Tammy and the Private Eye

By Amy Eastlake

Copyright 2003 by Rob Preece, all rights reserved. is your source for great electronic novel at unbeatable prices. Your support allows us to pay high author royalties and provide quality e-books to you.

Chapter 1

"Who the hell is Tammy Jones?"

At her work station, Tammy heard her boss's question plainly. Uh-oh. She looked around to see if there was any way she could escape. Pete Hunter had been in a foul mood for the past three days. Now it sounded as if his temper had taken a turn for the worse. And he was mad at her!

Before Tammy could run, Karen Meyer, Hunter's secretary, rounded the corner of Tammy's cubicle.

She'd waited too long to find a place to hide.

"Tammy, the boss wants to see you."

"I swear I didn't do anything," Tammy managed to stammer. Although she'd worked at Hunter Detective Agency's Los Angeles headquarters for three months, she had never actually met the boss. Noticed him, yes. In fact, she'd drooled over his perfect body just about every day of those past three months. And she'd even tried to keep up on the gossip as to which fabulous female he was squiring that week. But she'd never been introduced to him or even gotten a friendly nod.

Hunter paid little attention to the typing pool so long as his correspondence was free of typos. Tammy was a very good typist, but that wasn't why she'd applied for a job here. One of these days, she was going to get up the nerve to ask for a promotion to detective, the job for which she had been trained. She'd confront Hunter then, she assured herself. Sooner or later, she was going to get up the nerve. Somehow. She certainly hadn't intended to confront him when he was in a mood this foul.

What she intended didn't seem to matter much, though. Without even giving Tammy a chance to smooth back the strands of hair that had escaped from her ponytail, Karen half-dragged Tammy out of her cubicle, across a hallway, and into the inner sanctum. Hunter sat behind his desk, imposing as ever in a gray designer suit, every single dark brown hair perfectly in place.

"This is Tammy Jones?" Hunter's voice was laced with incredulity. He looked at her, then glanced back at a copy of her employment folder. He grasped her black-and-white photo between two strong fingers and squinted at it as if trying to make it change.

Fortunately he was talking to Karen.

Unfortunately, Karen only looked at Tammy, apparently expecting her to confirm her identity.

Hunter continued, speaking to Tammy this time, though he kept his gaze on the papers before him. "According to your file, you are a certified private detective." Hunter's expression made it all too clear how unlikely he found that.

"Ah. . . I . . . well--" This was her moment. Tammy tried to control her shaking voice. She had to be strong, confident. "Uh ..." Crash and burn.

Hunter shook his head as if wishing he could dismiss her from his attention. "Does she speak English?"

"She's shy," Karen told him.

He slapped his forehead. "Wonderful. That's it. Forget it. Who else do we have? You may go, Ms. Jones."

Tammy slunk toward the door. She felt sick, as if Hunter had just danced on her insides. Her legs shook so badly, she could barely walk. Nothing had changed. No matter how hard she worked, she always collapsed whenever she had to move outside of her comfort zone. And talking to a handsome man was so far outside that zone she didn't even know where it was.

All her life she'd prayed for just this chance. A chance to make something of herself as a detective. Then, when Hunter had been ready to give it to her, she'd plain blown it. It wasn't as if she wanted to marry him--she knew how impossible that would be. All she wanted was a chance to be a private eye. It didn't seem like too much to ask. Heck, it wasn't much to ask, but she couldn't make herself ask for it.

Her insides urged her to get away, fast. After three steps, though, she stopped and sucked in a huge breath of air. Without that excess of testosterone glaring at her, she could pull her thoughts, and her courage, together.

Hunter was looking for a detective. Otherwise he wouldn't have called her in. Shy or not, she'd passed her certification classes at the community college. Whatever it was he wanted, she knew she could do it.

Surely it wasn't just morbid and masochistic curiosity that held her outside Hunter's door like a fly in a web.

"There's nobody else, sir," Karen said. "After all, there's only so much even you can do with a disguise."

"And this Jones female had the right bone structure, too." Hunter sounded almost wistful.

"Her hair is wrong. Her accent isn't even close."

He made a dismissive noise. "Those things I can fix. But whoever we send out there has to become Mariatini."

"You're right, sir," Karen said. "Even you could never make it work."

Hunter chuckled. "You're trying to manipulate me, but you're right. I don't have much choice." He paused briefly. "You out there," Hunter boomed from his office. "Chicken-girl. Get back in here. Now." A dozen pairs of eyes stared accusingly at Tammy as she tried to slink back to her work station, fade into the woodwork.

She didn't know who Hunter was hollering at now, but it couldn't be her. No way he could know she wasn't already back at her desk.

"You, Jones. Out in the hall. Stop dawdling and move."


She moved.

Hunter still sat behind his desk but he'd set her photo down and stared directly at her. His suit managed to flatter his already stunning body, subtly calling attention to the breadth of his shoulders and the power of his arms and chest.

"You called me, s-sir?" Tammy's voice barely rose above a whisper.

Hunter looked at Karen but the administrator shrugged her shoulders.

Then Hunter stared back at Tammy with his deep blue eyes. "Do you like working in the typing pool?"

"Uh, it's fine. I mean good. I like it. Really." Because it kept her close to the detective business. Say that, Tammy.

"She was employee of the month last month," Karen put in. "I suspect she will be again this month."

"A private detective serving as a typist?"

Tammy couldn't tell whether his voice showed scorn, confusion, disgust, or simple sorrow.

"She gets the job done," Karen said.

Hunter shook his head. "It just isn't right." He raised his voice, "I won't have it."

"You're firing me?" Tammy hated that squeak in her voice, but it always showed up when she wanted it least.

Hunter just glared at her for a moment. "If you're a licenced detective, you're wasting your time working as a clerical. It's unethical."

"I'll tell you what," Karen offered. "I'll get on the phone and tell Ungermann we can't handle the Mariatini job. Maybe they can find someone else in the four weeks before she goes on tour."

Hunter stood, slamming his chair back against the wall, and walked over toward Karen. "Don't try to manipulate me."

Tammy could actually see the moment Karen caved in. About an hour after she would have. "Right, sir. What do you want me to do?"

"In a minute."

Tammy didn't dare raise her eyes as Hunter walked up to her, larger than life and twice as handsome as any man had a right to be. But he grasped her chin, turning her face up so she had no choice but to look into his incredible midnight-blue eyes.

At five foot eight, she was as tall as many men. Next to Hunter, she felt like a midget.

Thoughtfully, Hunter brushed his thumbs over her cheekbones. "Do you mind?"

"Uh." As if she'd mind her fantasy man running his sexy hands over any part of her body he wanted to. "That's fine."

"I need to see this." He abruptly stripped off her glasses. A quick flick of his wrists pulled the rubber band from her hair without the slightest tug. This was a man accustomed to undressing women.

While his touch did strange things to her insides, Hunter seemed totally unaffected by the almost intimate contact. Tammy's blush probably burned his fingers where he touched her, but that didn't stop him in his careful inspection.

"Great bone structure," he finally said to Karen. "How much does she weigh?"

"I think maybe that's a question you should ask her ," Karen replied.

"I weigh--"

"Get real," he interrupted. "Women lie about their weight. Always. It's some sort of compulsion."

"But--" Tammy tried to interject.

Hunter shook his head. "It doesn't matter. I'll have to get her out of these baggy things and into something Mariatini might wear."

Tammy's blush grew hotter. She was sure Hunter hadn't meant that the way it sounded. Anyway, she'd spent a lot of money on this outfit, and it was not baggy ... although compared to the women Hunter was used to, she didn't exactly dress to kill. She thought she looked professional in her mid-calf length suits.

Professional but dowdy, she admitted silently. Dowdy or not, she could no more argue with Hunter than she could walk naked on the moon.

"How did you end up in my typing pool?" he asked. He spoke softly, as if seeing the fear in her eyes and trying to compensate for it. He would have to do a lot more than that, Tammy knew, before she could really be calm in his presence. Like age fifty years and grow a pot belly.

"When--" she broke off. She was squeaking again. What was her problem? She talked to men all the time. Just yesterday, she'd said hello to her landlord. Of course he was seventy and shorter than she was.

Tammy took a deep breath. It didn't matter that Hunter was in a bad mood. This time she was going to do it.

"When I applied for a job three months ago, you didn't have any detective openings. Karen saw my resume in the trash and noticed I could type. I needed a job and I wanted to get into the business. I took what I could get."

Four sentences in a row. She swallowed hard. She couldn't vomit now. Not over Hunter. Other than her father, she wasn't sure she'd ever spent so much time talking to a man. Let alone a man who set her insides on fire.

"And you've just been sitting here ever since?" He sounded incredulous that anyone would do anything so foolish.

To Tammy it made good sense. Show you can do the job you're given and you'll be given the opportunity to do more.

"Eventually you'd notice my qualifications and ask me for more." She blushed again. She sounded like she was propositioning him.

Hunter shook his head. "That's totally insane." He rubbed his forehead and glared at Tammy as if she were the cause of all his problems. "You asked me if you're fired. Hell, yes."

Karen balled her fists and faced their boss. "But she's a good typist."

Tammy barely managed a whimper.

"You heard me." He glared at Tammy. "Pack up your coffee mugs and those disgusting little picture things women always seem to litter their desks with."

Tammy felt like she'd been turned inside out. Maybe she'd been wrong picking a career as a detective, even though it had been her dream from when she'd first discovered Nancy Drew. She'd barely passed her class on interviewing, and only then because they'd let her write a paper for extra credit. But she was a great typist. And she needed this job.

Acting totally irrationally and against everything she'd been taught, Tammy closed the few inches that separated her from Hunter and grasped him by his sleeves. "You aren't being fair."

Hunter unwrapped Tammy's fingers from his arms, his expression impassive. The sensation of his strong hands around her fingers gave her a small electrical thrill.

She'd been waiting, praying he'd notice her, and at the same time hoping he wouldn't, for the past three months. Now he finally had. He'd noticed her acting like a bumbling idiot.

"You want to be a detective, so you sit there in my typing pool, dealing with computers instead of people." He glared at her again. "I stand by my decision. You're out of the typing pool. You have two choices. Take your severance, or help us with the Mariatini case. As a detective, not a clerk."

"She doesn't have any experience, sir. We'll be the laughing stock of Los Angeles," Karen broke in.

"I'll give her plenty of experience."

Karen shifted her weight from one foot to the other. "With all due respect, sir, it would take a miracle--"

"I can do it. There's nothing magic about investigative work. People can learn." Tammy's heart felt like it would rip through her mouth.

"Let her learn somewhere where she won't have to deal with hundreds of the richest and most powerful people in the world," Karen protested. "Give her a job doing computer research or digging through garbage for a while."

"I don't need another garbologist," Hunter said.

"So you're planning to turn her into Mariatini whether she wants it or not?"

Hunter turned toward Tammy and tilted her face toward Karen. "Look at this face and tell me it doesn't deserve something better than what she does with it. Nobody wants to be a nothing. Nobody has any burning desire to be invisible, unnoticed by those around them.

"Once Miss Jones overcomes her fears, she'll want to be like Raquel Mariatini. She'll want to be the woman men desire and long for. I'm doing her a favor."

Tammy felt like a bolt of cheap fabric being haggled over at a street corner marketplace. She cleared her throat trying to get their attention, although she didn't have a clue what she'd say if they finally did let her talk.

It worked, sort of.

"Listen to that pathetic squeak," Hunter said. "I think she's trying to tell us something. Much like a monkey trying to reach a banana, wouldn't you say?"

Tammy nodded. She couldn't argue with Hunter's description but wished he'd used a word other than pathetic. That had been her father's favorite description of her.

Hunter frowned. "Well, spit it out."

A part of her wanted to seize whatever opportunity Hunter had to offer. As Hunter had asked, who wouldn't want to be like Mariatini? The movie star was kind of woman any man, even a man like Hunter, would desire.

Yeah, and who wouldn't want to find a genie in a bottle on the beach? She wasn't living dreams, she was surviving as a typist in a detective agency. "Sir, I really want to be a detective."

Hunter's grin looked positively evil. "I can help you with that." He reached toward her face again, then stopped when she involuntarily trembled.

"You're afraid, aren't you?

She nodded her head. If she tried to talk now, she would squeak again.

"Tough," Hunter growled, just when she thought she might have seen a hint of sympathy in is eyes. "I don't care whether you're scared or not. What I care is how you handle your fear. So far, you haven't been handling it very well. You've been living in your little shell for years, haven't you? Like a hermit crab."

"But if she's afraid, how is she going to do the job?" Karen asked. Tammy knew Karen was trying to help. But she wasn't. Frightened or not, Tammy didn't want to lose this chance at her dreams.

"I'll give her something to fear even more," Hunter answered.

"What's that?"



Hunter looked at the two woman and shook his head. He should have walked away from this job the moment he'd heard of it. As far as the police were concerned, Mariatini was in no more danger than any other spoiled and self-indulgent movie star. Hunter halfway suspected that she'd come up with the supposed threats herself as a way of keeping herself in the public eye after that last turkey of a movie she'd bombed in. But he'd been unable to resist the publicity angle or the fat contract her studio had dropped on his agency.

"Come on, you two. Let's get to work," he growled.

"Does Tammy still have a job?" Karen asked.

"She said she wants to be a detective," he growled. "Guess what? This wee, I'm Santa Claus. I'm giving her what she wants. Little Ms. Jones is going to learn to be Mariatini. And you're going to help me teach her."

"Me? I don't know anything about being a star," Karen protested.

"And I don't want to be a star," Tammy added in a whisper. "I want to be a detective."

She had to be the shyest thing he'd ever met, Hunter thought, but he had to give her some credit. She kept trying.

"You don't have to turn her into a star, he told Karen. You get to teach her to eat with a fork and dress like a female instead of a worn-out Salvation Army veteran. What Tammy needs to know about show-biz, I'll teach her."

He stopped himself suddenly. Tammy? When had she become Tammy? He prided himself on his professionalism. "That is, Ms. Jones." He couldn't let her innocent face distract him from reality.

"You'll teach her to be act like a star?" Karen sounded incredulous.

Most cops took second jobs guarding liquor store parking lots or handling traffic at ball games. Hunter had worked as a Hollywood stunt man. He hadn't been a star himself, but he'd had plenty of opportunities to rub elbows with them. Too many. It was a part of his history he'd never shared with his staff. "Yeah, me."

"Right, sir."

He turned toward Karen. "For the next month, you're on this case exclusively. You're not my admin anymore. Let's see what all those years of finishing school taught you. You and I are going to spend every day of the next four weeks turning this pumpkin into something that the world will believe is truly Raquel Mariatini.

"But--" Tammy was mumbling again.

He shook his head firmly. He wasn't about to give in to weakness. "Be ready to go at five. Now, I've got a client I need to see."

As the two women left his office, he nodded to the receptionist who'd been trying to get his attention. "Show him in."


A couple of hours later, a squeaky shoe interrupted his work. He looked up and saw that girl, Tammy Jones, heading for the door. She'd put on her jacket and had gathered up her purse. It didn't take his trained detective brain long to figure out she was heading home.

"Where do you think you're going?" he asked.

"It's after six," Tammy squeaked. Every time he even looked at this female, she reacted like he'd asked her to be a human sacrifice or something. He wasn't used to that reaction from women.

"I didn't ask for the time," he told her. "I've got a watch for that."

"I'm going home." She made it sound more like a question than a statement. From what he'd seen so far, they'd have to ram a poker down her back before she could discover a backbone. If that was what it took, he was game.

"You can't go home," he said.


"You've got four weeks to become Mariatini. You don't have time to go home."

"A girl has to sleep," she objected, her chin jutting out.

Evidently he'd underestimated her. She actually talked back. She hadn't made much sense, but he could work on that. "When I tell you to sleep, that's when you'll sleep."

"You're the boss here, but that only buys my time between eight and five. After that I'm on my own." She tried to square her shoulders, but, other than proving she was hiding a figure underneath that sack she wore, it was a pretty pathetic gesture. God, this whole thing really was hopeless. Could anyone, even him, really turn this woman into a Mariatini in four years, let alone four weeks?

He sighed again. He'd built his practice on doing what no one could do. This was par for the course.

"When you were a typist, I owned you during working hours. Now you're a detective, Ms. ... ah ..."

"Jones. Tammy Jones."

"Right." He never forgot a name. How could he forget the name of one of his own employees? This woman had a major case of fading into the woodwork. For an instant, he toyed with the idea she could be some sort of spy sent by one of his competitors. Was anyone really named Jones?

"At any rate, Ms. Jones, the second I changed your job title, your hours became whatever I say they're going to be. And what I say is that you're all mine, twenty-four hours a day, from now until this job is over. Unless, of course, you don't want to be a detective?"

He could see he'd found her weakness. The almost-determined tilt of her mouth wavered. "Yes, but ..."

"With a substantial raise in salary?" That, he knew, would cinch it. "I expect your complete cooperation."

She blushed a pink that looked totally out of place on her pale skin. "I don't do that kind of thing, Mr. Hunter."

He stared at her for a moment, then laughed as he caught on. The girl actually believed he had lustful designs on her. While she might have Mariatini'a famous strong cheekbones and something under that sack of an outfit hinted at a figure, she definitely wasn't his type. "Don't worry, Ms., ah, Jones. Your virtue is safe with me."

She didn't look as relieved as he'd thought she would. "Will that be all, then, Mr. Hunter?"

"My detectives call me Hunter. And no, it won't be all. I already told you, you and Karen are coming home with me."

Her face turned white, then blushed so dark he thought maybe she was choking.

"Get over it, Ms. Jones."

"T--Tammy. You c-call your detectives by their first names."

He sighed. "All right, Tammy. But look at you. You may have the bone structure of a princess but you certainly don't have the appearance of one."

"And you think you can turn me into one?"

"If anyone can do it, I can."


Tammy huddled in the back seat of Hunter's Jaguar and watched him navigate the Harbor Freeway, heading south from Los Angeles toward the sleepy suburb of San Pedro. Funny, she'd never imagined him living anyplace so normal. Not that anyplace in Los Angeles was cheap.

The car's leather upholstery caressed her skin, but Hunter's aggressive driving had her sliding from side to side like she was on an amusement park ride. As he drove, he rattled off a series of instructions to Karen. Though neither of them had spoken to Tammy directly, she'd finally gotten the gist of her new assignment. Famous movie star Mariatini's life had been threatened. Tammy would act as a decoy during the star's upcoming publicity tour.

Tammy had never actually accepted the assignment, yet here she was, riding in the back of Hunter's car. How was this supposed to help her become a better detective? Every time she got up the nerve to open her mouth and ask, though, Hunter growled at her.

He finally pulled into some Victorian monstrosity of a house, or maybe a mausoleum, and killed the engine. "Dinner in an hour," he announced. "Karen, do you think you can show her how to eat without getting a puddle in her lap?"

"Sure, boss."

Hunter nodded curtly, unlocked the door to his house and ushered the two women inside.

Tammy had spent most every night for the past three months fantasizing about Hunter swooping down and dragging her off on some exotic adventure, but she'd never dreamed of anything like this. For one thing, she'd imagined a swank bachelor pad that consisted of a huge bed, a hot tub, and not much else. This museum piece looked like a survivor of one of the sailing fortunes that had built San Pedro before it had been absorbed into Los Angeles. Although the furnishings appeared new, the Victorian sailor who'd built it would have felt at home with the massive overstuffed furniture, a bar that looked like it held a bottle of everything alcoholic ever made, and, off to the left, a library complete with floor-to-ceiling books and a sliding ladder.

She wondered if Hunter actually read any of those books and caught herself at a new fantasy. The two of them, reading together over a cup of tea, talking detective business. Dream on, Tammy, she mentally castigated herself.

"How long are you planning on keeping me here?" she asked.

"As long as the job requires," Hunter answered. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to change for dinner."

"I'll show you your room," Karen told her.

"My ... what?"

"Your bedroom. Hunter told you you're staying, didn't he?"

He'd told her precious little, Tammy reflected as Karen led her up three flights of stairs. What if she'd had a family or boyfriend expecting her at home?

But, of course, she didn't. Hunter could keep her a prisoner in his mausoleum for months on end, and she doubted anyone would notice.

Tammy followed Karen into what must once have been servants' quarters. A sort of apartment had been carved out of the ancient attic, with a couple of bedrooms off a shared bath. Although the rooms didn't have closets, they'd been provided huge wardrobes. Karen flung one of these open, pulling out sheets, pillows, and towels. "Pick which room you want. I'll take the other."

"Does Hunter do this a lot?" Karen obviously felt at home in his house.

"You've been working for him for three months, so you should know by now. He does what he wants. I end up here a lot on weekends since he doesn't like to come into the office then. Of course he never stops working."

If Hunter had sent Karen to sleep in the attic, Tammy thought, he must not have any grand designs on her. Of course, Tammy was up in the attic, too. Oh, well.

"What did he mean about teaching me how to use a fork? I haven't spent my life in a cave, you know."

Karen grinned. "Don't get mad at me, but you don't come across as being especially sophisticated. Mariatini has lived among high society all her life. For her, certain behavioral patterns are second nature. If you're going to be her, you'll have to learn to act like someone who was born with money, looks, and intelligence."

That gave Tammy a pretty good idea of where she stood right now. Even if she did have Mariatini's bone structure, whatever that meant, both Karen and Hunter obviously thought she was zero for three on Mariatini's key attributes. She was willing to concede money and looks, but Tammy had always thought of herself as smart.

Karen helped her toss her blankets on the bed in her room, suggested she wash up, and left.

A too-familiar panic immediately overtook Tammy.

She had to run. Now.

If she acted quickly, she could sneak out of the house, quit her job, and never stop running. Just because she'd had romantic fantasies about Hunter didn't mean the cruel fates had to twist everything around and stick them together in this bizarre manner.

She opened the bedroom door and peeked out. Nothing.

Willing herself to weightlessness, she tiptoed down the wooden hall, her insides shrieking every time she stepped on a creaky board. She told herself she wasn't running. She'd been kidnaped and had to escape.

Karen must have sensed her fear. She appeared from nowhere. "You're too early. Mariatini is never early." She paused, then studied Tammy's face and frowned. "Don't worry so much, Tammy. Remember, you wanted this job. Just follow my lead. I promise I won't hurt you."

Tammy considered ignoring her and running for the door. Karen might not hurt her, but she hadn't made any promises for Hunter. Hunter could destroy her without even noticing.

She took a deep breath and forced down her panic. She was going to be a detective. Nothing else mattered. "Let's go."

"That's the attitude," Karen said with clear approval. "As far as the silverware goes, watch what I use and ignore Hunter. He'll use the wrong fork just to confuse you. In the meantime, suppose we do something with your hair?"

"My hair? Shouldn't we leave the physical characteristics for last? After all, Mariatini may get her hair cut between now and when we take the job."

"You can bet your paycheck Mariatini will get her hair cut more than once before you go live." Karen yanked out the rubber band that held Tammy's hair in place and tossed it into a waste paper basket. "What we've got to do, though, is get you thinking about yourself as someone who is attractive, a woman men dream about and stand in line to see."

"That'll be the day," Tammy murmured.

Karen heard her. "That'll be four weeks from now or all of us had better think about looking for new jobs. If we blow it, the negative publicity could blast the Hunter Agency right out of business."

Karen whipped off Tammy's glasses and spent the next hour snipping, blow-drying, and curling her hair, ignoring Tammy's few attempts to question her.

"Ta-da!" Karen proclaimed, handing Tammy a mirror.

She held the small mirror with one hand while she felt around for her glasses with the other.

"Do you have to wear those?" Karen asked.

"Unless I want to bang into the walls."

"Oh. Well, let me put them on for you before you make a complete mess of your hair."

Tammy had to admit Karen knew what she was doing. Her pony tail was gone, replaced with long tendrils of hair that seemed to have lives of their own. "I had no idea my hair would do this," she confessed. "I've always been too broke to go to a hairdresser." She could have a conversation with another woman. Why couldn't she talk this way to a man?

"Ah--we noticed your bad-hair-year problem," Karen said.

"So what's next?"

"Now we go downstairs and have dinner. Remember, all a woman has to do is pretend to listen and nod from time to time and whatever man she's with will think she's incredibly intelligent."

"You don't think Hunter will fall for that, do you?"

"That's a tough one. He's a detective, but he's also a man. I'd vote for the man side."

Tammy would also. "I guess I'm ready, then."


Hunter turned up the volume on his stereo and piped the sound of baroque music into the dining room. He'd laid out an assortment of wines and had his part-time cook prepare some of Mariatini's favorite pasta dishes. This was going to be ugly, but nothing he couldn't handle. He took a sip of wine. The women were late, of course. At least he wouldn't have to teach Tammy that.

Karen led Tammy down the stairs, the two women chatting as if they were old friends. They'd also done something with Tammy's hair. A good start. He looked more closely. A very good start. But it would take a whole lot more to turn this duckling into anything approaching a goose, let alone a swan like Mariatini.

"Would you ladies like a drink before dinner?" he asked.

"I'll have a Martini," Karen said.

"And you, ah, Tammy?"

"I don't suppose you have grape soda?" Tammy blurted.

He shuddered. "No, I do not have grape soda. My God, woman, you're supposed to be making an effort to become Mariatini, not a laundry attendant."

Bright red patches stained her cheeks. "I'm not much of a drinker."

"You don't have to drink. You do have to know how to order. I think you'll start with a white wine I picked up when I was in Spain. It's quite nice. So nice, in fact, that the Spaniards normally drink it all themselves."

He poured a golden liquid into a delicate, stemmed goblet then handed it to her.

Tammy grasped her glass as if it were an enemy attempting to escape.

"Easy," he told her. "That glass won't make any sudden moves. Hold it like this." He demonstrated with his own stem, taking a sip of the excellent wine.

"Like this?" She squeezed the stem so hard it broke off.

He shook his head. This was going to be harder than he'd thought. "Not exactly."

There wasn't a lot of blood, fortunately. He wiped it off, smeared ointment on Tammy's injury, and provided her with a bandage.

Tammy's skin felt incredibly warm, as if some sort of fire burned within her. Her chin trembled in what he could only guess was frustration. To his surprise, some male instinct made him lean forward. She inhaled sharply, but she didn't draw away.

He pulled himself back in shock. He'd almost kissed her. It might have been a few weeks since he'd had a woman, but he couldn't be desperate enough to kiss an employee, let alone one as vulnerable as Tammy. Could he?

"Dinner is served, sir," his cook said. "I've laid out your best china."

Hunter forced himself to smile. He'd kept clients alive when multimillion-dollar contracts had been taken out on their lives and everyone else in the business thought they were hopeless. He had to believe he could keep Tammy from hurting herself too seriously. What she might do to his china he didn't even want to consider.

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