“What are you willing to do to save the center, Gwendolyn?”
Surprise snatched the air and words from her throat. An image swam before her—a cat with emerald eyes batting its paw at a mouse, toying with the unlucky rodent that bore an uncanny resemblance to her.
Leery and more than a little suspicious, she studied Xavier. “I-I don’t know what you mean.”
“Exactly what I said. What are you willing to do—to sacrifice—to save the community center?”
The better question would be what hadn’t she sacrificed to save the center? She’d agreed to a cut in salary, had extended her hours to compensate for the teachers’ shorter shifts. She opened the building at seven a.m. and locked the doors well after seven p.m. When she dragged into her small Dorchester apartment each night, her feet ached, her stomach grumbled and her head usually throbbed with worries about parents, bills and funding.
But right on the heels of those sacrifices came the rewards. The laughter of the children as they played kickball. The pride straightening the shoulders of the older teens as they walked across the stage to accept their high school diplomas. The gratefulness in a parent’s eyes as they picked up their child after work, knowing their son or daughter had been safe instead of in trouble on the streets.
“Anything,” she vowed. Yes, she was long on hours and short on pay, but the rewards couldn’t be numbered…or lost. “I’ll do whatever it takes to keep it open.”
A calculating gleam entered Xavier’s eyes and she almost retracted the pledge.
Oh God. So that’s what the devil looks like when he buys a soul.
“I can’t interfere with the grant application process at this late date,” he said, drawing his hands from his pockets and crossing his arms. “Whether the committee’s actions were right or wrong, to step in now would penalize the recipient and, regardless of how the decision came to be, that’s not fair.”
Tough shit. She snorted and Xavier arched an eyebrow.
“There’s another alternative.” He paused and she resisted the urge to glance over her shoulder and measure the distance to the door. Once again she was the mouse to his cat. Except he’d surpassed the toying stage and was licking his paws in preparation for dinner—her. “I’ll personally fund the community center for a year. I’ll donate a check in the exact amount of the grant.”
Joy soared in her chest even as relief flooded her veins, washing away the stink of desperation she’d worn for months. She hadn’t expected him to—
Suspicion delivered a ringing reality slap. Wait a minute. She narrowed her eyes. The offer was generous yet the man she’d encountered this evening didn’t strike her as the magnanimous kind. Niggling doubt warned her a booby trap loomed one step after her agreement to his gift.
“That’s generous of you,” she hedged. Then paused. “What’s the catch?”
“You,” he murmured. “You spend seven days and nights with me…in my bed.” His lashes lowered and he stared at her from under a hooded gaze that promised sex and sin. The timbre of his voice had deepened, conjuring images of dark, hot nights and naughty acts she’d read about, dreamed about…touched herself to. “In other words, Gwendolyn, give me your body for the next week and your precious community center remains open.”