A Millionaire for Cinderella

By: Barbara Wallace

A pair of angry green eyes greeted her when she unlocked the door to Ana’s brownstone. Patience wasn’t intimidated. “Don’t give me attitude, mister. This whole night is your fault.”

With what Patience swore was a huff, Nigel jumped down from the entryway table and ran toward the kitchen. An urgent wail traveled back to her ears a second later. “Puleeze,” she called, “like you were ever in danger of starving.”

Arms hugging her body, Patience made her way along the corridor, thinking the slap of her sandals against her feet sounded abnormally loud. It felt weird being in the brownstone alone. While Ana went out a lot, the woman was seldom gone past eight o’clock and so her absence hung thick in the emptiness. A gleam caught Patience’s eye as she passed the dining room. The silver set she’d been polishing when Ana fell still sat on the table, the cloth on the floor where she’d dropped it upon hearing Ana’s cry. The moment replayed as she curled her fingers around the soft material, the image of her savior crumpled at the base of the stairs making her nauseous. Thank goodness, Ana was going to be all right. Tomorrow she would work on making the house perfect for her return. Starting with making sure the tea set gleamed.

Nigel had resumed his meowing. Patience tossed the cloth on the table. “Oh, for goodness’ sake, I’m coming. Five minutes will not kill you.”

She turned around only to walk into a tall, muscular wall. “What the—” Why hadn’t she brought the teapot along with her as a weapon?

Stuart Duchenko arched a dark eyebrow. Even in the partially lit hallway, his eyes shone bright. “Did I startle you?”

He knew perfectly well he had. “How did you get in?”

“Same way you did. With my key.” He held up a key ring. “Or did you think you were the only one Ana gave access to?”

“Don’t be silly. I didn’t hear the doorbell is all.” They were way too close. Close enough she could smell the breath mint he’d obviously just finished. She wasn’t used to sweet-smelling breath, not from men anyway. It caught her off guard, which had to be the reason she didn’t step back at first contact. She stepped back now, and spied a pair of suitcases at the base of the stairs.

Seeing where her gaze had gone, he gave a shrug. “I sold my condominium before leaving for LA. Until I find a new place, this is more convenient than a hotel.”

Convenient for what? Keeping an eye on her?

It was as if he read her thoughts. “Ana made the suggestion back when I first left. Of course, I’m sure she wasn’t expecting to be in the hospital at the time. My being here won’t be a problem for you, will it?” he asked. The gleam in his eye dared her to say that it was.

Patience would be damned if she’d give him the satisfaction. “Of course not. Why would your staying here be a problem for me?”

“Extra work for you. I know you’re used to it being only you and Aunt Ana.”

Another veiled comment. The man was full of them, wasn’t he? “Extra work won’t be a problem. Cleaning is cleaning. Besides, like you said, it’s temporary, right?”

“We can only hope. I figure I’ll stay until Ana gets back on her feet. Make sure there aren’t any problems.”

What kind of problems? Was he afraid Patience would take off with the silver? Why didn’t he just come out and say what was really on his mind?

“You don’t trust me, do you?”

“No, I don’t.”

Finally, the truth was out in the open. She appreciated the bluntness. Beat phony friendliness any day. Didn’t mean she wasn’t going to set him straight though.

“Your aunt trusts me. Are you saying Ana isn’t a good judge of character?”

She stepped back into his personal space, making sure to maintain eye contact and letting him know his answer didn’t intimidate her one bit. The posture brought her close enough that she could smell his skin. Like his breath, his body smelled clean and fresh, despite having been traveling all day. An antsy, fluttering sensation started in the pit of her stomach. Butterflies, but with a nervous edge. The notion that she was out of her league passed briefly through her mind.

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