Authors: Sandra Steffen
THE TEXAS TATTLER
All the news that's barely fit to print!
FORTUNE HEIR ALIVE!
Telling Clue Sheds Light on Baby's Whereabouts
exas's most talked-about family was rejuvenated with hope last week with the sudden appearance of enlightening evidence in the dramatic kidnapping case of beloved Bryan Fortune. On the one-year anniversary of the baby-snatching, a plain white envelope was delivered to the palatial Double Crown Ranch, which included a second shocking ransom note and a photograph of a grinning Bryan next to a recent issue of the
San Antonio Star.
Though the kidnapper(s) failed to comply with the FBI's baby-for-money trade, top-notch law enforcement officials are encouraged and combing the area for signs of the cooing heir. Red Rock's Sheriff Wyatt Grayhawk predicts, “The villains are probably closer than we think.”
And talk about closer than you might thinkâ¦ Lovely marriage planner Hannah Cassidy, daughter of Lily Cassidyâsoon-to-be wife of mogul Ryan Fortuneâwas spotted in a candlelit cuddlefest with ferocious divorce attorney Parker Malone. And just when
had all but voted this ultra-eligible bachelor most likely to go down the aisleâ¦kicking and screaming! Looks as if this wedding-hostess-with-the-mostest has her toughest assignment yetâ¦.
Growing up as the fourth child of ten, Sandra developed a keen appreciation for laughter and argument. She lives in Michigan with her husband, three of their four sons and a blue-eyed mutt who thinks her name is No-Molly-No. Sandra's book
Child of Her Dreams
won the 1994 National Readers' Choice Award. Several of her titles have appeared on the national bestseller lists.
Meet the Fortunes of Texas
She never expected to be enamored with Parker Malone, the man who was trying to stop her mother's upcoming nuptials to mogul Ryan Fortune. And although the daughter of the bride had no intention of changing her mom's mind about marriage, she had every intention of changing Parker'sâ¦.
As a divorce lawyer, he didn't believe in love and marriage. As a man, he couldn't resist sweet Hannah's charms. Still, the lovely wedding planner couldn't convince Parker to surrender his heartâ¦could she?
Sophia Barnes Fortune:
The soon-to-be ex-wife of billionaire Ryan Fortune was just weeks away from signing a fifty-million-dollar divorce settlement. But she was having second thoughts about settling for such a paltry sum when what she
wanted was the
A woman in danger, she found shelter in the arms of a handsome bodyguard. Could she trust him with her heart?
For Melissa Jeglinski
I was your first author at Silhouette and you were my first editor there. This is our twentieth book together, and I'm still thanking my lucky stars for your insight, skill, understanding and humor.
annah Cassidy hitched the strap of her big leather purse onto her shoulder and hurried down the sidewalk toward her friend's restaurant. The traffic on the street was heavy; the honking horns, hiss of brakes, and the pounding of a teenager's car stereo were typical for a late Saturday afternoon in downtown San Antonio. Hannah's jacket clung to her back and a sheen of perspiration dampened her forehead. She didn't mind the heat. It was July, and like her father used to say, the only thing hotter than July in San Antonio was August.
She'd just come from a former classmate's bridal shower, and she had to admit she was still smarting a little. All any of her friends talked about these days was settling down and biological clocks. She was only twenty-seven. What was the hurry? Oh, she'd grown adept at smiling demurely when her friends offered advice concerning her single status, but even she'd had to stretch to find her smile when she'd opened the consolation prize this afternoon. They'd thought it was hilarious.
Hannah hadn't bothered defending the stand she'd taken when it came to settling for less than honest love. Couldn't they see that she liked her life? Her business, The Perfect Occasion, was challenging and rewarding and was even starting to show a profit. Her mother and brother were happy, and lately she'd felt a strange sense of anticipation, as if excitement was just around the corner.
So what if she spent more Saturday nights working than she spent dating? She was good at what she did, and she was earning a reputation for her ability to dream up wonderful, unusual themes for everything from birthday and retirement parties to graduations and weddings. Traditional weddings would always be in style, but lately she'd seen a trend toward weddings with a theme. Her newest client wanted a mobster-style wedding and Hannah wanted to talk to her closest friend about reserving The Pink Flamingo for the evening of the big event.
She ducked around the building that housed Adrienne's restaurant, and slipped through a bright-pink side door. The air inside the small, trendy restaurant was decidedly cooler, but the pace was no less hectic than it had been on the street out front. Waiters and waitresses in black trousers and fuchsia-colored shirts bustled from the kitchen to the dining room, heavy trays balanced high on their hands.
Hannah's best friend, Adrienne Blakely, was nowhere in sight, not in her usual place behind the dais in the lobby, or in the dining room, or in the office near the back door. Hannah poked her head inside the kitchen last. The chef and his assistant, a spiky-haired, forty-year-old woman named Desiree who was dicing vegetables, glanced up at the same time.
“Have either of you seen Adrienne?” Hannah asked.
Gerard raised his eyes expressively, but it was the woman brandishing the knife who said, “Last I knew, she was sweet-talking a customer who burned her tongue on Gerard's soup.”
“How many times must I tell you it's called fricassee?”
“Freakin' whatever,” Desiree insisted. “I'm telling you, one of these days somebody's gonna figure out how to sue God for making the sky blue.”
A waitress bustled in with another order. “Is that true? Somebody's suing God Almighty?”
Hannah laughed out loud. She'd never been able to figure out where Adrienne found her employees. As unusual as The Pink Flamingo itself, they never failed to make Hannah smile.
Leaving poor Gerard to explain, Hannah hurried from the room. Her footsteps slowed when she entered the dining room. There was still no sign of Adrienne, but that giddy feeling was back, stronger than ever. Excitement was just around the corner, so close she could almost taste it.
A movement to her left drew her attention. A tall, dark-haired man in an expensive-looking suit pushed his chair out just as a waiter she hadn't met rounded the corner. Hannah could see the collision coming, and hurried forward, arms flailing. “Look out!”
Parker Malone glanced at his watch and reached for his briefcase all in one motion. The Pink Flamingo wasn't the type of establishment he normally frequented, but his client had insisted on this trendy uptown restaurant with its brightly colored napkins and plastic pink flamingo on every table. Parker preferred more subdued settings, but the dinner meeting had gone well, all things considered. His client left. Next, Parker had an appointment across town with his father, the legendary J. D. Malone, and J.D. didn't like to be kept waiting.
Parker was planning the most direct route to his father's house when he felt a slight jab against his shoulder. His stop was automatic, his sudden jump backward a reflex action. A dark-haired woman and a pimply faced kid both stopped abruptly. Unfortunately the objects in their hands didn't. A tray and a purse toppled to the floor. Everything else went flying. Parker bit back an expletive the same
instant a coffee cup bounced off his elbow. He spun around, steaming coffee arcing like a miniature tidal wave, heading straight for the woman's arm.
She jumped, winced, and made a grab for her jacket. Parker's hands were already there, whisking the jacket off her as if it were a cloth off a magician's table. He was vaguely aware of something cold that had splattered the back of his hand, but his attention was trained on the skin he'd bared. The hot coffee had left red splotches on an upper arm that was otherwise golden brown. Her shoulders were slightly bony; her collarbone looked fragile. His gaze strayed slightly lower. She definitely wasn't skinny everywhere. His perusal had made it as far as her chin when he felt a small object beneath the sole of his shoe. He glanced down, then lowered to his haunches and took the small square packet into his hand.
The floor was littered with all kinds of women's paraphernalia: combs, lipstick, one earring, keys, a pen, a pack of gum, and at least a dozen packages similar to the one in his hand. He'd known women who carried one or two, but a dozen or more? He was speechless, no small feat for an attorney with the reputation for having a razor-sharp tongue.
“I'll take that. I just came from a shower, and this was the consolation prize.” The woman's voice, deep and sultry, stirred his senses; the flutter of her fingertips on his palm all it took to kick his libido into high gear. He didn't know what the hell she meant by consolation prize, but her mention of showers evoked a potent image of long limbs, full breasts, steaming water and sultry sighs.
“Here, le' me help.” The waiter poked his way between Parker and the woman. “Are these what I think they are? Oh, my God, pink, yellow and blue? Cool.”
Parker glared at the kid. “It's bad enough that you're
inept, but you're in the goddamn way. I have a meeting across town in twenty minutes and I didn't plan to wear chocolate mousse on my Italian tie. This is the stuff lawsuits are made of.”
The woman gasped, her gray-eyed gaze meeting Parker's for the first time. “I really hope you won't do that. I think I have something that will help diffuse the situation. Let's find a quiet corner and get you taken care of.”
She began scooping the remaining pastel-colored packets back into her purse. With the exception of the blood thundering through his ears, Parker couldn't seem to move.
“This won't take long,” she said, rising to her feet. “I assure you that you won't be more than a few minutes late for your appointment. If you'll just follow me.”
Parker rose to his feet very slowly. Regardless of how long
took, he was going to be late.
Hell, J.D. could wait.
She strolled toward a narrow hallway, and he followed, aware of the sway of her hips beneath that beige skirt. Upon closer inspection he noticed that the only thing nondescript about the skirt was the color. The fabric and fit were noteworthy, to say the least. She'd tucked the matching jacket over her arm. Funny, he didn't remember handing it to her. They passed a series of doors marked Employees Only and finally entered what appeared to be a small storage room. She switched on a light, but didn't close the door. Parker thought that was interesting but refrained from comment.
Until a couple of minutes ago he'd thought he'd heard it all, seen it all, and experienced most of it, but this situation had all the makings of one for the record books. Assuming a watch-and-listen attitude, he stood back and waited to see what she would do.
Her head was tipped forward, her gigantic purse held at
waist level. “I know it's here somewhere,” she said, rummaging through the bag. “I just had it in my hand.”
“Do youâ” he had to clear his throat to finish “âdo this often?”
She shrugged, the action drawing his attention to the front of a flesh-colored silk tank he'd uncovered when he'd peeled her jacket off her shoulders. “No, but I enjoy helping out now and then.” Still digging through her purse, she continued. “My best friend owns this place. You know how hard it is to get a business off the ground. A lawsuit could ruin her. You don't want to sue, do you? I mean, the courts are already crammed with petty lawsuits, aren't they? If I can just find that silly little package I can get you taken care of and you can be on your way.”
The single bulb overhead cast a golden glow over her dark hair, casting a shadow on her cheeks every time she blinked. Who in the hell was she?
in the hell was she? She didn't look like a hooker, that was for damn sure. Prostitutes didn't wear beige suits. And he'd never seen a hooker with dewy-looking skin or hair so many shades of dark brown it had to be natural.
“A-ha.” Smiling, she lifted a square foil package to her mouth and placed it between her teeth.
Parker sucked in a deep breath. Okay. She didn't fit any preconceived notions he had, but with that little package opening between her teeth, several of his fantasies swirled through his mind then dove to a place straight south of there.
If he didn't say something pretty soon, he was going to lose his ability to speak.
“Lady.” His gaze got caught on her mouth and he almost chucked his conscience. She reached for the package with one hand and looked up at him, her eyes large, her lips lifted in a half smile he found stimulating as hell.
He straightened his back, squared his shoulders, and took a small backward step. “Look, it's a tempting offer, but I don't have sex with women I don't know. I haven't in years.”
Hannah froze. Sex? Was that what he'd said?
A gong went off inside her skull, understanding dawning with all the subtlety of a hurricane. The consolation prizes, her assurance that she would alleviate the situation. He'd seen, he'd heard, and he thought she was a commonâ¦an ordinaryâ¦a woman whoâ¦
She knew her mouth was gaping. Clamping it shut, she took a backward step. He'd said it was a tempting offer. Of all the egotisticalâ¦
She could still hardly believe the insinuation. Why, she was no more aâ¦
How dare heâ¦
Why, she ought toâ¦
With utmost control and precision, she pulled the premoistened towelette from the little package in her fingers and shoved it into his hand. “You'd better get your mind out of the gutter, mister. And while you're at it, clean your own stinking tie.”
She spun on her heel and left him standing there, his eyes wide, his mouth set in a grim line, a crinkled, premoistened towelette in his outstretched hand.
Hannah rushed headlong through the restaurant and out the side door. She hadn't found Adrienne, but her instincts had been right. Excitement
been just around the corner. Excitement and embarrassment, that is. And nestled tightly between the two had been an incredible awareness of the man's height, the breadth of his shoulders, his chiseled features softened slightly by a small cleft in his chin.
For a moment when she'd first seen that little indentation, she'd wanted to place her finger there, ever so gently.
She'd never felt so instantaneously attracted to a man. It had almost been lyrical. She'd practically heard violins.
And he'd thought she was a hooker.
Reaching her boutique in record time, Hannah unlocked the door that led to her apartment and quickly took the stairs. Feeling slightly off-kilter, she opened some windows and thanked her lucky stars that she never had to see that man again.
“What I want to know is why y'all didn't get his phone number?”
Adrienne Blakely lifted the lid on a container she'd brought with her from the restaurant, sniffed, and replaced the lid, only to move on to the next container. A former Miss Atlanta runner-up, Adrienne was drop-dead gorgeous, loved bright colors, and had maintained her Georgia accent despite the fact that she hadn't been “home” in nearly ten years. “And why in hades aren't you using the air-conditioning?”
Hannah scribbled a note on the wedding planner on her lap then popped a cocktail shrimp into her mouth. A fan stirred the hair at her nape. She'd changed into shorts and a tank top hours ago. Her feet were bare, her face clean-scrubbed. Returning to her notes, she said, “You know I like to dress light when I'm home.”
The two women were upstairs in Hannah's apartment, and as they often had these past three years since they'd met, they were spending a companionable evening together eating the leftovers Adrienne had brought with her after closing The Pink Flamingo for the night.
Stretching out on Hannah's sofa, Adrienne fluffed a pil
low and placed it beneath her head. “And the other portion of my question?”
“I told you,” Hannah said, shaking her head because Adrienne never let a question go, no matter how relaxed she appeared. “The man's a shark.”
“What do you mean, âso'?”
“So y'all stay out of the ocean. That doesn't mean you have to stay out of his bed.”
“I'm not getting into his bed.”
“Whyever not? Just because I've decided never to have sex again is no reason you shouldn't.”