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By Lori Foster
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHarsh wind threw icy crystals of snow down the back of his neck, causing him to shiver. He raised his collar, then shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his coat, resisting the urge to touch the gravestone. The grave was all but covered in white, making everything look clean, but Dane Carter didn't buy it. Not for a minute.
He'd missed the burial by almost four months. His family was outraged, of course, but they'd never really forgiven him for past transgressions, so he figured one more didn't matter. Except to himself.
His face felt tight, more from restrained emotion than from the biting cold. The death of his twin was a harsh reality to accept, like losing the better part of himself even though he and Derek hadn't been in contact much lately. Dane had been away from the family, disconnected from the business, for quite a few years now. He deliberately took the cases from his P.I. firm that kept him out of town as much as possible. Though his office was only an hour away, he'd been out of reach when his brother had needed him most.
Though everyone seemed to accept Derek's death as an accident, concerned only with keeping the news out of the media to avoid a panic with the shareholders, Dane couldn't let it rest. He wouldn't let it rest. He had a nose for intrigue, and things had begun to smell really foul. It wasn't anything he could put his finger on, just a gut feeling, but his instincts had held him in good stead as a private detective for several years now - ever since he'd left the family business in his brother's capable hands.
He hunkered down suddenly and stuck one hand through the snow to the frozen ground. "What the hell happened, Derek? This was a lousy trick to play on me. I never wanted this, not the company, hell, not even the family most of the time. You left too damn many loose ends, brother."
The wind howled a hollow answer, and disgusted with himself, Dane drew his hand back and cupped it close to his face, warming his fingers with his breath. "And what about this Angel Morris woman? I got a letter from her, you know, only she assumed you'd get it. Seems she doesn't know you're gone and she wants to pick up where the two of you left off. I believe I'm going to oblige her."
His mind skittered about with ramifications of deceit, but he had to cover all the bases. According to the records he'd uncovered, Angel Morris had been seeing Derek on a regular basis until the takeover of her company. Derek had used information Angel gave him to make the takeover easier, and Angel had gotten fired because of it. She had plenty of reasons to despise Derek, and he certainly deserved her enmity. Yet now she wanted to see him again. After so long, he had to wonder if Angel had assumed Derek was dead, but with Dane's return, she felt she had unfinished business. After all, no pronouncements had been made.
As far as the outside world was concerned, Derek Carter was still running the business. Only a select few knew of his demise. The family had thought it best if Dane filled in for a while. If he pretended to be Derek no one would start rumors about a company without a leader, or a family with a scandal. All in all, Dane wasn't sure which possibility worried his mother more. The company was her life, and the Carter name was sacred in her mind. She wouldn't want either one damaged. And if Derek had been murdered, if the accident wasn't an accident at all as Dane feared, it would certainly hit the news.
But that wasn't why Dane had agreed to come back, why he was filling in for his brother. No, he wanted the truth, no matter what. And he'd damn well get it.
If Angel knew anything, if she was involved with Derek's death in any way, even peripherally, Dane would find out. He may have disassociated himself from the family, but he could be every bit as ruthless as the best of them.
Dane shook his head. "I'll be seeing her first thing tomorrow, alone, away from the family as she insisted. I'll let you know how it goes." With that banal farewell, he turned and trod back through the snow to the road where his car sat idling, offering warmth, but no peace of mind.
What a laugh. Dane Carter hadn't had peace of mind since he'd walked out on his family, regardless of what he told them, what he insisted to himself. Maybe Angel, if she wasn't an enemy, could prove to be a nice distraction from his present worries. His brother had always had excellent taste in women.
* * *
Angel tried to meter her breathing, to look calm, but her heart felt lodged in her throat and wouldn't budge. She hated doing this, had sworn she'd never so much as speak to the man again after his last, most devastating rejection. But she'd been left with little choice.
With her shoe box tucked beneath her arm and one hand on the wall, offering support, she made her way down the hall to Derek's office. She still felt awkward without her crutches, but she knew better than to show him any weaknesses at all. When she reached the open door, she straightened her shoulders, forced a smile, and tried to make her steps as smooth as possible.
Derek sat behind his desk, his chair half turned so that he could look out the window at the Saturday morning traffic. The rest of the building, except for the security guards, was empty, just as she'd planned.
He was still as gorgeous, as physically compelling as ever, only now he looked a little disheveled, a little rumpled. She liked this look better than the urbane businessman he usually portrayed. The only other time she'd seen him relaxed like this was right after he'd made love to her.
That thought licked a path of heat from her heart to her stomach and back again, and she had to clear her throat.
His chair jerked around and his gaze pierced her, freezing her on the spot. Even her heartbeat seemed to shudder and die. Only his eyes moved as he looked her over, slowly and in excruciating detail, as if he'd never seen her before and needed to commit her to memory, then their eyes met - and locked.
For painstaking moments they stayed that way, and the heat, the intensity of his gaze, thawed her clear down to her toes. Her chest heaved as she tried to deal with the unexpected punch of reacting to him again. It shouldn't have happened; she didn't care anymore, wasn't awed by him now. Her infatuation had long since faded away, but seeing him with his straight brown hair hanging over his brow, his shirtsleeves rolled up, made him more human than ever. His gaze seemed brighter, golden like a fox, and she tightened her hold on the shoe box, using it to remind herself of her purpose.
She saw some indiscernible emotion cross his face, and then he stood. "Angel."
His voice was low and deep. As he rounded the desk his eyes never left hers, and she felt almost ensnared. She retreated a step, which effectively halted his approach. He lifted one dark eyebrow in a look of confusion.
Idiot. She didn't want to put him off, to show him her nervousness. That would gain her nothing. She tried a smile, but he didn't react to it. Moving more slowly now, he stepped closer, watching her, waiting.
Excerpted from Fallen Angels by Lori Foster Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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