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Wildest Hearts

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Overview

Annie Lyncroft would do anything for her brother Danny. She proves it when he disappears in a plane crash.

Annie knows her brother is still alive, and the only way to protect his company until he resurfaces is to marry its biggest investor, Oliver Rain. By combining their positions, Oliver can take the helm. But Oliver falls hard for Annie and wants more than a marriage of convenience. Will Annie allow him to hold more than just shares?

"The fireworks begin again with the best ...

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Overview

Annie Lyncroft would do anything for her brother Danny. She proves it when he disappears in a plane crash.

Annie knows her brother is still alive, and the only way to protect his company until he resurfaces is to marry its biggest investor, Oliver Rain. By combining their positions, Oliver can take the helm. But Oliver falls hard for Annie and wants more than a marriage of convenience. Will Annie allow him to hold more than just shares?

"The fireworks begin again with the best yet from Ms. Krentz." (B-O-T Editorial Review Board)

Readers adore the spicy romances of New York Times bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz. In her recent novels Perfect Partners and Family Man, her heroines show how much fun it can be to spar with devilishly handsome heroes. Now the fireworks begin again, as a beautiful schemer needs a marriage of convenience to save her missing brother's company. Original.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Krentz ( Perfect Partners ) has turned out yet another satisfactory foray into the commingled worlds of business and romance, though its hero, Oliver Rain, is created from a patchwork of cliches: a ``dangerous predator'' with ``iron-clad self-control'' and a fortune that is ``the stuff of legend.'' Daniel Lyncroft disappeared when his private plane went down. His sister, Annie, instinctively knows he isn't dead; determined to keep his electronics firm intact, she proposes a temporary marriage of convenience to Oliver, a financial whiz who can keep Daniel's creditors at bay. When they first met, at Daniel's engagement party, Oliver had already mentally picked Annie as the woman he would like to marry, so the marriage scheme appeals to him. Since Oliver and Annie are attracted to each other, they quickly find that one-on-one, at least, they have no problem mixing business with pleasure. However, Oliver, who as head of the family is accustomed to managing his siblings' and stepmother's lives with executive efficiency, soon discovers that in bringing home his good-intentioned but meddling bride he has introduced a loose cannon into his well-ordered life. (Apr.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671728571
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • Publication date: 4/28/1993
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 6.80 (w) x 4.24 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Meet the Author

Jayne Ann Krentz

Jayne Ann Krentz is a New York Times bestselling author of contemporary romantic-suspense novels. She also writes historical romance under the name Amanda Quick and paranormal romance under the name Jayne Castle. Jayne loves to hear from her readers and can be found at www.facebook.com/JayneAnnKrentz.

Biography

A successful corporate and academic librarian-turned-author, Jayne Ann Krentz wrote serial romances for several publishers (including industry powerhouse Harlequin) before breaking out in the '90s as a writer of romantic novels. To say that she has been successful is an understatement: A New York Times- bestselling author with more than 23 million copies of her books in print, she writes three sub-genres of romantic suspense under three different pen names: contemporary romances as Jayne Ann Krentz, historicals as Amanda Quick, and futuristic/paranormal romances as Jayne Castle. (In her early career, she employed at least three additional pseudonyms!) In 2006, the prolific Krentz launched The Arcane Society series -- crossover thrillers written under all three noms de plume that feature members of a secret organization devoted to the study of the paranormal.

It would be hard to find a more passionate advocate for romantic fiction than Krentz. In 1992, she edited and contributed to Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance, an award-winning nonfiction essay collection that serves an eloquent apologia for the genre. She has also received the Jane Austen Commemorative Medal from Romantic Times magazine for her work educating readers about Romance. "The Romance genre is the only genre where readers are guaranteed novels that place the heroine at the heart of the story," she says on her website. "These are books that celebrate women's heroic virtues and values: courage, honor, determination and a belief in the healing power of love." Clearly, her legions of loyal fans agree!

Good To Know

I have finally reached the point in my career where I have some say over cover art. Unfortunately, it turns out that I have absolutely no talent for cover art design. Thank heavens I'm with a publisher (Putnam/Berkley) that maintains a terrific art department.

I love green tea and red wine and was absolutely thrilled when it turned out that both are now considered health foods.

I love all animals except for squirrels which, I strongly suspect, are aliens from outer space who are here to take over the planet. You have been warned.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Amanda Quick, Jayne Castle
    2. Hometown:
      Seattle, WA
    1. Education:
      BA in History, University of California at Santa Cruz, MA in Librarianship from San Jose State University (California)
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I don't think the elephant is going to work," Oliver Rain finally said. His soft, dark voice was shaded with polite regret.

"I was afraid you wouldn't like him." Annie Lyncroft gazed morosely at the beast and wondered how to broach the real subject she wanted to discuss with the inscrutable Oliver Rain.

"I'll admit he's unusual," Rain acknowledged.

"You're probably asking yourself the same question that a lot of my clients ask. You're wondering, Is it art or is it just plain tacky?"

"An interesting question," Rain conceded.

"Keep in mind that the elephant is functional as well as ornamental," Annie said in an instinctive, last-ditch effort to salvage the sale. "There's a little hidden drawer in the base. Very useful for small objects."

"I don't think he fits into this room," Rain said diplomatically.

Annie wondered privately if anything except Oliver Rain himself would look at home in the ebony, gold, and gray study.

She had been almost certain Rain wouldn't like the elephant. The two-foot-high cloisonné figure with its scarlet toenails and purple trunk looked cheerfully ridiculous standing next to Rain's Zen rock garden.

The garden, which occupied a large corner of the study, was not a true garden, at least not to Annie's way of thinking. It contained no hint of green. Not a single leaf, let alone any colorful blooms, marred the pristine perfection of the pearl gray sand.

The sand was encased in a low black wooden frame. It had been meticulously raked into abstract designs around five rocks. Annie suspected Rain had spent hours contemplating exactly where to put the rocks on the sand. It was undoubtedly just the sort of emotionless problem in aesthetics that would appeal to him.

The designer whom Rain had hired to do the interiors of the spacious new twenty-sixth-floor suite had sized up her client with unerring accuracy. All the rooms afforded seemingly endless views of Seattle, Elliott Bay, and the Olympics, and they were all done in the same forbidding tones of ebony, gold, and gray that dominated the study.

The end result was an austere, elegant lair perfectly suited to a man whom many people considered to be a dangerous predator.

No, Annie decided, the elephant was a handsome creature, but he certainly didn't fit into the disciplined, restrained decor of Rain's newly completed suite. She could not imagine anything from her boutique full of wildly whimsical one-of-a-kind items that would look right here.

Oliver Rain was clearly not much given to whimsy of any kind.

"I'm sorry the elephant isn't quite right," Rain murmured.

"Don't worry about it. I didn't think it would work. To tell you the truth, I haven't been able to interest any of my clients in him." Annie frowned. "Something about that elephant seems to put people off. I wonder if it's the toenails."

"Quite possibly."

"Well, it's not a big deal." So much for unloading the elephant on Oliver Rain. "You insisted I bring something else by, so I decided to try him out in here."

"Very kind of you. I appreciate your perseverance. Let me pour you some more tea." Rain reached for the black-and-gold-enameled teapot that sat on the nearby black lacquer tray.

Annie watched, fascinated, as he refilled her cup. The bright white cone of light from the halogen lamp on his desk revealed the sinewy strength of his hands. Rain's hands were not those of an ordinary business executive. They were rough, even calloused in places, as if he made his fortune working in rich soil rather than in giltedged investments.

He managed to imbue the delicate act of pouring tea with a riveting masculinity. Each motion was one of disciplined strength and grace.

Annie had learned that any movement Rain made, no matter how small, captured her full attention. Perhaps it was because each ripple of restrained power stood in such stark contrast to the vast, deep stillness that emanated from him when he was not moving. Annie had never met a man who was so completely in control of himself.

She eyed him warily as she accepted the teacup from him. "To be perfectly honest, I don't think I have anything in Wildest Dreams that will suit you."

Rain contemplated her as if she presented a curious but not unsolvable dilemma. "Just because the elephant doesn't work, I don't think we should assume that nothing else from your shop will work, either."

"You didn't like the carousel I brought on Monday," Annie reminded him.

"Ah, yes, the carousel. I'll admit it had a certain charm, but somehow the rather bizarre creatures on it seemed wrong in here."

"Depends on your point of view, I suppose," Annie muttered. Personally, she thought the beautifully gilded carousel with its collection of strange mythological animals had been a nice touch in a room that already contained the eminently unusual, near-mythic Oliver Rain.

No one knew much about Rain. But that tended to be the case with most legends, she reflected. The fewer facts available, the more legendary the man became in the eyes of the world.

She had first met him six weeks ago at her brother Daniel's engagement party. She had known of his existence, of course, because Daniel had once worked for him. But she and Rain had never been introduced.

Daniel Lyncroft was an acknowledged genius in the field of electronics. Five years ago he had been hired by Rain to set up several high-tech security systems for Rain's extensive business empire. Later, when Daniel had left to start his own electronics firm, Rain had invested heavily in the start-up operation, thus becoming Daniel's single biggest financial backer.

Daniel had warned Annie that, although Rain had been invited to attend the engagement party, he was unlikely to appear. Oliver Rain was almost never seen in public, let alone at social affairs. Furthermore, if he ever did decide to move in society, it would almost certainly be at a much higher level than the one the Lyncrofts occupied. The Rain fortune, which Oliver Rain had rebuilt from scratch after the mysterious disappearance of his father, was as much the stuff of legend as the man himself.

But to Daniel's obvious surprise and pleasure, Rain had turned up at the engagement party in the back of a black limousine. He had been dressed in stark black and white evening wear. The formal clothes had emphasized the dark, fierce stillness in him.

Annie had been enthralled by Rain from the moment she first saw him. He was unlike any other man she had ever known. There was a haunting aura of power, passion, and pride about him, but overlaying it all was an iron-clad self-control.

It was intriguing to watch the way people slipped unobtrusively out of Rain's way as he moved through the chic restaurant Daniel had rented for the occasion. She understood the impulse. There was no doubt but that the man radiated a potential for danger. He prowled through the throng of well-wishers like a leopard gliding through a flock of sheep.

Only a very small part of Annie wanted to flee to safer ground. A much larger, louder part urged her to get closer to Oliver Rain regardless of the risks.

Annie had concluded that Rain held the same sort of attraction for her as did the unusual objects she sold in her boutique, Wildest Dreams. He was not handsome in the conventional sense, but she found him utterly compelling. Something deep within her reacted to his presence with an acute sense of awareness. When he looked at her the fine hair on the nape of her neck stirred.

That night at Daniel's party, Annie had secretly memorized everything about Oliver Rain from the color of his eyes, which were an illusive, indescribable shade of gray, to the controlled impassivity of his features.

He wore his black hair much too long for a business executive. It would have brushed his shoulders if he had not tied it back in a low ponytail. His grim, harsh face betrayed an implacable, unbending willpower. The icy hint of silver in his hair together with the cold, calculating intelligence in his gaze led Annie to conclude that Rain was very close to forty.

This was a man who would never rely on his looks or his charm to get what he wanted in life, she decided. He would simply reach out and take it.

Rain had stayed at the party for less than half an hour. Except for the brief time that he spent with Daniel and the few minutes it had taken to introduce him to Daniel's fiancée, Joanna, and to Annie, he had held himself apart from the crowd. He had stood alone, occupying a space that no one else dared violate and sipped champagne while the guests ebbed and flowed around him.

Annie had been intensely aware of his eyes following her when she danced with some of Daniel's friends, but Rain had not asked her to join him on the floor. He had not danced with anyone at all.

When Oliver Rain quietly left the party, Annie experienced a strange disappointment. The small ember of unfamiliar sensual excitement that flared to life within her when he had arrived flickered out when he departed.

She surreptitiously watched from a window as Daniel escorted Rain out to the waiting limousine. The two men spent a few minutes talking quietly in the drive. When the conversation ended, Rain glanced at the window where Annie stood as if he had known all along she was watching. He acknowledged her with a small, almost courtly inclination of his head. Then he got into the limousine and vanished into the rain-streaked night.

"He's an interesting but rather dangerous man," Daniel said to Annie later. "You never know for certain what he's thinking. I don't believe he trusts anyone. When I worked for him, he was almost obsessive about maintaining files on all key employees and the people with whom he did business."

"Files?"

"More like security dossiers." Daniel's mouth curved wryly. "He always claimed that personal inside information on people was what he relied on to give him the edge."

"I would imagine having an edge would be very important to a man like that," Annie said thoughtfully. "He would want to be in control at all times."

"The thing to remember about Oliver Rain is that he's always got his own agenda, and he never lets anyone else know what that agenda is until he's ready. He's a lone wolf, not a team player."

"Is he a gangster?" Annie asked, horrified at the possibility that her brother might be in debt to a criminal.

Daniel grinned. "If he is, he's smart enough to bury the bodies so deep that no one will ever find them."

"Why on earth did you let him back you if you don't trust him?"

Daniel looked at her in surprise. "I never said I didn't trust him. I just said he was dangerous."

"There's a difference?"

"A big difference."

Annie hugged herself against the small shiver that went through her. "What else do you know about him?"

"Not much, even though I worked for him. The man's a legend."

"Why?" Annie asked.

"Fifteen years ago his father walked out on the family. Just vanished. I don't know the whole story, but I do know that a few months before he disappeared Edward Rain had persuaded some of his friends to invest in one of his development projects."

"Let me guess," Annie said. "The investors' money vanished along with Rain?"

"Right. Not only that, but Edward Rain had liquidated most of his own personal assets. He took that cash with him, too. The family was left with virtually nothing except a mountain of debts."

I'll ve heard tales of that kind of thing happening. There was a story in the papers just the other day about a prominent banker who simply got on a plane with several million dollars and was never seen again. He left his family and his whole life behind."

"That's what Edward Rain did," Daniel said.

Annie stared at her brother. "What happened?"

"Oliver paid off all of his father's debts within two years," Daniel said. There was cool admiration in his voice. "He rebuilt his father's fortune from scratch. It's now far larger than it was before Edward Rain disappeared, which should tell you something about Oliver."

"Poor Oliver," Annie whispered. "He must have been emotionally devastated when his father vanished."

Daniel frowned in alarm. "Now, Annie..."

"The shame and humiliation would have been intolerable to a man like that," Annie continued thoughtfully. "He's obviously been scarred for life. No wonder he's not very outgoing."

"Hold it right there," Daniel ordered. "Don"t even think about it."

"About what?" Annie asked innocently.

"About trying to rescue Oliver Rain. He is definitely not another wounded stray male you can add to your collection. Believe me, Rain doesn't need rescuing."

"Everyone needs to be rescued at one time or another, Daniel."

"Not Rain," Daniel said flatly. "That man can take care of himself. Trust me."

Annie did not see or hear from Rain again until two weeks later. He had called the day after Daniel's private plane went down in the ocean on a flight to Alaska. That had been a month ago in October. Rain had asked her very gently if she needed help of any kind.

Caught up in the chaos of the situation, struggling to deal with reporters and the authorities who were conducting the search-and-rescue operation, as well as trying to console Joanna, Annie had been tense and distracted. She had brusquely told Oliver Rain that she did not need his assistance.

It was only as she hung up the phone that she belatedly recalled the fact that Rain was her brother's chief creditor. Now that Daniel had disappeared, Rain was a potential threat. If he chose to call in the huge loan on the grounds that Daniel's fledgling company lacked leadership, Lyncroft Unlimited would go under. There was simply no way to pay off Oliver Rain at this point.

But it wasn't Rain who had turned out to be the immediate threat. It was a coalition of suppliers and the other investors, all of whom panicked when they realized that Daniel was no longer at the helm of his company. Barry Cork, Daniel's trusted assistant, did the best he could to reassure everyone that business was going on as usual, but no one believed him.

A few days later Rain had called again.

"Perhaps we had better talk," he said quietly.

"About what?" Annie demanded, knowing full well what he wanted to discuss.

"Lyncroft's future."

"Lyncroft is doing just fine, thank you. Barry Cork has everything under control. My brother will be rescued any day now, and everything will go back to normal."

"I'm sorry, Ms. Lyncroft, but you must face the fact that Daniel is very probably dead."

"I don't believe that and neither does his fiancée. We're going to hold Lyncroft together until he returns." Annie gripped the phone cord and tried to keep her voice calm and confident. "I appreciate your concern, but nothing has changed at the company. Everything's under control."

"I see." There was a long silence on the line. "I hear rumors that some of your brother's other creditors are starting to press for a sale or merger."

"Nonsense. Strictly rumors. I've explained to all ofthem that things are fine and that we expect Daniel to return soon."

There was another thoughtful silence. "As you wish. Please feel free to call me if the other investors become difficult. I might be able to help you."

Annie had hung up the phone feeling more uneasy than ever. Lyncroft Unlimited was a family-owned corporation. No one except family members could hold stock in the firm. Daniel had been intent on keeping full control of his company.

At the moment there were only two members of the Lyncroft family, Annie and her brother. That made Annie Daniel's sole inheritor.

Two weeks ago Rain had again contacted her. Instead of talking about the fate of Lyncroft Unlimited, he had explained that he was requesting her services in a professional capacity. He wanted her to provide the finishing touches for the rooms in his new penthouse.

Annie was still not quite sure why she had accepted the job. She certainly had more than enough to do without taking time out of her frantic days to provide personal consultation to a client.

But today was her fourth visit to the twenty-sixth floor of the downtown Seattle high rise. Thus far it had followed the same pattern as the previous visits.

It wasn't easy getting to Oliver Rain. First, she had to get past the doorman in the lobby of the building. There was a special code that had to be punched into the elevator control panel in order to get to the twenty-sixth floor. When she arrived at the penthouse door, she was greeted by a robot of a man known only as Bolt. He appeared to be a combination of butler and chauffeur. Annie wondered if he was also a bodyguard.

rd

In his own way, Bolt was almost as interesting as his employer. He looked to be somewhere in his early fifties. Every time Annie had seen him he had been wearing a formal dark suit. His pale blue eyes betrayed no emotion of any kind. His thinning hair was razored to within a quarter of an inch all over his head.

There was a mechanical quality about Bolt that made Annie wonder if he was part machine. She had visions of him plugging himself into an electrical outlet each night to recharge his batteries. She got the distinct impression he did not approve of her.

On that first visit, Bolt had shown her into the study with a minimum of words. Tea had been brought in on a tray.

Annie had waited nervously for Rain to bring up the subject of her missing brother, but he had proceeded to discuss nothing except the appropriate finishing pieces for the penthouse.

After the first consultation Annie had begun to look forward to these quiet, serene interludes. During the time she was safely secluded here in Rain's study, drinking his exotic, aromatic tea and talking of unimportant things such as cloisonné elephants and gilded carousels, she could put aside her fears and problems. It was a relief because those fears and problems were rapidly turning into nightmares.

She had not forgotten what Daniel had said about Rain being dangerous, but she was finding it increasingly impossible to be afraid of him. There was something oddly reassuring about his strength. She found herself consciously trying to absorb some of it during these afternoon sessions in his study.

"It's obviously going to take some time to come up with just the right additional element for this room," Rain said with one last glance at the elephant. "But I'm a patient man. I'm certain we'll find something sooner or later."

"I doubt it," Annie said. Her eyes swept the austere, elegant room. "Your taste obviously doesn't run to the kind of stuff I sell. My philosophy is that every room needs a jarring note. A beautiful interior needs a colorful touch of ugliness. A serene interior needs an object that clashes. A cluttered interior needs an element of order."

Rain didn't smile, which was hardly surprising, but a subtle change in his mist-colored eyes told her he was amused. She had only spent a few afternoons with him, but she was getting quite good at reading the small signals that indicated his moods. He was not an unemotional man, she realized, but somewhere along the line he had learned to exert an astounding degree of control over his emotions.

"I'm not concerned about the differences in our taste when it comes to elephants and carousels," Rain said softly. He fell silent, sipping his tea with a reflective air.

Silences were common around Oliver Rain. They did not appear to bother him, but Annie found them unnerving. She herself was rarely given to long silences in the middle of a conversation.

She swallowed tea and wondered if this was the moment to bring up the topic she wanted to discuss. Perhaps she should wait another week or so, but she was afraid she could not put it off much longer. Time was running out. If she could not get Rain to go along with her wild plan to save Lyncroft Unlimited, she would have to regroup and come up with another idea.

Unfortunately she didn't think there were any other ideas. She was at the end of the line.

Annie's stomach tightened as she steeled herself. Very carefully she replaced her teacup on its black and gold saucer. "Mr. Rain..."

"Oliver. Please. I want you to think of me as a friend of the family."

"Oliver." Annie took a deep breath. "A month ago, right after my brother disappeared, you said something about giving us, Joanna and me, that is, a hand."

"I assume there is still no word on your brother's fate?"

"No," Annie admitted. The search-and-rescue operation had been called off three days after Daniel's plane had vanished. There had been no sign of either the wreckage or of her brother's body to date. The official verdict was that Daniel had been lost at sea.

"And now, at last, you're beginning to understand the difficulties you'll face if you continue to try to run Lyncroft Unlimited on your own," Oliver said calmly.

Annie met his cool gaze. "It's going to be impossible, isn't it?"

"Yes."

"You knew that all along, didn't you?"

Oliver shrugged slightly. "It was inevitable that there would be serious problems. Your brother was the driving force behind Lyncroft Unlimited. Everyone knows that. With him gone, the investors were bound to get restless."

Annie gripped the arm of the black lacquer chair. "The other investors and creditors invited me to a meeting two days ago. They gave me an ultimatum. If I don't agree to sell or merge Lyncroft with a major firm very soon, they're going to call in the outstanding debt."

"I'm aware of the meeting."

Annie wrinkled her nose. "I'm not surprised." She paused. "You weren't at it, though."

"No."

"Does that mean you don't think I should agree to a buyout or a merger?" Annie held her breath waiting for the answer.

"I didn't say that. A buyout may be for the best. It will keep the company alive so that it will have a chance to get your brother's new wireless technology to market. When that happens, everyone involved will recover his initial investment along with a considerable profit."

Daniel's inventions were in the hot new area of electronics that was revolutionizing everything from computerized inventory control systems to medical procedures. Daniel had often told Annie the office of the future would be "wireless." The electrical cords that currently chained machines to a wall outlet or a power source would vanish.

"I can't sell Daniel's firm." Annie curled her hands into small determined fists. "He's worked too hard to get it started. He's invested everything he has in it, not just his money but his sweat and his genius. The future in electronics is in this new wireless stuff, and he's going to be in on the ground floor. Don't you understand? I can't give it away."

Oliver's black lashes veiled his eyes. "You won't be giving it away. You can demand a very good price. There are a lot of firms in the industry that would give a great deal to get their hands on the new technology your brother was developing."

"I won't sell Daniel's company," Annie repeated. "Not as long as Joanna and I believe there's a possibility he may still be alive."

"One of these days you will have to take a more realistic view of the situation," Oliver said. "The odds are that Daniel is gone. You know that as well as I do."

Annie lifted her chin. "I would know if Daniel were dead."

"Would you?"

"Yes, I would, damn it. Daniel is the only family I've got, the only family I've had since Aunt Madeline died. I'd know if he were really gone forever." She stabbed her fingers through her wild thick bob of sherry-colored curls. "I'd feel it deep inside."

Surely she would know it. Wouldn't she? Annie knew she was getting close to the end of her rope. She hadn't had a single good night's sleep since Daniel had vanished. The initial shock had faded somewhat, but her secret fears sometimes escaped from the dark place where she managed to confine them most of the time. When they did, they nearly swamped her. Perhaps her beloved older brother really was dead.

She was exhausted. There had been too many decisions to make in the past few weeks, too many questions to answer, too much pressure from the people who had invested in her brother's company. And now that Joanna had told her about the baby, there was a whole new set of concerns to be faced.

"I'm not the only one who would know if Daniel were dead," Annie continued quietly. "Joanna feels as strongly about this as I do. We're both certain he's still alive."

"No one can survive in that water off the coast of Alaska for more than thirty or forty minutes," Oliver reminded her gently. "You know that."

"The thing that everyone seems to forget is that my brother was a certified genius. Furthermore, when he flew, he took precautions other people wouldn't bother to take. He carried a survival suit, for example. And a raft. And all kinds of equipment."

"Even a survival suit won't protect a person against hypothermia indefinitely."

"There are dozens of islands scattered between here and Alaska. Hundreds. Most are just little dots of land. He could have made it to any one of them. He would be able to survive on one until help arrived."

"The search-and-rescue operation was very thorough," Oliver said. "I made certain of it."

Annie widened her eyes. "You did?"

"Of course. I told you, Daniel was more than a trusted employee when he worked for me. He was a friend."

"I'm glad to hear that," Annie said grimly. "Because I've come to ask you for help. I'm hoping that your friendship with Daniel was strong enough that you'll agree to my plan."

Oliver studied her with an expression of subdued satisfaction. He had clearly been expecting this. "You want me to give you a buyout offer for the company."

"No." Annie shot to her feet and stalked to the floor-to-ceiling windows. She looked out at the slatecolored sky and gray waters of Elliott Bay. "No, that's the last thing I want. I told you, I won't sell Lyncroft Unlimited. Not if I can help it."

"I would be willing to agree to sell it back to your brother if he does reappear."

Annie glanced back over her shoulder. "That's generous of you, but I don't think it's such a good idea."

"Why not?"

She set her back teeth. "Because I have it on very good authority that you are a dangerous man, Oliver Rain."

He did not seem disconcerted by the news. "Is that right? Who told you that?"

"Daniel."

"Your brother always was rather intelligent."

"Right. A genius. Look, we both know that if I were to sell the company to you, I would lose control of it entirely. You could do anything you want with it. You might even refuse to sell it back to Daniel or if you did, you might put such a high price tag on it that he wouldn't be able to afford it."

"We could arrange the terms of the deal before you sign anything."

"I just don't like letting go of the company. Not even to you. The risk is too great. No offense, but frankly, I don't see anyone in his right mind surrendering rights to the kind of technology Daniel has created."

"I applaud your loyalty and determination. But in the meantime, you're under a lot of pressure from your brother's creditors. They can force you to sell or merge, Annie."

"I know." Annie closed her eyes briefly and then swung around to face him. "They've started to call every day. After that meeting two days ago I knew we were in real trouble."

"It was only a matter of time. They're running scared, Annie. Surely you see their position. Lyncroft Unlimited is a one-man company in all the ways that count and that one man has vanished."

"I have to buy some time. All I need is a little time."

"How much time?"

"That's just it, I have no idea. A few days or maybe weeks. Who knows how long it will take to find Daniel?"

Oliver took a slow, thoughtful sip of tea and set the cup down on its saucer. Annie followed the movement with her eyes. The delicate china looked very fragile in his powerful hands. But it also looked quite safe.

"Even if I give you all the time you wish, you can't hope to stave off the rest of the firm's creditors for long," Oliver said.

"Not by myself, no. I realize that. But they would be pacified if they thought the company was in good hands again. Everyone realizes that I don't know beans about electronics and neither does Joanna. Nor do we know anything about managing a company the size of Lyncroft."

"No," Rain agreed. "You don't."

Annie took an eager step forward. "But if an executive who had a brilliant reputation in the business world were to take the helm, I think we could hold off the investors indefinitely."

Oliver did not move, but there was an air of cool readiness about him now. "'You're thinking of hiring someone to manage the company for you?"

"Sort of."

"I suppose it's a possibility. Have you approached anyone yet?"

"I had Barry Cork make a couple of discreet inquiries," Annie admitted. "He says the problem is that the people he approached all said they wouldn't do it unless they were guaranteed a permanent chunk of the company as part of their payment."

"That's a reasonable demand in such a situation. But you don't want to give away even a piece of Lyncroft Unlimited, do you?"

"No, I don't dare. Daniel probably wouldn't be able to get it back when he returns. Lyncroft Unlimited is going to be one of the hottest electronics firms in the country in five years. Everyone in the industry is aware of its potential."

"If you take on a partner now, Daniel will be stuck with him later, is that what you're afraid of?"

"Exactly. Partners can be major problems. Daniel told me once he never wanted one."

"You must understand that you have only two options at the moment. You can sell or merge Daniel's firm or you can take on a partner who can run it for you."

"I just can't take the chance," Annie said. "Daniel might never get back full control of his company."

Oliver reached for the teapot. "I'm sure I can be of some assistance, Annie."

Relief soared through her. "That was exactly what I was hoping you would say."

Oliver slanted her a speculative glance. "Were you?"

"Yes. The way I see it, you've got a lot at stake here, too. After all, it's in your best interests for my brother's company to survive and get its products into production, right?"

Oliver gazed at her over the rim of the cup. "It's true that I stand to make a considerable profit when the new technology starts hitting the market."

"Well, I've come up with an option that will give both of us what we want."

"Have you?" He sounded skeptical, but he was clearly intrigued.

"Yes, I have. It will protect Daniel's company and it will also protect your investment." Annie hurried back to her chair and sat down. Now that the moment had arrived to explain her idea, she was no longer so nervous. She leaned forward intently and folded her arms on the polished surface of the ebony desk.

"I'm listening, Annie."

"This is a little difficult to explain," she said. "But if you'll just hear me out, I think you'll agree that it could work. Keep in mind the plan won't have to be in effect very long because I'm sure we'll find Daniel any day."

Oliver paused in the act of pouring more tea. "This grows more interesting by the moment. Let"s hear your plan."

"Okay, as you know, Lyncroft Unlimited is a family-held corporation. My brother and I control all of the stock. When Joanna marries Daniel, she'll receive shares in the company, too, but not before that time."

"I understand. But since she hasn't yet married and your brother and Daniel is presumed dead, you now control all of the stock. You're the only member of the Lyncroft family around at the moment."

"That's right." Annie gathered herself for the plunge. "'But if I were to marry, my husband would become a member of the family. I could give him an interest in the company."

Tea splashed on the surface of the ebony desk. Oliver abruptly set down the teapot. For an instant he stared at the small puddle of spilled tea as if amazed that his powerful hands had failed him. When he looked up again, his eyes were filled with frozen ice.

"I didn't know you were planning to marry anyone."

Annie waved that aside. "I'm not. Not exactly, that is. Mr. Rain, I mean, Oliver, have you ever heard of a marriage of convenience?"

Copyright ©" 1993 by Jayne Ann Krentz

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First Chapter

Chapter One <<P> I don't think the elephant is going to work," Oliver Rain finally said. His soft, dark voice was shaded with polite regret.

"I was afraid you wouldn't like him." Annie Lyncroft gazed morosely at the beast and wondered how to broach the real subject she wanted to discuss with the inscrutable Oliver Rain.

"I'll admit he's unusual," Rain acknowledged.

"You're probably asking yourself the same question that a lot of my clients ask. You're wondering, Is it art or is it just plain tacky?"

"An interesting question," Rain conceded.

"Keep in mind that the elephant is functional as well as ornamental," Annie said in an instinctive, last-ditch effort to salvage the sale. "There's a little hidden drawer in the base. Very useful for small objects."

"I don't think he fits into this room," Rain said diplomatically.

Annie wondered privately if anything except Oliver Rain himself would look at home in the ebony, gold, and gray study.

She had been almost certain Rain wouldn't like the elephant. The two-foot-high cloisonné figure with its scarlet toenails and purple trunk looked cheerfully ridiculous standing next to Rain's Zen rock garden.

The garden, which occupied a large corner of the study, was not a true garden, at least not to Annie's way of thinking. It contained no hint of green. Not a single leaf, let alone any colorful blooms, marred the pristine perfection of the pearl gray sand.

The sand was encased in a low black wooden frame. It had been meticulously raked into abstract designs around five rocks. Annie suspected Rain had spent hours contemplating exactly where to put the rocks on the sand. It was undoubtedly just the sort of emotionless problem in aesthetics that would appeal to him.

The designer whom Rain had hired to do the interiors of the spacious new twenty-sixth-floor suite had sized up her client with unerring accuracy. All the rooms afforded seemingly endless views of Seattle, Elliott Bay, and the Olympics, and they were all done in the same forbidding tones of ebony, gold, and gray that dominated the study.

The end result was an austere, elegant lair perfectly suited to a man whom many people considered to be a dangerous predator.

No, Annie decided, the elephant was a handsome creature, but he certainly didn't fit into the disciplined, restrained decor of Rain's newly completed suite. She could not imagine anything from her boutique full of wildly whimsical one-of-a-kind items that would look right here.

Oliver Rain was clearly not much given to whimsy of any kind.

"I'm sorry the elephant isn't quite right," Rain murmured.

"Don't worry about it. I didn't think it would work. To tell you the truth, I haven't been able to interest any of my clients in him." Annie frowned. "Something about that elephant seems to put people off. I wonder if it's the toenails."

"Quite possibly."

"Well, it's not a big deal." So much for unloading the elephant on Oliver Rain. "You insisted I bring something else by, so I decided to try him out in here."

"Very kind of you. I appreciate your perseverance. Let me pour you some more tea." Rain reached for the black-and-gold-enameled teapot that sat on the nearby black lacquer tray.

Annie watched, fascinated, as he refilled her cup. The bright white cone of light from the halogen lamp on his desk revealed the sinewy strength of his hands. Rain's hands were not those of an ordinary business executive. They were rough, even calloused in places, as if he made his fortune working in rich soil rather than in giltedged investments.

He managed to imbue the delicate act of pouring tea with a riveting masculinity. Each motion was one of disciplined strength and grace.

Annie had learned that any movement Rain made, no matter how small, captured her full attention. Perhaps it was because each ripple of restrained power stood in such stark contrast to the vast, deep stillness that emanated from him when he was not moving. Annie had never met a man who was so completely in control of himself.

She eyed him warily as she accepted the teacup from him. "To be perfectly honest, I don't think I have anything in Wildest Dreams that will suit you."

Rain contemplated her as if she presented a curious but not unsolvable dilemma. "Just because the elephant doesn't work, I don't think we should assume that nothing else from your shop will work, either."

"You didn't like the carousel I brought on Monday," Annie reminded him.

"Ah, yes, the carousel. I'll admit it had a certain charm, but somehow the rather bizarre creatures on it seemed wrong in here."

"Depends on your point of view, I suppose," Annie muttered. Personally, she thought the beautifully gilded carousel with its collection of strange mythological animals had been a nice touch in a room that already contained the eminently unusual, near-mythic Oliver Rain.

No one knew much about Rain. But that tended to be the case with most legends, she reflected. The fewer facts available, the more legendary the man became in the eyes of the world.

She had first met him six weeks ago at her brother Daniel's engagement party. She had known of his existence, of course, because Daniel had once worked for him. But she and Rain had never been introduced.

Daniel Lyncroft was an acknowledged genius in the field of electronics. Five years ago he had been hired by Rain to set up several high-tech security systems for Rain's extensive business empire. Later, when Daniel had left to start his own electronics firm, Rain had invested heavily in the start-up operation, thus becoming Daniel's single biggest financial backer.

Daniel had warned Annie that, although Rain had been invited to attend the engagement party, he was unlikely to appear. Oliver Rain was almost never seen in public, let alone at social affairs. Furthermore, if he ever did decide to move in society, it would almost certainly be at a much higher level than the one the Lyncrofts occupied. The Rain fortune, which Oliver Rain had rebuilt from scratch after the mysterious disappearance of his father, was as much the stuff of legend as the man himself.

But to Daniel's obvious surprise and pleasure, Rain had turned up at the engagement party in the back of a black limousine. He had been dressed in stark black and white evening wear. The formal clothes had emphasized the dark, fierce stillness in him.

Annie had been enthralled by Rain from the moment she first saw him. He was unlike any other man she had ever known. There was a haunting aura of power, passion, and pride about him, but overlaying it all was an iron-clad self-control.

It was intriguing to watch the way people slipped unobtrusively out of Rain's way as he moved through the chic restaurant Daniel had rented for the occasion. She understood the impulse. There was no doubt but that the man radiated a potential for danger. He prowled through the throng of well-wishers like a leopard gliding through a flock of sheep.

Only a very small part of Annie wanted to flee to safer ground. A much larger, louder part urged her to get closer to Oliver Rain regardless of the risks.

Annie had concluded that Rain held the same sort of attraction for her as did the unusual objects she sold in her boutique, Wildest Dreams. He was not handsome in the conventional sense, but she found him utterly compelling. Something deep within her reacted to his presence with an acute sense of awareness. When he looked at her the fine hair on the nape of her neck stirred.

That night at Daniel's party, Annie had secretly memorized everything about Oliver Rain from the color of his eyes, which were an illusive, indescribable shade of gray, to the controlled impassivity of his features.

He wore his black hair much too long for a business executive. It would have brushed his shoulders if he had not tied it back in a low ponytail. His grim, harsh face betrayed an implacable, unbending willpower. The icy hint of silver in his hair together with the cold, calculating intelligence in his gaze led Annie to conclude that Rain was very close to forty.

This was a man who would never rely on his looks or his charm to get what he wanted in life, she decided. He would simply reach out and take it.

Rain had stayed at the party for less than half an hour. Except for the brief time that he spent with Daniel and the few minutes it had taken to introduce him to Daniel's fiancée, Joanna, and to Annie, he had held himself apart from the crowd. He had stood alone, occupying a space that no one else dared violate and sipped champagne while the guests ebbed and flowed around him.

Annie had been intensely aware of his eyes following her when she danced with some of Daniel's friends, but Rain had not asked her to join him on the floor. He had not danced with anyone at all.

When Oliver Rain quietly left the party, Annie experienced a strange disappointment. The small ember of unfamiliar sensual excitement that flared to life within her when he had arrived flickered out when he departed.

She surreptitiously watched from a window as Daniel escorted Rain out to the waiting limousine. The two men spent a few minutes talking quietly in the drive. When the conversation ended, Rain glanced at the window where Annie stood as if he had known all along she was watching. He acknowledged her with a small, almost courtly inclination of his head. Then he got into the limousine and vanished into the rain-streaked night.

"He's an interesting but rather dangerous man," Daniel said to Annie later. "You never know for certain what he's thinking. I don't believe he trusts anyone. When I worked for him, he was almost obsessive about maintaining files on all key employees and the people with whom he did business."

"Files?"

"More like security dossiers." Daniel's mouth curved wryly. "He always claimed that personal inside information on people was what he relied on to give him the edge."

"I would imagine having an edge would be very important to a man like that," Annie said thoughtfully. "He would want to be in control at all times."

"The thing to remember about Oliver Rain is that he's always got his own agenda, and he never lets anyone else know what that agenda is until he's ready. He's a lone wolf, not a team player."

"Is he a gangster?" Annie asked, horrified at the possibility that her brother might be in debt to a criminal.

Daniel grinned. "If he is, he's smart enough to bury the bodies so deep that no one will ever find them."

"Why on earth did you let him back you if you don't trust him?"

Daniel looked at her in surprise. "I never said I didn't trust him. I just said he was dangerous."

"There's a difference?"

"A big difference."

Annie hugged herself against the small shiver that went through her. "What else do you know about him?"

"Not much, even though I worked for him. The man's a legend."

"Why?" Annie asked.

"Fifteen years ago his father walked out on the family. Just vanished. I don't know the whole story, but I do know that a few months before he disappeared Edward Rain had persuaded some of his friends to invest in one of his development projects."

"Let me guess," Annie said. "The investors' money vanished along with Rain?"

"Right. Not only that, but Edward Rain had liquidated most of his own personal assets. He took that cash with him, too. The family was left with virtually nothing except a mountain of debts."

I'll ve heard tales of that kind of thing happening. There was a story in the papers just the other day about a prominent banker who simply got on a plane with several million dollars and was never seen again. He left his family and his whole life behind."

"That's what Edward Rain did," Daniel said.

Annie stared at her brother. "What happened?"

"Oliver paid off all of his father's debts within two years," Daniel said. There was cool admiration in his voice. "He rebuilt his father's fortune from scratch. It's now far larger than it was before Edward Rain disappeared, which should tell you something about Oliver."

"Poor Oliver," Annie whispered. "He must have been emotionally devastated when his father vanished."

Daniel frowned in alarm. "Now, Annie..."

"The shame and humiliation would have been intolerable to a man like that," Annie continued thoughtfully. "He's obviously been scarred for life. No wonder he's not very outgoing."

"Hold it right there," Daniel ordered. "Don"t even think about it."

"About what?" Annie asked innocently.

"About trying to rescue Oliver Rain. He is definitely not another wounded stray male you can add to your collection. Believe me, Rain doesn't need rescuing."

"Everyone needs to be rescued at one time or another, Daniel."

"Not Rain," Daniel said flatly. "That man can take care of himself. Trust me."

Annie did not see or hear from Rain again until two weeks later. He had called the day after Daniel's private plane went down in the ocean on a flight to Alaska. That had been a month ago in October. Rain had asked her very gently if she needed help of any kind.

Caught up in the chaos of the situation, struggling to deal with reporters and the authorities who were conducting the search-and-rescue operation, as well as trying to console Joanna, Annie had been tense and distracted. She had brusquely told Oliver Rain that she did not need his assistance.

It was only as she hung up the phone that she belatedly recalled the fact that Rain was her brother's chief creditor. Now that Daniel had disappeared, Rain was a potential threat. If he chose to call in the huge loan on the grounds that Daniel's fledgling company lacked leadership, Lyncroft Unlimited would go under. There was simply no way to pay off Oliver Rain at this point.

But it wasn't Rain who had turned out to be the immediate threat. It was a coalition of suppliers and the other investors, all of whom panicked when they realized that Daniel was no longer at the helm of his company. Barry Cork, Daniel's trusted assistant, did the best he could to reassure everyone that business was going on as usual, but no one believed him.

A few days later Rain had called again.

"Perhaps we had better talk," he said quietly.

"About what?" Annie demanded, knowing full well what he wanted to discuss.

"Lyncroft's future."

"Lyncroft is doing just fine, thank you. Barry Cork has everything under control. My brother will be rescued any day now, and everything will go back to normal."

"I'm sorry, Ms. Lyncroft, but you must face the fact that Daniel is very probably dead."

"I don't believe that and neither does his fiancée. We're going to hold Lyncroft together until he returns." Annie gripped the phone cord and tried to keep her voice calm and confident. "I appreciate your concern, but nothing has changed at the company. Everything's under control."

"I see." There was a long silence on the line. "I hear rumors that some of your brother's other creditors are starting to press for a sale or merger."

"Nonsense. Strictly rumors. I've explained to all ofthem that things are fine and that we expect Daniel to return soon."

There was another thoughtful silence. "As you wish. Please feel free to call me if the other investors become difficult. I might be able to help you."

Annie had hung up the phone feeling more uneasy than ever. Lyncroft Unlimited was a family-owned corporation. No one except family members could hold stock in the firm. Daniel had been intent on keeping full control of his company.

At the moment there were only two members of the Lyncroft family, Annie and her brother. That made Annie Daniel's sole inheritor.

Two weeks ago Rain had again contacted her. Instead of talking about the fate of Lyncroft Unlimited, he had explained that he was requesting her services in a professional capacity. He wanted her to provide the finishing touches for the rooms in his new penthouse.

Annie was still not quite sure why she had accepted the job. She certainly had more than enough to do without taking time out of her frantic days to provide personal consultation to a client.

But today was her fourth visit to the twenty-sixth floor of the downtown Seattle high rise. Thus far it had followed the same pattern as the previous visits.

It wasn't easy getting to Oliver Rain. First, she had to get past the doorman in the lobby of the building. There was a special code that had to be punched into the elevator control panel in order to get to the twenty-sixth floor. When she arrived at the penthouse door, she was greeted by a robot of a man known only as Bolt. He appeared to be a combination of butler and chauffeur. Annie wondered if he was also a bodyguard.

In his own way, Bolt was almost as interesting as his employer. He looked to be somewhere in his early fifties. Every time Annie had seen him he had been wearing a formal dark suit. His pale blue eyes betrayed no emotion of any kind. His thinning hair was razored to within a quarter of an inch all over his head.

There was a mechanical quality about Bolt that made Annie wonder if he was part machine. She had visions of him plugging himself into an electrical outlet each night to recharge his batteries. She got the distinct impression he did not approve of her.

On that first visit, Bolt had shown her into the study with a minimum of words. Tea had been brought in on a tray.

Annie had waited nervously for Rain to bring up the subject of her missing brother, but he had proceeded to discuss nothing except the appropriate finishing pieces for the penthouse.

After the first consultation Annie had begun to look forward to these quiet, serene interludes. During the time she was safely secluded here in Rain's study, drinking his exotic, aromatic tea and talking of unimportant things such as cloisonné elephants and gilded carousels, she could put aside her fears and problems. It was a relief because those fears and problems were rapidly turning into nightmares.

She had not forgotten what Daniel had said about Rain being dangerous, but she was finding it increasingly impossible to be afraid of him. There was something oddly reassuring about his strength. She found herself consciously trying to absorb some of it during these afternoon sessions in his study.

"It's obviously going to take some time to come up with just the right additional element for this room," Rain said with one last glance at the elephant. "But I'm a patient man. I'm certain we'll find something sooner or later."

"I doubt it," Annie said. Her eyes swept the austere, elegant room. "Your taste obviously doesn't run to the kind of stuff I sell. My philosophy is that every room needs a jarring note. A beautiful interior needs a colorful touch of ugliness. A serene interior needs an object that clashes. A cluttered interior needs an element of order."

Rain didn't smile, which was hardly surprising, but a subtle change in his mist-colored eyes told her he was amused. She had only spent a few afternoons with him, but she was getting quite good at reading the small signals that indicated his moods. He was not an unemotional man, she realized, but somewhere along the line he had learned to exert an astounding degree of control over his emotions.

"I'm not concerned about the differences in our taste when it comes to elephants and carousels," Rain said softly. He fell silent, sipping his tea with a reflective air.

Silences were common around Oliver Rain. They did not appear to bother him, but Annie found them unnerving. She herself was rarely given to long silences in the middle of a conversation.

She swallowed tea and wondered if this was the moment to bring up the topic she wanted to discuss. Perhaps she should wait another week or so, but she was afraid she could not put it off much longer. Time was running out. If she could not get Rain to go along with her wild plan to save Lyncroft Unlimited, she would have to regroup and come up with another idea.

Unfortunately she didn't think there were any other ideas. She was at the end of the line.

Annie's stomach tightened as she steeled herself. Very carefully she replaced her teacup on its black and gold saucer. "Mr. Rain..."

"Oliver. Please. I want you to think of me as a friend of the family."

"Oliver." Annie took a deep breath. "A month ago, right after my brother disappeared, you said something about giving us, Joanna and me, that is, a hand."

"I assume there is still no word on your brother's fate?"

"No," Annie admitted. The search-and-rescue operation had been called off three days after Daniel's plane had vanished. There had been no sign of either the wreckage or of her brother's body to date. The official verdict was that Daniel had been lost at sea.

"And now, at last, you're beginning to understand the difficulties you'll face if you continue to try to run Lyncroft Unlimited on your own," Oliver said calmly.

Annie met his cool gaze. "It's going to be impossible, isn't it?"

"Yes."

"You knew that all along, didn't you?"

Oliver shrugged slightly. "It was inevitable that there would be serious problems. Your brother was the driving force behind Lyncroft Unlimited. Everyone knows that. With him gone, the investors were bound to get restless."

Annie gripped the arm of the black lacquer chair. "The other investors and creditors invited me to a meeting two days ago. They gave me an ultimatum. If I don't agree to sell or merge Lyncroft with a major firm very soon, they're going to call in the outstanding debt."

"I'm aware of the meeting."

Annie wrinkled her nose. "I'm not surprised." She paused. "You weren't at it, though."

"No."

"Does that mean you don't think I should agree to a buyout or a merger?" Annie held her breath waiting for the answer.

"I didn't say that. A buyout may be for the best. It will keep the company alive so that it will have a chance to get your brother's new wireless technology to market. When that happens, everyone involved will recover his initial investment along with a considerable profit."

Daniel's inventions were in the hot new area of electronics that was revolutionizing everything from computerized inventory control systems to medical procedures. Daniel had often told Annie the office of the future would be "wireless." The electrical cords that currently chained machines to a wall outlet or a power source would vanish.

"I can't sell Daniel's firm." Annie curled her hands into small determined fists. "He's worked too hard to get it started. He's invested everything he has in it, not just his money but his sweat and his genius. The future in electronics is in this new wireless stuff, and he's going to be in on the ground floor. Don't you understand? I can't give it away."

Oliver's black lashes veiled his eyes. "You won't be giving it away. You can demand a very good price. There are a lot of firms in the industry that would give a great deal to get their hands on the new technology your brother was developing."

"I won't sell Daniel's company," Annie repeated. "Not as long as Joanna and I believe there's a possibility he may still be alive."

"One of these days you will have to take a more realistic view of the situation," Oliver said. "The odds are that Daniel is gone. You know that as well as I do."

Annie lifted her chin. "I would know if Daniel were dead."

"Would you?"

"Yes, I would, damn it. Daniel is the only family I've got, the only family I've had since Aunt Madeline died. I'd know if he were really gone forever." She stabbed her fingers through her wild thick bob of sherry-colored curls. "I'd feel it deep inside."

Surely she would know it. Wouldn't she? Annie knew she was getting close to the end of her rope. She hadn't had a single good night's sleep since Daniel had vanished. The initial shock had faded somewhat, but her secret fears sometimes escaped from the dark place where she managed to confine them most of the time. When they did, they nearly swamped her. Perhaps her beloved older brother really was dead.

She was exhausted. There had been too many decisions to make in the past few weeks, too many questions to answer, too much pressure from the people who had invested in her brother's company. And now that Joanna had told her about the baby, there was a whole new set of concerns to be faced.

"I'm not the only one who would know if Daniel were dead," Annie continued quietly. "Joanna feels as strongly about this as I do. We're both certain he's still alive."

"No one can survive in that water off the coast of Alaska for more than thirty or forty minutes," Oliver reminded her gently. "You know that."

"The thing that everyone seems to forget is that my brother was a certified genius. Furthermore, when he flew, he took precautions other people wouldn't bother to take. He carried a survival suit, for example. And a raft. And all kinds of equipment."

"Even a survival suit won't protect a person against hypothermia indefinitely."

"There are dozens of islands scattered between here and Alaska. Hundreds. Most are just little dots of land. He could have made it to any one of them. He would be able to survive on one until help arrived."

"The search-and-rescue operation was very thorough," Oliver said. "I made certain of it."

Annie widened her eyes. "You did?"

"Of course. I told you, Daniel was more than a trusted employee when he worked for me. He was a friend."

"I'm glad to hear that," Annie said grimly. "Because I've come to ask you for help. I'm hoping that your friendship with Daniel was strong enough that you'll agree to my plan."

Oliver studied her with an expression of subdued satisfaction. He had clearly been expecting this. "You want me to give you a buyout offer for the company."

"No." Annie shot to her feet and stalked to the floor-to-ceiling windows. She looked out at the slatecolored sky and gray waters of Elliott Bay. "No, that's the last thing I want. I told you, I won't sell Lyncroft Unlimited. Not if I can help it."

"I would be willing to agree to sell it back to your brother if he does reappear."

Annie glanced back over her shoulder. "That's generous of you, but I don't think it's such a good idea."

"Why not?"

She set her back teeth. "Because I have it on very good authority that you are a dangerous man, Oliver Rain."

He did not seem disconcerted by the news. "Is that right? Who told you that?"

"Daniel."

"Your brother always was rather intelligent."

"Right. A genius. Look, we both know that if I were to sell the company to you, I would lose control of it entirely. You could do anything you want with it. You might even refuse to sell it back to Daniel or if you did, you might put such a high price tag on it that he wouldn't be able to afford it."

"We could arrange the terms of the deal before you sign anything."

"I just don't like letting go of the company. Not even to you. The risk is too great. No offense, but frankly, I don't see anyone in his right mind surrendering rights to the kind of technology Daniel has created."

"I applaud your loyalty and determination. But in the meantime, you're under a lot of pressure from your brother's creditors. They can force you to sell or merge, Annie."

"I know." Annie closed her eyes briefly and then swung around to face him. "They've started to call every day. After that meeting two days ago I knew we were in real trouble."

"It was only a matter of time. They're running scared, Annie. Surely you see their position. Lyncroft Unlimited is a one-man company in all the ways that count and that one man has vanished."

"I have to buy some time. All I need is a little time."

"How much time?"

"That's just it, I have no idea. A few days or maybe weeks. Who knows how long it will take to find Daniel?"

Oliver took a slow, thoughtful sip of tea and set the cup down on its saucer. Annie followed the movement with her eyes. The delicate china looked very fragile in his powerful hands. But it also looked quite safe.

"Even if I give you all the time you wish, you can't hope to stave off the rest of the firm's creditors for long," Oliver said.

"Not by myself, no. I realize that. But they would be pacified if they thought the company was in good hands again. Everyone realizes that I don't know beans about electronics and neither does Joanna. Nor do we know anything about managing a company the size of Lyncroft."

"No," Rain agreed. "You don't."

Annie took an eager step forward. "But if an executive who had a brilliant reputation in the business world were to take the helm, I think we could hold off the investors indefinitely."

Oliver did not move, but there was an air of cool readiness about him now. "'You're thinking of hiring someone to manage the company for you?"

"Sort of."

"I suppose it's a possibility. Have you approached anyone yet?"

"I had Barry Cork make a couple of discreet inquiries," Annie admitted. "He says the problem is that the people he approached all said they wouldn't do it unless they were guaranteed a permanent chunk of the company as part of their payment."

"That's a reasonable demand in such a situation. But you don't want to give away even a piece of Lyncroft Unlimited, do you?"

"No, I don't dare. Daniel probably wouldn't be able to get it back when he returns. Lyncroft Unlimited is going to be one of the hottest electronics firms in the country in five years. Everyone in the industry is aware of its potential."

"If you take on a partner now, Daniel will be stuck with him later, is that what you're afraid of?"

"Exactly. Partners can be major problems. Daniel told me once he never wanted one."

"You must understand that you have only two options at the moment. You can sell or merge Daniel's firm or you can take on a partner who can run it for you."

"I just can't take the chance," Annie said. "Daniel might never get back full control of his company."

Oliver reached for the teapot. "I'm sure I can be of some assistance, Annie."

Relief soared through her. "That was exactly what I was hoping you would say."

Oliver slanted her a speculative glance. "Were you?"

"Yes. The way I see it, you've got a lot at stake here, too. After all, it's in your best interests for my brother's company to survive and get its products into production, right?"

Oliver gazed at her over the rim of the cup. "It's true that I stand to make a considerable profit when the new technology starts hitting the market."

"Well, I've come up with an option that will give both of us what we want."

"Have you?" He sounded skeptical, but he was clearly intrigued.

"Yes, I have. It will protect Daniel's company and it will also protect your investment." Annie hurried back to her chair and sat down. Now that the moment had arrived to explain her idea, she was no longer so nervous. She leaned forward intently and folded her arms on the polished surface of the ebony desk.

"I'm listening, Annie."

"This is a little difficult to explain," she said. "But if you'll just hear me out, I think you'll agree that it could work. Keep in mind the plan won't have to be in effect very long because I'm sure we'll find Daniel any day."

Oliver paused in the act of pouring more tea. "This grows more interesting by the moment. Let"s hear your plan."

"Okay, as you know, Lyncroft Unlimited is a family-held corporation. My brother and I control all of the stock. When Joanna marries Daniel, she'll receive shares in the company, too, but not before that time."

"I understand. But since she hasn't yet married and your brother and Daniel is presumed dead, you now control all of the stock. You're the only member of the Lyncroft family around at the moment."

"That's right." Annie gathered herself for the plunge. "'But if I were to marry, my husband would become a member of the family. I could give him an interest in the company."

Tea splashed on the surface of the ebony desk. Oliver abruptly set down the teapot. For an instant he stared at the small puddle of spilled tea as if amazed that his powerful hands had failed him. When he looked up again, his eyes were filled with frozen ice.

"I didn't know you were planning to marry anyone."

Annie waved that aside. "I'm not. Not exactly, that is. Mr. Rain, I mean, Oliver, have you ever heard of a marriage of convenience?"

Copyright ©" 1993 by Jayne Ann Krentz

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 35 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 36 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2013

    Best

    This is the best of Jayne Ann Krentz books. Wonderful story, Oliver is the man any woman would want and Annie is just the cutest most lovable loyal woman a man could want. This book is the one that made me a fan.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2012

    A true favorite

    Fun and romantic

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  • Posted September 17, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Definetely a keeper

    Very sexy and highly entertaining! This is definitely one of the more imaginative alien romance novels I have ever read. In "Claimed" Evangeline creates a world full of aliens that instead of having the typical green Martian look turn out to be drop dead gorgeous hunks that have come to our planet in the search of brides since their race are unable to produce females. Our heroine though is less than enthused when she finds out she was chosen to become one of those "lucky" brides. Evangeline was very creative and descriptive when creating this alien world. Imagine men that made a 6 ft tall person look short or worms that taste like chocolate! The characters themselves each had there own faults and weaknesses that they had to work through before they got their happily ever after though, which made them all the more endearing to me. I will be looking out for more books from this author in the future for sure.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 10, 2011

    One of a kind

    This book not only made me smile but introduced me a love of ferns.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 12, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    By far, one of her bests!

    Wildest Hearts, my sister and I agree, has to be one of Krentz's best work to date and one of our favorite reads. Annie and Oliver's chemistry is so hot that if I was a woman in menopause, I would totally get hot flashes from reading this story. If you have not read Annie and Oliver's story, you're totally missing out! I highly recommend it! :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2005

    Another Passionate story by Krentz

    The story of Annie and Olivier is unique and Krentz expresses this well in this book. Olivier is a man who must have control but Annie digs deeper and finds the heart of Olivier and the hurt that drives him.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2001

    greatbook

    Oliver maybe controlling,but he is a loving man. He becae controlling because of family and job. He took on a great responsibility and not many people would be mature enough to do that. She is not naive. She has a very loving heart

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