Harsh wind threw icy crystals of snow down the back of his
neck, causing him to shiver. He raised his collar, then
shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his coat,
resisting the urge to touch the gravestone. The grave was
all but covered in white, making everything look clean,
but Dane Carter didn't buy it. Not for a minute.
He'd missed the burial by almost four months. His family
was outraged, of course, but they'd never really forgiven
him for past transgressions, so he figured one more didn't
matter. Except to himself.
His face felt tight, more from restrained emotion than
from the biting cold. The death of his twin was a harsh
reality to accept, like losing the better part of himself
even though he and Derek hadn't been in contact much
lately. Dane had been away from the family, disconnected
from the business, for quite a few years now. He
deliberately took the cases from his P.I. firm that kept
him out of town as much as possible. Though his office was
only an hour away, he'd been out of reach when his brother
had needed him most.
Though everyone seemed to accept Derek's death as an
accident, concerned only with keeping the news out of the
media to avoid a panic with the shareholders, Dane
couldn't let it rest. He wouldn't let it rest. He had a
nose for intrigue, and things had begun to smell really
foul. It wasn't anything he could put his finger on, just
a gut feeling, but his instincts had held him in good
stead as a private detective for several years now - ever
since he'd left the family business in his brother's
He hunkered down suddenly and stuck one hand through the
snow to the frozen ground. "What the hell happened, Derek?
This was a lousy trick to play on me. I never wanted this,
not the company, hell, not even the family most of the
time. You left too damn many loose ends, brother."
The wind howled a hollow answer, and disgusted with
himself, Dane drew his hand back and cupped it close to
his face, warming his fingers with his breath. "And what
about this Angel Morris woman? I got a letter from her,
you know, only she assumed you'd get it. Seems she doesn't
know you're gone and she wants to pick up where the two of
you left off. I believe I'm going to oblige her."
His mind skittered about with ramifications of deceit, but
he had to cover all the bases. According to the records
he'd uncovered, Angel Morris had been seeing Derek on a
regular basis until the takeover of her company. Derek had
used information Angel gave him to make the takeover
easier, and Angel had gotten fired because of it. She had
plenty of reasons to despise Derek, and he certainly
deserved her enmity. Yet now she wanted to see him again.
After so long, he had to wonder if Angel had assumed Derek
was dead, but with Dane's return, she felt she had
unfinished business. After all, no pronouncements had been
As far as the outside world was concerned, Derek Carter
was still running the business. Only a select few knew of
his demise. The family had thought it best if Dane filled
in for a while. If he pretended to be Derek no one would
start rumors about a company without a leader, or a family
with a scandal. All in all, Dane wasn't sure which
possibility worried his mother more. The company was her
life, and the Carter name was sacred in her mind. She
wouldn't want either one damaged. And if Derek had been
murdered, if the accident wasn't an accident at all as
Dane feared, it would certainly hit the news.
But that wasn't why Dane had agreed to come back, why he
was filling in for his brother. No, he wanted the truth,
no matter what. And he'd damn well get it.
If Angel knew anything, if she was involved with Derek's
death in any way, even peripherally, Dane would find out.
He may have disassociated himself from the family, but he
could be every bit as ruthless as the best of them.
Dane shook his head. "I'll be seeing her first thing
tomorrow, alone, away from the family as she insisted.
I'll let you know how it goes." With that banal farewell,
he turned and trod back through the snow to the road where
his car sat idling, offering warmth, but no peace of mind.
What a laugh. Dane Carter hadn't had peace of mind since
he'd walked out on his family, regardless of what he told
them, what he insisted to himself. Maybe Angel, if she
wasn't an enemy, could prove to be a nice distraction from
his present worries. His brother had always had excellent
taste in women.
* * *
Angel tried to meter her breathing, to look calm, but her
heart felt lodged in her throat and wouldn't budge. She
hated doing this, had sworn she'd never so much as speak
to the man again after his last, most devastating
rejection. But she'd been left with little choice.
With her shoe box tucked beneath her arm and one hand on
the wall, offering support, she made her way down the hall
to Derek's office. She still felt awkward without her
crutches, but she knew better than to show him any
weaknesses at all. When she reached the open door, she
straightened her shoulders, forced a smile, and tried to
make her steps as smooth as possible.
Derek sat behind his desk, his chair half turned so that
he could look out the window at the Saturday morning
traffic. The rest of the building, except for the security
guards, was empty, just as she'd planned.
He was still as gorgeous, as physically compelling as
ever, only now he looked a little disheveled, a little
rumpled. She liked this look better than the urbane
businessman he usually portrayed. The only other time
she'd seen him relaxed like this was right after he'd made
love to her.
That thought licked a path of heat from her heart to her
stomach and back again, and she had to clear her throat.
His chair jerked around and his gaze pierced her, freezing
her on the spot. Even her heartbeat seemed to shudder and
die. Only his eyes moved as he looked her over, slowly and
in excruciating detail, as if he'd never seen her before
and needed to commit her to memory, then their eyes met -
For painstaking moments they stayed that way, and the
heat, the intensity of his gaze, thawed her clear down to
her toes. Her chest heaved as she tried to deal with the
unexpected punch of reacting to him again. It shouldn't
have happened; she didn't care anymore, wasn't awed by him
now. Her infatuation had long since faded away, but seeing
him with his straight brown hair hanging over his brow,
his shirtsleeves rolled up, made him more human than ever.
His gaze seemed brighter, golden like a fox, and she
tightened her hold on the shoe box, using it to remind
herself of her purpose.
She saw some indiscernible emotion cross his face, and
then he stood. "Angel."
His voice was low and deep. As he rounded the desk his
eyes never left hers, and she felt almost ensnared. She
retreated a step, which effectively halted his approach.
He lifted one dark eyebrow in a look of confusion.
Idiot. She didn't want to put him off, to show him her
nervousness. That would gain her nothing. She tried a
smile, but he didn't react to it. Moving more slowly now,
he stepped closer, watching her, waiting.