Love Is A Four-Legged Word

Berkley Books ~ July 2009
ISBN: 978-0425227848

lovefourlegged2009 ARRA winnerRomance is for the dogs

Tom O’Brien is this close to making partner at the hottest law firm in San Francisco. The corner office is as good as his, provided his newest client doesn’t foul things up. Brutus Stoddard is spoiled, craves attention, is very rich, and he drools. The fact that he’s a dog doesn’t help matters.

Brutus has inherited a multimillion-dollar estate from his late owner, and a pretty guardian named Madeline Cartwright, professional chef and the eccentric old man’s surrogate granddaughter. Tom has a hard time believing this spunky little beauty didn’t know about the fortune she was in line for – but he still finds her, and her culinary creations, irresistible.

If Tom is to get that promotion, he has to maintain the terms of the will. That means keeping both Brutus and Maddy happy. He’s trying his hardest to keep the arrangement professional but with two clients this adorable, Tom’s suddenly craving a different kind of partnership altogether…

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Chapter One

Madeleine Cartwright didn’t look at all the type of female who’d boink an old man to death for his money.

Tom O’Brien saw that the second she opened the door of her apartment. His imagination had let him down big time. How could he have got it so wrong? This woman was more girl-next-door than vamp. No silicone-enhanced breasts, skintight dresses, or big, bleached hair.

Rather, her slender shape was enveloped in a white chef’s apron smeared with chocolate and she had flour streaked on her pretty, heart-shaped face. She didn’t have big hair. She had, well, small hair-short and feathery and kind of mussed up. It looked natural, not out of a bottle; hair the color of marmalade.

“You must be Tom O’Brien, Walter’s lawyer.” Her voice was sweet and musical, not sultry and seductive. “I’m Maddy Cartwright.”

She held out a hand to him in greeting. As she was wearing a blue-and-white striped oven mitt, Tom hesitated to shake it. For a moment her eyes widened in surprise at his lack of response, then she glanced down at the offending mitt, flushed, and laughed as she slid it off.

“You’re early,” she said with a hint of accusation that Tom thought was quite unwarranted. “I’m right in the middle of testing a new recipe for brownies.”

Was she serious? Tom stared at her, speechless, still unable to reconcile the mental image he had of the sexy seductress with the reality of this engaging, fresh-faced girl talking about, of all things, chocolate dessert.

“Come on in,” she continued. “I’ve got to get the brownies out of the oven at just the right moment or they won’t be nice and gooey in the middle.”

She turned and headed into her apartment. Her apron was tied in back with a pert bow; the long tails of the bow pointing to a nicely rounded rear end hugged by faded blue jeans. Despite his preconceived opinion of her, Tom couldn’t help but admire the view as he followed her inside.

She stopped suddenly and turned back toward him. Caught in mid-stride, he nearly collided with her, his briefcase banging into her thigh.

For a second she braced her hand against his chest to steady herself, and he could feel her warmth through the fabric of his suit. She only came up to his shoulders-probably five-six to his six-two-and this close he noticed her eyes were green and that she smelled of lavender and chocolate.

“Sorry,” he muttered, disconcerted by her closeness and his body’s instant and surprising reaction to her.

“My… my fault,” she stammered as she stepped back from him. “I… I stopped because I wanted to ask if… if you liked brownies.”

What was this woman up to? Tom was shaken at how exciting he’d found her sudden nearness. Shaken and annoyed.

Was this disarming, down-home-girl image some kind of ploy? A clever strategy to part gullible old men from their money? Madeleine Cartwright didn’t look the part he had mentally cast her in-but that didn’t mean she hadn’t played it.

No way would he be sucked in by her wiles. He knew what ruin lay at the end of that particular path.

“Who doesn’t like brownies?” he said abruptly. “But, Ms. Cartwright, I-”

“Good. Then you can help me test them. The kitchen’s through here.”

Delicious, chocolatey smells wafted toward him, and for a moment Tom was tempted. Very tempted. He was aware he’d only had a tuna fish sandwich for lunch. But he was practiced at resisting temptation. A man as determined as he to be a partner in a law firm before he turned thirty-one didn’t let much get in his way.

He braced himself. “Ms. Cartwright, I am not here to eat brownies. I am here to talk to you about the will of the late Walter Stoddard.”

Maddy Cartwright stilled. “I know,” she said, and it was as if a fizzing glass of soda had instantly gone flat. Even the brilliance of her hair seemed to dim. “I’ve been dreading it.”

Dreading it? Tom looked intently at her face, watching for excitement, anticipation, gloating greed. But all he saw was a profound sadness in her eyes and a downturn of her bow-shaped pink mouth.

“I still can’t believe he’s gone,” she said in a voice that wasn’t quite steady.

Tom’s eyes narrowed. Why would she say that? Shouldn’t she be turning cartwheels of joy?

“Is there somewhere we can discuss this? Now. It’s important,” he said.

She gestured with the oven glove around her living room. “We could talk in here, but I really have to rescue the brownies first. Just let me dash to the kitchen, I’ll be back in a minute.”

Still stunned by the reality of Madeline Cartwright – oven mitt and all – Tom paced impatiently as he waited for her. Not that there was much room for pacing.

Her living room was small and decorated in a style Tom could only call twenty-first-century girly. It was way too cluttered for his taste. The walls were painted pale blue; the squashy old sofa covered in a faded floral print; and blue-and-white patterned china was propped on every surface. On the narrow mantelpiece, tucked between a small vase of pink rosebuds and a framed photo of a smiling older woman, was a china statuette of a pony.

There were piles of cookbooks and copies of Martha Stewart Living and Bon Appétit magazines stacked haphazardly on the floor. A well-thumbed copy of food writer Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential lay on the dollhouse-sized coffee table alongside an ancient, yellowing the Lily Wallace New American Cook Book.

The room made him feel distinctly uncomfortable.

So did Madeleine Cartwright.

She wasn’t at all what he’d been expecting. Not cunning but cute. Pretty, not predatory. More Reese Witherspoon than Paris Hilton. In fact, if he were meeting her under any other circumstances, he might have been tempted to ask her out.

But, although as a lawyer he strove to be impartial, he found what he suspected she had done despicable. And he couldn’t get past that. She couldn’t be more than twenty-five or twenty-six and his client Walter Stoddard had been eighty-two. Yech! It made his thirty-year-old flesh crawl to think of it.

A sudden thought had him abruptly stop his pacing. Where was the dog? That all-important dog. He looked around the room for evidence of canine occupation.

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Love is a Four-Legged Word