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"Come on, come on, where are you," Joanna Butler muttered to herself as she turned and scanned the area for the umpteenth time. Crowded, then not crowded in alternating waves, the tiny Juneau airport had gotten crowded again. She stood in a walkway with her baggage all around her. People could get around her easily enough and she had no intention of moving one inch. She sighed heavily. She was tired, hungry and impatient. She had already spent almost an hour waiting for a man who obviously had no concept of time.
"Jo, if he's not there by now I think you should just turn around and come back," Pamela Gibson, her best friend and agent, said over the phone.
"No, I can't, I gave my word I'd finish this," she answered.
"Excuse me, you're blocking the entrance," a man's voice spoke from behind her. Without interrupting her phone conversation she stepped aside. "Other way," the voice instructed. Slightly annoyed, she turned and looked up. Tall, dark and gorgeous smiled down at her with an amused expression on his face. His voice was deep and rich and his smile was generous as his soft brown eyes sparkled.
"Good Lord," she muttered way too loudly, as her breath escaped her and her heart thumped solidly in her chest. She was greeted with a smile so sexy it weakened her knees.
He appeared to be about six feet three or so, with a rich, milk chocolate complexion. His jaw was slightly chiseled and perfectly complemented his high cheekbones and teasing single dimple. He was clean shaven with a hint of hair just below his lower lip. She watched his lips move. He said something but she had no idea what it was. His mouth was the best part, full and sensual. He sent instant, unexpected shivers through her body.
"Jo, is that him?" Pamela asked through the receiver.
"Hold on a minute, Pam," Jo said.
"Excuse me," he repeated coolly, with a slight smirk of enjoyment on his full lips. He was obviously amused by her expression and reaction. She shook her head but still didn't respond. "You're blocking the path," he said, pointing to the corridor behind her.
She turned around, then back to him. "Oh sure, of course, sorry," Jo said, pushing her luggage out of the way and blindly stepping backward. She was accidentally bumped by a rushing passerby and nearly tumbled forward. A split second later strong firm hands grabbed, held and steadied her. Pressed intimately close to what felt like heaven, Jo didn't protest since the speeding airport cart nearly clipped her leg. Seconds later she was released and she instantly felt her body object. Not paying attention, she had almost walked right into the cart's path. "Thanks," she said breathlessly.
"Anytime," he said, "are you okay?" She nodded then leaned back against him again. "Are you sure?" he asked, holding her securely once more.
"Yes, I'm sure, just a little shaken. Thank you." She looked up at him again and smiled. Suddenly he looked so familiar. "I know this sounds like a pick up line, but do we know each other?" she asked.
"No, I don't think so," he said, obviously amused.
"It's just that you look familiar." She shook her head. "Never mind, well, I guess I owe you for saving me."
"I guess you do," he said smiling.
"Joanna," she said, removing her glove and offering her hand to shake his.
"Nice to meet you Joanna, my friends call me Cannon."
"Cannon," she repeated, "that's an interesting name."
"Perhaps I'll tell you about its origin some time."
The seductive way he spoke left little to the imagination. They had definitely connected and the instant strong attraction between them was escalating. "I'd like that."
He nodded. "Are you here on business or pleasure?"
"Business, and you?" she asked.
"Business, but there's always time for a little pleasure."
"My sentiments exactly," she said smiling, enjoying his assertive directness and easygoing charm. "Are all Alaskan men as charming as you?"
"Sure," he joked, "it's in the water."
She laughed. "I'm waiting for a ride and it looks like I might have been stood up. Can I buy you a drink or coffee? It's the least I can do for the man who saved my life."
He looked around briefly. "Can I get a rain check?"
She nodded her understanding. "Sure, another time. Thanks again for saving me," she said, wanting to say more, but for some reason couldn't. He nodded and turned to leave.
She decided to take a chance. "Wait." A few feet away he stopped and turned back to her. "Here, for the rain check." She handed him her business card then watched as he proceeded down the corridor. A sly smile touched her lips.
When he held her she caught the scent of his clean, fresh aftershave. Now she inhaled deeply, savoring the last remnants of possibility. She couldn't remember the last time a man held her close, let alone made love to her with his eyes. She sighed. That's all she'd be getting for the next few weeks. She was on an assignment and that meant complete focus on the task at hand. But there was no harm in one last look. With as much discretion as humanly possible, she did exactly that.
Tall, dark and gorgeous, how do you not stare? He was dressed in straight leg jeans and an open neck white shirt with a sport coat, and he moved quickly and purposefully. Mesmerized, Jo watched his long, even strides and his tight rear walk away. It had been a long time since any man sent instant quivers down her spine and this man sent them in abundance. Forgetting for a moment that she was here on business, she considered the possibilities, then shook her head and bit at her lower lip. Have mercy.
Yep, this is what men were supposed to look like, she told herself with a broad satisfied smile. Then completely unexpectedly, he stopped and turned, looking directly at her. She nearly crumbled with embarrassment. It was as if he'd heard her lustful thoughts. He smiled again before turning and going about his business. "Way to go Jo," she muttered to herself, "way to charm the locals."
"Jo, Jo, are you still there? Is everything okay, was that him, did you find him?" Pamela asked.
The insistent chatter from the other end of her cell phone grabbed her attention. She'd forgotten all about the conversation she was having with her friend. "Yeah, yeah, I'm here. No, I didn't find him yet, but I just figured out why I can't find a man in New Jersey, they're all here."
"Nothing, never mind. I'm still waiting."
"Still no sign of him, huh?"
"No," Joanna said, watching the corridor just in case tall, dark and gorgeous returned. "No sign of him yet."
"I guess at this point trying to talk you out of this cra-ziness is a complete waste of my time."
"You can't talk me out of it and this isn't craziness. I need this and you know it. If I don't do it now, I never will."
"Granted, you need a break after everything you've been through the last few months, but this is a bit on the drastic side, don't you think? You've gone from one extreme to the other."
"Not at all. I needed a change and this is it, and if I remember correctly, it was your idea originally."
"As a joke, Jo, as a joke. I was trying to lighten your mood after all the drama. Who would have thought you'd take me seriously? You never take me seriously."
"Well this time I did and it was a good idea. Please thank your mom again for passing it on to me. You know I need this both financially and emotionally. I can't spend another day in New Jersey. I just hope this works out and I can finally finish it this time."
"It will and you will. You're a great ghost writer, Jo. You'll do justice to Jacob Buchanan's biography. He's lucky to have you, even if you do have to go to God's country, U.S.A., to meet him."
"Alaska isn't the wilderness you think, Pam. Juneau is a nice-sized place. As a matter of fact, the actual area of Juneau is almost as large as Rhode Island and Delaware put together."
"I see you're back in full research mode," Pamela said.
"Yeah, I still have a ton of information from before, and more recently Jacob has been sending me his notes to work on. It's really taking shape. I'm already more than half done. This is the final part, the face to face. Writing Jacob Buchanan's biography is an incredible opportunity. The only obstacle I see now is the rest of the Buchanan family. Getting their input would be perfect, but Jacob warned me that they weren't exactly thrilled about any of this when he told them."
"Of course not. Being that rich for so long, they probably have a million skeletons in their closet."
"I don't know about skeletons, but they have an unbelievable history. I read up on Jacob's oldest son, Daniel, the CEO of Titan. He's looking to run for public office. I think he's going to be the most difficult."
"You're right about that, but a word of warning, Daniel's son is even more dangerous. Andre Buchanan is very good at what he does."
"And so am I," Jo said confidently.
"Still, be careful. If you're lucky you'll be in and out before he even knows you're there."
"I can't wait to meet Jacob and get started again."
"That's if the two of you ever meet. Why don't I call my mother again? She's got his private number. Maybe she can get through to him. After all, he's her friend and client."
"Pam, I have his private number, but he's not answering. The phone's turned off. I already left messages on his voice mail. I do have his home address. If all else fails I'll just grab a cab and go over there."
"It's strange that he's not there waiting for you."
"Well, in his defense, I am three and half hours late, thanks to a two-hour delay and a missed connection. I did call him and tell him I'd be another hour."
"So he should at least be on his way there, right?"
"I don't know since I was able to get an earlier flight, so now I'm actually an hour earlier than I assumed when I called him last time."
"This is so confusing. But the bottom line is that you're left standing, waiting in a strange airport. That's not cool. Do you have any idea how unsafe that is?"
"I know, but it's okay. There's a crowd of people around most times." Jo looked around cautiously. After once being robbed at knifepoint, then later having her apartment burglarized and ransacked, she knew what fear was and she wasn't taking any chances.
"Still, you've been waiting awhile," Pamela said.
"Yeah, but we both know this is a big deal. I could use the cash infusionnot to mention it would seriously help my reputation."
"All right, I can't argue with that. But right now I don't know what to think. I can't imagine what happened. I called two days ago and everything was all set. Maybe he changed his mind. You know this hasn't exactly been done before."
"He seemed to be on the level when we started the preliminaries again. I'll wait awhile longer then catch a cab and go to the house and see what I can find out. If anything's strange I'll just grab the next flight out. Either way, I'll call you tomorrow. It must be close to midnight on the east coast."
"No, don't worry about it. Call me tonight."
"Okay, talk to you later," Jo said, then closed her cell and looked around again. Ever watchful, she steadied her gaze on any possible match. No one resembling the man she'd come to meet stood out. There was no way she would have missed a seventy-five year old man with white hair and a white beard.
A quick chill shivered through her. Just like the weather outside, she was cold, damp and borderline miserable. Warm-blooded by nature, the slightest chill often gave her the sniffles. The next few weeks in Juneau were definitely going to be a challenge. She sighed wearily and bundled her coat tighter. It had been a long tiresome flight and a long trying day that started way too early. All she really wanted now was to sit and relax, but the steady flow of travelers only added to her frustration.
This was her first trip to Alaska. So far the only thing she had seen was Juneau International Airport. It was a typical midsized airport with shops, restaurants, newspaper stands and souvenir kiosks. The crowd thickened and thinned as flights arrived and departed, and still she waited. Everyone was coming and going except her. Impatient by nature, she tried to compose herself as she continually scanned the area. She hated when things didn't go as planned.
This was supposed to be a quick in and out, no fuss, no muss, a few in-depth interviews and that was it. Now it looked as if that wouldn't be happening.
Aggravation furrowed her usual even expression, pinching her perfectly arched brows together. She'd called six times since arriving and had gotten no answer. "Come on," she muttered to herself. "It can't be this hard to find one man." But it was, and the one man wasn't just any man. It was Jacob Buchanan, president and chairman emeritus of Titan Energy Corporation, the largest African-American-owned oil and energy company in the United States.
Titan was a company that few knew much about. It was only lately that it had come to media prominence, prompted mainly by a string of recent family scandals. But the company's beginning was what fascinated her. There was nothing on record. No strike-it-rich oil well and no sudden gush of wealth. It was just therewith a history as mysterious as the wilderness in which it prospered.
As per their many advisories, one thing was definitely known about Titan; they played by their own rules. Rumored to have gained millions by unscrupulous business practices years earlier, they supposedly built a mega-corporation on the backs of honest working men and women. They were said to be ruthless to those they deemed a threat. They were unforgiving and unapologetic. They took what they wanted and did as they pleased.
Unsubstantiated, their corporate value had been reported at more than twenty billion dollars. They belonged to a consortium, and operated just under the radar of the powerful conglomerates. But their profits flourished immeasurably, as noted by their PR person who, of course, claimed that all rumored accusations were unmitigated falsehoods and the result of tabloid journalism and vengeful failed business associates.
Well, this was the opportunity to prove it one way or another, making her a catalyst for the truth. She intended to dig out whatever secrets the family hid in closets, get all the facts and leave no stone unturned and, as usual, remain unbiased and professional. That's if she ever started.