Baer and the Three Goldilocks

Baer and the Three Goldilocks

5.0 2
by Dee S. Knight

Dee S. Knight gives an old fairy tale a hot, new twist in her retelling of Goldilocks and The Three Bears. Passion sizzles when three handsome, blonde-haired men catch the eye of lonely business woman, Susan Baer.

Join Princess Katherine and her very own Prince, Cole Gallagher, for story time.

Susan Baer is not only a successful business woman and…  See more details below


Dee S. Knight gives an old fairy tale a hot, new twist in her retelling of Goldilocks and The Three Bears. Passion sizzles when three handsome, blonde-haired men catch the eye of lonely business woman, Susan Baer.

Join Princess Katherine and her very own Prince, Cole Gallagher, for story time.

Susan Baer is not only a successful business woman and founder of Baer Hugs, health centers for women, she's also beautiful. But she hasn't always been that way. She'd spent her teen years lost, lonely and anxious, wondering if she would ever find a place to fit. Now, with those years behind her, she longs to find her special person. Though she's not the overweight, nearsighted girl with braces anymore, she's still lonely and there are no prospects in sight.

Suddenly, three men come into her life. All successful, all gorgeous, all blond. And, all of them pose their own unique problems. One is too rough and hard in his treatment, one is too soft and wants her to take charge. The last is…gay? So Susan thinks.

Can any of them possibly turn out to be "just right?" You might be surprised!

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Prince Stephen Cole William lay sleeping peacefully in the ivory-inlayed wooden cradle that had been in his father's family for centuries. He didn't care about the fine mahogany wood, or the inlay, or the history behind the piece. He wasn't impressed that others who had lain where he did now had started wars and ended them, stolen gold and stolen wives, selflessly given all they had for their people or drained the country's coffers for the most selfish of reasons. All he cared about at the moment was that he was dry, warm and full from having just nursed at his mother's breast.

It was a good life.

His mother, Princess Katherine, stood staring at her son, who looked so like his father it made her smile. She'd told Cole they would have a son, and she'd been right.

She felt her husband's arm wrap around her waist and she leaned back against him, happy for his warmth and strength. Together they counted each of their tiny son's breaths, and made every one a prayer that he would live a long, good and happy life.

"Is Alyssa asleep?" Katherine asked.

"Yes. I almost was too, after reading The Three Bears three times. How can she enjoy hearing the same stories over and over again?"

"Repetition is important for children. It's how they learn." She turned into Cole's arms. "It's how she knows the stories better than you and I," she teased.

"She does that. I don't dare skip a word, or God forbid, a page. Still..." he smiled at her and brushed her hair back from her face, "...I love spending this time with her at the end of the day. Have I told you lately how much I adore you, and the fact that you want to raise our children instead of turningthem over to nannies every second of the day?"

"See? There's another example of repetition being needed. I love for you to tell me over and over that you adore and love me."

"I love you and adore you, I love you and adore you!" For emphasis, he added a deep kiss that made her want to melt.

Twisting her arms around his neck, she pressed to him, rubbing her hips into his groin and moaning with need. She felt his breath quicken as his hands dropped to cup the cheeks of her ass, massaging, stroking until all she knew was desire for him. She lifted her leg to his waist, the better to cradle his cock in the burning center of her need. Then...

He pulled away from her.

"What's wrong?" she said with a gasp.

His eyes seemed vaguely unfocused as he looked at her, and the strain of keeping control was evident. "Nothing," he murmured. "It's just ... you've given birth a short time ago and I don't want to rush you. I know you're tired and need to recover." Taking a deep breath, he fluffed a number of pillows and arranged them against the headboard before settling her back on them. He walked to the other side of the bed and dimmed the lights before removing his shoes and settling so that he could encircle her with his arms.

"Just rest, Katherine."

Knowing his intentions were loving made her happy. However, during the last week he'd missed all of her hints that she desired him, and that she needed to know he desired her. It was beginning to wear on her. After Alyssa's birth, he had counted the days until he could fill her again. Now he seemed not to care.

"Cole, not everything is what it seems."

"What?" His voice was sleepy. "What do you mean? What's not what it seems?"

"I have a story to tell you. Can you stay awake?"

He stifled a yawn then shifted, rearranging her in his embrace. "Of course I can stay awake. You're the one who's tired." Huffing, he continued. "It's been a long time since you told me a bedtime story, Katherine. Not since the night you told me you were going to have my son. I've been waiting and waiting."

Katherine smiled at his protest. "Well, now I have one. Our own version of the Three Bears story."

"Is there a warrior in this one?"

"Maybe. You'll see."

"I hope so. Okay, I'll be quiet and you begin."

"Once upon a time, in America and not far from where I grew up, there lived a woman named Susan Baer."

"Susan Baer? I thought the girl was named Goldilocks."

"Not in our story, dearest. Here, the bear is a woman and the Goldilocks are three blond men."

"Oh, three men and one woman. Interesting."

He shifted again, this time she suspected, to make himself more comfortable with the erection she saw growing beneath the material of his slacks. She'd have to keep the idea of multiple sex partners in mind for a future bedtime tale.

"Will she find a man who's 'just right'?"

"As I've already said, you'll see.

"Now, far away in the land of America, our Ms. Baer was a highly successful businesswoman..."

Chapter One

It was five minutes before nine o'clock in the morning at Baer Hugs, a health club for women. No need to check the big Seth Thomas clock on the wall for confirmation, Susan could set her watch by them. At the same time each weekday morning, every trainer, aerobics instructor and nutritionist, who wasn't involved in a class, found a way to observe the parking lot and front entrance. That's when Duncan Morrison arrived for work.

Not that she blamed them for wanting to stare. He was gorgeous. Over six feet of rippling muscle, the smooth grace of a ballet dancer and shoulders broad enough to carry the weight of the world. Make that two worlds . They were broad. She knew because she saw them flex and settle each day when he took off his suit jacket. It did such things to her insides that she almost missed the dimples deep enough to sink in or the way the slightest amusement could make his lips turn up in a smile and light the deep, rich blue of his eyes.

Yes, his shoulders were a distraction. Almost distraction enough to keep her mind off the way his blond hair tipped his ears and had started to curl against his nape.

The difference was Susan Baer didn't have to stand around and watch Duncan make his way in from the parking lot in order to quench the lust in her heart. He was her assistant. She could gaze at him all day. Nonetheless, this morning she stood where the hall gave way to the lobby of the building and watched, right along with everyone else.

Sighing, she gave in for a moment to the natural tug on her emotions, the strong need to share her life with someone, to end the loneliness she'd always felt. She wanted to love and be loved, and now, at this point in life, she was ready and able.

In the business world, all she'd wanted to prove, she'd proven. A good portion of what she'd wanted to accomplish, she'd successfully completed. But when it came to personal goals, she hadn't even begun.

So, considering where she'd started and where she was now, it was grossly unfair that she wanted to do more than gaze at Duncan. It was harder and harder to ignore the tingle that radiated through her each time they touched. Almost impossible to keep the longing out of her voice when they talked about anything non-business related. And she wondered how he missed the fact that she wandered into his office to ask questions she already knew the answers to. Undeniably, the attraction was driving her crazy. Yet she had to remember that he was an employee.

And, of course, there was the annoying fact of his being gay.

"Good morning, ladies." A warm smile crossed his face as he passed women lounging against the walls or propped in doorways, blatantly waiting to smile and greet him. "Good morning, Susan," he said as they walked to their offices.

"Made it through the gauntlet another day, I see."

His dimples showed themselves as he grinned down at her. With her small five foot four inch height, he could have made her feel overpowered, but he usually maintained distance enough that looking up wasn't a strain. It was a gentlemanly thing to do, but a gesture most men didn't consider. Duncan anticipated her needs and made adjustments in a way no other man ever had.

"I don't know why they do that. I've worked here for two weeks now, so you'd think the novelty of my being the only man would have worn off."

Susan shook her head, making the turn into the office. "Duncan, look in the mirror. The novelty is never going to wear off. The fact that you don't like girls is not going to keep them away from you."

"Even if I wore a big sign that said, 'I am not a boy toy'?" he asked, laughing.

"Not even then, trust me." She picked up papers from the tray of the fax machine and patted his shoulder with them as she walked past his desk and into her own office.

Seconds later she came back to the doorway, in time to see him stretch his shoulders after hanging up his jacket. It was no Freudian slip that she remembered to come back at that particular moment and ask for the Sixth Avenue project file. No, it was purely intentional, even though it tortured her. Her heart filled her throat and she felt a sharp pang of desire strike.

Unfair, so unfair. If only he wasn't...

Of course, if he weren't gay he wouldn't be working with her at all. Her health clubs, named Baer Hugs, were designed for women. They provided exercise, personal training and nutritional advice, as well as snack centers and a full range of pampering. She had practiced non-discrimination in hiring, employing male and female massage therapists and trainers in the past. However, the last four men she'd hired had caused problems. They either became too familiar with the clients, some of whom were quite influential in the city, or they developed relationships with some of their female colleagues, causing unrest among the rest. Women just seemed to be happier working with each other when there weren't men around. Especially if the men were good looking, charming guys.

Like Duncan.

When she'd let the last man go, after two of her top aerobics instructors had engaged in a catfight over him, Susan swore the only man she'd have working for her again would be gay. Then it wouldn't matter what he looked like.

A few months later, her administrative assistant announced she was getting married and leaving town. Susan interviewed eight people, seven women and Duncan. His resume was almost unbelievable, making him by far the best qualified for the position, but she'd determined not to hire him. Reminding him that the club catered exclusively to women--some quite attractive--she hinted that his girlfriend or wife might not appreciate his working there.

She'd waited for Duncan to understand, on his own, that she wasn't going to hire him. Instead, he'd given her a long, solemn appraisal, then flashed a heart-stopping smile and said that perhaps his mother would mind about the women, but no one else would.

He'd crossed his legs, lazily swinging his top leg. Resting his elbow on the chair arm, he fanned his fingers across his cheek, pinkie under the rim of his full bottom lip, and waited for her reaction. Smiling, Susan had offered him her hand and the job. Since then, she'd been nothing but pleased with his work and nothing short of tormented by his good looks and charm.

So, her choice was: torture being around him, knowing that he was definitely out of reach, or not have him there at all, to brighten her day and decorate her office. She'd take the smiles and decoration.

"Duncan, will you bring in the papers on Sixth Avenue, please?"

"Sure. Let me grab a cup of coffee and I'll be right in." He glanced at the desk calendar. "Don't forget Bruce Jones is calling at eleven. I'll bring in the Barber account information, too, so you can make sure you're up to speed." He looked up, raising a brow. "You want coffee while I'm going for it?"

"That would be great, thanks."

How in hell had she gotten so lucky? Easy on the eyes, the best damn admin she'd ever had, bar none, plus he made coffee. And didn't complain about bringing her a cup. Susan hoped Duncan would never leave however much he frustrated her libido.

While waiting, she scanned the fax she'd just picked up. There was a problem completing construction of the newest health center. Cost overruns on the building materials had thrown the budget off kilter and a couple of missed schedule milestones made the opening planned for the end of the following month questionable. Frowning, she first read the factual information then the impressions of the new facility manager.

In the manager's estimation the problem was still controllable, but Susan wasn't sure. It didn't take much for complications to get out of hand, making it almost impossible to rein them back in.

Known for her tight control on business, Susan didn't panic easily, but neither did she disregard the kind of trouble outlined in the report. Close attention to detail had allowed her to own and successfully run the largest chain of health centers for women in the mid-Atlantic region.

Normally she would have asked a manager from another club to help with the construction and opening of a new facility. But Emma Sanders, the woman Susan had hired to head up the Lexington project, had experience opening and managing health clubs and had come highly recommended. In their face to face meetings, Emma had seemed exceptionally competent and knowledgeable. However, maybe she'd given Emma too much leeway because something wasn't right. It was time for an up close and personal look at the progress.

With her concentration centered on the report, she jumped when Duncan set a cup of steaming coffee on the coaster in front of her. He put his cup on the front corner of her desk and deposited two manila file folders beside the report she was reading.

"Frowning like that will give you early wrinkles, you know," he said as he took his seat.

"Thanks for the advice," she retorted, but she consciously relaxed her facial muscles. "Damn, I hate frowning. I'd much rather get wrinkles from smiles brought about by enrollment figures and quarterly profits, but this new club opening in Lexington has me a bit worried. I'll have to go up there." She raised the cup for a drink but paused a moment to examine the calm man sitting before her. She used to think it was a waste that such a gorgeous man was gay. It occurred to her for the first time, that the situation was just the opposite.

Through the steam rising from her cup, she watched him cross his legs and prepare to take notes, then reach for his own cup, taking a quick sip before starting work. She realized with a start that she liked him, quite outside the jump he caused her heart or her appreciation of his office and administrative skills. This was a man she truly enjoyed.

So did the other women working in the club. In two short weeks he'd been accepted as one of them, notwithstanding the spectacle they made of themselves each morning. For the first time she appreciated the truth of the matter, that their unusual welcome was simply homage paid to another beautiful person they delighted in, and not a sexual statement at all. He certainly took it in stride and with humor. No, Duncan's being gay meant they could all be friends with him without jealousies or threats, and she approved of that. His working at the club had affected all of them in a very positive way.

She made a snap decision. "Would you like to come with me? You've shown remarkable insight into the business and I'd be interested in your appraisal of what's going on up there."

"When, and for how long?"

"I'd like to be on site Monday morning, so we'd leave Sunday. Be back Tuesday." She watched as a slight frown crossed his face. "You'll get wrinkles frowning like that."

His burst of laughter caused her to smile, too.

"Of course, it's not a requirement that you come with me. Having you here to handle things will be fine." She put the Lexington report aside and opened one of the folders Duncan had brought in with him.

"No, I didn't mean to hesitate; I was just thinking what plans I might have to rearrange."

Shifting a fraction in his chair on the word "rearrange," he glanced away then back. Was he uncomfortable at the thought of going away with her?

It took no effort for her to envision the two of them, their entangled arms and legs as they made love in a dimly lighted room. Her thighs tensed and she held her breath as the touch of his hands seemed more real than imaginary. Oh shit!

Eyes narrowed, he adopted a stern tone, bringing her back to the present. "I get my own room, don't I? Because I'm not used to sharing with women, even if they are beautiful." Then he winked.

A warm glow heated her cheeks. She, Susan Baer, a woman who'd been written up in magazines and newspapers as one of the new female stars of the fitness industry, was blushing because a man said she was beautiful. And not even a real man, a man's man. She choked on the thought. "A man's man." The old fashioned description of the alpha male could be used now in ways no one in the fifties would have imagined.

Reaching for her coffee to settle the coughing fit, she glanced at Duncan. A look of quiet amusement covered his face. He was teasing her, of course.

Making fun, more like. The fat teenaged girl wearing glasses and braces still hid inside her, jeering, always able to plant Susan's feet on terra firma whenever she found herself getting carried away. Although she hired beautiful women for the club, there was never any question in her mind of whether or not she competed in that arena. She could smile at her reflection in the mirror now, but too many years of being the butt of jokes when she was growing up had killed the notion forever that she might be beautiful. It was all right, though. She was content being average in looks, as long as she stayed above average in brains.

The heat of the coffee she sipped matched the heat she felt at the interpretation she'd put on his words. Her humor disappeared, as his seemed to increase. "Yes, you'd get your own room. And what's so funny? That you hinted I was attractive? Don't worry, I knew it was a joke." If one deep breath was supposed to calm someone's nerves, two must be even better. She took both of them. "So, we'll leave on Sunday. I'll drive. Pick you up around two?"

He nodded, all trace of amusement gone from his face.

"Fine, that's settled. I'll just look over these reports. You don't need to stay. But will you read over this fax and make the arrangements we'll need in Lexington?" Holding out the papers she effectively dismissed him.

"Of course." An awkward pause stretched out as he sat there. "Susan, I'm sorry if I..."

She waved him off. "You have work to do, and so do I." He stood and took the fax, his hand brushing hers.

Duncan watched Susan a moment longer, seeing a rosy blush tinge her cheeks when their fingers touched. Picking up his cup and turning away, he left the office.

His mind churned, trying to determine what he'd said to change her attitude so quickly. Nothing. In fact, he'd said practically nothing since walking into her office. He'd joked about getting his own room in Lexington, but he'd smiled afterward, so surely she'd known he was teasing?

Then he'd added she was beautiful. Sitting at his desk, going through the Rolodex to find the phone numbers he needed to arrange the trip, he cringed at his words. He needed to be more careful in what he said and did. He doubted a real gay man would make such a comment to a woman, at least not using the tone of voice he had. But the plain fact of the matter was, he found it harder every day to remember that he was an undercover investigator, posing as a gay administrative assistant. Especially when his boss was a woman he found beautiful and fascinating.

From the first day, during his interview, he'd found it difficult to keep his mind on what he was there for--securing the job as admin and thus getting himself situated in the health club. There were other ways to make contact with the woman he was looking for, but he'd seen the ad in the help wanted column at the same time he was formulating plans, and the job had seemed the perfect way in.

For a moment, he'd thought Susan was going to pass him over in favor of a woman, even though his skill set was extraordinary. Then he'd caught a hint in her questioning, a subtle suggestion that he might have a chance if only he were...

It had taken only a millisecond to remember his former fiancée, a woman with a tender heart, who nonetheless hadn't minded ripping his out and stomping it into the ground a year earlier. That brief memory had been enough for him to realize that pretending to be a man who could keep his distance from women would be easy. Even from Ms. Susan Baer, whose auburn hair and astonishing green eyes made his still-wounded heart skip a beat.

That was why he'd hesitated when she asked if he wanted to go to Lexington. Seeing her during the day was hard enough. To spend a day and two nights away from the structure of the office, when they would presumably share time relaxing in each other's company? That might pose a problem or two. He'd have to be on his toes every minute.

Half thinking of his dilemma with Susan and half concentrating on work, he managed to make arrangements for the trip and get through the morning. The two of them exchanged a few words, but quite professionally, the easy minutes they'd experienced that morning, gone. About an hour before Susan normally broke for lunch, Toby Williams strolled into the office.

Automatically, Duncan's eyes narrowed. He disliked Toby Williams. Strongly. At first, the feeling had been his normal reaction to arrogance. Toby had the confident swagger of a man who was both rich and good-looking, and knew it. Oh sure, the guy was okay-looking. His hair was so blond it was almost white. That alone would make him stand out in a crowd. And he looked fit, in good enough shape to take care of himself in a fight if he had to. He supported the Italian economy with his suits and shoes, and the gold and diamond markets with the necklace, watch and pinkie ring he routinely wore.

But looks and wealth weren't why Duncan disliked Toby Williams. No, Duncan just didn't think all of that gave a guy an excuse to be a world-class asshole.

It didn't help that Susan was seeing the jerk regularly, though why she went out with him Duncan would never understand. Williams treated her like shit with sly, backhanded compliments, or he ignored her presence altogether. Yet she seemed to brush off the slights. Williams's arrogance aside, his treatment of Susan was enough to damn him in Duncan's eyes. He'd kept his opinions to himself, however, because she'd never hinted she would welcome them. He stayed wary around the bastard, just the same.

Duncan remembered the first time the two men met, soon after he'd started working at the club. He'd greeted Toby in a professional manner, but had been virtually disregarded. When Susan introduced Toby as an old friend and Duncan held out his hand Toby took it, but with obvious reluctance, as though it was beneath him to interact with "the help."

Then Susan and Toby had gone to lunch. When they returned, Toby had looked at Duncan with a decidedly superior sneer, but had also kept his distance, making Duncan assume Susan had told Toby about his sexual preferences. Since then, and with some glee, he found ways to make contact with Toby every time he came to the office. Simply knowing that his voice and his movements--which he exaggerated during the visits--made Toby uncomfortable, added a spot of enjoyment to Duncan's day.

The enjoyment was always short-lived however knowing that Susan was going out with the creep.

Like she was today.

"Hello, is there anything I can do for you?" Duncan knew why Toby was there of course, but he asked anyway, his voice barely above a purr. It was a low voice. A seductive voice.

Duncan watched ... and watched... Here it came. The Smirk, perfected after years of use.

"There will never be anything you can do for me, you little que..."

"Duncan..." Susan's voice became louder as she approached, "...can you get Mrs. Johnson on the phone and ask her... Oh. Toby." She glanced at her watch. "You're early. I still have a few things I have to get done before lunch." She dropped an application form on Duncan's desk.

With a "watch this, loser" look at Duncan, Toby reached out and cupped Susan's head. Ignoring her startled look, he covered her mouth with his, forcing her lips apart in order to ram his tongue between them. Susan placed her hands on his shoulders and pushed, but instead of giving way Toby cocked his head to gain even more advantage. His other hand snaked down to her buttocks to pull her against his hips, which were even now grinding into her.

Duncan was disgusted. Feeling the heat of anger rise, he balled his hands into fists. He practically pounded his desk, wishing he could bash the cocky asshole into next week instead. No doubt Williams thought he was demonstrating a lover's prowess, but who was he trying to prove it to, Duncan or Susan? No, the point was being made for Duncan's benefit, damn it all. Surely Susan had been out with Toby enough to know how the son of a bitch kissed. Duncan stopped any further thought along those lines, knowing it would make him even more furious.

He stared at the couple. Really stared. Susan was trying hard to push Williams away and making a whimpering noise that didn't sound the least bit erotic. Duncan jumped to his feet and did the only non-violent thing he could think of to break them apart.

With his thigh brushing Toby's, he leaned over the couple, resting his hand casually on Toby's neck. Duncan experienced a touch of male pride when he realized he was taller than the other man by a couple of inches. And he had a flash of pleasure knowing that with a subtle movement of his wrist and finger on two pressure points on his neck, Duncan could have Williams on his knees in pain in seconds. Someday...

"Oh, Toby," Duncan murmured. "Your technique is so good."

As though a hot poker had been thrust against his backside, Toby sprang away from Susan and further away from Duncan. He swiped at the back of his neck as though trying to wipe away dirt or an insect. Scrunching his face in distaste Toby snarled. "Get away from me, you damn pervert!"

"Toby!" Susan had stepped back from the two men, one hand to her mouth, the other clasped to her stomach. "Stop that. Duncan isn't a per..." She glanced at Duncan, an apology in her eyes. "He isn't. So just stop it."

Keeping a neutral expression was hard when his heart swelled at Susan's defense. Duncan felt a sudden urge to go to her, wipe her mouth with his handkerchief to rid her of any trace of that asshole, Toby Williams, then take her in his arms and simply hold her as she should be held, like a cherished woman. Not manhandled as though she were property. Still, right now he had a part to play.

"I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable, Mr. Toby, but I was just trying to learn." With a toss of his head and a swiveled turn, Duncan retreated back behind his desk.

"Well, you're not going to be learning with me, so just keep your pansy hands to yourself," Toby growled. He turned to Susan. "Come on. I came to get you for lunch. Let's get out of here."

"I've got a few more things to do. I'll need another forty minutes or so. Maybe you can come back? Or I'll meet you somewhere." Her voice was firm as she retreated toward her office.


Duncan snapped his head toward the voice to see Millie Andrews peek around the door. For a tall woman, at least five foot ten, Millie always seemed small, vulnerable. She was young--twenty-six according to her employment application--and beautiful, but only in the way society defined the word. Some might call her willowy, but he considered her thin and decided that must be what made her appear helpless. Even her voice was thin.

"Hi, Millie. Do you need me?"

Toby snorted. "Not damn likely," he muttered.

She eased through the doorway, but wouldn't venture any further into the room. Casting a look toward Toby, a flash of fear skimmed her doe eyes. Duncan looked from Millie to Toby, who stood staring back at the young woman, an overbearing confidence pouring from him, like a cat that knew the poor little mouse had nowhere to go but to him.

From the corner of Duncan's eye he saw that Susan had stopped and turned back at the sudden silence in the room.

"Toby?" Susan's tone was tentative. "I've changed my mind. We can go now."

No answer.

Of course not. The prick has found new game to stalk. Duncan moved to stand between Millie and Toby. "What do you need, Millie?" He made his tone commanding, forcing her attention to him. It worked. She met his eyes and took what he thought was a relieved breath.

"Duncan, I had a cancellation this afternoon and wondered if you'd like a massage. I haven't had a lot of free time lately, and I didn't know if you had the time, you know, the time to..."

He didn't have to look to know that Toby had moved so he could see Millie's face again. Her eyes were drawn to a point over Duncan's shoulder as surely as if they'd been pulled there by a string.

Duncan sighed as he stepped to the side, once again blocking her view of Toby. "I'll be there in a few minutes, and then we'll get some lunch, okay? We'll see which of the girls are free and we'll order from the deli. Go on now." Taking her shoulders, he spun her toward the hallway and gave a gentle shove. When she was safely out of the room, he faced Toby.

"Fat lot of good it will do her to give you a massage," Toby said. "She should use her skills on a real man."

"Like you, Mr. Toby?" Duncan cocked his head and put a finger to his lips as he allowed his eyes to rove the full length of Toby's body. Toby shifted from foot to foot, his hands forming fists at his side.

"Know what?" Duncan asked, finishing his examination and giving his head a quick shake. "I don't think so." He moved behind his desk, took his seat and picked up the form Susan had dropped there earlier.

"Toby, are you ready for lunch?" Susan sounded anxious.

Toby acted as though only he and Duncan were in the room. "You little... I could chew you up and spit you out, and never even notice I was doing it."

Duncan stood up and leaned across the desk, his fists supporting his weight. With pleasure, he saw Toby take half a step back. "Stay away from her."

"Why? Because you say so?"

"Yeah, that's exactly why. She's my friend, and I go a long way to protect my friends." He turned his head to look pointedly at Susan, and then back at Toby. "All of my friends."

Toby scoffed. "I could knock someone like you down with one blow."

Baring his teeth in a gruesome smile, Duncan knew exactly how fierce he looked. The expression had stood him in good stead for years as a Marine. "With your breath, maybe. With anything else? You might do well to remember that even 'pansies' can learn how to fight. Often it's a necessity." He softened his voice. Instead of sounding weak it had the opposite effect. "It's a mistake to underestimate me."

For long, silent seconds, the two men stared each other down.

Finally, Toby blinked. "Yeah, right. As though I'd waste energy on you." He shot his sleeve and glanced at his watch then at Susan, who stood transfixed. "I'm going out to the car. I'll wait exactly three minutes. If you're not there, I'm leaving. But I'll still expect to see you Saturday night. I've already made special arrangements, so don't think you can disappoint me, Grizzly. It'll only happen once." Giving a quick glance toward the door Millie had gone through, he continued, "And there are plenty of other fish in the sea." Without another word, he strode out.

The color drained from Susan's face at Toby's parting comments, then filled with color when she noticed Duncan studying her. Inhaling, she rushed back into her office, then flew back again through his. "Duncan, call Mrs. Johnson to see if she has any further questions about her new membership, and make an appointment for when she wants to start, okay? Then take your lunch. I'll be back... Well, I'll be back later."

She was already down the hall by the time he got to the doorway. "Susan!"

Slowing, then stopping, she turned to look at him. The pleading look in her eyes prevented what he was going to say, that he didn't think she should go, that he needed her to stay, anything to keep her from going with that asshole. That asshole he now suspected might be dangerous. "Take care."

With a look of relief, she nodded and hurried out of sight.

Duncan returned to his desk and called Mrs. Johnson. Then he locked the office and made his way to the massage rooms. Resigned to the idea that Susan was going out with Williams, he still worried about her. Why would she waste her time on someone like him?

More puzzling was her change in character when Williams had shown his true colors. Susan had been a competent, logical businesswoman one minute and like a beaten, fawning girl the next. It didn't make sense. And things that didn't make sense bothered him. She might not welcome it, but he would find out what the problem was, and soon.

For now, however, he tried to put her from his mind. Instead, he focused on Millie Andrews. After all, she was the reason he was there.

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