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Romancing The Enemy
By Laurie Paige
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe private telephone line rang in the quietly luxurious office located above Parks Fine Jewelry, West-Coast rival to Tiffany's in New York.
Walter Parks lifted the receiver. "Yes?" he said without preamble. He listened to the message with no expression, then asked one question. "You're sure?"
The caller answered affirmatively.
"Send me a copy of the death certificate," Walter ordered the private detective. "No, not here," he said a trifle impatiently as if the man should have figured it out for himself. "To the post office box."
In twenty-five years, he'd well learned how to cover his tracks. The post office box was with a private postal service two doors down the street. No one in his family knew of it. But then, no one in the family knew much of anything that he didn't want them to know.
He replaced the phone and stood by the window, watching the December rain fall endlessly from the winter sky. The only place as cold and dismal as San Francisco could be in the winter was San Francisco in the summer on days when the coastal fog shrouded the city.
So. Marla was dead. About damned time. Twenty-five years he'd had to worry about her, and had even felt guilty at times about her and her pack of brats. But no more.
As his old man, pooras the proverbial church mouse, had often said - life was what it was and a man had to look after his own fate.
Walter had found that to be true. The gods of fortune smiled on those who grabbed each opportunity when it came along. A slow man was a loser. That man wasn't him.
Taking a deep breath, he tried to sense the weight rolling off his back, to experience the easing of it in his spirit. Realizing he didn't feel lighter in heart, body or soul, he grimaced. No matter. The last link to his past, the dangerous part of it at any rate, was gone.
He put a hand to his chest. A little heartburn there. He should eat healthier. He knew it. And no alcohol, except for a couple of glasses of wine. That was good for the ol' ticker, according to the doctors.
The rain pelted the windowpane in a wind-blown fury, sending an odd chill along the back of his neck. He rubbed the spot, then started as the phone rang again. Glancing at the light, he saw it was his office line.
"Parks," he said upon answering.
The caller was his oldest son, destined to one day run the company. Pride lifted his spirits. He and Anna had produced a fine brood, if he did say so himself.
Cade was the best of the bunch - smart, handsome and coolheaded. Walter had wanted the boy in the office with him, but Cade hadn't been interested in the diamond and jewelry business, the wheeling and dealing on a global level. He'd been fascinated by the law. Walter had conceded a lawyer wasn't a bad thing to have in the family.
Now the boy worked for a prestigious law firm - something Walter had personally seen to - and handled the business of the jewelry company from contracts to taxes. At twenty-nine, Cade already knew every aspect of the diamond trade. He was in position to take over when Walter needed him to. The boy's sense of responsibility would see to that.
"Cade, how about some lunch?" Walter asked in a jovial tone. "Top o'the Mark in half an hour?"
"Fine. I have the information you wanted on King Abbar and his son, Prince Lazhar, of Daniz. The king is ill. I understand the son handles most of the details of running the kingdom nowadays. Shall I bring the folder with me?"
Walter smiled as he hung up. Daniz was one of those tiny European countries most people had never heard of. Which showed how stupid most people were. Its diamonds were some of the finest in the world. A new find, its mines produced pink-and champagne-colored stones, which fortunately were becoming the rage among the celebrity crowd ... with a few judicious gifts here and there on his part. A sharp deal with the ruler could be lucrative for them both.
Two pieces of good news in one day. A fine way to start the new year. The gods were truly smiling, even if the heavens were not. He instructed his secretary to call for his car and hardly noticed the rain as he headed to lunch.
Sara Carlton shivered as a gust of wind hit her. Someone needed to tell the weatherman that winter was six months ago and it was now June, not January.
Pulling her jacket closer around her, she stared at the elegant house standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a whole block of equally expensive Georgian-style homes.
Since she'd done her homework before moving from Denver to San Francisco, she knew a kindergarten teacher, which she was, couldn't afford the rent on such a prime piece of property in the St. Francis Woods area of the city. Fortunately she didn't have to.
"Isn't it lovely?" Rachel Hanson commented.
Rachel was a kindergarten teacher at Lakeside, a prestigious private school only three blocks from there and the place, come Monday, where Sara would also be employed. Rachel was also the older sister of Sara's best friend from her high-school days back in Denver. She had taken Sara under her wing when Sara had written for information about teaching positions in the city back in January.
Five years older than Sara's own twenty-nine years, Rachel had graduated from college, married and moved to the West Coast while the two younger girls had been high-school seniors. Her husband had abandoned her, so Sara assumed they were divorced. Rachel knew why Sara and her brother had returned to the area and was wholly sympathetic to their quest.
"Very much so," Sara agreed, her gaze sweeping over the tiny front yard and decorative wrought-iron fence that separated the patch of green from the street.
"I can't believe my luck in getting to house-sit a mansion for six months. Are you sure your artist friend said it was okay?"
Rachel laughed at Sara's doubts. "You only get half the mansion," she corrected. "It's a duplex. And yes, I made sure we got permission in writing since the owner is actually a friend of a friend. Let's go inside."
Excerpted from Romancing The Enemy by Laurie Paige Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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