"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
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
"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
"It means I'm willing to risk burning down the kitchen
in pursuit of the perfect meal," he answered, a wry smile on his
Melissa tried to suppress her answering smile, but couldn't
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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."