Authors: Monica Barrie
By: Monica Barrie
This is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and events are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, places or incidents are coincidental and not intended by the author.
This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1985, 2015, by Monica Barrie.
Originally published in Paperback Edition by Silhouette Special Editions.
Cover designed by Erin Dameron Hil / EDH Graphics
To Devon Leah Wind
Named in Memory of her Aunt
Table of Contents
It was an enchanting evening, perhaps one of the loveliest Cassandra Leeds had experienced in New York. She stood on the penthouse terrace and gazed upward at the clear star-studded sky. The sky resembled a jeweler’s pad of black velvet, complete with ten-thousand sparkling diamonds strewn carelessly across it.
The moon was a small crescent off to one side, and tonight, instead of its customary yellowish tint, it gleamed almost a pure white. The cool late-winter air was refreshing, and she welcomed its caress and the goose bumps it brought to her bared skin.
Her black sleeveless Halston was as dark as the heavens; and, her lightly tanned skin contrasted fetchingly with the silk. Her swept back long hair, held in place by two silver hair combs, secure against the breeze tossing the unruly length about.
Behind her, inside the penthouse, the sounds of conversation and music filtered through the closed glass doors, but she pushed them away. She wanted no reminders of the people inside, especially of Somner.
For over a year, she and Somner Barwell had been an ‘item’. He was pleasant enough, she thought, but he wasn’t the man with whom she wanted to spend her life. In fact, Cassandra didn’t know what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. She was twenty-six—almost twenty-seven. With each passing year, she seemed to become more confused rather than more certain about herself.
Somner was beginning to treat her as one of his possessions. He, like the rest of the people they knew, seemed to think it was an established fact that they would marry.
She knew Somner would be a great catch—he had all the prerequisites: he was good-looking, wealthy, and respected. Somner traveled the world and was wealthy enough to buy whatever he wanted. He had a large art collection, beautiful cars, summer residences in the south of France, the Hamptons, Malibu, and, of course, this home—a Fifth Avenue penthouse.
“Happy, darling?” Somner asked as he stepped out onto the terrace and came up behind her. His hands wound around her slim waist, clasping together at the very center of her stomach before gently drawing her to him.
“How could I not be?” she replied, turning slightly to glance at him from the corners of her eyes. He was handsome in a very traditional way. He wore his hair short, kept his face clean-shaven, and always smelled of aftershave. His manicured nails and clothing were always impeccable.
He released her and Cassandra took a deep breath.
“That makes me very happy,” he said, stepping beside her. Then his hand went into his jacket pocket. “Cassandra, you already know how I feel about you.” Pausing, he withdrew his hand. In it was a velvet box.
, she pleaded silently.
Smiling, Somner opened the box and, despite her trepidation, Cassandra gasped. Within the box sat a magnificent engagement ring. A large marquis-cut emerald, which looked to be five carats, glinted in the terrace’s low light.
Before she could speak, Somner took the ring out and moved it to her hand. It was then she forced her herself into action.
Stepping back, Cassandra shook her head. “No, Somner, not yet,” she whispered as she turned and ran from him. She sped through the large living room, ignoring the startled glances thrown her way.
She grabbed her small purse from where she’d left it and, without even bothering with her coat, raced out of the apartment and into the waiting elevator.
Moments later, she was on Fifth Avenue, waving her arm to attract a passing cab. When one stopped, she ran to it, and just as she heard Somner call her name from the door of the building, got in and closed the door.
When the cab started rolling, Cassandra breathed deeply.
“Where to?” asked the cabby as he gazed at her in his rearview mirror. His eyes took in the fact that she wore no coat and her dress was too light for the cold weather. He could also tell, from his years of experience, she was one of ‘them’—the idle rich.
“Just drive for a few minutes, please,” she whispered in a voice barely loud enough for him to hear.
The driver shrugged his shoulders and began to drive slowly along the avenue while Cassandra tried to organize her thoughts and figure out what she should do.
Finally, a smile etched its way across her taut features. She opened her purse and glanced at the contents. Within the small black bag were her cosmetics, a small credit card case, and her passport. For some reason, Cassandra always carried her passport.
“Kennedy Airport,” she told the driver.
Stepping out of the limousine, Cassandra gazed around. In the three months she had been gone, little had changed in New York.
, she thought with a smile,
so have I.
She walked to the entrance of the large, modern office building housing Leeds International. When she entered the lobby, she felt the first twinge of anxiety. By the time the elevator reached the forty-seventh floor, her stomach had filled with butterflies; when she opened the door to her father’s outer office, she was afraid her legs wouldn’t support her.
Cassandra Leeds had good reason to be nervous. Her father was furious, angrier than she’d ever known in her life.
“Good afternoon, Miss Leeds,” called the receptionist. “Welcome back from Greece.”
Cassandra’s eyes flicked to the smiling young woman, and she wondered if the receptionist knew the story behind Cassandra’s appearance here today.
“Thank you, Alice,” she replied, keeping her voice calm and level.
“Go right in, your father’s waiting for you.”
Cassandra smiled hesitantly. “I was afraid of that,” she said as she started toward the forbidding glass doors of her father’s office.
“Three months! You disappear for three months as if there were nothing in the world to concern you other than a crazy whim striking you! What do you have to say for yourself?” Gregory Leeds demanded in a voice so low and angry it sounded like a roar to Cassandra’s ears.
Staring at her father, she took in his rigid features. The sharp lines of his face, which had always seemed so handsome to her, now looked foreboding in the extreme.
“I had to get away,” she replied, managing to keep her voice firm when she finally spoke.
“Did you? Did you have to get away, or run away? Cassandra, you’re twenty-seven years old. You have had everything you’ve ever asked for; and you’ve taken quite a few things you didn’t ask for. But this irresponsibility must stop.”
“I’m sorry, Father, but I had a lot on my mind. I had to sort everything out,” Cassandra stated, forcing herself to shed her fear of her father and stand up for herself.
Gregory Leeds stared at his daughter in disbelief. He knew, had always known, he spoiled his daughter. He had done so from the moment she’d been born and been unable to stop himself. Once he’d learned his wife could no longer have children, he’d hoped Cassandra would take over his work. She had always been a bright, willful, headstrong child, but she had been a good child also.
Then came the riding accident. Cassandra, who had always been fearless, changed, and for the first time in his memory, had become afraid of something. She had never been the same.
“And have you sorted ‘everything’ out?” the elder Leeds asked sarcastically.
“Yes. I realized I’m not ready for marriage yet. I need to do something for myself first,” Cassandra told him. It was true. In the three months she had spent in Greece, she had realized her life felt empty, and there was nothing in it to give her any personal satisfaction.
“And you don’t consider marriage to one of the fastest-rising businessmen in the world, ‘something to do for yourself’? Cassandra, having a family is very important.”
“I’m not ready to become a high-class breeder for Somner Barwell!” Cassandra snapped, growing angry with her father and losing her fear.
“Really? Well, let me tell you something, young lady. That’s about all you can do! You dropped out of college in your last semester. You’ve never spent a day in your life working—not even charity work like your mother. No, what you do is to run around the world playing with your friends, who do as much for themselves as you do for yourself. And you have the audacity to tell me you want to find yourself?” Gregory Leeds lost the last thread of the self-control, which had been so tenaciously holding his temper in check. Eighteen years of watching his only child waste her life had finally taken its toll.
“Are you saying I’m worthless?” Cassandra asked, her mind numbed by her father’s heated outburst, her cheeks flaming with both anger and humiliation.
“No, Cassandra,” her father said in a constrained voice, “But it’s what you’ve been showing me and the rest of the world.” Then Gregory Leeds made himself relax before speaking again. “I think that a marriage between you and Somner would be for the best. You have to start living like a normal person.”
His words had the power of a hard slap, and Cassandra’s mind whirled with the attack. For the last three months, Cassandra had led a secluded life, staying with her oldest friend, who had a house in Greece, rarely going out in public, just spending each day in deep thought.
What bothered her most was her father voicing some of the very things she herself had thought about. Her anger at him was also an anger directed inward, because, to a small degree, her father was right.
“I’m still not ready to marry Somner.”
“I’m sorry, Cassandra, but I think it would be for the best.”
A white-hot streak of irrational anger surged through her mind. She stiffened, and her hazel eyes turned as cold as her father’s.
“I’m sorry, Father, but I don’t. I have a life of my own, and I plan to live it!”
“Cassandra, you’re in the real world now. The life you have I pay for—your car, your apartment, your clothes, even your food. You’ve never earned your way, and I don’t think you can now. Marry Somner; it’s in everybody’s best interest.”
Cassandra stood. Her large eyes swept back and forth across her father’s face; her breathing was forced from anger and hurt. “Best interests? Am I another one of your business deals? A piece of property to trade? What can you gain from selling me to Somner? You’re richer than he or his father. Your company is bigger. What?” she screamed, feeling like a piece of old merchandise ready to be discarded.
Gregory Leeds walked from behind his desk. He had hoped Cassandra would have accepted his advice without theatrics. Yet in the back of his mind, he was aware of a new spark in her eyes, a spark that combined anger, resentment, and something else…. Challenge, perhaps, he thought.
He went to his daughter, but as he reached out to embrace her, she stepped back.
“No! I’m not a little child anymore.”
Gregory sighed. “I wish that were true.”
“Father, please don’t force me to do this,” she pleaded in a low voice.
“I’m sorry, Cassie,” he said, using the name he had not used since she was a child. “But you’ve no choice. You really can do nothing else. Being a good wife—a good mother—is just as important as what I do.”
“Damn it! I can do something with my life. I’m not ready to be married off. Please, Father, let me show you I can do something.”
Gregory took a deep breath and gazed intently at Cassandra. As she’d pleaded her eyes had grown stronger, her gaze both conciliatory and challenging at the same time. Yet Gregory knew she was just trying to avoid responsibility.
“What can you do?”
Cassandra saw a look of challenge, mixed with a look of hopelessness, on her father’s face. He didn’t believe her. You’re wrong, Father, she said silently. Straightening her shoulders, she stared directly into his eyes.
“I can do anything! Anything! Give me one of your companies to run and I’ll prove it to you.”
“Just like that? Just give you a company to run? Don’t be ridiculous.” But, in the back of his mind, the germ of an idea emerged. “Anything, Cassandra?”
“That’s what I said.”
Nodding his head, Gregory returned to his desk. “All right.”
Cassandra’s breath exploded. She had hoped against hope her father would listen to her and let her try to find a path for her life. Although she hadn’t known what to expect from today’s meeting, victory had been only a small glimmer in her mind. Now she was soaring, and she smiled radiantly at her father.
“What?” she asked eagerly. “Which company?” Visions of boardrooms filled with powerful executives all listening obsequiously to her every word filled her mind … lunches at which she commanded all the attention, making deals at the drop of a hat. “Tell me, Father, please.”
Gregory gazed at his daughter’s radiant face and held his words back for a moment. She was flushed with victory; it was a look he wanted to remember. “Tomorrow. I have to think about it tonight.”
“Okay,” she said quickly. Then she paused as another thought struck her. “You aren’t planning to just make me a figurehead, an adornment, are you? I really do want to show you that I can stand on my own two feet.”
“You have my word. Whatever company I give you will be yours to run, or to ruin,” he promised solemnly. “Now, I have work to do. Be here at nine tomorrow morning.”
“Very well, Father,” she said. She went around his desk and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you,” she whispered. A moment later, she was at the door.
“Cassandra,” her father called. With her hand wavering on the doorknob, she turned back to look at him. “There is one more thing. I closed your apartment down two months ago and bought out the lease. All your things are at the house.”
Cassandra’s smile froze on her lips. “Why?”
“When you failed to call after a month, I decided I was through supporting you. If you had used your credit cards any time in the past two months, you would have learned so. If I hadn’t sent you the ticket home, you would not have been able to leave Greece. Cassandra, you are welcome to stay at home until you either marry Somner, or you take my job offer.”
Cassandra knew her father was very, very serious. She also knew she had been given one more chance and was not about to blow it. Forcing herself not to think about her loss of freedom, Cassandra left the office.
Kirk North hung up the phone, sat back, and closed his eyes. Although it was only four o’clock, it had been a long day in a series of long days. Kirk had been the general manager of the Twin Rivers Ranch for three-and-a-half years of his seven-year employment and had never had as bad a year as this one.
It had been a lean, dry year. Beef prices were down, and the herd of Appaloosa he had been breeding so carefully came down with disease. While he’d managed to save a fair number of them, he couldn’t sell the horses as planned.
The fiscal year was ending in a week, and the ranch would show a loss for the second year in a row. He had just gotten off the phone with Murray Charter, the comptroller of the corporation that owned the ranch. He had been honest about the year and been surprised to hear no chastisement in the man’s voice.
“You’ll just have to do better next year,” Charter had told him.
Something about his response bothered Kirk. It was almost as if the man didn’t care. But Kirk did. Ranching, and being a success, was important to him. Why wasn’t it important to the Leeds Corporation?
This wasn’t the first time the question had crossed his mind. He’d felt the same way last year after the year-end audit. He had received a raise, which had taken him by surprise—so much so that he’d contacted Charter and refused the raise.
The comptroller had argued with him, but Kirk had been adamant. “When I do the job properly. When I show a profit, then I’ll take the raise,” he’d told the man. His words and tone had brooked no argument.
What would happen now?
Shaking his head, he stood and stretched his six-two frame. Easing his stiff muscles, Kirk wished he were on a horse, instead of sitting in a chair today. Then he ran his fingers through his wavy brown hair. As he did, his eyes fell on the aerial photograph of the ranch.
Kirk enjoyed his responsibility of the one-hundred-and-twenty-thousand acres of prime Arizona land, along with the thirty-thousand head of cattle, and five-hundred head of Appaloosa horse stock. The ranch house itself was large—eight bedrooms, five baths, a formal living room, and a dining room seating thirty, a library, a study, and a den. There was also an immense kitchen and servants’ quarters.
At one time, before the large corporations had invaded the area of ranching, Twin Rivers had been the center of ranching in the Phoenix area. Now, like many of the old-time spreads, it was a corporate venture.
The large house was not a place to live, except occasionally when the corporate people came and used the two main suites upstairs. The main floor of the house was the ranch’s offices; Kirk’s office had once been the library.
A hundred yards from the main house was his own house. As the general manager, he was entitled to private quarters. Near his house was another, smaller than his was, but just as nice. Right now, it was housing the only female ranch hand working at Twin Rivers. Set back another thirty yards from his house was the main housing complex, where the unmarried ranch hands bunked.
Kirk’s eyes wandered along the aerial map, taking in the various ranges. On the far side of the ranch was a five-thousand acre farm, where they grew a good deal of the grain and hay.
A series of livestock corrals were set a quarter-mile from the main house, along with a complex of barns, stables, and silos.
Why wasn’t the Leeds Corporation worried about taking a loss two years in a row?
he asked himself again. The puzzle was beginning to show signs of becoming an obsession with him. Something wasn’t right, and he wanted to know what that something was.
Returning to his desk, he sat and faced the computer. A moment later, he was gazing at long rows of figures. Even as he did, he laughed and his face softened.
Kirk wondered just how a rancher from fifty or a hundred years ago would react to modern ranching, run by corporations, computers and boardroom logic.
Not very well,” he told himself aloud. Kirk knew there was one important aspect of ranching big business did not understand, and probably never would: Ranching was a business; but, it was also personal. You could not be a rancher if you felt nothing for the land around you. That’s where the corporations made their mistakes.
However, Kirk could not imagine himself doing anything but ranching. Especially after what he’d been through before. Shaking away those thoughts, Kirk concentrated on the ranch’s figures, and on the thought continually plaguing his conscience. Kirk knew he would do his best to find out what was going on, no matter how long it took.
Cassandra lay restlessly in her bed, listening to the chiming of an old grandfather clock. Her mind churned endlessly, and she could not make herself relax at all.
She had still not fully recovered from this afternoon’s harsh confrontation with her father and had hoped she would be able to talk to him tonight; but her hope had been dismissed when she’d spoken to her mother, who had been on her way out of the house when she’d come in.