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A selection from The Businessman’s Bride

Chapter 1 - "I need you."

Anne Lundy was independent enough that the words scraped her throat coming out, especially since the person she found herself needing was none other than the man whose office she’d stormed out of a month ago, right after telling him to stay the hell out of her private life. Yet, here she was, in that very same room, preparing to ask him to butt back in.

Richard Danton stared at her from the other side of his orderly desk. Not for the first time Anne thought that the polished mahogany surface mirrored his person. There was never so much as a speck of lint on his expensive tailored suits or a hair out of place on his patrician head. God help her, but sometimes as irritating and confounding as she found the man, her fingers itched to muss up those perfectly combed auburn locks and loosen his collar. It might be interesting to get a rise out of someone who was so damned controlled all of the time.

Oh, yes, definitely controlled, she thought now. The only sign that either her words or her unannounced visit had surprised Rick was the slight quirking of his left eyebrow.

“Why don’t you have a seat,” he invited. He picked up his telephone, pressed a button on the cradle. “Hold my calls, please,” he told his executive assistant. Then he focused his attention on Anne. “I believe you were saying something about needing me.”

“Is that a variation of ‘I told you so?’” she asked between gritted teeth.

“Of course not.” He folded his hands in front of him on the desk blotter. “What can I help you with, Miss Lundy?”

Anne wasn’t sure why, but she’d always felt Rick used that courtesy title and her last name as a way of distancing himself from her. No matter. Their relationship wasn’t social. At times she thought it barely qualified as cordial. If she had to classify it, she supposed it might fall under business since he was employed as chief legal counsel for Tracker Operating Systems, the computer empire that Anne’s older brother, J.T., owned and operated.

Rick apparently took her familial association with Tracker as reason enough for him to pry into her personal life. During the past few years he had investigated at least four of the men Anne had dated. In truth, something about the hasty retreat of a couple of her earlier boyfriends also raised suspicions, although Anne had no hard evidence that the private eye Rick kept on retainer for company business had been sicced on either man.

It still galled her to recall how absolutely unapologetic he’d been last month when she’d called him on the carpet for his most recent interference. She’d tromped into his office in high temper, spoiling for a fight. It had only ticked her off more that Rick never so much as raised his voice. The man rarely did.

“Your brother is the CEO and founder of one of the most successful computer companies on the planet. He’s a very wealthy and powerful man,” he’d told her in that patronizingly patient way of his, as if J.T.’s billionaire status had somehow managed to escape Anne’s notice. “That kind of wealth and power can draw … unsavory characters.”

Damn him, but she’d known Rick was right about her current beau even before he had proved that to her -- with photographs no less.

Even now that her bruised ego had had a month to heal it still rankled that she’d been suckered by Gabe Deerfield’s phony interest in her hand-tinted photography when in truth he hadn’t been entranced so much by Anne or her art as he’d been eager for an in at Tracker. It turned out the jerk was a software architect for one of J.T.’s smaller competitors.

“I want you to look into a personal matter for me,” she told Rick now, swallowing a little more of her pride when both of his eyebrows notched up.

“A personal matter?” he repeated, acting as if he hadn’t heard her right.

Anne scowled. “Yes. A personal matter.”

“That’s interesting, Miss Lundy, because the last time you were here you said--”

“I know what I said,” she interrupted. “And I meant it. I still mean it. I don’t appreciate you poking around in my private life, Rick, even if my big brother does. But …” She cleared her throat and admitted, “I need help and I can’t go to J.T., or anyone else in my family, on this. Not yet anyway.”

That statement had Rick straightening in his high-backed leather chair. The bored amusement had vanished from his expression by the time he asked, “What is it?”

Just like that, she had his undivided attention. As irritating as the man could be at times, Anne knew this was something she could count on. Rick always listened to what she said -- even if he didn’t often heed her wishes.

She settled onto one of the chairs angled in front of his desk and crossed her legs. Her foot jiggled and one of her spiked heels dangled from her toes, exposing her nerves.

“It’s probably nothing, but a couple weeks ago I got a call from a man who claims to have information about my birth mother. You knew I was adopted, right?”

She smiled afterward, since she figured that much was obvious. With her Asian features and diminutive height she was the polar opposite of the rest of the tall, blonde-haired and blue-eyed Lundy clan.

Rick nodded solemnly. “J.T. mentioned it to me, but I was under the impression that your biological parents were both … well, deceased.”

“They are.” She shrugged then, swallowed. “I mean, that’s what I’ve always been told, which is why I hung up on the guy the first couple of times he called. Whatever this information is, assuming he even has any, it’s ancient history as far as I’m concerned.”

“How many times have you spoken to him exactly?”

“Only a few times.” She coughed. “But he’s left a few or, um, eleven messages on my answering machine.”

Rick steepled his fingers in front of him and frowned. Anne knew what he was thinking. Sure enough, he said, “And you’re just now bringing this matter to my attention, Miss Lundy? He could be a stalker.”

She fought the urge to roll her eyes. “You’re determined to make me regret coming here today, aren’t you?”

Rick said nothing for a moment. Controlled, she thought again as she watched a muscle twitch briefly in his jaw.

“So, what does he say when he calls?” he asked at last. “Does he ask for payment in exchange for the information or in any way hint that he knows you are related to J.T.?”

“No. He’s never mentioned money and J.T.’s name has never come up.”

Anne fiddled with the clasp on one of the bracelets looped around her left wrist. In truth, that was one of the things about the situation that bugged her. The man wouldn’t tell Anne the nature of his information, but he didn’t seem to be threatening her with it. Nor had he named a price to reveal it. If he had, she would have figured his claims were part of some creative scheme to bilk money from her brother.

She looked up at Rick then. “Has J.T. mentioned anyone approaching him with a similar claim?”

It would be just like her overprotective big brother to keep something like that to himself until he could verify the man’s story independently.

But Rick said, “No. I’ve heard of nothing.”

It went without saying that if there was anything to hear, Rick would have heard it. J.T. trusted no one’s insight or advice more than he trusted Rick’s. Anne relaxed slightly. The last thing her brother needed right now, with his wife heading into her third trimester of pregnancy with their first child, was to be chasing down some crackpot’s claims.

“Of course, that doesn’t mean the guy won’t show up at Tracker with his palm out,” Rick added.

“I suppose.”

“But?”

“It’s just that the man keeps insisting on a meeting, saying that what he needs to tell me isn’t something he wishes to share over the telephone.”

Anne motioned with her hands, unable to keep them still any longer. When she talked, she tended to use her entire body. The beads from her bracelets tinkled together. The sound was cheerful, festive and in direct contrast to her troubled mood. “It’s making me a little edgy, like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

“A minute ago you said whatever he had to say was ancient history,” Rick reminded her.

“It is, but he’s been so persistent. Polite, but … persistent.” She cleared her throat. “It’s kind of creepy, if you know what I mean.”

“I’ll look into the matter.”

She smiled. “Thanks.”

“You’ve got a name or some other contact information for me, I assume?” he asked.

Anne dug a piece of paper out of her oversized hobo bag and handed it to him. After reading it, Rick glanced up sharply.

“Gidayu Hamaguchi? That’s a Japanese name.”

“Which is handy since he claims to be an attorney from Japan,” Anne remarked dryly.

Rick’s expression remained thoughtful. “Isn’t that where you were born, Miss Lundy?”

She knew what he was getting at. Her origins weren’t exactly common knowledge. In fact, most people who didn’t know the particulars of her personal history probably assumed Anne was of Chinese or Korean descent, since cross-cultural adoptions from those two countries had been relatively common for years and were much less restricted than those from Japan.

“He could have gotten lucky,” she said hopefully.

Rick’s expression said he wasn’t buying it. He pulled a yellow legal pad from his desk drawer and picked up his fountain pen. “Why don’t you tell me what you know about your biological family?”

Anne stood and prowled the length of the room. As a general rule, she wasn’t one to sit still for long. That was especially the case when her nerves were jangling the way they were at the moment.

“Well, I know that my mother was a Japanese college student and my father was an American serviceman stationed in that country. I think they were married and they both died, although I’m not sure how or exactly when. After that I somehow wound up placed for adoption in the United States.”

“You don’t know anything else?”

“That’s actually a lot more than most adoptees were told nearly three decades ago,” she pointed out. “Oh, and I know they called me Ayano, which is still my legal name, by the way.”

“Ayano. Ayano Lundy,” he repeated. His voice took on a surprisingly lyrical quality as he tested out the syllables. “It’s pretty and it suits you.”

She shrugged. “I prefer Anne.”

“Of course.”

While he made some notes, she studied the collection of framed photographs on the equally tidy credenza. As far as she could tell, none of the people pictured with Rick was family. Judging from the sterile settings, conservative attire and stiff poses, she determined all of them to be business associates -- which was kind of sad, in her estimation.

Then she came to the last photograph and recognized the subjects instantly. J.T. stood with his arm looped around the shoulders of his bride, Marnie, next to whom was Anne, laughing merrily. She remembered the moment – her brother’s wedding the summer before. She just didn’t remember Rick capturing it. The candid photograph seemed oddly sentimental amid the rest of the stodgy shots that were framed atop the credenza.

Anne picked it up and turned toward Rick. “Where’d you get this?” she asked.

He shrugged, looking curiously uncomfortable for a long moment before stating the obvious: “I took it at your brother’s wedding.”

She studied it again.

“Hmm, subject matter is good even if your technique needs a little work. Lighting’s not too hot and J.T. has a serious case of red-eye.” She glanced up, grinned. “Of course, I think I saw him crying when he and Marnie exchanged vows, so maybe that’s not you or your camera’s fault.”

He ignored her attempt at humor and tapped his pen on the pad of paper. “Can we get back to the matter at hand, Miss Lundy?”

“Sure.” Gazing again at the picture, she felt the comforting swell of love for her family. “You know,” she murmured. “I never really think of myself as adopted. I just think of myself as a Lundy.”

“But you must have questions,” Rick said. “You must want to know … details about your real parents.”

“My real parents?” Anne set the frame aside and, after turning, crossed her arms over her chest. Her tone was sharp when she asked, “What makes those other people more real than Jeanne and Ike Lundy?”

“I’m sorry if my choice of words has offended you.” But then he dug himself in deeper when he said, “I just mean that, biologically speaking, they’re responsible for the person you are, who you’ve become.”

“You can’t believe that, Rick. You can’t believe that who I am, other than physically, was somehow predetermined by my DNA?” When he said nothing, Anne waved a hand, “Well, I don’t buy it, but now isn’t the time to debate free will or nature versus nurture. The fact remains that my birth parents have been dead for nearly twenty-nine years. I guess that has always made it easier for me to move on.”

“And yet you still want to know what information this Japanese lawyer has on your mother.”

“Birth mother,” she corrected automatically. “And my curiosity doesn’t extend beyond wanting to know if this Hamaguchi character is an actual attorney or if he is some kind of criminal out to fleece Tracker. If he’s the latter, I’ll press charges. If he’s not …” She shrugged. “Well, then he can say his peace and get out of my hair. It’s not like there’s anything he can tell me after all this time that will change my life.”

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