Authors: EC Sheedy
A Man Called Blue
writing as Carole Dean
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Copyright © 1997, 2012 by Carole Dean. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.
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A curse shot through the door of the luxurious private jet. And not a nice one. Simone Doucet shifted her attention from the
Wall Street Journal
and cocked an ear toward the door in time to catch another one—even less nice. It certainly wasn't Nolan.
She glanced at her watch; he was late. Unusual for him. She stood and went to the open hatch in the center of the aircraft.
"Nance, what's going on out there?" she called out.
"Don't know, Miss Doucet. This bozo says he works for you."
Nance's beefy hand gripped the shoulder of a man a head shorter than himself, and judging from the man's pugnacious stance, he wasn't the least intimidated. Considering Nance stood six feet seven inches with his feet in a trough, Simone figured the man was either extraordinarily brave, certifiably stupid, or stoned out of his mind.
Nance loosened his grip, allowing the man enough freedom to turn and face her. He wore cutoffs, a green muscle shirt of some kind, deck shoes with no socks, and sunglasses. A lumpy canvas bag rested at his feet. To Simone's eye he was a shower short of disreputable. She'd never seen him before in her life.
"Get rid of him, Nance."
While Nance shaped the man into a human projectile, she began her retreat to the inside of the plane. "Hey. Hold it! Nolan sent me," he shouted. She turned back to see him shake free of Nance and dig into his pocket. He pulled out a crumpled sheet of paper and lifted it in her direction. She nodded at Nance, and he reached around the man to remove the paper from his hand.
"It's a letter, Miss Doucet, and it's Mr. Smythe's signature on the bottom, all right. It says here—"
She held out her hand. "Bring it to me, Nance."
"Stay put, mister." With that terse instruction, Nance took the few steps leading to the hatch and handed her the letter.
I hate to do this to you, but it can't be helped. At this moment, I'm in the hospital with a broken leg, a dislocated shoulder, and a smashed elbow—all from a misstep on my stairs! Thomas Bludell, the man who carries this fax, is a
good friend of mine. I've asked him to stand in for me. London should be no problem for him. He has the skills for it, and if you dress him up, you can take him anywhere—almost. In short, he's all yours for two weeks. You won't be disappointed.
P.S. I'll call you in London. Have a safe trip, good luck with Hallam Porcelain—and trust Thomas. He's a good man to have in your corner.
She slapped the message against her thigh.
Damn! She didn't need this.
It was the second note in a week to upset her plans. Making no secret of her displeasure, she glared down at the man standing on the hot tarmac.
"Hey." He lifted his hands. "I'm no happier about this than you are, lady, but I owe the guy. Fire me where I stand if you want." He brought his hands down to rest on his lean hips. "It's your call."
As if she had a choice. She nodded her head toward the canvas bag at his feet. "Nance, take Mr. Bludell's luggage, please." If she couldn't have Nolan, she'd at least have his skills—and a damned escort. In London she'd need both.
Thomas Bludell dropped his chin and shook his head like a beaten man. Obviously, he'd been hoping she wouldn't let him board. He muttered something under his breath.
"Excuse me?" she asked.
The sun glinted on the rim of his glasses when he lifted his head to answer. "Nothing. Just a vow to break Nole's other leg the next time I see him."
She studied him. Between the sun's white glare and his dark glasses, she could only see his jaw, set to a hard square, and a mouth, that, should it ever soften, some women would find sensual. He was not unattractive. The thought didn't cheer her.
She raised a brow but didn't smile. "I'd appreciate it if you'd save the idle threats until we're airborne. We're scheduled for takeoff any minute." She took a step, stopped, and turned back. "Nolan? Will he be all right?"
"He'll be fine. Nice of you to ask," he said drily.
" 'Nice' would have been him advising
in advance of this unwanted substitution."
"He had one call before they took him in. I was it."
"And this?" She held out the letter.
"Coerced a nurse. Figured I needed an introduction."
He cocked his head, and although she couldn't see his eyes, she knew he was assessing her. Predictable. Men liked to take inventory, and this one wasn't shy about it. Inwardly she caved. Oh lord, not another aggressive man who figured he was God's gift to womankind. No. He couldn't be, not if he was a friend of Nolan's. She scanned him, from his scuffed Topsiders to... his earring. There was definitely a gold hoop glittering in his earlobe. Inappropriate, of course. As was his too long hair. But the hair itself, a deep, sun-streaked chestnut, was thick and shiny. No, he
wasn't unattractive. Maybe Nolan was right, maybe Thomas Bludell could be dressed up—enough to do.
"What you need, Mr. Bludell," she said finally, "is a shave and a haircut." Giving him no chance to respond, she turned and went inside the plane. By the time he stepped in, she was seated with her back to him.
Nance directed him to a seat in the rear of the craft, and Simone heard him sink into it with the exhaled energy of an angry, frustrated man. This time he didn't bother to curse. Simone shook out her abandoned newspaper, ignored the urge to look back at him. It wasn't easy.
They were barely settled when Kelly, her pilot, announced, "We have clearance, Miss Doucet." Flight-panic scratched at her nerves. She took a deep breath as the plane began its smooth glide from the service area to one of the runways used by private aircraft. Takeoffs were the worst part.