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Undercover Love(2)

By:Lucy Score



“But how will I get my stair workout in?” Her brow was crinkled with worry.

Ashley pulled the last items — a giant can of Ensure and a bottle of cheap rum — out of the depths of the cart and set them on the counter. “How about you take the elevator up with your things, bring them inside, take the elevator down, and then walk back upstairs?”

Mrs. Menifield clapped her hands. “That is a wonderful idea!” She picked up the bottle of rum and wiggled it at Ashley. “Stop by sometime for a cocktail and you can help me measure my thighs to see how thin I get!”

###

Ashley hustled up two more flights of stairs and dove straight into a hot shower. She was toweling off when she heard the front door. A minute later, Steven breezed into the bathroom, ice cubes clinking in a glass.

He was a good-looking man in a country club kind of way. Tan and blond, his compact build that made people think he was a professional golfer or a swimmer.

“Hey, babe.” Steven grazed a peck on her cheek. She could smell the scotch and tried to remember exactly when it was that he had started ending his day with a glass.

Lots of changes.

“How was your day?” Ashley watched him in the mirror as he shucked off his button-down and pants. He tossed them on the floor next to the hamper and headed, naked, to the shower.

“Great!” his voice echoed off the tile.

“You’re home late today. Did you have a meeting?”

“I went for drinks with a couple guys after work. Pre-party party. How was your day?”

She told him about her Mrs. Menifield experience while winding sections of her hair around the barrel of the curling iron.

“Why the hell do you bother with that old bat?” He twisted the water off and grabbed a towel. “When we put this place on the market I hope none of the buyers run into her in the elevator. She’ll drag down the property value.”

Steven’s latest idea in his ever-expanding life plan involved putting the loft on the market and buying a roomy place in the suburbs. Ashley had a feeling that Victoria had planted that particular idea. It seemed like Victoria had made Steven her little pet project at the office, always offering up advice for ways to “get ahead” or make the partners “take notice.”

The first time Steven brought up the idea of selling the loft, the argument had lasted nearly three days before Ashley had agreed to consider it. She “considered” it to be an asinine idea, but also valued peace and quiet at home.

She ignored his comment and set her hair with spray. A little wild, a little tousled. Perfect.

He padded past her to the closet. “Hurry up. We’re going to be late.”

Gee, darn. Ashley stifled a sigh and shimmied into the black sheath dress, her latest bargain find. It was a bit more low cut than was probably appropriate for a buttoned-up kind of function like this, but it sure made her feel good. “How do I look?”

Steven hustled out of the closet tying his tie and paused to look at her. “You probably should have put your hair up. You know like ...” he gestured around his head. “Well, there isn’t really any time to fix it now.”

He hurried out of the bathroom and Ashley wondered how often other women had the irrepressible urge to flip off the men in their lives.





CHAPTER TWO


Where Victoria’s suburban house could be labeled a McMansion, it was nothing compared to her stepbrother’s home. There was no “Mc” in this mansion. Wood and stone melded with complex rooflines and acres of glass to create an impressive, if intimidating estate.

The circular drive was relatively empty except for a few catering vans and Victoria’s white Mercedes. Steven parked his BMW and glanced over at Ashley. “Okay, remember what we talked about?”

She cleared her throat. “Compliment Victoria on the caterer’s display and then act surprised when she says it was her plan.”

Steven nodded. “And?”

“If any board members talk to me, I should work the conversation around to you and the volunteering you did in school.”

“Good girl.”

“I don’t know if fraternity car washes count ...”

But he was already getting out of the car.

They were let in by a uniformed member of the catering staff. Only Victoria would hire a door-opener.

“There you are, Steven!” The door-opener-hirer clicked impressively down the hallway in towering Louboutins. Ashley didn’t have to like the woman to covet her footwear. Her honey blonde hair was artfully styled in a French twist and she was poured into a striking red cocktail dress several degrees fancier than Ashley’s.

“Oh, hello.” Victoria’s voice cooled considerably as she paused long enough to run her gaze over Ashley. “That’s an ... interesting dress.”

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