Emma nodded. She certainly did. Fun meant something short-term. If Rina meant anything else, she would have chosen the word relationship. 'You're horny.'

'Emma!' Rina blushed a deep crimson. 'You're terrible.'

'I beg to differ. Holding back your thoughts is terrible. Speaking your mind is completely appropriate. Well, when among friends. And you are my friend.' She put a hand on Rina's arm. 'Something about you reminds me of my granddaughter, Grace. Or, at least, the way she was before I sent Ben to look after her. All this youthful exuberance and pent-up energy. All you need is the right man to let loose with.' Emma nodded, certain she was correct.

'You think I'm horny, huh?' Rina laughed. 'Believe whatever you want, but you're right about one thing. Letting loose is exactly what I have in mind.'


'MARK MY WORDS, Joe. Sex will lead to the end of the world as we know it.' Colin Lyons glanced at the hospital bed, where his adoptive father and mentor lay sleeping.

Asleep, not dead. Thank God. After finding out Joe had had a stroke, Colin had hightailed it home from South America. He'd been covering a rigged election in a country where money laundering commingled with drug trafficking and guns blazed on the sunbaked streets. Now, one week later, Colin sat in the quiet hospital room watching the monitors prove to him Joe was alive. In the background, snow fell outside, a serene and peaceful reminder of winter. Of Christmas, of life and hope.

Colin had taken leave from his job to come home and run Joe's beloved Ashford Times until the older man recovered, only to discover that he'd been usurped. Prior to his stroke, Joe hadn't been feeling well. Yet, instead of calling on Colin, Joe had given his second wife, Corinne, power of attorney, which she'd used to almost run the newspaper and Joe's legacy into the ground. Colin's stomach cramped and twisted with guilt because he hadn't been around when Joe needed him. Worse, Joe hadn't thought his health was important enough to bother Colin with while he was on assignment.

He glanced toward the bed. A loud snoring sound reassured him that Joe wasn't down for the count. The doctors promised a full recovery, and he'd already begun the slow road toward recuperation. But time was something neither Colin nor the Times had on their side.

'Do you know that Corinne's turning the paper into a fluff-fest,' he asked, wondering if his words would penetrate Joe's sleepy fog.

They didn't. Joe's mouth opened wider in slumber as the clock on the wall ticked away the minutes of the day. Colin didn't mind. 'There's a new column called 'Meet and Greet: Matchmaking for the Aging but Still Sexually Inclined.'' Colin didn't expect a reply and wasn't surprised when he didn't get one.

He not only blamed Corinne for the beginning of the paper's change away from hard news, but also for squandering the bank account, not keeping up with advertising and her general lack of oversight. She'd brought the paper to the brink of bankruptcy, then foolishly thought she could fix things herself. Beginning by moving Emma Montgomery, a spunky senior citizen and his best friend's grandmother, from a desk job to a columnist with better placement than Dear Abby or Miss Manners, the syndicated giants.

He leaned back in his chair. 'Emma means well but she takes this matchmaking thing too far. It's Christmas season, right? So she hangs mistletoe over the watercooler. My first day back I got a smack on the lips courtesy of Marty Meyers.' He was Joe's male secretary, who was one hundred percent gay and taken. Colin didn't find it amusing at the time, but looking back, it had been a pretty funny scene.

But the reality of the situation wasn't funny. Colin doubted Joe knew how bad the Times's financial situation was, and telling him would only add stress and compromise his recovery. Besides, Colin already had things under temporary control.

He'd borrowed money from Ron Gold, an old friend of Joe's who believed, like Colin, that the paper had to return to the hard news that had made it a success to begin with. Based on a gentleman's handshake, Colin had promised to do everything in his power to shift things back to the status quo.

Colin could handle working on Corinne to affect a change, but he needed time. Ron Gold understood. The paper's biggest advertiser didn't. Fortune's Inc., a conservative investment company, demanded Corinne's promise in writing to turn things around-focus on the news and get rid of the, in their opinion, risque columns that now graced the front page.

Otherwise they threatened to pull their new ads scheduled for the first of the year, and the Times would lose its largest source of funding. Then even Ron Gold's loan wouldn't save the paper. Colin had until January 1. No longer. And he had no idea how to accomplish his goal with a woman who wouldn't listen to reason.

'Hello, Colin.' Corinne breezed into the room, bringing with her the scent of heavy perfume. 'How is he?' She walked over to the bed and stroked Joe's forehead.

Her gentle treatment of Joe didn't mesh with Colin's perception of her as being cold and self-absorbed. Then again, he hadn't been home often enough in the last couple of years to know her well. 'He's sleeping.'

She nodded and shrugged her jacket off her shoulders, revealing a low-cut, designer suit. Like the direction she was taking the paper, Corinne, her exposed cleavage and outward demeanor, oozed sex.

He glanced at his watch. Nearly three. 'Long day at the office?' he asked.

'No, a fabulous one.' Her eyes lit up as she spoke. 'Wait until you read Rina's first column,' she said of her newest addition to the Ashford Times's staff.

Rina Lowell, a woman who Corinne had hired to write a weekly column with the heading 'Hot Stuff.' A woman who intrigued Colin on many levels.

She had a creamy complexion and didn't bother with makeup to enhance her image. He was fascinated by a woman comfortable in her own skin. Her hair was pulled into a conservative bun he was dying to undo, and see just how far the strands fell down her back. Her bare, naked back if he had his way. She possessed a husky voice with a New York accent she'd refined, and hid her assets beneath bulky sweaters and baggy pants.

He had no idea what lay under the packaging, but damned if he didn't want to find out. Hell, his fingers itched to strip off the thick layers and explore, inch by tantalizing inch.

Even with her eyes hidden by a pair of black-rimmed glasses, it was obvious that she thought and felt deeply. Rina got to him in a visceral sort of way and incited his journalistic blood, making him wonder what secrets she hid behind her intelligent brown eyes.

'Do you want a preview of what Rina has to say?' Corinne asked, breaking into his thoughts.

'Go ahead. I'm sure it'll be the highlight of my day.'

'It's simply sexy,' she replied, either missing or ignoring his sarcasm.

Her excitement over her new employee was almost tangible, reminding him of why he needed to steer clear of Rina Lowell. She sided with the opposition and contributed to the fluff Corinne still seemed to think would sell papers.

That alone put Rina off-limits. 'What's simply sexy?' he forced himself to ask. 'Rina's column?'

'No, the title of her series of articles is Simply Sexy.' Corinne shook her hair, deliberately letting her blond mane flow over her shoulders. 'Simply fabulous if you ask me. She's going to bring in a whole new set of readers.' She still sounded so certain despite her track record of mistakes in the past few months.

He shook his head, amazed reality hadn't set in. She hadn't conceded defeat, not even when forced to accept Colin's check to keep the paper afloat for an extended period of time.

'Corinne, people buy the newspaper for one reason. To read the news.' He figured he'd try one more time to make his point.

'The news is everywhere. Television, radio, even on people's computer screens. They can buy the Boston Globe for news. I want to give them something different.' She waved her hand for emphasis, and her gold bracelets clinked together.

Surprisingly, Joe didn't react. It was a noise he must be used to hearing in his sleep.

'I admit I started off slow and on the wrong foot, but with Rina and Emma on board, I'm getting there. People

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