Match Me if You Can(4)

By: Susan Elizabeth Phillips



As he spoke into the phone, he turned his eyes on her. They were the exact green of a hundred-dollar bill singed at the edges with displeasure. “This is what you pay me for, Jamal.” He took in Annabelle’s disheveled appearance and shot the receptionist a hard look. “I’ll talk to Ray this afternoon. Take care of that hammy. And tell Audette I’m sending her another case of Krug grande cuvée.”

“Your eleven o’clock appointment,” the receptionist said as he hung up. “I told her she was too late to see you.”

He shoved aside a copy of Pro Football Weekly. His hands were broad, his fingernails clean and neatly clipped. Still, it wasn’t hard to imagine them ringed with motor oil. She took in a navy print necktie that probably cost more than her entire outfit and the perfect fit of his pale blue dress shirt, which could only have been custom-made to accommodate the width of his shoulders before tapering toward his waist.

“Apparently, she doesn’t listen well.” His shirt molded to an impressive chest as he shifted in his chair, making Annabelle uncomfortably aware of a junior high science lesson she vaguely remembered about pythons.

They swallowed their prey whole. Head first.

“Do you want me to call security?” the receptionist asked.

He turned his predator’s eyes on her, leaving Annabelle at the receiving end of another of those knockout punches. Despite the effort he’d taken to polish all those rough edges, the bar brawler still showed. “I think I can handle her.”

A jolt of sexual awareness shot through her—so inappropriate, so unwelcome, so totally out of place that she bumped into one of the side chairs. She was never at her best around excessively confident men, and the absolute necessity of impressing this particular specimen made her silently curse her clumsiness right along with her rumpled suit and Medusa hair.

Molly had told her to be aggressive. He’s fought his way to the top, one client at a time. Brutal aggression is the only emotion Heath Champion understands. But Annabelle wasn’t a naturally aggressive person. Everyone from bank clerks to taxi drivers took advantage of her. Just last week she’d lost a confrontation with the nine-year-old she’d caught egging Sherman. Even her own family—especially her own family—walked all over her.

And she was sick of it. Sick of being condescended to, sick of too many people getting the best of her, sick of feeling like a failure. If she backed down now, where would it end? She met those money green eyes and knew the time had come to tap deep into her Granger gene pool and play hardball.

“There was a dead body under my car.” It was almost true. Mouse had been dead weight.

Unfortunately, the Python didn’t look impressed, but then he’d probably been responsible for so many dead bodies that he’d grown bored with the whole concept of corpses. She took a deep breath. “All that red tape. It made me late. Otherwise, I would have been punctual. More than punctual. I’m very responsible. And professional.” Just like that, she ran out of air. “Do you mind if I sit down?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you.” She sank into the nearest chair.

“You don’t listen well, do you?”

“What?”

He gazed at her for a long moment before dismissing his receptionist. “Hold my calls for five minutes, Sylvia, unless it’s Phoebe Calebow.” The woman left, and he gave a resigned sigh. “I assume you’re Molly’s friend.” Even his teeth were intimidating: strong, square, and very white.

“College buddies.”

He tapped his fingers on the desk. “I don’t mean to be rude, but you’ll have to make this fast.”

Who did he think he was kidding? He thrived on being rude. She imagined him in college dangling some poor computer geek out a dorm window or laughing in the face of a weeping, possibly pregnant, girlfriend. She sat straighter in the chair, trying to project confidence. “I’m Annabelle Granger from Perfect for You.”

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