Technically speaking, Luke Gilchrist was not a bastard. But despite his legitimate heritage, he had been cast in the role thirty-six years ago on the day of his birth, and he had played the part to the hilt ever since.
Gilchrists were nothing if not dramatic about everything they did, Katy Wade reminded herself as she got out of her car. It would be easy to laugh at them if it were not for the fact that they could be so damn dangerous.
Katy resolutely picked up her briefcase and walked toward the front porch of the old, weather-beaten house. Luke Gilchrist lounged in the doorway, waiting for her the way a hawk waits for a mouse to emerge from its burrow. He was not alone. A massive black dog of indeterminate breed waited with him. The dog carried a large metal feeding dish clamped in its teeth.
Katy had never met Luke, but she had been surrounded by Gilchrists for years, and she knew the species well. She would have recognized this particular member of the family anywhere. As she had confided to her brother and her secretary, the Gilchrist clan reminded her of a coven of tall, elegant witches and warlocks.
It was not just the dominant family traits of jet-black hair, aristocratic features, and distinctive green eyes that had put the notion into Katy's head. It had more to do with the underlying aura of grimness she often sensed in them. It was a strange, rather depressing darkness that lay just below the surface.
As far as Katy was concerned, Gilchrists were, by nature, extremists. They were either ice cold or scalding hot. For them there was rarely any serene middle ground.
Gilchrists seethed. They brooded. They could easily become obsessed with getting their own way. They were capable of nursing grudges for years.
They were also intelligent, even brilliant, as Luke was reputed to be, but they had no interest in the lighter side of life. For them everything was passion or anguish, victory or defeat. Katy could not imagine a Gilchrist in a playful mood.
The only time Gilchrists, appeared to experience an emotion that even vaguely resembled happiness was when they were talking about money or revenge.
Katy had had occasion to give the matter a great deal of thought during the past few years, but she honestly did not know what caused the absence of light she sensed in the members of the Gilchrist family. Sometimes she thought it was a result of their ambitious natures. At other times she decided it was some weird genetic thing. Then there were occasions when she was convinced the family's problems stemmed simply from the years of iron-fisted rule it had endured under the clan's matriarch, Justine Gilchrist.
All Katy knew for certain was that she had been well treated by Justine, and she was deeply indebted to her. That did not mean, however, that Katy was not looking forward to escaping Gilchrist clutches at the earliest possible moment. That moment was, at long last, on the horizon. It was nearly within her reach. But first she had to persuade the clan's chief warlock to return to the bosom of his family.
Luke Gilchrist, although he did not know it, was Katy's ticket to freedom.
She eyed him cautiously as she approached the porch, aware of her growing sense of unease. It was ridiculous to feel this way, she thought. She was accustomed to dealing with Gilchrists. The trick was not to take them as seriously as they took themselves.
parBut for some reason this particular Gilchrist was having an unexpected effect on her senses. Perhaps it was simply because she needed him. Her own future was tied to his now.
Luke was typical of his clan in that he exhibited a predatory grace. Because she was well acquainted with the family legends surrounding him, Katy knew he was thirty-six years old, eight years her senior. There were already a few silver shards in the black depths of his hair.
The green ice in his eyes had probably been there since his birth.
To Katy, who stood a mere five feet, four inches, Gilchrists were annoyingly tall. And this one was the tallest specimen she had seen, six-one or -two at least. When she got closer he was definitely going to loom over her.
Katy hated being loomed over.
As she approached the steps she could not help but notice how Luke resembled the large black dog that hovered beside him. Both were powerfully muscled and cold-eyed. Of the two, Katy decided, she would rather face the dog in a dark alley. The animal appeared a trifle more reasonable than his master.
Katy glanced warily at the evil-eyed dog as she reached the bottom step. Then she looked up at the man who stood waiting in the shadowed doorway. This entire experience was getting downright creepy, she thought. Talk about atmosphere. But then, Gilchrists always went in for atmosphere.
The wind howling behind her was driving a storm in off the sea. The waves below the lonely, windswept bluff were already churning into white foam. The rain sweeping across the ocean would hit land any minute.
It had been a long drive from Dragon Bay on the Washington coast north of Seattle to this desolate section of Oregon. Nevertheless, Katy suddenly could not wait to get back into her car and scurry home. She did not care if she had to drive all night. She wanted this unpleasant expedition completed as soon as possible.
"I assume you're Luke Gilchrist," Katy stated. She had learned long ago to be assertive around Gilchrists. They tended to turn lesser mortals into road kill without even noticing the thump.
"I'm Gilchrist," Luke said. "Who the hell are you?"
"Katy Wade, your grandmother's personal assistant." Katy tightened her grip on her briefcase and tried not to notice the way his dark voice ruffled her nerve endings. What was the matter with her? she wondered. Gilchrists, never had this effect on her.
"Ah, Ms. Wade," Luke drawled softly. "I thought you might show up sooner or later."
"I've been trying to reach you for weeks, Mr. Gilchrist. I've left no less than twelve messages on your answering machine. I also sent four Express Mail letters and two telegrams. I know you received the letters and the telegrams. I have receipts showing that they were delivered. You signed for them."
"So?" Luke propped one sleek shoulder against the doorjamb and regarded her with the patented Gilchrist vampire stare.
Katy had to admit that Luke did the look better than anyone else in the family. She found his alarming green eyes far more disturbing than those of the rest of the clan.
There was something literally mesmerizing about his gaze. Katy had a sensation of vertigo, as if she were about to fall into pools of emerald fire. A curious thread of unfamiliar excitement began to uncoil within her.
Desperately she tried to focus on something besides his eyes and wound up examining his attire.
He was dressed in a snug-fitting black crew-neck sweater, black chinos, and low black boots. The clothes emphasized the natural elegance of his lean frame. All Gilchrists seemed to have an affinity for the color that best suited their difficult personalities. They all favored black.
And they all had nice white teeth.
"So, you have not given me the courtesy of a response, Mr. Gilchrist." Katy held tendrils of her wind-whipped red hair out of her eyes as she glowered up at him.
"I never respond to people who call on behalf of Justine Gilchrist or Gilchrist, Inc." His eyes raked her from the top of her red head to the toes of her very yellow high heels. "Nothing personal."
Katy felt herself blushing furiously under his intent examination. For an instant she was certain there was something disturbingly sensual about the way he was watching her. In the next breath she told herself it had to be her imagination. No Gilchrist would ever be attracted to her. She was definitely not their type.
And they certainly weren't hers.
At that moment the dog, which stood nearly thigh-high to its master and had a broad head that reminded Katy of a snake's, whined hungrily. The beast's lips curled around the bowl clamped in its teeth. Saliva dripped from its mouth.
Katy got hold of her scattered senses and squared her shoulders. "Look, Mr. Gilchrist, would you mind if I came inside? It's starting to rain."
She started boldly up the steps, knowing that if she waited politely for an invitation, she would probably end up standing outside for the duration of the conversation. Gilchrists were quite capable of exercising a near-lethal charm on occasion, but they only did so when it suited them. Katy guessed Luke Gilchrist didn't consider her worth the effort.
Luke and his dog both hesitated as she strode toward them. Then with a shrug Luke stepped back into the hall.
"What the hell. You're here now, and you don't look like the type to leave without a struggle." Luke glanced down at the dog. "Out of the way, Zeke. Looks like the lady's coming inside."
Zeke gave Katy a glowering glance. He whined softly one last time, displaying enormous fangs. Then he reluctantly turned and padded down the hall. He vanished around the corner into what must have been the living room.
"Why does he carry that dish around like that?" Katy asked uneasily.
"Zeke never goes anywhere without his dish."
"I see. What type of dog is he?"
"Damned if I know. He wandered into the yard a couple of years ago and stayed. He's got most of the qualities I require in a housemate. He doesn't make a lot of noise, doesn't have to be entertained, and doesn't borrow my stuff."
"Yes, well, I shall try not to be overwhelmed by the gracious hospitality the two of you are extending." Katy sailed briskly through the door and set her leather briefcase down on the ancient linoleum floor. She started unfastening the buttons of her sunshine-yellow jacket.
She had worn a yellow silk blouse and a business-like, pencil-slim green skirt for this interview. It had been impossible to guess precisely how to dress for a confrontation with Justine's mysterious grandson, but Katy had known enough about Gilchrists in general to wear her highest heels.
"You're wasting your time, you know," Luke said.
"I'll be the judge of that." She pointedly held out the bright yellow jacket.
Luke eyed the splash of sunshine in her hand with obvious distaste. He made no move to take it from her. "No reason to hang it up. You won't be here long. Toss it over a chair in the front room."
Katy gritted her teeth and folded her jacket over her arm. She picked up her briefcase and followed her unwilling host down the hall. Luke Gilchrist was even more impossible than she had been led to believe.
Then again, what had she expected from a man who had not bothered to have any real contact with his grandmother, uncle, and cousins since the day he was born? His father, Thornton Gilchrist, had defied Justine to marry Luke's mother, Cleo, and the rest of the family had referred to Luke as "the Bastard" ever since his conception.
He certainly fit the title.
Luke had his back to her as he went down the hall, so Katy took the opportunity to examine him more thoroughly. The impression of height that she had had when she first saw him was slightly misleading. Maybe he was only five-eleven or possibly six feet, after all. No big deal, she told herself. Her seventeen-year-old brother, Matthew, was nearly that tall.
But there was a breadth to Luke's shoulders and a hard, lean quality about the rest of him that was worlds apart from Matt's youthful physique. It was the difference between boy and man, and that difference was spelled power.
Luke's sleek, flat-stomached body would have looked good on a young warrior, Katy decided, but his eyes were those of an old sorcerer. She shivered for no apparent reason.
Behind Katy the front door shuddered as the Pacific storm struck in full force. By the time she followed Luke into the shabbily furnished living room the rain was sheeting down the windows. Zeke was sprawled on the floor near the fire. His bowl was lying next to him. He opened one eye when Katy appeared, then promptly closed it.
"Have a seat." Luke picked up a pile of Wall Street Journals that had been stacked on an armchair. He tossed them down onto a coffee table that was already littered with recent issues of Fortune, Barron's, and a variety of small, independent financial newsletters.
"Thank you." Katy sat down cautiously, not wanting to raise the cloud of dust she feared was embedded in the threadbare cushions.
She glanced covertly around the room as she set down her briefcase. It was hard to believe Luke Gilchrist made money as easily as most people lost it. The room showed no sign of what she knew must have been a considerable income. He certainly didn't bother to spend any of it on his home.
Katy was shocked in spite of herself. She did her best to conceal it. Every Gilchrist she had ever known had a taste for the finer things in life. Other than the black Jaguar she had seen in the drive, there was no evidence that Luke had inherited that particular family trait.
True, this house, which was perched on a bluff overlooking the raw Oregon coast, had a terrific view, but that was about all it had going for it. Luke had clearly not invested a dime toward refurbishing the aging structure.
The furniture appeared to be composed of leftovers from a garage sale. The drapes were floral in pattern, and faded. The flowers on them were no longer recognizable. The fabric must have been at least thirty years old. A seriously stained braided rug lay beneath the wobbly metal legs of the scarred coffee table.
"You've come this far," Luke said as he sprawled gracefully in the sagging armchair across from Katy. "Say what you have to say, and then you can leave."
Katy's mouth tightened. He was making her nervous but she was not about to let him bully her. Not even Justine was allowed that privilege. "I suspect you have a very good idea of why I'm here, Mr. Gilchrist."
"Call me. Luke. I'm sure as hell going to call, you Katy." He smiled mockingly. "Zeke and I tend to be casual about that kind of thing."
Katy arched a brow and glanced meaningfully around the decrepit living room. "You're not big on formality, I take it."
"Unlike my grandmother," he agreed.
"What would you know about Justine Gilchrist's attitudes toward such matters?" Katy retorted. "You don't even know her."
"I met her once. She showed up at the funeral. That was enough. I have no interest in getting to know her any better."
Katy winced inwardly. The last thing she wanted to do was bring up old and painful memories for Luke. She knew his parents and his beautiful wife, Ariel, had all been killed in a plane crash three years before. They had been on their way to Los Angeles to rendezvous with Luke for the opening of the newest in the successful group of upscale restaurants Luke and his father had established in California.
The restaurants Luke and his father had created on the Gold Coast had been even more successful than the group owned by Luke's grandmother, Justine, in Seattle. There had never been direct competition between the two corporations because they had never gone toe-to-toe in the same cities. But the implicit rivalry had been there, and everyone in the family knew it. Thornton Gilchrist had set out to show Justine he did not need her company or her backing to be successful, and he had proved it. Luke had followed in his father's footsteps.
Luke had sold all of the restaurants he and his father had owned within months after the funeral, however. Rumor had it that he had made a fortune on the sales, even though he had literally dumped the restaurants onto a glutted market. No matter what he did, Luke made money.
He had never built another restaurant. These days he used his remarkable monetary skills to arrange financing for companies in all areas of the food and beverage business. He made it possible for new restaurants to open, chains to expand, companies to merge. From what Katy had been able to glean, Luke orchestrated the deals, took a sizable commission, and vanished from the scene. He had apparently lost all personal interest in the restaurant business, which had been in his family's blood for three generations.
Katy took a deep breath and forced herself to sound conciliatory. It was not easy. She was extremely annoyed with Luke Gilchrist. "You must know by now that your grandmother wishes to end the feud that has existed between herself and your side of the family all these years."
Luke's gaze was expressionless. "There is no feud."
"How can you say that?"
He shrugged. "We don't have what you might call a close relationship, but there is no feud. A feud implies active, ongoing hostilities. I don't care enough about her or the rest of the family to bother doing battle with any of them."
Katy shivered again. It occurred to her that the Gilchrist clan should consider itself fortunate under the circumstances. If the Bastard had gone to war with them, they would have been in even worse shape today than they were already.
ar"Luke, I'm here to ask you to put the past aside," Katy said quietly. "Your family needs you."
Pain, cold and dark, flashed for an instant in Luke's eyes. Then it disappeared, sinking back into the pit where it had originated. "My family is dead."
Katy looked across the room at Zeke, who was asleep. "I understand your loss. My parents were both killed in a boating accident when I was nineteen. My brother and I are the only ones left in our family."
There was a short, taut silence.
"I'm sorry," Luke said finally. Some of the cold had evaporated from his voice. Again, there was silence. Then Luke said, "How the hell did you wind up working for my grandmother?"
"She was kind enough to give me a decent job when I needed one desperately."
"Is that so?" Luke eyed her with curiosity. "How desperate were you?"
Katy hesitated, sorting through her words. "When my parents were killed there was very little left except a small trust fund that had been set aside for my brother's college education. My father, we discovered, had been teetering on the edge of bankruptcy for two years before his death. After he died everything fell apart financially."
"So you were flat broke?"
"For all intents and purposes, yes. Matt was only eight, and I needed work fast in order to be able to keep him with me. I was only a sophomore in college at the time. I had no real skills to market."
"You're saying my grandmother offered you a job as her personal assistant out of the kindness of her heart? I find that a little hard to believe. Justine Gilchrist has never been known for her charitable nature."
"Well, it's true." Katy straightened determinedly. "And I've tried to repay her by being the best personal assistant she's ever had. Now, then, I'd like to get back to the matter at hand, if you don't mind."
"Save your breath. The answer is no."
"I don't think you entirely understand the situation," Katy said crisply.
"Sure I do. Gilchrist, Inc. is in trouble. My grandmother's health has been failing for the past couple of years. What is she now? Eighty-one? Eighty-two?"
"Eighty-two," Katy agreed stiffly.
"She's been running her own private kingdom for years, and she's finally losing her grip. She's got trouble with at least two of the restaurants. Gilchrist Gourmet, her new line of frozen entrées, has not acquired the market share it needs to survive. Her upper management people are getting restless because there's no heir apparent to take her place. They're starting to worry about their own futures, and the best ones are jumping ship."
Katy swallowed uncomfortably. Everything he had said was true. It was all supposed to be secret, too. "You're very well informed."
"I make my living with information. I use it the way other people use oxygen."
"I see. Well, as you seem to be aware of the financial picture, I won't go into details. I would just like to point out that Gilchrist, Inc. is not, simply another faceless corporation. It's a family business. Your family business. I should think you would feel some sense of loyalty."
Luke's smile was bleak. "Give me a break."
"All right, so you don't have any fondness for Justine." Katy searched quickly for another angle. "You must feel some sense of responsibility toward your relatives, regardless of the problems that existed between your grandmother and your father."
"I don't." Luke's black brows rose slightly. "Feel any sense of responsibility, that is."
"Good grief, how can you continue to be totally irrational about something that happened before you were even born? The disagreement was between your father and Justine, not you and her."
"It was a little more than a disagreement," Luke said dryly. "My grandmother cut my father out of her will and insulted my mother to her face. Justine labeled me a bastard before I was born and made it clear she did not consider me an heir, let alone a real member of the family. Which is fine with me, by the way. I don't need her money or her floundering restaurant business."
"That much is obvious," Katy said, struggling to keep a reasonable tone. "But that's not the point."
"My father didn't need her money, either," Luke continued as if she hadn't spoken. "He started from scratch after Justine disowned him. Took over the management of a small restaurant in California that was in trouble. He put it back on its feet and then bought it from the owner. After that, there was no stopping him. At the time of his death he and I owned seven of the finest restaurants in California."
"Luke, your grandmother respects your father's accomplishments. She also respects what you've done. Now she and the rest of the family need you. Surely you can find it in your heart to help them. There are a lot of innocent people involved here. How can you turn your back on them?"
"The same way my grandmother turned her back on my parents thirty-seven years ago."
Katy shut her eyes briefly and then lifted her lashes to give Luke a direct look. "No doubt about it. You're definitely Justine's grandson. That streak of pure bullheaded stubbornness obviously runs in the family just like eye color. Good heavens, I don't know why I'm even bothering to try to reason with you."
"You're bothering because Justine Gilchrist pays your salary, and when she says jump, you jump. How long do you intend to go on jumping through hoops for my grandmother, Katy?"
Katy sighed. "You're the last hoop. I hope to be resigning from my position with Gilchrist, Inc. in the near future."
Luke's eyes narrowed. "Finally had enough of working for the old bitch?"
"Do not ever again refer to your grandmother that way in my presence," Katy snapped. She was out of patience with his insufferable rudeness. "Is that quite clear?"
Luke smiled thoughtfully at the outraged reaction he had elicited. He lounged back in his chair and stacked his booted feet on the badly marred coffee table. "She's really got you under her thumb, hasn't she?"
"I told you, I'm grateful to her. As it happens, I've enjoyed working for her."
Luke's expression was derisive. "Come off it."
Katy flushed. "For the most part," she amended with compulsive honesty. "In any event, I assure you she's been extremely generous to me, and I've learned an enormous amount about business that I could not have learned in any other way."
"So why are you so eager to quit your job?"
"I'm leaving Gilchrist, Inc. because I'm ready to pursue my own business plans."
"What plans?" Luke asked with lazy interest.
Katy eyed him warily. She was uncertain how far off the subject she should allow him to drag her. Gilchrists could be devious. "I'm planning to open a small specialty take-out business."
"How quaint." Luke gave her his humorless smile. "I suppose you know the failure rate in the restaurant business."
"I'm aware that it's quite high."
"Something like three out of four go under within two years." Luke sounded almost cheerful for the first time.
Katy was getting close to the end of her patience. "As I'm not paying you a consulting fee, I would appreciate it if you would not give me any advice. If I ever want it, I'll ask for it. In the meantime, you may keep your professional opinions to yourself."
Luke narrowed his eyes. "Do you ever talk to Justine like that?"
"Justine rarely annoys me as much as you're annoying me." Katy rose from the chair and went to the window. Hands clasped behind her back, she stared out at the storm-swept sea and took a calming breath. "I want you to consider what's at stake here before you completely dismiss the notion of helping your family."
"Nothing is at stake. At least nothing that I particularly care about."
"How can you be so callous?" Katy whirled around. She noticed out of the corner of her eye that Zeke had lifted his head and was studying her intently. "Think about your aunt and uncle."
"For heaven's sake, your uncle Hayden is an artist. A very fine one, as it happens. But he has absolutely no talent for running a business like Gilchrist, Inc. He can't possibly step into Justine's shoes."
"Maureen, his wife, runs a gallery. She knows art, but she doesn't know the food and beverage business. She can't take on Gilchrist either."
"I can see you're very involved in all this."
"And what about your cousins, Eden and Darren?" Katy continued desperately. "Your grandmother doesn't believe either one of them has the talent to take over the company. As a matter of fact, Eden went through a nasty divorce six months ago and is very depressed."
"Hire a shrink."
"She doesn't need a shrink, she needs the support of her family," Katy retorted. "And I'm worried about your cousin Darren, too. He's been acting a little strange lately. I think there's something wrong, but he won't talk about it."
"Do you always get this worked up about things?"
"I've got a right to get worked up. I'm supposed to fix this whole mess, and I can't do it alone. This is your family. You should be the one fixing things." Arms crossed beneath her breasts, Katy began pacing the room. "Everything's falling apart. I've got to do something."
"Why don't you just quit your job? That sounds like the easiest way out of the situation," Luke said. He watched her stride up and down the room.
"I can't just quit. Not until I've done my level best to help Justine save Gilchrist, Inc. Don't you understand? I owe her."
"Just because she gave you a job?"
"I've got news for you. Smart employees are not that loyal. Not in this day and age. Doesn't pay."
She turned her head to meet his eyes. "What would you know about loyalty?"
Luke's grim mouth tightened. "I don't need lectures on the subject from you, Katy Wade."
She bit her tongue. "This is getting us nowhere."
"All right. I won't waste any more time appealing to your obviously nonexistent sense of family responsibility. Let's try another approach. Couldn't you consider saving Gilchrist, Inc. a professional challenge?"
Luke's teeth flashed in a brief grin. "You're persistent. I'll give you that. What does it take to deflect you from your flight path?"
"You can't deflect me. I need you."
He arched a brow. "Is that a fact?"
Katy saw the gleam in his eyes, and she felt herself grow hot with embarrassment. What an idiotic slip of the tongue that had been. Being a Gilchrist, he had of course interpreted her words in the worst possible way.
"We all need you. Don't you understand?" Katy thought of the problems awaiting her back in Dragon Bay. She could not give up yet. "It's true we've got Fraser, thank God. I don't know what we'd do without him. But Fraser can't handle this thing alone. Justine won't give him the clout or the authority to run the company on his own."
"What?" Katy scowled at him, distracted by the question. "Oh, Fraser. Fraser Stanfield. He's your grandmother's chief operations manager. He's been handling things at corporate headquarters for her ever since Justine began to withdraw from an active management role. Fraser has been terrific, but the bottom line, so far as your grandmother is concerned, is that he's not a Gilchrist."
"Is he as loyal as you are?"
"Well, very nearly. As I said, he's been wonderful. I try to help, but I'm Justine's personal assistant, not her executive assistant. I'm coordinating things as best I can for her, but I'm not a Gilchrist either. Only a Gilchrist can run the company as far as Justine's concerned. You've got to come home, Luke. That's all there is to it. It's your duty."
"I want no part of Gilchrist, Inc., and that's final. If you can't get that through your head, you're even more thick-skulled than you accused me of being," Luke said.
Katy stared at him in angry despair. He meant it, she realized. There was no way to reach him. He had made up his mind, and that was that.
He had a lot in common with his grandmother.
She halted directly in front of him and stood with her hands planted firmly on her hips. "You know something, Luke Gilchrist? You should be ashamed of yourself."
"No, I will not spare you. You deserve this, and you're going to get it." A growl from Zeke stopped her for a second. Katy glared at the dog and then switched her gaze back to Luke. "I don't care if you sic that monster on me. I'm going to have my say."
"Don't worry. I don't think Zeke is any match for you."
"Are you finding this amusing?" Katy demanded.
"Not particularly. But it's interesting. You have certainly livened up what might otherwise have been a rather dull afternoon."
"I'll just bet it would have been a dull afternoon" Katy shot back. "I'll bet all your afternoons are dull. Your mornings, too. I won't even get into the subject of your evenings."
"Just as well. They're not much more interesting than the mornings and the afternoons," Luke admitted dryly.
"You think this is one big joke, don't you? Well, I've got news for you, Luke Gilchrist, it's not a joke. A lot is at stake here. You have the chance to salvage everything your grandmother has spent her life building. Future generations of Gilchrists are depending upon you. You alone are in a position to keep a fine company in operation and thereby preserve your family's proud heritage."
"You're beginning to sound like a commercial," Luke said.
"I don't care how I sound. I'm trying to make you understand what you're giving up by refusing to do your duty. Just think of what you could accomplish. Justine Gilchrist has single-handedly created the Gilchrist restaurant dynasty in Seattle. As her grandson and logical heir, you can take her place. You're the only one of the bunch who can."
"Maybe. A little. I take back what I said earlier. You're not just interesting, you are definitely amusing."
"The heck with it." Katy threw up her hands in disgust. "Everyone was right when they said there was no point trying to talk to you. I should have listened to them."
"True. But you don't take advice well, do you?"
"Gilchrists do not give advice, they give orders. But you're right. I'm tired of taking them." Katy strode back to the chair where she had been sitting. She snatched up her yellow jacket and briefcase and headed toward the hall without a backward glance.
"Damn," Luke muttered.
She heard his boots on the hardwood floor as he got up quickly to follow her to the door.
"I know you're not paying me for advice," Luke said behind her, "but I'm going to give you some anyway. When you resign from Gilchrist, Inc., get out of the business world entirely. You're too emotional for it."
"Me? Emotional? That's ridiculous coming from someone who can hold a grudge for thirty-six years. You may feel free to shove your advice where the sun doesn't shine, Mr. Gilchrist. I certainly am not interested in it." Katy wrenched open the front door and stepped out onto the porch.
Rain thundered on the porch roof and cascaded off the edge. There were already several puddles between the steps and her car. She was going to get drenched. A fitting end to a wasted day.
"It's pouring out there," Luke said behind her. "Hang on a second and I'll get an umbrella."
"Forget it. I don't want to hang around you or your vicious dog that long."
Katy stepped off the porch and was soaked instantly. Her hair turned into a sodden mass that clung to her neck and hung in front of her eyes.
She had been too angry even to think of putting on her jacket. The rain promptly rendered her yellow silk blouse virtually transparent. The thin fabric, of her bra and lacy camisole were not proof against the torrent, either. She realized with deep chagrin that she probably looked half naked.
"Hell," Luke muttered as he followed her down the steps. "This is stupid. You'd better come back inside the house and get dried off before you leave."
Katy swung around to face him. She held her rain-streaked briefcase protectively in front of her so that he could not see the way her nipples were puckering against the wet fabric of her blouse. "I've told you once, and I'll tell you again. When I want your advice, I'll pay for it. Until then, kindly shut up."
"If that's the way you want it." Luke opened the car door for her and offered her a mocking bow. He was just as drenched as she was. His hair hung in wet clumps, and his black sweater was saturated.
There was no way to get into the car without putting aside the briefcase. Katy tossed it angrily onto the front seat. Then she hunched her shoulders and leaned forward in a vain effort to shield herself from Luke's gaze as she climbed behind the wheel. She fumbled quickly with the keys.
"Drive carefully." There was a distinctly sensual curve to Luke's mouth as his gaze went to the front of her blouse.
Katy felt an outrageous thrill shoot through her. This was crazy, she told herself. No man's gaze had ever affected her this way. He was casting some sort of spell on her.
She shoved wet hair out of her eyes and glared up at him. Suddenly the dam holding in all her frustrations burst. "I hope you enjoy your miserable existence up here on this godforsaken bluff. I hope you really love every single minute you spend brooding over your hoard of gold."
"I hope you get a real kick out of knowing that when your family needed you, you turned your back on them the same way Justine turned her back on your father all those years ago."
"I'll do my best."
Katy was raging now. "I hope you enjoy your revenge, but I warn you, it's going to feel very cold in a few years. Your grandmother has already learned that lesson."
Luke's eyes suddenly glittered with something more dangerous than amusement. Holding the car door open, he braced his fist on the roof and leaned down.
"Who the hell are you, anyway, Katy Wade, and why are you so concerned about my family's future? You must have done something real bad in a previous life to get yourself appointed guardian angel to the Gilchrist clan."
"I told you, I owe your grandmother. I always pay my debts."
"Just why did she give you that job when you were nineteen? And don't hand me that crap about doing it out of the kindness of her heart. I know too much, about her to fall for it."
Katy turned the key violently in the ignition. The engine started with a shriek of protest. "She gave me the job because she's a woman with a strong sense of family pride and responsibility. She saw an opportunity to make up for what your father did to my mother, and she took it."
Luke went still. "What the devil are you talking about?"
"Haven't you figured it out? My mother was the woman your father stood up at the altar when he decided to elope with his secretary."
Copyright © 1992 by Jayne Ann Krentz
A decade of working for the high-powered Gilchrist family empire has made sassy Katy Wade determined to open her own business. But there's one last problem she must solve before she can leave. The Gilchrists need an heir apparent to save their mysteriously floundering fortunes, and there's only one man for the job: Luke Gilchrist. All his life the Gilchrists have made Luke pay for his father's scandal, and now he's a renegade who's sworn he'll never go home -- except to get even. Katy must persuade Luke to use his business expertise to rescue his family, but one look in his sexy green eyes, and she knows why they affectionately call him "the Bastard."
Meanwhile, Luke's decided he wants her even more than he wants revenge. He agrees to play savior, but only with Katy at his side. It's a strategy sure to make this red-haired angel madder than hell, but she's the only one who can turn this devilish rogue into a family man. Now he must trust Katy with his secrets -- and she must believe in his love.
Jayne Ann Krentz pens a wicked, wonderful tale filled with the joy of two hearts finding a place to call home!
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