Lexy Drake loved contrasts. Delicate with bold, hot colors
with cold, new mixed with old.
Hard rock music played as she peered through the binocular
magnifier and looped a string of molten gold with infinite
care around a ruby.
She loved every one of the creations that were slowly making
her rich—this one a pair of wedding rings for a young
couple who'd come to her with his grandmother's rings and a
brooch that had been in her family so long no one knew its
Lexy would transform the old and forgotten into the new and
now. It was the best kind of recycling, combining art,
family history and love.
She worked alone, which was how she liked it. But never in
silence. Her work might be delicate but her music provided
much-needed contrast. Hard-driving rock and roll hammered
the air around her. She'd have preferred to let the music
reverberate off the walls, but since her tiny studio was
tucked behind her SoHo store, she kept the volume low.
With the metal soft, she had a little time to bend it to her
will, but only a little. With a final twist, she had the
look she wanted; a bold swirl of gold twining around a ruby.
A sudden prickling at the back of her neck told her she was
no longer alone.
She turned sharply in time to surprise a man standing in the
doorway. The way his gaze suddenly rose, she suspected she'd
been shaking her booty in time to the music and her latest
customer had stopped to watch her swaying hips.
He didn't look at all embarrassed to have been caught
staring at her gyrations. If anything he
appeared—in-terested—that would have to be the word.
"There's a salesclerk out front if you need help."
It was rare for a customer to bumble back here to her
private work space, but it happened.
"She's busy. So I followed the music."
"Oh." She picked up the remote and punched down the
volume on her iPod. "I should hire more staff now we're
getting so busy, but I haven't got around to it. Sorry."
"Don't be. It's fascinating to watch a master craftsman
at work." He spoke in that perma-bored drawl with the
crisp inflections she'd come to associate with the rich. She
was pretty sure he'd been studying her ass—not her
master craftsman hands—but he was a potential customer
so she didn't call him on it.
Probably a lucrative customer, too. His handmade suit and
shiny leather loafers screamed Daddy owns a bank,
while his tie had one of those crests from a fancy Ivy
League school. She could never keep them straight, wasn't
interested enough to bother.
"I'm Charles Pendegraff III," he told her in that
snooty tone, holding out his hand to shake hers.
"And I'm Alexandra Drake. Lexy." An imp inside her
who would probably make sure she ended up broke, added,
"The one and only."
His gaze sharpened on hers and she was struck by the gleam
of powerful intelligence behind the laziness. The impression
was gone in a second. He said, "I see you're working on
a ring. I'm thinking of having one commissioned, myself. Do
you mind if I take a look?"
"Sure." He had money to burn and she had
self-defense skills that would flatten him in a New York
minute if he tried anything. He strolled toward her and she
figured he might be rich, but he wasn't idle. When he moved,
his slacks molded around powerful thighs and as the blazer
shifted she got the impression of a broad, muscular chest.
She loved contrasts and he seemed to have enough to be
interesting. The lazy speaking voice was at odds with the
sharp green eyes; the soft manicured hands didn't match the
hard planes of his face.
And when he moved closer she felt the punch of his forceful
"How did you hear about my studio?" she asked him.
She nearly always started with a little market research and
in this case a chance to distract her from the instant and
powerful attraction she was experiencing.
"One of the fellows I play polo with, Jeremy Thur-ston,
had you design an amulet for his mother. I bumped into her
when she was wearing it at one of those tedious fundraisers.
She was dull. The bracelet was stunning."
"Thanks." She remembered the piece, of course. She
remembered them all.
"So, I'd heard of you, but I hadn't imagined you'd be so
young. And somehow one never imagines a jeweler as sexy, now
why is that?"
"Oh, well…" She could not think of a thing to
say. Lexy was rarely thrown off her stride, and getting hit
on wasn't a completely foreign experience, so to be
tongue-tied in front of this stranger was infuriating. But
then she rarely felt the punch of attraction quite this
strongly. And never from a guy with a number after his name.
No wonder she was speechless.
"Let me show you what I'm doing here," she said,
deciding to ignore the sexy comment and reaching a hand
toward the design she'd penned. "I'm combining
elements—antique gold, a splash of platinum, those
tiny rubies and the diamond solitaire, it's sort of my
signature, you see—"
She stopped when he suddenly reached for her hand, taking it
in his. "You've hurt yourself," he said, pointing to
a red patch on her index finger.
"Oh, that's nothing, I burned myself on the soldering
iron. I got careless."
She tried to pull away from the intimate warmth of her hand
resting in his, but with a strength that surprised her, he
prevented her. "Do you have a first-aid kit?"
"Yes, but I can't have cream or bandages on my fingers.
I need them to do my work."
His gaze rose to meet hers and she thought he had the most
amazing eyes she'd ever seen. "Then I'll use an old home
remedy of my grandmother's." His words licked at her,
soft, caressing. Intimate. "I'll kiss it better."
Her hand fluttered in his. She felt it, knew he must have
felt the instinctive movement, too; she was completely
annoyed by her reaction, but she didn't yank her hand away,
either. She watched him raise her fingers slowly to his
lips. Felt the lightest whisper of a kiss land on the sore
spot and then he returned her hand to the worktable.
"I—um." She completely forgot what she was
going to say.
He glanced through her magnifier at the ring. "This is
"Thank you. What kind of a ring are you looking for, Mr.
"It's Charlie. And I need an engagement ring."
She blinked. "An engagement ring?"
"Yes." He raised his head and glanced at her. His
green eyes were like cloudy emeralds, with too many
occlusions to make them gemstone worthy, but it was the dark
lines, the faults that made them so magnetic.
"You're getting married?"
She couldn't believe the balls of this man. He was kissing
the fingers of the woman he wanted to design his wedding rings?
But then she reminded herself of one of her mother's
favorite sayings. "The rich have different rules than
the rest of us."
That was why she stayed away from them.
"Penelope and I are getting married in September. That's
six months from now. Lots of time."
"I see." Ice coated her tone. "Well, if you'd
like to come back out front, I'll show you what's in stock.
All the designs are original, of course." Lexy was a
certified gemologist and she'd apprenticed with a designer
in London. When she'd returned to the States, she'd been
unwilling to work in one of those design factories that turn
out diamond solitaires and wedding bands by the thousand.
So, she'd gone out on her own, building herself a perfect
little studio in SoHo, a live/work loft that meant she and
her livelihood were never far apart, and her commute was
less than a minute.
One of the things she loved about New York was how quickly
word spread when somebody found a new designer. She'd gone
from complete obscurity, to a few select jewelers selling
her unique creations, to becoming the go-to designer for
wealthy trendsetters in less than two years.
She was so hot that men like Charles Pendegraff III came
slumming in order to get his bride the trendiest engagement
"Or, I could have something designed, just for me?"
"And for your fiancée. Yes."
As luck would have it, when she returned him to the
storefront, her assistant, Amanda, was returning a ring tray
to its display case. Her customer was walking out the door
with one of their signature boxes made from recycled metal.
"Oh, good. Amanda's free now. Amanda? Would you help Mr.
Pendegraff? He's looking for a ring. Goodbye, Mr.
Pendegraff, and best of luck with the wedding."
"Bye, Lexy." He stuck out his hand and what could
she do but return his clasp? Amusement lurked deep in his
eyes as he gazed down at her. "I look forward to seeing
She mumbled something inarticulate and retreated to her work
space, shaking her head.
Charlie strode around a bundle of yellow garbage bags piled
on the sidewalk, dodging tourists as he checked out the
entire block around Alexandra Drake Designs.
As he took careful note of his Broome Street surroundings,
snapping a few discreet photos, he pondered the nature of
the woman he was about to steal from.
A woman of contrasts. Contrasts that intrigued him. When
he'd first walked in, casually, a customer looking for some
information, delighted to find the single sales-clerk busy,
he'd followed the sound of some indie rock band into the
workshop of Alexandra Drake. No more than an unlocked door
separated the storefront from her work space. Was she really
that trusting? Her back was to him and with the music
pounding she couldn't have heard his approach.
Had he taken advantage of the perfect opportunity to check
out her security system? Eyeball the safe sitting in the
corner? He could have taken photos and she wouldn't have
No. He hadn't. He hadn't done any of the tasks a
self-respecting thief would have accomplished in seconds.
His gaze had gone straight to the hips gyrating to the beat
of the music, tightly clad in jeans, her legs not long, but
shapely. She had small feet encased in boots. Above the
swinging hips, her torso was still. She wore a navy tank
top, not an ounce of extra flesh on her. Her bare arms
revealed elegant swells of muscle. Her hair was black and
wound into a big messy bun with what looked like chopsticks
stuck through to hold it in place.
Her eyes were glued to a magnifier and he watched her hands.
Those small, efficient hands. Using some kind of tool that
looked like small pliers, she was twirling a strand of hot
metal as though it were a piece of cooked spaghettini,
draping it around a colored stone. He knew the moment she
felt his presence. Those glorious hips slowed, her back
Still, she finished the meticulous draping of the metal
before setting the ring into a clamp. Then she raised her
head and turned to him. Too fast for him to pretend he
hadn't been watching her.
He couldn't have pretended anything, anyway. He was too stunned.
The woman was gorgeous. Cool gray eyes of a tilted almond
shape that suggested there was Asian blood in her. Pale
skin, full, sexy lips that begged to be painted red, but
which she'd only touched with some kind of gloss.
He didn't have time for lust. He had a job to do.
And yet somehow he couldn't help himself. He'd come on to
her. Enjoyed flustering her, finding an excuse to touch her.
And now, he was preparing to steal from her.
He had a bad feeling about this. A bad feeling that he was
going to break every rule he lived by and get to know one of
his marks. After the dust had settled, obviously, a few
weeks from now when she'd have moved on and wouldn't think
to connect a missing set of jewels with a visit from Charles
He called himself every kind of fool as he made his
preparations, but he knew he was going to be stupid.
As crazy as it was, he was going to see Lexy Drake again.
At six, Amanda peeked into Lexy's work space. "I've
closed up. I'm heading out now."
Lexy glanced up and rubbed her tired eyes. "Good day?"
"Three engagement rings, a few pairs of earrings and
about a hundred of those bracelets that were featured on
Party Girls of Manhattan."
Lexy laughed. It was amazing how slavish people could be
when they saw their favorite star wearing something
distinctive on a television show. She only had a small
number of mass-produced designs, but since one of the women
on the newest semireality show had discovered her work, her
designs—especially the ones that appeared on the
show—were snapped up.
"Party Girls will do for you what Sex and
the City did for Manolo Blahnik," Amanda prophesied.
"Fine with me."
Her assistant glanced around the crowded space. "You
planning to work all night?"
She rubbed the back of her neck. "No. A little longer. I
want to finish this ring set, then I'll take a break."
"What did that woman and her daughter bring you, by the
way? You seemed pretty excited. You know, that stylish woman
with the perfect gray hair and her thin, pretty daughter."
"Mrs. Grayson and her daughter—" What was the
daughter's name? She recalled the emeralds and diamonds with
vivid clarity; she'd never seen such a perfect set, but
recalling the details of the owners was always trickier. She
closed her eyes for a second. "Judith, that was the
Lexy was becoming accustomed to the whims of rich people,
and she was the first in line to recommend redesigning
antique jewels into settings that would breathe new life
into them, but as she'd opened the faded blue velvet box
she'd had to suppress the urge to argue mother and daughter
out of their idea to have this set broken down and reset.
The gems themselves were exquisite. Emeralds were funny
things. The larger they came the more flawed they were
likely to be. A few occlusions were expected but when she'd
studied these gems through her loupe, she'd been astonished
at the near perfection. And the color. Dark, clear green
that she'd rarely seen outside a museum.
The setting was antique, no question. Like any personal
ornamentation, jewelry went through fashions. But every age
had its classics and this set was one of the most inherently
beautiful she'd ever seen. Delicate strands of gold held the
emeralds and diamonds in place but didn't compete, so the
green fire flashed from the necklace. "These are
exquisite. Are you sure you want to reset them?" she'd