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A Baby for the Boss(7)

By:Maureen Child

“We are far from done.” Through the window behind her, he saw the street was dark, with the dim glow of lamplight shining through a neighbor’s drapes.

January nights at the beach could be cold, but here in this tiny duplex, Mike felt only the heat of being near her again. Her hair shone, her eyes glittered and her mouth curved up at one corner when she spoke. She was enjoying this, he thought, and a part of him liked that about her.

Jenny Marshall didn’t back down for anyone. He’d seen her go head-to-head with older, more experienced artists, defending her designs and techniques. She held her own in meetings and wasn’t afraid to fight for her vision of things. But as much as he admired those traits, he wished she wasn’t currently turning her admirable qualities on him.

“Mike, you don’t want to work with me and I don’t want to work with you. But we’re stuck with each other.” She lifted one shoulder in a half shrug. “We’ll have to make the best of it.”

“Unacceptable.” Shaking his head, he looked away from her because the damn lamplight made her hair shine like burnished gold. He never should have come here. It had been a bad idea and if he were smart, he’d leave right now since their argument was getting them exactly nowhere.

As he sifted through dozens of pretty much useless thoughts, his gaze fixed on the magical forest mural. It was dark, mysterious, but with the fairies in the limbs of the trees, there was a sense of playfulness amid the darkness and the longer he looked at it, the more fairies he spotted. Hiding behind leaves, beside rocks, in the water of a fast-moving stream. It was hypnotic, mystical.

He shifted to look at her. “Damn good work,” he blurted, before he could stop himself.

“Thanks.” Surprise flitted across her face, then vanished. “But if you’re wondering, I didn’t steal that scene from any of Celtic Knot’s games.”

He fired a look at her that had been known to make stone-hearted business rivals quake. Jenny wasn’t fazed. “I didn’t say you stole it.”

“Not yet,” she told him, pausing for another sip of wine. “I’m sure you’ll get to it. I know very well what you think of me.”

“Do you blame me?” he countered. Mike pushed one hand through his hair, then scrubbed that hand across the back of his neck. Ever since he met her, this woman had had the ability to tangle him up into knots. Even knowing she was a damn liar hadn’t taken away the rush he’d felt every time he thought of her.

At work, he kept his distance, knowing it was best for everyone. Coming here, into her place, being alone with her in the lamp-lit dark was dangerous. He knew it, and still he didn’t leave. Instead, he took a single step toward her and stopped because her scent clouded his mind and he couldn’t afford to addle his brain any more than it already was.

“That’s not a fair question,” she answered. “You made up your mind about me in an instant and never once listened to any side but your own.”

“What other side was there?” he countered. “Hell, your uncle is still running Snyder Arts.”

“Oh, for God’s sake,” she snapped, setting her wineglass onto the table with a harsh click.

“Tell me I’m wrong.”

“How can I? He does own Snyder Arts. He doesn’t own me.”

“He’s family.” Mike shrugged.

“Yeah, and he thinks enough of me that he’s never asked me to do what you continue to imply I’ve already done.” She sucked in air, then blew it out. “Sean’s never questioned my integrity.”

“Sean’s more trusting than I am.”

“News flash,” she muttered, then asked, “Would you lie and cheat for your family?”

“No, I wouldn’t.” Mike had grown up knowing exactly what kind of damage lies could do. As a kid, he’d promised himself he’d avoid lies and the people who told them. That’s why he couldn’t trust Jenny. First time he met her, she’d lied. No going back from that.

Her eyes flashed. “But you assume I would.”

“Don’t have to assume a damn thing,” he reminded her.

“My God, you have a thick head.” She huffed out a breath. “At least come up with a new crime to accuse me of. I didn’t use you then. I’m not using you now.”

“I’m pretty sure every thief claims innocence.”

She pushed out of her chair, stalked toward him and was forced to tip her head back to meet his eyes. “Name me one thing I’ve stolen. Give me one reason you have the right to call me a thief.”

“Fine,” he said, staring into her eyes until he could actually see her anger churning and burning. “You haven’t stolen anything that I know of. Yet. You’re a prethief.”