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Sarah heard the low buzz but didn't pay any attention to it. She was on deadline and only had until noon to finish the layout for Beguile's feature on the best new ski resorts for the young and ultrastylish. She wanted to finish the mock-up in time for the senior staff's weekly working lunch. If she didn't have it ready, Alexis Danvers, the magazine's executive editor, would skewer her with one of the basilisklike stares that had made her a legend in the world of glossy women's magazines.
Not that her boss's stony stares particularly bothered Sarah. They might put the rest of the staff in a flophouse sweat, but she and her sister had been raised by a grandmother who could reduce pompous officials or supercilious headwaiters to a quivering bundle of nerves with the lift of a single brow. Charlotte St. Sebastian had once moved in the same circles as Princess Grace and Jackie O. Those days were long gone, Sarah acknowledged, as she switched the headline font from Futura to Trajan, but Grandmama still adhered to the unshakable belief that good breeding and quiet elegance could see a woman through anything life might throw at her.
Sarah agreed completely. Which was one of the reasons she'd refined her own understated style during her three years as layout editor for a magazine aimed at thirtysome-things determined to be chic to the death. Her vintage Chanel suits and Dior gowns might come from Grandmama's closet, but she teamed the gowns with funky costume jewelry and the suit jackets with slacks or jeans and boots. The result was a stylishly retro look that even Alexis approved of.
The primary reason Sarah stuck to her own style, of course, was that she couldn't afford the designer shoes and bags and clothing featured in Beguile. Not with Grand-mama's medical bills. Some of her hand-me-downs were starting to show their wear, though, and
The buzz cut into her thoughts. Gaining volume, it rolled in her direction. Sarah was used to frequent choruses of oohs and aahs. Alexis often had models parade through the art and production departments to field test their hair or makeup or outfits on Beguile's predominantly female staff.
Whatever was causing this chorus had to be special. Excitement crackled in the air like summer lightning. Wondering what new Jimmy Choo beaded boots or Atelier Versace gown was creating such a stir, Sarah swung her chair around. To her utter astonishment, she found herself looking up into the face of Sexy Single Number Three.
"Ms. St. Sebastian?"
The voice was cold, but the electric-blue eyes, black hair and rugged features telegraphed hot, hot, hot. Alexis had missed the mark with last month's issue, Sarah thought wildly. This man should have topped the magazine's annual Ten Sexiest Single Men in the World list instead of taking third place.
The artist in her could appreciate six-feet-plus of hard, muscled masculinity cloaked in the civilized veneer of a hand-tailored suit and Italian-silk tie. The professional in her responded to the coldness in his voice with equally cool civility.
"I want to talk to you." Those devastating blue eyes cut to the side. "Alone."
Sarah followed his searing gaze. An entire gallery of female faces peered over, around and between the production department's chin-high partitions. A few of those faces were merely curious. Most appeared a half breath away from drooling.
She turned back to Number Three. Too bad his manners didn't live up to his looks. The aggressiveness in both his tone and his stance were irritating and uncalled for, to say the least.
"What do you want to talk to me about, Mr. Hunter?"
He didn't appear surprised that she knew his name. She did, after all, work at the magazine that had made hunky Devon Hunter the object of desire by a good portion of the female population at home and abroad.
"Your sister, Ms. St. Sebastian."
Oh, no! A sinking sensation hit Sarah in the pit of her stomach. What had Gina gotten into now?
Her glance slid to the silver-framed photo on the cre-denza beside her workstation. There was Sarah, dark-haired, green-eyed, serious as always, protective as always. And Gina. Blonde, bubbly, affectionate, completely irresponsible.
Two years younger than Sarah, Gina tended to change careers with the same dizzying frequency she tumbled in and out of love. She'd texted just a few days ago, gushing about the studly tycoon she'd hooked up with. Omitting, Gina style, to mention such minor details as his name or how they'd met.
Sarah had no trouble filling in the blanks now. Devon Hunter was founder and CEO of a Fortune 500 aerospace corporation headquartered in Los Angeles. Gina was in L.A. chasing yet another career opportunity, this time as a party planner for the rich and famous.
"I think it best if we make this discussion private, Ms.
Resigned to the inevitable, Sarah nodded. Her sister's flings tended to be short and intense. Most ended amicably, but on several occasions Sarah had been forced to soothe some distinctly ruffled male feathers. This, apparently, was one of those occasions.
"Come with me, Mr. Hunter."
She led the way to a glass-walled conference room with angled windows that gave a view of Times Square. Framed prominently in one of the windows was the towering Conde Nast Building, the center of the universe for fashion publications. The building was home to Vogue, Vanity Fair, Glamour and Allure. Alexis often brought advertisers to the conference room to impress them with Beguile's proximity to those icons in the world of women's glossies.
The caterers hadn't begun setting up for the working lunch yet but the conference room was always kept ready for visitors. The fridge discreetly hidden behind oak panels held a half-dozen varieties of bottled water, sparkling and plain, as well as juices and energy drinks. The gleaming silver coffee urns were replenished several times a day.
Sarah gestured to the urns on their marble counter. "Would you care for some coffee? Or some sparkling water, perhaps?"
The curt reply decided her against inviting the man to sit. Crossing her arms, she leaned a hip against the conference table and assumed a look of polite inquiry.
"You wanted to talk about Gina?"
He took his time responding. Sarah refused to bristle as his killer blue eyes made an assessing trip from her face to her Chanel suit jacket with its black-and-white checks and signature logo to her black boots and back up again.
"You don't look much like your sister."
"No, I don't."
She was comfortable with her slender build and what her grandmother insisted were classic features, but she knew she didn't come close to Gina's stunning looks.
"My sister's the only beauty in the family."
Politeness dictated that he at least make a show of disputing the calm assertion. Instead, he delivered a completely unexpected bombshell.
"Is she also the only thief?"
Her arms dropped. Her jaw dropped with them. "I beg your pardon?"
"You can do more than beg my pardon, Ms. St. Sebastian. You can contact your sister and tell her to return the artifact she stole from my house."
The charge took Sarah's breath away. It came back on a hot rush. "How dare you make such a ridiculous, slanderous accusation?"
"It's neither ridiculous nor slanderous. It's fact."
She was in full tigress mode now. Years of rushing to her younger sibling's defense spurred both fury and passion.
"Gina may be flighty and a little careless at times, but she would never take anything that didn't belong to her!"
Not intentionally, that is. There was that nasty little Pomeranian she'd brought home when she was eight or nine. She'd found it leashed to a sign outside a restaurant in one-hundred-degree heat and "rescued" it. And it was true Gina and her teenaged friends used to borrow clothes from each other constantly, then could never remember what belonged to whom. And, yes, she'd been known to overdraw her checking account when she was strapped for cash, which happened a little too frequently for Sarah's peace of mind.
But she would never commit theft, as this this boor was suggesting. Sarah was about to call security to have the man escorted from the building when he reached into his suit pocket and palmed an iPhone.
"Maybe this clip from my home surveillance system will change your mind."
He tapped the screen, then angled it for Sarah to view. She saw a still image of what looked like a library or study, with the focus of the camera on an arrangement of glass shelves. The objects on the shelves were spaced and spotlighted for maximum dramatic effect. They appeared to be an eclectic mix. Sarah noted an African buffalo mask, a small cloisonne disk on a black lacquer stand and what looked like a statue of a pre-Columbian fertility goddess.
Hunter tapped the screen again and the still segued into a video. While Sarah watched, a tumble of platinum-blond curls came into view. Her heart began to thump painfully even before the owner of those curls moved toward the shelving. It picked up more speed when the owner showed her profile. That was her sister. Sarah couldn't even pretend to deny it.
Gina glanced over her shoulder, all casual nonchalance, all smiling innocence. When she moved out of view again, the cloisonne medallion no longer sat on its stand. Hunter froze the frame again, and Sarah stared at the empty stand as though it was a bad dream.
"It's Byzantine," he said drily. "Early twelfth century, in case you're interested. One very similar to it sold recently at Sotheby's in London for just over a hundred thousand."
She swallowed. Hard. "Dollars?"
She'd rescued Gina from more scrapes than she could count. But this She almost yanked out one of the chairs and collapsed in a boneless heap. The iron will she'd inherited from Grandmama kept her spine straight and her chin up.
"There's obviously a logical explanation for this, Mr.
"I very much hope so, Ms. St. Sebastian."
She wanted to smack him. Calm, refined, always polite Sarah had to curl her hands into fists to keep from slapping that sneer off his too-handsome face.
He must have guessed her savagely suppressed urge. His jaw squared and his blue eyes took on a challenging glint, as if daring her to give it her best shot. When she didn't, he picked up where they'd left off.
"I'm very interested in hearing that explanation before I refer the matter to the police."
The police! Sarah felt a chill wash through her. Whatever predicament Gina had landed herself in suddenly assumed a very ominous tone. She struggled to keep the shock and worry out of her voice.
"Let me get in touch with my sister, Mr. Hunter. It may it may take a while. She's not always prompt about returning calls or answering emails right away."
"Yeah, I found that out. I've been trying to reach her for several days."
He shot back a cuff and glanced at his watch.
"I've got meetings scheduled that will keep me tied up for the rest of this afternoon and well into the night. I'll make dinner reservations for tomorrow evening. Seven o'clock. Avery's, Upper West Side." He turned that hard blue gaze on her. "I assume you know the address. It's only a few blocks from the Dakota."
Still stunned by what she'd seen in the surveillance clip, Sarah almost missed his last comment. When it penetrated, her eyes widened in shock. "You know where I live?"
"Yes, Lady Sarah, I do." He tipped two fingers to his brow in a mock salute and strode for the door. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Coming on top of everything else, the use of her empty title shouldn't have bothered her. Her boss trotted it out frequently at cocktail parties and business meetings. Sarah had stopped being embarrassed by Alexis's shameless peddling of a royal title that had long since ceased to have any relevance.
Unfortunately, Alexis wanted to do more than peddle the heritage associated with the St. Sebastian name. Sarah had threatened to quittwice!if her boss went ahead with the feature she wanted to on Beguile's own Lady Sarah Elizabeth Marie-Adele St. Sebastian, granddaughter to Charlotte, the Destitute Duchess.
God! Sarah shuddered every time she remembered the slant Alexis had wanted to give the story. That destitute tag, as accurate as it was, would have shattered Grand-mama's pride.
Having her younger granddaughter arrested for grand larceny wouldn't do a whole lot for it, either.
Jolted back to the issue at hand, Sarah rushed out of the conference room. She had to get hold of Gina. Find out if she'd really lifted that medallion. She was making a dash for her workstation when she saw her boss striding toward her.
"What's this I just heard?"
Alexis's deep, guttural smoker's rasp was always a shock to people meeting her for the first time. Beguile's executive editor was paper-clip thin and always gorgeously dressed. But she would rather take her chances with cancer than quit smoking and risk ballooning up to a size four.
"Is it true?" she growled. "Devon Hunter was here?"
"Why didn't you buzz me?"
"I didn't have time."
"What did he want? He's not going to sue us, is he?
Dammit, I told you to crop that locker-room shot above the waist."
"No, Alexis. You told me to make sure it showed his butt crack. And I told you I didn't think we should pay some smarmy gym employee to sneak pictures of the man without his knowledge or consent."
The executive editor waved that minor difference of editorial opinion aside. "So what did he want?"
"He's, uh, a friend of Gina's."
Or was, Sarah thought grimly, until the small matter of a twelfth-century medallion had come between them. She had to get to a phone. Had to call Gina.
"Another one of your sister's trophies?" Alexis asked sarcastically.
"I didn't have time to get all the details. Just that he's in town for some business meetings and wants to get together for dinner tomorrow."
The executive editor cocked her head. An all-too-familiar gleam entered her eyes, one that made Sarah swallow a groan. Pit bulls had nothing on Alexis when she locked her jaws on a story.
"We could do a follow-up," she said. "How making Beguile's Top Ten list has impacted our sexy single's life. Hunter's pretty much a workaholic, isn't he?"
Frantic to get to the phone, Sarah gave a distracted nod. "That's how we portrayed him."
"I'm guessing he can't take a step now without tripping over a half-dozen panting females. Gina certainly smoked him out fast enough. I want details, Sarah. Details!"
She did her best to hide her agitation behind her usual calm facade. "Let me talk to my sister first. See what's going on."
"Do that. And get me details!"
Alexis strode off and Sarah barely reached the chair at her worktable before her knees gave out. She snatched up her iPhone and hit the speed-dial number for her sister. Of course, the call went to voice mail.
"Gina! I need to talk to you! Call me."
She also tapped out a text message and zinged off an email. None of which would do any good if her sister had forgotten to turn on her phone. Again. Knowing the odds of that were better than fifty-fifty, she tried Gina's current place of employment. She was put through to her sister's distinctly irate boss, who informed her that Gina hadn't shown up for work. Again.
"She called in yesterday morning. We'd catered a business dinner at the home of one our most important clients the night before. She said she was tired and was taking the day off. I haven't heard from her since."
Sarah had to ask. "Was that client Devon Hunter, by any chance?"
"Yes, it was. Look, Ms. St. Sebastian, your sister has a flair for presentation but she's completely unreliable. If you speak to her before I do, tell her not to bother coming in at all."
Despite the other, far more pressing problem that needed to be dealt with, Sarah hated that Gina had lost yet another job. She'd really seemed to enjoy this one.
"I'll tell her," she promised the irate supervisor. "And if she contacts you first, please tell her to call me."