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The Cinderella Scandal
By Barbara McCauley
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSheets of icy January rain rippled across the Savannah countryside. Lightning exploded in the dark sky. Thunder rumbled through the magnificent oaks that lined the private stone drive, rattled the wide, sweeping branches and shook the moss-covered trunks.
The night wasn't fit for man nor beast, but when Abraham Danforth called his family to gather for a meeting, they came.
Though white-capped waves crashed on the beach below Crofthaven Manor, Reid Danforth was warm and dry inside the comfort of his car. Duke Ellington drifted quietly from the BMW's CD player, blended with the sound of the pelting rain on the car's roof and the whish-whish of the windshield wipers. After a long, hectic day negotiating a shipping contract with Maximilian Paper Products, one of Danforth & Co.'s largest clients in Austria, Reid was grateful for the peaceful thirty-minute drive to his family's house.
A drive, Reid thought as he pulled in front of the tall, black wrought-iron gates, that was about to come to an end.
Releasing a long breath, Reid pressed the remote inside his car, watched the massive gates slowly part. A flash of lightning lit the huge Georgian-style mansion at the end of the driveway; thunder boomed like cannon fire. Light shone through large, leaded-glass windows. Even to Reid, who'd been raised here in between semesters away at boarding schools, Crofthaven was an impressive estate. Built in the 1890s by Reid's great-grandfather, Hiram, the large mansion had been designed to survive. A trait Hiram had also firmly ingrained in his descendants.
Reid parked between two of the family's three limousines and shut off his engine, sat for a moment and listened to the rain battering the roof of his car. It always took a few moments to make the transition between the real world and Crofthaven. Tonight his father would expect the entire Danforth clan to be attentive while he laid out the game plan for his upcoming senatorial bid. Family unity and support were critical to a successful campaign. Abraham Danforth did not know the meaning of failure, a fact that had made the already prosperous shipping magnate more wealthy than his forefathers. Wealthy enough to step away from the day-to-day operations of Danforth & Co. Shipping and launch a new career in politics.
Because he was already late, Reid stepped out of his car into the piercing rain and strode toward the front entry. When he opened the oversize oak door, a gust of wind whistled around him, then swirled inside the white marbled hall. On a table at the base of the majestic sweeping staircase sat a large crystal vase filled with white roses that scented the air, as did the heavenly smell of roast lamb and oregano.
"Master Reid." Joyce Jones, Crofthaven's head housekeeper, appeared suddenly. Concern narrowed her brown eyes as she moved toward him. "I was worried about you."
"I'm fine," Reid reassured the woman he'd known the entire thirty-two years of his life. "Just finishing up some paperwork at the office."
Though the sixty-something housekeeper had never been especially demonstrative or affectionate, she at least had been a constant in Reid's erratic upbringing. The same black uniform, the same sturdy work shoes. Even the simple knot of brown hair at the base of her head hadn't changed, though lately Reid had noticed more than a few gray strands.
"It's nasty out there." Joyce moved behind Reid to help him out of his damp trench coat. Out of habit, she brushed a hand over the shoulders of his black business suit, then straightened the back of his collar.
"Martin is serving spiced rum and martinis in the parlor. Your father's on a phone call in his office. I'll tell him you're here."
Loosening his tie, Reid made his way to the parlor, then paused in the doorway. Two of his brothers, Ian and Adam were huddled by the fireplace with his cousin Jake, no doubt discussing the chain of D&D's coffeehouses they'd started in the Savannah area. Beside the bar, Reid's youngest brother, Marcus - the lawyer in the family - was currently engaged in an intense legal discussion with their uncle Harold and cousin Toby, something about water rights on Toby's ranch in Wyoming.
Reid thought of his mother and wished she could be here now to see how her five children had grown. Though he'd only been eight when she'd died, he could still remember how she'd enjoyed cooking for the family, and how much she'd loved to throw parties here. Many a time he and Ian had sneaked downstairs and watched while all the beautiful people in their beautiful clothes laughed and ate and danced to a band. He would never forget the night of his mother's birthday party when Reid watched his father dancing with his wife under the silvery light of the ballroom chandelier.
She'd died the next week, and Abraham Danforth had never seemed the same since. None of them had been the same.
"Reid!" His sister Kimberly broke away from the conversation she'd been having with their cousin Imogene. "Look at you. You're all wet."
"I've been telling him that for years," Jake said from across the room as he lifted his martini glass in a toast. "The gang's all here."
"Where's Aunt Miranda?" Reid asked Kimberly as she rose on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek.
"Putting Dylan to bed upstairs." Kimberly smiled at the mention of Toby's three-year-old son. "I brought a scrapbook of fish I've been photographing and studying out at the island, and he wanted to look at them in lieu of a bedtime story."
"Better watch out or we'll have another marine biologist in the family," Reid teased.
"If you'd have been here earlier and heard him playing the piano, you'd change your mind about that," Kimberly said. "He'll be in Carnegie Hall by the time he's ten."
"My money says he'll be there by eight." Imogene placed a vodka martini in Reid's hand. "Hello, cuz."
"Ah, the proud aunt." Reid grinned at Imogene, then leaned forward and kissed her cheek. "How's the world of investment banking these days?"
"Two promotions in six months. Your tie's crooked." She tightened the knot he'd just loosened.
"Impression is everything, hon. Speaking of, where's Mitzi these days? You two are quite the handsome couple."
"I have no idea where she is," he said dryly.
"Shopping, most likely."
Excerpted from The Cinderella Scandal by Barbara McCauley Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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