The Golden Chance

( 23 )

Overview

When she gains control of his family fortune, it's love at first fight.
Stunning, stubborn, and independent, Philadelphia Fox lost her best friend because of the fabulously rich and powerful Lightfoot family of Washington state. Now she's got her friend's controlling shares in Lightfoot Industries — an inheritance that brings Nick, the family's prodigal and supremely attractive son, knocking at her door.
An unexpected and irrepressible spark ...

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Overview

When she gains control of his family fortune, it's love at first fight.
Stunning, stubborn, and independent, Philadelphia Fox lost her best friend because of the fabulously rich and powerful Lightfoot family of Washington state. Now she's got her friend's controlling shares in Lightfoot Industries — an inheritance that brings Nick, the family's prodigal and supremely attractive son, knocking at her door.
An unexpected and irrepressible spark between them blazes into extraordinary passion, and Phila — historically unlucky in love — finds the deepest satisfaction she has ever known. But behind Nick's gray eyes lurks a disturbing enigmaŠand Phila must make the choice of her life. Trusting Nick may come with quite a price — but giving in to his strong, sensual seduction is a golden chance that may never come again.
New York Times bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz goes for the gold in this sizzling novel of family loyalties, secret desires, and star-crossed lovers!

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Krentz Gift of Gold concocts a breezy, funny tale of love conquering all. Philadelphia Fox, do-gooder and professional social worker, bristles when she unexpectedly inherits substantial holdings in a major electronics company jointly owned by the mighty Castleton and Lightfoot clans of Washington State. Phila is offended by the ``death machines'' the company builds for the Pentagon, by the Castletons and Lightfoots ``aristocrats with everything but the title'',robin/ comma added for ease of reading//pk and by the way the families have mistreated her late best friend. But an affair with the Lightfoots' black-sheep scion teaches Phila that even rich, conservative snobs can be confused and vulnerable. With marvelous economy, Krentz ties together every detail she introduces. Her charitable, affable vision results in a grand tale of harmony restored, replete with rehabilitation of its villainess. The care Krentz lavishes on her narrative would do honor to a far more serious novel and demonstrates once again a key factor in her success: an abiding respect for the reader. Mar .
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671019648
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • Publication date: 12/28/1997
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 643,385
  • Product dimensions: 6.80 (w) x 4.22 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Jayne Ann Krentz
Jayne Ann Krentz is the author of fifty New York Times bestsellers. She has written contemporary romantic suspense novels under that name, as well as futuristic and historical romance novels under the pseudonyms Jayne Castle and Amanda Quick, respectively. She lives in Seattle.

Biography

A successful corporate and academic librarian-turned-author, Jayne Ann Krentz wrote serial romances for several publishers (including industry powerhouse Harlequin) before breaking out in the '90s as a writer of romantic novels. To say that she has been successful is an understatement: A New York Times- bestselling author with more than 23 million copies of her books in print, she writes three sub-genres of romantic suspense under three different pen names: contemporary romances as Jayne Ann Krentz, historicals as Amanda Quick, and futuristic/paranormal romances as Jayne Castle. (In her early career, she employed at least three additional pseudonyms!) In 2006, the prolific Krentz launched The Arcane Society series -- crossover thrillers written under all three noms de plume that feature members of a secret organization devoted to the study of the paranormal.

It would be hard to find a more passionate advocate for romantic fiction than Krentz. In 1992, she edited and contributed to Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance, an award-winning nonfiction essay collection that serves an eloquent apologia for the genre. She has also received the Jane Austen Commemorative Medal from Romantic Times magazine for her work educating readers about Romance. "The Romance genre is the only genre where readers are guaranteed novels that place the heroine at the heart of the story," she says on her website. "These are books that celebrate women's heroic virtues and values: courage, honor, determination and a belief in the healing power of love." Clearly, her legions of loyal fans agree!

Good To Know

I have finally reached the point in my career where I have some say over cover art. Unfortunately, it turns out that I have absolutely no talent for cover art design. Thank heavens I'm with a publisher (Putnam/Berkley) that maintains a terrific art department.

I love green tea and red wine and was absolutely thrilled when it turned out that both are now considered health foods.

I love all animals except for squirrels which, I strongly suspect, are aliens from outer space who are here to take over the planet. You have been warned.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Amanda Quick, Jayne Castle
    2. Hometown:
      Seattle, WA
    1. Education:
      BA in History, University of California at Santa Cruz, MA in Librarianship from San Jose State University (California)
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Something in Nicodemus Lightfoot understood and respected small towns and the kind of people who lived in them. He did not wax nostalgic about them, nor did he believe in the myth that small towns were somehow best at incubating American values and right thinking. He did not even particularly like small towns, especially small farm towns in the summer. They tended to be hot and slow. Every kid who had just graduated from the local high school was probably desperate to get out of town as soon as possible, and Nick understood their desire.

He was afraid that his intuitive knowledge of towns such as Holloway, Washington, was in his blood. Nick himself was only one generation away from jobs like working cattle or driving a combine, and he knew it. He accepted it. He had no problem with it. And that was what gave him the edge over everyone else in the families. The other members of the Lightfoot and Castleton clans were still trying to forget how close their roots ran to towns such as this one in eastern Washington.

Nick took another swallow of beer and shifted into a more comfortable position. He was leaning against the trunk of an aging apple tree that dominated the front yard of a little white clapboard house. The grass in the yard was rapidly turning brown. By August it would be dead.

Nick had been sitting in the shade of the tree for almost an hour. The beer was warm, the street of small, neat houses was empty and Nick was getting bored. That took some doing, because he was good at waiting.

Hearing a clatter in the distance, Nick turned to watch two lanky youngsters hurtle down the street on beat-up skateboards. Faithful dogs, tongues lolling, jogged behind. The boys seemed oblivious, as only lads can be, of the late June heat. Nick watched the foursome until they disappeared around the corner, and then he finished the beer.

None of the neighbors had come out to ask him what he was doing sitting under the apple tree, although Nick had seen a few curtains twitch in the houses across the street.

Earlier a couple of teenagers had checked out his Porsche with shining eyes. One of them had worked up the courage to ask if the car was Nick's. He'd admitted it was and tossed them the keys so that they could sit in the front seat and dream for a while. They'd finally left reluctantly when a curly-haired woman down the street had waved them home. That had been the end of Nick's social interaction with the neighbors of Miss Philadelphia Fox.

He was beginning to wonder if the Fox was ever going to return to her lair when the insistent whine of a small-car engine made him glance down the street.

A candy-apple-red mosquito-sized compact darted around the corner and homed in on the one open space left at the curb. With the unerring instinct of a small, annoying insect spotting bare skin, the little red car zipped around a battered pickup truck and dove headfirst into the parking space behind the Porsche.

Nick watched in fascination as the driver of the mosquito realized she was not going to be able to wedge the vehicle into the limited space from such an angle. The compact whined furiously, jerking back and forth in several short, convulsive movements before abandoning its attack.

Nick held his breath as the thwarted mosquito maneuvered its way back out of the parking space and reluctantly pulled forward alongside the Porsche so that it could back properly into the slot. The Porsche survived unscathed, but Nick had the impression the mosquito was defiant in defeat.

He guessed then that the driver of the red insect was Philadelphia Fox. He watched her turn off the engine and climb out of the car holding two paper bags of groceries that were so full they effectively blocked her vision.

His first impression was that he was watching an entity of condensed, restless energy. Her movements were quick, sharp, impulsive. With a flash of insight Nick realized that he was looking at a woman who did not wait for things to fall into place in their own time and in their own way. She pushed them into place.

So this was his ticket home. He did not know whether to be dismayed or delighted.

He had been in exile for three long years and was not yet certain what to make of Philadelphia Fox, but if he played his cards right he might be able to use her to do what had to be done. It wasn't as if he had a lot of choice, he reminded himself. It was Phila Fox or nothing. He had no other options, and time was running out.

The real question, of course, was whether he really wanted to go home. He told himself he was still ambivalent, but he knew that in his heart he had already made the decision. He would not be sitting in the heat and boredom of Holloway, Washington, if he didn't know what he wanted to do.

Nick smiled faintly as he watched Philadelphia struggle with the grocery bags and her keys. From this distance she looked neither sufficiently powerful nor beautiful enough to be capable of tearing the families apart. But that only went to show that dynamite could be packaged in raspberry-pink jeans and an orange, green and black jungle-print camp shirt.

Fox. She suited her name, Nick decided. There was something vixenish about her, something that was both keen and delicate. Her eyes were large in her triangularly shaped face, and they tilted up slightly at the corners. They were watchful, wary eyes.

She was not very tall, probably only about five-four, and she was slender, with small, high breasts and a narrow waist. Her tawny brown hair was cut in a smooth, shining bob that hugged her jawline. He knew she was twenty-six years old and that she was unmarried. That and the fact that she had apparently had close ties to Crissie Masters was about all he knew.

Yesterday morning's phone call from Eleanor Castleton replayed itself in his head.

"She's a problem, Nick. A terrible problem."

"Yeah, I can see that. But she's not my problem."

"That's not true and you know it, dear. She's a serious threat to the families, and you're family. What happened three years ago doesn't change that fact, and deep down inside I'm sure you realize it."

"Eleanor, I don't give a damn what happens to the families."

"I don't believe that for one minute, dear. You're a Lightfoot. You would never abandon your heritage when the chips are down. Go and see her, Nick. Talk to her. Someone has to deal with her."

"Send Darren. He's the one with charm, remember?"

"Hilary and Darren both tried to talk to her. She refused to listen to either of them. She's biding her time, looking for a way to turn the situation to her advantage. I know that's what she's doing. What can you expect from someone of her background? She's just another mischief-making little tramp like that Masters creature who descended on us last fall. That horrid little tart started all this. If it hadn't been for her — "

"What makes you think this, uh, other little tart will talk to me?"

"You'll find a way to deal with her, dear." Eleanor Castleton spoke with serene confidence. "I know you will. I have complete faith in you. And you're family, dear. You simply must do something about Philadelphia Fox."

"I'll think about it, Eleanor."

"I knew you wouldn't let us down. Family is family when all is said and done, isn't it?"

To his chagrin, Nick had discovered Eleanor was right. When all was said and done, family was family. So here he sat under an apple tree contemplating possible methods of manipulating a mischief-making little tramp.

Philadelphia Fox walked right past him up the sidewalk to the front door of the little white house. The screen door banged as she opened it, caught it with her toe and shoved her key into the lock of the main door. The paper bags wobbled.

Nick got slowly to his feet, removing his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose as he strolled up the cracked walk behind her.

The key seemed to have gotten stuck in the old lock and refused to turn. The grocery bags jiggled precariously. The screen door escaped the restraining toe, and Nick heard a softly uttered curse as Philadelphia tried to force the issue.

Nick nodded to himself and replaced his glasses on his nose, satisfied with this confirmation of his suspicion that Miss Fox did everything the fast way and, therefore, sometimes wound up doing things the hard way. This was the kind of woman who, once she made up her mind, would charge straight toward her goal. The eager, zealous, reckless type. Nick contemplated that tantalizing tidbit of information. One didn't run across eager, zealous, reckless, mischief-making little tramps every day.

He wondered suddenly if the little Fox made love at a hundred miles an hour, the way she appeared to do everything else.

Nick scowled at that errant thought and slid his glasses back onto his nose. It was not like him to let such thoughts get in the way of business. Besides, Philadelphia Fox was not his type. At least, he didn't think she was.

Still, perhaps he shouldn't blame himself for the brief fancy. After all, he had never had a woman make love to him at a hundred miles an hour. It sounded exciting.

But maybe that was because it had been so damned long since he had had a woman make love to him at all.

Moving up very close behind the struggling Phila, he asked politely, "Can I give you a hand with those bags?"

He had expected to startle her. He was not expecting the truly frightened gasp and the flash of raw terror in her huge eyes when she swung around to face him. He barely managed to catch one of the grocery bags as it fell from her arms. The other hit the steps, spilling out a loaf of bread, a can of tuna fish and a bunch of carrots.

"Who the hell are you?" Philadelphia Fox demanded.

"Nicodemus Lightfoot."

The fear vanished from her gaze, replaced first by an odd relief and then by disgust. She glanced morosely down at the spilled groceries and then looked up again, her eyes narrowed.

"So you're a Lightfoot. I wondered what one would look like. Tell me, are the Castletons any better-looking? They must be or Crissie wouldn't have turned out so lovely." She crouched and began to retrieve her groceries.

"The Castletons got the looks and charm. The Lightfoots got the brains. It's been a profitable partnership." Nick scooped up the tuna fish and reached out to jiggle the key in the frozen lock. He maneuvered it gently, and a second later the door popped open.

"Funny," Philadelphia Fox said, her face grim as she got to her feet and glared at the open door. "That's what Crissie and I used to tell each other. She got the looks and I got the brains. It was supposed to be a profitable partnership for us, too, but it didn't quite work out that way. I expect you want to come inside and browbeat me, right?"

Nick gazed thoughtfully into the colorful, plant-filled interior of the little house. Bare wood floors gleamed beneath red and black throw rugs, and the walls were painted a brilliant sunshine yellow. The sofa was as red as the little car parked out front. Somehow all the vivid hues combined to look very cheerful and welcoming. Apparently Miss Fox's sense of interior design was similar to her taste in clothing. He smiled again.

"Yes," Nick said. "I would very much like to come inside and talk to you."

"Come on, then," Philadelphia muttered as she pushed past him into the house. "We might as well get this over with. I've got some iced tea in the refrigerator."

Nick smiled again with satisfaction as he watched her precede him into the house. "That sounds just fine."

There was a word for what was wrong with her, Phila knew. Several words, in fact. As she slapped the groceries down on the counter and went to the refrigerator, she considered those words. Burnout was one. Stress was another.

Her grandmother would have brushed aside such contemporary jargon, of course, and gotten right to the point.

Stop feeling sorry for yourself. The trouble with you, my girl, is that you've let yourself wallow around in your own emotions long enough. It's time to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Get hold of yourself, child. Get up and get going. The world is waiting for you to fix it. If you don't do it, who will?

Matilda Fox had seen everything as a challenge. The prospect of righting the wrongs of the world was what had kept her going, she had frequently claimed. It gave Iife purpose. Her son, Alan, Phila's father, had followed in his mother's footsteps. He had been passionate about his causes and in due course had married another passionate world-fixer named Linda. The two of them must have shared a few passions other than the political sort because eventually they had produced Phila.

Phila had no real recollection of her parents. They had died when she was very young. She had a picture of them, a faded color photograph of two people dressed in jeans and plaid shirts standing beside a jeep. Behind them was a cluster of huts, a brown river and a wall of jungle. Phila carried the photo in her wallet along with a picture of Crissie Masters and one of her grandmother.

Although she had no clear memory of them, Phila's parents had bequeathed her more than her hazel eyes and tawny brown hair They had left within her their philosophy of life, which Matilda Fox had in turn nourished into full flower. From the cradle Phila had been inculcated with a healthy dose of skepticism toward established authority, conservative thinking and right-wing institutions. It was an independent, decidely liberal philosophy. Some might have called it radical. It was the sort of philosophy that thrived on challenge.

But, Phila. reflected, lately it had been very hard to get interested in a new challenge. Everything seemed increasingly unimportant. She now felt her parents and grandmother had been wrong. One person could not save the world. In fact, one person could only get hurt trying to fix things.

It was tough trying to carry on the family tradition when there was no family left to support it. She had been doing it alone for years and now she seemed to have run out of steam.

Crissie Masters's philosophy of life, on the other band, was finally beginning to make more sense to Phila. It could be summed up in five words: Look out for number one.

But now Crissie was dead, too. The big difference was that, while they had died young, her parents had died for a cause in which they had believed and to which they had been committed. Matilda Fox had died at her desk. She had been busily penning yet another article for one of the score of strident left-wing newsletters which printed her work. She had been eighty-two years old.

Crissie Masters, however, had died behind the wheel of a car that had plunged off a Washington coast road and buried itself in a deep ravine. She had been twenty-six years old. Her epitaph could have been, Am I having fun yet?

Phila dropped ice into two tall glasses and poured the cold tea. She felt no overpowering need to be courteous to a Lightfoot, especially not to one as big as the specimen out in her living room, but it was awkward to drink tea in front of someone else without at least offering a glass. It was, after all, very hot outside and the Lightfoot looked as if be had been sitting under her apple tree for some time.

She picked up the tray of drinks and headed for the living room. An echo of fear rippled through her as she recalled how close he had gotten to her a few minutes before without her even having been aware of him. That's how it could happen, she thought uneasily. No warning, no intuitive sense of danger; just wham. Someday she would simply turn around and find herself in trouble.

Phila forced herself to relax as she set the tray down on the glass coffee table. Surreptitiously she studied the intruder He looked big and dark sitting on her bright red sofa. His eyeglasses did nothing to soften the effect.

He really was a large man, she realized, and that alone made her feel hostile. She did not like large males.

"Thanks for the tea. I've been getting by on warm beer for the past hour." Nicodemus Lightfoot reached for a frosty glass.

The vibration of his voice sent a distant, whispered warning through Phila's nerve endings. She told herself she was hearing things. Her nerves had been more than a little frayed lately. But she had always relied on her instincts, and now she couldn't ignore the way his voice disturbed her senses.

Everything about this man was too calm, too still and watchful, as if he could spend hours waiting in darkness.

"Nobody asked you to sit out in front of my house for an hour, Nicodemus Lightfoot." Phila sat down in a yellow canvas director's chair and picked up her own glass of tea.

"Call me Nick."

She didn't respond immediately. Instead she examined him for a few seconds, noting the gold-and-steel watch, the blue oxford-cloth button-down that he wore open at the throat, and the snug, faded jeans. The jeans looked like standard-issue Levi's, but she guessed that the casual shirt had cost a hundred bucks or more. His type would wear hundred-dollar shirts with old jeans.

"Why on earth should I call you Nick?" She took a swallow of cold tea.

Nick Lightfoot didn't rise to the bait. Instead, he studied her in turn, his eyes thoughtful behind the lenses of his glasses. The window air conditioner hummed in the silence.

"You're going to be difficult, aren't you?" he finally observed.

"It's what I'm good at. I've had a lot of practice."

His eyes swept over the glass coffee table, spotted the stack of travel brochures. "Going on a trip?"

"Thinking about it."

"California?" He flipped through a couple of the folders with their scenes of endless beaches and Disneyland.

"Crissie used to say Southern California would be good for me. She always claimed I needed a taste of life in the fast lane."

Lightfoot said nothing for a few minutes, and Phila watched him out of the corner of her eye. He was a predator, she decided. His light gray eyes reflected little...only perhaps an unending search for prey and a cold intelligence. The thin lips, bold, aggressive nose and the high, blunt cheekbones made her think of a large animal. The heavy pelt of his dark hair was lightly iced with silver. He was somewhere in his mid-thirties, she guessed. And he'd done some hunting in his time.

There was an unconscious arrogance in the set of his shoulders and a lean but powerful strength in his body. She knew that his must be a smooth, prowling stride that ate up ground as he moved. He could stalk a victim all day if necessary and still have plenty of energy left for the kill at the end of the hunt.

"You aren't quite what I expected," Nick said finally, looking up from the brochures.

"What did you expect?"

"I don't know. You just aren't it."

"I've had phone calls from someone named Hilary Lightfoot who sounds like she runs around in an English riding habit most of the time. Also, some from a man named Darren Castleton. He sounds like he's running for office. Where do you fit into the scenario, Mr. Lightfoot? Crissie never mentioned you. Frankly, you look like hired muscle."

"I never met Crissie Masters. I moved from Washington to California three years ago."

"How did you find me?"

"It wasn't hard. I made a few phone calls. Your ex-boss gave me your address."

"Thelma told you where I was?" Phila asked sharply.

"Yeah."

"What did you do to her to make her tell?"

I didn't do anything to her. I just talked to her.

"I'll bet. You say that a little too easily for my taste."

"No accounting for taste."

'You're accustomed to people answering when you ask them, aren't you?"

"Why shouldn't she have been willing to cooperate?" he asked with the mildest possible expression of surprise.

"I asked her not to give out my address."

"She did say something about you wanting to dodge reporters but when she found out I wasn't interested in doing an interview, she opened up."

"You mean you applied pressure and she caved in." Phila sighed. "So you are the muscle for your families. Poor Thelma. She tries, but she isn't very good at resisting. She's been a bureaucrat too long."

"You, I take it, are better at it?" Nick's brows rose, skeptically.

"I'm a pro. And I'll save you a lot of time by telling you now that there's nothing you can say that will convince me to change my mind. I'm not about to sell back the shares in Castleton & Lightfoot that Crissie left to me. Not for a while, at any rate. I have some serious thinking to do about those shares. I may have some questions I want answered."

He nodded, looking neither annoyed nor startled. Just looked disturbingly patient.

"What questions do you have, Phila?"

She hesitated. The truth was, she did not really have any questions. Not yet. She hadn't been able to think clearly enough to come up with any. She was still trying to adjust to the trauma she had been through lately.

First there had been the trial, winch had dragged on for weeks, and then had come the shock of Crissie's death. Phila thought she would have been able to handle the trial if that had been all there was to deal with at the time. But the news about Crissie had been more than she could handle.

Beautiful, bold, flashy Crissie with her California looks and her vow to get what was coming to her. The night of the vow came back to Phila now, a clear, strong image in her mind. It had been the first time she had tried more than a sip of alcohol.

Crissie, looking a worldly twenty-one at the age of fifteen, had talked the clerk of an all-night convenience store into selling the teenage girls the cheap wine. Crissie could talk any man into anything. It was one of her survival skills.

She and Phila had gone to the small town park near the river and drunk their illicit booze out behind the women's rest rooms. Then Crissie had outlined her plans for the future.

There are people out there who owe me, Phila. I'm going to find them, and I'm going to make them give me what's mine. Don't worry. When I do, I'll cut you in for a piece of the action. You and me, we're like sisters, aren't we? We're family and family sticks together.

Crissie had learned the truth of her own words the hard way. She had found the people she felt owed her and when she had tried to make them accept her, she had discovered the real meaning of a family sticking together. They had formed a solid wall against her and her claims of kinship.

"I don't know if I'm ready to ask my questions yet," Phila told Nick. "I think I'll wait and ask them at the annual C&L stockholder's meeting in August."

"The stockholders of Castleton & Lightfoot are all family."

"Not anymore." Phila. smiled, really smiled, for the first time in weeks.

Nick Lightfoot appeared amused. "Planning to make trouble?"

"I don't know yet. Possibly. Crissie deserves that much, at least. Don't you think? She loved to stir up trouble. It was her way of taking revenge on the world. Making a little trouble on her behalf would be a fitting memorial."

"Why was Crissie Masters important to you?" Nick asked. "Were you related?"

"Not by blood or marriage, and that's probably the only kind of relationship you would understand."

"I understand friendship. Was Crissie your friend?"

"She was much more than a friend. She was the closest thing to a sister I ever had."

He looked politely quizzical. "I never met the woman, but I've heard a lot about her. From what I've heard, the two of you don't appear to have had much in common."

"Which only goes to show how little you know about either Crissie or myself."

"I'm willing to learn."

Phila thought about that, and she did not like the direction her mind was taking. "You're different from the other two who called me."

"How am I different?"

"Smarter. More dangerous. You think before you choose your tactics." She spoke carefully, giving him the truth. She was accustomed to relying on her instincts when it came to judging people, and she was rarely wrong. She had developed survival skills, too, just as Crissie had. But she had not been born with Crissie's looks, so those skills had taken a different twist.

"Are you complimenting me?" Nick asked curiously.

"No. Just stating obvious facts. Tell me, who will the Castletons and Lightfoots send if you screw up your assignment to browbeat me out of the shares?"

"I will try very hard not to screw up."

"How's your track record in that apartment?" she taunted, although she suspected it was excellent.

"Not perfect. I've been known to screw up very badly on occasion."

"When was the last time?"

"Three years ago."

The apparently honest answer surprised her, and, thereby threw her off guard. "What happened?" she asked, with somewhat too obvious curiosity.

He gave her a slow, remote smile. "We both know that what happened to me three years ago doesn't matter a damn right now. Let's stick with the issue at hand."

She shrugged. "You can stick with it if you like. I've got better things to do."

He studied the brochures on the table again. "Are you sure you want to go to California?"

"I think so. I feel the need to go away, and it would be a sort of memorial trip in honor of Crissie. She loved Southern California. We were both born and raised in Washington, but she always said California was her spiritual home. She went down there to work as a model after she graduated from high school. It seems fitting somehow to spend some time there. She would have wanted me to have some fun."

"Alone?"

Phila smiled, showing her teeth. "Yes. Alone."

Nick appeared to consider that for a moment, and then he switched back to the only topic that really mattered to him. "Are you going to fight the Castletons and Lightfoots every inch of the way, or is the word cooperation a part of your vocabulary?"

"The word is there, but I use it only when it suits me."

"And right now it doesn't suit you to cooperate by selling those shares back to the families?"

"No, I don't think so."

"Not even for a great deal of money?"

"I'm not interested in money right now."

He nodded, as if she had verified a personal conclusion he had already reached. "Yeah, well, that settles that."

Phila was instantly wary. "What does it settle?"

"My job is done. I was asked to approach you about the shares. I've done that, and I'm convinced you aren't about to cooperate with the families. I'll report my failure, and that will be the end of it."

She did not believe what he said for a moment. "You said you were going to try very hard not to screw up."

"I gave it my best shot." He looked hurt that she would think otherwise.

Phila grew more alarmed. His best shot, she sensed, would never be this ineffectual. "You never answered my question about who they'll send next."

"I don't know what they'll do. That's their problem."

She put her glass down on the table and eyed him narrowly. "That's the end of it as far as you're concerned?"

He shrugged. "I don't see that I have much option. You've made it clear you don't even want to talk about the shares."

"You're not the type to give up this quickly," Phila stated.

His eyes widened. "How do you know what type I am?"

"Never mind. I just do and you're not acting true to form at the moment."

"Disappointed?"

"No, but I am very curious about what you're up to."

"Yeah." His smile came and went again. "I'll bet you are. And I'm equally curious about what you're planning to do. But I guess we'll both find out all the results eventually, won't we? I'll look forward to hearing about whatever trouble you manage to stir up, Phila. Should make for an interesting annual meeting. Too bad I won't be there to watch you in action."

"Why won't you be there? You're a Lightfoot. Don't you hold stock?"

"I still have the shares I was given when I was born and the shares I inherited from my mother, but they're a long way from constituting a controlling interest. I haven't paid much attention to them lately, anyway. For the past three years I've let my father vote my shares."

"Why?"

"It's a long story. Let's just say I've lost interest in Castleton & Lightfoot. I've got other things to do with my life these days."

Phila's fingernails drummed a quick staccato on the arm of her chair. Mentally she flipped through a variety of possibilities she had not yet considered.

Crissie had never mentioned this particular member of the clan. Maybe that was because he was estranged from the families for some obscure reason. He was certainly implying as much when he claimed he no longer voted his shares at the annual meeting. If that was the case, Phila told herself with a sudden rush of interest, she might find him very useful.

"If you're no longer involved with Castleton & Lightfoot, just what are you doing with your life these days?" she asked bluntly. Almost immediately she sensed she had made a tactical error. The last thing she should do was show any interest in him. She should have been more subtle. But it was too late to take back her words.

Nick seemed unaware of any blunder on her part. "I'm running my own business in Santa Barbara — Lightfoot Consulting Services. I just agreed to get in touch with you as a favor to the families. But the bottom line is that I'm not really sure I give a damn how much trouble you cause Castleton & Lightfoot. Have fun, Phila."

But he did not rise from the sofa and head back out into the heat, Phila noticed.

"What does Lightfoot Consulting Services consult about?" she asked.

He gave her an unreadable look. "We provide advice and information to firms trying to open overseas markets. A lot of companies want a cut of the world pie, but they don't have the vaguest idea of how to do business in Europe or the Pacific Rim countries."

"And you do?"

"Some."

"Would you still be working in the family firm if you hadn't shot yourself in the foot three years ago?" Phila demanded.

"I didn't exactly shoot myself in the foot three years ago."

"You said you screwed up badly."

"It was more like a family quarrel. But to answer your question, yeah, I'd probably still be with the firm if things hadn't happened the way they did. In fact, I'd still be running Castleton & Lightfoot if l'd stayed."

"You were running it?" She frowned.

"I'd just gotten myself appointed CEO the year before I walked out."

"This is getting more and more weird. Why did you walk out if you'd just gotten appointed chief executive officer? What are you doing down there in California? Why did you do anybody the favor of contacting me? What is this all about?"

A slight, oddly tantalizing light appeared in his eyes. "I've told you what this is all about, Miss Fox. I am no longer with the family firm. I got a phone call from the one person connected with Castleton & Lightfoot who still speaks to me on occasion, and I agreed to talk to you as a favor to her. I've talked to you. End of favor."

"And that's the end of the matter as far as you're concerned?"

"Yeah."

"I don't believe you." Something was very wrong here.

"That's your prerogative, Phila. Have dinner with me tonight?"

It took a minute for the invitation to penetrate. She looked up at him blankly, aware that her mouth had fallen open. "I beg your pardon?"

"You heard me. It's too late to start for California this evening. I'm going to be spending the night here in town. I just thought we could have dinner. After all, I sure as hell don't know anyone else in Holloway. Unless you have other plans?"

She shook her head slowly as the light dawned. "I don't believe this."

"What don't you believe?"

"You aren't really going to try to seduce me in order to get back those shares, are you? I mean, it would be such a trite, old-fashioned, dipstick dumb sort of approach. Also a useless one."

He thought about that for a while, meditatively studying the ivy growing from a red pot on a nearby table. When his eyes cam back to Phila's, she did not like the cool intensity she saw in his gaze. She had the impression he had made a major decision.

"Miss Fox," Nick said with a disconcerting air of formality, "just for the record, I would like you to know that if I tried to seduce you it would be because I wanted to sleep with you, not because I wanted to get my hands on those C&L shares."

She stared at him with narrowed eyes, trying to analyze, assess and categorize him. She had thought she had known precisely what to expect from any member of the wealthy, powerful Lightfoot and Castleton clans. But Nicodemus Lightfoot was refusing to fit into the mold she had prepared for him. That just made him all the more dangerous, she reminded herself.

But she couldn't get the idea out of her head that it might also make him all the more useful.

"If I had dinner with you, would you spill any juicy family secrets?" she asked.

"Probably not."

"Then what would be the point?"

"The point would be that neither of us would be forced to eat alone."

"I don't mind eating alone. I often eat alone."

"You know something, Miss Fox? That does not surprise me. I eat alone a lot myself. Too often." He got to his feet. "I'll pick you up at six. You know the local places. I'll let you make the reservations."

He walked to the front door and let himself out into the late-afternoon sun. He did not look back once.

Phila took that as another danger signal. It was a minor point, that business about not looking back to see if she was watching him, but it was significant. Any other man could not have resisted one small glance over his shoulder to see how she was reacting to his sudden departure.

She knew that his having failed to do so was not a reflection of unconcern on his part, it was a matter of self-discipline. The man was obviously in complete control of himself and was accustomed to being in equal command of the situation around him.

The soft, husky roar of the silver-gray Porsche filled the empty street outside the house. Phila listened to the powerful car as it drove off and decided that Nicodemus Lightfoot was going to be a problem.

Maybe that was what she really needed, Phila thought suddenly. Maybe she needed a problem she could sink her teeth into. It might do a lot more for this vague sense of depression than a trip to California.

Foxes thrived on exercising their cunning, she reminded herself.

Copyright © 1990 by Jayne Ann Krentz

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First Chapter

Chapter One<<P> Something in Nicodemus Lightfoot understood and respected small towns and the kind of people who lived in them. He did not wax nostalgic about them, nor did he believe in the myth that small towns were somehow best at incubating American values and right thinking. He did not even particularly like small towns, especially small farm towns in the summer. They tended to be hot and slow. Every kid who had just graduated from the local high school was probably desperate to get out of town as soon as possible, and Nick understood their desire.

He was afraid that his intuitive knowledge of towns such as Holloway, Washington, was in his blood. Nick himself was only one generation away from jobs like working cattle or driving a combine, and he knew it. He accepted it. He had no problem with it. And that was what gave him the edge over everyone else in the families. The other members of the Lightfoot and Castleton clans were still trying to forget how close their roots ran to towns such as this one in eastern Washington.

Nick took another swallow of beer and shifted into a more comfortable position. He was leaning against the trunk of an aging apple tree that dominated the front yard of a little white clapboard house. The grass in the yard was rapidly turning brown. By August it would be dead.

Nick had been sitting in the shade of the tree for almost an hour. The beer was warm, the street of small, neat houses was empty and Nick was getting bored. That took some doing, because he was good at waiting.

Hearing a clatter in the distance, Nick turned to watch two lanky youngsters hurtle down the street on beat-up skateboards. Faithful dogs, tongues lolling, jogged behind. The boys seemed oblivious, as only lads can be, of the late June heat. Nick watched the foursome until they disappeared around the corner, and then he finished the beer.

None of the neighbors had come out to ask him what he was doing sitting under the apple tree, although Nick had seen a few curtains twitch in the houses across the street.

Earlier a couple of teenagers had checked out his Porsche with shining eyes. One of them had worked up the courage to ask if the car was Nick's. He'd admitted it was and tossed them the keys so that they could sit in the front seat and dream for a while. They'd finally left reluctantly when a curly-haired woman down the street had waved them home. That had been the end of Nick's social interaction with the neighbors of Miss Philadelphia Fox.

He was beginning to wonder if the Fox was ever going to return to her lair when the insistent whine of a small-car engine made him glance down the street.

A candy-apple-red mosquito-sized compact darted around the corner and homed in on the one open space left at the curb. With the unerring instinct of a small, annoying insect spotting bare skin, the little red car zipped around a battered pickup truck and dove headfirst into the parking space behind the Porsche.

Nick watched in fascination as the driver of the mosquito realized she was not going to be able to wedge the vehicle into the limited space from such an angle. The compact whined furiously, jerking back and forth in several short, convulsive movements before abandoning its attack.

Nick held his breath as the thwarted mosquito maneuvered its way back out of the parking space and reluctantly pulled forward alongside the Porsche so that it could back properly into the slot. The Porsche survived unscathed, but Nick had the impression the mosquito was defiant in defeat.

He guessed then that the driver of the red insect was Philadelphia Fox. He watched her turn off the engine and climb out of the car holding two paper bags of groceries that were so full they effectively blocked her vision.

His first impression was that he was watching an entity of condensed, restless energy. Her movements were quick, sharp, impulsive. With a flash of insight Nick realized that he was looking at a woman who did not wait for things to fall into place in their own time and in their own way. She pushed them into place.

So this was his ticket home. He did not know whether to be dismayed or delighted.

He had been in exile for three long years and was not yet certain what to make of Philadelphia Fox, but if he played his cards right he might be able to use her to do what had to be done. It wasn't as if he had a lot of choice, he reminded himself. It was Phila Fox or nothing. He had no other options, and time was running out.

The real question, of course, was whether he really wanted to go home. He told himself he was still ambivalent, but he knew that in his heart he had already made the decision. He would not be sitting in the heat and boredom of Holloway, Washington, if he didn't know what he wanted to do.

Nick smiled faintly as he watched Philadelphia struggle with the grocery bags and her keys. From this distance she looked neither sufficiently powerful nor beautiful enough to be capable of tearing the families apart. But that only went to show that dynamite could be packaged in raspberry-pink jeans and an orange, green and black jungle-print camp shirt.

Fox. She suited her name, Nick decided. There was something vixenish about her, something that was both keen and delicate. Her eyes were large in her triangularly shaped face, and they tilted up slightly at the corners. They were watchful, wary eyes.

She was not very tall, probably only about five-four, and she was slender, with small, high breasts and a narrow waist. Her tawny brown hair was cut in a smooth, shining bob that hugged her jawline. He knew she was twenty-six years old and that she was unmarried. That and the fact that she had apparently had close ties to Crissie Masters was about all he knew.

Yesterday morning's phone call from Eleanor Castleton replayed itself in his head.

"She's a problem, Nick. A terrible problem."

"Yeah, I can see that. But she's not my problem."

"That's not true and you know it, dear. She's a serious threat to the families, and you're family. What happened three years ago doesn't change that fact, and deep down inside I'm sure you realize it."

"Eleanor, I don't give a damn what happens to the families."

"I don't believe that for one minute, dear. You're a Lightfoot. You would never abandon your heritage when the chips are down. Go and see her, Nick. Talk to her. Someone has to deal with her."

"Send Darren. He's the one with charm, remember?"

"Hilary and Darren both tried to talk to her. She refused to listen to either of them. She's biding her time, looking for a way to turn the situation to her advantage. I know that's what she's doing. What can you expect from someone of her background? She's just another mischief-making little tramp like that Masters creature who descended on us last fall. That horrid little tart started all this. If it hadn't been for her -- "

"What makes you think this, uh, other little tart will talk to me?"

"You'll find a way to deal with her, dear." Eleanor Castleton spoke with serene confidence. "I know you will. I have complete faith in you. And you're family, dear. You simply must do something about Philadelphia Fox."

"I'll think about it, Eleanor."

"I knew you wouldn't let us down. Family is family when all is said and done, isn't it?"

To his chagrin, Nick had discovered Eleanor was right. When all was said and done, family was family. So here he sat under an apple tree contemplating possible methods of manipulating a mischief-making little tramp.

Philadelphia Fox walked right past him up the sidewalk to the front door of the little white house. The screen door banged as she opened it, caught it with her toe and shoved her key into the lock of the main door. The paper bags wobbled.

Nick got slowly to his feet, removing his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose as he strolled up the cracked walk behind her.

The key seemed to have gotten stuck in the old lock and refused to turn. The grocery bags jiggled precariously. The screen door escaped the restraining toe, and Nick heard a softly uttered curse as Philadelphia tried to force the issue.

Nick nodded to himself and replaced his glasses on his nose, satisfied with this confirmation of his suspicion that Miss Fox did everything the fast way and, therefore, sometimes wound up doing things the hard way. This was the kind of woman who, once she made up her mind, would charge straight toward her goal. The eager, zealous, reckless type. Nick contemplated that tantalizing tidbit of information. One didn't run across eager, zealous, reckless, mischief-making little tramps every day.

He wondered suddenly if the little Fox made love at a hundred miles an hour, the way she appeared to do everything else.

Nick scowled at that errant thought and slid his glasses back onto his nose. It was not like him to let such thoughts get in the way of business. Besides, Philadelphia Fox was not his type. At least, he didn't think she was.

Still, perhaps he shouldn't blame himself for the brief fancy. After all, he had never had a woman make love to him at a hundred miles an hour. It sounded exciting.

But maybe that was because it had been so damned long since he had had a woman make love to him at all.

Moving up very close behind the struggling Phila, he asked politely, "Can I give you a hand with those bags?"

He had expected to startle her. He was not expecting the truly frightened gasp and the flash of raw terror in her huge eyes when she swung around to face him. He barely managed to catch one of the grocery bags as it fell from her arms. The other hit the steps, spilling out a loaf of bread, a can of tuna fish and a bunch of carrots.

"Who the hell are you?" Philadelphia Fox demanded.

"Nicodemus Lightfoot."

The fear vanished from her gaze, replaced first by an odd relief and then by disgust. She glanced morosely down at the spilled groceries and then looked up again, her eyes narrowed.

"So you're a Lightfoot. I wondered what one would look like. Tell me, are the Castletons any better-looking? They must be or Crissie wouldn't have turned out so lovely." She crouched and began to retrieve her groceries.

"The Castletons got the looks and charm. The Lightfoots got the brains. It's been a profitable partnership." Nick scooped up the tuna fish and reached out to jiggle the key in the frozen lock. He maneuvered it gently, and a second later the door popped open.

"Funny," Philadelphia Fox said, her face grim as she got to her feet and glared at the open door. "That's what Crissie and I used to tell each other. She got the looks and I got the brains. It was supposed to be a profitable partnership for us, too, but it didn't quite work out that way. I expect you want to come inside and browbeat me, right?"

Nick gazed thoughtfully into the colorful, plant-filled interior of the little house. Bare wood floors gleamed beneath red and black throw rugs, and the walls were painted a brilliant sunshine yellow. The sofa was as red as the little car parked out front. Somehow all the vivid hues combined to look very cheerful and welcoming. Apparently Miss Fox's sense of interior design was similar to her taste in clothing. He smiled again.

"Yes," Nick said. "I would very much like to come inside and talk to you."

"Come on, then," Philadelphia muttered as she pushed past him into the house. "We might as well get this over with. I've got some iced tea in the refrigerator."

Nick smiled again with satisfaction as he watched her precede him into the house. "That sounds just fine."

There was a word for what was wrong with her, Phila knew. Several words, in fact. As she slapped the groceries down on the counter and went to the refrigerator, she considered those words. Burnout was one. Stress was another.

Her grandmother would have brushed aside such contemporary jargon, of course, and gotten right to the point.

Stop feeling sorry for yourself. The trouble with you, my girl, is that you've let yourself wallow around in your own emotions long enough. It's time to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Get hold of yourself, child. Get up and get going. The world is waiting for you to fix it. If you don't do it, who will?

Matilda Fox had seen everything as a challenge. The prospect of righting the wrongs of the world was what had kept her going, she had frequently claimed. It gave Iife purpose. Her son, Alan, Phila's father, had followed in his mother's footsteps. He had been passionate about his causes and in due course had married another passionate world-fixer named Linda. The two of them must have shared a few passions other than the political sort because eventually they had produced Phila.

Phila had no real recollection of her parents. They had died when she was very young. She had a picture of them, a faded color photograph of two people dressed in jeans and plaid shirts standing beside a jeep. Behind them was a cluster of huts, a brown river and a wall of jungle. Phila carried the photo in her wallet along with a picture of Crissie Masters and one of her grandmother.

Although she had no clear memory of them, Phila's parents had bequeathed her more than her hazel eyes and tawny brown hair They had left within her their philosophy of life, which Matilda Fox had in turn nourished into full flower. From the cradle Phila had been inculcated with a healthy dose of skepticism toward established authority, conservative thinking and right-wing institutions. It was an independent, decidely liberal philosophy. Some might have called it radical. It was the sort of philosophy that thrived on challenge.

But, Phila. reflected, lately it had been very hard to get interested in a new challenge. Everything seemed increasingly unimportant. She now felt her parents and grandmother had been wrong. One person could not save the world. In fact, one person could only get hurt trying to fix things.

It was tough trying to carry on the family tradition when there was no family left to support it. She had been doing it alone for years and now she seemed to have run out of steam.

Crissie Masters's philosophy of life, on the other band, was finally beginning to make more sense to Phila. It could be summed up in five words: Look out for number one.

But now Crissie was dead, too. The big difference was that, while they had died young, her parents had died for a cause in which they had believed and to which they had been committed. Matilda Fox had died at her desk. She had been busily penning yet another article for one of the score of strident left-wing newsletters which printed her work. She had been eighty-two years old.

Crissie Masters, however, had died behind the wheel of a car that had plunged off a Washington coast road and buried itself in a deep ravine. She had been twenty-six years old. Her epitaph could have been, Am I having fun yet?

Phila dropped ice into two tall glasses and poured the cold tea. She felt no overpowering need to be courteous to a Lightfoot, especially not to one as big as the specimen out in her living room, but it was awkward to drink tea in front of someone else without at least offering a glass. It was, after all, very hot outside and the Lightfoot looked as if be had been sitting under her apple tree for some time.

She picked up the tray of drinks and headed for the living room. An echo of fear rippled through her as she recalled how close he had gotten to her a few minutes before without her even having been aware of him. That's how it could happen, she thought uneasily. No warning, no intuitive sense of danger; just wham. Someday she would simply turn around and find herself in trouble.

Phila forced herself to relax as she set the tray down on the glass coffee table. Surreptitiously she studied the intruder He looked big and dark sitting on her bright red sofa. His eyeglasses did nothing to soften the effect.

He really was a large man, she realized, and that alone made her feel hostile. She did not like large males.

"Thanks for the tea. I've been getting by on warm beer for the past hour." Nicodemus Lightfoot reached for a frosty glass.

The vibration of his voice sent a distant, whispered warning through Phila's nerve endings. She told herself she was hearing things. Her nerves had been more than a little frayed lately. But she had always relied on her instincts, and now she couldn't ignore the way his voice disturbed her senses.

Everything about this man was too calm, too still and watchful, as if he could spend hours waiting in darkness.

"Nobody asked you to sit out in front of my house for an hour, Nicodemus Lightfoot." Phila sat down in a yellow canvas director's chair and picked up her own glass of tea.

"Call me Nick."

She didn't respond immediately. Instead she examined him for a few seconds, noting the gold-and-steel watch, the blue oxford-cloth button-down that he wore open at the throat, and the snug, faded jeans. The jeans looked like standard-issue Levi's, but she guessed that the casual shirt had cost a hundred bucks or more. His type would wear hundred-dollar shirts with old jeans.

"Why on earth should I call you Nick?" She took a swallow of cold tea.

Nick Lightfoot didn't rise to the bait. Instead, he studied her in turn, his eyes thoughtful behind the lenses of his glasses. The window air conditioner hummed in the silence.

"You're going to be difficult, aren't you?" he finally observed.

"It's what I'm good at. I've had a lot of practice."

His eyes swept over the glass coffee table, spotted the stack of travel brochures. "Going on a trip?"

"Thinking about it."

"California?" He flipped through a couple of the folders with their scenes of endless beaches and Disneyland.

"Crissie used to say Southern California would be good for me. She always claimed I needed a taste of life in the fast lane."

Lightfoot said nothing for a few minutes, and Phila watched him out of the corner of her eye. He was a predator, she decided. His light gray eyes reflected little...only perhaps an unending search for prey and a cold intelligence. The thin lips, bold, aggressive nose and the high, blunt cheekbones made her think of a large animal. The heavy pelt of his dark hair was lightly iced with silver. He was somewhere in his mid-thirties, she guessed. And he'd done some hunting in his time.

There was an unconscious arrogance in the set of his shoulders and a lean but powerful strength in his body. She knew that his must be a smooth, prowling stride that ate up ground as he moved. He could stalk a victim all day if necessary and still have plenty of energy left for the kill at the end of the hunt.

"You aren't quite what I expected," Nick said finally, looking up from the brochures.

"What did you expect?"

"I don't know. You just aren't it."

"I've had phone calls from someone named Hilary Lightfoot who sounds like she runs around in an English riding habit most of the time. Also, some from a man named Darren Castleton. He sounds like he's running for office. Where do you fit into the scenario, Mr. Lightfoot? Crissie never mentioned you. Frankly, you look like hired muscle."

"I never met Crissie Masters. I moved from Washington to California three years ago."

"How did you find me?"

"It wasn't hard. I made a few phone calls. Your ex-boss gave me your address."

"Thelma told you where I was?" Phila asked sharply.

"Yeah."

"What did you do to her to make her tell?"

I didn't do anything to her. I just talked to her.

"I'll bet. You say that a little too easily for my taste."

"No accounting for taste."

'You're accustomed to people answering when you ask them, aren't you?"

"Why shouldn't she have been willing to cooperate?" he asked with the mildest possible expression of surprise.

"I asked her not to give out my address."

"She did say something about you wanting to dodge reporters but when she found out I wasn't interested in doing an interview, she opened up."

"You mean you applied pressure and she caved in." Phila sighed. "So you are the muscle for your families. Poor Thelma. She tries, but she isn't very good at resisting. She's been a bureaucrat too long."

"You, I take it, are better at it?" Nick's brows rose, skeptically.

"I'm a pro. And I'll save you a lot of time by telling you now that there's nothing you can say that will convince me to change my mind. I'm not about to sell back the shares in Castleton & Lightfoot that Crissie left to me. Not for a while, at any rate. I have some serious thinking to do about those shares. I may have some questions I want answered."

He nodded, looking neither annoyed nor startled. Just looked disturbingly patient.

"What questions do you have, Phila?"

She hesitated. The truth was, she did not really have any questions. Not yet. She hadn't been able to think clearly enough to come up with any. She was still trying to adjust to the trauma she had been through lately.

First there had been the trial, winch had dragged on for weeks, and then had come the shock of Crissie's death. Phila thought she would have been able to handle the trial if that had been all there was to deal with at the time. But the news about Crissie had been more than she could handle.

Beautiful, bold, flashy Crissie with her California looks and her vow to get what was coming to her. The night of the vow came back to Phila now, a clear, strong image in her mind. It had been the first time she had tried more than a sip of alcohol.

Crissie, looking a worldly twenty-one at the age of fifteen, had talked the clerk of an all-night convenience store into selling the teenage girls the cheap wine. Crissie could talk any man into anything. It was one of her survival skills.

She and Phila had gone to the small town park near the river and drunk their illicit booze out behind the women's rest rooms. Then Crissie had outlined her plans for the future.

There are people out there who owe me, Phila. I'm going to find them, and I'm going to make them give me what's mine. Don't worry. When I do, I'll cut you in for a piece of the action. You and me, we're like sisters, aren't we? We're family and family sticks together.

Crissie had learned the truth of her own words the hard way. She had found the people she felt owed her and when she had tried to make them accept her, she had discovered the real meaning of a family sticking together. They had formed a solid wall against her and her claims of kinship.

"I don't know if I'm ready to ask my questions yet," Phila told Nick. "I think I'll wait and ask them at the annual C&L stockholder's meeting in August."

"The stockholders of Castleton & Lightfoot are all family."

"Not anymore." Phila. smiled, really smiled, for the first time in weeks.

Nick Lightfoot appeared amused. "Planning to make trouble?"

"I don't know yet. Possibly. Crissie deserves that much, at least. Don't you think? She loved to stir up trouble. It was her way of taking revenge on the world. Making a little trouble on her behalf would be a fitting memorial."

"Why was Crissie Masters important to you?" Nick asked. "Were you related?"

"Not by blood or marriage, and that's probably the only kind of relationship you would understand."

"I understand friendship. Was Crissie your friend?"

"She was much more than a friend. She was the closest thing to a sister I ever had."

He looked politely quizzical. "I never met the woman, but I've heard a lot about her. From what I've heard, the two of you don't appear to have had much in common."

"Which only goes to show how little you know about either Crissie or myself."

"I'm willing to learn."

Phila thought about that, and she did not like the direction her mind was taking. "You're different from the other two who called me."

"How am I different?"

"Smarter. More dangerous. You think before you choose your tactics." She spoke carefully, giving him the truth. She was accustomed to relying on her instincts when it came to judging people, and she was rarely wrong. She had developed survival skills, too, just as Crissie had. But she had not been born with Crissie's looks, so those skills had taken a different twist.

"Are you complimenting me?" Nick asked curiously.

"No. Just stating obvious facts. Tell me, who will the Castletons and Lightfoots send if you screw up your assignment to browbeat me out of the shares?"

"I will try very hard not to screw up."

"How's your track record in that apartment?" she taunted, although she suspected it was excellent.

"Not perfect. I've been known to screw up very badly on occasion."

"When was the last time?"

"Three years ago."

The apparently honest answer surprised her, and, thereby threw her off guard. "What happened?" she asked, with somewhat too obvious curiosity.

He gave her a slow, remote smile. "We both know that what happened to me three years ago doesn't matter a damn right now. Let's stick with the issue at hand."

She shrugged. "You can stick with it if you like. I've got better things to do."

He studied the brochures on the table again. "Are you sure you want to go to California?"

"I think so. I feel the need to go away, and it would be a sort of memorial trip in honor of Crissie. She loved Southern California. We were both born and raised in Washington, but she always said California was her spiritual home. She went down there to work as a model after she graduated from high school. It seems fitting somehow to spend some time there. She would have wanted me to have some fun."

"Alone?"

Phila smiled, showing her teeth. "Yes. Alone."

Nick appeared to consider that for a moment, and then he switched back to the only topic that really mattered to him. "Are you going to fight the Castletons and Lightfoots every inch of the way, or is the word cooperation a part of your vocabulary?"

"The word is there, but I use it only when it suits me."

"And right now it doesn't suit you to cooperate by selling those shares back to the families?"

"No, I don't think so."

"Not even for a great deal of money?"

"I'm not interested in money right now."

He nodded, as if she had verified a personal conclusion he had already reached. "Yeah, well, that settles that."

Phila was instantly wary. "What does it settle?"

"My job is done. I was asked to approach you about the shares. I've done that, and I'm convinced you aren't about to cooperate with the families. I'll report my failure, and that will be the end of it."

She did not believe what he said for a moment. "You said you were going to try very hard not to screw up."

"I gave it my best shot." He looked hurt that she would think otherwise.

Phila grew more alarmed. His best shot, she sensed, would never be this ineffectual. "You never answered my question about who they'll send next."

"I don't know what they'll do. That's their problem."

She put her glass down on the table and eyed him narrowly. "That's the end of it as far as you're concerned?"

He shrugged. "I don't see that I have much option. You've made it clear you don't even want to talk about the shares."

"You're not the type to give up this quickly," Phila stated.

His eyes widened. "How do you know what type I am?"

"Never mind. I just do and you're not acting true to form at the moment."

"Disappointed?"

"No, but I am very curious about what you're up to."

"Yeah." His smile came and went again. "I'll bet you are. And I'm equally curious about what you're planning to do. But I guess we'll both find out all the results eventually, won't we? I'll look forward to hearing about whatever trouble you manage to stir up, Phila. Should make for an interesting annual meeting. Too bad I won't be there to watch you in action."

"Why won't you be there? You're a Lightfoot. Don't you hold stock?"

"I still have the shares I was given when I was born and the shares I inherited from my mother, but they're a long way from constituting a controlling interest. I haven't paid much attention to them lately, anyway. For the past three years I've let my father vote my shares."

"Why?"

"It's a long story. Let's just say I've lost interest in Castleton & Lightfoot. I've got other things to do with my life these days."

Phila's fingernails drummed a quick staccato on the arm of her chair. Mentally she flipped through a variety of possibilities she had not yet considered.

Crissie had never mentioned this particular member of the clan. Maybe that was because he was estranged from the families for some obscure reason. He was certainly implying as much when he claimed he no longer voted his shares at the annual meeting. If that was the case, Phila told herself with a sudden rush of interest, she might find him very useful.

"If you're no longer involved with Castleton & Lightfoot, just what are you doing with your life these days?" she asked bluntly. Almost immediately she sensed she had made a tactical error. The last thing she should do was show any interest in him. She should have been more subtle. But it was too late to take back her words.

Nick seemed unaware of any blunder on her part. "I'm running my own business in Santa Barbara -- Lightfoot Consulting Services. I just agreed to get in touch with you as a favor to the families. But the bottom line is that I'm not really sure I give a damn how much trouble you cause Castleton & Lightfoot. Have fun, Phila."

But he did not rise from the sofa and head back out into the heat, Phila noticed.

"What does Lightfoot Consulting Services consult about?" she asked.

He gave her an unreadable look. "We provide advice and information to firms trying to open overseas markets. A lot of companies want a cut of the world pie, but they don't have the vaguest idea of how to do business in Europe or the Pacific Rim countries."

"And you do?"

"Some."

"Would you still be working in the family firm if you hadn't shot yourself in the foot three years ago?" Phila demanded.

"I didn't exactly shoot myself in the foot three years ago."

"You said you screwed up badly."

"It was more like a family quarrel. But to answer your question, yeah, I'd probably still be with the firm if things hadn't happened the way they did. In fact, I'd still be running Castleton & Lightfoot if l'd stayed."

"You were running it?" She frowned.

"I'd just gotten myself appointed CEO the year before I walked out."

"This is getting more and more weird. Why did you walk out if you'd just gotten appointed chief executive officer? What are you doing down there in California? Why did you do anybody the favor of contacting me? What is this all about?"

A slight, oddly tantalizing light appeared in his eyes. "I've told you what this is all about, Miss Fox. I am no longer with the family firm. I got a phone call from the one person connected with Castleton & Lightfoot who still speaks to me on occasion, and I agreed to talk to you as a favor to her. I've talked to you. End of favor."

"And that's the end of the matter as far as you're concerned?"

"Yeah."

"I don't believe you." Something was very wrong here.

"That's your prerogative, Phila. Have dinner with me tonight?"

It took a minute for the invitation to penetrate. She looked up at him blankly, aware that her mouth had fallen open. "I beg your pardon?"

"You heard me. It's too late to start for California this evening. I'm going to be spending the night here in town. I just thought we could have dinner. After all, I sure as hell don't know anyone else in Holloway. Unless you have other plans?"

She shook her head slowly as the light dawned. "I don't believe this."

"What don't you believe?"

"You aren't really going to try to seduce me in order to get back those shares, are you? I mean, it would be such a trite, old-fashioned, dipstick dumb sort of approach. Also a useless one."

He thought about that for a while, meditatively studying the ivy growing from a red pot on a nearby table. When his eyes cam back to Phila's, she did not like the cool intensity she saw in his gaze. She had the impression he had made a major decision.

"Miss Fox," Nick said with a disconcerting air of formality, "just for the record, I would like you to know that if I tried to seduce you it would be because I wanted to sleep with you, not because I wanted to get my hands on those C&L shares."

She stared at him with narrowed eyes, trying to analyze, assess and categorize him. She had thought she had known precisely what to expect from any member of the wealthy, powerful Lightfoot and Castleton clans. But Nicodemus Lightfoot was refusing to fit into the mold she had prepared for him. That just made him all the more dangerous, she reminded herself.

But she couldn't get the idea out of her head that it might also make him all the more useful.

"If I had dinner with you, would you spill any juicy family secrets?" she asked.

"Probably not."

"Then what would be the point?"

"The point would be that neither of us would be forced to eat alone."

"I don't mind eating alone. I often eat alone."

"You know something, Miss Fox? That does not surprise me. I eat alone a lot myself. Too often." He got to his feet. "I'll pick you up at six. You know the local places. I'll let you make the reservations."

He walked to the front door and let himself out into the late-afternoon sun. He did not look back once.

Phila took that as another danger signal. It was a minor point, that business about not looking back to see if she was watching him, but it was significant. Any other man could not have resisted one small glance over his shoulder to see how she was reacting to his sudden departure.

She knew that his having failed to do so was not a reflection of unconcern on his part, it was a matter of self-discipline. The man was obviously in complete control of himself and was accustomed to being in equal command of the situation around him.

The soft, husky roar of the silver-gray Porsche filled the empty street outside the house. Phila listened to the powerful car as it drove off and decided that Nicodemus Lightfoot was going to be a problem.

Maybe that was what she really needed, Phila thought suddenly. Maybe she needed a problem she could sink her teeth into. It might do a lot more for this vague sense of depression than a trip to California.

Foxes thrived on exercising their cunning, she reminded herself.

Copyright © 1990 by Jayne Ann Krentz

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Average Rating 4.5
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 23 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2014

    One of her best

    I purchased this book when it first came out - wore that book out - purchased a new copy to read - purchased again when it came out on nook i love this book and all the people

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  • Posted February 12, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Another Winner!

    Again, Krentz surpasses my expectations and gives me another winner to read. Highly recommend! Nick and Phila's story is a sensual sensation read. Krentz's books are totally addictive and she needs to keep them coming.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2007

    BIG Disappointment

    I have read most of JAK's novels and have always enjoyed her unusual, often quirky characters. This time, however, heroine was so annoying and obnoxious that I could hardly stand to finish the book. I kept thinking that as I read on she would begin to grow on me, but it never happened.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2003

    Absolutely a great read!

    Loved the characters and how they interacted. The characters are believable and real. I was tickled with Nick's 'heavy handedness'. Reminded me of Clark Gable. Philadelphia is a women I can relate to and her strong desire to 'make things right'.

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