hissed at his watch. Damn, it was
almost eight o'clock. Of all
the nights to be late this was definitely the wrong one. Claire would be put out with
him. He couldn't afford to
have her irritated with him.
Especially now. Not at
this stage of his plan.
Claire Jones is his
angel of mercy, exactly what he needs. On top of her exquisite looks--dark green eyes, sexy
black curls dancing to the middle of her narrow back, and classically
feminine features--she's also filthy with money. Just filthy with it.
Jesus!" he shouted as he
whipped into a parking spot directly in front of his apartment near 42nd
and Broadway, his second apartment in New York City--the one used for his
less than respectable ventures.
If he hurried through a shower and packed his toiletries quickly he
wouldn't be any later than usual for his dates with Claire. And he could always talk his way
back into her good graces.
Hell, in thirty-two years he hadn't discovered a woman he couldn't
charm into falling at his feet.
He stepped into the
brisk October night, unlocked the front door of the building and
effortlessly bounded up three wide flights of wooden stairs. Halfway down the hall he stopped
dead in his tracks, confused as hell over why his apartment door stood
in. Then, alarm nipped at its
Brian pressed his
back to the wall and inched toward his apartment without making any
sound. He drew a deep breath
to steady his nerves, then leaned around the corner and stole a glance into
his living room.
A stumpy man with
outrageously broad shoulders and black, straw-like hair had his back to the
door as he rifled through Brian's desk drawer in the corner of the room
before dumping its contents onto the floor. Obviously sensing another presence, he spun around to
look at Brian.
Brian flew back down
the hallway. He didn't look
over his shoulder to see if the broad man was following him because he
could hear, and feel, thunderous footsteps behind him. He took the stairs at neck-breaking
speed and thanked God he'd been given an athletic body.
He fumbled his keys
out of his pocket as he burst through the front doors. Diving behind the wheel of his BMW
he punched the button to lock the doors, slammed the key home, and hit the
The wide bodied man
pelted the glass of the passenger window with huge, hairy fists. "You're dead, Whitfield! Dead!"
Brian peeled away
from the curb in a cloud of rubber smoke, covered with a sheen of fear
Well, shit. His agenda with Claire had to be accelerated
if he planned to save his ass.
And of course, he planned to do just that.
Brian was late. Although Claire wasn't surprised,
she was disappointed. He'd
promised their evening would be special, then had the nerve to be late. Again.
After a last look in
the bathroom mirror she killed the plentiful overhead lights. She did not, however, turn off the
brass lamp beside her bed. The
soft light, warmed by the burgundy chintz shade, always comforted her when
she returned home.
She took the hall to
the dining room and stopped at the aged walnut bar to pour a second helping
Claire loved her
apartment, even though it was ridiculously large for a single person. An open area with fifteen foot
ceilings comprised the living and dining rooms. The entire apartment was decorated in rich burgundies,
dark blues, and accented with touches of vibrant gold. It was elegant and classy without
being gaudy or overbearing.
She moved to the
wall of floor to ceiling windows in the living room, which overlooked
Madison Avenue and part of Central Park. The view from the twentieth floor was spectacular. Especially at night.
New York City had
always been her home. Claire
felt connected to it--as if she and The City had a deep bond to each
other. The City shared its
many pleasures with her; the theater, the wonderful shopping, the fine
dining and enrichment its varied cultures offered. In turn, she used her vast
financial resources to help save some of its historical landmarks and she
employed thousands of its inhabitants. She'd never been touched by any crimes or felt fear
while in The City. She simply
felt like she was exactly where she should always be.
Her grandfather had
started Jones Pharmaceutical and spent his life building it into a
profitable little business.
Then, her father's genius turned that tidy little business into an
international empire worth millions of dollars.
Her lifestyle had
been that of a carefree, rich and spoiled brat. She'd gone to college but couldn't decide what she
wanted to become; a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, a veterinarian. Finally, after five years of
earning mediocre grades in a variety of courses, she received a Liberal
She then took a job
in the Personnel Department at Jones Pharmaceutical. That hadn't worked out. At all. Her father expected her to be there everyday, all day
long. Unfortunately, there
were other things she preferred to do with her time; shop, be pampered at
the spa, linger over extravagant gourmet lunches with her equally rich and
spoiled friends. Shop some
Robert Jones, Jr.
soon tired of her whimsical ways and terminated her employment. He also cutoff the excessive
allowance she'd received since her teenage years.
In order to get back
into her father's good graces, and his bottomless wallet, Claire returned
to school. This time she
actually applied herself to her studies, maintained a four-point-oh grade
point average, and earned a degree in business management. During her second stint at college
she grew up so much that when she went back to work for her father it was
as his executive assistant.
He began teaching
her how to handle all the facets of their multimillion dollar
corporation. She caught on
quickly. Even so, when he died
in a car accident just over a year later she wasn't anywhere close to being
prepared to step into his job.
She'd had no choice, though, because she was the only Jones left to
run the company.
resented her taking her father's place. They thought she was soft and spoiled, ignorant about
the business, and would quickly run the company into the
ground--screwing-up their jobs, insurance benefits and pensions.
went ballistic. Hundreds
dumped their stock in a blind panic.
The value of Jones Pharmaceutical took a horrific and ungraceful
swan dive. Vendors severed
lines of credit out of fear the company wouldn't survive with Claire at the
Things had been very
bad. Terrible, in fact. Scary.
Claire fought like
crazy to hold it all together.
Her valiant efforts finally paid off because she won the
battle. Nine months after she
took over, things settled down and began to run smoothly once again.
At last she had time
to mourn the loss of her father, who'd raised her alone because her mother
died from complications of giving birth to her. Claire adored her father, still missed him desperately,
and still grieved over him.
The single name
sliced through her thoughts without warning. Or invitation.
Thinking about Tucker always brought on so many memories, images,
regrets. And pain. God-awful pain.
pushed the thought of Tucker out of her mind. Despite how pleasant it was to remember their times
together, and the glorious sensation he'd always produced in her; as if she
were floating just above the ground, those memories always ended with a
searing ache that hadn't lessened over the years. And right now, just for this one night, she wanted to be
happy. Or at least not filled
The door to her
apartment opened, then softly shut.
Claire turned away
from the window, and her thoughts.
Even though Brian was late, she was glad he was there to distract
her from the unpleasantness of her past losses and the loneliness that
always followed her.
could be refined and polished or flamboyant and lighthearted. He drove a pricey car and wore only
the finest clothes, whether he chose a tailored suit or slacks and a
sweater. He seemed at home in
elegant restaurants but loved to go to dive bars and behave like a silly
teenager on the dance floor.
Brian was exactly
what she needed, exactly when she needed it. He'd helped her move through the worst of mourning her
father and given her a reason to smile and laugh--not to mention the
physical pleasure he delivered.
He had brought her laughter at the most emotionally trying period of
her life. He'd shown her how
to be carefree at a time when details nearly consumed her. He'd made her feel wanted, just
when she realized how alone in life she was.
As a successful
stockbroker, he pulled his share of long days. He understood responsibility and commitment and the
personal sacrifices it took to survive in the business world in
Manhattan. Therefore, he never
complained about the number of hours she worked, which saved her from
feeling guilty about the time she spent hunched over her desk.
Due to their
grueling schedules they didn't see a lot of each other--although they had
standing dinner dates on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which always extended into
the early hours of the morning.
Brian wined and dined potential clients on the weekends and Claire
didn't mind rarely seeing him on weekends. After working all day Saturday, frantically trying to
catch-up on paperwork while the rest of the staff was gone and the
executive offices of Jones Pharmaceutical were quiet, she needed the
remainder of the weekend to unwind and have time to devote solely to
relationship with Brian was perfect--no strings or pressure, the chance to
have fun with a gorgeous, intelligent, charming man, and the added benefit
of great sex. For her, and
this stage of her life, she couldn't ask for anything more from a
Brian stepped into
the living room. At six foot
tall, he was her height. His
shoulders were wide, his body lean and well-formed. Good humor usually lit his blue
eyes and a pleasant smile, or an endearing grin, almost always rested on
his attractive lips. Tonight,
however, his dark eyebrows were drawn together and his mouth held in a
Claire frowned with
concern and moved toward him.
"I'm, uh, a
little nervous." He
encircled her waist with his hands.
He kissed her lips
lightly. "Wondering if
you'll refuse my proposal."
happened very often!" she
said with a throaty laugh.
"What are you proposing we do?"
She sucked in a
sharp breath, certain she'd misunderstood him. "What?"
Brian dropped to his
knees and squeezed her hands between his. "Marry me, Claire. Please?"
"Oh, Brian, . .
." She shook her head,
overwhelmed by the idea.
"I don't think, . . ."
He locked his arms around her waist
and hauled her against him, pressing his cheek to her tummy. "Please, Claire."
His hold was
desperate. A tremble shot
through his solid body.
Something was horribly wrong.
The Brian Whitfield she'd come to know over the past two months
wouldn't be so nervous about asking her to marry him. In fact, he wouldn't ask her to
marry him. They were just
dating for God's sake! Having
a good time. Enjoying each
other. Claire shook her head
again. "Brian, I don't, .
"Wait! Before you answer, pack your
bags." He jumped to his
feet and cupped her shoulders in his hands. "I'm taking you away for a romantic vacation."
"Now?" she asked in an unusually high voice
while her head continued to shake back and forth.
now. Pack warm clothes because
we're going to Montana."
She wondered what
could possibly be of interest in such a remote location. "What about work?"
people capable of running the company for a few days. I've got vacation time coming. Let's just go, babe. Come on!"
Claire. You've gotten into my
system, into my heart."
He sipped on her lips, then leveled a serious gaze on her. "Come on, babe. Let's go away. I'll prove to you that we have to
be together. Come on."
She caught the
corner of her bottom lip between her teeth, a nervous habit she'd yet to
break, and remained silent.
he said, his tone and expression coaxing. "What have you got to lose? Even if I don't convince you to
marry me, you could use a vacation.
Hell, after the year you've had, you deserve a vacation." He arched one eyebrow at her. "Just imagine all the wild,
uninhibited, sex we can have without the obligations of regular life to
That idea intrigued
her, and caused her to smile.