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By:Cherry Adair

Todd didn’t comment on her change of subject. “All the way here in San Francisco, babe. I’m proud of you. You’ll bring all these news skills home with you soon.”

“By the time this is all over, I’ll weigh three times what I weighed before I left.”

“You can afford a few extra pounds. What’s on your schedule today?”

The sun had vanished in the last few minutes, and rain pounded the windows, making musical notes on the tin roof, and not-so-musical notes as it filled the strategically placed buckets throughout the house. “Remodeling the kitchen is top priority. I’ll hire someone to tackle that. I have a company coming to replace the roof in a couple of weeks. And I need to figure out if I want to tackle the porch myself or hire out—”

“Or find a lovely rental—furnished condo with a view of the ocean so you can relax— Oh, wait, I forgot who I was talking to. ‘Relax’ isn’t in Amelia Wellington-Wentworth’s vocabulary.”

No, it wasn’t. But she was trying to shoehorn it into Mia Hayward’s.

There was a loud knock at the back door. She had a discreet parade of deliveries every day, but it hadn’t been that long ago that a bullet shattered the window in her office, and unexpected loud noises still made her start and caused her heart to race. Especially after she’d first moved into the two-hundred-year-old house tucked away on a cul-de-sac next door to the graveyard. Alone. No bodyguards. No secure building. For what either of those had been worth in San Francisco.

And she’d still been shot at.

The house was only ninety minutes outside New Orleans and she hadn’t been there once since she arrived almost a month ago, but it seemed half of NOLA arrived at her doorstep on a regular basis with deliveries.

“Someone’s at the door. Either my new gardener or UPS. I’ll call you in a couple of days.”

“Check before you open the door!”

“Yes, Mother. Love you, kiddo.” Mia disconnected, then turned the ringer off and replaced the phone back in the metal sugar canister. “Coming!”

Chapter Three

Wiping her hands on the dishcloth flung over her shoulder, Mia walked down the long corridor, past the stairs, to the back door. The gardener couldn’t work outside in this deluge. She’d ask him if he knew how to install wallpaper and, if not, point him to the steamer to remove the red flocked paper in the entryway until the weather cleared. She really needed a whole army of tradesmen to put the house to rights, but she didn’t relish people in her space when she was there all day herself. She wouldn’t be here long enough to worry about it. . . .

“Hi—” she said as she flung open the front door. The dark-haired man dripping in the doorway topped her five foot six by almost a foot and made her heartbeat stutter, then race into overdrive. Long black hair clung wetly to his strong throat and brushed the rain-speckled dark T-shirt stretched over his broad shoulders. Dark stubble gave him a dangerous, sexy look, and his deep brown eyes said Been there, done her.

He was shockingly, mesmerizingly familiar.

Diamond droplets of water clung to his black lashes. Mia wanted to lick them off. He looked hard and dangerous, and not the sort of man who would take money for something he probably gave away for free on a daily basis. He must have women lining up around the block for his services.

He could’ve charged her double. Hell, triple.

She stared up at him, riveted. It wasn’t anything as simple as physical good looks, although he had those in abundance. His nose was straight, his lips chiseled and sexy as sin. He needed a haircut and a shave, yet his unshaven jaw and his intense dark brown eyes made his personal grooming habits immaterial.

He wore jeans and a clinging wet dark blue T-shirt that showed his muscle definition. Abs, pecs, biceps . . . Mia’s mouth went dry. The fabric clung to every rippling, solid muscle on his chest and belly, and the damp denim of his jeans cupped his sex. Sex appeal oozed from his very pores.

Every cell in Mia’s body remembered the night before in pulsing Technicolor, as if he’d imprinted himself on her body in some way.

She had to consciously avert her gaze from the bulge behind his fly, back to his face. Say something, for God’s sake! “You came for your money. Hang on a sec, I’ll go get it for y—”

He put his hand on her bare arm. A hot electrical current zinged through Mia’s veins at the contact, and her gaze jerked up to meet his dark eyes, making her completely forget what she’d been about to say. She felt as though her skin was magnetized to his. The energy pulsing between them was almost visible, it was so strong.