High-Powered, Hot-Blooded(6)

By: Susan Mallery


“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.

“I’m not lying to my family,” she said. “My cousins and Kami have to know.”

Duncan seemed to consider that. “Just them. And if they tell anyone—”

She nodded. “I know. Off with their heads. Have you been through any seminars on teamwork or communications? If you worked on your people skills, you might…”

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.

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