Too Hot To Handle


Ghosts don’t have sex, do they? Annabelle Ronaldi wasn’t one hundred percent sure of the answer. Floating between sleep and wakefulness after a night of way too much champagne, she figured she’d either had mind-blowing sex with the ghost of her dead boyfriend, Chip, or his double. She crossed her fingers for the latter.

She’d only slept with two men. The chances she’d increased that number by fifty percent beat the hell out of the odds of her waking with a ghost—especially when she thought about it in a semi-sober state. A state she hadn’t been in the night before.

She had to admit her relationship with Chip would have been a lot better if he’d been half as good in bed alive as his ghost was last night—if, in fact, it was Chip’s ghost sleeping beside her. Which brought her back to her initial question regarding the ability of ghosts to have sex—really, really good sex.

Annabelle opened her eyes and screamed. Loud.

The guy asleep next to her awoke and sat straight up as she jumped out of bed. “My God, you’re real.” Yep, definitely real, and very much alive.

He stared at her with such heat; she was surprised she wasn’t incinerated. Which, under the circumstances, would be preferable to standing there like an idiot. An idiot wearing nothing but a blue garter. She ripped the sheet off the bed, leaving him naked, only he didn’t look like an idiot. On the contrary, he looked… big and um… happy to see her. Very happy.

Annabelle was speechless.

“Belle… ” He scooted toward her. She backed up until she hit the dresser with a thunk. Belle? Chip never called her Belle. If she hadn’t almost totally dismissed the whole ghost question as a possibility, being called Belle would have cinched it.

“Hey, take it easy. I’m not gonna hurt you.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Mike… Mike Flynn, your brother-in-law’s best friend, we met at the wedding. You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“No kidding.” He didn’t seem like the ax murderer type, not that she knew what that type looked like, but she was pretty sure it required an ax, and he didn’t have one or anywhere to hide one either. She found herself staring at… him. Probably not the polite thing to do. Annabelle took a deep breath and moved the direction of her stare past his washboard abs and nice chest, straight to the eyes of Chip’s double. He looked almost exactly like Chip, a/k/a Christopher Edmond Van Dyke Larsen, except for the eye color, a slight bump on his nose, and the size of a certain appendage.

“Hi… um”

“Mike. Mike Flynn.”

“I knew that.” You’d think she’d offered to sell him the Brooklyn Bridge, and he wasn’t buying. “I’ve never done this before—”

“This, meaning, brought home a nice guy, had mind-boggling, earth-shattering, world- rocking sex?” He winked at her. “Yeah, if it makes you feel any better, I don’t make a habit of it either—especially the part where the beautiful woman can’t remember my name. Aside from that, I can’t think of a more pleasurable morning.”

Annabelle’s wish to disappear wasn’t happening, so she had no choice other than to deal with… whatever this was.

“Anyone ever tell you you’re beautiful when you’re embarrassed? Well, you’re pretty much beautiful all the time.”

She shifted her weight from foot to foot. “So, we really did… um… you know?”

“Oh yeah. Several times.”

Maybe her mind was playing tricks on her. Maybe he didn’t look and sound like Chip. Maybe she’d had a mental breakdown. Lord knew, with everything she’d been through recently, taking a vacation from reality wouldn’t be that big of a stretch.

Pictures of the two of them stumbling through her new apartment undressing each other flitted through her mind like a grainy sex video. She winced again as she remembered the sound of ripping fabric and her bubbling laughter when she’d realized her little black dress had suddenly become a lot smaller. If her memory was correct, she was surprised her dress hadn’t spontaneously combusted from the heat they’d generated.

“You want me to give you some time? I’ll take Dave for a walk.”

“How do you know Rosalie’s dog?”

“I’m Nick’s best friend, remember? I’ve known Dave since Nick and Rosalie got together.”

“Oh, right.”

“I’ll take Dave out, pick up some breakfast, and then we can talk, and you know, do the first date thing.”

“The first date thing?”

“Yeah, you tell me your middle name. I’ll tell you mine. We can do a fast run-through of our families, occupations, and the normal stuff. Then, us sleeping together won’t seem so premature.”

“It won’t?”

“Well, like I said, I don’t make a habit of ravishing women within hours of meeting them. In fact, it’s never happened before. I figure exchanging the first date info is worth a try. What do you say?”

“Okay.” She squeezed her eyes shut and thought he’d leave—at least temporarily. Then he moved closer and cupped her face in his hands. Before it registered in her addled mind, he pressed soft kisses on her eyelids, then her lips. She opened her eyes, and he smiled at her as if she were the most adorable creature on earth. The man obviously needed to get out more.

Mike brushed one more kiss on her shoulder, which seemed to be hardwired to her nipples. Her breath caught in her throat, and Mike gave her a very satisfied smile before he started searching for his clothes.

She had never seen that satisfied a smile on any man she’d shared a bed with. Though, it’s not like she’d slept with many men. There was Chip, then… ugh… Johnny, and now… um… Mike. Right, Mike.

Dave, the dog she was watching until her sister came back from her honeymoon, strolled into the bedroom with a pair of jockey shorts in his mouth. She’d hazard to guess they were Mike’s. She winced. “Sorry about that.”

Mike pulled on his gray pinstriped suit pants and zipped them. “Hey, have you seen my shirt?”

“It’s in the living room.”

“Ah, so now you remember. Sure helps the ole bruised and battered ego.”

Before she could think of anything to say, the phone rang. Annabelle peeked at the clock. Since it was still early, it must be Becca. “I’m sorry—”

Mike held up his hand. “No, it’s fine. Go ahead and take your time. Dave and I will be back.”

Mike turned and left the bedroom, closing the door behind him.

She threw herself on the bed, pulled the sheet over her, and reached for the phone. “Hello?”

“So, you did survive the wedding. See, you were worried for nothing.”

“Becca? You don’t by any chance have a cousin in New York, do you?” She heard Mike whistle for the dog, the jangle of the choke collar striking dog tags, then the front door closing.

“A cousin?”

“Yeah, a male cousin, about thirty, blonde hair, gray eyes, totally hot. A cousin who looks a lot like Chip. Exactly like Chip, except his lips are a bit fuller, his nose looks like he’s broken it more than once, and well, he has bigger… feet.”

“Bigger feet? Annabelle, are you all right?”

She felt like screaming, “No, I’m not all right.” How could someone wake up wondering if they’d had sex with a ghost and be even remotely all right? But Becca would drop everything, jump on the first train out of Philadelphia, and run straight to Brooklyn if she thought Annabelle needed her. As much as she loved Becca, she wasn’t sure she could handle everything that calling Becca into this situation would entail.

“I’m fine. I just met this guy yesterday. His name is Mike Flynn, and he has an amazing resemblance to Chip. He must be related to you somehow.”

“Annabelle, my brother’s been gone two years. Don’t you think it’s time you let go?”

“Geez, Bec. I just said that I met a guy who looks like Chip. I’m not hanging onto Chip’s memory. Hell, I’ve moved on. Up until a few weeks ago, I was engaged.”

“To the scum-of-the-earth mortician.”

“Johnny wasn’t that bad.”

“Johnny was caught with his pants down, the make-up lady’s skirt up, doing the nasty right next to a corpse—”

“Yeah, Mrs. Nunzio.” Annabelle crossed herself. “God rest her soul.”

“Face it. That pretty much screams scum-of-the-earth behavior.”

“Fine, if you want to get technical about it. But Johnny had nothing to do with Chip.”

“Johnny had everything to do with Chip. Everything you’ve done since Chip’s diagnosis has been a direct result of Chip. Including planning to marry the scum-of-the-earth mortician.”

“Look, sweetie, as enlightening as this conversation is, I don’t have time to talk right now. I have to get dressed. Was there something you needed?”

“I just wanted to make sure you’re okay. It must suck going to your own wedding as a guest and not the bride.”

“I’m fine.”

“Liar. You’re way too shallow to be fine. No matter how much you love your sister, and I know you do, the fact she hijacked your wedding day has to chap your ass. It would rankle an angel, and we both know you’re no angel. I know you didn’t take this lying down.”

“Actually, I did.” To prove her point, Annabelle sat up and kicked the sheet off her naked body. Naked except for the scratchy blue garter she wore high on her thigh. “Oh God.” She’d forgotten about that.

“Okay, that’s it. I’m on the next train to New York. You’re scaring me.”

“No. I’m fine, really. I… um… I just noticed the time, and well, I have to… meet someone for breakfast, um brunch, and I’m not dressed. I promise to call you back later. I swear. I’m fine. Really.”

“Okay, but I know something’s up. I’ll talk to you later this afternoon. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll be there in the morning banging down your door.”

“I promise I’ll call. Bye.” She hung up the phone and groaned. Her head ached, her teeth were fuzzy, and she was pretty sure someone had spiked her champagne with battery acid. She pulled on her robe and stumbled into the bathroom.

Mike was right about one thing—her memory was coming back. She’d been at her sister Rosalie’s wedding reception. The wedding reception Annabelle had planned, the wedding reception she’d dreamt of since she got her first Wedding Day Barbie, the wedding reception that would have been hers if she hadn’t broken her engagement to Johnny. Watching her sister living her dream wedding mortified her enough, but then she’d seen Chip’s double talking to her new brother-in-law, Nick.

He had the same broad shoulders and dirty blonde hair that was long enough to curl up over his collar. And the similarities didn’t stop there. No. He had the same posture, the way he stood with his feet spread and hands on his hips as he laughed. It had made the hair on her arms stand up and had her fighting the urge to cross herself.

Chip’s double had turned and stared directly into her eyes. Annabelle remembered grabbing the chair beside her as her head spun, gray narrowing her vision. She’d dropped her glass. She’d heard it break. She’d heard the buzz of three hundred people conversing, but it had all seemed so far away. Still, she’d been unable to take her eyes off the man walking toward her.

He’d been rushing, yet moved in slow motion. His warm hand grabbed her elbow. “Sit down before you fall down.”

“Chip?” she’d mumbled.

“I’m Mike. Are you okay?” He pushed her into the chair and crouched in front of her as he held her wrist and glanced at his watch.

“Fine.” She’d pushed away from his grasp and rubbed her arms, trying to dispel the chill.

His eyes were different from Chip’s; they were gray and assessing. Chip had one brown eye and one half brown and half green, lit with a constant sense of wonder. It must have been magical to see the world through Chip’s eyes. He only saw beauty. He left everyone else to deal with reality.

“You don’t look so good.”

“Thanks, that’s what every girl wants to hear.”

“I mean you don’t look well. I’m a doctor. Have you eaten today? Are you taking any medication?”

“Look, Doc, I’m not sick. I thought I saw a ghost, that’s all. I was wrong, obviously, since you are definitely not a ghost.”


“You look a lot like someone I used to know.” Annabelle rose, and Mike followed suit. “It was nice meeting you—”


“Right.” She’d walked blindly to the other side of the room, wishing she could leave. Only the fear of her mother’s wrath had kept her from going any farther than the deserted terrace overlooking Park Avenue.

Later, she’d been too drunk to remember to drop the damn bouquet after she’d caught it. Mike caught the garter. But before she could duck out, she’d been forced into a chair in the middle of the dance floor while, to a chorus of wolf whistles and clapping, Mike very slowly slid the garter and his hands beneath her dress and high onto her thigh. The higher his hands went, the darker his eyes became. She was still trapped by his gaze as he helped her out of the chair and into his arms for the obligatory dance. The next thing she knew, they’d been in a cab on their way back to Brooklyn.

Annabelle wished her mind was like an Etch A Sketch, and she could give her head a good shake and start with a clean slate.





Mike left Annabelle’s apartment with Dave ambling beside him. He walked right to the nearest light post and banged his head against it. Hard.

            “Fuck.” He opened his eyes and saw an old lady, a lace shawl covering her head and rosary beads hanging from one hand. The scowl she shot him had him ducking his head in shame. “I’m sorry,” he said as she passed him.

She muttered something in Italian. Shit, he was batting a thousand this morning.

“Great show, Mikey. Now tell me what the hell you’re doing with my dog, outside my sister-in-law’s apartment, at the crack of fuckin’ dawn.”

“Nick? What are you doing here? You just got married less than twenty-four hours ago.”

Mike tried unsuccessfully to keep the dog from jumping on Nick.

Nick handed Mike a couple of the bags he held so he could pet Dave. The expression on Nick’s face made Mike thankful that Nick wasn’t the violent type. “No, don’t tell me.” He studied Mike, seeing all the signs of the morning after that it was. “You didn’t sleep with my sister-in-law, did you?

“Do you really want to know the answer to that question?”

“What, you’ve gone through all my old girlfriends, and you’re starting on family now?”

“It’s not my fault your old girlfriends ran to me for solace. With my work hours, it’s almost impossible to sleep, much less meet women. It’s been five or six years since I had the time or opportunity to meet a woman without the letters MD or RN after her name.”

Mike had had bed buddies, and even a couple relationships that went beyond sex, not far beyond, but there were a few he’d felt an emotional connection to. Nothing had prepared him for Annabelle Ronaldi. She was almost too hot to handle. When he touched her, the charge he’d felt was only slightly weaker than the one he’d gotten the day he’d been playing in the wet basement and came close to dying of electrocution. “Annabelle’s different.”

“Yeah, she’s my fuckin’ sister-in-law. You couldn’t find another chick to sleep with?” Nick raised his arms and slapped them against his thighs, obviously forgetting that he carried several bags from the deli and bakery down the street. “From the look on your dopey face, I guess the answer to that question is no. And I’m thinking now is not a good time to stop by the apartment and pick up that bag Rosalie left.”

Mike couldn’t hold back a smile. “You’re right both times.”

“I’m gonna pretend I didn’t see you.”

“Isn’t Rosalie going to wonder why you didn’t stop?”

“I’ll tell her to buy a new one. Besides, you know how much Lee loves chocolate. She’s gonna take one look at these chocolate covered doughnuts, and she’ll forgive me for forgetting to look for her bag. I’ll tell her I couldn’t stand to be away from her. After all, it’s the truth.”

Nick took his bags back.

Mike knew exactly how Nick felt. Well, almost. The gods had smiled on him last night because the first time his eyes met Annabelle’s, she seemed to have the same reaction to him. Annabelle was the type of woman who made him glad he wore loose-fitting pants, not only because she was beautiful and sexy, but because she stared at him as if she couldn’t believe her eyes. From that moment on, her eyes never left him. He might as well have been the only man in the room.

Mike wasn’t going to let her get away. He just needed to make sure she’d never forget him again.



Annabelle tossed on a pair of yoga pants and a workout top and stepped out of the bedroom as Mike and Dave returned.

            Mike had folded the remains of her dress, her panties, her stockings, and laid them neatly on the couch. His suit jacket hung over the back of a chair with a tie rolled and stuffed into the breast pocket. He had on the wrinkled shirt that was missing a button or two, his suit pants, and black dress shoes. Even wearing clothes that had spent the night on the floor, she’d be hard pressed to find a better-looking man.

Her only question now was what to do with him.

“Hi.” Mike placed two bags on the table and handed her a cup of coffee. “I didn’t know how you like your coffee… ”

Annabelle removed the cover and took a gulp of the steaming liquid, trying to think of what to say.

“Ah, damn.” Mike pulled a cell phone off his belt and read the screen. “I’m sorry. I have to go. I know we need to talk, but this is an emergency.” He removed the tie from his suit pocket, flipped the collar of his shirt up, and tied a perfect half-Windsor without looking in the mirror.

She used to have to tie Chip’s ties for him on the rare occasion she got him to wear one. She’d always wondered if he was pulling her leg. A kid who’d spent his life in prep school should have known how to tie a tie in his sleep. Maybe that was why he’d refused to wear one as an adult.

Mike cinched the knot up to his throat and didn’t even make a face. Chip always looked as if he were being garroted. How weird was this? Here she was watching Mike get ready for work. Well, he hadn’t specifically said he was going to work, but if her fuzzy memory was accurate, he’d said he was a doctor, and doctors had to take care of emergencies. She shuddered as the memories of times she’d taken Chip to the hospital spilled over the dam she’d built in her mind to hold them back. She remembered all the times she’d waited for the doctor to give her more bad news.

Watching her with concern, Mike tugged her into his arms. “Hey. What’s this about?” He tipped her head up and stared into her eyes. She opened her mouth to tell him it was nothing, but before she could press the words out, he cut her off with a kiss. A coffee, cream, and sugar-flavored kiss that packed so much heat it stole her breath.

He didn’t taste like Chip, he didn’t smell like Chip, and even with their uncanny resemblance, he didn’t feel like Chip. When in remission, Chip had been hard and strong. He’d been a marble statue, beautiful to admire, but uncomfortable to lean against. She’d found out the hard way that when you leaned on a statue, he either wobbled until he dropped you or took you down with him, shattering when he hit, and leaving you lying bruised and bleeding on a pile of rubble. Alone.

Mike was comfortable, firm but not chiseled, strong and solid, and he held her. She didn’t have to lean. He drew her to him, pulling her weight against his body, and steadying her. For a second, she rested in his arms, her eyes closed as she savored what was a false sense of security.

“As much as I’d like to stay and find out what’s going on in that busy mind of yours, I really do have to run. I hope it won’t take long.” Annabelle opened her mouth to ask if he was coming back, but he kissed the thought away, turned, and walked out.

Dave sat on his bed with Mike’s jockey shorts hanging from his mouth and whined. The dog might weigh a good one hundred and fifty pounds and look like a cross between Cujo and the Black Stallion, but he was nothing more than a puppy in the body of an ox. She sat on the couch and stared at the door. Dave sauntered over and rested his enormous St. Bernardish head on her lap. The jockeys seemed to staunch the flow of slobber, thank God. Dave’s deep brown eyes stared into hers, and he let out a plaintive whine.

Annabelle absently rubbed his big head. She wasn’t sure what she felt, but she felt something. Too much. Was it better to spend life in a vacuum or to be shot through a veritable galaxy of feelings, unable to identify them? The vacuum of emotion she usually swam in was a lot more comfortable.



Annabelle struggled to move a crate of canvases from the storage area in the basement of the apartment. Before Rosalie had gotten engaged to Nick and rented her apartment to Annabelle, Rosalie had offered Annabelle space when she’d moved back from Philadelphia. It had been two years since Chip’s death—past time to go though her things. Johnny wouldn’t have understood her hanging portraits and nudes all over the house, especially since most of the paintings were of Chip. She’d keep a few of the small portraits for herself, offer the others to Becca, and destroy the nudes. Well, all but one. She couldn’t part with the first. No, no matter what, even if it stayed wrapped in paper in the back of her closet until the day she died. She’d never be able to part with that.

           “Annabelle!” Wayne yelled when he saw her sliding the crate up the basement steps to the first floor. “What are you doing? Henry, come out here and help me.” Wayne, Rosalie’s—no, make that her—neighbor, slid beside her and picked up the crate. “Why didn’t you give us a holler? We’re right upstairs, and we’re always here to lend a helping hand. We’re so thrilled you’ve taken over your sister’s apartment. You call us if you need help moving anything. Anything at all. I can’t tell you how Henry and I have been dreading the thought of losing touch with our Rosalie. Now, with you here… well, we’re just so thrilled to have you. You have to come to dinner so we can get to know you. Was that handsome gentleman I saw leaving this morning your boyfriend? Girl, you have almost as good taste in men as your sister. Isn’t he just too cute? I mean really, if I were ten years younger, and if he wasn’t straight, I swear he’d give Henry a run for his money.”

Wayne finally took a breath. Annabelle stared at him blankly. “Um… what was the question?”

Wayne put his arm around her. “Dinner, then boyfriend.”

“Oh, yes, well I’d like to have dinner with you and Henry. Rosalie has told me so much about you both.” She flipped her hair and pasted on her best smile. “Rosalie gave me your number in case I can’t get home to feed Dave. I hope that’s okay.”

“Nice try, gorgeous, but that only works on straight men. Now dish. Tell me about Mr. Big, Blond, and Beautiful.”

“That’s Dr. Big, Blond, and Beautiful to you.” Annabelle followed him into her apartment and directed him to the small room that was labeled a den but looked more like a walk-in closet with a window. “You can put the crate up against that wall.”

Wayne positioned the crate and then followed her to the kitchen. He watched as she rooted around the junk drawer.

“Whatcha looking for while you’re avoiding talking about Dr. Good Love?”

“A hammer so I can pry the crate open. You’re not going to let this go, are you?”

“No.” Wayne went to the door. “Henry, bring a pry bar and a hammer when you come down, will you, sweetie?” he hollered up the stairs.

Wayne sashayed back, not even waiting for Henry’s response. Rosalie had spoken a lot about her neighbors, and Annabelle had always wondered if she’d exaggerated. So far, she had to admit, Rosalie was dead on. Knowing all the stories, and seeing firsthand proof, she wondered how Wayne managed to wrap Henry around his little finger.

He came up beside her and bumped her with his hip. “You won’t be sorry you’ve confided in me. Just ask your sister. If it weren’t for Henry and me, Rosalie and Nick would still be pretending the other didn’t exist. Just think of us as your Fairy Godfathers.”

That was it. Annabelle couldn’t keep a straight face no matter how hard she tried. By the time Henry joined them, she and Wayne were laughing so hard, she was having a difficult time catching her breath. She wrapped her arms around her aching sides and tried to breathe. God, it had been so long since she’d laughed.

Henry saw the two of them and scoffed. “Wayne, look at her.” Henry handed Wayne the tools, took his crisply ironed handkerchief out of his pocket, and dried the tears from Annabelle’s face. Henry was tall. She didn’t often look up to men, but she had to tip her head back to stare into his eyes. Kind eyes. Wayne had good taste. Henry was very hot if you went for the metrosexual type. Not to mention the gay type.

“What’d I miss?”

“Wayne was just teasing me.” Annabelle wasn’t used to people touching her, and Wayne and Henry were definitely touchy-feely people. She stepped back and noticed Wayne was gone.

The sound of hammering filled the apartment and then the squeaking of nails being pulled from wood. She ran to the den, but before she could stop him, Wayne had the crate open. There it stood for all the room to see—a thirty-six-by-sixty oil of a very naked Chip. Oh God. She hadn’t imagined it. Mike looked exactly like Chip.

“Well, lookie here.” Wayne put his hands on his hips and let out a wolf whistle while he examined the painting. “My, my, my, it seems you know Dr. Big, Blond, and Beautiful better than I thought.”

He didn’t take his eyes off the nude, shaking his head and tisking. “If this painting is accurate, we have to rethink the big part of the good doctor’s moniker. Such a shame. No matter what Cosmo says, we both know it ain’t just how a man uses it that counts.”

Annabelle sputtered and pointed to the painting. “B… but, that’s not Mike.”