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Sydney Wainwright stared at the bold black letters on the sheet of white paper. Her hands no longer trembled like they had when she'd received the first two threats. She'd been fearful then; now, she was angry.
She wadded up the note and then slipped it in the top drawer of her desk, way in the back where no one would see it. Better that Willard and her brother didn't know she'd received another one. They'd already accused her of not taking the threats seriously enough.
They thought she should disappear for a while, go to France or Rio, or take a cruise. No way was she running scared. She'd finally taken control of her life. She wouldn't give it up that easily.
After locking the desk, she grabbed her purse and headed down the hall. She had half an hour to make it to her hair appointment. That gave Willard only two minutes to complain about her venturing out alone.
He was such a dear man, a trusted and loyal friend of the family forever, but he'd become too protective since her parents' death. He kept forgetting she wasn't a child anymore.
She stopped outside his office and knocked briefly before opening the door. Rick was sitting across from Willard's desk. They abruptly stopped talking when they saw her. Thenher brother slid Willard a cryptic glance, which made her uneasy.
"Hey, what are you two doing? Conspiring against me?" She grinned, and Rick looked away.
"On your way to lunch?" Willard eyed the Chanel bag slung over her shoulder.
Rick immediately stood. "I was just on my way out, too. Let's go together."
She gave him a bland look. "Subtle, Rick." She aimed her gaze to include Willard. "I'm going to quit telling you guys when I leave the building if you keep acting this way."
"What?" Rick had the affronted-big-brother look down pat already. "I'm not supposed to break for lunch?"
She held back, instead of blasting him like she wanted to. She liked Rick, but she'd only known him for a year. It wasn't as if he'd been the big brother she'd run to all her life, but she didn't want to hurt his feelings either. His lips curved in a wry smile. He'd learned to read her quickly. "Go ahead, tell me to butt out. I can take it."
"Okay." Sydney smiled back. "Butt out."
He shook his head. "Look, I know it's hard to take, me showing up suddenly, claiming I'm your half brother. I also know Willard had me checked out down to the kind of boxers I wear before he welcomed me into the fold."
Willard didn't even blink. The attorney in him worried about her inheritance, the father in him worried about her, period. He made no apology.
Sydney chuckled. "Boring white ... maybe a pair of paisley once in a while. Am I right?"
Rick didn't smile. "You can't keep treating these threats lightly, Syd. It's kind of nice having a sister, and I'd like to see you make it to your twenty-fifth birthday. Let Willard arrange for some protection until Wainwright Corporation is legally turned over to you."
Sighing, she wandered over to the window, laid her forehead against the glass and stared idly out at the Dallas skyline. Turning twenty-five should mean all a girl had to worry about was if her next date might be Mr. Right. Or whether it was time to switch to Oil of Olay.
Not worrying about gaining control of a multimillion-dollar company or division buyouts or union organizers getting ticked off because they might lose their foothold. Sydney understood the pitfalls of having that much responsibility and power, but no way did she believe the union would resort to murder. It didn't make sense.
She turned back to the earnestness in Rick's eyes. Hard to believe he was her brother. Physically, they were opposites. His eyes were blue, his hair dark blond, while she was boring brown all the way.
She pushed away from the window. "I'm not going to live in fear. I had to do that half my life. I won't do it anymore."
"This is different."
"You don't understand." Their gazes met and hers quickly skittered away.
As her father's bastard child, Rick had grown up poor while she'd been privileged with the Wainwright name and wealth. At times, guilt gnawed at her. She wasn't to blame for her father's shortcomings, of course, and Rick never showed resentment toward her. But the sad reality pricked her sense of fairness.
Rick snorted. "You're right. I don't understand living in fear of being kidnapped because I had a rich daddy who'd pay my ransom, but dammit, these threats are real. This isn't about speculation or a mere precaution. Take it seriously. Err on the side of caution, for Willard's and my sake, if not for your own."
Emotion suddenly threatened. There was no bitterness in her brother's tone. He was truly worried. After the first threat, he'd slipped into protective mode, always asking her where she was going and what time he should expect her back.
Still, it wasn't as if she was being foolish about her safety. She'd taken a self-defense course, and she never went out alone at night. Nothing was likely to happen in broad daylight. Anyway, she refused to hand over her whole life to whoever was behind these threats.
Willard had been eerily quiet and Sydney finally chanced a look at him. He stared at her over steepled fingers. Lines of tension etched his face. She was partly responsible for putting them there. Her decision to split up the company was causing some havoc, but in the long run, she knew everyone would be better off.
He'd changed since her parents' death. He worked harder, was at the office all the time. He'd assumed full responsibility for both the business and Sydney, even though she constantly assured him she did just fine on her own. Willard needed the break. He'd enjoy retire-ment. He already had plenty of money, and once Sydney was through, he'd have more than he could spend in three lifetimes.
"I'll think about it." She adjusted the purse strap on her shoulder. "But right now, I have to run or I'll be late."
"Where are you going?"
"None of your business. And I mean that in the nicest way."
Rick shook his head and slowly got to his feet. He looked tired. He'd been working nonstop trying to learn about the company, and now he was worrying about her.
Excerpted from Secret Defender by Debbi Rawlins Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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