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Excerpt from Heart Of Gold

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Carter Wessex braced herself for an audience with the notorious owner of Farrell Mountain. His reputation proceeded him. He was known for getting a kick out of throwing archaeologists off his pile of dirt but she was determined. She wanted to find out what had happened to the Winship Party back in 1775 and no one, not even a misanthropic, corporate billionaire with a tough-guy attitude was going to stand in her way.

 

 


Although technically, 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 charm.

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 and cold.

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?”

“Twenty-eight.”

“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.”

“You don’t?”

“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 him. Right?

“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 the sentence.
“Shut the door on the way out,” he commanded before adding, “Please.”

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. Utterly delightful.

He looked at the door, as if he could see her through it.
Carter Wessex.

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.

“Name?”

“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 been.”

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.


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