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A selection from Saying Yes to the Boss

Chapter One

Regina Bellini was expecting company.

When she heard the knock at the door, she set aside her glass of Chianti, slid her feet into the soft leather heels she’d picked up during a trip to Italy and stood.

Anticipation hummed through herbody as she smoothed down the fabric of a slim-fitting skirt and carefully retucked her white silk blouse.

As she passed the gilt-edged mirror that hung in the foyer, she paused to check her appearance. She fussed for a moment, pushing the tumbled mass of dark curls back from her face. Humidity had made a mockery of the hour she’d spent that morning blow-drying her hair straight. Still, she looked presentable.

And so she picked up the shotgun.

It wasn’t loaded, which was a pity she decided as she eyed the man’s silhouette through the oval of stained glass on the old Victorian’s front door. The double barrel, however, made quite a statement. Raising the gun, she swung open the door and pointed its business end directly at the man’s broad chest.
“For the last time, I’m not selling,” Regina said, hollering to be heard over the storm that had turned the July night chilly and inhospitable.

“And I’m not buying, lady,” the man promised, stumbling back a step.

It was not quite nine o’clock but it was nearly pitch black outside thanks to dark thunderclouds. Lightning cracked as he spoke, illuminating the scene more clearly than did the meager light that burned overhead on the generous expanse of porch. In that brief flash, the shock on the man’s face was unmistakable. It registered right along with the fact that he was handsome as sin and not the pesky developer Regina had been expecting.

“I thought you were somebody else,” she sputtered in surprise.

“Yeah, I got that.” The stranger’s deep voice sounded strained, but it held a hint of amusement. He motioned toward the gun.

“Mind pointing that thing someplace else?”

Regina hesitated. He was soaked to the skin, short dark hair plastered to his head. Yet even wet he exuded that same cocky sense of self-assurance she had come up against a little too often lately. She tilted her head to one side and asked, “Are you a developer?”

His dark brows tugged together in an incredulous frown. “Are you going to shoot me if I say yes?”

“You’ll have to answer the question to find out,” she challenged.

The man divided a considering look between Regina and the lethal weapon she still gripped.

“No, ma’am,” he said solemnly and held up a hand as if he were giving an oath.

It was then that she noticed the blood. Bright crimson, it leaked down his arm from a gash across his palm.

“My God! You’re hurt.” Regina quickly set aside the gun and reached for him, tugging him partway into the foyer for a better look. “What happened to you?”

Despite the fact that the stately home was perched on a narrow point of land that jutted into one of the Great Lakes, his reply was the last thing she expected.

“Shipwrecked.”

Then his eyes rolled back and he stumbled forward into her arms in a dead faint, the weight of him taking them both to the floor. More than six feet of man lay on top of her -- more than six feet of a wounded and unconscious man. His bulk made it impossible for Regina to scoot far enough inside the house to kick the door closed with the leg that wasn’t trapped between his thighs.

The rain was coming down in a furious assault now, the wind slanting it sideways so that it marched with ruthless precision across the covered porch’s wood floor and then doused them both with its chilly spray.

The man moaned and, coming to, raised his head slightly from where it had come to rest after their fall: face down between Regina’s breasts. He stared into the gaping V of her blouse for a long moment before transferring his gaze to her face.

Concussed or not, he had the nerve to smile.

“Given my position, I probably should introduce myself,” he said, the words slightly slurred.

Was that a dimple denting his cheek? She fought the urge to be charmed by either it or the bemused humor lighting his otherwise bleary eyes. How could he laugh at a time like this? A year from now, ten years from now, she might recall this bizarre situation and find it funny. Right now she had to settle for being mortified.

And that was an emotion that didn’t sit well with Regina, which is why her tone was clipped when she replied, “No, given the position of my left knee, you probably should get off me. Now.”

He slipped obediently to the side, grunting with the effort. Once on the floor, he rolled onto his back and groaned in earnest.

“Are you okay?” she asked, feeling slightly guilty about her less than sympathetic treatment of him. “Do you think you can sit up?”

He ignored her questions, pointing out instead, “Do you realize that you’ve threatened me with great bodily harm twice and I don’t even know your name?”

Oh, yes, she definitely felt guilty.

Generally speaking, she wasn’t an insensitive woman much less a violent one. But the persistent badgering and -- lately -- veiled threats of a local developer had definitely taken their toll on her manners. Still, this man needed medical attention. At the very least, he deserved to be brought in out of the damp night air.

Oh, what Nonna Benedetta would say if she were still alive. Regina’s Italian grandmother had been such a stickler when it came to offering hospitality to houseguests, whether they had come to her door invited or not.

“I’m Regina Bellini. Friends call me Ree,” she said as she stood and attempted to adjust her clothing.

Blood was smeared across the sleeve of her now soggy blouse, the top button of which hung by a useless thread. She pulled the lapels together in an attempt at modesty, which seemed absurd given the fact that the man’s face had been pressed into her cleavage mere minutes ago.

He must have read her mind. His gaze dipped low before he made eye contact again. Awareness sizzled, as dangerous as the electrical storm blowing in off Lake Michigan. Maybe it was only the man’s prone position that made the situation seem so intimate.

“It’s nice to meet you, Ree. I’m Dane Conlan.”

He struggled to sitting with her help, and she was finally able to close the door, which he then leaned against, looking thoroughly exhausted from the effort.

In the foyer’s more generous light she could see that his plain white tee-shirt was covered with grime and blood, and the jeans he wore were ripped, exposing one battered knee. He’d apparently lost his shoes and socks, assuming he’d worn them in the first place. His feet were bare and covered in sand and other natural debris from his hike up the dunes that bounded the lake. What she could see of his toes appeared puckered from his time in the water.

“You said you were shipwrecked,” she said, crouching beside him.

“In a manner of speaking, yes. My boat hit some rocks, went down about half a mile from shore. I was coming across from the island, but I got blown off course a bit.”

“I’ll say. The main dock is five miles south of here as the crow flies,” she said. Her own paralyzing fear of water had her asking sharply, “What were you thinking, taking a boat out in a storm?”

He shrugged, but looked chagrinned.

“The weather wasn’t that bad when I started out and Trillium is only a few miles out from the mainland,” he said, referring to the large island visible from the docks in Petoskey. On a clear day, it could be seen from the point on which Ree’s house stood sentinel. “I figured I could make it to shore before things got too ugly.”

When she merely raised an eyebrow, he said defensively, “I would have, too, if the engine hadn’t quit on me. I started to drift. I radioed for help, but by that time the boat’s hull was already kissing rocks, so I decided to swim for it.”

“You’re lucky you didn’t drown.”

He regarded her intently for a moment.

“You saved me.”

“What?”

“I saw your lights and kept swimming toward them. I thought I was having a near-death experience.” One side of his mouth lifted in a grin, mitigating the soberness of the moment. “Is this heaven?”

Despite the frightening picture his words conjured up, she couldn’t help herself. She smiled in return. The man’s charm was downright lethal.

“No. And neither is it an emergency room. I think I’d better call an ambulance.”

“Don’t. I’m fine.” He attempted to stand and then sank back to his knees on a groan. “I just need a minute,” he muttered.
Ree was a bit more pragmatic in her assessment of the situation. “You’re bleeding and you passed out. You need to see a doctor.” Raising an eyebrow for emphasis, she added, “It’s obvious you’ve hit your head. You appear delusional.”
“God, you’re something else.”

He wasn’t the first man to tell her so. In fact, the developer she’d been expecting that very evening had used the word “unbelievable” modified by a most foul expletive when she’d spoken to him by telephone earlier in the day. But Dane Conlan’s tone seemed to turn the words into a compliment.
“Just let me use your phone,” he said. “I’ve got friends in town. I’m sure one of them can come get me.”

She relented with a nod and then helped him to his feet.
“I would offer to drive you, but my car is in the shop,” she said.

“That’s okay. I don’t want to be any more trouble than I’ve already been.”

A man who didn’t want to be any trouble. In Ree’s personal experience members of the opposite sex only rarely had been anything but.

When he stood, Dane weaved precariously for a moment before finally leaning against her for support. He wasn’t overly tall. In her heeled shoes she was only half a head shorter than he was, putting him just over six feet. Nor was he thickly built, edging more toward wiry than stocky. But the hand she placed around his waist as she helped him into the Victorian’s parlor was touching taut muscle.

In the living room, a fire burned cheerfully in the hearth. She guided him toward the winged-back chair positioned closest to it, and forced herself not to think about what the man’s wet, grimy clothing would do to the upholstery. She had more pressing problems than soiled cushions or Dane Conlan, who would be gone from her home soon enough. Then she picked up the telephone and bit back an oath.

“Don’t tell me,” he said, apparently noting her grim expression.
She set the receiver back in the cradle. “Storm must have taken out the line.”

“I don’t suppose you have a cell?”

“It’s in my car.”

“The car that’s in the shop?”

“That would be the one.”

It galled her to think about her yellow Volkeswagon Beetle -- a refurbished original rather than one of the newer models -- sitting uselessly on a hydraulic lift at Hank’s Collision & Repair. Regina had argued with Hank earlier that day over having to pay for a loaner when this was the second time in a month her car had been in because of its faulty starter. Finally, she’d stomped out and caught a ride back to Peril Pointe with one of the mechanics. Temper had cost her the rental of a cheap replacement vehicle as well as the use of the cell phone she’d left stowed in the car’s glove box.

“How far is town? Maybe I can walk.”

“Seven miles by road.” She crossed her arms over her chest as she regarded him. “On a night like this and in your present condition, I don’t think it would be wise.”

“Neighbors?” he asked.

She shook her head. “Nearest house is three miles south of here. I’m afraid Peril Pointe is rather remote.”

Which was precisely why developers were clamoring to buy it. The house was situated on the most western tip of seven acres of premium property fronting Lake Michigan. It was prime real estate. The yearly taxes alone put a strain on Ree’s currently limited budget.

He blew out a gusty breath and settled back in the chair. “Well, then, unless you’re going to turn me out into the storm, it looks like I’ll be spending the night.”

She watched his gaze detour briefly to her ruined blouse. Once again awareness lit his eyes as he offered that charming smile that had a single dimple winking low in one cheek. The man could have been on his death bed and she would bet he’d still find the energy to flirt with the nurses.

Ree glanced at the framed photograph of Nonna Benedetta that was perched on the mantle. Her grandmother had been a delightful woman with a firm belief in duty and enough patience to deserve beatification.

With a sigh of resignation, Ree replied, “I guess so.”

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