Until Mickey's co-guardian, gorgeous Dr. Logan Pascale, moves into their home—determined to sell up! His heart is on lockdown but soon, united in their love for Mickey, Logan and Karina are falling for each other, too! Can Karina persuade Logan that everything he needs is right under her roof…already?.
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'I'm afraid it's a no from this bank, Miss Brown.' The manager stood abruptly, indicating the interview was over.
Karina gritted her teeth to hold back a sharp retort. Miss Brown? In a town where everyone from millionaires to bag ladies was on first-name terms, she had just been insulted. She'd lived in Motueka for a little under a year but no one called her Miss anything. She was Karina Brown. End of. Had been since the day she'd left Auckland in a blaze of flashing media cameras and pushy reporters shoving microphones in her face as they demanded answers to questions she'd had no intention of answering. The day she'd gone back to her maiden name and left her old life behind to go and reinvent herself.
'Thank you for your time, Mr Pederson.' She gave the same back through clamped jaws.
Rising from the chair, she was astonished to feel her legs shaking. Smoothing down her kneelength pencil skirt and tugging her shoulders back tight inside her tailored jacketnot worn since AucklandKarina strode out of the bank manager's office with all the aplomb of her old persona. She would not grovel for the money she desperately needed to buy the other half of the housenot yet. Being told no just increased her determination to achieve her goal.
'How'd that go?' Rebecca called, only loudly enough for her to hear.
Crossing to her friend, who was more commonly known as Becca, despite her name badge, stationed at the bank's customer service desk, Karina shook her head. 'A big fail. Apparently I'm not a good prospect for lending money to.'
Ironic, considering her background. Once upon a time several hundred thousand dollars had been chickenfeed to her. Nowadays she lived on the wages she earned as a nurse at the medical centre she jointly owned in the small rural town of Motueka, far removed from that glamorous life. She had a tiny nest egg, put aside for rainy days, but nothing big enough to buy out Logan Pascale.
'Don't you dare think like that,' growled Becca.
'I showed him the property valuation and suggested I could spread the loan out for thirty years.' She'd be sixty-four and nearly ready to retire by then, but it would be worth it.
Becca leaned closer. 'It shouldn't mean a thing, but half the problem is you're not a local. Here, coming from the Big Smoke up north is like coming from another country.'
'I've heard that enough to know it's true.' But it didn't explain the malicious gleam in Peder-son's eyes as he'd told her no. He'd been enjoying himself at her expense. 'Bet he's looked me up online.'
'Are you sure you want a mortgage hanging over your head? Couldn't you ask someone in your family for the money this once?'
'What?' Karina shuddered. Prove to her father that what he believed had been right all along? That she couldn't make it on her own? 'No!' she barked, too loudly.
Becca wouldn't understand her need to stand on her own two tiny feet and do what was right for a little boy who relied entirely on her for everything.
'I can't do that,' she reiterated, more quietly. This was the toughest test she'd faced so far in her stand to be independent. So suck it up and beat the odds.
'I figured that'd be your answer, but don't let your pride get in the way of what's right.'
Jeepers, Becca, be blunt, why don't you?
'Anything I do will be what's right for Mickey.'
Mickey. The boy she loved as if he were her own. As one of his two guardians, she intended doing everything within her power to make sure she kept the only home he'd known. She'd promised his parents no less.
'How is that bundle of mischief? I haven't seen him for days.'
Damn, but this was hard. She also needed to keep everything exactly as it was for herself. She'd crafted a new life in which she was in control and happy, in a quiet, comfortable way.
'Just the usual hiccups. Not enough honey on his toast and me putting the wrong shirt out for him to wear to kindergarten.'
'I bet you give him everything he wants.'
'How can I refuse when he gives me that gappy grin? But this morning he was very clingy and didn't want to go to kindergarten. Most unusual. Said his tummy was sore.'
'Did you insist on him going?'
Karina shrugged. 'Jonty's looking after him while I'm here.'
Becca returned to the original problem. 'What are you going to do about buying out Dr Pascale now?'
'Know a millionaire with lots of cash stashed under his bed?' A few hundred thousand was all she needed but, hey, in for an apple, in for a sack full of dollars.
'You want a sexy hunk to go with those millions?'
'Rich and sexy? All in one package? What's the catch?' Because she'd had that package and knew the pitfalls all too well.
'I don't know any guy around here fitting the description.' Becca grinned.
'Just as well.' Karina smiled back, thankful that her friend hadn't pointed out which of them actually knew the most millionaires.
'You still don't want to put your toe in the dating pond?'
'That's the last thing I want. I'm enjoying being in charge of my own life. Why would I want to give that up to be told which functions to attend and who to invite to dinner?'
Becca chose not to answer that. Instead she went with 'Heard when the good doctor's actually arriving?' A gleam of excitement lit up her eyes.
'Not a dickey bird. I don't even know if he's left Africa yet.' Hopefully he was still out in the wilderness, working with people who needed his medical skills. 'The longer I hear nothing, the longer I've got to come up with a solution for the house.'
But the days were running outfast.
'Wonder what he's like? Even if he doesn't have millions under his bed he could be sexy.'
'Like that's going to make a difference to anything.'
The situation was complicated enough, with them sharing guardianship of Mickey and having joint ownership of the house and attached medical centre. They'd never met, which suited her perfectly. She'd kept everything ticking over since Maria and James had died. Dr Pascale hadn't made it home for his brother and his sister-in-law's funeralhadn't talked to Karina at all, even by phone. Their only communication had been through the lawyers acting for the unusual partnership put in place solely to protect Mickey.
When a letter had arrived from the estate lawyers stating that Dr Logan Pascale wanted to sell the property and invest the money for Mickey's future, she'd felt a familiar punch in her stomach. Only this time she refused to fold. This time she would stand up to anything being thrown at her and would not be told what to do. Mickey shouldn't be moved away from all his memories of his parents.
When Maria and James had approached her about becoming a guardian if the unthinkable happened, she'd promised to do everything to make Mickey happy. Maria, her best friend ever, had hugged her and said that was exactly why they were asking. Now she had a promise to keep.
Putting that aside, Karina said, 'Guess I'd better be getting home.' She turned to stare out through the glass doors and shivered at the sight. 'It wasn't raining when I walked up here.' Though the sky had been grey and threatening. 'My car needs two new tyres.' It sat in the driveway going nowhere in the meantime.
'I'd offer you my truck, but my brother's borrowed it.' Becca handed her a large umbrella with bright blue logos splashed across it. She winked. 'Compliments of the bank. They're only for our most important clients.'
Karina couldn't speak for the sudden lump in her throat. Thank you, she thought as she stared at this woman who'd unexpectedly become a good friend. Thank you. Hopefully Becca understood.
The wind blew rain into her face as she headed down High Street towards home. Home, Mickey, the surgery: her life. The life she liked to think she controlled.
'Mostly ' she muttered as the rain got worse.
Within minutes her skirt was soaked and her blouse was getting damp down the front. Her jacket hadn't been designed to be closed across her breasts. Very classy, but totally impractical for her newer, more prosaic lifestyle. She hurried along the footpath, quickly giving up on avoiding the puddles. She'd have jogged all the way, but given she was wearing three-inch narrow heelsall to impress an unimpressionable goat of a bankershe figured that might be a little crazy even for her.
The cooler air did nothing to chill her anger at being refused a loan. She should have asked on what grounds she'd been turned down, but giving Mr Pederson the pleasure of knowing he'd upset her hadn't been an option. Now she'd have to think of another way to raise the capital. Oh, yeah, like how? Short of selling herself down at the wharf, there weren't any ideas shining out at her.
Shoving the disappointment and her sense of unfairness down deep, where she kept insurmountable problems, she focused on reaching home as soon as possible. Before lunch she needed to change Jonty's wound from when he'd fallen in the chook pen and caught his forearm on a stake.
Dear old Grumpy Jones. Secretly, she adored Jonty. Underneath all that griping he was such a sweetheart, and so helpful. Without him she'd never have got the garden dug in time to plant spuds and onions. He'd complained about it with every turn of the soil, but when she'd tried to wrest the spade from him he'd given her an earful.
A gust of wind slammed into her and caught the umbrella, turning it inside out. The heavens poured water onto her carefully styled hair and turned her blouse see-through. So much for trying to look half-decent for once. Of course the bank's umbrella was rubbish. Went with the miserable manager's image.
Locking the gate at the bottom of her driveway, she turned for the house and groaned. The hole in the asphalt had overflowed, sending water streaming out to the road. Water, water everywhere
'It's so tempting.'
Despite her angst with the world she felt a flicker of mischief unfurl deep inside, and she raised a grin. Might as well get some fun out of the day and act like the delinquent Mr Pederson believed her to be. This hopelessness needed stomping onand stuff the shoes. It was doubtful she'd be wearing them again anyway.
Karina breathed deep and leapt into the air to land in the shallow hole. Splashes of murky water shot in every direction, including up her legs. Up, down, splash, splash. She pretended the tears leaking from the corners of her eyes were from pure pleasure, and not exasperation at her inability to fix the current crisis.
'I want to do that!' Mickey yelled from the veranda.
'Come on, then.'
So the sore tummy had recovered. She watched anxiously as he leapt off the steps and charged towards her.
'Go easy,' she muttered. She hated that he believed he was invulnerable. But she also acknowledged that his condition mustn't hold him back.
Splash. Mickey's round face split wide into a grin. Bending his knees, he bombed his feet into the deepest water he could find. His shrieks filled the air, and soon Karina was laughing hard. To hell with banks and money and everything. This was what life was about: enjoying the little things, and especially having fun with this boy she loved so much.
When Mickey was totally soaked she grabbed his hand and started for the house. 'Let's get into dry clothes and then I'll make us hot chocolate drinks.'
'Can we?' Mickey shouted. 'Really?'
'I reckon.' She bounded up the steps and kicked off her shoes. 'Is Mr Grumpy here or out in the shed?'
'Inside our place.'
She untied Mickey's laces and tugged his shoes and socks off. 'Straight to the bathroom, please. Get out of those clothes while I find you some dry ones.'
'What about my hot chocolate?'
'After you've changed.'
She ruffled his hair and gently pushed him inside, before banging the door shut behind them. Dropping her sopping bag and the useless umbrella into the bucket in the corner, she spun around to head to her bedroom and pulled up short at the sight of a man walking towards her.
'Who are you?' she gasped, though from the way goosebumps were lifting her skin she already had an inkling. So much for hoping he was weeks away. But, hey, it was that kind of day.
'Logan Pascale.' The long and lean, tanned man held a hand out to her. 'You're Karina Brown?' His eyes were very wide, and definitely not focused on her face.
Automatically putting her hand in his, she tried to lock eyes with him, but he was staring at something below her chin. When she followed the direction of his gaze she gasped again. Every last scrap of her clothing was wet, clinging to her like plastic wrap, and her blouse was more see-through than if she'd worn nothing. Her breasts pushed hard against her bra her very lacy, transparent bra.
Open up, floor, right now. Gobble me up.
When nothing happened she dredged deep for what little pride she could muster. 'Yes, I'm Karina.' She lifted her head to study the stranger who held the future of Mickey's home in the warm, strong hand she was still holding. Snatching her hand free, she stepped back and returned to scrutinising him.
'Jonty let me in. He's popped home for a moment.'
Despite the chill settling over her due to all that wetness, warmth eased through her body, touching her tummy, her toes, her face. He might be too lean for her taste, but her body didn't seem to care if the way it responded when she looked at him was an indicator. His face was gaunt, as if he needed feeding up. But those eyes were what really caught at her. Piercing, yet guarded, while also holding a hint of humour and compassion. A disturbing mix.
Oh, man, this was so wrong. The guy should come with a warning label. Don't come near unless you hold all the aces. She was short on aces today. Worse, she couldn't stop staring.
Tall Okay, anyone was tall compared to her. Oh, and he had the most gorgeous crop of over-long black hair, while his day-old stubble made her mouth water.
'Karina, I want my clothes!' Mickey yelled.
'Coming,' she called back, far more quietly.
'I'll wait for you in the kitchen,' her distracting visitor told her. 'Want me to make that hot chocolate I heard you mention?'
'With marshmallows, ta.'
He was already acting as if he lived here. She shrugged. Get over it. Logan Pascale owned half the place; he could come and go as he pleased. Was that good or bad? That warmth he'd engendered evaporated, leaving her shivering with cold and apprehension as she opened drawers to find Mickey some clothes.
Logan did hold all the aces. He wanted to sell the place she'd made her home and had believed she'd live in for many years to come. He had as much right to make decisions about the property and Mickey's future as she did. But had he even heard of joint decisions? Her sigh was filled with annoyance and frustration of the most irritating kind. If he thought selling up would help his nephew's cause then he didn't know damn all about Mickey.
But of course he didn't. Visiting briefly once a year meant he hardly knew his nephew. Hadn't seen the day-to-day growing up stuff, didn't know what he liked and hated, wouldn't understand how the Down syndrome affected him.
No doubt Logan intended getting things done fast so he could fly away again, leaving her to cope with the mess he'd created.
Well, think again, Pascale. I'm made of stron- ger stuff. You won't get away with it. I've grown a backbone because of men like you. Men who charm women out of their three-inch-high shoes all because they have a hidden agenda.