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Jack had barely landed in Houston when his phone rang. As the driver drove out of the airport, Jack answered the phone. "Jack? Zane. Glad you made it in."
Zane Holden, one of the two men who took over LynTech from the founder, Robert Lewis, sounded rushed and anxious. "What's going on?" Jack asked, settling back in the soft gray leather.
"We're just waiting for you before we make a move toward Sommers."
"He's in Houston?"
"Not yet. He's in New York at the moment. If we get lucky, he'll agree to handle the negotiations himself, instead of using a middleman."
E. J. Sommers, the founder and head of the EJS Corporation, wasn't an easy man to pin down. He didn't do things the way other corporate heads did. He was more freewheeling, more unstructured, and that bothered Jack. But the branch of EJS Corporation that LynTech wanted was a gem. A real find. "Any word on how our interest in EJS got out?"
"We'll talk about that when you get here. I called Robert Lewis in on it as a consultant. We need his take on things."
"That's a smart move. No one knows the business around here like Robert."
Robert Lewis had been Jack's father's friend from college days, just the way Ian had been his. Ten years ago, when Jack's father had died, Robert had been there. Robert had known the full story about Jack's father, and he'd been the one to trust Jack to make things right. He owed Robert a lot and, despite the fact that the company wasn't Robert's any longer, it meant a lot to the man, and Jack wasn't going to let him down.
"Did you find a nanny?" Zane asked.
Jack grimaced as he remembered his last glimpse of Victoria alone at the top of the stairs. He was surprised that the co-CEO of LynTech was worried about a nanny. He'd dealt with Zane for over a year, and knew that his son, Walker, was the center of his existence along with his wife Lindsey, but he didn't expect him to take much of an interest in his child care situation.
"It's all settled," he said and realized that he'd just uttered a lie of staggering magnitude.
"Good. The child, the little girl, is she okay with the nanny?"
That was when he realized why Zane was asking. It wasn't the child he was asking about, he was asking if Jack was in any condition to give one hundred percent to the problem at hand. That annoyed him slightly, that Zane would even think that he wouldn't be effective in a crisis. "She's fine with the nanny, and she understands I had to leave."
"I never found a good nanny when I needed one."
He knew enough about Zane to know what he was referring to, when his son had been dropped into his life. When Lindsey, now his wife, had stepped in to be a mother to the boy, and they'd become a family. There was a vague similarity between his and Jack's predicaments with child care, except Victoria wasn't his, and.. well, Eve was Eve. She'd stepped right in, too. She'd found Mrs. Ferris and promptly bought Victoria a whole new wardrobe. She smiled at the child, pouted about her private time with Jack being limited, then blissfully went on with her plans.
"My fiancée found the nanny through a friend," he said, thinking that maybe Eve didn't have overwhelming maternal instincts, but then again, he'd never had any great paternal instincts, either.
"Lindsey thought that you could have brought the child with you and she could have been cared for at the day-care center at LynTech while you worked."
Zane had even recruited his wife to make sure Jack was focused on the crisis. Maybe his father's reputation had preceded him with Zane. He hoped not. The car slowed and Jack looked out at the downtown street where the headquarters for LynTech were located. "Thank her for me, but Victoria's just fine in London. We're outside. I'll be up in a few minutes, then go to the hotel later on."
"That's another thing. The hotel's not going to work out for this. It's overrun with people involved in the charity ball that's being planned by LynTech. You wouldn't have any privacy."
"Then where am I staying?" he asked, caring only that he could work uninterrupted.
"No hotel rooms are available on short notice, so we decided on a loft we've got set up not far from the offices. Lots of privacy, and it's wired directly to here."
"Fine, whatever," Jack murmured. "See you in a few," he said and hung up as the luxury car approached the entrance for the parking garage.
Satin and silk. It had to be a dream, because Jack was never poetic, and he knew that he'd never met the owner of the voice that was filtering around him in the blackness.
After getting only a few hours' sleep in the last two days, Jack had counted on sleeping for six hours before getting back to work. He'd been at the offices since arriving from London, took a nap in a side room off of Zane Holden's office, and this was the first time he'd made it to the loft. He'd planned to sleep hard, then get to work on his own without interruption.
He just hadn't expected to dream, because he never dreamed. At least, he never remembered any dreams. He'd set his internal clock for a few hours and slept his usual pattern. Get hard sleep, then work hard. But now there was a dream that consisted of a single voice, low murmurs, floating around him. Soft. Feminine.
"Oh, come on," the voice whispered. "Come to me."
There it was again.
"That's it, love. Come on. Please? Come to me. Now."
No pictures, no images, just him listening, drifting, waiting, the sound tingling through his body, giving him pleasure.
"Good, good." The whisper floated softly. "That's it. Come on, baby, that's it. Closer, closer."
The voice was seeping into his being, making him ache for more, then it was gone. He woke suddenly, not sure what had just happened. But his heart was pounding in his chest. He took shallow, rapid breaths while he stared up into the shadows overhead, trying to let go of the dream.
He shifted onto his side, wide-awake now, but froze when he saw a dull glow coming over the partial wall that divided the sleeping area from the kitchen. When he'd come in, he had turned on the overhead lights to get oriented, showered, then turned off all the lights and climbed into the king-size bed. The only things he'd left on were the fax machine and computer, waiting for incoming messages. Now a light was on in the kitchen. He heard a shuffling sound, then a faint clink.
Someone was there.
Zane? Matthew Terrell, the other CEO?
Rita somethingor-other who worked for both men? He looked at the clock and the glowing LED panel read 2:13 a.m. No, Zane wouldn't be here at this time. Zane wouldn't be anywhere, but with his family. Neither would Matt or anyone else from LynTech.
He listened, heard another sound, a low humming and he moved. He stood, grabbed his pants and shirt, putting them on quickly, forgoing his shoes, then debated his options. Call someone, stay quiet and hope whoever was there would leave, or go out and confront the trespasser.
He considered his options, then heard another soft sound, of a drawer being opened, then closed. He made his decision. The best thing to do was to get out of the loft without being seen, but be prepared just in case. He looked around in the shadow-darkened room for anything he could use as a weapon, and the best thing he could see was a lamp by the bed that looked solid. He reached for it, took off the shade and took out the bulb, then unplugged it and wrapped the cord around the base that felt like rough stone.
He held it like a club and it felt heavy and solid. Cautiously, he approached the door that led into the main living area of the loft. He paused, trying to remember the layout of the loft. Basically one cavernous space, divided into areas by six-foot high walls that came short of touching the lofty ceilings by at least another six feet. Polished hardwood floors, rough white plastered walls, plain furnishings, just two sprawling navy couches, a television in a unit on the far wall, a few tables, some stacked boxes, no carpets that he remembered. The communications-work area took up most of the back wall, on a twelve-foot table set up under high louvered windows, and framed by towering floor-to-ceiling windows on either side.
Simple and clear. He just had to get to the door without being noticed. He cautiously looked out into the main space, and knew luck was with him. Whoever had broken in had left the front door open enough for a thin sliver of light from the corridor to cut into the room. He glanced to his left, to the glow of a light beyond the partial wall that defined the kitchen area. Carefully, he eased into the space, staying as close to the wall as he could while he slowly made his way to the right and the escape of the open door.
He'd gone only a few feet when he heard something that stopped him in his tracks. The voice. The one from his dreams. This time it was softly singing a song he vaguely remembered from somewhere in the past, maybe an old Bob Dylan song or some folk song? A simple melody sung in a breathy whisper. Then the song stopped when the voice said softly, "So, you don't like music, huh? Oh, well."
There was no response. Just the voice again, "Okay, okay, I get the idea." Followed by a low chuckle. "I'll stop."
The idea of going out the entry door was forgotten and Jack found himself moving silently toward the kitchen, the lamp base firmly gripped. The voice. He'd been right. A feminine voice. A woman, and she seemed to be talking to herself or maybe on the telephone. He didn't have a clue if there was a phone line in the kitchen. He lifted the lamp base slightly as he approached the wall, then looked into the kitchen area.
He saw the owner of the voice that had invaded his dreams, the person who invaded the loft. It didn't make sense. She was tiny, definitely alone, not more than an inch over five feet tall, maybe one hundred pounds soaking wet and she had her back to him as she leaned forward over something on the counter. She looked tiny in an oversize T-shirt fashioned in brilliant, tie-dyed colors of reds, blues and yellows. Her hair, so blond it was almost silver, fell long and straight down her back, almost to her waist, and her feet were bare. There was something at her slender ankle, jewelry of some sort.
Whatever fear he'd had at the intrusion was gone, replaced by curiosity and something else. He just watched, intrigued.
Her hands shifted to her hips. "Okay, bud, you're on your own," she said a little louder now, but the voice didn't lose any of its silk-mess.
This was ridiculous, standing here, watching, listening. He made himself move farther into the room, still gripping the lamp base, and he made himself speak up. "What's going on?" he demanded.
She jerked around, her long hair flowing like a veil, then she was facing him. If the voice had been disturbing, looking into huge brown eyes set in a delicately boned face, seeing full lips softly parted in surprise and watching her rapid breathing, stunned him. His jumbled thoughts and spontaneous responses were so unlike anything he'd experienced before with any woman, that he was literally frozen to the spot. He simply stared at her.
When Rain Armstrong heard that voice, she spun around. Her heart pounded against her ribs, and she couldn't take a decent lungful of air to save her life. Fear choked her and she had to blink twice before she could make out a man not more than six feet from her in the shadowed kitchen. A man who had appeared out of nowhere in a loft that was supposed to have been deserted.
All she could do was stare at him, tall and lean, standing by the entrance, half lost in the fringe shadows of the space. She could tell that he totally blocked any means of escape. He had something in his right hand, something that look ominously heavy and lethal, raised as if ready to strike her.
Even though she couldn't move, her mind raced. Get out! she screamed in her head. Just get out any way you can! But she didn't know how to do that. The only weapon she had was the can opener she had been using to open the cat food, and it was hardly a weapon.
He took a single step toward her. "I asked what's going on? What are you doing in here?"
She swallowed hard. "Wh-what are you doing in here?"
"You first," he muttered as he took another step forward.
She tried to back up, but her waist hit the counter behind her. She darted a look past him, the space between him and the door rapidly expanding. Maybe she could get around him before he could react. But then again, maybe he'd just hit her with the thing in his hands. He was tall, a good foot taller than she, somewhere in his mid to late thirties, and she could see he was fit. His angular face was partially shadowed in the dim light, but she could see the slash of dark brows over hooded eyes, a slightly crooked nose, all framed by dark hair, short and somewhat spiked.
She saw the way his hand held the weapon, and she hated the fact she didn't have a clue where the knives were located. She shifted slightly, ready to just make a run for it, but she never got the chance. Joey, the orange tabby cat she'd come to feed, had made his way to the top of the wall between the kitchen and living area, and right then, the huge beast launched himself at the intruder. The man must have sensed something coming, because he started to turn in the direction of the attacking cat, but he couldn't do a thing to protect himself before there was impact.
The cat hit him in the shoulder and chest, sending him off balance, and for a moment man and cat were suspended in midair flying to Rain's right. Then there was a crashing sound as the man hit the floor, mixed with a loud shout. The cat immediately launched himself off of the man, up and onto the counter in one smooth move.
It was Rain's chance to escape, and she took it, but she'd only taken one step before her foot struck something hard and cold. She pitched forward, flailing to get her balance, but fell straight into the prone stranger.
There was the scent of soap and maleness, and a sense of strength. That scared her. She quickly pushed as hard as she could, sending herself back and away from the contact, hitting the wooden floor and ending up on her knees. She sat back on her heels, pushed her tangled hair out of her face. Whatever chance she had of escape was gone.