Authors: Cheryl Holt
Lucas Merriweather marched up the steps to his attorney’s office. He’d only recently hired the woman, and he glanced around, trying to learn something of her character by assessing his surroundings.
Ms. Carolyn Stone, Attorney at Law, had located her business in an old house that was charming and picturesque. From the tidy yard and paint job, he predicted she would be pragmatic, sensible, and shrewd, qualities he would exploit to his benefit. He had no qualms about using her. She’d be well paid for her efforts.
While he usually scheduled his appointments in the skyscrapers of downtown Denver, he’d agreed to make the one-hour drive to Boulder for what he intended to be a very private, very discreet conversation. His siblings, Dustin and Britney, wanted to splash the scandal across the newspapers, but Lucas was determined to avoid any publicity and to have the debacle resolved with a minimum of fuss.
An acquaintance had recommended Ms. Stone, claiming she was tough as nails and could push through any bargain he sought. He’d spoken to her on the phone, but they hadn’t met, and he was still debating his decision to retain her.
His powerful family had armies of attorneys,
attorneys, scattered over the globe. Their sole purpose was to protect Merriweather Industries. But with the emerging
—as his mother liked to call it—Lucas felt a female lawyer would better suit him.
Women were adept at exhibiting a soft, restrained façade, one that fooled adversaries into complacency, but beneath the surface, they could be more brutal than men. Their venom was unexpected, their targets caught off guard.
For his current difficulties, he needed a person of skill and duplicity. Would Ms. Stone be the deceptive warrior he required?
He opened the door and walked inside, and the place was quiet, as if it was deserted. There was no receptionist at the desk, and he was irked by the inefficiency. He was never late, and he insisted his associates be punctual too. With his father having passed away the prior year, Lucas was in charge of the company and extremely busy, when he hated to be.
He’d never envisioned himself as a business mogul, but as the oldest son, he’d suddenly found himself running things. It was a circumstance in which he had no interest and for which he’d refused to be groomed.
He was much more comfortable swishing down the Colorado ski slopes or relaxing on his yacht in the Caribbean. Raised rich and entitled, he frittered away his money on every conceivable vice. Content to lounge and loaf, his indolent lifestyle fit his arrogant temperament. He liked to do what he wished, go where he chose, and behave as he pleased, and he’d always rankled at restrictions and constraints.
But now, at age thirty, he’d been thrust into the role of tycoon, when he had very little aptitude for the venture. He chafed at the tedious nature of his duties.
His forebears had built an empire based on minerals and mining, but in the twenty-first century, Lucas’s world was far removed from the processes that had created their initial fortune. Between his grandfather and father, and their perpetual bickering, the enterprises that had formed the bedrock of their wealth had been sold or shut down.
His main job involved shifting money around, with he and his siblings being the worst sort of trust fund babies: spoiled, demanding, and worthless for any type of honest endeavor.
Aggravated by Ms. Stone’s discourtesy, he checked his watch and paced. Where was she? She’d definitely ruined any first impression.
Feminine laughter drifted by, and he headed toward it, certain it was Ms. Stone having forgotten their appointment. He located her at the end of the hall, the nameplate,
prominently displayed next to the door.
Her back to him, she was over by the window and peering out at the Rocky Mountains that towered on the horizon. She was talking on her cell phone and completely oblivious to his presence.
He took a moment to study her, and he was confused by her appearance. He’d assumed she was much older and had heard she was a grandmother. The woman standing before him was probably his own age.
She had to have just finished law school. How could she have participated in enough cases to have developed a reputation as a shark?
She was short, only five-five or so, with blond hair pulled into a seductive chignon. A few golden tendrils tickled her neck and shoulders. Her dark blue suit should have been boxy and plain, but it couldn’t hide her curvaceous figure. She had a small waist, alluring hips, and shapely calves accentuated by her spiky heels.
For some reason, he speculated about the color of her eyes, and he was positive they’d be blue. Not that it mattered.
With his six-foot height, black hair and indigo eyes, with his fortune, name and notoriety, he could have his pick of beautiful companions. He dated starlets and models and would never stoop to fraternization with a
He didn’t like intelligent, educated women. They babbled about topics that bored him.
If he deigned to notice a female, it was with one goal in mind, that being wild, raucous sex as often and as rapidly as possible. Since he was driven by primal desires, there was never much need for conversation.
He didn’t want commitment or bonds. He’d tried them once in a secret elopement at the obscenely young age of nineteen. A few months later, when his irate father had proved that his romp hadn’t been a lark, that his bride had deliberately sought him out, hoping to get her hands on his money, he’d agreed to an annulment. Then he’d sworn off pledges and promises.
Casual relationships suited him best, and he never intended to attach himself ever again.
“Ms. Stone!” he snapped.
She turned slowly, and as she faced him, he saw that her eyes were the precise shade of blue he’d predicted they’d be. He felt impaled, as if they held a magnetic power that prevented him from glancing away. The striking hue was magnified by a pair of clunky glasses, the brown frames making her appear smart and sexy at the same time.
She was extremely pretty, with creamy skin, rosy cheeks, and pouting lips. Her body was rounded in all the right spots—no hours spent on the treadmill for her!—and he couldn’t help but admit that she was a refreshing change from the starved girls he usually dated.
They were all bones and sharp angles, while she was smooth and soft and supple.
He frowned, disgusted to realize that he was assessing her in a sexual way. He
evaluated women in a sexual way, but he was here on business and had to focus on fiscal affairs. Ten million dollars, to be exact.
“Hello,” she said.
Her voice was husky and tantalizing, as if she was about to proposition him. She gaped as if she had no idea who he was.
He was furious at having to explain, “I’m Lucas Merriweather.”
“Yes. Are you Ms. Stone?”
After the longest pause in history, she said, “Ah…yes, I’m Ms. Stone.”
“You seem awfully young. I was expecting someone…older.”
“I’m older than I look.”
“How much older?”
“We had an appointment at three. Did you forget?”
“No…no, I didn’t forget.”
“I drove out from Denver, specifically to speak with you. You had no receptionist to greet me, and you’ve kept me waiting for fifteen minutes.”
“I most humbly apologize. I’m sure such incompetence is annoying to a man of your exalted status.”
Was she mocking him? She pronounced the word
as if it was an epithet, as if she didn’t care if she was retained or not.
Why would she be indifferent? Putting aside the fact that she would earn a fortune in fees, the task he’d given her was intriguing and peculiar. If his troubles ultimately made it into the tabloids, she’d be front and center in a nationally reported story. Her law firm would thrive, her public persona soar.
She ought to be thanking him!
“How may I help you?” she asked.
Gad, didn’t she remember? What was her problem?
“I’m here to discuss my grandfather, Harold Merriweather, and the dispensation of his estate.”
“Oh, your grandfather, of course.”
“His relationship with the odious Faith Benjamin must be exposed and the bequest to her retrieved.”
“Miss Benjamin,” she mused with a sly grin, “the proverbial thorn in your side.”
She added nothing further. What was wrong with her? Was she totally inept? Was she drunk?
There was a thick file on her desk, and he could clearly see his name, Merriweather, printed on the label. It had to contain her notes from their telephone call where they’d debated which strategy to pursue.
Should they demand Miss Benjamin decline her inheritance from Harold? Should they bribe her to get it back? Should they threaten her? Should they simply sue her and tie her up in court until she relented and surrendered the money on her own?
“I think,” he said, “that I’ll just head to Denver. You don’t seem very interested in this situation, and I’m happy to take my business elsewhere.”
“No, don’t leave.” That sly grin had returned. “I’m sorry if I’m distracted. I’m eager to hear your opinion of Miss Benjamin.”
She gestured to a chair, urging him to sit, and he hesitated. He’d meant to stomp out in a huff, but couldn’t make himself go. He didn’t want to waste time interviewing other attorneys, didn’t want to check references or ask for referrals.
He wanted the issue resolved, and she’d claimed she could handle it. If she’d only act as if she knew how to proceed, he’d feel more at ease.
Like a trained dog, he marched over to the chair she’d indicated and plopped himself down. For a brief second, he wondered if he was staying because she was so pretty. If she’d been the grandmother he’d anticipated, would he have bothered?
She sauntered over until she was directly in front of him. She leaned forward, her hips balanced on the edge of the desk.
Though she was dressed in a suit, and it was expertly tailored, he received the distinct impression that she wasn’t accustomed to wearing one. She oozed sexuality, and the stuffy garment didn’t fit her temperament. He could imagine her in a risqué film, slowly removing it piece by piece, to reveal the shapely body underneath.
The top two buttons of her blouse were undone—with her sitting so close, he couldn’t help but notice—and he caught a glimpse of pink lace before he remembered to keep his focus where it belonged.
He yanked his eyes to hers, and she smirked, as if she’d been deliberately taunting him with all that fabulous cleavage. The seductive witch! She was playing a game, but he couldn’t figure out what it was. He was competitive and liked to win, but how could he prevail when he hadn’t been informed of the rules or the prize to be gained at the end?
He forced himself to concentrate. “I’ve already shared my opinion of Miss Benjamin with you.”
“Yes, she’s a floozy, a tart, and a gold digger.”
“That about covers it.”
“Have you ever met her?”
“When would I have?”
“Oh, I don’t know. How about all those times you visited your grandfather over the years?”
“I told you: I haven’t seen Harold since I was five.”
“Why is that exactly? I don’t recall your excuse.”
“My excuse! I was a kid. My parents quit speaking to him. What was I supposed to do?”
“Why did they quit speaking?”
“He and my father had a falling out.”
“Over the business, right? Your father pushed him out.”
“Harold was sixty-five. He retired.”
“Your grandfather’s version was quite different. He always insisted that your father stole the company, along with most of his money.”
“He didn’t,” Lucas tersely replied.
It was a recycled rumor, fueled by disgruntled employees who’d been fired after his grandfather left. Lucas’s father had been a difficult boss. He didn’t generate loyalty, and gossip had frequently flared as to his motives. The stories were ancient history, and Lucas wasn’t about to debate them with her.
“What’s your point, Ms. Stone?”
“You never went to see him—because of his troubles with your parents.” She took off her glasses, twirling them between finger and thumb. “How about later, say when you were eighteen or twenty or twenty-five? How about this past year, when you turned thirty? You’ve been an adult for twelve years. You could have made contact on your own.”
Lucas’s cheeks flushed with chagrin. Yes, he could have contacted the elderly man, and he’d often thought about it, but never had. Now Harold was deceased, and Lucas had missed his chance.
He was shamed by his disinterest, by his lack of empathy or even general curiosity, but he wouldn’t be chastised. He concealed his embarrassment with a spurt of temper.