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Leader of the pack . . .
Ben Tannen was the undisputed leader of his group of best friends, nicknamed “The Deck.” He was the Ace, of course. Heidi Malone was the Joker, and the only female among them. All four men were half in love with her – Ben maybe more than half . . .
Still, there had always been a certain tension between the Golden Boy and Heidi-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-trakcs. And when he’d offered her money for college tuition, she’d lashed out with her pride – and a bicycle chain.
Fifteen years later, Heidi still owed Ben an apology . . . and he still held an IOU. He planned to collect and prove to her that they’d make much better lovers than fighters.
“Don’t miss FOUR MEN & A LADY. And when you read it, try to picture Molly Ringwald or Ally Sheedy in those flashback scenes, perhaps with an appropriately moody Smiths or Psychedelic Furs song playing in the background.” — All About Romance, A rating
She’d started disassembling her sax when he spoke. “Heidi, Maryann’s lying.”
Her nod acknowledged that she’d heard him, not that she believed him. She wasn’t in the mood to believe him. All she wanted to do was start this day over from the blast of her alarm clock this morning.
“She didn’t lose her top in the pool.” He shuffled from one foot to the other. “Well, she lost it, but it wasn’t like it was an accident or anything. You know Maryann.”
“Not as well as you do, apparently.” She locked the saxophone case and turned; she locked her jaw as well. It kept her chin from quivering. “You can take me home now.”
Ben pushed back the hair from his forehead. “Dammit, Heidi. Nothing really happened.”
“Really?” The burn in her stomach flared. “What does that mean, ‘Nothing really happened.’? That nothing happened at all? That whatever happened didn’t mean anything?” Her voice and temper rose in unison. “That everything’s okay because we all know Maryann?”
“What do you want me to say?” he asked, standing with his arms crossed, the pool table squarely between them.
His defensiveness answered her question. She grabbed her sax and lifted her chin. “I don’t want you to say anything. I want you to take me home.”
“I’m not taking you home until you listen to me.” He started forward.
She headed toward the door. “Fine. I’ll walk.”
He changed directions, rounding the table to head her off. “You can’t walk.”
“I have two legs. I most certainly can.”
“That’s not what I meant. It’s too far.” He’d reached the door now and blocked it with his body. “And it’s not exactly the safest neighborhood to be walking through at night.”
His lack of tact and consideration amazed her at times. She wondered if he’d taken lessons in holier-than-thou along with deportment. “I live in that neighborhood, Ben.”
“Cripes, Heidi. Do you have to twist everything I say?” Broad hands gripped her shoulders, green eyes made a great show of caring. “I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“Thanks for the concern. But I’d rather take care of myself. I can make sure nothing happens to me.” She shrugged off his hold, took a step back while he crossed his arms and leaned back on the door. “You see, I’m not Maryann Stafford.”
“You’re still not walking home.”
She shook her head. He was totally impossibly arrogant at times, but she didn’t hate him any more. Never had hated him, in fact. What she felt deserved a deep and thorough and very private exploration, but not tonight. Not tonight. “I know you’re used to getting your way, but it’s not going to happen this time. Now, move please, so I can go.”
He sidestepped, but left his hand on the doorknob. “If you don’t want me to drive you, I’ll ask my dad to take you.”
“Uh, no thanks.”
“Then I’ll call you a cab.”
Hysterical laughter bubbled up. She pressed shaky fingers to her forehead and sighed. “You and your money.”
“What about my money?” he asked but he did finally open the door.
She didn’t want to talk or explain or answer another single question. She was tired and she wanted to go home. That was all. “You know how it is. The rich get richer, the poor pay taxes.” Then she tried to bite her tongue but the words had already rolled from the end. “And if there’s anything left they might be able to afford tuition.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Nothing, Ben. Just take me home.” Head held high, she left the game room. Ben followed, slamming the door so hard the walls rattled.
His steps were heavy and close behind her, but she didn’t move aside. And she swore no matter how much money she made in her lifetime, she would never hang a chandelier in a hallway.