High-Powered, Hot-Blooded

By: Susan Mallery


She stood in front of her sagging front porch and flipped through the rest of the mail. No other bills, unless that official-looking letter from UCLA was actually a tuition bill. The good news was that her cousin Julie was in her first year at the prestigious college. The bad news was paying for it. Even living at home, the costs were enormous and Annie was doing her best to help.

“A problem for another time,” she told herself as she walked to the front door and opened it.

Once inside, she put her purse on the small table by the door and dropped the mail into the macaroni-and-gold-spray-paint-covered in-box her kindergarten class had made for her last year. Then she went into the kitchen to check out the dry-erase bulletin board hanging from the wall.

It was Wednesday. Julie had a night class. Jenny, Julie’s twin, was working her usual evening job at a restaurant in Westwood. Kami, the exchange student from Guam, had gone to the mall with friends. Annie had the house to herself…at least for the next couple of hours. Talk about heaven.

She walked to the refrigerator and got out the box of white wine. After pouring a glass, she kicked off her shoes and walked barefoot to the backyard.

The grass was cool under her feet. All around the fence, lush plants grew and flowered. It was L.A. Growing anything was pretty easy, as long as you didn’t mind paying the water bill. Annie did mind, but she loved the plants more. They reminded her of her mom, who had always been an avid gardener.

She’d barely settled on the old, creaky wooden swing by the bougainvillea when she heard the doorbell ring. She thought about ignoring whoever was there, but couldn’t bring herself to do it. She went back inside, opened the door and stared at the man standing on her porch.

He was tall and powerfully built. The well-tailored suit didn’t disguise the muscles in his arms and chest. He looked like he could have picked up money on the side working as a bouncer. He had dark hair and the coldest gray eyes she’d ever seen. And he looked seriously annoyed.

“Who are you?” he demanded by way of greeting. “The girlfriend? Is Tim here?”

Annie started to hold up her hands in a shape of a T. Talk about needing a time-out. Fortunately she remembered she was holding a wineglass and managed to keep from spilling.

“Hi,” she said, wishing she’d thought to actually take a sip before answering the door. “I’m sure that’s how you meant to start.”

“What?”

“By saying ‘hello.’”

The man’s expression darkened. “I don’t have time for small talk. Is Tim McCoy here?”

The tone wasn’t friendly and the words didn’t make her feel any better. She set her glass on the tiny table by the door and braced herself for the worst.

“Tim is my brother. Who are you?”

“His boss.”

“Oh.”

That couldn’t be good, she thought, stepping back to invite the man in. Tim hadn’t said much about his relatively new job and Annie had been afraid to ask. Tim was…flaky. No, that wasn’t right. He could be really sweet and caring but he had a streak of the devil in him.

The man entered and looked around the living room. It was small and a little shabby, but homey, she thought. At least that’s what she told herself. There were a few paper turkeys on the wall, and a pair of pilgrim candlesticks on the coffee table. They would come down this weekend when she got serious about her Christmas decorating.

“I’m Annie McCoy,” she said, holding out her hand. “Tim’s sister.”

“Duncan Patrick.”

They shook hands. Annie tried not to wince as his large fingers engulfed hers. Fortunately the man didn’t squeeze. From the looks of things, he could have crushed her bones to dust.

“Or ground them for bread,” she murmured.

“What?”

“Oh, sorry. Nothing. Fairy-tale flashback. The witch in Hansel and Gretel. Doesn’t she want to grind their bones to make her bread? No, that’s the giants. I can’t remember. Now I’ll have to look that up.”

Duncan frowned at her and stepped back.

She couldn’t help chuckling. “Don’t worry. It’s not contagious. I think weird things from time to time. You won’t catch it by being in the room.” She stopped babbling and cleared her throat. “As to my brother, he doesn’t live here.”

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