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The Robin Hoods of this world were Becca's heroes. As she watched Jack Reed strike a noble pose then draw back and release an arrow that hit dead center of his target, the irony wasn't lost on her.
Jack Reed was no Robin Hood. He was anathema to everything she stood for. To every living, breathing thing she believed in. Beyond all else, people ought to give backeven sacrificeto support others who need help. Some mistook that level of compassion for weakness, but Becca was far from easy prey.
Looking GQ-hot in jeans and a white button-down, cuffs folded back on strong forearms, Reed lowered the bow and focused on his guest. The slant of his mouth was so subtle and self-assured, Becca's palm itched to slap the smirk off his face. She might have done it, too, if she thought it'd shake him up some. But it was said displays of true emotion only amused him.
Jack Reed owned a property in his hometown of Cheyenne, Wyoming, as well as two residences here in L.A.: an ultramodern penthouse apartment in a downtown high-rise building that he'd purchased as well as this spectacular Beverly Hills estate. With a quiver slung across his broad back, he sauntered over the manicured lawn to meet her. Although he was expecting her visit, Becca doubted he would welcome what she had to say.
She introduced herself. "Becca Stevens, director of the Lassiter Charity Foundation." She nodded at the target. "A perfect bull's-eye. Well done."
"I took up archery in college," he said in a voice so deep and darkly honeyed, the tone was almost hypnotic. "I try to squeeze some practice in every week."
"Difficult with your schedule, I imagine." All that dismantling of companies and banking the proceeds had to take up oodles of time. "I appreciate you seeing me."
His smile, designed to disarm, got bigger. "Any friend of J.D.'s is a friend of mine."
"If J. D. Lassiter were alive, he might not count you as a friend at the moment."
The smile widened more. "Straight for the jugular, Ms. Stevens?"
Given Jack Reed was a highly successful corporate raider, he ought to be used to the approach. "I thought you'd appreciate it."
"I only want to help Angelica Lassiter reclaim what she rightly deserves."
Becca let out a humorless laugh and then sighed. "Ah, sorry. Just the idea of someone like you being in any way self-sacrificing "
His gaze sharpened. "Angelica was J.D.'s only child."
"You're forgetting Sage and Dylan."
"They are Ellie Lassiter's orphaned nephews, adopted after J.D. and Ellie had been told by doctors"
"I know the background, Jack."
"Then you'll also know that Angelica, J.D.'s own flesh and blood, was his favoritethat he'd entrusted her with the running of Lassiter Media those crucial months before his death. It makes no sense that his will should insult her with a paltry ten percent while controlling voting interest of J.D.'s multibillion-dollar company goes to Angelica's ex-fiancé" Jack paused for effect "even if J.D. had handpicked Evan McCain for his daughter."
"J.D. might have liked Evan for a son-in-law. No one would argue he has remarkable business sense." Becca joined Jack as he headed off toward his target. "But Angelica trusted Evan. They fell in love."
"Betrayed by the man she was ready to marry. Tragic, wouldn't you say?"
Oh, please. "Evan had nothing to do with J.D.'s will."
"Maybe. Maybe not. But nothing stops him from reinstating to Angelica what should be hers now. He could do the decent thing by the woman he professes to love." Jack's lips twitched. "I don't know how he sleeps at night."
An image flashed into Becca's mindJack Reed lying butt naked on a rumpled sheet, fingers thatched behind his head, an unmistakable thirst reflecting in the depths of his glittering onyx eyes. Nerve endings ignited and flashed over her skin. The tingle raced through to her core, all the way down to her toes.
Reed was an attractive man; she would go so far as to say he was exceptional. If half of what the tabloids published was true, hoards of women had surrendered to the drugging heat she felt radiating off him now. The effect was grippingbeguilingand, in Becca's case, about as welcome as boiling water on a third-degree burn.
As they continued to walk, she tried to stay focused.
"I'm here to implore you, in J.D.'s memory, to show some human decency. Walk away from this. After her father's death, Angelica's in no shape to link arms with the likes of you."
"Don't underestimate Angelica." His classically chiseled profile hardened as his chin lifted a notch. "She's stronger than you think."
"Right now, she's desperate."
He laughed, a somehow soothing and yet cynical sound. "You don't beat around the bush, do you, Becca?"
No time. "You own an interest in Lassiter Media and rumors are rife. People are bracing for a hostile takeover bid. The charity's donations are down. Regular beneficiaries are actually looking at other options. Want to guess why?"
"I'm sure you'll tell me."
Damn right she would. "The name Jack Reed means troublethe kind of trouble clear-minded people run a mile to avoid."
He blinked slowly and grinned as if the description was something to savor. "As long as Angelica wants my help, I'll give it."
"You sought her out," she reminded him, "not the other way around."
Her heart was pounding in her ears. No one wanted to make an enemy of this man, but Becca had a principle to defend. A fight to win. Hell, she'd faced worse situations than this and survived.
"I know what you're up to," she said as they neared the target, "even if Angelica can't or won't face the truth. After you've used her to gain majority control over Lassiter Media interests, you'll aim the next arrow at her back. You'll sell off Lassiter assets like you have with every other company you've acquired."
"Got it. I wear the black hat."
"Simple, isn't it?"
Lord above, how she wanted to shake this man. "Seriously, how much money does one person need? Is this worth betraying your friend's memory? J.D.'s family?"
"This is not about money."
"With you, it's always about money."
His jaw flexed as he stopped in front of the target and freed the arrow.
"I understand your desire to help, but Angelica and I have this covered. And make no mistake." His uncompromising gaze pierced hers. "We intend to win."
Becca's focus shifted from the steely message in his eyes to the arrow's bright red feathers, the shaft's long straight line and finally the weapon's potentially lethal head. Then she thought of this man's lack of empathyhis obsession with selfenrichment. How could this superb body harbor such a depraved soul? How could Jack Reed live with himself?
Becca took the arrow from his hand, broke the shaft over a knee and, shaking inside, strode away.
Jack watched Becca Stevens's spectacular behind as she marched off in a fiery temper and had to smile.
When Becca had contacted his office hoping to meet, instinct had said to shake her off. If ever Jack set his sights on a target, he committed to that goal two hundred percent. No one and nothing would sway him. In certain circles, the term pathological was used to describe his drive.
No offense taken.
The same circles might suggest that his reasons for meeting Becca today had been selfish. That it was probable to very likely he would take advantage of his position in this Lassiter standoff for personal gain. And where Becca was concerned, Jack did mean personal.
As she disappeared over the rise, he smiled again.
What a woman.
His cell phone rang. Jack checked out the caller I.D. and, toeing Ms. Stevens's broken arrow aside, connected. "Logan. What've you got?"
"Just making sure we're still on track."
Coming from humble beginnings, Logan Whittaker had worked hard to build a successful career. As a partner at Drake, Alcott and Whittaker Attorneys based in downtown Cheyenne, Wyoming, Logan had looked after J. D. Lassiter's affairs, including the execution of J.D.'s last will and testament. The document had cast some challenges Logan's way. Some unanticipated rewards, as well. Through work associated with settling the will's terms, he had found his future wife.
"I've spoken with Angelica Lassiter again this morning," Jack said. "She's still going forward."
"You're sure about that? I've told Angelica more than once the will is airtight. J.D. was in his right mind when he drafted the terms. With majority voting interest, Evan McCain will remain chairman and CEO of Lassiter Media no matter how many punches she wants to throw. I thought she was finally coming around, listening to reason."
Jack headed back toward the shooting line. "Sure, she has reservations. Her father was a huge influence on her life. Even with him gone, it goes against the grain to disappoint him and battle that will. But her heart and soul are in that company, Logan. She has J.D.'s stubborn streak as well as his keen bent for business."
"How hard will you push her?"
"This isn't my first rodeo." When the attorney audibly exhaled, Jack wasn't fazed. "You're acting under strict instruction here."
"I'm aware of my obligations, damn it. This still leaves a god-awful taste in my mouth."
That all came with the territory with being obligated, no matter what.
"No one said you had to like it," Jack said.
Logan huffed. "You're one hard-nosed son of a bitch, you know that?"
"That from a corporate lawyer." Funny.
As Jack reached back to draw an arrow from his quiver, Logan asked, "How did your meeting with Becca Stevens play out?"
Logan was aware of Becca's phone call and today's arrangements.
"She might run Lassiter Charity Foundation," Jack said, "but Becca is no Mother Teresa. She put on her boxing gloves and told me to back the hell away."
"Did you toss her off your property?"
Remembering the fire blazing in those beautiful green eyes, Jack held the phone between his ear and shoulder as he slotted the arrow's notch against his bow's string. "I would've asked her to stay for lunch if I thought she wouldn't try to run a butter knife through my heart."
"Will she be a problem?"
"Lord, I hope so."
Logan groaned. "For God's sakes, Jack. Tell me you plan to keep your pants on here."
"After the way you mixed Lassiter business up with pleasure, you're in no position to lecture."
When J.D. had bequeathed five million big ones to a mystery woman who didn't want to be found, Logan had not only tracked her down, damned if he hadn't taken her to bed, and more than once. Talk about calling the kettle black.
"I won't deny certain lines got blurred," Logan admitted. "But I fell in love with Hannah Armstrong and married her. I'll hand my resignation in to the bar the day anything approaching marriage enters your head."
Jack laughed. What an idea.
After the men disconnected, Jack resumed his stand behind the shooting line. He drew back the arrow and, enjoying the tension of the bowstring as he took aim, thought of Becca Stevensthe undisguised malice in her eyes, the sweeping conviction of her words. Then he imagined how darn good she would feel folded in his arms how sweet her smooth, scented skin would taste beneath his lips. In his mind, Jack heard her whimper his name and then cry out as he sank into her again and again.
Jack released his shot and then shaded his brow to measure the result. When was the last time he'd missed a target's center gold ring? This arrow had sailed clean over the top.
Felicity Sinclair's blue eyes sparkled as she shifted her chair closer to the café table and lowered her voice. "Becca, I have something I need to ask."
"About Lassiter Media?"
As Lassiter Media's recently promoted vice president of public relations, Fee was always brimming with ideas. Since Becca's appointment with the Lassiter Charity Foundation two years ago, the women had worked closely. More than thatthey'd become good friends, the kind who shared everything, during good times as well as bad.
Winding golden-blond hair behind a dainty ear, Fee explained, "My question has to do with Chance Lassiter."
"That would be your fiancé Chance Lassiter," Becca teased.
As Fee reached over to grip her friend's hand, the magnificent diamond on her third finger threw back light slanting in through the window.
"You were there when I needed to vent about that mess last month," she said. "I have to say, it feels a little strange calling Cheyenne home. I love L.A ."
"Well, you're here now. You'll simply have to visit often." Becca squeezed her hand. "Promise?"
"And you promise to drop in on us at the Big Blue."
"I'll bring my Stetson."
Chance Lassiter was J.D.'s nephew, the son of the billionaire's deceased younger brother, Charles. Chance had managed his uncle's world-famous cattle ranchthe Big Blueand while he'd been rocked by J.D.'s unexpected death, he'd gladly accepted, via his uncle's will, controlling interest in the ranch he loved more than anything although now, of course, his vivacious wife-to-be had taken pride of place in the charming cowboy's heart.
Fee sat back. "I can hardly wait for the wedding. Which brings me back to that question. Becca, would you be a bridesmaid?"
Emotion prickled behind Becca's eyes. Fee would make a stunning bride and, given her talent for organizing grand occasions, the ceremony was bound to be nothing short of amazing. Becca was even a little envious.
Marriage and starting a family were nowhere near a priority, but one day Becca hoped to find Mr. Righta kindred spirit who got off on giving back and paying forward. This minute, however, all her energies were centered on helping the foundation survive the storm J.D.'s unexpected death and will had left behind.
Of course, there was always room for the wonderful women in her life and their very special requests.
Becca hugged her friend. "Fee, I would be honored to be a bridesmaid at your wedding."
The women discussed styles for dresses as well as flowers for bouquets before the conversation turned to a far less pleasant topic.
As coffees arrived, Fee asked, "Have you spoken with Jack Reed yet?"
Suddenly feeling queasy, Becca nodded. Fee knew that she had hoped to get in Jack's ear.
"The backyard of his Beverly Hills mansion houses an Olympic-standard archery field."
Fee's lip curled. "Your regular Robin Hood."
"The joke of the decade, right?" Becca pulled her decaf closer. "I let him know how his association with Angelica is weighing on Lassiter Media, not least of all the foundation. A lot of the funding comes from Lassiter accounts, but other benefactors are shutting doors in our face. While the notorious Jack Reed has a chance of pulling off a takeover bid and then tearing everything apart, we might as well have leprosy."
Fee flinched. "Jack does have a reputation."
Huge understatement. "He's the most ruthless corporate raider this country has given breath to. I hate to think of how quickly he'd chop up the company and sell off the pieces if he had a chance. He doesn't give a flying fig where or how the foundation ends up." Becca held her stomach when it churned again. "He's a scourge on mankind."
"You have to admit though " Fee lifted her cup to her lips. "He is charismatic."
"If you can call a snake charismatic."
"And incredibly good-looking."
Becca huffedand then gave it up. "Sure. The guy is hot, in a Jay Gatsby kind of way."
"Gatsby was gorgeous."
"Gatsby was a crook."
"Sweetie, let's face it. Jack Reed is smoking!"
Becca's stomach pitched again. "I was taught that power should be used for good. If you have brains and position, for God's sake, help those less fortunateeven a little bit."
"Good luck convincing Jack Reed of that."
"Greed." Becca shuddered. "It's a disease." When the waitress delivered their coffees, she pointed to an item on the menu. "Can I have a caramel fudge brownie, please?"