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Lauren Van Slyke and Jack "Sully" Sullivan are total opposites
Lauren works for her family's charitable foundation, a foundation that has just cut off financial support to Sully's boys' home in the Adirondack Mountains. Sully's an ex-con with a heart of gold, who's pretty sure Lauren's heart is made of stone.
They're attracted from the moment they meet—but they see everything from very different perspectives. She's city, he's country. She's old money, he's no money. Love doesn't stand a chance, does it?
Sure it does—if Sully's boys have any say in the matter!
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On the sidewalks of New York
If a hurrying pedestrian hadn't rushed in front of her, Lauren would never have veered left and noticed the cat. When she did, she stopped dead. You never saw a cat on Madison Avenue.
Of course, she almost hadn't seen this one. It wasn't very big, really, not more than a kitten. And its dirty copper–colored fur blended perfectly with the dirty copper pipe it was huddled against—one of those grossly fat utility pipes that look as if they're growing out of the sidewalk beside a building.
She stood watching the cat for a few seconds, then told herself she'd better get moving. This was the kind of Manhattan morning that melted your makeup.
July could be brutal in the city, and today the temperature had already climbed into the eighties. The air was muggy, there hadn't been a break in the heat for over a week, and the city's stench had reached the impossible–to–ignore stage—all in all, not a good day to be lingering on the sidewalks of New York.
Besides which, the boss was supposed to set a good example. And in the three months since her father had convinced her to take this job she'd been late more often than not.
She started to turn away, then hesitated. unless something unexpected had come up, all she had to do this morning was make a few phone calls. And she hardly had a staff of thousands to set an example for. There was only Rosalie, who at fifty–six didn't have the slightest interest in any example set by a thirty–year–old.
Besides, the cat looked so darned pathetic she hated to just leave it sitting there. If she did, it was bound to end up as road kill. Or was the appropriate term here avenue kill?
Whichever, she'd really rather it didn't end up dead. She took a couple of tentative steps in the little guy's direction—deciding it had to be a male because no self–respecting female would let herself get that disheveled.
He hadn't noticed her, so she called, "Hey, kitty," then glanced self–consciously at the people hurrying past. New Yorkers simply didn't stand out on the street calling "Hey, kitty." On the other hand, no one in the crush of humanity eddying around her could care less what anyone else was up to.
When she looked at the cat again he still hadn't twitched a whisker, so she edged closer and tried calling him once more. He finally looked at her, his yellow eyes unblinking. Then he looked to either side—unmistakably scoping out an escape route.
The sidewalk was solid human traffic, though. So if the cat made a mad dash for freedom, it would be foot kill before it even had a chance to become road kill.
She hesitated again, afraid that taking one more step would make him bolt, then she made her decision. Putting her briefcase down against the building, with a quick prayer that nobody would steal it, she dashed forward and grabbed the cat.
He let out an indignant yowl, but didn't scratch her.
"Good kitty," she murmured. "Good kitty, you're safe with me."
He eyed her for a moment, then apparently decided she was telling the truth and snuggled close—digging his claws firmly into her jacket.
She gazed unhappily down at him. Now that he was nestled against her off–white suit, she could see he was even dirtier and more bedraggled than she'd realized. His fur was covered with the dry, dusty kind of dirt that instantly rubs off onto whatever it comes in contact with. And apparently, it was especially attracted to raw silk.
Telling herself that's why dry cleaners existed, she retrieved her briefcase and started toward the entrance of the Van Slyke Building. To preclude a run–in with the security people she hoisted the briefcase in front of her, effectively concealing the cat, then breezed across the lobby and into an open elevator.
One of the advantages of being late was that the elevator was almost empty and nobody had pushed a floor below eleven. That made the trip up fast and uneventful—except that, halfway there, the cat began purring and kneading her jacket.
There wasn't much she could do to stop him when he was tucked under her left arm and she was holding her briefcase with her right hand. So by the time the doors opened on her floor, a patch of pulled threads and a gray area had developed on her chest.
Rescuing the cat, she realized, was rapidly becoming an example of what her father referred to as "Lauren's little errors in judgment." But she could hardly abandon a cat in the hallowed confines of the Van Slyke Building, so she quickly carried it down the corridor to the Foundation offices and opened the door into the reception area.
Rosalie glanced up from behind her desk, her dark eyes coming to rest on the cat. She slowly pushed a strand of graying hair back from her brown face, then said, "You didn't warn me we'd be playing show–and–tell today."
Neither the Jamaican lilt in her voice, nor her expression, betrayed the slightest hint that she was teasing, so Lauren resisted smiling. She'd gotten used to playing Rosalie's game of deadpan humor, although it had taken a while.
"I found the little guy just outside the building," she explained. "And he looked so hungry I thought I'd call Nate's Deli and get them to bring over some tuna fish."
"On rye or whole wheat?"
"Oh, I thought they could hold the bread. And the mayo and pickle, too. He strikes me as a no–frills kind of cat."
Rosalie almost smiled, but not quite. "Yeah? Well, he strikes me as a no–baths kind of cat. You haven't forgotten you've got a couple of appointments this afternoon, have you? That jacket isn't looking exactly fresh."
Lauren nodded, thinking how frequently Rosalie sounded more like her mother than her administrative assistant. But that wasn't entirely surprising, considering the woman had raised five children.
"And if you try to sponge off that dirt," she continued, "you'll only make it worse."
"I know. So I thought I'd run down to that one–hour cleaners as soon as I got the cat fed and cleaned up."
"Cleaned up," Rosalie repeated. "So now we're into more than giving him a free meal. Does that mean you're keeping him?"
"No...well, maybe. I don't really know. I haven't thought that far ahead. But it's not going to hurt to take him into my office and wash the dirt off, is it?"
"You mean in the executive washroom?"
Lauren couldn't keep from smiling this time. Rosalie's term for the minuscule bathroom off her office amused her. "Yes, I think the executive washroom's best. If I took him to the one down the hall, that snippy Karen Petroff would probably come waltzing in and tell me I was being inappropriate."
Rosalie finally smiled, too—a slow, sly smile. Then she said, "Do you know much about cats, Lauren?"
"Not very much," she admitted. Both her brother and sister had allergies, so her parents had ruled out pets before she'd even been born. But how hard could it be to deal with one small cat? Half the people in America had a cat. Or more than one. Why, in the apartment across the hall from hers, Jenny and Mark had three.
"I know cats aren't too crazy about water," she added, to show she wasn't completely ignorant. "But if I just put him in the sink and give him a quick rinse, that shouldn't be a big deal, should it?"
"I'll tell you what," Rosalie said thoughtfully. "Instead of having Nate's deliver, why don't we just let the voice mail handle our calls while I go get some cat food. And if I take your jacket with me, I can get it looked after, too."
"Thanks, but I don't have a blouse on under it, only a slip."
"Oh, well, you can wear this while I'm gone." Rosalie reached for the long fuchsia cardigan that always hung on the back of her chair.
"Ahh..." Lauren gazed at the sweater, wondering whether the bright acrylic nightmare was large enough to wrap around her three times or only twice. Her hundred–and–twelve pounds scarcely compared to what had to be Rosalie's two–fifty.
"You go put it on," Rosalie pressed. "Then give me your jacket. I'm not too crazy about cats, so I'd just as soon leave him to you and look after everything else. I shouldn't be long, though," she added as Lauren headed into her office to change. "I'll be back as soon as that dry cleaner does his thing."
Sully had murder on his mind. Merely standing here, staring up at her family's name on the damn building, had gotten him furious at Ms. Lauren Van Slyke all over again. But as tempting as the thought of killing her was, he knew it was one he'd better forget about before he got to her office.
He turned and strode down the block a few hundred yards, telling himself that nothing was worth risking another stretch in prison. If anyone had ever deserved to be murdered, though...
He'd never had a single problem while Matthew Grimes was director of the Van Slyke Foundation. But now that Grimes had retired, now that this moronic family member had been put in charge, he was facing the worst problem he could have imagined.
"That woman," he muttered, turning and starting back the way he'd come. He'd been trying to figure out exactly where Lauren Van Slyke fit into the family, and his best guess pegged her as an old maid aunt—the sort that, in an earlier era, would have been locked away in somebody's attic.
But since this wasn't an earlier era, the relatives must have decided that making her director of their foundation would keep her occupied.
Of course, his best guess could be wrong. He really only knew two things about her for sure. One, she was a Van Slyke, which undoubtedly meant she was up to her ears in inherited money. A...
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