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Madelyn “Addie” Taggart awoke by slow degrees, turning from her left side to her back, then stretching languidly on the plush comfort of the king-sized bed. Slim arms circled her tousled head of shoulder-length black curls and rested on her pillow.
Slowly thick lashes lifted to reveal eyes the color of rich, dark chocolate. Leisurely she scanned her luxurious hotel suite. She was as impressed with her surroundings as she had been when she checked into the Hilton Palacio del Rio in downtown San Antonio yesterday afternoon.
Muted shades of beige and off-white suited the restful setting. Not one piece of carbon-copy furniture, assembly-line lamp, or misshapen, flimsy drapery marred the perfection of the room. The richness of cherry wood gleamed throughout. The lamps were heavy and brass. The draperies hung perfectly and closed snugly. And it was all hers for an entire weekend.
A smile lit her caramel-colored face. Life was good.
At times during the past three years, she hadn’t been so sure. Working as a production engineer for Sinclair Petroleum Company had been the ultimate test of her professionalism and her determination to succeed.
She had done it though. She hadn’t let the gray-haired critics on the job intimidate her, or the good-old-boy system discourage her. She had taken whatever they had given her with a smile on her face and taunted them to bring on more. They hadn’t known she had cried herself to sleep more than one night. Not even her close-knit family had known how difficult it was for her.
There were countless times she had wanted to call them or simply quit, but something within her, whether pride or stubbornness or anger, hadn’t allowed her to do either. Her parents had always taught her life was what you made it. You took the good with the bad and succeeded in spite of everything and everyone.
Those words had sounded fine through high school and college with her family standing behind her. But on her own in a large corporation, they were scary as hell until she remembered the odds her older brothers, Kane and Matt, had to overcome to succeed.
Being a woman wouldn’t lessen her brothers’ or her parents’ expectations. God had given her intelligence, but she had to have the faith and the backbone to use it. However, it had taken a while for her to reach that realization.
She had thought she had been prepared for the cutthroat, dog-eat-dog world of business since she had done an internship at another large petroleum firm in Dallas. She had been wrong.
Then, she hadn’t been a threat to anyone. She had been the baby sister of Kane and Matt Taggart, both respected men of some influence and wealth. She hadn’t traded on her brothers’ names to get the job, but the first week Kane and Matt had just happened to drop by to take her out to lunch.
Separately Kane and Matt could be intimidating; together they were awesome. Both understood being a minority and female; some narrow-minded people put limits on her as soon as they saw her gender and her race.
She had known such people existed—she just hadn’t known how overtly subtle and demeaning being treated like a nonentity could be. She soon found out, but she also discovered she had whatever it took to show the intolerant skeptics she wasn’t going anyplace. The lesson hadn’t been an easy one, but she had learned—and not once had she run crying to her family.
Her brothers’ tendency to watch over her was one reason she had chosen to relocate to Houston when she graduated summa cum laude from Texas A&M University. Kane had expected her to come to work for him at his cosmetics firm, Cinnamon. But developing products to help some woman’s lipstick stay on longer wasn’t what she had gone to school five long years for. Actually the research was too tame.
She liked something a little more dicey. Like designing the pipelines to draw oil and gas out of new wells at different pressures and depths. Accountability was high. A mistake could cost millions and your job. With her company finding and developing new oil and gas fields, she was never idle.
Oil and gas, once the boon of the Texas economy, became the bane in the eighties. The nineties had heralded a comeback. The industry was coming on strong. Energy was back, and Madelyn was doing her part to see that it stayed that way.
Madelyn’s smile widened as she glanced around the spacious hotel suite again. She had done well for herself in the three years she’d been at Sinclair. Too well to suit some.
Laughter bounced off the ivory-colored walls as she remembered the shocked expression of her immediate supervisor when she was named Employee of the Month. She had been almost as shocked.
Only people in management nominated employees, and she knew he’d eat dirt before he’d do that. Even saying her last name seemed to cause Carruthers difficulty. She always got the impression he wanted to substitute the T for an M.
So naturally when she accepted the plaque and the expense-paid weekend to San Antonio, she’d given him her brightest smile. His mouth had been drawn so tight, he’d looked as if he’d been eating alum.
After accepting the presentation, she had learned his immediate superior, Howard Sampson, had submitted her name. Two months earlier she had been temporarily assigned to Sampson’s team to help on a systems-analysis report.
Sampson was a hard taskmaster, but he didn’t care about color or gender. He cared about results. He often commented he got his gray hairs the old-fashioned way—he earned them. She had enjoyed every minute working with him and had dreaded going back to work under Carruthers. Now she didn’t have to.
Once she returned to Houston, she was being permanently transferred to Sampson’s department. Best of all, she had done it all by herself, without the help of her brothers.
She thought of the bouquet of roses from her parents, the silk nightshirt from Kane and his wife, Victoria, and the ten-pound box of her favorite chocolates from Matt and his wife, Shannon, that had arrived the day after she phoned them with the news. Her family might not have helped, but they certainly were proud of her.
Life was good, and on this sunny Saturday morning in February, she was going to sample some of it. Throwing back the covers, she bounded out of bed and headed for the shower.
* * *
There was so much going on around her, Madelyn couldn’t take it all in. Her morning had been a whirlwind of sights, sounds, and colors. She was turning her body into a pretzel, trying to make sure she didn’t miss one nuance of San Antonio’s colorful history with its diverse people.
San Antonio was doing its best to accommodate her. The city was in the midst of the stock show and rodeo. The area was crowded with jovial people in western and native garb outside the coliseum, intent on having a good time and eating as much high-cholesterol food as they could. With ethnic foods from Mexico, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and China, they weren’t going to go away disappointed.
It had taken the rumbling of her stomach to remind Madelyn of the passing of time. The tempting aroma of sausages-on-the-stick grilling over a mesquite fire drew her gaze. With determination, she continued. She had gorged herself at the hotel’s scrumptious breakfast buffet, and she had promised herself at the time that she’d eat a nice, sensible lunch. Sensible meant low-cal and low-fat.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a vendor spraying whipped cream over a funnel cake heavily layered with powdered sugar, then spooning on lush, ripe strawberries. Her tongue circled her lips.
She might be having a sensible lunch, but she knew exactly what she was having for dessert. Looking around to note the spot where the booth was located, she continued making her way through the crowd toward her hotel.
A short distance away on a tree-lined street, she noticed the sky had become cloudier. Hoping the rain showers forecasted for the afternoon would hold off until she reached her hotel, she grimaced and increased her pace. Each hurried step carried her farther from the crowd and the distinctive mariachi music of the strolling Mexican street band.
She cast another belligerent look at the rolling, dark gray clouds. Maybe she’d have to substitute strawberry-topped cheesecake for her funnel cake. She hoped not. Not that she wouldn’t enjoy both; she just didn’t like the idea of the rain keeping her inside. Spending an afternoon alone in her hotel room wasn’t her idea of fun. And that wasn’t the worst of it.
She could just imagine the thoughts of some of her friends and coworkers when they asked about her trip, and she had to tell them she spent most of it in her hotel room by herself.
A few might not be bold enough to say it, but Madelyn knew that every one of them would be thinking being cooped up in a hotel room on a rainy day wouldn’t have been a hardship if she had brought a man with her.
But Madelyn didn’t have a man.
She watched the laughing young couple in front of her—with four fingers of their hands tucked in the back pocket of the other’s jeans, their hips brushing with each step—and admitted that finding someone special to love would be wonderful. The problem was her demanding job left little time for a social life. The situation was only going to get worse.
Sometimes she didn’t leave work until well after seven in the evening. If she and her coworkers weren’t too tired, those who didn’t have family, to go home to would meet someplace for dinner. Since there was no one special in her life, she always went with them. In college she had gotten into the habit of going out in groups and saw no reason to change. So far she hadn’t seen one man she wanted all to herself.
Well, she had seen him. She just hadn’t met him.
Until a couple of years ago when she had seen a photograph of Daniel Falcon with her brother, Matt, she hadn’t known Daniel existed. Since then she hadn’t been able to forget him.
Daniel’s eyes had captured her first. Dark, passionate, piercing … challenging. Then she had let her own eyes roam over his strong features shaped by his African-American mother and Native American father, shaped by time, shaped by life. It had been an eyeful.
Daniel Falcon was jaw-dropping handsome. She had seen handsome men before, had grown up with two men she considered unbeatable … until she saw Daniel Falcon’s photograph. She couldn’t explain the wild cadence of her heart then any more than she could now just at the thought of him.
The problem was since the corporate headquarters of Falcon Industries was located in Denver, and he was from Boston, she wasn’t likely to meet him. She had looked forward to finally meeting him at Matt and Shannon’s wedding since Daniel had worked a miracle in securing the ballroom for the reception, but he had been a no-show at the last minute. The thought that she might never meet him always saddened her.
Daniel Falcon had touched her in ways no other man had, and he had yet to touch her or she him.
Lost in thought, she didn’t feel the first drops of rain. The sound of people shrieking was her first indication that something was wrong. In a second she realized the promise of rain had become a reality while she was daydreaming of Daniel Falcon.
Holding her tiny purse over her head, Madelyn sprinted for cover. Unfortunately other people had the same idea and had been faster to react. In less than a minute, her midcalf, gauzy white cotton sundress was soaked. With each running step, her white leather sandals slapped noisily against the concrete.
Realizing she’d have to find a place to wait out the rain or a taxi, she paused beneath the dubious covering of a palm tree to get her bearings. Directly across the street the deep burgundy awning of a stately hotel nestled between a travel agency and a French restaurant caught her attention.
Taking only a moment to check the traffic, Madelyn made a run for it against the traffic light. Surely in a tourist city, the hotel staff wouldn’t begrudge offering her sanctuary.
The elderly doorman in a heavy black rain slicker and black cap circled at the crown in gold braid didn’t bat an eyelash when he held open the heavy glass and gold chrome door for her. Flashing him a smile of thanks, she entered absently, noting the feeling of opulence and spaciousness of the lobby. Getting dry was uppermost in her mind. Luckily she spotted a bellman almost immediately.
“Where’s the rest room?”
“To the left of the bank of elevators around from the restaurant,” he told her, his dark eyes running over her in one encompassing sweep.
Madelyn glanced down and flushed. The off-the-shoulder dress was plastered to the front of her body. The lacy bra was no match against the rain and the frigid temperature of the hotel. Dusky nipples thrust brazenly against the fabric.
Flushing again, Madelyn headed in the direction the bellman had indicated. Head bent, shoulders hunched forward in an attempt to conceal her predicament, she hurried around the indicated corner and ran into something solid and immovable.
She heard a soft grunt, felt herself falling backward, and instinctively reached out in a frantic attempt to keep herself upright. A steel bar clamped around her waist. The spark of awareness stunned her as much as being anchored against something equally unyielding and hard.
Startled and confused she gasped, her eyes widening. Staring down at her were a pair of mesmerizing black eyes she recognized instantly.
Madelyn blinked, then blinked again. Had she somehow conjured up Daniel Falcon? The heat and solidness of muscled flesh beneath her splayed fingers told her this was a flesh-and-blood man. Her hands, pushing against an impressively wide chest to break the enforced closeness, stilled.
Her searching gaze quickly cataloged thick black hair lightly streaked with silver secured at the base of his neck, heavy black brows, chiseled cheekbones, strong nose, and the sensuous lips of the man holding her. They comprised an incredibly handsome face. The photograph hadn’t captured the essence or the sensuous vitality of the man.
She wasn’t sure anything could.
“Daniel.” His name came out in a throaty whisper of awe.
From somewhere off to her right came an amused bark of laughter. “Mi amigo, is there not one beautiful woman in Texas you do not know?”
Madelyn heard the deeply accented voice, but she was unable to look away from Daniel’s compelling features. After thinking and speculating about him for so long, she was finally meeting the legendary Daniel Falcon.
Midnight-black eyes were studying her just as intently. “Apparently I missed one, Carlos.”
Instead of the Bostonian accent she expected, his voice was dipped in velvet and laced with infinite possibilities, all of them dangerous. Uncharacteristically she responded to the danger. “Only one. You must have gotten a late start this morning.”
Deep dimples winked mischievously in his bronzed face. “Old age will do that to you,” Daniel returned easily.
She burst out laughing. He was only thirty-three. Daniel’s laughter joined in. She felt the deep, smooth sound all the way to her toes. Definitely dangerous.
“What’s going on here?”
Jerking her head around sharply, Madelyn saw a beautiful young black woman, her pouting red lips pressed together in disapproval, her dark eyes snapping angrily. It didn’t take Madelyn longer than her next breath to guess the reason.
According to her brothers, women stuck to Daniel like cockleburs—that is, when they could catch him. Why shouldn’t they? Besides being gorgeous and having enough sex appeal and charisma for ten men, he was a very successful and influential businessman. Madelyn could just imagine the arduous task of keeping other woman at bay while attempting to keep Daniel’s attention.
She almost felt sorry for the irate woman. “Please put me down,” Madelyn instructed.
“If you insist,” Daniel said, a note of regret in his voice. Gently he set Madelyn on her feet. Immediately she regretted the loss of his warmth and muscled hardness and wanted to return to his arms. The unexpected yearning astonished as much as shocked her. Hastily she stepped away.
The woman gasped.
Madelyn cringed. In Daniel’s embrace she had forgotten her revealing wet dress. Embarrassed, Madelyn crossed her arms across her chest and took a sidestep toward the refuge of the rest room.
She had chosen the dress and several like it because they were light and airy, the full skirt making it unnecessary to wear a half-slip. Now, ironically, the same reasons she liked the dresses were now putting her on display.
Heat flushed her face again. She took another step.
A man’s tan jacket settled around her shoulders and stopped at her knees. She glanced around to see Daniel, his dimples winking at her again.
“I always wanted to rescue a damsel in distress,” he explained, a grin tugging the corners of his sexy mouth.
If she hadn’t already been halfway infatuated with the man, his gallant gesture would have certainly started her on the road. “Thank you.” She drew the coat tighter around her shoulders, wondering if there was a female alive who could resist his smile or those dimples.
“She’s dripping all over the floor and getting your coat wet,” the woman accused. “It’s a Versace.”
“Then, Lydia, I’m sure you’ll excuse us and understand why I’m taking her to her room.” Daniel’s large hand on Madelyn’s shoulder, he urged her toward the elevator several feet away.
“But you were going out to lunch with us,” Lydia protested loudly.
“I already told you I had other plans,” Daniel replied, pushing the button for the elevator. “Give your father my best. We’ll talk later, Carlos.” The elevator pinged open, and Daniel hastened Madelyn in. The door closed on Lydia’s angry face. A silent Carlos stood by her side.
“I’m not staying here,” she confessed, pulling the jacket closer to her body. “I came in only to get out of the rain and dry off a little.”
Incredible black eyes studied her for a moment, then he turned toward the panel. A lean brown finger punched seventeen.
“What are you doing?” Madelyn exclaimed, her anxious gaze going from Daniel to the panel clicking off the floors.
“You may be out of that rain, but you have yet to achieve your second goal.” Folding his arms, he leaned against the highly polished paneled wall. “From your reaction downstairs and the way you’re clutching my coat, you now have a bigger problem.”
Madelyn glanced at a dangerously attractive Daniel Falcon, a certified stealer of women’s hearts and common sense, then away. “I’m not going to your hotel room.”
The elevator door slid open smoothly on seventeen. Madelyn remained unmoved.
Daniel pushed the button to keep the door open. “Whatever you’ve heard about me, did anyone ever say I took advantage of women?” he asked, his voice infinitely patient.
Her head came around to face him. “How do you know we haven’t met?”
“Some women you don’t forget.”
A tiny shiver of pleasure worked its way down her spine. She shifted uneasily under his intent regard. “The woman downstairs seemed upset.”
“Not my doing, I assure you. Now do we get off, or do we go back downstairs and I call you a cab?”
Nervously she chewed on her lower lip. “I don’t suppose I could keep your coat, could I?”
“You can keep the coat until you’re ready to give it up. I wouldn’t want you to think you needed rescuing from me as well,” he told her with the same patience he had displayed earlier.
It wasn’t fear she was feeling, but something totally different and new. Her problem. Her brothers trusted this man. He wasn’t about to try and take advantage of her or any other woman. He didn’t have to. Women fought for the chance to get his attention and be in his bed. The angry woman downstairs was a case in point.
Madelyn shivered again from the cold, from something she wasn’t ready to examine too closely. One thing she couldn’t ignore was the wet dress clinging to her body like a second skin.
Water ran in silent rivulets from her hair down the sides of her face. More water dripped from the hem of her dress to the carpeted floor. Irresistible she was not. She stepped off the elevator.
Lightly grasping her elbow through his coat, Daniel led her down the wide, carpeted hallway to his room. Opening the door with his plastic key, he stepped back.
Swallowing, Madelyn slowly entered. One step inside, she knew her room was nothing compared to Daniel’s suite. Her feet sank into lush white carpet. Chinese art graced the walls, and art deco pieces sat on the intricately carved entry table.
Wide-eyed, she stared up into Daniel’s bronzed face. “I can’t.”
Black brows drew together. “I thought we had settled that you were safe.”
She shook her head, then stopped and flushed again as water sprayed the front of his cream-colored shirt. “It’s not that. I’ll mess up the place.”
Relief washed over his handsome face. “I’ll leave a generous tip for the maid. Come on, let’s get you into something dry.”
Madelyn was so shocked by what he had said that she didn’t resist the strong hand propelling her past the spacious living room with a dining table seating eight into a bedroom that screamed luxury and comfort.
“There’s a bathrobe on the door. Do you want coffee, tea, or chocolate?”
Trembling fingers clutched his coat. “Chocolate.”
Nodding, he gently but firmly urged her inside the bathroom. “I think you’ll find everything you need.” Smiling, he closed the door.
For a long moment Madelyn simply stared at the door. Trusting Daniel was one thing—taking off her clothes in his bathroom was another. Swallowing nervously, she glanced around and gasped at her reflection in the immense mirror.
She had seen drowned rats who looked better. Rain had taken the curls from her hair, the light makeup from her face.
It didn’t take much to remember the well turned out and beautiful Lydia from downstairs and her elegance in a bright yellow silk sheath. Of the two of them, Madelyn had to admit the other woman would be chosen hands down. Daniel was only being nice. The same way he had been nice to her sister-in-law when she had needed rescuing.
Shannon had told Madelyn on more than one occasion how protective and solicitous of her Daniel had been when they first met. At the time Shannon had been in love with Madelyn’s stubborn, hardheaded brother, and he had been fighting it all the way.
Matt had tried to deny his feelings for Shannon, but that hadn’t stopped him from being intensely jealous of Daniel. After Matt came to his senses, he realized all Daniel had offered Shannon was friendship when she had needed it the most.
Madelyn knew when she fell in love, she’d be more like Kane. From the first moment her oldest brother had beheld Victoria, he’d known she would be important in his life. Their first kiss sealed their fate. Falling in love for Madelyn would be just as simple and satisfying.
A knock sounded on the bathroom door. “Someone’s here to pick up your things.”
“Just a minute,” she called. She was a grown woman, for goodness’ sake. Going back downstairs and waiting for a taxi, dripping water all the way, was idiotic when she didn’t have to. Daniel was an honorable man.
Taking off the coat, she reached for the elastic shoulders of the white dress. Quickly pulling her arms free, she pushed the clinging dress down over her legs and stepped out. Making sure she didn’t look in the mirror again, she pulled on the robe and tied it securely around her waist.
Cracking the door slightly, she held out the dress wrapped in a towel. Seeing his large hands close around the bundle almost had her snatching it back. Instead she closed the door. Some of her friends would laugh themselves silly if they knew how nervous she was.
Daniel wasn’t going to see any more of her now than he had before. In fact, he was going to see less. It was just the idea that he knew she was taking off her dress that had her so jittery.
Moments later another knock sounded on the door. “Was that all you wanted to send?”
A wave of heat swept from her breasts to her cheeks. “Yes,” she said crisply.
His answering chuckle was part teasing, part sinful, and wholly intriguing. “Just checking. Hurry up or your chocolate will be cold.”
The scoundrel! Madelyn thought, but she was smiling. She glanced into the mirror, and her heart sank. She looked like a lost waif, a very wet lost waif.
Why couldn’t she have met Daniel when she was dry and had a smidgen of makeup on? She might not want her name added to his long list of past lady friends, but that didn’t mean she didn’t want him to find her attractive.
Fat chance she had of that happening now. Taking a towel from the roll on the marbled vanity, she mopped up the water from the floor.
Copyright © 1998 by Francis Ray