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Jack Osland peered through the window of his Gulfstream jet plane as an indistinct figure emerged in the scattered snow falling on the tarmac at JFK.
"Did I even mention the word kidnap?" he asked his cousin Hunter who was sitting in the opposite seat.
"I can tell you're thinking about it," said Hunter, turning to improve his view, the white leather creaking beneath him.
"You're clairvoyant now?" asked Jack.
"I've known you since you were two years old."
"You were a baby when I was two."
Hunter shrugged. "You've got that telltale twitch in your temple."
"That just means I'm ticked off." Jack's attention went back to the woman who was striding through the frozen swirls of white. Ticked off was an understatement, and he was watching the reason walk toward him.
A slim five and a half feet, her face was obscured by a fur-trimmed hat and the enormous collar of her matching, cream-colored coat.
"Maybe she'll say no," Hunter offered, a hopeful lilt to his voice.
"And maybe pigs fly," Jack responded.
The woman wasn't about to say no. Nobody ever did. When Jack and Hunter's billionaire grandfather Cleveland Osland asked a gold digging, trophy babe to marry him, it was a done deal.
"Well it looks like dogs fly," said Hunter with a nod toward the future Mrs. Osland.
A flash of red pulled his gaze to her high-heeled boots. Sure enough. There, prancing along at her feet, was a tiny, plaid-coated fur ball.
As the implication registered, Jack shot Hunter a triumphant look. "Am I right, or am I right?"
"Her dog doesn't mean a thing."
"It means she's not turning around and going home."
"They only loaded one suitcase."
"You don't think Gramps's first wedding gift will be a platinum card?"
"Well, you still can't kidnap her," said Hunter.
"I'm not kidnapping her." Jack was desperate, but he wasn't a fool. He had no desire to give up a Malibu Beach penthouse for an eight-by-eight cell with a lumpy mattress, a leaky toilet and a roommate with a skull tattoo.
He didn't know how he was going to stop her. But, whatever his plan, he'd have to come up with it before the jet made it to L.A. "What exactly did your mom say to you?" asked Hunter. "She said that Gramps was at it again, and the latest one was hitching a ride with us. That's all I got, because she was boarding a flight to Paris, and we lost the connection. She's on the plane now."
"Could she have meant something else?"
Jack gave his cousin a deadpan stare. "No. She could not have meant something else. Gramps is getting remarried, and it's up to me to put a stop to it."
The future bride approached the aircraft, tipping her head to gaze at the fuselage. Jack caught a glimpse of straight, white teeth, burgundy lips, a smooth, flushed complexion and blue eyes that sparkled like jewels.
"Well, there's nothing wrong with Gramps's eyesight," muttered Hunter.
"I sure wish something would go wrong with his testosterone," Jack returned, giving the steward, Leonardo, a nod to open the cabin door.
"He doesn't sleep with them," said Hunter.
Jack stared at his cousin in disbelief.
"At least not until they're married. And then, well it sounded like sporadic attempts."
Jack was momentarily speechless. "You actually asked Moira and Gracie about their sex lives with Gramps?"
"Sure. Didn't you?"
"Of course not."
Hunter smirked. "You are such an easy mark. It was your mom who told me. I guess she asked them. She was worried about a possible pregnancy."
Jack wondered why his mother hadn't talked to him about her fears, instead of Hunter. Jack was her son, and the CEO of Osland International, the man whose job it was to protect the family interests.
Leonardo finished lowering the aircraft staircase, and the woman's quick footsteps echoed on metal stairs.
"You could try reasoning with her," Hunter suggested as they rose to their feet.
Jack snorted his disbelief.
But Hunter didn't give up. "Warn her that Gramps has done this before."
"She's a twentysomething trophy babe, dating an eighty-year-old man. You think there's a chance she'll be offended by his ethics?"
The woman in question rounded the corner in all her fur-trimmed, youth-dewy glory. The little dog barked once, but obeyed when she shushed it.
After a brief moment's hesitation, she smiled brightly at the two of them, leading with an outstretched, manicured hand. "Kristy Mahoney. I don't know if you heard, but I'm meeting with Cleveland and the Sierra Sanchez buying team on Monday. Cleveland said you wouldn't mind if I caught a ride?"
Her voice was as soft and husky as a lounge singer's. And she had an interesting flare of fashionboth for herself and the dog. In addition to the red plaid coat, the dog wore a collar that sparkled with rhinestones. After the single bark, it had stayed perfectly still, unblinking in her arms. It looked like a child's toy now, with wide glassy brown eyes and blow-dried fur.
Hunter was the first to step forward. "Hunter Osland. I'm one of Cleveland's grandsons. And of course we don't mind if you join us."
"A pleasure to meet you," she pulled off her white glove and gave his hand a graceful shake.
Then she turned to Jack and raised her finely sculpted eyebrows. Her face was porcelain-doll beautiful, with a tiny upturned nose, a delicate chin and wide-set, thick-lashed eyes.
"Jack Osland," he said, his voice unexpectedly gruff as he reached for her hand.
"Mr. Osland," she responded, closing her delicate fingers around his.
Jack was distracted by the feel of her cool skin, and her mesmerizing beauty. He barely heard Hunter's voice.
"Call us Jack and Hunter. Please."
She smiled into Jack's eyes, as if all was right with the world. As if she wasn't a shameless hussy hoping to get her hands on the family fortune. Quite the little actress this one. "Jack, then," she said.
The sound of his name somehow sensitized his skin. Her vaguely tropical scent surrounded him, and her blue-green gaze seemed to bore directly into his brain. For a split second, he empathized with his grandfather. But he ruthlessly shook off the feeling. Unlike Cleveland, he wasn't falling for azure eyes, full lips and long legs on a woman who could barely string together a coherent sentence.
Not that Kristy appeared to be struggling with the English language. But her two predecessors sure had.
Gracie, Gramps's first bimbo, thought the bottom line was caused by poor-fitting panties. She had designed jewelry so ugly it had to be melted down and sold for scrap. Moira had insisted on her own perfume label. R&D on that little venture had set the family back about a million bucks.
With Kristy, apparently it was fashion. And since Cleveland was the major shareholder in Osland International, and since Osland International owned the Sierra Sanchez chain of women's fashion stores, she had a whole lot to gain from the impending union.
Jack, on the other hand, had a whole lot to lose. Reminding himself of that important fact helped him will his brain-waves back to normal.
"Welcome aboard, Kristy," he said.
His voice was even as he released her hand, but his brain was scrambling for a way to neutralize her. In less than five hours they'd be in L.A. That gave him five hours to figure out a way to save his family several million dollars.
This trip was the opportunity of a lifetime for Kristy Mahoney. She was trying to play it cool, hoping Jack and Hunter hadn't noticed the tremor in her voice and the slight shaking of her hands. It was a combination of nerves, adrenaline and way too much caffeine.
She'd been riding a high for a week, ever since she'd wrangled an invitation to a fashion-week after-party at Rockefeller Square and met L.A. clothing-store mogul Cleveland Osland. When he'd admired her self-designed gown, she was more than flattered. Then she'd been stunned when he'd asked to see her sketches and samples.
When he'd asked her to meet with his buying team in L.A., she'd begun pinching herself every hour on the hour, waiting for the illusion to vaporize. Any second now, she expected to wake up in her SoHo loft with Dee Dee curled up at her feet. She was sure she'd be tangled up in sweaty sheets, because this was better than any sex dream.
"Your coat, ma'am?" asked the steward.
Kristy switched Dee Dee from one arm to the other as she removed her hat and coat and her other glove. The man named Jack took in her straight black skirt and the snug red sweater, laced up at the front. Then he glanced disapprovingly at Dee Dee. Kristy felt her spine stiffen. Cleveland had claimed to be a dog fanatic, and Dee Dee hated to be left alone. Besides, she helped keep Kristy calm.
A year ago, Kristy had found the Pomeranian in a dank alley a few blocks from her loft. Cute little Dee Dee had popped out from behind a Dumpster, looking sweet, pathetic and small. Kristy hadn't had the heart to leave her out in a gathering November storm. Nor did she have the heart to let her stay at the animal shelter when no one claimed her.
Now she subconsciously squeezed Dee Dee as the steward hung her coat in the compact closet and Hunter gestured to one of the thick white leather seats.
"Please," he said.
"Thank you." Kristy sat down and crossed her legs, settling Dee Dee on her lap. The little dog's warm body helped chase away the butterflies in her abdomen.
"May I offer you a cocktail?" asked the steward as Jack took the seat opposite Kristy and Hunter sat down across the narrow aisle from Jack.
"Some fruit juice would be nice," said Kristy. It was nearly five o'clock, but she wanted to stay sharp. With the time-zone change gaining them three hours, they were scheduled to land in California at seven.
"I was about to open a bottle of ninety-three Cristal," Jack interjected. "We're celebrating the opening of a new Sierra Sanchez store in France."
Kristy hesitated. She didn't want to be rude
"I could make you a Mimosa," offered the steward. "With fresh-squeezed orange juice?"
Kristy breathed a sigh of relief at the compromise. "That would be perfect. Thank you."
"Perfect," Jack echoed, obviously pleased as he leaned back in his seat.
He was wearing a Reese Gerhart suit, a Stolde shirt and a gray, diamond-patterned, Macklin Vanier tie. His studied, casual pose, along with the shock of dark hair that curled rakishly across his forehead, reminded her that she'd seen him mentioned in both Business Week and GQ in the past six months. Jack Oslandentrepreneur extraordinaire, heir apparent to Osland International, a man to see and to be seen with.
Beneath Dee Dee's sleeping body, Kristy surreptitiously pinched herself once more. Last year he'd made the list of the top twenty hottest male executives in America. Though, from her current vantage point, it could easily have been a list of one.
The jet engines whined, and the aircraft jerked to rolling, turning sharply to make its way to the runway. While they waited their turn in the lineup, the steward served the drinks champagne for Jack and Hunter, and the mimosa for Kristy.
Jack immediately raised his glass. "To successful ventures." Hunter coughed.
Kristy followed Jack's lead, toasting then taking a sip of the tart, effervescent concoction.
"So, tell us about your business, Kristy," said Jack, about three hours into the flight.
She placed her second mimosa on the burnished cherrywood table between them. Then she took a deep breath, organizing her well-rehearsed pitch. "We're a fashion design company"
"We?" asked Jack, cocking his head.
"Me," Kristy admitted, slightly rattled by the swift interruption. "It's a sole proprietorship."
When he remained silent, she picked up the thread of her pitch. "A fashion design company specializing in high-end ladies wear, specifically evening gown"
"And what was your bottom line last quarter?" Kristy hesitated. She'd hoped to gloss over her order volume and income, along with the modest size of her company. Although she'd been fighting for years to break into the New York fashion establishment, she'd yet to secure a retail contract, and her private sales were a whole lot less than stellar.
"I'm looking forward to the opportunities Cleveland can offer," she said, instead of answering directly.
"I'll bet you are," said Jack.
"Excuse my cousin," said Hunter. "He doesn't know when to stop talking business."
"I'm just asking"
"Do you like basketball, Kristy?" asked Hunter.
Kristy turned to him and blinked. "Basketball?"
He nodded, taking a sip of his champagne.
don't know much about it."
"Cleveland loves basketball," Jack put in.
Kristy turned her attention back to Jack. "I'm afraid I don't watch sports."
"Hmm," Jack nodded sagely, his brow furrowing.
"Is that a problem?" She glanced at Hunter and then Jack, trying to read their expressions. Was it like corporate golf? Was Osland family business conducted at a basketball court?
"Would you recommend
" she paused. "I mean, should I learn something about basketball?"
"I would," said Jack.
"Jack," said Hunter. "Well, I would."
Kristy took a big swallow of her mimosa. Okay. Basketball. She sure wished she'd known about this earlier. She could have taken in a game, watched some ESPN or read a sports magazine.
Then she had an idea. "I don't suppose you two would share
Jack grinned. "Sure. He's a Lakers fan. And I wouldn't mention the Clippers if I was you."
Hunter jumped in. "I have tickets to the Lakers Sonics game on Friday, if you'd like"
"Bud Reynolds is his favorite player," said Jack, shooting Hunter a glare. Then his more normal expression quickly returned as his attention shifted to Kristy. "The Budster is up for player of the year. He's ten for thirteen on threes from the straight away."
"And seventeen for thirty-five from downtown," said Hunter. "You should really join me at"
"Kristy doesn't like basketball," said Jack.
She fought a moment of panic. "I never said I didn't"
"She might change her mind," Hunter put in.
"I could learn," Kristy offered. If basketball truly was the golf game of the Osland corporate world, she was more than willing to give it a try.
Jack's mouth thinned as he spoke to Hunter. "Dating Kristy is not the answer."
Dating? She glanced from one man to the other. Dating? What had she missed?
"It's nothing but a basketball game," said Hunter.
"Drop it," said Jack.
Then a voice interrupted from the plane's intercom. "Mr. Osland?"
Jack pressed a button on his armrest. "Yes, Simon."
"Just to let you know, we're reading an indicator light up here."
A muscle in Jack's temple twitched, and everything inside Kristy went still.