Seduce Me

Seduce Me

New York Times bestselling author, CHERYL HOLT, strikes again with the first in a new four-part contemporary saga of love, lust, betrayal, and redemption.

He had it all but always wanted more…

Lucas Merriweather grew up rich, spoiled, and entitled. He thrives on pleasure in his personal pursuits. But with his father’s death, he’s suddenly thrust into the role of family patriarch and CEO of their vast global holdings. When his estranged grandfather dies, Lucas learns that — shortly before his death — the elderly man married his young, sexy housekeeper and left her ten million dollars. Lucas is positive the woman is a con artist and thief, and he’s determined to get back the money she stole. He’ll do whatever it takes to win in the end.

She knew what she wanted and just how to get it…

Faith Benjamin takes in strays — people, pets, kids. Growing up an orphan, she understands the importance of loyalty and connection. When she bonds, it’s forever. As she begins working for aged, dying, Harold Merriweather, he proposes marriage, but the union comes with more than a small fortune. If she accepts the money, she accepts the Merriweather family secrets too.

Her decision to wed puts her on a collision course with Lucas who’s quickly intrigued. Is she the gold digger he expected? Or is she someone else entirely? He can only think of one way to strip away her layers and get to the truth. But when attraction is the bait and lust the fuel, seduction is the only game to play. And Faith is a master.

Lucas may have finally met his match.

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“Romantic Times hit the nail on the head when they dubbed Cheryl Holt the “Best Storyteller of the Year” and proof of that claim can easily be found in her charming new novella, SEDUCE ME.”

“Typically my area of reading interest remains firmly in the realm of historical romance so when I was given a copy of this story to read, I was a bit hesitant. That hesitancy became non-existent before the end of the first paragraph. The world around me literally fell away for the next two hours as I eagerly thumbed through the pages of Lucas and Faith’s journey from unknown adversaries to playful lovers, friends and ultimately the realization that they were meant for each other. BLISS!”

“I am now officially a fan of Cheryl Holt’s talent and plan on stocking my ever growing shelves of books with titles from her library as soon as possible.” — Teresa, Novels Alive TV

CHAPTER ONE

Lucas Merriweather marched up the steps to his attorney’s office.  He’d only recently hired the woman, and he glanced around, trying to learn something of her character by assessing his surroundings.

Ms. Catherine Stone, Attorney at Law, had located her business in an old house that was charming and picturesque.  From the tidy yard and paint job, he predicted she would be pragmatic, sensible, and shrewd, qualities he would exploit to his benefit.  He had no qualms about using her.  She’d be well paid for her efforts.

While he usually scheduled his appointments in the skyscrapers of downtown Denver, he’d agreed to make the one-hour drive to Boulder for what he intended to be a very private, very discreet conversation.  His siblings, Dustin and Britney, wanted to splash the scandal across the newspapers, but Lucas was determined to avoid any publicity and to have the debacle resolved with a minimum of fuss.

An acquaintance had recommended Ms. Stone, claiming she was tough as nails and could push through any bargain he sought.  He’d spoken to her on the phone, but they hadn’t met, and he was still debating his decision to retain her.

His powerful family had armies of attorneys, male attorneys, scattered over the globe.  Their sole purpose was to protect Merriweather Industries.  But with the emerging situation—as his mother liked to call it—Lucas felt a female lawyer would better suit him.

Women were adept at exhibiting a soft, restrained façade, one that fooled adversaries into complacency, but beneath the surface, they could be more brutal than men.  Their venom was unexpected, their targets caught off guard.

For his current difficulties, he needed a person of skill and duplicity.  Would Ms. Stone be the deceptive warrior he required?

He opened the door and walked inside, and the place was quiet, as if it was deserted.  There was no receptionist at the desk, and he was irked by the inefficiency.  He was never late, and he insisted his associates be punctual, too.  With his father having passed away the prior year, Lucas was in charge of the company and extremely busy, when he hated to be.

He’d never envisioned himself as a business mogul, but as the oldest son, he’d suddenly found himself running things.  It was a circumstance in which he had no interest and for which he’d refused to be groomed.

He was much more comfortable swishing down the Colorado ski slopes or relaxing on his yacht in the Caribbean.  Raised rich and entitled, he frittered away his money on every conceivable vice.  Content to lounge and loaf, his indolent lifestyle fit his arrogant temperament.  He liked to do what he wished, go where he chose, and behave as he pleased, and he’d always rankled at restrictions and constraints.

But now, at age thirty, he’d been thrust into the role of tycoon, when he had very little aptitude for the venture.  He chafed at the tedious nature of his duties.

His forebears had built an empire based on minerals and mining, but in the twenty-first century, Lucas’s world was far removed from the processes that had created their initial fortune.  Between his grandfather and father, and their perpetual bickering, the enterprises that had formed the bedrock of their wealth had been sold or shut down.

His main job involved shifting money around, with he and his siblings being the worst sort of trust fund babies:  spoiled, demanding, and worthless for any type of honest endeavor.

Aggravated by Ms. Stone’s discourtesy, he checked his watch and paced.  Where was she?  She’d definitely ruined any first impression.

Feminine laughter drifted by, and he headed toward it, certain it was Ms. Stone having forgotten their appointment.  He located her at the end of the hall, the nameplate, Catherine Stone, prominently displayed next to the door.

Her back to him, she was over by the window and peering out at the Rocky Mountains that towered on the horizon.  She was talking on her cell phone and completely oblivious to his presence.

He took a moment to study her, and he was confused by her appearance.  He’d assumed she was much older and had heard she was a grandmother.  The woman standing before him was probably his own age.

She had to have just finished law school.  How could she have participated in enough cases to have developed a reputation as a shark?

She was short, only five-five or so, with blond hair pulled into a seductive chignon.  A few golden tendrils tickled her neck and shoulders.  Her dark blue suit should have been boxy and plain, but it couldn’t hide her curvaceous figure.  She had a small waist, alluring hips, and shapely calves accentuated by her spiky heels.

For some reason, he speculated about the color of her eyes, and he was positive they’d be blue.  Not that it mattered.

With his six-foot height, black hair and indigo eyes, with his fortune, name and notoriety, he could have his pick of beautiful companions.  He dated starlets and models and would never stoop to fraternization with a lawyer.  He didn’t like intelligent, educated women.  They babbled about topics that bored him.

If he deigned to notice a female, it was with one goal in mind, that being wild, raucous sex as often and as rapidly as possible.  Since he was driven by primal desires, there was never much need for conversation.

He didn’t want commitment or bonds.  He’d tried them once in a secret elopement at the obscenely young age of nineteen.  A few months later, when his irate father had proved that his romp hadn’t been a lark, that his bride had deliberately sought him out, hoping to get her hands on his money, he’d agreed to an annulment.  Then he’d sworn off pledges and promises.

Casual relationships suited him best, and he never intended to attach himself ever again.

“Ms. Stone!” he snapped.

She turned slowly, and as she faced him, he saw that her eyes were the precise shade of blue he’d predicted they’d be.  He felt impaled, as if they held a magnetic power that prevented him from glancing away.  The striking hue was magnified by a pair of clunky glasses, the brown frames making her appear smart and sexy at the same time.

She was extremely pretty, with creamy skin, rosy cheeks, and pouting lips.  Her body was rounded in all the right spots—no hours spent on the treadmill for her!—and he couldn’t help but admit that she was a refreshing change from the starved girls he usually dated.

They were all bones and sharp angles, while she was smooth and soft and supple.

He frowned, disgusted to realize that he was assessing her in a sexual way.  He always evaluated women in a sexual way, but he was here on business and had to focus on fiscal affairs.  Ten million dollars, to be exact.

“Hello,” she said.

Her voice was husky and tantalizing, as if she was about to proposition him.  She gaped as if she had no idea who he was.

He was furious at having to explain, “I’m Lucas Merriweather.”

“Really?”

“Yes.  Are you Ms. Stone?”

After the longest pause in history, she said, “Ah…yes, I’m Ms. Stone.”

“You seem awfully young.  I was expecting someone…older.”

“I’m older than I look.”

“How much older?”

“Old enough.”

“We had an appointment at three.  Did you forget?”

“No…no, I didn’t forget.”

“I drove out from Denver, specifically to speak with you.  You had no receptionist to greet me, and you’ve kept me waiting for fifteen minutes.”

“I most humbly apologize.  I’m sure such incompetence is annoying to a man of your exalted status.”

He scowled.

Was she mocking him?  She pronounced the word status as if it was an epithet, as if she didn’t care if she was retained or not.

Why would she be indifferent?  Putting aside the fact that she would earn a fortune in fees, the task he’d given her was intriguing and peculiar.  If his troubles ultimately made it into the tabloids, she’d be front and center in a nationally reported story.  Her law firm would thrive, her public persona soar.

She ought to be thanking him!

“How may I help you?” she asked.

Gad, didn’t she remember?  What was her problem?

“I’m here to discuss my grandfather, Harold Merriweather, and the dispensation of his estate.”

“Oh, your grandfather, of course.”

“His relationship with the odious Faith Benjamin must be exposed and the bequest to her retrieved.”

“Miss Benjamin,” she mused with a sly grin, “the proverbial thorn in your side.”

“Yes.”

She added nothing further.  What was wrong with her?  Was she totally inept?  Was she drunk?

There was a thick file on her desk, and he could clearly see his name, Merriweather, printed on the label.  It had to contain her notes from their telephone call where they’d debated which strategy to pursue.

Should they demand Miss Benjamin decline her inheritance from Harold?  Should they bribe her to get it back?  Should they threaten her?  Should they simply sue her and tie her up in court until she relented and surrendered the money on her own?

“I think,” he said, “that I’ll just head to Denver.  You don’t seem very interested in this situation, and I’m happy to take my business elsewhere.”

“No, don’t leave.”  That sly grin had returned.  “I’m sorry if I’m distracted.  I’m eager to hear your opinion of Miss Benjamin.”

She gestured to a chair, urging him to sit, and he hesitated.  He’d meant to stomp out in a huff, but couldn’t make himself go.  He didn’t want to waste time interviewing other attorneys, didn’t want to check references or ask for referrals.

He wanted the issue resolved, and she’d claimed she could handle it.  If she’d only act as if she knew how to proceed, he’d feel more at ease.

Like a trained dog, he marched over to the chair she’d indicated and plopped himself down.  For a brief second, he wondered if he was staying because she was so pretty.  If she’d been the grandmother he’d anticipated, would he have bothered?

She sauntered over until she was directly in front of him.  She leaned forward, her hips balanced on the edge of the desk.

Though she was dressed in a suit, and it was expertly tailored, he received the distinct impression that she wasn’t accustomed to wearing one.  She oozed sexuality, and the stuffy garment didn’t fit her temperament.  He could imagine her in a risqué film, slowly removing it piece by piece, to reveal the shapely body underneath.

The top two buttons of her blouse were undone—with her sitting so close, he couldn’t help but notice—and he caught a glimpse of pink lace before he remembered to keep his focus where it belonged.

He yanked his eyes to hers, and she smirked, as if she’d been deliberately taunting him with all that fabulous cleavage.  The seductive witch!  She was playing a game, but he couldn’t figure out what it was.  He was competitive and liked to win, but how could he prevail when he hadn’t been informed of the rules or the prize to be gained at the end?

He forced himself to concentrate.  “I’ve already shared my opinion of Miss Benjamin with you.”

“Yes, she’s a floozy, a tart, and a gold digger.”

“That about covers it.”

“Have you ever met her?”

“When would I have?”

“Oh, I don’t know.  How about all those times you visited your grandfather over the years?”

“I told you:  I haven’t seen Harold since I was five.”

“Why is that exactly?  I don’t recall your excuse.”

“My excuse!  I was a kid.  My parents quit speaking to him.  What was I supposed to do?”

“Why did they quit speaking?”

“He and my father had a falling out.”

“Over the business, right?  Your father pushed him out.”

“Harold was sixty-five.  He retired.”

“Your grandfather’s version was quite different.  He always insisted that your father stole the company, along with most of his money.”

“He didn’t,” Lucas tersely replied.

It was a recycled rumor, fueled by disgruntled employees who’d been fired after his grandfather left.  Lucas’s father had been a difficult boss.  He didn’t generate loyalty, and gossip had frequently flared as to his motives.  The stories were ancient history, and Lucas wasn’t about to debate them with her.

“What’s your point, Ms. Stone?”

“You never went to see him—because of his troubles with your parents.”  She took off her glasses, twirling them between finger and thumb.  “How about later, say when you were eighteen or twenty or twenty-five?  How about this past year, when you turned thirty?  You’ve been an adult for twelve years.  You could have made contact on your own.”

Lucas’s cheeks flushed with chagrin.  Yes, he could have contacted the elderly man, and he’d often thought about it, but never had.  Now Harold was deceased, and Lucas had missed his chance.

He was shamed by his disinterest, by his lack of empathy or even general curiosity, but he wouldn’t be chastised.  He concealed his embarrassment with a spurt of temper.

“You’re at the limit of my patience,” he said.  “I suggest you back off.”

“I’m simply showing how your behavior will look to others—a jury, for instance.  You claim to understand your grandfather’s mental state, but you don’t have a clue what it was.”

“A sane man,” Lucas fumed, “in possession of his faculties, would never marry his twenty-five-year-old housekeeper, then leave her ten million dollars.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“Very sure.  She had to have coerced him in some way.”

“How do you suppose she managed it?”

“How would I know?  She could have beaten him or starved him or forged documents.  He was ninety.  It would hardly have been difficult to confuse him.”

To his great mortification, they’d learned of Harold’s death in the paper.  There’d been no news of him for years, and Lucas had had no idea where he’d been living or under what circumstances.  Lucas’s mother and siblings had seized on the question of whether the old fellow had had any money or property, and if so, where it was.

Lucas had been more worried about whether there was anyone to bury Harold.  He’d made discreet inquiries, only to be confronted by the shocking report that—just prior to his death—Harold had married Faith Benjamin.

Miss Benjamin had been named executor of his estate and had handled the funeral arrangements.  The ceremony was over before Lucas could have tried to attend.

Now, Lucas was on a quest to find out what had happened to his grandfather.  How had he come to be duped and robbed by the much younger, thieving, duplicitous woman?  Whatever she had stolen from poor Harold, Lucas would wrest it from her.

Ms. Stone had been retained to reason with Faith Benjamin, to convince her to give the money back without a fuss.  If she couldn’t be coaxed and cajoled, Stone was authorized to play hardball.  Lucas was determined to retrieve what belonged to the Merriweathers.

“I can’t wait to meet Faith Benjamin,” Ms. Stone mentioned.  “What do you imagine she’s like?”

“Greedy, flighty, and cunning.”

“Greedy?  You really think so?”  Ms. Stone chuckled, and it was an alluring sound that curled his toes in his shoes.

“Yes.  Why else would she have glommed onto an elderly, dying man?”

“Maybe she simply liked Harold.  Maybe he trusted her.”

Lucas scoffed.  “Trusted her?  Are you kidding me?”

“Well, if his health was failing and he needed assistance, it wasn’t as if he could turn to his family.”

The way she emphasized the word family was annoying, and he watched as she pushed away from the desk.  She folded her glasses and tucked them into a pocket in her jacket.  The move riveted his focus on her terrific breasts—the ones he wasn’t going to stare at.

Then she stepped next to his chair, standing very close so that her skirt brushed his thigh.  She was near enough that he could feel her body heat, could smell a hint of flowery perfume.

He had to crane his neck to peer up at her, so he was at a distinct disadvantage.  He was about to ease her away and stand, too, when she bent down and braced her hands on the arms of his chair, blocking him in.

Her face was just inches from his own, her eyes innocently wide, a pretty frown creasing her brow.  She studied him, as if searching for deceit or character flaws, and it was the damndest sensation, but the air was charged with anticipation, as if any fantastic thing might occur.

“Do you still plan,” she asked, “to hire a private detective to spy on her?”

“Yes.”

“That seems harsh.”

“Harsh!  She’s a thief!  I’m not concerned about my methods of proving that she is.  And if you wish to work for me, you shouldn’t be either.”

“What would you like to find out about her?”

“I’m sure we’ll uncover all sorts of detrimental information.”

“Perhaps she does…drugs.”

Ms. Stone’s voice was low and seductive again, as if they were conversing in a bedroom instead of a lawyer’s office.

“Perhaps.”

“Perhaps she throws…wild parties.  Perhaps she has…lovers.”

She ran her tongue across her bottom lip, galvanizing his attention.  It was a calculated gesture, meant to stoke his male interest.  What was she doing?  An inch closer and he could kiss her.  Was that her ploy?

Was she hoping to ignite a personal relationship?  Was she hoping he’d agree to an affair?  He was rich and handsome and available, and he never turned down what was freely offered, but honestly.

Too weird, too weird, too weird…

Behind him, in the direction of the hall, a woman cleared her throat.

He scowled and glanced around to see an older female in the doorway.  She was attired in a pinstripe gray suit, her hair gray, her eyes gray, everything about her gray, gray, gray.

“Mr. Merriweather?” she hesitantly said.

“Yes?”

“I’m Catherine Stone.”

You are Catherine Stone?”

“Yes.”

He whipped his hot gaze to the vixen perched over him, the one whose breasts were nearly brushing his chest, whose pouty lips were begging to be kissed.

“Then who the hell are you?” he barked.

“I’m Faith Benjamin.”  She grinned as if it was all a big joke, as if she’d played a great trick on him.

Like Poseidon arching up out of the ocean, he rose to his feet.  He grabbed her and set her away, and he loomed over her, trying to intimidate, but she couldn’t be cowed.  She stuck out her hand, expecting him to shake it, but he glared as if it was a venomous snake.

Undaunted, she laughed and waved it under his nose, making sure he knew she deemed him an ass.

“What’s going on?” the real Ms. Stone inquired.  “Miss Benjamin, what are you doing in here with Mr. Merriweather?”

“I’ve been waiting for you,” Ms. Benjamin said.  “We have an appointment.”

Ms. Stone blanched.  “Not today.  Tomorrow.  At three.”

“Oh, I must have gotten the dates mixed up.  Silly me.”

Lucas demanded of Ms. Stone, “Why were you meeting with her?”

“I decided”—Stone gulped with dismay—“I should speak with her immediately to see if I could resolve things.”

“She imagined she could trap me into signing papers.”  Miss Benjamin batted her lashes—she actually batted her lashes!—and chortled with glee.  “Tiny, harmless me, without a lawyer or expert advice.  Ms. Stone assumed I would crumble and cede what’s mine without a fight.  Were you intending to have her bribe me, Mr. Merriweather?  Did you think you could scare me, then toss me a few dollars, and I’d go away?”

That was precisely what Lucas had thought.  He’d intended to threaten her with lawsuits and public shaming and jail time.  Then he’d pay her a pittance to shut up and slither into obscurity.

In his musings about Faith Benjamin, he’d pictured an avaricious criminal who’d stumbled on an opportunity for larceny and had seized it.  He’d wondered if she was a prostitute or meth addict.  Obviously, he’d miscalculated.

She was intelligent and clever and sexy.  She looked like someone’s virtuous daughter, but acted like a loose, lonely wife on the prowl.  How was he supposed to deal with such a person?

He took a step toward her, then another and another, until his body was touching hers all the way down.  His posture hinted at physical aggression, but the idiotic woman was brave to the point of recklessness.  She didn’t budge.

“You think this is funny?” he raged.

“No.  I think it’s very, very serious.”

“Do you know what I could do to you?  Do you know what I could do to your family?  Are you positive you should cross me?”

She wrinkled her pert nose.  “I’m not afraid of you.”

“You should be.”

“Your grandfather said you were a spoiled bully.  Now that I’ve met you, I see that his assessment was correct.”

Her mentioning Harold was shocking, as if she’d cursed or spat on the floor.

“Don’t you dare speak of him,” Lucas commanded.

“What’s the matter, you pathetic baby?  Could it be that I have something you want and you can’t get it back?  Poor, poor Lucas Merriweather.  Beaten by a girl.”

He leaned in, wishing he was the sort of man who would commit violence against a female.  She deserved an old-fashioned thrashing.

“Don’t be smart with me,” he seethed.

“Why shouldn’t I be?  I know all about you.”

“You couldn’t possibly.”

“You’d be surprised what Harold had to say.”  She whispered, “It was never anything good.”

He narrowed his gaze, studying her, curious as to what machinations were rumbling through her devious, convoluted mind.  Her words about his grandfather, her claim that Harold had made derogatory comments about Lucas, had Lucas rattled.

He had a small pile of memories of his grandfather—the man sitting in the bleachers at Lucas’s T-ball game, holding his hand as they walked in a park—but they’d been drowned out by the shouting and recriminations that had come later.

Lucas always kept a tight rein on his emotions.  He couldn’t have been raised by his stern, autocratic father or his cool, detached mother and turned out any differently.  But for some reason, the notion that his grandfather hadn’t liked him was particularly wounding.

“Miss Benjamin”—Ms. Stone huffed over to where they were pressed together—“I have to ask you to leave.”

“Yes, I should be going,” Benjamin blithely agreed, and she had the gall to wink at Lucas.  “I need to get home and check all the curtains so those pesky private detectives can’t stick their cameras in my windows.”

She started out, but spun at the last second and said, “By the way, the money is mine.  Harold gave it to me, and you can’t have it.  Just thought you should know.”

She waltzed out, and Lucas and Ms. Stone waited in a dreadful silence until the front door closed with her exit.

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Merriweather,” Ms. Stone began.  “I had no idea she’d—“

“That woman is a menace,” he interrupted, not in the mood for excuses.

“Yes, she certainly seems to be.”

“And it’s occurred to me that you have none of the skills necessary to negotiate with her.”

“I was simply late.  I didn’t mean to be.  I called your cell, but I—“

Lucas held up a hand, stopping her.  “You’re fired, Ms. Stone.”  He whipped away and stomped off.  “As to Faith Benjamin, I’ll deal with her myself.”

 

+ Reviews

“Romantic Times hit the nail on the head when they dubbed Cheryl Holt the “Best Storyteller of the Year” and proof of that claim can easily be found in her charming new novella, SEDUCE ME.”

“Typically my area of reading interest remains firmly in the realm of historical romance so when I was given a copy of this story to read, I was a bit hesitant. That hesitancy became non-existent before the end of the first paragraph. The world around me literally fell away for the next two hours as I eagerly thumbed through the pages of Lucas and Faith’s journey from unknown adversaries to playful lovers, friends and ultimately the realization that they were meant for each other. BLISS!”

“I am now officially a fan of Cheryl Holt’s talent and plan on stocking my ever growing shelves of books with titles from her library as soon as possible.” — Teresa, Novels Alive TV

+ Sample Chapter

CHAPTER ONE

Lucas Merriweather marched up the steps to his attorney’s office.  He’d only recently hired the woman, and he glanced around, trying to learn something of her character by assessing his surroundings.

Ms. Catherine Stone, Attorney at Law, had located her business in an old house that was charming and picturesque.  From the tidy yard and paint job, he predicted she would be pragmatic, sensible, and shrewd, qualities he would exploit to his benefit.  He had no qualms about using her.  She’d be well paid for her efforts.

While he usually scheduled his appointments in the skyscrapers of downtown Denver, he’d agreed to make the one-hour drive to Boulder for what he intended to be a very private, very discreet conversation.  His siblings, Dustin and Britney, wanted to splash the scandal across the newspapers, but Lucas was determined to avoid any publicity and to have the debacle resolved with a minimum of fuss.

An acquaintance had recommended Ms. Stone, claiming she was tough as nails and could push through any bargain he sought.  He’d spoken to her on the phone, but they hadn’t met, and he was still debating his decision to retain her.

His powerful family had armies of attorneys, male attorneys, scattered over the globe.  Their sole purpose was to protect Merriweather Industries.  But with the emerging situation—as his mother liked to call it—Lucas felt a female lawyer would better suit him.

Women were adept at exhibiting a soft, restrained façade, one that fooled adversaries into complacency, but beneath the surface, they could be more brutal than men.  Their venom was unexpected, their targets caught off guard.

For his current difficulties, he needed a person of skill and duplicity.  Would Ms. Stone be the deceptive warrior he required?

He opened the door and walked inside, and the place was quiet, as if it was deserted.  There was no receptionist at the desk, and he was irked by the inefficiency.  He was never late, and he insisted his associates be punctual, too.  With his father having passed away the prior year, Lucas was in charge of the company and extremely busy, when he hated to be.

He’d never envisioned himself as a business mogul, but as the oldest son, he’d suddenly found himself running things.  It was a circumstance in which he had no interest and for which he’d refused to be groomed.

He was much more comfortable swishing down the Colorado ski slopes or relaxing on his yacht in the Caribbean.  Raised rich and entitled, he frittered away his money on every conceivable vice.  Content to lounge and loaf, his indolent lifestyle fit his arrogant temperament.  He liked to do what he wished, go where he chose, and behave as he pleased, and he’d always rankled at restrictions and constraints.

But now, at age thirty, he’d been thrust into the role of tycoon, when he had very little aptitude for the venture.  He chafed at the tedious nature of his duties.

His forebears had built an empire based on minerals and mining, but in the twenty-first century, Lucas’s world was far removed from the processes that had created their initial fortune.  Between his grandfather and father, and their perpetual bickering, the enterprises that had formed the bedrock of their wealth had been sold or shut down.

His main job involved shifting money around, with he and his siblings being the worst sort of trust fund babies:  spoiled, demanding, and worthless for any type of honest endeavor.

Aggravated by Ms. Stone’s discourtesy, he checked his watch and paced.  Where was she?  She’d definitely ruined any first impression.

Feminine laughter drifted by, and he headed toward it, certain it was Ms. Stone having forgotten their appointment.  He located her at the end of the hall, the nameplate, Catherine Stone, prominently displayed next to the door.

Her back to him, she was over by the window and peering out at the Rocky Mountains that towered on the horizon.  She was talking on her cell phone and completely oblivious to his presence.

He took a moment to study her, and he was confused by her appearance.  He’d assumed she was much older and had heard she was a grandmother.  The woman standing before him was probably his own age.

She had to have just finished law school.  How could she have participated in enough cases to have developed a reputation as a shark?

She was short, only five-five or so, with blond hair pulled into a seductive chignon.  A few golden tendrils tickled her neck and shoulders.  Her dark blue suit should have been boxy and plain, but it couldn’t hide her curvaceous figure.  She had a small waist, alluring hips, and shapely calves accentuated by her spiky heels.

For some reason, he speculated about the color of her eyes, and he was positive they’d be blue.  Not that it mattered.

With his six-foot height, black hair and indigo eyes, with his fortune, name and notoriety, he could have his pick of beautiful companions.  He dated starlets and models and would never stoop to fraternization with a lawyer.  He didn’t like intelligent, educated women.  They babbled about topics that bored him.

If he deigned to notice a female, it was with one goal in mind, that being wild, raucous sex as often and as rapidly as possible.  Since he was driven by primal desires, there was never much need for conversation.

He didn’t want commitment or bonds.  He’d tried them once in a secret elopement at the obscenely young age of nineteen.  A few months later, when his irate father had proved that his romp hadn’t been a lark, that his bride had deliberately sought him out, hoping to get her hands on his money, he’d agreed to an annulment.  Then he’d sworn off pledges and promises.

Casual relationships suited him best, and he never intended to attach himself ever again.

“Ms. Stone!” he snapped.

She turned slowly, and as she faced him, he saw that her eyes were the precise shade of blue he’d predicted they’d be.  He felt impaled, as if they held a magnetic power that prevented him from glancing away.  The striking hue was magnified by a pair of clunky glasses, the brown frames making her appear smart and sexy at the same time.

She was extremely pretty, with creamy skin, rosy cheeks, and pouting lips.  Her body was rounded in all the right spots—no hours spent on the treadmill for her!—and he couldn’t help but admit that she was a refreshing change from the starved girls he usually dated.

They were all bones and sharp angles, while she was smooth and soft and supple.

He frowned, disgusted to realize that he was assessing her in a sexual way.  He always evaluated women in a sexual way, but he was here on business and had to focus on fiscal affairs.  Ten million dollars, to be exact.

“Hello,” she said.

Her voice was husky and tantalizing, as if she was about to proposition him.  She gaped as if she had no idea who he was.

He was furious at having to explain, “I’m Lucas Merriweather.”

“Really?”

“Yes.  Are you Ms. Stone?”

After the longest pause in history, she said, “Ah…yes, I’m Ms. Stone.”

“You seem awfully young.  I was expecting someone…older.”

“I’m older than I look.”

“How much older?”

“Old enough.”

“We had an appointment at three.  Did you forget?”

“No…no, I didn’t forget.”

“I drove out from Denver, specifically to speak with you.  You had no receptionist to greet me, and you’ve kept me waiting for fifteen minutes.”

“I most humbly apologize.  I’m sure such incompetence is annoying to a man of your exalted status.”

He scowled.

Was she mocking him?  She pronounced the word status as if it was an epithet, as if she didn’t care if she was retained or not.

Why would she be indifferent?  Putting aside the fact that she would earn a fortune in fees, the task he’d given her was intriguing and peculiar.  If his troubles ultimately made it into the tabloids, she’d be front and center in a nationally reported story.  Her law firm would thrive, her public persona soar.

She ought to be thanking him!

“How may I help you?” she asked.

Gad, didn’t she remember?  What was her problem?

“I’m here to discuss my grandfather, Harold Merriweather, and the dispensation of his estate.”

“Oh, your grandfather, of course.”

“His relationship with the odious Faith Benjamin must be exposed and the bequest to her retrieved.”

“Miss Benjamin,” she mused with a sly grin, “the proverbial thorn in your side.”

“Yes.”

She added nothing further.  What was wrong with her?  Was she totally inept?  Was she drunk?

There was a thick file on her desk, and he could clearly see his name, Merriweather, printed on the label.  It had to contain her notes from their telephone call where they’d debated which strategy to pursue.

Should they demand Miss Benjamin decline her inheritance from Harold?  Should they bribe her to get it back?  Should they threaten her?  Should they simply sue her and tie her up in court until she relented and surrendered the money on her own?

“I think,” he said, “that I’ll just head to Denver.  You don’t seem very interested in this situation, and I’m happy to take my business elsewhere.”

“No, don’t leave.”  That sly grin had returned.  “I’m sorry if I’m distracted.  I’m eager to hear your opinion of Miss Benjamin.”

She gestured to a chair, urging him to sit, and he hesitated.  He’d meant to stomp out in a huff, but couldn’t make himself go.  He didn’t want to waste time interviewing other attorneys, didn’t want to check references or ask for referrals.

He wanted the issue resolved, and she’d claimed she could handle it.  If she’d only act as if she knew how to proceed, he’d feel more at ease.

Like a trained dog, he marched over to the chair she’d indicated and plopped himself down.  For a brief second, he wondered if he was staying because she was so pretty.  If she’d been the grandmother he’d anticipated, would he have bothered?

She sauntered over until she was directly in front of him.  She leaned forward, her hips balanced on the edge of the desk.

Though she was dressed in a suit, and it was expertly tailored, he received the distinct impression that she wasn’t accustomed to wearing one.  She oozed sexuality, and the stuffy garment didn’t fit her temperament.  He could imagine her in a risqué film, slowly removing it piece by piece, to reveal the shapely body underneath.

The top two buttons of her blouse were undone—with her sitting so close, he couldn’t help but notice—and he caught a glimpse of pink lace before he remembered to keep his focus where it belonged.

He yanked his eyes to hers, and she smirked, as if she’d been deliberately taunting him with all that fabulous cleavage.  The seductive witch!  She was playing a game, but he couldn’t figure out what it was.  He was competitive and liked to win, but how could he prevail when he hadn’t been informed of the rules or the prize to be gained at the end?

He forced himself to concentrate.  “I’ve already shared my opinion of Miss Benjamin with you.”

“Yes, she’s a floozy, a tart, and a gold digger.”

“That about covers it.”

“Have you ever met her?”

“When would I have?”

“Oh, I don’t know.  How about all those times you visited your grandfather over the years?”

“I told you:  I haven’t seen Harold since I was five.”

“Why is that exactly?  I don’t recall your excuse.”

“My excuse!  I was a kid.  My parents quit speaking to him.  What was I supposed to do?”

“Why did they quit speaking?”

“He and my father had a falling out.”

“Over the business, right?  Your father pushed him out.”

“Harold was sixty-five.  He retired.”

“Your grandfather’s version was quite different.  He always insisted that your father stole the company, along with most of his money.”

“He didn’t,” Lucas tersely replied.

It was a recycled rumor, fueled by disgruntled employees who’d been fired after his grandfather left.  Lucas’s father had been a difficult boss.  He didn’t generate loyalty, and gossip had frequently flared as to his motives.  The stories were ancient history, and Lucas wasn’t about to debate them with her.

“What’s your point, Ms. Stone?”

“You never went to see him—because of his troubles with your parents.”  She took off her glasses, twirling them between finger and thumb.  “How about later, say when you were eighteen or twenty or twenty-five?  How about this past year, when you turned thirty?  You’ve been an adult for twelve years.  You could have made contact on your own.”

Lucas’s cheeks flushed with chagrin.  Yes, he could have contacted the elderly man, and he’d often thought about it, but never had.  Now Harold was deceased, and Lucas had missed his chance.

He was shamed by his disinterest, by his lack of empathy or even general curiosity, but he wouldn’t be chastised.  He concealed his embarrassment with a spurt of temper.

“You’re at the limit of my patience,” he said.  “I suggest you back off.”

“I’m simply showing how your behavior will look to others—a jury, for instance.  You claim to understand your grandfather’s mental state, but you don’t have a clue what it was.”

“A sane man,” Lucas fumed, “in possession of his faculties, would never marry his twenty-five-year-old housekeeper, then leave her ten million dollars.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“Very sure.  She had to have coerced him in some way.”

“How do you suppose she managed it?”

“How would I know?  She could have beaten him or starved him or forged documents.  He was ninety.  It would hardly have been difficult to confuse him.”

To his great mortification, they’d learned of Harold’s death in the paper.  There’d been no news of him for years, and Lucas had had no idea where he’d been living or under what circumstances.  Lucas’s mother and siblings had seized on the question of whether the old fellow had had any money or property, and if so, where it was.

Lucas had been more worried about whether there was anyone to bury Harold.  He’d made discreet inquiries, only to be confronted by the shocking report that—just prior to his death—Harold had married Faith Benjamin.

Miss Benjamin had been named executor of his estate and had handled the funeral arrangements.  The ceremony was over before Lucas could have tried to attend.

Now, Lucas was on a quest to find out what had happened to his grandfather.  How had he come to be duped and robbed by the much younger, thieving, duplicitous woman?  Whatever she had stolen from poor Harold, Lucas would wrest it from her.

Ms. Stone had been retained to reason with Faith Benjamin, to convince her to give the money back without a fuss.  If she couldn’t be coaxed and cajoled, Stone was authorized to play hardball.  Lucas was determined to retrieve what belonged to the Merriweathers.

“I can’t wait to meet Faith Benjamin,” Ms. Stone mentioned.  “What do you imagine she’s like?”

“Greedy, flighty, and cunning.”

“Greedy?  You really think so?”  Ms. Stone chuckled, and it was an alluring sound that curled his toes in his shoes.

“Yes.  Why else would she have glommed onto an elderly, dying man?”

“Maybe she simply liked Harold.  Maybe he trusted her.”

Lucas scoffed.  “Trusted her?  Are you kidding me?”

“Well, if his health was failing and he needed assistance, it wasn’t as if he could turn to his family.”

The way she emphasized the word family was annoying, and he watched as she pushed away from the desk.  She folded her glasses and tucked them into a pocket in her jacket.  The move riveted his focus on her terrific breasts—the ones he wasn’t going to stare at.

Then she stepped next to his chair, standing very close so that her skirt brushed his thigh.  She was near enough that he could feel her body heat, could smell a hint of flowery perfume.

He had to crane his neck to peer up at her, so he was at a distinct disadvantage.  He was about to ease her away and stand, too, when she bent down and braced her hands on the arms of his chair, blocking him in.

Her face was just inches from his own, her eyes innocently wide, a pretty frown creasing her brow.  She studied him, as if searching for deceit or character flaws, and it was the damndest sensation, but the air was charged with anticipation, as if any fantastic thing might occur.

“Do you still plan,” she asked, “to hire a private detective to spy on her?”

“Yes.”

“That seems harsh.”

“Harsh!  She’s a thief!  I’m not concerned about my methods of proving that she is.  And if you wish to work for me, you shouldn’t be either.”

“What would you like to find out about her?”

“I’m sure we’ll uncover all sorts of detrimental information.”

“Perhaps she does…drugs.”

Ms. Stone’s voice was low and seductive again, as if they were conversing in a bedroom instead of a lawyer’s office.

“Perhaps.”

“Perhaps she throws…wild parties.  Perhaps she has…lovers.”

She ran her tongue across her bottom lip, galvanizing his attention.  It was a calculated gesture, meant to stoke his male interest.  What was she doing?  An inch closer and he could kiss her.  Was that her ploy?

Was she hoping to ignite a personal relationship?  Was she hoping he’d agree to an affair?  He was rich and handsome and available, and he never turned down what was freely offered, but honestly.

Too weird, too weird, too weird…

Behind him, in the direction of the hall, a woman cleared her throat.

He scowled and glanced around to see an older female in the doorway.  She was attired in a pinstripe gray suit, her hair gray, her eyes gray, everything about her gray, gray, gray.

“Mr. Merriweather?” she hesitantly said.

“Yes?”

“I’m Catherine Stone.”

You are Catherine Stone?”

“Yes.”

He whipped his hot gaze to the vixen perched over him, the one whose breasts were nearly brushing his chest, whose pouty lips were begging to be kissed.

“Then who the hell are you?” he barked.

“I’m Faith Benjamin.”  She grinned as if it was all a big joke, as if she’d played a great trick on him.

Like Poseidon arching up out of the ocean, he rose to his feet.  He grabbed her and set her away, and he loomed over her, trying to intimidate, but she couldn’t be cowed.  She stuck out her hand, expecting him to shake it, but he glared as if it was a venomous snake.

Undaunted, she laughed and waved it under his nose, making sure he knew she deemed him an ass.

“What’s going on?” the real Ms. Stone inquired.  “Miss Benjamin, what are you doing in here with Mr. Merriweather?”

“I’ve been waiting for you,” Ms. Benjamin said.  “We have an appointment.”

Ms. Stone blanched.  “Not today.  Tomorrow.  At three.”

“Oh, I must have gotten the dates mixed up.  Silly me.”

Lucas demanded of Ms. Stone, “Why were you meeting with her?”

“I decided”—Stone gulped with dismay—“I should speak with her immediately to see if I could resolve things.”

“She imagined she could trap me into signing papers.”  Miss Benjamin batted her lashes—she actually batted her lashes!—and chortled with glee.  “Tiny, harmless me, without a lawyer or expert advice.  Ms. Stone assumed I would crumble and cede what’s mine without a fight.  Were you intending to have her bribe me, Mr. Merriweather?  Did you think you could scare me, then toss me a few dollars, and I’d go away?”

That was precisely what Lucas had thought.  He’d intended to threaten her with lawsuits and public shaming and jail time.  Then he’d pay her a pittance to shut up and slither into obscurity.

In his musings about Faith Benjamin, he’d pictured an avaricious criminal who’d stumbled on an opportunity for larceny and had seized it.  He’d wondered if she was a prostitute or meth addict.  Obviously, he’d miscalculated.

She was intelligent and clever and sexy.  She looked like someone’s virtuous daughter, but acted like a loose, lonely wife on the prowl.  How was he supposed to deal with such a person?

He took a step toward her, then another and another, until his body was touching hers all the way down.  His posture hinted at physical aggression, but the idiotic woman was brave to the point of recklessness.  She didn’t budge.

“You think this is funny?” he raged.

“No.  I think it’s very, very serious.”

“Do you know what I could do to you?  Do you know what I could do to your family?  Are you positive you should cross me?”

She wrinkled her pert nose.  “I’m not afraid of you.”

“You should be.”

“Your grandfather said you were a spoiled bully.  Now that I’ve met you, I see that his assessment was correct.”

Her mentioning Harold was shocking, as if she’d cursed or spat on the floor.

“Don’t you dare speak of him,” Lucas commanded.

“What’s the matter, you pathetic baby?  Could it be that I have something you want and you can’t get it back?  Poor, poor Lucas Merriweather.  Beaten by a girl.”

He leaned in, wishing he was the sort of man who would commit violence against a female.  She deserved an old-fashioned thrashing.

“Don’t be smart with me,” he seethed.

“Why shouldn’t I be?  I know all about you.”

“You couldn’t possibly.”

“You’d be surprised what Harold had to say.”  She whispered, “It was never anything good.”

He narrowed his gaze, studying her, curious as to what machinations were rumbling through her devious, convoluted mind.  Her words about his grandfather, her claim that Harold had made derogatory comments about Lucas, had Lucas rattled.

He had a small pile of memories of his grandfather—the man sitting in the bleachers at Lucas’s T-ball game, holding his hand as they walked in a park—but they’d been drowned out by the shouting and recriminations that had come later.

Lucas always kept a tight rein on his emotions.  He couldn’t have been raised by his stern, autocratic father or his cool, detached mother and turned out any differently.  But for some reason, the notion that his grandfather hadn’t liked him was particularly wounding.

“Miss Benjamin”—Ms. Stone huffed over to where they were pressed together—“I have to ask you to leave.”

“Yes, I should be going,” Benjamin blithely agreed, and she had the gall to wink at Lucas.  “I need to get home and check all the curtains so those pesky private detectives can’t stick their cameras in my windows.”

She started out, but spun at the last second and said, “By the way, the money is mine.  Harold gave it to me, and you can’t have it.  Just thought you should know.”

She waltzed out, and Lucas and Ms. Stone waited in a dreadful silence until the front door closed with her exit.

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Merriweather,” Ms. Stone began.  “I had no idea she’d—“

“That woman is a menace,” he interrupted, not in the mood for excuses.

“Yes, she certainly seems to be.”

“And it’s occurred to me that you have none of the skills necessary to negotiate with her.”

“I was simply late.  I didn’t mean to be.  I called your cell, but I—“

Lucas held up a hand, stopping her.  “You’re fired, Ms. Stone.”  He whipped away and stomped off.  “As to Faith Benjamin, I’ll deal with her myself.”