Page 25 of Sinful Temptation

Not that there was anything she could do about it except ride it out.

A couple of deep breaths helped. By the time she’d gathered her purse and her courage, the driver was opening the door and holding out a hand for her, as though she’d be forever stuck in the car otherwise. Right. Because this was how rich folks rolled. So she accepted his silent help and climbed out, trying not to gape and stare.

She gaped and stared anyway.

The house had a circular drive, explosions of black-eyed Susans and manicured grass so green that it could have been ripped from a park in the Emerald City. There were also cobblestone paths, potted plants and mature trees providing shade at strategic intervals.

Talia had, in short, wandered into the pages of Architectural Digest magazine. If anything, she belonged in Better Homes and Gardens.

So, yeah. She’d have to fake it for a while. She could do that.

Resisting the urge to help the driver retrieve her luggage from the trunk, she strode to the front door, infusing her steps with a confidence that she did not remotely feel. Her efforts to look graceful were further damaged when her heel caught on one of the cobblestones, making her stumble. Arms pinwheeling, she recovered just in time to see a wheelchair-bound man emerge from the shadows inside the front door.

A young guy, he had a short and dark buzz cut, a bulky chest, immense and tattooed arms, and legs that were missing below the knee.

He was stifling a grin at her expense.

There was nothing she could do except laugh at herself. “Yeah. My nickname is Grace.”

The guy’s grin widened, and she decided that she liked him. “It’ll be our little secret, sweet cakes,” he assured her.

“I appreciate that.” She extended her hand and it was immediately swallowed in his firm grip. “And I’m Talia Adams. Not sweet cakes.”

“Oh, I know who you are, sweet cakes. Never you fear. I’m Michael Bianchi. Call me Mickey. I know everything around here. Just don’t tell the boss that.”

She laughed again. “Well, since you know everything around here, you probably know that I’m here to repaint the mural.”

“Are you any good?”

“I’m the best,” she said, with a rare burst of bravado.

“Modest, too. Hey, what’s with that hair? Am I gonna need my sunglasses with you or what?”

She shrugged, smoothing the edges around her temple. “I like colors. I’m an artist. What’s with the tats?”

Mickey, who was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, had so many tattoos of varying colors running up and down his heavy arms that they might have been inked by Jackson Pollock. He didn’t seem to mind the teasing. “Touché. I hope I’m not going to have any problems with you.”

“I hope I don’t have to give you an attitude adjustment. By the way, where’s the accent from?”

“Where do you think?”

“I’m thinking somewhere in Jersey,” she told him. “Probably near the shore.”

“Ten points for the artist. Let’s get you inside. Show you around a little bit.”

With strong and efficient movements, he spun his chair around and led her through a foyer that was only slightly smaller than the lobby in Carnegie Hall. She saw a stately staircase, exquisite antiques and expensive rugs in every direction. It was, in short, one of those houses where an accidental twitch of the arm became thousands of dollars’ worth of damage.

Given her occasional clumsiness, this was going to be quite the challenge.

Mickey gestured down one half of the hallway. “The kitchen is through there. We’ve also got a study, a den—”

“Hang on. What’s the difference between a study and a den?”

“Lady, I’ve been trying to figure that out for years. The rich are different. Let’s just leave it at that. Out back is the pool and then beyond that is the beach—”

All very lovely and interesting, but there was only one thing on her mind right now. “Where’s the mural?”

“Upstairs. This way.”

He led her to an alcove under the stairs, where a tiny elevator was hidden. A minute later, they were up on the second level, and the doors were sliding open to reveal the most beautiful mural she’d ever seen.

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