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Hot August Nights
By Christine Flynn
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAshley Kendrick's day had started out badly and gone downhill from there. She'd thought the worst was the snag she'd hit at noon when a paparazzo had followed her into a deli and drawn so much attention to her that she'd left without her lunch. She figured it had actually hit rock bottom about twenty minutes ago.
She had learned to live with people who unsettled her. Strangers on the street routinely pointed or stared. Paparazzi and reporters emerged from nowhere, startling her with the flash of their cameras, assaulting her with questions inevitably designed to expose something - anything - personal or sensational about any member of the Kendrick family.
She was accustomed to the attention. She wasn't always comfortable with it, but she had come to accept the near constant publicity that came with being a Kendrick. Her baby pictures had appeared in the national press, as had those of her siblings each time her wealthy, now-retired senator father and her mother, a princess who had given up an entire kingdom to marry him, had produced more progeny. America had watched her grow up, and over those years she had learned to handle the disconcerting situations that occurred with astounding regularity.
She pretended she could handle them, anyway, which was the best she could hope for considering how unsure of herself she often tended to be. But when Matt Callaway had answered her knock on her brother's door, she had been forced to admit that no one had ever unsettled her more than her brother Cord's best friend.
She hadn't seen Matt in ten years, but he still disturbed her. Not the way strangers did when they encroached upon her privacy. But in a far more fundamental and primitive way. The man was six feet, two inches of sandy-haired, carved and sculpted muscle, tension and testosterone. His steel-gray eyes had a way of looking at her that made her feel totally exposed, totally vulnerable. And she had never once been in his presence without feeling she would be totally susceptible to him if she didn't keep her guard in place.
He had also just become the only man who'd ever driven her to drink.
Granted, the drink was a rather excellent California chardonnay that she'd found in her brother's wine cellar. And having a glass gave her something to do while she waited on Cord's deck for him to get home. But discovering that Matt Callaway could still make her uneasy enough to seek the first available excuse to avoid his company had her frowning at the nearly empty crystal goblet. That, and the fact that she didn't want to be where she was to begin with.
She had planned to work tonight. As far behind as she was, she desperately needed those uninterrupted hours. But her father had insisted her work could wait. He considered it far more important that she used her time to track down her brother and have Cord sign a trust amendment he had forgotten to sign when he'd been in Richmond last week. Her dad, who ruled the Kendricks' multimillion-dollar empire from a suite of offices ten stories above her decidedly more modest one, had informed her she could work late tomorrow night.
Having to make a two-hour drive from Richmond to Newport News frustrated her enough. In the time she spent on that round-trip alone, she could have done serious damage to the piles on her desk. But her mother had started exerting her considerable influence on her time, too. Just that morning, her mom had informed Ashley that she would have to give up her position as director of the scholarship program she helped administer if she intended to assist with fund-raisers like the gala charity auction she was currently working on twelve hours a day to have ready for next week.
It hadn't mattered that the auction was for the East Coast Shelter Project, her mom's new favorite charity. Or that Ashley had insisted that she truly could handle both. Her mother had said there was absolutely no need for her to work that hard.
What Ashley did had nothing to do with need as her mother had meant it. It had to do with feeling that she was earning her own way.
Smoothing the hem of her short red jacket over her white slacks, she settled back in the deck chair. Not liking her mood, hoping to change it, she told herself she might as well enjoy the break.
The effort lasted long enough for her to cross one knee over the other. One low-heeled sandal dangling from her French-manicured toes, she restively swayed her foot and glanced past the wide, tiered deck and her brother's sailboat moored fifty feet beyond the cedar railing.
She knew that working for her family must be like working for any other employer. Suspected it was, anyway, as she watched the sun set on the sailboats in the long inlet on Chesapeake Bay. She'd never worked for anyone else to know for certain. She loved her family. She truly did. But she was twenty-eight years old, had never in her life done anything that wasn't by the book, and she was getting really tired of being told what to do and when she could do it.
Ten feet away, the glass deck door rumbled open in its track.
"Do me a favor, will you?"
The sound of Matt's deep voice had her foot going still an instant before she carefully uncrossed her legs. Knees together, she automatically crossed her ankles, abandoned her mental mutiny and set her wine on the glass-topped table beside her. As she did, she glanced toward the blond jock filling the doorway.
Matt was still dressed as he had been when he'd answered the front door. His loose gray tank top exposed enough of his beautifully cut arms, shoulders and pectorals to leave no doubt about what had to be an impressive six-pack of abdominal muscle. Below the baggy hem of his navy gym shorts, his powerful thighs glistened with sweat.
The front of his shirt was stained with it, too.
He'd obviously finished the workout she'd interrupted when she'd arrived.
"If I can," she said, hurriedly dragging her eyes from his chest.
"I just need you to listen for the phone." His glance slid over her, bold and assessing, much as it had when he'd opened the front door. He'd seemed as surprised to find her there as she'd been to find herself faced with his decidedly large and impressive body. Within seconds of her unconsciously stepping back, he'd also seemed just as edgy with her as he'd always been. "I'm getting in the shower and won't be able to hear it. Cord said he'd call if he got held up."
Without looking up, swearing she could feel that edginess radiating toward her, she nodded. "Sure."
"If he does call, tell him he doesn't need to stop by the construction site. I have the reports he left there."
The construction site. That would be the major mall Matt's company was building outside Newport News for Kendrick Investments. Apparently, he'd come down from Baltimore to check on its progress and was staying with Cord while he was here.
She might not have seen Matt in years, but that didn't mean she didn't occasionally hear about him through the somewhat tangled family grapevine.
"I'll do that," she quietly assured him.
Restively pushing his fingers through his hair, he turned away. A heartbeat later, he turned back. "And tell him that if he wants me to help him with his boat, he's going to have to pick up some graphite. His ignition switch is jammed."
"You're working on his boat?"
"I'm helping him get the winter kinks out of it as long as I'm here. He just had it brought from dry dock yesterday."
She gave him another nod, tried not to stare at his thighs. At least now she knew why he was here.
"I'll pass that on, too."
Excerpted from Hot August Nights by Christine Flynn Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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