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Sasha Todd stood ramrod-straight and narrowed her eyes as she studied the man standing near the bumper cars talking to a group of teenage girls. Unease rippled up her spine. Was one of them his daughter? Or was the son of a bitch edging in on forbidden territory? Uncrossing her arms, she pulled back her shoulders and strode forward, suppressed anger burning hot in her stomach.
When she was two feet away from them, one of the girls gave a delighted shriek and threw her arms around the man's neck. "Thanks, Daddy. You're the best."
He laughed. "You're welcome, sweetheart. Now behave yourselves. I'll be back at nine-thirty to pick you up."
The girl untangled herself from her father's embrace and waved, linking arms with her friend, her father's generous wad of spending money clutched in her hand. Her father stared fondly after her, before pulling a bunch of keys from his pocket and heading toward the fairground gates. Sasha released her held breath, heat pinching her cheeks.
She couldn't deny the proud smile he wore was one of a father who adored and cared for his little girl.
She sent silent thanks to God, relieved that her continual paranoia had been proven unsubstantiated once again. Happiness relaxed her shoulders, and she smiled as she surveyed the domain that would soon be entirely hers, excitement washing through her. She rounded one of the three Funland burger stands and came to an abrupt stop, her eyebrows rising in appreciation.
"Well, hello there." She casually appraised the handsome stranger standing at the Ferris wheel.
His dark, glossy hair and the gray five-o'clock shadow that brushed his jaw caught her interest.. but it was the muscular forearms revealed beneath the rolled-up sleeves of his checked shirt, and the undoubtedly strong thighs covered with faded denim that reeled her in all the way.
Dance music pulsed from the loudspeakers at the corners of the bumper cars, and screams emanated from the roller coaster hurtling along the tracks above. Sasha's heart rate hitched higher. Lordy, the man was built. Inhaling a deep breath, she wandered closer under the pretense of cool nonchalance.
Tomorrow she'd face Kyle Jordon's asshole second-in-command and begin the task of taking back the fair from Kyle's criminal hands-but for tonight, she wanted some personal time. Some time to release the pressure of having to endure years of silent frustration. Frustration that had built to bursting if her earlier, misconstrued, father/daughter exchange was anything to go by.
She smiled. If everything went to plan, the fair would finally soon be back in the Todd family after Kyle had maliciously stolen it from her dying grandfather when he was in his most vulnerable and desperate state.
Exhaling, she concentrated on the satisfying sight of the stranger's taut ass. She tossed her hair over her shoulders, enjoying a rare rush of power. He stared up at the Ferris wheel as it slowly worked its romantic magic around the couples swinging to and fro in the brightly colored carriages. His jaw was a hardened line as he intently studied the ride. The man looked as though he wanted to spit at the joviality of it.
As she drew closer, the stiff set of his shoulders and the fisted hands at his hips swayed Sasha's confidence. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. She glanced up at the ride. What if his girlfriend was up there alone and avoiding him? Or worse, up there with a new lover? A guy pitching for a fight was the last thing she needed added to her already teetering pile of problems.
Her smile dissolved and she shrugged on her manager persona. A potential fight brewing gave her no choice but to step in and cool the simmering fire before it had time to set fully alight. Sidling up beside him, she gave a loud, theatrical cough.
He turned, and his dark blue eyes coolly pinned her to the spot. She forced herself to stand still as his gaze languidly glided over her face, lingering for a moment at her lips. No smile lifted the corners of his mouth. No softness seeped into his hardened study.
She smiled even as her stomach knotted. "Hi."
He continued to stare.
Okay, so he's got that sexy, broody thing going on, but since when does a guy-any guy-leave me speechless? Say something
"Well, you're all sorts of angry, aren't you?" Great, Sasha. Just poetic.
He lifted an eyebrow and turned his focus back to the ride.
She frowned and glared at his profile, feeling like an idiot. The guy needed to take a serious chill pill. Did he think he had a monopoly on being pissed off? Wakey, wakey, mister, the entire human race holds a grudge of one kind or another.
"I was only trying to make conversation. If you don't want to talk to me, that's fine." She shrugged. "I haven't seen you before and, as I'm the person running things around here, I thought you might appreciate a friendly word, a kind welcome. My name's Sasha-"
"I know who you are."
She stiffened. The deep, smooth lilt of his upper-class English voice filled her with equal measures of attraction and warning. "Pardon me?"
He faced her and crossed his arms across his broad chest. "You're Sasha Todd, exceptionally pretty and svelte manageress of this fairground, known so lovingly as Funland. You work for Kyle Jordon. Although, while Kyle's currently boarding at Her Majesty's pleasure in prison, you are undoubtedly forced to answer to his bull mastiff of a lapdog, the wonderfully charming and partially toothed Freddy Campton. Am I right?"
Sasha crossed her arms, mimicking his stance as irritation simmered inside her. "Yes, but who-"
"How do you feel about that, Miss Todd?"
"Moreover, how are you going to feel knowing that from tomorrow, you'll be answering to me and not him?"
Sasha froze as his words filtered through her mind. What the hell did he just say? She uncrossed her arms and splayed her hands on her hips. "Is this some kind of joke?"
A flicker of amusement lit his eyes before he blinked and they turned cold once more. "No joke. From tomorrow you'll be reporting to me."
Panic and disbelief hurtled through her. Who the hell does this guy think he is? She huffed out a laugh. "I don't think so. Who are you?"
"Your new boss."
She grinned, hoping it would coerce some semblance of a smile to his lips and make him tell her he was kidding. "Very funny. You're a funny guy, Mr.-"
"You don't believe me?" His face remained un-nervingly impassive.
Okay, enough was enough. "I asked you who you are. If you want to toss a revelation like that at me, the least you can do is tell me your name. Not that I'm likely to believe a word you say after this slightly creepy performance."
He uncrossed his arms and offered his hand, which she took without thinking. His hand enveloped hers. Warm, smooth and unnervingly large. Why did she have the sudden and unwelcome suspicion nothing about this guy was small or weak?
"John Jordon." He shook her hand. "Nice to meet you."
She stared into his eyes, her heart picking up speed. No, no, no. She swallowed in an effort to bring some saliva back into her desert-dry mouth. "Jordon? Are you telling me you're Kyle's son? His brother?"
She scowled as anger shot through her body with the speed of a freight train. Frustration and the enormity of what this meant turned her vision pink with rage. She slowly eased her hand from his and fisted her hair back from her face. "Well?"
"I'm his son."
She closed her eyes, struggling to maintain her equilibrium and not freak out. "As far as I was aware Kyle doesn't have a son or a brother." She opened her eyes. "I don't believe you."
His gaze locked on hers for a moment before it shot toward the crowds of people walking around the fair, laughing and shouting without a care in the world. "I'm his son whether you want to believe it or not." He met her eyes. "And I'll be here running things for the foreseeable future. So the sooner we get acquainted, the better."
"Get acquainted?" She laughed as her shaky self-control snapped. "You have no idea, do you? No damn idea whatsoever."
The anger dissolved from his eyes and was replaced with wary confusion. "About what? This place?"
"About everything. You need to go."
His brow furrowed as he stared. "That won't be happening anytime soon, I'm afraid."
Trembling, Sasha walked backward, opening the space between them. She shook her head. "You can't do this. You can't do this to me. Not now."
His frown deepened. "Do what?"
She waved her hand at him. "Do this. Turn up here. Say these things. I won't let you do this."
"I'm leaving." Her mind raced and her body felt strangely numb. "This isn't happening."
He put his hand out as if to touch her, hesitated and then dropped it to his side. "Wait. Just wait."
The stiff set of his shoulders slumped. "Maybe we should start-"
Sasha fled. She resolutely fought the tears that burned her eyes and blurred the crowds in front of her as she shouldered her way through. Her breathing grew labored and she rasped as if she had sharpened needles inside her chest. John Jordon. Kyle Jordon's son. He was going to take her fair. It was his. Not hers. Never hers.
She choked back a sob as the green, wrought-iron gates of the fairground came into view. Stumbling, she gripped them, shook them, wanting to rip them from their hinges. A scream gathered momentum, burning the back of her throat, and she dropped her head against the gate. Damn you, Kyle Jordon. Damn you to hell.
The gentle, firm grip of a male hand on her shoulder spun Sasha around. Her heart thundered as she stood poised for a fight. Under the light above them, John Jordon's eyes were soft with concern, the sculpted lines of his previously inscrutable expression somehow tamer.
She closed her eyes, stopping her traitorous tears in their tracks. "Just do me a favor and go away. Back to wherever the hell it is you came from."
"I'm sorry, I can't do that." John slipped both his hands into his back pockets. The last thing he wanted to do was touch her. Liar.
He knew she wanted the fair, but no part of him had expected the raw hurt and panic that showed so clearly in her eyes. This wasn't a woman prepared to do whatever it takes-this was a woman who was hurt.. and angry.
For a long moment, she neither moved nor spoke. Just stayed where she was. Her slender shoulders, smooth and naked, rose and fell above the fitted confines of her bright yellow halter top. He struggled to drag his eyes from the length of her jet-black hair that fell in two gloriously thick sheets over her breasts.
He'd seen her from a distance all day and felt nothing. Yet, the moment she stood close, the full impact of her stunningly dark eyes and full, smiling mouth zipped a bullet through his chest.
He cleared his throat. "Miss Todd?"
Her sigh was loud and tired. She straightened and tipped her head back and looked directly at him. The tiny smudges of makeup beneath her eyes smacked John in the chest. God damn it. She'd been crying. He pulled back his shoulders and tightened his jaw. No, he had to be stronger than this. While he was in Templeton he couldn't be the man who looked out for everyone. He had to do what he came to do and then go home. "Look, maybe I shouldn't have delivered the news that way, but-"
"Are you here to take over from where your dad left off?" Her eyes were wide and cold. "That's all I want to know right now. Everything else I'll deal with tomorrow."
John ran his hand over his face. Tomorrow, he'd be better prepared, too. Her explosion had knocked him off-kilter, making him care. Tomorrow, he'd have it under control. He crossed his arms. "Yes."
"You're taking over the fair?"
She glanced past him toward the rides and noisy chaos of the fairground. Her jaw clenched. "I never even knew you existed." She met his eyes. "Kyle never mentioned a son to me or anyone else, as far as I remember."
John held her gaze, silently absorbing her unintentional insult.
Her eyes narrowed as she studied him; an intelligent light flickered brighter and then faded into their gorgeous depths. "None of my business, right? How did I know that was coming?" She gave a wry laugh. "Jesus, like father like son."
He flinched. She might as well have punched him in the gut. "I'm nothing like my father."
She lifted an eyebrow. "So you say. From the five minutes I've spent with you, you've already managed to piss me off as much as he did every damn day he was here." She raised her hands in defeat. "I'm going home. I'll see you tomorrow."
When she moved to brush past him, John touched her arm, stopping her. "I'd like to see you in the office first thing."
She looked pointedly at his hand on her forearm.
He released her, and she raised her chin. "Oh, I'll be there. I'll be there with freaking bells on."
She stalked away from him. He released a low whistle from between pursed lips as his gaze glued onto the soft curve of her butt encased in black denim.
John's father had described Sasha Todd as a ballsy, tough broad in need of a firm hand. He'd warned John to be wary of her. In the blink of an eye, she could be all soft femininity with the patrons, but in reality she was a fiery, spitting alley cat. He'd said that soft side of her was an act-the real Sasha Todd was apparently a hard-nosed businesswoman.
Two personalities-that's what Kyle had said. Two personalities, each as scary as the other.
John drew in a long breath. Well, clearly he had a fight on his hands, but that was just fine by him. After years of self-control, of conservative containment within the walls of a private boarding school, Oxford University and then his own classroom, this teacher was ready to let off some steam.
He scowled as he strode back inside the fairground. If Sasha Todd thought she could direct any of her pissiness at him and come away unscathed, she'd better think again.
Like she said, he was Kyle Jordon's son, and even though the bastard had abandoned him years ago- and now had the gall to ask for his help-little did she or Kyle know what John intended to do about it. John glanced around his father's domain. A fairground used as a cover for his illegal dealings-a place for kids and teenagers. The man was scum.
John scowled. Kyle might have thought it was time for a father-and-son reconciliation, but his son had other ideas. At last, John knew where Kyle was after years of speculation and silence. When his father finally made contact just six short weeks ago, he'd clearly thought the path to father/son love would be simple and John would want the riches and immorality his father thrived on. Unfortunately for Daddy Dearest, that was just the sort of perilous miscalculation that occurred when a parent vanished, leaving their children to drift through life without them.
John smiled. One way or another he'd right his father's wrongs while royally screwing Kyle over and leaving the son of a bitch without a penny to his damn name.