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Cynthia Rella saves the life of a runner in Golden Gate Park with no idea he’s Rex DuCharmante, the man who adopted her daughter, twenty-seven years before. When her ex husband Jon—now a gay drag queen—gives her the news, Cynthia schemes to secretly attend her daughter’s night wedding. Only problem? She’s just lost all her money and house to her evil stepsisters. So she borrows Jon’s Carol Channing costume and sneaks into the high society affair. Cynthia runs into Rex, who sweeps her off her feet. As she rushes off to meet her midnight deadline, she leaves her shoe behind. Rex is determined to find the mystery woman, but when he tracks Cynthia down, he gets way more than he’s bargained for when Cynthia’s evil stepsisters come gunning for him and his adopted daughter.


Chapter One

A street performer in a ten-foot-tall electric-pink giraffe costume appeared directly in Cynthia’s path. She darted to the right, narrowly avoiding the freak and continued her jog through Golden Gate Park. While she normally enjoyed the human circus that comprised much of the population of San Francisco, today was not one of those days. Today she wanted to pop Mr. Giraffe.

Grumbling to herself, she ran past the Botanical Gardens, heading for the 9th Avenue entrance to the park. And then she saw him. Mr. Perfect. Jogging right towards her. Her heart beat faster and her palms began to sweat.

Tall, blue-eyed, brown-haired and beautiful, Mr. Perfect had become her favorite crush since she’d moved to the City. He’d caught her attention on her first jog through the park. Legs that went on forever, a nice tight little butt, buff arms and gorgeous running form. He had to be in his late forties, but he ran like a twenty-year-old. Yummy.

Not that he’d ever noticed her. Miss Invisible. Of course, considering her current circumstances, it was fine. No way did she want to bring anyone into her horror movie of a life.

As he neared her, she pretended to be self-confident and paid close attention to her feet. She’d already tripped twice when encountering him, no way could she handle doing a full face plant in front of the guy.

Right as he reached her, she averted her gaze. He ran by.

You idiot! You could have smiled.

Yeah, and what would that have done? Nothing.

When she reached the crossing at 9th Avenue and Lincoln Way, the light was red. She didn’t feel like stopping, so she continued jogging along Lincoln. She’d cross the street further down the road.

Tires screeched loudly behind her followed by a sickly thud.

She swung around and her heart stopped. Mr. Perfect was lying in the street in front of a car! He’d been hit!

Racing to his side, she dropped to her knees to help him.

Blood gushed from a wound on his upper thigh. Cynthia pressed down on the injury with both hands, but the warm liquid poured through her fingers. Adrenaline slammed her system. Her heart pounded hard against her ribs. Where was her training? Come on, Nurse Mode! Kick in!

“Call 911!” she shouted over the din of the San Francisco traffic.

Ignoring the complaints of her bare knees on the rough asphalt, she got into a better position and moved her hands. His femoral artery spurted like a geyser. Screaming inwardly, she clamped down on his steely thigh. The bleeding slowed.

This was so hard! If the guy were a total stranger, her reactions would be automatic.

Dazed from the impact with the car, the wounded hunk groaned “Kelly,” and moved to get up. Blood shot out of his leg.

Her body tensed and her pulse jumped. She pressed down hard on his upper thigh and gently blocked him with a shoulder. “Stay down! Don’t move or you could hurt yourself more! We don’t know all your injuries yet! And I have to stop this bleeding and I can’t do it if you keep trying to get up!”

He stopped moving. She focused on his leg, approximating where to put the pressure to stop the bleeding entirely. In a quick move, she adjusted her hands upwards an inch or so and put all her weight on his thigh. The flow went to a bare trickle. She took a deep breath. Thank God.

Wait. Kelly, did he say? Was he married? No ring on his finger.

Focus! Dating him will be a moot point if he’s dead!

What to do? ABC’s of CPR. What were they? Airways, breathing, circulation. Airways? Unblocked, check. Breathing? Steady. Check. Circulation? Strong pulse in his leg. Good. What else?

He rubbed his forehead and smeared a swath of blood down his carved cheek.

“You’re doing fine, just stay still.”

She assessed his damage carefully from head to toe. Man, what a big guy. Had to be six five or six. Blood flowed freely from the cut on his forehead, but it didn’t look deep. Facial wounds always bled a lot. The car had hit him hard, but his rebound into the curbside reflector had inflicted the most damage: it sliced open his upper right thigh. If she hadn’t been within a few yards of him, he would have bled to death.

Still, he’d lost a lot of blood. His blue running shorts were now bright red, her own white trunks, splattered with polka dots. The warm sun enhanced the familiar metallic scent, sending her back to those wild days in the ER.

A crowd formed around them. Two small kids with scooters jostled for position.

She searched the onlookers’ faces for help, but their blank expressions made her gut twist. “This isn’t TV, people! Someone call 911, now! And get those kids out of here!”

“I called, ambulance is coming!” a black lady yelled beside her.

Relief flooded her and her shoulders relaxed a tad. “Thank you.” She got into the runner’s line of sight. “You’re gonna be okay. Ambulance is on its way. Just stay with me, I’ll get you through this. And don’t move your head.”

One move with a broken neck and he’d be paralyzed for life.

She scanned the crowd. “Could someone please help me here? I need someone to hold his head.”

People turned away, looked down at their feet or pretended they’d gotten an important call. A tall older guy in a tweed jacket turned and walked away.

Rage fired through her veins. She wanted to kick them all in their collective asses. “Really, people, I need help!”

The black lady who’d called for the ambulance put a hand on her shoulder. “I would, but my daughter died from AIDS and I just can’t take the chance, not with all that blood. I have a grandson who depends on me.”

Cynthia sighed heavily. “I get it. I probably shouldn’t be doing this, either, but I can’t let him die.”

“God’s smilin’ down on you, sugar,” the woman replied, patting her. “Planet needs more people like you.”

A bus roared by, spewing a cloud of noxious smoke. Cynthia coughed, tasting the diesel fumes. Great. Hopefully the guy wouldn’t asphyxiate before the ambulance arrived.

More blood escaped the wound. She closed her fingers more tightly together and put all her weight on his thigh. He groaned and shifted sideways.

“Stay still, buddy!”

He grunted, rolled his shoulders, then stopped moving. Did that mean he understood her?

A flood of CPR techniques and emergency procedures flashed through her mind. Praise the Lord, her training was coming back to her. Seven years out of the loop had made her rusty. She checked to see if he was diaphoretic. Well, duh, sweat was all over his brow from running. How was she supposed to tell bad sweat from good sweat?

Think back to that guy who died on that horrible Christmas Eve shift. That horrific bleed out.

No, this guy didn’t feel clammy. His color was better. In shock, but probably not on the verge of dying. “What’s your name, honey? Can you tell me your name?”

“Rex...Rex Du Charmante.”

“Perfect, Rex. Can you feel my hands on your thigh? I’m pressing down hard here, can you feel me?”


Excellent, not paralyzed. She sighed. “Great. Rex, you’re doing fabulous. Now can you wiggle your toes on your right leg? Wiggle them for me.”

His right foot twitched. A surge of hope rushed through her. Thank the Lord. This man was far too awesome to go through the rest of his life paralyzed. Plus it would ruin all her honeymoon plans.

Cynthia! Snap the hell out of it! He’s a patient! And he’s in love with some lucky woman named Kelly. Damn it.

“Wonderful, Rex. Now just relax and stay still for me, okay? It’s really important that you don’t move your neck or anything, okay?”


Thank God, he was a runner and clearly had a strong constitution. She checked his color again. His cheeks were pinkish. She had to watch him carefully for sudden loss of color and a change in his breathing, indicators of internal bleeding. But if that happened...

Don’t think that way! He can’t die! Why wasn’t there a doctor in the crowd?

A bit of fresh blood trickled out, she edged closer to his groin and pressed the wound even harder. “I swear, I’m not getting fresh with you. I have to keep the pressure on the wound.”

Through his pained expression, a fleeting smile. “Didn’t...think...that.”

He opened his eyes and their gazes met. Intelligence and strength radiated from his brilliant blue depths. A zing went through her body and her pulse jumped a notch. Wow, what a hottie! Despite his injuries, he looked even better close up.

This was so freaky. Not ten minutes before she’d been having sex with him in her mind. And now, here she was touching him, right near his package—

Not the time! Nurse Mode, please!

His gaze went unfocused, he whispered, “Kelly.”

Damn it. Kelly again. She wished someone loved her like this. “Stay awake, now.”

He closed his eyes and his body stilled.

A wallop of fear powered through her and her shoulders tensed so much they burned. “Rex, you have to stay awake for me!”

Gasping for a breath, his lids flew open and he coughed a bit. “Need my daughter,” he rasped. He took in a large lungful of air and finally settled down.

Her nerves rattled, her limbs shaky, she searched the street. Where was that ambulance? She couldn’t do anything more for him until help arrived. He’d better not die on her or she’d spontaneously combust. God, she’d never been this fragile. How many freakin’ traumatic situations had she endured lately? Her emotional toolbox only held fear, doubt and exhaustion. Pandora’s Toolbox.

“Kelly, I can’t leave her,” he moaned.

“You’re not leaving her. Stay with me and you’ll be fine, Rex.” She wished she could rub his shoulder or comfort him in some way other than verbally.


“Good job. Just keep trying.” She let out a long breath and pulled her neck to one side to stretch it.

He gazed up at her, his mouth formed words but none came out. He swallowed and tried again. “Who...who are you?” His voice trailed off, sounding raspy and weak.

Cynthia didn’t like the way he kept slipping in and out of consciousness nor the way his eyes looked: rolling and unfocused. She needed help and she needed it now.

“I’m a nurse. Lie still, you’ll be fine. Where’s the pain? Can you tell me where your pain is? How’s your head?”

Lids fluttering, he groaned loudly and his breathing hitched. A shudder went through his body.

She saw her father convulsing in his hospital bed, his eyes rolling back in his head. Pain ripped through her gut and her throat constricted. Tears welled in her eyes.

“Rex, answer me,” she demanded in a louder tone, her voice cracking. She cleared her throat. “How’s your head?”

“Hurts. Did I get hit by a car?” He sounded much more coherent.

A small ray of hope pierced her gloom. “Yes, you did. But you’re gonna make it.” She took a deep breath, counted to ten and managed to center herself.

Reaching out for her, he fought to make eye contact. “You can’t let me die. My daughter. Kelly needs me.”

His daughter, Kelly? Not his wife? A rush of joy swept through her. Finally, some good news in all this hell. Whoo-hoo!

He grabbed her leg in a surprisingly strong grip. “Can’t leave her. I’m all she has...I hope...left her enough money.”

“You aren’t dying on my watch, Rex, get that out of your head. You’re fine. You’ll see your daughter shortly, I promise.”

What an awesome guy. His first thoughts were of his daughter? Being a caring father said a lot about his character.

A twinge of jealousy followed by a stab of grief tweaked her insides. What would it be like to have a father who loved you this much? Her father’s last words were about his stupid insurance policy.

Rex’s breathing grew labored. Sunlight glinted off the sweat on his brow. He speared his hair with his fingers and held his head. “Owww, this...feels like...blasted herd of elephants...stampeding on my head.”

Cynthia laughed with relief. Thank God, he was coherent enough to joke. “It was a freakin’ Prius. Didn’t you see the red light?”

“No...was...looking at you.”

Her heart leapt into her throat so fast, she choked. Oh, God, she’d been right, he had been looking at her! Two days ago they’d shared a smile that had made her heart—and other body parts—sing.

The ever-hopeful optimist inside her did a little happy dance. She immediately fired the choreographer. In her life, no good deed went unpunished. Watch, somehow this guy would sue her for saving him. That was her story. Give others all she had to give and get a stake driven through her heart for the effort.

A dreamy grin played across his handsome face. “You have the most perfect ass...I’ve ever seen...” His head lolled.

“Damn you, Rex! Stay awake and you can grab it!”

Several bystanders laughed. She hadn’t meant that as a joke. Damn it, this was no time for levity!

He cracked a smile and made a weak grabbing gesture towards her rear. “Can’t reach it...”

She busted up and worked hard to keep her weight and focus on his wound. It was a rare man who could make her laugh. And his quick comeback meant that his head was clearing. “You’re cute, Rex, but please don’t move, even for a joke.”

“You’re...cute one. Saw you...for three class...and taste...perfect woman. Perfect for me.”

Her heart soared at his compliments, then she threw an imaginary bucket of cold water over her head. “Class and taste, right. Rex, you are beyond head injured, you’re delusional. But keep talking, I’ll take any compliment I can get, even if it’s coming from a guy who just got hit by a car.”

The crowd erupted in laughter again. She cringed. Why couldn’t she keep her big mouth shut? How many times had she been reprimanded by her superiors for her “inappropriately timed humor”? Even if her patient enjoyed it, she didn’t want anyone there to think this wasn’t a serious situation.

“Sorry, Rex. I make bad jokes at super inopportune times. It’s part of my charm. So ignore me. Well, not the part about staying awake and listening to me. Just ignore my inappropriate humor. My filters aren’t working the way they once did.”

“Like it. You’re funny.”

“Well, thank you, but I have to learn how to hold my tongue.”

Sirens echoed from blocks away. Relief flooded her system and the knot in her stomach loosened. “Hear that? Paramedics will be here in a jiffy. How old’s your daughter, Rex? Tell me about her.”

“Kelly’s...great.” He gasped, his body stiffened. “Oh, no, the meeting.”

“Calm down, Rex. Gotta keep calm for me, okay?”

He sighed and groaned, his face contorted with pain. “So important. Need a cell phone...have to talk to Marx...”

“Work is not something you should be worrying about. Think about something happy. Hawaii. Yeah, Hawaii. Picture this: you’re on a beach.” I’m next to you. “A lovely ocean breeze wafts over you, you’re sipping on a nice cold Mai Tai.” I’m rubbing suntan lotion over your finely developed muscles, your lean belly. “Now isn’t that better?”

He grabbed her leg and looked her dead in the eye. “Won’t forget this...take you sailing.” He let go, his arm dropped to his side, his gaze drifted. “My...yacht...we’ll go on my yacht...” His voice dropped to a whisper.

Her body knotted in fear. Damn it, why wouldn’t he just stay coherent and alert? She checked his breathing, his skin color. Both seemed stable. “Right and I’m Cinderella and the pumpkin’s just about to pick you up,” she said under her breath.

Sirens whined louder. She looked down the street, a fire engine raced towards them.

Her mood skyrocketed. Medical equipment! Professionals! They were saved! “Thank bloody God, here come the mice now.”

The fire truck pulled up in front of her. A tall blond thirty-something firefighter with a square jaw leapt out and rushed to her side. She didn’t know if it was the relief, the situation or her wonky emotions, but the firefighter looked like a superhero to her. Like he flew out of his truck wearing a cape to save her man.

Two other firefighters—a man and a woman—joined Super Fireman. Cynthia gave them a quick update on her patient’s status.

The blond firefighter knelt beside her and set a red plastic toolbox on the asphalt. He opened it and rummaged around. “You had medical training?”

“I was an ER nurse for a million years.”

Her adrenaline on the wane, sharp shooting pains rocked her body. A pea-sized chunk of gravel felt like it had penetrated her kneecap. Searing daggers stabbed her back from her prolonged crouched position, and the vertebrae in her neck felt like they’d fused together. She straightened her spine and fought back a grunt.

The firefighter nodded towards Rex. “Guy was lucky as hell you were here. Wound like that, he would have bled to death in under two minutes,” he said, sitting back on his heels. He gave Rex a once over and checked the positioning of her hands on the wound. “Just keep doing what you’re doing, keep the pressure there, I’m going to put a tourniquet on it and get you out of here.”

She couldn’t wait to stand and stretch out her cramping limbs.

The firefighter moved closer to her, shoulder-to-shoulder. Slipping up Rex’s shorts, he tied a rubber hose around his thigh, above the wound. “Okay, you can let go. Thanks. Hang around, police will need a report from you.”

Her heart skipped a beat and she stopped breathing. Police? No bloody way! She had to get out of there. She had to run.

The firefighter sent her a questioning look.

Forcing a passive look on her face, she looked down at her hands on Rex’s thigh. “Sorry, you can’t believe how badly this guy bled. I’m having trouble letting go.”

The blond firefighter patted her on the back. “It’s okay, we’re on it. He’ll be fine.”

Reluctantly, she moved her hands, expecting Ol’ Faithful to erupt again. Not even a drop came out. Her entire body loosened and she breathed a giant sigh of relief.

Her hands dripped with blood. Holding them away from her body, she moved to get up. Her knees, back and legs screamed in agony. Stiff as hell, she groaned loudly as she forced her body to stand. She hobbled a couple steps back and gradually straightened out as little jabs of pain jolted her.

She indicated Rex with a sharp nod of her head. “Where will they take him?”

“Injury like this? SF General Trauma Center,” the firefighter answered, slipping an oxygen mask over Rex’s nose and mouth.

“Okay, thanks.”

Gravel clung to her pitted knees, but she couldn’t knock it off because of her blood-soaked hands. Hopefully, Rex didn’t have HIV. By the way he talked about her butt, he had to be straight. But she knew enough not to make generalizations. She had to get this blood off and right away.

Three police cars with lights flashing had blocked off the scene. Several cops were milling around and a few watched her. An ambulance with sirens blaring pulled up next to the fire engine.

She gazed down at her patient and bit her lip. No way did she want to leave the guy. She was tempted to insist on riding in the ambulance to make sure he’d be okay. But she couldn’t afford to take the chance. The police would question her and that couldn’t happen. No way was she giving them her name.

As if her worst fears summoned them, two uniformed cops approached her, a guy and a woman.

The female said, “Ma’am, we’ll need your report. What’s your name and do you know the victim?”

Cynthia’s stomach wrenched, her chest tightened, she could barely force air into her lungs. She silenced her inner scream and concentrated on relaxing her face. “You know what? I need to get this blood off. I have no idea who this guy is. I’ll go wash in the bathroom over there and be right back.” She pointed at a public restroom off in the distance.

The woman followed her line of sight, then gave a brief nod. “Okay, then come straight back here,” the cop said, pointing to the ground in front of her.

As Cynthia backed away, Rex reached for her. “Don’t leave...need your name.”

Not with the cops standing right there. She hoped the police didn’t notice her reluctance. She smiled down at him. “No worries, honey. You’ll be fine,” she said in a chipper—hopefully innocent—tone.

She quickly evaluated the care Mr. Hunk was receiving. They’d put a hard collar on him, covered him with a blanket and had the slide board at the ready. Good. With one last long look at the beautiful man, she headed to the bathroom, praying he’d be okay.

Damn her stepsisters! If it wasn’t for them, she could go with the guy and allay her fears. Christ, would the fall out from their screw-over never end?

As soon as she got back home to Jon’s, she’d call the hospital to make sure Rex had made it through. It was the best she could do.

After washing off as much of the blood as she could, she slipped around the back of the cement block building, then took off running across the park towards home.

As worried as she was, Cynthia couldn’t help but smile as she left the park. Her feet buzzed and hot energy warmed her body. Although Jon would kill her for getting blood all over his t-shirt, million dollar running shorts and shoes, she’d saved a life that day. The life of one of the most gorgeous men she’d ever seen.

Maybe things were turning around. Maybe things would get better. Maybe this was a sign of good things to come.

She hoped she’d run into Rex again. Talk about a great reason to strike up a conversation. Probably the best first impression she’d ever made on a guy. She’d ask him out for a drink or coffee. Better yet, manipulate him into doing it. A couple drinks at the Cliff House, a nice sunset and...

Oh, right. And a money tree would sprout out of the top of her head and shower her with cash. Romantic crap only worked for other people. Not for her, Cynthia Rella, the Human Apocalypse.

She silenced the happy voices in her head and wiped away an image of the two of them standing at the altar (he in a dark grey tux, she in a peach silk number from the thirties holding a bouquet of matching lilies). Gloom sucked the joy straight out of her soul. Shoulders slumped, she crossed an intersection and kicked an empty soda can out of her way. She had to get past all this optimism. Where had her positive attitude gotten her so far? Nowhere. She’d lost seven years of her life, a house, all her artwork and money because of her stupid cheerful outlook.

But wouldn’t it be nice if she were wrong about being wrong this time?

* * * * *

Rex Du Charmante’s head pounded like someone had smashed it with a steel bar. Beeping noises sounded near him. Disinfectant assaulted his nostrils. Oh, right. Hospital.

“Dad! Dad! Please be okay! Damn, Mother told me to take care of you and look what happens. Dad? Are you awake?”

He opened his eyes to the sweet face of his only daughter. Warmth spread through him and he managed a weak smile. “I’m here, Katydid.”

He reached for her. She took his hand and pressed it to her wet cheek.

Kelly’s vibrant hazel eyes were filled with tears; a few rolled down her perfect oval face. “Is it too much to ask that you stay alive? Huh?”

“No. And I’m so glad you’re here. Feel better already.”

God, he loved this girl. Relief washed over him. He wouldn’t die. He’d be fine and he’d be there for her. Thank God. He couldn’t stand the thought of her being alone. Even though she was now a responsible adult, she would always be his little girl.

“So is it true? Some woman saved your life?”

“I think...yes. Yes, she did. The Amazon Goddess.”

Kelly’s dark brow wrinkled. “Who?”

He coughed, sending a fresh wave of pain coursing through his skull. He waved a hand, flapping the IVs attached to the back. “Never mind.”

“Amazon Goddess?”

“Think it was her.”

“Her who?”

“A woman runner in Golden Gate Park.”

The Amazon Goddess’s lovely rounded behind was a work of art. Ever since he’d seen her, all he’d thought about was taking those lovely globes in each hand and squeezing. Then he’d slip one hand around to touch that inviting place between her thighs...

Good God, man, do not get an erection in front of your daughter!

Even though he was addled from his injuries and surgery, he managed a quick math problem that instantly deflated his half-shaft.

“Dad,” Kelly began in a reproachful tone, “they said you ran out on a red light and some guy in a Prius hit you. Is this true?”

“Probably. Don’t really remember.” He’d already revealed too much, no way was he admitting his folly.

“The doctor said you’ll be fine, but you have to stay here a week and then you’re going to be in a wheelchair for up to a month. If you move too much, you could open that artery up and then—” Tears filled her eyes again.

“Kelly, don’t cry, I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not, you almost died. That metal sign sliced your main artery.”

He took her by the hand and squeezed it. “Didn’t I promise you I wouldn’t leave you? When your mother passed, I made you that promise and I’m keeping it. I’m not leaving ‘til you’re old and gray.”

She smiled. He nearly burst with pride. Ever since she’d come into his life, she’d been the center of his existence.

Kelly rubbed his shoulder. “You did promise me and I’m holding you to it. Thank God my wedding isn’t for another month. That’ll give you some time to heal. I’m just glad we’re not getting married in that church where you and Mom got married. With all those stairs? At the Fairmont, if need be, we can make sure there’s enough room for your wheelchair.”

“No way. I’m walking you down that aisle and not in a blasted wheelchair.”

She laughed. “Good.” Reaching up to push some hair off his brow, she twisted her mouth to one side. “I suppose this is actually good for you. The only way you’d put down that darn CrackBerry. Probably the longest you’ve rested in years.”

The bulldoggish face of Greg Marx popped into his mind. “Speaking of work, do you know if Marx called? I missed an important meeting this afternoon.”

Kelly made a little grimace. “I called Jess and told her what happened. What was her direct quote? ‘Tell your idiot father not to worry about Marx or any of the other investors and to just concentrate on healing and getting back here to the office.’ She knows you too well, Dad. She sounded pretty freaked out. I expect her to show up here at any moment.”

He chuckled, which hurt. “So how’s your office getting along without you?”

She rolled her eyes and sighed. “Mary called me a hundred times for stupid details. Turns out this really isn’t the best time for a wedding. There’s a bill going before Congress about adoption records—a whole new Federal law that would really help adoptees.” She bit her lip and looked away.

She’d had that pensive look on her face a lot lately. He knew what she was thinking about. Ever since she was twelve, she’d been on a search for her birth parents. The quest had shaped her whole life and why she’d become an adoption rights lawyer.

As much as he wanted her happy, he hoped she never found those idiots. All he knew was that she was the product of a nasty divorce and he and Elizabeth got her a month after she’d been born. Didn’t want to know anything else. Even though he’d benefited, what kind of weak ne’er-do-well gives up a treasure like Kel?

“Dad, I have to go, I have to meet Vance at the dressmakers. Now he wants my gown altered. So annoying. I don’t know what’s wrong with him lately. You know he wanted to come with me here to see if you’d read that stupid prospectus? Here you are nearly dead—sorry—I mean, here you are in the hospital and all he’s thinking about is money and controlling every detail of the wedding.”

Sounded like Vance. Always working an angle, but Kelly would never want for anything.

He still couldn’t believe his little baby was getting married. Here she was, an adult. When had all this happened? Far too quickly. But what a great woman she’d become.

Luckily, aided by the drugs, the image faded quickly and he saw his little girl in braces and pigtails again. He took her by the hand. “You’re too good to me.”

“Love you, Dad. I’ll be back with some real food later.” She leaned in for a kiss and then she was gone.

Rex relaxed against the pillows. A stab of pain seared his back, he jerked, tensing, then eased himself back down again. Damn it. The light had been green the last time he looked. He’d only taken a glance to see that wonderful butt of hers one last time before running across the street. The next thing he knew, he was barely conscious with her above him, pressing down on his thigh. On some level, he’d wondered if he’d slipped into some weird fantasy world where his deepest desire had been fulfilled. Only she hadn’t been touching him exactly where he’d wanted.

He shifted in the bed and harrowing pain shot up his leg. “Ow, blasted leg.” He managed to get comfortable without moving too much. He let out a huge sigh.

“Hey buddy!” came James Miller’s gravelly voice from the doorway. “Okay if I come in?”

“Thank God. What did Marx say?”

Wearing an expensive suit, James sauntered into the room like he’d arrived for a cocktail party, smelling like cologne and beauty products. He must have come directly from the spa. His blond brows were plucked perfectly, his too-youthful haircut was packed full of gel, and his face had been smoothed of emotion by Botox.

James took off his hip, square frames, placed them in his coat pocket and leaned on the railing of Rex’s bed. “Dunno if it was the deal or the fact that you got hit by a car, but he’s on board.” He beamed a huge tooth-whitened grin.

Rex melted into the hospital bed and let out a huge sigh. “Thank bloody hell.”

James rubbed his manicured fingernails on his lapel. “Do I have it, or do I have it?”

“You have it. Thank God.”

James chuckled in his wannabe aristocratic way.

Odd duck. The only man Rex knew who’d studied wealthy people’s mannerisms and adopted them to appear richer and more sophisticated. Of course, because he was James, he’d gone overboard with his transformation. Over the years he’d become almost a parody of himself.

James pointed out the window. “Just saw my future daughter-in-law in the parking lot. Kelly seemed happy, so I knew you were doing okay. Wedding’s coming right up. Should be a great party. Talked to Vance, he’s very glad that his future father-in-law didn’t just die in Golden Gate Park.”

“Jesus. Yeah. Stupid car.”

“So what happened? Kelly told me that you were checking out some chick’s ass? And then this same chick saved your life?”

Rex’s face went so hot, it felt radioactive. “I didn’t tell Kelly that. Or I could have told her, I’m so blasted out-of-it on these stupid drugs.”

James burst into hearty laughter. Grabbing a chair, he slid it up close to Rex’s bed and leaned in. “And you can start telling me the story, now. Who is she? What does she look like and please, please, please describe her ass for me?”

His face warmed again and he laughed. His head throbbed with pain. “Owww. I’ll tell you, but don’t make me laugh.”

“It only hurts when I laugh,” James joked.

“Or move. Okay, so The Amazon Goddess—”

James chuckled and raised a brow. “That’s what you call her?”

“Yeah. Didn’t get her name, damn it. But, wow. The first time I saw her...God, what a sight. Long golden legs, high rounded, perfect buns.” Rex held up his hands and made a slow grabbing motion. “Kind you want to take in your hands, get a good feel for them, then go in for the kill.” He gripped her imaginary behind.

“Stop, I got somethin’ goin’ on down here,” James said, checking below his waist. He shifted, then looked back up at Rex, eager.

A spike of shame flamed his insides and Rex frowned. “I shouldn’t be talking about her like this, she deserves better. Blasted head injury. So, anyway, we were running in the Park. I’d come up on her from behind—doing a sprint interval—her beauty stopped me in my tracks. And height. She has to be six foot. A tall, muscled goddess. And the way she moves, man. Such perfect form. Kind of girl who runs like it sets her free.”

James whistled and gave an appreciative nod. “Go on. What color’s her hair?”

“Dark, short, cute on her. Lovely shoulders, amazing curves. But really, it’s the tall thing. I always dreamed of marrying an Amazon and producing my own basketball team. She’s around our age, too. Late forties, early fifties.”

James grimaced. “That old?”

Rex made an exasperated noise. “She’s beautiful. I don’t want a kid, I told you. I want someone my age who remembers Journey and dial telephones and bell bottoms when they first came out.”

“All over-rated. Go on, so she’s on a walker and you passed her in your wheelchair—”

“Stop. And it’s not just her looks, there’s something about her. The way she smiles. A look in her eye. There’s almost something regal about her. Classy and sure of herself.”

“Classy, how? As in business classy? Trustafarian classy? Soccer Mom?”

“Don’t know, don’t care. But she was wearing top-of-the-line running shorts and shoes. Plus she’s tan. No one sunbathes in Fog City, that means tanning bed. Which all adds up to money.”

“What if she’s penniless and wants a Sugar Daddy?”

Rex grinned. “Then I’m just the man to give her something sweet.”

“Seriously. Think about it,” James said, standing up. He moved the chair back to its place in the corner. “Got a lot to protect, my friend. Watch out for sharks. They can bleed you dry before you even catch on. People you’d never suspect in a million years.” He cracked a wicked smile. “Sure she didn’t push you in front of the car?”

Rex pointed at the door. “Okay, you can leave now. I want to be alone with my drug-induced fantasies.”

“I was leaving anyway.” He got a smug look on his face and puffed up his chest.

Here it comes. The Brag. James never left a conversation without revealing some new purchase or accomplishment.

James did a little smarmy tilt with his head. “Got some celebrating to do. Some Dom Perignon, caviar and lobster. Oh, sorry,” he said with a mock sympathetic look. “Don’t want to rub it in. I’m sure your broth, Jello and lukewarm tea will taste just as good.”


With a wink and a snap of his fingers, James exited, leaving only his cologne behind.

Rex carefully settled down in bed. While he wished he’d never introduced Marx to James, at least the deal had gone through. One thing off his mind. Five hundred things left.

The Amazon Goddess, however, was the only thing he really wanted to think about.

Damn it. Didn’t get her name or her number.

Well, no matter. He’d track her down. And he’d better find her unmarried and straight. If so, he’d pursue her until she relented.

Just like he’d pursued Elizabeth.

Elizabeth. A pang of guilt wrenched his insides. It had been three years. High time he moved on. But it was still so hard. Here their daughter had finally agreed to marry someone worthy, someone they knew, someone both her mother and he approved of and Elizabeth wouldn’t be there to watch their only daughter walk down the aisle. Every bride deserved to have her mother at her wedding.

At least he’d be there. Thanks to The Amazon Goddess.

Maybe someday he’d even get his hands on that wonderful derriere of hers.

Forget maybe. He’d find her.

He wouldn’t stop until he did.


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