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Rule #1 for Charlie: never have a fling with your "mark." But Lexy was so hot—and the jewels even hotter, judging by the sudden interest from far too many people. Charlie had to convince Lexy he'd been ...
Rule #1 for Charlie: never have a fling with your "mark." But Lexy was so hot—and the jewels even hotter, judging by the sudden interest from far too many people. Charlie had to convince Lexy he'd been framed. And that all the times they'd spent burning up the bedsheets were not just stolen nights!
Hard rock music played as she peered through the binocular magnifier and looped a string of molten gold with infinite care around a ruby.
She loved every one of the creations that were slowly making her rich—this one a pair of wedding rings for a young couple who'd come to her with his grandmother's rings and a brooch that had been in her family so long no one knew its provenance.
Lexy would transform the old and forgotten into the new and now. It was the best kind of recycling, combining art, family history and love.
She worked alone, which was how she liked it. But never in silence. Her work might be delicate but her music provided much-needed contrast. Hard-driving rock and roll hammered the air around her. She'd have preferred to let the music reverberate off the walls, but since her tiny studio was tucked behind her SoHo store, she kept the volume low.
With the metal soft, she had a little time to bend it to her will, but only a little. With a final twist, she had the look she wanted; a bold swirl of gold twining around a ruby.
A sudden prickling at the back of her neck told her she was no longer alone.
She turned sharply in time to surprise a man standing in the doorway. The way his gaze suddenly rose, she suspected she'd been shaking her booty in time to the music and her latest customer had stopped to watch her swaying hips.
He didn't look at all embarrassed to have been caught staring at her gyrations. If anything he appeared—in-terested—that would have to be the word.
"There's a salesclerk out front if you need help." It was rare for a customer to bumble back here to her private work space, but it happened.
"She's busy. So I followed the music."
"Oh." She picked up the remote and punched down the volume on her iPod. "I should hire more staff now we're getting so busy, but I haven't got around to it. Sorry."
"Don't be. It's fascinating to watch a master craftsman at work." He spoke in that perma-bored drawl with the crisp inflections she'd come to associate with the rich. She was pretty sure he'd been studying her ass—not her master craftsman hands—but he was a potential customer so she didn't call him on it.
Probably a lucrative customer, too. His handmade suit and shiny leather loafers screamed Daddy owns a bank, while his tie had one of those crests from a fancy Ivy League school. She could never keep them straight, wasn't interested enough to bother.
"I'm Charles Pendegraff III," he told her in that snooty tone, holding out his hand to shake hers.
"And I'm Alexandra Drake. Lexy." An imp inside her who would probably make sure she ended up broke, added, "The one and only."
His gaze sharpened on hers and she was struck by the gleam of powerful intelligence behind the laziness. The impression was gone in a second. He said, "I see you're working on a ring. I'm thinking of having one commissioned, myself. Do you mind if I take a look?"
"Sure." He had money to burn and she had self-defense skills that would flatten him in a New York minute if he tried anything. He strolled toward her and she figured he might be rich, but he wasn't idle. When he moved, his slacks molded around powerful thighs and as the blazer shifted she got the impression of a broad, muscular chest.
She loved contrasts and he seemed to have enough to be interesting. The lazy speaking voice was at odds with the sharp green eyes; the soft manicured hands didn't match the hard planes of his face.
And when he moved closer she felt the punch of his forceful sexuality.
"How did you hear about my studio?" she asked him. She nearly always started with a little market research and in this case a chance to distract her from the instant and powerful attraction she was experiencing.
"One of the fellows I play polo with, Jeremy Thur-ston, had you design an amulet for his mother. I bumped into her when she was wearing it at one of those tedious fundraisers. She was dull. The bracelet was stunning."
"Thanks." She remembered the piece, of course. She remembered them all.
"So, I'd heard of you, but I hadn't imagined you'd be so young. And somehow one never imagines a jeweler as sexy, now why is that?"
"Oh, well…" She could not think of a thing to say. Lexy was rarely thrown off her stride, and getting hit on wasn't a completely foreign experience, so to be tongue-tied in front of this stranger was infuriating. But then she rarely felt the punch of attraction quite this strongly. And never from a guy with a number after his name.
No wonder she was speechless.
"Let me show you what I'm doing here," she said, deciding to ignore the sexy comment and reaching a hand toward the design she'd penned. "I'm combining elements—antique gold, a splash of platinum, those tiny rubies and the diamond solitaire, it's sort of my signature, you see—"
She stopped when he suddenly reached for her hand, taking it in his. "You've hurt yourself," he said, pointing to a red patch on her index finger.
"Oh, that's nothing, I burned myself on the soldering iron. I got careless."
She tried to pull away from the intimate warmth of her hand resting in his, but with a strength that surprised her, he prevented her. "Do you have a first-aid kit?"
"Yes, but I can't have cream or bandages on my fingers. I need them to do my work."
His gaze rose to meet hers and she thought he had the most amazing eyes she'd ever seen. "Then I'll use an old home remedy of my grandmother's." His words licked at her, soft, caressing. Intimate. "I'll kiss it better."
Her hand fluttered in his. She felt it, knew he must have felt the instinctive movement, too; she was completely annoyed by her reaction, but she didn't yank her hand away, either. She watched him raise her fingers slowly to his lips. Felt the lightest whisper of a kiss land on the sore spot and then he returned her hand to the worktable.
"I—um." She completely forgot what she was going to say.
He glanced through her magnifier at the ring. "This is exquisite."
"Thank you. What kind of a ring are you looking for, Mr. Pendegraff?"
"It's Charlie. And I need an engagement ring."
She blinked. "An engagement ring?"
"Yes." He raised his head and glanced at her. His green eyes were like cloudy emeralds, with too many occlusions to make them gemstone worthy, but it was the dark lines, the faults that made them so magnetic.
"You're getting married?"
She couldn't believe the balls of this man. He was kissing the fingers of the woman he wanted to design his wedding rings?
But then she reminded herself of one of her mother's favorite sayings. "The rich have different rules than the rest of us."
That was why she stayed away from them.
"Penelope and I are getting married in September. That's six months from now. Lots of time."
"I see." Ice coated her tone. "Well, if you'd like to come back out front, I'll show you what's in stock. All the designs are original, of course." Lexy was a certified gemologist and she'd apprenticed with a designer in London. When she'd returned to the States, she'd been unwilling to work in one of those design factories that turn out diamond solitaires and wedding bands by the thousand. So, she'd gone out on her own, building herself a perfect little studio in SoHo, a live/work loft that meant she and her livelihood were never far apart, and her commute was less than a minute.
One of the things she loved about New York was how quickly word spread when somebody found a new designer. She'd gone from complete obscurity, to a few select jewelers selling her unique creations, to becoming the go-to designer for wealthy trendsetters in less than two years.
She was so hot that men like Charles Pendegraff III came slumming in order to get his bride the trendiest engagement ring possible.
"Or, I could have something designed, just for me?"
"And for your fiancée. Yes."
As luck would have it, when she returned him to the storefront, her assistant, Amanda, was returning a ring tray to its display case. Her customer was walking out the door with one of their signature boxes made from recycled metal.
"Oh, good. Amanda's free now. Amanda? Would you help Mr. Pendegraff? He's looking for a ring. Goodbye, Mr. Pendegraff, and best of luck with the wedding."
"Bye, Lexy." He stuck out his hand and what could she do but return his clasp? Amusement lurked deep in his eyes as he gazed down at her. "I look forward to seeing you again."
She mumbled something inarticulate and retreated to her work space, shaking her head.
Charlie strode around a bundle of yellow garbage bags piled on the sidewalk, dodging tourists as he checked out the entire block around Alexandra Drake Designs.
As he took careful note of his Broome Street surroundings, snapping a few discreet photos, he pondered the nature of the woman he was about to steal from.
A woman of contrasts. Contrasts that intrigued him. When he'd first walked in, casually, a customer looking for some information, delighted to find the single sales-clerk busy, he'd followed the sound of some indie rock band into the workshop of Alexandra Drake. No more than an unlocked door separated the storefront from her work space. Was she really that trusting? Her back was to him and with the music pounding she couldn't have heard his approach.
Had he taken advantage of the perfect opportunity to check out her security system? Eyeball the safe sitting in the corner? He could have taken photos and she wouldn't have noticed.
No. He hadn't. He hadn't done any of the tasks a self-respecting thief would have accomplished in seconds.
His gaze had gone straight to the hips gyrating to the beat of the music, tightly clad in jeans, her legs not long, but shapely. She had small feet encased in boots. Above the swinging hips, her torso was still. She wore a navy tank top, not an ounce of extra flesh on her. Her bare arms revealed elegant swells of muscle. Her hair was black and wound into a big messy bun with what looked like chopsticks stuck through to hold it in place.
Her eyes were glued to a magnifier and he watched her hands. Those small, efficient hands. Using some kind of tool that looked like small pliers, she was twirling a strand of hot metal as though it were a piece of cooked spaghettini, draping it around a colored stone. He knew the moment she felt his presence. Those glorious hips slowed, her back stiffened.
Still, she finished the meticulous draping of the metal before setting the ring into a clamp. Then she raised her head and turned to him. Too fast for him to pretend he hadn't been watching her.
He couldn't have pretended anything, anyway. He was too stunned.
The woman was gorgeous. Cool gray eyes of a tilted almond shape that suggested there was Asian blood in her. Pale skin, full, sexy lips that begged to be painted red, but which she'd only touched with some kind of gloss.
He didn't have time for lust. He had a job to do.
And yet somehow he couldn't help himself. He'd come on to her. Enjoyed flustering her, finding an excuse to touch her.
And now, he was preparing to steal from her.
He had a bad feeling about this. A bad feeling that he was going to break every rule he lived by and get to know one of his marks. After the dust had settled, obviously, a few weeks from now when she'd have moved on and wouldn't think to connect a missing set of jewels with a visit from Charles Pendegraff.
He called himself every kind of fool as he made his preparations, but he knew he was going to be stupid.
As crazy as it was, he was going to see Lexy Drake again.
At six, Amanda peeked into Lexy's work space. "I've closed up. I'm heading out now."
Lexy glanced up and rubbed her tired eyes. "Good day?"
"Three engagement rings, a few pairs of earrings and about a hundred of those bracelets that were featured on Party Girls of Manhattan."
Lexy laughed. It was amazing how slavish people could be when they saw their favorite star wearing something distinctive on a television show. She only had a small number of mass-produced designs, but since one of the women on the newest semireality show had discovered her work, her designs—especially the ones that appeared on the show—were snapped up.
"Party Girls will do for you what Sex and the City did for Manolo Blahnik," Amanda prophesied.
"Fine with me."
Her assistant glanced around the crowded space. "You planning to work all night?"
She rubbed the back of her neck. "No. A little longer. I want to finish this ring set, then I'll take a break."
"What did that woman and her daughter bring you, by the way? You seemed pretty excited. You know, that stylish woman with the perfect gray hair and her thin, pretty daughter."
"Mrs. Grayson and her daughter—" What was the daughter's name? She recalled the emeralds and diamonds with vivid clarity; she'd never seen such a perfect set, but recalling the details of the owners was always trickier. She closed her eyes for a second. "Judith, that was the daughter's name."
Lexy was becoming accustomed to the whims of rich people, and she was the first in line to recommend redesigning antique jewels into settings that would breathe new life into them, but as she'd opened the faded blue velvet box she'd had to suppress the urge to argue mother and daughter out of their idea to have this set broken down and reset.
The gems themselves were exquisite. Emeralds were funny things. The larger they came the more flawed they were likely to be. A few occlusions were expected but when she'd studied these gems through her loupe, she'd been astonished at the near perfection. And the color. Dark, clear green that she'd rarely seen outside a museum.
The setting was antique, no question. Like any personal ornamentation, jewelry went through fashions. But every age had its classics and this set was one of the most inherently beautiful she'd ever seen. Delicate strands of gold held the emeralds and diamonds in place but didn't compete, so the green fire flashed from the necklace. "These are exquisite. Are you sure you want to reset them?" she'd finally asked.
Posted February 23, 2010
Manhattan based jewelry designer Lexy Drake is an expert on modernizing antique family jewels. Charles Pendergraff III hires Lexy to create a special wedding ring. She is immediately attracted to her handsome suave client. For the first time in her professional life, Lexy considers breaking her iron rule of never mixing business with pleasure, which she does.
However, late one night, Lexy arrives at her studio to be greeted by her worst nightmare. Charles is stealing another customer's jewels, the Isabella Emeralds. Instead of lying, he grabs her and flees into the night. Soon afterward her studio turns into an inferno. After it cools down, a corpse is found. Hurt by Charles' betrayal and somewhat believing her "escort" is an arsonist killer, Charlie tries to convince the woman he loves he is not a murdering jewel thief, but danger stalks them.
Too Hot to handle is a terrific romantic suspense starring two intriguing lead characters. Lexy is a likable individual whose heart has been stomped on by a man who asks her for her trust. Charlie is the more fascinating protagonist as the audience wonders whether he is guilty on all accounts. As always Nancy Warren provides a strong tale that grips the reader the moment Lexy enters her studio late at night.
Posted December 20, 2010
No text was provided for this review.