Authors: Sandra Brown
Table of Contents
PRAISE FOR SANDRA BROWN
“Romance fans will want to curl up with this one.”
“A very fast-paced, quick read. Delightful.”
“Read with a hanky close by.”
—The Tampa Tribune
“A novelist who can’t write fast enough.”
—San Antonio Express-News
“Author Sandra Brown proves herself top-notch.”
“Nobody in the ’90s has had more hits. . . . Brown’s storytelling gift [is] surprisingly rare, even among crowd-pleasers.”
“She knows how to keep the tension high and the plot twisting and turning.”
You have my wholehearted thanks for the interest and
enthusiasm you’ve shown for my Loveswept romances over
the past decade. I’m enormously pleased that the enjoyment I derived from writing them was contagious. Obviously
you share my fondness for love stories that always end happily and leave us with a warm inner glow.
Nothing quite equals the excitement one experiences
when falling in love. In each romance, I tried to capture
that excitement. The settings and characters and plots
changed, but that was the recurring theme.
Something in all of us delights in lovers and their uneven pursuit of fulfillment and happiness. Indeed, the pursuit is half the fun! I became deeply involved with each
pair of lovers and their unique story. As though paying a
visit to old friends for whom I played matchmaker, I often
reread their stories myself.
I hope you enjoy this encore edition of one of my personal favorites.
— SANDRA BROWN
“I let myself in.”
He hadn’t known she wore eyeglasses until her head snapped up at the unexpected sound of his voice. She whipped them off and dropped them on the stack of manuscript pages lying on the Queen Anne desk in front of her. Her red pen, too, fell from her fingers onto the manuscript. One hand momentarily covered her left breast as though to still a pounding heart.
“You startled me, Mr. North.”
“Sorry. Actually I’m perfectly harmless.” Compared to the bright, pristine room, he figured he looked like something that had suckled at the tattooed breast of one of Hell’s Angels. Her haughty expression told him he didn’t belong here. Smiling covertly, he set his canvas duffel bag down near his feet and slid off his sunglasses. “I knocked on the front door, but no one answered.”
“Maybe you should have tried the bell.”
She was miffed all right, he thought. One hundred pounds . . . and that was a generous guess . . . of irritated female. Prickly broad, wasn’t she? Were these first few moments going to set the tone for the next several weeks? Not if he had anything to do with it.
One of his knees unlocked, throwing his body slightly off center and into that thigh-melting, mouth-drying, heart-stopping stance that had beaten Farrah Fawcett’s poster as the all-time bestseller.
“Should I try another entrance?” He curved his sullen mouth into the suggestive smile that was as famous as his arrogant stance. “Obviously my timing was off on this one.”
She didn’t return his smile. “Why bother? You’re in.”
She stood up and walked around the desk. Not until she had taken a few steps across the terrazzo tile floor did he notice that she was barefoot. She caught him looking at her bare feet, but she didn’t apologize for them or go through any of those flustered motions and babbling apologies that women usually do when caught in dishabille.
Her small face was set in an expression that strongly suggested, “If you don’t like my bare feet, that’s just too damn bad.”
What she was better off not knowing was that he liked her bare feet. A lot. So far, he liked everything he saw, from the top of her glossy, dark hair to those ten, tempting toes. She was wearing white jeans, which fitted her a tad too well. In contrast, her white shirt was at least three sizes too large for her, somehow far sexier than a skin-hugging T-shirt would have been. The wide sleeves had been rolled back almost to her elbows, and the hem was brushing her thighs. It looked like a hand-me-down man’s dress shirt. He wondered if it might have belonged to her late husband.
In any event, she was adorable.
“Did I catch you at work?” he asked.
“Yes, you did.”
“On the book?”
“Forgive the interruption. I know how hard it is to pick up a thought once it’s interrupted.”
Impatiently, she pushed her fringe of bangs off her forehead. “My housekeeper went to the market, so I’ll show you to your room. Where’s your luggage?”
He nodded at the ugly duffel bag. One split seam had been haphazardly repaired with silver duct tape. Scuffed, scarred, and stained, it looked like the sole survivor of a baggage handlers’ training convention.
“I left my Louis Vuitton at home,” he drawled sardonically. “This is all I can carry on my bike.”
She gazed at him and his duffel bag with repugnance. He wanted to laugh, but didn’t dare. Instead he let his attention wander to the glass wall that provided a panoramic view of the beach far below and, beyond it, the Pacific Ocean.
“You came by motorcycle from L.A. ?” she asked. “You didn’t fly?”
“Depends on how you define ‘fly.’ The California Highway Patrol might have called it flying.” He grinned at her over his shoulder and slid his hands, palms out, into the holey, threadbare back pockets of his jeans. They had seen better days. Better years. “Terrific view.”
“Thank you. The view was one of the reasons Charlie and I bought the house.”
Pivoting on the heels of boots which no self-respecting cowboy, not even one down on his luck, would have been caught dead in, he faced her again. “Charlie? You didn’t call him Demon?”
“He was my husband, not my idol.”
His expressive hazel eyes, bridged by sleek black eyebrows whose arches were pointed at the apexes, focused on her. Most people thought that Rylan North’s incisive stare was a trick of camera angles and expert lighting, possibly a device the actor used to convey his vast range of emotions. But it was a natural, unaffected characteristic—one eyebrow a fraction of an inch higher than the other; thick, short, black lashes; unmoving, brown-speckled hazel irises.
Rylan didn’t deliberately subject her to that unsettling stare. He was only trying to gauge if there was a hidden meaning behind Mrs. Rumm’s words. Perhaps there wasn’t. But perhaps there was. He was there to find out. He watched her nervously wet her lips and decided that the odds were in favor of his intuition being right on target.
“If you’ll get your bag,” she said in a breathy voice, “I’ll show you to your room.”
“I like this room.” He wasn’t ready to be shuttled off into a back room like a disobedient child. He wanted to look at her some more.
“I’m working in here, Mr. North, and you’re a distraction.”
He learned something then. She didn’t like being teased. Her lips formed a pucker of disapproval. How far could he push before she lost the rigid control she imposed on herself? He was itching to know, but now wasn’t the time to test it, not when he’d just arrived. “Okay, I’ll leave you to your work while I soak up some scenery outside. Is that all right?”
He raised one foot, pulled off his boot and sock, and dropped them onto the floor. Then he did the same with the other foot. He took hold of the hem of his black T-shirt and peeled it over his head, ignoring her gasp of outraged surprise.
His shirt joined the heap of foot apparel on the floor. “Go back to work. I’ll see you later,” he casually tossed over his bare shoulder as he slid open the panel of glass and stepped through it. He walked around the swimming pool toward the steps that led down the rocky cliff to the beach, wondering if she was watching. He would have bet his next Oscar nomination that she was.
He was tempted to turn around and find out, but didn’t. He had an image to uphold, that of being an I-don’t-give-a-damn bastard where women were concerned. And I-don’t-give-a-damn bastards didn’t react to women no matter how attractive they were. He’d almost broken that unwritten law last week when Kirsten Rumm entered her lawyer’s office and they met for the first time.
The appointment had been arranged at his, Rylan’s, request. He had known the moment Mrs. Rumm came in, shoulders back, chin high, carriage militant, that she considered the meeting an imposition. Only her eyes had indicated any vulnerability. They had been wary.
Her tailored, linen business suit had made him ashamed of his appearance. He had been up late the night before reading the movie script and jotting dialogue revisions in the margins. That morning he had overslept and hadn’t taken the time to shave. He had dressed in the first clothes his hands had touched when he reached into the closet, a pair of slacks and a raw silk sport coat. Beneath the jacket, his partially unbuttoned shirt was wrinkled. Thank God the rumpled look was in.
He had been suffering a pounding headache from lack of sleep and had kept on his superdark sunglasses because his eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot. Without the sunglasses he looked like the habitual user of a controlled substance on the morning after a binge.
She wasn’t late; he and his agent had arrived early, the limo having made uncanny good time on the freeway. While waiting for her, the lawyer and his agent had fallen into boring conversation. He had assumed his characteristic slouch in one of the deep leather chairs and dozed until the fourth interested party arrived.
As it turned out, he had ended up being the interested party. Kirsten Rumm had carried into that austere, overly air-conditioned office the scent of flowers. Not the kind one could buy bottled in German lead crystal atomizers from the chic boutiques on Rodeo Drive. The kind of flowers Mrs. Rumm reminded Rylan of were freshly picked straight out of a grandmother’s garden after a soft rain.
If he had been wearing socks, the sight of her would have knocked them off.
He didn’t notice the crunching sound of his agent’s arthritic knees when he stood up for an introduction, nor did he pay any attention to her lawyer’s effusive greeting. For him the only sound in the room was the delicious, rustling whisper of one silk-encased thigh moving against the other as she crossed the carpeted floor.
“Mrs. Kirsten Rumm, Rylan North,” Mel, her lawyer said, introducing them.
It was public knowledge that Rylan North had the manners of a goat. The last thing he’d showed any respect for was the Pledge of Allegiance. He treated one and all with unpardonable rudeness. But upon being introduced to Kirsten Rumm, he rolled out of the chair to his feet and shook her hand just for the chance to touch her.
The bones in her hand were as fragile as they looked. He wanted to press both of her hands between his and assure her that everything would be all right. Why he immediately felt she needed that assurance, though, he couldn’t have said.
Her voice was like the rest of her, small, soft, and sexy. Like a tangible thing, it touched his lips; he wanted to taste it. It touched his sex; he wanted to make love to it. He was semihard before he even sat back down.
She took the straight-back chair Mel held for her. When she crossed her legs, Rylan caught a fleeting glimpse of her slip, cream-colored silk trimmed in lace the color of cocoa. He was glad he had kept on his sunglasses so that he could stare, without anybody knowing, at the deliciously forbidden spot where one shapely knee was bent over the other. She had beautiful calves and slender ankles.
The top half of her suit was . . . wraparound? Was that the fashion term? Anyway, it folded across her breasts. When she leaned forward slightly, the material gapped enough for him to see the bra that matched the slip, the curve of a breast, and lustrous skin that was tanned, but didn’t have that baked, leathery look of so many women who worshiped the Southern California sun. Her strand of pearls dipped into her bodice and lay in the shallow valley between her breasts. He became entranced by the rolling movement of those pearls across her tan line.
She looked as helpless as an ice cream cone in a steam bath, but she wasn’t. “Why am I here?” she asked bluntly, coming straight to the point after only a few banal pleasantries had been exchanged.
“I asked to see you,” Rylan replied.
She seemed reluctant to look at him, which was odd. He was accustomed to women staring at him with awestruck speechlessness. “I know that, but why, Mr. North?”
“I want to come live with you.”
For several moments she only stared at him blankly. Finally she looked at her lawyer and demanded, “What is this all about, Mel?”
“Exactly what Mr. North said. He . . . uh, he wants to move into the house with you for a while.”
His agent jumped in. “Rylan feels that it’s essential for him to occupy the same rooms that Demon Rumm did. That he
Mr. Rumm’s private lifestyle, experience it on a daily basis.”
She looked everywhere but at Rylan. He was tempted to remove his sunglasses since she found looking at him so disconcerting.
“Essential to what?” she asked after a brief silence.
“My characterization of your late husband,” he answered.
“The request might seem somewhat unorthodox,” his agent began to explain, “but not if you understand how Rylan works.”
“Exactly,” Rylan broke in. “And no one can explain that to Mrs. Rumm better than I. Leave us alone for a minute.”
He wasn’t used to asking nicely. His agent took the terse order in stride. Her lawyer seemed appalled, but allowed himself to be led outside after a nod from Kirsten. As the two men left, she recrossed her legs and assumed an unapproachable and uncompromising posture in her chair.
“I want to come stay in your house for a while,” Rylan repeated.
He wielded a lot of power in Hollywood. All he had to do was suggest that he wanted something and dozens of people began hustling around to see that he got it. But Kirsten Rumm wasn’t impressed with his lofty tone.
“I’m sorry, Mr. North. That’s impossible.”
“I’m trying to meet the deadline on my manuscript. My book and the movie adaptation are going to be released simultaneously.”
“I’m aware of that.”
“The publisher has extended my deadline twice already. I can’t ask for a third extension.”
“What has that got to do with my staying in your house?”
His hands were negligently draped over the padded arms of the leather chair. One foot, shod in Italian leather, was resting on the opposite knee. He was reclining on his spine in a pose that was so uniquely his he could have had it patented. Rylan wasn’t the least bit worried that his plan would fall through. On the contrary, since she had challenged his request, he was even more determined to get what he wanted. Why was the widow so resistant to this harmless idea? Did she have something to hide?