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"Is this seat taken?"
Mallory Stevens knew that deep, seductive voice. As best she could, she braced herself before looking up into a pair of smiling gray-green eyes and a face that would have made Adonis seem homely by comparison. It was no use.
Zip, zap, zing!
Just that fast, her hormones snapped to attention and her limbs turned liquid. It was a bizarre reaction, though she'd be lying if she labeled it unpleasant. Nor was it unprecedented. She'd experienced its twin a week earlier when she'd met Logan Bartholomew for the first time.
They'd been in his office, and she'd written it off then as a fluke. She'd been working too many hours. She'd barely slept the night before. She'd gone without the company of a man for way, way too long.
But a fluke didn't happen twice. When it did, and it involved a member of the opposite sex, it was called something else: attraction.
Mallory sucked in a breath before letting it out slowly between her teeth. She certainly had nothing against mingling with members of the opposite sex. She liked men, but she had a rule about mixing business with pleasure. It was a no-no. Logan Batholomew was business, even if everything about him made her body hum with pleasure.
"You're welcome to join me, Doctor," she told him. Though it took an effort, her tone was blessedly nonchalant. She hoped the smile she sent him was the same.
He folded his athletic frame into the chair, managing to look both elegant and masculine. For the umpteenth time in their short acquaintance, she found herself thinking his gorgeous looks were wasted on the radio. He hosted a call-in program that had all of Chicago talking.
"Ithought we'd agreed it was just Logan," he said.
Mallory knew he was wrong. Even though, now that he was here, sitting through the Windy City Women of Action luncheon she'd been assigned to cover held far more appeal, a qualifier such as just didn't apply when it came to Logan. Everything about the guy was off the charts, from his leading-man looks and tri-athlete physique to the way his show had burned its way to the top of the ratings in a little over a year. It was no wonder he'd been voted Chicago's most eligible bachelor in a recent poll sponsored by her newspaper.
As a reporter, Mallory reminded herself that she was interested in more than his heart-palpitating appeal and sigh-worthy exterior. She was interested in a story and she smelled one here. Not necessarily the sort that went with his sophisticated cologne and designer tie, and certainly not the trivial one that had landed her in his office the week before.
In her experience, no one was ever as perfect as this guy appeared to be with his Harvard degree and penchant for supporting worthwhile causes. She intended to unearth the skeletons in his closet and then expose each and every one of them. Maybe then her editor would forgive her for the embarrassing faux pas that had the newspaper's lawyers fending off a libel suit and Mallory writing the kind of general assignment fluff that usually went to the college interns.
"I should thank you for the article you did on my commencement address to the students and faculty at Chesterfield Alternative High School," he said.
Fluff, definitely. So much so that the airy advance had wound up buried in the bowels of the Chicago Herald's Lifestyles section.
"You read it?" she asked, equally surprised that he'd found it.
"All four paragraphs," came his dry reply.
Truth be told, Mallory had had to pad it with his background to make it that long. God, she missed her city hall beat. Two months of writing nonsense had her feeling like a carnivore at a vegetarians' convention. She needed meat, the rarer the better, and unless her instincts were wrong, Logan was prime rib.
Angling her head to one side, she said, "So, any truth to the rumor I heard that Doctor in the Know might go national? Or that a certain cable television network has made you an offer for a prime-time program?"
If he was surprised by her questions, it didn't show. He didn't so much as blink. Rather, in a bland voice, he inquired, "On the record or off?"
"On, of course," she replied.
"Well then, no."
She lifted one brow. "And off the record?"
Logan leaned toward her, close enough that she could feel the heat radiating from his skin. She pictured his mouth, lips barely an inch from making contact with her earlobe when he whispered, "No comment."
In spite of herself, Mallory shivered. The man was downright lethal, a straight shot of sex outfitted in a suit that probably cost the equivalent of a month's worth of her take-home pay. She'd splurged on the black pencil skirt and tan fitted jacket she was wearing, but they were hardly designer label. Clearly, she was in the wrong profession, not that she had any plans to change. She loved her job. Until lately, it had been by far the most satisfying and reliable thing in her life. She intended it to be that way again.
Leaning back in her chair, Mallory smiled at Logan. "I'll find out eventually, you know. Ferreting out people's secrets is what I do best."
"I'd heard that about you," he replied amiably. "In fact, my agent called to warn me to be on my toes before you came to my office for the interview last week. She said you were a regular pit bull."
"A pit bull, hmm?" Mallory ran her tongue over her teeth.
"Actually, she called you a rabid pit bull." Logan chuckled as if to soften the description and added, "I hope I haven't offended you."
"Offended me?" She exhaled sharply. "Please. I'm flattered by her description."
"I don't think she meant it as a compliment."
"I'm sure she didn't." Still Mallory shrugged. "I'll take it as one, anyway. In my line of work I believe in going for the throat. It's what yields the best results."
Her gaze lowered as she said this. Loosen that silk tie and undo the top button at his collar and Logan Bartholomew had one very delicious-looking neck.
"What about outside of work?"
His question startled her from her musings. Mallory's gaze shot back to his face, where a potent and very male smile greeted her.
"Wh-what do you mean?" She hated that she'd actually stammered like a shy schoolgirl conversing with the football team's star quarterback.
"What do you do after hours? You know, to unwind?" His expression was just this side of challenging.
"I tend to work late." Then she went home alone, picking up some takeout on the way to her walk-up half a block from an El stop. Once she'd changed out of her work attire, she usually ate while watching the television before crashing for the night on the queen-size bed in her room. Alone.
"No… boyfriend?" he inquired.
Her eyes narrowed. "Not at the moment." Though not for two years was closer to reality.
"Are you analyzing me, Doctor?" Mallory asked.
"Logan," he reminded her with an affable grin.
"Yes, but at the moment you're sounding an awful lot like someone with a degree in psychiatry."
"Ah." He grimaced, seemingly for effect. "Sorry about that. A hazard of my profession, I'm afraid. I just find it hard to believe that someone as bright, interesting and, well, attractive as you are isn't in a serious relationship."
"Good save." She said it dryly in the hope of camouflaging the spurt of pleasure she'd experienced upon hearing his compliments.
Bright, interesting, attractive. What woman wouldn't want to be considered all three, especially by a man who looked like this one?
The servers came around then with their salads and baskets of bread. Mallory selected a hard roll. At their first meeting, Logan's time had been limited, so she'd only had the opportunity to ask him questions related to the commencement address. Now, under the guise of small talk, she asked him, "What about you? What do you do when you're not at the radio station?"
"Well, for starters, I like to eat." He forked up some mixed baby greens that were coated in raspberry vinaigrette.
"Yes, you look it." Logan was a walking advertisement for physical fitness. If the man looked this good with his clothes on, she could only imagine how he appeared sans his professional attire. The thought had her coughing.
He swatted her back. "Are you all right?"
"Fine," she managed. "Never better. You were saying something about eating?"
"I like food. For that reason, I learned how to cook."
Mallory squinted at him. "Learned how to cook as in learned how to work the microwave oven or learned how to cook as in—"
"I know my way around the kitchen," he inserted. "For instance, tonight I'm planning to grill a marinated flank steak and then pair it with rice noodles and a simple green salad."
Her mouth watered. "Just for you?"
"I'm impressed." And she was. "I've never gotten much beyond boiling water, which is actually pretty handy considering it's one of the most important steps in making macaroni and cheese."
"From a box," he acknowledged. "There are other ways, you know."
No, she didn't know. In her albeit limited experience, all that was necessary was to bring the water to a boil and add the elbow noodles. When they were cooked, she drained the water, drizzled in a quarter cup of milk and stirred in the packet of a dry, cheeselike substance. Voilà. Dinner.
Logan was saying, "I've found cooking to be a surprising release for my creative energy."
She found his admission surprising, as well, but as secrets went, well, news that Chicago's new favorite son liked to play chef in his off hours wasn't likely to score Mallory many points with her editor.
So, she asked, "What else do you do in your spare time? I know you don't frequent the hot night spots."
"I'm a little old for that."
"Thirty-six isn't exactly ancient." Especially when it came packaged in broad shoulders, narrow hips and topped off with a full head of gorgeous sandy hair.
The shoulders in question rose. "Night clubs aren't really my thing."
They weren't Mallory's, either. Sure, she liked to dance, sip a cocktail and have a good time every now and then, but she'd long ago grown out of the meat-market scene so many of the city's hottest spots promoted. These days when she went out it was usually with a former college roommate for margaritas at a little Mexican restaurant that was one step above dive status.
"So, what is your thing?" she asked.
Logan said nothing for a long moment. Rather, he studied her with a gaze that was both challenging and assessing. Which is why Mallory found herself holding her breath until he finally replied, "I like to sail."
The air whooshed from her lungs. "Sail. As in boats?" Mallory couldn't help feeling disappointed. Unless he was going to tell her he kept narcotics in the hold this revelation was as newsworthy as the tidbit about playing chef.
"Is there any other kind?" He was smiling. "My parents had a catamaran when I was a boy. I loved being out on it. So, I bought a thirty-one-footer a few years back. I take her out on Lake Michigan as often as I can. Even so, the season's just too damn short here."
Mallory didn't consider herself to be the romantic sort, yet she had no problem picturing Logan standing on a teak deck, manning the helm of a sailboat as the Chicago skyline grew small at his back and the deep aquamarine waters of the great lake beckoned.
"Sounds nice," she said in a voice just this side of wispy. Good Lord, what was wrong with her?
"It is. Especially first thing in morning. There's nothing like sitting on deck, drinking a cup of coffee and watching the sun crest the horizon."
Mallory swallowed. Focus, she coached herself, when her mind threatened to meander a second time. "You make it sound like you sleep on your boat."
"I've been known to. It's peaceful out there, you know? None of the city noise. Only lapping water and the occasional cry of gulls."
She thought about the El train that rumbled past her apartment at regular intervals. As far as she was concerned, what he spoke of was heaven. That was before she pictured him clad in… hmm… what did the good doctor wear to bed? That question brought another one to mind.
"Do you sleep there alone?" When his brows rose, she amended her query. "Who do you go sailing with?"
Logan's laughter rumbled, deep and rich, dancing up
her spine like a flat stone skipping over water. "Are you asking if I'm involved with someone?"
She cleared her throat, kept her tone reporter-neutral. "A lot of single women who read the Herald are dying to know just how eligible of a bachelor you are."
"It's that damned poll."
"Yes," she said dryly. "Every man in Chicago wishes he were so lucky as to find his name on it."
"Do I have you to thank for my…providence?" he inquired.
Mallory shook her head. "I wasn't part of the Lifestyles team then."
He was undeterred. "But are you one of them? You know, the voters, those women interested in my personal life?"
"Not a voter, no. But you bet I am interested in your personal life." She pulled a pen and slim notepad from the purse hanging over the back of her chair. "So?"
Some of the good humor leaked out of Logan's expression when he said, "I didn't realize that you were sent to this luncheon to cover me."
Was that censure she spied in his gaze or disappointment? Mallory didn't like seeing either one, but neither was she willing to back down. "Rabid pit bull," Logan's agent had called her. Well, she'd earned the reputation for a reason.
"Sorry. Hazard of my profession. And I can't help thinking you make a far more interesting story than the winner of this year's Action Award." She tilted her head in the direction of the head table.