Natural Born Charmer (Chicago Stars #7)(15)

by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

She returned to the car. He put everything back in her purse, closed it, and handed it over. “I was looking for breath mints.”

“In my wallet?”

“Why would you have breath mints in your wallet?”

“You were snooping in my purse!” Her expression indicated that snooping in general didn’t bother her, only when it was directed against her. A pointed reminder to keep his own wallet close to his body. “Prada makes purses,” he said as he pulled away from the gas station and headed back to the interstate. “Gucci makes purses. That thing looks like it came with a set of socket wrenches and a girly calendar.”

She bristled with indignation. “I can’t believe you snooped.”

“I can’t believe you hit me up for a hotel room last night. You’re not exactly destitute.”

He was greeted with silence. She turned to stare out the window. Her small stature, those narrow shoulders, the delicate elbows emerging from beneath the sleeves of her ridiculously oversize black T-shirt—all those signs of fragility should have aroused his protective instincts. They didn’t.

“Someone emptied out my bank accounts three days ago,” she said flatly. “I’m temporarily broke.”

“Let me guess. Monty the snake.”

She tugged absentmindedly on her ear. “Yeah, that’s right. Monty the snake.”

She was lying. She hadn’t said a word about bank accounts when she’d launched her assault against Monty yesterday. But her dismal expression testified that someone had robbed her. The Beav needed more than a ride. She needed money.

He prided himself on being the most generous guy in the world. He treated the women he dated like queens and sent lavish presents when the relationships ended. He’d never two-timed, and he was a damned unselfish lover. But the way Blue kept resisting him tempered his natural inclination to open his wallet. He took in her disheveled hair and sorry excuse for an outfit. She wasn’t even close to being a knockout, and under ordinary circumstances, he’d never have noticed her. But last night, she’d held up a big red stop sign, and the game was on.

“So what are you going to do?” he asked.

“Well…” She nibbled at her bottom lip. “I don’t actually know anyone in Kansas City, but I have an old college roommate who lives in Nashville. Since you’re going right through there…”

“You want a ride to Nashville?” He made it sound like the moon.

“If you wouldn’t mind.”

He didn’t mind at all. “I don’t know. Nashville’s a long way off, and I’d have to pay for all your meals plus another hotel room. Unless…”

“I’m not sleeping with you!”

He gave her a lazy smile. “Is sex all you think about? I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but, frankly, it makes you seem a little desperate.”

It was sucker’s bait, and she refused to bite. Instead, she slammed on a pair of cheap aviator sunglasses that made her look like Bo Peep about to take command of an F-18. “Just drive and look gorgeous,” she said. “No need to tax your brain by talking.”

She had more nerve than any woman he’d ever met.

“The thing is, Blue, I’m not only a pretty face, I’m also a businessman, which means I expect a return on my investment.” He should feel as smarmy as he sounded, but he was enjoying himself too much.

“You’re getting an original Blue Bailey portrait,” she said. “You’re also getting a security guard for your car and a bodyguard to hold off your fans. Honestly, I should charge you. I think I will. Two hundred dollars between here and Nashville.”

Before he could tell her what he thought of that idea, Safe Net interrupted.

“Hi, Boo, it’s Steph.”

Blue leaned toward the speaker. “Boo, you devil. What did you do with my panties?”

A long silence followed. He glowered at her. “I can’t talk now, Steph. I’m listening to an audiobook, and somebody’s about to get stabbed to death.”

The Beav pulled the aviators down on her nose as he disconnected and peered at him over the top. “Sorry. I was bored.”

He cocked an eyebrow at her. She was at his mercy, but she refused to give an inch. Intriguing.

He turned up the radio and helped out the Gin Blossoms with a damn good drum fill on the steering wheel. Blue, however, stayed lost in her own world. She didn’t even comment when he flipped the station after Jack Patriot came on again with “Why Not Smile?”

Blue barely heard the radio playing in the background. She was so far out of her element with Dean Robillard that he might have been from a different universe. The trick was not letting him realize she knew it. She wondered if he’d bought into her lie about Monty and the bank accounts. He didn’t give much away, so it was hard to tell, but she couldn’t bear having him know her own mother was the villain.

Virginia was Blue’s only relative, so it had been natural for her to be the cosigner on all Blue’s accounts. Her mother was the last person to steal from anyone. Virginia happily bought her clothes at Salvation Army thrift stores and slept on friends’ couches when she was in the States. Only a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions could have made her take Blue’s money.

Blue had discovered the theft on Friday, three days ago, when she’d tried to use her ATM card. Virginia had left a message on her cell.

“I only have a few minutes, sweetheart. I got into your bank accounts today. I’ll write as soon as I can to explain everything.” Her mother rarely lost control, but Virginia’s soft, sweet voice had broken. “Forgive me, my love. I’m in Colombia. A group of girls I’ve been working with was kidnapped yesterday by one of those armed bands of marauders. They’ll be…raped, forced to become killers themselves. I—I can’t let that happen. I can buy their freedom with your money. I know you’ll see this as an unforgivable breach of trust, my darling, but you’re strong and others aren’t. Please forgive me and—and remember how much I love you.”

Blue stared blindly at the flat Kansas landscape. She hadn’t felt so helpless since she was a kid. The nest egg that had given her the only security she’d ever known had become ransom money. How did she start over with only eighteen dollars? That wouldn’t even pay for new advertising flyers. She’d feel marginally better if she could call Virginia and scream at her, but her mother didn’t own a phone. If she needed one, she simply borrowed.