Against the Heart(5)

By: Kat Martin

She started nodding. "I’m a very good cook. I took cooking lessons. For a while I wanted to be a chef."

One of his dark gold eyebrows went up in what could have been relief. He handed her another twenty. "Get something to make for supper. You can eat with us if you want."

Did she want to eat supper with them? Her stomach growled again. Oh, God, did she. "It won’t take me long. I’ll get the groceries and follow you home."

"All right. Fifteen minutes. By the way, my name’s Ian Brodie."

"Nice to meet you, Mr. Brodie."

"Ian works."

"Nice to meet you, Ian. We’ll be right back." Grabbing her daughter’s hand, she hurried into the grocery store. Sixteen minutes later, she was through the checkout line carrying three plastic grocery bags of food, out the door into the parking lot.

The bad news was, there was no sign of Ian Brodie.

Ian sat in his Jeep waiting for Meriwether Jones. He should have hired someone else. Some big strapping female who could tackle a dirty job like the one in his father’s house. But Ian was a sucker for a woman in trouble, and he’d been a cop long enough to know this one surely was.

He could read the desperation in her face, and the fact that she was so pretty only made it worse. Along with her mahogany hair, golden brown eyes, and fine-boned features, she had sexy, feminine curves in all the right places. He’d felt a kick the moment he’d laid eyes on her.

Add to that, she had a kid. Ian had a weakness for kids, and Lily, with her big blue eyes and angelic face, was a real cutie.

He saw Meri emerge from the store, holding onto an armload of groceries, Lily hurrying along beside her. In a pair of jeans, a neon green T-shirt, and pink sneakers the color of her mom’s, the little girl licked an orange 50-50 bar. Meri halted just outside the door, surveying the parking lot in search of him. Even from a distance, he could read the fear in her face.

Opening the car door, he stepped out and waved. "Over here!"

She seemed to sag in relief as she hurried toward him, handed him the grocery bags, which he loaded into the back of the Jeep. She carefully counted back three one-dollar-bills, gave him twenty cents in change and a receipt for the food.

"That’s my cell number." She pressed a slip of paper into his hand. "In case we get separated in traffic."

"I won’t lose you," he said, looking down at the money she had so carefully returned, a good sign he thought. "I promise."

Meri just nodded. He watched her as she hurried to her car, loaded Lily into the kid’s seat in back, then went around and slid into the driver’s seat.

Ian kept the old car in his rearview mirror as he drove back to the house. He wasn’t looking forward to the confrontation with his father, but what was done was done.

He’d given Meriwether Jones a job. He didn’t know her story, didn’t know what kind of trouble she was in. In time, he’d figured it out. Investigating people was what he did. In the meantime she’d be working for him.

Ian hoped like hell he wouldn’t regret it.

Meri wrinkled her nose at the smell as Ian held open the front door of a white two-story house surrounded by open fields. Walking past him, she towed Lily into the entry.

"Mama, it stinks in here."

Heat rushed into her cheeks. "That’s why we’re here, sweetheart. To help Ian get the house cleaned up."

Ian glanced around, rubbing the back of his neck, a little embarrassed, she figured, seeing the house through a visitor’s eyes.

"When my mother was alive, it was spotless," he said. "She died five years ago. My dad never really got over it. He isn’t much of a housekeeper."

That was the understatement of the year. "You want to show me around?"

"First, let me introduce you. Dad’s in the den."

She followed him into a small, wood-paneled room off the hall. An old-fashioned TV was playing, a game show, she saw. The room looked like something out of the seventies, with dark brown shag carpet, and a brown vinyl sofa, chair, and recliner.

"Dad, there’s someone I’d like you to meet. This is Meriwether Jones and her daughter, Lily. Meri is going to do some cleaning and cooking for us."