I have about twenty seconds to sum her up physical y.

The process takes me ten.

She’s wearing an oversized, faded t-shirt bearing the M.A.D.D. logo. Unintentional? Doubt it. I can’t tel breast size or shape under that thing; ditto whether or not she has a waist. In my experience, if a girl has either, she’s going to dress to at least hint at the fact. Her tent of a t-shirt tel s me she’s hiding inadequacies, not assets.

Her shorts are so far out of style that I’m not sure they were ever i n style. Sprinkled with flecks of paint, her construction boots are worn and scuffed. Stil , she manages to pul off this part of the manual laborer look because her legs are the only thing remotely hot about her.

Her calves are perfectly shaped, strong and muscled. Most of the girls I know—actresses, society girls—want long, thin legs. But legs like hers are what I go for when I’m feeling particular.

She’s tan wherever I see skin. Not a Rodeo Drive sunless tan, either—the real thing. I know this because there’s a pale strip of skin on one wrist where she usual y wears something—a thick-banded watch, maybe. I don’t know a single girl who goes outside without a mil ion SPF


Hair—generic brown and pul ed back from her face into a ponytail. Probably goes wel past her shoulders when down. Assuming she ever wears it down.

Face—predictably, no makeup, not even a swipe of blush or lip gloss. Dark, dark eyes. A light smattering of freckles across her cheeks and the bridge of her nose—the girls I know would have had those burned off or bleached out or whatever they do to remove freckles years ago.

Final y, her mouth—another oddity, like her legs—her lips are perfect and ful , even set into a harsh line like they are now.

I stuff both hands into the front pockets of my jeans, stop a few feet from the street and wait.


“Mr. Alexander, I assume?” she says, stil striding forward. I nod, adding something further to the short list of her attractive features: her voice. It makes me want to hear her sing, even though her inflection says she wishes the ground would swal ow me.

Legs, lips, voice. If one of these proves too appealing to ignore, a few veiled insults wil give her self-esteem enough of a hit to back off, though it seldom chases them off completely. Girls are irrational y attracted to assholes. I don’t intend to be cruel, but I’m not hooking up with some tiresome, bleeding-heart do-gooder. I just want to do my time and get the hel out.


A Mercedes? Really? I am so not looking forward to this.

The moment His Highness arrived was easy enough to determine since everyone just flat-out stopped what they were doing to gawk at the big celebrity and his ostentatious car. One minute the house hummed with the sound of people talking, laughing and working side-by-side, and the next there was silence punctuated by hissed undertones, not a hammer or paintbrush moving. I fail to see how this sort of daily interruption wil be beneficial to the project…

but no one asked me.

He’s dressed appropriately—jeans, t-shirt, work boots—

but I get the feeling those jeans were more expensive than the nicest outfit I own. Possibly ditto the t-shirt, which has some sort of insignia I don’t recognize. I’m guessing it isn’t a brand found at Target.

When I walked out to meet him, he gave me a careless once-over—I should have expected as much—and dismissed whatever he saw. Most girls might be offended, or at least displeased, but I’m grateful. I don’t want Reid Alexander’s interest. If I had my druthers, I’d love for him to perform his community service elsewhere, but the judge wanted him to assist in building the home for the family he displaced, and I can’t argue with that logic.

Cramming his hands into his pockets, he watched me indifferently, as though he couldn’t care less about anything that has happened or wil happen. Out of nowhere an absurd feeling of inconsolable grief washed over me. Like nothing could be more tragic than this boy standing in front of me. Ridiculous.

“Mr. Alexander, I assume?” I said, and he nodded shortly. I turned before he could see what I was thinking.

When it comes to having a poker face—I don’t. Usual y that’s not a problem, since lying is something I strive not to do because I just don’t see the point. But with someone like Reid Alexander, it would be unwise to let him sense any vulnerability where he’s concerned. I live in Los Angeles, after al , and while I might not run in his circle, or even within the same galaxy as his circle, I know his type: careless, spoiled and heedless of anyone’s needs outside his own.

Even with that angel’s face, he cannot be trusted.

I glance over my shoulder and he hasn’t moved. Without slowing, I say, “Come with me, please,” and hope that he complies—because no one’s told me what I’m supposed to do if he doesn’t.

Releasing a breath as I hear the crunch of gravel under his boots, indicating that he’s at least fol owing me inside, I tel myself that I can put up with anything for a few weeks. I wanted to scream when Roberta told me that his community service agreement was for a month. Meaning he’l be my problem for the entire three and a half weeks before I leave for Ecuador.

As we pass through the smal house, my fel ow volunteers gape, star-struck. Even grown men stop what they’re doing, though the women are worse—straightening their clothes, patting hair into place—holy cow. You’d think they’ve never seen anything pretty before. That’s the first thing I must admit and get past—the sheer fact of how beautiful he is.

I’ve seen the magazine covers, the posters on girlfriends’ bedroom wal s, his likeness on backpacks of nine-year-olds who attend our church’s after-school program, for Pete’s sake. I knew he’d be handsome. The fact of the matter, though, is “handsome” doesn’t do him justice. Mom would term his hair dirty blond, and Dad would say it’s a little too long. His eyes are a dark blue I’d always assumed was photoshopped. He’s so sensual y attractive that I should add every girl on whom he’l turn his attention to my prayer list, because they’re going to need al the divine intervention they can get to resist him. I’m thankful that he dismissed me so quickly.

“I was going to tile the bathroom shower today… but that’s a complicated procedure and you’d just end up watching me do it. So we’re going to paint the bedrooms instead.” We arrive in the master bedroom, the wal s and ceiling of which are unfinished. I texturized and primed last week. Carpet hasn’t been instal ed, so at least I don’t have to worry about him ruining the floor. “I’l do the ceiling, because it’s more—”

“Complicated?” he interjects, regarding me with an amused look.

I take a slow, deep breath. It’s going to be a long three and a half weeks.

Chapter 4


“So, do you have a name—or do I just cal you boss?” Introductions: Basic Etiquette 101. The tips of her ears turn bright pink, but she otherwise doesn’t blush.

“I’m sorry.” She steps towards me, offering her hand. “I’m Dori.”

I take her hand and give her one firm shake, annoyed that the combination of her pitch-perfect voice and the touch of her hand are like a tiny electric shock. “Cal me Reid. Only my subordinates cal me Mr. Alexander.” Comprehending me instantly, she blinks and her ears turn an even darker shade of pink, and I decide that this month may prove more entertaining than I’d thought. Any direct hits wil come with a visible signal. I’l bet she wears her hair pul ed back every day, too.

She clears her throat and indicates the pile of stuff in the middle of the room, clustered around a ladder. “Okay, then, Reid, here’s the paint we’l be using, and the rol ers, brushes, etcetera. Have you painted before?” Is she serious? “Not rooms.”

She doesn’t miss a beat. “Then I guess you’l be learning a new skil .” Pul ing a smal metal instrument from her pocket, she squats next to the paint cans. I’m trying not to focus on the line of muscle flexing from the top of her boot to where it disappears at the hem of her shorts.

“I doubt I’l feel the need to paint the wal s at my place any time soon,” I say, scoffing at the notion of wasting my time doing any form of manual labor when I could pay some il egal immigrant almost nothing to do it.

She pries the lid off of a paint can, ignoring my comment and smiling at the sky blue inside. Without glancing up, she sets the lid aside. “What if you accept a film role where you need to act like you can paint, but you don’t know how? I can make you look like an expert by the end of the week.” My estimation of her ability to manipulate goes up several notches. She’s downright dangerous.

So she’s going to make me an “expert” at painting? How hard can it be?

I’m rol ing paint on the final bit of the last wal , biceps and delts burning (at least I won’t have to worry about deteriorating muscle tone while I’m here), while Dori is on the ladder “cutting in” with a brush—painting the wal space between the ceiling and the spot where the rol er can’t go without hitting the ceiling. Which I learned the hard way.

The windows are open to save us from being asphyxiated by paint fumes, but there’s no breeze to speak of and summer is gearing up to be a bitch. This would be a perfect day to be at the beach. Or alternatively, pretty much anywhere else.

“It’s fucking hot in here.” I set the rol er in the tray and examining my hands, which are splattered in blue. There’s blue on my nails, under my nails, speckling my forearms and the yel ow Prada t-shirt that, luckily, isn’t a favorite.

Since the shirt’s already streaked and spattered with blue paint, a few more smears from my fingers won’t matter.

I pul the shirt over my head and toss it next to a pile of drop-cloths after mopping my face with it. Dori is on her ladder, motionless and staring at me while a line of paint runs from the upturned brush down the handle and continues along her arm. When I cock an eyebrow at her and she snaps her attention back to the paintbrush in her hand, dropping it into the shal ow paint tray hooked to the ladder.

Grabbing a cloth, I climb onto the ladder behind her, take her wrist in my hand and stop the drip of paint with the cloth.

This seems to unsettle the shit out of her.

“This ladder is only built to hold one,” she says, taking the cloth from me.

Shrugging, I hop down. “You’re welcome.” Her legs, smooth and unblemished, are eye-level when my boots hit the ground. I resist the urge to run a finger over the soft spot behind her knee. She’d probably fal off the ladder… at which point I’d catch her… And then she’d start screaming.

Holy shit, man, cut it out.

“Thank you.” Ears pink, she unhooks the tray and avoids looking at me.

I’ve been here half a day and I’ve schooled her in manners twice. That’s gotta sting. She’s backing down the ladder with the paintbrush and tray when I ask if we’re done with this room. Cocking her head to the side like she’s trying to figure out if I’m serious, she looks at me. “No…

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