Authors: Francis Ray
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Fallon Nicole Marshall had always considered herself cool under pressure. After all, she was a well-respected travel writer for some of the top magazines in the country. She routinely dealt with tight deadlines, demanding editors, computer glitches, and uncooperative people. She’d baked in 107 degrees, frozen in 6 below, to get a story and just the right photographs. She had the patience of Job and the tenacity of a terrier. Nothing—if you didn’t consider her need for two cups of coffee each morning—got the best of her anymore. She’d been there, done that.
Or so she’d mistakenly thought.
Slowing down on the highway, Fallon put on her signal and turned her rental onto the paved road three miles out of Santa Fe. Her slim fingers flexed on the steering wheel of the late-model Taurus. She was only marginally pleased that they weren’t damp with perspiration. She might be a bit nervous about obtaining information for her next story, but at least she wasn’t showing her frayed nerves on meeting Lance Saxton again.
It was perfectly understandable that she felt apprehensive—after all, she had been, well, rather abrupt to Lance Saxton two weeks ago when they’d first met. She’d practically accused him of being a thief and walked away from him in self-righteous indignation. Although he had to share some of the blame for that crack about “not handling their financial responsibilities correctly,” she had to take her share as well.
She freely admitted that since her mother had been swindled by the unscrupulous owner of an auction house and Lance owned an auction house she had judged quickly and harshly.
And she’d been wrong.
She hadn’t discovered her mistake until recently. Naomi Reese, her friend and neighbor, had insisted Fallon read an article about Lance in
magazine. Fallon had turned up her nose and ignored the sudden thump of her heart on seeing a picture of Lance in an expensive navy pin-striped suit standing in front of Saxton Auction House, but she’d read the article.
In less than a minute she’d known she’d been wrong. She’d handed the magazine back to Naomi, thanked her, and gone home, telling herself if the opportunity ever presented itself she’d apologize, fully aware that she wasn’t going to initiate the contact. That changed a few days ago.
Now she needed Lance Saxton to gain access to the Yates home for the article she planned to write. He might toss her out; then again, he might not. There was only one way to find out.
Moments later the red-barrel roof of a house came into view; then as she rounded a curve she saw the sprawling Yates house. She slowed and came to a complete stop. It was simply beautiful with the afternoon sun shining on the roof and the adobe exterior. She could easily imagine coming home from work or a trip and catching the first glimpse of the house. She didn’t even live there and yet she felt a sort of calming peace. One day she’d have a house, a family, but for now she enjoyed her job. She loved to travel and was paid well to visit and write about some of the most exciting places in the world.
The last thought had her squaring her shoulders. She was good at what she did. Nothing had ever stopped her in the past, and she wouldn’t allow Lance Saxton to be the first.
Putting the car into motion, she continued down the mile-long road and parked on the circular driveway in front of the massive red double doors, reasoning if Lance threw her out, she wouldn’t have far to go to her car. Getting out, she again studied the sprawling two-story house.
The home was originally built in the 1920s by oil mogul Thaddeus Yates. He liked the Southwest and chose Santa Fe as his base when he wanted to relax and get away from Lubbock, Texas. After his death, his only child and daughter, Colleen, expanded the six-thousand-square-foot home another five thousand square feet to include a loggia and pool house. Her son did more renovation on the house plus extensive landscaping, turning the usually parched grounds of the area into a verdant paradise with lush green grass and a rainbow of flower hues.
Fallon hadn’t seen grass so lush since she’d left her hometown of Austin four months ago. She was tempted to slip off her sandals and let the grass tickle her toes. She refrained. All she needed was for Lance to see her and think she was a nutcase. Still, with less than twelve inches of rain yearly in Santa Fe, it would cost a small fortune to maintain the grounds.
Through research she’d learned that the single male heir and last owner had died six months ago from injuries sustained in a skiing accident. Banks sometimes paid for minor upkeep, but nothing more.
Fallon realized she was stalling, and with good reason. She wasn’t looking forward to ringing the doorbell and meeting Lance Saxton again. She didn’t mind admitting she was wrong so much as she didn’t like the idea of making that admission to a man she had a mild attraction to. She’d like to think he’d caught her at a weak moment, but that would be a lie. She traveled so much she didn’t have time for a relationship, and she valued herself too much to have meaningless affairs.
Yet her girlie antenna had zinged the instant she had looked into Lance’s midnight black eyes. He had the “Y” yummy factor in spades: at least six feet four, in sinful jeans and a white polo that delineated hard muscles. She had almost fantasized about the naughty things he could whisper in her ear—until she learned what he did for a living. And went as cold as an iceberg on the man.
Sighing, Fallon removed her camera from the case, looped the strap around her neck, and grabbed her notebook. Standing there wouldn’t get the job done. Closing the car door, she followed the paved path to the wide double doors, all the time telling herself that this was a story like all the hundreds, probably thousands, she’d written in the past.
It was her job as a travel writer to point out the new and unusual, the best places to make that vacation or staycation exciting, fun, and memorable. Reading about the auction in the newspaper had given her an idea for a story—that of leaving time on the schedule for something unexpected, like an auction.
The Yates home was a piece of history that would soon be gone … just as her family’s heirlooms and antiques were gone. She’d never forgive the owner of the auction house who had cheated her mother and made their lives miserable when Fallon was seventeen, but she’d been wrong to lump Lance with the crook.
The Yates possessions weren’t going to be lowballed as the Marshalls’ had been. Lance Saxton, although new to the auction scene, had a sterling reputation as a savvy businessman with a Midas touch. Whatever he touched succeeded in spades. The Yates auction would only be his second in the three months since he’d opened Saxton Auction House. The other had been in Tucson, where his office was located, and hugely successful. The retired movie star’s possessions had sold out after the second day of the four-day sale.
Fallon realized she was stalling. Again. She hadn’t called for an appointment. She honestly hadn’t known what to say.
Hey, I’m sorry I accused you of being a thief, but I have this great idea for a story and two editors are interested, so let’s forget about our first meeting.
If the positions were reversed, she would have thrown him out. She had a bit of a temper—which had gotten her into this mess.
So, she’d taken the coward’s way and asked his cousin, Richard Youngblood, if he thought Lance would be at the Yates house working. Richard had been at his fiancée Naomi’s apartment that morning eating breakfast and discussing wedding plans. They were as giddy as teenagers and so much in love. Fallon was happy for both of them, especially after what Naomi had gone through.
Declining the offer of breakfast, Fallon had gone back to her place next door to leave them alone. Or as much as possible with Naomi’s five-year-old daughter, Kayla, with them. Neither Richard nor Naomi seemed to mind. That had been hours ago. It was almost two. It had taken Fallon this long to work up the courage to drive out.
Blowing out a breath, Fallon rang the doorbell.
* * *
In the small library of the Yates house that Lance Saxton had taken for his office, he slowly lifted his head when he heard the doorbell. He’d been waiting for the sound since Richard called that morning to tell him that Fallon had asked if he would be there. To Richard’s “Don’t blow your second chance,” Lance had said nothing.
Since Lance didn’t have any other appointments and he wasn’t expecting any deliveries, he reasoned it was Fallon Marshall. His hand flexed on the pen in his hand. It didn’t take much to visualize the stunning woman with long curly hair, bedroom brown eyes, model cheekbones, and lips to drive a man crazy. For some reason—perhaps because Richard was in such a great mood and Lance could tell his cousin was finally interested in a woman—the moment they’d met Lance had found himself attracted to Fallon.
It was the first time in months he’d had more than a passing interest in a woman. He’d honestly thought he had written women off except for the occasional ones he took to bed. It was purely physical for both of them: easily had and easier forgotten.
The chime came again. This was the housekeeper’s half day off. The people he’d hired to help catalog the house contents for the auction had driven into town for a late lunch. There was no one there but him. If he didn’t answer, Fallon would leave and he wouldn’t have to worry about forgetting his long-ago promise of steering clear of women he couldn’t easily walk away from. Yet he found himself coming to his feet and leaving the office. Fallon was just a woman.
Opening the front door, he had to revise his earlier thought about Fallon. She was stunning in a raspberry knit top and white walking shorts. Her eyes were just as captivating as before, her mouth just as tempting. His hand clamped on the doorknob as they continued to stare at each other. He wouldn’t be the first to speak. She had called him a thief.
“Hello, Lance. I guess you’re surprised to see me.”
“That’s putting it mildly.”
Before saying “I’m not sure if you remember or not, but I’m a travel writer,” Fallon ran her tongue over those lips he’d dreamed about.
Since his mouth was dry, he simply nodded. Fallon was too much of a temptation. As soon as possible he was sending her on her way.
“I read about this place and the auction you’re having. I came up with the idea for an article.” She glanced around the yard. “This house might not be on the historical society’s register, but it has a lot of history that will be lost once the auction is over. I’d like to preserve that.”
“By doing a story,” he said, unable to keep the derision out of his voice. Another person who wanted to profit from the misfortune of others. And she’d thought
Her eyes narrowed briefly; then she shifted back to him, inadvertently making her breasts in the knit top jut forward. Lance gritted his teeth and opened his mouth to tell her good-bye, but she finally spoke.
“Not just a story. I want to bring the history of the house and the people who lived here to life. I also want to let readers know that it’s all right not to plan every second of a vacation. Wonderful opportunities like this auction might present themselves. I’ve done a bit of research on the house already.”