“Dammit,” he snarled again, and instead of putting on a suit, a white-on-white shirt and a silk tie, he thumbed off his trousers, stepped into his shorts and his running shoes, yanked an ancient Harvard T-shirt over his head and trotted down the stairs, out the door and to the path along the Charles River.

He’d run it once this morning already, but he needed to run it again.

Within minutes, his T-shirt was plastered to his skin. It had been cooler, an hour ago, when he’d done his daily five-mile stint. That was okay. It was fine. Maybe running until he collapsed in a sodden heap would exorcise Lara’s ghost. He was tired of having her image burned into his brain.

He could see her face, hear her voice. He could feel the heat of her, in his arms. He could almost taste her, and all three nights since he’d last kissed her, he’d awakened with the sheets kicked off and the male part of his anatomy threatening to do embarrassing things it hadn’t done since he was fifteen.

Slade felt his lungs start to burn as the distance lengthened. Friday night had gone by, and Saturday, and Sunday. Plenty of time to have put Lara out of his mind.

Except, he hadn’t. And he’d tried.

He’d worked all day Saturday, phoned a knockout blonde at the last minute and smiled to himself when she’d said well, she already had plans…but yes, she’d change them. So he’d taken the blonde to dinner, then to an outdoor concert. And he’d ended up in her apartment overlooking the Green, as he’d known he would—except, when she’d slipped into his arms and started undoing his tie, he’d suddenly wanted to be anyplace but where he was.

“Wow,” he’d said, gently disengaging from her embrace. “I just remembered that I have to, uh, I have to go to my office.”

“At midnight?” she’d said, and he’d said, yeah, right, at midnight…

And he’d fled.

Slade groaned at the memory and pumped his arms and legs faster.

He’d tried again on Sunday by almost killing himself with exercise. He’d run in the morning, danced around with the body bag at his gym for an hour after that, sculled up the river in midafternoon. In the evening, he sent out for pizza and vegged out in front of the TV.

So much for thinking about Lara, he’d thought smugly—until someplace around dawn, when he’d had one of those dreams he didn’t even want to think about. And yeah, now he was running his butt off, panting and sweating as he headed home, thinking about nothing and nobody but her.

Slade stumbled up the front steps into his house and dragged himself into the shower without even taking off his soaked shorts or T-shirt. He turned his face up to the water and—he was still thinking about her, still wondering why he’d kissed her, and what would have happened if that phone hadn’t rung because, no matter what she said, she still wanted to pick up where they’d left off. He’d felt her turn boneless in his arms. He’d heard that sexy little moan, felt the kick of her heart…

What kind of man would marry a woman like that and divorce her, all in a year and a half’s time?

Why should it matter a damn to him? That was a better question.

“It doesn’t,” he said firmly, as he stepped from the shower.

Maybe it was time to take a break from the playing fields for a while. He had the Beaufort building to work on and another proposal coming up, lots of designs and meetings to deal with. In fact, he’d already penciled-in a meeting with Dobbs two weeks from now.

“Come for the whole weekend,” Dobbs had said, “and I’ll introduce you around, at my club.”

It didn’t matter that he’d have to spend two days in the same city as Lara. Thinking about her was a thing of the past, right?

“Right,” Slade said.

He finished dressing, pulled on his boots, knotted his tie and made his way briskly down the stairs.

* * *

By nine, he was seated behind his desk, leafing through his calendar. He had a luncheon appointment, a conference call at three…and a memo in his own handwriting, to phone Travis.

He grinned.

Trav had been roped into some kind of bachelor auction the other night. His office had put a heavy wager on his being the bachelor who’d bring in the highest bid.

Well, why not? Trav had tried settling down and discovered it didn’t work. Big surprise, Slade through wryly. The only guy he knew who’d ever settled down and been happy with one woman was Gage but then, Natalie wasn’t a woman, she was an angel.

Slade put his feet up, crossed them at the ankles and linked his hands behind his head.

Playing the field was what he enjoyed, too. That, and seeing to it that Baron, Haggerty and Levine kept right on growing.

“We’ll do the names in alphabetical order,” he’d said the night he, Jack and Ted had hatched their plans over good pasta and bad Chianti at the little Italian trattoria two blocks from the offices of the giant architectural firm that had hired all three of them straight out of Harvard.

“I’ll bet we wouldn’t, if your name was Zambroski,” Jack had said, deadpan, “but it’s okay. Each time I think of you charming your way through all those Back Bay debs, Baron, I swear I can hear cash registers ringing.”

Slade grinned at the memory. The truth was, he’d have lived with his name coming in last. What he couldn’t have endured was if their new alliance had done the same thing. Making it mattered. He was a good architect, a damned good architect, despite his old man’s reaction to his youngest son’s career goals.

“You want to spend your life drawin’ pictures of houses for other people,” Jonas had drawled, “you go right ahead and do it. Jes’ don’t look to me to finance those pansy dreams, boy.”

It wasn’t a disappointment, it was just what Slade had expected.

“That’s fine, Father,” he’d said. “I’d rather do it on my own.”

His high school grades stunk, no surprise considering he’d spent most of the years between sixteen and eighteen riding motorcycles, horses and women. The Baron name and hopes of a fat endowment were probably the only things that had gotten him into a small Texas college. Once there, Slade had worked his tail off to make all As and Phi Beta Kappa. That had been enough to get him into Harvard Grad School, where he’d supported himself tending bar at an off-campus pub in the financial district.

The job had changed everything. He’d picked up market savvy from stockbrokers tossing back double scotches, opened an account and placed his Dow Jones bets with the same recklessness he’d once shown for women, bikes and broncs. By the time he had his degree, he also had enough money in the bank to impress even him. A year later, he’d dumped every penny of it into the brand-new firm of Baron, Haggerty and Levine.

And B, H and L was a success.

Slade smiled. A huge success. Office buildings that transformed skylines were his specialty. Ted had become an authority on period reconstructions, and Jack was a genius at designing residences for clients who wanted something exceptional and weren’t afraid to pay for it.

&n

bsp; Life was good. Slade loved his work, his city and the life he led. He drove a dark green Jag and a shiny black Blazer. He had a cabin in the Maine woods and a Greek Revival bowfront house in Boston that he was restoring with his own hands, and just as Jack had predicted, he was doing fine—well, better than fine—with the Back Bay ladies. With the ones from Beacon Hill and Cambridge and—why be modest?—from all points of the compass. Slade smiled. Getting on with women had never been a problem.

Until now.

His smile twisted.

Until he’d had the misfortune to get involved with a woman who’d seemed as easy to read as any female he’d ever known and had, instead, turned out to be more complicated than the narrow streets that zigzagged their way through Beacon Hill.

“Mr. Baron?”

Slade looked up. His own secretary was out on maternity leave. The temp was a sweet, competent young woman but she blushed whenever she looked at him. Sometimes he thought about telling her, straight out, that she had nothing to worry about, that he never fooled around with women who worked for him or with him…

Then, what had he been doing with Lara? Kissing her, in her office. In her office!

He sat up straight and cleared his throat.

“Yes, Betsy?”

“This package just arrived, sir. By private messenger.”

Slade thanked her and took it. Interesting. No name. No return address.

“Is there anything else, Mr. Baron?”

“No. Uh, yeah. Some coffee, please. Black, one sugar.”

He opened the package as the door swung shut. There was a small vellum envelope inside. He took it out, sniffed it for perfume, then opened it and took out an elegant, hand-scripted notecard.

* * *

Your presence is requested at

The eighty-fifth birthday celebration

Of Mr. Jonas Baron

Saturday and Sunday, June the 14 and 15

At the Baron Ranch

“Espada”

Brazos Springs, Texas

RSVP

* * *

“Oh, hell,” Slade muttered, and rolled his eyes not just at the invitation but at the note scrawled under the RSVP.


Tags: Sandra Marton Billionaire Romance
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