as long as he had the title to the land those revolutionary soldiers had
disappeared on, he was holding all the cards.
So okay, maybe she needed to be a little more conciliatory. Fighting with
the guy wasn’t going to get her anywhere. Charm, she should go for
Too bad that wasn't her strong suit. Playing the young ingénue
was never something she’d been good at. Maybe it was her thick black
hair and her Tom-boy body. More likely it was because she had a brain
and wasn’t afraid to use it.
When his housekeeper opened the door for her, Carter hitched up her khaki
shorts and walked into his old world study, shoulders back, smile in place,
ready to take charge.
But as soon as the door was shut behind her, Nick Farrell looked up from
an ornate desk and Carter’s feet stopped working.
The man’s eyes were the most unusual color, a gray so pale that
the irises were almost invisible, and being looked over by them was like
getting hit by a blow torch. He seemed to absorb every nuance of her appearance,
her expression, the space she took up. He was, she realized, powerfully
intelligent, immutably domineering and, surprisingly, the hardness emanating
from him only added to his allure. It made her wonder if there was any
softness in him at all and she imagined that women had driven themselves
crazy trying to find it.
With a sliver of awareness passing through her body, she knew his face
must have launched a thousand women’s fantasies. He had high cheekbones,
a chiseled jaw line and a strong, straight nose. His hair was thick and
dark, brushed off his forehead, and his skin was tanned. The lips caught
and held her attention. The lower one was fuller and she wondered, in
a flash of insanity, what it would be like to kiss him.
Her heart began to pound and, as if he’d caught the scent of her
thoughts, she saw speculation flare in his expression. Abruptly, she felt
as though she was being assessed as a woman. Those eyes narrowed and seemed
to linger on her legs, causing a flush bloom deep inside of her.
Before she allowed herself to speculate on what he thought of her, she
told herself not to bother. The man was a heartbreak waiting to happen.
Not for her, of course. But she pitied whoever fell for someone like him.
One dark eyebrow rose sardonically. “I don’t recall consenting
to meet with any teenage girls.”
His deep voice wrapped around the words, creating cynical shadows in the
syllables. Carter was distracted by the sound and then realized he’d
just insulted her.
Recovering quickly, she replied with a tart clip, “I’ve been
out of my teens for a decade, thank you very much.”
The eyebrow took flight again. Her tone had been every bit as commanding
as his had been and it occurred to her that he wasn’t used to being
addressed in such a way.
She took a steadying breath. “I think we should start over. Mr.
Farrell, my name is Carter Wessex. I’m an archaeologist and I-”
“No.” His eyes left her and he started rifling through papers
as if she’d left the room.
Carter bristled. “Excuse me?”
“The answer is no.”
“But I haven’t asked for anything yet.”
“The operant word being yet. Letting you chatter on before you get
to the ask would only be a waste of our time.” His voice was clipped
She was stunned into silence and, for a moment, all she could do was watch
his eyes trace over words on some document.
“You know, you don’t have to be so rude. And you could look
at me while we’re talking.”
The arrogant brow arched though he didn’t look up from the papers.
“I always knew Miss Manners came with a shovel. I just assumed it
was for slinging drivel, not digging up other people’s property.”
“And it’s hard for me to believe someone living in a place
like this has the social skills of a cow.”
Gray eyes popped up to hers. She saw that the speculation had returned.
“Fine.” He put the papers down and leaned back in his chair.
“Is this better? Tell you what, I’ll even go one further and
remember to say please when I ask you to leave.”
As his eyes bored into her, Carter was trying to form a response that
didn’t have curse words in it.
“So,” he said briskly, “will you please leave?”
“You can’t just toss me out before I have a chance-”
“I can’t? I’ve got a deed in the safe that says this
is my land and I don’t think there’s any law which mandates
the cheerful tolerance of trespassers.”
“Lucky for you,” she shot back. “I don’t think
you could pull off cheerful to save your soul.”
Crossing his arms over his powerful chest, he looked her over once more.
“How old are you?”
“Try eighteen.” He glanced at her clothes. “You look
like you could be a baby sitter. Or even need one.”
“It’s hard to look mature in cut-offs and a tee shirt,”
she said indignantly.
“You pulled that get up out of a closet, not me.”
“I had to go to an associate’s dig before I came here.”
“Hopefully not as an image consultant.”
“I’m not here to talk about my clothes.” She glared
at him defensively.
“You seem determined to talk about something. Since I’m not
going to discuss your digging up my land, I figure clothes are a natural
launching pad for inane conversation. Considering you’re a woman.”
She took a deep breath, trying like hell not to lose her temper.
“Look, I know Conrad Lyst found a cross on your mountain that could
be Reverend Winship's-”
“Perhaps I need to be more clear. I’m not discussing anybody
digging on my land. Your questionable taste in sportswear is still on
the table, however.”
“I didn’t wear this for you!”
“Obviously. Although I must say it made quite an impression on the
teenager who just left. But then he’s mistaking you for a contemporary.”
Carter felt like she was getting picked clean by a vulture and had to
fight the urge to yell back at him again. Doing her best to regard him
calmly, she forced herself to keep her voice down.
“Mr. Farrell, all I’m asking is for you to hear me out.”
“Call me Nick and forget the speech. It won’t improve your
bargaining position anymore than those shorts do.”
“Are you always this nasty?”
“As a rule, yes. But sometimes I’m worse.”
She rolled her eyes. She had the feeling she was amusing him and that
pissed her off as much as when he’d been verbally attacking her.
“I’m a professional, Mr. Farrell, not an itinerant ditch digger.
You may be sitting on the answer to one of the great puzzles of the revolutionary
era. No one really knows what happened to the Winship party and the gold
they were carrying. You owe it to posterity-”
“To let you come in and rescue the solution from my land?”
His brow furloughed deeply. “I’ve got news for you. I don’t
think it needs rescuing. As far as I’m concerned, the past is best
left buried and posterity these days is far more interested in Ozzy Osborne’s
family life. They couldn’t care less about minutemen and red coats.”
“That’s a pretty narrow view.”
“I’m a narrow kind of man.”
“I can tell.”
He chuckled. “So Miss Manners is also a behaviorist?”
“No, it’s the flashing “Royal Pain in the Ass”
sign over your desk.”
There was a long pause and then Nick Farrell tilted back his head and
laughed. It was a rich, rolling sound. When he focused on her again, he
was smiling and the grin lit up his austere face, pulling an unlikely
dimple out of one cheek.
Somehow, now that she’d made him laugh, she wasn’t quite so
angry at him.
“Do you have any idea how many people come at me each spring asking
to tear into Farrell Mountain?”
“No, but I don’t care.”
“When you go after some company, do you worry about what all the
other little raiders are doing?”
His grin disappeared. “Been doing a little research on my history?”
“You’re pretty well known.”
There was a protracted silence and then he stood up and approached her,
stopping only when he was a foot away. Carter’s throat went dry.
He was taller than her by at least a head and that was saying something,
considering she was five nine. As the full force of him hit her, she had
to stop herself from stepping backwards.
Across a desk, he was insulting and intimidating. Up close, she found
him totally compelling.
Not exactly an improvement, she thought, running her tongue over her lips.
That was a mistake. Like a predator, he watched the movement, eyes sharpening
on her mouth. The way he was looking at her made her body swell with something
she was determined to think of as anxiety, even if it felt more like hunger.
She thought about turning around and walking out. Running away, actually.
“What is it you really want?” He drawled.
“I don’t understand.” Carter’s words were mumbled,
coming out fast and tense as something urgent flared in her body. She
thought, he couldn’t possibly be insinuating that she had come for
“Everyone has a hidden agenda. What else are you after?” His
eyes traveled down her body and then rose up again, to her breasts.
She shook her head, trying to clear it. “I just want to dig.”
Abruptly, almost angrily, he broke the eye contact with her lips and returned
to his desk. His voice was off hand and he was back with the papers when
he addressed her again.
“I think you should put your learner’s permit to good use
and drive yourself back to wherever you came from. You aren’t going
to get what you want here, either in the dirt or from me. However much
I wish I could be… accommodating. I like women, not schoolgirls.”
Carter’s mouth dropped open.
“Are you suggesting…” She couldn’t even finish
“Shut the door on the way out,” he commanded before adding,
Her breath came out in a hiss. “You insufferable, egocentric-”
“There you go with the compliments, making me blush,” he murmured,
flipping a page.
“I hope you rot in hell.”
“See you there,” he said cheerfully.
On the way out, Carter slammed the door as hard as she could.
As the clap of wood reverberated through the room like a gunshot, Nick
winced and put the documents down.
That was one hell of a beautiful woman, he thought. Those crystal blue
eyes so alive with defiance. That expressive face showing him every emotion
she was feeling. Her mouth, with its full lips and its pink tongue.
Heat flared in his body again.
It was a damn good thing she’d left. Reeling in his impulses had
been getting more difficult every time that tongue of hers had come out
for a lick. Moves like that had been performed for him countless times
before but, because they were calculated, he’d never been tantalized.
The trouble with that archeologist was he got the sense she didn’t
know how enticing she was.
Which couldn’t be possible.
Beautiful women were always willing to leverage their assets. He didn’t
fault them for it. He’d made a fortune doing the same thing only
his bait was dollar bills, not the promise of sexual thrills, and his
acquisitions were companies, not marriage licenses. Futile as it inevitably
was for the other party, he always enjoyed bartering with women over what
they wanted from him in return for their time and attention.
And that one in the cut-offs could have been a real contender.
Aside from her beauty, she had a keen intelligence, a heavy dose of wit
and she wasn’t afraid of giving as good as she got. In his life,
no one dared to spar with him. People either wanted something or owed
him money, neither of which were breeding grounds for resistance, even
of the playful variety.
She’d been captivating when she was angry, he thought. A flush on
those cheekbones, her breath coming in drum beats, her mouth open, agape
at his rudeness. She’d lit up like a damn Christmas tree. Delightful.
He looked at the door, as if he could see her through it.
Could she be related to William Wessex, the financier Nick did so much
business with? Wouldn’t that be interesting.
Nick tried to recall what he knew about Wessex’s family life. The
man had been married but something had happened to the wife. Something
tragic. Had there been a daughter? Wessex never showed up anywhere with
one, never mentioned one, but the coloring of that woman was startlingly
similar to his and she had the same kind of arresting good looks.
Nick picked up the phone and dialed his office in New York. It was answered
on the first ring.
“Fredericka Ulrich,” his Chief of Staff said brusquely.
“Freddie, does William Wessex have a daughter?”
“I think so,” she mused. “But I know who to call. Wait
by the phone.”
This was Freddie at her best, Nick thought. He was still smiling when
his line rang moments later.
“Late twenties. Estranged. Really estranged,” she told him.
“Carter. Lives somewhere in Vermont. Archeologist. One of the best
in the country even though she’s relatively young.”
“Does Wessex care about the split?”
“Tremendously. He’s frantic about it. Been a couple years
or so, since the mother died. Apparently the daughter won’t see
him or even talk to him.”
“Ms. Wessex showed up here today.”
“Not surprising considering that hill behind your house. You going
to let her dig?”
“I said no.”
“And now you’re wondering what it might be worth to William
Wessex if he had a shot at making nice with his little girl?”
Freddie was also a terrific strategist.
Nick smiled grimly. “You know I like to make sure my business partners
are in debt to me. Financially or otherwise.”
"And if father and daughter reconcile, Wessex would owe you for life,”
Freddie reasoned. “He could prove even more useful than he’s
Nick mulled over his options. “Maybe if she digs around a little
we can finally put all this silliness to rest. There's no gold up there
and I’m tired of guarding an empty safe.”
After hanging up the phone, he went to a window and looked out toward
the lake. As he watched the sunlight reflect off the waves, he noticed
something out of the corner of his eye. It was a large red-tailed hawk
sitting in a tree, watching him through the glass.
He thought of the woman who had just left his home.
And found himself looking forward to seeing her again.