Read an Excerpt
"Our stepmommy dearest is about to buy herself a gigolo."
Madeline Turner, who'd been signing a foot-tall stack of documents at her desk, dropped her pen, leaving a blot of black ink on the second quarter Profit and Loss Statement from a major local firm. Looking up, she could muster no surprise when she realized her sharp-toned visitor was her older half sister, Tabitha, looking as enraged as she sounded.
but beautiful, as always. The stunning fashion plate had inherited all her mother's tall and slender genes, blond hair and elegance, which suited her lifestyle to a T. Madeline, meanwhile, had been gifted with their father's more short and round frame, plus her late mother's nearly black hair; dark, laughing eyes and dimples. Which did not suit her lifestyle as a nose-to-the-grindstone bank manager to an R or a squiggly S, much less to a T.
Tabitha tossed her designer handbag onto an empty chair and kicked the door shut with the heel of one pointy-toed, five-hundred-dollar shoe. "Maddy, did you hear me?"
"I think the construction workers twenty floors down heard you," Madeline mumbled, wondering why Tabitha always had to be so damned melodramatic. Something else she'd inherited from her jet-setting mother.
"The money-grubbing witch is going to cheat on our father."
Considering Tabitha had cheated on one of her husbands and one of her fiancés, Maddy figured her sister had better jump off that moral high ground upon which she was perched before it crumbled out from underneath her. Still she frowned, not happy with the news that their father's newest wifehis fourthwas already looking around for more adventure than her older husband could provide.
Tabby might loathe Deborah, but Maddy had never had anything against her. The woman wasn't exactly warmth personified, especially not to her adult stepdaughters, but she was a lot better than some of the alternatives. Their father could have married a twenty-five-year old
someone younger than Maddy or her sister. At least Deborah, aside from being in her forties, was well-spoken, graceful and successful. She had once run her own successful ballroom dancing studiothat's where she'd met Maddy's fatherand seemed to make him happy, first as a dance partner, now as a wife.
So she really hoped Tabby was wrong. "How do you know this?"
"I got it straight from Bitsy Wellington."
Their stepmother's best gal pal. "Why would she tell you?"
"Well, you know Bitsy. She can never resist causing trouble."
True. The woman was completely toxic.
"Besides, she wants the man for herself. He's some European gigolo being auctioned off at that Give A Kid A Christmas charity gig at the InterContinental tomorrow night."
A gigolo being sold to benefit a children's charity. There was some serious irony in that. Leave it to the Ladies Who Lunch of Chicago to come up with the idea of buying a stud to raise money for a worthy cause. And then, to compete over him.
Tabitha lowered herself to one of the chairs across from Maddy's broad desk, sniffing slightly at the messy files strewn across it. Her big sister liked the money that came from the bank their great-grandfather had founded several decades ago. She just didn't particularly like the stench of work that came along with it.
Sometimes Maddy wondered if one of them had been adopted. Or found on a doorstep. They had so little in common with each other, physically as well as everything else.
In personality, she was told she was a lot like her mother, Jason Turner's second wife, who'd died when Maddy was four. Supposedly, though he never spoke of her, Jason had mourned her greatly. Which could explain why her sister always harassed Maddy about being their father's favorite.
Maybe it was just that they had more in common. Aside from looking more like Jason than Tabby did, Maddy was also blessed with his quick mind, one fascinated by banking and finance. She also had the work ethic to run the business that had been in the family for generations.
That didn't mean Tabitha hadn't gotten something from their father, toohis fickleness. Maddy seemed to be the only Turner who didn't fall in and out of love as frequently as the networks changed their Friday night lineup.
"We have to do something."
"About the little cheater, that's what!"
Maddy sighed, lowered her pen, and leaned back in her chair. "But she hasn't cheated yet, has she?"
and we're going to make damn sure she doesn't."
Frankly, her sister's attitude came as a surprise. Considering how strongly Tabitha disliked their father's new wife, Maddy would have figured Tabitha would want Deborah to cheat, and get caught. Her father would tolerate a lot when it came to his wivesspending money, demanding attention and throwing tantrums. But he would never tolerate being cheated on. As a few of his former loves could certainly attest. Tabitha's mother included.
"I'm surprised you haven't hired a detective to follow her and get the goods yourself."
Tabitha frowned, shifting her pretty blue eyes away to study her perfectly manicured nails.
"You have? Jesus, Tabby
"Look, it was stupid, and I changed my mind almost right away. I don't want to catch the bitch cheating."
Her sister finally lifted her eyes, and in them was a hint of genuineness, an emotion Tabitha didn't often let the world see, but which Maddy knew lurked beneath her sister's polished, shiny, brittle surface. "He loves her, Mad. Really loves her and she makes him so happy. It's like he's twenty years younger." She swallowed, murmuring, "I don't want him hurt. Again."
Wow. That stunned her. So much that she couldn't reply for a minute. Because while she completely understood the senti-mentand felt the same wayshe wouldn't have expected it of Tabitha.
Then she remembered the one area where she and her sister were absolutely, one hundred percent alike: in their love for their father.
She lowered her pen to her desk, finally giving her sister her undivided attention. "Okay. What do you propose we do?"
Tabitha dissembled for a moment, glancing around the room, at the few framed photos on Maddy's bookshelfall family at the plants in the corner and the view of the Chicago skyline out the window.
She wasn't going to like this, Maddy knew. Tabitha had the same look she'd had when they were nine and twelve and her big sister had suggested they "borrow" their new stepmother's wife three'sDior gowns to play house. And Maddy had the same reactionthe similar twitch in her temple and the sweatiness in her palms she'd experienced on that day.
One thing was sure
sweat wouldn't wash any better out of her Chanel suit now than it had out of Dior then.
Her sister finally met her stare, appearing almost defiant. "It's simple, really."
The twitching intensified. The moisture on her palms could water the office plants for a week. "Oh?"
"Yes. She can't cheat on our father with the guy if somebody outbids her." With a smile that showed off the twenty-thousand-dollar smile their father had bestowed upon his oldest daughter, Tabitha continued.
"You buy the gigolo."
PARAMEDIC JAKE WALLACE had faced death dozens of times since he'd started working with Chicago FD's 4th Battalion five years ago. He'd responded to fires and shootings, to brawls and domestic abuse calls. To riots and hostage standoffs. He'd treated heart attacks, drowning victims and people two steps past death who'd miraculously taken three steps back into existence.
He'd once talked a whacked-out druggie into letting him take his injured girlfriendwhom said druggie had stabbedout of their house for emergency treatment. And he'd then gotten chewed out by his lieutenant for not following protocol by waiting for the Chicago P.D. to handle it. Rightas if he was going to let her die.
None of those situations had intimidated him.
But this? This scared the hell out of him.
"Why did I ever agree to get involved with this?" he muttered.
One reason. Because he owed his lieutenant big and his lieutenant owed the chief big and the chief's wife loved this particular pet charity. End of story. Which was why two of his buddies from the battalion had already taken their turns under the spotlight.
"I've been asking myself the same thing," a stranger's voice replied.
Jake tugged helplessly at the bow tie that was choking him and glanced at Bachelor Number Eighteen, the one right before him. The other man looked just about as happy to be here as Jake, which was saying a lot. Because Jake would just as soon give CPR to a toothless octogenarian with halitosis than stand up on stage and be bid on by a bunch of rich, horny women with way too much time on their hands and too little self-respect. Or self-control.
"I should feel better about it," he said, trying to convince himself more than the other final few "bachelors" waiting for their turn on the block. "It is for a good cause, right? So I suffer a few minutes' embarrassment and a bad date. It's worth it."
Number Twenty offered a jaded smile as he leaned indolently against a column in the backstage area that had been set up for this evening's event. The guy looked almost bored, and Jake envied him his calm. "What, you don't enjoy having women 'paying' for your services?" The voice held amusement, and a hint of a foreign accent, possibly Irish.
Maybe European dudes were more at ease playing meat-on-parade. But this all-American rescue worker most definitely was not. "You do?"
Number twenty smiled as he checked his sleeves, the gold sheen of expensive cuff links flashing beneath the obviously pricey, tailored tux. Jake would lay money it was not rented.
"It can be
entertaining." This guy's suit and demeanor said he had money enough to donate to worthy causes on his own. But the longish hair scooped back into a black ponytail said he also liked to live dangerously.
So did Jake. But he got quite enough thrills out of putting his ass on the line at emergency scenes, thank you very much. He didn't particularly want to put it out there to be appraised, pinched, ogled or catcalled over by a bunch of strange women with itches between their legs and enough dollar bills to scratch them.
The other man continued. "Besides, as you said, it's for a good cause."
Right. Good cause. Kids. I like kids. Don't have any, don't really want any for a few more years, but they're cute in a long-distance way. As long as they're not sticking raisins up their noses or falling down into sewer drains or following the family cat up a tree.
Okay, so maybe he didn't like kids so much. Not enough to go through this humiliation.
Then he thought about his own baby niece and twin nephews. There was nothing he wouldn't do to make sure they remained the safe, healthy munchkins they were.
Damn. He was going to have to go through with it.
Tugging again at the too-tight collar of his own rent-a-tux, Jake peered through a crease in the black cloth curtains, eyeing the audience. The elegant ballroom was packed with round, white-draped tables, around which sat dozens of women in gowns and shimmery cocktail dresses. Laughter and gossip reigned supreme as they tossed back fruity Cosmos or sparkling champagne. They all watched hungrily, calling out bawdy suggestions as the raucous bidding continued for Bachelor Seventeen, who was currently center stage.
Well, all except one. A brunette who stood about ten feet away from the curtain he was peeking through. She drew his eye as he scanned the crowd
then drew it again. And this time, he let his gaze linger.
She was almost shadowed by one of the giant standing spotlights, which cast gaudy, unforgiving pools of light on the spectacle occurring on the stage. But what he saw of her was definitely enough to pique his interest.
First because she had some wicked curves. She wasn't a tall stick figure in a little black dress like half the women here. Instead she was petite, very rounded with the kind of full curvesgenerous hips and lush breasts revealed in a low-cut, silky blue dressthat weren't currently fashionable but made his heart pick up its pace and his recently dormant cock come awake in his pants.
Nor did she have bottled blond hair swept up in a complicated hairdo like the other half of the audience. No, hers was dark and thick, with long curls that fell in disarray past her shoulders. The look was wildly seductive, as if she'd just left her bed rather than an exclusive Michigan Avenue beauty salon.
Earthy, sultry, not at all restrained. The woman was sexy in a way that women didn't seem to allow themselves to be sexy anymore.
Her looks, however, merely started the fire in his gut. Her untouchable, out-of-place demeanor stoked it until it almost engulfed him.
The brunette wasn't laughing it up with her rich gal pals, or tossing back Manhattans while turning her hand to make sure her diamond rings showed to their greatest flashy advantage. In fact, if he had to guess, he'd say she looked almost disapproving, even tense. He couldn't see her face very well, though he got a glimpse of a stiff little jaw, lifted up in visible determination. And her back was military straight.
He sensed she was keeping it that way intentionally, as if she didn't dare let her guard down lest she be distracted from whatever mission she'd set for herself.
As if realizing she was being watched, the woman glanced around, turning her head enough to cast her face in a bit of light spilling off the stage. Enough to highlight the creamy skin, the curve of her cheek, the fullness of her lips and the dark flash of her eyes.
Jake's hands clenched into fists at his sides. Though she couldn't possibly see him and was in no way mirroring his reaction, hers did the same.
She clenched out of visible concentration that seemed to swirl around her, creating a no-fly zone between her and everyone else
in the room.
He clenched out of pure lust.
He hadn't had sex in a whilenot since breaking up with a woman he'd been dating last winter. And nobody had as much as given him a quickened pulse rate since. Not the women he met at the station. Not the ones he helped. Not the nurses at the hospital. Not the hot girl who'd moved in upstairs from him, the one who'd already locked herself out three times just so she'd have an excuse to ask for his help.
This stranger? She'd given him a hard-on from ten feet away.