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Samantha Cartwright was fit to be boiled down to gluethat said a lot for a woman who intended to run a sanctuary ranch for neglected horses.
She swung her Chevy Silverado pickup into the no-parking zone in front of First Place Tower at 15 East Fifth Avenue in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma. Three o'clock on a Friday afternoon and not a soul in sight. The mid-July hundred-degree heat wave had sent the city's business professionals home early.
Charles Dawson's ornery backside better be in his office.
No sooner had Sam's dusty Ropers hit the pavement than a security guard materialized out of thin air. Sucking in his baby smooth cheeks, he pointed to the sign at the curb. Sam fumbled with the floor mat until her fingers found the fifty-dollar bill she kept hidden for emergenciesempty gas tanks or bribes.
"The sign says No Parking." The young man emphasized each word as if Sam was slow on the uptake.
She willed herself not to react to the insult. He couldn't know that her uptake was indeed problematic at times. "I'm not parking here." She slapped the keys and the money into his palm. "You're taking my truck for a spin around the block until I return."
His cheeks inflated like air bags, as he protested, "Ma'am, I can't." But she noticed his fingers curled around the cash.
"Of course you can" Sam read the name embroidered on the front of his blue uniform "Dave." She strode toward the building's entrance, catching her reflection in the dark glass doors. She should have showered and changed into street clothes before driving into the city. Oh, well. Sam had ceased trying to impress men years ago. No matter how she dolledherself up or how many male heads she turned, in the end her shortcomings sent them running. Not even the Cartwright name had been enough to coax a down-on-his-luck cowboy to stick by her side.
"May I help you?" A woman in a lilac-colored suit with blond hair neatly tucked at the nape of her neck stood behind a crescent-shaped kiosk in the middle of the lobby.
Now that Sam had sacrificed the time to make the hour drive into Tulsa everyone appeared eager to assist herexcept Mr. Dawson who hadn't had the courtesy to return one of the several messages she'd left for him over the past two weeks.
The purple flower flashed a placating smile as her French-manicured thumbnail clicked and unclicked the ballpoint pen in her hand. Sam approached the desk, forcing the petite blonde to crane her neck to maintain eye contact. At five feet nine inches, Sam towered over most women.
"Thanks, but I'm afraid the only person able to help me is Mr. Dawson." Sam veered toward the bank of elevators at the back of the lobby, her boot heels clacking against the marble floor. A plaque on the wall indicated Dawson Investments occupied the fourteenth floor. According to the directory, the building did not have a thirteenth floor.
Once inside the elevator, she patted the front of her jeans, double-checking that the note she'd written earlier in the morning remained tucked inside the pocket. Stick to your agenda and all will be fine.
The doors opened to another lobby and another blond receptionistthis one wearing a fuchsia-colored suit. The woman gave Samantha a head-to-toe glance, nose curling with disgust. "Good afternoon."
"I'm here to see Charles Dawson."
"Did you have an appointment with Mr. Dawson?" The receptionist flipped furiously through the day planner on the desk. "I'm positive I rescheduled all of his commitments."
"This is a spur-of-the-moment visit."
Veronica Smithaccording to the nameplate on the deskblew out a breath and pressed a hand to her heart. "Oh, good. I didn't make a mistake." Her smile widened. "I'm sorry, but Mr. Dawson is out of town."
Blast it! "When will he return?"
"Not for a few weeks. He's overseas combining pleasure with business."
Sam would've loved to have given Mr. Dawson the pleasure of her boot against his backside. "Who's covering for Mr. Dawson in his absence?"
"His nephew, Wade, I mean Mr. Dawson, is handling things."
"Fine. I'll see Wayne then."
"Wade. Wade with a D."
Whatever. Sam's nerves pulled taut. "I need to speak with him right away."
"Mr. Dawson is in a meeting."
She'd been pushed to the end of her rope and now someone was going to hang. "I'm not leaving until I see Mr. Wade-with-a-D Dawson."
Veronica frowned. "Excuse me, but who are you?"
"Samantha Cartwright." In case the woman was totally clueless, she added, "Cartwright Oil."
The blonde's eyes rounded, then she tapped her pencil against the desk calendar. "Let me see if I can squeeze you in "
Sam hadn't driven sixty-five miles to be squeezed in anywhere. Each time she'd phoned Dawson Investments one of the secretaries had reassured her that her call would be returned. At first Samantha had second-guessed herself and worried that she'd forgotten to leave a message or worseshe'd thought she'd called but hadn't. After one week she'd kept a log of her phone calls to the firm.
Enough was enough. She left Veronica flipping the pages of her day planner and strolled through the office doors of Dawson Investments. Where to find...Wade with a D?
She marched down a corridor of glassed-in conference rooms. Bingo. At the end of the hall several men in monkey suits crowded around an oval table. The man seated at the head of the table with his back to Sam read a document out loud. The other apes appeared bored to deathone twirled his pencil on his palm. Another played with his BlackBerry. Four others stared bug-eyed into space. And the chimpanzee nearest to her sketched cartoon figures in the margins of a memo.
Sam rapped her knuckles against the glass pane.
The pencil twirler knocked his coffee into his lap. The artist scrambled to cover his drawings. And one of the men who'd been zoning out toppled backward in his chair and landed on the floor, staring at the ceiling.
She'd take a brooding cowboy any day over these pansies in suits.
Finally the head pansy shifted in his seat and stared at her through black-rimmed glasses. Hair neatly styled, no sign of a five o'clock shadow and unlike the other men in the room, he wore a pocket protector in his crisp white shirt along with the traditional red power tie knot perfectly done.
Mr. Wade with a D was a nerd, albeit a handsome nerd.
His dark brown eyes pinned her and the air rushed from her lungs leaving her light-headed. He waved her into the room.
She didn't need to be asked twice.
"May I help you?" The rumble of his deep voice contradicted his clean-shaven nerdiness. In her opinion his voice was better suited for whispering sweet nothings behind the barn than translating company performance reports. The outer corner of one dark eyebrow rose above his black frames. Shoot. What had he asked?
"Gentlemen, we'll resume this meeting on Monday. Enjoy an early start to your weekend."
The monkeys gathered their belongings and disappeared. Once the door closed, Sam exhaled a sigh of relief. Crowds made her nervous and she appreciated Wade with a D's thoughtfulness in clearing the room.
Left alone with Calamity Jane, Wade studied the daughter of oil tycoon Dominick Cartwright. Sixteen years had passed since he'd last seen her. Time had transformed a pretty teenage girl into a breathtaking woman. Not even dirt-smudged cheeks, a messy ponytail or faded jeans and a wrinkled shirt detracted from her beauty. Evidence of Spanish ancestry, which rumor claimed she'd inherited from her mother, was apparent in her dusky skin, pitch-black hair, high cheekbones and almond-shaped dark eyes. He hadn't remembered her being this tallstanding almost eye-to-eye with himand he resisted rolling forward onto the balls of his feet to gain another inch.
Samantha's gaze circled the room, skipping over him. Where was the smart-mouthed, self-confident braggart who'd once called him a wimp because he couldn't climb a tree? He held out his hand. Her grip was warm, firm and callused, her fingernails bitten down to the quicknot the hands of a pampered princess. "Nice to see you again, Samantha."
A wrinkle formed in the middle of her forehead. "Have we met before?"
The question shot through his ego like a marksman's arrow. Apparently he hadn't made much of an impression on her all those years agopar for the course. He wasn't a man women swooned over. Even his ex-wife had labeled him and their marriage unremarkable.
"Uncle Charles and your father were college buddies at the University of Oklahoma." When that didn't jar her memory, he added, "I accompanied my uncle to the Lazy River Ranch years ago." Wade had been a junior in college, majoring in finance, when his uncle had suggested he meet one of Dawson Investment's biggest clients. At the time Wade had no idea his uncle intended to put him in charge of managing Samantha's trust fund once Wade had joined the firm two years later. "You offered me a lesson in tree climbing that afternoon." After an uncomfortable silence, Wade accepted that Samantha didn't remember him.
Feeling like an idiot, he motioned her to the nearest chair. She remained standing and he swallowed his irritation. "What can I do for you?"
"I've phoned the office several times, but my messages have gone unreturned. Not until today did I learn that your uncle was out of town on business."
Darn Veronica. The receptionist his uncle had hired was an airhead. "I apologize for the inconvenience."
"You should. Better yet, you might have had the courtesy to at least return one of my calls, seeing how my father's money keeps this firm afloat."
Now this was the Samantha Cartwright he rememberedbossy and arrogant. Oddly, her waspish attitude put him at easemuch better than the damsel-in-distress expression she'd worn moments ago. He'd never considered himself hero material and no female had ever asked him to save her. "Please accept my apologies. How may I assist you?"
Instead of launching into a tirade, Samantha patted her clothes. Wade found it impossible not to follow the path of her hand, especially when she pressed her fingers against her breast before they dropped to her jeans where she removed a slip of paper from the pocket. She scanned the note, then announced, "I'd like to cash in my trust fund."
Since joining his uncle's firm Wade had worked diligently to grow Samantha's savings. As a matter of fact he'd increased her net worth by several million dollars. "How old are you?"
"Thirty-two. As of today."
She was of legal age to withdraw money from the trust without her father's consent. Wade was positive he hadn't received a reminder of Samantha's upcoming birthday from the e-mail system he'd set up to notify him of changes in the status of client accounts.
"Are you going to stand there and ogle me or do I get my money?"
Wade would have preferred to ogle but said, "Let's continue this discussion in my office." He held open the door and when she brushed past him, he caught a whiff of honeysucklethe delicate feminine scent at odds with the sullied, sharp-tongued cowgirl. Wade's office was a windowless room in the middle of the floorbut not for long. He was in line for a promotion to vice president and the position came with a corner office and a view of downtown Tulsa.
"Something to drink? Water? Coffee?" he asked, as soon as Samantha claimed the chair in front of his desk.
"No, thank you."
Wade wiggled his computer mouse until the screen saver popped upa photograph of his eight-year-old son, Luke, proudly displaying his first-place spelling-bee ribbon. A few typed passwords later and Wade had Samantha's personal information in front of him.
Yes, indeed. Samantha Cartwright was thirty-two years old today. For the life of him, Wade couldn't figure out why she was dressed like a ranch hand on her birthday. He'd have expected her to spend the day getting dolled up for a celebratory night on the town. "Happy birthday," he said.
"It will be once I have my money."
What did a pampered rich girl want with millions of dollars? Last he'd heard she worked in her father's company pulling down a substantial salaryprobably doing nothing but sitting at a desk and looking beautifullike Veronica.
Before Wade accessed the financial particulars of her account, he asked, "Is your father aware that you intend to withdraw money from your trust?"
Her chin jutted. "No, and I'd rather he wasn't contacted."
The hair on the back of Wade's neck stood on end. As his son would say Wade smelled a stinker. He suspected Samantha was up to no good, but just how far did he stick his nose into her business without crossing the line? "What are your plans for the money?" He'd worked his ass off researching and selecting investments guaranteed to increase the wealth of her holdings. He hated to see his hard work squandered on a Paris Hilton-type shopping spree.
"Am I required to tell you in order to receive my money?"
"No," he answered honestly.
Her attention shifted to the filing cabinet in the corner, then the keyboard, then the desk calendar before making eye contact with him. "I'm opening a sanctuary ranch for abandoned and neglected horses."
Now red flags flapped inside Wade's head. What did a wealthy woman want with rescuing horses? He suspected Samantha's ranch was nothing more than a pet project she'd ditch once boredom set in.
"I purchased an old farmstead and I need the money to make several renovations." Her fingers crushed the yellow notepaper in her hand.
"As your financial adviser I'm obligated to warn you that a horse sanctuary isn't a sound investment." An image of a stallion eating from a feed bin filled with hundred-dollar bills popped into his head.
Her eyes narrowed. "The ranch may not be a money-making venture, but saving horses is a noble cause."
Wade wasn't a horse lover. The private school he'd attended before college boasted riding stables, but after landing in the dirt several times during his first and only riding lesson, Wade had participated in indoor activities such as debate and math club. He had to talk sense into Samantha before she wasted years of his time and effort.
Legally he was required to hand over her money no matter how foolish her plans, yet he had a responsibility to Dawson Investments to dispense client funds in a manner that least impacted the company's bottom line.
"What amount do you need to get this project off the ground?" he asked.
"I hadn't considered " She waved her hand in the air. "I'm positive the funds in my account will be more than enough to cover the costs."
Heartburn stung Wade's chest. He had a hunch Samantha had jumped into this venture without creating a budget. "My suggestion would be to withdraw money