Authors: Leanna Wilson
THE TEXAS TATTLER
All the news that's barely fit to print!
Fortune Nemesis Escapes Prison!
lint Lockhart, sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, cunningly escaped his shackles last evening while being transferred to a maximum security facility. Guards opened fire on the dangerous jailbird, but he disappeared into the tranquil Texas countryside. Eyewitnesses report that Lockhart may have been wounded by a bullet to the leg. A full-blown manhunt is under way.
A cellmate confessed that just before Lockhart's transfer, the vindictive convict told him that “the Fortunes would go down in a blaze of fury.” Looks as if the first stop in the Lockhart Revenge Train will likely be the Double Crown Ranch. Family patriarch Ryan Fortune is said to have installed a security detail to put Fort Knox to shameâbut what would we expect from a mogul whose family is more precious than solid gold?
Enough doom and gloomâ¦here's the latest on Red Rock's most romantic family.
has the scoop on dreamboat bachelor Brody Fortune. When this Aussie tycoon “met” his new
secretary, Jillian Tanner, there was an undeniably familiar, lusty glint in his steel-gray eyes. Could all that eye-popping be about her exceptional
Meet the Fortunes of Texas
The powerful executive's new secretary was his long-lost loveâ¦and he was shocked! The girl he remembered was now a womanâand a single mother-to-be. Could the truth about the past heal their wounded hearts and make them a family of three?
She thought she'd outgrown thoughts of happily-ever-after, yet when she found herself face-to-face with the only man she'd ever truly loved, she wondered if she could convince Brody that he could bestow his heart on her once more.
This dutiful daughter longed to get away from the watchful eyes of her overprotective brothers. Would the blossoming beauty ever meet a man brave enough to hold his own with her brothersâ¦and sexy enough to sweep her off her feet?
A native Texan, Leanna Wilson was born and bred in Big D, but she's a country girl at heart. She loves visiting her parents' ranch in east Texas, whether she's helping to herd cattle or simply sitting by the lake, and she enjoys vacationing in the Rocky Mountains, dreaming up new plots by the side of a rippling brook.
More at home dreaming up stories than writing lesson plans, Leanna gave up teaching to pursue writing. Once she began putting her stories onto paper, it didn't take her long to publish her first Silhouette Romance novel,
Strong, Silent Cowboy,
which won the Romance Writers of America's Golden Heart Award. “That was a summer I will never forget,” Leanna says. “I sold my first book, got married to my not-so-silent city-slicker husband and after a fabulous honeymoon in England and Scotland had to go to Hawaii, where I won the Golden Heart Award.”
Besides writing Silhouette Romance, Harlequin Temptation and Harlequin American Romance novels, Leanna keeps busy with her two children. She teaches a writing class and leads a book club at the senior center near her home. But mostly she enjoys spending time with her growing family.
To Matriceâa terrific editor!
illian, you're the luckiest woman in all of San Antonio!”
Lucky? Jillian Hart Tanner squelched her disbelieving laughter. As far as she was concerned, life had dealt her a pathetic hand. She certainly had the sorriest love life. In fact, she'd never felt lucky at anything, least of all on this day as she sat alone at a table in the third-floor lounge of the Fortunes TX, Ltd. high-rise. She snapped a saltine cracker in two and placed half of it in her mouth rather than respond to the data entry specialist's envious statement.
“I'd say in the whole U. S. of A.” Alice from accounting poured another packet of sweetener into her coffee and stirred it in with a skinny red straw. “I got a glimpse of your new boss first thing this morning. My, my, my!”
Pretending not to care about the conversation spinning around her, Jillian tried to ignore the nervous fluttering of her heart. She tried to swallow, but the cracker stuck in her throat. Her stomach had been on the verge of mutiny all morning. She clasped her trembling hands under the table.
“You saw him, too?” Kathy from data entry adjusted her wire frames as if preparing for a better
glimpse of the newest Australian import of the Fortune clan should he waltz through the door.
“Have mercy!” Alice fanned her face with her hand. “If
new boss, I'd be fired for chasing him around the desk, sure as the world. But, Lord, it'd be worth it.”
Kathy laughed. The sound grated on Jillian's nerves and she gritted her teeth. Why couldn't her new boss have been anyone other than Brody Fortune? Just the thought of the tall, rugged Aussie was enough to make Jillian's pulse surge as if she'd been jolted with electricity.
“If you play your cards right, Jill,” Alice added, “you could end up the newest Mrs. Fortune.”
Jillian's heart pinched tight. Yeah, right. She'd had her chance with the too eligible bachelor once. A long time ago. The odds of that happening then or now were as remote as winning the Texas forty-million-dollar lottery. Besides, she wasn't interested in the dubious distinction of Mrs. Fortune anymore.
Glancing at the digital clock on the wall, she folded her brown paper sack, stuffed it inside her purse and pushed away from the table. “The last thing I need,” she said, “is a man.”
After all, her husbandâher scallywag of a husbandâ¦her deceased husbandâhad put her in extreme financial straits. Resulting in this awkward predicament. One more thing to blame on James.
She squared her shoulders as she left the lounge and headed for the elevator. It didn't matter who her new boss was. This was business. It was her job. One
she desperately needed. She didn't have the time, the need, or the luxury of an office romance.
Especially with Brody Fortune.
He'd broken her heart once. Eons ago. In a faraway land. She wouldn't let it happen again.
Her heart fluttered, leaving her light-headed. She put a shaky hand to her forehead.
What have I agreed to?
Had she really been given a choice? She'd been offered a promotion. How could she refuse? Especially when she needed the extra money the raise would afford. Straightening the hem of the suit jacket she'd borrowed from her sister, she reminded herself that any luck she had would be focused on getting this job. She had to make the most of it. She couldn't afford to lose it and waste precious days, weeks or months looking for another. Even if her boss would be Brody.
The elevator doors opened on the seventeenth floor. Sucking in a thin breath, she clutched her purse in her hands and approached the receptionist's desk. “I'm Mr. Fortune's new assistant.” Jillian spoke with more confidence than she felt. “Is he ready to see me?”
A wave of uncertainty nearly knocked her over. Maybe she should have asked if
was ready to see
Pushing a strand of dark hair behind her ear, the woman gave her a tolerant smile. “Which Mr. Fortune?”
“Bâ” Jillian cleared her throat. “Brody.” His name tasted tart on her tongue. How long had it been
since she'd spoken it out loud? When she'd returned from Australia ten years ago, she'd never mentioned himâor her humiliationâto anyone, even her sister. “Brody Fortune.”
“Ah.” The receptionist gave a knowing nod. “He's in the boardroom. I'll buzz him.” Before Jillian could protest, the brunette pushed a button on her monitor.
“Yes,” a rough-hewn voice that brought back too many memories snapped over the speaker.
Jillian's heart began to pound. Her fingers clasped her purse.
“Your assistant's here. Shall I send her in?”
“Right. Go ahead.” That rugged Australian accent had once made her temperature skyrocket. But now it plummeted, left her cold.
She couldn't do this. She couldn't. Not afterâ¦ Oh, God!
The receptionist gave her a brief nod. “Down the hall and to the right. It's the fourth door on the left.”
Jillian's knees wobbled as she walked down the hall. Her pulse throbbed in her ears. Had Brody requested her? No, he couldn't have. How would he have known that she worked for his family's company or that she'd moved to San Antonio from Amarillo? She wouldn't have taken this job in the first place if she'd known Brody was in any way connected to the Fortunes of Texas. Or if she'd believed there was even the remotest possibility that he would come here.
As she touched the brass door handle, her fingers became numb, her limbs ice-cold. What could she
expect, seeing him again? She wanted to bolt rather than open the door, but she knew she had no choice. She could face Brody again. She could. Without regrets. Without her temper getting the best of her. After all, he was the one who should be ashamed. Not her. Besides, it had been ten years since they'd dated. Ten long years. She'd lived through much worse than a broken heart.
And she could survive this.
Before she could turn the knob, the door jerked open, practically pulling her inside the boardroom. She caught glimpses of a plush honey-colored carpet and a table as large and gleaming as a brand-new Cadillac. And Brody.
Her heart froze in midbeat. The room had been decorated to give the Fortunes home-court advantage in their high-powered meetings. But it wasn't the posh decor that threw Jillian off center. It was those too familiar chrome-gray eyes. He was the company's secret weapon, the ace negotiator, a top-notch executive.
Immediately, she saw changes in him. The difference between boy and man was as stark as black versus white. Where once he'd had fiery eyes with a spark of mischief, they were now as cold and hard as nickel-plated steel.
His gaze met hers. A whirlwind of emotions churned in the silvery depths. Surprise, confusion, recognition mirrored the turbulence inside her. “What the hellâ¦?”
Jillian's heart jackhammered against her breast
bone. Her lungs compressed. “Excuse me for intrudingâ”
“Come on in, Jillian.” Dawson Prescott, the top financial analyst for Fortune TX, Ltd., the man who'd hired and promoted her, waved her into the boardroom.
“What are you doing here?” Brody blurted.
“I'm your new assistant.” Her voice harbored a distinct waver. Vaguely aware of others watching, listening, she flicked her gaze toward the head of finance. Not wanting to advertise the fact that she and Brody shared a past, she filed away any potentially sharp retort. Her thoughts spun crazily. How should she handle this? Professionally. Facing Brody again, she stuck out her hand. “I'm Jillian Tanner.”
For a flash of a second Brody's sculpted features revealed the young man she'd once known, exposed his astonishment. Then he shuttered his emotion with the blink of an eye.
Once again she had a hard time recognizing him. Not because his features had changed. His hair was the same midnight-black, sinfully dark, temptingly wavy. But his face had lost the softness of youth; his voice, the laughter; his eyes, the vulnerability. He was all hard angles and edges. His shoulders, accentuated by the gunmetal-gray of his suit with its knifed creases, were as broad as the Texas borders. He looked like a Stepford corporate exec, straight out of the pages of the
Wall Street Journal,
except for the slash of a red tie and the rebellious length of hair that curled over his starched white collar.
She almost breathed a sigh of relief. Almost. If he'd
been the same young man she'd known so well in college she might have had a hard time resisting his charm. But now he reminded her too much of James. The cold memories of her marriage wrapped around her like a wet blanket. Looking into Brody's emotionless eyes, she knew she could never forget how he'd treated her, either.
“You two know each other?” Dawson stepped forward.
Jillian dropped her hand to her side. Obviously, Brody wasn't willing to pretend they'd never met. Anxiety made her temples throb. Dragging her gaze away from Brody, she heard blood roar in her ears. So much for keeping their past in the past. Taking the initiative, she said, “We attended Winslow College together.”
“I'll be damned.” Dawson gave a chuckle. The attractive financial analyst ran his fingers through his light brown hair. “I hope you're not old lovers or anything.”
As if ice cubes slid down her spine, she shivered.
“No,” Brody answered. His knowing look speared Jillian. “We weren't.”
His hardened tone grated against her nerves. What did he have to be irritated about? Thank God, she'd wised up before he'd made another conquest. She and Brody had come close to becoming lovers. So close. Before she'd learned she wasn't the only woman he was dating or taking to his bed. Remembering the pain and humiliation, Jillian felt her blood congeal. Her stomach lurched and she pressed her lips together.
“Just old friends?” Dawson quirked a skeptical brow, then shrugged. “Good, then I picked the right woman for the job. One of the reasons I chose Jillian was for her experience in Australia. But I had no idea you two would know each other.”
Dawson moved to the open doorway. “She'll be an asset in this merger. She's got a good head for numbers.” He stepped between them and out the door. “I've got a departmental meeting. I'll let you get reacquainted.”
Jillian gave a nod of agreement but wished she could find her desk, sit and put her head between her knees before she keeled over. Her insides fluttered with uncertainty.
“Brody,” Dawson added, “give me a buzz if you have any questions. Jillian should be able to get you all the information you need. I want this merger to go as smoothly as possible.”
“Thanks, mate.” Brody waited for Dawson to turn the corner down the hallway before leveling his gaze on Jillian. Where once he'd been friendly and accepting, he was now distant, seemingly sizing one up as if to calculate their worth. She sensed he considered her a liability.
A long pause pulsed between them before he said, “How are you, Jillie?”
His rugged accent made her name sound exotic, sensual. She remembered his nickname for her, and her skin tingled. “Fine.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “I'm fine. And you?”
He leaned against the doorjamb and mirrored her stance. “I'm curious.”
She felt as if the air had been sucked right out of her body. She couldn't stop herself from asking, “About?”
“You bailed out of Australia right fast.”
She released a pent-up breath. Her shoulders slumped with sudden fatigue. What was the point of rehashing their relationship? “Brody, it's been a long time.”
“Then the next thing I know,” he continued, ignoring her statement, “I receive a letter telling me you'd married. Did you leave because you missed that blokeâ¦ What was his name?”
“James.” She made her tone neutral.
“Did you miss him so much?”
Leaving Australia had been the right thing to do. Brody had made her feel worthlessâ¦used. She'd been all alone, feeling as if she had no one to confide in, but when she'd called to share her woes with her mother, she'd learned of her mother's sudden stroke. Her mistake had come after she'd returned home when she'd sought the comforting arms of her high school sweetheart. It wasn't until after her marriage to James that she'd truly understood the meaning of lonely.
“I wrote the letter,” she said, anger tinting her words, “because I thought you would want to know.” She hoped to end this conversation as an uncomfortable heat enveloped her.
“Yeah, right.” His cynical tone nettled her. He took a step toward her. His casual stance changed. Suddenly his gaze was hot, intense. A nervous vibration rippled through her, making the back of her neck
prickle. “But you didn't think,” he said, his voice rough, “that I'd want to give youâ” his mercurial gaze focused on her mouth “âa goodbye kiss?”
She gritted her teeth and squared her shoulders. When she'd realized she'd made a mistake marrying James, she'd wanted to reach out to Brody because she still loved him. Even after he'd broken her heart. Yet she'd also wanted to punish him. “If you don't think you can work with me, Brody, fine.” She shoved away her regrets and buried them beneath other painful experiences. “I'll let Dawson know you need a different assistant.” She turned to go, anger pumping through her veins. No job was worth this.
“Jillie.” He grabbed her arm, spun her back around to face him. “Wait. Just tell me why. Dammit! Why'd you bail?”
His hand curled around her wrist, his touch as warm and familiar as an old flannel shirt. Yet his grip wasn't soft or cozy. It felt more like a harsh, ever-tightening vise. A quick flash of heat made her scalp tingle, her skin flush. Stiffening her resolve against him, remembering how he'd hurt her, how used she'd felt, she jerked her chin upward in challenge.
He leaned toward her, piercing her with his blunt gaze. He stood so close that the bold masculine scent of his cologne wrapped around her, captivating, cloying, confining. Blood drained out of her head and pooled in her feet. His face blurred. A whirring noise inside her head made her ears ring.