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"Ican't believe it's already the first of November," Finola Elliott muttered as she scanned the entries in her electronic planner.
There were only two months left before Patrick, founder and CEO of Elliott Publication Holdings and patriarch of the Long Island Elliott clan, retired and named one of his four children his successor to the magazine empire he'd built over the years. And Fin had every intention of being the indisputable winner of the competition he'd set up to decide who would best fill that role.
She'd spent her entire adult life working toward taking over EPH, and even though her two brothers and one nephew were all equally qualified for the position, Patrick--she hadn't referred to him as her father in years--owed her the job and so much more. But when he reviewed the growth and profit margins of The Buzz, Snap, Pulse and Charisma magazines, Fin wanted there to be no mistaking that her "baby," Charisma, had outdistanced the others, hands down.
At the end of the second quarter, her fashion magazine had been in the lead. Unfortunately, in the past couple of months her twin brother, Shane, had pulled ahead with his show business publication, The Buzz. But Fin wasn't overly concerned. Everything was back on track and going her way again.
Smiling fondly, she glanced at the newly framed picture on her desk and the reason her attention had been diverted from the objective. She'd discovered that her intern, Jessica Clayton, was the baby girl Patrick had forced Fin to give up for adoption twenty-three years ago, and she and her daughter had been making up for lost time. Jessie was a wonderful young woman and they'd becomequite close over the past couple of months. In fact, Fin had even accompanied Jessie to the Silver Moon Ranch in Colorado, to meet Jessie's adoptive father and see where she'd grown up.
But now that Jessie and Cade McMann, Fin's right-hand man at Charisma, were busy with the final preparations for their wedding later in the month, Fin needed to get back on track and regain her focus. She hid a yawn behind her hand. She just wished she wasn't so darned tired all the time.
As she switched to the month of October to review her notes on the magazine's growth projections for November, goose bumps skittered over her skin and a little chill streaked up her spine.
Something was missing. Where was the personal notation she made every month marking the start of her cycle?
Switching back to her entry in September, her heart slammed to a stop, then pounded hard against her ribs. She hadn't had a period in almost six weeks?
"That can't be right."
Surely she'd just forgotten to record the date for October. But as she thought back, she couldn't remember having had a period since well before accompanying Jessie to Colorado.
Stunned, Fin sat back in her high-backed leather chair and stared out the plateglass windows at the Manhattan skyline. The only other time in her life that she'd skipped her cycle had been at the age of fifteen when she'd gotten pregnant after her one night of passion with her sixteen-year-old boyfriend, Sebastian Deveraux. But there was absolutely no way she could be pregnant this time.
She almost laughed. For that to even be a remote possibility, she'd have to have a love life. And she didn't. She couldn't even remember the last time she'd been out with a man when the evening hadn't been business-related--either courting a potential advertising client or entertaining one of the many designers featuring his or her new line in Charisma.
Her social life had taken, and probably always would take, a backseat to the magazine that had become her obsession over the years. But a sudden thought caused her to catch her breath. There had been that one night at the party Travis Clayton, Jessie's adoptive father, had thrown in honor of Jessie and Cade's engagement.
Fin's cheeks heated at the thought of just what had taken place when she and Travis had gone into that charming old barn of his to check on a mare and her new foal. What had started out to be an innocent hug to express how grateful she was that Travis and his late wife, Lauren, had done such a wonderful job of raising Jessie, had turned into a passionate encounter that still left Fin feeling breathlessly weak. There had only been one other time in her life that she'd allowed herself to lose control and throw caution to the wind like that. The night she'd conceived Jessie.
She thoughtfully nibbled on her lower lip. She couldn't possibly have gotten pregnant from that one stolen moment with Travis, could she?
Shaking her head, she dismissed the idea outright. It might be possible, but it was most definitely improbable. She'd read somewhere that the closer a woman got to forty, the longer it sometimes took to become pregnant. And at thirty-eight, she was closing in on forty faster than she cared to admit.
Besides, fate couldn't possibly be that cruel. She'd conceived Jessie the night she'd lost her virginity to Sebastian. Surely the odds of her becoming pregnant again after making love with a man one time had to be astronomical.
No, missing her period had to be an indication that something else was wrong.
Swiveling her chair around, she reached for the phone to make an appointment with her gynecologist, but gasped at the unexpected sight of Travis Clayton leaning one broad shoulder against her doorframe.
"I know I'm not the best-looking thing to come down the pike, but I wasn't aware that I'd started scaring the hell out of pretty women and little kids," he said, his deep voice filled with humor.
The teasing light in his sinfully blue eyes sent a delicious warmth coursing throughout her body. If she'd ever seen a man as ruggedly handsome as Jessie's adoptive father, Fin couldn't remember when. Looking much younger than his forty-nine years, he was the epitome of the modern western man from the top of his wide-brimmed black cowboy hat all the way to his big-booted feet. Wearing a pair of soft-looking, well-worn jeans, chambray shirt and a western-cut sports jacket that emphasized the breadth of his impossibly wide shoulders, he could easily be one of the male models in an advertisement for men's cologne.
"Travis, it's good to see you again. I don't remember Jessie mentioning that you would be visiting this week." Rising to her feet, Fin walked around the desk to greet him. "Please, come in and sit down."
Giving her a smile that caused her toes to curl inside her Italian designer heels, he straightened to his full height and crossed the room with the confidence and grace of a man quite comfortable with who he was and what he was about. "When I talked to Jess the other day, she sounded a little hassled from all this wedding stuff, so I decided to surprise her," he said, settling into one of the chairs in front of Fin's desk. "A little paternal support never hurts," she agreed, wondering what it would be like to have a father who was sensitive to his child's emotional needs. Patrick's approach to childrearing had been nothing short of dictatorial and he could have cared less how his issued orders affected his offspring's emotions--in particular, hers.
"How have you been, Fin?" Travis asked when she sat down in the chair beside him.
The warmth and genuine interest in his smooth baritone sent a little shiver up her spine. "Fine. And yourself?"
He shrugged. "Can't complain." Looking around her office, his curious gaze seemed to zero in on a stack of ad proofs on her desk. "When I asked Jess how you've been getting on, she said you're working like crazy to win this contest your dad set up."
Her stomach did a funny little flip at the thought that he'd been asking Jessie about her. "The competition and helping with Jessie and Cade's wedding arrangements have been keeping me pretty busy."
"I'll bet it has." He chuckled. "All this wedding hoopla makes me kind of glad I'm stuck off in noman's-land until it's time to walk her down the aisle. Jess said all I have to do is go for the final fitting on my tux while I'm in town and that suits me just fine."
He wasn't fooling Fin for a minute. Travis and Jessie had a wonderful father-daughter relationship and he had to be feeling a little left out for him to fly all the way from Colorado.
"This is pretty tough for you, isn't it?"
He started to shake his head, then looking a bit sheepish, he grinned. "It shows that much, does it? I thought I was doing a pretty fair job of hiding it, but I guess I was wrong."
Fin nodded sympathetically. "I'm sure it's a difficult transition to suddenly be relegated to the number-two man in your daughter's life when you've always been number one."
"I can't believe she's old enough to get married," he said, removing his hat to run his hand through his thick dark blond hair. Replacing his hat, his expression turned wistful. "It seems like just yesterday I was kissing her skinned elbows and teaching her how to print her name for kindergarten."
A little pang of envy gripped Fin's heart. She'd been cheated out of so much when Patrick had forced her to give her baby daughter up for adoption.
They sat in silence for several long moments before Travis spoke again. "I know this is short notice, but I stopped by to ask if you'd like to join Jessie and me for supper this evening. We'll be meeting at some place she called the Lemon Grill."
He grinned. "If the name is any indication, it sounds like a place a man could get a decent steak."