The Hang Up (First Impressions) - Tawna Fenske

Chapter One

Miriam Ashley glanced at her Cartier wristwatch as she hurried out to the mailbox in front of her house. The heel on her Jimmy Choo stiletto caught on the edge of the sidewalk, but Miriam barely wobbled.

Bitch, please. She’d been maneuvering in heels since she was old enough to go to the mall without a grown-up. Even though Saturdays didn’t require her to report for duty as co-owner of First Impressions Branding and PR, Miriam was still rockin’ the uniform.

She was always rockin’ the uniform.

Her watch read one fifteen, which gave her just enough time to grab the mail, fix herself a smoothie, then watch three TiVo-ed episodes of Project Runway before meeting up with her best friend for cocktails. Which of course meant work in a roundabout way, since her best friend was also her business partner. If she hurried, maybe she’d even have time to—

“Pardon me.”

Miriam glanced up to see a homeless man standing in front of her. At least, she assumed he was homeless. He was filthy from head to toe, covered in mud like he’d been rolling around beneath an overpass. Poor guy.

“Yes?” She shoved one hand in her jacket pocket to fish for spare change, but didn’t find any, so she slipped her keys between the knuckles of her other hand like she’d been taught in a women’s self-defense class.

Miriam was always prepared.

But the guy didn’t seem to be lunging for her wallet or her tits. In fact, he looked downright cheerful. His smile made cracks in the filth covering his face, and his eyes—startlingly bright blue—almost seemed to be laughing. He sure as hell didn’t look like a serial killer, but she was hardly the best judge. It wasn’t like serial killers routinely appeared on her doorstep seeking help with a marketing plan.

“I was wondering if you could help me,” the man said. His voice was deep and smooth, like dark chocolate, and she felt her stomach ball up in a funny, fizzy little knot.

“Of course, I’m happy to help,” she said. “There’s a shelter a little less than a mile from here. I know they have a shower truck that drives around to some of the different parks, and they serve three meals a day, but I’m guessing you just missed lunch since it’s after one.”

“Actually—”

“Wait!” she said, desperate to be helpful. “I just remembered I have some leftover sushi from dinner last night. If you want to hang on, I can go inside and grab it for you.”

“That’s very kind, but—”

“Sorry, what am I thinking?” She smacked her forehead with her palm, which hurt a lot more than it should have since she’d forgotten the damn keys between her fingers. “You’d probably prefer something a little more substantial, like a sandwich or a protein shake or—”

“Ma’am.”

That stopped her. “Ma’am?” She frowned. “Do I look that old?”

“What?” The guy laughed and shook his head, and Miriam was struck by how sexy that damn laugh was.

Quit ogling the homeless guy. And he was still talking! Pay attention.

“…just trying to be polite,” he said, rubbing a hand over a jaw thick with mud-covered stubble. “I’m new to the area, so I guess I don’t have the local professional lingo down yet, but ‘ma’am’ seemed more respectful than ‘hey you’ or ‘baby’ or ‘beautiful,’ even though you are. Beautiful, I mean. Stunning, really.”

“Oh.” She felt herself starting to blush, and she briefly wondered if he was just saying that to butter her up so he could beat her senseless and steal her wallet. Then she realized that was a lousy thing to think. She’d done a pro bono marketing campaign for a homeless shelter last year, so she knew the majority of homeless people weren’t criminals or degenerates. They were just regular people who’d had a stroke of bad luck.

“I’m sorry,” she told him. “That must be really hard, finding yourself homeless in a new area without friends or family around to help.”

“Homeless?” He quirked an eyebrow at her, which made more cracks in the mud on his face. “I’m not homeless. I just bought a place down the street. Two blocks away—it’s the blue duplex with the white shutters.”

He pointed toward a shady, tree-lined section of the neighborhood, and she recalled seeing the glossy “sold” sticker tacked up on the real estate sign a few weeks ago. She looked back at the man. Okay, upon closer inspection, she could see he wore expensive running shoes and trendy, designer athletic apparel, even if it was covered