High-Powered, Hot-Blooded

By: Susan Mallery



Which was fine by him. The outside could easily be fixed. He was far more concerned about her character. From what he’d seen in the past ten minutes, she was compassionate, caring and led with her heart. In other words, a sucker. Happy news for him. Right now he needed a bleeding-heart do-gooder to get his board off his back long enough for him to wrestle control from them.

“You haven’t answered my question,” he reminded her.

Annie sighed. “I know. Mostly because I still don’t know what you want from me.”

He pointed to the rickety chairs pushed up against the table. “Why don’t we sit down.”

It was her house—she should be doing the inviting. Still Annie found herself dragging her chair over to the table and plopping down. Politeness dictated that she offer him some of her precious store of M&M’s, but she had a feeling she was going to need them later.

He took a seat across from her and rested his large arms on the table. “I run a company,” he began. “Patrick Industries.”

“Tell me it’s a family business,” she said, without thinking. “You inherited it, right? You’re not such a total egomaniac that you named it after yourself.”

The corner of his mouth twitched. “I see the chocolate gives you courage.”

“A little.”

“I inherited the company while I was in college. I took it from nothing to a billion-dollar empire in fifteen years.”

Lucky him, she thought, thinking she had nothing to bond with. Scoring in the top two percent of the country on her SATs was hardly impressive when compared with billions.

“To get that far, that fast, I was ruthless,” he continued. “I bought companies, merged them into mine and streamlined them to make them very profitable.”

She counted out the last M&M’s. Eight round bits of heaven. “Is that a polite way of saying you fired people?”

He nodded. “The business world loves a success story, but only to a point. They consider me too ruthless. I’m getting some bad press. I need to counteract that.”

“Why do you care what people say about you?”

“I don’t, but my board of directors does. I need to fool people into thinking I have a heart. I need to appear…” He hesitated. “Nice.”

Now it was her turn to smile. “Not your best quality?”

“No.”

He had unusual eyes, she thought absently. The gray was a little scary, but not unattractive. If only they weren’t so cold.

“You are exactly what you seem,” he said. “A pretty, young teacher with more compassion than sense. People like that. The press will like that.”

She’d been with him, right up until that last bit. “Press? As in press?”

“Not television media or gossip reporters. I’m talking about business reporters. Between now and Christmas I have about a dozen social events I need to attend. I want you to go with me. As far as the world is concerned, we’re dating and you’re crazy about me. They’ll think you’re nice and by association, change their opinion of me.”

Which all sounded easy enough, she thought. “Wouldn’t it just be easier to actually act nice? This reminds me of high school when a few people worked really hard to cheat. They could have spent the same amount of time studying and gotten a better grade without any risk. But they would rather cheat.”



His dark eyebrows drew together. “My reasons are not up for debate.”

She picked up another M&M. “I’m just saying.”

“If you agree, then I’ll arrange for your brother to enter rehab immediately, under the conditions we discussed. He’ll get the second chance you seem to think he deserves. However, if you let on to anyone that our relationship isn’t real, if you say anything bad about me, then Tim goes directly to jail.”

“Without collecting two hundred dollars.”

“Exactly.”

A deal with the devil, she thought, wondering how a nice girl like her got into a situation like this. Of course, her being a nice girl was apparently the point. She sighed.

The sense of being trapped was very real. As was the knowledge that while she was expected to take care of her cousins, Tim and apparently even Duncan Patrick, no one ever bothered to take care of her. Or worry about her.

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