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To Love and Protect
By Susan Mallery
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"I need a man with good hands," Liz Duncan murmured to herself as she studied the sketch, then the beautiful blond female model she'd hired for the afternoon.
"Don't we all?" Marguerite said as she adjusted the baby she held, then tossed her long hair back over her shoulder. "That's why they wrote a song about it."
Liz tilted her head. Something about the scene wasn't right. The proportion, she thought. With a man holding the baby, the image would be more powerful and evocative. Marguerite's fingers were too delicate, her palms too narrow.
"A song about what?" Liz asked absently.
"Slow hands, honey. Get with the program. If you're going to get a man, get a good one. Make sure he knows what he's doing."
Liz glanced at the tall, slender nineteen-year-old. "I'm talking about work."
"You never are." Liz flipped through her sketches, then shook her head. "You can put her down. We're done."
"Sure, boss." She carefully placed the sleeping baby back into the bassinet and lightly touched her cheek.
"Thanks for the good time, kid." She looked at Liz.
"You really done with me?"
"Sure. I'll let the agency know I changed my mind about the assignment, not that you didn't work out."
"I appreciate that."
Marguerite collected her large tote bag and walked out of the room. Liz crossed to the bassinet and stared at the sleeping baby. The infant's tiny features stirred her heart.
"I wouldn't mind taking you home with me, little one," she murmured. "Too bad this is all about work."
After wheeling the baby back to the nursery, Liz wandered the halls of Children's Connection, the nonprofit adoption and fertility center that had hired her to do the artwork for its new brochure. She'd been on man-hunts before, but never in connection with her work.
"I should give myself hazard duty pay," she murmured as she rounded a corner and began checking out offices.
She found nine women, three guys over the age of fifty, a hunky guy about thirty, but no strong, masculine types with great hands. Her vision for the brochure was clear - someone holding a baby. At first she'd thought that someone should be a woman, but now she knew better.
She headed toward the exit, thinking the Portland General Hospital next door might be a better source. Maybe she could find an intern or resident to take pity on her. If her luck held, her baby model would continue to nap peacefully. If she could just -
A man reached the front door the same time she did. He pulled the door open and waited politely for her to exit first. Liz stumbled to a stop as she studied his strong fingers and broad palms. His hands looked more than capable - they looked safe. She could see them cradling the baby, offering shelter and security and the perfect resting place for a tired, trusting infant.
"Change your mind?" the man asked.
"Huh?" Liz blinked at him, then realized he was still holding open the door. Was he leaving?
"Wait! You can't go." Without thinking, she grabbed the sleeve of his leather jacket. "Are you leaving? Do you have a few minutes? Okay, maybe an hour, but no longer. The baby is going to wake up after that. But I've got at least an hour, if you do."
As she spoke, she looked from the man's hands to his face. He was young, maybe in his mid-twenties. Handsome. Confident. Intriguing. Brown eyes regarded her quizzically while a firm, sensual mouth curved up slightly at the corners.
"What?" she asked, aware that she might not have made as much sense as she could have.
"I'm debating between deranged and charming," he told her.
She released his jacket. "I suggest charming. It's more flattering and accurate. I'm occasionally temperamental but almost never crazy. You should hear me out."
"Fair enough." He released the door and stepped back.
As he tucked his hands into the front pockets of his jeans, Liz became aware of a subtle tension crackling between them. Not a surprise, she thought ruefully. Dark-haired guys with broad shoulders were totally her type. Combine that with an air of mystery and an easy disposition and she was almost always open to the possibilities.
"Elizabeth Duncan," she said, holding out her hand.
"Liz. I'm a commercial illustrator hired by Children's Connection to do some artwork for their new brochure. If they love my design enough, they'll start using it on letterhead and publicity materials."
"David Logan." His hand engulfed hers. "I can draw a stick figure that would make you green with envy."
She chuckled even as she ignored the slightly crooked, very charming tilt to his smile and the way the warmth from his fingers made her want to purr. She was on a schedule, not just because of her deadline but because her other model - the baby - wouldn't sleep forever.
"So here's the thing," she said. "I have approval for my idea, which was a woman holding a sleeping baby. The drawing focuses on the baby, so we only see the woman's forearms and hands. But when I did a preliminary sketch, it looked all wrong." She tried to look as innocent as possible. "I need a man instead."
One eyebrow rose. "Of course you do."
"I'm serious. You have great hands. The baby is asleep, so all you have to do is hold her. It's maybe an hour out of your life. Just think, if the people in charge love my design, your hands could be famous. That would have to help with women."
He chuckled. "What makes you think I need help?"
She had a feeling he didn't at all. "Okay, fine. It will give you an edge."
He pulled his hands out of his pockets and glanced at his watch. "Just an hour?"
"I swear. I work fast."
Excerpted from To Love and Protect by Susan Mallery Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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