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By Barbara Wallace, Rima Jean, Alethea Spiridon Hopson
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2012 Barbara Wallace
All rights reserved.
Daniel Moretti tossed the gossip magazine on his desk, scowling at the young actress clinging possessively to her new director's arm. He made a note to cancel Valerie Pinochet's line of credit. Let her new director pick up the tab for her extravagance. His now-ex-girlfriend straying didn't surprise him one bit.
"Sir," a male voice interrupted. "Your eleven o'clock appointment is here."
He swiveled back and forth in his chair, not bothering to reply to his intercom. The benefit of being Daniel Moretti was that he could make people wait while he did more important things.
Valerie's picture shouldn't have put him in such a sour mood. He gave the magazine another shove, and sent a small pile of papers fluttering from his desk. With a frustrated sigh, he walked around to retrieve them from their Oriental nesting ground, freezing when he saw the ivory invitation lying there.
Now here was something to put him in a bad mood. Mr. and Mrs. William Ferncliff Cordially Invite You to Join Them as They Celebrate Their Twenty-fifth Wedding Anniversary. He brushed his finger across the raised type. Talk about superficial women. His mother trumped them all.
The party was this weekend. He didn't know why he was bothering to attend, except that William had been sort of decent to him. And who knew Mother would ever make it twenty-five years? It was a testimony to William's stamina, as well as his wallet. He should skip the event. Would his family even notice? Of course they would — as soon as the press asked his mother where he was. That was the downside to being Daniel Moretti. He seldom escaped public notice.
"Mr. Moretti?" The voice on the intercom sounded again. "Are you ready to see Professor Doherty now?"
Ah, yes, the persistent Charlotte Doherty. He leaned over and jabbed the speaker button with a sigh. "Yes, Doug, send her in."
Fingering the invitation, he walked toward the windows that lined one wall of his office and looked out. In the distance spread Boston Harbor, whitecaps dappling the blue Atlantic surface; that he stood on the top floor of one of the city's tallest buildings was no accident. All those people who wanted a piece of him had to climb up. It was the office space equivalent to keeping your back to the wall.
He loved watching the ocean; he envied its freedom and unpredictability. On the horizon, a jet rose slowly, steadily, cutting across the hazy September sky. A hurricane was working its way up the East Coast, but the Boston skyline remained calm, serene. Behind him, his office door opened and shut. He didn't bother turning around.
"I appreciate you seeing me," a soft voice said.
"Well, Bob Wharton and I go way back," he said, still watching the jet. "And he asked me to do him this favor. I admit, though, I'm intrigued by your need to meet with me face-to-face. What exactly does an expert on Sam Adams want from me?"
He turned around and his next sentence died in his throat.
The woman standing in his office wasn't the dowdy, scholarly college professor he expected. To begin with, she wore emerald green. A shimmery, silky sundress that turned her body into a long stretch of curves. Before he could stop himself, his eyes traveled down those curves and over a pair of shapely calves. She stood ramrod straight and still, briefcase by her side, one foot set in front of the other, looking more like she was poised to walk down a runway than do business. It made for a very enticing picture.
"John Adams." Her voice was low but even, like a person used to being listened to.
"My book is about John Adams, the second president of the United States. Sam Adams was his cousin."
"My mistake." He sauntered to his desk. Her book could be about Pete Adams for all he cared. Some long-winded tome about the American Revolution wasn't on his reading list, best seller or not.
He settled into his chair and motioned for her to take a seat. She moved like a model, too, he noticed. Fluidly, one hip at a time. He wondered how long it took for her to perfect such grace. When she sat down and crossed her legs demurely at the ankles, Daniel found himself slightly disappointed. He'd hoped for a better view of her legs.
"So what does an expert on John Adams want from me?" he asked.
"Do you appreciate the past, Mr. Moretti?"
"Only so much as it prevents me from repeating mistakes. Otherwise, I prefer to deal in the present."
"But the past helps illuminate the present, don't you think? We all need context. At least I believe we do."
"Which is why you're the historian," he noted drily.
Her eyes matched her dress. He wondered if she was wearing tinted contact lenses because that shade of green was too rich to be natural.
It was also incredibly distracting.
He cut to the chase. "Bob told me you had a business request, Professor. What is it? Are you looking for a donation? Support for some new historical foundation or to save some landmark? I already give quite generously to the Boston Historical Society, thanks to Bob's arm-twisting."
"I'm here about 219 Craymore Road."
He didn't answer.
"The Craymore Farm. In Midvale," she continued, as if to fill in the blanks for him.
Daniel knew the address. He knew every piece of property he owned. This particular piece of land consisted of an old farm sitting on one hundred fifty acres of prime residential real estate.
He pursed his lips. "What about it?" His people hadn't mentioned any problems with historical landmarks. Something better not have fallen through the cracks.
"You purchased it a couple weeks ago. From my brother."
"I purchased it from an estate."
"My brother represented that estate."
She pulled a stack of papers from her briefcase and presented them on his desk. "You see, that property's been in my family–my mother's family–since before the Revolution. Unfortunately, I was traveling all summer promoting my book and unaware of my brother's activities."
Daniel glanced at the documents fanned on his desk. They were mostly genealogical in nature, proof that the farm had been owned by a single family. He saw no legal documents or any other paperwork that might indicate a problem with the sale.
He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Professor, but I fail to see what this has to do with me. If you have a conflict with your brother, or didn't get your proper share of the sale price ..."
"You misunderstand. My brother had no business selling that property outside the family. I'm here to repurchase it."
"Really?" Her matter-of-fact assumption amused him. "What makes you think I would sell it back to you?"
"Because I'm willing to buy it, and considering the family history attached ..."
"I told you before, I don't put much stock in history, family or otherwise. The loss of one farm to one family doesn't mean much to me."
"I'm sure you'd think differently if it were your family," she remarked sharply.
"Professor, if it were my family, I'd help pack the moving van."
His words stopped her short. Obviously, she'd counted on the notion of familial loyalty to help her. Wrong gambit.
Pressing his fingers together, prayer-like, he moved in to end the conversation once and for all. "Even if I were willing to sell, Professor, I doubt you can meet my asking price. We're discussing prime property in a town where housing demands are at a premium." He planned to divide the land into housing lots. Even in a downturned economy, high-end neighborhoods in towns like Midvale were good investments.
"I didn't realize that was the case," she said.
"Do the math and see what kind of money we're discussing," he said. "Last time I checked, academia didn't pay that well. And, while your book might be on the best-seller list, it's still a nonfiction book from a small publisher. Hardly the stuff fortunes are made from."
The sparkle left her eyes and, for a moment, Daniel felt guilty about being so hard-nosed. But business was business. She must know that.
"To be brutally honest," he said, "your brother undersold. The land is worth at least three times what I paid for it."
"Three times," she said quietly.
"Like I said, I doubt you can meet my price."
"What makes you think that?"
He had to hand it to her — she didn't acknowledge defeat easily, but years of negotiating and fighting off his enemies taught him to recognize the signs. Like the hint of panic in her eyes when he mentioned the price or the way she tilted her chin ever so slightly before speaking, as if to keep her lower lip from quivering.
She looked down at her hands.
"I didn't think so." He gathered up her papers and left them on the edge of his desk for her to take. "I'm sorry we couldn't do business, Professor, but as they say, sometimes the past is best left in the past."
She continued to study her lap. "My mother grew up in that house." She spoke so softly Daniel wondered if she were talking to him.
"It's only a house."
"Oh, no, it's more than that. Much more. Are you sure we can't find some middle ground, Mr. Moretti? Perhaps some kind of arrangement ..."
"What kind of arrangement?"
"An installment plan, perhaps."
He had to chuckle. She was either very naïve or very ballsy. "I run a business, not a layaway plan."
"You couldn't make an exception for a special circumstance?"
"I also don't make exceptions. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have other business matters to take care of."
"Wait, please." A soft hand came down on his. Daniel could feel the contact all the way to his elbow. He looked up to find her staring plaintively at him. "There must be something I can do to convince you to change your mind."
Dear God, did her eyes have to be so green? He wanted to coolly dismiss Charlotte Doherty as he would any other pesky entrepreneur, but he couldn't. She looked so wide-eyed and dejected. He could almost hear the silent pleading she was trying so hard to hide from their depths. It made him feel like the bad guy in one of those old-fashioned melodramas. The cape-wearing villain twirling his mustache while the pretty, young maiden pleads that she'd do anything, anything to save the family farm from his clutches.
Or was that how he was supposed to feel? A bitter taste rose in his mouth as he pulled his hand away from hers. Her insistence on meeting face-to-face made sense. She had to know what those moisture-rimmed eyes would do to a man. And, if that failed, then there was the dress and those gorgeous long legs. She was waiting for his answer. "Mr. Moretti?"
Daniel squeezed his fist tight, his nails digging into his palm, their sting erasing the memory of her touch. Without realizing it, his gaze had switched to the discarded invitation on his desk. So Charlotte Doherty wanted to know if they could make some kind of arrangement, did she? Fine, he'd offer her an arrangement. He'd offer a doozy. A straight-up exchange of assets. If she wanted this farm as badly as she claimed, she'd accept.
"I'll tell you what," he said. "I'll sell back the land — at the price I paid your brother — on one condition. There has there to be something in this deal for me."
"Such as ...?"
"You. A weekend."
Her jaw dropped. "Excuse me?"
"Quid pro quo, Professor. You want something from me; I should get something in return. Something worth my while."
"And you think that something is me?"
Why not? Wasn't she pretty much offering herself a few seconds earlier? This way, they'd both get what they wanted without either of them maintaining the illusion that their relationship meant anything more to either of them. "I'm going to Nantucket this weekend. I'd like you to accompany me. You asked if there was anything you could do to change my mind. This is it. I have to attend an anniversary party on Saturday. I want you to come with me." He leaned back in his seat.
"Unbelievable." She folded her arms. "Is this how you get all your dates?"
"I don't need to go looking for women." His assets guaranteed they'd come looking for him. "However ..." His gaze darted to the magazine on his desk. "It seems I find myself without a companion this weekend, and while I could go alone, for business reasons, I prefer to be seen with someone. You're educated, well known enough to carry some social cachet. Not to mention, you're fairly attractive. You fit the bill."
She flashed him a smirk. "I have all my teeth, too."
"Good to know. I'm sure you have many attributes. I look forward to discovering them. Or rather, the ones I haven't seen yet."
He waited as she digested his offer. To her credit, she actually looked surprised and confused. One might almost believe she was taken off guard. "I can't believe you want me to date you for my family farm," she said, shaking her head.
"Not date. Attend a party. We're talking business here. You want a date, go online."
"Or grab up someone else's family legacy," she said.
"If you ever find yourself in that position, go ahead. In the meantime, we're talking about your farm this weekend. Do you want the deal or don't you?"
"Unbelievable." She stood up and began shoving papers back in her briefcase. "You know, I came to see you because Bob Wharton said you were a fair and honorable businessman. Apparently he was mistaken."
"I'll take that as a no." He rose and strolled back to the row of windows. "I'm sure you can see yourself out."
* * *
Charlotte glared at Daniel Moretti's back, unable to think of a proper reply. She settled for an exasperated groan between clenched teeth.
So it was a bit naïve of her to think he would sell her back the land. She had at least expected him to be proper and businesslike, not suggest she date him for it. Talk about a pompous jerk. No wonder he didn't have a date. Angry and disappointed, she gathered the last of her papers and prepared to leave.
This whole situation was Michael's fault. He never should have sold the land out from under her in the first place. She'd been sitting in a Seattle hotel room when she read the e-mail giving her the news. Coward that he was, he didn't dare call her.
"How could you?" she'd demanded, tracking him down at his office. "That farm's been in our family for generations. Why do you think Aunt Helen left it to us in the first place?"
"Aunt Helen left it to us because she didn't have anyone else," her brother had said. "I did what any good executor would do."
"Mom grew up on that farm."
"I know. And now she can do something for us, for once."
"You should have talked to me first."
"Why? To listen to you argue about family history and all that nonsense? Look, Mom didn't give two hoots about family. I got a good price for that cow pasture. Take your share and be grateful."
But she didn't want the money. She wanted that farm. So she came here and made a fool of herself with one of the country's richest men.
She gave one last look at the infamous Mr. Moretti. Dark hair, dark eyes, dark suit. Dark personality. He reminded her of the heroes in those Gothic novels, all brooding and formal and detached.
Not to mention angry. The emotion hummed beneath his cool exterior, like lava trapped in a volcano. She wondered what it was that made him so upset at the world.
And what would happen if he ever erupted.
Not that his feelings mattered to her. A reasonable business arrangement was out of the question; she'd have to find another way to undo her brother's actions. Perhaps a petition citing the historical ramifications.
"The farm's scheduled to be razed a week from tomorrow," he said as she reached the door.
The breath rushed from her lungs. A week from tomorrow. Eight days, and her last, best link to her mother would be gone forever. The emptiness hit her like a steam train. Her connection, her history ... her context ... wiped away as if it never existed.
What Daniel Moretti was suggesting was ludicrous. She couldn't go to Nantucket with him.
An image of the old white farmhouse with its faded green shutters and overgrown roses flashed before her eyes. She'd never been there as a young child, only as a teenager and later an adult. Her father never approved of her visits. He, like her brother, preferred to erase the memories of her mother. But not her. She'd sit for hours at the scarred kitchen table sipping weak lemonade and listening to her great-aunt ramble about the past. She got to know her mother when she was young and happy. The mother she always dreamed of. The mother who wanted her.
That farm made her mother real. Without it, she had nothing more than a handful of fading memories. And now, thanks to her brother and Daniel Moretti, her farm was slipping through her fingers.
The desperate feeling grew stronger. Charlotte hung her head. She didn't have much choice, did she? Not if she wanted to hang on to the last maternal tie she had.
"So who's this party for?"
He turned, obviously surprised she was still there. "My parents."
"You need an escort to go to your parents' anniversary party? What? Trying to impress Mommy and Daddy?"
"I don't need to impress anyone," he said. "As I said before, it looks better to have an appropriate companion. I assure you, however, I can muddle through alone."
"You act like you're doing me a favor," Charlotte said.
"Aren't I though?"
It sure didn't feel like it. She joined him at the window, wondering what it was he found so fascinating. All she saw was the harbor, which, though beautiful, hardly seemed enough to captivate a man like him. Maybe he was calculating the price per square foot.
Excerpted from Weekend Agreement by Barbara Wallace, Rima Jean, Alethea Spiridon Hopson. Copyright © 2012 Barbara Wallace. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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