Fallon Nicole Marshall had always considered herself cool under pressure. After all, she was a well-respected travel writer for some of the top magazines in the country. She routinely dealt with tight deadlines, demanding editors, computer glitches, and uncooperative people. She’d baked in 107 degrees, frozen in 6 below, to get a story and just the right photographs. She had the patience of Job and the tenacity of a terrier. Nothing—if you didn’t consider her need for two cups of coffee each morning—got the best of her anymore. She’d been there, done that.
Or so she’d mistakenly thought.
Slowing down on the highway, Fallon put on her signal and turned her rental onto the paved road three miles out of Santa Fe. Her slim fingers flexed on the steering wheel of the late-model Taurus. She was only marginally pleased that they weren’t damp with perspiration. She might be a bit nervous about obtaining information for her next story, but at least she wasn’t showing her frayed nerves on meeting Lance Saxton again.
It was perfectly understandable that she felt apprehensive—after all, she had been, well, rather abrupt to Lance Saxton two weeks ago when they’d first met. She’d practically accused him of being a thief and walked away from him in self-righteous indignation. Although he had to share some of the blame for that crack about “not handling their financial responsibilities correctly,” she had to take her share as well.
She freely admitted that since her mother had been swindled by the unscrupulous owner of an auction house and Lance owned an auction house she had judged quickly and harshly.
And she’d been wrong.
She hadn’t discovered her mistake until recently. Naomi Reese, her friend and neighbor, had insisted Fallon read an article about Lance in Fortune magazine. Fallon had turned up her nose and ignored the sudden thump of her heart on seeing a picture of Lance in an expensive navy pin-striped suit standing in front of Saxton Auction House, but she’d read the article.
In less than a minute she’d known she’d been wrong. She’d handed the magazine back to Naomi, thanked her, and gone home, telling herself if the opportunity ever presented itself she’d apologize, fully aware that she wasn’t going to initiate the contact. That changed a few days ago.
Now she needed Lance Saxton to gain access to the Yates home for the article she planned to write. He might toss her out; then again, he might not. There was only one way to find out.
Moments later the red-barrel roof of a house came into view; then as she rounded a curve she saw the sprawling Yates house. She slowed and came to a complete stop. It was simply beautiful with the afternoon sun shining on the roof and the adobe exterior. She could easily imagine coming home from work or a trip and catching the first glimpse of the house. She didn’t even live there and yet she felt a sort of calming peace. One day she’d have a house, a family, but for now she enjoyed her job. She loved to travel and was paid well to visit and write about some of the most exciting places in the world.
The last thought had her squaring her shoulders. She was good at what she did. Nothing had ever stopped her in the past, and she wouldn’t allow Lance Saxton to be the first.
Putting the car into motion, she continued down the mile-long road and parked on the circular driveway in front of the massive red double doors, reasoning if Lance threw her out, she wouldn’t have far to go to her car. Getting out, she again studied the sprawling two-story house.
The home was originally built in the 1920s by oil mogul Thaddeus Yates. He liked the Southwest and chose Santa Fe as his base when he wanted to relax and get away from Lubbock, Texas. After his death, his only child and daughter, Colleen, expanded the six-thousand-square-foot home another five thousand square feet to include a loggia and pool house. Her son did more renovation on the house plus extensive landscaping, turning the usually parched grounds of the area into a verdant paradise with lush green grass and a rainbow of flower hues.
Fallon hadn’t seen grass so lush since she’d left her hometown of Austin four months ago. She was tempted to slip off her sandals and let the grass tickle her toes. She refrained. All she needed was for Lance to see her and think she was a nutcase. Still, with less than twelve inches of rain yearly in Santa Fe, it would cost a small fortune to maintain the grounds.
Through research she’d learned that the single male heir and last owner had died six months ago from injuries sustained in a skiing accident. Banks sometimes paid for minor upkeep, but nothing more.
Fallon realized she was stalling, and with good reason. She wasn’t looking forward to ringing the doorbell and meeting Lance Saxton again. She didn’t mind admitting she was wrong so much as she didn’t like the idea of making that admission to a man she had a mild attraction to. She’d like to think he’d caught her at a weak moment, but that would be a lie. She traveled so much she didn’t have time for a relationship, and she valued herself too much to have meaningless affairs.
Yet her girlie antenna had zinged the instant she had looked into Lance’s midnight black eyes. He had the “Y” yummy factor in spades: at least six feet four, in sinful jeans and a white polo that delineated hard muscles. She had almost fantasized about the naughty things he could whisper in her ear—until she learned what he did for a living. And went as cold as an iceberg on the man.
Sighing, Fallon removed her camera from the case, looped the strap around her neck, and grabbed her notebook. Standing there wouldn’t get the job done. Closing the car door, she followed the paved path to the wide double doors, all the time telling herself that this was a story like all the hundreds, probably thousands, she’d written in the past.
It was her job as a travel writer to point out the new and unusual, the best places to make that vacation or staycation exciting, fun, and memorable. Reading about the auction in the newspaper had given her an idea for a story—that of leaving time on the schedule for something unexpected, like an auction.
The Yates home was a piece of history that would soon be gone … just as her family’s heirlooms and antiques were gone. She’d never forgive the owner of the auction house who had cheated her mother and made their lives miserable when Fallon was seventeen, but she’d been wrong to lump Lance with the crook.
The Yates possessions weren’t going to be lowballed as the Marshalls’ had been. Lance Saxton, although new to the auction scene, had a sterling reputation as a savvy businessman with a Midas touch. Whatever he touched succeeded in spades. The Yates auction would only be his second in the three months since he’d opened Saxton Auction House. The other had been in Tucson, where his office was located, and hugely successful. The retired movie star’s possessions had sold out after the second day of the four-day sale.
Fallon realized she was stalling. Again. She hadn’t called for an appointment. She honestly hadn’t known what to say. Hey, I’m sorry I accused you of being a thief, but I have this great idea for a story and two editors are interested, so let’s forget about our first meeting. If the positions were reversed, she would have thrown him out. She had a bit of a temper—which had gotten her into this mess.
So, she’d taken the coward’s way and asked his cousin, Richard Youngblood, if he thought Lance would be at the Yates house working. Richard had been at his fiancée Naomi’s apartment that morning eating breakfast and discussing wedding plans. They were as giddy as teenagers and so much in love. Fallon was happy for both of them, especially after what Naomi had gone through.
Declining the offer of breakfast, Fallon had gone back to her place next door to leave them alone. Or as much as possible with Naomi’s five-year-old daughter, Kayla, with them. Neither Richard nor Naomi seemed to mind. That had been hours ago. It was almost two. It had taken Fallon this long to work up the courage to drive out.
Blowing out a breath, Fallon rang the doorbell.
* * *
In the small library of the Yates house that Lance Saxton had taken for his office, he slowly lifted his head when he heard the doorbell. He’d been waiting for the sound since Richard called that morning to tell him that Fallon had asked if he would be there. To Richard’s “Don’t blow your second chance,” Lance had said nothing.
Since Lance didn’t have any other appointments and he wasn’t expecting any deliveries, he reasoned it was Fallon Marshall. His hand flexed on the pen in his hand. It didn’t take much to visualize the stunning woman with long curly hair, bedroom brown eyes, model cheekbones, and lips to drive a man crazy. For some reason—perhaps because Richard was in such a great mood and Lance could tell his cousin was finally interested in a woman—the moment they’d met Lance had found himself attracted to Fallon.
It was the first time in months he’d had more than a passing interest in a woman. He’d honestly thought he had written women off except for the occasional ones he took to bed. It was purely physical for both of them: easily had and easier forgotten.
The chime came again. This was the housekeeper’s half day off. The people he’d hired to help catalog the house contents for the auction had driven into town for a late lunch. There was no one there but him. If he didn’t answer, Fallon would leave and he wouldn’t have to worry about forgetting his long-ago promise of steering clear of women he couldn’t easily walk away from. Yet he found himself coming to his feet and leaving the office. Fallon was just a woman.
Opening the front door, he had to revise his earlier thought about Fallon. She was stunning in a raspberry knit top and white walking shorts. Her eyes were just as captivating as before, her mouth just as tempting. His hand clamped on the doorknob as they continued to stare at each other. He wouldn’t be the first to speak. She had called him a thief.
“Hello, Lance. I guess you’re surprised to see me.”
“That’s putting it mildly.”
Before saying “I’m not sure if you remember or not, but I’m a travel writer,” Fallon ran her tongue over those lips he’d dreamed about.
Since his mouth was dry, he simply nodded. Fallon was too much of a temptation. As soon as possible he was sending her on her way.
“I read about this place and the auction you’re having. I came up with the idea for an article.” She glanced around the yard. “This house might not be on the historical society’s register, but it has a lot of history that will be lost once the auction is over. I’d like to preserve that.”
“By doing a story,” he said, unable to keep the derision out of his voice. Another person who wanted to profit from the misfortune of others. And she’d thought him heartless.
Her eyes narrowed briefly; then she shifted back to him, inadvertently making her breasts in the knit top jut forward. Lance gritted his teeth and opened his mouth to tell her good-bye, but she finally spoke.
“Not just a story. I want to bring the history of the house and the people who lived here to life. I also want to let readers know that it’s all right not to plan every second of a vacation. Wonderful opportunities like this auction might present themselves. I’ve done a bit of research on the house already.”
“Don’t you think that was a bit premature?” he asked, glad his voice was normal even if his heart rate wasn’t.
“Yes, but knowledge is never wasted.” She stepped back and looked up at the window overhead. “Do you know that some of the timber in this house came from Yates’s grandparents’ property in Louisiana? He was a bit of a sentimentalist.” She sent Lance a quick grin. “The stained glass in the window overhead is from Paris and the chandelier in the living room is Waterford. They’re his wife’s selections.”
“Women like the finer things.” Lance had learned that lesson the hard way.
Fallon’s brow arched. “So do men. Thaddeus spared no expense to build this house. It took three years. His daughter expanded it even more. From the little I was able to find, she doted on her son and wanted the house to last for generations. It’s a shame that her dreams died with him.” Fallon gave Lance her full attention, her expression so heartrending he had to lock his knees to keep from reaching out to comfort her. “It would be wonderful if that didn’t happen, if the family history could be preserved and be the impetus for other family dreams and legacies.”
His gaze narrowed on her. So, she wasn’t just beautiful and brassy. It was rare to meet someone not in the business who really understood the value and importance of beloved furniture and accessories being a legacy.
There were times when he thought of his own mortality, even at thirty-six. He never planned to marry. What would he leave behind? Who would mourn him? The answers weren’t comforting, so he continued to study Fallon. Unlike most people, his direct stare didn’t make her fidget.
He’d been devastatingly wrong about women before, but something told him that Fallon was telling the truth. This was more than a story to her. Watching her hair dance in the breeze, her steady gaze, he came to a decision.
Instead of being annoyed with Fallon, he really should be thanking her. If she hadn’t put a stop to things that afternoon they met, they would have probably ended up in bed and his life would have been in turmoil again. Besides, he’d like the Yates history and legacy to be preserved as well.
Stepping back inside, he watched her eyes widen, her mouth open. He realized she thought he was going to shut the door in her face. It annoyed the hell out of him that she believed he was that rude. “Come in.”
Her mouth hung open for a second longer, before she snapped it shut. She quickly stepped inside. “Thank you.”
He noted that perspiration dampened the flawless skin on her forehead. Perhaps he was rude to keep her out in the heat. “Would you care for something to drink?”
“No, thank—” Her eyes widened and she was across the room. Reverently her hand grazed the top of an oak-finished chest of drawers. “This is one of Thaddeus’s pieces, isn’t it? His daughter used this for her hope chest.”
Lance joined Fallon. “You did your research well, I see.”
“I wanted to be prepared.” She smiled over her shoulder at him, then turned back to the piece that was as tall as she. “He was a furniture maker before they struck oil on his property. A picture of this chest was the only one I could find of the contents of the house.”
“There are other pieces he made mixed throughout with the more famous makers like Chippendale,” Lance said. “The house is a treasure trove of furniture, artwork, and crystal.”
Her eyes glittered with hope, one hand clamped on the camera, the other on the notebook. “Then you’ll let me do the story?”
He was probably crazy, considering he barely could keep his eyes off her lips. “You can do the story.” He motioned toward her camera. “Feel free to take as many photos as you like. You seem to understand and appreciate the furnishings—that they meant something to the Yateses, they aren’t just things or possessions,” he said.
For a second, her eyes darkened with pain. “Yes.”
He wondered if she was thinking about the incident that had caused her to brand him a thief. “Feel free to look around. I’ll be in my office.” He pointed to an open door to the left. “Just let me know when you’re leaving.”
With a brief nod, he returned to his office, hoping he hadn’t made a terrible mistake.
* * *
Fallon caught herself admiring Lance’s muscular build, the easy way he moved—all right, his butt—and quickly turned away. Now wasn’t the time to go all girlie over a good-looking man. Lance had been gentleman enough to overlook her bad manners in the past, and she had a story to do.
However, twenty minutes later she wasn’t so sure anymore. The house was as fantastic inside as it was outside, the furnishings beautiful. Thaddeus’s wife had liked English antiques, and so had their daughter. There was none of the heavy masculine stuff Fallon had half expected. The only leather she had seen was in the game room, a pool table. To do the story, she needed to be able to talk about specific pieces of furniture and what they meant to the family.
If she had had her mind on the article instead of on a certain part of Lance’s anatomy, she wouldn’t have forgotten that important detail. There was only one way to correct matters. She started down the elegantly curved staircase with a mahogany handrail and didn’t stop until she was in front of the door Lance had indicated. She knocked.
Plastering a cheerful smile on her face and hoping she wasn’t disturbing him, she opened the door. He sat behind a massive desk in a room filled with bookshelves. This room had been the Yates library.
Lance lifted his dark head, his gaze direct and his expression patient. On either side of him were undraped floor-to-ceiling windows. Framed by sunlight, he was gorgeous. The thought ran through her mind that he didn’t smile as easily as the man she’d met weeks ago. A pity.
“Yes?” His voice, once warm and tempting, was now coolly professional.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, but were there any diaries that might put significance on the individual pieces of furnishings or household articles?” she asked, crossing to stand in front of his desk. “As I said, Mr. Yates was said to be sentimental. The house is a showcase, but I want my readers to know the why and the how.”
“Yes. Thaddeus Yates and his daughter left notes, but they’re part of the auction and I’d rather they not be handled,” Lance explained, removing his eyeglasses.
Disappointment slumped her shoulders. “I see.”
He seemed to hesitate, then came to his feet and around the desk. “’I’ve read the notes and am familiar with everything. If you’d like I could give you a brief tour.”
“Lance, thank you.” He really was a nice guy. “That would be wonderful.”
“We could start in here.” He turned toward the built-in bookcases on the walls. “Thaddeus had these made in New Orleans. Some people just purchase books to fill out a library because of their binding or size, but Thaddeus loved to read and so did his wife and daughter. Each book was selected by one of them.”
Fallon lifted her camera and took a couple of shots, then walked over to the shelf and pulled out a slim book. “Wuthering Heights. I wonder, was the mother or the daughter the romantic?”
“Safe to say it wasn’t Thaddeus. Men know better.”
Fallon frowned. “You don’t believe in romance?”
“Not many practical men would.” Lance opened the library/office door. “We can continue upstairs. You’ll note that, although extensive remodeling has been done, the original wood molding around the fireplaces and walls remains. This way.”
Fallon wasn’t ready to leave the conversation on romance, but she wasn’t given a choice. Replacing the book, she turned to follow Lance.
* * *
As they went through the house and as she listened to him talk, she realized he cared about the furnishings. It wasn’t just money to him. He seemed to understand what the house meant to the mother and daughter who had acquired most of the furnishings.
Back downstairs, Lance led her to the dining room. “Surrounding this late Georgian dining table is a suite of Empire chairs. It can comfortably seat twelve. Thaddeus’s daughter, Colleen, personally picked this out on a trip to England.”
Fallon snapped a photo, then lowered the camera. “Clearly she intended this for large family gatherings.”
“Her son, Herbert, was two at the time,” Lance said. “While traveling she wrote that she and her husband wanted more children. Her son understood the legacy. Ten years before his death, he had his last name changed to Yates.”
Fallon’s fingertips grazed the table’s polished surface. “Like the sterling flatware you showed me in the linen closet, she wanted these things to be handed down to the next generation, but it didn’t happen.”
Not a flicker of emotion crossed Lance’s face. “No, her son never married.”
“I hope the new owners love and appreciate the house and the furnishings as much as Herbert’s mother,” Fallon said.
“Why would you say that?” Lance asked with a frown.
She hunched her slim shoulders. “She just put so much into this place, had such hopes. It’s sad that they had to die with her son. Maybe with the next family living here, that won’t happen.”
Fallon heard a door open, then close. Voices.
“That will be my employees returning from lunch,” Lance explained.
Fallon glanced at her watch and gasped. Her gaze quickly lifted to Lance’s. She’d been there almost two hours. It had been easy talking and listening to Lance. But he hadn’t given off any signals that he was interested in picking up where they’d left off—before her unfair accusation.
She had to admit, she was disappointed. She’d certainly messed up. Perhaps it was for the best. She was leaving in less than a week. “I didn’t mean to take up so much of your time.”
“It’s all right.” He lifted his long-fingered, manicured hand toward the door. “I’ll show you out.”
Fallon followed Lance out. In the open area, she saw two young men and an older woman going up the staircase.
Opening the front door, Lance stepped back so she could pass. As soon as she did he said, “Good-bye. If you have any more questions, or want to come back, you’re welcome.”
“Thanks.” She tossed her notebook in the car and placed her camera in the case, then straightened. Lance still stood on the wide porch. He could just be being polite, but maybe he’d been thinking about what might have happened between them just as she had.
“You want to meet at Brandon’s restaurant for dinner around seven?”
Lance’s gaze narrowed. She’d caught him off guard and it pleased her immensely. “It will make up for my poor behavior when we met, and thank you for not holding it against me today.”
He stared at her a long moment, as if trying to figure her out. She’d like to think she was one of a kind.
“I’ll see you at seven.”
She grinned and felt like dancing. She hadn’t realized how important the answer was to her until he’d agreed.
“Seven it is.” Waving, she got in her car and pulled off. Through the rearview mirror she saw Lance still standing there. He was such a dichotomy. Who was the real Lance, this self-composed man or the flirtatious one she’d met weeks ago? She was determined to find out.
Copyright © 2013 by Francis Ray