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Genevieve Spenser adjusted her four-hundred-dollar sunglasses, smoothed her sleek, perfect chignon and stepped aboard the powerboat beneath the bright Caribbean sun. It was early April, and after a long, cold, wet winter in New York City she should have been ready for the brilliant sunshine dancing off the greeny blue waters. Unfortunately she wasn't in the mood to appreciate it. For one thing, she didn't want to be there. She had a six-week sabbatical from her job as junior partner in the law firm of Roper, Hyde, Camui and Fredericks, and she'd been looking forward to something a great deal different. In two days' time she'd be in the rain forests of Costa Rica with no makeup, no contact lenses, no high heels and no expectations to live up to. She'd been so ready to shed her protective skin that this final task seemed like an enormous burden instead of the simple thing it was.
The Grand Cayman Islands were on her way to Central America. Sort of. And one extra day wouldn't make any difference, Walter Fredericks had told her. Besides, what red-blooded, single, thirty-year-old female would object to spending even a short amount of time with People magazine's Sexiest Man of the Year, billionaire division? Harry Van Dorn was gorgeous, charming and currently between wives, and the law firm that represented the Van Dorn Foundation needed some papers signed. This was perfect for everyone. Serendipity.
Genevieve didn't exactly think so, but she kept her mouth shut. She'd learned diplomacy and tact in the last few years since Walt Fredericks had taken her under his wing.
She pulled out her pale gray Armani suit, put on the seven-hundred-dollar Manolo Blahnik shoes she hadn't even blinked at buying—the shoes that hurt her feet, made her tower over most men and matched the Armani and nothing else. When she first brought them home she'd emerged from her corporate daze long enough to look at the price tag and burst into tears. What had happened to the idealistic young woman who was determined to spend her life helping people? The rescuer, who spent her money on the oppressed, not on designer clothing?
Unfortunately she knew the answer, and she didn't want to dwell on it. In her tightly controlled life she'd learned to look forward rather than back. The shoes were beautiful and she told herself she deserved them. And she'd brought them to see Harry Van Dorn, as part of her protective armor.
They didn't make climbing down into the launch any easier, but she managed with a modicum of grace. Genevieve hated boats. She rarely got seasick, but she always felt vaguely trapped. She could see the massive white shape of the Van Dorn yacht against the brilliant horizon; it looked more like a mansion than a boat, and maybe she could simply ignore the sea surrounding them and pretend they were in a fancy restaurant. She was good at ignoring unpleasant facts—she'd learned the hard way that that was what you had to do to survive.
And her job should only take a few hours. She'd let Harry Van Dorn feed her, get him to sign the papers she'd brought with her in her slim leather briefcase, and once she'd arranged to have them couriered back to New York she'd be free. Only a matter of hours—she was silly to feel so edgy. It was far too beautiful a day to have this sense of impending doom. There could be no doom under the bright Caribbean sun.
Her tranquilizers were in her tiny purse. Harry Van Dorn's crew had gotten her comfortably seated with a glass of iced tea in one hand. It was a simple enough matter to sneak one yellow pill out and take it. She'd almost planned to leave them behind in New York—she didn't expect to need tranquilizers in the rain forest, but fortunately she changed her mind at the last minute. The pill was going to take a few minutes to kick in, but she could get by on sheer determination until then.
Genevieve had been on yachts before—Roper and company specialized in handling the legal concerns for myriad charitable foundations, and money was no object. She'd gone from her job as public defender to private law practice, and she'd hoped specializing in charitable foundations was still close enough to honorable work to assuage the remnants of her liberal conscience. She'd been quickly disillusioned—the foundations set up as tax shelters by the wealthy tended to spend as much money glorifying the donors' names and providing cushy jobs for their friends as they did on the actual charity, but by then it was too late, and Genevieve was committed.
Harry Van Dorn's floating palace, SS Seven Sins, was on a grander scale than she'd seen so far, and she knew for a fact it was owned by the Van Dorn Trust Foundation, not Harry himself—a nice little tax write-off. She stepped aboard, her three-and-a-half-inch heels balanced perfectly beneath her, and surveyed the deck, keeping her expression impassive. With any luck Harry Van Dorn would be too busy on the putting green she could see up at the front of the ship to want to waste much time on a lawyer who was nothing more than Roper, Hyde, Camui and Fredericks's perfectly groomed messenger. Damn, she wasn't in the mood for this.
She plastered her practiced, professional smile on her Chanel-tinted lips and stepped inside the cool confines of a massive room beautifully furnished in black and white, with mirrors everywhere to make it appear even larger. She could see her reflection in at least three different directions. She'd already checked her appearance before she'd left that morning. A young woman, just past thirty, with her long blond hair neatly arranged, her pale gray suit hanging perfectly on her shoulders and disguising the fifteen pounds that she knew Roper et al didn't approve of. Genevieve didn't approve of it either, but all the dieting and exercise in the world couldn't seem to budge it.
"Ms. Spenser?" It took a moment for her eyesight to adjust from the bright glare of the sun on the water to the dimmer light in the large room, and she couldn't see anyone but the indistinct shape of a man across the room. The voice held a faint, upper-class British accent, so she knew it wasn't Harry. Harry Van Dorn was from Texas, with a voice and a character to match. The man took a step toward her, coming into focus.
"I'm Peter Jensen, Mr. Van Dorn's personal assistant. He'll be with you in a short while. In the meantime is there anything I can do to make you comfortable? Something to drink, perhaps? The newspaper?"
She hadn't thought of the word unctuous in a long time, probably not since she'd been forced to read Charles Dickens, but the word suited Peter Jensen perfectly. He was bland and self-effacing to a fault, and even the British accent, usually an attention grabber, seemed just part of the perfect personal-assistant profile. His face was nondescript, he had combed-back, very dark hair and wire-rimmed glasses; if she'd passed him on the street she wouldn't have looked twice at him. She barely did now. "Iced tea and the New York Times if you have it," she said, taking a seat on the leather banquette and setting the briefcase beside her. She crossed her legs and looked at her shoes. They were worth every penny when you considered what they did for her long legs. She looked up, and Peter Jensen was looking at them, too, though she suspected it was the shoes, not the legs. He didn't seem to be the type to be interested in a woman's legs, no matter how attractive they were, and she quickly uncrossed them, tucking her feet out of the way.
"It will only take a moment, Ms. Spenser," he said.
"In the meantime make yourself comfortable."
He disappeared, silent as a ghost, and Genevieve shook off the uneasy feeling. She'd sensed disapproval from Harry Van Dorn's cipher-like assistant—he'd probably taken one look at her shoes and known what she'd spent. Normally people in Jensen's position were impressed; she'd walked into a particularly snooty shop on Park Avenue in them and it seemed as if the entire staff had converged on her, knowing that a woman who spent that kind of money on shoes wouldn't hesitate to spend an equally egregious amount in their overpriced boutique.
And she had.
Genevieve steeled herself for Peter Jensen's reappearance. Instead, a uniformed steward appeared, with a tall glass of ice-cold Earl Grey and a fresh copy of the New York Times. There was a slender gold pen on the tray as well, and she picked it up. "What's this for?" she inquired. Didn't they expect her to be professional enough to have brought her own pen?
"Mr. Jensen thought you might want to do the crossword puzzle. Mr. Van Dorn is taking a shower, and he might be awhile."
Now, how did that gray ghost of a man know she did crossword puzzles? In pen? It was the Saturday paper, with the hardest of the week's puzzles, and she didn't hesitate. For some irrational reason she felt as if Peter Jensen had challenged her, and she was tired and edgy and wanted to be anywhere but on Harry Van Dorn's extremely oversize, pretentious yacht. At least the puzzle would keep her mind off the water that was trapping her.
She was just finishing, when one of the doors to the salon opened and a tall figure filled the doorway. It had been a particularly trying puzzle—in the end she'd been cursing Will Weng, Margaret Farrar and Will Shortz with generalized cool abandon, but she set the paper down and rose with serene dignity.
Only to have it vanish when the man stepped forward and she realized it was simply Peter Jensen again. He glanced at the folded paper, and she just knew his bland eyes would focus on the empty squares of the one word she couldn't get. "Mr. Van Dorn is ready to see you now, Ms. Spenser."
About frigging time, she thought. He moved to one side to let her precede him, and it was a momentary shock to realize how tall he was. She was a good six feet in her ridiculous heels, and he was quite a bit taller than she. He should have dwarfed the cabin and yet he barely seemed to be there.
"Enigma," he murmured as she passed him.
"I beg your pardon?" she said, rattled.
"The word you couldn't get. It's enigma."
Of course it was. She controlled her instinctive irritation; the man got on her nerves for no discernible reason. She didn't have to play this role for very much longer, she reminded herself. Get Harry Van Dorn to sign the papers, flirt a little bit if she must and then get back to the tiny airport and see if she could catch an earlier flight to Costa Rica.
The bright sun was blinding when she stepped out on deck, and there was no more pretending she was back on the island with all the water shimmering around them. She looked up at the huge boat—not a mansion, an ocean liner—and followed Peter Jensen's precise walk halfway down the length of the ship until he stopped. She moved past him, dismissing the executive assistant from her mind as she took in the full glory of Harry Van Dorn, the world's sexiest billionaire.
"Ms. Spenser," he said, rising from his seat on the couch, his Texas accent rich and charming. "I'm so sorry to have kept you waiting! You came all this way out here just for me and I leave you cooling your heels while I'm busy with paperwork. Peter, why didn't you tell me Ms. Spenser was here?"
"I'm sorry, sir. It must have slipped my mind." Jensen's voice was neutral, expressionless, but she turned back to glance at him anyway. Why in the world wouldn't he have told Van Dorn she was there? Just to be a pissant? Or was Van Dorn simply dumping the blame on his assistant as he knew he could?
"No harm done," Van Dorn said, moving forward, taking Genevieve's hand with the most natural of gestures and bringing her back into the cabin. He was clearly a physical man, one who liked to touch when he talked to people. It was part and parcel of his charisma.