Cover of the new book "Body Heat"

Body Heat

 

Warning: This excerpt contains adult content. 18 and over only, please.

Excerpt from “Body Heat”

Chapter 1

“Whatever else happens today,” Maura murmured to herself as she clicked the send icon on her screen, “this is a great beginning to my thirtieth birthday.” She smiled with pure satisfaction and stretched back in her office chair. Cherry Lane’s tax filings were done, and now she’d turn to the budget—and prepare one that was so brilliant it would blow the Board of Directors out of the water and they’d offer her the promotion she craved, from accountant at the seniors residential facility to general manager.

Maybe then her adoptive parents would stop pressuring her about being an underachiever.

Thinking of Agnes and Timothy, her mind leaped ahead to the end of the day, and her birthday dinner. They wouldn’t dare bring a man, would they? That was the other area in which she failed to meet up to their expectations. She could hear Agnes’s voice in her head: A girl shouldn’t marry too young, Maura, but nor should she marry too late.

For the last two or three years, her parents had been introducing her to men—men they were perfectly compatible with. They assumed the same would be true for her.

And it should have been. It really should. After all, she’d been raised by a history prof and an archaeology prof—her real dad’s aunt and uncle—since her birth parents died when she was six. Maura was most comfortable with intellectual types like the colleagues Agnes and Timothy tried to match her up with.

Yes, comfortable. A little bored. Definitely not excited. The reality was, she’d never dated a man who excited her. Was she crazy to wish for that? Had her brain been warped by the movies and TV shows that were her secret vice? Her adoptive parents had banned them from the house: They’re trash, a complete waste of time—the intellectual equivalent of white sugar, and equally unhealthy.

Maura did stay away from junk food, but she was well and truly addicted to junk entertainment.

As for men, it was probably impossible to find one who was compatible with boring, introverted her, and who also excited her. Much less was excited by her. No, she couldn’t imagine that happening.

Likely, she was doomed to be single. “And that’s just fine.” Yes, a part of her longed for romance, love, a home and children, but not all women were designed for that kind of life.

She’d never been the typical girl, and now she wasn’t the typical woman. So what if she chose to celebrate her birthday by coming in early on a Saturday to finish up the year-end tax filings and start on the budget? So what if she got her thrills from accurate, disciplined figures, neat and tidy and controlled, supplemented in the evening by clicking on the TV and indulging in her guilty pleasure? So what if she hung out with senior citizens rather than people her own age?

She’d built a life around the things that made her happy. She’d come to terms with that, and so would her parents, even though the thought of disappointing them in even the tiniest way sent an acidic twinge through her stomach. She owed them everything. But for them, she’d have gone into the dreaded “system” when her parents were killed in a car accident.

She was deliberating whether to call and confirm that it would be just the three of them for dinner tonight, when the phone rang.

“Cherry Lane,” she answered. “Maura Mahoney speaking.”

“Maura, thank heavens.” It was Louise Michaels, the human resources manager. “I’m so glad you’re working today.”

“Hi, Louise. I came in to finish up the tax filings. Things were too busy yesterday to focus on them.” Two weeks ago, Cherry Lane’s general manager had suffered a heart attack and, though he would be all right, he’d taken early retirement. Louise and Maura had agreed to fill in until a replacement was chosen. Then, two days ago, Louise and her husband had received a surprise call saying they could adopt if they did it right now, and Maura’d agreed to cover for her as well. Not only had Maura’s workload increased, but some of the added duties were stressful. She was much more comfortable with numbers than with HR work, yet she had to work on her people skills if she wanted that promotion to general manager.

“How are things going with the expectant mom?” Maura asked.

“Really well, but no labor pains yet. Don and I are so impatient, we have to keep reminding ourselves to breathe.”

“I bet.” Maura smiled, happy for them. They were such a terrific couple, so beautifully compatible, and they’d give a wonderful, loving home to their new baby. She felt a momentary twinge of envy, then reminded herself that she was perfectly happy with her own life.

“Brittany, the mom, is totally committed to adoption. She wants to get back to being a teenager. Same with her boyfriend.”

“That’s great.” It would be horrible for Louise and Don if the girl changed her mind about putting her baby up for adoption.

“But that’s not why I called,” Louise said, her voice going brisk. “I forgot to tell you something.”

Maura clicked her pen open. “Shoot.” While she used computers for most of her work, there was something satisfying about task lists written in notepads.

“Don’t kill me for this.”

“Uh . . .”

“There’s a young man coming in—”

“Maura?” another female voice broke in.

Maura lost the rest of what Louise was saying as she peered over the top of her reading glasses at Gracie, the young redheaded receptionist, who stood in her doorway. “Louise, hang on a minute. Gracie, is it urgent?”

“Sorry, I didn’t realize you were on the phone. But there’s a Mr. Adamson here. Something about community service?” Gracie widened her already huge eyes.

What on earth? “Community service?”

“He arranged it with Louise Michaels?” A question, not a statement, and Gracie’s mobile features formed a comic “don’t kill the messenger” expression.

The receptionist reminded Maura of the I Love Lucy Lucille Ball, and her expression made Maura smile momentarily. Into the phone, she said, “Community service, Louise?”

“That’s what I called about. Sorry, I know it’s not the kind of thing you like doing.”

Maura reminded herself that she should welcome any opportunity to develop her people skills and impress the Board of Directors. All the same . . . “We’ve never done that before. This person’s a criminal? Aren’t you concerned we’ll be putting our seniors at risk?”

“I don’t think that’ll be an issue,” Louise said, “and this young man deserves—” She broke off, and Maura heard excited voices in the background.

“She’s in labor!” Louise screeched, then there was a click, followed by silence.

Slowly, Maura hung up. She gazed across the room at Gracie. “The good news is that Louise’s baby is on the way.” On her own birthday, though she was too private a person to share that information with co-workers. “The bad news is, I guess we’re stuck with community service.” A juvenile delinquent at Cherry Lane. Aagh! Louise really had too soft a heart. Tilting her head, Maura eyed Gracie. “How scruffy is he?”

“Not.” She shook her head vigorously, curls bouncing. “Like, seriously. He’s wearing a suit and tie. Good smile, too. Want me to bring him in?”

“No.” She didn’t want a petty criminal in her office. “I’ll meet him out front.”

“I’ll tell him you’ll be right out.” Gracie hurried away.

Maura groaned. So much for digging into the budget. Now she’d have to dream up some kind of community service and supervise a young troublemaker.

What had this boy done? He hadn’t been sent to juvenile detention, so his offense couldn’t have been too serious. She guessed Louise had been about to say that the kid deserved a chance, which probably was true. It didn’t mean Maura had to like it, though.

She stuffed her reading glasses in the pocket of her tailored dove gray shirt, then picked up her notepad and pen. Steeling herself, she strode out of the office. Though she felt the familiar trepidation at meeting a stranger, this boy would never see her nervousness. As a scared, lonely child taken in by middle-aged academics, she had mastered poise at an early age. Act mature, never act childish, and don’t let people know you’re afraid or vulnerable, Agnes and Timothy had counseled.

Maura hadn’t learned the kind of social skills that built close friendships—her adoptive parents’ own relationships were based on academic connections—but at least no one saw her insecurity. She’d even, for the most part, managed to control the tendency to blush that went along with her Irish coloring.

As she walked into the reception area, a figure standing near the front door turned to face her. Her first thought was of the young Ron Howard.

The boy who stood near the front door was Richie Cunningham from Happy Days, right down to the ingratiating smile and reddish-blond hair, close to her own hair color. Maybe this wasn’t going to be so awful. What was the worst he could have done? Shoplifted a can of beer because he hadn’t hit the legal drinking age?

“Mr. Adamson?”

“Barry. And you’re Ms. Mahoney?”

He mispronounced her name, as most people did. “It’s Ma-honey.” She was darned if she’d give a delinquent her first name, no matter how cute his smile.

“Sorry.” He nodded and mumbled, “Think of bees, honey, Mahoney,” then gave her another of those sweet grins. “It’s my trick for remembering things.”

“I’m filling in for Ms. Michaels while she’s on leave. I gather you’re going to be doing community service with us.”

His eyebrows flew up and he gave a hoot of laughter. “Not me! You thought it was me? No, I’m Jesse’s lawyer. I know Louise through Toastmasters and she was kind enough to arrange this.”

A lawyer? So he must be in his mid to late twenties, though he didn’t look old enough to have finished high school. Her shoulders sagged. She’d known he was too good to be true. Why hadn’t Louise remembered this earlier, so Maura could have read the file? Always be prepared, her parents had counseled. Being caught off guard made her seriously anxious. “Where’s your client?”

He glanced at his watch. “Should be here any minute, and—”

The roar of a motorcycle engine cut him off. Maura glanced through the door, open as usual when the weather permitted.

A huge, shiny black bike pulled into the parking lot.

The bad feeling was back, in full force. A juvenile delinquent on a motorbike, wearing a black leather jacket. Like Marlon Brando, in that film where bikers terrorized a little town. The Wild One. Double-aagh. Why did this have to happen on her birthday?

The machine pulled to a stop under one of the flowering cherry trees that gave the place its name.

The rider slung his right leg over the bike and got off. A breeze stirred the tree and a drift of pale pink blossoms fluttered down, onto his leather shoulders.

“Let me guess,” she said wryly.

“That’s Jesse. Jesse Blue.” Barry Adamson stepped through the open door and Maura followed, jaw firm and head held high.

The bike rider’s back was to them. He stretched, and Maura realized how big he was. Well over six feet, with broad shoulders and lean, jean-clad hips. The build of a man, not a teenager.

His head was hidden by a black helmet so shiny it reflected the light. Lazily, he reached up, unfastened the helmet, and pulled it off. As he leaned forward to hook the helmet over a handlebar, cherry petals drifted to the ground like delicate flakes of pink snow. Then he stood tall, legs apart, and ran his fingers through the wavy black hair that fell to his shoulders. Finally, he turned to face his welcoming party.

Oh yes, this was Marlon Brando, James Dean, Russell Crowe, all the bad boys come to life. To my life! She was going to kill Louise. She doubted this man’s crime was shoplifting beer. Possession of drugs, perhaps? Car—or motorcycle—theft? A brawl in a bar?

She gripped her notebook tightly as Richie Cunningham went down the steps to meet Marlon Brando. The men shook hands, the biker dwarfing the lawyer. Then they walked toward her and she got her first good look at Jesse Blue.

He was a gypsy. A rugged gypsy with bronzed skin, winged eyebrows, a craggy nose, and full, sensual lips. He even had a gold earring: a small hoop in his left ear. The longish wavy hair would have looked feminine on another man, but not on Jesse Blue. He was the single most masculine creature she’d ever seen in her life. She felt a fizz in her blood, a tingle low in her belly. The kind of feelings that—to date—she’d only experienced when watching sexy actors in sensual love scenes. Triple-aagh! She definitely wasn’t herself today. Is this what being thirty—and incontrovertibly single—did to a woman?

Standing beside the boyish lawyer, Jesse looked close to her own age, and his face said he’d seen things she wouldn’t dare even imagine. His eyes were slitted against the sun and she couldn’t tell their color. Nor could she understand why she was curious.

He was studying her from head to toe in a lazy, insolent way that brushed tingly heat across her skin. It startled her as much as it offended her, and she felt color—that embarrassing color she tried so hard to control—flush her cheeks. She wasn’t used to a man looking at her like that. A guy like Jesse couldn’t be interested in a plain, tailored woman like her—not that she wanted him to be—so in all likelihood he was trying to throw her off balance. Little did he know, she’d been off balance since the moment she first heard of his existence, not to mention laid eyes on him.

Speaking of laying eyes, she realized she was still examining his features, trying to figure out if he was Native American or maybe Hispanic, wondering exactly what ethnic mix had combined to form that strikingly male face.

She firmed her jaw again and narrowed her eyes. He was an offender and she was the boss here. He’d do well to remember it.

So would she.

*  *  *  *  *

Jesse squinted through a dazzle of sunshine to see the woman who stood in the doorway. The woman who controlled his future. This lame-ass community service thing was fucked up. But he had to admit, it was way less fucked up than doing jail time.

And hell, he’d done what he had to do to protect Consuela, and now he would take the consequences like a man. With any luck, this supervisor person would give him a few straightforward chores and leave him alone to get on with them.

 

 

 

[con't from bottom left column]

As he walked toward the porch, his first impression was of height. She had to be around five ten, only four inches shorter than he was.

He mounted the steps, the overhang cut the sun, and he saw the woman fully. Awareness rippled through him, and an unexpected throb of arousal.

She was lean, that ritzy leanness that verged on skinniness but never got too close. Oh, yeah, she had curves. His gaze lingered on small, high breasts and gently rounded hips as he scanned her from head to toe. Boring shoes and plain clothes—a tailored shirt and pants. Kind of classy, but Jesus, they were gray. What woman under the age of eighty wore gray?

How old was this one? She could be a few years older than his own twenty-seven, or a few years younger. Her kind of poise and elegance made it hard to tell. He didn’t have much experience with classy women like this—and what he had told him to steer clear.

His gaze returned to her face, guessing from her coloring that she was Irish. Framed by pulled-back reddish-gold hair, her features were flawless. If she wore makeup, it was just a touch to darken brows, lashes, and lips. The flush on those ivory cheekbones was all her own, as much as the freckles that dusted them.

Her eyes were incredible, somewhere between blue and green. He’d seen that color in Hawaii the time he went there on holiday.

And then, saving the best for last, there was her mouth. Fuck, what a mouth. It was one of those wide, lush ones that got a man hard just thinking what she might do with it.

She reminded him of someone, in a good way. Who was it? In the crowd he hung out with—mostly other construction workers and their girls—he didn’t see women like this. An actress maybe?

Her brows arched and suddenly he knew who she looked like: a lingerie model he’d seen on the cover of one of his friend Consuela’s Victoria’s Secret catalogs. Oh, the clothing was way different—the model’s dynamite body was barely covered by sexy scraps of black silk and lace—but the women had the same vibe. Elegant, yet lush, and totally self-contained. Both had hair pulled back in a knot, calling attention to every perfect feature of a classic face. Gorgeous eyes, though the model wore glasses, thin-framed ones that magnified rather than disguised those stunning eyes. Somehow, all that prim-and-proper stuff that should’ve been a turn-off actually had the opposite effect. The advertising folks knew what they were doing.

Thank Christ his new boss didn’t wear glasses. Already, Jesse’s temperature was climbing and his dick thickening as he tried to imagine what lay under all that buttoned-up clothing.

Stick to your own kind, he reminded himself. The couple times he’d forgotten that rule, he’d ended up feeling like crap.

Not only was Miss Priss his supervisor on this community-service gig, but he knew all about her type. She was way too good for him and she damned well knew it. Even if she was attracted to him—and lots of gals were—she’d consider it slumming. She’d view him as a charity case, try to make him over, the way Nancy, a nurse he’d once dated, had done. Or, worse, she’d act like that rich bitch Sybil: treat him as her dirty little secret, good enough to fuck in private but not to acknowledge in public.

He wasn’t letting himself in for any more of that shit. Yeah, it’d be best for both of them if the ice queen stayed frozen. She was his boss. That’s all it would ever be.

“Jesse? Jesse!” Barry Adamson’s sharp voice broke through his thoughts.

Jesse focused on him and absorbed his lawyer’s narrow-eyed glare before Barry turned back to the woman. “Ms. Mahoney, this is Jesse Blue.”

Mahoney? My honey? Now there was a wet-dream of a name. All soft and warm on the tongue. Although the lady looked straightlaced as they came, he’d bet there were parts of her that were plenty soft and warm to taste.

Honey. Creamed honey, honey that melted and dissolved when it got warm. What did it take to make Ms. Mahoney turn to liquid honey? And what would she taste like when she did?

He swallowed and his blood heated further.

“Mr. Blue,” she said crisply.

No honey was melting now. The lady with the warm name and pink cheeks had a voice that dripped icicles. She held a notebook in one hand and didn’t offer him the other. She’d have read his file; she knew what he’d done. Wasn’t going to sully her delicate flesh by touching him.

He flexed his fists. The cuts and bruises had healed, but the memory’d barely faded. As a kid, he’d been a brawler, out of frustration and anger, but as an adult he’d learned better. All the same, it had felt good, smashing Pollan’s nose, crunching his cheekbones, breaking his ribs. With every blow, he’d imagined the way Pollan had beaten up on Consuela. Yeah, Jesse had gotten revenge for Con. More importantly, he’d done his best to make sure she and Juanito would be safe. If it took breaking bones to do it, then—

“Mr. Blue?” she said again, warily this time, taking a step backward.

What had shown on his face to make her react that way? Barry shot him another warning glare.

Time to shape up. He had to get along with his new boss or he’d be spending time in a jail cell. “Good morning.” He gave the woman his best smile, the one that always made women smile back.

This one didn’t. Her eyes widened, then she glanced away, addressing a spot over his shoulder. “I’m the accountant and acting human resources manager at Cherry Lane. I’ll be supervising your community service.” Her tone said she resented every moment of this.

Her and him both.

Barry said, “I’ll leave you to work out the details with Jesse, Ms. Mahoney. You’ve got all the information you need, in Louise’s file?”

Her jaw tightened and Jesse guessed she was envisioning his less than stellar file. “I’ll call you if I need anything, Mr. Adamson.”

“Barry, remember?” He flashed that boyish grin of his. It seemed Jesse’s lawyer found his new boss plenty attractive, too. Barry fished his wallet out of a pants pocket and pulled out a card, which Ms. Mahoney took carefully, her fingers not touching the lawyer’s.

Jesse gave an amused snort. Looked like even the hotshot kid lawyer wasn’t good enough for her.

Barry shot him another glare. “There’s a lot invested in making this work out.”

Jesse’d already learned that the lawyer wasn’t much for subtlety, which was part of why the two of them got along. Jesse straightened up and stuck out his hand. Barry’d gotten him a better deal than he’d any right to hope for, and he’d better knuckle down and get serious. “Thanks. It’ll work.”

His lawyer pumped his hand, beaming. “Sure it will. You and Ms. Mahoney are going to get along just great.”

Jesse barely managed to suppress another snort.

Chapter 2

Maura studied Jesse Blue as he watched his lawyer walk away. Brown, his eyes were brown. Hazel, really. Tawny. A lion’s eyes.

Then he turned to her. “What’s the plan?”

Plan. As if she had a plan. As if she’d known about him coming, read his file, and prepared a plan. The surest path to success is a thoroughly thought-out plan, her parents had emphasized. Maura lived her life by that sensible rule, and it always worked for her.

In retrospect, it had been foolish to bluff with Barry Adamson. She should simply have asked for a copy of the file, but she hated looking anything other than perfectly in control.

The file must be in Louise’s office. Until she found it, she had to come up with something to keep the biker gypsy occupied. She reminded herself that she was the boss. All she needed was a plan.

Maura glanced at him dubiously. Normally, she hated being so tall, but now she hated being shorter and having to look up to him. She hated how big and muscular he was, and she was troubled by that scary expression she’d seen on his face, almost like he was contemplating doing violence to someone. Not that she had any experience with violence. The very idea nauseated her.

But of course this man couldn’t be violent, or Louise would never have agreed to take him on. And thinking of Louise, that reminded her that the HR manager often had students at Cherry Lane doing volunteer work. Maura snapped her fingers. “You can read to our residents. Some of them are blind or have failing vision and—”

“No.” He didn’t say it aggressively; it was just one flat word.

It stopped her cold and she didn’t have a clue how to respond. She should exert her authority. But now she realized that of course she didn’t want this insolent James Dean punk mingling with the residents. Even if he wasn’t actually dangerous, he’d been in trouble with the law.

While she was trying to think of some other chore he could do in isolation—her own version of solitary confinement—he said, in that same level tone, “I’m good with my hands.”

Her gaze flew to those hands. Large, brown, strong-looking. There were a few scrapes but his hands were nicely shaped, with long fingers. Very masculine hands, the kind she’d rarely if ever seen. Oh, yes, she could just imagine what those hands might be good for. Long fingers stroking, caressing; the gentle abrasion of calluses against tender flesh—

No! Good God, what was she thinking? “You mean, things like carpentry?” she asked quickly.

Humor glinted in his eyes. Oh, no. Had he guessed what she was thinking? Probably. Most women likely had the same reaction.

She glared at him, annoyed he would assume she was a typical female. Annoyed at herself for responding like one.

“Yeah,” he said. “Things like that. My day job’s construction, and I’m good at fixing stuff. Carpentry, plumbing, wiring.” His voice was deep, with a touch of gravel that matched up perfectly with his craggy features and sensual mouth.

She forced herself to focus on what he’d said. There were lots of things that needed fixing: the cracked tile in Mrs. Jenssen’s bathroom, Ms. Montoya’s perennially dripping tap, and half a dozen more repairs that their lazy maintenance man hadn’t gotten around to. But she didn’t trust this man in the residents’ apartments.

“Gardening,” he said grimly, and again she got the uncomfortable feeling he’d read her mind.

“Gardening . . .” The courtyard was a disaster. There’d been discussions—some daydreaming about a pool and fountain—but that was way beyond their current budget. Cherry Lane wasn’t a luxury facility, which was one of the things she loved about it. They kept their rates affordable for most seniors, so had to pinch pennies. Maybe Jesse Blue could plant some flowers to brighten the place up. That shouldn’t cost too much, and the residents would enjoy the improved view.

Tawny eyes studied her. She felt too exposed and reached into her pocket for the glasses she used for reading and computer work. When they were perched on her nose she felt more confident, even though they did interfere with her distance vision.

The motorcycle man looked startled. Did she look that dreadful in her glasses? She reached up to whip them off, then gave a little growl. Why should she care how she looked to Jesse Blue? She wasn’t his kind of woman. Never would be and certainly didn’t want to be. Besides, as her adoptive mother Agnes had taught her: Vanity is frivolous and egotistical.

He peeled off his leather jacket and cleared his throat. “Warm out here.”

Rather than gape at the muscles stretching his black T-shirt, she wrote his name in her notebook, then Courtyard garden. “Come with me,” she ordered.

He slung the jacket over his shoulder, hooked on one finger. Was he trying to look cool or did it just come naturally? His T-shirt wasn’t new, but it was clean and respectable. If you could count anything as respectable when it revealed broad shoulders, a solidly muscled chest and slim waist, and well-shaped dark arms covered in a skim of black hair.

Okay, so maybe she’d gaped a little—enough to memorize an image—before she’d focused on her notebook. The man looked downright rugged. It wasn’t a look she was used to, or comfortable with. Not in real life. The fact that she found it attractive made her even less comfortable.

How perverse that, when she dated men who were perfect for her, she was far less attracted than she was to this stranger who was pretty much her worst nightmare. Her hormones were definitely out of kilter.

She led Jesse through the lobby, ignoring Gracie and a couple of the older women who were sitting on a couch. The truth was, she couldn’t make out anyone’s features anyhow, what with the distortion caused by her stupid reading glasses.

She opened the courtyard door and walked out, forgetting there was a step. She lurched and would have fallen, but a strong hand caught her under the elbow, steadying her. That firm grip shocked her, making her skin sizzle under the silk of her blouse. She yanked away with a muttered, “Thanks.”

Okay, she was a klutz, but the damned glasses made it worse. She pulled them off and stabbed them back in her pocket. She gestured around her. “The city takes care of the boulevard out front, but the courtyard needs work.” It was an understatement, she realized now. Her office had a courtyard window, but when was the last time she’d taken a good look out here? The ground was covered with scrubby grass which no one had watered yet this spring. There were a couple of lovely cherry trees in full bloom, but the half dozen other shrubs were in sorry shape.

“Uh-huh,” he said.

A man of few words. Not her favorite kind. She liked the intellectual type, articulate men who spoke in full sentences. Of course some of those sentences were the length of entire paragraphs, and she found herself drifting off in the middle—

“Nice trees.” His voice broke into her thoughts. “But the rest is bad. Gloomy view for the old folks.”

She raised her brows, surprised he’d spoken again, even more surprised he would think about the effect on the residents. “Yes, it is. We’ve discussed improving it, even talked about a pool and a miniature waterfall, but unfortunately we don’t have the funds.”

“I can do that.”

“You can do what?”

“That. Pool, waterfall. Flowers, shrubs. Little Japanese maple over the pool.”

He gazed up at the sky, then down again, and gestured to a corner. “Morning sun falls there. Put in a sitting area with a few chairs, couple of little tables for coffee. That cherry tree’ll break the sun.” He waved to the opposite corner. “Same kind of thing there, for the afternoon. They like to sit outside, right?”

The sudden spate of loquaciousness left her gaping. “I . . . I guess so.” When the weather was nice, residents often perched on the wooden benches by the front door.

He pointed toward the units that surrounded the courtyard. “No balconies. Lots of open windows. They like fresh air.”

She squinted at him. He was observant and almost . . . considerate.

Or maybe he was a thief and he was casing the joint, planning to steal precious treasures from people in the last years of their lives. “Yes, well,” she said, “that’s all very ambitious.” He clearly hadn’t paid attention to what she’d said about lack of funding. “Can you think on a smaller scale?”

He grinned. It was so quick she almost missed it, but that sudden flash of white teeth in his dark face made her heart stutter.