Soft Focus

Soft Focus

by Jayne Ann Krentz

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With her hallmark blend of sparkling style and wit, intricate suspense, and steamy passion, Jayne Ann Krentz is truly one of a kind. One of today's premier storytellers, she has more than twenty-three million copies of her novels in print. Now the phenomenal New York Times bestselling author spins her latest scintillating tale: a story of two people bound together by that most binding of ties--a business contract.

Elizabeth Cabot is all business. She knows how to maximize her investments and cut her losses--in both her career and her personal life.

So when she discovers that Jack Fairfax has deceived her, she's determined to end their relationship. Putting a stop to their budding romance is easy. But breaking up their business deal will be more difficult. Despite all her efforts, she has no luck disentangling herself from Jack's client company, Excalibur. But the situation becomes even more strained when a new obstacle emerges: a lethal act of sabotage that could put both of them out of business for good.

Elizabeth is no fool. If she can help Jack save Excalibur, she'll recoup her substantial investment plus millions in profit. Putting her emotions aside, she insists on helping him search for the scientist who's disappeared with a valuable new crystal that could revolutionize the high-tech industry. She'll go in, solve the problem--and get out.

The trail leads Elizabeth and Jack to a fringe film festival, but their goal is as elusive as the shadowy black-and-white images from classic noir films. Life starts to imitate art, and double-dealing seems to be the name of the game. For these business adversaries turned reluctant partners, keeping an eye on each other--and the lid on a sizzling attraction--seems the only insurance against further treachery. But with millions at stake, trust can turn to betrayal in the blink of an eye.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101214350
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/01/2000
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 75,724
File size: 575 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Jayne Ann Krentz is the author of more than fifty New York Times bestsellers. She has written contemporary romantic suspense novels under that name, as well as futuristic and historical romance novels under the pseudonyms Jayne Castle and Amanda Quick, respectively. There are more than 35 million copies of her books in print.


Seattle, WA

Place of Birth:

San Diego, CA


BA in History, University of California at Santa Cruz, MA in Librarianship from San Jose State University (California)

Read an Excerpt


Six months earlier...

HE SAW HER COMING TOWARD HIM, AN AVENGING WARRIOR PRINCESS in a crisp black business suit and high heels. Her dark hair was swept up into a stern knot at the back of her head. The little scarf at her throat matched the diamond-bright fire in her blue-green eyes. One look at her and the white-jacketed waiters leaped out of her path. She strode through the maze of linen-and-crystal-set tables, her gaze never wavering from her target.

The movers and shakers of Seattle's business community sensed disaster, or, at the very least, excellent gossip, in the making. A hush fell across the club's formal dining room.

Seated in the leather-cushioned booth, Jack watched her approach.

"Oh, shit." He spoke very, very softly. It was obviously too late to pray.

One look at the fury that etched Elizabeth Cabot's intelligent face told him that he had lost his gamble. She knew everything this morning. What had happened between them last night clearly made no difference to her now.

A heavy cloud of stoicism settled on him. He waited for her with the patience of a man who knows he is facing an inescapable fate.

She was almost upon him now, and he knew that he was doomed. It was not his whole life that flashed before his eyes in those final moments, however. It was the memory of last night. He recalled the sweet, hot anticipation and the hungry rush of desire that had flashed between them. Unfortunately, that was all they had shared. The concentrated excitement had taken him by surprise, probably because he had worked so hard to contain it for the past month. In the end it had swept away his self-control and the lessons of experience that any man his age was expected to know. He was well aware of his mistakes. Elizabeth did not believe in faking her orgasms.

She had been very nice about it last night. Polite as hell. As if her failure to climax was her fault and hers alone. Actually, she had seemed quite unsurprised, as far as he could tell. It was as if she had not expected anything more from the encounter and had, therefore, not been disappointed. He had apologized and vowed to make amends just as soon as physically possible. But she had explained that she had to go home. Something about an early-morning meeting for which she had to prepare.

Reluctantly, he had driven her back to the gothic monstrosity she called home on Queen Anne Hill. When he had kissed her goodnight at the door of the mansion he had assured himself that he would get a second chance. Next time he would get it right.

But now he knew there wasn't going to be a next time.

Elizabeth arrived at the booth, vibrating with a degree of passion that had been noticeably missing in the final scenes last night.

"You conniving, two-faced, egg-sucking son of a bitch," she said between her teeth. "What made you think you'd get away with it, Jack Fairfax?"

"Don't be shy, Elizabeth. Tell me what you really think of me."

"Did you actually believe that I wouldn't find out who you are? Did you think that you could treat me like a mushroom? Keep me in the dark and feed me manure?"

There was no hope of defending himself. He could see that. But he had to try. "I never lied to you."

"The hell you didn't. You never told me the truth. Not once during the past month did you give me any hint that you were the bastard who engineered the Galloway takeover."

"That was a two-year-old business deal. It had nothing to do with us."

"It had everything to do with us, and you knew it. That's why you lied to me."

In spite of the hopelessness of the situation, or perhaps because of it, he started to get mad. "It's not my fault the Galloway deal never came up between us. You never asked me about it."

"Why would I do that?" Her voice rose. "How was I supposed to guess that you were involved in it?"

"You didn't work at Galloway. How was I supposed to guess that you had a connection to the company?" he countered.

"It doesn't matter. Don't you understand? That takeover was as ruthless, as cold-blooded, as anything I've ever seen in business. The fact that you were the hired gun who tore that company apart tells me exactly what kind of scum you really are."


"People got hurt in that takeover." Her hand clenched very tightly around the strap of her elegant shoulder bag. "Badly hurt. I don't do business with men like you."

Jack saw Hugo, the maitre d', hovering uneasily at a nearby table, obviously at a loss to decide how to quell the escalating scene. The waiter who had been on the way to the booth with ice water and bread halted, unmoving, a short distance away. Everyone in the dining room was listening now, but Elizabeth was oblivious to her audience.

Jack was morbidly fascinated himself, even though he was at ground zero. He would never have guessed that Elizabeth was capable of such drama. For the past month she had seemed so calm, so composed, so controlled.

"I think you'd better cool down," he said quietly.

"Give me one good reason."

"I'll give you two. Number one, we've got an audience. Number two, when you finally do cool off you are going to regret this scene a lot more than I will."

She smiled at him with such freezing disdain that he was amazed there were no icicles in her hair. She waved one hand in a wide arc that encompassed the entire dining room. He took that as a very bad sign.

"I don't give a damn about our audience," she said in ringing accents that no doubt carried all the way into the kitchen. "The way I look at it, I'm doing everyone here a public service by telling them that you are a lying SOB. I won't regret a single thing about this scene."

"You will when you finally remember that we've got a signed, sealed contract for the Excalibur deal. Like it or not, we're stuck with each other."

She blinked once. He saw the jolt of shock in her eyes. In the heat of her outrage, she had apparently forgotten the contract they had both signed yesterday morning.

She rallied swiftly. "I'll call the Fund's lawyers as soon as I get back to the office. Consider our contract null and void as of today."

"Don't bother trying to bluff. You can't get out of our deal just because you've decided I'm an SOB. You signed that damned contract, and I'm going to hold you to it."

"We'll see about that."

He shrugged. "If you want to tie both of us up in court for the next ten or twelve months, be my guest. But I'll fight you all the way, and I'll win in the end. We both know it."

She was trapped, and he was pretty sure that she was too smart not to recognize that simple fact.

There was a tense moment while he watched her come to terms with the realization that he had won.

Frustrated rage flared once more in her face.

"You will pay for this, Jack Fairfax." She reached out and swept the pitcher of ice water off the tray held by the motionless waiter. "Sooner or later, I swear you will pay for what you did."

She dashed the contents of the water pitcher straight at him. He did not even try to duck. The only escape route was under the table, and somehow that option seemed more ignominious than staying in his seat.

The icy water splashing in his face ignited the temper that he had been struggling to control. He looked at Elizabeth. She was staring at him, the first signs of shock and horror lighting her eyes. He knew that it was just beginning to dawn on her that she had made an almighty fool of herself.

"This isn't about the Galloway deal, is it?" he said softly. "This is about last night."

Clutching her purse, she took a step back as if he had struck her. "Don't you dare bring up last night. This is not about last night, damn you."

"Sure it is." He swiped a chunk of ice off the shoulder of his jacket. "I take full responsibility, of course. It's the gentlemanly thing to do, isn't it?"

She sucked in her breath in a stunned gasp. "Don't try to reduce this to sex. What happened last night is the least important aspect of this entire affair. In fact, what happened last night was so unimportant and so unmemorable that it doesn't even register on the scale."

Last night had meant nothing to her. He lost what little remained of the control he had been exerting over his anger. His hands closed around the edge of the table. He rose deliberately to his feet, heedless of the fact that he was still dripping ice water. He smiled slowly at Elizabeth.

"On my own behalf," he said with grave politeness, "I would like to say that I didn't know going in that I was dealing with the original Ice Princess. You should have warned me that you've got a little problem in that department. Who knows? With some extra time and effort, I might have been able to thaw you out."

As soon as the words were uttered, he regretted them. But they hung there in the air above the table, frozen, glittering shards of ice. He knew they would never melt.

Elizabeth fell back another step. Her face was flushed. Her eyes narrowed. "You really are a bastard, aren't you?" Her voice was low and much too even now. "You don't care a damn about what happened in the aftermath of the Galloway deal, do you?"

He ran a hand through his hair to get rid of some of the cold water. "No, I don't. Business is business, as far as I'm concerned. I don't believe in getting emotionally involved."

"I understand," she said. "That's precisely how I feel about last night."

She turned on one needle-sharp heel and walked out of the restaurant without a backward glance.

Jack watched her leave. He did not take his eyes off her until she disappeared through the door.

The twinges of impending fate that he had experienced when she had entered the dining room grew stronger. He knew that she must be feeling them too.

They both knew the truth.

She could walk away from what had happened between them last night, but she could not walk away from the business contract they had signed. For better for worse, for richer for poorer, it bound them together more securely than any wedding license could have done.



Between midnight and dawn, Wednesday morning

HE WAITED FOR HER AT THE REAR OF THE PARKING LOT, HUDDLED against the brick wall, shivering in the light windbreaker. The streetlamp wasn't working right. It cast a faltering, sickly glow that did little to dispel the shadows. There were only a handful of cars left in the lot. Pioneer Square was quiet at this hour. The nightclubs and the taverns were closed. Other than the drunk he'd tripped over in the alley, he'd seen no one else. That was a good thing, because the kind of folks who did show up in this part of town at this time of night were usually quite scary.

It was raining, a relentless mist that drove the predawn chill deeper into his bones. But he knew it wasn't just the night air that made him feel so cold. It was the fact that he hadn't kept his twice-daily date with Madam Lola this evening. He hadn't been able to afford her tonight, and now he was paying the price.

He'd first met Madam L. back in grad school. He had been a good student in those days. Everyone had said he had a bright future in chemical engineering. Probably would have held a few patents by now if he hadn't met Madam Lola. It was a woman, a student in one of his classes, who'd introduced him to Lola. She'd assured him that sex was great after just one dose. She'd been right. But Lola soon became more interesting than sex. More interesting than getting a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. More interesting than the successful future he'd once planned for himself.

Lola had taken over his life, and the lady was a harsh mistress. She demanded his obedient attendance twice a day. If he missed even one dose, he felt like that stuff on the parking lot pavement that he'd stepped in a few minutes ago. And he also felt cold. Very, very cold.

But she would be here soon, and she would bring the money she had promised to pay him and he would buy some more time with Madam L. and everything would be okay again. He could maintain pretty good when he kept up with his twice-daily appointments. Good enough to hold a job. For a while, at any rate. Balancing work and Lola was never easy. He could usually get by for a few months, and then something always went wrong. Either he failed a drug test or he started taking too many sick days. Or something.

He hoped he could last a while longer in his present job. He sort of liked it. Sometimes when he was working at Excalibur he pretended that he really had finished that doctorate; that he was a respected member of the research team like Dr. Page, maybe, not just a lowly lab tech. He felt bad about what he'd done tonight. But he hadn't had a choice. His salary at Excalibur was good, but it wasn't good enough to pay for the amount of time he had to spend with Lola these days. His other employer was very generous, though.

And she would be here soon. With lots of cash for Lola.

He heard her footsteps first, high heels echoing lightly on the wet pavement. He straightened away from the damp bricks, anticipation driving out some of the chill. Not long now and he would have what he needed to warm him once more.

"Hello, Ryan."

"About time you got here," he muttered.

She walked toward him through the thick shadows. The hood of a long, black raincoat concealed her face. "Everything went well tonight, I assume?"

"No problem. Lab's a mess. It'll take 'em days to clean up."

"Excellent. It was probably unnecessary. Just a precaution in the unlikely event that Fairfax or Excalibur security calls in the police. It will send them off in the wrong direction."

"Companies never call in the cops on this kind of thing if they can help it. Bad public relations. Freaks out the investors and clients."

"Yes. And that is the one thing that Excalibur can't afford to do right now." She moved her hand, reaching into her purse. "Well, I think that takes care of everything. You've been a fine employee, Ryan. I shall be sorry to let you go."


"I'm afraid I don't need you anymore. In fact, you've become a liability." She removed her hand from her purse. There was just enough light from the dying streetlamp to reveal the glint of dark metal.

A gun.

He struggled to come to grips with the reality of what was happening. But by the time he understood, it was too late. She was like one of those women in the old black-and-white films that Dr. Page loved, he thought. A femme fatale.

She pulled the trigger twice. The second shot was unnecessary, but she wanted to be quite certain. There was a line in the script that summed up her philosophy on details.

A lady with a past has nothing to lose. But a woman with a future can't be too careful.

From Soft Focus by Jayne Anne Krentz. (c) December 27, 1999 , Jayne Anne Krentz used by permission.

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Soft Focus 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
saturnwings on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is probably one of my favourite JAK books since Elizabeth has my favourite heroine traits. She's a woman who recognizes her weaknesses and indulges in them without denial. Jack is thus her perfect foil. He's a man who knows what he wants, knows he'll have to suffer for it, and still manages all of that with dignity. This is JAK at her romance writing best.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read this book when it came out 16 years ago, and to this day, remains one of my favorites! Since then I have read it a total of 10 times. Love the story, plotline, and charactors. A must read!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
i read this book and enjoyed it to a certain degree, but I felt that the characterization let somethng to be desired. I didn't get close to them as I most often do in other books. . .the plot was fine, but still not one that was well rounded...
Guest More than 1 year ago
Read it this weekend and I can't wait for the next books she writes
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have enjoyed Krentz's other romantic suspense novels, but this one felt flat. We didn't really get to know the characters well enough to care about them. There were some good moments, but on the whole, I'm glad I got it from the library.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Make sure you have room in your library for this one. I have read every book Jayne Ann Krentz has written under all of her alias and this is her best contemporary fiction in the last 3 years.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My fave book of all!