“I’ll be right there,” he said, wondering what in hell had happened. Although he could have sent one of his staff to collect the woman whom he was sure was Bella, he preferred to handle this task himself. He turned on his windshield wipers to fight off the downpour as he drove the short distance to the gatehouse.

As soon as he pulled next to the small building, Bella dashed out. He flipped the locks and she plopped into the passenger seat. Her dark hair was plastered to her scalp, her huge violet eyes a stark contrast against her pale skin, her plum-colored lips pursed into a frown.


“What—”

She lifted her hand and shook her head. “You have no idea what I’ve been through to get here tonight. If I believed in heebie-jeebie kind of stuff, I would think someone was trying to tell me not to come to your house. My car stalled out on me just after I got off the interstate. My car service is defunct because I forgot to renew it. But it wouldn’t have helped anyway because my cell phone said No Service every time I tried to make a call. It wasn’t raining that much when I first started walking—”

Appalled that she’d been wandering around alone after dark, he cut her off. “Tell me you weren’t walking on Travers Road after eleven o’clock at night.”

“Well, what else could I do? Flag someone down? That didn’t seem like a smart idea.”

Michael drove them back, grinding his teeth as she continued.

“I did take my umbrella, but it was useless against this wind. I misjudged the distance a bit.”

He pulled to a stop in the garage. “This won’t be happening again,” he said, surprised at the intensity of his protectiveness for her. He hadn’t known her long enough to feel this way.

“Lord, I hope not,” she said, rolling her eyes.

The way his gut clenched irritated the hell out of him. He swore. There was only one solution. “I’m getting you a new cell phone and service and new car,” he said and got out of the car.

He opened her car door to find her gaping at him. “New car,” she echoed. “You’re crazy. I love my VW. It’s never given me any trouble,” she said then corrected herself. “Until tonight.”

“Stranding you at night on Travers Road is enough of a reason to replace your car. Do you realize what could have happened to you?” She looked like a drowned little girl. Resisting the urge to pick her up and carry her, he extended his hand to her and led her into the house. “I’ll send one of my staff to take care of your car. Do you need anything out of it?”

“I left an overnight bag in the backseat, but about a new car, I can’t let you—”

He lifted his hand to cut her off as he pulled his BlackBerry out of his pocket and punched a number. “Jay, I need you to arrange for a tow—a VW on Travers. I’ll leave the key on the table in the foyer.” He extended his palm for Bella to give him the key. “There should be an overnight bag inside. Just drop it in the foyer. Thanks,” he said and turned to her. “Now, I want you to take a hot shower.” He glanced at the time on his BlackBerry. “You’ve got two minutes.”


“To shower?” she said, her eyes round with surprise.

“Until I join you,” he countered.

He hadn’t thought it possible, but her eyes widened even more. “Oh,” she managed, her lips forming a tempting circle of invitation. She stood as if her feet were superglued to the floor.

“Bella,” he said gently.

“Yes?”

“You’re down to one minute forty-five seconds.”

She turned and flew down the hall.

Prying off the wet garments that clung to her as she entered the bedroom, Bella snapped her chattering teeth together. She raced to the bathroom to turn on the jets to the shower and wondered what Michael would have done if she’d said she didn’t want a shower. It would have been a lie, of course. This wasn’t how she’d pictured the consummation of their bargain.Telling herself to stop thinking, she jumped into the shower and closed her eyes, treasuring the few seconds she would enjoy alone under the spray.

Sure enough, the shower door opened behind her and she felt a shot of cool air before she heard Michael’s feet step on to the wet tile. He would be totally naked. The memory of his strong, male body made her pulse race.

“Is the water warm enough?”

She nodded, focusing on the tile wall in front of her.

“Want me to wash your back?”

She opened her mouth to say she could do it herself, but his hands on her bare skin stopped her. He massaged her shoulders and neck, making her relax despite herself. He skimmed his hands down the outside of her arms then back up along the inside. The sensation was both soothing and erotic. The warm water washed away her resistance.

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