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Authors: Lois Faye Dyer

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BOOK: Beauty and the Wolf
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Frankie unlocked her door and turned, her shoulder brushing against Eli's black tux jacket. “I'll call you as soon as I talk to Mom and find out where we might run into Harry again,” she told him.

“Sounds good.” He leaned in and brushed a kiss against her mouth. “Good night,” he murmured, his blue eyes darkened between half-lowered lashes.

“Good night,” Frankie managed to respond before slipping inside and closing the door. She leaned back against the panels, hearing the sound of the elevator's ping announcing its arrival, then silence. She hurried across her living room and peered out through the blinds at the street below. Short moments later, Eli moved across the sidewalk and ducked into the waiting limo. Then the car pulled away from the curb and disappeared around the corner at the end of her street.

She left the window and moved slowly into her
bedroom, stripping off her coat and hanging it away in the closet before unzipping her gown and stepping out of it.

She couldn't stop thinking about Eli as she finished undressing, removing her bracelet. To her relief, the necklace clasp opened easily, and she tucked it and the bracelet into her jewelry box. But when she took off the matching earrings, she discovered one of them was missing. Despite searching the carpet and shaking out the green gown and evening coat, she didn't find the one-of-a-kind heirloom. With sinking heart, she added the single earring to the lacquered jewelry box and closed the lid.

I can't imagine how I'll find a jeweler to create a matching earring,
she thought as she slipped into pink flannel pajama bottoms and a cotton tank top.

The troubling loss of her earring was soon set aside as she returned to thoughts of Eli. So far, her plan to erase unrealistic romantic notions left over from her teenage years was failing miserably. Eli Wolf was even more charming than she'd expected.

And kissing him could prove to be addictive,
she thought as she settled under the comforter and turned out the lamp.

She still believed her plan to make Harry cease his matchmaking by convincing him she was madly in love with Eli would work.

But she wasn't nearly as positive that spending more time with Eli would cure her of her high school crush. In fact, she suspected it just might do the opposite.

Chapter Five

O
n Sunday afternoon following the fundraiser for the Children's Hospital, Frankie drove to her mother's house. She was sure Cornelia would question her about Eli, but her mother didn't raise the subject as they chatted about the success of the event while brewing a pot of tea in the kitchen. While Frankie loaded a tray with the Wedgwood teapot and cups, Cornelia carried napkins and a plate of shortbread biscuits out to the front porch just as a white pickup with a Wolf Construction logo on the doors pulled to a stop at the curb.

“Frankie,” Cornelia called, peering out a tall window as the driver stepped out of the pickup. “Isn't that Eli? Were you expecting him?”

Frankie stepped out onto the porch, carrying the tea
tray. She set the heavy silver tray on the low table in front of her mother and looked out the window.

There was no mistaking the tall, broad-shouldered man strolling up the walk—and no denying the swift surge of pleased surprise the sight of him elicited in Frankie.

“It
is
Eli—but I have no idea why he's here.”

Cornelia had renovated the porch of her beautifully restored Queen Anne home and enclosed the wide space with waist-high windows. Now it was an extension of the living room, a wide glassed-in entry room that ran the length of the front of the house. Lazily turning wooden fans were suspended from the high ceiling; the floor was painted a glossy gray, and area rugs dotted the gleaming wood boards. Chairs and sofas of white wicker with colorful pillows were grouped in comfortable seating areas down the length of the room. At the moment, Cornelia sat in an armchair, its soft cushions covered in bright cotton with a coral and green floral pattern. Frankie took a seat on the padded white wooden swing, within reach of the low wicker table where she'd set the tea tray.

Eli glanced up as he neared, his gaze meeting Frankie's through the glass. He smiled, his stride quickening as he loped up the three shallow steps to the door.

“Come in, Eli,” Cornelia called.

“Hello, ladies.”

Frankie felt the room shrink as he stepped inside and closed the door, his presence seeming to suck up the oxygen. He wore faded jeans, black boots, and a
pale blue polo shirt under a worn brown bomber jacket. Raindrops glistened in his black hair as he shrugged out of his jacket and hung the damp leather over the back of a nearby rocking chair.

She drew a deep breath and patted the cushion beside her. “I didn't expect to see you today—how did you know I was here?”

“I stopped by Justin and Lily's place to deliver the plans for Ava's rabbit hutch—which has turned into a rabbit-condo-castle,” he said with a wry grin. “Lily told me you'd mentioned spending the afternoon with your mom, so I thought I'd drop by on my way home.” He shoved one hand into his jeans pocket and pulled out a glittering jet and gold earring. “You lost this in the car last night. I thought you might be worried about it.”

“Oh, you found it! Thank goodness.” Frankie held out her cupped hand, and Eli dropped the earring into her palm.

He settled onto the swing, one arm stretched out along the seat back behind her.

“I was so upset—I was afraid I'd lost it forever.” Impulsively, she leaned sideways into Eli and kissed his cheek. “Thank you!”

“You're welcome.” His eyes smiled at her. “Feel free to lose jewelry in my car anytime. I like the way you say thank you.”

Frankie felt heat move up her cheeks and knew her face was no doubt pink. She shot a quick glance at her mother from beneath lowered lashes. An amused,
indulgent smile played about Cornelia's lips. Apparently, her mother approved of Eli's charm.

“I hope I don't lose track of any more family heir-looms in the future, but if I do, it's nice to know you'll find them for me.” She patted his cheek with easy familiarity and shifted back, away from the hard curve of his body. Pretending she didn't miss the sheer pleasure she felt in leaning against his warm strength, she leaned forward and picked up the Wedgwood teapot. “Mom and I are having Earl Grey—would you like a cup?”

She poured and handed Cornelia a delicate cup and saucer before glancing inquiringly at Eli.

“Tea?” He winced. “Honey, you know I don't do tea.”

She couldn't help laughing at his apologetic but pained expression. “I'm sure Mom has something else to drink.”

“Actually, I just had hot chocolate with Ava, so I'm good.”

“Did you drink it out of a mug or a thimble-sized toy china teacup?” Frankie asked, stirring sugar into her own tea before sitting back on the swing, cup in hand, one foot tucked beneath her so she could face Eli.

“Today we sat at the kitchen-island counter and had normal size mugs,” Eli told her. He shook his head. “Thank God. I can hardly pick up those tiny cups of hers. Not to mention, sitting at that little-girl table scares me. I'm constantly worrying the chair won't hold me and I'll break it.”

Frankie and Cornelia smiled with sympathy. Frankie
had a swift mental image of Eli's tall, broad body perched on one of Ava's child-sized chairs. The picture was endearing.

“Do you see a lot of Ava?” she asked, sipping her tea.

“Not as much as I'd like—Justin has to spend quite a bit of time on his ranch in Idaho.” He leaned forward, taking a shortbread biscuit from the plate on the tea tray. “But when they're in Seattle, we get together fairly often.” He glanced at Frankie, the tiny smile lines at the corners of his eyes crinkling. “I'm her honorary uncle, and apparently Ava thinks that requires certain duties.”

“One of which is having tea with her dolls?” Frankie guessed.

“Yeah, that's one of them.” He pretended to shudder, but the fond smile barely curving his lips told her he didn't really mind playing tea party with the little girl.

Rain pattered against the glass. Frankie sighed and eyed the wet world outside with gloom. “I think I'll cancel tonight. The thought of standing around in the rain at a campus rally for world peace doesn't appeal.”

Eli gave her disbelieving look. “You were going to join a bunch of college kids, in the rain, to listen to a freshman lecture everyone about solving the world's ills?”

“How did you know the scheduled speaker is a freshman?” she asked, intrigued.

He shrugged. “They're always freshmen—by their second year in college, students are more cynical.” He
lowered his voice. “Rumor has it, the change is due to the amount of beer consumed at all those freshman frat parties.”

Cornelia laughed. “I think you may be right, Eli.”

“He could be.” Frankie tried to hold back a smile but failed. “I bet you formed this opinion through first-hand experience,” she said dryly.

“I have to confess I helped lower the beer level in a few kegs during my freshman year at college,” he confirmed. “But I never picked up a bullhorn and lectured the student population on a solution for world peace.”

“Did you rally for any good causes?” Cornelia asked him.

Curled next to him on the cushioned wooden bench seat, Frankie sipped her tea and listened as Eli bantered back and forth with her mother about his activities in college. He'd been a part of their extended group of family friends for a long time through his friendship with Justin. She knew he'd attended the University of Washington by combining scholarships and working at Wolf Construction. By the time he'd earned an engineering degree, Wolf Construction's business had taken off under his leadership and become a major contender for commercial building in Seattle and the surrounding area.

Everything Harry had told her about Nicholas Dean's success could be said of Eli, she thought, feeling a surge of pride at his accomplishments.

Eli glanced sideways at her, his gaze warming.

“Come to the movies with me tonight, Frankie,” he
said easily. “We'll be inside a theater, we'll be dry and I'll buy you buttered popcorn.”

“What movie are you going to see?” she asked, aware of her mother listening.

“An action adventure based on a book by one of my favorite authors.”

“Sounds like fun.”

He eyed her. “You like those kinds of books, too?”

“Why wouldn't I?”

His blue eyes gleamed with approval. “I'll be damned. I keep learning things about you that amaze me.”

Frankie huffed. “Lots of women read suspense novels.”

“I know, but you have a PhD in English literature. Somehow, I didn't expect you to like action-adventure fiction.”

“I'd be just as interested if there was a new film based on one of Jane Austen's titles,” Frankie said firmly. “But I'm not a snob about books—I like all different kinds. I'd love to see the movie tonight.”

“Great.” Eli looked at Cornelia. “How about you, Cornelia? Would you like to come with us?”

“Oh, no.” Cornelia waved a hand. “My favorite mystery series is on PBS tonight, and I've been looking forward to the next installment. I'm going to curl up in my jammies in front of the TV with a bowl of ice cream.”

“All right, but you know you're welcome to join us if you change your mind,” Eli told her. He looked at Frankie. “I'll pick you up at seven?”

She nodded. “I'll be ready. What theater are we going to?”

“Pacific Place downtown.” He stood, the swing dipping and swaying on the heavy chains suspending the seat. “I'd better get going. I need to run by a construction site and check with the security guard.”

“Is there a problem?” Frankie felt a swift stab of concern.

“Only with water—we've had a lot of rain the last couple of days. I want to make sure there's no flooding.” He took his jacket from the back of the chair and shrugged into it.

Cornelia rose, collecting the tea tray. “It was lovely to see you, Eli—stop by again soon.”

“I will, Cornelia, thank you.”

Her slim figure disappeared into the front hall.

Eli held out his hand, and Frankie put her fingers in his, letting him pull her to her feet. He slung an arm over her shoulders, tucking her against his side, and walked her toward the outside door.

“I hope you don't mind my dropping by without calling. But when Justin told me you were spending the afternoon with your mom, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to return your earring and spend a little time reinforcing Cornelia's belief that we're a couple.”

“I don't mind at all—I'm glad you stopped by. I confess I don't like keeping the truth from Mom. The only thing that makes me feel okay about deceiving her is that I know she'd be the first to join us if she knew Harry was meddling again.”

“I suspect you're right about Cornelia. But the more people who know about our plan, the more difficult it would be to keep it a secret from Harry, I'm afraid.”

Frankie sighed. “I'm sure you're right.”

He stopped at the door, turning to face her, his back to the screen and glass and the gray rain outside.

“You don't have to take me to the movie tonight, Eli. Mom will never know.”

He lifted an eyebrow. “Are you kidding? Hanging out with you is one of the perks of this scam. Besides, it's always more fun to watch a movie with someone. Then later you can go over the good parts, or, if it's a bad film, you can commiserate and complain about all the lousy acting and special effects.”

“Ah, I see. So it's not that you want my company,” she teased, inordinately pleased that she'd see him later, “it's that you want someone to compare opinions with after the credits roll.”

He laughed. “You've caught me, that's part of it.” He bent his head to whisper in her ear. “Your mom is standing at the kitchen sink. If she looks sideways, she can see us. Want to give her something to tell Harry?”

“Okay.” Frankie nodded, her heartbeat beginning to race as his mouth curved in a slow smile at her assent.

He slipped his arms around her waist and eased her nearer, lifting her up on her toes as his head bent.

Warm, seductive, his mouth coaxed hers to respond. Frankie clutched his biceps, her head spinning as the world narrowed to the hard body she leaned against and Eli's lips on hers.

The kiss only lasted a moment. Too soon, Eli lifted his head, easing her back off her toes.

“I'll pick you up at seven,” he murmured, blue eyes darkened to navy.

She nodded, unable to gather her wits and form a sentence.

He bent, his lips brushing against the sensitive shell of her ear. “And, Frankie, kissing you is one of the best parts of this scheme.”

Frankie felt her eyes widen. Then he shoved the door open behind him and, with a quick grin, left her. The door closed on his back as he loped down the sidewalk. Moments later, his pickup truck accelerated away from the curb.

He's right,
she thought, still faintly dazed.
Kissing is definitely one of the perks of having Eli pretend to be my boyfriend.

 

Eli arrived at Frankie's condo that evening and within a short half hour, they'd reached the Pacific Place and were settled into comfortable seats in a row near the back of the theater. He held her coat while she slipped out of it before handing her the container of popcorn.

“This is a lot of popcorn for only two people,” she said, eyeing the bucket dubiously.

“I like popcorn. Trust me.” He winked at her. “It won't last long.”

Frankie laughed and took a handful of the salty kernels. As she ate, she glanced around the theater. The lights were still on and local business advertisements
played with minimal sound on the wide screen up front.

“This reminds me of going to the movies with Mom and my sisters when we were little,” she said. “I love rainy Sundays at the theater.”

“Granddad used to drop off me and my brothers at the theater in Ballard on Saturday or Sunday afternoons,” Eli told her. “I suspect it gave him a much-needed break.”

BOOK: Beauty and the Wolf
13.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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