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"Give me more," the young woman murmured.
Bo Hancock smiled in his measured way, the hint of emo-tion veiled by midnight. He was enjoying the multitude of bright stars filling a moonless sky, the scent of Melissa's perfume blend-ing with the sweet smells of spring, and the absolute serenity of this place he dearly loved. They might have been the only two people on earth, but that was the estate's charm. It made him feel safe.
Bo had grown up here, exploring every corner of the es-tate's vast forest as a child. He knew it better than anyone. He'd played touch football on the great lawn in front of the playhouse with his father, brothers, uncles, and cousins before Thanksgiving dinner each year, the soft grass blanketed thinly by snow some
Novembers, bathed in warm sunshine others. He'd canoed and swum in the cold, clear lake in summer and played hockey on its ice in winter. And he had experienced his first kiss beside the lake at fifteen, hidden with the girl in a grove of sweet-smelling cedar trees.
"What do you mean, Melissa?" Bo asked, his gravelly voice made even rougher by his fondness for alcohol and tobacco. "Give you more what?" He knew exactly what she meant.
The young woman brushed against him as they stood on the smooth granite of the mansion's back veranda. "More of your words-to-live-by," she answered, mesmerized by his voice. It was gruff for a young man, but oddly reassuring too. Like a shovel scraping rock and a cat purring at the same time.
"Oh, I see," Bo said, drawing his words out. He took a drag on his cigarette before beginning. "The best relationship you ever know will be the one in which you love each other for your faults--not despite them."
"That's nice," Melissa said as his words dispersed slowly in the stillness of the evening, her voice all at once as raspy as his.
Bo chuckled softly. He had finally broken through her ve-neer of detachment. He understood why she needed that barrier,
but it had gotten in the way of any meaningful conversation be-tween them. He looked away from the many points of light sus-pended above them to admire her silhouette. She was tall and statuesque, with long, jet-black hair and eyes as dark and mysteri-ous as the surrounding woods. "You weren't expecting anything quite so romantic," he said. "Were you?"
"I don't know," she answered, trying to sound indifferent.
"How about this one?" Bo suggested, his tone lighter. He realized that he had caught her off guard and that she needed a lifeline. Saving people was one of the two things he enjoyed most in life, particularly when he had introduced the danger. And that was the other.
He took a swallow of scotch. "Make certain you approach both love and cooking with reckless abandon."
Melissa's laugh was genuine. "What on earth does that mean?"
"It means I'm willing to risk burning down the kitchen in pursuit of the perfect meal," he answered, a wry smile on his full lips.
Melissa tried to suppress her answering smile, but couldn't help herself.
He liked the way her eyes caught the starlight, and the way her long black hair shimmered down her back. She was a beautiful woman, and on one level he understood his brother's need for her. "It means approach every day as if it's your last. Never second-guess,
never look back." Again Bo's words resonated in the silence of the night. "It's all those things."
Melissa tried to regain her composure, but Bo had a way about him. She wanted to confide in him, to feel his powerful arms wrapped around her. She sensed that he would understand her anguish. But none of that was possible.
Bo took another sip of scotch. "You like me, don't you?" he asked, leaning forward to catch her eye.
"I don't like anyone," Melissa replied curtly, annoyed with herself for entertaining the fantasy. They had known each other casually for almost a year, but tonight was the first time they had been alone.
"Yes, you do. Come on, admit it."
"You're so damn sure of yourself, aren't you, Bo Hancock?
You think you know everything. Well, you don't."
"I know you were the one who sent Paul off to make his phone calls."
Melissa shut her eyes tightly, regretting the fact that she had asked Bo to come out here on the veranda alone with her. She found herself drawn to him, which wasn't good.
"Admit it." A confident smile played across his lips. "You like me."
"Maybe," she said quietly.
From where they stood on the edge of the veranda a neatly manicured lawn sloped gently down to the lake. Melissa gazed steadily at the reflections in the black water, then turned to face Bo.
Although he was only in his midtwenties, his natural sophistication and charm—benefits of a monied upbringing, she assumed—made him seem older and more insightful than a man just a few years re-moved from the ivy of Yale. He was about six feet tall, with broad shoulders, a barrel chest, and the forearms of a blacksmith. His handsome face was wide and strong, dominated by an imposing forehead with a small scar above one brow and piercing sapphire eyes. He kept his short dark hair neatly parted to one side, and tonight, as usual, wore a casual shirt and old jeans. She had rarely seen him in anything else.
"Are you seeing anyone?" Melissa asked, trying to move the conversation to safer ground.
Bo nodded. "Yes. A woman named Meg Richards."
"What company does her daddy own?" Melissa asked sarcas-tically,
regaining her hard edge. "How many millions does she bring to the table?"
"She doesn't. Meg's a middle-class girl from Long Island," he answered, rattling the ice cubes in his glass. "Her father is a high school principal who's depending on his pension for retirement."
"How did you meet her?"
"At Yale. She was there on an academic scholarship. I fell for her the moment I saw her walk into my political science class first year." Bo's voice took on a distant tone as he relived the moment.
"I didn't get up the nerve to ask her out until second year, but then we were inseparable for six months. We were out of touch for a while after graduation, but I never lost that feeling I had the first time I saw her. That's how I knew she was the one. About a year ago I tracked her down and we picked right back up." Using the resources at his disposal, he had asked the Hazeltine Security peo-ple to locate Meg. Hazeltine handled sensitive business projects for Bo's father, James "Jimmy Lee" Hancock, and, on occasion,
helped the family with personal matters that required discretion.
"I haven't thought about anyone but her since."
"Sounds serious," Melissa observed, a shard of jealousy en-tering her voice. She took a sip of wine.
"I think it is."
"But you aren't sure."
"I'm sure, I just don't know if she is. I don't know what she'll say when I open the black velvet box."
"Give me a break," Melissa groaned. "What's any middle-class girl going to say to a Hancock son offering her five carats?"
She glanced over her shoulder. "Is she really going to turn down all of this?"
The huge structure rising behind them stood at the center of the Hancock family's secluded thousand-acre compound in Con-necticut's rolling woodlands, forty miles northeast of New York
City. On the estate were stables for thoroughbred horses, miles of riding trails weaving through the dense forest, a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts, the twenty-acre man-made lake stretching out before them, a boathouse on the far side of the lake, as well as five other mansions in addition to the playhouse, in the shadow of which Bo and Melissa now stood. Inside the playhouse were two more tennis courts, a pool, a fifty-seat movie theater, a formal din-ing hall, a billiard room, and several guest suites. Surrounding the entire compound was a tall chain-link fence topped by razor wire, obscured by the trees and constantly patrolled by a full-time security force, never seen but always present. Every bit of it was available to Bo, his older brothers Teddy and Paul, and their sis-ter
Catherine, whenever they wanted it. It also belonged to Bo's younger sister, Ashley, but she seemed to have no interest in enjoy-ing it. She had moved to Europe after finishing Harvard three years ago and had yet to return.
"Meg doesn't care much about material things," Bo finally answered. "If she did, I wouldn't care about her so much."
Of course you wouldn't, Melissa thought. It only made sense that of the three Hancock brothers, Bo would be the one to marry for love. "How did your family get so rich?" she asked.
Bo flicked an ash from his cigarette and watched it streak to the granite, where it glowed red hot for a few moments. He was thinking about Ashley. They had been close growing up, but after college she had rebelled against the money and their father's need for control. He understood her desire to escape, but it didn't make her absence any easier. "Oil and railroads back in the eighteen-hundreds,"
he said hesitantly. He'd always been self-conscious about the money. "More recently the stock market, now that it's go-ing up again."
Melissa fanned her face. It was an unusually warm night for
April. The heat of the evening, combined with the wine she'd drunk, was making her cheeks feel flushed. "How much are you worth, Bo?"
"Why do you want to know?" he responded instinctively.
He'd been trained by Jimmy Lee from an early age to answer that question with this one. The training had come in handy because so many people wanted to know.
"I just do." Most people recognized the roadblock and con-tinued no further, but Melissa had worked for everything she'd ever gotten in life, including information.
Bo inhaled deeply. The scotch was filling him with that fa-miliar glow. "Why don't you tell me about yourself," he said, try-ing to turn the conversation in a different direction.
"I will if you will."
He nodded. He understood the quid pro quo, and there were questions he wanted to ask. "A billion dollars, give or take twenty to thirty million depending on the day and the Dow." He sensed her awe. A billion dollars was a figure most people couldn't comprehend—there were simply too many zeros. "Now you," he said, uncomfortable about having revealed the amount. He had broken one of Jimmy Lee's cardinal commandments. Never give an outsider the number. Never give an outsider anything that might make the family vulnerable.
"What do you want to know?" she asked defensively.
"I've been impressed with you tonight," he answered. "You've obviously been to college."
"Yes, I graduated from St. John's in three and a half years with a double major in English and economics. And a minor in American history," she added, proud of how hard she had worked.
Bo extinguished his cigarette in an ashtray set atop the low stone wall that ran along one side of the veranda. He was trying to think of the best way to ask what he really wanted to know. As usual, he chose to be direct. "Then why this line of work?"
For some reason men had to know why a woman would turn to prostitution. They all wanted it to be the result of heightened sexual desire—which excited them immeasurably—and her prac-tical answer never pleased them. "My parents are poor, I had thirty thousand dollars' worth of school loans when I graduated from St. John's, and the Wall Street men in their expensive suits and fancy suspenders weren't impressed with my resume."
From the Hardcover edition.