Garrett

By: Anne Marie Winston
Chapter One





Garrett Holden strode up the cracking sidewalk and stepped onto the low front porch of the dilapidated half-house. He shook his head in disgust as he looked around the tiny dwelling. This was what he got for insisting that he be the one to notify the woman mentioned in his stepfather Robin Underwood's will of Robin's death.

This wasn't an area of Baltimore he usually frequented, with its tiny, narrow duplexes all crammed together on the streets across from the far reaches of the Johns Hopkins University campus. The front yards were minuscule. The backs, as he'd discovered when he'd driven down the alley behind the house on his initial pass, consisted largely of concrete slabs, not a blade of grass in sight. He'd been relieved to find a parking space within sight of the address where he could keep an eye on his imported sports car. Though he hadn't seen anyone suspicious, the area looked like a prime target for crime. He couldn't imagine how on earth Robin had gotten involved with anyone from this locale.

The lady apparently had a green thumb, he thought as he surveyed her small square of earth. Late summer flowers were everywhere, blooming in great untidy bursts of color all around the border of the little yard, growing through the sagging picket fence. A pink rambler rose completely blotted out the sunlight from a full half of the rickety board porch that stretched across the front of the place. There were a few rotted boards on the porch floor that had broken through and he stayed close to her front door, hoping that the owner had had the sense to keep the main entry where people walked in better repair than the rest.

He put his finger on the bell and pressed hard. No answering sound alerted the occupants of a visitor. Pulling open the torn screen door, he rapped sharply at the wooden door. A surprisingly clean white lacy curtain blocked his view through the window in the upper part of the door. Still hearing no sound of anyone walking toward the door, he rapped again. "Hello? Anyone home?"

"Just a moment." The voice was feminine, faraway and distinctly frustrated.

He waited impatiently, glancing twice at his watch before a rustling at the curtain preceded the opening of the inner door. A face stared out at him.

Garrett stared back. She wasn't what he'd expected. At all. Actually, he hadn't known what to expect, but this—this wood nymph wasn't it. It was a fanciful thought for a man who dealt largely in numbers, but it was strangely appropriate.

For one thing, she wasn't nearly as old as he'd expected any acquaintance of Robin's to be. For another, she was one of the most strikingly beautiful women he'd ever seen. Even with her red-gold tangle of tresses jammed into a messy pile atop her head and corkscrew curls escaping to bob wildly around her small, heart-shaped face, she was beautiful. Her eyes were an arresting vivid blue-green, large and lushly lashed, with brows that rose above them on her high forehead like perfect crescents. Her cheekbones were slanted, her little chin almost too pointy. But her mouth was full and pink in contrast to the rest of her creamy satin complexion.

And for yet a third thing, she was, well, stacked was the only word that sprang to mind. Beneath a soft jade T-shirt that brought out the color in her eyes and the casual jean shorts was a lithe, curvaceous figure that even the baggiest of shirts couldn't hide.

And hers wasn't baggy. If anything, it had been washed once too often and had shrunk a size or two. The shirt was ripped across one shoulder, baring an expanse of silky-looking skin that made him want to reach through the torn screen and touch. In her hands she carried a handful of multicolored ribbon that fluttered and clung to her body as she moved. One silky strand had flipped upward to curl around her left breast, outlining the full, rounded mound and his gaze followed the path of the ribbon as he tried to fathom her connection to his stepfather.

Abruptly he faced the truth he'd been hoping hadn't been true at all: this woman must have been Robin's lover. Why else would he have been seeing someone so young and...unsuitable for him?

Belatedly he realized that he was staring at her. He flushed, annoyed with himself.

"May I help you?" Her gaze was direct and unsmiling, her words clearly enunciated in a prim British accent.

"I'm looking for Ana Birch."