Read an Excerpt
By Diana Palmer
Harlequin Enterprises Limited ISBN: 0-373-77015-4
MEREDITH STOOD by the window watching the rain beat down on Chicago, while her companion watched her with worried eyes. She knew her face was showing the strain of business, and she'd lost weight, again. At twenty-four, she should have had a carefree outlook on life. What she had was a burden of pressure twice the size most women could carry.
Meredith Ashe Tennison was vice president of Tennison International's huge domestic enterprises, much more than a shadowy figurehead who avoided publicity like the plague. She had a shrewd mind and a natural aptitude for high finance which her late husband had carefully nurtured during their marriage. When he died, she had stepped into his shoes with such capability that the board of directors reversed their decision to ask her to step down. Now, two and a half years into her term of office, company profits were up and her plans for expansion into new mineral and gas reserves and strategic metals were well under way.
That explained the set of Meredith's thin shoulders. A company in southeastern Montana was fighting them tooth and nail over mineral rights they currently owned. But Harden Properties was not merely a formidable rival. It was headed by the one man Meredith had reason to hate, a shadow out of her past whose specter had haunted her through all the empty years since she'd left Montana.
Only Don Tennison knew the whole story. He and his latebrother, Henry, had been very close. Meredith had come to Henry a shy, frightened teenager. At first Don, to whom business was a primary concern, had fought against the marriage. He relented, but he'd been faintly cool since Henry's death. Don was now president of Tennison International, but also something of a rival. Meredith had often wondered if he resented her position in the company. He knew his own limitations, and her brilliance and competence had impressed harder heads than his. But he watched her very carefully, especially when she drew on her nervous energy to take on too many projects. And this fight with Harden Properties was already taking its toll on her. She was still getting over the aftereffects of a rough bout with pneumonia that had come on the heels of a kidnapping attempt on her five-year-old son, Blake. If it hadn't been for the inscrutable Mr. Smith, her bodyguard, God only knew what might have happened.
Meredith was brooding over her forthcoming trip to Montana. She felt she had to make a brief visit to Billings, home of Harden Properties and Meredith's own hometown. The sudden death of her eighty-year-old great-aunt who had lived there had left Meredith with the house and a few belongings of Aunt Mary's to dispose of. Meredith was really her only surviving relative, except for a few distant cousins who still lived on the Crow Indian reservation several miles from Billings.
"You arranged the funeral over the phone - couldn't you do that with the property, too?" Don asked quietly.
She hesitated, then shook her head. "No, I can't. I've got to go back and face it. Face them," she amended. "Besides, it would be a God-given opportunity to scout out the opposition, wouldn't it? They don't know I'm Henry Tennison's widow. I was Henry's best-kept secret. I've avoided cameras and worn wigs and dark glasses ever since I took over."
"That was to protect Blake," he reminded her. "You're worth millions, and this last kidnapping attempt almost succeeded. A low public profile is invaluable. If you aren't recognized, you and Blake are safer."
"Yes, but Henry didn't do it for that reason. He did it to keep Cy Harden from finding out who I was, and where I was, in case he ever came looking for me." She closed her eyes, trying to blot out the memory of the fear she'd felt after her flight from Montana. Pregnant, accused of both sleeping with another man and being his accomplice in a theft, she'd been driven from the house by Cy's mother's harsh voice while Cy looked on in cold agreement. Meredith didn't know if the charges had ever been dropped, but Cy had believed she was guilty. That was the hardest to face.
She'd been carrying Cy's son, and she'd loved him so desperately. But Cy had used her. He'd proposed to her, but she'd learned later that it had only been to keep her happy in their relationship. Love you? he'd drawled in his deep voice. Sex was pleasant, but what would he want with a gangly, shy teenager in any other respect? He'd said that in front of his vicious mother, and something in Meredith had died of shame. She remembered running, blinded by tears, her only thought to get away. Great-Aunt Mary had bought her a bus ticket, and she'd left town. Left under a shadow, in disgrace, with the memory of Myrna Harden's mocking smile following her....
"You could give up the takeover bid," Don suggested hesitantly. "There are other companies with mineral holdings."
"Not in southeastern Montana," she replied, her soft gray eyes fixing on him calmly. "And Harden Properties has leases we can't break. They've made it impossible for us to get any mineral leases in the area." She turned and smiled, her oval face and creamy complexion framed by an elegant sweep of blond hair. She had the look of royalty, and the graceful carriage. That confidence was a legacy from Henry Tennison, who'd given her far more than control of his business empire by the time he died. He'd hired tutors for her, to teach her etiquette and the art of hostessing, to educate her in business and finance. She'd been an eager, willing pupil, and she had a mind like a sponge.
"He'll fight," the thin, balding man said stubbornly.
She smiled, because Don looked so much like Henry when he set his lips that way. He was ten years Henry's junior and ten years Meredith's senior. He was a good businessman, even if he wasn't her best friend in the world. But Don was conservative, and Meredith was aggressive. More than once they'd locked horns over company policy. The domestic operation was her baby, and Don wasn't going to tell her how to run it. Her steady, level gaze told him that.
"Let him fight, Don," she replied. "It will give him something to do while I'm taking over his company."
"You need rest," he said with a sigh. "Blake's a handful by himself, and you've been ill."
"Flu is inevitable with a child in kindergarten," she reminded him. "I didn't expect it to go into pneumonia. Besides, the takeover bid is crucial to my expansion plans. Regardless of how much time or energy it takes, I have to give it priority. I can ferret out a lot of information while I'm deciding what to do with Great-Aunt Mary's house."
"There shouldn't be a problem. She left a will. Even if she hadn't, Henry paid for the house."
"Nobody in Billings knows that," she said. She turned from the window, arms folded over her high, firm breasts as she nibbled her lower lip thoughtfully. "I wrote to her, and she came out here to see me several times. But I haven't been to Billings since -" She caught herself. "Not since I was eighteen," she amended.
But he knew. "It's been six years. Almost seven," he added gently. "Time is a great healer."
Her eyes darkened. "Is it? Do you think six years or sixty would be enough to forget what the Hardens did to me?" She turned toward him. "Revenge is unworthy of an intelligent person. Henry drilled that into me, but I can't help what I feel. They accused me of a crime I never committed, sent me out of Billings in disgrace and pregnant." Her eyes closed and she shivered. "I almost lost the baby. If it hadn't been for Henry ..."
"He was crazy about Blake, and about you." Don grinned.
"I've never seen a man so happy. It was a shame about the accident. Three years out of a lifetime isn't long for a man to find and lose everything he values."
Excerpted from True Colors by Diana Palmer Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.