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Not in Her Wildest Dreams

By:Dani Collins

Chapter One

"-would have been so much easier, but the fucker just won't die."

Paige Fogarty heard the male voice, followed by snorts of laughter, as  she came up the wide hospital corridor toward the lounge. The voice was  vaguely familiar and the words so tasteless, she instinctively halted.  Should she proceed into that nasty conversation or come back in a few  minutes?

She hung back, out of sight, glancing around for a ladies' room even though she didn't have to go.

While another man said, "That's Fogarty for you. Always screwing up or screwing you over."

"Hell yes. Tries to hump himself to death and can't even get that right."

Okay, that gravely voice she definitely knew. It was her father's  partner, Walter. They were talking about her dad. Such a classy town.

Leaning forward enough to see into the lounge, which was an open alcove  of chairs set against three walls, a coffee table, and a sofa back that  formed the invisible fourth wall, she confirmed, yep, that was Walter.  Holding a meeting of the Superiority Club with the rest of Liebe Falls'  pillars of the community: the Mayor, the bank manager, and the guy who  owned the car lot.

She couldn't remember all their names, but her father sarcastically  called them friends. They weren't looking at her, too absorbed in  referring to Dad as a ‘lucky bastard' for surviving his latest heart  attack and snickering about what a great way it would be to go-on top of  a woman young enough to be his daughter.

Paige debated turning on her heel and heading back to Seattle without  saying goodbye. The four-hour drive had never looked better. It had  already been a brutal three days, but he didn't need surgery this time,  which was a relief. She had to come back when he was released anyway, to  help him get settled at home.

But she had promised Zack she would drop off this stupid game on her  way, so he could play with Pops when he came by after school. Zack had  left his hoodie in her car, too. She'd pulled it on to duck through the  rain on the way in. It had his iPod in the pocket so he'd be pretty  cheesed with his Auntie Paige if she skipped town with it.

"Did he accept your offer?"

"Said it was probably time, yeah," Walter said, but his voice sounded tight, like he wasn't pleased.

Wait. What? Paige stepped forward.

"What kind of offer?" she demanded.

Shoulders jerked, and the men turned to form a horseshoe. As they  recognized her, they went from looking surprised to uncomfortable to  arrogantly disdainful.

Regret hit her square in the chest. Being the center of attention made  her feel awkward at the best of times. When she slipped into town to see  her family every couple of weeks, she didn't usually face these  types-the lofty ones who owned Liebe Falls and hated Fogartys on  principle.

She loathed being on the defensive and reflexively switched to offense, which was never a good look for her.

"I'm sorry, is this a private conversation? About a man who is lucky to  be alive? As opposed to what you were implying," she said to Walter with  a sugary smile. "That death by fornication would be so awesome."         

     



 

Shut up, Paige, she thought, but her mouth kept running.

"Maybe show a little respect when you come to visit a friend in the hospital."

"I'm here for my prostate," the car lot guy said.

"My daughter had a baby," the Mayor said, turning red and making for the nearest stair well.

The bank manager swiped his handkerchief over his bald head, starting to  stammer, "My wife's car is in the shop and she's off shift soon." He  cut himself off and hung his head as he followed the Mayor.

Walter didn't so much as twitch a white hair.

"Respect is something you earn," he said with a condescending curl of his lip.

The damp of rain on Zack's hoodie penetrated to chill whatever heat  Paige's indignation had worked up. She shivered, regressing fifteen  years in fewer seconds, once again soiled by talk that she was living up  to the family name. She didn't need this. She could walk away.

And would have, if a man hadn't come up behind her.

"Excuse me," he said, touching her shoulder lightly to indicate he'd like to get by.

Her bones turned to sand as recognition of that particular voice dawned. Sterling Roy. Walter's son.

The battered box of Scrabble in her hand, the one she'd forgotten she  was even holding, tilted. She'd meant to tape the end, but there hadn't  been any in the house, not without venturing into Lyle's shop and  monsters abided there. But maybe she should have risked her life and  gone looking because the end of the box opened and letter tiles spilled  all over the hospital's green lino.

Far. Out.

Maybe she could spell, Terrific, while she was down here, groveling at the feet of these grade-A a-holes.

"Oh hell, I'm sorry." Sterling crouched with her.

She glimpsed a dark gold crew cut of tousled spikes and a suit that put  the other men's to shame, then lowered her gaze to the scattered game  pieces.

"I can do it," she muttered, opening the box on the floor and thinking  the whole thing would have to go into the incinerator. Hospital germs.  Gross.

"It's my fault. I didn't mean to startle you." He gathered up x's and o's and offered them to her.

What the hell was he doing here?

Apparently Walter found it equally questionable.

"What are you doing here?" He moved to stand above them.

"Plane was late." Sterling's voice had grown deeper, developing a hint  of North Carolina ease. "I called Mom. She said you were here, seeing  Grady. I thought you might need an exit strategy-"

Rude. Paige stopped what she was doing to look at him.

He met her gaze and shock froze his gorgeous features, giving her time  to note that his all-American looks had matured into sculpted, Prince  Charming perfection. His strong jaw was stronger, the cleft defined and  lightly coated in brown-gold stubble. His straight nose was more  arrogant, his lips full and sensual without being pretty. His brows had  darkened enough to frame his eyes.

Those eyes were that kind of painful, mid-winter blue that was so  intense it hurt to look into them. A cloud of scent surrounded him that  was clean like rain, but warm and welcoming, masculine and enticing.

When did anyone ever feel their blood moving in their arteries? She did.  Right now. Her whole body came alive with subtle throbs and a  generation of heat that would embarrass her to death when it hit her  cheeks.

"Paige." His expression smoothed to something more neutral and polite  while his gaze took in the hood that she'd pulled over her hair and the  way the oversized hoodie hung off her narrow shoulders so much more  loosely than it did on her fifteen-year-old nephew.

"I've seen Grady. We can leave now," Walter urged.

Paige heard the tension in Walter's voice and understood his impatience stemmed from Sterling being this close to Paige.

Because she was so irresistible to him.

Slapping the lid on the box, she stood, being careful to keep her hand over the broken end.

"Always a pleasure to see you, Sterling," she said as he rose in front  of her. She punctuated with a brilliant smile that she conjured purely  to annoy his father.

It died on contact. Sterling wasn't easy to lie to. His gaze traveled from her to his father and back.

Then he returned her killer smile with his own, letting his gaze linger  as he surveyed her face as if he had every right to take a long perusal  of her lack of make-up and dismayed scowl.

"Likewise," he said, super friendly and edging toward charismatic,  punishing her, she supposed, for daring to attempt to use him in a power  play.

Rich and good-looking wasn't enough for him. He had to be perceptive, too. Jerk.         

     



 

He hadn't changed much from the few times she'd spotted and avoided him,  when they'd both been in town over the last fifteen years. He had  filled out the way some men did in their thirties, from lanky to  perfect, but he still had the celebrity air that made him the alpha-male  just by showing up.

While she felt like the ultimate scullery maid, standing here with her  broken board game, tongue-tied in the presence of the Homecoming King.

"No time to catch up," she said with an edge of mockery. "I'm just  saying ‘bye to Dad before I get on the road back to Seattle. Nice to see  you." Die.

"I hope he recovers quickly." Sterling was better at sounding sincere than she was. "Let me know if there's anything I can do."

Sarcastic ass. She wanted to show him her finger.

He looked to his father as a signal they leave.

She turned toward the corridor that would take her to her father's room,  but she hadn't gone two steps before she heard, "Whoa, there."

Seriously?

And why was part of her oddly pleased that he was calling her back? She  ought to ignore his condescending order, but spun around to see what  that arrogant pr-

Oh no.

Rosie.

Sidestepping to the nearest wastebasket, Paige threw the game away then  cupped her hand for a few squirts of disinfectant. She rolled it into  her skin as she walked to where Sterling was helping her father's  girlfriend stand upright.

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