Authors: Jayne Ann Krentz
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either 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.
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Jayne Ann Krentz
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Electronic edition: May, 2005
Also by Jayne Ann Krentz
YE OF THE
By Jayne Ann Krentz
Writing as Jayne Castle
Six months earlierÂ .Â .Â .
HE SAW HER COMING TOWARD HIM, AN AVENGING
warrior princess in a crisp black business suit and high heels. Her dark hair was swept up into a stern knot at the back of her head. The little scarf at her throat matched the diamond-bright fire in her blue-green eyes. One look at her and the white-jacketed waiters leaped out of her path. She strode through the maze of linen-and-crystal-set tables, her gaze never wavering from her target.
The movers and shakers of Seattle's business community sensed disaster, or, at the very least, excellent gossip, in the making. A hush fell across the club's formal dining room.
Seated in the leather-cushioned booth, Jack watched her approach.
“Oh, shit.” He spoke very, very softly. It was obviously too late to pray.
One look at the fury that etched Elizabeth Cabot's intelligent face told him that he had lost his gamble. She knew everything this morning. What had happened between them last night clearly made no difference to her now.
A heavy cloud of stoicism settled on him. He waited for
her with the patience of a man who knows he is facing an inescapable fate.
She was almost upon him now, and he knew that he was doomed. It was not his whole life that flashed before his eyes in those final moments, however. It was the memory of last night. He recalled the sweet, hot anticipation and the hungry rush of desire that had flashed between them. Unfortunately, that was all they had shared. The concentrated excitement had taken him by surprise, probably because he had worked so hard to contain it for the past month. In the end it had swept away his self-control and the lessons of experience that any man his age was expected to know. He was well aware of his mistakes. Elizabeth did not believe in faking her orgasms.
She had been very nice about it last night. Polite as hell. As if her failure to climax was her fault and hers alone. Actually, she had seemed quite unsurprised, as far as he could tell. It was as if she had not expected anything more from the encounter and had, therefore, not been disappointed. He had apologized and vowed to make amends just as soon as physically possible. But she had explained that she had to go home. Something about an early-morning meeting for which she had to prepare.
Reluctantly, he had driven her back to the gothic monstrosity she called home on Queen Anne Hill. When he had kissed her goodnight at the door of the mansion he had assured himself that he would get a second chance. Next time he would get it right.
But now he knew there wasn't going to be a next time.
Elizabeth arrived at the booth, vibrating with a degree of passion that had been noticeably missing in the final scenes last night.
“You conniving, two-faced, egg-sucking son of a bitch,”
she said between her teeth. “What made you think you'd get away with it, Jack Fairfax?”
“Don't be shy, Elizabeth. Tell me what you really think of me.”
“Did you actually believe that I wouldn't find out who you are? Did you think that you could treat me like a mushroom? Keep me in the dark and feed me manure?”
There was no hope of defending himself. He could see that. But he had to try. “I never lied to you.”
“The hell you didn't. You never told me the truth. Not once during the past month did you give me any hint that you were the bastard who engineered the Galloway takeover.”
“That was a two-year-old business deal. It had nothing to do with us.”
to do with us, and you knew it. That's why you lied to me.”
In spite of the hopelessness of the situation, or perhaps because of it, he started to get mad. “It's not my fault the Galloway deal never came up between us. You never asked me about it.”
“Why would I do that?” Her voice rose. “How was I supposed to guess that you were involved in it?”
“You didn't work at Galloway. How was I supposed to guess that you had a connection to the company?” he countered.
“It doesn't matter. Don't you understand? That takeover was as ruthless, as cold-blooded, as anything I've ever seen in business. The fact that you were the hired gun who tore that company apart tells me exactly what kind of scum you really are.”
“People got hurt in that takeover.” Her hand clenched very
tightly around the strap of her elegant shoulder bag. “Badly hurt. I don't do business with men like you.”
Jack saw Hugo, the maÃ®tre d', hovering uneasily at a nearby table, obviously at a loss to decide how to quell the escalating scene. The waiter who had been on the way to the booth with ice water and bread halted, unmoving, a short distance away. Everyone in the dining room was listening now, but Elizabeth was oblivious to her audience.
Jack was morbidly fascinated himself, even though he was at ground zero. He would never have guessed that Elizabeth was capable of such drama. For the past month she had seemed so calm, so composed, so controlled.
“I think you'd better cool down,” he said quietly.
“Give me one good reason.”
“I'll give you two. Number one, we've got an audience. Number two, when you finally do cool off you are going to regret this scene a lot more than I will.”
She smiled at him with such freezing disdain that he was amazed there were no icicles in her hair. She waved one hand in a wide arc that encompassed the entire dining room. He took that as a very bad sign.
“I don't give a damn about our audience,” she said in ringing accents that no doubt carried all the way into the kitchen. “The way I look at it, I'm doing everyone here a public service by telling them that you are a lying SOB. I won't regret a single thing about this scene.”
“You will when you finally remember that we've got a signed, sealed contract for the Excalibur deal. Like it or not, we're stuck with each other.”
She blinked once. He saw the jolt of shock in her eyes. In the heat of her outrage, she had apparently forgotten the contract they had both signed yesterday morning.
She rallied swiftly. “I'll call the Fund's lawyers as soon as
I get back to the office. Consider our contract null and void as of today.”
“Don't bother trying to bluff. You can't get out of our deal just because you've decided I'm an SOB. You signed that damned contract, and I'm going to hold you to it.”
“We'll see about that.”
He shrugged. “If you want to tie both of us up in court for the next ten or twelve months, be my guest. But I'll fight you all the way, and I'll win in the end. We both know it.”
She was trapped, and he was pretty sure that she was too smart not to recognize that simple fact.
There was a tense moment while he watched her come to terms with the realization that he had won.
Frustrated rage flared once more in her face.
“You will pay for this, Jack Fairfax.” She reached out and swept the pitcher of ice water off the tray held by the motionless waiter. “Sooner or later, I swear you will pay for what you did.”
She dashed the contents of the water pitcher straight at him. He did not even try to duck. The only escape route was under the table, and somehow that option seemed more ignominious than staying in his seat.
The icy water splashing in his face ignited the temper that he had been struggling to control. He looked at Elizabeth. She was staring at him, the first signs of shock and horror lighting her eyes. He knew that it was just beginning to dawn on her that she had made an almighty fool of herself.
“This isn't about the Galloway deal, is it?” he said softly. “This is about last night.”
Clutching her purse, she took a step back as if he had struck her. “Don't you dare bring up last night. This is not about last night, damn you.”
“Sure it is.” He swiped a chunk of ice off the shoulder of
his jacket. “I take full responsibility, of course. It's the gentlemanly thing to do, isn't it?”
She sucked in her breath in a stunned gasp. “Don't try to reduce this to sex. What happened last night is the least important aspect of this entire affair. In fact, what happened last night was so unimportant and so unmemorable that it doesn't even register on the scale.”
Last night had meant nothing to her
. He lost what little remained of the control he had been exerting over his anger. His hands closed around the edge of the table. He rose deliberately to his feet, heedless of the fact that he was still dripping ice water. He smiled slowly at Elizabeth.
“On my own behalf,” he said with grave politeness, “I would like to say that I didn't know going in that I was dealing with the original Ice Princess. You should have warned me that you've got a little problem in that department. Who knows? With some extra time and effort, I might have been able to thaw you out.”
As soon as the words were uttered, he regretted them. But they hung there in the air above the table, frozen, glittering shards of ice. He knew they would never melt.
Elizabeth fell back another step. Her face was flushed. Her eyes narrowed. “You really are a bastard, aren't you?” Her voice was low and much too even now. “You don't care a damn about what happened in the aftermath of the Galloway deal, do you?”
He ran a hand through his hair to get rid of some of the cold water. “No, I don't. Business is business, as far as I'm concerned. I don't believe in getting emotionally involved.”
“I understand,” she said. “That's precisely how I feel about last night.”
She turned on one needle-sharp heel and walked out of the restaurant without a backward glance.
Jack watched her leave. He did not take his eyes off her until she disappeared through the door.
The twinges of impending fate that he had experienced when she had entered the dining room grew stronger. He knew that she must be feeling them, too.
They both knew the truth.
She could walk away from what had happened between them last night, but she could not walk away from the business contract they had signed. For better for worse, for richer for poorer, it bound them together more securely than any wedding license could have done.