Title: Winner Takes All
Author: Judy Kentrus
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Preston Reynolds, a former Army Ranger, left a part of himself in the desert from hell. Life as he knew it was over. No woman would ever want to look at or touch him. He never figured on Cindi Pearl Sullivan sashaying in and turning his world upside down. Cindi's personal motto had always been, "do a good deed, for a friend in need." In her sometimes klutzy way, she shows Preston life is to be lived, and he could enjoy the loving caress of a woman.
When the funds for the local soap box derby go missing, she turns to him for help. Working with the “Special Kids” who race in the derby, she decides to show Preston that life was worth living.
“I’m in trouble, so much trouble. You had to volunteer to take over the financial books for the Laurel Heights soap box derby organization. Now a bunch of kids will be heartbroken.”
Cindi Pearl purposely stayed after normal working hours. Only one other office door was open. She didn’t have to think hard to know who else was working late.
Her guilty conscience interrupted her troubled thoughts. “If you hadn’t developed Montezuma’s revenge of the mouth, you wouldn’t be suffering pangs of guilt.”
They’d both attended the party given by her boss at the local roadhouse to celebrate his wife’s promotion. Cindi loved to dance, but there was someone she really wanted to dance with. Preston Reynolds had come to the party as an obligation to his boss.
She’d been drawn to him from the moment he’d shown up for his first interview at their Manhattan office three years ago. Over time, those feelings had turned into something so much stronger.
She understood why he avoided social interaction with the opposite sex. He wore a prosthetic leg from the knee down on his right leg. She wanted to make him understand there was no need to avoid relationships and retreating from life.
When the DJ slowed the beat, she’d decided it was time to end his wallflower stigma.
“How about a dance?”
Preston sat alone at the table and offered an apologetic smile. “Sorry, Cindi, but I don’t dance.”
It was the answer she’d expected, but she pressed further. “You mean you don’t know how.”
“I know how, but I prefer not to dance.”
“Why?” Their conversation had drawn the attention of guests at nearby tables, but she refused to back down.
“You know why.”
“No, I don’t.”
Annoyance laced his light green eyes, and he leaned closer. “I didn’t think I’d have to spell it out, especially for you. My leg.”
“Is there a problem with your prosthesis?”
“Why don’t you want to dance?”
He didn’t bother to disguise the anger in his voice. “What part of the word no don’t you understand?”
She’d made an ass out of herself the other night and had embarrassed him.
Now she was facing an enormous problem, finding out where one-hundred-fifty-thousand dollars had gone. He’d be the perfect one to ask for help.
“Move your ass, girl and get it over with.”
Preston Reynolds studied the figures on the wall screen. “Gotcha!” As a certified forensic accountant, his findings would hold up in any court. Working after hours was never a problem. There wasn’t anyone at home waiting for him and never would be.
“Excuse me, Preston.”
The soft sound of her voice shattered the silence. He’d been wrestling more and more with the warm-hearted feelings he had for sweet, lovely, Cindi Pearl. A cramp in his right knee was a reminder he wasn’t whole. Keep your distance, he told himself.
“You’re working late,” he said.
“You are too. I owe you a very big apology,” she blurted. “I have a tendency to trip on my tongue as well as my feet. The other night, I was heartless and insensitive. Not wanting to dance was your choice.”
“You’re correct.” He offered a little smile. “If I had wanted to dance, it would have been with you.”
“So, no hard feelings?”
He shook his head. “None.”
“I had another reason for coming in, not that apologizing wasn’t important.” Cindi reached into the side pocket of her dress and withdrew a small flash drive. “I’m on the board for our local soap box derby. The current treasurer had to resign due to health reasons, so I volunteered to take over her financial duties.” She passed him the small drive. “I’m not a financial genius, but I’m pretty sure one-hundred-fifty-thousand dollars is missing.”
Preston’s slipped the drive into an external USB port on his laptop. A series of spreadsheets filled one of the wall screens. He used a laser pointer to denote a specific amount. “Here is the initial deposit for the derby.”
“The ledger columns appear to balance, but someone’s been playing tic-tac-toe with the funds.”
“It’s going to take some digging, but this is the kind of challenge I enjoy.”
“Thanks so much. How can I repay you for helping?”
Sometimes luck just fell into one’s lap. He’d debated approaching Cindi to help him with a problem he was facing. He needed a date. She’d understand things wouldn’t go any further than a friendly evening. “Have dinner with me.”
“I’d love to. What night did you have in mind?” she quickly asked.
“I’d better explain. My sister Jennifer is coming for a visit and I’d like you to join us for dinner.”
“Wouldn’t you rather meet with her alone?”
“Not really.” Stop stalling. Tell her the real reason you need a date. “My family is worried that I’m no longer interested in dating. I’d like to introduce you as my girlfriend. There isn’t any other woman I could trust to pull this off. You won’t get the wrong idea if I start putting the moves on you in public. I just want to be up-front.”
She jammed her hands on her hips. “Just so I understand your deceitful, half-ass invitation. If you get touchy-feely I should react like it’s perfectly normal since we’re lovers.”
“Absolutely.” God forgive me for lying.
Cindi tipped her head to the side and tossed out a challenge. “You know, it works both ways. I might want to take a few liberties, you know, to make our relationship more convincing. Like you said, it would all be for show.” She held out a hand. “We have a deal. You clean up my financial mess and I’ll pretend to be your lover.”
Preston wondered at the designing gleam in her eyes, but then decided it was just his imagination. He could trust sweet, sensible Cindi Pearl.
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