“Why wouldn’t they? I gave you my word, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you did,” she said, and felt something inside her twist and knot at his expression. He would have her again. She felt it and knew it, just as he did.


“I’ll meet you at my house tonight,” he said, his voice low.

Awareness and anticipation rippled through Bella. “It will be late,” she said. “I have to work.”

Michael frowned in impatience. The door to his office burst open and Charlotte strode inside with a smile on her face and a new sparkle in her eye. “When do we start?”

Michael laughed. “Bella told me you were a fireball. She also indicated that you already have a job, so as soon as you give notice we can move ahead.”

“I don’t need to wait,” Charlotte argued. “I can work when my job is done for the day.”

He shook his head firmly. “I don’t want you to overdo.”

“But—”

“It’s not just bad for your health. It’s bad for business,” Michael said. “What we want to create is an environment of success that won’t put too much stress on Bella or you. We want to move at a reasonable pace, not lightning.”

“He’s right,” Bella said, admiring Michael’s approach with both her aunt and the business. “And since I’ll be working with you for at least this first year, I’ll be able to tell if you’re doing too much.”

Charlotte shook her head. “You worry too much about me. You’re young. You should be pursuing your own career goals. I’m fine.”

“I’m more than happy to do this with you,” Bella said. “It will be an adventure.”

“Yes,” Michael said. “An excellent way of looking at it. An adventure.”

By the expression in his eyes, however, Bella suspected he wasn’t talking about the spa.



That night after work, Bella tamped down her feelings of apprehension and got into her car to drive to Michael’s house. Using the rhythm of the windshield wipers as a cadence, she talked herself into calm confidence. Succeeding until the coughs and sputters of her ordinarily reliable Volkswagen jarred her out of it. “No, no, no,” she murmured. She pressed on the gas and her car stalled.Flustered, she tried to start it again and the engine coughed to life. Relief washed over her and she made it several more yards before the car shuddered again, refusing to restart. Something was clearly wrong. It revved to feeble life briefly and she managed to pull it on to the side of the road.

She got out of the car to stare at a bunch of hoses, boxes and wires under the hood. It could have been run by squirrels for all she knew. The cold rain poured over her head, drenching her jacket.

Sighing, she got back in the car and reviewed her options. She’d neglected to renew her car service since she’d returned from overseas, so her customer number was now defunct. She refused to call her aunt and bother her at this late hour. Reluctantly, she accepted her last choice and tried to dial Michael’s cell number. Her cell phone, however, gave her the impudent message. No service.

Damn. Maybe someone was trying to tell her something. That she’d best try to find a way out of her arrangement with Michael.

Bella leaned her head against the side window of her car, recalling the joy on her aunt’s face when she’d learned she would get a second chance with her business. That was worth everything. A deal was a deal.

The rain appeared to have slowed down, and if she remembered correctly, Michael’s gated subdivision was only about a mile from here. Walking alone at night wasn’t the best choice for a woman, but she didn’t want to stay in her car all night either. Either choice meant danger.

Five

M ichael narrowed his eyes as he glanced at his watch. Bella wasn’t going to show. He should have known that her wide eyes hid deceit. She’d tricked him into believing she would accept his deal and now she wanted out. Two nights ago, he’d been certain she’d just been nervous. Now, he wasn’t sure. A bitter taste filled his mouth. What she didn’t understand was that he could still pull the plug on her aunt’s spa.

His cell phone rang, distracting him. The number on the caller ID was unfamiliar. “Hello,” he said.“Mr. Medici?” a man said.

“Yes, this is Michael Medici.”

“This is Frank Borne, security for the neighborhood. I hate to bother you, but there’s a woman here who says she knows you and she needs a ride to your house.”

“What?” Michael asked.

He gave a half chuckle. “Poor thing is drenched. I’d drive her to your house myself, but I’m not supposed to leave the gatehouse.”

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