#GiveAway - McNaught-E November - Until You by Judith McNaught
For McNaught-E November we will announce the winner(s) of 14 promo codes, one promo code for each title. Enter to win today! You can enter on all blogs on the tour listed below, but you can only win once. Please let me know which book you might like to win in your comment.
We are excited to share with you that the fourteen Judith McNaught titles listed below are available for the first time in E-Book November 1st! If you previously read any of these amazing titles, revisiting them in E-Book is not “All for Naught,” as each E-Book will contain original, new content (a letter) from Judith McNaught.
upon a mountain of satin pillows amid rumpled bed linens, Helene Devernay
surveyed his bronzed, muscular torso with an appreciative smile as Stephen
David Elliott Westmoreland, Earl of Langford, Baron of Ellingwood, Fifth
Viscount Hargrove, Viscount Ashbourne, shrugged into the frilled shirt he’d
tossed over the foot of the bed last night. “Are we still attending the theatre
next week?” she asked.
glanced at her in surprise as he picked up his neck cloth. “Of course.” Turning
to the mirror above the fireplace, he met her gaze in it while he deftly
wrapped the fine white silk into intricate folds around his neck. “Why did you
need to ask?”
Season begins next week, and Monica Fitzwaring is coming to town. I heard it
from my dressmaker, who is also hers.”
said, looking steadily at her in the mirror, his expression betraying not even
a flicker of reaction.
With a sigh,
Helene rolled onto her side and leaned on an elbow, her tone regretful but
frank. “And gossiphas it that
you’re finally going to make her the offer she and her father have been waiting
for these three years past.”
what the gossips are saying?” he asked casually, but he lifted his brows
slightly, in a gesture that silently, and very effectively, managed to convey
his displeasure with Helene for introducing a topic that he clearly felt was
none of her concern.
the unspoken reprimand and the warning it carried, but she took advantage of
what had been a remarkably open—and highly pleasurable—affair for both of them
for several years. “In the past, there have been dozens of rumors that you were
on the verge of offering for one aspiring female or another,” she pointed out
quietly, “and, until now, I have never asked you to verify or deny any of
answering, Stephen turned from the mirror and picked up his evening jacket from
the flowered chaise longue. He shoved his arms into the sleeves, then he walked
over to the side of the bed and finally directed all his attention to the woman
in it. Standing there, looking down at her, he felt his annoyance diminish
considerably. Propped up on her elbow, with her golden hair spilling over her
naked back and breasts, Helene Devernay was a delectable sight. She was also
intelligent, direct, and sophisticated, all of which made her a thoroughly
delightful mistress both in and out of bed. He knew she was too practical to
nurture any secret hopes of a marriage offer from him, which was absolutely out
of the question for a woman in her circumstances, and she was too independent
to have any real desire to tie herself to someone for life—traits that further
solidified their relationship. Or so he had thought. “But now you are asking me
to confirm or deny that I intend to offer for Monica Fitzwaring?” he asked
him a warm, seductive smile that normally made his body respond. “I am.”
back the sides of his jacket, Stephen puthis
hands on his hips and regarded her coolly. “And if I said yes?”
lord, I would say that you are making a great mistake. You have a fondness for
her, but not a great love nor even a great passion. All she has to offer you is
her beauty, her bloodlines, and the prospect of an heir. She hasn’t your
strength of will, nor your intelligence, and although she may care for you, she
will never understand you. She will bore you in bed and out of it, and you will
intimidate, hurt, and anger her.”
Helene. I must count myself fortunate that you take such an interest in my
personal life and that you are so willing to share your expertise on how I
ought to live it.”
set down caused her smile to fade a little but not disappear. “There, you see?”
she asked softly. “I am duly chastened and forewarned by that tone of yours,
but Monica Fitzwaring would be either completely crushed or mortally offended.”
his expression harden at the same time his voice became extremely polite,
chillingly so. “My apologies, madame,” he said, inclining his head in a mockery
of a bow, “if I have ever addressed you in a tone that is less than civil.”
Helene tugged on his jacket in an attempt to make him sit down on the bed
beside her. When this failed, she dropped her hand, but not the issue, and
widened her smile to soothe his temper. “You never speak to anyone in an
uncivil tone, Stephen. In fact, the more annoyed you are, the more ‘civil’ you
become—until you are so very civil, so very precise and correct, that the
effect is actually quite alarming. One might even say . . .terrifying!”
to illustrate, and Stephen grinned in spite of himself.
what I meant,” she said, smiling back at him. “When you grow cold and angry, I
know how—” Her breath caught as his large hand slippeddown beneath the sheet and covered her
breast, his fingers tantalizing her.
wish to warm you,” he said, as she reached her arms around his neck and drew
him down on the bed.
“I think a
fur would do a far better job of that.”
distracting you,” he said as his mouth covered hers, and then he went about the
pleasurable business of warming, and distracting, both of them.
nearly five o’clock in the morning when he was dressed again.
she whispered sleepily as he bent and pressed a farewell kiss upon her smooth
“I have a
confessions,” he reminded her. “We agreed on that from the beginning. No
confessions, no recriminations, no promises. That was the way we both wanted
didn’t deny it, but this morning she couldn’t make herself comply. “My
confession is that I find myself rather annoyingly jealous of Monica
straightened with an impatient sigh, and waited, knowing she was determined to
have her say, but he did not help her do it. He simply regarded her with raised
you need an heir,” she began, her full lips curving into an embarrassed smile,
“but could you not wed a female whose looks pale a little in comparison with
mine? Someone shrewish too. A shrew with a slightly crooked nose or small eyes
would suit me very well.”
chuckled at her humor, but he wanted the subject closed permanently, and so he
said, “Monica Fitzwaring is no threat to you, Helene. I’ve no doubtshe knows of our relationship and she
would not try to interfere, even if she thought she could.”
you so certain?”
volunteered the information,” he said flatly, and when Helene still looked
unconvinced, he added, “In the interest of putting an end to your concern and
to this entire topic, I’ll add that I already have a perfectly acceptable heir
in my brother’s son. Furthermore, I have no intention of adhering to custom,
now or in future, by shackling myself to a wife for the sole purpose of
begetting a legal heir of my own body.”
came to the end of that blunt speech, he watched her expression change from
surprise to amused bafflement. Her next remark clarified the reason for her
obvious quandary: “If not to beget an heir, what other possible reason could
there be for a man such as you to wed at all?”
disinterested shrug and brief smile dismissed all the other usual reasons for
marriage as trivial, absurd, or imaginary. “For a man such as I,” he replied
with a mild amusement that failed to disguise his genuine contempt for the twin
farces of wedded bliss and the sanctity of marriage—two illusions that
flourished even in the brittle, sophisticated social world he inhabited, “there
does not seem to be a single compelling reason to commit matrimony.”
studied him intently, her face alight with curiosity, caution, and the dawning
of understanding. “I always wondered why you didn’t marry Emily Lathrop. In
addition to her acclaimed face and figure, she is also one of the few women in
England who actually possesses the requirements of birth and breeding in enough
abundance to make her worthy of marrying into the Westmoreland family and of
producing your heir. Everyone knows you fought a duel with her husband because
of her, yet you didn’t kill him, nor did you marry her a year later, after old
Lord Lathrop finally keeled over and cocked up his toes.”
rose in amusement at her use of irreverent slang for Lathrop’s death, but his
attitude toward the duel was as casual and matter-of-fact as her own. “Lathrop
got some maggot into his head about defending Emily’s honor and putting a stop
to all the rumors about her, by challenging one of her alleged lovers to a
duel. I will never understand why the poor old man chose me from amongst a
legion of viable candidates.”
method he used, it’s obvious age had addled his mind.”
her curiously. “Why do you say that?”
your skill with pistols, and your skill on the dueling field, are both rather
of ten could have won a duel with Lathrop,” Stephen said, ignoring her praise
of his abilities. “He was so old and frail he couldn’t steady his own pistol or
hold it level. He had to use both hands.”
“And so you
let him leave Rockham Green unscathed?”
nodded. “I felt it would be impolite of me to kill him, under the
that he forced the duel on you in the first place, by calling you out in front
of witnesses, it was very kind of you to pretend to miss your shot, in order to
spare his pride.”
“I did not
pretend to miss my shot, Helene,” he informed her, and then he pointedly added,
constituted an apology and therefore implied an admission of guilt. Thinking he
might have some other explanation for standing twenty paces from his opponent
and deliberately firing high into the air instead of at Lord Lathrop, she said
slowly, “Are you saying you reallywereEmily
Lathrop’s lover? You were actuallyguilty?”
Stephen averred flatly.
“May I ask
you one more question, my lord?”
“You canaskit,” he specified, struggling to hide
his mounting impatience with her unprecedented and unwelcome preoccupation with
his private life.
In a rare
show of feminine uncertainty, she glanced away as if to gather her courage,
then she looked up at him with an embarrassed, seductive smile that he might
have found irresistible had it not been immediately followed by a line of
questioning so outrageous that it violated even his own lax standards of
acceptable decorum between the sexes. “What was it about Emily Lathrop that
drew you to her bed?”
aversion to that question was completely eclipsed by his negative reaction to
her next. “I mean, was there anything she did with you—orforyou—ortoyou, that I do not do when we’re in
“As a matter
of fact,” he replied in a lazy drawl, “there was one thing Emily did that I
eagerness to discover another woman’s secret, Helene overlooked the sarcasm
edging his voice. “What did she do that you particularly liked?”
dropped suggestively to her mouth. “Shall I show you?” he asked, and when she
nodded, he bent over her, bracing his hands on either side of her pillow so
that his waist and hips were only inches above her head. “You’re absolutely
certain you wish to take part in a demonstration?” he asked in a deliberately
nod was playful and inviting enough to take the edge off his annoyance, leaving
him caught somewhere between amusement and exasperation. “Show me what she did
that you particularly liked,” she whispered, sliding her hands up his forearms.
showed her by putting his right hand firmly over her mouth, startling her with
a “demonstration” that matched his smiling explanation: “She refrained from
asking me questions like yours aboutyouor
anyone else, and that is what Iparticularlyliked.”
back at him, her blue eyes wide with frustrated chagrin, but this time she did
not fail to notice the implacable warning in his deceptively mild voice.
“Do we have
an understanding, my inquisitive beauty?”
then boldly attempted to tip the balance of power into her favor by delicately
running her tongue across his palm.
chuckled at her ploy and moved his hand, but he was no longer in the mood for sexual
play or for conversation, and so he pressed a brief kiss on her forehead and
wet gray fog blanketed the night, broken only by the faint eerie glow of
lamplights along the street. Stephen took the reins from the relieved footman
and spoke soothingly to the young pair of matched chestnuts who were stamping
their hooves and tossing their manes. It was the first time they had been
driven in the city, and as Stephen loosened the reins to let them move into a
trot, he noted that the curb horse was extremely skittish in the fog.
Everything unnerved the animal, from the sound of his own hooves clattering on
the cobbled streets to the shadows beneath the streetlamps. When a door slammed
off to the left, he shied, then tried to break into a run. Stephen
automatically tightened the reins, and turned the carriage down Middleberry
Street. The horses were moving at a fast trot and seemed to be settling down a
bit. Suddenly an alley cat screamed and bolted off a fruit cart, sending an
avalanche of apples rumbling into the street. At the same time the door of a
pub was flung open, splashing light into the street. Pandemonium broke loose:
dogs howled, the horses slipped and bolted frantically, and a dark figure
staggered out of the pub, disappeared between two carriages drawn up at the
curb . . . and then materialized directly in front of Stephen’s
DIANA, ARE YOU STILL
AWAKE? I’d like
to talk to you.”
stopped in the act of turning off the lamp beside her bed and leaned back
against the pillows. “Okay,” she called.
jet lag, honey?” her father asked as he walked toward her bed. “Are you
exhausted?” At forty-three, Robert Foster was a tall, broad-shouldered Houston
oilman with prematurely gray hair who normally exuded self-assurance, but not
tonight. Tonight, he looked distinctly uneasy, and Diana knew why. Although she
was only fourteen, she wasn’t silly enough to think he’d come there to talk
about whether she had jet lag. He wanted to talk to her about her new
stepmother and stepsister, whom she’d met for the first time this afternoon
when she arrived home from a vacation in Europe with school friends. “I’m
okay,” she said.
began; then he hesitated, sat down on the bed beside her, and took her hand in
his. After a moment, he began again. “I know how strange it must have seemed to
you to come home today and find out I’d remarried. Please believe that I would
never have married Mary without giving you a chance to get to know each other
if I hadn’t been positive, absolutelypositive, that the two of you willlearn to love each other. You do like
her, don’t you?” he asked anxiously, searching her face. “You said you did—”
nodded, but she didn’t understand why he’d married someone he hardly knew and
she’d never met until today. During the years since her mother died, he’d dated
some really beautiful and very nice Houston women, but before things got too
serious, he’d always introduced them to Diana and insisted the three of them
spend time together. Now he’d actually married someone, but it was a lady she’d
never set eyes on before. “Mary seems really nice,” she said after a moment. “I
just don’t understand why you were in such a hurry.”
sheepish, but his answer was unquestionably heartfelt. “There will be a few
times in your life when all your instincts will tell you to do something,
something that defies logic, upsets your plans, and may even seem crazy to
others. When that happens, youdoit.
Listen to your instincts and ignore everything else. Ignore logic, ignore the
odds, ignore the complications, and just go for it.”
what you did?”
“I knew within hours of meeting Mary that she was just what I wanted for
myself, and for you, and I knew when I met Corey that the four of us were going
to be an exceptionally happy family. However, all my instincts warned me that
if I gave Mary more than a little time to decide, she’d start thinking about
all the obstacles and agonizing over them, and that in the end she’d turn me
common sense made that possibility seem entirely unlikely to Diana. Previous
women had gone to absurd lengths to attract and hold her father’s interest. “It
seems to me that practically every woman you’ve taken out has wanted you.”
most of them wanted what I could give them in the form of financial security
and social acceptance. Only a few have truly wanted me.”
“But are you
sure that Mary truly wanted you?” Diana asked, thinking of his statement that
Mary would have turned him down.
grinned, his eyes warming with affection. “I’mcompletelysure she did, and she does.”
would she have turned you down?”
widened. “Because she’s the opposite of mercenary and status conscious. Mary is
very intelligent, but she and Corey have led a simple life in a tiny little
town where no one is wealthy, not by Houston standards. She fell in love with
me as quickly and deeply as I fell in love with her, and she agreed to marry me
within a week, but when she realized what sort of life we live here, she
started trying to back out.
worried that Corey and she wouldn’t fit in, that they’d make some sort of
inexcusable social blunder and embarrass us. The longer she thought about it,
the more convinced she became that she’d fail us.”
out and gently smoothed a lock of shining chestnut hair from Diana’s cheek.
“Just imagine—Mary was willing to toss away all the material things I can give
her, all the things everyone else was so anxious to grab, because she didn’t
want to fail me as a wife or you as a mother. Those are the things that are
important to her.”
liked her new stepmother well enough when she met her today, but the tenderness
in her father’s eyes and the love in his voice when he talked of Mary carried
an enormous amount of additional weight with Diana. “I like her a lot,” she
A smile of
relief dawned across his face. “I knew you would. She likes you, too. She said
you’re very sweet and very poised. She said you’d have had every right to get
hysterical this afternoon when you walked in the front door and met a
stepmother you’d never heard about before. And wait till you meet your new
grandparents,” he added enthusiastically.
they’re really neat,” Diana replied, thinking back over all the information her
thirteen-year-old stepsister had provided during their first day together.
“They are. They’re
good, honest, hardworking people who laugh a lot and love each other a lot.
Corey’s grandfather is an excellent gardener, an amateur inventor, and a
skillful carpenter. Her grandmother is very artistic and very talented at
handcrafts. Now,” he said, looking a little tense again, “tell me what you
think about Corey.”
quiet for a moment, trying to put her feelings about her new stepsister into
words; then she leaned forward, wrapped her arms around her knees, and smiled.
“Well, she’s different from the other girls I know. She’s . . .
friendly and honest, and she says what’s on her mind. She hasn’t been anywhere
but Texas, and she doesn’t try to act cool and sophisticated, but she’s done
lots of things I never have. Oh, and she thinksyou’repractically a king,” Diana added with
clever, discerning young lady!”
father ran out on her mom and her when Corey was just a baby,” Diana said,
sobered by the thought of such an unspeakable act by a parent.
stupidity and irresponsibility are my good luck, and I intend to make certain
Mary and Corey feel lucky, too. Want to help me pull that off?” he asked,
standing up and smiling at her.
nodded. “You bet,” she said.
remember, Corey hasn’t had a lot of the advantages you’ve had, so take it slow
and teach her the ropes.”
girl.” He leaned over and kissed the top of her head. “You and Mary are going
to be wonderful friends.”
away, but Diana’s quiet announcement made him turn back and stop. “Corey would
like to call you Dad.”
know that,” Robert Foster said, his voice turning gruff with emotion. “Mary and
I hoped she might want to someday, but I thought it might take a long, long
time before she came around to that.” He studied Diana for a long moment, and
then hesitantly asked, “How do you feel—about Corey calling me Dad—I mean?”
grinned. “It was my idea.”
* * *
hall, Mary Britton Foster was seated on her thirteen-year-old daughter’s bed
and running out of small talk. “So you had a nice time with Diana today?” she
asked Corey for the third time.
enjoyed going over to the Hayward children’s house and riding their horses when
Diana took you there this afternoon?”
all teenagers; you aren’t supposed to call us children.”
Mary said, idly rubbing Corey’s leg beneath the blankets.
wasn’t what you’d call a house; it’s so big, it’s practically a motel!”
nodded. “It’s about the size of our house.”
that she’d referred to Diana and Robert’s house as “our house” was very
revealing and immensely reassuring to Mary. “And do the Haywards have a barn at
it a stable, but it’s the same as a barn, only it looks like a beautiful stone
house from the outside, and it’s as clean as one on the inside. They even have
a guy who lives down at the stable and looks after the horses. They call him a
groom, and his name is Cole, and the girls think he’s a complete hunk. He’s
just gotten out of college at—I forget where—but I think he said it’s here in
that,” Mary said, shaking her head in amazement. “Now it takes a college degree
just to get a job looking after horses in a barn—er—stable.”
suppressed a laugh. “No, I meant he’s just finished the semester, and pretty
soon he starts another one. The horses are just awesome!” Corey added,
switching to the topic of primary interest to her. “I get to ride again at Barb
Hayward’s birthday party next week. Barb invited me, but I think Diana asked
her to do it. I met a bunch of Barb and Diana’s friends today. I didn’t think
they liked me very much, but Diana said I was just imagining it.”
“I see. And
what do you think of Diana?”
. . .” Corey hesitated, thinking. “Diana’s cool. She told me
she’s always wanted a sister, and maybe that’s why she’s being so nice to me.
She’s not a snob at all. She even told me I could borrow any of her clothes
that I want.”
nice of her.”
nodded. “And when I told her I liked the way she wears her hair, she said we
could practice different styles on each other.”
. . . um . . . did she say anything about
Corey asked with sham confusion.
and you know it.”
think. Oh, yeah, I remember now! She said you looked mean and sneaky, and she
said you’ll probably make her stay home and scrub floors while I get to go to
balls and dance with princes. I told her she was probably right, but that I’d
ask you to let her wear the glass slipper as long as she didn’t leave the
Corey leaned forward and hugged her mother as she finally told the truth.
“Diana said you seemed very nice and she likes you. She asked if you were
strict, and I said you were sometimes, but then you feel guilty and bake up
batches of cookies to make up for it.”
really say she likes me?”
Corey nodded emphatically. “Diana’s mother died when she was only five. I can’t
imagine what life would be like if I didn’t have you, Mom—”
her daughter close and laid her cheek on Corey’s blond hair. “Diana hasn’t had
a lot of the advantages you have. Try to remember that. Having lots of clothes
to wear and a big bedroom isn’t the same as having Grandpa and Grandma to love
you and teach you all the things you learned when we lived with them.”
smile faded a little. “I’m going to miss them something terrible.”
Diana about them, and she was really interested. Could I take her to Long
Valley sometime soon so she can meet them?”
course. Or maybe we could ask Robert to let them come for a visit.”
up and started to leave, but Corey’s hesitant voice stopped her. “Mom, Diana
said I could call Robert, Dad. Do you think he’d mind?”
he’dloveit!” She looked a little sad then and
added, “Maybe someday Diana might want to call me Mom.”
Corey said with a knowing smile.
to call you Mom, starting tomorrow.”
isn’t she wonderful?” Mary said, her eyes filling with tears.
her eyes, but she didn’t deny it. “It was my idea that she call you Mom. All
she did was say she wanted to do it.”
wonderful, too,” Mrs. Foster said with a laugh as she kissed her daughter. She
turned out the light and closed the door when she left. Corey lay there,
thinking about the conversation and wondering if Diana was asleep. After
several moments, she scrambled out of bed and pulled on an old plaid flannel
robe over her nightshirt emblazoned with “SAVE THE TURTLES” across the front.
was dark as pitch as she groped her way across the hall toward the door of
Diana’s room. Her fingertips finally encountered the doorframe, and she raised
her hand to knock just as the door flew open, startling a muffled squeal from
her. “I was just coming over to see if you were awake,” Diana whispered,
backing up and beckoning Corey into her room.
dad have a talk with you tonight?” Corey asked, perching on the edge of Diana’s
bed and admiring the cream lace ruffles at the throat and wrists of Diana’s
high-waisted, pale rose robe and the delicate lace trim on her matching quilted
and sat down beside her. “Yes. Did your mom have one with you?”
they were afraid we weren’t going to like each other.”
her bottom lip and then blurted, “Did you happen to ask your dad about me
calling him Dad?”
“I did, and
he loved the idea,” Diana said, keeping her voice low so that this cozy pajama
party for two wouldn’t be ended by parental decree.
fact, he got all choked up.” Diana looked down at her lap and drew a long
breath, then lifted her eyes to Corey’s. “Did you mention to your mom about me
calling her Mom?”
“Did she say
you’re wonderful,” Corey replied, rolling her eyes in feigned disagreement.
“Did she say
couldn’t,” Corey replied. “She was crying.”
girls eyed one another in smiling silence, then, as if by mutual agreement,
flopped onto their backs. “I think,” Diana said after a moment’s contemplation,
“this could turn out to be really, reallycool!”
with absolute conviction. “Totally cool,” she proclaimed.
that night, as she lay in her own bed, Corey found it hard to believe that
things had turned out so well with Diana.
day, she would never have believed it was possible. When Diana’s father had
married Corey’s mother after a two-week courtship and brought his new wife and
daughter to his Houston home, Corey had dreaded meeting her stepsister. Based
on what little she’d already discovered about Diana, Corey figured they were so
different they were probably going to hate each other. Besides being born rich
and growing up in this huge mansion, Diana was a year older than Corey and a
straight-A student; and when Corey took a peek into Diana’s feminine bedroom,
everything was so neat it gave her the creeps. Based on what she’d heard and
seen, she felt sure that Diana was going to be disgustingly perfect and a complete
snob. She was even more sure Diana was going to think Corey was a dumb hick and
glimpse of Diana when she walked into the foyer this morning had confirmed
Corey’s worst fears. Diana was petite, with a narrow waist, slim hips, and real
breasts, which made Corey feel like a deformed, flat-chested giant by contrast.
Diana was dressed like a model fromSeventeen.magazine,
in a short tan skirt, cream-colored tights, and atan-and-blue plaid vest topped off by
a jaunty tan blazer with an emblem on the front. Corey was wearing jeans and a
despite Corey’s absolute conviction that Diana would be a conceited snob, Diana
had been the one who broke the ice. It was Diana who had admired Corey’s
hand-painted sweatshirt with the horse on the front, and Diana who’d first
admitted that she’d always wanted a sister. Later that afternoon, Diana had
taken Corey over to the Haywards’ house so Corey could take pictures of the
Haywards’ horses with the new camera Diana’s father had given her.
seem to resent the fancy camera her father had bought for Corey or hate the
idea of sharing him with Corey. And if she thought Corey was a dumb hick, she
definitely hadn’t shown it. Next week, Diana was taking her to Barb Hayward’s
birthday party, where everyone was going to ride horses. Diana said her friends
would become Corey’s friends, too, and Corey hoped she was right.
part didn’t matter nearly as much as having a sister so close to her own age to
spend time with and talk to—and Corey wouldn’t be doing all the taking
either—she had some things to give Diana. For one thing, Diana had led an
awfully sheltered life, in Corey’s opinion. Earlier that day, she’d admitted
she’d never climbed a really big tree, never eaten berries right off the vine,
and never skipped rocks across a pond.
been following her for three days, watching. Waiting.
By now, he
knew her habits and her schedule. He knew what time she got up in the morning,
whom she saw during the day, and what time she went to sleep. He knew she read
in bed at night, propped up on pillows. He knew the title of the book she was
reading, and that she laid it face down on the nightstand to keep her place
before she finally turned off the lamp.
He knew her
thick blond hair was natural and that the startling blue-violet color of her
eyes was not the result of the contact lenses she wore. He knew she bought her
makeup at the drugstore and that she spent exactly twenty-five minutes getting
ready to go to work in the morning. Obviously, she was more interested in being
clean and neat than in enhancing her physical assets. He, however, was very
interested in her considerable physical assets. But not urgently and not for
the “usual” reasons.
he’d taken great care to keep her in sight while ensuring that she didn’t notice
him, but his precautionswere
more from habit than necessity. With a population of 150,000 people, 15,000 of
them college students, the little city of Bell Harbor on Florida’s eastern
seaboard was large enough that a stranger could move unnoticed among the
population, but not so large that he would lose sight of his prey in a jumble
of metropolitan expressways and interchanges.
tracked her to the city park, where he’d spent a balmy but irksome February
afternoon surrounded by cheerful, beer-drinking adults and shrieking children
who’d come there to enjoy the Presidents’ Day picnic and festivities. He didn’t
like children around him, particularly children with sticky hands and smudged
faces who tripped over his feet while they chased each other. They called him,
“Hey, mister!” and asked him to throw their errant baseballs back to them.
Their antics called attention to him so often that he’d abandoned several
comfortable park benches and was now forced to seek shelter and anonymity
beneath a tree with a rough trunk that was uncomfortable to lean against and
thick gnarled roots that made sitting on the ground beneath it impossible.
Everything was beginning to annoy him, and he realized his patience was coming
to an end. So was the watching and waiting.
To curb his
temper, he went over his plans for her while he turned his full attention on
his prey. At the moment, Sloan was descending from the branches of a big tree
from which she was attempting to retrieve a kite that looked like a black
falcon with outstretched wings tipped in bright yellow. At the base of the
tree, a group of five- and six-year-olds cheered her on. Behind themstood a group of older adolescents,
all of them boys. The young children were interested in getting their kite
back; the adolescent boys were interested in Sloan Reynolds’s shapely suntanned
legs as they slowly emerged from the thick upper branches of the tree. The boys
elbowed each other and ogled her, and he understood the cause of the minor male
commotion: if she were a twenty-year-old coed, those legs of hers would have
been remarkable, but on a thirty-year-old cop, they were a phenomenon.
was attracted to tall, voluptuous women, but this one was only five feet four
with compact breasts and a slender body that was appealingly graceful and trim
although far from voluptuous. She was no centerfold candidate, but in her crisp
khaki shorts and pristine white knit shirt, with her blond hair pulled up in a
ponytail, she had a fresh wholesomeness and prim neatness that appealed to
him—for the time being.
A shout from
the baseball diamond made two of the older boys turn and look his way, and he
lifted the paper cup of orange soda toward his mouth to hide his face, but the
gesture was more automatic than necessary. She hadn’t noticed him in the past
three days as he watched her from doorways and alleys, so she wasn’t going to
find anything sinister about a lone man in a park crowded with law-abiding
citizens who were enjoying the free food and exhibits, even if she did notice
him. In fact, he thought with an inner smirk, she was incredibly and stupidly
heedless whenever she was off duty. She didn’t look over her shoulder when she
heard his footsteps one night; she didn’t even lock her car when she parked it.
Like most small-town cops,she
felt a false sense of safety in her own town, an invulnerability that went with
the badge she wore and the gun she carried, and the citizens’ sleazy secrets
that she knew.
She had no
secrets from him, however. In less than seventy-two hours, he had all her vital
statistics—her age, height, driver’s license number, bank account balances,
annual income, home address—the sort of information that was readily available
on the Internet to anyone who knew where to look. In his pocket was a photograph
of her, but all of that combined information was minuscule in comparison to
what he now knew.
another swallow of lukewarm orange soda, fighting down another surge of
impatience. At times, she was so straight, so prim and predictable, that it
amused him; at other times, she was unexpectedly impulsive, which made her
unpredictable, and unpredictable made things risky, dangerous, for him. And so
he continued to wait and watch. In the past three days he’d collected all the
mysterious bits and pieces that normally make up the whole of a woman, but in
Sloan Reynolds’s case, the picture was still blurry, complex, confusing.
the kite in her left fist, Sloan worked her way cautiously to the lowest
branch; then she dropped to the ground and presented the kite to its owner amid
shouts of “Yea!” and the sound of small hands clapping excitedly. “Gee, thanks,
Sloan!” Kenny Landry said, blushing with pleasure and admiration as he took his
kite. Kenny’s two front teeth were missing, which gave him a lisp, both of
which made him seem utterly endearing to Sloan, who had gone to high school
with his mother. “Mymom was
scared you’d get hurt, but I’ll bet you never get scared.”
Sloan had been extremely afraid during her downward trek through the sprawling
branches that her shorts were snagging on the limbs, hiking up, and showing way
too much of her legs.
afraid of something,” Sloan told him, suppressing the urge to hug him and risk
embarrassing him with such a show of public affection. She settled for rumpling
his sandy brown hair instead.
“I fell out
of a tree once!” a little girl in pink shorts and a pink-and-white T-shirt
confessed, eyeing Sloan with awed wonder. “I got hurted, too, on my elbow,”
Emma added shyly. She had short, curly red hair, freckles on her small nose,
and a rag doll in her arms.
Ingersoll was the only child who didn’t want to be impressed. “Girls aresupposedto play with dolls,” he informed Emma.“Boysclimb trees.”
said Sloan is an honest-to-goodness hero,” she declared, hugging the rag doll
even tighter, as if it gave her courage to speak up. She raised her eyes to
Sloan and blurted, “My teacher said you risked your life so you could save that
little boy who fell down the well.”
teacher was being very kind,” Sloan said as she picked up the kite string lying
on the grass and began winding it into a spool on her fingers. Emma’s mother
had been another classmate of Sloan’s, and as she glanced from Kenny to Emma,
Sloan couldn’t decide which child was more adorable. She’d gone to school with
most of these children’s parents, and as she smiled at the circle of smallfaces, she saw poignant reminders of
former classmates in the fascinated faces looking back at her.
by the offspring of her classmates and friends, Sloan felt a sharp pang of
longing for a child of her own. In the last year, this desire for a little boy
or little girl of her own to hold and love and take to school had grown from a
wish to a need, and it was gaining strength with alarming speed and force. She
wanted a little Emma or a little Kenny of her own to cuddle and love and teach.
Unfortunately her desire to surrender her life to a husband had not increased
at all. Just the opposite, in fact.
children were eyeing Sloan with open awe, but Butch Ingersoll was determined
not to be impressed. His father and his grandfather had been high school
football stars. At six years old, Butch not only had their stocky build, but
had also inherited their square chin and macho swagger. His grandfather was the
chief of police and Sloan’s boss. He stuck out his chin in a way that forcibly
reminded Sloan of Chief Ingersoll. “My grandpa said any cop could have rescued
that little kid, just like you did, but the TV guys made a big deal out of it
’cause you’re a girl cop.”
before, Sloan had gone out on a call about a missing toddler and had ended up
going down a well to rescue it. The local television stations had picked up the
story of the missing child, and then the Florida media had picked up the story
of the rescue. Three hours after she climbed down into the well and spent the
most terror-filled time of her life, Sloan had emerged a “heroine.” Filthy and
exhausted, Sloan had been greeted with deafening cheers from Bell Harbor’s
citizens who’d gathered to pray for the child’s safety and with shouts from the
reporters who’d gathered to pray for something newsworthy enough to raise their
week, the furor and notoriety was finally beginning to cool down, but not fast
enough to suit Sloan. She found the role of media star and local hero not only
comically unsuitable but thoroughly disconcerting. On one side of the spectrum,
she had to contend with the citizens of Bell Harbor who now regarded her as a
heroine, an icon, a role model for women. On the other side, she had to deal
with Captain Ingersoll, Butch’s fifty-five-year-old male-chauvinist
grandfather, who regarded Sloan’s unwitting heroics as “deliberate
grandstanding” and her presence on his police force as an affront to his
dignity, a challenge to his authority, and a burden he was forced to bear until
he could find a way to get rid of her.
friend, Sara Gibbon, arrived on the scene just as Sloan finished winding the
last bit of kite string into a makeshift spool, which she presented to Kenny
with a smile.
cheering and clapping,” Sara said, looking at Sloan and then at the little
group of children and then at the kite-falcon with the broken yellow-tipped
wing. “What happened to your kite, Kenny?” Sara asked. She smiled at him and he
lit up. Sara had that effect on males of all ages. With her shiny,
short-cropped auburn hair, sparkling green eyes, and exquisite features, Sara
could stop men in their tracks with a single, beckoning glance.
stuck in the tree.”
Sloan got it down,” Emma interrupted excitedly, pointing a chubby little
forefinger toward the top of the tree.
right up to the top,” Kenny inserted, “and she wasn’t scared, ’cause she’sbrave.”
felt—as a mother-to-be someday—that she needed to correct that impression for
the children. “Being brave doesn’t mean you’re never afraid. Being brave means
that, even though you’re scared, you still do what you should do. For example,”
she said, directing a smile to the little group,“you’re being
brave when you tell the truth even though you’re afraid you might get into
trouble. That’s being really, really brave.”
on the scene of Clarence the Clown with a fistful of giant balloons caused all
of the children to turn in unison, and several of them scampered off at once,
leaving only Kenny, Emma, and Butch behind. “Thanks for getting my kite down,”
Kenny said with another of his endearing, gap-toothed smiles.
welcome,” Sloan said, fighting down an impossible impulse to snatch him into
her arms and hug him close—stained shirt, sticky face, and all. The youthful
trio turned and headed away, arguing loudly over the actual degree of Sloan’s
McMullin was right. Sloan is a real-life, honest-to-goodness hero,” Emma
really, truly brave,” Kenny announced.
Ingersoll felt compelled to qualify and limit the compliment. “She’s brave for
agirl,”he declared dismissively,reminding an amused Sloan even more
forcibly of Chief Ingersoll.
was shy little Emma who sensed the insult. “Girls are just asbrave as
not! She shouldn’t even be a policeman. That’s a man’s job. That’s why they
call it policeman.”
fierce umbrage at this final insult to her heroine. “My mommy,” she announced
shrilly, “says Sloan Reynolds should be chief of police!”
countered Butch Ingersoll. “Well, my grandpaischief
of police, and he says she’s a pain in the ass! My grandpa says she should get
married and make babies.That’swhat
girls are for!”
her mouth to protest but couldn’t think how. “I hate you, Butch Ingersoll,” she
cried instead, and raced off, clutching her doll—a fledgling feminist with
tears in her eyes.
shouldn’t have said that,” Kenny warned. “You made her cry.”
Butch said—a fledgling bigot with an attitude, like his grandfather.
real nice to her tomorrow, she’ll prob’ly forget what you said,” Kenny
decided—a fledgling politician, like his father.
in brooding silence at the windows of the elegant penthouse apartment, the tall
dark man gazed at the panorama of twinkling lights fanning out across the dusky
St. Louis skyline. Bitterness and resignation were evident in Ramon Galverra’s
abrupt movements as he jerked the knot of his tie loose, then raised his glass
of Scotch to his mouth, drinking deeply.
a blond man strode quickly into the dimly lit living room. “Well, Ramon?” he
asked eagerly. “What did they decide?”
decided what bankers always decide,” Ramon said harshly, without turning. “They
decided to look out for themselves.”
bastards!” Roger exploded. In angry frustration, he raked his hand through his
blond hair, then turned and headed determinedly for the row of crystal
decanters on the bar. “They sure as hell stayed with you when the money was
pouring in,” he gritted as he splashed bourbon into a glass.
not changed,” Ramon said grimly. “If the money was still pouring in, they would
still be with me.”
snapped on a lamp, then scowled at the magnificent Louis XIV furnishings, as if
their presence in his spacious living room offended him. “I was so certain, so
absolutely certain, that when you explained about the state of your father’s
mental health before he died the bankers would stand by you. How can they blame
you for his mistakes and incompetence?”
the windows, Ramon leaned a shoulder against the frame. For a moment he stared
at the remaining Scotch in his glass, then he tipped it up to his mouth and
drained it. “They blame me for not preventing him from making fatal mistakes,
and for not recognizing the fact of his incompetence in time.”
recognizing the—” Roger repeated furiously. “How were you supposed to recognize
that a man who always acted like he was God Almighty, one day started believing
it? And what could you have done if you’d known? The stock was in his name, not
yours. Until the day he died, he held the controlling interest in the
corporation. Your hands were tied.”
are empty,” Ramon replied with a shrug of broad, muscled shoulders on his
Roger said in desperation. “I haven’t brought this up before because I knew
your pride would be offended, but I’m a long way from being poor, you know
that. How much do you need? If I don’t have it all, maybe I can raise the
first time, a glint of humor touched Ramon Galverra’s finely sculpted mouth and
arrogant dark eyes. The transformation was startling, softening the features of
a face that lately looked as if it had been cast in bronze by an artist intent
on portraying cold, ruthless determination and ancient Spanish nobility. “Fifty
million would help. Seventy-five million would be better.”
million?” Roger said blankly, staring at the man he had known since they were
both students at Harvard University. “Fifty million dollars would only help?”
would only help.” Slamming his glass down on the marble table beside him, Ramon
turned and started toward the guest room he had been occupying since his
arrival in St. Louis a week before.
Roger said urgently, “you have to see Sid Green while you’re here. He could
raise that kind of money if he wanted to, and he owes you.”
jerked around. His aristocratic Spanish face hardened with contempt. “If Sid
wanted to help, he would have contacted me. He knows I am here and he knows I
am in trouble.”
doesn’t know. Until now, you’ve managed to keep it quiet that the corporation
is going under. Maybe he doesn’t know.”
He is on the board of directors of the bank that is refusing to extend our
“No! If Sid
was willing to help, he would have contacted me. His silence speaks for itself,
and I will not beg him. I have called a meeting of my corporation’s auditors
and attorneys in Puerto Rico for ten days from now. At that meeting I will
instruct them to file bankruptcy.” Turning on his heel, Ramon strode from the
room, his long purposeful strides eloquent of restless anger.
returned, his thick black hair was slightly damp from a shower, and he was
wearing Levi’s. Roger turned and watched in silence as Ramon folded the cuffs
of his white shirt up on his forearms. “Ramon,” he said with pleading
determination, “stay another week in St. Louis. Maybe Sid will contact you if
you give him more time. I tell you, I don’t think he knows you’re here. I don’t
even know if he’s in town.”
“He is in
town, and I am leaving for Puerto Rico in two days, exactly as I planned.”
a long, defeated sigh. “What the hell are you going to do in Puerto Rico?”
“First, I am
going to attend to the corporation’s bankruptcy, and then I am going to do what
my grandfather did, and his father before him,” Ramon replied tautly. “I am going
of your mind!” Roger burst out. “Farm that little patch of ground with that hut
on it where you and I took those two girls from . . . ?”
patch of ground,” Ramon interrupted with quiet dignity, “is all I have left.
Along with the cottage on it where I was born.”
the house near San Juan, or the villa in Spain, or the island in the
Mediterranean? Sell one of your houses or the island; that would keep you in
luxury for as long as you live.”
gone. I put them up as collateral to raise money for the corporation that it
cannot repay. The banks who loaned the money will be swarming over everything
like vultures before the year is out.”
Roger said helplessly. “If your father weren’t already dead, I’d kill him with
my own two hands.”
stockholders would have already beaten you to it.” Ramon smiled without humor.
“How can you
just stand there and talk as if you don’t even care?”
accepted defeat,” Ramon said calmly. “I have done everything that can be done.
I will not mind working my land beside the people who have worked it for my
family for centuries.”
hide his sympathy from the man Roger knew would reject it and despise him for
it, he said, “Ramon, is there anything I can do?”
Roger said, looking hopefully over his shoulder. “Just tell me and I’ll do it.”
loan me your car? I would like to go for a drive alone.”
such a paltry request, Roger dug in his pocket, then tossed his keys to his friend.
“There’s a problem in the fuel line and the filter keeps clogging, but the
local Mercedes dealer can’t take it in for another week. With your luck the
thing will probably quit in the middle of the street tonight.”
shrugged, his face wiped clean of emotion. “If the car stops, I will walk. The
exercise will help me get into condition for farming.”
have to farm that place and you know it! In the international business
community you’re famous.”
clenched in Ramon’s jaw as he made an obvious effort to control his bitter
anger. “In the international business community, I have been party to a sin no
one will forgive or forget—failure. I am about to become itsmost notorious failure. Would you have
me beg my friends for a position on that recommendation? Shall I go to your
factory tomorrow and apply for a job on your assembly line?”
course not! But you could think of something. I’ve seen you build a financial
empire in a few short years. If you could build it, you could find a way to
save a piece of it for yourself. I don’t think you give a damn anymore! I—”
work miracles,” Ramon cut in flatly. “And that is what it would take. The Lear
is in a hangar at the airport waiting for a minor part for one of the engines.
When the jet mechanics have finished with it, and my pilot returns Sunday night
from his weekend off, I will be flying to Puerto Rico.” Roger opened his mouth
to protest, but Ramon silenced him with an impatient look. “There is dignity in
farming. More dignity, I think, than in dealing with bankers. While my father
was alive, I knew no peace. Since he died, I have known no peace. Let me find
it in my own way.”
huge bar at the Canyon Inn near suburban Westport was packed with the usual
Friday night crowd. Katie Connelly glanced surreptitiously at her watch, then
let her gaze slide over the laughing, drinking, talking groups, searching for a
particular face among them. Her view of the main entrance was obscured by the
profusion of lush plants suspended from macrame hangers and the tiffany lamps
hanging beneath the stained-glass ceiling.
bright smile fixed on her face, she returned her attention to the knot of men
and women standing around her. “So I told him never to call me again,” Karen
Wilson was saying to them.
stepped on Katie’s foot while stretching around her to get his drink from the
bar. In the process of reaching into his pocket to extract some money, he
jabbed her in the side with his elbow. He offered no apology, nor did Katie
really expect one. It was every man, and every woman, for themselves in here.
from the bar with his drink in his hand, he noticed Katie. “Hello,” he said,
pausing to flick an interested glance over her slender, curving figure draped
in a clingy blue dress. “Nice,” he concluded aloud as he considered everything
about her, from the shining reddish blond hair tumbling around her shoulders,
to the sapphire blue eyes regarding him beneath long curling lashes and
delicately arched brows. Her cheeks were elegantly curved, her nose small, and
as he continued to survey her, her creamy complexion took on a becoming tint of
pale rose.“Verynice,” he amended, unaware that the
reason for her heightening color was irritation, not pleasure.
resented him for looking at her as if he had paid for the privilege, she could
not really blame him. After all, she was here, wasn’t she? Here in what was,
despite what the owners and patrons preferred to think, nothing more than a
huge singles’ bar attached to a tiny dining room to give it dignity.
your drink?” he asked, lazily reexamining her beautiful face.
have one,” Katie replied, stating the perfectly obvious.
already had two.”
don’t you get yourself another one and meet me over in that corner? We can get
acquainted. I’m an attorney,” he added, as if that one piece of information
should make her eager to snatch a drink and leap after him.
her lip and deliberately looked disappointed. “Oh.”
like attorneys,” she said straight-faced.
He was more
stunned than annoyed. “Too bad.” Shrugging, he turned and wended his way into
the crowd. Katie watched him pause near two very attractive young women who
returned his considering glance with one of their own, looking him over with
blatant interest. She felt a surge of shamed disgust for him, for all of them
in this crowded place, but especially for herself for being here. She was
inwardly embarrassed by her own rudeness, but places like this automatically
made her feel defensive, and her natural warmth and spontaneity atrophied the
moment she crossed the threshold.
had, of course, forgotten Katie in an instant. Why should he bother spending
two dollars to buy her a drink, then put forth the effort to be friendly and
charm her? Why should he exert himself when it wasn’t necessary? If Katie, or
any other woman in the room, wanted to get to know him, he was perfectly
willing to let her try to interest him. And if she succeeded sufficiently, he
would even invite her to come to his place—in her own car, of course—so that
she could indulge her equal, and much publicized, need for sexual
gratification. After which he would have a friendly drink with her—if he wasn’t
too tired—walk her to his door, and allow her to drive herself back to wherever
efficient, so straightforward. No strings attached. No commitments made or
expected. Today’s woman, of course, had equal rights of refusal; she didn’t
have to go to bed with him. She didn’t even have to worry that her refusal
might hurt his feelings. Because he had no feelings for her. He might be
slightly annoyed that he had wasted an hour or two of his time, but then he
would simply make another selection from the numerous willing women available
her blue eyes, again scanning the crowd for Rob, wishing she had arranged to
meet him somewhere else. The popular music was too loud, adding its clamor to
the din of raised voices and forced laughter. She gazed at the faces around
her, all different, yet all similar in their restless, eager, bored
expressions. They were all looking for something. They hadn’t found it yet.
isn’t it?” An unfamiliar male voice spoke behind her. Startled, Katie turned
and found herself looking into a confidently smiling male face above an Ivy
League button-down shirt, well-tailored blazer and coordinated tie. “I met you
with Karen at the supermarket, two weeks ago.”
He had a
boyish grin and hard eyes. Katie was wary and her smile lacked its normal
sparkle. “Hello, Ken. It’s nice to see you again.”
Katie,” he said, as if he had suddenly devised a brilliant and original scheme.
“Why don’t we leave here and go somewhere quieter.”
His place or
hers. Whichever was closest. Katie knew the routine and it sickened her. “What
did you have in mind?”
answer the question, he didn’t need to. Instead he asked another. “Where do you
blocks from here—the Village Green Apartments.”
lesbians,” she lied gravely.
her, and he wasn’t shocked. “No kidding? It doesn’t bother you?”
him a look of wide-eyed innocence. “Iadorethem.”
For just a fraction of a second he looked revolted, and Katie’s smile widened
with genuine laughter.
almost immediately, he shrugged. “Too bad. See you around.”
watched his attention shift across the room until he saw someone who interested
him and he left, slowly shoving his way through the crowd. She had had enough.
More than enough. She touched Karen’s arm, distracting her from her animated
conversation with two attractive men about skiing in Colorado. “Karen, I’m
going to stop in the ladies’ room, and then I’m leaving.”
show up?” Karen said distractedly. “Well, look around—there’s plenty more where
he came from. Take your pick.”
Katie said with quiet firmness. Karen merely shrugged and returned to her
room was down a short hall behind the bar, and Katie worked her way through the
shifting bodies, breathing a sigh of relief as she squeezed around the last
human obstacle in her path and stepped into the relative quiet of the hallway.
She wasn’t sure whether she was relieved or disappointed that Rob hadn’t come.
Eight months ago, she had been wildly, passionately dazzled by him, by his
clever mind and teasing tenderness. He had everything: blond good looks,
confidence, charm and a secure future as the heir to one of St. Louis’s largest
stockbrokerage firms. He was beautiful and wise and wonderful. And married.
saddened as she recalled the last time she had seen Rob. . . .
After a marvelous dinner and dancing they had returned to her apartment and
were having a drink. For hours she had been thinking of what was going to
happen when Rob took her in his arms. That night, for the first time, she was
not going to stop him when he tried to make love to her. During the last months
he had told her a hundred times, and shown her in a hundred ways, that he loved
her. There was no need for her to hesitate any longer. In fact, she had been
about to take the initiative when Rob had leaned his head back against the sofa
and sighed. “Katie, tomorrow’s paper is going to have a story about me in the
society section. Not just about me—but also about my wife and son. I’m
heartbroken, Katie had told him never to call her again or try to see her. He
did—repeatedly. And just as tenaciously, Katie refused his calls at her office
and hung up the phone at home whenever she heard his voice.
five months ago, and only rarely since then had Katie allowed herself the
bittersweet luxury of thinking of him, even for a moment. Until three days ago,
she had believed she was entirely over him, but when she answered her phone on
Wednesday, the sound of Rob’s deep voice had made her whole body tremble:
“Katie, don’t hang up on me. Everything’s changing. I’ve got to see you, to
talk to you.”
argued vehemently against Katie’s choice of this for a meeting place, but Katie
held firm. The Canyon Inn was noisy and public enough to discourage him from
trying to use tender persuasion, if that was his intention, and Karen came here
every Friday, which meant Katie would have feminine moral support if she needed
room was crowded and Katie had to wait in line. She emerged several minutes
later, absently digging in her shoulder purse for her car keys as she walked
down the hall, then stopped at the crowd blocking her reentry into the bar.
Beside her at one of the pay telephones on the wall, a man spoke witha trace of a Spanish accent:
“Pardon—could you tell me the address of this place?”
On the verge
of pushing her way into the tightly packed mass of humanity, Katie turned to
look at the tall, lithe male who was regarding her with faint impatience while
holding the telephone to his ear. “Were you speaking to me?” Katie asked. His
face was deeply tanned, his hair vitally thick and as black as his onyx eyes.
In a place filled with men who always reminded Katie of IBM salesmen, this man,
who was wearing faded Levi’s and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up on
his forearms, definitely did not belong. He was too . . .
the Spanish-accented voice repeated, “if you could tell me the address of this
place. I have had car trouble and am trying to order a towing vehicle.”
automatically named the two intersections at the corner of which the Canyon Inn
was located, while mentally recoiling from the narrowed black eyes and
patrician nose in a foreign, arrogant face. Tall, dark foreign-looking men
reeking of coarse masculinity might appeal to some women, but not to Katherine
he replied, removing his hand from the mouthpiece of the telephone and
repeating the names of the streets Katie had given him.
away, Katie confronted a dark green Izod sweater stretched across the masculine
chest that was blocking her way back into the bar area. Eyeball to alligator,
she said, “Excuse me, may I get by?” The sweater obligingly moved out of the
you going?” its wearer inquired in a friendly voice. “It’s still early.”
her deep blue eyes up to his face and saw his smile broaden with frank
admiration. “I know, but I have to leave. I turn into a pumpkin at midnight.”
“Yourchariotturns into a pumpkin,” he corrected,
grinning. “And your dress turns into rags.”
obsolescence and poor workmanship, even in Cinderella’s time,” Katie sighed in
girl,” he applauded. “Sagittarius, right?”
Katie said, extracting her keys from the bottom of her purse.
is your sign?”
and Proceed with Caution,” she flipped back. “What’s yours?”
for a moment. “Merge,” he replied with a meaningful glance that faithfully
followed every curve of her graceful figure. Reaching out, helightly ran his knuckles over the
silky sleeve of Katie’s dress. “I happen to like intelligent women; I don’t
feel threatened by them.”
repressing the impulse to suggest that he try making a pass at Dr. Joyce Brothers,
Katie said politely, “I really do have to leave. I’m meeting someone.”
emerged into the dark, sultry summer night feeling lost and depressed. She
paused beneath the canopied entrance, watching with a suddenly pounding heart
as a familiar white Corvette ran the red light at the corner and turned into
the parking lot, screeching to a stop beside her. “I’m sorry I’m late. Get in,
Katie. We’ll go somewhere and talk.”
at Rob through the open car window and felt a surge of longing so intense that
she ached with it. He was still unbearably handsome, but his smile, normally so
confident and assured, was now tinged with an endearing uncertainty that wrung
her heart and weakened her resolve. “It’s late. And I don’t have anything to
say to you if you’re still married.”
can’t talk here like this. don’t give me a hard time about being late. I’ve had
a lousy flight and it was delayed getting into St. Louis. Now, be a good girl
and get in the car. I don’t have time to waste arguing with you.”
you have time?” Katie persisted, “Is your wife expecting you?”
under his breath, then accelerated sharply, swinging the sports car into a
shadowy parking space beside the building. He got out of the car and leaned
against the door, waiting for Katie to come to him. With the breeze teasing her
hair and tugging at the folds of her blue dress, Katie reluctantly approached
him in the darkened parking lot.
“It’s been a
long time, Katie,” he said when she stopped in front of him. “Aren’t you going
to kiss me hello?”
was to snatch her into his arms and kiss her with a combination of fierce
hunger and pleading need. He knew her well enough, however, to realize that
Katie was only passively accepting his kiss, and by avoiding her question he
had told her that he was still married. “Don’t be like this,” he rasped
thickly, his breath warm against her ear. “I’ve thought of nothing but you for
months. Let’s get out of here and go to your place.”
an unsteady breath. “No.”
love you, I’m crazy about you. don’t keep holding out on me.”
first time, Katie noticed the smell of liquor on his breath and was unwillingly
touched that he had apparently felt the need to bolster his courage before
seeing her. But she managed to keep her voice firm. “I’m not going to have a
sleazy affair with a married man.”
knew I was married, you didn’t find anything ‘sleazy’ about being with me.”
Now he was
going to try cajolery, and Katie couldn’t bear it. “Please, please don’t do
this to me, Rob. I couldn’t live with myself if I wrecked another woman’s
marriage was ‘wrecked’ long before I met you, honey. I tried to tell you that.”
“Then get a
divorce,” Katie said desperately.
Even in the
darkness, Katie could see the bitter irony that twisted his smile. “Southfields
do not divorce. They learn to live separate lives. Ask my father and my
grandfather,” he said with angry pain. Despite the doors opening and closing as
people drifted in and out of the restaurant, Rob’s voice remained at normal
pitch, and his hands slid down her back caressing her, then cupping her hips,
forcing her against his hardened thighs. “That’s for you, Katie. Only for you.
You won’t be wrecking my marriage; it was over long ago.”
couldn’t stand any more. The sordidness of the situation made her feel dirty,
and she tried to pull away from him. “Let go of me,” she hissed. “Either you’re
a liar, or you’re a coward, or both, and—”
tightened around her arms as she struggled. “I hate you for acting like this!”
Katie choked. “Let me go!”
“Do as she
says,” a faintly accented voice spoke from the darkness.
snapped up. “Who the hell are you?” he demanded of the white-shirted figure
that materialized from the shadows beside the building. Retaining his grip on
one of Katie’s arms, Rob glowered menacingly at the intruder and snapped at
Katie, “Do you know him?”
voice was hoarse with mortification and anger. “No, but let go of me. I want to
staying,” Rob gritted. Jerking his head toward the other man, he said, “And
you’re going. Now move, unless you want me to help you on your way.”
voice became extremely courteous, almost frighteningly so. “You may try if you
wish. But let her go.”
all endurance by Katie’s continued implacable stubbornness, and now this
unwanted intrusion, Rob vented all his frustrated wrath on the intruder. He
dropped Katie’s arm and, in one smooth continuous motion, swung his huge fist
directly at his opponent’s jaw. A second’s silence was followed by the terrible
crack of bone connecting with bone, and then a resounding thud. Katie opened
her tear-brightened eyes to find Rob unconscious at her feet.
car door,” the foreign voice ordered with an insistence that brooked no
Katie opened the door of the Corvette. The man unceremoniously shoved and
folded Rob inside, leaving his head lolling over the steering wheel as if he
were passed out in a drunken stupor. “Which is your car?”
at him blankly. “We can’t leave him like this. He might need a doctor.”
your car?” he repeated impatiently. “I have no wish to be here in the event
someone saw what happened and called the police.”
Katie protested, looking over her shoulder at Rob’s Corvette as she hurried
toward her car. She drew up stubbornly at the driver’s door. “You leave. I
“I did not
kill him, I only stunned him. He will wake up in a few minutes with a sore face
and loose teeth, that is all. I will drive,” he said, forcibly propelling Katie
around the front of her car and into the passenger seat. “You are in no
himself behind the steering wheel, he banged his knee on the steering column
and uttered what Katie thought must have been a curse in Spanish. “Give me your
keys,” he said, releasing the seat back into its farthest position to
accommodate his very long legs. Katie handed them over. Several cars were
coming in and leaving, and they had to wait before finally backing out of the
space. They swooped down the rows of parked cars, past a battered old produce
truck with a flat tire, which was parked at the rear of the restaurant.
yours?” Katie asked lamely, feeling that some conversation was required of her.
at the disabled produce truck, then slid her an ironic sideways look. “How did
flushed with mortification. She knew, and he knew, that simply because he was
Hispanic she had assumed he drove the produce truck. To save his pride she
said, “When you were on the telephone you mentioned that you needed a tow
truck—that’s how I knew.”
out of the parking lot into the stream of traffic while Katie gave him the
simple directions to her apartment, which was only a few blocks away. “I want
to thank you, er—?”
Katie reached for her purse and searched for her wallet. She lived so close by,
that by the time she had extracted a five-dollar bill they were already pulling
into the parking lot of her apartment complex. “I live right there—the first
door on the right, under the gaslight.”
maneuvered the car into the parking space closest to her door, turned off the
ignition, got out, and came around to her side. Katie hastily opened her own
door and scrambled out of the car. Uncertainly, she glanced up into his dark,
proud, enigmatic face, guessing him to be somewhere around thirty-five.
Something about him, his foreignness—or his darkness—made her uneasy.
She held out
her hand, offering him the five-dollar bill. “Thank you very much, Ramon.
Please take this.” He looked briefly at the money and then at her face.
“Please,” she persisted politely, thrusting the five-dollar bill toward him.
“I’m sure you can use it.”
he said dryly after a pause, taking the money from her and jamming it into the
back pocket of his Levi’s. “I will walk you to your door,” he added.
and started up the steps, a little shocked when his hand lightly but firmly
cupped her elbow. It was such a quaint, gallant gesture—particularly when she
knew she had inadvertently offended his pride.
her key into the lock and swung the door open. Katie stepped inside, turned to
thank him again, and he said, “I would like to use your phone to find out if
the towing vehicle was sent as they promised.”
physically come to her rescue and had even risked being arrested for her—Katie
knew that common courtesy required that she allow him to use her phone.
Carefully concealing her reluctance to let him in, she stepped aside so that he
could enter her luxurious apartment. “The phone’s there on the coffee table,”
“Once I have
called, I will wait here for a short while to be certain that your friend”—he
emphasized the word with contempt—“does not awaken and decide to come here. By
then the mechanic should have finished his repairs and I will walk back—it is
had not even considered the possibility that Rob might come here, froze in the
act of taking off her slim-heeled sandals. Surely Rob would never come near her
again, not after being verbally rejected by her and physically discouraged by
Ramon. “I’m sure he won’t,” she said, and she meant it. But even so, she found
herself trembling with delayed reaction. “I—I think I’ll make some coffee,” she
said, already starting for the kitchen. And then because she had no choice, she
added courteously. “Would you like some?”
accepted her offer with such ambivalence that most of Katie’s doubts about his
trustworthiness were allayed. Since meeting him, he had neither said nor done
anything that was in any way forward.
Once she was
in the kitchen, Katie realized that in the anxiety about seeing Rob tonight she
had forgotten to buy coffee, and she was out of it. Which was just as well,
because she suddenly felt the need for something stronger. Opening the cabinet
above the refrigerator, she took out the bottle of Rob’s brandy. “I’m afraid
all I have to offer you is brandy or water,” she called to Ramon. “The Coke is
be fine,” he answered.
splashed brandy into two snifters and returned to the living room just as Ramon
was hanging up the telephone. “Did the repair truck get there?” she asked.
“It is there
now, and the mechanic is making a temporary repair so that I can drive it.”
Ramon took the glass from her outstretched hand, and looked around her
apartment with a quizzical expression on his face. “Where are your friends?” he
friends?” Katie questioned blankly, sitting down in a pretty beige corduroy
back her horrified laughter. “Were you close enough to hear me say that?”
at her, Ramon nodded, but there was no amusement in the quirk of his finely
molded lips. “I was behind you, obtaining change for the telephone from the
misery of tonight’s events threatened to drag her down, but Katie pushed it
fiercely to the back of her mind. She would think about it tomorrow when she
would be better able to cope. She shrugged lightly. “I only made the lesbians
up. I wasn’t in the mood for—”
“Why do you
not like attorneys?” he interrupted.
stifled another urge to laugh. “It’s a very long story, which I’d rather not
discuss. But I suppose the reason I told him that was because I thought it was
vain of him to tell me he was one.”
“You are not
surprised eyes up to him. There was a childlike defenselessness to the way she
had curled up in her chair with her bare feet tucked beneath her; an innocent vulnerability
in the purity of her features and clarity of her wide blue eyes. “I—I don’t
not have been rude to me, had I approached you there and said that I drive a
the first genuine smile of the night, soft lips curving with a winsome humor
that made her eyes glow. “I would probably have been too stunned to speak. In
the first place, no one who goes to the Canyon Inn drives a truck, and in the
second place, if they did they’d never admit it.”
“Why? It is
nothing to be ashamed of.”
realize that. But they would say they were in the transportation business, or
the trucking business—something like that, so that it would sound as if they
owned a railroad, or at least an entire fleet of trucks.”
down at her as if the words she spoke were a hindrance,not a help, to his understanding her.
His gaze drifted to the red gold hair tumbling over her shoulders, then
abruptly he jerked his eyes away. Raising his glass, he tossed down half the
brandy in it.
supposed to be sipped,” Katie said, then realized that what she had meant as a
suggestion sounded more like a reprimand. “I mean,” she amended clumsily, “You
can gulp it down, but people who are accustomed to drinking brandy usually
prefer to sip it slowly.”
lowered his glass and looked at her with an absolutely unfathomable expression
on his face. “Thank you,” he replied with impeccable courtesy. “I will try to
remember that if I am ever fortunate enough to have it again.”
with the certainty that she had now thoroughly offended him, Katie watched him
stroll over to the living-room window and part the nubby beige curtain.
afforded an uninspiring view of the parking lot and, beyond that, the busy
four-lane suburban street in front of her apartment complex. Leaning a shoulder
against the window frame, he apparently heeded her advice, for he sipped his
brandy slowly while watching the parking lot.
noticed the way his white shirt stretched taut across his broad, muscled
shoulders and tapered back whenever he lifted his arm, then she looked away.
She had only meant to be helpful, instead she had sounded condescending and
superior. She wished he would leave. She was mentally and physically exhausted,
and there was absolutely no reason for him to be guarding her like this. Rob
would not come here tonight.
“How old are
you?” he asked abruptly.
flew to his. “Twenty-three.”
are old enough to have a better sense of priorities.”
more perplexed than annoyed. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, you
think it is important that brandy be drunk in the ‘proper’ way, yet you do not
worry if it is ‘proper’ to invite any man you meet into your apartment. You
risk soiling your reputation and—”
man I meet!” Katie sputtered indignantly, no longer feeling the slightest
obligation to be courteous. “In the first place, I only invited you in here
because you asked to use the phone, and I felt I had to be polite after you had
helped me. In the second place, I don’t know about Mexico, or whatever country
you come from, but—”
“I was born
in Puerto Rico,” he provided.
ignored that. “Well, here in the United States, we do not have such antiquated,
absurd ideas about women’s reputations. Men have never worried about their
reputations, and we no longer worry about ours. We do as we please!”
absolutely could not believe it. Now, when shewantedto insult him, he was on the verge of
eyes were warm with amusement, and a smile was hovering at the corner of his
mouth. “Do you do as you please?”
“Of course I
do!” Katie said with great feeling.
“What is it
that you do?”
“What is it
that you do that pleases you?”
deepened. “What do you want . . . Now?”
suggestive tone made Katie suddenly and uncomfortably aware of the raw
sensuality emanating from his long muscular frame outlined in the revealing
Levi’s and closely fitted white shirt. A shudder ran through her as his gaze
moved over her face, lingering on her soft full lips, before dropping to
leisurely study the thrusting curves of her breasts beneath the clinging fabric
of her dress. She felt like screaming, laughing, or weeping—or a combination of
all three. After everything else that had happened to her tonight, Katie
Connelly had managed to latch onto a Puerto Rican Casanova who thought he was
now going to make himself the answer to all her sexual needs!
herself to sound brisk, she finally answered his question. “What do I want now?
I want to be happy with my life and myself. I want to be—to be—free,” she
finished lamely, too distracted by his dark, sensual gaze to think clearly.
“Of what do
you wish to be free?”
up abruptly. “Of men!”
As she came
to her feet, Ramon started toward her with a slow deliberate gait. “You want to
be free of so much freedom, but not of men.”
continued backing toward the door as he advanced on her. She had been crazy to
invite him in here, and he was deliberately misunderstanding her reason for doing
so, because it suited his purpose. She gasped as her back bumped into the door.
stopped six inches away from her. “If you wished to be free of men as you say,
you would not have gone to that place tonight; you would not have met that man
in the parking lot. You do not know what you want.”
“I know that
it’s late,” Katie said in a shaky voice. “And I know I want you to leave now.”
narrowed on her face, but his voice gentled as he asked, “Are you afraid of
He nodded with
satisfaction. “Good, then you will not object to going to the zoo with me
tomorrow, will you?”
tell that he knew she was acutely uneasy with him and that she had no desire to
goanywherewith him. She considered saying that
she had other plans for tomorrow, but she was positive he would only press her
to name another time. Every instinct she possessed warned her that he could
become extremely persistent if he chose. In her tired, overwrought state, it
seemed more expedient to simply make the date and then not be here when he
came. That rejection even he would understand and accept as final. “Okay,” she
feigned. “What time?”
“I will come
for you at ten o’clock in the morning.”
door closed behind him, Katie felt like a spring that was being wound tighter
and tighter by some fiend who wanted to see how far she could be twisted before
she snapped. She crawled into bed and stared at the ceiling. She had enough
problems without having to cope with some amorous Latin who invites her to the zoo!
onto her stomach, Katie thought of the sordid scene with Rob and squeezed her
eyes closed, trying to escape her tired misery. Tomorrow she would spend the
day at her parents’ house. In fact, she would spend the entire Memorial Day
weekend there. After all, her parents always complained that they didn’t see
enough of her.
PHILIPWHITWORTH GLANCED UP,
HISattention drawn by the sound of swift footsteps sinking into the
luxurious Oriental carpet that stretched across his presidential office.
Lounging back in his maroon leather swivel chair he studied the vice-president
who was striding toward him. “Well?” he said impatiently. “Have they announced
who the low bidder is?”
vice-president leaned his clenched fists on the polished surface of Philip’s
mahogany desk. “Sinclair was the low bidder,” he spat out. “National Motors is
giving him the contract to provide all the radios for the cars they
manufacture, because Nick Sinclair beat our price by a lousy thirty thousand
dollars.” He drew in a furious breath and expelled it in a hiss. “That bastard
won a fifty-million-dollar contract away from us by cutting our price a
fraction of one percent!”
slight hardening of Philip Whitworth’saristocratic
jawline betrayed the anger rolling inside him as he said, “That’s the fourth
time in a year that he’s won a major contract away from us. Quite a
coincidence, isn’t it?”
the vice-president repeated. “It’s no damn coincidence and you know it, Philip!
Someone in my division is on Nick Sinclair’s payroll. Some bastard must be
spying on us, discovering the amount that goes into our sealed bid, then
feeding the information to Sinclair so that he can undercut us by a few
dollars. Only six men who work for me knew the amount we were going to bid on
this job; one of those six men is our spy.”
leaned farther into his chair until his silvered hair touched the high leather
back. “You’ve had security investigations made on all six of those men, and all
we learned was that three of them are cheating on their wives.”
investigations weren’t thorough enough!” Straightening, the vice-president
raked his hand through his hair, then let his arm drop. “Look Philip, I realize
Sinclair is your stepson, but you’re going to have to do something to stop him.
He’s out to destroy you.”
Whitworth’s eyes turned icy. “I have never acknowledged him as my ‘stepson,’
nor does my wife acknowledge him as her son. Now, precisely what do you propose
I do to stop him?”
“Put a spy
of your own in his company, find out who his contact here is. I don’t care what
you do, but for God’s sake, dosomething!”
reply was cut off by the harsh buzzingofthe intercom on his desk, and he
jabbed his finger at the button. “Yes, what is it, Helen?”
to interrupt you, sir,” his secretary said, “but there’s a Miss Lauren Danner
here. She says she has an appointment with you to discuss employment.”
he sighed irritably. “I agreed to interview her for a position with us. Tell
her I’ll see her in a few minutes.” He flicked the button off and returned his
attention to the vice-president, who, though preoccupied, was regarding him
are you conducting personnel interviews, Philip?”
courtesy interview,” Philip explained with an impatient sigh. “Her father is a
shirttail relative of mine, a fifth or sixth cousin, as I recall. Danner is one
of those relatives my mother unearthed years ago when she was researching her
book on our family tree. Every time she located a new batch of possible
relatives, she invited them up here to our house for a ‘nice little weekend
visit’ so that she could delve into their ancestry, discover if they were
actually related and decide if they were worthy of mention in her book.
a professor at a Chicago university. He couldn’t come, so he sent his wife—a
concert pianist—and his daughter in his place. Mrs. Danner was killed in an
automobile accident a few years later, and I never heard from him after that,
until last week when he called and asked me to interview his daughter, Lauren,
for a job. He said there’snothing
suitable for her in Fenster, Missouri, where he’s living now.”
presumptuous of him to call you, wasn’t it?”
expression filled with bored resignation. “I’ll give the girl a few minutes of
my time and then send her packing. We don’t have a position for anyone with a
college degree in music. Even if we did, I wouldn’t hire Lauren Danner. I’ve
never met a more irritating, outrageous, ill-mannered, homely child in my life.
She was about nine years old, chubby, with freckles and a mop of reddish hair
that looked as if it was never properly combed. She wore hideous horn-rimmed
eyeglasses, and so help me God, that child looked down her nose atus. . . .”
* * *
Whitworth’s secretary glanced at the young woman, wearing a crisp navy blue
suit and white ascot-style blouse, who was seated across from her. The woman’s
honey-blond hair was caught up in an elegant chignon, with soft tendrils at her
ears framing a face of flawless, vivid beauty. Her cheekbones were slightly
high, her nose small, her chin delicately rounded, but her eyes were her most
arresting feature. Beneath the arch of her brows, long curly lashes fringed
eyes that were a startling, luminous turquoise blue.
Whitworth will see you in a few minutes,” the secretary said politely, careful
not to stare.
Danner looked up from the magazine she was pretending to read and smiled.
“Thank you,” she said, then she gazed blindly down again, tryingto control her nervous dread of
confronting Philip Whitworth face to face.
years had not dulled the painful memory of her two days at his magnificent
Grosse Pointe mansion, where the entire Whitworth family, and even the
servants, had treated Lauren and her mother with insulting
scorn. . . .
The phone on
the secretary’s desk buzzed, sending a jolt through Lauren’s nervous system.
How, she wondered desperately, had she landed in this impossible predicament?
If she’d known in advance that her father was going to call Philip Whitworth,
she could have dissuaded him. But by the time she knew anything about it, the
call had been made and this interview already arranged. When she’d tried to
object, her father had calmly replied that Philip Whitworth owed them a favor,
and that unless Lauren could give him some logical arguments against going to
Detroit, he expected her to keep the appointment he’d arranged.
the unread magazine in her lap and sighed. Of course, shecould have
told him how the Whitworths had acted fourteen years ago. But right now money
was her father’s primary concern, and the lack of it was putting lines of
strain into his pallid face. Recently the Missouri taxpayers, caught in the
vise grip of an economic recession, had voted down a desperately needed
school-tax increase. As a result, thousands of teachers were immediately laid
off, including Lauren’s father. Three months later he had come home from
another fruitless trip in search of a job, this time to Kansas City. He had put
hisbriefcase down on the table
and had smiled sadly at Lauren and her stepmother. “I don’t think an ex-teacher
could get a job as a janitor these days,” he had said, looking exhausted and
strangely pale. Absently he’d massaged his chest near his left arm as he had
added grimly, “Which may be for the best, because I don’t feel strong enough to
push a broom.” Without further warning, he had collapsed, the victim of a
massive heart attack.
her father was now recovering, that moment had changed the course of her
life. . . . No, Lauren corrected herself, she had been on the
verge of changing the course herself. After years of relentless study and
grueling practice at the piano, after obtaining her master’s degree in music,
she had already decided that she lacked the driving ambition, the total
dedication needed to succeed as a concert pianist. She had inherited her
mother’s musical talent, but not her tireless devotion to her art.
wanted more from life than her music. In a way, it had cheated her of as much
as it had given her. What with going to school, studying, practicing and
working to pay for her lessons and tuition, there’d never been time to relax
and enjoy herself. By the time she’d turned twenty-three she’d traveled to
cities all over the United States to play in competitions, but all she’d seen
of the cities themselves were hotel rooms, practice rooms and auditoriums.
She’d met countless men, but there was never time for more than a brief
acquaintance. She’d won scholarships and prizes and awards, but there was neverenough money to pay all her expenses
without the added burden of a part-time job.
investing so much of her life in music, it had seemed wrong, wasteful, to throw
it away for some other career. Her father’s illness and the staggering bills
that were accruing had forced her to make the decision she’d been postponing.
In April he had lost his job, and with it his medical insurance; in July he had
lost his health as well. In past years he had given her a great deal of
financial help with school and lessons; now it was her turn to help him.
thought of this responsibility, Lauren felt as if the weight of the world was
resting on her shoulders. She needed a job, she needed money, and she needed
them now. She glanced around at the plush reception area she was seated in, and
felt strange and disoriented as she tried to imagine herself working for a huge
manufacturing corporation like this one. Not that it mattered—if the pay was
high enough, she would take whatever job was offered to her. Good jobs with
advancement opportunities were practically nonexistent in Fenster, Missouri,
and those that were available paid pitifully low in comparison to similar jobs
in huge metropolitan areas like Detroit.
secretary hung up the phone and stood up. “Mr. Whitworth will see you now, Miss
followed her to a richly carved mahogany door. As the secretary opened it,
Lauren uttered a brief, impassioned prayer that Philip Whitworth wouldn’t
remember her from that long-ago visit,then
she stepped into his office. Years of performing in front of an audience had
taught her how to conceal her turbulent nervousness, and now it enabled her to
approach Philip Whitworth with an outward appearance of quiet poise as he got
to his feet, an expression of astonishment on his aristocratic features.
don’t remember me, Mr. Whitworth,” she said, graciously extending her hand
across his desk, “but I’m Lauren Danner.”
Whitworth’s handclasp was firm, his voice tinged with dry amusement. “As a
matter of fact, I remember you very well, Lauren; you were rather
an . . . unforgettable . . . child.”
smiled, surprised by his candid humor. “That’s very kind of you. You might have
said outrageous instead of unforgettable.”
With that, a
tentative truce was declared, and Philip Whitworth nodded toward a gold velvet
chair in front of his desk. “Please sit down.”
brought you a résumé,” Lauren said, removing an envelope from her shoulder
purse as she sat down.
the envelope she handed him and extracted the typewritten sheets, but his brown
eyes remained riveted on her face, minutely studying each feature. “The
resemblance to your mother is striking,” he said after a long moment. “She was
Italian, wasn’t she?”
grandparents were born in Italy,” Lauren clarified. “My mother was born here.”
nodded. “Your hair is much lighter, butotherwise
you look almost exactly like her.” His gaze shifted to the résumé she had given
him as he added dispassionately, “She was an extraordinarily beautiful woman.”
leaned back in her chair, a little dazed by the unexpected direction the
interview had taken. It was rather disconcerting to discover that, despite his
outwardly cold, aloof attitude fourteen years before, Philip Whitworth had
apparently thought Gina Danner was beautiful. And now he was telling Lauren
that he thought she was, too.
read her résumé, Lauren let her gaze drift over the stately splendor of the
immense office from which Philip Whitworth ruled his corporate empire. Then she
studied him. For a man in his fifties, he was extremely attractive. Though his
hair was silvering, his tanned face was relatively unlined, and there was no
sign of excess weight on his tall, well-built body. Seated behind his huge,
baronial desk in an impeccably tailored dark suit, he seemed surrounded by an
aura of wealth and power, which Lauren reluctantly found impressive.
through the eyes of an adult, he didn’t seem the cold, conceited snob’ she
remembered. In fact, he seemed every inch a distinguished, elegant socialite.
His attitude toward her was certainly courteous, and he had a sense of humor
too. All things considered, Lauren couldn’t help feeling that her prejudice
against him all these years might have been unfair.
Whitworth turned to the second page of her résumé, and Lauren caught herself up
short. Exactlywhywas she having this sudden change of
heart about him, she wondered uncomfortably. True, he was being cordial and
kind to her now—but why wouldn’t he be? She was no longer a homely little
nine-year-old; she was a young woman with a face and figure that made men turn
really misjudged the Whitworths all those years ago? Or was she now letting
herself be influenced by Philip Whitworth’s obvious wealth and smooth
your university grades are outstanding, I hope you realize that your degree in
music is of no value to the business world,” he said.
instantly pulled her attention to the subject at hand. “I know that. I majored
in music because I love it, but I realize there’s no future in it for me.” With
quiet dignity she briefly explained her reasons for abandoning her career as a
pianist, including her father’s health and her family’s financial
listened attentively, then glanced again at the résumé in his hand. “I noticed
that you also took several business courses in college.”
paused expectantly, Lauren began to believe he might actually be considering
her for a job. “Actually, I’m only a few courses short of qualifying for a
attending college, you worked after school and during the summers as a
secretary,” he continued thoughtfully. “Your father didn’t mention that on the
telephone. Are your shorthand and typing skills as excellent as your résumé
said, but at the mention of her secretarial background her enthusiasm began to
in his chair and, after a moment’s thought, seemed to come to a decision. “I
can offer you a secretarial position, Lauren, one with challenge and
responsibility. I can’t offer you anything more than that unless you actually
get your business degree.”
“But I don’twantto be a secretary,” Lauren sighed.
A wry smile
twisted his lips when he saw how discouraged she looked. “You said that your
primary concern right now is money—and right now there happens to be a
tremendous shortage of qualified, top-notch executive secretaries. Because of
this they’re in demand and very highly paid. My own secretary, for example,
makes almost as much money as my middle-management executives.”
so . . .” Lauren started to protest.
Whitworth held up a hand to silence her. “Let me finish. You’ve been working
for the president of a small manufacturing company. In a small company,
everyone knows what everyone else is doing and why they’re doing it.
Unfortunately, in large corporations such as this one, only high-level
executives and their secretaries are aware of the overall picture. May I give
you an example of what I’m trying to say?”
nodded, and he continued. “Let’s say you’re an accountant in our radio
division, and you’re asked to prepare an analysis of the cost ofeach radio we produce. You spend weeks
preparing the report without knowingwhyyou’re
doing it. It could be because we’re thinking of closing down our radio
division; it could be because we’re thinking ofexpandingour radio division; or it could be
because we’re planning an advertising campaign to help sellmoreradios. You don’t know what we’re
planning to do and neither does your supervisor or his supervisor. The only
people who are aware of that sort of confidential information are division
concluded with smiling emphasis, “their secretaries! If you start out as a
secretary with us, you’ll get a good overview of the corporation, and you’ll be
able to make an informed choice about your possible future career goals.”
anything else I could do in a corporation such as yours that would pay as well
as being a secretary?” Lauren asked.
said with quiet firmness. “Not until you get your business degree.”
Lauren sighed, but she knew she had no choice. She had to make as much money as
she possibly could.
so glum,” he said, “the work won’t be boring. Why, my own secretary knows more
about our future plans than most of my executives do. Executive secretaries are
privy to all sorts of highly confidential information. They’re—”
off, staring at Lauren in stunned silence, and when he spoke again there was a
triumphant, calculating quality in his voice. “Executive secretaries are privy
to highly confidential information,” herepeated,
an unexplainable smile dawning across his aristocratic features. “A secretary!”
he whispered. “They would never suspect a secretary! They wouldn’t even run a
security check on one. Lauren,” he said softly, his brown eyes gleaming like
topaz, “I am about to make you a very unusual offer. Please don’t argue about
it until you hear me out completely. Now, what do you know about corporate or
the queasy feeling that she was hanging over the edge of a dangerous precipice.
“Enough to know that people have been sent to prison for it, and that I want
absolutely nothing to do with it, Mr. Whitworth.”
you don’t,” Philip said smoothly. “And please call me Philip; after all, we are
related, and I’ve been calling you Lauren.”
asking you to spy on another corporation, I’m asking you to spy on mine. Let me
explain. In recent years, a company called Sinco has become our biggest
competitor. Every time we bid on a contract, Sinco seems to know how much we’re
going to bid, and they bid just a fraction of a percent less. Somehow, they’re
finding out what we’re putting into our sealed bids, then they cut the price of
their bid so that it’s slightly lower than ours and steal the contract from us.
happened again today. There are only six men here who could have told Sinco the
amount of our bid, and one of them must be a spy. I don’t want to dismiss five loyal
business executives just to ridmyself
of one greedy, treacherous man. But if Sinco continues to steal business from
us this way, I’m going to have to begin laying people off,” he continued. “I
employ twelve thousand people, Lauren. Twelve thousand people depend on
Whitworth Enterprises for their livelihoods. Twelve thousand families depend on
this corporation so that they can have roofs over their heads and food on their
tables. There’s a chance you could help them keep their jobs and their homes. All
I’m asking you to do is to apply for a secretarial position at Sinco today. God
knows they’ll need to increase their staff to handle the work they just stole
from us. With your skills and experience, they’d probably consider you for a
secretarial position with some high-level executive.”
better judgment, Lauren asked, “If I get the job, then what?”
give you the names of the six men who might possibly be the spy, and all you
have to do is listen for mention of their names by anyone at Sinco.”
forward in his chair and folded his hands on his desk. “It’s a long shot,
Lauren, but frankly, I’m desperate enough to try anything. Now, here’s my part
of the bargain: I was planning to offer you a secretarial position with us at a
very attractive salary. . . .”
he named amazed Lauren, and it showed. It was considerably more than her father
had been making as a teacher. Why, if she lived frugally she could support her
family and herself.
“I can see
that you’re pleased,” Philip chuckled. “Wages in big cities like Detroit are
very high compared to smaller places. Now, if you apply at Sinco this afternoon
and they offer you a secretarial position, I want you to take it. If the salary
there is lower than the one I just offered you, my company will write you a
monthly check to make up the difference. If you are able to learn the name of
our spy, or anything else of real value to me, I will pay you a bonus of
$10,000. Six months from now, if you haven’t been able to learn anything important,
then you can resign from your job at Sinco and come to work as a secretary for
us. As soon as you complete the courses for your business degree, I’ll give you
any other position here you want, providing of course that you can handle it.”
His brown eyes moved over her face, searching her troubled features. “Something
is bothering you,” he observed quietly. “What is it?”
“Itallbothers me,” Lauren admitted. “I don’t
like intrigue, Mr. Whitworth.”
me Philip. At least do that much for me.” With a tired sigh, he leaned back in
his chair. “Lauren, I know I have absolutely no right to ask you to apply at
Sinco. It may surprise you to learn that I’m aware of how unpleasant your visit
with us fourteen years ago was. My son, Carter, was at a difficult age. My
mother was obsessed with researching our family tree, and my wife and
I . . . well, I’m sorry we weren’t more cordial.”
circumstances, Lauren would have turned him down. But her life was in a state
ofcomplete upheaval, and her financial
responsibilities were staggering. She felt dazed, uncertain and incredibly
burdened. “All right,” she said slowly. “I’ll do it.”
Philip said promptly. Picking up his telephone he called Sinco’s number, asked
for the personnel manager, then handed Lauren the phone to make an appointment.
Lauren’s secret hope that Sinco might refuse to see her was instantly dashed.
According to the man she spoke to, Sinco had just been awarded a large contract
and was in immediate need of experienced secretaries. Since he was planning to
work late that night, he instructed Lauren to come at once.
Philip stood up and put out his hand, clasping hers. “Thank you,” he said
simply. After a moment’s thought, he added, “When you fill out their
application form, give your home address in Missouri, but give them this phone
number so that they can reach you at our house.” He wrote a number on a note
pad and tore off the sheet. “The servants answer it with a simple hello,” he
said quickly. “I wouldn’t want to impose. I . . . I’d much
rather stay in a motel.”
blame you for feeling that way,” he replied, making Lauren feel rude and
ungracious, “but I would like to make up for that other visit.”
succumbed to defeat. “Are you absolutely certain that Mrs. Whitworth won’t
door closed behind Lauren, Philip Whitworth picked up his telephone and dialed
a number that rang in his son’s private office, just across the hall. “Carter,”
he said. “I think we’re about to drive a spike into Nick Sinclair’s armor. Do
you remember Lauren Danner . . . ?”
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Once and Always
Victoria Seaton, a blithe and fiercely independent orphan, leaves her home in America to travel across the vast Atlantic to claim her long-lost inheritance: a labyrinthine English estate named Wakefield. There she encounters her distant cousin, the notorious, proud, and mysterious Lord Jason Fielding. Drawn to his magnetic charisma, Victoria can’t help but suspect that like her, he harbors a dark and painful past. Neither Victoria or Jason are able to resist one another’s charm but, in a moment of blinding anguish, Victoria discovers the shocking truth that lays at the heart of their love—a love she had dreamed would triumph.
“Judith McNaught not only spins dreams but makes them come true” (RT Book Reviews) in this sensual and moving tale of a tempestuous marriage facing its ultimate test. Alexandra Lawrence, an innocent country girl, and Jordan Townsende, the rich and powerful Duke of Hawthorne, have always had a stormy relationship. But when she is swept into the endlessly fascinating world of London society, free-spirited Alexandra becomes ensnared in a tangled web of jealousy, revenge, and overwhelming passion. But behind her husband’s cold, haughty mask, there lives a tender, vital, sensual man...the man Alexandra married. Now, she will fight for his very life and the rapturous bond they alone can share.
Elizabeth Cameron, the Countess of Havenhurst, possesses a rare gentleness and fierce courage to match her exquisite beauty. But her reputation is shattered when she is discovered in the arms of Ian Thornton, a notorious gambler and social outcast.A dangerously handsome man of secret wealth and mysterious lineage, Ian’s interest in Elizabeth may not be all that it seems. His voyage to her heart is fraught with intrigue, scandal, and a venomous revenge. As a twisting path of secrets takes them from London’s drawing rooms to the awe-inspiring Scottish Highlands, Elizabeth must learn the truth: is Ian merely a ruthless fortune hunter at heart? “Well-developed main characters with a compelling mutual attraction give strength and charm to this romance set in nineteenth-century Great Britain” (Publishers Weekly).
A saucy spitfire who has grown into a ravishing young woman, Whitney Stone returns from her triumphant time in Paris society to England. She plans on marrying her childhood sweetheart, only to discover she has been bargained away by her bankrupt father to the arrogant and alluring Clayton Westmoreland, the Duke of Claymore. Outraged, she defies her new lord. But even as his smoldering passion seduces her into a gathering storm of desire, Whitney cannot—will not—relinquish her dream of perfect love.Rich with emotion, brimming with laughter and tears,Whitney, My Loveis “the ultimate love story, one you can dream about forever” (RT Book Reviews).
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Abducted from her convent school, headstrong Scottish beauty Jennifer Merrick does not easily surrender to Royce Westmoreland, Duke of Claymore. Known as “The Wolf,” his very name strikes terror in the hearts of his enemies. But proud Jennifer will have nothing to do with the fierce English warrior who holds her captive, no matter what he threatens. Boldly she challenges his will—until the night he takes her in his powerful embrace, awakening in her an irresistible hunger. Suddenly Jennifer finds herself ensnared in a bewildering and seductive web of pride, passion, and overwhelming love. This beloved tale about two defiant hearts clashing in a furious battle of wills in the glorious age of chivalry “will stay in your heart forever and be a classic on your shelves” (RT Book Reviews, Top Pick).
In this unforgettable romantic adventure, a teacher of wealthy young ladies finds her life changed forever when she travels from the wilds of America to elegant London. Sheridan Bromleigh is hired to accompany one of her students, heiress Charise Lancaster, to England to meet her fiancé. But when her charge elopes with a stranger, Sheridan wonders how she will ever explain it to Charise’s intended, Lord Burleton.Standing on the pier, Stephen Westmoreland, the Earl of Langford, assumes the young woman coming toward him is Charise Lancaster and reluctantly informs her of his inadvertent role in a fatal accident involving Lord Burleton the night before. And just as the young woman is about to speak, she steps into the path of a cargo net loaded with crates. Sheridan awakens in Westmoreland’s mansion with no memory of who she is; the only hint of her past is the puzzling fact that everyone calls her Miss Lancaster. All she truly knows is that she is falling in love with a handsome English earl, and that the life unfolding before her seems full of wondrous possibilities.
Now available for the first time ever as an e-novella, New York Times bestselling author Judith McNaught’s short historical romance Miracles—which ties up ends left open in the Westmoreland Dynasty Saga—is available for the first time ever as a standalone e-novella. In Regency London, world-weary lord Nicki du Ville receives an outrageous proposal from Julianna Skeffington, who is Sheridan Bromleigh’s charge from Until You.
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STAND-ALONES Tender Triumph
On Friday, a sensuous stranger enters Katie’s life. By Sunday, her life is irrevocably changed forever.
Katie Connelly submerges her painful past in a promising career, an elegant apartment, and men she can keep at a distance. Yet something vital is missing from her life—until she meets proud, rugged Ramon Galverra. With his charm and his passionate nature, Ramon gives her a love she had never known. Still she is afraid to surrender her heart to this strong, willful, secretive man—a man from a different world, a man with a bold, uncertain future. Will Katie’s relationship with Ramon survive once the thrill of their simmering passion subsides?
In the exclusive, glittering world of business superstars, Nick Sinclair is a legend. The ruggedly handsome president of Global Industries handles his business the way he handles his women—with charm, daring, and ruthless self-control. A man used to the very best, Nick hires Lauren Danner and assumes the proud beauty will soon be another easy conquest. But Lauren’s flashing wit and rare spirit dazzles him and slowly, against his will, he’s intrigued, challenged, and in love. Yet he doesn’t know that Lauren is living a lie and, trapped in a web of deceit, she fights her growing love for Nick. Her secret could destroy his fragile trust and the promise of life with the most compelling man she has ever met.
When multinational tycoon Cole Harrison approaches her on a moonlit balcony at the White Orchid Charity Ball, Diana Foster has no idea how life-changing the night ahead will be. The most lavish social event of the Houston season had brought out Texas aristocracy in glittering array but Diana only agreed to attend to save face after reading about her fiancé leaving her for an Italian heiress in a sleazy gossip magazine. Her Beautiful Livingmagazine is her family’s success story, and Diana knows that as a single, childless, and suddenlyunengaged woman, she is not living up to its lucrative image of upscale domestic tranquility. But when she spots the pride of Dallas billionaires, Cole Harrison, closing in on her with two crystal flutes and a bottle of champagne, she has no idea that he has ulterior motives for seducing her tonight. And he certainly has no idea that a match made in what he considers logic’s heaven might be headed straight for an unexpected, once-in-a-lifetime love. “Judith McNaught once again works her unique magic in this charming, sparkling romance” (RT Book Reviews, 4 stars).
“Judith McNaught comes close to an Edith Wharton edge” (The Chicago Tribune) in this stylish and fast-paced classic. Ruthless corporate raider Matthew Farrell is poised to move in on the legendary department store empire owned by Chicago’s renowned Bancroft family. In the glare of the media spotlight, it’s a stunning takeover that overshadows the electric chemistry between Matt, once a scruffy kid from steel town Indiana, and cool, sophisticated Meredith Bancroft. Their brief, ill-fated marriage sparked with thrilling sensuality but ended with a bitter betrayal. Now, locked in a battle that should be all business, dangerous temptations, and bittersweet memories are stirring their hearts. Will they risk everything for a passion too bold to be denied?
A rootless foster child, Julie Mathison has blossomed under the love showered upon her by her adoptive family. Now a lovely and vivacious young woman, she is a respected teacher in her small Texas town and is determined to give back all the kindness she has received, believing that nothing can ever shatter the perfect life she has fashioned.Zachary Benedict is an actor whose Academy Award-winning career was shattered when he was wrongly convicted of murdering his wife. After the tall, ruggedly handsome Zack escapes from a Texas prison, he abducts Julie and forces her to drive him to his Colorado mountain hideout. She’s outraged, cautious, and unable to ignore the instincts that whispers of his innocence. He’s cynical, wary, and increasingly attracted to her. Desire is about to capture them both in its fierce embrace but the journey to trust, true commitment, and proving Zack’s innocence is just beginning.“A mixture of virtue and passion that is almost—ahem—perfect” (Kirkus Reviews) this is a captivating tale that fans will adore.
In this “exciting tale of loyalty, love, and danger” (Publishers Weekly), Sloan Reynolds, a small-town Florida policewoman, knows that her modest upbringing is a long way from the social whirl of Palm Beach, the world inhabited by her father and her sister, Paris. Total strangers to Sloan, they have never tried to contact her—until a sudden invitation arrives, to meet them and indulge in the Palm Beach social season. Reluctant to accept the long-overdue familial gesture, Sloan is convinced to visit when an FBI colleague informs her that her father and his associates are suspected of fraud, conspiracy, and murder. The only catch is she must hide her true profession from her family. Sloan is on top of her game until she meets Noah Maitland, a multinational corporate player and one of the FBI’s prime suspects. She finds herself powerfully attracted to him, against her deepest instincts. When a shocking murder shatters the seductive facade of the wealth and glamour surrounding her, Sloan must maneuver through a maze of deceit and passion in this superb and enthralling tale of breathtaking suspense.
Judith McNaught is the New York Times bestselling author who first soared to stardom with her stunning bestseller Whitney, My Love, and went on to win the hearts of millions of readers with Once and Always, Something Wonderful, A Kingdom of Dreams, Almost Heaven, Paradise, Perfect, Until You, Remember When, Someone to Watch Over Me, the #1 bestseller Night Whispers, and other novels. There are more than thirty million copies of her books in print. She lives in Houston. Please visit her at JudithMcNaught.com and on Facebook at AuthorJudithMcNaught.