The wall in the elevator held him upright. So much to do—quitting his job being at the top of the list. The door opened on his floor. Oh well, he had his time and passion. That he’d give to the kids at the youth centers—not that anybody could pay the rent with it.
He dragged himself down the hall toward his suite, staring at the phone that never rang. With his right hand, he grabbed the key card, looked up, and stopped so fast he might have had rubber shoes on a shag carpet. Ally stood in front of his suite, leaning against the wall.
He tried not to gasp too loudly. Ally minus the ugly glasses and in street clothes was a sight to see. Long, slim legs in trim jeans and a pink checked shirt that set off her pale complexion and bright red hair. Adorable. Her hips were so narrow and chest so flat, she could have been a boy but for the high ponytail. A very cute boy. Obviously Taylor’s cock suffered from gender confusion, because it wiggled, and Taylor did not do girls. “Hi. You came.”
She nodded but didn’t smile. “You wanted to see me. You’re a VIP guest, and I’m a maid. Not wise to refuse.”
That wasn’t the best way to start. “I didn’t mean for it to be a command performance.”
“Oh?” Lasers behind those brown eyes.
Hell, this was his one chance. No time to argue. “Could you come in for a minute?” He keyed open the door and held it.
Another nod. She crossed in front of him and stopped in the middle of the entry. He closed the door and pointed toward the living room. “Please, come on in and sit.”
She paused, then walked into the living room and perched on the edge of one of the couches. He sat across from her. Jesus, this was hard. “Uh, you remember that I got a shock while you were here. Bad news, right?”
“Yes. You seemed upset as I was leaving. I hope things have improved.”
“Not yet, but they could.” He took a deep breath. “Are you married or attached?”
She stood straight up with her mouth open. He bounded up opposite her. “Wait. I said that badly. It’s just that I want to make you a proposal that requires that you not be married and—”
She started walking toward the door.
“No, wait, please.”
She kept walking.
“Ally, will you marry me?”
Okay, that stopped her. She looked over her shoulder, and her eyes could have been stop signs, they were so huge. “What did you say?”
The words tumbled out. “I’ll give you a million dollars to marry me.” Well, damn, Mr. Smooth strikes again. “Please, sit down and let me explain. I know I sound nuts, but I’m harmless.”
She stared at him and suddenly started to laugh. She stumbled back and collapsed on the couch. “Okay, I confess, there’s not the slightest chance I could walk away and not hear the rest of this story.” She held up a hand. “But keep your distance in case you’re as crazy as you sound.”
“Can I get you something to drink?”
She glanced at a serviceable-looking watch on her arm. “Sure, I’m off the clock. I’ll have a beer.”
Taylor used the trip to the service kitchen to take a breath. He hadn’t quite thought this through. She was right. He must sound crazy. Damn, he wasn’t too bad with men. Being with a female was throwing him off. Or maybe it was being the one who needed something. In business he was powerful enough and wealthy enough to always be on an even footing. Now he was a beggar. The cute maid held all the cards. Time to put on his poker face.
He grabbed beer bottles from the fridge, opened them, and poured into two glasses. For a guy he would have skipped that step. Carrying the beer, he walked back into the living room. She was sitting forward, elbows leaning on her knees, staring sideways at the view of the thousands of lights. Her profile, with its high-bridged nose and strong cheekbones, was etched against the softly lit room. Pretty.
“Here you go.” He extended the glass, and she took it.
“Thanks.” She took a long drink. Cleaning rooms must be thirsty work.
He sat opposite her and took his own sip. “Okay, here’s the deal. I live in San Francisco. My family has money, and I work in the family business. My grandfather, who started the business, died a number of years ago, and my father now runs it with a lot of help from me.”
“Don’t you have a board of directors?”
Taylor glanced up. That wasn’t the question he’d expected. “Uh, yeah. We do, but it’s a privately held firm, so all the directors are kind of figureheads who report to my father.”
Did she? “Anyway, I just found out—” He glanced at his watch. “—a few hours ago, that the inheritance my grandfather left me came with unusual strings attached. My father hid this from me.”
“Why? He wanted the money for himself?”
“Exactly. What he didn’t tell me was that I have to be married by my twenty-fifth birthday in order to collect the inheritance.”
She raised an eyebrow. They were a lot darker than her bright hair. “Daddy has been a very bad boy.”
Were all maids this savvy? “Yes. The problem is my birthday is tomorrow. In other words, it starts at midnight tonight.”
“Wow.” She frowned. “Do you have to be married by your birthday or on your birthday?” She took another mouthful of beer.
“The will said by my birthday, and I can’t talk to the lawyer who drew it up to determine the meaning, because he’s on my father’s side.”
Taylor grinned. “Yeah.”
“How come you let that happen? I thought you were so good in business.”
He almost laughed. Who was she? Bill Gates? Instead he sighed. “When my grandfather died, I was an eighteen-year-old kid busy trying to figure out his sexuality. I loved him, and his death broke my heart. I didn’t have any energy to protect myself from my father.”
“I’m really sorry.” She sipped. “So, easy. You call a woman you know, ask her to marry you, and tell her she gets a cut.”
“That’s why I’m here.”
She looked around. “So where is she?”
“Remember when I got the upsetting phone call?”
“That was me finding out that the woman I was planning to ask had been in an accident and isn’t coming.”
“So call another girl.”
“I did. You.”