High-Powered, Hot-Blooded(4)

By: Susan Mallery

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.”

“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.”

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