Excerpt: Hoodwinked by a Wolfe
“Grandmother, are you home?’ Rachael Elizabeth Darling asked as she slowly opened the library door. It creaked. “Geez, you couldn’t afford some WD-40 with all your loot?”
Male laughter greeted her, pulling her up short as she clung to the doorknob. “Rach! And so she finally arrives.”
“Lo…Logan, what are you doing here?”
“Waiting on you.”
Why did the sound of her friend’s voice pierce her heart? She gulped hard as she stared at the tall, dark wavy-haired man sitting behind her grandmother’s massive, ornate wooden desk. “You look terrible. Said no one. Ever.”
That small smile inched up. His wicked grin.
Warmth washed over her. She shook her head, trying to dislodge a sudden and unexpected surge of awareness as she pushed away from the safety of the door.
Dropping her red leather tote bag in a nearby sheet-covered chair, she marched to the desk, placed her hands on the edge, and then faced him. “Where’s Grammy? And what is going on in her house?”
The disarray as she walked in unnerved her. Her grandmother hated unrest and chaos. The ladders, drop clothes, and nearly empty rooms were a surprise, to say the least.
“Nice to see you, too. Oh, it’s a complete remodel. Didn’t she tell you?” He practically tsked. His dark eyes latched on hers. He jammed papers in a folder and finally rose from the equally regal chair Grammy favored.
But it was Logan Wolfe who impressed her the most. She straightened, trying to gain some equilibrium back. His scent drifted to her. Fresh. Expensive. And all male. Rach suppressed a soft moan. “New duds?” She noted the cut and fabric of the designer black suit. “It’s a King’s, isn’t it?”
“Good eye.” His gaze took her in, skimming her body in the short red dress.
Waves of heat crept in her face. What was he thinking? And what was taking him so long to look? It’s not like it had been years since they’d seen one another. Months—okay, closer to six. But, she hadn’t changed much. Somehow, he’d gotten even more male and mysterious on her.
“Very nice. One of yours? Perfect for our meeting.”
“Our meeting?” Seeing her grandmother and getting her new designs from paper to product were her top priorities. Logan wasn’t on her agenda.
He flicked back the cuff on his wrist, checking the gold Rolex watch he’d inherited from his late grandfather.
It was a sharp reminder of what they’d experienced together. How could two people go through so much yet still have walls firmly erected between one another? She’d done it on purpose the last few months. Why had he?
“We’ve got forty minutes. I’ll discuss everything on the way over.”
“To where exactly?” She just wanted to rush upstairs to her room, unpack, and soak away fifteen hours of flying.
“King’s Department Store.”
“We’re going shopping?” His answers were disconcerting. “Logan, what’s going on? What have you done with my grandmother?”
“Such mistrust.” He chuckled as he reached to pull out something from the top inside pocket of his suit jacket. Presenting the cell phone for her to see, he said, “We’ll call her together.”
She eyed him with suspicion. How had he become Grammy’s confidant? Her trip had been two-fold: research new material for the RED line of purses and shoes and take pressure off the growing feelings she was having for her longtime friend, Logan.
At least one had worked, she figured, glancing down quickly at her newest edition to the RED shoe line. The flat soles and thin straps of red leather woven into a Gladiator sandal reaching nearly to her knees proved stylish and comfortable. Winner!
But feelings? For him? What did they used to say after everyone around them acted like a fool? Love means having temporary insanity!
True love doesn’t exist, Rach, not in our world, he’d said more than once after they’d witness the wacky breakups and makeups of his parents and hers.
Could he be right? Was there no such thing as true love?
Looking back at him as he waited for the connection to go through among all those clicks and rings, she realized the attraction hadn’t died or even dialed back one bit. Leave it to her to go to Italy and not be enraptured by the hot guys there.
God, how was she going to just sit back and watch all the women parade around him again? Was he dating anyone? Would that be better or worse? Cripes!
The ringing ended abruptly. “How in the world do these things work?” Her grandmother’s exasperated voice brought a tender poke to her chest.
“Dame, Logan here—”
“Grammy, it’s me,” she said, automatically leaning closer when Logan put it on speaker.
“Rachael Elizabeth, my love. Where are you?”
“That’s what I was going to ask you.”
She giggled and another woman did, too.
Her gaze jerked to Logan, who watched her with an alarming degree of intensity. “Our grandmothers…the Grans…the Dame and the Duchess…are together?” She used their preferred nicknames they’d given themselves while growing up as best friends. What are you up to, Logan Wolfe? “Duchess, how are you?”
“Drunk!” Her chuckle mixed with Grammy’s did nothing to appease her growing concerns.
The Duchess, perky and impossible at times, could get into some mighty trouble. But the two together? More voices came and went.
“We’re boarding soon.”
“Thank you, Logan, for this! I’m not sure if I’m going to survive ten days with your grandmother on a cruise ship if she’s already knocking them back before we’ve left the dock.” Her grandmother giggled like a schoolgirl.
“A cruise? But, Grammy, you never take a vacation. And you hate going anywhere near water.” Surprise rippled through her. Her hardworking, widowed grandmother had created the business from the ground up, pouring what was left of her life into the company, Darling Enterprises. The unique line featuring her only granddaughter’s initials—RED—came later.
“My first. I’m anxious and excited at the same time, sweetheart. It’s like a small floating city. Can you believe little ol’ me jumping into anything without thinking it through? Thank Logan for making me see reason.” Her voice dropped. “It’s a smorgasbord of men.”
Her grandmother didn’t talk like that. His, yes. Hers, nope. Scowling at Logan, she asked, “What have you done to her?”
“Tell her to have a nice time,” he coached with an arched eyebrow. The connection was breaking up.
“Bah-bye!” the two elderly woman called out just before the line dropped.
Rach blew out a hot breath. “Explain!”
“In the car.” He clicked off the phone and pocketed it before picking up the file.
She had little choice but to follow his lead since he refused to talk. Rounding the desk, he drew closer. His eyes, light-brown irises rimmed with darker edges, captured hers. Her cheek quivered when she tried to force a smile.
Unnerving. Hypnotic. Disarming.
“Shall we?” His voice dropped and it sent little prickles of awareness along the back of her neck.
The gentle pressure of his hand on her back made her feel sixteen all over again. Special. Deliriously happy. Walking on clouds. How could he do that to her? When had it all changed for her? Why couldn’t she change it back?
Grabbing up her things from the chair, she strode ahead of him, her sandals clicking through the nearly empty foyer.
“You can’t run, Rach. Not from me.” His warning was low, but she’d heard him.
She was afraid that could end up being true. Would she survive the assault on her senses? Never mind that, would their friendship survive the fallout if he ever found out how she felt? Her heart skipped a beat.
Rach had hoped her bout of crushing would die a quick, painless demise. If she could have focused on something else for more than a few minutes when he was near…
Early on, she and Grammy realized the business end of the company didn’t strike a chord in her. She sought to find a place in the family clothing legacy. The whisper-soft materials and astoundingly simple beautiful lines mesmerized her. She’d spent years studying, crafting, and perfecting her designs for the line.
Now, gaining some traction with her pieces, Rach wanted nothing to do with the business side of things. So Grammy had requested Logan’s advice as a world-renowned, highly sought-after consultant, building the RED brand and making its niche even stronger.
Unfortunately, he’d agreed. Traveling frequently from New York to Dallas to analyze Darling Enterprises put him directly in her path. She could only avoid him so many times. Thus her desperate veiled research trip to their Italian suppliers.
It hadn’t worked. Double, no, triple groan!
He waved off the limo driver who’d been sent to pick her up at the airport and had waited and opened the door himself. “After you.” He nearly purred in her ear and she shivered. “King’s,” he told the driver.
Swallowing past the sudden lump in her throat, she got in, sliding over on the black, leather seat. He climbed in beside her. With his thigh mere inches from hers, she could feel the heat from his body.
“I don’t bite.” She heard the grin in his voice.
“Really? That’s not what I heard from your dates or your rivals.” She glanced at him. Wrong move. His wicked smile did the strangest things to her nerve endings.
“You heard right then.”
He’d distracted her too much. She focused on the balding spot on the back of the limo driver’s head as he drove them down the quiet, perfectly manicured street lined with huge, expensive mansions. “Why am I going on a ride with you to King’s?”
“Your grandmother’s wishes.” He paused. “To introduce you to them. Designer meets seller.”
“But we don’t sell to them…” At least she knew that much.
“We do now.”
We? When had it become we?
Dread gathered, low and deep. This wasn’t a simple vacation for her grandmother and this wasn’t a simple meeting.
“What are you involved in now?”
In the confines of the backseat of the limo, Logan Wolfe inhaled again, drawing in the delicate fruit and floral perfume that was all Rachael Elizabeth Darling. His Red.
She was no fragile flower. On the outside, Rach may look it to some with her petite, slim frame, but on the inside, she was strong. Her trip to Italy seemed to have only enhanced it.
He was counting on that toughness to get her through the meeting and beyond.
How do you tell your friend you’re going to take over her family company? With or without her consent.
The feel of her stare burned his skin. Turning, he gazed into the most gorgeous piercing blue eyes he’d ever seen in his entire life. Emotion and questions flickered there. His gut clenched in answer. Reaching out, he brushed back the dark tangle of hair near her soft, pale cheek.
“I’m on your side,” he whispered, trying to convince her. But was he? Anything he did would be suspect; he knew it. And it should be, too.
“Fess up, Wolfe,” she demanded softly.
His chuckle, swift and deep, surprised them both. “You used to tell me that when we were growing up.”
“Did it work?” She arched an eyebrow and tried to suppress the twitch tugging up the corner of her mouth.
Gazing at her long and lingering, he debated. “Sometimes.” He settled on a neutral zone. She was different. A thread of tenacity pulsed underneath the layers of raw, natural beauty. She’d left a girl and returned a woman.
“Chicken,” she accused. Blowing out a breath, she clamped her hands in a tight clasp in her lap. “Fire away.”
There was no more dodging. “Business is booming. Darling Enterprises has made quite a name for itself.”
“Tell me something I don’t already know.” Pride shone in her voice.
“Competition is fierce. The bar keeps moving higher. You either adapt and grow or you wither away and die.”
“Go for the next level, obviously.”
“That means expanding, giving it more energy.”
She shrugged. “And the problem is?”
Jerking to look at him, she asked, “What?”
“Isn’t up to the task.” He yanked out the words, aching for her. The truth hurt him, too, when he’d uncovered it.
Her frown made him want to reach out and soothe it away. “Burnout? Grammy? She’s a pistol.” Rach nudged him. “She can run circles around you and me.”
This part was where he lied. “The sharks are watching, waiting for her to stumble and then they strike. You think she’s going to admit she’s slipping or in danger of falling behind before it’s too late? There’s no way she’d sign off the business to you when you’re not interested.”
“And not qualified. In that department,” she agreed. “I have no head for numbers and contracts.”
“That’s where I come in.” He waited for her to completely focus on his words. “We team up for these next ten days. It will show her she can rely on you and me to keep things running smoothly.”
“Then she’ll be refreshed and can come back roaring again, right? Short- term recharge for a long-term win.” Relief echoed in her voice.
If you believe that, then you have no idea what kind of person I can become when I need to be.