High-Powered, Hot-Blooded

By: Susan Mallery



It was too much. She was tired, hungry and this was the last problem she could deal with right now.

She grabbed the electric bill from the in-box and waved it in front of him.

“Do you know what this is?”

“No.”

“It’s a bill. One I’m late on. Do you know why?”

“Ms. McCoy…”

“Answer the question,” she yelled. “Do you know why?”

He looked more amused than afraid, which really pissed her off. “No. Why?”

“Because I’m currently helping to support my two cousins. They’re both in college and have partial scholarships, and their mom, my aunt, is a hairdresser and has her own issues to deal with. Have you seen what college-age girls eat? I don’t know how they get it all down and stay skinny, but they do. Follow me.”

She walked into the kitchen. Surprisingly Duncan came after her. She pointed at the dry-erase board. “You see that? Our family schedule. Kami is an exchange student. Well, not really. She was in high school. She’s from Guam. Now she goes to college here. She’s friends with my cousins and can’t afford her own place. So she lives here, too. And while they all help as much as they can, it isn’t much.”

She drew in a breath. “I’m feeding three college-age girls, paying about half their tuition, for most of their books and keeping a roof over their heads. I also have an aging car, a house in constant need of repair and plenty of student loans from my own education. I do all of this on a kindergarten teacher’s salary. So no. Taking out a loan on my house, the only asset I have in the world, is not an option.”

She stared at the tall, muscled man in her kitchen and prayed she’d gotten through to him.

She hadn’t.

“While this is all interesting,” he said, “it doesn’t get me my two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. If you know where your brother is, I suggest you tell him to turn himself in. It will go better for him that way than if he’s found and arrested.”

The weight of the world seemed to press down on her shoulders. “No. You can’t. I’ll make payments. A hundred dollars a month. Two hundred. I can do that, I swear.” Maybe she could get a second job. “It’s less than four weeks until Christmas. You can’t throw Tim in jail now. He needs help. He needs to get this fixed. Sending him to prison won’t change anything. It’s not like you need the money.”

The ice returned to his cool, gray eyes. “And that makes it all right to steal?”

She winced. “Of course not. It’s just, please. I’ll work with you. This is my family you’re talking about.”

“Then mortgage your house, Ms. McCoy.”

There was a finality to his tone. A promise that he meant what he said about throwing Tim in jail.

How was she supposed to decide? The house or Tim’s freedom. The problem was she didn’t trust her brother to do any better if she mortgaged the house, but how could she let him be locked away?

“It’s impossible,” she said.

“Actually, it’s very easy.”

“For you,” she snapped. “What are you? The meanest man on the planet? Give me a second here.”

He stiffened slightly. If she hadn’t been staring at him, she wouldn’t have noticed the sudden tension in his shoulders or the narrowing of his eyes.

“What did you say?” he asked, his voice low and controlled.

“I said give me a minute. Maybe there’s another choice. A compromise. I’m good at negotiating.” What she really wanted to say was she was good at negotiating with unreasonable children, but doubted Duncan would appreciate the comparison.

“Are you married, Ms. McCoy?”

“What?” She glanced around warily. “No. But my neighbors all know me and if I yell, they’ll come running.”

The amusement returned. “I’m not here to threaten you.”

“Lucky me. You’re here to threaten my brother. Practically the same thing.”

“You teach kindergarten you said. For how long?”

“This is my fifth year.” She named the school. “Why?”

“You like children?”

“Well, duh.”

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