already busy doing just that. The only one who's free to take care of your problems is Annabelle.'

Vaughn broke into a heated sweat.

'Annabelle's a real people person,' Yank continued, his voice not leaving room for argument. 'She's smart, she's savvy, and she can handle herself in a big city or a small town. She thrives on crisis management and can turn any bad play into a touchdown.' Arms folded across his wide chest, Yank looked him in the eye, then went for the kill. 'You trust me, don't you? That's why you came back, isn't it?'

All the guilt and betrayal Vaughn had lived with for years came flooding back. He owed Yank Morgan for treating him with respect and caring. If working with and placing his trust in Annabelle was the way to repay him, then Vaughn had no choice.

'Okay,' he said, decision made, even if his stomach was now in knots. 'Annabelle's the one for the job.'

Without warning, Yank's office door swung open wide. As if summoned, Annabelle breezed inside and Vaughn's gut churned with sudden, burning need. She hadn't changed. She was a blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty who had really grown into her looks. Her features were patrician but her attitude and swagger were all New York chic.

Without sparing him a glance, she placed an obviously designer bag, not that Vaughn knew which designer, onto her uncle's desk. 'You'll never guess what I've got in here.'

She glanced up then, and stopped short, meeting Vaughn's gaze. Her porcelain-like skin flushed a damned attractive shade of pink and he was glad he affected her, too.

Her gaze darted to Yank. 'Lola wasn't at her desk so I just let myself in.'

'Not a problem. We were just talking about you. You're just in time to meet your newest client. Vaughn, meet Annie,' Yank said.

The childhood nickname didn't suit the elegant woman, but did provide him with an intimate glance into her personal life, and the heat pulsing through him increased.

As she stepped back to appraise him, Vaughn watched closely, deciding he'd take his cues from her.

'Everyone in the business knows Brandon Vaughn,' she said, obviously playing to his ego. 'But I think I told you we've been introduced before.'

If she was flustered, she no longer showed it. Instead she stepped toward him. 'Nice to see you again.' She extended her hand in greeting.

He gripped her soft palm in return. What should have been a brief, businesslike handshake was electrified by a sizzling connection instead. He might have sucked in school but he knew chemistry and theirs was just as strong as it had been at their first meeting.

'Nice to know I still have a reputation to speak of.' He forced a laugh.

'So we're working together,' she said, her voice a touch hoarser than before.

'Your uncle thinks we'll make a good team.'

'I'm sure you were mistaken,' she said, her eyes suddenly twinkling with challenge. 'Uncle Yank knows I work solo. Any client I take on has got to agree to play by my rules and follow my cue. Otherwise I can't promise results.'

'I'm sure we'll find some middle ground,' he assured her, not glancing at Yank who merely watched from the sidelines, leaving Vaughn to deal with his last choice of Yank's nieces. 'So what's in the bag?' he asked.

She unzipped the top and pulled out a mutt that was nothing short of a ball of frazzled fluff. The white dog looked like an oversize cotton ball but for the patch of black hair over one eye.

'What the hell is that?' Yank leaned forward for a closer look, squinting as he examined the dog.

'According to the shelter, he's a coton de tulear.'

'A what?' Brandon asked.

'A coton,' Annabelle explained. 'Like a bichon frise,' she said, as if that made any more sense.

The dog squirmed restlessly until Annabelle cradled him beneath her breasts in a move that left Vaughn breathless, speechless and with a complete hard-on while wishing he could trade places with the pooch.

Oblivious to his reaction, Annabelle went on to explain. 'I was doing my shift at the shelter when I met the newest arrival. I mean who abandons a sweet dog like this, papers and all?' She pressed her lips to the top of his fluffy head. 'But the kennel is overcrowded and if nobody adopted him by next Sunday, they'd have to put him down. And I couldn't handle the waiting and not knowing, so-'

'You took him yourself,' Yank finished for her.

'The kid's been hiding strays for as long as she's been with me. She was afraid I'd turn them out in the cold and-'

'Vaughn doesn't want to hear any old childhood stories,' Annabelle said, cutting off another unexpected glimpse into Annabelle Jordan.

He shifted his weight and sat on the edge of the desk. 'Actually I don't mind at all.'

'Well I do.'

Yank cleared his throat. 'You'll have plenty of time to get to know one another while you're working on the problems at Vaughn's lodge. You have electricity? Fax and phone service?' he asked.

'Most of the time,' Vaughn said.

'Great, because we can't spare anyone to tag along with Annie right now. So you go on up to the lodge, assess the damage and we'll work things out from there. Lola's always around if you need her.'

Annabelle sighed. 'We've had two assistants on maternity leave, the temp agency keeps sending us duds, and the good ones get experience and move upward,' she explained to Vaughn, agreeing with her uncle.

Though from the uncomfortable shifting of her feet, she didn't seem all that happy about accompanying him alone.

'Which reminds me. Micki's got a point,' she said to her uncle. 'We need extra help.'

'Finish this assignment and we'll talk about everything. Hell, maybe I can steal an agent from Spencer Atkins, the client poaching dirtbag,' he said, shooting a direct glance at Vaughn.

He refused to flinch.

Annabelle rolled her eyes. 'We need more publicists, not agents. So where's the lodge located?' she asked in an obvious subject change.

'Upstate. About an hour and a half from the city,' Vaughn replied.

She shuffled the dog around, but didn't move him from the snug spot beneath those luscious breasts. 'Give directions to Lola. I'll wrap things up around here, leave in the morning and be there midday tomorrow. Once I get up to speed, I'll comprise a game plan,' she said.

She seemed to have a no-nonsense way of directing things around her. Well, she would soon learn he was finished being directed, manipulated, or puppeteered in any way, by any woman.

'Since I'm staying overnight in the city, I'll pick you up whenever's convenient and drive you upstate myself,' he countered.

Her jaw clenched and her body stiffened, enough to have the dog wriggling to escape her confining arms. She soothed him with a pat on the head, then turned back to Vaughn. 'I'd rather have my car.'

And he'd rather not have her zoom into town in the flaming red Porsche she'd been photographed in numerous times. The last picture had shown her tearing out of The Waldorf after an argument with her ex-boyfriend, the quarterback.

He opted for a diplomatic approach. 'I don't want to call attention to your presence. It's a small town and I don't want anyone thinking I'm into the flashy or frivolous. I need their trust and I want them to line up for employment and to recommend the lodge to relatives.'

'Are you insinuating I'm loud and flashy looking?' she asked in a deceptively sweet voice, latching on to the one nondiplomatic part of his speech.

'He ain't insinuating nothing, Annie. He's outright telling you to leave the hooker mobile at home.' Yank burst out laughing, and judging from Annabelle's furious expression, making the situation one hundred times worse.

She clenched her jaw. 'Fine, you can pick me up in front of my building at three. Meanwhile, may I ask what people will think I'm doing there? Acting as your assistant? Your secretary? Or can we just call me your publicist?' she asked with obviously feigned sweetness.

He shook his head. 'Nobody needs to know my business.'

'Then why not just call Annie your girlfriend?' Yank suggested, grinning like an idiot at his idea.

'No,' both Annabelle and Vaughn said at the same time.

It was probably the only time they'd agree, he thought. On anything.

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