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Authors: Dianne Venetta

Tags: #romance, #suspense, #drama, #mystery, #family saga, #series, #tennessee, #ladd springs

Ladd Fortune (9 page)

BOOK: Ladd Fortune
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Malcolm turned from the ladies. Staring
at girls so young made him feel like a bit of a lech. Course it was
still early. It was possible Lacy would still show. Tossing back
another sip of whiskey, he pondered what he’d learned so far. Nick
was right on the money with Ladd Springs. After a guided tour from
Delaney, he was sold. The place was amazing. Acres and acres of
pristine beauty filled with natural wonder and quiet—it was exactly
what Harris Hotel guests were seeking. Rivers and streams were
clean and clear, the trails wooded and private, but the springs
were the clincher. Nick was right. They could definitely develop
those to increase the hotel’s allure. Where Nick had talked about
the wishing well, a sort of fountain of youth, Malcolm envisioned
spring water showers and tubs, steam baths that permeated the
senses with the finest water Mother Nature had to offer. He’d
already decided on how he wanted to incorporate the hotel into the
land, creating walls of river rock, recessed lighting that would
make guests feel as if they were hidden away within the mountain.
Floor to ceiling windows would bring the outdoors in, and of
course, a palette of earthy tones that paralleled nature would
adorn the interior. He smiled inwardly. The place would scream
seclusion, clandestine romance.

Intuition clicked. Malcolm
turned his head slow and easy and, to his delight, found one Lacy
Owens sliding onto a stool at a high-top in the corner.
Well, look who’s here
...

Pleasure danced low in his midsection.
Spying the half-empty low ball on the table before her, he
sharpened his focus on the brown liquid inside. Bourbon drinker?
Desire drummed. Taking another sip of scotch, he watched Lacy
settle in and waited for her to recognize him.

When she caught his eye, surprise
flickered in her expression. A smile pulled at the corner of her
mouth, but she glanced away. Did she have mixed feelings about him?
After all, he was a friend of Delaney Wilkins and Delaney was no
friend of hers. But certainly she had grasped the signs of his
interest this afternoon at the diner. Was she playing hard to
get?

He savored a private
grin.
Game on
, my
dear.

Malcolm raised his glass to Lacy and
she acknowledged him but didn’t return the gesture. Instead, she
pulled out a cigar and lighter. Curiosity flared hot inside him as
he watched her bite off the cap, dip the end into her mouth and
light up. She gave a few quick puffs and the tobacco blazed
orange-red. Sitting back in her chair, she crossed her legs,
inhaled deeply and blew the smoke free in one, steady
stream.

Dropping his gaze to her legs, Malcolm
noted the shapely calves, her arch in the black high heels, the
very black, very high heels. Wandering up, he noted her skirt was
straight, simple and short—just the way he preferred—and black as
night, same as her low cut, sleeveless blouse. He imagined her
underclothing to be just as black and entirely lacy. The pun struck
him with added appeal. Lacy in lace. Malcolm brought glass to lips,
allowing his gaze to ingest the sight of her. Most definitely an
appealing combination.

Apparently pleased by his undivided
attention, Lacy brought the cigar to her lips, methodically
enclosing them over the tip as she stared at him. Lingering, she
didn’t inhale, only nibbled, toyed with it, her gaze locked onto
his. She withdrew the cigar from her mouth, but not too far, and
smiled fully at him, fingerlings of smoke swirling around her
head.

It required little effort
for him to return the favor.
Yes, Ms.
Owens
.
You have my
attention
. The nearby table of women
erupted in laughter. Lacy inhaled again, rolling an eye toward them
as if thoroughly bored by their presence. Malcolm chuckled. It was
probably true. The women sitting at the table all looked the same.
From their long straight hair to their skirts and boots, it looked
to him as if they coordinated their outfits for the evening. There
didn’t seem to be an individual among them. Lacy, on the other
hand, was pure distinction. Her short-cropped black hair shone in
the dim lighting, the blue of her eyes punctuated her fair skin
even from a distance. Her shapely body competed for his attention,
and Malcolm imagined what she would look like on the sheets beneath
him. The image stirred deep within his loins.

Lacy held the cigar away
from her face and took a prim sip from her drink. Neat, tidy, her
movements were those of a dancer. The connection struck him.
Was Lacy a dancer
?

He’d wondered how she made it in a big
city like Atlanta. According to Delaney, Lacy had only been
seventeen when she left, and it wasn’t as if Jeremiah had pockets
full of money. How did she survive? Did she dance for a living? She
had to have done something to pay the bills.

Lacy returned her attention to him and
Malcolm pushed off from the bar and headed over. Time to find out.
Rewarded by the bump in her gaze, he was heartened to realize she
was interested in his approach. But how interested was the more
important question. Malcolm neared and delivered smoothly, “Ms.
Owens...so nice to see you again.”


Mr. Ward.”

As she reached for her hand, she
obliged, lifting it from the table for his taking. Lacy cocked her
head to one side and watched him bow slightly, placing his lips to
her skin for a kiss. Her scent reminded Malcolm of jasmine and
spice. Intoxicating. Gliding his lips back and forth, he treated
himself to the sensation of silken skin and luscious perfume before
she pulled free. She encircled her hand around her glass as though
curtailing any further ideas on his part.

Which amused him. Standing fully, he
asked, “What’s a beautiful woman like you sitting alone in a bar on
a Friday night?”

Lacy’s smile dipped, but quickly
recovered. “I’m enjoying a little quiet time.”


Quiet time?” He glanced
around the lounge, purposefully touching upon the dance floor. Two
couples entered the bar, the women chatting busily while the men
brought up the rear in silence. “From the looks of this place,
quiet is the last thing I’d expect.”


Yes,” she agreed, “but the
real carrying on doesn’t start until much later.”


Ah.” He nodded, fascinated
by the spark in her eye. It had the mark of intelligence, yet the
zeal of youth. Lined in a soft navy, her eyes were sultry,
enticing. “You don’t dance?” Malcolm asked, coating his tone with
disappointment.

She giggled. “I love to dance!” Then,
as if she realized her breach, walked the comment back a notch. She
dropped her gaze back to the cigar in hand, tapping the ashes into
an ashtray. “But I’m not in the mood,” she said, then cast her gaze
downward.


Not in the mood? With legs
like yours, that seems like a crime.”

Lacy flipped up her line of thick
lashes and replied, “It’s my first day back in town and I haven’t
received the warmest of welcomes.”


From Delaney?” he
asked.


Yes...” she murmured, as
though Delaney was only a secondary concern.


Your sister?”

Curiosity transformed her caution. “You
know Annie?”


Not personally, but I’ve
heard about her.”


Of course,” Lacy said,
turning away from him, focusing on the cigar in hand. “You were
with Delaney today.”


Is that a
problem?”


No, not really,” she said,
continuing to reflect on her cigar. She brought it to her mouth for
another drag. This time, she closed her eyes as she
inhaled.

Studying her soft features, her
flawless ivory skin, her artfully applied makeup, Malcolm wondered
if she was willfully shutting him out. Had he overstayed his
welcome? Was it guilt by association?

Delaney was clearly not fond of Lacy.
Was the feeling mutual? “Actually, I don’t know Delaney all that
well. She’s a friend of my friend, Nick.”

Lacy acknowledged that she heard but
continued to stare past him.


Are you on shaky ground
with your sister?”

She flashed a glance to him, the first
sign of displeasure licking at her fiery blue eyes. “Shaky isn’t
the word. More like icy.”

At least he had her talking. “I hear
you,” Malcolm commiserated. “I have a brother and it’s the same
thing.”

Sitting straighter, Lacy swiveled on
her seat to face him fully. “You do?”


Nothing I do seems good
enough for him. Success, money, none of it matters.”

She knit black brows together. “What do
you do that he doesn’t approve of?”


I’m in the hotel business
with Nick. Remember?”

She perked to life. “Do you have one
here?”


We hope to.”

Several young men pushed through the
front door, a ring of rowdy banter following them as they entered.
They immediately scouted for a place to sit. No surprise they chose
the table next to the high-top full of women. Malcolm watched the
men make their way over, eyes roving over the females as they
approached.

Lacy appeared confused. “Hope
to?”

Malcolm brought scotch to mouth as he
pondered her sudden interest. “That’s why I’m here. Nick and are I
looking at the Ladd Springs property to build our next
hotel.”

The revelation crushed her spurt of
enthusiasm. “Oh.”


You don’t like
hotels?”


No, but I don’t’ think you
know what you’re getting yourself into.”


Care to enlighten
me?”


Jeremiah Ladd is back in
town. He’s after Ladd Springs.”


You know Jeremiah?” he
asked innocently, knowing full well she ran off with the
man.


Yes. We both live in
Atlanta.”


And now you two are back
home for a visit?”

It took her a minute to decipher the
insinuation. “Oh—we’re not together!” she cried.


Coincidental
visit?”


Er—no, not exactly.” Lacy
picked up her drink and seemed to seek refuge in her glass, sipping
slowly. It was a dodge if he’d ever seen one.


I understand he had a
relationship with your sister,” Malcolm said quietly.

Big blue eyes blinked up at him.
Skeptical eyes. Wary eyes. “You could call it that.”

Malcolm laughed. Part of him enjoyed
seeing her squirm, but the other part of him wanted the sexy,
sultry Ms. Owens to return.


Listen.” She hushed her
voice. Checking the bar for onlookers, she said, “If you’re trying
to build a hotel on that property, I’ll warn you right now that
Jeremiah is here to cause trouble.”

Malcolm leaned toward her, enjoying a
sudden drift of her perfume, her invitation to inside information.
“What kind of trouble?”

Lacy looked at him, her gaze darting up
and down as though suddenly realizing exactly how close he was
standing, then leaned back into her chair. “Well, he wants the
property for himself, though I don’t see how that’s going to
happen. Not going up against Delaney, anyway. But Jeremiah is
underhanded, especially when there’s money involved. And I hear
Annie wants it, too, so all I’m saying is you might have to get in
line.”

For a woman in town for all of
twenty-four hours, Lacy was well-informed. “You have personal
knowledge of this?”


I know Jeremiah. My Aunt
Frannie told me about Annie.”


Hmm.”


And Loretta.”


Loretta?” Malcolm echoed,
intrigued by the growing cast of characters.

Lacy set her cigar into the ashtray.
“She’s his girlfriend and she’s with him.”


I see.” The man he met at
Delaney’s cabin certainly carried an edge to him. How far would he
go to get his hands on Ladd Springs?


I’m telling you, watch your
back with Jeremiah.”


Will do,” he
said.

Lacy’s gaze leaped to the door. Her
features changed from those of a willing conspirator to intrigued
spectator.

He turned to see Felicity’s friend,
Troy Parker, enter the bar with a bombshell of a woman on his arm.
Malcolm cocked a brow. From what he understood, those two boys only
had eyes for Delaney’s daughter. Malcolm asked Lacy, “You know
them?”


That’s Loretta.”


Jeremiah’s
girlfriend
?”


One and the same.” Lacy
reached for the cigar and inhaled quickly, blowing the smoke out
equally as fast, her gaze fixated on the couple. “I saw her with
that boy earlier today.”


You did? Where?”


Aunt Frannie’s.”


At the diner?” She nodded.
Malcolm didn’t believe in coincidences. “Were they talking to one
another, or just in the same restaurant, same time?” he
probed.


They weren’t exactly
talking, more like making eyes at one another.”

The blonde spotted Lacy and waved
gaily. Lacy summoned a quick smile and waved back.

BOOK: Ladd Fortune
6.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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