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Nothing rattled Zack Harrison's cage.
He viewed Denver's unseasonal snowfall this afternoon as a picturesque bonus more than an inconvenience. Today's setback with regard to his latest acquisition strike was another challenge, not a reason to rant. Achieving a goal should involve effort, Zack decided as he shrugged into his overcoat, thanked the concierge and collected his briefcase. He'd simply need to get more inventive was the word.
However, his patience was sorely tested when it came to the press. Last month's beat-up was nothing short of laughable. Apparently he was a fiend who left underprivileged families homeless in order to expand his evil empire. And what about that recent piece questioning his treatment of an ambitious actress he'd been seeing? Without exception he treated women with respect but, from the get-go, he and Ally had agreed upon "fun and casual," not "if I don't see a diamond ring, I'll expose your darkest secret." As if blackmail would work. Unlike his father and siblings, this Harrison didn't give a rat's behind what people thought.
But on this late-spring afternoon, as he strode from the hotel's entrance, yanked open the waiting cab's back passenger door and zipped inside the toasty cabin, Zack's calm fled and he jumped back in his seat. He took a moment to adjust and study his unexpected company before leaning forward to tap the driver's shoulder.
"Your last fare forgot something."
The cabbie angled around. "A wallet?"
"No," Zack said. "A baby."
The other back door swung open. A cool rush whooshed inside along with a woman wearing a hooded cherry-red coat. She set a matching overnighter on her lap and promptly slapped the door shut against the howling drifts. Blowing warmth into her cupped hands, her attention shifted. Beneath the red hood, curious eyes the color of new violets slid from the infant car seat carrier up to Zack and back again.
He considered her face, those eyes, and his chest grew unusually warm. He hadn't met this woman before and yet something in her glittering gaze had him wondering if he knew her. Perhaps he'd simply like to.
"I was in such a hurry, I didn't see you get in," she said, wrapping her manicured hands around the lip of her case. "Actually I couldn't see much at all. Crazy, isn't it? All this snow, I mean."
A slow smile hooked one side of his mouth as Zack's gaze drank her in. "Yeah," he said. "Crazy."
"It seems like the concierge called a cab ages ago. I walked to the curb to see if I could hail one down. I thought it might never come."
Zack's smile faded. He'd stolen her ride? When he'd checked out a few minutes ago, the front desk had organized a cab. Exiting the hotel's foyer, he'd merely assumed.
He leaned forward again, spoke to the driver. He'd pick off this easier problem then take care of that other more complicated baby matter next.
"Are you answering a call?"
"Just back from dropping a fare at the airport." The man behind the wheel pushed a maroon beret back on his brow before flicking on the meter. "Thought I'd swing in here and try my luck. No one's going out in this weather 'less they have to."
"The airport." Red Riding Hood tipped forward, too. "That's where I'm headed. I need to get back to New York for an interview first thing tomorrow. I'm a features writer for Story Magazine.'" Her bright look said, You've heard of it, right?
Acting suitably informed and impressed despite his aversion, Zack nodded and said, "Of course," a moment before she dragged back the hood. The shadow framing her face lifted and Zack forgot to breathe.
Other than her cheeks, which were flushed a healthy pink, her complexion was as flawless as porcelain. Her hair, a luxurious mane, rested like a sable mantle over two slim straight shoulders. Her violet eyes were so vibrant their light penetrated and illuminated places he hadn't known existed.
He'd dated some beauties in his time, women who drew attention when they floated into a room and were comfortable exerting their power over the opposite sex. But Zack couldn't recall having met a female whose company literally left him short on air, and not only because of something as superficial as looks. In the clear depths of her eyes the poised yet innocent manner with which she listened and spoke.
Quite simply, this woman glowed.
After today's unproductive meeting with the owner of this building he was ready to kick back and get homehome being the two-story private cabin he chilled at whenever he stopped in town. But the delectable Red was obviously in a hurry, eager to leave Denver and its freak weather behind. He'd be happy to play the gentleman and wait for another cab.
Which also meant she and the driver could work out between them what to do about this baby, who, thankfully, was still sound asleep. Peaceful.
Zack looked harder.
Almost too peaceful. He had the damnedest urge to check each tiny finger curled over that wrap to make certain they were warm.
Red was peering at the baby, too. "I see you have a little one to worry about. She's gorgeous." She sighed then drew away. "I'll ask the concierge to call and see where my cab is."
As she turned to find her door's handle, Zack's muscles clenched and he caught her sleeve. Red couldn't leave. She had it all wrong.
When her gaze hooked backunsure, concernedhe released her arm and coughed out a hoarse laugh at the same time he glanced at the baby.
"This isn't mine."''
The cabbie grunted. "Sure as heck ain't mine."
The woman blinked two sets of generous lashes and her lips twitched as if she wanted to smile but didn't dare. "She looks a little young to travel alone."
She. Zack had to ask.
"How do you know it's a girl?" The carrier, blanket and bonnet were as white as the snow piling up on the sidewalk and road.
"Well, her face is so sweet." Expression melting, Red curved the back of her hand over the baby's bonneted crown and a tiny pair of lips pursed in and out as if she were dreaming about dinner. "Rosebud mouth," Red went on. "Cute and tiny. She's too pretty to be a boy."
The driver drummed his thumbs on the wheel. "Meter's running, folks."
"Of course." Gathering herself, Red pulled away. "I'll let you go."
For a second time that day, Zack's calm evaporated. But now his mouth went completely dry, and sweat broke on the back of his neck. This afternoon was supposed to finish with a quiet brandy in front of a toasty fire, not tossing a hot potato like this around. He didn't even like babies . Or, more correctly, they didn't like him.
"What are we supposed to do with her?" he asked.
"Not we, pal." The cabbie slotted the shift into gear.
His voice deep, Zack spoke to the man who clearly wasn't his "pal."
"I told you, she isn't mine."
Red slanted her head and a stream of sable spilled over one shoulder. "What's she doing here then?"
"Beats me. Who'd you drop off last?" he asked the driver.
"An eighty-year-old man with a cane." The cabbie slid his beret back again. "He was flying out to see family in Jersey, and he wasn't carrying no bassinet."
The cabbie's expression said, Don't know your game, son, but don't try to dump your problems on me.
Zack growled. How many times did he have to say it? The baby wasn't his! At least it seemed that Red believed him.
Her face had lost all color as if every drop of blood had rushed to her feet. Her question came out a struggled whisper as though she shouldn't speak the words too loud for fear they might be true.
"Do you think someone abandoned her?"
"Guess the authorities will have to figure that out."
Zack didn't like the situationnot a bit. He knew less than zip about babies and had every intention of keeping it that way. Marriage and its inevitable complications were the furthest things from his mind. But, in this matter.
Ah, hell, what choice did he have? Red was in a legitimate hurry andno getting around ithe had been the one to make the find. Either the guy behind the wheel could outact Tom Hanks or he sincerely had no clue. God only knew how a baby could end up alone in the backseat of a cab.
Zack's gaze roamed the small sleeping form, those rosebud lips, that button nose, and his heart swelled and dropped. Some things you simply couldn't shrug off.
After flexing his fingers, he slid a firm grip around the unharnessed car seat's handle.
"I'll bring her to the police station." His voice was hushed now. He didn't want to wake her and maybe have her cry. "They can call Child Services."
"But they could take ages to collect her."
"I only know a baby doesn't sleep forever and I don't carry spare diapers around in my breast pocket."
Red quietly searched around the foot of the blanket. "There's a bottle here," she said, "some formula and a few diapers, too."
"The officers at the local precinct will be most appreciative."
She lifted an eyebrow. "I'm sure they'll be eternally grateful."
Zack narrowed his eyes at her. What was she after? He was a businessman, for Pete's sake, not a babysitterno matter how cute the kid.
The driver adjusted his rearview mirror. "Should I drop you two lovebirds off at a cafe so you can nut this out?"
"We're not lovebirds." Zack gripped the carrier's handle more tightly while Red held his gaze for an interminably long moment before surprising him yet again. Her slim nostrils flared, her delicate chin lifted a notch.
Then she reached out and her hand closed over his.
The sensation of her palm pressing, fingers brushing, sent his thoughts and pulse leaping. In an instant he became intensely aware of her scent, subtle and citrus, and the fact that her left hand bore no rings. The idea she might be unattachedavailablehijacked and toyed with his mind.
When her fingers moved enough to scoop beneath his, her nails teased his palm and a jet of heat, like the initial burst of a flame, licked a hot path through his veins. Pleasant. Tempting. His runaway thoughts bubbled with all kinds of possibilities that had nothing to do with a baby, except, perhaps, the making of one.
"You go on," she said as her fingers wrapped around the carrier's handle and his reluctantly eased away. "I'll take her back inside with me. I can't stand to think of her waiting in a police station. Who knows what types might be lurking around."
Zack opened his mouth to argue. Red had a flight to catch. But in truth he couldn't disagree about the police station; not the best environment for an infant who'd need attention once she woke. And the instinct that rarely failed him said this woman was competent and trustworthy. The baby would be in good hands until the proper authorities stepped in. After that.
At the twinge beneath his ribs, Zack set his jaw and squared his shoulders.
After that, no doubt the mother would show up, all teary but relieved, and the family would have a good story to share at the kid's twenty-first.
But, for now, Red needed a hand to battle the snow and get them both inside.
He shifted. "I'll help you back in."
Before he could insist, she'd opened her door. Standing with her overnight case in one hand, she waved in the direction of the hotel entrance with the other. Zack glanced out the back window. Through swirls of snow, a uniformed bellman was striding over, monster umbrella fending off the inclement weather.
James Dirkins, the current owner of this hotel, had refused his first offer on behalf of Harrison Hotels, but at this moment Zack was more determined than ever. When he snared the deal, bought this hotel, his first priority would be to cover that forecourt. Such a basic thing. No wonder occupancy was down.
After handing her luggage to the bellman, Red slid out the carrier. She had the good grace to flash a quick smile goodbye before the bellman shut the door and Zack watched them shrink then vanish into the white.
"So, you going to the airport, pal?"
Gaze still on the drifts, Zack murmured, "A private address."
"You want me to guess?"
But Zack wasn't listening.
He didn't even know her name.
"You could buy your own cab the way the meter's clicking over," the driver said. "Not that I'll complain."
Zack's ears pricked, his stomach jumped and he sat straighter. Was that the wind he heard gusting outside or a baby's cry?
Squeezing his eyes shut, he counted to three but, wouldn't you know, the urge only grew. Wasn't often Zack Harrison felt cornered. Beaten. But now he groaned, whipped out his wallet, dropped a bill over onto the front seat and told the driver, "Wait here. As long as it takes. I'll be back."