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Authors: Myrna Mackenzie

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BOOK: Saving Cinderella!
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“You shouldn’t have had to live through that.”

“And
you
shouldn’t have had some idiot of a man take all that you’ve done for him, fling it in your face and walk away.”

He held her gaze. He brushed her palm with his thumb. “I lived through experiences that I hate to remember, but no one ever was able to attack my heart,” he said. “Not like that. What kind of a man lets a woman think he cares and then denies her?”

“Some do.”

“They’re not men. They could have at least said thank you.”

She tried to smile.

He swore beneath his breath. “You don’t have to be cheerful for my sake. But, Alex, when you leave here I want you to know that there’s a man in Las Vegas who’ll always be grateful for what you’ve done for him, and for having the chance to know you for a few weeks.”

That was it. Her throat was closing up. Tears were threatening. She didn’t want that. Once she started crying, he might know that her feelings ran deeper than his ever would. She could
not
go through that again. Alex took a deep breath and forced calm on herself.

She nodded. “Thank you.”

He swore.


Thank you,”
she repeated, more firmly. “So, how did you go from a life like that to one like this?”

“As soon as I was old enough I ran. I was almost sixteen, and I didn’t want to go into the system, so I worked my way around the country. I clawed my way into jobs and saved every penny until I could buy a run-down, falling-down piece of real estate which I fixed up and sold. Then I bought another. My uncle had treated me as a slave at times. Manual labor and the ability to build or repair things was the one thing he gave me that I could use, and I used it. That’s all there is to know.”

But Alex knew that what he was telling her wasn’t half of what he had endured. He had been told over and over that he was worthless. Yet he had somehow educated himself and made McKendrick’s into a world-class establishment. And now he continued to work on it and on the Haven, proving over and over again that he had worth. He’d taken a stand in Las Vegas and made the city his own.

That’s all there is to know.
His words echoed through her
mind. This was as far as they went. It was as much as he was able to give.

“Okay.” Her voice came out wrong. He might have thought that revealing his past would keep her safe. Instead she was falling faster and harder than she ever had before.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

W
YATT
frowned at Alex.

“What?” she asked.

“Don’t look at me that way, Alexandra.”

“What way?”

“I’m not sure, but I’m not that boy anymore. I don’t need sympathy.”

She knew that. What he needed was to be the man he was—strong and commanding. He needed McKendrick’s to win the award, to be admired. And he needed to know that he hadn’t hurt her.

No man had worried about hurting her before. She wasn’t quite sure how to deal with that, so she did it the way she did everything: running on instinct. “Don’t worry about me when I’m gone, Wyatt. Those people who hurt me were able to do that because at heart they wanted to be nice. They told lies, trying to offer what they didn’t have to give. I believed them, so I felt stupid and cheated when things fell apart. But you don’t need to worry about me. That’s not what I want from you.”

“What
do
you want from me?”

All kinds of things you’ll never be able to give me,
she thought. “I want honesty, Wyatt, and I’ve got that. You haven’t promised me anything, so you can’t be a disappointment.”

Something in his eyes shifted, and Alex knew that she’d hit him in a vulnerable spot. That these very words had been used against him at one point.
Darn.
She wished she could go back and rewrite his past, but she couldn’t do that any more than she could change her own. So what
could
she do? Where did she and Wyatt go from here…if they went anywhere at all?

We go forward,
she thought.
We accept our limitations. He lost the ability to love long ago. I’m scared to believe anyone who offers me love. That should erase any possibility of a complication during the remaining time we spend together.

A slow, sad smile lifted her lips.

“What’s that about?” Wyatt asked.

She couldn’t tell him. It sounded too pathetic—making a bid to spend time with him the way so many other women had. And what if he said no? He might easily say no.

“I was just thinking…I’d like to help with this project where I can.”
I want to spend more time with you
, she thought.

“You don’t have to do that.”

“I want to. May I remind you, Wyatt, that I work for you?”

“But this wasn’t part of the deal.”

“It is now. You asked me to help you think of ways to improve the place. If you thought I would just walk away after that, then you’ve forgotten about my tendency to butt in.”

“I haven’t forgotten. It’s one of your most endearing qualities.” His voice was low, sexy and…

Oh, don’t tell me I have endearing qualities, she thought. I’m trying so hard to be practical about you, Wyatt. I don’t want to start being impractical again.

“Then I’m butting in. Let me help where I can. Let’s get to work,” she said, stressing the word
work
.

“Yes, my sassy-tongued boss,” he said.

She grinned. “I like being called boss.”

This time his smile was full and genuine. “Power goes to your head, does it, Alex?”

“A bit.”
But not as much as your kisses, Wyatt.

Grr. Randy had certainly been right about the power Wyatt held over women. How was she ever going to stop thinking about the man when she went home?

Maybe by remembering that she
was
going home. So as soon as she got back to her desk, she’d find her calendar and cross off all the days she’d neglected to cross off earlier. Soon she wouldn’t have to worry about falling in love with Wyatt anymore, because they’d be hundreds of miles apart. Forever.

But not yet. For now she was here, with him. And she wanted…she wanted…

Count, Alex, count, so you can’t think about him,
she told herself. But then she stopped.
Don’t count. Enjoy being with him. Maybe you should even kiss him again.

If Jayne and Molly and Serena were here they’d help her. They’d try to stop her.

But they weren’t here. And Wyatt was. Wyatt, who didn’t seem to have ever had much fun or maybe any fun at all in his life when he was growing up. Wyatt who was about work, twenty-four hours a day.

“Watch out, Wyatt,” she whispered. “Here I come.”

 

When Alex decided to do something, she did it flat-out, Wyatt realized. Not that he hadn’t known that before, but it was even more apparent once they began going to the Haven after hours a couple of times a week. She even argued when he insisted on paying her triple time.

“I chose to do this,” she said.

“After I asked for your help.”

“But that was only the initial stuff. The ‘what should I do
with this place?’ stuff. I was the one who made the decision to help with the finishing work.”

He stared her down. “This isn’t a fight you’ll win.”

“I wasn’t fighting. I was reasoning, Wyatt.
You
were being completely unreasonable.”

He smiled.

“What?”

“If you think that calling me names will make me change my mind, give it up, sweetheart. I’m paying you whatever I feel you’re worth, and you’re worth a lot.”

He wasn’t just saying that, either. Now that Alex was on board, she kept finding new ways to fine-tune their work. She was at it again today, and the work—and the time—was flying by. Wyatt wanted to slow down, have more time with her.

But he couldn’t. Belinda seemed to want to get back to work soon. When that happened, Alex would be going back to the city that held her heart, the source of her dreams.

Something rock-hard lodged in his chest and hurt. Stupid. Alex was sparkling and fun and sexy as hell, but once she was gone he’d forget her quickly. It had always been that way with him and women. There was no reason to believe that things would be different this time. Except for that lodged-rock discomfort when he thought about her going.

“Okay, so we repair what has to be repaired,” she was saying. “Then we refinish the floors, but not so they look new. Just so they look a bit weathered and worn down by love.”

He couldn’t help smiling.

“What?”

She had one hand on her hip and an indignant tilt to her head that made him want to walk right over to her, slip his fingers into her silky hair and cover her mouth with his own. But he held back.

“Are we going to put ‘weathered by love’ on the brochure?” he asked.

“You’d think that was funny, wouldn’t you? But…well, it would at least be true. You love this place, and you’re sort of weathering it, with your tools.” She groaned. “Forget I even suggested that. We’ll worry about the brochure later when we— I mean, when
you
start renting these out.”

That solemn reminder that there needed to be an end to all this sent them both back to their tasks. Alex cleaned. He sanded. She decorated. He repaired. He could easily have hired someone else to do these tasks, but Alex was the only person he wanted here, and she seemed to understand.

“You know what I like best about this place?” she asked.

He turned and waited.

“It’s not too perfect. It’s homey, cozy.”

“Small,” he said.

“Hey, don’t criticize the Haven,” she told him.

“I’m still not sure why I’m doing this. No one’s going to want to come here. There’s none of the glitz of Las Vegas, and it’s not rustic enough for outdoor types.”

“You’re doing it because you want to,” she said simply. “Because it gives you pleasure. For fun. Aren’t you?”

Wyatt looked at Alex, dressed in a pair of white shorts and a blue tank top. His favorite, he thought with a smile. Although wasn’t anything she wore his favorite? Right now she was barefoot, and stretching up on her toes to hang a picture of the desert rocks on the wall. What a lovely picture
she
made.

“I’m having fun,” he agreed, as she glanced over her shoulder.

“I could show you some real fun,” she said, and he raised a brow.

To his surprise, his sassy Alex looked self-conscious.

She squirmed. “I didn’t mean it that way, although…that
would
be fun. I’m talking about kid stuff—goofing off, messing around, doing things just for sheer joy.”

“I know what fun is, Alex.”

“You know, I’m not sure I believe you.”

“Fun is for my guests.”

“Maybe you need to demonstrate the basics for them.”

“Nice try, Alex. But I have work to do.”

Now she was frowning, and not in a teasing way.

“I promised myself I wouldn’t even allude to this, but didn’t you ever have a chance to goof off when you were a kid?”

He sighed and put down the wrench. “I shouldn’t have shared that stuff with you. Now you’re pitying me.”

“You have got to be kidding. You own and run McKendrick’s. You hobnob with the big boys. You’re admired and envied. But that’s all work on some level. None of it spells play. You need a how-to-kick-back tutor, and I’m just the person for the job. Come on.” She pivoted on her heel, grabbed a pair of sandals, took Wyatt’s hand and headed for the door.

“Mind if you tell me where we’re going?”

“I’d rather not. But I’ll tell you this—I’m off the clock right now.”

The next thing Wyatt knew he was standing in a huge room with blue carpeting and what looked like a million pinball machines.

“Now, we just need some tokens,” Alex was saying. “Then I’m going to beat you at pinball. No mercy. I’m very good at this.” And she wrinkled her nose and smiled at him.

Two men standing nearby pounding the flippers on a game turned and stared at her, their tongues practically hanging out of their mouths. Wyatt wanted to throw his body over her. No, he wanted to wrap her up in his arms. But first he had to catch her. She was bouncing down the aisle, headed for a machine with
a half-naked woman on the screen and lots of bells and whistles, apparently, because Alex licked her lips in anticipation.

Wyatt groaned.

“Don’t worry. I promise that this will be fun and it won’t hurt a bit,” Alex said.

The woman didn’t know what she was talking about. Every muscle in his body was taut. He ached to touch
her
, not a machine. But, darn it, she was clearly excited about teaching him all about this stuff, so he was going to have fun or die trying.

And then he was going to kiss her. More than once.

 

Wyatt knew that Alex had intended this trip to the Pinball Hall of Fame as a way to get him to have fun playing games, and he was, but he was having a lot more fun just watching Alex.

“Yes!” she said as she flipped the flippers and saved the little steel ball from a close call with doom.

Her slender, nimble fingers were lightning-quick as she made the ball fly up ramps, light up lights and hit targets, giving her extra points. The quick caress of those fingers sent heat swirling through Wyatt, and he did his best to tame the way she affected him. Her hips and sometimes her whole body rocked as she threw herself into the fray, while still managing to negotiate the game without causing the dreaded tilt light to come on. And when the satisfying knocking sound indicated that she had racked up enough points to win a free game, she took her eyes off the game long enough to flash him a million-dollar smile.

“Impressive,” he said.

“Thank you. Now it’s your turn.” She stepped aside.

“I’ve never done this before,” he said, feeling sheepishly like a virgin…which he hadn’t been for a great many years.

“You’ve never played pinball? How can that be?”

“No time. And, of course, I didn’t know any enthusiasts like you.”

She shrugged. “There was an old machine in a hamburger shop I used to hang around when I was a teenager. I caught the bug. Of course, machines are hard to find anymore. They’ve been replaced by other types of games, computers and home game systems. This place is not only huge, it’s one of a kind, run as a nonprofit by a man who donates any excess money to charity, so it’s doubly awesome in my opinion. Come on. I’m going to show you what pinball heaven is like.”

Wyatt laughed. “Heaven, Alex?”

“We all have our little fantasies, Wyatt.”

So true. His current fantasies all revolved around Alex, and if her weakness was playing a game that involved keeping a stainless steel ball from rolling off the low end of a steeply slanted plane, he was willing to do his best to make her happy.

Within minutes he had caught her fever. Wyatt didn’t know if it was the game, or the woman who was cheering at his side and practically wriggling with joy when he did well, but he gave his all to keeping that ball in play. He didn’t even know how much time was passing. He was probably neglecting some important something happening at the hotel, but his attention was totally focused on the moment, the thrill of competition, the woman who seemed to forget everything but this time, this event.

“That was amazing, the way you did that, Wyatt. For a few nail-biting seconds there, I thought you were going to lose it, but the way you kept the ball in play for so long was totally amazing. And you won
two
games on one quarter.”

Wyatt glanced down at Alex and saw that she was practically dancing on her toes, laughing up at him, totally caught up in the sheer excitement of doing something silly but challenging.

“You’re so easy to entertain,” he teased.

“I am so
not
easy.” She pretended to pout, but then her turn came, and she was back to bouncing around and entertaining him all over again.

The truth was that winning a game wasn’t all that amazing. He’d done a lot more notable things. He’d spent years trying to prove that he had worth, to erase all traces of what had been told him and done to him as a child, and he had proved himself many times over. But this moment, this woman, who was so spontaneous and transparent in her joy, made him feel as if he’d won a race, climbed a difficult mountain. He felt carefree, released from the constant push to do well. Maybe because he was pretty darn certain that even if he had let that ball slip away Alex would have still smiled at him.

When his turn came again, he did just that. On purpose. He looked at Alex, who was staring at him, suspicion in her eyes.

BOOK: Saving Cinderella!
13.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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