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Dirty Work
Author: Regina Kyle

CHAPTER ONE


   Ainsley


   I’VE SEEN A LOT of strange things in my line of work. Manhattan is full of oddballs, and I seem to be a magnet for them. I’ve taken each and every one of their, shall we say, eccentric requests in stride. You know what they say. The customer’s always right. Well, almost always. I do have some hard limits.

   And this may be one of them.

   I get down on my knees and look my newest prospective client in the eye. The trendy Tribeca loft is big by Manhattan standards, but he seems to dominate the space, his massive frame making the Mad Men–style furniture look like it belongs in a dollhouse. He’s impeccably groomed and sleekly muscled, coiled and ready to pounce like a jungle cat at the slightest sign of weakness.

   Honestly, I’m a little afraid of him. He’s more than a tad overwhelming. I’m not sure I can handle that much raw, unadulterated power. I wonder not for the first time what he’s doing here, in this apartment. With his bulk and brawn, he seems more suited to country living than city dwelling. I can’t help feeling he’d be happier somewhere with more room to roam.

   “So what do you think, Ainsley? Can you do it?” an uncertain female voice asks from over my shoulder.

   Brie Lawson. I’d almost forgotten she’s there, that’s how uncharacteristically rattled I am. In truth, she’s the prospective client, not Roscoe. We met at a spin class in the Village. I made the mistake of telling her what I do for a living, and she insisted I was the only one who could help her.

   And Roscoe.

   “Please, Ainsley. I don’t know what I’ll do if you don’t say yes.”

   “I don’t know, Brie,” I answer, not taking my eye off Roscoe, who’s been surprisingly quiet throughout this whole ordeal. “This is totally out of my comfort zone.”

   “I’ll pay double your usual rate. Triple. Well, Jake will. Lord knows he can afford it.”

   That’s right. It isn’t even Brie who’ll be my client if I accept her crazy proposal. It’s her mysterious, heretofore unseen brother who’ll be footing the bill for my services.

   The very exorbitant bill.

   I make one last head-to-paw assessment of the Irish wolfhound sitting on his haunches in front of me, then get back to my feet with a crisp nod. This may be an exercise in insanity given my spotty history with dogs, especially large ones, but three times my going rate is too damn good to pass up. Odds & Errands—the concierge service I started out of my apartment a little less than a year ago—needs the business. And mama needs those Louboutin striped leather sling-backs she saw in the display window at Saks.

   “Deal.”

   Brie starts to squee, but I rise, cutting her off with a hand held palm out, Supremes style. “I’ll walk him twice a day. Make sure he’s got food and water. That’s it. No snuggle time. No cleaning up any of his little—or not so little—indoor messes. No hauling fifty-pound bags of dog chow up five flights of stairs.”

   “The building has an elevator.”

   I arch a brow at her. “Do you want me to take this job or not?”

   “I want, I want.” Brie throws her arms around me and I instinctively tense up. Such effusive displays of affection aren’t the norm in my family. Hell, any displays of affection aren’t the norm for the emotionally stunted Scott clan, and I’m still getting used to my new friend’s tendency toward over-the-top exuberance. I make a conscious effort to relax as she continues to sing my praises. “You’re a lifesaver. Seriously. I was dreading telling Jake I was dumping Roscoe on him. But he won’t take it half so bad now that you’ll be around to share the burden.”

   I don’t like the sound of those words. Share the burden. But it’s too late now. I’ve already given my word, and that’s not something I take lightly. Besides, those Louboutins aren’t going to buy themselves.

   The aforementioned burden trots on over and tries to worm his way between us, clearly wanting to get in on the action. I disentangle myself from Brie and take a step back from the pair.

   “How did you get stuck with him anyway?” I ask.

   She reaches down and takes hold of Roscoe’s collar, keeping him blessedly beside her and away from me. “My parents won a three-month cruise in some raffle fundraiser. They figured since I’ve been staying with Jake while making the audition rounds, we could take care of Roscoe together. I don’t think anyone—least of all me—considered the possibility I’d book something while they were gone. And certainly not something that was going to take me out of town for so long.”

   Brie’s practically bursting with excitement, and I’m reminded what brought me here in the first place. I push aside my aversion to PDA—and Roscoe—and step back toward her to give her a quick squeeze. “Have I told you how jealous I am? Six months doing my absolute favorite musical—Les Misérables—in one of my favorite places, sunny San Diego? You’re going to kill it, girl.”

   She totally is. Brie may be one of my newest friends—I’ve known her only a few months—but I had the pleasure of catching her semi-autobiographical one-woman show at Studio 54, and she’s damn good. I’ve seen enough Broadway musicals to know she’s got what it takes to make it on the Great White Way. That was one of the few perks of being a junior associate at Dwight, Kearns & Goodwin, attorneys at law. Free theater tickets when the partners didn’t need them to wine, dine and entertain clients. Yankees and Rangers, too, which Dale sure didn’t seem to mind.

   No. I’m not going to think about Dale. And I’m not going to think about DK&G. I’ve left all that in the rearview mirror, on the side of the highway covered in road dust.

   Brie blushes and returns the squeeze, pulling me back to the present. “Thanks, but I’m only in the ensemble. If it’s anything like either of the Broadway productions, the lighting will be so subdued I’ll be in shadow the whole time.”

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