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Susan Mallery, NY Times bestselling authorSusan Mallery, NY Times bestselling author

Fool's Gold Series
May 2012

Chapter One

Almost Summer, a romance novel by Susan Mallery

"Stop! Don't come any closer."

Paige McLean stared at the man standing between her and the front door to her friend's house. As a rule she didn't mind a well-placed bit of instruction, but she was running late and had places to be when she left here.

"Or what?" she asked, tucking her yoga mat under one arm and doing her best to look stern and intimidating. Not that she was good at either. "This is a public sidewalk. You can't stop me from going anywhere."

Technically they were standing on a private walkway but unless the guy was a lawyer or a surveyor, he might not think of that.

The man covered his mouth and coughed. He held up his other hand and waved her away. "I mean it. I'm contagious."

He had a nice voice, she thought. Sexy, with a British accent. The thrill of the sound faded and she was able to focus on what he'd actually said.

"Yikes." She took a step back. "What's wrong with you?" She paused, not wanting the question to sound too hostile. "Medically, I mean. I'm not commenting on any personal issues."

"Personal what?"

"Issues. You know. Like you're unable to commit or you drive too fast. Whatever. It's fine. We all have flaws. I assume the best of people, which isn't really a flaw, I suppose. So far I haven't been let down. I have a miserable time figuring out what to tip. I've heard it's good to double the tax, but don't different states have different tax rates? Is it really dependable?"

She paused to looked into his dark blue eyes. They were slightly dilated and unfocused. "Are you okay?"

"Not really."

The front door opened and Simon Bradley, her friend Montana's husband, stepped out.

"Paige, you need to step back."

"So I've been told. What's going on?"

Simon sighed. "Alistair Woodbury is a colleague of mine. He's here for a visit. Unfortunately, he has the measles."

"Uh oh." Paige might not have kids herself, but she knew measles and pregnant women didn't mix. Montana was about seven months along. "He can't stay with you."

"We know that, thanks," Alistair said, coughing again. He was pale and looked like he might be clammy.

"What are you going to do?" she asked, thinking a hotel wasn't really an option. Exposing tourists to an active case of measles probably wasn't visitor friendly.

"I'm looking for somewhere right now," Simon admitted.

"He can stay with me," Paige said before she could stop herself. "I've had the measles. Wow, that was a rash. I remember it. Aunt Sophia took pictures. I still have them."

"How helpful," Alistair said.

Paige pointed her finger at him. "Not nice. You're in a strange town, you're sick and I'm all that stands between you and the infectious disease ward of the local hospital. I'd be a little friendlier if I were you."

Alistair surprised her by flashing a gorgeous smile. "Point taken. My apologies."

"All of them or just some?"

"As I'm about ten minutes from passing out, you can have all of them." He swayed as he spoke.

Paige shook her head. "Okay, this has gone on long enough. Simon, tell Montana she's on her own with the yoga. I'll take Alistair home, then call for instructions. I assume you know what I'm supposed to do with him?"

"Of course. Fluids, keep down the fever."

Alistair looked at her. "I shouldn't intrude."

"No, you shouldn't but you're going to. It'll be fun. I'm a charming companion. Not that it matters because it looks like you're going to faint. Try to stay conscious until we get home, please. I can't carry you and you won't like being dragged."

Alistair turned to Simon. "You actually know her, do you not?"

"Funny," Paige said. "Now stay right here. I have to put my mat in my trunk. I don't want it to get cooties."

She hurried back to her small compact and dumped the mat in the trunk. On the way, she grabbed what she assumed was Alistair's suitcase and slid it into the rear seat. Then she was back at his side. She put an arm around his waist.

"Okay, big guy. Let's get your British self back to my place. You're going to walk now."

"As you wish."

He put his arm around her shoulders and leaned on her a little as they started to walk. Simon hovered, but was careful to stay out of germ's way.

"I'll call," Simon promised.

"No. I'll call," Paige told him. "Let me get your friend settled. It'll be about half an hour."

"I'll be here."

She was sure of that. Simon was a doctor, but more than that, he was a first time father-to-be. He adored his wife and nearly drove her crazy with his constant worrying. Paige had a feeling the entire front of their house, not the mention the walkway, was going to be sanitized before the day was over.

Alistair did a good job of cooperating. He slid easily into the seat, leaving her with the thought that it was going to be a lot more difficult to get him out.

As she leaned over to fasten the seatbelt around him, she was aware of the heat radiating from his body. Not sexy heat, either. This was a whole lot of fever. Oh, joy. She really hoped there wasn't a throwing-up section of measles recovery because this guy had been hit hard.

She drove through the quiet streets of Fool's Gold and arrived back at her small house in less than ten minutes.

"Stay here," she told Alistair, although based on his closed eyes and slightly bobbing head, she would guess she was speaking to a man flirting with unconsciousness.

She raced into the house and up the stairs.

Twenty-one years ago, five year-old Paige had suffered the horrible loss of both of her parents. Her only family had been her great Aunt Sophia, a nun for the past forty years. When Sophia had heard about the tragedy, she'd immediately left her order and had traveled to Fool's Gold to be Paige's guardian. She'd moved into this house and raised Paige as her own.

Six months ago, Paige had lost her beloved aunt. Now she hurried down the short hallway, into Sophia's room. Once across the threshold, she paused for a second, remembering the wonderful woman who had given up everything she'd ever known to raise her great-niece.

"Hey, Sophia," Paige whispered. "There's this British guy who's going to be staying here for a while. What do you think of that?"

She had a feeling Sophia would have approved. Taking care of people had been one of her callings.

Now Paige worked quickly, putting fresh linens on the bed and opening the window to let in fresh air. The May weather was warm and the light breeze carried the scent of flowers and cut grass.

Paige returned to the main floor and dashed out the front door. Alistair sat where she'd left him. She opened the passenger door and called his name. He didn't move.

"Alistair," she said more loudly. "Don't go unconscious on me now. We have a set of stairs to climb."

His eyes opened, revealing dark blue irises. "I don't see how that is possible."

"Anything is possible with faith, my friend. I was raised by a nun. I should know."

"A nun? Really?"

"Yes, really. Now gather yourself. We're getting out of the car."

His eyes sank closed. "Just leave me here."

"No way. My neighbors will call the police for sure."

"I thought Americans were friendly."

"We are, which is why we don't leave strange men in cars." She leaned over him and unfastened the seatbelt, then pulled his legs toward her until his feet were dangling over the driveway.

"Come on," she told him. "You can do it."

"I can't."

"Someone needs an attitude adjustment." She straightened and wondered if she was strong enough to lift him. As quickly as the thought formed, she dismissed it. Alistair was a good eight inches taller than her and he looked kind of well-muscled.

"So you're British, right?"

He slowly opened his eyes. "We've established that, yes."

"Know anyone in the royal family? I think I'd make a fabulous princess. Harry's still single, isn't he?"

"Prince Harry? Yes, I believe so."

"Do you know him?"

"I've met him a few times, of course."

Paige stared at him. "Excuse me?"

"I've met him. At my father's house."

"What was Harry doing there?"

"Playing polo."

"You play polo?"

"Not well."

"I've been meaning to take my game to a higher level, so I know what you mean."

He looked at her then. "You play?"

"Of course. Weekly. Just me and the ponies. Come on, lean forward."

He did as she asked. She grabbed his hands and pulled him forward. His feet dropped to the driveway and gravity did its thing. The forward momentum propelled him to his feet.

"I think you're joking," he said as he staggered a couple of steps.

"I am. I don't even know what polo is. Put your arm around me. We're going into the house and then upstairs."

"As you wish."

"You keep saying that. If only that were true. Take a step. Then another one. Walking is good."

She maneuvered him into her house and then paused at the bottom of the staircase.

"We're going up," she told him.

He barely nodded.

She put his hand on the railing, then stepped behind him and pushed. "Let's get it over with."

He started to move up the stairs.

"That's it. Tell me about your father. How does he know Harry?"

"He knows all the royal family."

"Because?"

"He's an Earl."

Paige nearly stopped pushing. Alistair started to lean back. They were already half way up, there was no retreating now.

"Seriously?" she asked, shoving as hard as she could. "A real earl?"

"Are there unreal earls?"

"I don't know. So that makes you what?"

"A viscount."

"Should I call you something? Mr. Viscount?"

"My Lord is traditional, but unnecessary."

"Good because I'm not the type to curtsey."

They'd reached the top of the stairs. Alistair turned to her. "One only curtseys to the queen."

"Does one?"

"Yes."

"Good to know." She guided him into Sophia's old room and pointed to the bed. "How does that look?"

Alistair sighed. "Heavenly." He reached for the buttons on his shirt. "You'll want me to take my clothes off."

"If I had a nickel," she started, then stopped when he didn't. In a matter of seconds, the shirt was floating to the ground and he was reaching for his belt.

"Yikes," she said, backing out of the room. "Leave on your underwear, or we'll both be embarrassed. Let me know when you're done."

"It's all right," he told her. "I'm a doctor."

She shut the door and stood in the hall. "Maybe, but I'm not." She waited a couple of seconds. "Alistair?"

There was silence, then a thunk. She flung open the door and found Alistair Woodbury, the Viscount of something, lying in briefs and nothing else on her Aunt Sophia's bed.

And to think she'd assumed today was going to be a very ordinary day.

 

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