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Hayden Black flicked through the documents and photos scattered across his D.C. hotel suite desk until he found the one he needed. Hauntingly beautiful hazel eyes; shoulder-length blond hair that shone as if polished; designer-red lips. Lucy Royall. The key to his investigation for Congress that would bring down her stepfather, Graham Boyle.
After his preliminary research from his New York base, he'd decided the twenty-two-year-old heiress who'd been handed life on a silver platter was the weak link he'd target to gather all the information on Graham Boyle's criminal activities. His first appointment this morning had been to get a colleague's take on Ms. Royall so he would be prepped when he met her.
He flicked the photo to the side and picked up another—this one her publicity shot from Boyle's news network, American News Service, where Lucy worked as a junior reporter. Even with the professional tone and her eyes heavily made up with expertly applied gray smudges and mascara, she looked far too young, too innocent, to be mixed up in the dirty business of ANS illegally hacking into the phones of the president's friends and family. But looks could be deceiving, especially when it came to pampered princesses. No one knew that better than he did.
Lucy Royall had been billionaire Graham Boyle's stepdaughter since she was twelve, and her own deceased father had left her a vast fortune. She hadn't been born with a plain old silver spoon in her mouth—hers had been pure platinum and diamondencrusted.
He dropped the photo and picked up one of another blonde journalist—ANS senior reporter Angelica Pierce. Only ten minutes ago he'd completed an interview with Ms. Pierce, so he could vouch for both the perfectly white, straight teeth in her plastic broadcast news journalist smile and her aqua eyes. There was something strange about that shade of blue—it looked more like colored contacts than natural. But she spent half her life in front of a TV camera. Angelica Pierce wouldn't be alone in the industry if she was trying to make the most of what she had to look good for the viewers.
Angelica had been eager to help, saying the phone hacking scandal tainted all journalists. And she'd been especially eager to help on the subject of Lucy Royall. Apparently, when Lucy had graduated from college, Boyle had handed her the job ofjunior reporter over many more qualified applicants, and now, according to Angelica, Lucy could be found "swanning around the office like she's on a movie set, refusing assignments she doesn't like and expecting privileges."
Hayden glanced back at Lucy's photo, with her silk shirt and modest diamond earrings—all tastefully understated yet subtly conveying wealth and class. He could believe she had a sense of entitlement.
But during the interview, Angelica had done something particularly interesting. She'd lied to him about Lucy threatening her. The signs in her body language had been almost imperceptible, but he'd interviewed countless people over the years and was used to picking up what other people missed.
Of course, there were reasons she might lie—a star reporter watching a young, pretty journalist who happened to be related to the network's owner coming up through the ranks would be nervous. People lied for less every day.
But something told him there was more to the story. Admittedly, his first instinct was always to distrust journalists—they were too used to manipulating facts to make a good story. But this whole investigation centered around journalists, so for objectivity's sake, he'd have to put that aside and take them as they came for now.
He shuffled the photos till he found one of Graham Boyle. Hayden's background research for the congressional committee's investigation into phone hacking and other illegal activities kept leading him back to Boyle.
And his stepdaughter.
Angelica Pierce might have lied about Lucy Royall threatening her, perhaps to protect her job. But he had no trouble believing that Ms. Royall was a spoiled princess playing at being a journalist. Which suited him just fine. Coaxing an admission from her about Boyle's dirty dealings would be a piece of cake—he'd had enough experience with pampered heiresses to know exactly how to handle them.
Lucy Royall was going down, and taking her stepfather with her.
Lucy wedged the phone between her shoulder and ear and kept typing up the questions for Mitch Davis, the anchor of one of ANS's nightly news shows. He was interviewing a Florida senator in four hours and wanted the list by midday to give himself a chance to familiarize himself with it. Which gave her exactly ten more minutes, and she had an appointment with the congressional committee's criminal investigator, Hayden Black, at one. So the call from Marnie Salloway, one of the news producers, was bad timing. Though that was exactly how this job always seemed to work—too many tasks, too many bosses.
"Marnie, can I call you back in fifteen?"
"I'll be in a meeting then. I need to talk to you now," Marnie snapped.
"Okay, sure." Lucy smiled so her voice sounded pleasant despite her frantic mood. "What do you need?"
"What I need is a list of locations to send the cameraman this afternoon to get the background footage for the story on the president's daughter tonight."
Lucy frowned and kept typing. "I emailed that this morning."
"You sent a list of ten options. Not enough. Have twenty in my inbox by twelve-thirty."
Lucy glanced at the glowing red digital clock on the wall. Nine minutes to twelve. She held back a sigh. "All right, you'll have it."
She replaced the receiver and wasted a precious twenty seconds by dropping her aching head to her desk. When she'd graduated, Graham had offered her a job as a full-fledged reporter. She'd refused, so he'd offered her the spot as a weekend anchor. He was just trying to help her, as he'd done since she was twelve, but she didn't want a top job.
No, that wasn't true—she definitely wanted a top reporting job. But she wanted to earn it, to be good. To be respected for her journalistic ability. And the only way to develop that expertise was to work under the great journalists, to learn the skills.
But days like today had her questioning that decision, or at least questioning the decision to take a junior-reporter role at ANS. She wasn't the only junior here, but she was the only one treated like an indentured servant. And the person who'd treated her the worst had been her former hero, Angelica Pierce. Drawing in a deep breath, she went back to typing the last questions for Mitch Davis's interview and emailed them to him with three minutes to spare, then called up the list of locations she'd emailed Marnie for the background footage and opened her web browser to look for alternatives.
It had been made very clear to her on her first day that the other ANS staff resented having Graham's stepdaughter in their newsroom. Rumors had made it back to her that they suspected she was a spy for Graham. Lucy was pretty sure their antagonism was misplaced resentment for authority—people always loved to dig the boot into the boss, and she represented the boss to them. In some ways she couldn't blame them, but she wouldn't let them get to her. Her policy had been to keep her head down and do every menial task the more senior staff asked of her, ridiculous or not.
She sent the extended list to Marnie, grabbed her bag and ran out the door for her meeting with Hayden Black. If she caught a cab and there wasn't too much traffic, she'd make it with a few minutes to spare. On the street, she grabbed a coffee and raspberry muffin, stuffed the muffin in her scarlet holdall handbag and took a long sip of the coffee before hailing a cab. This was one meeting she didn't want to arrive at late—Congress was wasting time and money on a wild-goose chase, investigating her stepfather for illegal phone-hacking practices at ANS despite already having the culprits in custody. Today was her turn to be interviewed, to defend Graham. He'd been there for whatever she needed for almost half her life; now she would be there for him.
The cab dropped her at the Sterling Hotel, where Hayden Black was staying and conducting his interviews. Apparently he'd been offered an office for his investigation but he preferred neutral territory—an interesting move. Most investigators liked the extra authority afforded by an official office. She sipped the last of her coffee in the elevator and checked her reflection in the mirrored wall—the wind had blown her hair all over the place. The doors slid open as she combed her fingers through the disheveled mess to make it more presentable. First impressions counted, and Graham was depending on her.
She checked the number on the hotel suite door, then knocked with the hand holding the empty paper cup, straightening her skirt with her other. She looked around for a trash can, but turned back when she heard the door open and started to smile in an I've-got-nothing-to-hide way.
And froze, the smile only half-formed.
A tall man in a crisp white shirt, crimson tie and neatly pressed dark trousers filled the doorway—Hayden Black. The air shifted around her, became heavier, uneven. She'd met a lot of powerful men in her job, in her life, yet none had had the presence of this man before her, as if his energy somehow flowed out and charged the space around him. The thicker air was difficult to draw into her lungs and she had to struggle to fill them.
Frown lines formed across his forehead. Dark brown eyes stared at her from a lightly weathered face, and they didn't seem to like what they saw. Her skin cooled. He was judging her already and the interview hadn't even begun. All her resilience coalesced, snapping her out of whatever flight of fancy had overtaken her for those moments, and she straightened her spine. That was more than fine—she was used to people judging her based on preconceived ideas about her wealth, her lifestyle and her upbringing. An investigator for Congress was just one more to add to the list. She lifted her chin and waited.
He cleared his throat. "Ms. Royall. Thank you for coming."
"My pleasure, Mr. Black," she said using the polite voice her mother had taught her to always start with when she wanted to win something. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, Lucy.
He extended an arm to show her through the door. "Can I get you anything before we start?" His voice was gruff, unwelcoming.
"I'm fine, thank you." She took a seat and put the holdall bag on the floor beside her.
He lowered himself into the chair opposite and granted her a condescending glance. "We'll run through some simple questions about ANS and your stepfather. If you keep your answers to the truth, we shouldn't experience any trouble."
A surge of heat rushed across her skin. The patronizing jerk. If she kept her answers to the truth, they shouldn't experience any trouble? She was twenty-two, had a degree from Georgetown University and owned one-sixth of the biggest department-store chain in the country. Did he think she would accept being treated like a child?
She gave him her best guileless smile, reached for her large red bag and deposited it on the desk in front of her.
Then she combined the sweet voice of her mother with the rapid-fire manner she'd learned from Graham, laying on her North Carolina accent extra thick for good measure. "You know, I think I will have a glass of water, if that's okay. I've got a muffin here I'd like to eat—you don't mind, do you?—I skipped lunch to make this meeting and I'll think more clearly with some food in my stomach."
He hesitated, then murmured, "Of course," and rose to get her water.
She took a satisfied breath—she'd thrown him off balance. When he put the glass in front of her, she handed him her paper coffee cup. "And could you throw this away for me while you're up? I didn't want to put it in my bag in case any residual moisture leaked out, and there wasn't a trash can in the hallway." He took the cup, but seemed far from happy about it. She smiled at him again. "Thank you. You'd be surprised how many people refuse a simple request, but then again, you're a criminal investigator. Maybe you wouldn't." She broke off a piece of muffin and popped it into her mouth.
He sat back in his chair and stared at her, hard. Seemed he'd regained his balance. "Ms. Royall—"
Swallowing, she reached into her bag and came out with a notepad. "I'm going to take notes on what we talk about. I always find it's best if everyone remembers exactly what's said in interviews, whatever kind they are. Helps everyone keep their answers to the truth and that way we shouldn't run into trouble." She broke off another piece of her muffin and held it out to him. "Raspberry muffin?"
His eyes narrowed and she wondered if she'd pushed too far. But he simply said, "No." Albeit with a stern finality.
"It's a very good muffin." She slipped the piece into her mouth and reached into her bag again for a pen.
"Are you ready?" he asked in a tight voice.
She looked down at her pen and clicked it. "Just give me one more moment. I'd rather be fully prepared for an important conversation like this." She put her bag on the floor again, and wrote at the top of her page, Hayden Black interview. April 2, 2013.
Then she beamed up at him. "I'm ready."
Hayden resisted the impulse to groan and instead called up the neutral expression that was normally easy to find in an interview. Lucy Royall was exactly like her photo, yet nothing like it. Her hair was shiny and blond, but sitting haphazardly around her shoulders, as if she'd stood in a gust of D.C. wind. Her lips were the same as the photo, but were bronze today, and full, sensual, as they moved while she ate the muffin. Despite his intentions, his breath hitched. Her eyes were the same shade of hazel, but in person they shone with intelligence. He knew she was trying to play him, and damned if she wasn't having some success. And he was unsure if that irritated or amused him.
But one thing that didn't amuse him was his unexpected reaction when he'd first opened the door. He'd been thunderstruck. She wasn't merely beautiful, she was breathtaking. There was a light around her, inside her. A glow that was so appealing, he'd had to focus hard so his hand wouldn't reach out. And was there a more inappropriate woman on the planet for him to have a reaction this strong to? The daughter of the man he was investigating on behalf of a congressional committee. A woman who, if his guess was correct, was complicit in her stepfather's illegal activities.
The woman herself raised her brows, either because his face had contorted with self-disgust or because she was sitting there, pen poised, waiting for him to start the interview while he merely stared.
Clearing his throat, he thumbed the button to start the recording equipment. "Tell me about your relationship with Graham Boyle."
She didn't hesitate. "Graham has been my stepfather since I was twelve years old. He's a sweet man with a good heart."
Sweet? In another setting he may have laughed. The man owned a national cable-news network and was feared by competitors and allies alike. For Graham Boyle, the ends justified the means—he demanded that his reporters do anything to get a story.