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Not Even for Love
By Sandra Brown
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 1, 2004. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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The man finished the champagne in the fragile crystal stem and set it on the silver tray deftly held aloft by a passing servant. The tuxedoed waiter paused momentarily for the man to avail himself of another glass of the bubbly wine, then disappeared into the chattering crowd.
Reeves Grant sipped at his fresh glass of champagne, wondering why he had even taken it. He didn't want it. Everything had suddenly gone sour. Even the world's most expensive vintage left a brassy taste in his mouth. Derisive green eyes swept across the august assembly of celebrities and VIPs, surveying it with tolerant boredom.
An aging but still beautiful French film star was strategically draped on the arm of her new husband, an oil tycoon from Tulsa, Oklahoma. West Germany's gold–medal– winning Olympic downhill racer was earnestly hustling a sulky, sensuous princess from a Mediterranean country, but she studiously ignored him. A New York designer and his "companion and protégé," both dressed in flaming pink tuxedoes, were entertaining a group of avid listeners with a malicious tale about a former cover girl model who had gained forty pounds and had come to them for a figure-camouflaging wardrobe.
All in all, the crowd were rich, famous, or important. Or a combination of all three. Or merely outrageously notorious for one reason or another.
Greeting them all with dignified graciousness was the host of the lavish reception. Tall, strong, and lithe of figure, he looked to be exactly what he was, a Swiss industrialist of incalculable wealth. His blond, blue-eyed good looks secured his position on the list of the world's "beautiful people."
Disobedient green eyes refused a cerebral command and unerringly moved to the woman standing beside the millionaire. She was dressed in a stunning white gown. White, for God's sake! he thought snidely.
Twenty-four hours hadn't dimmed Reeves Grant's memory of how beautiful she was. The one-shoulder Dior sheath was worthy competition for any other gown there. The opal and diamond necklace around her slender throat was as exquisite as any of the jewelry that bedecked the other women in the room, and its simplicity was almost virtuous by comparison.
Her hair came close to being styled too casually for the formal occasion. It wasn't loose and flowing as Reeves had last seen it. Instead it was swept up into a knot at the top of her head. But the secreted pins seemed to have a tenuous hold on those dark, thick, glossy strands, a few of which had already escaped their confines. With the least amount of encouragement—say, a man's caressing fingers—the whole mass would probably come tumbling down around his lucky hand.
Dammit! What the hell is the matter with you? he demanded of himself. He had been suckered, but good. Yet, like some masochistic fool, he couldn't keep his eyes away from her. The question kept repeating itself in his brain: What had she been doing in that bookshop last night? Or better still, what was she doing here? Among all this? These people? With that man? The tiny modest apartment over the bookshop and this palatial reception room with its frescoed and gilded ceiling, its marble floors, its glittering chandeliers, had nothing to do one with the other. She didn't belong here. She belonged in that infinitesimal kitchen with its cheery percolator and the smell of fresh coffee. He could still see her curled up in the corner of that short sofa, one of the comfortable pillows hugged to her breasts… Damn!
Leaving the dregs of the champagne, he set the glass on a small table. His Nikon camera hung around his neck by its thin leather cord, and he adjusted it now. He was so accustomed to the camera being like an extension of himself that it didn't seem incongruous with his evening clothes. The crowd, well used to being photographed, seemed not to notice the camera either as Reeves threaded his way through them, his eyes intent on the cameo profile of the woman as she shook hands with a Belgian diplomat. The man at her side had just introduced him to her.
She leaned over the man several inches shorter than herself and spoke courteously to him, though her words eluded Reeves as he brought the camera up to his expert eye. He adjusted the ring around the lens until the delicate features of her face sprang into focus.
She was accepting the diplomat's officious kiss on the back of her hand when the photographer snapped the shutter. The automatic flashing device on his camera startled her, and she turned her head in the direction from which it had come. Quickly, he rolled the focus ring again as her face now filled his lens. Her smile was tentative, shy, and self-conscious as he pressed the shutter release.
This time the flash hit her full in the eyes and she was momentarily blinded. A dark forest of lashes blinked over gray eyes several times before she could clearly see. The photographer slowly lowered the camera away from his eyes, green eyes that impaled her with a ferocious, accusatory glower.
Her gracious smile froze for an instant before it totally collapsed. The eyes widened perceptibly. The mysterious rings around the irises grew darker. A darting pink tongue flicked over lips suddenly gone dry. Then the lips formed a small, round, surprised O.
Reeves had seen that same expression of wonder and caution just last night. It had been raining. The thunder had echoed through the narrow alleys and bounced off the stone walls of the ancient buildings of Lucerne, Switzerland. Rain had pelted his bare head.
But suddenly the storm had ceased to matter. When he saw her face through the glass door of the bookshop his other senses had rested while his vision reigned supreme, devouring her image.
"Oh!" Jordan Hadlock had exclaimed. In startled reaction, she crushed the heavy book to her chest as another clap of thunder shook the windows of the storefront. Then she realized that the rattling glass wasn't the result of the thunder alone. Someone was pounding on the panes of the door.
Perched as she was on the ladder leaning against the book racks, she could see the front door of the shop without obstruction. But when she had closed the bookstore for the night several hours ago, she had pulled down the opaque window shade. Whoever was now braving the thunderstorm and knocking peremptorily on the door was identifiable only by a silhouette outlined by flashing lightning.
The shadow's size and form deemed it male. He was pressing his cupped hands against the glass, trying to peer around the edge of the shade. Jordan heard him mutter an obscenity that had no right to ever be spoken aloud, no matter how softly, and then the pounding started again, more emphatically this time.
Slowly, her heart thudding almost as solidly as the fist on the glass pane, Jordan descended the ladder and edged around the bins of books and newspapers until she stood a few feet from the door.
A lightning flash revealed the large masculine shape standing with feet planted slightly apart, hands on hips. Her visitor was growing more impatient with each passing second. Tottering on the brink of indecision, she weighed her options. It would be dangerous to open her door this late at night to a man obviously already angry. Still, were he bent on some crime he would hardly have announced his presence so forcefully. Maybe he needed help. A medical emergency? He certainly seemed distressed.
Without waiting to talk herself out of it, she went to the door and pulled back the shade far enough for her to see out. The light from inside the bookshop fell on a broad chest with a cotton shirt now rain-plastered to it. The shirt was un-buttoned at the throat and her curious eyes traveled up the strong cords of his throat to his face.
Her eyes widened in feminine interest. While the chiseled features were set in a grim, perturbed expression, the face wasn't menacing. She was slowly taking in the firm chin, the long, slender nose, and the green eyes when a scowling eyebrow lifted over one of them in a silent query. It said: Well, are you going to stand there gawking at me, or are you going to open this door?
Yes, she was going to open it.
She dropped the shade, slid back the bolt, turned the brass knob, and drew open the door. Two bags, which had escaped her attention before, were tossed through the opening, barely missing her feet. She scrambled aside as her bare feet were splattered with cold raindrops when the bags thumped to the floor. One was brown leather, the other navy canvas.
The man barged into the room seconds after his luggage, turned, and slammed the door shut behind him. He spun around, ready with a scathing remark on her hesitation at opening the door, but the words died on his lips as he looked down at Jordan.
For long moments the two stared at each other, expressionless, without speaking, their only movement that of their eyes as each surveyed the face of the other. A few, very few, seconds ticked by before their breathing became audible. His was light and rapid because of his recent exertion; hers matched it for reasons as yet undefined. The only other sound in the room was that of the drops of rain that dripped off Reeves and fell onto the tile floor.
Jordan tore her eyes away first and directed them to the floor, where a puddle was forming around the man's booted feet.
"Do you have a towel?" he asked without notice.
"What?" she croaked, unaccountably disconcerted and disoriented.
"Do you have a towel?" he repeated.
"Oh… oh, yes. I'll be… Just a moment…"
She fairly flew across the room, switched on the light in the stairwell, and scrambled up the stairs as if the devil were after her. She grabbed a towel off the nearest bar in the bathroom, realized it was the one she had used after her shower, tossed it onto the floor, muttering self-deprecations about her own stupidity, and reached into the linen closet for a clean towel. As a precaution, she picked up two.
As she plunged down the stairs, she caught herself up, consciously took three deep breaths, and then descended at a more careful, reasonable pace. What was wrong with her?
He was standing exactly as he had been, though his eyes were busy scanning the shelves near him. He tilted his head to read a book title, and Jordan noticed the rainwater running in silver rivulets down his neck into the collar of his shirt.
"I brought two. You look as if you may need them," she said, extending him one of the towels.
"Thanks," he said succinctly before he buried his face in the absorbent terry cloth. He held his head still for several seconds before he raked the towel over his dark unruly hair and then around his neck, whisking quickly past the deep triangle where his shirt was open. The thick hair on his chest was curled damply. Jordan quickly averted her eyes.
He looked down at the ever-widening pool at his feet. "You're going to have a helluva mess on your floor. I'm sorry."
"That's all right. It will mop up. Who—"
"Hell, I'm sorry again. I'm Reeves Grant." He stuck out his hand and Jordan prevented herself just in time from jumping away from it. For some unknown reason, it seemed terribly risky to touch him, even in a friendly handshake. She didn't know what threat touching him posed; she only knew physical contact with him would be dangerous.
And it was. She had swallowed the unreasonable caution and taken his proffered hand. The moment his fingers squeezed around hers, the muscles around her heart constricted similarly, and for an instant she didn't think she would be able to breathe again. However, to her vast relief, her involuntary brain impulses took over, and she sucked in enough breath to murmur, "Jordan Hadlock." Though he seemed reluctant to release it, she pulled her tingling hand out of his grasp.
"Thank you for letting me in," he said.
"What are you doing out on a night like this? Were you looking for me for some reason?"
He smiled ruefully. "No. I wish I could say it was that simple. I arrived this afternoon—dusk really. I've never been to Lucerne and wanted to scout around before I checked into a room. I dismissed the cab, walked along the lake shore for a while, had a bite to eat, and then started walking through the old town. The storm came up and I got hopelessly lost." He grinned at her winningly, boyishly, abashedly, and she laughed.
"Don't be so hard on yourself. It's easy to get lost if you don't know your way around the old town."
"Yes, but I'm a jaded traveler. I've been all over the world and am reputed to 'know my way around.' You won't let it get out that I blew my reputation tonight, will you?" he whispered conspiratorially.
"I promise," she echoed his hushed tones. Then she asked, "What do you do that takes you all over the world, Mr. Grant?"
"I'm a photojournalist. Free-lance mostly. Sometimes I team up with one of the news services if one of their own men is unavailable."
Her eyes opened wide in realization. "Reeves Grant. Are you 'R. Grant'?" He nodded. "I see your photographs often. I read a lot of magazines." She smiled as she indicated the shelves with a sweeping hand. "Your work must be fascinating," she said.
He shrugged modestly. "Well, it pays the rent. Or it would if I had an address. I live in hotels most of the time," he said. "Anyway, I can't tell you what a godsend your store was. I've been wandering around out there in this rain for half an hour and then I saw your lights on. I couldn't believe the sign on the door. An English newsstand! A beacon on a dark night, the lighthouse amidst the storm," he said dramatically, and Jordan laughed again.
"Well, hardly that impressive," she said, smiling. "But I'm glad I was handy."
"Do you have a telephone? And can you recommend a hotel before I completely ruin your floor?"
"Yes to both." Turning to the counter with the old-fashioned cash register on it, she pulled a telephone from beneath it along with a well-used brochure. "Which hotel do you prefer? Any along the shore of the lake are excellent, if your budget—"
"I'm on an expense account," he said, grinning. "You choose."
"All right." She placed the receiver to her ear and then groaned, "Oh, no!"
"What's the matter?"
"The telephone is dead. I'm sorry. Sometimes when we have a bad storm…" Her voice trailed off as she looked at him mournfully.
He only shrugged again. "Don't worry about it. I'll find a room if you can direct me out of here."
"But the rain," she protested. "Why don't you stay a while longer?" The words surprised her own ears and his brows quirked again in amusement. Covering her embarrassment, she hastened to add, "It may stop soon."
He looked out the window at the storm, which was still raging. If anything, the thunder and lightning seemed to be increasing in ferocity.
"I'm no martyr," he admitted. "I'll stay awhile. Am I keeping you from anything?"
"No—I was only shelving some books." She gestured toward the ladder.
"Then I insist on helping while I'm here."
"No, it can wait. I—"
"I owe it to you," he said. "That is, if you don't mind my wet clothes."
She did, but not in the way he suspected. The fine fabric of his blue shirt was still damp and clung to the ridges of muscle and bone on his torso. His jeans, tight to begin with, were molded in much the same way to narrow hips and long, lean thighs.
"No," she said shakily. "I'm not exactly dressed for company either." Suddenly, and for the first time, she was made aware of her appearance. After she had closed the shop, she had eaten a light dinner, showered, and donned her most comfortable pair of slacks and ribbed knit cotton sweater. She had drawn her hair back in a haphazard ponytail and secured it with a tortoiseshell clasp. Her feet were bare. And she was wearing no bra—a fact made crucial by the green eyes that traveled down her trim body. As if being alerted of his scrutiny, Jordan felt her nipples begin to pout beneath the soft pink cotton and she whirled away in alarm, willing them to return to their relaxed state.
Why wasn't she wearing one of her functional skirts or business suits? Her homey clothes only made this bizarre situation seem more intimate than circumstances warranted.
But the intimacy was there with a reality that bordered on tangibility. Already she felt a shiver of anticipation each time she looked at Reeves Grant. Anticipation of what? The whole thing was becoming absurd, and she was sure the chaos existed only in her mind. He wasn't aware of it.
Indeed, when she looked back at him he was kneeling down with the damp towel, mopping up the puddle he had made. "Please don't bother with that," she said as she ascended the ladder with an armload of books.
"I think my clothes have dried somewhat, and if I get this water up, I won't feel so guilty about invading your store. Do you live here?" he asked abruptly.
She was stunned for a moment and suddenly wary. Then she remembered getting the towels. And with her casual appearance, of course, he would deduce that she lived here.
"Yes," she answered. "Upstairs there is a small apartment. I've been here for three years."
"Three years?" He seemed shocked. "You're an American."
It wasn't a question, but she replied as if it had been. "Yes. I'm from the Midwest. Three years ago I found myself at loose ends and went to London. Business associates of my father helped me get this job. There is a chain of these English newsstands throughout Europe, usually in smaller towns where American and British newspapers are harder to find. We, of course, cater mostly to English-speaking tourists."
"What happened three years ago to make you feel at loose ends?" It was as though he had heard nothing else, but had homed in on the one point in her narrative that she wished he had overlooked. She was tempted to tell him that it was none of his business and dismiss the subject immediately.
However, looking down at him from her place on the ladder, she saw the green eyes staring up at her, demanding the truth. One strong hand, with fingers sensitive enough to handle the delicate intricacies of his cameras, was resting next to her bare foot on the rung of the ladder.
She pulled her eyes away from his as she mumbled, "My husband died." Her shaking hands busied themselves with the books she was lining up along the top shelf. It was taking much more time than should be necessary to get them just right.
"What are you putting up there?" he asked, breaking a silence that was stretching dangerously long.
"Philosophy and religion," she said. "The current bestsellers go on the bottom shelves. The spicier the book, the lower the shelf." She looked down at him and smiled impishly.
He laughed. "Good merchandising," he said. "Here. This is all." He handed up the last of the books and she leaned down to take them.
At that moment another crack of lightning struck close to the small shop and after a sizzling explosion at each fixture the lights went out.
"Jordan!" She had momentarily lost her balance, but his hands came up around her waist to steady her on the ladder. "Are you okay?" he asked in the sudden darkness.
"Yes," she answered breathlessly. His hands were warm through the thin cotton of her sweater. Cautiously, her feet found the now invisible rungs and she eased her way down until she had gained the floor. "I'm afraid your first impressions of Lucerne will be bad ones," she said tremulously. His hands were still firm around her waist.
"I'd say my first impressions have been delightful." His voice was vibrant and its intensity startled her. His hands moved up almost imperceptibly until they spanned her rib cage.
"I'll get some candles," she said shakily. "This happens frequently, you see." She stepped away from him quickly. "I'll be right back."
"Oh, no. I'm afraid of the dark," he said. "I'm coming with you." He hooked a thumb into a belt loop on her side, which placed his fist at the swell of her hip. "Lead the way."
She felt her way around the shelves and racks, stumbling in the dark and ever aware of the figure looming close behind her, bumping into her every few steps.
"We have to turn right up the stairwell. It's rather tight."
"I'm right behind you," he said, and placed his other hand on the opposite side of her waist.
It took them several minutes to navigate the dark stairs, for in the narrow confines of the stairwell even the lightning flashes didn't provide them with any illumination.
"Here we are," she said with relief when they reached the second floor. She wasn't afraid of the darkness, or of the storm, or of being left without electricity. She was terrified of the sensations this man, and his touch, aroused in her. "Wait here. The candles are in the kitchen."
"Hurry," he said.
She laughed and tripped toward the drawer where she knew she would find a serviceable candle and matches. They were exactly where they should be, but she didn't seem to be capable of striking the match. Her hands were trembling and totally useless.
"Damn!" she cursed under her breath.
- On Sale
- Apr 1, 2004
- Page Count
- 208 pages
- Grand Central Publishing