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Titles by Rebecca Hagan Lee
A HINT OF HEATHER
ONCE A MISTRESS
EVER A PRINCESS
ALWAYS A LADY
BARELY A BRIDE
MERELY THE GROOM
HARDLY A HUSBAND
TRULY A WIFE
A WANTED MAN
Rebecca Hagan Lee
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A WANTED MAN
A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright © 2013 by Rebecca Hagan Lee.
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Berkley Sensation mass-market edition / August 2013
Cover photo by Claudio Marinesco.
Cover design by George Long.
Interior text design by Kristin del Rosario.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
This book is dedicated to my readers who have waited patiently for my return to the American West and who wanted to know what happened to Will Keegan from
And to the men and women who dedicate their lives to fighting the monsters who traffic in human misery wherever it occurs.
Thank you for the work you do.
“To sleep: perchance to dream; ay, there’s the rub.”
—WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, 1564–1616
SEPTEMBER 22, 1874
ill . . .” She came to him in the deep of the night. Calling his name. Slipping out of her silk nightgown and into his bed while he slept. She came as she always did: wanton and naked and wanting him. She came to him as she had nearly every night since they had left Hong Kong for California.
And Will welcomed her. As he had always welcomed her. Mei Ling was his. The girl he had loved at sixteen. The woman he continued to love. He held her close, absorbing the warmth of her body, inhaling the intoxicating scent unique to her—jasmine and Mei Ling. Tangling his fingers in her long, silky black hair, Will kissed her. Deeply. Thoroughly. As if he could never get enough of kissing her. She was young and beautiful, full of joy and life and love for him.
She broke the kiss long enough to smile down at him. Staring up into her dark, almond-shaped eyes, Will saw his love reflected in them. Pulling her deeper into his embrace, he reversed their positions. Her dark hair fanned across his pillow. Mei Ling closed her eyes. He kissed her lips. Her cheek. Her nose. Nibbled at her earlobe, teasing the pearl earring she always wore with the tip of his tongue before moving on to kiss the delicate skin at the corners of her eyes.
She sighed. Her pleasure was a breath that hung like incense in the air between them. Heating them. Will’s heart expanded in his chest. His blood, hot and thick, roared through his veins, filled with his love for her. He watched her in the glow of the lamplight, memorizing her features, before he leaned forward to kiss her again.
“Will . . .” she whispered his name, then reached up and looped her arms around his neck, drawing him to her, into her. In an embrace as close as it was possible for two lovers to be.
Will ached for her. Burned with his love for her.
Until she opened her eyes and he found himself staring down into Elizabeth Craig’s extraordinary blue-green eyes. Will recoiled. As Will watched, Mei Ling’s delicate features started to blur. The shape of her eyes, the slope of her nose, the curve of her lips, the color of her eyes began to merge with the delicate features of another woman—a woman he saw most every day.
* * *
WILL AWOKE IN A COLD SWEAT.
He was afraid that history was repeating itself. Afraid that he was coveting what belonged to the man who was closer to him than a brother. Afraid that he was falling in love with James Cameron Craig’s wife . . .
For the second time in his life . . .
“Virtue is the only firm ground for [friendship] to stand upon.”
—THOMAS FULLER, 1654–1734
SEPTEMBER 23, 1874
hat’s this?” James Cameron Craig looked up as a folded piece of fine ivory linen paper slid across his desk.
“My resignation.” Will Keegan stood squarely in front of James’s desk.
James arched his eyebrows in query as he stared up at his closest friend.
“It’s my resignation, Jamie. Effective immediately,” Will repeated in a determined voice. “I’m leaving Craig Capital.”
He stood before his best friend, the president and heir to Craig Capital, Ltd., a banking and investment firm based in Hong Kong that James’s father had built and that Will had worked for since his graduation from university. Six months later, James had graduated as well and joined the family business as a junior clerk. Will had become his supervisor and trainer.
They had learned the business together from the ground up.
James had become president upon his father’s early retirement and they had all settled into a good life in Hong Kong.
They might have stayed in Hong Kong forever if James and his wife’s infant daughter hadn’t died. James’s grief over Cory’s death had been almost unbearable, but he’d been strong enough to survive it. Mei Ling hadn’t. She had grieved herself to death, and neither he nor James had been able to save her.
With his wife and daughter gone, Hong Kong had held too many sad memories for James. He had needed a change. A new challenge. So he had brought the firm to California. As vice president of Craig Capital and James’s closest friend, Will had followed, and together they had increased the firm’s holdings, investing in mining, timber, shipping, real estate, and ranching.
Now he was breaking up the partnership he and James had shared for more than a dozen years. And he wouldn’t be swayed by friendship or sentimentality.
“You can’t leave,” James told him. “We’re friends. Partners. You’ve been with Craig Capital as long as I have. Longer. I wouldn’t know how to run it without you.” He lifted the folded sheet of paper and thrust it back at Will. “You might as well take it back, because I refuse to accept it.”
Will ignored the letter of resignation, letting it fall to the floor between them. The letter was a formality. It didn’t matter whether Jamie accepted it or not. It wouldn’t change his mind or the fact that he was leaving. “You don’t have a choice, Jamie. I’ve made my decision.”
“Without consulting me? Without so much as a word about what’s bothering you? What happened, Will? What’s brought this on?”
“There was no need to consult you, Jamie. I’m a grown man—older than you, in fact—”
“By what? Four or five months?” James scoffed.
“And perfectly capable of making decisions. It’s time—actually long past time—for me to leave Craig Capital and Coryville and strike out on my own. I need to go where I’m needed. Where I am wanted. I can’t ride your coattails and shelter beneath your wings forever, you know.” He managed a grin for Jamie’s benefit.
James shook his head. “That’s bloody rubbish and you know it. You’ve never ridden anyone’s coattails, least of all mine, and as for sheltering under my wings . . .” He sputtered in frustration, searching for the right words. “That’s a bloody joke! We’ve worked together more than fifteen years and been friends since our school days. I don’t understand what’s prompted this sudden decision, Will, but whatever it is, we can fix it. Have you received a better offer? I’ll match it. I’ll surpass it.” He raked his fingers through his hair. “Craig Capital needs you. Hell,
need you. And what’s more, I want you here helping me run the firm we’ve built. You’re as much a part of this venture as I am. Dammit, Will, you’re my partner. I’ll do whatever it takes—make whatever changes need to be made—in order to keep you happy. . . .”
Will took a deep breath, then slowly exhaled. “That’s the thing, Jamie: There’s nothing you can do to keep me happy.” He smiled, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes, and Jamie wasn’t fooled. “Because I haven’t been happy for a while.”
James slammed his palms down on top of the desk, shoved his chair back, and stood up, facing off with his dearest friend over the expanse of the massive oak desk. “That’s utter rot, too! Why, just yesterday . . .” He thought back to the previous morning, when Will had joined him, his wife, Elizabeth, and their four adopted daughters—Ruby, Garnet, Emerald, and Diamond—fondly known as the Treasures, at the breakfast table. Will had been laughing at the Treasures’ antics the same as he did nearly every morning, indulging Ruby’s whims, gently teasing Garnet and Emerald, and spoiling baby Diamond. He hadn’t seemed unhappy or eager to resign from Craig Capital and leave Coryville. He’d seemed perfectly content sharing Elizabeth and the Treasures with James, praising Elizabeth for her patience in putting up with James and the Treasures. James recalled Will jokingly declaring that Elizabeth was welcome to leave the morning oatmeal wars and all the chaos behind, throw caution to the wind, and run away with him.
. . .
“This hasn’t anything to do with Craig Capital, has it?” James pinned Will with his gaze.
“No, it’s personal.”
James took a deep breath and breathed a name he hadn’t spoken aloud in more than a year. “Is it about Mei Ling?”
A muscle began to twitch in Will’s jaw. He let out a deep breath. She was there between them once again, the ghost in the room, refusing to relinquish her hold on either one of them. “Do you ever think about her, Jamie? Dream about her?”
“No.” James bit out the word, dismissing the thought along with the possibility. “Not anymore. I finally made my peace with her.”
“Then you’ve forgiven her?”
James raked his hand across his forehead. He didn’t want to think about Mei Ling. He didn’t want to remember her or the pain she’d caused or how much he’d loved her. She was dead. And in his past. His future lay with his new wife, Elizabeth, and the life they’d forged from the ashes of his old one. But neither could he lie. Not to Will. “I can’t say I’ve managed to forgive her completely for what she did, but I’ve come to terms with it. I’ve learned not to dwell on the past anymore and to let sleeping dogs lie. If I happen to think of her, I remember the love. I remember the joy and the happiness we shared, not the agony.”
Will nodded. “You’ve come a long way, my friend.” He met James’s earnest gaze. “California’s been good for you.”
“Not California. Elizabeth. I owe it all to her and the Treasures. They saved me.” James had begun rescuing the unwanted daughters of Chinese families shortly after Mei Ling died. He had started with Ruby, and by the time he met and hired Elizabeth Sadler to be his daughters’ governess, he had added Garnet, Emerald, and Diamond to the family. He and Elizabeth had married a little more than a year ago, and James loved her as fiercely now as he had when he’d tumbled head over heels in love with her.
“And for that, I am truly grateful,” Will told him. “Beth is a wonderful woman. I’m happy for you, Jamie.”
“But . . .”
Will squeezed his eyes shut and let out a mirthless little laugh. “I am singularly unlucky when it comes to affairs of the heart.”
“We can’t choose whom or why we love,” James reminded him. “It chooses us.”
“Don’t I know it?” Will gave another ironic laugh. “And what I wouldn’t give to change it.”
“Does she still haunt you, Will?” Will’s love for Mei Ling had never been a secret. He and Will had both grown up in Hong Kong. Will had been the only son of a pair of protestant Scots-Irish missionaries, and James the only son of a former East India Company officer who had married the daughter of a Scottish banker, and founded Craig Capital, Ltd. Will had been there when Mei Ling had been sent to Craig House as concubine for the noble son of the house. They had both fallen in love with her. But she’d been sent to James, and Will had stood by his friend’s side when he’d gone against tradition, the wishes of his parents, and the British community and married her. Although he’d never expressed his feelings or given James any reason to doubt his friendship or his loyalty, Will had worn his heart upon his sleeve. And Mei Ling had made the most of it, toying with Will’s affections as only a woman who knew she had the love of two men could do.
Will had borne her reckless disregard for his feelings in true gentlemanly fashion. He’d been James’s best friend through it all, and had continued to love Mei Ling long after James had ceased to do so.
“She comes to me in dreams, Jamie.”
“God’s mercy, Will!”
“Yeah, well, I pray for it, Jamie, but so far my prayers have gone unanswered. I seem to possess the singular talent of falling for your wives.” He looked Jamie in the eye, refusing to flinch when James swore louder and harder.
Wives. Plural. Mei Ling and Elizabeth.
Jamie tried to take Will’s admission in stride, tried to smile. “We wouldn’t be friends if we didn’t share a majority of the same likes and dislikes, and we wouldn’t be business partners if we didn’t possess the same general goals and ambitions. . . .”
Will’s forced smile matched the one James was wearing. “You have another partner, Jamie,” he said softly. “One infinitely more dear to you than any affection you hold for me.”
“Will . . .” James reached out a hand.
Will shrugged it off. “I’m no good at hiding my feelings.” He made a wry face. “I never was. And it’s only a matter of time before Beth notices. What kind of friend would I be to either of you if I allowed my unwanted, unbidden, and unrequited feelings to cause Beth any discomfort or embarrassment? It’s time I moved on, Jamie, and made a life for myself—away from you and Beth and the Treasures.”
James didn’t argue. “What do I tell them?”
Will gave him a blank look.
“What do I tell my wife and girls? Elizabeth and the Treasures are very fond of you, Will. They’re bound to notice the empty chair at the breakfast table and wonder where you’ve gone and when you’re coming back.”
“Tell them I love them and that I’ve gone home to visit my father,” he said.
“Hong Kong? You can’t be serious.” The thought of returning to Hong Kong for any reason—even to visit his mother and father, was anathema to James.
“I am,” Will admitted. “My sisters have married and moved on. They have husbands and children. My father’s been alone since Mother died, and he isn’t getting any younger or stronger. It’s time I played the prodigal son and returned to the fold to help him.”
“You’re no more suited to the life of a missionary than I am.”
“Maybe not,” Will agreed, “but it’s a life I know and a place where I can be of service and where I can start over.”
“I can’t see you following in your father’s footsteps. I don’t mean this as an insult, but ministering to the poor and spreading the gospel is a waste of your education and your talents.”
“I don’t need to minister to the poor or preach the gospel to be of service. The missions need money, and I’m quite good at making it and raising it.”
“Yes, you are, and that’s why you’re vital to Craig Capital.”
“Jamie, my mind’s made up.”
“What about our ventures? With you gone, who is going to take over the special project we’ve worked so hard to put together?” James glared at him across the oak desk. “Or are you prepared to walk away and abandon that as well?”
“No.” Will bit out the admission. “I’m not prepared to abandon our special project.” Their project was something he and Jamie had dreamed up together. It had nothing to do with Craig Capital, but would be funded by the two of them. Will had agreed to fund the San Francisco part of the operation, while James and Elizabeth handled the Coryville and northern California operation. “But neither am I prepared to stay here and rain havoc on our friendship.” He glared back at James. “I recommend Jack O’Brien take over the project. He’s my assistant. He knows the plan. That will clear the way for Peter Malcolm to assume the role of head of operations in the San Francisco office. Jack is more than able to take over the special project in my absence. He’s the one I had in mind and the man best suited for the job.”
James snorted in disgust.
“What have you got against Jack O’Brien?”
“I don’t have anything against Jack. I like Jack, but he’s not the man best suited for the job. You are.” James held up a hand to forestall him when Will would have protested. “Hear me out. I need a man I can trust implicitly.”
It was Will’s turn to snort in disgust. “You trust the man who just admitted he’s afraid of falling in love with your wife?”
“Yeah, Will, I do,” James told him. “I trust you implicitly. I trusted you with my first wife and I trust you even more with my second one.”
“Then you’re a better man than I am, because I don’t trust myself.”
“You should,” James said. “Because you’re as trustworthy and honorable as the day is long. So you loved my wife. I was away on business half our married life. Did you act on those feelings? Did you seduce her? Or allow her to seduce you?” He stared at Will. “Did you take her into your bed, Will?”
“No. Of course not!”
“Why didn’t you?” James asked. “You loved her. You wanted her, and you had every opportunity.”