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South of South Beach

When pampered Kitty Spencer drops out of law school to start her own business, she didn't expect her wealthy family to withdraw all financial support. Undaunted, Kitty moves into a run-down apartment in Miami Beach inherited from her favorite uncle, determined to show her family she doesn't need their help. Working undercover on south Miami Beach, FBI Agent Tony Rivas has succeeded in infiltrating a violent terrorist group. His plans are threatened, however, when the sexy owner of the building he's supposed to be managing moves in and insists he start earning his free rent. From impossibly different backgrounds, Kitty and Tony clash, but discover what they need in each other. Join them in a steamy environment made dangerous by the presence of ruthless criminals who will stop at nothing to achieve their goals...including abducting Kitty.

A Hard Shell Word Factory Release


Sharon S. Hartley

A graduate of the University of Florida, Sharon Hartley grew up in Miami, Florida where she currently resides with her husband, one Dalmatian and hundreds of orchids. A certified court reporter for twenty years, her legal work all too frequently provides Ms. Hartley with ideas for her romantic suspense novels. South of South Beach is Sharon's first published novel. Ms. Hartley was a Golden Heart finalist in 1999 in the Long Contemporary Category, and she also enjoys writing romantic short stories for a change of pace. Readers can Email her at Orchidrom@aol.com.

Reviews

"Read it for fun, read it for thrills-there are plenty but most of all, read it."

Buzzy's Review News

"Here is a story of a young woman learning to make it on her own. The writing is to the point and looks into the realities of living conditions for some people. Cultural and social boundaries are crossed, creating an interesting read that is not to be missed."

Romance Communications


4 Stars!

"Peopled with characters we can care about and root for, SOUTH OF SOUTH BEACH is a textured story of life and love. Sharon Hartley has created a fun story with a dab of suspense to keep the pages turning."

Romance Communications


4 Stars!

"Peopled with characters we can care about and root for, SOUTH OF SOUTH BEACH is a textured story of life and love. Sharon Hartley has created a fun story with a dab of suspense to keep the pages turning."

Scribes World Reviews
Excerpt

Chapter 1

Kitty Spencer forced herself to think positively as she edged her white Corvette through the unfamiliar Miami Beach neighborhood. The light breeze flowing through the convertible top did little to cool her in the heavy August heat.

You can do this, girl, she told herself over and over. Don't listen to the negative voices. No matter what the rest of the world thinks, you're not a spoiled brat.

At least she wasn't homeless. Not as long as she could find this address. Searching rundown apartments for numbers that didn't exist, she realized the buildings hadn't been painted in years.

Have you totally lost your mind, Kitty?

Oh, she'd calmly responded to that insulting question dozens of times since she'd refused to continue with her family's neat little plan for her life. She could stand on her own without help from anyone, thank you very much.

An ear-splitting crash on the hood of her car jolted her. Looking up, she spotted an object hurtling toward her open convertible. Kitty screamed, slammed on the brakes and threw her arms across her face.

After a moment, terrified of what she'd find, she slowly lowered her arms. A wet soccer ball rested on a cardboard box beside her. Heart racing, she shut her eyes and leaned her head against the backrest. At least it wasn't a rock.

"Hey, nice catch, chica. Thanks."

Kitty opened her eyes. A half dozen pre-teen boys, wearing ripped or mud-soaked T-shirts, surrounded her car. Her gaze drifted from their curious, round eyes and settled on a powerfully built, almost naked male body. A man towered over the boys, his chest level with the tops of their heads. Kitty took a deep breath.

He was tall, lean, muscled, with dark hair gathered into a short ponytail. The only other place she'd seen a body like his was on a calendar.

"Can we have our ball back, lady?" one of the boys asked. He placed dirty hands on the passenger door and leaned forward to peer inside.

"Why... yes... of course," Kitty said, remembering the ball. When she grabbed it with both hands and lifted, mud splattered an ugly pattern across her yellow linen shorts.

"You guys should be more careful," she said, hurling the ball at the man's bare chest. "I could've killed somebody." She searched the floorboard for something to wipe the gooey mess from her fingers.

"You shouldn't drive so fast then," the man said.

Kitty shot him a poisonous look. He spoke with a slight accent, and since this was Miami, she assumed he was Cuban. His dark eyes scanned her bare legs, then traveled back to her face.

"Who made you the traffic police?" she said. "I'm checking addresses."

"Lost, huh." His lazy smiled revealed dazzling white teeth, a sharp contrast to a tanned face covered with several days growth of dark stubble.

His gaze slid slowly down her legs again, and she shifted in the seat, flustered by the surge of warmth flushing her face.

"You shouldn't play in the street," she said, unable to stop herself from staring. "It's dangerous."

"Got no where else to play, lady," one of the boys said.

"Heads-up Mario."

The man tossed the ball in the direction of the kid who spoke. He grabbed it and raced ahead of the other boys.

"Nice wheels," the man said, hooking a thumb into faded, cut-off jeans. "I hope your insurance is paid up if you're going to stay lost around here."

"Hey, Tony," Mario yelled from the middle of the street. "Come on. We don't got much time left." He dropped the ball and advanced it across the pavement with quick kicks.

She nodded towards the kids. "Are you their coach?"

"No. I'm the opposing team. Don't run us over, chica." He turned and jogged toward the waiting boys. "Okay, Miguel," he said. "I think you kicked out of bounds that time."

Kitty watched his retreating back, then closed her eyes again. Focus, she told herself. She didn't need any more distractions.

Even so, she took one last look at the street game. Moving swiftly, Tony dribbled the soccer ball between the small boys. Like a powerful, graceful animal, she thought, a panther from... the jungle. She glanced around. A fitting inhabitant of this neighborhood. Shaking her head, she rechecked the address. Focus, girl. She backed to the end of the block, turned east, and stopped in front of a two-story rectangular building. "The Waldorf" stood out in pink plaster relief over a grimy rounded entrance.

Kitty gulped as the appearance of the weather-beaten structure registered. Why would anyone name this dump The Waldorf? The building had looked much better on the only other occasion she'd seen it, months ago after she'd downed a few drinks with friends on South Beach. She'd persuaded the same friends to accompany her on a mission to check out The Waldorf, an unexpected inheritance from her favorite uncle.

She'd definitely had too much wine that night. Kitty stared at her new home in disbelief, noting several deep cracks in the glass brick that shaped the streamlined entrance. This building wasn't Art Deco, she thought... more like Art Junko. It was way, way south of South Beach, and probably should have been demolished years ago.

Have you totally lost your mind?

As the question buzzed through her head again, Kitty pushed away nagging doubts. Her plan was perfectly sound. No sweat, she'd told incredulous friends. I'll move in The Waldorf, start LegalTemps from there, and be a raging success in a year.

But when the reality of her decision slammed her in the face... she didn't know if she could go through with it. Could she really live in this... this firetrap?

Steeling herself for what she'd find inside, Kitty stepped onto wet grass and dodged puddles left over from an afternoon shower. She eased her way around a beat-up tricycle blocking the path. Red, yellow and blue plastic toys littered the tiny weed-filled yard.

As she approached the front door, a little boy rushed past Kitty, plopped himself down on the big wheeled tricycle and peddled furiously.

"Carlitos, ven acá," came a female voice from the other side of the entrance.

Carlitos halted and looked back toward the structure. "It quit raining, Mamá," he yelled.

"Carlitos, wait." A young woman with flowing dark hair rushed out of the structure dangling a pair of red sneakers off her index finger. "Put your shoes on, niño."

Kitty looked at the child's chubby bare feet in alarm. Broken beer bottles and debris lined the crumbling concrete path.

As if reading Kitty's mind, the young mother shook her head. "You're going to lose a toe one day," she said as she handed him the shoes. To Kitty she said, "He's loco, this one." The little boy sat on the bottom step and pulled on his sneakers.

"Hi," Kitty said to Carlitos's mother. "Do you know where I might find the manager?"

The mother shifted her gaze to the white sports car, then back to Kitty, and shrugged. "Apartment 1-A, front door on the right. Good luck, señorita." She sat down and helped her child with his frayed shoelaces.

"Thanks." Kitty gripped her leather purse, hoisted it over her shoulder, and stepped through the portal of The Waldorf.

One bare light bulb glared overhead, providing scant illumination in the narrow, windowless hall. A concrete staircase cut the hall in half, rising to a landing where another bare bulb dangled.

Her eyes quickly adjusted to the dark, and Kitty located Apartment 1-A to her right. A tiny sign that read "Manager" hung askew beneath the plastic numbers. She rapped lightly on the door.

No answer. She tried again, louder this time. Still no answer.

Sighing, Kitty examined her key chain and searched for the shiniest key. She squared her shoulders and walked farther into the dark hall. Apartment 1-B had to be behind 1-A.

The key fit the lock easily. The creaky door swung open to reveal cheap, unmatched furniture. As she stepped into the room, stale heat threatened to suffocate her. Tossing her purse on the couch, she looked around for a window. An apartment on Miami Beach had to have a window. No view maybe... but a window at least.

A rusted air conditioner caught her eye, and she urged a stuck knob to the highest position. The motor sputtered to life. Fan blades whipped dust and blasted hot air directly into her face.

Jumping out of the way, she coughed, brushed herself off, and surveyed the room. It had to be the ugliest place she'd ever seen.

Kitty sank onto the well-worn couch and buried her head in her hands, wishing for the thousandth time that she'd been smart enough to save some money. If there was ever a rainy day... this was it. Maybe everyone was right. Maybe she was a spoiled brat. Life had been a lot easier when Daddy deposited a check in her account every month.

A bead of perspiration trickled down the inside of her right arm. She pulled an envelope out of her purse and fanned her face while glaring at the rumbling air conditioner. The temperature must be at least ninety degrees.

Kitty stood, clicked off the switch, and went in search of windows. When she cranked open jalousies caked with dirt, fresh air filtered inside the room. Kitty plucked her damp blouse from her chest in an effort to cool heated skin, then smacked at a sharp sting on her forearm. Of course windows with no screens would invite an invasion of mosquitos! Closing her eyes, she counted to ten. Where was that damn manager?

She moved to the front door, deciding to leave him a note to make sure he knew she was in residence and couldn't be ignored.

Carlitos's mother waited outside, her hand raised to knock. "Are you... moving in?" she asked. A note of disbelief hung in the accented cadence of her words.

Kitty attempted a smile. "Yes, I'm afraid so." She held out her hand. "My name is Kitty."

"I'm Damaris. I live in 1-D."

Kitty's smile deepened. "With Carlitos."

Damaris sighed. "Sí, Carlitos, my youngest boy."

"Your youngest? How many kids do you have?"

"Three. The baby, Maria, is one year old. Miguel is eight, Carlitos five."

Kitty cringed as she envisioned all those occupants in a cramped, one-bedroom apartment. With four one-bedroom apartments on the first floor and four on the second, how many people actually lived in The Waldorf?

Damaris waved a graceful hand at the window. "You know your air conditioner doesn't work."

"So I discovered. But the manager isn't home."

"He can't fix the air conditioner. It's broken, been broken a long time. Listen, I came to tell you to lock your car or put a top on it, or something."

Kitty remembered her convertible out front crammed with boxes full of her old life. Damaris was right; she needed to bring in her belongings. She'd had to dodge rainstorms on the trip over, but the top wouldn't go up unless she unpacked some of her stuff.

"Thanks," she said. "I'll do that right now."

Damaris stepped back from the door as Kitty walked into the hall. "Does that fancy car have an alarm?" the young mother asked.

"Yes, it does."

"Good," Damaris said. "Be sure to set it."

Kitty halted her steps and glanced at her new neighbor, on the verge of asking about the warning. Damaris smiled and shook her head.

"I'm going to get you a fan," her new friend said. "You're going to need one tonight, Kit-ty."

Liking the way Damaris pronounced her name, Kitty continued to the car. Kit-ty, with the accent on the second syllable. She repeated it over in her mind: "Kit-ty." I'll take that over stuffy old Kathryn any day, she thought. Everyone in Connecticut always called her Kathryn. Well, at least people used to. Now she was considered a disgrace and a disappointment.

She intended to prove them wrong.