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The Millionaire's Reward
By Angie Ray
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2005 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe necklace was the gaudiest, ugliest piece of jewelry Garek Wisnewski had ever seen.
Rubies and emeralds vied for glittering supremacy in a bright yellow-gold setting decorated with enough curlicues and whorls to make a Russian czar blink. Any woman wearing this necklace risked blinding innocent bystanders - or being mistaken for a Christmas tree. This bauble had nothing to do with beauty or elegance - it was about money, pure and simple.
"It's perfect," he told the chignoned blonde behind the counter who'd been batting her eyelashes at him ever since he entered the store. "I'll take it."
"An excellent choice," she congratulated him. "You have exquisite taste, Mr. Wisnewski."
The young woman didn't appear to notice the irony in his voice. Placing the necklace in a satin-lined case and ringing up the sale, she chatted vivaciously. "Women adore rubies and emeralds. They're so much more interesting than diamonds, don't you think? I'm sure your girlfriend will love the necklace."
She paused to check his reaction to her comment, and he recognized the look in her eyes. In the last hellish month, he'd been forced to deal with numerous women, all with similar predatory expressions. He'd devised several strategies to deal with them: attack, retreat and play dead.
He used the attack method only in extreme situations; the blond salesclerk didn't qualify - at least not yet. Retreat was impossible until he got his credit card back. Which left only one option.
He didn't offer either a confirmation or a denial of her guess about the necklace's recipient.
She wasn't deterred by his lack of response, however. Finishing the transaction, she slid the jewelry case across the glass counter - along with a business card.
"My home phone number's on the back. If you ever want a private viewing of our ... inventory, please call me."
Garek shoved the box into his pocket, but left the card on the counter. "That won't be necessary," he growled.
He strode to the door, almost bumping into another customer who blew into the shop, along with a freezing gust of wind. Short and round, the man stood in the doorway, nose dripping, as he stared up at Garek.
"Hey, I know you!" The man's Neanderthal fore-head cleared and he winked at Garek. "I saw your picture in the Chicago Trumpeter this morning. Hank, right? Heh, heh, heh -"
"Excuse me," Garek said icily. "You're blocking the door."
The man stopped sniggering and quickly stepped aside. Garek exited, shutting the shop door with a bang. He stood on the cold, dark sidewalk, sleet stinging his face and hands.
He yanked on his gloves and wrapped his muffler around the lower half of his face. Annoyance making his steps brisker than usual, he headed down the sidewalk, cursing himself for ever agreeing to talk to that damn reporter.
He'd broken his usual no-interview rule because she'd said she was doing an article on how businessmen had contributed to the revitalization of the city by providing jobs for displaced workers. If he'd known what she really intended, he would have shown her out of his office immediately. Now, because of lowering his guard for one moment, his life had become a living hell. Oh, he'd been mildly amused at first. The ribald jokes from the men. The fluttering glances from the women. But then, he'd started getting letters. Sacks of them. And women started showing up at his office. And his apartment. At restaurants where he was dining ...
Lengthening his stride, he stepped over a puddle. Last night had been the final straw. He'd been about to close a deal with a prospective client over smoked pork tenderloin and Yukon Gold mashed potatoes when an enterprising young woman named Lilly Lade had shown up professing to be a singing-telegram girl - but she'd seemed more interested in stripping than singing. While horrified matrons looked on, he'd had to bundle the woman up and forcibly escort her from the restaurant.
Unfortunately, once outside, she'd thrown her arms around his neck and planted a kiss on his mouth. He'd thrust Lilly away, but not before a tabloid photographer had snapped several shots.
Trying to ignore the freezing wind, Garek hunched his shoulders and turned the corner to where his limousine waited. The situation was no longer amusing. In fact, he was damn well fed up -
A woman made the small sound as she ran into him at full speed. The packages in her arms went flying. And so did she. She landed on her rear in the snow.
Instinctively, he crouched by her side. "Are you all right?"
Her blue eyes, framed by long black lashes, looked slightly dazed, but she nodded. "I'm fine...."
His gaze dropped to her mouth, watching her lips form the words. Her upper lip was long and perfectly straight, with no indentation at all, curling up slightly at the corners. The lower lip was shorter, and fuller, but not much. The effect was amazingly sensual.
He bent closer to hear her over the whistling wind.
"I'm so sorry -"
"It was my fault," he interrupted, dragging his gaze away from her mouth. "I wasn't looking where I was going."
"No, no. I was running, trying to catch my train - oh, my things!"
With only slight support from his steadying arm, she scrambled to her feet and grabbed a box that had fallen onto the ground. A turquoise scarf and tissue paper peeping out from under the crushed lid, she stuffed the box back into her bag.
"Are you sure you're all right?" He picked up her hat and she crammed it onto her head, the bright red yarn concealing all but a few short black curls.
"Yes, I'm sure." She smiled ruefully, her teeth very white against the golden hue of her skin, a dimple appearing in her cheek. "My packages have suffered the most, I think."
"Let me help you," he said, capturing a bag on the verge of blowing away. He swept several small boxes into it, his attention focused more on her than his task. She didn't seem to recognize him - a rarity these days. He couldn't see her figure, wrapped up as it was in a slightly shabby coat that was several sizes too big. But she was small, perhaps an inch or two over five feet, and he'd felt the fine bones of her hand through her mitten when he'd helped her up.
Excerpted from The Millionaire's Reward by Angie Ray Copyright © 2005 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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