Jayne Ann Krentz Wildest Hearts

ISBN 13: 9780743467193

Wildest Hearts

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9780743467193: Wildest Hearts

Suave and secretive, Oliver Rain is probably the most dangerous, and certainly the wealthiest, man in the Pacific North-West. He knows a schemer when he sees one, even when she's beautiful. What Annie Lyncroft hasn't bargained for is his ready acceptance of her outrageous proposal of marriage.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Jayne Ann Krentz is a New York Times bestselling author of contemporary romantic suspense novels. She also writes historical romance under the name Amanda Quick and paranormal romance under the name Jayne Castle. Jayne loves to hear from her readers and can be found at Facebook.com/JayneAnnKrentz.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

I don't think the elephant is going to work," Oliver Rain finally said. His soft, dark voice was shaded with polite regret.

"I was afraid you wouldn't like him." Annie Lyncroft gazed morosely at the beast and wondered how to broach the real subject she wanted to discuss with the inscrutable Oliver Rain.

"I'll admit he's unusual," Rain acknowledged.

"You're probably asking yourself the same question that a lot of my clients ask. You're wondering, Is it art or is it just plain tacky?"

"An interesting question," Rain conceded.

"Keep in mind that the elephant is functional as well as ornamental," Annie said in an instinctive, last-ditch effort to salvage the sale. "There's a little hidden drawer in the base. Very useful for small objects."

"I don't think he fits into this room," Rain said diplomatically.

Annie wondered privately if anything except Oliver Rain himself would look at home in the ebony, gold, and gray study.

She had been almost certain Rain wouldn't like the elephant. The two-foot-high cloisonné figure with its scarlet toenails and purple trunk looked cheerfully ridiculous standing next to Rain's Zen rock garden.

The garden, which occupied a large corner of the study, was not a true garden, at least not to Annie's way of thinking. It contained no hint of green. Not a single leaf, let alone any colorful blooms, marred the pristine perfection of the pearl gray sand.

The sand was encased in a low black wooden frame. It had been meticulously raked into abstract designs around five rocks. Annie suspected Rain had spent hours contemplating exactly where to put the rocks on the sand. It was undoubtedly just the sort of emotionless problem in aesthetics that would appeal to him.

The designer whom Rain had hired to do the interiors of the spacious new twenty-sixth-floor suite had sized up her client with unerring accuracy. All the rooms afforded seemingly endless views of Seattle, Elliott Bay, and the Olympics, and they were all done in the same forbidding tones of ebony, gold, and gray that dominated the study.

The end result was an austere, elegant lair perfectly suited to a man whom many people considered to be a dangerous predator.

No, Annie decided, the elephant was a handsome creature, but he certainly didn't fit into the disciplined, restrained decor of Rain's newly completed suite. She could not imagine anything from her boutique full of wildly whimsical one-of-a-kind items that would look right here.

Oliver Rain was clearly not much given to whimsy of any kind.

"I'm sorry the elephant isn't quite right," Rain murmured.

"Don't worry about it. I didn't think it would work. To tell you the truth, I haven't been able to interest any of my clients in him." Annie frowned. "Something about that elephant seems to put people off. I wonder if it's the toenails."

"Quite possibly."

"Well, it's not a big deal." So much for unloading the elephant on Oliver Rain. "You insisted I bring something else by, so I decided to try him out in here."

"Very kind of you. I appreciate your perseverance. Let me pour you some more tea." Rain reached for the black-and-gold-enameled teapot that sat on the nearby black lacquer tray.

Annie watched, fascinated, as he refilled her cup. The bright white cone of light from the halogen lamp on his desk revealed the sinewy strength of his hands. Rain's hands were not those of an ordinary business executive. They were rough, even calloused in places, as if he made his fortune working in rich soil rather than in giltedged investments.

He managed to imbue the delicate act of pouring tea with a riveting masculinity. Each motion was one of disciplined strength and grace.

Annie had learned that any movement Rain made, no matter how small, captured her full attention. Perhaps it was because each ripple of restrained power stood in such stark contrast to the vast, deep stillness that emanated from him when he was not moving. Annie had never met a man who was so completely in control of himself.

She eyed him warily as she accepted the teacup from him. "To be perfectly honest, I don't think I have anything in Wildest Dreams that will suit you."

Rain contemplated her as if she presented a curious but not unsolvable dilemma. "Just because the elephant doesn't work, I don't think we should assume that nothing else from your shop will work, either."

"You didn't like the carousel I brought on Monday," Annie reminded him.

"Ah, yes, the carousel. I'll admit it had a certain charm, but somehow the rather bizarre creatures on it seemed wrong in here."

"Depends on your point of view, I suppose," Annie muttered. Personally, she thought the beautifully gilded carousel with its collection of strange mythological animals had been a nice touch in a room that already contained the eminently unusual, near-mythic Oliver Rain.

No one knew much about Rain. But that tended to be the case with most legends, she reflected. The fewer facts available, the more legendary the man became in the eyes of the world.

She had first met him six weeks ago at her brother Daniel's engagement party. She had known of his existence, of course, because Daniel had once worked for him. But she and Rain had never been introduced.

Daniel Lyncroft was an acknowledged genius in the field of electronics. Five years ago he had been hired by Rain to set up several high-tech security systems for Rain's extensive business empire. Later, when Daniel had left to start his own electronics firm, Rain had invested heavily in the start-up operation, thus becoming Daniel's single biggest financial backer.

Daniel had warned Annie that, although Rain had been invited to attend the engagement party, he was unlikely to appear. Oliver Rain was almost never seen in public, let alone at social affairs. Furthermore, if he ever did decide to move in society, it would almost certainly be at a much higher level than the one the Lyncrofts occupied. The Rain fortune, which Oliver Rain had rebuilt from scratch after the mysterious disappearance of his father, was as much the stuff of legend as the man himself.

But to Daniel's obvious surprise and pleasure, Rain had turned up at the engagement party in the back of a black limousine. He had been dressed in stark black and white evening wear. The formal clothes had emphasized the dark, fierce stillness in him.

Annie had been enthralled by Rain from the moment she first saw him. He was unlike any other man she had ever known. There was a haunting aura of power, passion, and pride about him, but overlaying it all was an iron-clad self-control.

It was intriguing to watch the way people slipped unobtrusively out of Rain's way as he moved through the chic restaurant Daniel had rented for the occasion. She understood the impulse. There was no doubt but that the man radiated a potential for danger. He prowled through the throng of well-wishers like a leopard gliding through a flock of sheep.

Only a very small part of Annie wanted to flee to safer ground. A much larger, louder part urged her to get closer to Oliver Rain regardless of the risks.

Annie had concluded that Rain held the same sort of attraction for her as did the unusual objects she sold in her boutique, Wildest Dreams. He was not handsome in the conventional sense, but she found him utterly compelling. Something deep within her reacted to his presence with an acute sense of awareness. When he looked at her the fine hair on the nape of her neck stirred.

That night at Daniel's party, Annie had secretly memorized everything about Oliver Rain from the color of his eyes, which were an illusive, indescribable shade of gray, to the controlled impassivity of his features.

He wore his black hair much too long for a business executive. It would have brushed his shoulders if he had not tied it back in a low ponytail. His grim, harsh face betrayed an implacable, unbending willpower. The icy hint of silver in his hair together with the cold, calculating intelligence in his gaze led Annie to conclude that Rain was very close to forty.

This was a man who would never rely on his looks or his charm to get what he wanted in life, she decided. He would simply reach out and take it.

Rain had stayed at the party for less than half an hour. Except for the brief time that he spent with Daniel and the few minutes it had taken to introduce him to Daniel's fiancée, Joanna, and to Annie, he had held himself apart from the crowd. He had stood alone, occupying a space that no one else dared violate and sipped champagne while the guests ebbed and flowed around him.

Annie had been intensely aware of his eyes following her when she danced with some of Daniel's friends, but Rain had not asked her to join him on the floor. He had not danced with anyone at all.

When Oliver Rain quietly left the party, Annie experienced a strange disappointment. The small ember of unfamiliar sensual excitement that flared to life within her when he had arrived flickered out when he departed.

She surreptitiously watched from a window as Daniel escorted Rain out to the waiting limousine. The two men spent a few minutes talking quietly in the drive. When the conversation ended, Rain glanced at the window where Annie stood as if he had known all along she was watching. He acknowledged her with a small, almost courtly inclination of his head. Then he got into the limousine and vanished into the rain-streaked night.

"He's an interesting but rather dangerous man," Daniel said to Annie later. "You never know for certain what he's thinking. I don't believe he trusts anyone. When I worked for him, he was almost obsessive about maintaining files on all key employees and the people with whom he did business."

"Files?"

"More like security dossiers." Daniel's mouth curved wryly. "He always claimed that personal inside information on people was what he relied on to give him the edge."

"I would imagine having an edge would be very important to a man like that," Annie said thoughtfully. "He would want to be in control at all times."

"The thing to remember about Oliver Rain is that he's always got his own agenda, and he never lets anyone else know what that agenda is until he's ready. He's a lone wolf, not a team player."

"Is he a gangster?" Annie asked, horrified at the possibility that her brother might be in debt to a criminal.

Daniel grinned. "If he is, he's smart enough to bury the bodies so deep that no one will ever find them."

"Why on earth did you let him back you if you don't trust him?"

Daniel looked at her in surprise. "I never said I didn't trust him. I just said he was dangerous."

"There's a difference?"

"A big difference."

Annie hugged herself against the small shiver that went through her. "What else do you know about him?"

"Not much, even though I worked for him. The man's a legend."

"Why?" Annie asked.

"Fifteen years ago his father walked out on the family. Just vanished. I don't know the whole story, but I do know that a few months before he disappeared Edward Rain had persuaded some of his friends to invest in one of his development projects."

"Let me guess," Annie said. "The investors' money vanished along with Rain?"

"Right. Not only that, but Edward Rain had liquidated most of his own personal assets. He took that cash with him, too. The family was left with virtually nothing except a mountain of debts."

I'll ve heard tales of that kind of thing happening. There was a story in the papers just the other day about a prominent banker who simply got on a plane with several million dollars and was never seen again. He left his family and his whole life behind."

"That's what Edward Rain did," Daniel said.

Annie stared at her brother. "What happened?"

"Oliver paid off all of his father's debts within two years," Daniel said. There was cool admiration in his voice. "He rebuilt his father's fortune from scratch. It's now far larger than it was before Edward Rain disappeared, which should tell you something about Oliver."

"Poor Oliver," Annie whispered. "He must have been emotionally devastated when his father vanished."

Daniel frowned in alarm. "Now, Annie..."

"The shame and humiliation would have been intolerable to a man like that," Annie continued thoughtfully. "He's obviously been scarred for life. No wonder he's not very outgoing."

"Hold it right there," Daniel ordered. "Don"t even think about it."

"About what?" Annie asked innocently.

"About trying to rescue Oliver Rain. He is definitely not another wounded stray male you can add to your collection. Believe me, Rain doesn't need rescuing."

"Everyone needs to be rescued at one time or another, Daniel."

"Not Rain," Daniel said flatly. "That man can take care of himself. Trust me."

Annie did not see or hear from Rain again until two weeks later. He had called the day after Daniel's private plane went down in the ocean on a flight to Alaska. That had been a month ago in October. Rain had asked her very gently if she needed help of any kind.

Caught up in the chaos of the situation, struggling to deal with reporters and the authorities who were conducting the search-and-rescue operation, as well as trying to console Joanna, Annie had been tense and distracted. She had brusquely told Oliver Rain that she did not need his assistance.

It was only as she hung up the phone that she belatedly recalled the fact that Rain was her brother's chief creditor. Now that Daniel had disappeared, Rain was a potential threat. If he chose to call in the huge loan on the grounds that Daniel's fledgling company lacked leadership, Lyncroft Unlimited would go under. There was simply no way to pay off Oliver Rain at this point.

But it wasn't Rain who had turned out to be the immediate threat. It was a coalition of suppliers and the other investors, all of whom panicked when they realized that Daniel was no longer at the helm of his company. Barry Cork, Daniel's trusted assistant, did the best he could to reassure everyone that business was going on as usual, but no one believed him.

A few days later Rain had called again.

"Perhaps we had better talk," he said quietly.

"About what?" Annie demanded, knowing full well what he wanted to discuss.

"Lyncroft's future."

"Lyncroft is doing just fine, thank you. Barry Cork has everything under control. My brother will be rescued any day now, and everything will go back to normal."

"I'm sorry, Ms. Lyncroft, but you must face the fact that Daniel is very probably dead."

"I don't believe that and neither does his fiancée. We're going to hold Lyncroft together until he returns." Annie gripped the phone cord and tried to keep her voice calm and confident. "I appreciate your concern, but nothing has changed at the company. Everything's under control."

"I see." There was a long silence on the line. "I hear rumors that some of your brother's other creditors are starting to press for a sale or merger."

"Nonsense. Strictly rumors. I've explained to all ofthem that things are fine and that we expect Daniel to return soon."

There was another thoughtful silence. "As you wish. Please feel free to call me if the other investors become difficult. I might be able to help you."

Annie had hung up the phone feeling more uneasy than ever. Lyncroft Unlimited was a family-owned corporation. No one except family members could hold stock in the firm. Daniel had been intent on keeping full control of his company.

At the moment there...

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