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"Sometimes I don't understand you, Blake. You open up enough to let me know the business is in a slump, that you think we really can find the Santa Magdalena diamond and use it to pull us out of the fire. But you bite off my head for asking how things are going."
Tanya Kimbrough froze.
It was nearly eleven o'clock on Friday night and she had no business doing what she was doing in the library of the Dallas mansion of the family her mother worked for. But her mother had gone to bed and Tanya had known the McCords were all at a charity symphony that should have kept them out much later than this. And she'd gotten nosy.
But now here she was, overhearing the raised voice of Tate McCord as he and his older brother came into the formal living room that was just beyond the library. The library where she'd turned on the overhead lights because she'd thought she would be in and out long before any of the McCords got home
Make a run for it the way you came in, she advised herself.
She certainly couldn't turn off the library lights without drawing attention since the doors to the living room were ajar. But maybe Tate and Blake McCord would only think someone had forgotten to turn them off before they'd left the house tonight. And if she went out the way she'd come in, no one would guess that she'd used her mother's keys to let herself in through the French doors that opened to the rear grounds of the sprawling estate. If she just left right now
But then Blake McCord answered his brother and she stayed where she was. What she was listening to suited her purposes so much better than what she'd already found on the library desk.
"Finding the Santa Magdalena and buying up canary diamonds for a related jewelry line are in the works," Blake was saying. "And we've launched the initial Once In A Lifetime promotional campaign in the stores to pamper customers and bring in more business. That's all you have to know since youand everyone elseare on a need-to-know-only basis. Your time and interest might be better spent paying some attention to your fiancée, wouldn't you say?"
"What I'd say is that that isn't any of your business," Tate answered in a tone that surprised Tanya.
The sharp edge coming from Tate didn't sound anything like him. The brothers generally got along well, and Tate had always been the easygoing brother. Tanya's mother had said that Tate had changed since spending a year working in the Middle East and suddenly Tanya didn't doubt it.
"It may not be my business, but I'm telling you anyway because someone has to," Blake persisted. "You take Katie for granted, you neglect her, you don't pay her nearly enough attention. You may think you have her all sewed up with that engagement ring on her finger, but if you don't start giving her some indication that you know she's alive, she could end up throwing it in your face. And nobody would blame her if she did."
Katie was Katerina Whitcomb-Salgar, the daughter of the McCord family's longtime friends and the woman everyone had always assumed would end up as Mrs. Tate McCord long before their formal engagement was announced.
"You're going to lose Katie," Blake shouted, some heat in his voice now. "And if you do, it'll serve you right."
"Or it might be for the best," Tate countered, enough under his breath that Tanya barely made out what he'd said. Then more loudly again, he added, "Just keep your eye on finding that diamond and getting McCord's Jewelers and the family coffers healthy again. Since you want to carry all the weight for that yourself, you shouldn't have a lot of spare time to worry about my love life, too. But if I want your advice, I'll be sure to ask for it."
"You need someone's advice or you're going to blow the best thing that ever happened to you."
"Thanks for the heads-up," Tate said facetiously.
And then there were footsteps.
But only some of them moved away from the library.
The others were coming closer
Too late to run.
Tanya ducked for cover, hoping that since she was behind the desk whoever was headed her way wouldn't be able to see her when he reached in and turned off the lights.
"Tate hasn't even been staying in the house since he got back. He's living in the guest cottage "
Tanya's mother's words flashed through her mind just then and it struck her that merely having the lights turned off might not be what was about to happen. That Tate might use the library route to go to the guesthouse that was also out back.
Tanya's heart had begun to race the minute she'd heard the McCords' voices. Now it was pounding. Because while she might have been able to explain her presence in the library at this time of night, how would she ever explain crouching behind the desk?
Or holding the papers she'd been looking through because until that minute she hadn't even realized she'd taken them with her when she'd ducked.
Please don't come in here.
"What the hell?"
Tanya had tried to turn herself into a small ball but when Tate McCord's voice boomed from nearby, she raised her head to find him leaning over the front of the desk, clearly able to see her.
This was much, much worse than when she was six and had been caught with her fingers in the icing of his twin sisters' birthday cake. His mother Eleanor had been kind and understanding. But there was nothing kind or understanding in Tate McCord's face at that moment.
Summoning what little dignity she couldand with the papers still in handTanya stood.
It was the first time she and Tate McCord had set eyes on each other in the seven years since Tanya had left for college. And even before thatwhen Tate had come home from his own university and medical school training for vacations or visits while Tanya still lived on the property with her motherthere weren't many occasions when the McCord heir had crossed paths with the housekeeper's daughter. Plus, Tanya had been very well aware of the fact that, more often than not, when any of the McCords had seen her, they'd looked through her rather than at her.
So she wasn't sure Tate McCord recognized her and, as if it would make this better, she said, "You probably don't remember me"
"You're JoBeth's daughterTanya," he said bluntly. "What the hell are you doing in here at this hour and"
He glanced down at the papers and held out his hand in a silent demand for her to give them to him.
She did and he looked over whatbefore she'd been interruptedshe'd discovered to be some sort of mock-ups for ads for a suggested line of jewelry using canary diamonds set in old Spanish designs.
Tanya had taken the papers from a file that was still open on the desk in front of her. After Tate McCord's initial look at them, he pulled the entire file toward him to see what else she might have gotten into.
While he sifted through what she already knew were similar pages, Tanya was wishing she wasn't dressed in a shabby, oversize, cut-up old sweatshirt and a pair of drawstring black pajama pants with cartoon robots printed on them. She also wished she wasn't completely makeupless and that her shoulder-length espresso-colored hair wasn't pulled up into a lopsided ponytail at the top of her head. Looking as if she were ready for bed made her feel all the more at a disadvantage. When she realized that the wide neck of the sweatshirt had fallen from her shoulder, she tugged it back into place.
It was something Tate McCord saw because just as she did it, he raised his gaze from the file and eyes that were bluer than she remembered drifted momentarily in that direction.
Noticing did not, however, change his attitude toward herhis expression remained stern and angry.
"So, I repeatJoBeth's-daughter-Tanya, what the hell are you doing in here, at this hour, going through things that you have no right to go through?" Tate McCord finished by tossing the papers he'd taken from Tanya back in the open file.
"I know this can't look good," she said.
But he definitely did look good! Better even than she remembered him.
Unlike her in-for-the-night apparel, he was dressed in a dark suit that accentuated the fact that he was tall and lean, with broad shoulders and a more toned, muscular physique than he'd had in his earlier years. His face had matured into sharply defined angles that gave him a decisive chin and high cheekbones. His mouth at that moment was a stern line beneath a strong, thin nose and his penetrating, clear blue eyes seemed to have taken a bead on her, which should have kept her from thinking that she liked his dark blond hair slightly longish, the way he was wearing it now.
But it was the expression that said he was waiting for an explanation that she knew she really had to address.
"My mother dropped her sweater when she came through here today after she finished work" Tanya pointed to the plain white cardigan that had been her excuse for this foray. She'd picked it up from the floor where it had fallen and tossed it across the back of a chair before beginning her snooping. "Mom likes to wear it when she walks over from the bungalow in the mornings. She was just going to leave it and get it tomorrow, but I thought I'd come back for it tonight so she'd have it."
All true, but feeble at this point. Very feeble.
"And while you were here, you thought you'd take a look around, at things that you shouldn't look at, and then hide under the desk so you didn't get caught eavesdropping on what Blake and I were saying in the other room? Or are you going to pretend you didn't hear anything?"
There was that facetious tone again. It could be harsh. And it didn't help that his assumptions of what she'd done were right.
Maybe offense was the best form of defense.
"I heard enough to know that there's a whole lot going on. That all the suspicions about McCord's Jewelers' business being way down have some foundation. That the rumors that the McCords came into possession of the Santa Magdalena diamond when you all got the Foley's land and silver mines could also be the truth. I heard enough to know that your family does think the diamond can be found."
"So you heard plenty."
"And I'll admit," she continued, "that when I came for Mom's sweater and saw the file, I got curious, and since it was open I looked at those pages" That was a lie, not only had she opened the file herself, but she'd come to get the sweater hoping that there might be something of interest to her in the library where business was sometimes conducted. "But now that I know things are popping here, it seems to me that there's a story in it that I could use."
"You're going to make me sorry I did what your mother asked and send your résumé over to my friend at WDGN, aren't you?"
WDGN was one of the local independent news stations.
"I didn't know which of you got me the interview, but thanks for it," she said as if that mattered at this point.
"Oh, believe me, you're welcome," he said snidely.
"But here's the thing" she went on, ignoring his disapproval "I've been making my living in the world of broadcast journalism for a while now and this is how it worksat least for me because I haven't made any kind of big splash yeta new position means I start at the bottom. The bottom is filling in for other reporters or doing whatever the seasoned reporters have moved on from or refuse to do"
"Was I supposed to see if I could have you hired at the top?"
"That's not what I'm getting at. What I'm getting at is that between the story of the diamondwhatever it might be and especially if you do actually find itand the story of the McCords' feud with the Foleys, well, let's face it, if the McCords or the Foleys sneeze it makes the news so stuff like this could get me an anchor chair." Not to mention the other tidbit the staff was whispering about that wasn't public knowledgethat Tate's mother Eleanor had an affair with Rex Foley and that the youngest brother, Charlie, was Rex Foley's son.
If Tate's sky-blue eyes had had a bead on her before, it was nothing compared to the way they were boring into her now and it made Tanya's tension level rise another notch. Especially when she began to wonder if she'd gone too far. The McCords were her mother's employers after all.
Then Tate McCord said, "Or how about a story where the housekeeper's daughter gets arrested for breaking and entering, for trespassing, for who knows what else should something turn up missing. "
Tanya took issue with that last part. She might be willing to do a little nosing around for a story, but she wasn't a thief!
"Should something turn up missing?" she repeated. "Go ahead, look around. Take inventory. I haven't so much as touched anything but my mother's sweater and the papers in that file. I have done almost nothing wrong!"
"Almost nothing wrong?" Tate took a turn at parroting in the midst of a wry laugh. "Believe me, with the McCord connections, almost can still get you arrested. And how would your mother like to hear that you're using the trust we have in her to do something like this?"
"You're threatening to tell my mommy?" Tanya said with some sarcasm of her own even though the threat to tell JoBeth carried more weight than the threat to call the police.
Tate didn't respond to her flippancy. He merely glanced down at the file again, closing it and laying his hand flat on top of it as if that could seal it away from her.
Then those eyes pinned her in place again and he said, "I'll tell you what this family doesn't need right nowa traitor in our midst."
"I'm hardly that," Tanya countered, chafing under that comment more than anything he'd said yet.
"So it's loyalty that brought you in here tonight?"
There was that facetiousness again.
"I was just hoping for an inside story. The discovery of that sunken ship that the Santa Magdalena supposedly came from has renewed interest in the diamond and I thought"
"That you'd use your mother's position here as a way to get the scoop."
Despite pretending not to take seriously his threat to bring her mother into this before, Tanya was becoming increasingly worried that she'd done damage to the position that her mother had held since Tanya was barely two years old. She definitely didn't want that.