-Single mom seeks billionaire's pocketbook to fund dying son's research cure. Will seduce if necessary. Blackmail is not out of the question. Miracles welcome.
-Cynical billionaire seeks working mom with a heart of gold for PR campaign to improve his standing in the community. Must be willing to attend social events. Anyone looking for love need not apply.
It seemed like the perfect match until the unthinkable happened.
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About the Author
New York Times bestselling author Susan Mallery has entertained millions of readers with her witty and emotional stories about women. Publishers Weekly calls Susan’s prose “luscious and provocative,” and Booklist says “Novels don’t get much better than Mallery’s expert blend of emotional nuance, humor and superb storytelling.” Susan lives in Seattle with her husband and her tiny but intrepid toy poodle. Visit her at www.SusanMallery.com.
Read an Excerpt
"Girlfriend, this is not your thing," Lance said as he passed over three napkins, then clucked his tongue.
"Tell me about it," Kerri Sullivan muttered. There was liquid everywhere and a lot of it had come from a very expensive bottle of eighteen-year-old Scotch.
Balancing three drinks on a small tray should be easy, she told herself as she took a deep breath and carefully lifted the tray. The trick was to not think about what she was doing. Or somehow do it better, she added as the tray dipped a little.
This was her third lunch shift at The Grill—an upscale lunch and dinner place in the financial district of Seattle. The decor was simple but elegant, the food totally recognizable. The Grill was the kind of restaurant that catered to the successful executive dining with his associates or an important client.
She was already on probation from an unfortunate incident the previous day. It had involved crab cakes, a large leather handbag jutting out into the walkway and an oil-based sauce landing smack on a shantung-silk jacket.
"At least I can do hair," Kerri reminded herself as she delivered the drinks and took the men's orders. Give her some foil and bleach and she could make anyone look like a movie star. But serving food seemed to be a challenge she couldn't meet.
She'd gotten the job at The Grill by lying about her experience. Her glowing letters of recommendation had been printed out on her home computer.
Lance, a waiter here and in on her plot from the beginning, had saved her butt three times already. If she could just hang on until Nathan King showed up to claim his usual table, she could quit before she got fired. That was why she was here—to confront Mr. King and convince him to help her.
She had her speech prepared. Even more important, she had a DVD with a copy of a program from the Discovery Health channel she planned to flash at him. The small, portable DVD player was stuck down the front of her pants, the oddly shaped bulge hidden by her white apron.
For about the four hundredth time, she glanced toward the table in the corner. It had remained an-noyingly empty. But this time when she looked, she saw activity. There were fresh flowers, a wine list and a bread basket.
She raced off to find Lance.
"His table's ready," she murmured as she pulled her tall, model-esque friend into a corner. "That means he's here, right?"
Lance sighed heavily. He was pretty enough to be on a billboard and funny enough to make her want to have dinner with him. Just for the company, of course—Lance wasn't into women and she wasn't into relationships.
"He's here," Lance confirmed. "You're going to get fired, you know that, right?"
"That's okay. So we have a plan. I'll take their drink orders, then show Nathan King the DVD. We'll talk, he'll be charming and agree and all will be well. If it goes badly—" She glanced upward and offered a brief prayer that it not go badly… it couldn't. There were no other plans after this one.
She sucked in a breath. "If it goes badly, you come running over and yell at me to get away from your table. Then you complain loudly to the manager that I presumed to take over your station. I'll slip out during the confusion."
"With the DVD player."
"Right." Because she had to return that puppy later. It was expensive and she was, as always, short on money.
"This isn't going to work," Lance told her.
"It has to work. I'll make it work." She would, too. By sheer force of will, she could move mountains.
She glanced back at the table and saw four men being seated. Based on her Internet research, she could easily pick out Nathan King. Tall, dark and rich, she thought grimly. A nice combination that made him extremely popular with women of all ages. If only her motives were that simple.
She waited until the men had settled down and were chatting before approaching. Random facts flashed through her mind. Nathan King, age thirty-eight. He'd come from a working-class family and had earned his money the hard way. He was divorced. He had a reputation for being so cold, he froze out the competition.
He'd also lost his son to Gilliar's Disease six years ago. Of all the billionaires in all the world, she'd chosen him specifically for that reason.
"Gentlemen," she said when she reached the table, giving her best smile and flipping her long, layered blond hair. Normally, she wore it pulled back. But for these purposes, she'd curled, teased and sprayed it until she looked just trashy enough to be sexy. With more makeup than usual and a push-up bra doing its best with what she had, she hoped to get Nathan's attention long enough to make him listen. "What can I get for you?"
Two of the men exchanged glances, then looked back at her.
She knew exactly what they were thinking and silently told them, no, she wasn't on the menu. She wasn't here for them.
She looked directly at Nathan King and was instantly chilled by the lack of emotion in his dark eyes. Somewhere she'd read that he'd been described as the kind of man who made sharks nervous. She got the analogy as a shiver tiptoed down her spine.
He was as good-looking as his pictures had promised. Maybe more so, but none of that mattered when the man in question appeared to be lacking a soul.
She had the sudden realization that she could totally blow this, and that if she failed, she had nowhere else to go. Then she remembered why she was here, what she needed, and squared her shoulders.
"Scotch for me," Nathan said, his voice low and clipped.
She thought of the small amount in the bottom of the bottle she'd knocked over earlier and hoped there was more inventory. She carefully wrote down the order, along with those from the other three men.
"We have several specials," she said as she tucked her pad into her apron, reached behind it and pulled out the small DVD player. She opened it, turned it on and set it in front of Nathan.
"If I may?" she asked as she pushed Play.
"This is new," he said, looking at his associates. "The things restaurants will do to keep business."
The other men tried to look at the screen, but Kerri ignored them. The only one who mattered was the one frowning as on the DVD the interviewer questioned Dr. Abram Wallace.
"So you were close to a breakthrough?" the woman asked.
Dr. Wallace nodded slowly. "One can't be sure. In matters of research there are always questions. But with a little more time…"
Nathan glared at her. His eyes were ice, his expression hard. She had the distinct feeling that if he'd had a gun on him, he would have shot her and never blinked.
"What the hell are you up to?" he asked.
"Saving a boy's life," she said, speaking quickly. Time was not her friend at the moment. "My name is Kerri Sullivan and my son has Gilliar's Disease. Your son had it, as well, so you know what he's going through. Cody will die soon if something isn't done. I've been talking to scientists and doctors for years. But there aren't enough sick kids to warrant funding from the government or other private agencies. Then I saw this interview. Dr. Wallace was working on a cure for Gilliar's Disease. He was close, really close. There was an explosion in his lab a few years ago. The lab shut down. He's still working, but it's just him and his assistant. If he had more money, he could find the cure. That's why I'm here, Mr. King. He needs fifteen million dollars."
Nathan King motioned for the manager. Kerri kept talking.
"It's a fortune I'll never have," she said, speaking even faster now. "But you give that amount to charity every year. If you could just give him the money, he could keep on working. He could make a difference.
He could save my son. Please, Mr. King. I'm running out of options and Cody is running out of time. I know you understand. You lost your son. Please help me save mine."
"What are you doing?" the manager asked as he approached. He reached for Kerri's arm. "This isn't your station. Lance takes care of Mr. King and his guests."
Kerri pulled free and ignored her soon-to-be-ex boss. "You have to help. I'm desperate. There isn't anyone else. I've been everywhere, talked to everyone. Your little boy would have wanted you to help me."
Nathan King had remained impassive through her speech, but now he carefully put his napkin on the table and stood.
He was a whole lot taller, so he bent over until they were eye-to-eye and his face was only inches from hers. "Get the hell out of here," he growled. "Get out now, or I'll have you arrested."
"No!" Her voice rose as she was grabbed from behind. "I won't give up. You have to do this. That kind of money is nothing to you. Why won't you save a child? He's just a little boy. He doesn't deserve to die."
Kerri fought against the men dragging her out, but they were bigger and stronger. She found herself propelled through the front door and actually thrown onto the sidewalk. She went down on one knee and stayed there, trying to catch her breath.
"You're fired," her boss screeched. "Fired. You're a lousy waitress. I'll bet your recommendations are all fake. You're lucky I don't have you arrested."
She slowly stood and stared at the short, fat man frothing at her.
"I've already been threatened with that today," she said, suddenly exhausted. "You'll have to try something else."
"I'm not paying you for the last three days. I'm ripping up your time card and your application. You never existed."
Kerri waited until he'd stomped back inside before leaning against the brick building. It was spring in Seattle, which meant cool air and a constant threat of rain. She needed to drag her butt back inside to get her purse, her coat and the DVD player. Although how she was going to accomplish that without being seen seemed hard to imagine.
But it was easier to deal with logistics than face the reality of failure.
Nathan King hadn't just said no—he'd refused to listen. How was that possible? He knew exactly what she was going through. He'd suffered, he'd felt the aching sense of helplessness. How could he not be compassionate?
Tim, Nathan King's chauffeur, approached. "He didn't listen?" he asked.
Kerri shook her head. "You said he wouldn't."
Tim had actually said more than that. He'd warned her against her plan and told her his boss liked to support his charities from a distance. He sent a check—he never got involved.
"You had to try," Tim reminded her.
"I'll try again."
Good question. She'd been so sure Nathan would help her. She'd put all of her energy into getting to him. She'd tried infiltrating his secretarial staff, but her office skills were more pathetic than her server skills. Next she'd attempted to become one of his maids. But while the company that took care of his many buildings had been willing to offer her a job, she'd found out that she'd need seniority to work anywhere close to the boss. She didn't have years to work her way up the food chain.
As a last resort, she'd attempted to seduce Tim and when that hadn't worked, she'd tried to bribe him. The five hundred dollars she'd put on the table—all the money she had in the world—hadn't impressed him. Still, he'd listened as she talked about Gilliar's Disease and Cody and how Nathan King could be the one miracle they were waiting for.
Tim had offered to introduce her to his significant other—and Lance and the lunchtime ambush had been hatched.
"I'll come up with something," she said. "I'm a great ideas person. Maybe I could kidnap him and hold him for fifteen million in ransom."
"You wouldn't like prison," Tim said. "Plus, I'd be forced to shoot you and that would be a drag for both of us."
Despite everything, Kerri had to smile. Tim was about six four, two hundred and fifty pounds of muscle. He wouldn't have to shoot her—he could simply crush her like a soda can.
"I'm open to any suggestions you have," she said.
"Mr. King doesn't like publicity he doesn't control. It makes him very angry."
"Okay." Interesting, but not helpful. "And?"
Tim hesitated. She suspected he was weighing his loyalty to his boss and thinking about the afternoon he'd spent with her son, remembering Cody didn't have as many afternoons left as other children.
"Sometimes it's more helpful to ask for forgiveness than permission."
Did he have to be so cryptic? "For those of us not flirting with a one-sixty IQ, that means?"
"Say you already got what you want. Then maybe you'll get it."
Before she could absorb that, Lance burst out the front door of the restaurant.
"I'm not supposed to be doing this," he said as he thrust her belongings at her. "I have to get back to work. Nathan King is fuming. The staff is in an uproar and some of the customers want to know why they didn't get to see their specials on a DVD player. Speaking of which…"