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Until 6:45 on that Thursday morning, women had always loved Reid Buchanan.
They'd started leaving notes in his locker long before he'd figured out the opposite sex could be anything but annoying. During his sophomore year of high school, his hormones had kicked in and he'd become aware of all the possibilities. Over spring break of that year, Misty O'Connell, a senior, seduced him in her parents' basement on a rainy Seattle afternoon, during an MTV Real World marathon.
He'd adored women from that moment on and they had returned his affection. Until today, when he casually opened the morning paper to see his picture next to an article with the headline: Fame, absolutely. Fortune, you bet. But good in bed? Not so much.
Reid nearly spit out his coffee as he jerked to his feet and stared at the page. He blinked, then rubbed his eyes and read the headline again.
Not good in bed? NOT GOOD IN BED?
"She's crazy," he muttered, knowing the author had to be a woman he'd dated and dumped. This was about revenge. About getting back at him by humiliating him in public. Because he was good in bed, dammit. Better than good.
He made women scream on a regular basis. They clawed his back—he had the scars to prove it. They stole into his hotel room at night when he was on the road, they begged, they followed him home and offered him anything if he would just sleep with them again.
He was better than good, he was a god!
He was also completely and totally screwed, he thought as he sank back into his chair and scanned the article. Sure enough, the author had gone out with him. It had been one night of what she described as nearly charming conversation, almost funny stories from his past and a so-so couple of hours naked. It was all couched in "don't sue me" language. Things like "Just one reporter's opinion" and "Maybe it's just me, but…"
She'd also claimed he regularly blew off charity events and kids in need—neither of which was true. He couldn't blow off what he never agreed to do. And that was his standard rule—not to get personally involved in anything, including benefits.
He studied the name of the reporter, but it meant nothing. Not even a whisper of a memory. There wasn't a picture, so he grabbed his laptop and went online to the paper's Web site. Under the bio section he found a photo.
He studied the average-looking brunette and had a vague recollection of something. Okay, yeah, so maybe he'd slept with her, but just because he couldn't remember what had happened didn't mean it hadn't been incredible.
But along with the fuzzy memories was the idea that he'd gone out with her during the playoffs, when his former team had been fighting for a chance to make the World Series and he'd been back in Seattle, in his first year of retirement. He'd been bitter and angry about being out of the game. He might also have been drunk.
"I was thinking about baseball instead of her. So sue me," he muttered as he read the article again.
Deep, soul-shriveling embarrassment chilled him. Instead of calling him a bastard to all of her friends, this woman had chosen to humiliate him in public. How the hell was he supposed to fight back? In the courts? He'd been around long enough to know he didn't have a case, and even if he did, how was he supposed to win? Parade a bunch of women around who would swear he made the earth move just by kissing them?
While he kind of liked that idea, he knew it wouldn't make a difference. He'd been a famous baseball player once, and there was nothing the public liked more than to see the mighty fall.
His friends would read this. His family would read this. Everyone he knew in Seattle would read it. He could only imagine what would happen when he walked into his restaurant, the Downtown Sports Bar today.
At least it was local, he thought grimly. Contained. He wouldn't have to deal with hearing from his old baseball buddies.
The phone rang. He grabbed it.
"Mr. Buchanan? Reid? Hi. I'm a producer here at Access Hollywood. I was wondering if you'd like to make a comment on the article in the Seattle paper this morning. The one about—"
"I know what it's about," he growled.
"Oh, good." The young woman on the other end of the phone giggled. "How about an interview? I could have a crew there this morning. I'm sure you want to tell your side of things."
He hung up with a curse. Access Hollywood? Already?
The phone rang again. He pulled the plug and thought about throwing it against the wall, but the damn phone wasn't responsible for this disaster.
His cell rang. He hesitated before picking it up. The caller ID showed a familiar number. A friend from Atlanta. He exhaled with relief. Okay, this call he could take.
"Hey, Tommy. How's it going?"
"Reid, buddy. Have you seen it? The article? It's everywhere. Total bummer. And for the record, dude—too much information."
If Lori Johnston had believed in reincarnation, she would have wondered if she'd been a general, or some other kind of tactical expert in one of her past lives. There was nothing she liked more than taking a few unrelated elements, mixing them together and creating the perfect solution to a problem.
This morning she had to deal with hospital equipment arriving the day after it was supposed to and a catering service delivery with every single entrée wrong. In her free time, she had her new patient to meet and safely deliver home, assuming the ambulance driver wasn't late. Where other people would be screaming and making threats, Lori felt energized. She would meet this challenge as she met all others and she would be victorious.
The delivery men finished assembling the state-of-the-art hospital bed and stepped back for her inspection. She stretched out on the mattress to check for bumps and low spots. What might just be annoying to someone healthy could be impossible to endure when one had a broken hip.
When the mattress passed inspection, she worked the controls.
"There's a squeak when I raise the bed," she said. "Can you fix that?"
The men shared an exasperated glance, but she didn't care. Trying to get comfortable while in pain was bad enough, but an annoying noise could make things worse.
Next she checked out the bedside table on wheels, which was fine, as were the wheelchair and the walker.
While the workmen dealt with the squeak, Lori hurried into the massive kitchen where the catering staff sorted through the meals they'd brought.
"The chili?" a woman in a white uniform asked.
"Has to go." Lori pointed to the list she'd posted on the refrigerator. "This is a woman in her seventies. She's had a heart attack and surgery on a broken hip. She's on medication. I said tasty, but not spicy. We want to encourage her to eat, but she may still have stomach issues from all the medication. She doesn't need to lose weight, so that's not a problem. Healthy, tempting dishes. Not chili, not sushi, nothing fancy."
She'd been so specific on the phone, too, she thought with minor exasperation.
Still, she would prevail and when the details were handled, she would stop at Dilettante Chocolates for a little something. Chocolate always brightened her day.
"You could beat them. That would get their attention."
That voice. Lori didn't have to turn around to know who was standing in the doorway of the kitchen. They'd only met once, at her interview.
During the twenty-minute session, she discovered it was possible to be desperately attracted to someone she despised. Everything about him was burned into her brain, including the sound of his voice. For a moment, it made her consider a lobotomy.
She braced herself for the impact of the dark, knowing eyes, the handsome-but-just-shy-of-too-handsome face and the casual slouch that should have annoyed the heck out of her, but instead made her want to melt like a twelve-year-old at a Jesse McCartney concert.
Reid Buchanan was everything she disliked in a man. He'd always had it easy, so nothing had value. Women threw themselves at him. He'd had a brilliant career playing baseball, although she'd never followed sports and didn't know any details. And he'd never once in his entire life bothered with a woman as ordinary as her.
"Don't you have something better to do than just show up and annoy me?" she asked as she turned toward him.
Her reaction to his physical presence was immediate. She found it difficult to breathe, let alone think.
"Annoying you is an unexpected bonus," he said, "but not the reason I'm here. My grandmother's coming home today."
"I know that. I arranged it."
"I thought I'd stop by to visit her."
"I'm sure knowing you stopped by four hours before she was due home will brighten her day so much that the healing process will be cut in half."
She pushed past him, ignoring the quick brush of her arm against his and the humiliating burst of heat that ignited inside her. She was pathetic. No, she was worse than pathetic—one day she would grow enough to achieve pathetic and that would be a victory.
"She won't be here until this afternoon?" he asked as he followed her back into the library.
"Unfortunately, no. But it was thrilling to see you. So sorry you can't stay."
He leaned against the door frame. He did that a lot. He must know how good he looked doing it, Lori thought grimly. No doubt he practiced at home.
She knew Reid was shallow and selfish and only interested in women as perfect as himself, so why was she attracted to him? She was intelligent. She should know better. And she did… in her head. It was the rest of her that was the problem.
She was a total and complete cliché—a smart, average-looking woman pining after the unobtainable. The bookstores probably contained an entire shelf of self-help books dedicated to her condition. If she believed in self-help books, she could go get herself healed.
As it was, she was stuck with enduring.
"Don't you have to go away?" she asked.
"For now, but I'll be back."
"I'll count the hours."
"You do that." He stayed where he was, apparently unmovable.
"What?" she asked. "Are we waiting for something?"
He smiled, a slow, sexy smile that caused her heart to actually skip a beat. It was a new low.
"You don't read the paper, do you?" he asked.
"No. I go running in the morning and I listen to music."
The smile brightened. "Good. I'll see you later."
"You could wait until the evening nurse shows up and visit then. Wouldn't that be a great plan?"
"But then you'd miss me. Snarling at me is the best part of your day. "Bye, Lori."
And then he was gone.
"You're Gloria Buchanan's home-care nurse?" the woman at the main nurses' station asked. "Oh, honey, you have my sympathy."
Lori was far more interested in getting her patient home and settled than chatting with the rehab facility staff, but she knew the importance of getting as much information as she could up front. The more she knew, the better plan she could develop.
"Cranky from the pain?" Lori asked as she glanced at the name tag on the other woman's scrubs top. "That's fairly typical. As she heals, her mood will improve."
"I don't think so. She's more than cranky," Vicki said. "Miserable. She complains constantly. She hates her room, the food, her treatments, the staff, the sheets, the temperature, the weather. Let me tell you, we're all so grateful to get her out of here." Vicki leaned close. "If you have another job offer, take it. Even if it pays less. Trust me, whatever you're making, it's not enough."
Lori was used to patients who were frustrated by their condition. "I'll be fine."
"You've already met her?"
It was Lori's practice to visit her patients before bringing them home. Establishing a good working relationship ahead of time often smoothed the transition process. However both times she'd stopped by the rehab facility to meet Gloria, she'd been told that Mrs. Buchanan was refusing all visitors. Calling ahead to make an appointment hadn't changed the fact.
Vicki shook her head. "It's your funeral, hon. You haven't met anyone like this woman before. But that's for you to decide. I've made copies of her chart. She's already signed out by the doctor. He was as happy to get rid of her as the rest of us. She had her lawyer call and threaten to pull his license— twice. I hope they're paying you a lot."
They were, which was why Lori had taken the job.