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"You are the biggest jerk that ever walked the earth."
Todd Peters froze, sunlight refracting off the water and momentarily blinding him.
"It's all I can do right now not to push you off the pier."
He squinted and turned, but it was hard to see with his eyes momentarily blinded by the sun. A woman. That much was clear. Blond haired. Skinny. And really, really angry.
"With any luck you'd land in a pool of piranhas. Hopefully a whole school of them. Maybe they'd eat your pestilent flesh, nibble out your eyes, then snack on your pea-sized brain for dessert."
Todd pushed himself up. "Can I help you?" he asked.
Out behind him a Jet Ski roared by. The whawha-wha of the engine popping in and out of the water made Todd long for the smooth surface of Lake Norman, too. "Yeah, you could help me. You could help me by showing up when you're supposed to. By not blowing off my clients. By being kind and thoughtful and considerate instead of selfish and pigheaded and a self-centered ass."
Okay. That was harsh. "Do I know you?" he asked.
"No, you don't know me, but I know of you," she said. "And what I know, I don't particularly like."
She'd started to come into focus. The hair went from mouse-blond to platinum with reds and browns mixed in, the strands loose and well past her shoulders. The oval face suddenly had the cheekbones of a ferocious feline. The brown eyes weren't just brown, they were a brilliant, nearly green-hazeland they were furious.
"How'd you get down here?" he asked, glancing back toward his house and at the French doors at the rear of his multileveled home. They were closed. He leaned forward, hoping to see past the lush foliage that surrounded hisbackyard. The side gate appeared closed. And locked.
"I climbed over the fence," she admitted.
"You climbed over?" he asked, wondering if he needed to call the police.
"I wanted to see you. And since neither you nor your assistant, Jennifer Scott, seem willing to call me back, a padlock gate wasn't going to stand in my way."
Jennifer. She knew his PR rep. Maybe not a crazy woman after all. "I see," he said. "What'd you need to see me about?" he asked.
"I work for Miracles," she pronounced, an expectant expression coming to her face at the mention of the charity group.
"Miracles," she said again. "You know. Formerly known as the Wishing Tree Foundation."
Okay. That rang a bell. "I see. And what does Miracles want with me?" he asked, although he already knew. It wouldn't be the first time the wish-fulfilling organization had asked him to grant a wish, although this was the first time one of their volunteers had ever accosted him in his home.
"You mean you can't guess?"
"Why don't you just fill me in instead." She looked incredulous. Behind him, water splashed against the front of his boat. He braced himself for the inevitable rocking of the dock beneath his feet.
"You're unreal, you know that?" she said. "You show absolutely no remorse."
"Remorse? For what?" he asked. "Blowing off two meetings."
"Are you denying it?"
"I don't manage my schedule," he said, going back to his task of untying his boat. "So if I did blow you off, chances are I didn't know it was you."
"How can that be?" she asked, following him from cleat to cleat.
"I'm told where to go, and if I can't make a meeting, I tell my reps to cancel it." He untied another line. The Scarab was thirty-five feet long, sleek and heavy. It'd been a gift from one of his sponsors, its red, yellow and orange paint scheme seemingly luminescent. The minute he untied a line, the fiberglass hull started to drift away. He moved quickly to the next cleat.
"You blew off two meetings with us. One last month and one this month."
"That's unusual," he said. "I don't usually cancel meetings with charity organizations," he added.
That wasn't exactly true. Over the past few months he'd canceled a lot of meetingsthanks to his relentless pursuit of Kristen, a woman who he'd hoped to have a future with, but who'd ditched him in favor of another man.
"Yes, but what makes your behavior all the more deplorable about canceling this meeting is that these weren't with us. They were with one of our clientsa terminally ill child named Benjamin Koch, who, for some misguided and totally incomprehensible reason, wants to meet youhis favorite race car driverbefore he gets sicker than he already is, only you " Red blotches of color stood out on her cheeks, the splash of crimson spreading all the way to her neck. "You stood him up."
He straightened, nylon rope forgotten. "I did?"
"You did, and to be perfectly honest, I was hoping that after the second time he'd start rooting for, you know, Adam Drake. Alas, he's still enamored of yougoodness knows whyand so this time I'm leaving nothing to chance. I want to set up another time for you to meet Benjamin, only this time I need to warn you that if you stand him up again, I'll hire a hit man, have you boiled in tar, hung out on a rack, tortured and then dragged behind one of those race cars you drive, preferably one piloted by one of your arch enemies."
HE DIDN'T SEEM AMUSED. Or threatened. He didn't look anything, Indi thought.
"Wow," he drawled, his accent making him sound like a Southern gentleman. But she knew for a fact he was no gentleman. "That's harsh."
"That's only the first part."
She thought he might have smiled, saw the very edges of his lips tip up, but then he frowned. "Like I said, sometimes I cancel meetings without even knowing who they're with."
"Well, maybe you should take the time to unearth that little tidbit of information."
"Maybe I should," he said, going back to work.
"Will you meet with him then?"
"Of course," he said, peering up when he knelt down by another line.
"I'm not certain." He tossed the rope into the boat. "Like I said before, I don't handle my own schedule."
"Well, if you don't mind, I'd like to call whoever does manage your schedule and arrange for a meeting now."
"Sure," he said. "But is it going to make a difference if we do it right this minute? Or in a couple hours?"
"Cause if you don't mind, I'd like to enjoy what's left of the day."
Spoiled race car driver. They were all alike. "It'll only take you two minutes to do it."
"Actually, it might take longer than that, depending on if I can get a hold of Jen or not."
He patted his pockets. "Don't have my cell phone."
"Use mine," she said.
He glanced from the boat to the lake to the boat happy to have to deal with this now. But to give him credit, he held out his hand.
"I'll be right back," she said. "I have to go get it." He stiffened. "What?"
"The battery was low. The phone's charging in my rental car."
"Fine," he said, dismissing her with a wave of his fingers. "And go though my house," he called out after her. "That's all I need for you to dobreak your neck on my fence."
Blah-blah-blah-blah, she silently mimicked. He could just sit there. It was the least the jerk could do. Whenever she thought of the way poor Benjamin's face crumpled the second time Mr. Fancy Pants Race Car Driver had stood him up, well, it infuriated her all the more. She'd take her time, and Todd Peters would learn to like it, she thought, inhaling the sweet scent of lilies someone had planted along a winding pathway. The air was heavy with the exhalation of foliage: ferns, ivy and some kind of tree with thick, glossy leaves. "Whoa," she said, the minute she pulled open a French door that, like about a half a dozen others, lined the rear of the house.
The inside was huge. But of course she'd known it would be the moment she'd pulled up in front of the split-level mansion. She was in some sort of game room. There was a pool table, plasma TV and a pinball machine in the corner that she'd passed as she walked across a hardwood floor and toward the front of the house only to discover there was no exit, just stairs. She climbed those next. At the top she found a mammoth-size kitchencomplete with its own hearthand one very large family room off the side of it. Windows stretched up ten feet high, allowing her a view of the dock. The egomaniac stood there, glanced at his watch, then at his boat that was still tethered by a single line to his private dock.
You can just wait, she thought again.
She didn't deliberately take her time. All right. Maybe she did. But it was hard not to gawk at the main foyer that rose up three stories tall. Singlepaned windows allowed light to filter onto the offwhite marble floor. There was a fixture hanging from the middle of the ceiling some thirty feet above her head, one with bulbs that were made of blown glass and that were elongated and twisted in such a way that the fixture resembled a giant sun. She would bet with the lights on that's exactly what it was supposed to look like. Unbelievable.