This Heart of Mine (Chicago Stars #5)(6)

by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

"That doesn't explain what I did in high school," she'd told him. "Bert was dead by then, and I was living with Phoebe and Dan. They both love me. And what about the shoplifting incident?"

"Maybe you needed to test Phoebe and Dan's love."

Something odd had fluttered inside her. "What do you mean?"

"The only way you can make certain their love is unconditional is to do something terrible and then see if they're still around for you."

And they had been.

So why was her old problem coming back to haunt her?

She didn't want mayhem in her life anymore. She wanted to write her books, enjoy her friends, walk her dog, and play with her nieces and nephew. But she'd been feeling restless for weeks, and one look at her red hair, which really was awful, told her she might be on the verge of going off the deep end again.

Until that urge faded, she'd do the sensible thing and hide away in Door County for a week or so. After all, what possible trouble could she get into there?

Kevin Tucker had been dreaming about Red Jack Express, a quarterback delayed sneak, when something woke him up. He rolled over, groaned, and tried to figure out where he was, but the bottle of scotch he'd befriended before he'd fallen asleep made that tough. Normally adrenaline was his drug of choice, but tonight alcohol had seemed like a good alternative.

He heard the sound again, a scratching at the door, and it all came back to him. He was in Door County, Wisconsin, the Stars weren't playing this week, and Dan had slapped him with a ten-thousand-dollar fine. After he'd done that, the son of a bitch had ordered him to go up to their vacation house and stay there till he got his head together.

There wasn't a damn thing wrong with his head, but there was definitely a problem with the Calebows' high-tech security system—because somebody was trying to break in.

Chapter 2

So what if he is the hottest guy at your school? It's the way he treats you that counts.

"Is He Too Hot To Handle?"

Molly Somerville for Chik

Kevin suddenly remembered that he'd been too preoccupied with his scotch to set the house's security system, A lucky break. Now he had a shot at a little entertainment.

The house was cold and dark as sin. He threw his bare feet over the edge of the couch and bumped into the coffee table. Cursing, he rubbed his shin, then hopped toward the door. What did it say about his life that tangling with a burglar would be this week's bright spot? He just hoped the son of a bitch was armed.

He dodged a chunky shape that he thought might be an armchair and stepped on something small and sharp, probably one of the Legos he'd seen scattered around. The house was big and luxurious, set deep into the Wisconsin woods, with trees on three sides and the icy waters of Lake Michigan at the rear.

Damn, it was dark. He headed toward the scratching sound, and just as he reached it, heard the click of the latch. The door began to open.

He felt that adrenaline rush he loved, and in one smooth motion he shoved the door against the wall and grabbed the person on the other side.

The guy was a lightweight, and he came flying.

He was a pansy, too, from the sound of that scream as he hit the floor.

Unfortunately, he had a dog. A big dog.

The hair stood on the back of Kevin's neck as he heard the low, bloodcurdling growl of an attack dog. He had no time to brace himself before the animal clamped down on his ankle.

With the reflexes that were making him a legend, he lunged toward the switch, at the same time steeling himself for the crunch of his anklebones. Light flooded the foyer, and he realized two things.

He wasn't being attacked by a rottweiler. And those panicked sounds weren't coming from a guy.

"Aw, shit…"

Lying on the slate floor at his feet was a small, screaming woman with hair the color of a 49ers jersey. And clamped to his ankle, ripping holes in his favorite jeans, was a small, gray…

His brain skidded away from the word.

The stuff she'd been carrying when he'd grabbed her lay strewn all around. As he tried to shake off the dog, he spotted lots of books, drawing supplies, two boxes of Nutter Butter cookies, and bedroom slippers with big pink rabbits' heads on the toes.

He finally shook off the snarling dog. The woman scrambled to her feet and assumed some kind of martial arts pose. He opened his mouth to explain, only to have her foot come up and catch him behind the knee. The next thing he knew, he'd been sacked.

"Damn… It took the Giants a good three quarters to do that."

She'd been wearing a coat when she hit the floor, but the only thing between him and the slate was a layer of denim. He winced and rolled to his back. The animal pounced on his chest, barking dog breath into his face and slapping him in the nose with the tails of the blue bandanna fastened around his neck.

"You tried to kill me!" she screamed, the fiery little wisps of 49er hair flashing around her face.

"Not on purpose." He knew he'd met her before, but he couldn't for the life of him remember who she was. "Could you call off your pit bull?"

Her panicked look was giving way to fury, and she bared her teeth just like the dog. "Come here, Roo."

The animal snarled and crawled off Kevin's chest. It finally hit him. Oh, shit… "You're, uh, Phoebe's sister. Are you okay"—he searched for a name—"Miss Somerville?" Since he was the one lying on the slate floor with a bruised hip and puncture wounds in his ankle, he considered the question something of a courtesy.

"This is the second time in two days!" she exclaimed.

"I don't remember—"

"The second time! Are you demented, you stupid badger? Is that your problem? Or are you just an idiot!"

"As to that, I—Did you just call me a badger?"

She blinked. "A bastard. I called you a bastard."

"That's all right then." Unfortunately, his lame attempt at humor didn't make her smile.

The pit bull retreated to his mistress's side. Kevin pushed himself up off the slate and rubbed his ankle, trying to recall what he knew about his employer's sister, but he remembered only that she was an egghead. He'd seen her a few times at Stars headquarters with her head buried in a book, but her hair sure hadn't been this color.

It was hard to believe that she and Phoebe were related, because she wasn't even close to being a fox. Not that she was a dog either. She was just sort of ordinary—flat where Phoebe was curvy, small where Phoebe was large. Unlike her sister's, this one's mouth didn't look as if it had been designed to whisper dirty words under the sheets. Instead, Little Sis's mouth looked as if it spent its days shushing people in the library.