Read an Excerpt
By Leigh Greenwood
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Leigh Greenwood
All right reserved.
Chapter OneKathryn Roper suddenly found herself face-to-face with one very handsome, very angry man. Tall, neatly groomed and impeccably dressed in a custom-made suit, he looked too young to be so conservatively dressed. The gray pinstripe was something her father would wear. This man ought to be wearing a cream-colored Polo shirt and tan slacks. He had the body of an athlete, though she didn't know any athletes who had such good taste in clothes and such bad taste in visiting hours.
"Don't stand there staring at me," he snapped. "I've flown halfway around the world to get here. I want to see Miss Roper."
If she'd had any doubts this man was Ron Egan, she didn't have them any longer. He had the imperious attitude of a man who thought nothing was important but himself.
"I'm Kathryn Roper," she said, "and I don't allow visitors after nine-thirty. You'll have to come back tomorrow."
His angry gaze narrowed its focus, bore into her like a laser. "You're too young and pretty to have turned into a battle-ax."
Kathryn couldn't stop a spurt of laughter. "Who says a battle-ax has to be old and ugly?"
He appeared to be weighing her up, calculating his approach. He was just like many upper echelon types she'd run across, ready to shout at people they thought unimportant but immediately taking a different tack when they encountered someone they considered on their level.
Yet she was having a very different reaction to him than what would have been usual for her - one of a purely physical nature, one that caught her off guard. She felt attracted to this man. She had never denied the possibility of instant chemistry between two people, but this was the first time it had happened to her.
What a tragedy his outside should be so beautiful when his inside was rotten. But that's the way it seemed to go with her and men.
In a way, she was just as impressionable as the girls who came to her for help. All too often they had been seduced by a man's appearance. Only she was older, more experienced and had her physical desires firmly under control. She might have a gut-clenching reaction to Ron Egan, but he'd never know it.
"I want to see my daughter. Where is she?"
"She's in bed, as are all the girls in this house. You can see her in the morning."
"I've come all the way from Geneva. I got on the next flight out after your phone call and spent the last eight hours on a plane. I'm six time zones away from where I started, and I'm tired. It won't hurt her to miss thirty minutes of sleep."
"It's not the sleep I'm concerned about so much as that your visit will upset her. It's extremely important that she remain calm. She's going through a stressful experience."
They still stood there in the entrance hall, facing each other like gladiators, each trying to decide how to manipulate this conversation to their own advantage. At least that's how Ron read it.
"She's a minor," Ron said. "I can force you to give her up."
"It's not a matter of my giving her up. She came here of her own free will. She wants to stay. If you care for her, you'll let her stay."
Ron didn't know quite how to respond. From the moment he'd received a call from a stranger telling him his daughter was pregnant and had run away from home, he hadn't known what to think. He hadn't expected to find his daughter housed in an elegant old mansion in the heart of the oldest and most fashionable neighborhood in Charlotte. Kathryn Roper wasn't at all what he'd expected, either.
His first impulse was to shout at this woman for having the effrontery to imply he didn't care for his daughter. Who was she to make such a judgment? She didn't know anything about him. Cynthia had every right to be upset, but he was sure if he could talk to her, they could straighten things out.
Still, there was something about this woman that caused him to look at her again, to reevaluate. He was used to women being visibly affected by his appearance. She didn't show any reaction whatsoever. She didn't appear the least bit intimidated by him, by his size, his reputation or his gender. She looked quite young and slender, even fragile, but she acted as if she thought she was as tough as any man.
"I can have you arrested for kidnapping."
"But you won't."
"Why? It's not because I'm too honorable."
"I imagine you know enough dirty tricks to fill a book, but you wouldn't want any of this splashed over the front page of The Charlotte Observer."
"I don't give a damn about that paper."
"I don't believe you."
"What you believe isn't important. Since it's my daughter we're talking about, it's what I believe that's important. And if you don't know that, I'll get a judge to explain it to you."
"Who are you planning to ask - Frank Emery? He's my godfather. Emily Anders is a friend of my mother. I think my brothers have worked with every other judge in Charlotte."
"Are you telling me the judges can be bought?"
Much to his surprise, she flushed. "No, and it was quite wrong of me to imply they could be. Come into the living room. We'd better sit down."
"I don't want to talk, and I don't want to sit down."
"If you hope to convince me you flew halfway around the world because you care what happens to your daughter, you'll sit down."
"Why should I care what you think?"
"Because Cynthia does."
He didn't want to believe her, but there was no other reason he could think of for Cynthia's presence in this house. He still had every intention of taking her home, but maybe it would be better to hear what this woman had to say. After his wife died, he'd had an increasingly difficult time communicating with his daughter. He didn't understand how the lovable, biddable little girl who used to climb onto his lap to read had turned into the silent, sulking, angry teenager who sometimes refused to eat breakfast with him and often made excuses to miss dinner as well. Maybe he should have taken some time off before now, but he had to have this one last deal to put his company into a position where its success didn't depend solely on him.
He intended to hire the best therapists he could find, but if Kathryn could help, he'd be foolish not to listen to her. Cynthia had chosen to come here, and she always had a reason for anything she did.
"I'd like something to drink," he said.
"I don't serve liquor to guests."
"I don't drink liquor. Ice water would be fine."
"I'll be right back."
Ron watched her leave, the sight of her backside causing a surprising reaction in his groin. He hadn't felt like that in years, certainly not with a woman who seemed ready to oppose him in every way she could. Yet Kathryn wasn't like any of the women who faced him across a board table or the functionaries who kept his various offices running smoothly.
He had worked with single-minded determination from the time he was ten to get where he was today. He'd sacrificed leisure, friends, nearly everything most men would consider the rewards of success so Cynthia would have all the advantages.
It was clear Kathryn Roper looked down on him. That was all the more reason to be angry he was attracted to her. Hell, it was nearly impossible to be angry with a woman when you found yourself wondering what it would be like to get closer to her. How was he supposed to concentrate on her shortcomings when her body distracted him?
Just then Kathryn returned with a glass of ice water. Her front looked just as good as the back. It was a good thing she couldn't read his thoughts. She'd probably throw the water in his face.
"Now let's talk about your daughter," she said after she'd handed him the water and allowed him time to take a few sips.
"Tell me what you do," Ron said. "I still can't figure out why Cynthia would come to you."
She looked as if she took that as a personal insult, but surely she had to know a father couldn't just take for granted she was qualified to be responsible for his daughter.
"I maintain this house as a shelter for unwed young girls who become pregnant."
"How much money do you owe on it?"
"My aunt left it to me."
Excerpted from Family Merger by Leigh Greenwood Copyright © 2003 by Leigh Greenwood
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.