Fool Me Forever

By: Ainslie Paton

“You look distressed.” He chose that word carefully. It wasn’t like Fin hadn’t gotten her revenge. Cal was skint, but since his money had gone to fund families in distress he wasn’t complaining.

Before Halsey met Lenny, he’d thought her idea to create Dollars for Daughters to provide small loans to disadvantaged women was inspired. Once he’d faced her over the table in a diner, he discovered she was fatally attractive. He didn’t generally meet fatally attractive, inspiring women, so Lenny stood out.

Of course, back then, she didn’t know what he did for a living. She thought he ran a legitimate investment scheme. And she didn’t know her charity was in receipt of some not-so-legitimately raised funds, courtesy of the scam Cal was running, with Fin as his capable but kept-in-the-dark accomplice.

Now, Lenny stood in front of him with her fists clenched and her lovely face pressed into a furious scowl. It didn’t stop him wondering what it would be like to have her smile at him instead. He felt that wonder all the way to his gut in a rumble of desire.

“That was a rhetorical question,” she snapped.

Damn. Missed that clue. Too busy drinking her in. He didn’t do fieldwork because it meant doing people, and no matter how inspiring, attractive, fatal, or otherwise they happened to be, they were unpredictable.

He was good with concepts and big picture strategies and long stable cons that ran to plan and didn’t surprise. He couldn’t think on his feet like his siblings.

She pointed at the door. “Goodbye, Mr. Sherwood. I don’t have any need for anything you’re selling. Ever.”

It was almost quitting time on a Friday night. She was alone; there was no ringing phone. He raised a brow.

Steam might’ve come out of her ears. “That’s just what I need. Another freaking man telling me what to do.”

What? No. “I didn’t—”

“You gave me the eyebrow.” She gave him a double-barreled eyebrow lift back. “You told me I was going to break my notepad, and that I looked distressed. What’s not clear to me is what precise signal I gave that made you think I needed your entitled male opinion.”

“It’s not an op—”

“Halsey Sherwood, I didn’t know you were slow on the uptake as well as a thief.”

“I’m not a—”

“You steal money for a living. I’d say that’s a text book definition, and since I’m the newly minted daughter of a thief, I think I’ve got that on lock.”

“You’re upset because of all the shouting.”

She made a sound of genuine surprise. “You heard?”

Tactical error.

Her jaw went tight, and she looked away.

“Difficult not to. Sounded intense.”

She flung the book and it slid across the table and fell off, slapping the floor. “You think?”

This was why he preferred the comfort of his own office. People were irrational. They beat up notepads and threw things. Of course, the fact that people were irrational was half the reason he could con them out of their fortunes. Double-edged sword, that. And if anyone needed to throw a few things to feel better it was Lenny.

He took a step toward her and opened his hands out, a gesture he hoped said he was safe and friendly. People just about fell into Cal’s arms and gave him all their money when he did that. They took all their clothes off and went to bed with his other brother Zeke when he did.

Lenny took a step back. Her cheeks were red. Her breathing was chopped into short, tight breaths she was trying not to let him see.

He should’ve left when it first occurred to him, before all the shouting, smacking, throwing, and arguing started. But for that small matter of the extortion. He’d only have to come back.

“What part about not wanting your help because you’re a Sherwood, which makes you a noxious poison and the absolute last complication I need in my life, didn’t you understand? Do you need me to repeat that part?”

If there was ever a person who could make her needs clear, Lenore Bradshaw was that woman. “I really am here to help,” he said.

“I can’t imagine what that might mean, unless it’s help yourself to something of mine because you’re a sneaking, cheating, lying Sherwood.”

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