By: Leslie Kelly

“You win the prize. You want to hear the really fun part, the kicker I found out today when I was being fired?”

He wasn’t sure, but nodded anyway.

“I was a bet.”

Damien’s hands clenched into fists on the table.

“Excuse me?”

“Yeah, during his we’ve-decided-not-to-keep-you-through-the-rest-of-your-probationary-period speech, my boss’s boss said the guys had bet on who could get me into bed first.”

“Are you serious?” he asked through a clenched jaw.

Damien had the urge to hurt someone, and vowed that by the end of the day, he’d have found out the name of her ex-employer, invested in the company and fired her son-of-a-bitch supervisor. Hell, he could buy the damn company and fire every man who worked there.

“Entirely. Seems I was just too much of a distraction, so it was best for everyone—including me, for my personal safety—if I left.”

“Jesus Christ,” Damien muttered. Lifting his water glass, he half drained it, trying to cool himself off. He was stunned by the idiocy not only of her male colleagues, but also of a higher-up who would hear about that bet and react by firing the victim. If the man had been one of his employees, Damien would have hit the roof. Not only was it wrong on a moral level, but the guy had also just opened up his employer to serious lawsuits.

When he felt capable of being rational, he said, “Call your lawyer.”

“I can’t afford one.”

“I’ll call my lawyer.”

“Thank you, but no.” She offered him a small, humorless smile. That, and her slumped shoulders, told him how crushed she was by this entire situation. “I just want to forget it ever happened,” she said. “I got severance, and I’ve been promised excellent references.”

“All to keep you from suing or making trouble.”

“Yes. Normally, I’m good at making trouble.” She traced the tips of her fingers across the condensation on her own glass. “Maybe I’m losing my touch.”

He watched her long, slender fingers, so delicate and feminine, but also strong. He sensed she wasn’t so much giving up as she was choosing what she thought was a better option.

“I’m sorry. And I’m goddamn angry. Let me help you.”

“I don’t need any help.”

Used to taking care of things, and bothered that he couldn’t in this situation, Damien bit back a frustrated retort. She was independent, he respected that. But he couldn’t stand the idea of anybody getting away with that kind of bullshit, especially when Viv was the injured party.

Their drinks arrived. Damien glanced at his watch. “Twenty-nine-and-a-half minutes,” he pointed out before sipping, enjoying the icy bite of the alcohol.

Remembering her comment in the garage, she smiled. “Okay, I officially resign from Man Haters Anonymous. At least for the rest of the day.”

Lucky him.

“Now, back to your situation...”

“I meant what I said. I know men like to solve things—boy, do I ever know that. But I have already made up my mind.”

As if she sensed he was about to argue, Viv tossed her hair, lifted her chin and managed a real smile. He suspected she was trying to downplay her sadness and humiliation as she said, “I must say, though, I’m not happy my good behavior went to waste. I was so nice, so plain and sweet while trying to get those guys to lose interest.”

Plain she could never be. He doubted sweet was used to describe her very often, either. No, she was spicy.

“The deck was stacked against you because of that bet. You could have come in to work literally wearing a nun’s habit and it wouldn’t have changed a thing.”

“I understand that now. But I gave it my best shot, believe me. Though, I didn’t think of the habit angle, and I should have, given my Catholic-school upbringing.”

Something else they had in common. “Nuns are terrifying.”

“No kidding. My second-grade teacher, Sister Margaret, wouldn’t have recognized me over the past several weeks, I was so demure. If she had, she’d probably have fallen over dead of shock that her predictions of my future wickedness hadn’t come true.”

He sipped again, wondering just how wicked this woman could be. “Future wickedness, huh? Did she believe you were destined for damnation?”

“Or prison.”

He chuckled.

“You think I’m kidding? Yeesh, let a nun catch you in a coat closet with two boys, playing my-underwear-are-better-than-yours, and she’s pegged you as a bad girl for life.”

“Were they?

She cocked her head. “Were who what?”