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Authors: Sarah Hegger

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BOOK: Nobody's Fool
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“You don't say?” She glared up at the umbrella.
He kept the umbrella right where it was. There had to be something he could say to make this seem a little less dire. But nothing came to him. His eyes burned to drop down and get another look.
Do not look at her breasts again. Do not look at her breasts again. Do not—
“Would you like to wait where it's dry?” Inspiration, when it struck, was dizzying.
“Where?” Her eyes narrowed. Her freckles stood out against her skin in a way that was totally adorable, and she'd probably eviscerate him for even thinking it.
He pointed across the street. “My condo is over there.”
“I know that.”
“You do?”
She ground her teeth and gave a long-suffering sigh. “Yes. I went there first and your doorman told me where to find you.”
“Philip told you where to find me?” Philip needed to be a little less free with the information. Not really the issue right now.
“Yes.” Her chin stuck out in open challenge.
He'd ask Philip later and have a much better chance of surviving the encounter. Also lessen the risk of imminent drowning.
“You can see the street from my window.” Josh motioned to a wide picture window on the top floor. “You'll be able to see when the police get here.”
“Of course you have the penthouse.” She scoffed and threw her hands up again. “Tell me, Joshua Hunter, in your charmed existence, has anyone ever had the temerity to steal your car?”
“Er . . . no.” She made it sound like a bad thing.
“Typical. Sodding typical.”
“Someone once stole my iPhone,” he offered by way of consolation.
She snorted and crossed her arms over her lovely breasts.
The rain subsided to a steady torrent. The cuffs of his pants were wet. He must be as prissy as his younger brother said because the pants were D&G this season, and he liked them. “The condo.” Getting out of this rain would be a good move. “Would you like to wait there for the police?”
“I have to find Portia.” Her lips tightened into a straight line. “I don't have time for this. I have to find her.”
Her eyes gleamed fever bright, and Josh had the horrible feeling she held back the tears by sheer force of will. “She could be anywhere and she isn't—I have to find her.”
“But first you need to speak to the police and they're on their way.” His gut screamed at him. There was a story here. “Did you say your money and your passport were in the car?”
Her shoulders drooped and she heaved a huge sigh. “And my clothes.”
Not good. “Okay, first things first, let's get out of this rain.”
“I'm not going to your lair.”
His damsel refused to be rescued. Not really surprising.
“What about the foyer?” He mentally congratulated himself for his quick two-step shuffle. “You can wait in the lobby until the police arrive.”
“And then we can talk about what else we can do to get you out of this mess.”
“Don't patronize me.” She sloshed after him to his building.
“I'm not patronizing you. Now, be a good girl and come along.”
He was sure if she'd been close enough she would have done him bodily injury. Josh allowed himself a small smile as he led the way into the building.
“Good evening, Mr. Hunter,” Philip greeted him. His eyes widened at the drowned rat person standing dripping water over the marble floor. “Ah, I see your masseuse found you.”
“My masseuse?”
“I improvised,” she said between clenched teeth. “I didn't think he would believe I was your girlfriend.”
“Oh, I don't know.” Josh's gaze swept her from top to toe. “I'm not
“Go away.” She stuck her chin out and her lip quivered.
His gut tightened. Shit, he hadn't meant to upset her that much. Time to stop being a dick.
“I don't want your help and I will die right here, right on this shiny floor, before I take it.”
She probably would, too. He certainly wasn't making her night any better.
Philip paled. There was probably something in the bylaws of the building prohibiting death in the lobby.
“I will wait here for the police and then I will decide how to get
out of this mess.”
Josh wished her luck with that attitude. He'd offered his help. She'd turned him down.
“I am terribly sorry, Mr. Hunter; she said she was your masseuse and I saw no reason to doubt her. You have a hairdresser who comes to the condo, and your grooming technician.”
A rude noise emanated from the human puddle. “
technician?” Up went one of her dark brows and Josh flushed. He wished Philip hadn't felt the need to explain. “Is that, like, a beautician?”
A suspicious noise burst out of Philip.
Josh stared him down.
Philip coughed.
“I believe grooming is as important for a man as it is for a woman.” It didn't sound quite as impressive when voiced aloud.
Jesus wept
. Thomas was right. He was in danger of becoming a girl.
Josh stalked over and punched the button for the elevator. The doors swished open and he stepped in.
Tomorrow morning he planned to engage in a blood sport, and after that, it was a trip to the Home Depot. He needed to buy something turbocharged with the destructive capability of a small nuclear device.
“Oh, by the way, Philip.” He stopped the doors of the elevator before they could close completely. “Miss Partridge is a talented masseuse. You should get her to give you a foot rub while she waits. Go ahead. It's on me.”
Chapter Five
Josh brewed himself an espresso—the coffee choice of real men everywhere—and stood at his window watching the fun.
Damn, her car stolen and everything in it. He ignored the twinge of conscience trying to make itself heard.
Holly Partridge despised him. She didn't want his help and she'd been quite clear about it.
The rain had stopped, transforming the street outside his building into a Turkish bath. In among the billowing clouds of steam stood Holly Partridge, gamely making herself understood by two cops. They were going to love this. A Brit, a Canadian and a South American all rolled into one feisty package.
The female cop leaned against the squad car, her face a mask of public servility, while her male partner attempted to understand Holly.
The man had Josh's sympathy.
Holly waved her arms around like she was directing traffic.
He couldn't hear what she was saying from up here. She hadn't been shot yet, so he guessed she hadn't let fly with her toilet mouth. Probably that cute accent of hers saving the day. Or the local constabulary had no idea what a git or a prat was either. He had an inkling about a wanker.
The police had arrived quickly enough, before he'd given in to his chivalric impulse to take her a dry shirt and a cup of coffee. Knowing the attempt would probably get him vivisected, he'd stayed put.
She'd pulled her sweatshirt on and was pinwheeling her arms around at the cop. She'd barely grown since high school and she'd been tiny then. Her curves had filled out very nicely, into a firm, ripe armful of woman, surrounded by bristling, deadly body armor.
What the hell had he done to piss her off so badly? Josh grinned over his espresso cup. He'd definitely exacerbated the issue by giving in to the impulse to taunt her. He laughed out loud. The look on her face had been priceless.
He didn't much care what people thought of him anymore. Most never bothered to get past his exterior, and Josh rarely wasted his time correcting them. It shouldn't trouble him that she'd left tonight with her poor opinion reinforced, but Josh was surprised to find it burrowed like a tiny splinter under his skin.
Fifteen minutes later, he checked, and Holly was alone.
The police cruiser eased into the traffic and down the street, away from her.
Her head dropped and her shoulders slumped. How a woman with a mouth on her like that managed to look quite so dejected beat him, but there it was. She was Dickensian in her tatty, oversized clothes, with her tangled hair hiding her face.
Don't fall for it, Josh. Don't be a total sap.
Holly Partridge was as tough as old shoe leather. She crossed her arms over her chest and stood on the sidewalk, as if she had no idea what to do next.
It was a far cry from the battle drone who'd shoved her way into Scants an hour earlier. Something about that sister of hers was off. Earlier, Holly had seemed close to desperate to find Portia, and that didn't sit right either. Portia was old enough to take care of herself; but then, Portia had given him a seriously twisted vibe.
Holly's chances of finding her sister now were nearly zero.
Josh ground his teeth together. Unless someone stepped in and helped her.
Don't do it
. He moved away from the window.
Holly didn't want his help. She'd been quite clear on that point. Besides, she'd got here on her own. If her car was stolen, she could always whistle up a broomstick. He chuckled at his little joke.
He would just quickly take another look and see if she was still there.
She dug in her pocket and hauled something out.
He pressed closer to the glass for a better view.
She counted out money in her palm.
“Damn. Damn. Damn. Damn. Fuck it. Damn.” Josh reeled away from the window and stomped toward the intercom beside his front door.
“Yes, Mr. Hunter?” Philip responded.
She was a prickly, foulmouthed, bad-tempered viper who hated his guts, but one of Donna's boys would never walk away and leave a woman in trouble. It was ingrained in them, despite rigorous attempts to break the conditioning.
“Miss? Excuse me, miss?”
Holly jerked her head up quickly. “Yes?”
Against the glare of the security lamps, Josh's toady doorman waved to get her attention. “Please, miss?” The doorman squinted at her. “Won't you please come inside where it's dry?”
“I'm fine here, thank you.” Her voice wobbled slightly and she clenched her jaw. She refused to cry. This was only a bump in the road. A huge, sodding mountainous bump in the road.
“It's stopped raining now.” She gave him a jaunty nod. There was no way she would lose it in front of an audience again.
The doorman hovered around the double glass entrance doors. His tone became cajoling. “I could make you a cup of coffee, or I have water. Or pop. Perhaps you'd like a nice, cool Coke?”
As satisfying as a dignified refusal would be right then, Holly stopped herself. A nice, cool soda sounded perfect. And she may as well face facts; she barely had enough to buy one for herself.
The doorman looked relieved as she turned and trotted toward him.
She needed a good emergency plan. Emma would be as much use as tits on a tortoise.
Grace was the answer.
She followed the doorman back into the wide, spacious lobby and comforted herself with the knowledge that the soda would probably be billed to Josh Hunter and the rest of the beautiful people who shared his building.
Philip was a man of his word and produced the promised soda, with a glass and some ice.
Holly perched on the edge of a large indoor water feature and stretched her toes in the sodden canvas of her Converses.
The lobby was mostly covered in honey-toned marble, polished to such a sheen she could make out her wavy reflection between the darker veins of amber running through it. A stately orb of crystal took pride of place and hovered over the mere humans who scuttled beneath its beneficent rays.
The lobby was air-conditioned, and between the cool air and the cooler soda, her brain had kicked into gear. She would call Grace and get her to book a hotel with her credit card. Perhaps she could even track down an all-night car rental. Holly pulled a face. Did you get all-night car rentals in Chicago? She shook her head. She couldn't afford to think negatively.
In the morning, Holly could tackle the bank and call the embassy and see about getting a new passport. This was the United States, for God's sake, and anything was possible. Her glass formed a ring of condensation on the marble and she used her thigh to wipe it clean.
The elevator door swished open with the well-maintained mechanism of expensive condo rates.
Josh stepped out, a gym bag slung over one shoulder. He'd changed into a T-shirt and a pair of jeans. It didn't make him look one iota less gorgeous. Wherever he was going, he probably wouldn't get kicked out of bed tonight.
She tried to push the sodden tangle of her hair into something approaching civilized.
“Thank you, Philip.” He turned to the doorman and indicated her with a jerk of his head.
“No problem, Mr. Hunter. I gave her a pop.”
“Good work.”
Holly glared down at the offending empty glass. It was no use, though. She still didn't feel sorry she'd drunk it.
A set of keys dangled from Josh's index finger as he strode toward her. It wasn't right a man could walk like that. An easy, feline lope that made her want to slap a pair of six-shooters around his lean hips. He stopped in front of where she sat and glanced down his perfect nose at her.
Holly braced for whatever wisecrack he had brewing in his pretty head.
“We don't like each other much, but I'm going to help you.”
“Say again?”
“You need help and I've decided to help you.” He nodded. “Chalk it up to some latent feeling of childhood sentimentality.”
Oh, man, wasn't he a laugh a minute. “Good one, pretty boy.”
“I mean it.” He shifted the gym bag. “I'm going to help you find your sister.”
She half-believed he might be serious. She wanted to stand so he wouldn't be looming over her, but she also didn't want him to know she was feeling intimidated. In the end, she settled for leaning back on her arms, dropping her head to the side, and staring up at an angle. It wasn't the most comfortable position for her neck, but it did have a sort of
Rebel Without a Cause
air to it.
“Is your neck stiff or something?”
“No.” Her cheeks burned.
“Anyway, as I see it, you're in need of help and I'm going to give it to you.”
“Are you serious?”
“Get real.” Like she would believe that?
He raised one eyebrow. “Right back at you, babe. You have no transport, no money, no passport, ergo no way to get home, and nothing but the clothes you're wearing.”
“I have my phone.”
Up went his eyebrow again. “How comforting.”
“Don't call me babe either.” God, he was a cocksure son of a bitch.
“Note to self.” His jaw tightened. “Don't call me pretty boy.”
No way in hell she was agreeing to that. Holly stood up. It didn't help. He still lurked a good head above her. “I didn't ask you for help. I don't even want your help.”
They locked eyes.
“That's true,” he said. “But you're getting it anyway.”
“Back off, pretty boy.”
His eyes narrowed at her and his nostrils flared.
It was a bit thrilling, in truth. Holly stood her ground, prickles of sensation coursing up and down her spine.
“Don't you need to find your sister?” His voice grew silky smooth, but she wasn't going to fall for his trap and relax her guard.
“I do.”
“Good.” He adjusted his grip on the gym bag and nodded, as if the matter was settled. “The first step is to see what we can find out about your sister.”
“Hey.” The steamroller went right over her head.
“I'm pretty sure she's not hanging around your old house in the middle of the night, but maybe we can stumble across something useful.” He turned and strode off across the lobby, headed toward an exit door partially concealed by a bank of glossy green foliage. “Come on. Babe.”
“Where?” And dammit all if she didn't trot after him. It was his help that got her moving, not some deeply conditioned master/slave mentality—the finest of the species holding dominion over the lesser beings, or some crap.
“That's what you need to tell me.” He said it patiently, as if he were afraid she wouldn't get his meaning if he used too many big words.
“I don't know where she is, genius.” Holly almost plowed into his broad back as he stopped suddenly.
He frowned down at her. “You must have some idea.”
“I think she's in Willow Park,” she said. “But I was there earlier tonight and I couldn't find her.”
“So where were you going?”
“Earlier, before your car was stolen.”
“I was going back to Willow Park.”
He made a soft moan of irritation and turned to loom over her. “You're not making any sense. I seem to be missing some pieces of this puzzle.”
“You are missing a great many pieces of the puzzle.” He absolutely was the most condescending ass on the planet. “But, as this has nothing to do with you, you are going to carry on missing those pieces.”
His eyes narrowed.
Holly straightened her shoulders and glared back. Blue clashed with black and held. Neither of them moved a muscle.
El Düguello
“Fine.” He threw up one hand. “But I'm going to Willow Park right now. You make up your mind if you want to come along.”
He slapped open the exit door and disappeared.
Holly narrowly caught it before it swung back and banged into her. She followed him down the stairwell feeling ridiculous.
His jeans weren't tight, but they framed his spectacular ass.
If she was looking, which she wasn't. It just happened to be there.
Oh, get real, Holly.
She lost patience with herself. She was so checking him out. It couldn't be helped. He'd always been a rather superior specimen, and she'd have to be dead from the neck down not to notice. It didn't mean she liked him, though, because she didn't.
She stood there for a moment, warring with herself. It was a brief but bloody skirmish, and in the end the need to find Portia won. Right now, she was screwed without him. The idea got stuck in a wad in the back of her throat.
He stopped at a door at the bottom of the short stairwell. “Did you say something?”
He ran one hand through his hair, raking his fingers across the scalp. “Come on, Holly. Stop being so goddamned stubborn. You need help and I'm offering. After you've found your sister, you can go back to hating me. Okay?” His tone got smooth and persuasive, like he was selling youth elixir, which was why she was floored to feel her hackles starting to lower.
“It's no big deal.” He continued to dole out the charm. “Let me drive you over to Willow Park to have a look around. Have you called the police?”
“Yes. Why are you being nice to me?” Holly waited for the other boot to drop.
“I am nice.” His voice bounced off concrete and back at her. “You're probably the only woman I know who doesn't think so.”
BOOK: Nobody's Fool
12.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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