should have cut you off financially in college when you insisted on majoring in theater. And hasn't that been a gold mine of job opportunities? You're thirty-one. And you're a Granger. It's long past time you settled down and applied yourself.'

Annabelle had told herself she wouldn't rise to the bait regardless of the provocation, but between Mouse, Heath Champion, the mention of Rob, and a fear that her mother was right, she broke. 'Applying myself in the Granger family only means two things, right? Medicine or finance?'

'Don't start. You know exactly what I mean. That awful matchmaking business hasn't turned a profit in years. Mother only opened it so she could nib into other people's lives. You're not getting any younger, Annabelle, and I won't stand by and watch you waste more of your life when you could be going back to school and preparing for the future.'

'I don't want-'

'You've always been good with numbers. You'd make a wonderful accountant. And I've told you we'll pay your tuition.'

'I don't want to be an accountant! And I don't need my parents supporting me.'

'Living in Nana's house doesn't count, then?'

It was a knockout punch. Annabelle's cheeks burned. Her mother had inherited Nana's Wicker Park house. Annabelle was living in it, ostensibly to keep it from being vandalized, but really because Kate didn't want Annabelle staying in some 'dangerous urban neighborhood.' Annabelle lashed back. 'Fine! Do you want me to move out? Is that what you want?'

Oh, God, she sounded like she was fifteen again. Why did she always let Kate do this to her? Before she could retrench, her mother went on, speaking in the same overly patient maternal voice she'd used when Annabelle was eight and had announced that she'd run away from home if her brothers didn't stop calling her Spud.

'What I want you to do is go back to school and get your accounting degree. You know Doug will help you get a job.'

'I'm not going to be an accountant!'

'Then what are you going to be, Annabelle? Tell me. Do you think I enjoy nagging? If you could just once explain it to me…'

'I want to run my own business,' Annabelle said, sounding whiny even to herself.

'You tried that, remember? The gift shop? Then there was that awful dot-com. Doug and I both warned you. Then that tacky employment agency. You can't stick with anything.'

'That's not fair! The employment agency folded.'

'So did the gift shop and the dot-com. Did you ever think it's more than coincidental that whatever business you attach yourself to goes bottom up? It's because you deal in daydreams not in reality. Like that whole fantasy you had about being an actress.'

Annabelle sank lower in her seat. She'd been a decent actress, taking solid supporting roles in a couple of university productions and directing some studio plays. But by her junior year, she'd realized theater wasn't her passion, just an escape into a world where she didn't have to be Doug and Adam Granger's incompetent little sister.

'And look what happened with Rob,' Kate went on. 'Of all the- Well, never mind about that. The point is, you've bought into this New Age nonsense that all you have to do is want something badly enough, and you can get it. But life doesn't work that way. It takes more than desire. Successful people are pragmatic. They make plans that are rooted in reality.'

'I don't want to be an accountant!'

A long, disapproving silence followed this outburst. Annabelle knew exactly what her mother was thinking. That Annabelle was being Annabelle again, high-strung, overly dramatic, and impractical, the family's lone failure. But no one could upset her like her mother.

Except her father.

And her brothers.

'Stop screwing around with your life, Spud, and settle on something practical,' Adam, the big-shot doctor, had written in his last e-mail, which he'd thoughtfully copied to the rest of the family plus two aunts and three cousins.

'You're thirty-one,' Doug, the big-shot accountant, had noted on her recent birthday card. 'I was making two hundred grand a year when I was thirty-one.'

Her father, the ex-big-shot surgeon, took a different approach. 'Birdied number four yesterday. My putting game's finally come together. And, Annabelle… It's long past time you found yourself.'

Only Nana Myrna had offered support. 'You'll find yourself when the time is right, sweetheart.'

Annabelle missed Nana Myrna. She'd been a failure, too.

'The accounting field is wide open,' her mother said. 'It's growing by leaps and bounds.'

'So is my business,' Annabelle retorted in a mad act of self-destruction. 'I've landed a very important client.'


'You know I can't give you his name.'

'Is he under seventy?'

Annabelle told herself not to take the bait, but there was a reason she'd earned her reputation as the family screwup. 'He's thirty-four, a high-profile multimillionaire.'

'Why on earth has he hired you?'

Annabelle gritted her teeth. 'Because I'm the best, that's why.'

'We'll see.' Her mother's voice softened, driving the point of her maternal knife home. 'I know I aggravate you, baby, but it's only because I love you, and I want you to fulfill your potential.'

Annabelle sighed. 'I know you do. I love you, too.'

The conversation finally ground to an end. Annabelle stowed her cell, slammed the door, and jabbed the key into the ignition. Maybe if there wasn't so much truth behind her mother's words, they wouldn't sting so badly.

As she backed out of the parking place, she gazed into the rearview mirror and uttered little Jamison's favorite word. Twice.

Chapter Two

Dean Robillard entered the club like a frigging movie star, a linen sports coat draped over his shoulders, diamond studs glittering in his earlobes, and a pair of Oakleys shading his Malibu blue eyes. With his sun-bronzed skin, rakish stubble, and blond, surfer-boy hair all shiny and gel-rumpled, he was L.A.'s gift to the city of Chicago. Heath grinned, glad for the distraction. The boy had style, and the Windy City had missed him.

'Do you know Dean?' The blonde trying to drape herself over Heath's right arm watched as Robillard flashed the crowd his red carpet smile. She had to raise her voice to be heard over the crap music coming from the dance floor of Waterworks, the site of tonight's private party. Although the Sox were playing in Cleveland and the Bulls hadn't drifted back to town yet, the city's other teams were -well represented at the party, mainly players from the Stars and Bears, but also most of the Cubs outfield, a couple of Blackhawks, and a goalie for the Chicago Fire. Added to the mix were a few actors, a rock star, and women, dozens of them, each more beautiful than the next, the sexual plunder of the rich and famous.

'Sure he knows Dean.' The brunette on his other side gave the blonde a condescending look. 'Heath knows every football player in town, doncha, lover?' As she spoke, she surreptitiously slid her hand around his inner thigh, but Heath ignored his hard-on, just as he'd been ignoring all his hard-ons since he'd gone into training for marriage.

Going into training for marriage was hell.

He reminded himself that he'd gotten where he was by sticking to a plan, and being married before he hit thirty-five was the next step. His wife would be the ultimate symbol of his accomplishments, the final proof that he'd left the Beau Vista Trailer Park behind him forever.

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