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High-Powered, Hot-Blooded

By:Susan Mallery

High-Powered, Hot-Blooded
Susan Mallery

 Prologue



CEO knocks out the competition.

CEO Duncan Patrick has once again knocked out the competition. The  shipping billionaire ends the year with two more acquisitions, including  a small European trucking company and a very profitable railroad line  in South America. With Patrick Industries dominating the world  transportation market, one would think the wealthy billionaire could  afford to be gracious, but apparently that's not the case. For the  second year in a row, Duncan has been named meanest CEO in the country.  Not surprisingly, the reclusive billionaire declined to be interviewed  for this article.



"This is unconscionable," Lawrence Patrick said, slamming the business newspaper onto the boardroom table.

Duncan leaned back in his chair and stifled a yawn. "Did you want me to do the interview?"

"That's not the point and you know it."

"What is the point?" Duncan asked, turning his attention from his uncle  to the other men on the board. "Is there too much money coming in? Are  the investors unhappy with all the proceeds?"

"The point is the press loves to hate you," Lawrence snapped. "You  bought a mobile home park, then evicted the residents, most of whom were  elderly and poor."

"The mobile home park was right next to one of the largest shipping  facilities we own. I needed the land for expansion. The board approved  the purchase."

"We didn't approve seeing old ladies on television, crying because they had nowhere to go."

Duncan rolled his eyes. "Oh, please. Part of the deal was providing the  residents with a new mobile home park. Their lots are bigger and the  area is residential, rather than industrial. They have bus service right  outside the main gate. We paid all the costs. No one lost anything. It  was the media trying to create a story."

One of the other board members glared at him. "Are you denying you bankrupt your competition?"

"Not at all. If I want to buy a company but the person who owns it won't  sell to me, I find another way." He straightened. "A legal way,  gentlemen. You've all invested in my company and you've seen  extraordinary profits. I don't give a damn what the press thinks about  me or my company."

"Therein lies the problem," his uncle told him. "We do. Patrick Industries has a terrible reputation, as do you."

"Both are undeserved."

"Regardless. This isn't your company, Duncan. You brought us in when you  needed money to buy out your partner. Part of the deal is you answer to  us."

Duncan didn't like the sound of that. He was the one who had taken  Patrick Industries from a struggling small business to a world-class  empire. Not them-him.

"If you're threatening me," he began.

"Not threatening," another board member said. "Duncan, we understand  that there's a difference between ruthless and mean. But the public  doesn't. We're asking you to play nice for the next few months."

"Get off this list," his uncle said, waving the paper at him. "It's  practically Christmas. Give money to orphans, find a cause. Rescue a  puppy. Date a nice girl, for once. Hell, we don't even care if you  really change. Perception is everything. You know that."

Duncan shook his head. "So you don't care if I'm the biggest bastard in the world, as long as no one knows about it?"

"Exactly."

"Easy enough," he said, rising to his feet. He could play nice for a few  months, while raising enough money to buy out his board. Then he  wouldn't have to care what anyone thought of him. Which was how he  preferred things.





One


Annie McCoy could accept the flat tire. The car was old and the tires  should have been replaced last spring. She could also understand that  little Cody had eaten dirt on the playground, then thrown up on her  favorite skirt. She wouldn't complain about the notice she'd gotten from  the electric company pointing out, ever so politely, that she was  overdue-again-and that they would be raising her rates. It was that all  of it had happened on the same day. Couldn't the universe give her a  sixteenth of a break?

She stood in front of her sagging front porch and flipped through the  rest of the mail. No other bills, unless that official-looking letter  from UCLA was actually a tuition bill. The good news was that her cousin  Julie was in her first year at the prestigious college. The bad news  was paying for it. Even living at home, the costs were enormous and  Annie was doing her best to help.

"A problem for another time," she told herself as she walked to the front door and opened it.         

     



 

Once inside, she put her purse on the small table by the door and  dropped the mail into the macaroni-and-gold-spray-paint-covered in-box  her kindergarten class had made for her last year. Then she went into  the kitchen to check out the dry-erase bulletin board hanging from the  wall.

It was Wednesday. Julie had a night class. Jenny, Julie's twin, was  working her usual evening job at a restaurant in Westwood. Kami, the  exchange student from Guam, had gone to the mall with friends. Annie had  the house to herself … at least for the next couple of hours. Talk about  heaven.

She walked to the refrigerator and got out the box of white wine. After  pouring a glass, she kicked off her shoes and walked barefoot to the  backyard.

The grass was cool under her feet. All around the fence, lush plants  grew and flowered. It was L.A. Growing anything was pretty easy, as long  as you didn't mind paying the water bill. Annie did mind, but she loved  the plants more. They reminded her of her mom, who had always been an  avid gardener.

She'd barely settled on the old, creaky wooden swing by the  bougainvillea when she heard the doorbell ring. She thought about  ignoring whoever was there, but couldn't bring herself to do it. She  went back inside, opened the door and stared at the man standing on her  porch.

He was tall and powerfully built. The well-tailored suit didn't disguise  the muscles in his arms and chest. He looked like he could have picked  up money on the side working as a bouncer. He had dark hair and the  coldest gray eyes she'd ever seen. And he looked seriously annoyed.

"Who are you?" he demanded by way of greeting. "The girlfriend? Is Tim here?"

Annie started to hold up her hands in a shape of a T. Talk about needing  a time-out. Fortunately she remembered she was holding a wineglass and  managed to keep from spilling.

"Hi," she said, wishing she'd thought to actually take a sip before  answering the door. "I'm sure that's how you meant to start."

"What?"

"By saying ‘hello.'"

The man's expression darkened. "I don't have time for small talk. Is Tim McCoy here?"

The tone wasn't friendly and the words didn't make her feel any better.  She set her glass on the tiny table by the door and braced herself for  the worst.

"Tim is my brother. Who are you?"

"His boss."

"Oh."

That couldn't be good, she thought, stepping back to invite the man in.  Tim hadn't said much about his relatively new job and Annie had been  afraid to ask. Tim was … flaky. No, that wasn't right. He could be really  sweet and caring but he had a streak of the devil in him.

The man entered and looked around the living room. It was small and a  little shabby, but homey, she thought. At least that's what she told  herself. There were a few paper turkeys on the wall, and a pair of  pilgrim candlesticks on the coffee table. They would come down this  weekend when she got serious about her Christmas decorating.

"I'm Annie McCoy," she said, holding out her hand. "Tim's sister."

"Duncan Patrick."

They shook hands. Annie tried not to wince as his large fingers engulfed  hers. Fortunately the man didn't squeeze. From the looks of things, he  could have crushed her bones to dust.

"Or ground them for bread," she murmured.

"What?"

"Oh, sorry. Nothing. Fairy-tale flashback. The witch in Hansel and  Gretel. Doesn't she want to grind their bones to make her bread? No,  that's the giants. I can't remember. Now I'll have to look that up."

Duncan frowned at her and stepped back.

She couldn't help chuckling. "Don't worry. It's not contagious. I think  weird things from time to time. You won't catch it by being in the  room." She stopped babbling and cleared her throat. "As to my brother,  he doesn't live here."

Duncan frowned. "But this is his house."

Was it just her or was Duncan not the brightest bulb? "He doesn't live  here," she repeated, speaking more slowly. Maybe it was all the muscles.  Too much blood in the biceps and not enough in the brain.

"I got that, Ms. McCoy. Does he own the house? He told me he did."

Annie didn't like the sound of that. She crossed to the club chair by  the door and grabbed hold of the back. "No. This is my house." She felt  more than a little panicked and slightly sick to her stomach. "Why are  you asking?"

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