He won the auction…
Vanessa Partridge has a good reason for wanting the manuscript offered at auction – it is her twin babies’ legacy. But she doesn’t count on the winning bidder, financial guru Chase Harrington, showing up on her doorstep.
Now he wants the woman
Chase has a new obsession – Vanessa. There’s more to the former-socialite-turned-working-single-mom than meets the eye- and he’s going to find it. He’s got secrets of his own – secrets threatened by the sexy Vanessa. More than anything, Chase wants to give in to their sizzling attraction- but can he afford to play with fire?
Harlequin Desire ~ North America – October 2012 / Australia/NZ – November 2012
Lost, lost, lost. Vanessa’s red-heeled Louboutins tattooed out that one word as she clacked down Waverly’s polished hall, her throat thick with disappointment.
Her failure had been briefly overshadowed by seeing Ann Richardson, her sister’s college roommate, and for a few minutes she was simply Juliet’s sister exchanging friendly chatter and playing catch-up.
“Juliet’s in Washington for a few weeks, you know,” Vanessa had said. “You should give her a call and we could do lunch sometime. That is,” she amended, belatedly recalling the recent sensational headlines, “if you’re not too busy.”
Ann smiled. “I’m always busy. But it is tempting. A chance to get away from the city would be welcome.”
Vanessa knew how she felt.
They chatted about the auction for a few minutes, then Vanessa’s family, until she regretfully mentioned her flight and Ann offered the use of her car. She wanted to refuse, but the truth was a chauffeured ride would provide more privacy than a New York cabdriver.
Privacy to wallow in her failure.
Gone, gone, gone, her heels continued to tap out on the white marbled floor.
She’d bid as high as she could, but her grandmother’s considerable trust fund just wasn’t enough. Sorry, Meme. She sighed as she tied her coat belt with a swift tug. I know you’d think I was crazy for wanting something from that man. But you always said a family legacy was one of the most important gifts you can give your children.
And all she’d gotten for her trouble was a bunch of aching muscles from pulling her shoulders straight, a painful reward for donning that familiar air of cool world-weariness designed to keep any curious onlookers at bay.
She kept up the brisk pace, her face still tight as she passed by an ornate mirror.
It had been so long since she’d needed her game face, but old ways died hard. Well, of course they did. It’s been drummed into you since you were five years old. And for twenty-two more she’d lived it with outward acceptance. “You are a Partridge,” was her father’s favorite lecture. “Your forefathers were one of the founding families of this great city of Washington. You do not show weakness or vulnerability and you never, ever do anything to taint the noble legacy of those ancestors.”
She grabbed the door handle as emotion tumbled inside. Well, she’d well and truly tainted that legacy; she’d not only thrown away a career in law for a teaching degree, then quit the position her father had arranged at the exclusively private Winchester Prep: she’d ended up unwed and pregnant. In the eyes of the great Allen Partridge, that was a bigger offense than her teaching job at Bright Stars Nursery School. She’d felt his scorn and disappointment for days under his roof until she’d finally decided to move.
“Excuse me.” A large male hand suddenly slapped on the door, shoving it closed and breaking her thoughts.
“What do you think you’re..?” She whirled, but the rest of her sentence petered off as she stared up into a pair of angry blue eyes. Nice face. Very nice face. No, wait! It was Mr. Million Dollars, the smug suit who’d won what should have been hers. “…doing?” she finished in irritation.
She put her weight on the back foot, creating distance even as her fingers tightened on her handbag.
Animosity seeped from every pore of his sharply dressed body, broad shoulders straight, cool arrogance lining an impressively striking face. Tanned skin, chiseled jaw. Her inner artist paused to admire the view. Classically handsome, really…
“Who are you?” he barked.
She blinked, the spell broken. “None of your business. Who are you?”
“Someone who can make a lot of trouble for you. How do you know Ann Richardson?”
Vanessa shoved her handbag strap up her shoulder. “Again, none of your business. Now, if you’ll excuse me?”
The man refused to budge, preferring instead to stare her down.
Yeah, good luck with that, buddy.
She raised one condescending eyebrow then slowly crossed her arms. “Do I need to call security?”
“Oh, go right ahead. I’m sure they’ll be interested in your story.”
What? Confusion spiked, followed quickly by a thread of worry. She drew in a sharp breath. “Look, I don’t know who you think I am or what I’ve-”
He snorted. “Cut the crap. I know exactly what you’ve been doing. The question is, do you want to come clean or should I do it for you?”
The cold steel in his voice matched his eyes, slicing through her tough protective shell in one swift movement.
“Come clean?” she said faintly.
“Yeah. And I’m sure I could wrangle a few reporters interested enough to run a story.”
Shock stole her voice, her breath. How could he know? No one knew. Her hand flew to her throat, her fingers tightening around her woollen collar.
Yet as he stood there, bristling and combative as he invaded her personal space, a thought began to grow inside, pushing past her outrage and fear. What was it her father always said? “Until there’s irrefutable evidence, never admit to anything.”
Wow, it did help to have a defense lawyer in the family.
A shot of resolve forced her hand into a tight fist by her side. Quickly she called on every tired muscle to straighten her already ramrod back as she inhaled, filling her lungs with self-assurance.
“And what story would that be?” she said calmly, pinning him with her direct gaze.
His murmur of disbelief annoyed the hell out of her. “Shill bidding.”
She blinked. “What?”
“A plant, bidding against-”
“Legitimate bidders to bump up the price. Yes, I know what it is. And you… you-” she released a relieved breath “-are out of your mind.”
“Are you denying you know Ann Richardson?”
Vanessa’s mouth tightened. “Of course I know her- she was my sister’s college roommate.”
The stranger’s expression turned shrewd. “Right.” His gaze swept over her, scrutinizing, studying. Frankly contemptuous in his perusal.
That faint sheen of worry started up again, sending a shiver down her spine. Careful, Ness. “It’s true, and very easily proved.”
“Of course it is.”
“Harrington. Chase Harrington.”
“Mr. Harrington. You won the auction. You are now the proud owner of the rare and precious hand-notated copy of DB Dunbar’s final book-” Her voice nearly cracked then, but she swallowed and forged on. “So go and pay Waverly’s and enjoy your prize. Now, if you’ll excuse me…”
“So why were you bidding on Dunbar’s manuscript?”
She dug around in her bag for her sunglasses. “Why did everyone else in that room want it?”
“I’m asking you, not them.”
With a deliberately bored shrug, she slid her glasses on. “I hate waiting. Especially for a DB Dunbar.”
He crossed his arms, his expression part skeptical, part disgusted. “You couldn’t wait six months.”
The stress of the past few years, the tense auction, missing her babies and the frantic craziness of New York had done their damage, steadily chipping away at her control. And now this… this… arrogant SOB in her face. She’d had enough.
Resentment surged through her veins, heating her face and pulling her shoulders back. She shoved her glasses on her head then tipped her chin up, giving him her haughtiest death stare.
“You know what? You got me. You want to know who I am?” When she took an aggressive step forward, surprise flashed across his face, and empowered, she took another. “I was Dunbar’s secret girlfriend, he left me with nothing and I was bidding on that manuscript so I could wait a few months, then flog it off for a nice little profit when his book came out. That sound about right to you?”
She punctuated every word with a pointing finger, until finally she paused, a bare inch away from poking that finger into his broad chest.
His eyes were a sharp, clear blue, the kind of blue reserved for movie stars and rock gods. Yet strangely, it reminded her of a perfect Colorado winter, the morning after the first snowfall.
Contact lenses, probably. His whole persona screamed money and entitlement, and with that, ego and vanity came hand in hand. Yet as she paused, breath pumping from her lungs and fists now on hips, his gaze flicked to her mouth.
The moment flared, so sudden and intense that Vanessa sucked in a gasp. Her anger shorted out as awareness flooded in, infinite possibilities and anticipation threading through the air, binding them.
It left her reeling.
Chase couldn’t help but notice how wide those green eyes had become. Innocent eyes, he would’ve said, if not for the fact that she’d spent the last twenty seconds practically screaming her crazy scenario at him.
And boy, a woman with a mouth that good was as far from innocent as he was.
He dragged in a breath, then quickly exhaled when he realized it was all her. Something vanilla, plus something else… soft and powdery, familiar yet unable to place.
Princess smelled amazing, and that pissed him off because the last thing he needed was a raging attraction to her. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. He didn’t do commitment or Perfects.
Control. He had to get control.
“Miss Partridge?” came a voice, and as one, they both sprung back and turned.
A uniformed man stood there, a cap tucked under his arm.
“Yes?” she said, her chin going up, eyebrows raised in an imperious “why are you interrupting me” expression.
“Miss Richardson said to inform you her car is ready for you. Where would you like to go?”
She spared Chase a haughty look. “JFK, thanks.” And without another word, she turned on her heel and followed the driver down the long corridor.
She had the rounded tones and patrician air that clenched every muscle in Chase’s body, sending it onto high alert. She even had the walk down pat, he realized, watching her hips sway beneath that tight black skirt, her precise footsteps in killer heels eating up the hall. Part hypnotic, part infuriating, that arrogant walk told him she knew exactly where his eyes were focused. He’d bet a thousand bucks a smug smile was plastered all over that beautiful face, too.
With hands on his hips he glared at her back until she turned the corner and finally disappeared.
She hadn’t declared her innocence or answered his questions. And now he had a name – Partridge. Which meant this was far from over.