High-Powered, Hot-Blooded(7)

By: Susan Mallery

The gray eyes turned to ice. She pressed her lips together and stopped talking.

“You agree?” he asked.

Did she have a choice? Tim needed help. She’d tried to talk him into getting it before, but he always blew her off. Maybe being forced to spend some time in a safe place would make a difference. As the alternative was him being charged with a felony, she didn’t see that she had a choice.

“I will,” she began, “act as your adoring girlfriend between now and Christmas. I will tell anyone who will listen that you are kind and sweet and have the heart of a marshmallow.” She frowned at him. “I don’t know anything about you. How am I supposed to fake being in a relationship?”

“I’ll get you material.”

“Won’t that be happy reading.”

He ignored her comment. “In return, Tim will get the help he needs, fifty percent of the debt will be forgiven and he’ll have a reasonable payment plan for the rest. Do you have an appropriate wardrobe?”

She nibbled on the last M&M. “Define appropriate.”

He looked at her with a thoroughness that left her breathless. Before she could react, he’d scanned her battered kitchen, his gaze lingering on the warped vinyl flooring.

“Someone will be in touch to arrange a session with a stylist,” he said. “When the month is over, you can keep the clothes.” He rose.

She stood and trailed after him. “What kind of clothes?”

“Cocktail dresses and evening gowns.” He paused by the front door and faced her.

“I have the dress from my prom.”

“I’m sure you wouldn’t be comfortable wearing it at one of these events.”

“Is this really happening?” she asked. “Are we having this conversation?”

“It is and we are. The first party is on Saturday night. My assistant will call you with the information. Please be ready on time.”

He dwarfed her small living room, looking too masculine for the floral-print sofa and lacy curtains. She would never have imagined a man like him in her life, even temporarily.

“I’m sorry my brother stole from you,” she said.

“He’s not your responsibility.”

“Of course he is. He’s family.”

For a second Duncan looked like he was going to say something, but instead he left. Annie closed the door behind him and wondered how she was going to tell her cousins and Kami what she’d gotten herself into now.

Saturday morning both Jenny and Julie stared at Annie with identical expressions of shock, their green eyes wide, their mouths hanging partially open. Kami looked just as surprised.

“What?” Julie asked. “You did what?”

Annie had put off telling them as long as she could. She’d hidden the binder that had been delivered on Thursday, sliding it under her bed, then pretending it didn’t really exist. Her first “date” with Duncan was that night, so she was going to have to read it sooner rather than later.

“I agreed to go out with Tim’s boss for a month. We’re not really dating each other,” she added hastily. “We’re pretending until Christmas. I’m supposed to help his image.”

But she still wasn’t clear on how that was supposed to happen. Did Duncan expect her to give interviews? She wouldn’t be very good at it. She could easily stand up in front of a room of five-year-olds, but a crowd of adults would make her nervous.

“I don’t understand,” Kami said, blinking at her. “Why?”

Jenny and Julie exchanged a look. “This is all about Tim, isn’t it?” Jenny asked. “He’s in trouble.”

“Some,” Annie admitted. “He, ah, embezzled some money. But Duncan is going to get him into rehab and that will help.”

“Him, not you.” Julie tucked her light brown hair behind her ears. “Let me guess. Tim somehow threw you under the bus on this one. What did he tell his boss about you?”

“It wasn’t me, specifically. It was…” She cleared her throat. While she didn’t want to tell her cousins what had happened, she believed in speaking the truth. Well, except when it came to her secret M&M stash.

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