He captured her hand with his. “Your turn for questions is over. My turn now. What’s your favorite dessert?”

“Double-chocolate brownies with frosting,” she said with a guilty expression on her face. “Decadent.”

“Just like you,” he said.

Her eyes lit with arousal but she looked away as if she was determined to fight her attraction to him. That irritated the hell out of him. There would be no denial from any part of her when he took her tonight in his bed.


O n Saturday morning, Michael surprised himself by sleeping an entire hour later than usual. He did his usual workout and was surprised even more at the sight of Bella dressed in jeans, T-shirt, and tennis shoes and her head covered by a bandana, walking out of the room where she kept her belongings.

“You’re up early,” he said.“I’m painting today,” she said.

He frowned. “It didn’t look like the spa needed it.”

“I’m not painting the spa. I’m volunteering—painting a children’s activity center downtown.”

“That’s nice of you,” he said.

“They need help with some repairs if you’re interested. If you’re handy, I hear they need some help with wiring and the gas heater.”

“You sound like Damien,” he said, thinking of his oldest brother. “He started building houses for charity and keeps telling Rafe and me that we should do the same.”

“Why don’t you?”

“I donate generously to several charities. My money is more valuable than my manpower.”

“Do you mentor anyone?”

Her question took him off guard. “No. My schedule is packed. It wouldn’t be fair to promise to mentor someone with the limited time I have.”

“Hmm,” she said.

Her noncommittal sound irritated him and he narrowed his eyes. Most would have heeded his expression as a warning.

“It’s a good thing your mentor made the time he did for you, isn’t it?”

No one besides his brothers would dare get in his face like she did. “My mentor was retired. I’m not.”

“Excuses, excuses,” she said, a smile playing around her lips. “But I understand if you’re afraid of getting involved.”

“Afraid,” he echoed, snatching her hand and pulling her against him. “You aren’t trying to manipulate me into charity involvement, are you?”

She paused a half beat. “Yes. Is it working?”

He couldn’t help chuckling. “Not at all.”

“Okay, no goading,” she said. “I dare you to come down to the community children’s center and help.” She met his gaze, her lips lifted in a sultry half smile. She tossed her head and lifted her chin. “See ya if you’re brave enough.” She turned and walked away, her saucy butt swinging from side to side as she exited his house.

“Witch,” he muttered and dismissed her so-called dare. He had real work to do. Walking to his office, he sat down with his laptop and crunched numbers. He worked without pausing for the next hour and a half.

The second he stopped, silence closed around him like a thick cloud. Bella and her dare jabbed at him. Silly, he thought. Stupid. A waste of time. Bella was a misplaced do-gooder. Children didn’t need paint. They needed…parents.

The twinge inside him took him by surprise. He frowned at the odd sensation and shrugged, turning back to his number crunching, but his concentration came and went.

Ten minutes later, he sighed, swearing under his breath and leaned back in his leather chair. Raking his hand through his hair, he shook his head. Stupid dare, he thought, remembering the expression in her mesmerizing, nearly purple eyes.

In the long run, how much did a fresh coat of paint really matter? Two more minutes of denial rolled through his brain and he tossed his pen at his desk and turned off his laptop. What a surprise. He toyed with the idea of joining her. He liked the notion of surprising her. He liked the idea of doing something with his hands other than using his laptop or BlackBerry. Even the devil had a conscience. Or perhaps the devil couldn’t resist a dare from a woman with black hair and purple eyes.

Bella continued edging the walls of one of the playrooms. She much preferred rolling paint on the walls because that part of the job was easier and more rewarding, but edging was crucial to the finished product. She would take her turn with the roller later on.“Sandwich? Water?” Rose, a mother of one of the children who visited the center, offered as she carried a tray.

Bella smiled and lifted her water bottle, having chatted with the young woman earlier that morning. “I’m still good, thank you. How’s it going in the other rooms?” she asked as she turned back to edging.

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