Ann Macela--Author
 
 
Do You Believe in Magic by Ann Macela
Cover illustration Copyright 2011 by Winterheart Design

Do You Believe in Magic?

Second book in the Magic series




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About the Book  | Read the Reviews  |  Read an Excerpt


About the Book

What if you could cast a spell to help you do your everyday job? But . . . that didn’t help when an ancient force brought you and your soul mate together, and you weren’t ready?

 

Magic practitioners in the modern world have supernatural skills to do their everyday jobs. They also have a legendary force, the imperative, that brings each to his or her soul mate, who will be the love of their lives. The mates are also guaranteed to recognize each other almost immediately. Or so the stories go.

 

Consultant Clay Morgan, literally a computer wizard, is going after a hacker for one of his clients. When he meets Francie Stevens, he’s immediately attracted, but thinks because she’s not a practitioner, she can’t be his soul mate. Right?

 

Not exactly.

 

Francie works for Clay’s client, and the hacker plaguing the company turns out to be the boyfriend of her best friend. She’s had terrible experiences with men in the past, so she’s determined to avoid Clay. They must work together to foil the hacker, however, and the attraction between the two of them is a constant source of worry for her.

 

Clay realizes quickly that she is his soul mate, and he’s not about to let her get away. First, he must explain magic, get her to agree that it exists, he can wield it, and they’re soul mates who belong together.

 




Read the Reviews

"Do You Believe In Magic? is an enchanting romance.  From the moment Francie meets Clay, the sexual tension begins building at a steady rate.  In a world where witches and warlocks go through life unnoticed, Ms. Macela brings two unlikely soul mates together in a sweet tale of true love.  This is a story that’s sure to warm every reader’s heart."

Affaire de Coeur

4 ½ stars

***

 

"The sexual tension between Clay and Francie is HOT! When they finally do get together, the pages sizzle with heat. The story is imaginative, fresh and appealing. The relationship between Clay and his sisters is amusing. Francie makes Clay work hard for her trust, but it is worth it in the end. The book has a surprise ending that will leave the reader cheering. "

Kaleen Cooper

Romance Designs, LLC--Overall Rating 8

 

***

 

"Looking for a paranormal romance that doesn’t have a vampire or a shifter in sight?  How about one with just the right mix of humor and angst? Want a break from tales that are dark and gritty?  Then look no further then DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC? by Ann Macela.   Well written with a great plot, believable characters and snappy dialogue, Ann Macela has yet another winner on her hands.  Be forewarned though, it is almost impossible to set DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC? aside for anything so be sure to have a day blocked out to do nothing but enjoy yourself...

This reviewer recommends DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC? to any readers who enjoy contemporary paranormal romances.  And while you are picking up DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC? from your local book store be sure to pick up the first book in the series THE OLDEST KIND OF MAGIC  and block out an entire weekend for yourself."

Shaiha

LovesRomancesandMore

***

 

"DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC is an enjoyable read. This story is filled with romance, suspense and enchantment. As the reader slowly gets to know the characters, it is hard not to root for them as a couple. It is interesting to watch as the main characters conduct their investigation while getting to know each other. The secondary characters add to the appeal of this story. I recommend DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC to readers who enjoy a magical romance. " 

Dottie

Romance Junkies--4.0 Blue Ribbon Review

 

***

 

"DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC? is a light romance, a good choice with which to while away an afternoon."

Lisa Baca

Romance Reviews Today

***

"The sequel to THE OLDEST KIND OF MAGIC, DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC? is a fabulous romantic fantasy with the twist that the hero knows who his soulmate is, but she rejects his belief system and his love; two direct hits to his heart. Clay is a fine lead male mage as a frustrated wannabe lover; but the story line is owned bell, book, and candle by the disbelieving Francie; who disavows magic or love exist."

Harriet Klausner

5 Stars

 

***

  

"I really enjoyed reading about Francie and Clay’s romance. The two characters had a lot of chemistry. I loved Clay’s sisters too; they pulled no punches with either of the confused lovers. The love scene following the reconciliation is positively pyrotechnic. Kevin the boy friend of Francie’s best friend is unpleasant in the beginning and downright evil at the end. Francie’s friends, the Gamesters and Tamara, really add a lot to the story and I definitely want to read about his sisters next."

Maura

Coffee Time Romance

 

***

"Francie and Clay are two strong characters. The author brings them to life with her depiction of their growing relationship. Francie doesn’t believe what Clay is telling her, and it becomes a fun-filled struggle for him to convince her. She is a great heroine – one this reader thoroughly enjoyed. She shows signs of stubbornness and vulnerability. Clay is a man who takes it for granted that his soul mate will fall into his arms. He is shocked by Francie’s reaction, and at times, his responses to her are quite humorous. This couple was great together, and the chemistry was just right. Not only does the author give us a lead couple to love, the people surrounding them are winners too, from Daria to Tamara. They all add to the richness of the story. Run, don’t walk to get your copy of Do You Believe in Magic? It is a fun and fast read – perfect for the beach or in your favorite spot for reading!"

Susan T.

Fallen Angel Reviews--Four Angels

 




Read an Excerpt

 

Prologue

 

 

      Floating along on a bed of rainbow colors, he’d never felt so pleased or comfortable or happy or smug in his life.  In a few minutes, his soulmate would be there, and they’d come together in their First Mating.

 

      He was ready.  More than ready, his body told him.

 

      Where was she?  Why wasn’t she here yet?

 

      He stood up and began to pace.  The colors of his bed swirled and coalesced into the walls, floor, and ceiling of a room.  A door appeared on the far side.  It opened.

 

      Through the door walked his dream woman.  Tall, blond, gorgeous, built.

 

      Oh, yes, built.

 

      But clothed.  More than merely clothed.  Dressed in what appeared to be a suit of armor right out of the Middle Ages.  Complete with some sort of round helmet in her hand.  It looked like a basketball.

 

      What the hell was going on?  She was supposed to mate with him, not fight.  She was supposed to be naked like he was.  How could they mate with that metal between them?

 

      “Why are you wearing that ridiculous get-up?” he asked.

 

      She looked at him like he was crazy—or like she was totally surprised to see him there at all.  Maybe she hadn’t heard him.  She turned, as if to leave.

 

      He shouted, “Where are you going?”  His voice seemed to come out in a whisper.

 

      She glared at him, ran her eyes up and down his body.  That only served to excite him more, and his erection grew to painful proportions and throbbed to match his increasing heartbeat.

 

      He reached for her, but she retreated a step.  Held up her hand like a traffic cop.  “Stop!”

 

      He couldn’t move.  He’d run into an invisible wall.

 

      “No,” she said.  She put the helmet contraption on her head, lowered the visor, turned and stalked out the door, slamming it behind her.

 

      “No!” he yelled.

 

      “Noooo!” he groaned as he realized his soulmate—the only woman in the world for him—had left, abandoned him, denied their connection.

 

      “Noooooo,” he whimpered as the enormity of her action hit him in his magic center, and he doubled over in pain.  Without a soulmate, he was doomed to live alone and lonely forever.

 

      “No,” he snarled as he thrashed in his bed, finally waking himself enough to come to his senses.

 

      He sat up, panting and sweating like he’d just played a fast quarter on the court.  His chest ached as if somebody had punched him.  And he felt horribly, totally sad and abandoned.

 

      He concentrated on breathing until his body was back to normal.

 

      What a nightmare.  Where had it come from?  He never had bad dreams, much less anything like that . . . disaster.

 

      He must have been around his sister and her new husband too much.  All their soulmate togetherness must have rubbed off on him.  Reminded him he might meet his mate soon.

 

      Not that he wanted to.  He was only thirty-four and wasn’t ready to find his soulmate.  He had at least a couple more years of glorious bachelorhood.  The dream was just a manifestation of his wanting to get his latest job going and over with.

 

      Why, then, did he feel so wasted?  So alone?  So lost?

 

      Like a bad hangover, the feeling of utter devastation followed him into the shower, and he had to concentrate on programming spells before it went away.

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

      “Are you accusing me of hacking into our system, Herb?”  Francie Stevens looked her boss straight in the eye while dismay warred with outrage in her mind.  How could he think such a thing about her, that she would be a party to such an act?  And against the company she worked for?

 

      She grasped the edge of the conference table between them, ready either to push back from it or to propel herself across at her accuser, but she wasn’t sure which.

 

      “Not at all, Francie.”  Herb Greenwood, vice president for information technology at Brazos Chemical, made placating gestures with his hands.  “Don’t jump to any conclusions.  Just calm down and we’ll explain.  Bear with us, okay?”

 

      Francie struggled to control herself.  This news was the last thing she expected.  She told herself to follow Herb’s advice and calm down, but listen very, very carefully to what was being said.  She wasn’t going to be a fall guy or a scapegoat for anybody.  She pushed her glasses up on her nose and nodded stiffly but didn’t relax her posture.  “Okay.”

 

      Herb waved a hand at the man sitting on Francie’s right.  “As I was saying, thanks to Clay Morgan here, we’ve discovered someone’s been invading our computer system for a couple of weeks.  Clay installed a program that tracked the guy back to his computer.  That computer turned out to be your desktop machine at home.  We know you’re not the one doing the hacking.”

 

      “But how?” she asked.  “How can someone be using it without my knowing?  Nobody’s broken in.  I’d certainly notice something like that.”  She glanced at the two flanking her on each side, Morgan to her right and Daria Benthausen, Clay’s sister and fellow consultant, on her left, then looked back at Herb.  “How do I prove I’m innocent?”

 

      “We know you are.  You don’t have to prove anything.”  Her boss ran a hand through his thinning brown hair and turned his bright blue eyes on Morgan.  “You explain, Clay.  You were running the operation.”

 

      Francie concentrated on the consultant.  Herb had hustled them all into seats at the table after she came into his office, and she had not really studied the man when they were introduced.

 

      So this was the famous Clay Morgan.  She had heard of him, but never met him: the man reputed to work magic on computers.  Francie didn’t know about his effect on computers, but he certainly had one on women.  Even she, immune though she was to good-looking, charming men and armored behind her clothes and her glasses, could feel the potency of his masculinity.  No wonder Laura, the system administrator, had practically swooned over him when she relayed the tale of how quickly he had fixed the network and one of the servers after an electrical disaster last year.  No wonder rumors swirled of his reputation with women—which included his never dating one for very long.

 

      Tall, dark, and handsome, indeed, with coal-black hair and an action-movie hero’s firm chin and jaw line, although the small hook in his nose saved him from being beautiful.  Six foot five if he was an inch—one of the rare men to whom she would literally have to raise her eyes.

 

      She reminded herself again of her immunity to such men.  Not that he was trying to be charming; at the moment he appeared positively grim, but with an overlay of confidence . . . and perhaps arrogance.  She’d always liked self-confidence in a person, male or female, but arrogance was a turnoff.  Especially arrogance based on good looks coming from genetics, not hard work.  She wondered if he really lived up to his “computer wizard” fame.

 

      If she had to be honest—as she tried to be to herself, at least—there was something about him that called to her, stirred up her insides.  She’d probably been listening too much to Tamara and her pronouncements about Francie’s need for a fling and some romance.  But she couldn’t stop from fidgeting under the intent gaze from his pale gray—no, silver—eyes.  She shivered and shifted in her chair.  His gaze as sharp and hard as a sterling silver blade, he was staring at her as though he could see into her soul.

 

      “We’ve had you under surveillance, Francie.  Herb was certain you were not the hacker, but I thought it better to put someone on a watch first to discover what was really going on.”

 

      His words cut through her anguish and anger, and she looked at him with a feeling somewhere between horror and fury.  “You actually had someone following me?”  The fact that she had never noticed added a layer of dread to the mixture of reactions scrambling in her brain.

 

      “Yes.  It’s a good thing we did, because it cleared you of any suspicion,” Clay answered, his tone cool and certain—as if he had all the answers to her questions.

 

      Francie clenched her fists on the table to keep them from shaking.  She took a deep breath and forced herself to focus on the words, “cleared of any suspicion.”  Relief and curiosity pushed her anger aside—but only slightly.  She couldn’t help sniping at the man who lounged in his chair with such total self-assurance.  “Well, I’m very happy to hear my innocence has been proved to your satisfaction, Mr. Morgan.”  She turned to Herb.  “Look, I need some straight answers.  What is going on?  Did you suspect me too?”

 

      “No, I swear to God, Francie . . .”  Herb began.

 

      “Francie.”  From Francie’s other side, Daria interrupted and put her hand on top of Francie’s clenched one.  “It’s okay,” she said calmly.

 

      Francie turned her gaze to the consultant and knew immediately Daria was going to help with this strange situation.  The small woman with dark curly hair and bright green eyes was on her side.  A light flicker from somewhere caused her to blink for a second, but then the men seemed to fade into the background as Francie focused Daria’s next words.

 

      “Herb believed in you all along,” Daria said.  “We used surveillance to see if there was anyone who might have access to your computer when you weren’t home.  Last Wednesday night when you went to your party . . .?”

 

      “My book club,” Francie nodded.

 

      Daria nodded also.  “While you were there, someone entered your apartment and used your computer to access our system.  He ran right into Clay’s trap.  When the operators reported the hacker’s attempt to log in, Clay sent the investigator following you back to your place.  Through the window, the investigator saw a man sitting at your computer.  He followed the man when he left.  We know who he is.  We know you didn’t have anything to do with the hacking.”

 

      A real wave of relief washed over Francie, and she closed her eyes for a moment to take a deep breath.  She opened them again and asked,  “Who was it?”

 

      “Kevin Brenner, Tamara Lewis’s boyfriend,” Daria replied.

 

      “Kevin?  Kevin!”  Disgust surged through Francie at the revelation.  She pushed her chair back and almost rose before accepting the statement as the truth and falling back into the seat.  “Oh, ick, to even imagine Kevin in my apartment, going through my things.”

 

      Just saying the words left an awful taste in her mouth and she scraped her tongue over her teeth as if she could remove both it and the idea.  Then several impressions clicked in her brain.  “He looks at me sometimes with a weird expression, as if he knows all my secrets and has a big one of his own.”  She shuddered in revulsion and hugged herself.  Kevin had broken into her home, but . . .  “How on earth did he get in?”

 

      “Francie, he had a key,” Daria said softly.  “How could he have gotten it?”

 

      “Tamara’s my best friend and lives across the courtyard.  She has my key and I have hers so we can water each other’s plants and bring in the mail if one of us is traveling.  He must have stolen it from her.”

 

      Francie thought about her friend a few seconds, then swung her gaze around the table, settling on Herb.  “Look, I can’t believe Tamara is mixed up in this.  We’ve been friends for a long time, ever since we were roommates at UT.  We’re like sisters, and I can guarantee her computer skills consist of word processing, spreadsheets, and accounting applications.  She doesn’t have a dishonest bone in her body.  There’s no way, no way at all, she could be hacking or be an accomplice to Kevin.”

 

      That statement raised another problem in her mind, and she couldn’t help blurting out, “I have to tell her.  Oh, my God, she’s going to be devastated to find this out about Kevin.  What if she’s really serious about him?  She hasn’t said so to me in so many words, but . . .”

 

      “Francie, we can’t tell her,” Daria said. “Not yet.”

 

      “Why not?”

 

      “Because we have a plan to find out what Brenner is after, and we’d like you to help us with it,” Herb said.  “We don’t know if he’s working on his own, or if he’s doing it for his employer.  He works for NatChem, did you know that?”

 

      “Our competitor?  No, he never told me and I didn’t ask.  Tamara just said he was in sales, a manager, I think, but he never discussed business with me.”  She clenched and unclenched her fists to lessen her seething tension.  All she could think was “that putrid son of a . . .”

 

      “Will you help us, Francie?” Herb asked.

 

      Francie blinked at Herb’s question, then sat back in her chair and crossed her arms.  She frowned at him for a moment while she contemplated his question.  You bet she’d help.  She’d do whatever it took to get back at the slimeball.  She’d like to punch him in the nose.  She’d like to see him roast in hell.  She’d like to . . .  Stop, she commended herself.  Throwing a hissy fit in front of her boss would not help the situation.  With an effort, she grabbed hold of her roller-coastering emotions and couched her answer in calmer tones.  “Certainly.  What do you want me to do?”

 

      Clay watched Francie calm herself down.  She’d looked for a minute like she wanted to beat Brenner up.  He raised his eyebrows at Daria, who nodded affirmatively, their pre-arranged signal that her spells had worked and Francie was telling the truth.

 

      He’d been studying her while Herb and then Daria explained.  Francie was quite the little computer nerdy mouse.  Well, maybe not so little.  Only about five or six inches shorter than he was.  He couldn’t tell much about her body in her bulky sweater.  For once, he regretted the tendency in Houston, even in September, to keep buildings chilly to combat the outside heat, thus forcing women to wear jackets and sweaters indoors.  He didn’t think much of her clothing choices either—definitely bland, to go with the pulled-back blonde hair and horn-rimmed glasses.

 

      But then he noticed how fine and almost luminescent her skin was, how the streaks in her hair ranged from pale yellow to gold to almost amber, and how large her brown eyes were behind the glasses.  They were sort of a smoky brown, not unlike his favorite single-malt Scotch, and the sharp and wary look in them as she reacted to his earlier statement lived up to Herb’s assessment of her intelligence.  Clay speculated briefly that there might be more to her than met the first impression of “computer nerd, female variety.”

 

      Then she shifted in the chair and the sweater pulled tight across her chest.  Oh, ho, he thought.  It appeared Ms. Mouse was by no means flat chested.  In fact, the evidence indicated she was quite the opposite—in a word, built.  He felt his body stir slightly, but he ignored it.  Right now, he had a job to do.

 

      From the corner of his eye, he observed the spell aura around his sister flare as she boosted the enchantments she had already cast on herself.  Francie jumped just the smallest bit as the spells’ power increased.  Like a small percentage of the non-practitioner population, the woman wasn’t oblivious to magic.  She didn’t appear alarmed, however, since she settled herself in her chair, her attention on her boss.  She probably hadn’t even noticed anything.  Good. Daria’s magic would work as it was supposed to.

 

      Then he spoke, drawing Francie’s gaze directly to his.  “We want to get close to Brenner, find out what he’s after, if his company is behind him or if this is simply a free-lance effort on his part.  He’s a lousy, inept hacker.  He wanders around the system haphazardly.  We can’t tell what he’s looking for, or if he’s even after any particular piece of information.  We thought we’d frustrate his invasion attempts, then supply him with a real expert and see if he will take the bait of using someone who’s a better hacker than he is, who might be looking for easy money, and whose ethics match his.” Clay paused and drawled,  “I’m to be that someone.”

 

      He could almost see her mind working behind those big brown eyes.  She appeared at first to be somewhat confused, but she seemed to pull herself together quickly after breaking eye contact with him.

 

      She nodded slowly.  “It might work.  Kevin does seem to be ambitious.  I’ve always thought there was something shady or untrustworthy about him.  Something not quite right.  How do you expect to get close to him?”

 

      “By becoming your boyfriend.”

 

      He had meant to say “posing as” instead of “becoming,” but once the words were out of his mouth, Clay realized he liked the idea very much.  Despite her drab clothing, he was attracted to this woman.  There was just something about her.  He couldn’t quite decide what it was, but he felt its presence.  He shrugged mentally; real attraction would make his playacting all the more convincing.  He couldn’t help grinning at her reaction.

 

      “Wh-what?  M-m-my boyfriend?”  Francie stared at him.  What was he talking about?  She almost reeled physically from the idea but managed just barely to keep her wits about her.  She didn’t want or need a boyfriend.  Certainly not him.  Especially not him. His grin, however, was devastating—and challenging.  On top of the confidence and arrogance, he was definitely a charmer, and he knew it.

 

      She shook her head and attempted to marshal her arguments.  Who would believe someone like Clay was interested in her?  How would they possibly convince Kevin and especially Tamara?  What about her determination to keep away from anyone like him?  She tried to put absolute conviction into her next words. “I really don’t believe your plan will work, Mr. Morgan.”

 

      He waved his hand dismissively, and a mischievous glint sparkled in his eyes.  “Nonsense.  And under the circumstances, you’d better call me Clay.”

 

      “I’m hardly your type.”  She was beginning to get a little angry at his presumption and drew herself up primly.  She welcomed the emotion.  Anger might pull her out of this confused state.  Didn’t the man have eyes in his head to see she was not interested in doing such a thing?  There must be another way.

 

      Evidently not, because he stated with more than a whiff of conceit, “This plan will work.  An introduction through you is our best chance to find out what he’s up to.  Remember, it’s your computer he’s using to hack.  Until we know more from him, he can always claim you let him use it.”

 

      He had a point there, she conceded, but only to herself.  To him, she said, “How are we supposed to have met?  Tamara knows my comings and goings and most of my friends.  Won’t she be suspicious when you suddenly pop into my life?”

 

      “We’ll say we met at the computer workshop Herb sent you to last month.  Two computer geeks with a common interest.”  He smiled, then sobered.  “Oh, I just thought of something.  Is there any other man in your life at the moment, Francie?”

 

      “No,” and a shake of her head were all she felt capable of for an answer.  Common interest, indeed.  His smile seemed to bind them together.  A shiver went down her spine as she had the sudden feeling he could see straight through all her defenses.  Her breastbone began to itch severely, and she put a hand on her ribcage and pressed with her thumb to alleviate the torment in as ladylike a manner as she could.

 

      “That’s fine,” Clay said.  “We won’t have to worry about another player then.  If I’m your boyfriend, you can introduce me to Brenner, and we can spend time with him and Tamara as a couple with no one the wiser about our underlying purpose.”

 

       “Oh, God, Tamara,” Francie groaned and shook her head. “I really don’t like the idea of deceiving her.”

 

      “I understand your feelings,” Daria said, in a woman-to-woman tone.  “But if she were to break up with him, we’d lose our entree.  How good of a liar is she?  If you tell her, could she pretend to still like Brenner, stay as his girlfriend?  Or if they’re sleeping together, could she continue that level of intimacy without alerting him?”

 

      “Probably not.  She’s not a very good liar.  Everything shows on her face.”  Francie sighed.  “She already knows I’m not particularly fond of Kevin.  I’ve made no secret of the fact I think she’s too good for him.”

 

      Francie felt some of her anxiety lift as she analyzed her friend’s situation further.  “On the other hand, Tamara doesn’t usually stay with one man for long.  Now that I think of it, I’m surprised she took the time for Kevin at all and they’ve lasted as long as they have.  She’s been channeling most of her energy into her business.  She owns a boutique in the Galleria area, but I guess you know that.  We don’t talk about their relationship much.”

 

      “How long have they been seeing each other?” Clay asked.

 

      “About three months.  They met at a club.”

 

      “We’ll have to see if he knew of her connection to you when he met her,” he said.  “If so, he’s been using her from the beginning.  In the normal run of things, how long would you expect them to continue as a couple?”

 

      “Another month or so, if Tamara is true to form.  Oh, Lord, I hope she’s not in love with him.  I could lose a very good friend over this, you realize, if she thinks I’ve betrayed her.”  She felt her stomach lurch as her sense of loyalty to the company, her own integrity, and her anger toward Kevin warred with her loyalty to and love for Tamara.  How could she keep such a secret from her friend?

 

      “Place the blame on me when the time comes,” Herb stated.  “Tell her I threatened your job if you didn’t help us.”

 

      “Oh, Herb, I can’t do that, but thanks.  I almost wish you hadn’t told me about Kevin.”

 

      “We considered it,” Herb replied, “but I couldn’t do that to you.  I knew you’d want to be a part of stopping this screwball.  The good thing is we found him before he managed to frame you for his hacking.  You know how important it is that we get to the bottom of this, Francie.  Can we count on your help?”

 

       “I guess I’m in,” Francie acknowledged wearily, finally leaning back again in her chair.  What else could she do?  She had a responsibility to Brazos Chemical and to Herb especially.  He’d been the one who hired her.  But she also had to protect Tamara somehow, and if it took pretending to be Clay’s girlfriend, so be it.  “I don’t seem to have a choice.  What do I do first?”

 

      “I’ll pick you up at seven for dinner tonight,” Clay said.

 

      “Tonight?” Francie exclaimed.  So soon?  She’d hoped for more time to get used to the idea of it all.  She’s assumed all she’d have to do is introduce him at one encounter with the other couple.  Now they were going to date?

 

      Clay studied her for a moment, gazing into those smoky eyes, wondering how they would look with the fire of desire in them.  He discarded the thought before it really registered and, leaning toward her over the table, stated, “It’s Friday, a perfect date night.  We need to establish our relationship quickly, so I’m going to sweep you off your feet.”

 

      He’d had a revelation of sorts watching her react to the scheme.  She was an intelligent woman and fiercely loyal to her friends.  And courageous and ethical as well.  She was really a golden lioness, not a brown mouse.  Despite obvious misgivings—mostly, it appeared, directed against him—she was going ahead with his plan.

 

      The more he observed her, the more he’d bet the money for his next computer upgrade that her dress and those glasses were camouflage.  He could tell from the lack of refraction the lenses were plain glass.  Why she wore them, he didn’t know, but he’d really like to find out what she looked like without them—and without her god-awful sweater.  His body stirred again, more forcefully this time, and he idly rubbed at a small itch on his chest under his tie.

 

      Out of the corner of his eye, he noted his sister looking back and forth between him and Francie.  Daria had a particularly intent expression on her face as she studied them.  He’d have to remember to ask her about it later.  Right now, he concentrated on the tall blonde next to him.

 

      Francie stared into his eyes for a moment, mesmerized by the combination of male confidence, attraction, and something else she couldn’t quite put her finger on.  Then her common sense and determination kicked in.

 

      She’d be damned if she’d let this, this . . . consultant, attractive or not, get the better of her.  She’d help them put a stop to Kevin, but she’d keep her feet planted firmly on the ground, thank you very much.  “Well, if that’s all we have to talk about at the moment, I need to prepare for my meeting this afternoon.”  She looked at Herb and raised her eyebrows.

 

      “Why don’t we get together on Monday, say at ten, and discuss our next moves.  That will give you, Francie and Clay, the chance to think through the situation and discuss the best approach to Brenner,” Herb said.  When the two nodded, he leaned back and rubbed his hands together with a smug expression on his face.  “We’re going to teach this idiot a real lesson.  Go to your meeting, Francie.  If you need anything, let me know.  Thanks for all your help.”

 

      “Seven o’clock,” Clay reiterated as she opened the office door.  “We’ll go someplace nice.”

###

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