Authors: Diana Palmer
“Nobody tops Diana Palmer when it comes to delivering pure, undiluted romance. I love her stories.”
New York Times
bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz
“Diana Palmer is a mesmerizing storyteller who captures the essence of what a romance should be.”
Affaire de Coeur
“Diana Palmer is a unique talent in the romance industry. Her writing combines wit, humor, and sensuality; and, as the song says, nobody does it better!”
New York Times
bestselling author Linda Howard
“No one beats this author for sensual anticipation.”
“A love story that is pure and enjoyable.”
Lord of the Desert
“The dialogue is charming, the characters likeable and the sex sizzlingâ¦”
Once in Paris
has published over seventy category romances, as well as historical romances and longer contemporary works. With over forty million copies of her books in print,
New York Times
bestselling author Diana Palmer is one of North America's most beloved authors. Her accolades include seven national Waldenbooks bestseller awards, four national B. Dalton bestseller awards, two Bookrak national sales awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award for series storytelling from
Affaire de Coeur
awards and two regional RWA awards. Diana resides in the north mountains of her home state of Georgia with her husband, James, and their son, Blayne Edward.
Published by Silhouette Books
America's Publisher of Contemporary Romance
leanor Perrie peeked up from her typing. The distinguished man in the gray business suit had begun shifting restlessly on the luxurious couch. He seemed to be checking his watch every minute. She permitted herself a tiny smile before she touched the intercom button between the living room, where she worked, and the stables down below the big ranch house.
“What is it?” came the impatient reply.
“I think your souffle is done,” she said, purposefully vague. “It's very puffed and browning off on top.”
There was soft, deep laughter just for an instant on the other end of the line. She could almost see the grin on that swarthy face. “I'll be right up, Miss Perrie.”
“I sincerely hope so, Mr. Matherson,” she replied with sugary sarcasm, and cut off the connection. She glanced at the man in the gray suit and smiled. Her creamy complexion lit up and emphasized the odd pale green of her eyes, hidden by oversized round eyeglasses with black frames. Her jet black hair was coiled and pinned on top of her head.
“Mr. Matherson will be right up,” she said courteously, raising her voice now so that he could hear her from across the room.
“Thank you,” the impatient man said stiffly.
“One of our prize Appaloosa mares
was foaling this morning,” Eleanor added for effect. “Mr. Matherson wanted to see about her.”
“I understand,” the older man nodded, with a polite smile that didn't reach his eyes.
Oh, no, you don't, Eleanor thought with amusement as she dropped her eyes back to the letter she was typing. Curry Matherson knew how to get what he wanted from people, and this poor little fish was about to find it out. Curry had planned to build a very sophisticated office complex on land that belonged to this annoyed speculator. The whole deal hinged on whether or not Durwood Magins, sitting nervously on the very edge of the big sofa, could be persuaded to sell at a fair market priceânot the exorbitant figure he was demanding.
Tired of bargaining with him, this morning Curry had called Magins to tell him he was dropping the whole project and had found another site. Fifteen
minutes later, Magins had been sitting on the same sofa he was glued to now. And Curry, who was only looking at the new foal, not helping to deliver it, had allowed him to sit there and sweat it out for two solid hours. Eleanor watched the greedy little man with mingled compassion and amusement. His own avarice seemed to her to be his worst enemy. And he should have had the sense not to tangle with Curry in the first place. This was really one of her boss's nicer tactics.
Seconds later, Curry Matherson walked into the room. There was a half smile on his lean, tanned face that was at variance with the glittering, quite dangerous look in his silvery eyes. He towered over most people, and since Magins wasn't tall anyway, Curry made him look like a dwarf. Her boss's athletic body was built with hard riding and ranch work, as well as sports, at which he excelled. Curry excelled at everything.
She tried not to look at him too hard
as he shook Magins' hand with a grip that probably bruised it, but her eyes kept going back to him, tracing the hard lines of his face, the thick dark hair that was just a little unruly from the wind. She'd loved him forever, it seemed. Since the day she applied for the job as his private secretary three years agoâ¦.
He hadn't been in a good mood at all on the morning of her interview, and Eleanor had been a little bit afraid of the tall, dark man. If she hadn't just lost her parents, and suddenly discovered how badly off she was going to be financially, and needed a job in such a desperate hurry, she'd probably have walked out the door.
Looking back, she couldn't help but smile at her own determination. She was fourth in line to be interviewed. The three women who preceded her had been experienced and neatly dressedâone of them was a raving beauty. All were older than her very nervous eighteen years.
And there were four more waiting to be interviewed, equally equipped with brains and beauty.
Eleanor had been wearing a simple mint green cotton shirtwaist dress with white sandals. Her hair was coiled on top of her head because she thought the severe style made her look older, and her eyes were surrounded by a pair of unstylish black eyeglasses that made her look owlish. She only needed the glasses for close work, but they were a kind of security blanket and she wore them all the time, like camouflage. She'd never tried to emphasize her looksâshe didn't believe she had any, thanks to the effort of her devoutly religious mother to keep her “un-painted.” She'd never dated a man, or been kissed by one, and her evenings at home had been filled with chores numerous enough to make dating impossible even if she'd been interested in it.
Curry had barely spared her a glance when she walked into his office and sat
down in the chair across from his massive, polished oak desk. He sat there with his eyes on what presumably was her rÃ©sumÃ©, and she wondered at his powerful physique, at the black hair threaded with gray, the dark complexion, and was knocked for a loop when he looked up directly into her eyes and she saw that his were silver. Not gray, not blueâsilver, polished and glittery. She didn't even hear his first question, she was so fascinated by him.
“I said,” he repeated with a calm that did nothing to disguise his impatience, “what kind of experience do you have? It isn't listed here,” he added, waving the sheet of paper at her.
She straightened her thin shoulders. “I was my father's secretary at home after I finished school,” she recalled, the memory making her sad. “I kept his books and handled all his correspondence.”
He leaned back in his swivel chair, lighting a cigarette as he studied her
through narrowed eyesâdisapproving eyes, she thought suddenly.
“You're not even out of your teens, are you, Missâ¦” he looked at the rÃ©sumÃ© and back up at her “â¦Perrie?”
She lifted her chin proudly. “I'm eighteen, Mr. Matherson.”
“Eighteen,” he murmured, his eyes sweeping what was visible of her about the level of the desk. “Got a boyfriend, Miss Perrie?”
She shook her head.
“Why not?” he asked nonchalantly, leaning forward on his elbows to pin her with those strange eyes. “Don't you like sex?”
She drew in a shocked breath, and her pale eyes widened.
His face relaxed suddenly, and his silvery eyes danced as he smiled at her. “I won't have to chase you out of my bed, will I, Eleanor Perrie?” he asked. “Or dodge from having you throw yourself at me?”
“That sounds like conceit to me, Mr. Matherson,” she replied with a cool, steady tone despite her screaming emotions. “You're not
attractive, with all due respect, and you're years too old, anyway.”
His eyebrows went up. “My God, little girl, how old do you think I am?” he exclaimed.
She studied him for a long moment, her eyes touching, for some inexplicable reason, the fine, chiseled line of his mouth. “Oh, at least thirty,” she replied with irrepressible honesty.
His brows collided and he scowled. “I'm thirty-two, as it happens. But until now, I didn't know that put me on the waiting list for the local old age home.”
She smiled shyly and dropped her eyes.
He laughed again, softly. “Spring flower,” he murmured. “Little jade bud. How can I turn you down?”
She looked up. “I'm hired?” she asked incredulously.
“We all have moments of unexplained weakness,” he replied. “You do realize that a private secretary lives in? I have a passion for dictation at one o'clock in the morning while I watch the Johnny Carson show.”
“That's all right,” she replied. “I like staying up late.”
“Most children do,” he told her with an amused smile, and laughed outright at the look that chilled her face.
It had been the beginning of a long, rewarding partnership. Eleanor knew him as few other women ever got to. She saw him tired, angry, happy, playful, bored, even rarely discouraged. She saw him as only a wife would ordinarily, in all kinds of conditions, at all times of the night and day. And gradually, so gradually that she wasn't even aware of it, she grew to love him. Despite his women, and he had them, plenty of them, she never looked at another man. With her hair still in its coil, her glasses still in place, with new frames
identical to the old ones every year, the same simple country girl kind of dresses, she was no threat to any of his heart-throbs. They didn't see Eleanor as any kind of competition, and they confided in her, hoping it would get them close to Curry. But, of course, it didn't. At the end of the affair, Curry would have her send a dozen yellow roses from the florist. It was an unspoken thing, a quiet rejection, that was as final as death. And a few weeks later, he'd be off in pursuit of someone else.
He liked sophisticated women. Beautiful, sleek, well-groomed women who knew it all. She'd never seen him date anything less. Oh, Eleanor went with him to an occasional party in the line of dutyâbut it was always in something simple, she never wore makeup or changed her hair or took off her glasses. Whether or not that was intentional, she didn't stop to ask herself. The relationship she had with her boss, while pla
tonic, was satisfying and delightful. She didn't want to rock the boat by admitting how deeply her feelings went. She'd learned long ago never to want very much. Disappointment had taught her the dangers of caring too deeply.
Her mind came back to the present just as Curry finished talking with Magins, shook his hand, thanked him for his cooperation and shoveled him out the door.
“You are,” she told Curry, “a pirate. You'd have been right at home on the Spanish Main, hanging people from yard-arms.”
He raised an amused eyebrow at her. “Probably,” he admitted, lifting his lighted cigarette to his lips. “What's wrong, Jadebud, your conscience bothering you?”
“Thanks to you, I don't have one,” she shot back at him. “I've been corrupted.”
He laughed outright. “No doubt. How about calling Mandy for me? Tell her I'll
be a little late picking her up tonight. Jack Smith's ready to talk terms on that prize filly I've been after for two months.”
“How's Amanda going to take that?” Eleanor asked dryly. “I mean when I tell her she's been stood up for a horse?”
His eyes narrowed sensuously. “I'll soothe her ruffled feelings later,” he said in a soft tone.
Eleanor felt ripples of jealousy wash over her, but she was too practiced to let any emotion show. She smiled instead. “I'll call her. What time do I tell her to expect you?”
He turned and started for the door. “Make it seven,” he called over his shoulder.
She glared after him, at that dark, masculine arrogance he wore like a cloak around his muscular body. He'd been going with Amanda Mitchell for well over six months, a new record for one of his relationships, but if he felt much of any
thing for the gorgeous titian-haired model, it didn't affect him in any obvious way. He could leave her hanging like this, and had, many times, without a single qualm. He took her for granted, just as he took Eleanor and everybody else around him for granted. Arrogance, and Eleanor wondered how Amanda put up with it. The model could have had any of a dozen men by snapping her fingers, but the only one she wanted was Curry. And by being cunningâand probably by holding outâshe'd landed him. Temporarily, at least. Eleanor didn't take the affair seriously. It was just one more conquest for Curry, that was all.
She dialed Amanda and gave her the news.
“Just like a man,” came the musical reply, and Eleanor could almost see the amused look on Amanda's thin face. “Honestly, if Curry could forget horses for just five minutesâ¦” She sighed. “Eleanor, how do you stand it?” she asked sympathetically.
“I have a nervous breakdown once a week, religiously.” Eleanor laughed. She couldn't help liking the red-headed model; everybody did, she was so vivacious and open-hearted.
“I believe it. All right, tell the incorrigible brute I'll wait. Not,” she added, “that he deserves it.”
“I'll tell him that, too.” Eleanor laughed.
“I dare you,” Amanda teased. “Don't you know Curry would faint if you ever talked back to him? Why do you let him walk on you the way he does? It's outrageous what you take!”
“It goes with the job, I've been doing it a long time. Besides, what would his ranch hands say if he fainted?” Eleanor replied.
Amanda sighed. “I give up. See you.”
Eleanor sighed, shaking her head. It was true; Curry could be hard to get along with. But sometimes, he could be
charm personified. Especially when he wanted her to work overtime.
Curry had already gone to see the filly when a late model Buick drove up the front steps.
Jim Black was a head shorter than Curry, just about Eleanor's own height, burly and just a little overweight, with a leonine face and dark eyes. He was smiling, and his eyes twinkled as they met Eleanor's.
“I thought you might feel like having supper,” he said.
She laughed. “As a matter of fact, Bessie had a church meeting tonight, and I'd be eating alone,” she replied.