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The Secret Millionaire
By Ryanne Corey
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Chapter OneZack Daniels was an alpha male, from his gleaming ebony hair to the blue-and-white toes of his well-broken-in Reeboks.
He knew this because he watched the Animal Planet channel and was well-informed when it came to the characteristics of a dominant wolf, dog, cheetah, etc. Animal or human, the alpha males were easy to spot. They were driven by their powerful wills, more likely to survive harsh circumstances, and always ready for a fight to maintain order in the pack.
True to form, Zack didn't mind the occasional tussle. In fact, at the moment he was absolutely itching for a fight. He needed to vent.
He knew with total certainty that he was the most frustrated human being in the state of California. And when he drove his platinum silver 2001 Lotus Esprit across the California border into Oregon, he became the most frustrated human being in Oregon, as well. And why?
Because he was on vacation. Zack could understand why maybe an accountant or an attorney or a loan officer at a bank would look forward to two weeks of vacation. Those poor guys were stuck in their routines day after day, often glued to a desk and forced to deal with tedious things like billing hours, credit reports, and balance sheets. And what did they have to show for their labors at the end of the day? Could they look in a secure jail cell and wave to a dangerous criminal they had personally tracked down and apprehended?They could not. And how many distraught damsels in distress did the poor fellows come across in their line of work? Zack would venture to guess: none. Of course they loved their vacations. They looked forward to having a break from the relentless monotony of their lives.
Zack, on the other hand, had a different situation entirely. He was one of the fortunate few who was lucky enough to have a dream job. He was a cop, and he cheerfully danced with danger and unpredictability for the chance to make a difference in the world. And not just a tame waltz, either; he danced a wild tango with his whole heart and soul. He had never believed in doing anything halfway. Granted, he frequently faced risky situations, but on the whole he relished the satisfaction of being a duly sworn-in representative of justice in a world full of bad guys. He hated to sleep, simply because he might miss a chance to protect, serve, defend, nab evil-doers and administer justice. He hated to spend an evening at a high-class restaurant, feeling he was somehow failing to do his job if he turned his pager off for two entire hours. But more than anything, Zack hated taking a meaningless vacation from a life that suited him to a T. And right now he was facing an indefinite period of teethgrinding, nail-biting, migraine-headache boredom.
He had successfully avoided taking a vacation for the past four years. Unfortunately, a short while ago, he and his partner had been ambushed during a drug bust gone bad.
"Pappy" Merkley was a powerful black man who looked more like a football player than a cop. Zack had always considered his friend and mentor impervious to harm, but this time Pappy had taken two bullets in the chest. It was nip and tuck for a couple of days, but the fifty-year-old veteran was a fighter. It was a good thing, too, because Zack would have called the Almighty on the carpet had an idealistic, gentle giant like Pappy lost his life because of a slimeball drug dealer. Once Pappy was moved out of the ICU, Zack was eager to administer what he termed "legal payback."
Zack had many friends who knew him well. Not one of them wanted to be in the same state when he perceived an injustice and lost his temper. His precinct captain, Benjamin Todd, knew very well that it was only a matter of time until his fiercely loyal wunderkind tracked down the shooter and more than likely got himself in hot water. Todd had sentenced him to an open-ended vacation "anywhere out of California" until further notice.
Alpha males occasionally had difficulty relinquishing power to authority figures, and Zack was no exception. He absolutely, positively hated to be frustrated when it came to doing his job ... almost as much as he hated taking vacations.
At the moment he was in his ninth hour of vacation and could hardly face the prospect of another minute, let alone an indefinite period of accomplishing absolutely nothing. The heavens had been raining on him since he'd left Los Angeles, doing a smear job on his recently detailed Lotus. To make matters worse, he also had a headache and a sore throat and feared he was coming down with a cold. He wasn't surprised. His good health seemed to be directly related to the skirmishes he fought in the war against crime. Constant challenge and sweet justice guaranteed high spirits and general well-being. No challenge whatsoever, not to mention a good dose of frustration, translated into sneezes and a cough. True to form, Zack began to pine for dry sheets and a box of tissues. When he sneezed his way into a one-stoplight town called Providence, he decided it was as good a place as any to spend the night.
It was dusk, and the rosy light slanting in from the west did wonderful things for the Lotus's platinum exterior finish. The exotic, hand-tooled car garnered him quite a bit of attention as he motored down good old "Main Street." None of his friends or colleagues would have recognized the lowslung sports car he drove, for the simple reason that he kept it hidden in his garage beneath a chamois car cover. Like the rest of the cops he knew, Zack drove a battered economy car with bad tires and too many miles. Anyone who planned on going into law enforcement for the money was doomed to great disappointment and poor transportation.
Though he looked, walked and talked like a cop, Zack had a few secrets he kept with religious fervor. Heaven help him if any of his buddies on the force found out that he had a genius IQ. Though his photographic memory was a tremendous help in his work, he played it down as much as he could. He couldn't help his intellectual gifts; he'd been born that way. Was it his fault that he had graduated summa cum laude from Berkeley with little effort and even less dedication? No. And so what if he happened to be a member of Mensa? Everyone had skeletons in their closets. Being labeled a genius had been seriously detrimental to his high school social life. He'd been saved from complete humiliation by securing the position of quarterback for the football team, guiding them to a state championship. All brains and no brawn would have made Zack a very dull boy.
At thirty-three, Zack was older and wiser, and by now an old hand at keeping his astonishing intellect under wraps. Still, certain challenges were irresistible to him. During his last year in college, he'd attended an economics lecture wherein the professor compared the chances of success in the stock market with the chances of success at a blackjack table in Vegas. Zack perked right up at the prospect of such an intriguing challenge. Immediately he had begun studying the stock market, quickly learning the ropes and spotting the trends. Initially he invested the small inheritance left to him by his father, and over the next few years created a fine bear market for himself. Simply put, he had become filthy rich. Not a soul on earth besides his banker and lawyer knew about his jaw-dropping fortune. Zack took great pains to keep it quiet, fearing his colleagues would no longer consider him "one of them" if they knew of his exalted tax bracket. Still, now and again he spoiled himself, as he had done when he'd impulsively purchased the Lotus. The only good thing about his vacation was the opportunity to bring his smoke-colored road rocket out of hiding. There was no denying it; alpha males liked to go fast.
As Zack reined in the growling Lotus at a stoplight, a sign in the lighted window of Appleton's General Store caught his eye: "Beat the bug! Save money on all supplies for cold-and-flu season!" He pulled into the parking lot, only too happy to call it a night. He was knee-deep in his own personal cold-and-flu season. He could see a motel down the road with an electric-blue vacancy sign. In thirty minutes he would be seriously medicated and off to dreamland. When he awoke, another eight hours of his vacation would be history.
Excerpted from The Secret Millionaire by Ryanne Corey
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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