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Authors: Emma Carr

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BOOK: London Falling
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Her life would be over, and she’d be stuck in her minimum wage, three-steps-away-from-poverty life forever. Everyone would think she was a failure.

Everything she’d dreamed of–the job, the apartment, the friends, the family –would all be beyond her reach and she’d be alone forever.

“Why not just contact your professor and explain all this to him? I’m sure he’ll let you miss a few weeks of class,” Lucy said.

Aimee shook her head. “I emailed him the other day. There’s no way.”

She repeated his note to her, making quote marks with her fingers. “I can’t make an exception for anyone. The business world doesn’t care that you don’t want to go into work that day. Each student is allowed two absences. Beyond that, you will fail the course. No exceptions.”

“Emailed?” Simon asked.

“I used your old PC.”

“You were in my storeroom? Could you invade any more of my privacy?”

“I did enjoy the porn that was saved on the computer.”

“I don’t have any–” He shook his head.

Aimee smiled. If she weren’t so frustrated, she might actually enjoy pushing his buttons.

Lucy slipped off her stool and yawned the most delicate yawn Aimee had ever seen in her life. She bet Lucy was one of those women who sneezed in cute mini “choos” too. “I’m off whilst I still have some energy to actually get home.” She turned to Aimee. “Is there any way I can get the recipe for those fairy cakes? I’d be willing to trade my recipe for cranberry scones with clotted cream.”

What would she do with another recipe? “I need money not another recipe. What if I sell you the recipe?”

“No,” Simon said, before Lucy even got a word out. “No money.”

“Hmm,” Lucy said. “Maybe we could work out an exchange?”

“Like what?” Aimee asked, at the same time Simon said, “No!”

“I don’t know. A bartering agreement perhaps? Let me think about it overnight,” Lucy said.

Lucy gave her brother a kiss on both cheeks and then did the same to Aimee. Her perfume reminded Aimee that she hadn’t showered all day. Nor did she have a chance to brush her teeth, now that Simon was up. She had been using his toothbrush and de-sanitizing it in whiskey, but he would question her if she went up to his room right now, and she certainly didn’t want him reading anything into her presence in his bedroom. A toothbrush was just another expense she couldn’t afford.

Lucy left, and the kitchen filled with an awkward silence. They both watched as the puppy licked the floor all around where Lucy had been eating.

At least someone besides Lucy got to enjoy the cupcakes before she threw them away. They were her signature dish, the one thing she always made for study groups, and she always got tremendous compliments. She’d even tried to sell them to her boss at Starbucks, but they were only allowed to buy from approved vendors–which Aimee Kennedy cooking out of her studio apartment kitchen was not. That would have made a good profit though.

Her cheeks started tingling. What if she sold her cupcakes here?

“We’ve got to find the owners of this dog,” Simon said. “He’s clearly been potty-trained by someone. And he’s a purebred, not some mongrel off the street. Someone must know where he belongs.”

“We don’t have to do anything. He’s your problem.” Aimee slipped off the stool, needing privacy to think over her idea. There had to be a way to sell her cupcakes without needing a work permit or preferred vendor status. Maybe she could sell them on the street? She’d probably need a permit for that too, but maybe she could find a way to do it without getting caught.

“You’re the one who brought him inside,” Simon said.

“But he’s in your house. If I hadn’t brought him inside, he would have died out there all alone with no food. The previous owners–if he even had any–don’t deserve him if they let him out in that kind of weather.”

“Do I detect a softening towards the Scottie?”

Aimee gave him a look that said he was being ridiculous and walked toward her bedroom. She needed to think about her plans, not get embroiled in another discussion about their non-existent options. If only she could finagle a way to use the kitchen here. It would mean finding a way to stay here for the next few weeks and she wasn’t sure he’d let her, especially if she was planning to sell them without a street vendor permit.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“I am going to sleep. Have fun washing the dishes. And, well, you know where the sheets are.”

He marched toward her until he blocked her path to the hall, and put his hand on her shoulder. The weight of his hand burned through the thin cotton of her t-shirt and she had the insane urge to melt into him. He smelled of shampoo and grilled cheese. She still hadn’t eaten dinner, which probably accounted for the unsettling shiver in her belly. It had to be hunger pangs.

She shifted and his hand dropped from her shoulder.

“You can’t leave,” he said. “We haven’t figured out what to do about your situation. And what are you going to do about this dog?”

Aimee had a sudden urge to poke him in the eye. “Cupcake is your responsibility, not mine. Besides, they clearly don’t care enough”

“His name is not Cupcake. That’s a name for a girl, not a fierce male terrier.”

“Oh, so he is your dog?” Aimee asked. He’d just painted himself into a corner on this one, and she couldn’t keep from smiling.

“He’s not my dog,” he said, with an exasperated sigh.

“Well, I guess you don’t have the ability to name him then.” Aimee called to the dog, “Come on, Cupcake, let’s go.” As soon as she made eye contact, the puppy trotted over to her and licked her shoe. She stepped around Simon and had the satisfaction of Cupcake pitter-pattering right behind her. “Well, I guess we know who you like better, don’t we, Cupcake?”

“Bloody Yank,” Simon said.

Aimee laughed, hoping the sound echoed back to him. For the first time in days, she was feeling hope. She finally had a plan.

She just had to find a way to execute it without him finding out.

Chapter Five

Simon stomped upstairs to shave. What had he done to deserve this?

After everything he’d been through, he thought he’d finally turned the corner, the game-winning goal within reach. But no. Life had to throw an attractive woman to block his shot in the championship match.

No more! He had to get his life under control, starting with work, because without Ruleford’s, he was just another random bloke on the street.

In the en-suite, he yanked his razor out of the cabinet. He hadn’t let his beard grow for longer than a day since he’d started at the bank. Another sign of how unmanageable his life had become. All due to that stupid American.

No, not stupid. Smart. Wily. And bloody attractive.

He knew he had to stop thinking of her that way, but it was difficult to get her off his mind, perhaps because she was so different from the other women he knew. A face devoid of makeup and a giant halo of uncontrolled curls were suddenly more attractive than the most perfectly coiffed beauty.

On top of that, she’d worn the dodgiest pajama bottoms and t-shirt non-stop for the past few days. Yet, there was something about her, an inner radiance that made her brown-green eyes shine with life. Determination, perhaps. Her gaze was surprisingly direct for a woman who hid her emotion behind a brave facade. And then there were those curls that reminded him of the color of the leaves on the tree in the park every fall. He wanted to wind her hair around his fingers and tease the spirals loose.

He shook his head. It wouldn’t do to think of an employee like that. He’d never ever made a pass at anyone who worked for him, and he wasn’t going to start now. Sex just complicated things. Besides, he’d never had any trouble finding companionship outside of the work environment. Then again, technically, Aimee didn’t work for him.

The razor made a tiny nick in his chin.

He had to be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. With the biggest challenge of his career at stake, she held him hostage, and all he wanted to do was help her. The woman had no family! How could he live with himself if he tossed her on the street?

But he was too close to finally earning the royals’ business to cock up now. It was the one thing his father wanted more than anything, and Simon was about to serve it to him on a silver platter. If he pulled this off, his father would have no more excuses for not turning the bank over to him, yet here he was: two steps from an immigration scandal and a private detective stationed outside his home.

His sister wasn’t helping the matter. Bartering for a ridiculous fairy cake recipe. Total rubbish. Although, bartering was a neat trick to get around his no funds dictate. He rinsed his face and touched a styptic pencil to his cut.

Lucy had an interesting take on the situation. Bartering could solve his standoff with Aimee and also solve his housekeeper problem. And to ensure that she wouldn’t tell tales, he could still hold the threat of the police over her head. Besides, he no longer believed that she had any relationship with his competition, although he did believe she’d go to them if he threw her out.

That was the solution. He had it. A bartering agreement.

She would still miss the first few weeks of class, however, waiting for her friend to return from India. But he had no other options that wouldn’t destroy his future in exchange for hers. He would need all of his resources to convince her that this was the best solution.

Plus, a little donation to that school of hers in exchange for leeway on her absences could solve both of their problems, as long as Aimee never found out. She’d probably quit school before she let him donate money in her name.

He’d have to figure out the best way to go about it.

In the meantime, he had to make sure his little bout with the lurgy hadn’t caused any problems to go unanswered. Even though it was the Christmas holiday, government never slept. Or rather, men and women with royal ambitions never slept.

After glancing out the window to see if the private detective was still stationed outside the house–still there, but in a black VW now–he turned to the bed. Where was his mobile? It hadn’t turned up earlier when he removed the sheets, but he flipped the stack of clean sheets to double check. Although she’d thrown it pretty hard, he could have sworn it landed on the bed. He checked the floor under the bed, the nightstand, the armoire, everywhere. No mobile. He searched his study, slamming old magazines back onto the credenza when the phone didn’t reveal itself.

Bollocks! She’d filched his mobile again. He turned his eyes to the ceiling.

That woman was shameless.

He chuckled, and then almost choked on the sound. The woman had stolen his phone for a second time, and he laughed. He laughed! It had to be Stockholm Syndrome. Otherwise, he was right balmy, and he refused to believe that his hold on reality had completely left him.

Now where would that woman hide his mobile?

Her room. Of course. That way she could keep an eye on it at all times.

He shook his head at her brazenness and braced himself for another confrontation. He was almost looking forward to it.

Downstairs, the kitchen smelled of chocolate and sugar. His mouth watered, but he ignored the call of the fairy cakes and continued down the hall to the housekeeper’s quarters. Since he never had a housekeeper to spend time in the so-called housekeeper’s quarters, he hadn’t been in these rooms for months. He valued his privacy way too much to have someone here all the time, snooping through his business, especially given how interested the tabloids had become in his life over the past decade. Ironic, because he rarely did anything that could be considered tabloid fodder. Nevertheless, they seemed to find things to write about.

The hallway was dark, so he turned on a light. Her door was closed, and there was no sound coming from behind the thick wood. He needed his mobile, but he didn’t want to disturb her if she was asleep.

He mentally kicked himself. Another sign he was suffering from Stockholm-syndrome.

He raised his hand to knock, but hesitated. If he woke her, she might try to keep the mobile from him, and he didn’t fancy a wrestling match with her.

Perhaps he would take a peek and see if his phone was immediately visible.

As he cracked the door open, he knew he shouldn’t be entering her room without permission, but he ignored his conscience. It was her fault for nicking his phone in the first place.

The room was dark and silent, except for a half-growl from the Scottie that wasn’t even loud enough to scare a little old lady. Some watchdog.

He opened the door further and allowed his eyes to adjust to the darkness. The Scottie–he refused to call him Cupcake–lay at the foot of her bed. Lifting his head to see who was at the door, the Scottie gave another half growl and flopped back on the bed. Aimee lay under a heap of blankets and quilts, the form of her body barely visible underneath the layers, only her hair peeking out from beneath the sheets. Given the puppy’s cozy location curled at her feet, it seemed that she was overcoming her fear of dogs.

After a quick survey of the room, he saw his mobile peeking out from under a magazine on the nightstand. Brilliant. Now he just had to keep her from waking up while he re-emancipated it.

His shoes echoed on the stone floor, and he shifted his weight to muffle the sound, but his movement alerted the dog, who sat up and yawned. Simon winced and tried to push the dog back into a sleeping position, but the Scottie was having none of it. He waited to see if the dog would get bored and go back to sleep on his own. And waited. And waited.

This was ridiculous. He was just getting his mobile. As he moved forward, he realized that the magazine on her nightstand bore a striking resemblance to The Economist. Crikey, it was The Economist. He didn’t know why he was so gobsmacked, especially since she said she studied finance at University. A broke, pajama-wearing housekeeper who was secretly an intellectual? Or maybe she just had nothing else to read?

He slid his mobile from underneath the magazine, just as the dog hopped over the mounds on the bed, prepared for play. Glancing at Aimee to see if the commotion woke her up, he was surprised to see her watching him with an anxious look on her face, but her eyes slammed shut so quickly, he almost wondered if he had imagined she was awake. The freckles on her pale skin reminded him of chocolate sprinkles on the white foam of a latté.

BOOK: London Falling
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