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Leonardo Grant caught the woman in his arms, absorbing her feminine impact and taking in swinging blond hair and seductive curves just before he felt something cold and wet slide down his chest.
"Oops," the blond woman said with a contrite expression, glancing from her nearly empty glass to his shirt. "I'm so sorry," she said. "I'm not usually such a klutz. I just wasn't watching where I was going. Let me get a napkin for you."
Despite the spill, the woman emanated class. No surprise, given she was attending one of Philadelphia's most exclusive charity events. He wondered who her date was. A woman this beautiful wouldn't have arrived alone. "No problem," he said smoothly. "I can get my own napkin."
"But I feel terrible. And you probably feel worse in that soggy shirt," she said motioning toward a waiter.
Charmed by how flustered she was, Leo allowed her to fuss over him for a moment while he studied her from head to toe. Silky shoulder-length blond hair framed an oval face with wide green eyes, a pert nose and a mobile, sensual mouth. He glanced lower, taking in her lean but curvy body. She worked out, he observed, taking in the slight muscle in her biceps. Her strapless dress revealed the tops of her creamy breasts and a narrow waist. The slit in her full-length gown gave him a peek at shapely legs.
A furrow formed beneath her brow as she mopped at his chest. "Maybe we could find you another shirt," she said.
Leo bit back a chuckle. He could have a shirt delivered to him in five minutes, but she was so much more interesting. "I can stand it," he said. "But we should replace your drink."
"I don't know," she said, full of doubt. "Maybe dumping my margarita on your shirt is a sign for me to stop even though that was my first one for the evening," she said.
He shrugged. "If at first you don't succeed," he said and extended his hand. "Leo Grant."
"Calista," she said, sliding her smooth, well-manicured hand in his. "Calista French. You've been such a good sport. I truly am sorry."
Her last name tripped a trigger, and Leo searched his memory for details. There'd been so many names over the years, names of people his guardian had tricked and used. Once Leo had run away, he'd tried to forget them all. He pushed the thought aside. "No more apologies necessary. You rescued me from boredom."
She held his gaze for an extra few seconds. "You don't seem the type of man to allow boredom."
He felt a flicker of sensual awareness snap between them. "I don't," he said. "I wasn't planning on staying long tonight anyway."
"Lucky guy," she said in a low, conspiratorial voice. "I'm a member of the group who sponsored the event, so I can't duck out until at least half-time. The only thing that makes it bearable is I really believe in the cause we're supporting this year. Support for Abused Children. A close second to that cause in my opinion is the mentoring program for inner-city youth."
"Are you a mentor?" he asked, surprised that a classy bombshell like her would spend her spare time with needy youth.
"Of course," she said, then shot him a look of sexy challenge. "Aren't you?"
"I could be," he said. "Maybe you could tell me more about the program sometime over drinks or dinner." He pulled a card from his pocket and pressed it into her hand.
Biting her lip, she searched his face. "I can have the program director give you a call. She's more knowledgeable about specific needs than I am."
"Are your turning down my invitation for dinner?" he asked.
She cleared her throat, but didn't fidget. "I was taught that a woman never makes the first call. Especially if she's spilled a margarita on the man. I should go. It's been a pleasure."
He watched her walk away, appreciating the curve of her backside. So, she didn't want to make the first move. He had no problem stepping up. Even though she'd neglected to give him her phone number, he could have it within minutes. He'd make a request now, he thought, reaching for his BlackBerry. Calista French stimulated his curiosity. When it came to women, Leo always got what he wanted. Unfortunately, once they discovered the extent of his wealth, women tended to fall over themselves to please him. At that point, he quickly became bored, but Calista intrigued him. Aside from her obvious assets, he'd liked the sound of her laughter and the sparkle in her eye. He'd been working nonstop lately. He could use a distraction, and she didn't seem the type to be overly impressed by his money. She oozed good breeding—something he certainly lacked. In the back of his mind, Leo was always looking for the perfect woman to make him clean.
Calista's heart pounded as she walked away from one of the wealthiest men in the world. Drawing in a calming breath, she accepted the bottle of water the waiter offered on her way to the opposite end of the grand ballroom. She rarely drank alcohol because she always had to be on guard. Since her father had died, there'd always been too much at stake.
Time would tell her if her fishing expedition with Leonardo Grant was successful. He was the kind of man who liked a challenge, and she had spent the last two months planning how to become his challenge. He was better looking in person than in the rare photographs she'd seen in the newspaper. Tall with dark hair and black eyes, he had a dangerous air that seemed to whisper beneath the surface.
She knew he was a huge benefactor of charitable causes. Probably paying his own version of penance for what his father had done, she thought bitterly. Not many people knew Leo Grant was the son of the late, unlamented Clyde Hawkins. Leo might have had enough money to pay for most of his past to go away, but she had a photograph of Clyde Hawkins and the boy who'd ruined her father. The boy in the photo was Leo Grant and he didn't know it, but he was going to help her.
On Sunday afternoon, Calista pulled her eight-year-old, but well-maintained, BMW in front of her cousin Sharon's home in the suburbs just as she did every week. Two hours from Philadelphia, the home had mostly insulated her twin sisters from the scandal that had wreaked havoc on their lives years ago.
Calista smiled at the beautifully-tended shrubs and flowers. Even with a son of their own, Sharon and her husband, Walter, had tended her sisters in the same loving way they approached everything. She walked up the steps to the small cottage and knocked on the door. "Hello? Anyone home?"
She heard a screech followed by pounding feet. The door flew open and her sister Tina and Sharon's son, Justin, elbowed each other. "Beat ya," Tina said and gave Calista a hug.
"Uh-uh," Justin said. "I got here first."
Despite the fact that Tina was seventeen and Justin was nearly fifteen, the two engaged in friendly competition at every opportunity.
Her other sister Tami appeared behind them with more predictable teenage cool. "As if it matters who gets there first," Tami said, yawning as she nudged past them. "Cal, can you take me for a mani-pedi? My nails are a mess."
"I wanted to ride go-karts," Tina said.
"Second that one," Justin said. "I'd win again."
Tami rolled her eyes. "Tina always gets her way. I'll watch."
"Maybe we could do both," Calista said. "Go-karts first, then a mani or pedi."
"I can't sit still long enough for a manicure, but I'll take the pedicure," Tina said.
"And you can just let me off at the ice-cream parlor," Justin said. "It's on the way."
Sharon appeared in the doorway and smiled. "Cal, sweetie, I didn't know you were here."
Calista reached forward to embrace her cousin. "I barely had time to knock with these two," she said.
Sharon ruffled her son's hair. "I shouldn't be surprised. What's the sister outing for today?" she asked.
"Looks like go-karts and a manicure," Calista said.
"What a combination," Sharon said. "Can I chat with you before you go?"
"Sure," Calista said, stepping inside the house. "And Justin can join us."
"For a manicure?" Sharon said.
"Go-karts and ice cream," Justin said.
"Hmm. We'll see," Sharon said and led Calista to the back porch. "Would you like something to drink?"
Calista shook her head. "I'm fine. What's up?"
"It's Tami," Sharon said quietly. "I caught her smoking again and I don't like the crowd she's hanging around. She got in well past her curfew last night and I think I smelled alcohol on her breath."
Calista's stomach clenched. It had been her most fervent goal for her sisters to grow up in a safe, nurturing environment until it was time for them to go to college. Since Sharon was a stay-at-home mom, and her husband, Walter, made a modest income, Calista provided all the necessary financial support for her sisters since she'd finished college three years ago.
Now, with both her sisters graduating from high school, Calista was determined that they would attend the college of their choice, regardless of the expense. There was also the added complication of Tami's asthma. Even with insurance, the cost of her medications and treatments had prevented Calista from being able to save extra money for her sisters' future.
"I'll talk to her," Calista said. "I know stepping up to parent my sisters hasn't been easy."
"Walter and I love them. We just wish we could better afford them," Sharon said wryly. "But I knew when I married a carpenter I wasn't destined for a life of luxury."
"I think you got a good deal. You got a life of love. That's more than many of us will ever see," Calista said, knowing a life of love wasn't likely in her own future. She couldn't imagine trusting anyone enough to let down her guard. Look what had happened to her mother, Calista and her sisters when they'd counted on her father.
"Speaking of love life, I can't believe no men have been asking you out," Sharon said.
"I may have met someone special recently," she said, laying the groundwork for the rest of her plan. "Time will tell."
"Oh, surely you can cough up more than that," Sharon said. "Is he kind? Funny? Gorgeous?"
She smiled at her cousin's priorities. Wealth hadn't even made the list. "It's too soon. I don't want to jinx it."
Hours later, after go-karts, a pedicure for Tami and Tina and ice cream for all, Calista snagged her sister Tami before she disappeared into the house. "Hey, what's the rush?" she asked, grabbing her sister's hand. "Sit here on the porch with me before I have to go."
"Graham is supposed to call," Tami said, speaking of her latest boyfriend.
"You can talk to him after I leave," Calista said.
"If Sharon lets me," Tami muttered, tossing her multicolored bangs from her eyes. "Honestly, I'm going to be eighteen in August, but the way she treats me, I may as well be in preschool."
"Slight exaggeration," Calista said in a dry tone she couldn't conceal.
Tami slid a rebellious sideways glance at her.
"August will be here before you know it and you'll be off to college."
"Freedom at last," Tami said.
"I hate to remind you, but college means more studying than ever," Calista said, then waved her hand to dismiss the subject. "How are things going for you lately?" she asked.
Tami regarded her suspiciously. "Sharon told you, didn't she?"
"Told me what?"
Tami sighed and glanced away. "She caught me smoking. I begged her not to say anything to you."
"Why?" Calista asked, her heart twisting. "I thought you and I were closer than that."
"We are," Tami said, fiddling with her hair. "I just didn't want you to be mad at me."
"I'm not mad. I'm worried. You know you have asthma, so you shouldn't stress your lungs by smoking. I just want you to be safe and happy." Calista gathered her sister into her arms. "That's all I've ever wanted for you."
"It was just once," Tami said and closed her eyes. "I've been thinking about Mom lately. I wish she hadn't died."
"I do too," Calista said, pulling back slightly and looking into her sister's eyes. "But we've got each other. Don't you forget that. If you need anything, anytime, give me a call. Just promise me you'll be safe."
"Promise," she said. "Prom is two weeks away. Are you still going to take us shopping for dresses next Saturday?"
"Wouldn't miss it," Calista said.
During the drive back to Philadelphia, she worried about her sister. Tami and Tina possessed diametrically opposed personalities. Tina was easygoing in her personal life, but competitive and intense with sports and grades. She would be eligible for scholarships and aid, but more money would be needed. Tami was intense about her personal relationships and had to be pushed to focus on academics. Fortunately, both her sisters were naturally intelligent and had been accepted at the colleges of their choice. Now, all Calista had to do was come up with hundreds of thousands of dollars to make it happen for them.
Leo glanced at the background information on Calista French for the third time. She hadn't lied. She was a card-carrying member of the exclusive women's society who'd sponsored the charity benefit, had graduated with honors from a top Ivy League university, was currently employed as an analyst for an insurance company and was active in local charities. Her mother and father were dead; her two sisters lived a couple hours away.
Her background was unblemished with the exception of her father's financial failure and subsequent death. Apparently her father was a terrible money manager; however, Leo vaguely remembered that Clyde had pulled something over on a man with the last name French.
Another skeleton, he thought, gritting his teeth. He glanced at the photograph of Calista and remembered her smile and breathless laughter. Damn it, she made him curious. It might not be wise to pursue a woman whose life had been negatively affected by his pseudoguardian, but Leo was more tired than ever of being bound by his past. He picked up the phone and dialed her cell number.
"Hello?" she asked and her voice felt as if it seeped inside him like honey.
"Hi. Leo Grant. You said you couldn't make the first call," he said. "So I'm making it."
He heard the soft intake of her breath. "What a surprise. How did you get my number?"
"I have ways. Do you mind?"
She paused, a half beat that put him on edge. "No, I don't."
He grinned at the odd thrill that raced through him. "Good. Dinner tonight at Antoine's at seven. I'll have my driver pick you up wherever you say."
"I'm sorry. I can't tonight."
Unaccustomed to being refused, he felt a twist of irritation. "Tomorrow night?"
"I would like that," she said. "But there's no need for you to send a car. I can drive myself."