romance Reviews Today.

"In Southern Exposure, Karen Kelley reveals to readers a tale of love and intrigue so intense that once I picked this book up, I didn’t put it back down until I had finished it. Put simply, you have got to read this book! Karen Kelley is not an author to be missed. Southern Exposure is a definite must read and therefore a 5 Angel Recommended Read!" -- Jaymi, Fallen Angels Reviews.

"Karen Kelley's writing is Powerful, Provocative & Pure Pleasure. I totally love everything about this book. It is a great excitement to find an author with Karen Kelley's extraordinary talent. I was completely captivated the entire length of this fast-paced, sexy story. SOUTHERN EXPOSURE has the perfect combination of romance, intrigue and action. Simply put, SOUTHERN EXPOSURE is brilliant." -- B.J. Deese, Romance Junkies.