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The hair on the back of Maryanne’s neck bristled. Although he spoke in general terms, his words seemed to be directed solely at her. He was telling her, in effect, to pack up her suitcase and head home to Mommy and Daddy where she belonged.

When Nolan finished, they were each given two minutes for a rebuttal.

“Some of what you have to say is true,” Maryanne admitted through clenched teeth. “But you can’t turn back progress. Only a fool,” she said pointedly, “would try to keep families from settling in Washington state. You can argue until you’ve lost your voice, but it won’t help. The population in this area is going to explode in the next few years whether you approve or not.”

“That’s probably true, but it doesn’t mean I have to sit still and let it happen. In fact, I intend to do everything I can to put a stop to it,” he said. “We in Seattle have a way of life to protect and a duty to future generations. If growth continues in this vein, our schools will soon be overcrowded, our homes so overpriced that no one except those from out of state will be able to afford housing—and that’s only if they can find it. If that’s what you want, then fine, bask in your ignorance.”

“What do you suggest?” Maryanne burst out. “Setting up road blocks?”

“That’s a start,” Nolan returned sarcastically. “Something’s got to be done before this area becomes another urban disaster.”

Maryanne rolled her eyes. “Do you honestly think you’re going to single-handedly turn back the tide of progress?”

“I’m sure as hell going to try.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“And that’s our Celebrity Debate for this evening,” Brian Campbell said quickly, cutting off any further argument. “Join us next week when our guests will be City Council candidates Nick Fraser and Robert Hall.”

The microphone was abruptly switched off. “That was excellent,” the host said, flashing them a wide enthusiastic smile. “Thank you both.”

“You’ve got your head buried in the sand,” Maryanne felt obliged to inform Nolan, although she knew it wouldn’t do any good. She dropped her notes back in her bag and snapped it firmly shut, as if to say the subject was now closed.

“You may be right,” Nolan said with a grin. “But at least the sand is on a pollution-free beach. If you have your way, it’ll soon be cluttered with—”

“If I have my way?” she cried. “You make it sound as though I’m solely responsible for the Puget Sound growth rate.”

“You are responsible, and those like you.”

“Well, excuse me,” she muttered sarcastically. She nodded politely to Brian Campbell, then hurried back to the reception room where she’d left her coat. To her annoyance Nolan followed her.

“I don’t excuse you, Deb.”

“I asked you to use my name,” she said furiously, “and it isn’t Deb.”

Crossing his arms over his chest, Nolan leaned lazily against the doorjamb while she retrieved her wool coat.

Maryanne crammed her arms into the sleeves and nearly tore off the buttons in her rush to leave. The way he stood there studying her did little to cool her temper.

“And another thing…” she muttered.

“You mean there’s more?”

“You’re darn right there is. That crack about virgins was intolerably rude! I…I expected better of you.”

“Hell, it’s true.”

“How would you know?”

He grinned that insufferable grin of his, infuriating her even more.

“Don’t you have anything better to do than follow me around?” she demanded, stalking out of the room.

“Not particularly. Fact is, I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”

Once she’d recovered from the shock of learning that he’d be her opponent in this radio debate, Maryanne had eagerly anticipated this evening, too. Long before she’d arrived at the radio station, she’d planned to tell Nolan how much she admired his work. This silly rivalry between them was exactly that: silly. She hadn’t meant to step on his toes and would’ve called and cleared the air if he hadn’t attacked her in print at the earliest opportunity.

“Sure you wanted to meet me. Hurling insults to my face must be far more fun.”

He laughed at that and Maryanne was astonished at how rich and friendly his amusement sounded.

“Come on, Simpson, don’t take everything so personally. Admit it. We’ve been having a good time poking fun at each other.”

Maryanne didn’t say anything for a moment. Actually he was partially right. She had enjoyed their exchanges, although she wouldn’t have admitted that earlier. She wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to now.

“Admit it,” he coaxed, again with a grin.

That uneven smile of his was her undoing. “It hasn’t exactly been fun,” she answered reluctantly, “but it’s been…interesting.”

“That’s what I thought.” He thrust his hands into his pockets, looking pleased with himself.

She glanced at him appraisingly. The man’s appeal was definitely of the rugged variety: his outrageous charm—Maryanne wasn’t sure charm was really the right word—his craggy face and solid compact build. She’d been surprised to discover he wasn’t as tall as she’d imagined. In fact, he was probably under six feet.

“Word has it Daddy was the one responsible for landing you this cushy job,” he commented, interrupting her assessment.

“Cushy?” she repeated angrily. “You’ve got to be kidding!” She often put in twelve-hour days, trying to come up with a column that was both relevant and entertaining. In the four weeks since she’d joined the Seattle Review, she’d worked damn hard. She had something to prove, not only to herself but to her peers.

“So being a journalist isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be?”

“I didn’t say that,” she returned. To be perfectly honest, Maryanne had never tried harder at anything. Her pride and a whole lot more was riding on the outcome of the next few months. Samuel Simpson’s daughter or not, she was on probation, after which her performance would be reviewed by the managing editor.

“I wonder if you’ve ever done anything without Daddy’s approval.”

“I wonder if you’ve always been this rude.”

He chuckled at that. “Almost always. As I said, don’t take it personally.”

With her leather purse tucked securely under her arm, she marched to the exit, which Nolan was effectively blocking. “Excuse me, please.”

“Always so polite,” he murmured before he straightened, allowing her to pass.

Nolan followed her to the elevator, annoying her even more. Maryanne felt his scrutiny, and it flustered her. She knew she was reasonably attractive, but she also knew that no one was going to rush forward with a banner and a tiara. Her mouth was just a little too full, her eyes a little too round. Her hair had been fire-engine red the entire time she was growing up, but it had darkened to a deep auburn in her early twenties, a fact for which she remained truly grateful. Maryanne had always hated her red hair and the wealth of freckles that accompanied it. No one else in her family had been cursed with red hair, let alone freckles. Her mother’s hair was a beautiful blonde and her father’s a rich chestnut. Even her younger brothers had escaped her fate. If it weren’t for the distinctive high Simpson forehead and deep blue eyes, Maryanne might have suspected she’d been adopted. But that wasn’t the case. Instead she’d been forced to discover early in life how unfair heredity could be.

The elevator arrived, and both Maryanne and Nolan stepped inside. Nolan leaned against the side—he always seemed to be leaning, Maryanne noticed. Leaning and staring. He was studying her again; she could feel his eyes as profoundly as a caress.

“Would you kindly stop?” she snapped.

“Stop what?”

“Staring at me!”

“I’m curious.”

“About what?” She was curious about him, too, but far too civilized to make an issue of it.

“I just wanted to see if all that blue blood showed.”

“Oh, honestly!”

“I am being honest,” he answered. “You know, you intrigue me, Simpson. Have you eaten?”

Maryanne’s heart raced with excitement at the offhand question. He seemed to be leading up to suggesting they dine together. Unfortunately she’d been around Nolan long enough to realize she couldn’t trust the man. Anything she said or did would more than likely show up in that column of his.

“I’ve got an Irish stew simmering in a pot at home,” she murmured, dismissing the invitation before he could offer it.

“Great! I love stew.”

Maryanne opened her mouth to tell him she had no intention of asking him into her home. Not after the things he’d said about her in his column. But when she turned to tell him so, their eyes met. His were a deep, dark brown and almost…she couldn’t be sure, but she thought she saw a faint glimmer of admiration. The edge of his mouth quirked upward with an unmistakable hint of challenge. He looked as if he expected her to reject him.

Against her better judgment, and knowing she’d live to regret this, Maryanne found herself smiling.

“My apartment’s on Spring Street,” she murmured.

“Good. I’ll follow you.”

She lowered her gaze, feeling chagrined and already regretful about the whole thing. “I didn’t drive.”

“Is your chauffeur waiting?” he asked, his voice and eyes mocking her in a manner that was practically friendly.

“I took a cab,” she said, glancing away from him. “It’s a way of life in Manhattan and I’m not accustomed to dealing with a car. So I don’t have one.” She half expected him to make some derogatory comment and was thankful when he didn’t.

“I’ll give you a lift, then.”

He’d parked his car, a surprisingly stylish sedan, in a lot close to the waterfront. The late-September air was brisk, and Maryanne braced herself against it as Nolan cleared the litter off the passenger seat.

She slipped inside, grateful to be out of the chill. It didn’t take her more than a couple of seconds to realize that Nolan treated his car the same way he treated his raincoat. The front and back seat were cluttered with empty paper cups, old newspapers and several paperback novels. Mysteries, she noted. The great Nolan Adams read mysteries. A container filled with loose change was propped inside his ashtray.

While Maryanne searched for the seatbelt, Nolan raced around the front of the car, slid inside and quickly started the engine. “I hope there’s a place to park off Spring.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Maryanne quickly assured him, “I’ve got valet service.”

Nolan murmured something under his breath. Had she made an effort, she might’ve been able to hear, but she figured she was probably better off not knowing.

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