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You know that old saying 'Keep your friends close and your enemies closer'? Well, I think there should be another line." Priscilla Lennox had to raise her voice to be heard as she spoke into the tiny headset that permitted her to keep her hands on the wheel and off her cell phone. Added bonus? Not having to put the top up on her Mercedes convertible. "Keep at least a thousand miles between you and your family."
"Well, don't hold back, honey. Tell me how you really feel." Lisa's sweet voice still held that down-home Savannah-born-and-bred charm despite her years in Southern California. "Not that you need to explain this latest escapade of Jacqueline's, bless her heart."
No, Priscilla didn't need to bother with the details. Her best friend had heard often enough about the mishaps and misadventures of Priscilla's younger sister over the years. Not to mention how Priscilla had always wound up either being blamed for her sister's messes or cleaning them up before the press got wind of them.
Or heaven forbid, their father.
"I'm guessing you haven't seen the headline in the Entertainment World that came out today," her friend added.
Priscilla waited for a moment before answering. She'd purposely avoided the press coverage as she made her way through Northern California, into Nevada and now zoomed down the highway just east of Salt Lake City. Was that enough timeand distanceto prepare for the cra-ziness headed her way?
"No, go ahead and read it to me." She hoped her words sounded causal as she released her tight grip on the steering wheel and flexed her fingers. Her hand was noticeably lighter now that the diamond she'd worn for the past six months was tucked away with the rest of her jewelry. Her right hand. "I'm braced and ready."
"'Commodities Millionaire Trades Good Deeds Sister for Good Times Sister.'"
Okay, the kick to Priscilla's heart smarted for a moment, but then it faded to a dull ache. Shouldn't she be more devastated by the clever turn of words? Maybe she was still in shock? After all, it wasn't every day that a girl walked in on her boyfriend and her sister in a clinch so sizzling they could've been modeling for the cover of a romance novelthe kind sporting a half-naked man and a lady whose dress was undone all the way down to her perfect backside. Yeah, that was one mess Priscilla most definitely hadn't stuck around to clean up.
"There's a montage of photos, too. You with Jonathan on his yacht last summer, Jonathan and Jacqueline arm and arm on the red carpet at the gala a few nights ago, you backstage that same nightlooking marvelous in a Lisa Ashland Original, I'll shamelessly addwielding that famous clipboard of yours."
Great. Her father would be so pleased to see both of his girls in full color in one of the most popular gossip rags in the country, and probably spilling over to its website and nightly television show, as well. And he'd blame her, of course.
Sweet Jacqueline could never be at fault. No, not his baby. Not the sweet blessing that had arrived long after he and her mother had considered their family complete with just one daughter.
Priscilla sighed. It still amazed her that she was a week away from turning thirty and her life was still divided into two sections. The eight years before her sister was born and the twenty-two years since.
"So why are you heading for Wyoming?" Lisa's voice broke into her thoughts. "There's nothing there but a lot of Wyoming."
Thankful for the switch in subject, Priscilla latched on to her friend's question. "Remember when I mentioned last week how I've been chatting with Bobby Winslow"
"The retired race-car driver? What does he have to do with this sudden road trip of yours?"
"Well, Bobby started this children's summer camp in his hometown of Destiny, Wyoming."
"And he's asked you for help?"
"Well, no." A small detail Priscilla had never let get in her way before. "But we have spoken about fund-raising and promotion for the place."
Okay, so maybe Bobby had been joking when he said he should hire her. And maybe she'd been doing the same when she said she would send him an email with a financial prospectus. Even so, she'd started the research necessary for such a project just a few days ago.
Before her life had been turned upside down. Before she had nothing but time on her hands.
"I know this is going to sound rather snobbish, but isn't that a little outside of your area of expertise?" Lisa asked.
That was exactly why Priscilla had pointed her convertible to this part of the country after she'd escaped L.A. two days ago. "I'll admit a summer camp is less high-profile than organizations I've worked with in the past, but I've been looking for something new. Something different. I'd already planned to take the rest of the summer off to rethink my career options. The foundation means the world to me, but after ten years " Priscilla's voice faded for a moment as she swallowed the lump in her throat. "Maybe I've given back enough."
"Okay, I get why you've abandoned your plans for a getaway to the French Riviera with the jerk whose name we won't ever mention again, but traveling solo through the Wild West instead?"
Solo? Priscilla looked over at the passenger seat, where her passenger snoozed away in a monogrammed sleeping bag on top of a tufted, lamb's wool pillow. "Who said I was alone?"
"Oh, please don't tell me you have Jacqueline's ugly mutt"
"Sebastian Niles A King's Elegance is not ugly and he's not a mutt. He's a purebred smooth-coat Chihuahua my sister thought would make a cute fashion accessory before she realized a live animal requires actual care and feeding. And love. Besides, I think the poor thing was as traumatized as I was by what we witnessed in that dressing room."
"Su-gar," Lisa drawled again, "are you sure about this?"
"About needing to get away from the craziness going on back home? Absolutely." An odd thrill raced through her at the thought of having so much free time ahead of her. Yesterday the country had celebrated its independence. Now it was time for her to do the same. "I'll visit Bobby and his wife for a few days, share some ideas I've worked up, and then who knows where I'll head next. Maybe Chicago or New York. Or a deserted tropical island with no media access."
"Well, wherever you end up, please remember to check in. I'll be up to my false eyelashes finalizing samples for next spring's collection, but that doesn't mean I'm not here to listen to your wild adventures."
Priscilla snorted. "I think you've got the wrong sister."
"Oh, no, I think you're destined for something wild. And wicked. You need to let down your hair and have some fun. And I mean that literally."
Priscilla automatically brought her hand up to the tightly wound roll at the back of her head. "I don't have the top up. The wind will make it a mess."
"That's the point of having a convertible. Don't tell me you can't remove a simple hair clip."
Of course she could. Priscilla had been wearing her hair in a Fresh twist style for so long she could put it up, and take it down, in her sleep. It'd been a style her mother favored, which meant Priscilla had always rebelled against it.
Until she wore it for the funeral. And every day since, it seemed. No, that couldn't be right. Her mother had been gone for fourteen years. Okay, so maybe she'd wore her hair this way ever since she started working at the foundation her junior year in college.
After a flip of her wrist, the warm summer wind took hold of her long locks, lifting and brushing them back from her face and neck. A quick glance in her review mirror revealed how different she looked.
"Feels pretty good, doesn't it?"
Priscilla had to admit her friend was right. "How did you know I did it?"
"I heard you sigh."
"It's just hair, Lisa."
"It's a start. Next up? Something wild and wicked. Just you wait and see."
The conviction in her friend's words brought forth a genuine laugh this time before she thanked Lisa for being so wonderful and ended the call.
By five o'clock that afternoon, Priscilla was exhausted. She had a cramp in her foot and her backside felt as if it was stuck to the leather seat beneath her. Plus, her sidekick was wide-awake and doing enough butt wiggling that it could only mean one thing.
Her car's navigation system told her the center of Destiny was still twenty miles away. Thanks to an internet search on her phone, she'd booked a room at a local inn, but her four-legged friend didn't look as if he could wait until they arrived to take care of business. After passing an impressive compound of log homes, she spotted a side road that led to a wide area near the river they'd just crossed. She drove there and pulled to a stop in the shade from a cluster of trees, shut down the engine and got out of the car.
"Don't get lost," she called out, peeling off her suit jacket as the pup headed straight for the woods. "This isn't like the manicured lawns of Beverly Hills."
Making her way to the water's edge was a bit tricky in her three-inch heels, but as soon as she found an oversize rock to sit on, Priscilla slipped out of her shoes and dipped her aching toes in the crystal blue waters. "I need to wear flats the next time I plan an escape."
Unable to resist, she stood and waded in farther, pleased to find the creek's bottom wasn't as rocky or muddy as she'd thought it would be. She looked around, noticing a rope hanging from a tree that arched over the water. The clearing was obviously well used. It was easy to picture a group of kids or a family enjoying a picnic here, but at the moment it was only her. With the cold water swishing past her calves and a light breeze caressing her bare arms, Priscilla reveled in the solitude of the natural surroundings, feeling as if she'd drawn her first deep breath in months.
No ringing phones, no disapproving fathers or whiny excuses from her sister, no annoying clicking and flashing from the paparazzi's cameras
Just peace and quiet.
"Honey, I'm a man who needs female companionship."
Dean Zippenella hoped he sounded sincere, but a part of him knew he'd already lost this argument. Usually he had no problem when it came to charming the ladies, but this onehis favorite onewas stubbornly quiet in the passenger seat of his truck.
"Look, you've made your feelings perfectly clear, over and over again, and while I love our alone time, I'd like to bring a friend to the house once in a while without worrying you're going to do something crazy."
He tried to catch her gaze, but a quick turn of the head revealed that she was staring out the half-open window.
"You know, it's more than just your unpleasant attitude. It's your very unladylike behavior that gets you in the most trouble."
That got him a tilt of her nose that looked almost regal.
"Do I need to list them for you?" Dean kept one hand on the steering wheel and used the other to tick off the all-too-familiar offenses. "Peeing on their clothes, hiding their shoes, chewing on whatever you can scrounge out of their purses, including feminine products that no man should ever see."
Daisy turned to face him, offered a quick bark, and darn if the corners of her mouth didn't turn up into a cocky grin. Then he remembered the latest mischief. "And yes, that includes the cash you always manage to get out of their wallets."
His last guest had shrieked when she spotted the contents of her purse scattered at the dog's feet and the mangled remains of a twenty-dollar bill hanging from Daisy's mouth. Dean could've sworn the mischievous furball had been grinning then, as well.
That had been, what, almost two months ago? He'd tried to pay back the twenty dollars but the woman took offense. As if he'd been offering to pay for the time they'd enjoyed together or something. He'd been a lonely man after that. Something that hadn't happened much since he'd moved to Destiny, Wyoming, a few years ago.
The ladies liked himor they used toand he'd never been at a loss for company. As long as he spent time at their places. Once they got an invite back to his home and met Daisy, they quickly discovered Daisy had no qualms about showing just how she felt about human females.
She didn't like them. Any of them. Not even the women who meant the most to him. His grandmother, mother and three sisters, who'd all tried to win Daisy's affections when Dean had shown up at the family home in New Jersey, his duffel bag in one hand and a puppy in the other, after a stint in the army.
While the scraggly mutt he'd saved from a harrowing life in the Middle East had been devoted to him over the years and was friendly with any males she came across, she never changed her mind about the ladies.
Deciding to end this one-sided discussion, Dean checked his watch, noting he had at least an hour before his last physical-therapy patient of the week. He'd finished his shift at the veterans' center in Cheyenne earlier than planned and returned home to pick up Daisy. She always accompanied him whenever he worked with his favorite patient and then they'd grab some takeout for dinner.
After that, the evening, and the rest of the weekend, stretched out in front of him.
Rounding the bend in the road, Dean spotted a red convertible parked down by the river. He frowned. Not the typical style of car found around Destiny, where pickup trucks like his were the favorite mode of transportation.
He wondered if someone might be in trouble. Turning down the dirt road, he pulled to a stop on the far side of the clearing. The sight of a beautiful blonde bombshell cooling off in the Blue Creek River caught him by surprise.
Bellissima! Where in the world did you come from?
He tossed his sunglasses up on the truck's dashboard while pressing a button, raising both the windows. "Sorry, sweetheart. I know you love to play in the water, but someone else got here ahead of you," he said to Daisy.
He exited his truck, but left the engine and the air-conditioning running, and headed for the riverbank. His steps slowed as he enjoyed the view of the stranger's sexy legs when she lifted her skirt high on her thighs as she waded into deeper water. From the fancy suitcases piled in the backseat of her car to the clothes she wore, it was easy to see this beauty definitely wasn't from around here. In fact, she seemed more big-city chic than country simplicity
Suddenly a blur of golden-brown raced past him.