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From the Publisher"...filled with laughter, warmth and love, while featuring a smooth blend of talent"
-RT Book Reviews on WINE AND ROSES (Sweet Sensation, Carmen Green)
Love Changes Everything by Sandra Kitt
Carter Morrison is a changed man. Grace Haley never imagined that her late husband's best friend would turn into the improved man she now sees. And when he ...
Love Changes Everything by Sandra Kitt
Carter Morrison is a changed man. Grace Haley never imagined that her late husband's best friend would turn into the improved man she now sees. And when he asks her for a little Valentine's Day advice, she'll discover a longing deep in her heart.
Sweet Sensation by Carmen Green
Nessie Claiborne only wants to make her firm's annual Valentine's Day charity extravaganza a success. But the moment she tries to work with handsome, sensible executive Craig DuPont, she finds her impractical ideas and his hidden longings are producing a love affair neither expected.
Made in Heaven by Felicia Mason
Val Sanders doesn't believe in romance or love at first sight. Then she receives a gift certificate for a dating service and meets Eric Fitzgerald, the sexy bachelor owner. Has Eros loosed an arrow one headed straight for Val's heart?
"Yes, Brian. I'm here."
"I thought I'd let you know what's going on. We have a few problems."
Grace Haley moved slowly and unnoticed on the periphery of the crowded party as she answered the call on her walkie-talkie. She was on duty at the evening gala, overseeing the arrangements and details, while three hundred formally dressed guests were occupied with boisterous conversation and laughter. Their collective joie de vivre was fueled by several open bar stations, as well as unlimited glasses of champagne being served by a circulating waitstaff. The din was so loud that the music of the quartet playing at one end of the hall could barely be heard. Grace pressed her earphone tightly to hear above the noise.
"Go ahead," she said, talking as discreetly as she could, hoping not to draw attention to herself.
"The ladies' room outside the hall is out. I'll have to close it off until maintenance can deal with a malfunctioning stall."
"Get a sign up as soon as you can. We'll reassign the men's room to the ladies for the rest of the night and direct the men to the lower-level restrooms."
"And let the attendants on duty know ASAP about the change so they can inform guests looking for the facilities."
"I've already notified the supervisor "
Grace positioned herself in the shadow of the Ionic pillars just inside the entranceway to the hall, where a meet-and-greet reception was being held for employees and guests of a large financial institution. She'd passed by several times, checking out the arriving guests. She was familiar with the sponsoring company and knew one of the employees from an affiliate office.
From where she stood, she could also take in most of the main hall and the attendees. Her gaze roamed absently over the gathering. In a brief parting of several people across the open space, she suddenly caught a fleeting glimpse of a tall black male guest and did a double take. A sudden stomach spasm signaled recognition. Then she lost sight of him.
"Sorry, Brian. Say that again," Grace instructed, searching for that face that had stirred to life part of her past, giving rise to disturbing and conflicting feelings within her.
"I said one of the corporate bigwigs wanted to know if the guests could walk through the exhibits on the main floor. I told them it wasn't possible because there wasn't adequate security on duty to cover those areas."
"Good response, but tell the attendants to keep an eye out, anyway. So far, everything seems to be going well," Grace commented while she began her slow patrol again. She observed the guests intently, even as she wondered if she'd imagined what she thought she'd seen.
"We've had the usual stuff happen. Spilt drinks and squashed canapes, glasses and plates left all over the place.
Somebody got sick near the corridor to Gallery 3, but it's been cleaned up."
"Thanks," Grace said, giving up her search. She'd made a mistake. "I'll be outside the rotunda as the guests are directed to dinner. I'll notify the caterers to begin breaking down the bar as soon as the hall is empty. Is that everything?"
"Caught a couple who'd sneaked into one of the exhibition halls."
"Nothing embarrassing, I hope."
Grace watched as a tuxedoed staffer from the communications office maneuvered his way to her, silently indicating a need to talk with her.
"I'm told it was limited to kissing and hugging."
"Brian, hold on a minute. What is it?" she asked the staffer.
"Sorry to interrupt. There's someone who says he'd like to speak with you. He's over there."
He pointed, but all Grace could see was a densely packed group of people engaged in their own conversations.
"He didn't say."
"Did he give you his name?"
"No, but I think I can take you to him."
Grace shook her head. If it was important, if it was who she thought, he'd find her again. She held up her hand to the staffer.
"I can't leave now. If you see the gentleman again, give him my apologies. Maybe Steve Milton can help him. Steve should be with the caterers."
"I'll go check," the staffer said as he walked away. At that moment she could hear a gong being sounded to signal to the guests that they were to proceed to another hall for the formal sit-down dinner.
Grace spoke again into her walkie-talkie. "Brian, I have to go."
"One more thing. Security has calculated that there are probably fifty to seventy-five more attendees than the guest list allowed for. I had two of my staff using counters as people checked in."
"Review the numbers, and give the development office a head count in the morning. Let them decide what to do about any added expense."
When Grace finished relaying instructions, she was already in motion, hurrying off to make sure the guests were being properly ushered into dinner. She tried not to let her attention wander.
She stood to the side as the main hall emptied and the guests filed past her into the rotunda. She allowed herself a few moments to study the beautifully dressed women while indulging in a private game of picking out the dresses she liked the best. She smiled to herself as she also realized that she no longer had occasion to wear anything so elegant. While she was nicely dressed in a simple, black, cocktail-length dress appropriate for the event, she certainly couldn't compete with the glamorous women guests decked out in expensive designer gowns.
It took almost twenty minutes for everyone to find their table and then covertly switch places with one another as invariably happened. The caterers then served the first course, offering each guest a choice of red or white wine with dinner. The noise dropped to a low hum, and Grace breathed a sign of relief. She'd managed to keep things moving through half the evening without any serious mishap or griping by the sponsors.
Part of Grace went into a new alert mode as she took in the seated guests. She resisted the urge to try and identify any one person. Ten minutes into the first course, she signaled for the attention of a technician, waiting discreetly behind a screen with the audio-visual equipment to make sure the microphones were ready for use.
At one of three main tables where the corporate higherups and their wives were prominently seated, one man suddenly stood up. Grace automatically turned her attention to him. The lights were very low, and the room was softly illuminated by cleverly designed centerpiece candles on each table. She could not see his features clearly but didn't need to. She experienced instant recognition and a feeling that was akin to fight or flight. Grace was quickly able to overcome the surprise factor and had time to compose herself before she heard him call out her name.
Someone else did the same from several feet away. Grace turned around as the catering supervisor approached to request instructions on what to do with the leftover food and the extra bottles of liquor. When she'd finished conversing with him, she pivoted slowly and found herself face-to-face with the man who'd called from across the dinner hall.
She lost her sense of time and place. She remained controlled, but her smile was stiff, her hands cold. She rested her gazed upon him, cold and distant.
His dark eyes were watchful and discerning. His wide mouth showed signs of a smile. His brows were black and finely arched over discerning eyes that watched her through thin, wireless glasses that were almost undetectable until he was right in front of her. His skin was a rich earth brown, and his face was clean-shaven, with masculine contours and angles. Grace kept her gaze on his face but avoided direct eye contact. Finally, in self-defense, she resurrected those impressions she'd formed of him at their first meeting, some eight years ago. She held those memories up like an invisible shield, as if he was somehow a danger to her.
He tucked his chin as he thoughtfully considered her. "Why do I get the feeling you were trying to avoid me?"
His voice was confident. Although strong and deep, Grace knew that it could also be very quiet, a steadying force. Ignoring his astute observation, however, she hid her embarrassment behind a smile.
"Carter. My goodness. What are you doing here?"
"First thing's first," he said. "How about a proper hello?"
Grace started sharply, thinking he was going to embrace her right there in the hall. Instead, he merely bent forward to kiss her on a cheek.
"I know you're working, but I don't think that was too out of line."
She stood stiffly at his greeting, feeling the warm imprint of his lips on her skin, lips that momentarily quickened her breathing. "It doesn't matter. By tomorrow someone will ask me, 'who was that man?'"
"And your answer?" he baited smoothly.
"I'll say you're a family friend whom I wasn't expecting to see," she said indifferently. She could tell that he was monitoring her reaction to him. "But to get back to my question—"
Carter stretched his arms out to the sides so that she might see how he was dressed. "I was invited. I'm one of the guests."
Grace gave him a quick up and down glance. She'd seen him in a tuxedo before. He did it justice, appearing not only urbane and sophisticated, but with an air of authority that could be intimidating. It had taken her a while to learn he could be otherwise.
"A guest? You mean you flew in from Chicago just for the evening?"
He slipped his hands into the pockets of his formal slacks. "More than just an evening. Actually, I'm in New York for about ten days to take care of business."
"Really. Where are you staying?" She couldn't help asking.
"Through my company, I have guest privileges at a mid-town club." He took a moment to study her features and said quietly, "I thought of calling to let you know I would be in."
"Checking up on me?" Grace shook her head. "You don't have to do that. I'm doing fine, and I know you're busy. You do have a life that has nothing to do with Benson and his family. And he's been gone three years."
He nodded, considering her words. "I know that. But, like you just said, I am a family friend. I'd like to stay in touch.
I'd like to—"
Grace put her hand out to stop him, taking a deep breath. "Look you're here for a party. I can't keep you standing here, and I'm supposed to be working. Please, go back inside and finish dinner. I've got things to take care of ."
"You're right. I don't want you to get in trouble on my account." Carter put his hand around her elbow for a brief moment, squeezing it before releasing her. "I'll catch up with you later."
Throughout the rest of the evening, Grace found herself constantly distracted and a little off balance owing not only to Carter Morrison's sudden appearance, but also to the one unsettling memory she'd retained from their last encounter. It had been at the memorial service for her late husband, Benson.
Grace now moved briskly, not giving herself any more time to let her mind or attention slip into reflection, or to process the fact that Carter was not only in New York, but would be here for nearly two weeks. She oversaw the timely cleanup and dismantling of the bar. She accepted the praise of one of the corporate honchos, who was pleased with the level of service from her staff. Of course, Grace had to put his comments in perspective, given the distinct possibility that he may have had too much to drink, or was expecting her institution to concede another favor.
But for the rest of the night, there was no denying that a part of her was absorbed by the presentations, speeches, laughter and applause that flowed out from the guests dining in the rotunda. She was surprised when Carter was introduced to accept an award. She stood listening to his humorous acceptance speech, which drew laughter and applause. Also evident was the effortless way Carter showed himself as someone who could be trusted. Nonetheless, later, as the guests trickled out of the rotunda after dinner, she made a point of being someplace else.
After nearly everyone had left, one of the female guards approached Grace as she talked over the evening with her coworker, Brian. The guard was holding a square glass vase with an exotic arrangement of hothouse flowers. They had been part of the decoration for the night.
"I saved this for you, Ms. Haley," said the chubby woman as she smiled at Grace.
"Carmen, you know we're supposed to leave everything for the night crew to clean up."
Carmen made a dismissive face. "Why should they get everything? You know they are not going to throw out these beautiful flowers and the vase. They're going to take 'em home. The way I figure, it's like taking the centerpiece home when you go to a wedding reception, right?"
Grace laughed but still didn't accept the arrangement being held out to her. "Why don't you keep them? I'll pretend you didn't say anything to me about it."
"I already got one," Carmen said conspiratorially.
"Carmen, I really don't think I should. How will it look if the events coordinator for the society is caught sneaking off with the floral arrangements? Even if it were okay, I can't take those home with me on the train."
"Tell you what. Don't worry about it, okay? If you come into your office in the morning, and there happens to be this big thing of flowers on your desk, you can act surprised and say you have a secret admirer or something like that."
"Whatever." Grace gave in with a grin as Carmen walked away, carefully balancing the vase.
There was plenty to take care of, and Grace was glad that her duties kept her away from the exit and the departing guests. She reasoned that she wasn't really avoiding Carter, but that she was fulfilling her responsibilities for the evening. When she finally switched from black, high-heeled pumps to her winter boots and put on a stylish black wool overcoat, Grace realized she had a mere thirty-five minutes to catch her commuter train. She said good-night to the last of the cleanup staff and exited the building through a side security door.
Despite the late hour, there was plenty of traffic on the Midtown Manhattan street, and Grace had no qualms about walking the six blocks to Grand Central Station alone. But she'd gone no more than a few yards when the driver's door of a town car double-parked near the corner suddenly opened and out stepped Carter.
Grace slowed her steps, astonished to see him again.
"You're not waiting for me, are you?" she asked.
"Are you done for the night?"