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What a way to begin the end of April-with limited funds and leaky plumbing.
Yet Hannah Armstrong couldn't quite believe her sudden change in fortune. Twenty minutes after placing the 5:00 p.m. service call, and hearing the dispatcher's declaration that they would try to send someone out today, her doorbell sounded.
She left the flooded galley kitchen and carefully crossed the damp dining-room floor that was littered with towels. After entering the living room, she navigated another obstacle course comprised of a toy plastic convertible painted shocking pink, as well as a string of miniature outfits that would be the envy of the fashion-doll world. "Cassie, sweetie, you have to pick up your toys before you can spend the night with Michaela," she called on her way to answer the summons.
She immediately received the usual "In a minute, Mama," which came from the hallway to her right.
Hannah started to scold her daughter for procrastinating, but she was too anxious to greet her knight in shining tool belt. Yet when she yanked the front door open, she was completely taken aback by the man standing on her porch. The guy had to be the prettiest plumber in Boulder. Correction. All of Colorado.
She quickly catalogued the details-a six-foot-plus prime specimen of a man with neatly trimmed, near-black hair that gleamed in the sun and eyes that reminded her of a mocha cappuccino. He wore a navy sports coat that covered an open-collared white shirt, dark-wash jeans and a pair of tan polished cowboy boots, indicating she'd probably pulled him away from a family function. Or quite possibly a date since he didn't appear to be wearing a wedding band.
"Ms. Armstrong?" he asked as soon as she stepped onto the porch, his voice hinting at a slight drawl.
Considering her ragtag appearance-damp holey jeans, no shoes, hair piled into a disheveled ponytail and a faded blue T-shirt imprinted with Bring it On!- Hannah considered denying her identity. But leaky pipes took precedence over pride. "That's me, and I'm so glad to see you."
"You were expecting me?" Both his tone and expression conveyed his confusion.
Surely he was kidding. "Of course, although I am really surprised you got here so quickly. And since I've obviously interrupted your Friday-night plans, please know I truly appreciate your expediency. Just one question before you get started. What exactly do you charge after normal business hours?"
He looked decidedly uncomfortable, either from the question or her incessant rambling. "Anywhere from two-fifty to four hundred regardless of the hour."
Ridiculous. "Isn't that a bit exorbitant for a plumber?"
His initial surprise melted into a smile, revealing dimples that would make the most cynical single gal swoon. "Probably so, but I'm not a plumber."
Hannah's face heated over her utterly stupid assumption. Had she been thinking straight, she would have realized he wasn't a working-class kind of guy. "Then what are you? Who are you?"
He pulled a business card from his jacket pocket and offered it to her. "Logan Whittaker, attorney at law."
A slight sense of dread momentarily robbed Hannah of a response, until she realized she had no reason to be afraid of a lawyer. She gained enough presence of mind to take the card and study the text. Unfortunately, her questions as to why he was there remained unanswered. She'd never heard of the Drake, Alcott and Whittaker law firm, and she didn't know anyone in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
She looked up to find him studying her as intently as she had his card. "What's this about?"
"I'm helping settle the late J. D. Lassiter's estate," he said, then paused as if that should mean something to her.
"I'm sorry, but I don't know anyone named Lassiter, so there must be some mistake."
He frowned. "You are Hannah Lovell Armstrong, right?"
"And your mother's name is Ruth Lovell?"
The conversation was growing stranger by the minute. "Was. She passed away two years ago. Why?"
"Because she was named as secondary beneficiary should anything happen to you before you claimed your inheritance."
Inheritance. Surely it couldn't be true. Not after all the years of wondering and hoping that someday
Then reality began to sink in, as well as the memory of her mother's warning.
You don't need to know anything about your worthless daddy or his cutthroat family. He never cared about you one whit from the moment you were born. You're better off not knowing .
So shell-shocked by the possibility that this had something to do with the man who'd given her life, Hannah simply couldn't speak. She could only stare at the card still clutched in her hand.
"Are you okay, Ms. Armstrong?"
The attorney's question finally snapped her out of the stupor. "I'm a little bit confused at the moment." To say the least.
"I understand," he said. "First of all, it's not my place to question you about your relationship with J. D. Lassiter, but I am charged with explaining the terms of your inheritance and the process for claiming it. Anything you reveal to me will be kept completely confidential."
When she realized what he might be implying, Hannah decided to immediately set him straight. "Mr. Whittaker, I don't have, nor have I ever had, a relationship with anyone named Lassiter. And if you're insinuating I might be some mistress he kept hidden away, you couldn't be more wrong."
"Again, I'm not assuming anything, Ms. Armstrong. I'm only here to honor Mr. Lassiter's last wishes." He glanced over his shoulder at Nancy, the eyes and ears of the neighborhood, who'd stopped watering her hedgerow to gawk, before turning his attention back to Hannah. "Due to confidentiality issues, I would prefer to lay out the terms of the inheritance somewhere aside from your front porch."
Although he seemed legitimate, Hannah wasn't comfortable with inviting a stranger into her home, not only for her sake, but also for her daughter's. "Look, I need some time to digest this information." As well as the opportunity to investigate Logan Whittaker and determine whether he might be some slick con artist. "Could we possibly meet this evening to discuss this?" Provided she didn't discover anything suspicious about him.
"I can be back here around seven-thirty."
"I'd prefer to meet in a public venue. I have a daughter and I wouldn't want her to overhear our conversation."
"No problem," he said. "And in the meantime, feel free to do an internet search or call my office and ask for Becky. You'll have all my pertinent information and proof that I am who I say I am."
The man must be a mind reader. "Thank you for recognizing my concerns."
"It's reasonable that you'd want to protect not only yourself, but your child." He sounded as if he truly understood, especially the part about protecting Cassie.
She leaned a shoulder against the support column.
"I suppose you've probably seen a lot of unimaginable things involving children during your career."
He shifted his weight slightly. "Fortunately I'm in corporate law, so I only have to deal with business transactions, estates and people with too much money to burn."
"My favorite kind of people." The sarcasm in her tone was unmistakable.
"Not too fond of the rich and infamous?" he asked, sounding somewhat amused.
"You could say that. It's a long story." One that wouldn't interest him in the least.
"I'm staying at Crest Lodge, not far from here," he said. "They have a decent restaurant where we can have a private conversation. Do you know the place?"
"I've been there once." Six years ago with her husband on their anniversary, not long before he was torn from her life due to a freak industrial accident. "It's fairly expensive."
He grinned. "That's why they invented expense accounts."
"Unfortunately I don't have one."
"But I do and it's my treat."
And what a treat it would be, sitting across from a man who was extremely easy on the eyes. A man she knew nothing about. Of course, this venue would be strictly business. "All right, if you're sure."
"Positive," he said. "My cell number's listed on the card. If your plans change, let me know. Otherwise I'll meet you there at seven-thirty."
That gave Hannah a little over two hours to get showered and dressed, provided the real plumber didn't show up, which seemed highly unlikely. "Speaking of calls, why didn't you handle this by phone?"
His expression turned solemn once more. "First of all, I had some business to attend to in Denver, so I decided to stop here on the way back to Cheyenne. Secondly, as soon as you hear the details, you'll know why I thought it was better to lay out the terms in person. I'll see you this evening."
With that, he strode down the walkway, climbed into a sleek black Mercedes and drove away, leaving Hannah suspended in a state of uncertainty.
After taking a few more moments to ponder the situation, she tore back into the house and immediately retreated to the computer in her bedroom. She began her search of Logan Whittaker and came upon a wealth of information, including several photos and numerous accolades. He graduated from the University of Texas law school, set up practice twelve years ago in Dallas, then moved to Cheyenne six years ago. He was also listed as single, not that it mattered to Hannah. Much.
Then it suddenly dawned on her to check out J. D. Lassiter, which she did. She came upon an article heralding his business acumen and his immeasurable wealth. The mogul was worth billions. And once again, she was subjected to shock when she recognized the face in the picture accompanying his story-the face that belonged to the same man who had been to her house over twenty years ago.
That particular day, she'd returned home from school and come upon him and her mother standing on the porch, engaged in a heated argument. She'd been too young to understand the content of the volatile conversation, and when she'd asked her mom about him, Ruth had only said he wasn't anyone she should worry about. But she had worried and now she wondered .
Hannah experienced a surprising bout of excitement mixed with regret. Even if she had solid proof J. D. Lassiter was in fact her father, she would never have the opportunity to meet him. It was as if someone had given her a special gift, then immediately yanked it away from her. It didn't matter. The man had clearly possessed more money than most, and he hadn't spent a dime to support her. That begged the question-why would he leave her a portion of his estate now? Perhaps a guilty conscience. An attempt at atonement. But it was much too late for that.
She would meet Logan Whittaker for dinner, hear him out and then promptly tell him that she wouldn't take one penny of the Lassiter fortune.
At fifteen minutes until eight, Logan began to believe Hannah Armstrong's plans had changed. But from his position at the corner table, he glanced up from checking his watch to see her standing in the restaurant's doorway.
He had to admit, he'd found her pretty damned attractive when he'd met her, from the top of her auburn ponytail to the bottom of her bare feet. She'd possessed a fresh-faced beauty that she hadn't concealed with a mask of makeup, and she had the greenest eyes he'd ever seen in his thirty-eight years.
She did have on a little makeup, yet it only enhanced her features. Her hair hung straight to her shoulders and she wore a sleeveless, above-the-knee black dress that molded to her curves. Man-slaying curves that reminded Logan of a modern version of those starlets from days gone by, before too-thin became all the rage.
When they made eye contact, Hannah started forward, giving Logan a good glimpse of her long legs. He considered her to be above average in height for a woman, but right then she seemed pretty damn tall. Maybe it was just the high heels, although they couldn't be more than two inches. Maybe it was the air of confidence she gave off as she crossed the room. Or maybe he should keep his eyes off her finer attributes; otherwise he could land himself in big trouble if he ignored the boundary between business and pleasure. Not that he had any reason to believe she'd be willing to take that step.
Logan came to his feet and rounded the table to pull out the chair across from his as soon as Hannah arrived. "Thanks," she said after she claimed her seat.
Once he settled in, Logan handed her a menu. "I thought for a minute there you were going to stand me up."
"My apologies for my tardiness," she said. "My daughter, Cassie, had to change clothes three times before I took her to my friend's house for a sleepover."
He smiled over the sudden bittersweet memories.
"How old is she?"
"Gina is thirty. Same as me."
Logan bit back a laugh. "I meant your daughter."
A slight blush spread across Hannah's cheeks, making her look even prettier. "Of course you did. I admit I'm a little nervous about this whole inheritance thing."
So was Logan, for entirely different reasons. Every time she flashed those green eyes at him, he felt his pulse accelerate. "No need to be nervous. But I wouldn't blame you if you're curious."
"Not so curious that I can't wait for the details until after dinner, since I'm starving." She opened the menu and began scanning it while Logan did the same. "I'd forgotten how many choices they offer."
He'd almost forgotten how it felt to be seated at a dinner table across from a gorgeous woman. The past few years had included a few casual flings for the sake of convenience with a couple of women who didn't care to be wined and dined. Sex for the sake of sex. And that had suited him fine. "Yeah. It's hard to make a decision. By the way, did you get your plumbing fixed?"
She continued to scan the menu. "Unfortunately, no. They called and said it would be tomorrow afternoon. Apparently pipes are breaking all over Boulder."
With the way she looked tonight, she could break hearts all over Boulder. "Do you have any recommendations on the menu?"
"Have you had bison?" she asked as she looked up from the menu.
"No. I'm more of a beef-and-potatoes kind of guy."
"Your Texas roots are showing."
She'd apparently taken his advice. "Did you check me out on the internet?"
"I did. Does that bother you?"
Only if she'd discovered the part of his past he'd concealed from everyone in Wyoming. Almost everyone. "Hey, I don't blame you. In this day and time, it's advisable to determine if someone is legitimate before you agree to meet with them."
"I'm glad you understand, and you have quite the résumé."
He shrugged. "Just the usual credentials."
"They certainly impressed me."
She undeniably impressed him. "Have you eaten bison before?"
"Yes, I have, and I highly recommend it. Much leaner and healthier than beef."
"I think I'll just stick with what I know."
Her smile almost knocked his boots off. "Perhaps you should expand your horizons."
Perhaps he should quit sending covert looks at her cleavage. "Maybe I will at some point in time." Just not tonight.
A lanky college-aged waiter sauntered over to the table and aimed his smile on Hannah. "Hi. My name's Chuck. Can I get you folks something to drink? Maybe a cocktail before dinner?"
Bourbon, straight up, immediately came to Logan's mind before he realized booze and a beautiful woman wouldn't be a good mix in this case. "I'll have coffee. Black."
Hannah leveled her pretty smile on Chuck. "I'd like a glass of water."
The waiter responded with an adolescent grin. "Have you folks decided on your meal?"
She took another glance at the menu before closing it. "I'll take the petite bison filet, medium, with a side of sauteed mushrooms and the asparagus."
Logan cleared his throat to gain the jerk's attention. "Give me the New York strip, medium rare with a baked potato, everything on it."
Chuckie Boy jotted down the order but couldn't seem to stop staring at Hannah as he gathered the menus. "How about an appetizer? I highly recommend the Rocky Mountain oysters."
That nearly made Logan wince. "I believe I'll pass on that one, Chuck."
"I second that," Hannah said. "A salad with vinaigrette would be good."
Chuck finally tore his gaze away from Hannah and centered it on Logan. "Can I bring you a salad, too, sir?"
No, but you can get the hell out of Dodge. "Just the coffee and a glass of water."
The waiter backed away from the table, then said, "I'll have that right out."
"What an idiot," Logan muttered after the guy disappeared into the kitchen.
Hannah frowned. "I thought he was very accommodating."
"He definitely wanted to accommodate you and it didn't have a damn thing to do with dinner." Hell, he sounded like a jealous lover.
Hannah looked understandably confused. "Excuse me?"
"You didn't notice the way he was looking at you?"
"He was just being friendly."