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Two hours and twenty-three minutes. That was how long January Camden had been waiting in her car on that Monday afternoon. Actually, it was Monday evening by then because it was now twenty-three minutes after six o'clock. And she decided that, for her, there was no appeal to being a stalker.
But stalking Gideon Thatcher at his place of business was what she'd been reduced to.
She closed the book she'd been reading when it was still light out, put it into her oversize hobo purse and turned on the engine of her sedan in order to run the heat for a few minutes.
It was the end of Januarythe month of her birth and the reason for her name. And although the daytime weather in Denver had been unseasonably warm and springlike, it was now after dark and getting much colder, forcing her to start her car and turn on the heater more frequently than when she'd first begun this quest today.
How late did this guy work, anyway?
She knew that Gideon Thatcher was in the office because she'd called and quizzed the receptionist before beginning this stakeout. The helpful older-sounding woman had said that he was expected to be there until five.
Jani had arrived in the heart of downtown Denver at four o'clock. She'd taken one turn around the block to make sure there wasn't a rear exit to the redbrick turn-of-the-century mansion that had been remodeled into office space. Then she'd parked on the street two car lengths from the front of the building where she could see the entrance.
At that point she'd placed a second call to the Thatcher Group's receptionist and again asked if Gideon Thatcher was in. "In, but not available" had been the answer. So she'd been waiting ever since to ambush the man. She'd seen pictures of him on his website and in a recent newspaper article, so she was certain that he hadn't slipped by without her recognizing him.
Gideon Thatcher was the owner of the Thatcher Group, a private company that offered city planning services. The article had brought him to Jani's grandmother's immediate attention, leading seventy-five-year-old Georgianna Camden to recruit Jani for her project of making amends to the victims of the Cam-den family's past business misdeeds.
The Camdens owned Camden Incorporated, which encompassed a worldwide chain of superstores and many of the factories, warehouses, production facilities, ranches and farms that stocked them. An empire. Built by Jani's great-grandfather, H. J. Camden.
The caring family man she'd loved.
Unfortunately, when it had come to business, H. J. Camden had been very different from the way he'd been at home. It had always been rumored that he was ruthless, that he had trampled and sacrificed numerous people in the building of the Camden empire. That he'd instilled this ruthlessness in his son, Hank, and even in his grandsonsJani's late father, Howard, and her uncle Mitchum.
The family had hoped the rumors weren't true. It just didn't sound like the kind, loving men whom Jani, her siblings and her cousins had experienced. But now, thanks to finding H.J.'s journals, the worst of the stories about his business dealings had been confirmed.
And so Georgianna had drafted H.J.'s ten descendants, sending them on fact-finding missions to learn how best to make some sort of compensation to his victims and their families. They were determined to do what they could to atone to some of the people most wronged in the past.
But Gideon Thatcher wasn't making this easy for Jani. He'd denied her request for a meeting with him. He hadn't answered her voice mails or emails or the letter she'd sent to him. She wasn't sure what else to do but lie in wait for him and try to force him to talk to her. Essentially she was stalking him.
Jani sat up straight and arched away from the car seat to ease the kink out of her back, then slipped her arms into the navy blue wool peacoat she'd taken off when it was warmer. She buttoned it over her white turtleneck sweater and navy wool slacks.
"Come on, just quit for the day and go home," she said, staring in the direction of the front door where other people had already emerged in end-of-the-work-day mode.
But nothing happened at her command. Bored and antsy, she took a lip gloss from her purse and craned up to her rearview mirror to apply it.
She'd always wished that her mouth wasn't quite as wide as it was, and the rectangular mirror only seemed to accentuate that flaw. She puckered up a little just to make herself feel better. Then, when she'd applied the lip gloss, she took stock of the rest of what she could see in the small reflection.
No mascara smudges to muddy her blue eyesthe blue eyes that all ten of Georgianna's grandchildren had and that had, over the years in school, come to be known as the Camden blue eyes.
Her high cheekbones still bore the pink blush she'd applied that morning when she'd left her house but she reached into her purse to retrieve her compact so she could blot her straight forehead, her nose and the chin that was a tiny bit on the pointy side.
Then she moved her head this way and that to get a glimpse of her hair in the sliver of mirror.
The thick, wavy, sable-colored locks seemed a little scraggly so she put the compact back in her purse and took out a brush.
Ordinarily she would have tilted her head upside down to brush her hair from the bottom up but since that wasn't possible in the car, she ran the brush through from the top to the ends that fell six inches below her shoulders. Then she shook her head to get her hair to fall slightly forward.
It was something she'd been doing since the sixth grade when Larry Driskel had remarked that her nose was long and skinny. Her grandmother complained that her hair was in her face and always said that she was too pretty to hide behind it. But, since Larry Driskel's comment, Jani just felt more confident with her hair acting as a bit of a curtain between her and the world.
And the thought of Gideon Thatcher definitely left her with the need to feel as confident as possibleit was unnerving to have to meet someone for the first time who potentially didn't like the Camdens. And forcing that meeting didn't help.
Of course it was possible that she was just misinterpreting why Gideon Thatcher had rejected her every overture. That's what her more optimistic side told her. Maybe he was just a busy guy and didn't have the time for her. Maybe what H.J. had done years and years ago to Gideon Thatcher's family wasn't any big deal to him .
Jani hoped that was the case but not even her optimistic side really believed it.
She took a deep breath and turned off her engine, thinking that she would wait until seven. If Gideon Thatcher didn't come out by then, she'd go up to the office and just barge in.
But about the time she reached that decision, the large mahogany front door to the building opened and out stepped the man himself.
Jani recognized him from his photos but instantly realized that none of them had done him justice.
Which was why she uttered an involuntary "Wow.. and just sat there staring.
Gideon Thatcher was tall, commanding and broadshouldered in a black overcoat and carrying a leather briefcase. Even from a distance she could see that he was remarkably good-looking.
The glow of the streetlights illuminated brown hair a couple of shades lighter than hersa sandy, golden brown. He wore it short on the sides, slightly longer on top and carelessly combed. And although Jani was too far away to analyze each of his features, he was just so generally handsome that it was enough to make her jaw drop a little.
While she sat there stunned, he seemed to remember something, then turned and disappeared back into the building.
That was actually a lucky break, Jani thought. Because she should have already made her approach but there she was, still sitting in her car, dumbstruck by the sight of him.
Gambling that he would come out again any minute, Jani took her keys from the ignition and grabbed her purse. She hurried out of her sedan, closed the door and went to the foot of the seven stone steps that rose to the former mansion's front door.
Which was when that door opened again and out came Gideon Thatcher for the second time.
"Mr. Thatcher?" she said brightly.
The sound of her voice brought him to a stop. They'd never met so of course he didn't recognize her; he merely looked at her quizzically. But after a split-second appraisal he smiled a reserved smile that kept his fairly full lips closed but turned up the corners of his mouth. His finely shaped eyebrows arched in interest. A flattering kind of interest that Jani hadn't seen from a man in a while so it set off a little rush of satisfaction. Particularly when that interest was coming from someone this handsome.
He had a wide forehead; penetrating eyes she still couldn't see the color of; a nose that was just long enough and just wide enough to suit his face; and a jaw-line that was well angled, chiseled and culminated in a squared-off chin that had a dashing off-center dent in it.
But she was gawking again.
"I'm Gideon Thatcher," he confirmed as he came down the steps without touching the wrought-iron railing on either side of them.
Standing before her, he was at least eight inches taller than her five-foot-four height and now she could see that his eyes were green. An almost iridescent sea green, and gorgeous.
"I'm January Camden"
Whoops. That was all it took to alter things.
Gideon Thatcher's gorgeous green eyes narrowed at her, and his attractive face not only sobered, but went instantly hostile.
Jani pretended not to notice. "I've been trying to speak with you"
"I don't know why you're here and I don't care," he announced unceremoniously in his deep voice. "I have nothing to say to any Camden, anytime, anywhere."
Okay, not a warm reception.
What did you get me into, GiGi? she silently asked of her grandmother.
But within the Camden organization, Jani was in charge of public relations and marketing. Part of her job was to not get ruffled in the face of irate customers, vendors, clients and anyone else she needed to deal with. She had no idea why something about Gideon Thatcher was ruffling her a little on the inside but she hid it.
"If you could just give me a few minutes"
"No matter what you Camdens have up your sleeve, I'm not interested. Regardless of how pretty a package they've sent to tempt me with."
It took Jani a split second to realize that he was talking about her. Giving her a sort of compliment.
The problem was, in that instant of confusion, Gideon Thatcher stepped around her and was headed on his way.
"Please, if you could just give me a minute " she beseeched, turning quickly to follow him.
Unfortunately when she did that, the strap on her purse caught on the end of the stair railing and broke. Her purse fell, spewing the contents across the sidewalk and even under the car parked at the curb, eliciting a loud gasp from Jani.
Gideon Thatcher paused and looked back.
As Jani began to gather her spilled belongings she could see enough peripherally to tell that he was aggravated. But rather than continuing on his way and leaving her to the mess, he muttered something under his breath and returned to help her pick things up.
While Jani snatched her wallet, cell phone and some other personal items, he went to the curb and leaned far over to reach what had slid under the car.
So You Want to Have a Babythat was the name of the book she'd been reading while she waited for him. The title was in big black block letters that had jumped out at her at the bookstore. His gaze went to the cover, no doubt registering the title, as he handed the book to her.
Jani accepted the book, and quickly stuffed it into her purse. Then he gave her the compact and a tablet she'd been taking notes on as she'd read.
"Thank you," she said, fighting the embarrassment of having him know what she was reading.
But she wasn't about to address the topic with him and instead decided that the delay her spilled purse had caused was an opportunity she couldn't let pass. It was as if fate had given her another chance to say what she'd come to say in the first place.
So she did. "We saw the article in the paper about all you're doing to redevelop Lakeview and we want to fund a park in your great-grandfather's name."
A stillness seemed to come over Gideon Thatcher as he stared at her in disbelief. Then he shook his handsome head, and made a sort of huffing sound, practically scoffed at her.
"H. J. Camden used and betrayed my greatgrandfather, and made it look as if my great-grandfather betrayed hundreds of people who trusted him," Gideon Thatcher proclaimed. "He ruined the Thatcher name and turned Lakeview into something it never wanted to be. You have no idea what I had to do to convince Lakeview to give mea Thatcherthis project. And now you not only think that I would let the Camdens anywhere near it, but you have the gall to believe that something as meager as a park would somehow make up for everything?"
"H.J. and your great-grandfather were good friends for fifteen years. I know things went bad but in some respects it wasn't H.J.'s faulthe wanted to keep the promises he made"
"I'm keeping the promises he made. H. J. Camden didn't do anything for anyone but himself."
Jani couldn't deny that. And, as she stood there facing Gideon Thatcher's scorn and contempt, she had to wonder if anything she offered would break through it.
But the family had vowed to explore all the ramifications of H.J.'s actions and in order to do that she had to get her foot in the door with this guy.
So she stood her ground, raised her chin proudly and said, "If not a park, then what?"
"You're kidding, right? You think that anythinganythingcan make up for what H. J. Camden did to my family?"
"I think that you see this only from your own perspective right now and that other factors went into what happened decades ago. But H.J.my greatgrandfatherregretted how things ended up. He regretted the loss of his friendship with your greatgrandfather. He regretted that Lakeview was left a factory and warehouse town rather than the suburban dream he promised. And now that it seems as if you're going to do so much of what should have been done then, we know that H.J. would want your greatgrandfather honored by helping in some way."
"Some token waylike a measly park?"
A park or whatever, Jani thought. She just needed to make enough of a connection with this man to get to know him, find out what actually happened to his family post-H.J. and learn if there were any other ways the Camdens could make up for the past.
"You were quoted in the newspaper saying something about a park in Lakeview," she continued. "That's the only reason we're suggesting that. If there's something else that we could do, something that you would rather have the Thatcher name on, we could certainly talk about it."
"We could, could we?" he said sarcastically. "The high-and-mighty Camdens would allow that?"
She hadn't said it that way and she certainly hadn't meant it that way.
"Mr. Thatcher." she said, hoping that calling him that would show her respect.
But that was as far as she got.
"Gideon," he corrected as if she were insulting him in some way to use the formality, and Jani realized that she couldn't win.
"Gideon," she amended patiently. "We just want to do what we can to help Lakeview finally become what it should have, and we want to do it in the name of your great-grandfather."
"It sure as hell wouldn't be in the name of Camden."
"Whatever we do can be absolutely anonymous. We aren't looking for any kind of credit"
"And you aren't going to get any."
Oh, he really did have a grudge against them. It seemed as if the mission to makes amends had been so much simpler for her brother Cade, who had ended up meeting the love of his life when he'd accomplished the first of these tasks a few months ago.