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Synopsis

C.J. Wilson pushed through the brass turnstile of the headquarters of Dutton Industries International and stepped into the gleaming lobby with a mission: to kidnap its President and Chief Executive Officer.

He left her no recourse.

He had ignored her phone messages and dismissed the veiled threats she sent through lawyers--or at least on letters she’d written on fancy letterhead made to look like it came from a law firm. He even discounted the negative publicity she threatened to send his way, pitiful though it was. It was his own fault that she was reduced to drastic measures.

But she could not let him vote at that board meeting this morning, could not let him thwart her last chance to get back her stolen inheritance from the clutches of her rattlesnake of a stepfather.

She glanced in all directions. The same guards as yesterday stood at their posts. It didn’t matter; she wouldn’t pass this way again. She hadn’t come this far to back down now.

* * * *

Luke Dutton pushed his gold-rimmed glasses up the bridge of his nose and keyed in a figure. When his PC calculated a result considerably more than he expected, he was unable to rouse any enthusiasm, so with a bored shrug, the reluctant CEO pushed his chair around and propped his feet on the marble windowsill of his high-rise office overlooking downtown Dallas. Without hope, he searched for a scrap of greenery beyond the hanging potted plants his assistant, Ruth Daniels, had hung in an effort to make him feel more at home.

An impossible task, unless she arranged to ship in a few mountain ranges and an abundance of sagebrush. He laced his fingers behind his neck and tilted back his chair. Even she had her limits.

As if to refute his claim, Ruth burst into his office with more energy than a thirty-year-old and she was more than twice that. She tapped the watch face on her slim wrist and frowned when she saw him tipping back his chair on its perch.

“One of these days you’ll break the legs and land on your backside.” She whipped his tie off the corner coat rack and headed toward him. “If you don’t get moving, you’ll be late for the meeting again.” She gave his entwined feet a sound kick, landing them flat on the carpet.

He gave a grunt. “They can’t start without me, so what’s the difference?” But nevertheless, he stood obediently and let her wrap his neck in the raw-silk chokehold. “Hey, too tight.” He tried to loosen the knot but she gave him a cuff on the wrist.

“This is the tie Serena gave you, isn’t it?” she said. “The girl has lovely taste. Brings out the blue of your eyes.” She gave his tie a fond pat, smoothing it in place. “Your mother used to say your eyes were mined from the Yogo Gulch. The only mine in Montana--in the world--that yields sapphire the color of cornflower blue.”

“So you’ve said.” Luke grinned. “About a thousand times.”

“Well,” she said, standing on her tip-toes and running a quick hand through his dark blond hair. “It’s worth repeating. And you need a haircut.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Did you even shave this morning?”

“I shaved,” he defended himself as she turned him around and headed him toward the suit jacket he had flung carelessly on the leather sofa.

“I almost forgot,” she said, snatching the jacket up and smoothing away the creases. “Serena called. The designer who’s making her gown for that Tyler dinner that you’re going to in two weeks scheduled an urgent fitting.”

“I never said I was going to that dinner with her.”

“I think she just assumed you’d be taking her--”

“She assumes too much.”

Ruth gave him a withering look. “Oh, does she? You spend nights with her, don’t you? The entire night.”

He sighed. “Ruth,”--he gave her his most indulgent smile--“I’m not sixteen anymore. And this is 2005. We’re adults--”

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