High-Powered, Hot-Blooded(9)

By: Susan Mallery


Annie tried to imagine Duncan and Cameron sharing a college dorm room, but she couldn’t get her mind around the idea.

“What about you?” he asked. “How did you get involved with the big bad?”

“Is that what you call him?”

“Not to his face. He might hit me.” But Cameron was smiling as he spoke and there was affection in his tone. “So what happened?”

She told him about Tim and the money. “I couldn’t let my brother go to jail,” she said. “Not when there was a chance to save him.”

“Honey, you are too nice by far. Be careful Duncan doesn’t chew you up and spit you out.”

“You don’t have to worry. This is business. I’m not interested in him personally.”

“Uh-huh. You say that now, but Duncan is very charismatic. A friendly word of advice. Don’t be fooled by the polite exterior. Duncan’s a fighter. You’re not. If there’s a battle, he’s going to win.”

“You’re sweet to worry, but don’t. Even if I did fall for him—” something she couldn’t begin to imagine “—he wouldn’t respond. Seriously. I can’t imagine that I’m his type.”

“You’re no Valentina.”

“Who?”

“Valentina. His ex-wife. Stunning, in a scary girl-snake kind of way. Cold. Remember that line from Pretty Woman? About being able to freeze ice on someone’s ass? That’s Valentina.”

She was surprised to hear that Duncan had been married, although she probably shouldn’t be. He was successful and in his thirties. It made sense that he’d found someone.

“How long have they been divorced?”

“A couple of years. She scared me.” He shivered. “So enough about Duncan. What about you? Why isn’t a nice girl like you happily married?”

She reached for a strawberry. A question for the ages, she thought glumly. “I’ve had two serious relationships. Both times the guy left, each claiming he saw me more as a friend than as the love of his life.”

She spoke lightly, as if the words didn’t matter, as if she wasn’t still hurt. Not that she missed either one of them. Not anymore. But she was beginning to wonder if there was something wrong with her. Something missing. The two relationships had lasted a total of four and a half years. She’d been in love, or so she’d thought. She’d been able to imagine a future, marriage, children. Those men were the only two she’d slept with and for her, the sex had been fine. Maybe not as magical as she’d heard it described by friends or in books, but still very nice.

But it hadn’t been enough. Not the sex or her heart or any of it. Both of them had left. And that they’d said practically the same thing had her wondering.

“I don’t want to be the best friend,” she whispered fiercely.

Cameron patted her hand. “Tell me about it.”

Annie was grateful beyond words that Hector, the genius at the salon, had styled her hair for the evening. He’d blown out her usually curly hair into a sleek cascade of waves that fell past her shoulders. Hector’s assistant had done her makeup as well, so all she had to do was pull on the dress and step into the right shoes. Cameron had suggested a cocktail dress for the event. Now Annie stared at it and wondered if she had the nerve.

The dress was simple enough—sleeveless with a sweetheart neckline. Fitted, although not tight, and falling midthigh. It was the latter that made her want to squirm as she stared at herself in the mirror above her dresser. If she kept the mirror straight, she looked fine. Of course she could only see herself from the waist up. If she tilted the mirror down, she could see to her ankles and there was way too much leg showing.

Telling herself that by many standards, the dress wasn’t even that short didn’t help. She was used to skirts that fell closer to her ankles than her thighs. Of course, that was in the classroom where she was constantly bending over small desks or sitting on the floor. This was different.

Unfortunately the girls weren’t around to ask. They’d gone out to the movies, leaving her to decide on her own. She could always change her clothes, but she didn’t know what else would be appropriate for the party.

Before she could decide what to do, the doorbell rang. She glanced at the clock radio on her nightstand. Duncan was about ten minutes early. She would be wearing the dress she had on.

She stepped into her high heels, teetered for a second, then walked into the living room. Not sure what Duncan was going to have to say or what to expect from the evening, she drew in a deep breath and pulled open the door.

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