High-Powered, Hot-Blooded(7)

By: Susan Mallery

“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.

She quickly explained about the two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, how Duncan would forgive half the debt and allow Tim to make payments on the other half when he got out of rehab and was working again.

Julie sprang to her feet. “I swear, Annie, you’re impossible.”

“Me? What did I do?”

“Gave in. Let Tim do this to you again. You’re always getting him out of trouble. When he was seven and stole from the mini market by the house, you took the fall and paid them back for the candy bars. When he was in high school and cutting class, you convinced the principal not to suspend him. He needs to face the consequences of what he’s done.”

“He doesn’t need to go to jail. How will that help?”

“If the pain’s big enough, then maybe he’ll learn his lesson.”

Jenny nodded, while Kami only looked uncomfortable.

“He needs help,” Annie said stubbornly. “And he’s my brother.”

“All the more reason to want him to grow up and be responsible,” Julie said.

Annie sighed. “I promised.”

When her mother had been dying, she’d made Annie swear she would look after Tim, no matter what.

The twins exchanged another look.

“There’s no getting around that,” Kami told them. “You know how Annie gets. She always sees the best in people.”

Annie stood and touched Julie’s arm. “It’s not that bad. I’m dating a really rich guy for a month, going to fancy parties. Nothing more.”

All three girls looked at her. Annie felt herself starting to blush.

“Nothing,” she repeated. “No sex, so don’t even go there.” She smiled. “I wouldn’t have told you except I’ll be gone a lot and eventually you’d notice. In the meantime, I kind of need your help. Duncan is sending a stylist to take me shopping for cocktail dresses and a couple of formal gowns. I won’t need them after this month, but I get to keep them. So I thought you three might want to come along and give me your opinions. What with you being able to borrow them when I’m done.”

As she expected, there was a general shrieking as all three of them jumped up and down, yelling.

“Seriously?” Jenny asked.

“Uh-huh. The stylist is due here any second and we’re going shopping. So you want to come with me?”

They’d barely had time to agree when the doorbell rang. Jenny and Julie ran to open the door.

“Dear God,” a man said. “Tell me Duncan isn’t dating twins. Although you two are gorgeous. Have you thought about going into modeling?”

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