Carly Phillips

Hot Stuff

The first book in the Hot Zone series, 2004

The 'Hot' series is about family and this book is dedicated to mine. I love you all.

As always, to Phil, Jackie, Jen and Buddy; and to Mom and Dad.

To my brother Ross and Shari, Jillian and Charlotte.

To Roz and Ron for giving me my husband, the best man in the world.

To Sam, Debbie, Jordan and Ben.

To Jessie, and to Grandma Eisa, who loves reading as much as I do.

To Uncle Marty and my California cousins, Todd, Jill, Maddie and Ben; and to Debbie, Joel and Josh, Teddi and Nathaniel.

And to my # 1 fan Aunt Andi, and to Uncle Larry and to my Thanksgiving clan, Glenn, Michele and Maddie; and to Rick, Connie and MacKenzie.

Finally, to Grandma Sylvia, who has taught me about macular degeneration and the meaning of independence.

And in loving memory of my grandparents watching over me and who love me still, Grandma Charlotte, Grandpa Henry and Grandpa Jack (the real Grandpa Yank).


YANK MORGAN WAS A BACHELOR, a gambler, a ladies' man and completely unprepared for the sight sitting before him. Three little girls in descending height and matching dresses stared at him with wide eyes and expectant expressions. Ages twelve, ten and eight, they were his sister's children. Nieces his assistant Lola bought birthday and holiday gifts for, signing his name to the cards. Kids he saw a few times a year for an hour at a time. That was about to change.

Thanks to a chartered plane crash in the Andes, his sister and her husband were gone, leaving Yank as guardian of their three girls. Frustrated by the notion and emotionally devastated by the loss, Yank balled up the note left by the attorney and tossed it across the room, not even aiming for the garbage can.

The oldest girl, Annabelle, shot him a scowl, then quickly schooled her features into an unreadable expression. He wondered if she was afraid of him but before he could ask, one of her sisters chimed in.

'Mama was right about him. Uncle Yank's a pig,' Sophie, the middle one, said.

'Shh.' Annabelle placed a hand over her lips. 'Don't be rude. He's the only relative we got left.' Her eyes, big and wide, showed all the fear inherent in those words. So much so that he was determined to do his best by all three of them.

The youngest, whose name he thought was Michelle, bent down and picked the paper up off the floor. Before she tossed it into the trash, Yank caught sight of her white panties beneath her short dress.

'Well I'll be damned. You've got a bow on your butt,' he muttered aloud.

His niece turned. 'You have a foul mouth, Uncle Yack.'

'That's Yank and you're darned right I do. Any of you got a problem with that?' he asked all three girls.

Annabelle immediately shook her head. She obviously understood the value of staying on his good side. He liked her intelligence in a bad situation, but worried about how he'd handle her as she got older. It wouldn't do to have a kid smarter than him living in the house, he thought wryly. Maybe the other two weren't as swift.

'If you can curse, does that mean I get to do what I want, too?' The youngest faced him, hands on her hips, a determined tilt to her chin.

She obviously had gumption. 'That depends. What do you want to do?'

'Ditch the dress!'

Yank chuckled. Maybe this parenting business wouldn't be so hard after all. 'I think that can be arranged. You're Michelle?' he asked.

She nodded. 'But you can call me Micki.'

'Nobody calls you Micki and besides that's a boy's name,' her middle sister complained.

'Micki it is,' Yank said, thinking of his idol, Mickey Mantle.

Sophie rolled her eyes. 'Tomboy,' she called her sister.

'Barbie doll,' Micki yelled back.

With each word, their voices escalated and Yank cringed. Annabelle jumped between them and stamped her feet. 'You two behave,' she said, but in trying too hard, the words came out just as loud and whiny as her sisters'.

And that was Yank's introduction into the world of little women. He had no clue what to do with any of them.


'THE MEETING WILL COME TO ORDER.' Yank Morgan slammed the gavel against the rubber plate, calling The Hot Zone weekly meeting to order. His dark, wiry, hair liberally sprinkled with gray was full and shaggy on a normal day, but after continually running his hands through it in frustration while he waited for his nieces to settle down, it was considerably more disheveled.

As president of their sports agency/PR firm located in a high-rise in midtown Manhattan, Uncle Yank liked to assert his authority. He used the gavel, an engraved birthday gift given to him by Judge Judy, often and with zeal. Unfortunately the gavel didn't change the fact that he was a man outnumbered by three women. Four if he counted Lola, his personal assistant, who liked to tell him what to do and when to do it.

Annabelle Jordan glanced at her sisters who also studied their uncle with fond amusement. As teenagers, they'd paid little attention to Uncle Yank's rules, mainly because he didn't have any. The older the girls became, the more their uncle searched for a way to pretend he hadn't let his personal and professional life go to hell in a handbasket, as he liked to say. The gavel seemed to give him a measure of pride and confidence, and was a small price to pay for him to feel in control with his new partners.

He'd continued the sports agency, but on Annabelle's graduation from business school, he'd allowed her to make her dream of a family business into reality. None of the sisters wanted to be sports agents, but they'd all desired to get into public relations. It was Annabelle who'd seen a means to tie the agency to PR and expand the reach of Uncle Yank's clients beyond their limited career on the field.

Her vision had been a success. The PR side of The Hot Zone specialized in handling professional athletes both in the prime of their careers and into retirement, forced or otherwise. And as each niece had graduated business school, Uncle Yank had rewarded them with a position and piece of his firm. Together they'd created a family business which fed Annabelle's need to keep her siblings and small family together.

'So let's go through today's agenda,' Lola said, pen in hand to document the meeting. As usual, her attitude indicated she was ready to do business, even if her longing gazes toward Yank spoke of something entirely more personal. Lola, with her business demeanor, buttoned-up dress and raven hair pulled into a bun, was in love with

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