Authors: Katherine Garbera
Duke said, teasing himself with the idea of her voice painting sensual images.
Cami smiled widely and closed her eyes. “This man of mine is a white knight of old. He's fought hard in battle and lost everything dear to him, but he craves ties to the land and the future. He sees me in his future. He sees past my surface to the passionate woman underneath. The woman I've always longed to be. He unlocks me from my slumber as surely as Prince Charming awakened Sleeping Beauty with one pure kiss.”
Duke stared down at Cami. Her eyes were closed, her head tipped back and her body pressed to his. He realized she must be a virgin. Only a woman who'd never shared her body with a man would expect a pure kiss to awaken her desire. Only a woman as sweet as Cami would share the fantasy of her soul with him. And it moved him.
But could it move him to
Welcome to Silhouette Desire, the ultimate treat for Valentine's Dayâwe promise you will find six passionate, powerful and provocative romances every month! And here's what you can indulge yourself with this Februaryâ¦.
The fabulous Peggy Moreland brings you February's MAN OF THE MONTH,
The Way to a Rancher's Heart.
You'll be enticed by this gruff widowed rancher who must let down his guard for the sake of a younger woman.
The exciting Desire miniseries TEXAS CATTLEMAN'S CLUB: LONE STAR JEWELS continues with
World's Most Eligible Texan
by Sara Orwig. A world-weary diplomat finds loveâand fatherhoodâafter making a Plain Jane schoolteacher pregnant with his child.
The American Earl
is an office romance featuring the son of a British earl who falls for his American employee. In
by Katherine Garbera, an ugly-duckling heroine transforms herself into a swan to win the love of an alpha male. Kate Little tells the story of a wealthy bachelor captivated by the woman he was trying to protect his younger brother from in
The Millionaire Takes a Bride.
And Kristi Gold offers
His Sheltering Arms
, in which a macho ex-cop finds love with the woman he protects.
Make this Valentine's Day extra-special by spoiling yourself with all six of these alluring Desire titles!
Joan Marlow Golan
Senior Editor, Silhouette Desire
The Bachelor Next Door
Her Baby's Father
wrote her first novel to prove to herself she could do it, and was hooked on writing. Exploring the nuances of the male/female relationship fascinates her, and she loves developing characters who have to stretch and grow. She is a past recipient of the Georgia Romance Writers' Maggie Award and a member of Romance Writers of America. When she is not writing, Katherine spends her time with her husband of ten years and their two children. She loves to hear from her readers; you can write to her at P.O. Box 1806, Davenport, FL 33836.
For Danielle Smith and Linda Beardsley. Thanks for the
shared laughter, love, memories, clothes and opinions.
The best part of growing up was having you both
as my sisters. I'm so glad I wasn't an only child!
Thanks to Jennifer Nauss, who helped me find the gold
in the dross even when it was buried very deep!
I'd also like to thank all of the different critique partners
I've had since I started writing. Each of you has given
me something as different and unique as you are.
You have my sincere appreciation, since I know I do not
produce very clean copy. Sue Weldon, Ruth Owen,
Freddie Martin, Mary Louise Wells
and Mary Jane Carroll.
Lastly, I want to thank my husband for his unending
support and my kids for being so excited whenever
Mommy sells a bookâeven though they don't know
what that means.
old the elevator,” a soft feminine voice called.
Duke Merchon reached out and blocked the doors from closing. The woman who entered was short, not even clearing his breastbone. Her dress, a busy print of colors and shapes, hung loosely on her frame. Intelligent brown eyes glanced up at him from behind a pair of horn-rims. Though there was nothing spectacular about her, she radiated frenetic energy.
“Thanks.” She flashed him a quirky grin. “I'm late as it is and since I'm on my way to meet with the big cheese, I didn't think I should wait for the next elevator.”
Duke leaned against the back wall and watched as she worked the crowded elevator. In spite of the smothering Atlanta heat, she smiled at everyone and made breezy small talk. He found himself thinking of an ice-cream cone on a stifling summer's day.
Slowly the elevator emptied until only the two of them remained. On ten, the doors closed but the car didn't move. Duke waited. One of the tasks of his team was to ensure the safety of the inhabitants of the executive level. While his security force didn't monitor the elevators constantly, they made sure company policies were observed whenever they rode in them.
“Aren't you getting off here?” she asked, switching her leather case to her right hand.
“No, my office is on twelve.”
She smiled and tilted her head to one side. “I'm going to have to trust you.”
She then leaned forward and punched in the code to access the upper levels. How could she trust him? he wondered. They'd only just met. In fact, as head of security he ought to have her hauled in for interrogation. He hit the stop button.
“Miss, there's a company policy against entering the code to reach the upper levels without identifying the people traveling in the car.”
“Cami Jones, normally research librarian but for the next three months, event coordinator.”
Her name was vaguely familiar; they'd be working together soon. He wanted to smile at the way
she'd said it. As if she were uncomfortable with her new role. “Duke Merchon, vice president of security.”
With great drama she dropped her leather case and offered up her wrists to him. “Cart me away.”
He bit the inside of his lip to keep from laughing. Something about this woman made him want to smile. But smiling invited friendliness and friendliness led to connections and bonds. And bonds led to tragedy. He stabbed the button to start the elevator moving again, and the car carried them to the fourteenth floor.
She picked up her case and walked out of the elevator before turning back to him. “I thought your office was on twelve.”
“Okay. Goodbye, Mr. Merchon.”
Her hips swayed gently as she walked away. Awareness suddenly shot through him, tightening his skin until it felt too tight for his body. She was curvy and sweet, and totally feminine. Everything he could never have. But he watched her, anyway, and wanted her.
His control weakened and his groin tightened. He was tempted to flirt with her in a way he hadn't flirted in years.
But, thrusting his fingers into his pocket, he touched Rebecca's ring. He never left home without the ring. It was his personal talisman. He wasn't a man cut out for relationships. He wasn't interested
in some femininely sweet woman or her nine-to-five grind. When it came to love, he had destructive tendencies.
Even though he was an invited attendee, Duke felt a bit like a stalker as he followed Cami Jones into the conference room. But when Max waved him over, Duke approached the CEO of Pryce Enterprises with ease.
Duke saw all kinds of people in his role as head of security for the company and as personal security guard to Max Williams. Pryce Enterprises was a communications conglomerate that owned a television network, an all-news cable channel and a digital network. Max, who had taken the helm four years ago, had brought Duke with him to Pryce, but Duke had never felt at home in Atlanta.
Too many memories surrounded him here.
He glanced at her again and found her watching him with wide eyes and flushed cheeks. Would she look like that after making love?
Cami Jones wasn't the kind of woman he would normally find attractive, but her spunk had grabbed his attention and that spark of desire disturbed him. His body had betrayed him on the job, where he was always all business.
She looked like a fairy as she flitted across the room, moving from person to person and smiling as though she had a secret. He watched as she set up the easels and flip charts for her presentation.
Duke didn't normally attend executive committee meetingsâhe wasn't much of a team playerâand Max allowed him the luxury of not attending. It was
hard to investigate a friend for fraud and remember to whom you owed your loyalty. And in Duke's role as V.P. of security, he headed up all embezzlement investigations. Duke would never betray Max. They'd been through too much together. Max had offered him a job overseas when he'd needed to escape the familiar.
Recent threats to the board of directors had allowed him no choice in the matter of attending the weekly meetings and so here he wasâat the same place as the rather average-but-tempting Cami Jones. Slowly the room filled and everyone took their seats, jockeying for the prime positions next to Max.
“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,” Cami said, calling the meeting to order. “This year's Gala promises to be more exciting than last year's. I have a mock-up of the themed ballroom andâ”
Gatorboard posters flew one way and index cards the other as she backed into the easels she'd just set up. Duke bit back a laugh just as Max glanced over at him and motioned for him to help her out.
Duke stood to assist the struggling young woman. He accepted the fact that he was able to shoulder the burdens of others. It had been a long time since he'd encountered a woman who needed his strength more than this sexy pixie. He'd been the strong one his entire life, and it seemed the role for which he was best suited.
Cami Jones muttered as he bent beside her and helped her right the boards. Her voice was soft, not nearly as melodious as it had been earlier.
Duke had never before seen anyone drop an entire presentation in front of the board of directors. He'd seen them nervous and arrogant, but not funny. After having witnessed her charm and ease with the strangers in the elevator, her attack of nerves now surprised him.
“Nothing,” she said quietly, adjusting her glasses. She laid her small hand on his arm, used him for balance, and stood.
The warmth of her personal touch penetrated the fabric layers in his jacket and revived the desire he'd banked in the hallway. It had been years since anyone had touched him in a way that wasn't sexual in intent. And that non-personal touch sparked a carnal fire that burned through him.
Maybe it's time to start dating again.
He quickly helped her to settle her presentation boards back on the easels before he stepped back.
Working with the event coordinator this year was going to be more difficult than he'd anticipated. As head of security, he was responsible for overseeing security for the Gala, the culmination of the annual meeting and celebration of the company's founding. The network stars were usually the only celebrities who attended but with Max angling to buy a hockey team, this year there would probably be a few athletes in attendance. For the first time in five years, the entire board of directors would attend the annual Gala.
Ms. Jones wasn't the safe, predictable plain Jane she tried so hard to project. There was something
about her he couldn't ignore. He shouldn't be turned on by her. He shouldn't desire her or want to be near her.
Definitely time to start dating again.
When she picked up her laser pointer, Duke wondered what she'd do next. She began her presentation, then realized the cards were out of order. She bit her lip, which drew his gaze to her mouth. Her lips looked soft and sweet and he wanted nothing more than to taste them. Her full lower lip actually invited a man to kiss her.
He should know better. The woman at the end of the table wasn't his type. She wasn't rough-and-tumble or outgoing. In fact, she seemed too ethereal for him.
He couldn't take his eyes off her. As she found her ground and made her way through her presentation, her passion and zest for life came through loud and clear.
Passion for living seldom survived an upbringing such as his. Though the orphanage had been a fair placeâDuke had never been mistreatedâhe'd never known affection. It was obvious Cami Jones had been loved. Despite her nervousness, she showered her kindness on everyone in the room with her smiles and nervous giggles.
Duke leaned against the cherrywood paneling and listened to the woman in front of him. Her soft voice charmed him with quiet confidence though she concentrated on her notes as if they held the key to her composure. And maybe they did, he thought.
She exuded intelligence but not enough confi
dence. He thought about calling a time-outâthe way he had when he was a boy to whisper a change of plans to his buddiesâto tell her to never let the enemy see her weakness.
But his buddies had all deserted him long ago. An orphan's life was subject to constant change, and his lifestyle had been very much the norm. Besides, time-outs didn't work in “real” life. He thrust his hand deep into the pocket of his suit and fiddled through the change to the ringâthe talisman of his “real” life.
“Organizing an event of this magnitude will take a lot of skill, but I'm confident we can top last year's event easily with the right woman behind the scenes,” she said.
“Very well, Ms. Jones. You've convinced us you're the woman for the job,” said Max.
Max was everything Duke wasn'tâsuave, sophisticated, part of a loving family. Someone around the table snickered, and Duke wondered who would be so unkind to this lady. She seemed out of her element in a room of jaded executives who'd seen and done everything. She seemed almostâ¦
It was silly really, considering the way she moved as if she were about to spontaneously combust, but he had the strangest urge to protect her. To swoop down and cover her with his dark wings until the threat passed.
Max gave her a charming smile, and the blush of embarrassment faded from her cheeks. “Despite the way you started your presentation, Ms. Jones,
I'm sure you'll handle the Gala well. I've asked Duke Merchon, our head of security, to work with you on this event.”
“Are there security issues? I wasn't aware the team was involved this early last year.”
“There are issues, and Mr. Merchon will brief you on them,” Max said.
Duke stepped forward to take her hand. As a rule he avoided handshakes. Having spent the past four years in Japan with the CEO of Pryce Enterprises, he preferred the Japanese custom of bowing. Being back in the U.S. meant practicing American customs.
As he grasped her hand, a tingle ran up his arm, proving their first touch hadn't been a fluke. Such a small hand, he thought. Yet her fingers were long and for a moment he imagined them on his body, her long nails scraping against his flesh. He glanced again at the woman. What did his body sense that his mind missed? She wasn't his type.
She was diminutive, delicate, fragile even. The kind of person who would be easily destroyed by the darkness inside him. Through the thin layer of glass he looked into her deep brown eyes and foundâ¦
She met his gaze but glanced quickly away. He had that effect on women. His deceased wife, Rebecca, used to say he could quiet a room of chattering women in .85 seconds flat. It seemed to still hold true.
“I look forward to working with you, Mr. Merchon,” she said.
He suspected she didn't. She was the bookish kind of woman who preferred to work alone. But she had the potential to be the star at center stage.
He nodded. “Call me Duke.”
“And I'm Cami.”
He didn't believe in idle chitchat as a rule and didn't engage in small talk unless necessary. It wasn't that he couldn't be polite. It was just that he'd never led a soft life and the ability to be social when he didn't want to be had long since burned out of him. “Let me help you carry your presentation to the elevator.”
She shoved her boards into a leather case then reached for her purse. “Thanks, but I've got it.”
She stepped toward the door as it opened toward her. Her leather attachÃ© flew in one direction and she lost her balance, but Duke grabbed her and the case. Working with her was going to be a challenge; he liked to control his environment. Something about Cami Jones said she wasn't predictable. Probably the biggest challenge he'd faced since he'd started working for Pryce. He was surprised she hadn't done herself in before now.
“I'm afraid I'll have to insist on helping you.”
She aimed him a crooked smile. “Are you afraid Pryce doesn't have enough liability coverage to cover my workers' comp claim?”
Having been taught to always be kind, he shrugged. “Let's just say it's the gentlemanly thing to do.”
“It's okay,” she said as they walked through the
doors and waited for the elevator. “I know what you're afraid of.”
Duke knew then this woman was more than she seemed. How did she look at him and see fear when everyone else saw strength?
“Do tell,” he invited.
“The long empty shaft behind the elevator doors is just too much of a temptation for a klutz like me.”
She blinked at him and laughed, hiding her mouth behind her hand and not meeting his gaze.
Cami had a sense of humor and, although his professional demeanor didn't change, he wanted to laugh out loud.
She stepped into the elevator. “The world won't end if you crack a smile.”