Authors: Debra Dixon
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A Loveswept eBook Edition
Copyright © 1996 by Debra Dixon
All is Fair
by Linda Cajio © 1986 by Linda Cajio.
Bad to the Bone
by Debra Dixon copyright © 1996 by Debra Dixon.
by Linda Cajio copyright © 1987 by Linda Cajio.
All Rights Reserved.
Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
LOVESWEPT and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
was originally published in paperback by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. in 1996.
Cover photograph: Ingram Publishing / Jupiterimages
My heartfelt thanks to a couple of people who’ve waited a long time to see this book in print—
Sandra Chastain, a wonderful southern lady who helped the dream come true
Joyce Flaherty, who kept the magic going
Sam Tucker slung a hip onto the edge of his cluttered desk and looked at the expectant faces. For a moment he enjoyed the almost silent intake of breath as the perfectly pressed group of corporate executives realized their careers rested in his hands. To be honest, Sam doubted his shaggy blond hair, or the frayed slits in the knees of his jeans, scared the class half as much as the incredible mountain of chaos on his desk.
That chaos represented exactly what each of these people feared most—letting the paperwork pile up, losing control. As a result, all fifteen of them looked at him in varying degrees of horror, wondering what he could possibly teach them and why they were meeting in the converted carriage house of a restored Victorian mansion. Especially since the ivy-covered college that offered the unique course was only a few blocks away. Sam imagined some of them were even wondering if it was too late to get their money back.
“Welcome to Losing Control of Your Life,” Sam said with a broad smile. “For those of you who still harbor
some hope that you might be in the wrong place, you’re not. This is indeed the first session of the Executive Burnout series. I’m Sam Tucker, and I’m going to teach you how to have some fun.”
As soon as the woman raised her hand, Sam knew instinctively who she was and that his old friend Dave Gronski had set him up. Just that morning Dave had called, asking for a favor. The class was full, and he wanted Sam to pull some strings to get his controller in. He swore the woman was overworked and at the end of a very short rope. He swore that she needed this class. He swore Sam wouldn’t be sorry.
Oh, yes, Dave had told him everything about Ms. Clare McGuire—except that she had incredible legs, eyes to die for, and an abundance of short, sassy blue-black hair. Dave owed him a case of very old scotch for neglecting to tell him that organized, punctual, precise Clare McGuire was everything he’d want and nothing he’d need.
“Yes, Clare,” he said, and tried not to narrow his eyes or stare at her legs.
Startled, Clare snatched her hand down as everyone swiveled to look at her.
How the hell did he know who she was!
Dave, of course. Dave must have given him a description.
Probably wanted to be sure I didn’t pay someone to take this damn class for me!
Not that she hadn’t thought about it. Especially when she walked through the carriage house door a few moments before and entered a time warp. The place reminded her of an English lord’s library, full of musty books and the glow of lovingly polished wood. For a
second Clare had even imagined the fruity aroma of pipe smoke. Some sort of cherry tobacco. And then she’d found a seat and reminded herself that she wasn’t there to enjoy the atmosphere.
Regaining her composure, Clare folded her hands in her lap and posed her question. “Having fun is a nice concept, but isn’t fun entirely subjective? I mean, how can you
“Is that the only reason you’re here? To add another management course to your résumé?” Sam couldn’t resist asking even though he knew exactly why she was there. Her job depended on passing his course. Dave had given her an ultimatum—loosen up or lose the job. Profits were up in the auto parts company, but so was employee turnover.
Sam didn’t wait for an answer. Instead, he leaned forward, challenging her. “Is there anything wrong with just having fun?”
“Yes,” Clare said bluntly, and decided she didn’t much like Sam Tucker. She raised an eyebrow and added, “Having fun generally gets in the way of taking care of business.”
Her eyes focused on his messy desk in silent accusation, but he didn’t explain. If she had
about the mess, he might have told her about the locksmith creating chaos when he took the antique file cabinet to the shop for repairs. But she didn’t ask. She raised an eyebrow and looked smug. So he didn’t explain.
“What about the rest of you?” Sam transferred his attention to the remainder of the class seated in comfortable chairs scattered about the room in a loose semicircle. “What’s your opinion of fun?”
“It’s been so long, I’ve forgotten what it is!” said a
sincere young woman. A chorus of agreement echoed through the carriage house.
Sam sympathized. Two years earlier he’d felt the same way. He remembered having the same tired bags beneath his eyes as most of them did now. Workaholics missed life and died young.
“Then let me define fun,” he told them, “because over the next six weeks you’re going to learn how to relax and have some. Fun is something you do for yourself because it feels good.”
He paused and fanned another gaze around the room. “You can’t analyze it. You can’t plan it. You can’t execute it on a tight schedule. And that’s what you people are here to learn. Fun is a moment you seize because it’s there.”
Clare settled back, wondering if she could last six weeks without seizing Tucker’s neck and strangling him. Now, that might be fun. If she had time for fun, which she didn’t. She was already three weeks behind on the analysis of the past year’s budget deviations. The new computer system was scheduled for installation in two weeks. Her temporary
secretary couldn’t find a dictionary, much less spell. And her cousin Ellie was coming for a—how did she phrase it?—“long overdue sisterly visit.”
was more accurate.
And what was she going to tell Ellie?
Glad you finally found time to visit after five years, and by the way, I lied about everything I told you in my letters?
Slowly Clare loosened her grip on her day planner and forced herself to concentrate on the wave of laughter that rippled through the room.
The longer Tucker talked, Clare noted, the more the group relaxed. One woman unbent long enough to give
him a come-hither look with her eyes, but the man was either unaware of the patently sexual invitation or petite redheads weren’t his type. Since Clare didn’t think a blind man could have mistaken the lustful stare, she decided Tucker liked his women taller and blonder. Most men did. Most men liked Ellie.
Of course, Ellie liked most men. Especially men as undeniably attractive as Tucker. What’s not to like? Clare asked herself. His carelessly tousled blond hair? The way he raked his hand through it as he passionately explained the mechanics of fun? Or the way his long, muscular thighs filled out his jeans?
Clare frowned as she looked at the frayed openings that bared masculine flesh. Why should the sight of strong, tan knees make her swallow? Cutting holes in perfectly good jeans was a stupid waste of money. Regardless of how sexy it might be.
Get a grip, Clare. You don’t know the man. Why should you care how he spends his money or if his knees are sexy!
“Clare!” Sam rounded on her with surprising speed.
“Tucker,” Clare shot back, hoping she could recover the thread of the conversation before the man realized she hadn’t heard a word he said. As soon as she answered, laughter erupted again. Clare straightened. “What?”
“We’re choosing research partners,” Sam explained helpfully. “Didn’t you know that when you said my name? Don’t bother to count. We have an uneven number of students enrolled in this class. That means one lucky camper is stuck with me. And I guess since you weren’t paying attention, and since you were the last one to sign up, that lucky camper is going to be you.”
“Lucky me,” Clare forced out, and gave him her best imitation of a smile. Knowing the situation was her own
fault didn’t erase any of her irritation. Tucker acted as if he’d set a trap and was quite pleased with himself for having caught a fool.
Well, didn’t he?
her stubbornly fair subconscious asked.
Sam stifled a chuckle and watched as the rest of the class divided into pairs and rearranged themselves accordingly. With the exception of his “problem child,” the rest of the students seemed genuinely interested in learning how to let go of the grind and find their lives again. Not all of them would succeed, but most of them would at least escape the pressure of their lives for a few hours a week.
“Everybody got a partner? Good. Who brought their day planner?” Everyone’s hand went up. “That’s what I thought,” drawled Sam. “Don’t bring them to the field trip this weekend and don’t bring them to class next week. Who knows a good place for ice cream?”
Velcro crackled as they all pulled open their day planners and turned dutifully to their address indexes for “ice cream.” Sam rolled his eyes. This was going to be more difficult than he’d thought.
“People. People! Ice cream is an adventure. Fun usually starts with an adventure. And adventures aren’t neatly labeled and penciled in under the appropriate letter of the alphabet.”
“Wrong,” Clare corrected him suddenly, feeling an unfamiliar urge to one-up Sam Tucker. She recrossed her legs and propped an elbow on her thigh. “
knows that adventure, in fact, does begin with an appropriate letter of the alphabet.”
Caught off guard, Sam stared at her. “Is that right?”
“Of course.” Leaning forward, she enlightened him.
“Any self-respecting adventure begins with X marks the spot.”
Pleasantly surprised, he chuckled along with the rest of the class. In the last half hour, Sam had imagined many things about Clare, but not that she possessed a sense of humor. “I stand corrected. Good job, Clare. Less than an hour and you’ve already made your first joke. See how easy it is? If you’re not careful, you might actually enjoy this class.
“Now for the rest of you. I’m cutting tonight short because I want you to take your partner out for coffee. Do me a favor and choose a well-lit public place. Discuss ice cream, your lives, and why you’re in this class. And while you’re doing all that discussing, take a good look at your partner. You’ll be looking in a mirror. Decide whether or not you like what you see. And, people”—Sam slammed his hands together in a thunderous clap—“leave your day planners in the car. Live dangerously. Improvise. Write your partner’s name and address on a napkin.”
He waved them out the door. “I’ll see you Saturday morning. Ten o’clock. We’ll go searching for the best ice cream parlor in town.”