Danger in a Red Dress, p.1
Table of Contents
Praise for Thigh High
“An extraordinarily good read . . . gripping, with a no-holds-barred lovemaking that definitely brings the heat level high. . . . The most engaging thing about Thigh High is its characters. . . . By the end of the story I felt as if I knew them all—and I hated saying goodbye!” —Romance Readers at Heart
“Dodd has penned another terrific story with a hero and heroine you’ll fall in love with and littered with wonderful secondary characters and enough fast-moving twists and turns and sizzling hot sensuality to keep you turning pages until the final word.”
—Romance Novel TV
“Christina Dodd is a master. . . . Thigh High is a winner I highly recommend.”—Romance Reviews Today
“Charming and likable characters . . . make this an enjoyable read.”—Fresh Fiction
“Graced with an endearingly quirky cast of secondary characters and a wonderfully matched pair of protagonists, whose sexual chemistry is as hot and steamy as summer in New Orleans, Dodd’s latest is funny, sexy, and entertaining.”—Booklist
“I can’t wait to see what Ms. Dodd has in store because if Thigh High is any indication, we’ll be in for a treat.”
“Dodd’s latest hero is like a heat-seeking missile: Once he’s set on a course, he’s hard to shake. Making this damaged and obsessive hero likable despite his arrogance demonstrates Dodd’s wonderful gift for characterization. The offbeat characters and undeniable charm of New Orleans make this romp a joy to experience!” —Romantic Times (top pick, 4½ stars)
“A humorous over-the-top wild spin of the Big Easy starring two likable protagonists. . . . Fans will enjoy Christina Dodd’s amusing romantic dance around New Orleans.”—Midwest Book Review
Raves for Christina Dodd
“Dodd delivers a high-octane, blowout finale. . . . This romantic suspense novel is a delicious concoction that readers will be hard-pressed not to consume in one gulp.”—Publishers Weekly
“Dodd’s latest sparkling romantic suspense novel is another of her superbly sexy literary confections expertly spiced with sassy wit and featuring a beguiling cast of wonderfully entertaining characters.”—Booklist
“Sure to heat up the night.”—Romance Junkies
“Dodd brings her unique sense of plotting, character, humor, and surprise to this wonderful tale. You’ll relish every word, cherish each poignant moment and ingenious plot twist, sigh deeply and eagerly await the sequel. Dodd is clever, witty, and sexy.”
“Dodd adds humor, sizzling sensuality, and a cast of truly delightful secondary characters to produce a story that will not disappoint.”—Library Journal
“Strong and likable characters make this an enjoyable read. Ms. Dodd peppers the story with interesting secondary personalities, which adds to the reading pleasure.”—The Best Reviews
“Sexy and witty, daring and delightful.”
—New York Times bestselling author Teresa Medeiros
“A master romantic storyteller.”
—New York Times bestselling author Kristin Hannah
“Christina Dodd keeps getting better and better.”
—New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber
“Treat yourself to a fabulous book—anything by Christina Dodd!”
—New York Times bestselling author Jill Barnett
Contemporary Romantic Suspense
Trouble in High Heels
Tongue in Chic
Christina Dodd’s Paranormal
Darkness Chosen Series
Scent of Darkness
Touch of Darkness
Into the Shadow
Into the Flame
Published by New American Library, a division of
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First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library,
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First Printing, March 2009
Copyright © Christina Dodd, 2009
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eISBN : 978-1-101-01958-0
For Monty McAllister, for no particular reason.
Nope. None. No reason. Not one.
And for Donna McAllister,
with your time, help and friendship.
Danger in a Red Dress winds up not one but two series for me: the Fortune Hunters, with the wonderful Manly brothers, and the Lost Texas Hearts, with the heartbreaking and heartwarming Prescott family. As I look back on so many years and so many stories, I’m thankful for the inspiration and the help I’ve received. I want to offer my appreciation to everyone at NAL: Leslie Gelbman for her creative guidance; the editorial department, especially the astute Kara Cesare; the art department led by Anthony Ramondo; publicity with Craig Burke and Michele Langley, and of course, the spectacular Penguin sales department. Thank you all.
I especially want to thank my fans, who have patiently waited to read Gabriel’s story, and nagged ever so politely. Sarah and Santa, this one’s for you.
Teignmouth, New Hampshire
Hannah Grey couldn’t remember when she’d enjoyed a funeral more.
She sat in the back pew of the Methodist church; the service had been lovely, the elderly man in the coffin was content to be there, and best of all, Mr. Donald Dresser’s neglectful family had been discomfited by the praise lavished on him. His offspring, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren had looked uncomfortable, bored, or pious, depending on their ages and personalities, and Hannah hoped they hated every squirming minute of listening to the minister praise Mr. Dresser for his bravery in combat, his innate business sense, and his devotion to his community—qualities that none of them had inherited.
Now, while the Dresser family shuffled past the coffin, then into the vestibule to accept condolences, Hannah stood, shrugged into her long black coat, and walked up the aisle. She looked down at Mr. Dresser, dressed in his World War II uniform, his arthritis-twisted fingers crossed over his chest. He looked good. Stern. He had been a cantankerous old son of a bitch, but he had had his reasons. As he had told Hannah on a daily basis, I’m sick and tired of being alive when all my friends are dead, my kids are worthless, and the only use I have for a pretty young nurse like you is to help me piss.
She was fiercely glad he was at peace, but she wiped a tear away as she whispered, “Godspeed, old man. Godspeed.”
She turned away, fumbling with her gloves, and walked to the vestibule. The mourners were gone, but Jeff Dresser stood alone, waiting for her.
He was fifty, handsome, well-dressed, and attractive—at least, he thought he was attractive. Big difference.
“On behalf of the family, we’d like to thank you for your care of our father. You’re the first home-care nurse who could stick it out for more than two weeks, and we’ve sent your final wages to the agency.” He handed her a plain white envelope. “But here’s a bonus for you, with our gratitude.”
She looked at the envelope. Looked at him. Noted that even at his father’s funeral, when she was covered from head to foot in all-concealing black winter clothes, the fading playboy couldn’t resist looking her over. “Thank you, Jeff. I’m sorry that your father had to die in such pain, but I loved hearing the stories of his life. He was very interesting.”
She had Jeff’s attention now. “He talked to you? He told you the stories of his life? By God, that’s more than he would ever do with us!”
“All I had to do was ask.”
He stiffened, hearing the rebuke.
She tucked the envelope into her coat pocket and turned away. “Goodbye.”
He muttered something quietly resentful, and strode past her and out the door.
So this was it. The end of another job. Time to go back to the placement agency.
Another man, about Jeff’s age, but imposing, stood holding the church door open, and the cold February air filled the foyer. “Miss Grey? Do you remember me?”
She shook his outstretched hand. “Of course.” Stephen Burkhart had been Mr. Dresser ’s attorney. The two men had spent hours cloistered in the study, and during his visits, he had been pleasant, respectful of the limitations she placed on her patient, and watchful. Very watchful.
“Miss Grey,” he said, “there’ll be a reading of the will at my office at four. Mr. Dresser asked that you attend.”
“Because . . . because Mr. Dresser left me an inheritance?” She smiled and sighed, recalling the previous occasion she’d received a bequest from a patient, and how much Mr. Coleman’s family had resented even that small amount. When she thought about how much the Dressers anticipated getting their hands on the old man’s sizable fortune, she almost wished Mr. Dresser hadn’t bothered. “He was worried about what he called my lack of resources,” she explained. “I told him once I paid off my student loans, I’d be in the clear, and I meant it. I wasn’t hinting.”
“You knew Mr. Dresser better than that. He was not the type to respond to hints.” Mr. Burkhart placed his hand on her shoulder. “Be at my office at four.”
Hannah paused in the door of the conference room of Burkhart, Burkhart and Gargano, attorneys at law, and found herself facing a long polished wood table, a nervous Kayla Thomas of Teignmouth’s Opportunity Council, sixteen surly members of the Dresser family, and a stern-faced Stephen Burkhart.
“Steve, did the old man give a bequest to the nurse, too? My God, did he leave money to every single person he ever met?” Donald Jr. swung toward Kayla Thomas. “He already gave a bundle to the Opportunity Council this year, and now she’s here with her hand out.”
Kayla flushed. “I am here because Mr. Burkhart asked me to be here.”
Mr. Burkhart met Donald Jr.’s resentful gaze. “It’s a clean will which makes Mr. Dresser ’s intentions clear.”
Hannah slid into the nearest chair. The legal assistant followed her in, shut the door behind her, seated herself, and prepared to take dictation.
Mr. Burkhart announced, “Mr. Dresser originally had my father prepare his last will and testament, and five months ago asked me to help him amend it.”
The Dresser family muttered and shifted.
Mr. Burkhart ignored them. “On his behalf, I scheduled a screening of his mental health at the Hartford Mental Clinic. Once the soundness of his mind was established, we discussed his wishes, then wrote his will, as follows.” Unfolding the stiff papers, he read, “ ‘I, Donald Dresser, of Teignmouth, New Hampshire, do hereby make, publish, and declare this to be my last will and testament, hereby expressly revoking all wills and codicils heretofore made by me. . . .’ ”
As Mr. Burkhart worked his way through the formalities, Hannah observed the Dresser family. Donald Jr. and his wife looked impatient. Jeff leaned forward, his gimlet gaze fixed on the attorney. Mr. Dresser’s only daughter, Cynthia, chewed her thumbnail.
Kayla Thomas braced herself against the table.
They were all anticipating . . . something, and Hannah felt the same suspense that gripped them tighten her nerves.
“ ‘To Miss Hannah Grey, I leave fifty thousand dollars in recognition of her kind and faithful service, with best wishes for her future.’ ”
Hannah’s breath stopped in her chest.
Fifty thousand dollars?
She had never had a father. Her mother had supported them on a legal assistant’s salary, but there had been medical bills. Now for the first time in Hannah’s life, she had a financial cushion, and the relief left her gasping—and facing sixteen pairs of accusing Dresser eyes.
Mr. Burkhart continued. “ ‘To my family, I leave a chance to redeem themselves. To each of my descendants currently living, I leave fifty thousand dollars—’ ”
An audible gasp rose from the Dressers.
Mr. Burkhart soldiered on. “And the chance to work at Dresser Insurance under the supervision of the board of directors now in place.’ ”
Cynthia came to her feet. “I don’t believe this!” Donald Jr. rapped sharply on the table with his knuckles. “Who has control of Dad’s fortune?”
Mr. Burkhart read, “ ‘To the Opportunity Council of Teignmouth, New Hampshire, I leave the bulk of
Now all the members of the Dresser family were on their feet, shouting at Mr. Burkhart, at the white-faced Kayla Thomas, and at one another, while Hannah watched first in horror, then in amazement, then in amusement. She knew this wasn’t the place or the time, not so soon after Mr. Dresser ’s funeral, yet as she observed Cynthia stomp her foot, Donald Jr. pound on the table, and Jeff gesture like a windmill, the amusement grew.
The fifty thousand dollars that seemed like such a fortune to her was an insult to these people, income for a month, spending money at the gambling tables, a tight budget for a shopping trip.
Damn the old man. He had set this up. He had known this would happen. No wonder the visits from the lawyer had left him with rosy cheeks and glittering eyes. He had anticipated a furor of epic proportions, and she knew that somewhere in the great beyond, he was rubbing his hands and laughing.
And she . . . she couldn’t help it. She laughed, too.
As if that was a signal, silence fell, and the Dresser family focused on her.
“What did you do to earn that fifty thousand, Miss Grey?” Jeff asked. “What kind of services did you render to the old man that made him fifty thousand dollars’ worth of grateful?”
Hannah’s merriment died an ugly death. “I do not indulge in sex with my patients, if that’s what you’re insinuating. Certainly not with your father, frail as he was.”