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'Olivia Brannigan. Blake Clayton?'
Continuing to rehearse below her breath, she tugged firmly on her jacket as she walked up the path. 'I represent Wagner, Liebstrahm, Barker and DeLuise, and :
It was what came after the 'and' she was struggling with most. Informing him of a legacy was one thing, breaking the news that came with it was another, even if the news was several weeks old. But the man would have to live in a cave to have avoided hearing about it and they couldn't have been that closenot when it had taken so long to find him.
The Stars And Stripes hanging from the porch fluttered gently in a welcome hint of air movement as she took a deep breath and pressed the buzzer.
'I regret to have to inform you '
She hated that line. Last time she'd made a death notification it had been more than difficult: It had been the final act in a series of events that altered the course of her life.
When the door swung open, a heavy-set man holding a half-eaten hamburger looked her over from head to toe. 'Mr Clayton?' 'Yo, Blake!' he yelled. 'What?' a voice yelled in answer.
'Anyone suing you?' 'Not this week.'
'Guess you can come in then.' The man grinned, issuing an invitation with a jerk of his head.
Following him down the hallway, Olivia's heels clicked in an even, businesslike rhythm while she focused on their destination and the man she would discover when she got there. In a matter of seconds he would be a living, breathing person instead of someone she'd spent entirely too much time trying to picture in her mind while she was searching for him. She wouldn't have to imagine what he looked like or wonder how he was going to react.
The mystery would be solved.
Anticipation built with each step as she prepared for the disappointment of reality when compared to the uncharacteristic flights of fantasy she'd been engaged in of late. There was just something about this case that got to her, and with her track record when it came to emotional involvement in the workplace, that wasn't good.
The sooner she wrapped it up, the better.
The room she walked into was in a chaotic state of construction. There were four men in it: two chewing hamburgers, one hunkered down sanding a door-frame and another by large windows covered in opaque plastic. Since the man by the windows was looking at her, she approached him and held out a hand. 'Mr Clayton, I'm Olivia Brannigan from'
'Over here, sweetheart.' A deep, rough-edged voice drew her gaze to the man sanding the door-frame.
'You're Blake Clayton?' She turned around. Considering how long it had taken to find him, she had to be sure. 'Blake Anders Clayton.'
There was a snort of laughter behind her.
'Thanks for that.' He shook his head, dropping his chin and lifting a hand to remove the dust mask from his face as he stood up. 'So what'd I do this time?'
Opening her mouth to set his mind at ease, anything resembling coherent thought scrambled when he set the mask aside and looked directly at her. The room contracted; it was suddenly smaller and tighter and felt as if all the oxygen had been sucked out of it. Everything in her peripheral vision blurred as her gaze locked on him and doggedly refused to let go. But who could blame a girl for staring?
A little heads-up on how he looked might have helped.
Six foot two, possibly three, lean at the waist, broad at the shoulders, with short spikes of unruly chocolate-brown hair and dark eyes that sparkled with more than a hint of the guy a girl's mother would warn her about; Blake Clayton was the living, breathing definition of seriously smokin' hot.
When her gaze dropped briefly to the jut of a full lower lip that begged for immediate, audience-be-damned attention, Olivia ran her tongue over her teeth. Would he taste as good as he looked? She'd just bet he did.
The woman inside her purred appreciatively. The professional forced a businesslike tone to her voice. 'I represent the legal firm of Wagner, Liebstrahm, Barker and DeLuise, and'
'Bet that's a bitch to put on a business card.' A corner of his mouth hitched with amusement.
The woman sighed contentedly while the professional frowned at how difficult it was to focus. Her flights of fantasy had fallen woefully short of reality.
'Is there somewhere we could talk?'
'We're talking now.'
'Mr Clayton, I'm afraid I have bad news,' she announced more bluntly than she'd intended.
'I heard,' he said tightly, the change in him immediate.
Her voice softened 'I'm sorry for your loss.'
'Don't be.' Stepping past her to lift a mug from a worktop, he sat down beside one of the men eating lunch, spreading long, jeans-clad legs while tipping the rim of the mug to his mouth. 'We done?'
Glancing at their audience, she found them watching her like some kind of floor show. Surely he didn't want to
'You can say whatever you have to say in front of them,' he added as if he'd read her mind.
Considering her thoughts since she'd laid eyes on him, Olivia sincerely hoped he hadn't.
'No secrets among friends,' the man who'd answered the door added. 'Offer us the right money, we could tell you enough to get him arrested in a half-dozen states.'
'And Canada,' added a chorus of voices.
'You got something you need me to sign, hand it over,' Blake said over the sound of laughter. 'You can mail whatever memento I've got coming my way.'
'I'm afraid I can't do that,' Olivia replied patiently. 'You're the sole beneficiary. He left everything to you.'
'All of it?'
'Yes.' She nodded. He obviously hadn't known. Not that the flat tone to his deep voice gave any indication he was happy with the news. The majority of people would have been turning cartwheels.
'There's no one else?'
Confused by the question after her use of the term 'sole beneficiary', she shook her head. 'No.' Thanks to Charles Warren's will, his son was one of the richest, most powerful men in America. 'I know it must seem daunting to take on the responsibility of'
'Such a great legacy?' A dark brow lifted. 'Wrong tactic, Misswhat did you say your name was again?'
'Brannigan.' She tried not to be piqued by the fact he hadn't remembered. 'Olivia Brannigan.'
'Well, Liv' he leaned forward 'someone should probably have warned you: I don't give a rat's ass how great a legacy it is. I don't want it.'
Was he insane?
'I understand you need time to process everything, b'
'There's nothing to process.' Setting his mug down, he pushed to his feet. 'What I need is to get this job done.'
As she faltered, he walked past her and picked up his tools. She'd never been in such a surreal situation. What did he expect her to do? Go back to the office, walk up to her boss and say, Sorry, no go, we have to find someone else we can give billions of dollars' worth ofproperty and assets to? They could hold a raffle.
When she didn't move, he glanced at her from the corner of his eye. 'Am I supposed to tip you?'
The professional stepped forward and smiled smoothly. 'I don't think you understand, Mr Clayton. Allow me to make it clear: you're it. Whether you want it or not, you're the sole beneficiary of Charles Warren's will.'
The Charles Warren?' an incredulous voice asked behind her.
'Your father made his wishes very clear.'
'Father?' said the same incredulous voice. 'You're kidding me, right?'
So much for no secrets between friends.
He took a step forward and lowered his voice. 'Look, lady, I get that you're trying to do your job but, in case you didn't get it, allow me to make it clear: I'm not your man. So unless you're planning on setting down that briefcase and picking up a power tool, I suggest you hightail it back to Manhattan and tell Wagner, Liebstrahm, Barker and DeLuiseor whoever it is you answer to further down the food chainthey best find a distant Warren relative they can lay this on. I have a life. I'm not living someone else's.'
'This isn't going anywhere,' she insisted with a deceptive calmness that masked the effect his proximity was having on her body.
'Maybe not,' he allowed. 'But I can.'
What about the life he'd said he had? Olivia found herself wondering if there was a woman in it; one who would miss him when he was gone. Somehow she doubted he was the type to stick around long enough to let anyone get that close. Judging by the number of addresses she'd discovered in various different statessome of which he'd only resided in for a matter of weeksany relationships he had were short-lived. Not that looking the way he did would leave him short of company for long.
Squaring her shoulders, she reached into the front of the briefcase he'd mentioned and held out her hand. 'I'll leave my card. When you've had time to think things over'
'Not gonna happen.'
Olivia stood her ground.
'I take it you can find the door on your own?'
Okay. If he wanted to play hardball, she'd play. Lowering her gaze to his broad chest, she relaxed her shoulders and took a step forward, standing within inches of his large body and slowly lifting her lashes until she was looking deep into dark eyes. She ran her tongue over her lips and smoothed them together, watching his gaze lower and smiling when he frowned. She spoke in a low voice just loud enough for their audience to hear.
'Tomorrow morning all over the state thousands of Warren Enterprises employees are going to turn up for work. I'd like to be able to tell them they'll have a job a month from now, especially in this economy.' She angled her head. 'Wouldn't you?'
Reaching out, she set her business card on a plank of wood beside him before turning on her heel and walking back down the hall. Her hand was on the door when she heard a voice ask, 'Charles Warren is your old man?'
'You know my cousin Mike works for Warren Tech? He's got a wife and three kids.'
Olivia smiled as she opened the door. There was no question in her mind she'd be seeing him again.
She was looking forward to it already.