High-Powered, Hot-Blooded

By: Susan Mallery



“Any drug use? Alcohol problems? Other addictions?”

An unnatural love for chocolate, but that was really a girl thing. “No, but I don’t…”

“Any of your ex-boyfriends in prison?”

Now it was her turn to be pissed. “Hey, that’s my life you’re talking about.”

“You didn’t answer the question.”

She reminded herself she didn’t have to. That it wasn’t his business. Still she found herself saying, “No. Of course not.”

He leaned against the chipped counter and studied her. “What if there is a third option? Another way to save your brother?”

“Which would be what?”

“It’s four weeks until Christmas. I want to hire you for the holiday season. I’ll pay you by forgiving half of Tim’s debt, sending him to rehab and setting up a payment plan for the remainder of the money. To be paid by him when he gets out.”

Which sounded too good to be true. “What do I have that’s worth over a hundred thousand dollars?”

For the first time since entering her house, Duncan Patrick smiled. The quick movement transformed his face, making him seem boyish and handsome. It also made her very, very nervous.

She took a step back. “We’re not talking sex, are we?” she asked desperately.

“No, Ms. McCoy. I don’t want to have sex with you.”

The blush came on hot and fast. “I know that I’m not really the sex type.”

Duncan raised an eyebrow.

“I’m more the best friend,” she continued, feeling the hole getting deeper and deeper. “The girl you talk to, not the girl you sleep with. The one you take home to Mom when you want to convince her you’re dating a nice girl.”

“Exactly,” he said.

What? “You want to introduce me to your mother?”

“No. I want to introduce you to everyone else. I want you to be my date for all the social events I have going on this holiday season. You’ll show the world I’m not a complete bastard.”

“I don’t understand.” He was hiring her to be his date? “You could go out with anyone you want.”

“True, but the women I want to go out with don’t solve my problem. You do.”

“How?”

“You teach small children, look after your family. You’re a nice girl. I need nice. In return your brother doesn’t go to jail.” He folded his arms across his chest. “Annie, if you say yes, your brother gets the help he needs. If you say no, he goes to jail.”

As if she hadn’t figured that out on her own. “You don’t play fair, do you?”

“I play to win. So which will it be?”





Two


While Duncan waited for his answer, Annie grabbed a kitchen chair and pulled it over to the refrigerator. She reached the overhead cupboard and pulled out a box of high-fiber cereal. After opening it, she removed a plastic bag filled with orange and brown M&M’s.

“What are you doing?” he asked, wondering if the stress had pushed her over the edge.

“Getting my secret stash. I live with three other women. If you think chocolate would last more than fifteen seconds in this house, you’re deluding yourself.” She scooped out a handful, then put the plastic bag back in the box and slid the box onto the shelf.

“Why are they that color?”

She looked at him as if he were an idiot, then climbed down from the chair. “They’re from Halloween. I bought them November first, when they’re half off. It’s a great time to buy seasonal candy. They taste just as good. M&M’s are my weakness.” She popped two in her mouth and sighed. “Better.”

Okay, this was strange, he thought. “You had a glass of wine before,” he said. “Don’t you want that?”

“Instead of chocolate? No.”

She stood there in a shapeless blue sweater that matched her eyes and a patterned skirt that went to her knees. Her feet were bare and he could see she’d painted little daisies on her toes. Aside from that, Annie McCoy was strictly utilitarian. No makeup, no jewelry to speak of. Just a plain, inexpensive watch around her left wrist. Her hair was an appealing color. Shades of gold in a riot of curls that tumbled past her shoulders. She wasn’t a woman who spent a lot of time on her appearance.

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