Excerpt – Disguised with the Millionaire

   

Please enjoy reading an excerpt from:

DISGUISED with the MILLIONAIRE

 (A Contemporary Romantic Suspense and Humor):

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000032_00033]

 CHAPTER ONE

Kate Meyers rushed through the glass doors leading into the hospital’s emergency waiting room. “I’m here to see Matt Jackson,” she said breathlessly as she reached the main desk. “He was brought in by ambulance a few hours ago.”

The receptionist glanced over wire-rimmed glasses. “Next of kin?”

Kate blinked back tears. “Yes, I’m his stepsister. Is he going to be all right?”

“Miss, I’ll notify the doctor that you’re here. Now, please, take a seat.”

“Kate.” She turned at the familiar voice of Matt’s good friend and co-worker.

“What happened, Bobby?” she asked.

Dressed in a t-shirt, jeans and scuffed construction boots, he ran his fingers through his brown hair. “Matt was working on the fifth floor. His harness broke and for a few minutes he dangled from the line. Then his tether snapped. I’m sorry, Kate.”

She gasped. “You mean he fell five floors?”

“A tree broke his fall, and he’s alive. We’ve got to hold on to that.”

Kate collapsed onto a couch and dropped her tear-stained face into her hands. “Last week, he told me he’d discovered a piece of equipment he’d used was nearly worn out, and some of the materials seemed sub-standard. He promised me he’d be careful when he worked at those heights.”

She shuddered and went on, “Something was going on there, Bobby. Matt told me that when he asked about the condition of some of the supplies, his supervisor said Trent Farrington must be trying to save money and he was told to keep his nose out of it if he wanted a paycheck.” Sniffling, she pressed a tissue to her nose. “I pleaded with Matt to leave such a dangerous and corrupt outfit.”

“Kate, in my department, I’ve never seen the Farringtons run anything but a reputable company,” Bobby said.

“Ms. Meyers.” The receptionist waved Kate over to the desk. “They moved him to ICU. You can go back to be with him now.”

When she reached Matt’s door, a doctor in green scrubs stepped out. “He’s stabilized, but in critical condition. We’ll know more, if he makes it through the night.”

If he makes it through the night. Kate’s knees nearly buckled. “Is he awake?” she asked in a shaky voice.

“He’s been in and out, but he hasn’t fully regained consciousness.”

When she stepped into the room, her stomach clenched at the bruises marring her brother’s face. Swathed in bandages, he lay on the bed, hooked to an IV and numerous monitors.

Tears blurred her vision as she walked on shaky legs to his side. “Matt, it’s me—Kate.”

His eyes flickered open.

Relief rushed through her. Swiping away the wetness from her cheeks with the back of her hand, she leaned closer. “I love you.”

Through each labored breath, he rasped out the words, “The supplies…grandson… Trent…tell…found…”

She rested her palm over his cold hand and choked back a sob. “Matt, please, don’t talk. Save your strength.”

“Jeopardizes…integrity…building…” He groaned and panted between his words.

He closed his eyes and drifted away from her. Only the hum of the machines broke the silence as the minutes passed.

Breathing in the strong medicinal odors, she laid her face against the cool white sheets on the edge of the bed. He had to be okay. Everything in their lives was getting better. She’d been on her way to tell him the newspaper had hired her to take over her late Aunt Kate’s local advice column. However, none of that mattered now.

“Supplies…” he murmured. Kate raised her head and leaned over him. His icy fingers rubbed hers, as if desperate for her to understand something. “Farrington…Trent…

She sucked in her breath. He was the owner’s grandson and vice president of Farrington Construction—Matt’s employer. “Is Trent Farrington responsible for your accident?” she demanded.

“Tell…police…” Matt closed his eyes. Suddenly, an alarm went off on one of the monitors.

“Matt, no,” Kate cried. “Please don’t leave me.” Her stepbrother had been her rock in this life and had protected her from her stepfather and other evils of the world more times than she could count.

Within seconds, a team of nurses and doctors entered with a crash cart and surrounded her brother.

A doctor yelled, “He’s flatlining! Get this lady out of here.”

A nurse propelled Kate into the corridor.

Fifteen minutes later, a hospital staffer stepped into the hallway and put an arm around Kate’s shoulders. “I’m sorry, dear. We couldn’t revive him.”

“But I—”

“There’s nothing you can do. He’s gone.”

In the waiting area, Kate collapsed on a couch beside his friend, Bobby. She buried her face in her hands and let the tears flow. “He’s never going to get married, or have children, or do any of those things he dreamed of doing. I just can’t believe he’s gone. He was my hero and meant the world to me.”

There was nothing she could do…

* * *

Six months later, Kate entered the plush executive offices of Farrington Construction in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Still shaky after her horrific ride in the glass elevator, she took a seat in the reception area, glad to have a moment to calm herself. She hated heights.

She had arrived thirty minutes early for her appointment, hoping to get a glimpse of the competition for the Human Resources Manager position in the company that had employed her stepbrother. Could she really go through with this?

With a trembling hand, she reached into her briefcase and extracted the envelope containing the four-month-old newspaper article. She held it and reminded herself why she had to get this job, why she had to find the person responsible for Matt’s death. After months of nothing from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the police, she had finally decided it was up to her to find justice for Matt. She’d been unable to forget Matt’s last words, or to let it go. She was determined that the company, and whoever was responsible or negligent, wouldn’t get away with it.

It’s all up to me to get irrefutable evidence. I’m going to find out who is responsible, Matt. Pushing her glasses further up on her nose, she reread the devastating news again:

Tropical News – Fort Lauderdale– Police have cleared Farrington Construction of any wrongdoing in the death of employee Matthew Jackson who failed to take proper safety precautions. Trenton Farrington, spokesperson for the company, said he was satisfied with the results of the investigation, having complied with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s regulations (OSHA) and the highest of safety standards…

Kate put the article away. The highest of safety standards! The pain of her brother’s death returned like a reopened wound. Yeah, she knew in her gut that someone in this company was responsible.

Even so, OSHA and the police had cleared the company. Afterwards, Farrington, a handsome man with dark hair and dark eyes, had been on every local news channel where he’d put on a grave face. He called Matt’s death an ‘unfortunate tragedy which had taken a promising young man from his family.’ However, Kate didn’t think Farrington felt anything close to what he described.

Farrington had gone on to say Matt had violated long-standing safety measures by not checking his harness. To Kate, he’d made it sound as if Matt had been a careless hothead who’d gotten exactly what he deserved. She had wanted to throw something at the television to obliterate the man’s strikingly handsome face.

To calm herself, Kate took in several cleansing breaths. She wasn’t about to blow her cover, or change her plan now. She glanced around the lavish office with its costly furniture and expensive oriental rugs on highly polished hardwood floors. Obviously, the company was prosperous.

A woman with an upswept hairdo, and wearing an expensive suit, sat beside her in the waiting area. “Are you here for the interview, too?”

Her palms were perspiring as Kate nodded and clutched the briefcase on her lap. In comparison to this sophisticated woman, Kate had arranged her blond hair into a tight, plain bun. Her simple suit was anything but stylish. However, she hoped she appeared older than her twenty-six years.

“I’m sure they want experience, honey. I have a master’s degree and over twenty years with several well-known large corporations.” She pushed her sharp nose closer. “And your credentials?”

Kate lifted her chin. “I have some experience.”

“Probably not enough.” The woman turned her attention back to the business magazine on her lap.

Kate shrugged. The truth was she’d worked at the Children’s Crisis Center and hired the occasional worker. While she had majored in psychology, she had minored in human resources in college. It was nothing in comparison, but she wasn’t going to divulge anything to her.

Thankfully, after she’d made the appointment for the interview, she’d gotten the idea of embellishing her own credentials with that of her late great-aunt Katherine, who’d been a psychologist. She was the last of Kate’s living blood relatives and had always been called Kate, too. Aunt Kate had died three years ago, so Kate didn’t think her charade could hurt anyone. The name was close––except Kate’s full name was Katelyn.

Kate would prefer to use her own credentials completely, but she didn’t think she would stand a chance to get the job.

Another professional-looking applicant in a dark suit exited the office where the interviews were being held. “Thank you, Mr. Farrington.” The applicant shook the hand of an elderly man who, despite his age, had a full head of wavy gray hair and was dressed in a navy suit that oozed wealth and power.

James Farrington. Kate gulped. When she did her research, she’d seen his picture. He was the patriarch of the company and probably knee-deep and in cahoots with his grandson––the man who was probably taking risks with employee safety so he could skim money off the top.

“Mr. Clark, you’ll be hearing from us,” James Farrington said. “We have several more applicants to interview before we make our final decision.” He returned to his office.

Can I really go through with this? All she had to do was walk out the door and this charade would end, but she sat frozen in her chair.

Mr. James Farrington’s secretary ushered in the snarky woman who’d quizzed Kate earlier. Fifteen minutes later, the woman exited the office. “Good luck, honey,” she said with a confident smile as she strode by Kate on her way out.

Kate winced. It was obvious the woman was confident of her success and didn’t think Kate stood a chance to get the job.

Mr. Farrington strode into the waiting area. When his gaze roamed over Kate, a smile tugged at his lips. “Come on in, my dear,” he said and waved her inside. “I’m James Farrington, President of Farrington Construction and Farrington Enterprises. Can I get you anything? Coffee? Water?” he asked politely.

“No, thank you.”

“Then let’s get started.” He waved his hand toward a chair and sat across from her behind his desk. She sat down primly. “We’re looking for an immediate replacement for our Human Resources Manager who was forced to retire because of ill health.” While he scanned her resume, her stomach knotted. “I see you’re a psychologist?” He gazed at her over the rim of his reading glasses.

“Yes, sir.” She hated to lie. One day it would be the truth if her studies paid off, and she justified her lie because she needed to get into the company to get evidence against James Farrington’s grandson.

“Why, your being a psychologist might be handy around here with…” He cocked a shaggy, gray eyebrow. “The name Dr. Kate Meyers does sound familiar.”

She could be in serious trouble if he remembered her aunt. “So you’ve heard of my reputation?”

“I believe I have.” He said nothing more, but gave her a shrewd look. “So, you’re not engaged? Married? Have any children or anything?”

Why was he asking her these questions? “No,” she said, puzzled.

He smiled brightly. “Good.”

Kate locked her gaze on his and frowned. Surely, he wasn’t hitting on her at his age. He must know those were illegal questions to ask an employee in this day and age, too.

As if he read her mind, he shrugged and returned an almost boyish grin, his baby-blue eyes twinkling. “I’m asking because if you take the job you need to be aware that on occasion there might be long hours here at the office.” He studied her for a moment. “Do you have any experience hiring construction personnel?”

She shook her head. “No, but I am a quick learner.”

He asked her more questions about her background in human resources. She told him the truth about the Children’s Crisis Center.

“All right, Dr. Meyers. I’m hiring you on the spot. I like you. I think you’ll be good for the company.” Shock spread through her when she realized she’d landed the position. “Now don’t worry about not having a construction company background. I have just the person to help you—my grandson, Trent Farrington. He likes to have his hands in all aspects of the business.”

Kate’s back grew rigid. “I’m sure he does,” she muttered.

“Trent is our vice president. He’s not in the office today or I would introduce you to him.” He leaned toward her. “He’s second in command and runs the company’s day-to-day operations. Nothing goes on around here that Trent isn’t aware of. I can’t tell you how proud I am of him. Under his watchful eye our profits have soared.”

“I’m sure they have.” She gritted her teeth. Cheating, liar—Trent Farrington! Her stepbrother had lost his life because of that man. Any guilt she felt over lying to get the job, evaporated. “And thank you so much, Mr. Farrington. I look forward to working here.”

Her research told her that for forty-seven years, James Farrington had run a reputable company, but something had changed recently––and not in a good way. Her instincts told her where to firmly place the blame and now she was sure she’d been right. This elderly gentleman probably had no idea those high profits came at the expense of quality and on-site safety and that his grandson was probably skimming money from the company.

Mr. Farrington strode to the door. “Allow me.” He ushered her into the reception area. “You can start on Monday. Your first duty will be to hire someone to work as your assistant. Do you have anyone in mind that could fill the position?”

She thought about that for a moment. Her best friend, Darcy, needed a job. While she didn’t want Darcy involved with her investigation into the company, it would be nice to have her in the office for support.

Kate nodded. “I do know someone.”

“I hope she’s as pretty as you are.”

Kate narrowed her eyes. She didn’t think she had dressed attractively at all. In fact, she thought she’d succeeded to look downright plain.

He chuckled. “I mean qualified as well, dear. Don’t mind me. Please don’t think I’m a dirty old man or a chauvinist, but I have to admit that most of my loyal staff is aging alongside me. We need some younger blood around here.”

Kate relaxed her shoulders. “Yes, Mr. Farrington, she is pretty.”

At his age, he had to be harmless. She could forgive him because he was from a different era. She’d ask Darcy if she’d like to work at the company between jobs.

As she walked out of Mr. Farrington’s office, she thought she heard him whistling “Here Comes the Bride.”

Seriously? Confusing, to say the least.

Inhaling a deep breath, Kate stepped down the outside steps and into the Florida sunshine. She had succeeded in landing the job. She’d have access to the records at the company and would be able to prove the truth––that they were cheating. So, Trent Farrington’s hands were in all aspects of the business? If she could prove he traded the safety of his employees and the integrity of his projects to beef up his profits, she’d nail him to a wall.

Matt deserved justice. She owed it to her brother for all the beatings he’d taken in her place. If it was the last thing she did, she would see that Trent Farrington rotted in prison.

* * *

The following Monday, Kate marched down the sidewalk of Las Olas Boulevard like a general going to battle, her co-conspirator, Darcy King, at her heels. When they neared Farrington Towers, they paused. The building soared skyward, resplendent in dark green marble and framed against a blue, cloudless sky.

A chill ran up Kate’s spine. She was about to play the masquerade of her life, and it all seemed too real now. How had she ever thought she could take on the rich and powerful Farringtons? It was one thing if she were caught in this crazy scheme to get evidence to convict Trent Farrington, but she didn’t want her friend Darcy implicated or hurt.

As if she’d read her thoughts, her friend asked, “Do you really think we can get away with this?”

With her cute upturned nose, smattering of freckles on her pale face, and her bubbly personality, Darcy appeared so innocent. No one would suspect her of anything underhanded.

Kate sighed. “I have to. If you have any second thoughts, don’t worry. I can do this by myself.”

Flipping a short, carrot-red curl behind her ear, Darcy––originally from Georgia––said in her slight southern accent, “You need my help, plus I owe you. Anyway, I find this exciting. I feel like Darcy King, Secret Agent, reporting for duty.”

Kate gave her a tentative smile. “This is serious, remember? If we’re caught, we might be in trouble, or at least I could be for lying about my credentials to get the job.”

“You know I have your back, but I really just want to see you happy and carefree…with all of this behind you.”

“Carefree is something I’ve never been able to be, Darcy.”

“You can be, Kate. Matt’s dad can’t hurt you anymore.”

“I’ll smile again when I have the evidence,” Kate said, wanting to wipe that concerned look from Darcy’s freckled face.

Darcy’s red curls blew in the breeze as they continued down the sidewalk. “They must be rich enough if they own all of this. Maybe they bought someone off?”

“I don’t know. And now we’re risking coming here…and I’m putting my education on hold to do the job the police investigators should have done.”

Just the thought of letting this big corporation get away with Matt’s death seared her soul and ruined her concentration. To resolve this was worth putting her psychology master’s program on hold, and so much more.

They climbed the entry stairs. Squaring her shoulders, Kate swung open the door, allowing her friend to go in first.

In the magnificent lobby, cream-colored marble adorned the walls and floors. Water cascaded from a three-tiered fountain. They passed an oil painting of the company’s founding father, Joshua Farrington, dating back to the late 1800s. Kate noted again, as she had on the day of her interview, he had been a good-looking man with thick brown hair and midnight-blue eyes. Good looks must run in the family.

After signing in with the main desk and getting a key to her new office, Kate spotted the elevators across the crowded lobby. A sinking feeling lodged in her stomach. “I hate glass elevators. Last time I was here, I thought I’d faint.”

Darcy clasped Kate’s elbow. “Maybe you should close your eyes while we ride.”

Kate winced. “And how professional would that look? If I want this to work, I have to get over my fear of heights.” She inhaled a deep breath as she and Darcy joined the growing group of people waiting to board.

A tall, gangly man, with light brown hair spun around, his blue eyes shining behind wire-framed glasses. He smiled as he shook his head. “State-of-the-art building, with two million dollars in Italian marble and granite floors, home to eight large corporations, several prestigious law firms and more, and only one out of eight elevators work. Go figure.”

Kate glanced toward the doors of the stairwell. She shuddered at the long climb to the offices of Farrington Construction which occupied the top four floors of the forty-five story structure. Stairs weren’t her thing either. The second step of a ladder was higher than she liked to be.

She frowned at the clock on the wall. “Do you know how much longer before they’re all running?”

“No. Last week it took several hours. Nervous? First day on the job?”

Were her sweaty palms that obvious? She forced a smile. “Yes. I don’t want to be late.”

“Welcome to the building. I’m Greg Dalton, head computer programmer at Farrington Construction. Which company in the building do you work for?”

“I’m with…” She turned to gather Darcy into the introduction, but her friend stared, as if mesmerized, at a man striding through the lobby.

Kate pushed her glasses farther up her nose for a closer glimpse. Trent Farrington. Tall, dark and handsome, he was even better looking in the flesh than he appeared on TV.

He wore a gray suit, which didn’t hide his muscular physique and the tailoring only emphasized the width of his shoulders. He moved across the lobby with casual masculine grace. Kate balled her fists. An orange prison jumpsuit would be more appropriate for him.

He might look like a Greek god, or a movie star with his nearly black hair and his muscled body, but she knew that on the inside he was an ugly crook.

However, when he stopped nearby to wait in line, Kate couldn’t deny that on the surface, he was one of the most attractive men she’d ever seen. While he was nearly an exact likeness of his ancestor in the portrait near the entrance, Trent Farrington had darker hair and eyes. The man had a sensuous mouth and eyes that could seduce a woman without even trying. Women probably threw themselves at him.

Anger sizzled inside Kate. She clenched her teeth and angled away from his direction.

“Excuse me for a moment, I see my boss,” Greg said. “I’ll be right back. Save my place?”

“Sure,” Kate murmured, only half listening. She hadn’t expected to see Farrington so soon.

The boss Greg walked over to was Trent Farrington—the devil incarnate himself.

Kate gulped and glanced toward her friend who gawked as if she’d never seen a man before. “Stop it… Please.” Darcy had a weakness for good-looking men and that was one of the major reasons her heart had been broken numerous times. Kate knew because she had been there to mop up Darcy’s tears on several occasions.

“That’s Trent Farrington?” Darcy whispered. “Whoa. You didn’t tell me he was so freakin’ hot.”

Kate shrugged and said in the same low tone, “My stepfather was all looks with no soul, too, so just remember who we’re dealing with. Not only is Farrington crooked, but he also has a reputation for breaking hearts. He’s a player.”

“But now I know why he was written up in that magazine as ‘Bachelor of the Year.’”

In the photo on the cover, Kate remembered he had leaned against a Porsche with a group of women surrounding him. She didn’t confess to Darcy she’d saved the article to remind her of the lavish lifestyle he led with the money he’d stolen from the company, the money that should have gone toward safety of his employees before feathering his nest. Farrington had better enjoy his playboy life now, for it would soon end.

She glanced at him again and gritted her teeth. It was ironic. An evil person shouldn’t be so handsome. He looked like he owned the world in every way. Being rich and handsome probably helped him get away with whatever he wanted––illegal or otherwise.

Livid tears burned Kate’s eyes. He had everything and could have contributed in good ways to the world, but he chose to cheat. Didn’t he care who was hurt in the process?

Her eyes welled up as she whirled to face the crowd in front of her. This man had taken the last person in her family away from her––but she couldn’t break down on her first day at work no matter how badly she felt. And she had to accept that no matter what she did to this man, nothing would bring Matt back.

Darcy tapped her shoulder. “Are you all right?”

Kate nodded and dabbed at her eyes with her fingers. “I just thought of Matt again. I’ll be fine in a moment.”

After another group boarded the only working elevator, Kate shuffled forward in the line with the rest of the crowd that still waited. Just knowing Trent Farrington stood nearby caused the skin on the back of her neck to prickle. She hoped they boarded soon, but knew that was unlikely. There were at least forty people in front of them.

“Trent,” Greg said over Kate’s shoulder, “allow me to introduce you to…” He turned to Kate and Darcy. “By the way, what are your names?” he asked.

Kate’s spine stiffened and panic swept through her. Could she face an introduction to him now? However, she had no choice and composed herself quickly. She took a deep breath and pivoted to face them. She found Farrington right there, with no one and no space between them.

Trent Farrington’s gorgeous body and his black heart now stood too close for comfort––jolting her senses. He flicked his gaze over her, frowned and gave her a brief nod, then turned to Darcy.

Kate raised her chin a notch. She wasn’t surprised his interest diverted so quickly. Her friend dressed for attention in her quirky clothes. Today, Darcy wore a multicolored dress with high-heeled boots. Kate was aware how dowdy she must appear next to her friend because she’d dressed in her conservative, brown suit and black-framed glasses. She wore her blond hair in a tight bun, severe compared to Darcy’s riot of short, red curls.

Darcy dated often. Kate never did, but that suited Kate just fine. She’d found out the hard way she couldn’t trust most men, especially handsome, charming ones. The way she dressed kept those shallow men away. Perfect.

When Darcy beamed an enraptured smile at Farrington, Kate clenched her teeth. Well, at least Darcy knew Farrington was corrupt so she shouldn’t fall for him. For her, not being of interest to a man like him would make her task of finding evidence all that much easier.

Kate rolled her eyes. She thought with some satisfaction that with his good looks he might have a tough time in prison.

His gaze flicked back to Kate. Before she could register what that look meant, or before they could be introduced, a pretty brunette with shiny, shoulder-length hair strode across the marble floor. “Trent, love,” she cooed when she neared him, “are you hiding from me? When did you return?”

“Yesterday,” he answered.

The woman flung herself at Farrington. “I missed you. I’m so glad you’re home.”

In response, he stepped aside and bumped into Kate. As if seared by Satan, Kate jerked away—but a little too quickly. She lost her balance and flailed backwards. One of his hands skimmed the side of her breast just before his strong arms caught her around the waist. A whiff of his cologne wafted to her nose and disoriented her.

“My apologies,” Trent Farrington said, so close that his breath warmed her ear.

Shock rushed through her, while the touch of his hands caused a flush of awareness that tingled to her toes. She tried to jerk away, but he didn’t release her. Was he apologizing for touching her breast or for almost knocking her down? Why wasn’t he more careful? He’d probably spent his life trampling over everyone in his path.

“Take your hands off me,” she demanded. “You…

He reared his head back in surprise but didn’t let go.

The lobby grew quiet and people stared at them. Kate winced. So much for being discreet on her first day on the job.

In a deep voice, as smooth as satin, he said in her ear, “Calm down, sweetheart. It wasn’t intentional. Just coming to your rescue.”

Sweetheart? Leaning back in his arms, she glanced up at him. Their gazes locked. For a moment, despite her intention to give him a scathing look, she was transfixed. From close up, she could tell his eyes were as dark as his hair, but there were gold flecks shot through them like sparks.

“Nice of you to help her, Trent.” The pretty brunette’s voice snapped Kate out of her trance. “But she seems fine to me.”

Trent set Kate on her feet, but kept a steadying hand on the small of her back. She barely managed to stand on her wobbly legs.

The woman grasped Farrington’s free arm in a possessive grip, while she swept a dismissive glance over Kate as if Kate couldn’t possibly be a rival.

Trent removed his hand from Kate’s back. “Greg?”

“Right here,” Greg replied cheerfully. “Glad to take her off your hands,” he teased, with a wink at Kate.

“I’m fine now, thank you,” Kate murmured.

Greg stepped closer to her. “I still didn’t get your name.”

Before she could respond, the elevator doors opened. From the front of the line, a gray-haired man, in a sharp blue suit and with an air of authority gestured for Trent and Greg to come over. “Gentlemen,” he said.

Greg smiled and shrugged. “It’ll have to be another time. Business calls.”

Along with Greg and the pretty brunette, Trent brushed past people who had waited twice as long. He explained to the waiting crowd, “I need to find out why the rest of the elevators aren’t working.”

Nobody seemed to mind missing the elevator and being late for work. Their voices and laughter filled the lobby.

Looking out from the elevator car, Kate caught Trent’s gaze again. His brow furrowed and his eyes narrowed.

Heat flared on her cheeks. To her chagrin, she found that every inch of her body tingled as if it remembered his touch.

He dipped his head, giving her a brief, curious nod. Finally, the doors closed.

Kate’s stomach plummeted to her toes and her heart pounded. Why had he looked at her in that manner? Had he recognized her from the police investigation? No, that was impossible. Their paths had never crossed. And as stepbrother and stepsister, she and Matt hadn’t looked anything alike, or even had the same last name.

Trent Farrington had not been at the funeral either. She’d been too filled with grief to notice all who had attended from the company, but surely she wouldn’t have missed him.

* * *

By the time the elevator neared the top floors of Farrington Towers, almost everyone had disembarked, except for Trent, Greg and Cecilia. Trent gazed down at the dark-haired woman. Cecilia worked in Purchasing and was the latest employee hired by his grandfather as Trent’s potential bride.

“Why don’t we do lunch?” she asked with her sexiest smile, as if he would fall for her attempts to ensnare him.

Trent raised an eyebrow. “I don’t have the time.”

She brushed her fingers along the lapel of his jacket. “I could always bring you something. How about lunch in your office?”

“But then I wouldn’t get any work done,” he said dryly.

Cecilia stood on her tiptoes. “I don’t mind. Who needs food?” She blew her warm breath into his ear. Because her family and his were longtime friends, she might think she could get away with this public familiarity, but he needed to remind her they were at work.

Trent smiled and clasped her shoulders. She shut her eyes as if she expected him to kiss her. He wasn’t sorry to disappoint her. “Don’t you have some purchase orders to get out?” he asked. When the elevator doors opened on her floor, he turned her toward the door and gave her a gentle push.

She stepped out and glanced over her shoulder with a pout.

After the doors closed, Trent sighed in relief and ignored Greg’s Cheshire Cat grin. He had to give Cecilia credit for her persistence these past couple of months. With respect to her looks, she was attractive enough to tempt any man. However, his mother had hired her to entice him, and he wasn’t taking the bait. His early appointments easily took priority over her.

After they exited on the top floor, Greg said, “Cecilia’s got it bad for you.”

“Did you ever think it might be my money she has it bad for, Greg?”

“How do you get that? Her family’s loaded. American blue bloods and all.”

“Their fortune crashed in the real estate market. Cecilia lied and told me they were doing well. If there’s one thing I despise, Greg—it’s a liar. Cecilia needs a rich husband to bail them out of their bad investments. She probably thinks I’m their meal ticket.”

When they entered his office, he stopped at his secretary’s desk. The poor woman looked exhausted. Her thin, gray hair hung in wisps and wasn’t done up in her usual style.

He frowned. He knew she’d been worried about her husband’s health. “Good morning, Mrs. Nash. How’s Norm today?”

She handed him his mail and said in her usual raspy voice, “As cantankerous as ever now that he’s home from the hospital. Doesn’t seem to think a mild heart attack is enough reason for retirement. Which means, Trent, you can look forward to a few more years of my services here.”

Trent snorted. “Ah, wedded bliss.”

“It is, most of the time.” The obvious intent in her raised, gray eyebrows wasn’t lost on him. Even his secretary pushed marriage on him.

“You’re wasting your time trying to convince me, Mrs. Nash. Put in a call to Western and get Jack Prichard on the line for me. I need to find out what’s going on with the elevators again.”

“Yes, Trent,” she said sweetly.

He grinned. “Mr. Farrington will do.”

Mrs. Nash smirked. “Never called you that and never will. I’ve known you since you were a toddler. I even babysat you from time to time when your mother was rushing off on one of her European trips.”

“Don’t remind me,” he said dryly.

“By the way, good morning, Mr. Dalton,” she said with a wink toward Greg.

Trent chuckled. “If you need to leave early to check on Mr. Nash, one of the other secretaries can fill in for you.”

“Thank you. Your mother called and said she is extending her vacation and hoped you wouldn’t mind handling a few matters for her.” His secretary handed him a long list that belied it was only a few small matters.

“That’s just great. All I need is to have to handle the Ice Queen’s responsibilities too.” He strode into his office and sat down at his desk, putting the pile of paperwork in the center.

Greg plopped down on the sofa. “Hey, don’t be so hard on her.”

“Greg, she hates you. She calls you ‘the geek.’ Why defend her?”

His friend shrugged. “She’s getting older.”

“If only age would soften my mother. Not sure if anything can…”

“You know, Cecilia might be interested in you for other reasons,” Greg said, picking up their previous conversation.

“You’re dead set on a discussion about women, aren’t you, while I’ve got a building with seven elevators not working?” Trent smiled grimly and leaned back in his chair. “All right. You saw the woman downstairs, the plain blonde with the ugly glasses? She didn’t know who I was, and she wasn’t impressed in the least. I could have been a bug on the floor that she’d like to squash, but if she heard the name Farrington associated with me…”

“She will. She works in the building, but I didn’t get her name.”

Frowning, Trent gave him a sideways glance. Was Greg interested in the blonde?

Greg shrugged. “Today was her first day, but I didn’t find out which company in the building she works for. However, I did find her reaction to you amusing. It’s true. Most women throw themselves at you. But this one, she fell into your arms, and then practically bit your head off. If looks could kill, buddy… Now there’s a glitch if I ever saw one.” Greg’s shoulders shook with suppressed laughter.

“What’s so funny?” Trent asked.

“In fact, I think she’d have preferred falling right to the floor. I like the woman already.”

Trent opened a file and flipped through the papers. “Laugh at my expense,” he remarked dryly. “She had a bite to her, but she hasn’t had much acquaintance with the Farrington name.” Trent glanced at Greg. “Money has a way of changing people. Sometimes, I wish I hadn’t been born into such a wealthy and prominent family. Then, instead of taking on an established company, I’d have had to prove myself and make my own way.”

“You are making your own way. You’ve taken this company to a new level, and you’re going to win the State’s award for the Karger building’s design…and their contract.” If that were true, Trent’s building design would come to the attention of various builders across Florida.

“We will be the top construction company, if Frank Blake doesn’t beat us. He’ll do anything to overtake our position in the State. Even cheat.”

Despite what he’d said about starting his own company, Farrington Construction was in his blood. His familial duty was to continue what his great-great-grandfather had started. Working hard labor after arriving from Ireland penniless, his forefather, Joshua Farrington had built this company for his family, from the ground up.

Trent sighed. He had achieved a measure of success these past two years and was close to putting his personal mark on the company’s future, except for one terrible tragedy. This year, he’d lost a man on the job.

Now, his entire focus had to be mainly on the Karger project—keeping his crews safe and bringing the building to completion.

Still, his thoughts returned to the blonde in the lobby. With those thick glasses, he had barely noticed her at first. However when she’d fallen into his arms he had found quite a surprise hidden under the shapeless outfit, enough to stir his body to react. He’d embarrassed her, so he pretended he didn’t notice that his hand had brushed her full breast as he caught her in his arms. What was curious was that, even before the incident, she seemed to dislike him for some reason. He wasn’t used to that.

“What did you think of the redhead?” Greg asked, jarring Trent from contemplating the blonde. Before Trent could respond, Greg added, “I thought bright hair, dress too short. She probably hasn’t a brain in her giggly head. Which makes her more your type.”

Mine? What makes you think I don’t go for women with brains?” Trent placed his hand over his heart, pretending to be wounded, although what Greg said was pretty much true. Trent had not been looking for anything more serious than a good time. Meaningless, but satisfying sex was what he wanted, with no strings attached. That had been his mantra for years.

Greg rose from the couch. “By her expression, it was obvious the redhead was impressed. She seems to have it bad for you and she doesn’t know who you are.”

Trent swept his hand over the stacks of paper on his desk. “I’ve got bigger issues to worry about so I’ll have to forgo women for now. These days, I’m living and breathing the construction business.”

That preoccupation with business over the last several months had meant he did not have much time for anything other than his work. He’d been running the other way every time Cecilia or anyone else came on to him, so he hadn’t been with a woman in two months. That was probably the reason he’d been strangely aroused by the slightest brushing of the uptight blonde’s body.

“In forty minutes,” Trent said, flipping on his computer, “I have a meeting with my grandfather. Last night, another accident happened at the Karger site.”

“Anyone hurt?”

“Yeah, Mac burned his hands. But luckily, he corrected the problem before someone was electrocuted.”

However, that wasn’t the only thing that bothered him. Minor accidents occasionally happened but even a single minor one was one too many. He had been at the Karger site just before the accident, but had been called away for a problem in Homestead.

Greg stood. “Good thing. Off to work. Good luck with your grandfather.”

“I need it. He won’t retire, even though the business is killing him.”

After Greg left, Trent sighed. The old man was getting more demanding and didn’t want to lose an inch of control over the family business. Trent had gradually assumed more responsibilities, trying to lighten the load for his seventy-eight-year-old grandfather. The man needed to retire. It wouldn’t be easy to manage the family’s holdings without him, but Trent had to get him to slow down.

Mrs. Nash buzzed. “Mr. Prichard from Western is on line one.”

Trent picked up the phone. “Jack, it’s the third time this week that the elevators have malfunctioned. I need you here right away. You need to get to the bottom of this and fix the problem.”

Trent hung up and then checked his watch. He had a few calls to make, and then he’d head off to face his grandfather. After the company’s latest near-fatal accident, Trent expected to hear a round of accusations—and deservedly so. Since he planned to take over the company, the buck now stopped with him. Everything that went wrong weighed on his shoulders and lately too many things had gone wrong.

They were either becoming accident-prone or having a hell of an unlucky streak.

*****

Copyright 2014 by Debra Andrews

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000032_00033]

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