Authors: Joyce Sullivan
“My dress?” Juliana inquired. Her voice was hesitant. Alarmed.
Hunter smiled despite his fatigue. “The servants will expect some evidence of a romantic evening. I'll close my eyes, I promise.” He obediently closed his eyes. Never had he imagined that the whisper of fabric against skin could be so tantalizing.
“My father warned me about rich boys like you.”
“Your father is a smart man,” Hunter retorted, “but you're safe with me.” A vision of her naked before him turned his body to pulsating awareness. He counted her footsteps across the room, his breath exploded in his chest, and he reminded himself that asking her to remove her clothes was his idea.
He hoped she wasn't going to ask him whether she could expect to find him in her bed when she woke up. He couldn't trust himself with the answer to that question.
Dear Harlequin Intrigue Reader,
This month Harlequin Intrigue has an enthralling array of breathtaking romantic suspense to make the most of those last lingering days of summer.
The wait is finally over! The next crop of undercover agents who belong to the newest branch of the top secret Confidential organization are about to embark on an unbelievable adventure. Award-winning reader favorite Gayle Wilson will rivet you with the launch book of this brand-new ten-story continuity series. COLORADO CONFIDENTIAL will begin in Harlequin Intrigue, break out into a special release anthology and finish in Harlequin Historicals. In
Rocky Mountain Maverick
, an undeniably sexy undercover agent infiltrates a powerful senator's ranch and falls under the influence of an intoxicating impostor. Be there from the very beginning!
The adrenaline rush continues in
The Butler's Daughter
by Joyce Sullivan, with the first book in her new miniseries, THE COLLINGWOOD HEIRS. A beautiful guardian has been entrusted with the care of a toddler-sized heir, but now they are running for their lives and she must place their safety in an enigmatic protector's tantalizing hands! Ann Voss Peterson heats things up with
when a targeted “witness” to a murder manages to inflame the heart of a by-the-book assistant D.A.
Finally rounding out the month is
by veteran author Leona Karr. Will the race to track down a killer culminate in a
trip down the aisle for an undercover husband and wife?
So pick up all four of these pulse-pounding stories and end the summer with a bang!
Harlequin Intrigue, Senior Editor
Joyce credits her lawyer mother with instilling in her a love of reading and writingâa fascination for solving mysteries. She has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and worked several years as a private investigator before turning her hand to writing romantic suspense. A transplanted American, Joyce makes her home in Aylmer, Quebec, with her handsome French-Canadian husband and two children. A visit to the Thousand Islands, where this story is set, gave her the inspiration to write about a hero and his castle.
352âTHE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
436âTHIS LITTLE BABY
516âTO LANEY, WITH LOVE
546âTHE BABY SECRET
631âIN HIS WIFE'S NAME
722âTHE BUTLER'S DAUGHTER
Ross and Lexi Collingwood
âHe was the Baron of Wall Street. After their baby daughter was kidnapped and never returned, they went to extreme measures to hide the birth of their son and new heir from the world.
âWhat did the butler know about the explosion that killed Ross and Lexi Collingwood?
âShe was the butler's daughter, who'd agreed to raise the Collingwood heir as her own son.
âThis reclusive multimillionaire lived a double life as The Guardian. He'd do anythingâeven marry a woman he'd never metâto save his godson from a killer.
âLexi's sister. The baby was her only family left.
âThe president and chief financial officer of the Collingwood Corporation. Was he too eager to fill Ross's shoes as CEO?
âThe controller. Had he been on his way out of the corporation? Or on his way up?
Sable Holden and Phillip Ballard
âRoss Collingwood had ruthlessly bought out their companies in hostile takeovers. Did they want revenge?
âWas the Collingwoods' missing cook somehow involved in the bombing?
âLexi's personal secretary. Who was she sleeping with?
âCould the household manager of the Collingwood estate be trusted?
To my daughter Elise
for the joy she brings me.
My sincere thanks to Denise O'Sullivan,
The Butler's Daughter
before I did.
And to the generous people listed below who answered
my tedious questions about their lives and their jobs
or provided valuable input to my plot.
From the Ottawa-Carleton Regional Police services:
Jackie Oakley; Constable Bob Arbour, Bomb Tech;
and Sergeant Dave Lockhart, Intelligence Section.
Also, Mr. Victor Robles, The City Clerk, The City of
New York; Tom McCormick, W. J. Van Dusen Professor of
Management, UBC Commerce; New York State Police
Trooper Lieutenant Jamie Mills; Dr. Steven W. Maclean;
Pilot Pierre Duchaine; Ellen Hall; Judy McAnerin;
T. Lorraine Vassalo; and Rickey R. Mallory.
They weren't going to make it to Severance tonight, Juliana Goodhew realized, resigning herself to that fact as another heart-wrenching wail erupted from her five-month-old charge who was strapped into the infant carrier in the back seat of the SUV. Cort Collingwood's cry fractured into a refrain of sharp, desolate sobs that reverberated off the windows like steel balls.
Poor Cort was making it clear he'd had enough of traveling for one day. They'd missed their morning flight from Cleveland because he'd spent a restless, irritable night, and she'd taken him to the doctor only to discover Cort had an ear infection. The pain reliever she'd given him a few hours ago must have worn off.
“Oh, sweetheart, I'm so sorry,” she crooned, trying to soothe him with her voice as she searched the dark New York interstate for an exit and lodging for the night. “I was hoping you'd sleep for most of the trip and before you knew itâ¦you'd be in your parents' arms.”
Emotion gathered tight in her throat at the thought of Lexi waiting anxiously for their arrival. Spending one more sleepless night without her baby. Lexi hadn't seen her son since she'd tearfully handed him over to Juliana's safekeeping when he was three days old. “They're so anxious
to see you again, pumpkin. They love you so much. But the reunion will have to wait until morning, after we've both had a rest.”
Cort snuffled as if he completely agreed with her, then let out another wail that sounded like a wounded tomcat. Juliana couldn't see him, but she could hear him squirming in the carrier, completely fed up with being confined.
Her fingers gripped the steering wheel as she debated the risks of pulling over to the side of the road to comfort him for a few minutes. It was almost midnight and the traffic along the highway was sparse. She had a gun in the diaper bag that she knew how to use. But still, she couldn't take a chance with Cort's safety. Not after what had happened to the Collingwood's first baby.
Anger and grief abraded her heart like bits of broken glass ground into an open wound. In the blink of an eye, Ross and Lexi Collingwood's one-day-old daughter, Riana, had been abducted from the hospital nursery. The heir to one of America's wealthiest families had gone missing. There had been one aborted ransom demand. Then nothing. Twenty-eight months later there were still no clues in Riana's abduction.
And poor Lexi blamed herself. Juliana had taken Lexi's request to see Cort as a sign of hope that she was finally ready to go on with her life after the tragedy. Surely after holding her delightful son in her armsâand experiencing just one of his bubbly sunshine smilesâshe'd know that Cort's rightful place was with his parents and not with the butler's daughter.
“You are going to love your mommy, Cort,” she babbled reassuringly, still scouring the roadway for a hotel. “She's so beautifulâshe has a smile that begins with a starry twinkle in her eyes. It infects everyone she meets with an uncontrollable urge to smile back at her. Just like
yours, pumpkin. And unlike some of the well-to-dos who shall remain nameless because I don't tell tales about what I see behind closed doors, she's kind and sincere all the time, not just when she's in public. She's generous, too.”
Despite her distress over Cort's cries, Juliana's heart swelled with gratitude for Cort's mother. She knew full well it was Lexi's glowing praise of her design and organizational skills that had resulted in her pick of a dozen job offers from wedding consulting firms across the country. A car hurtled past her on the left, blowing its horn, making Juliana realize she was driving well below the posted speed limit.
She sped up. Keeping her left hand on the steering wheel, Juliana stretched her other arm into the back seat and gently stroked Cort's downy head with her fingers. He was hot and sticky, poor darling. She kept talking to him in an effort to soothe him. “Do you remember me telling you how your parents met at a hospital charity ball for sick children, pumpkin? Your mommy worked as a social worker for the hospital. Your father flirted with herâshamelessly, I might add. She didn't know who he was, but she thought he was too handsome and too arrogant for his own good. He asked her out, but she told him she wouldn't even consider going out with him unless he donated one whole week's salary to the hospital because a man who didn't care about sick children wasn't a man she cared to spend five minutes of conversation with, much less an evening. Oh, I'd have loved to have seen your father's face when she said that! Would you believe your father took your mother's hand, pulled her to the stage of the ballroom and made a pledge for 1.2 million dollars?”
Cort let out a discontented roar.
The corners of Juliana's mouth tilted. “You think he should have offered more, do you? Spoken just like a Col
lingwood.” Juliana steadied her grip on the steering wheel as a gust of wind from a passing eighteen-wheeler buffeted the SUV. “They don't call your daddy the baron of Wall Street for nothing. He certainly proved he was smart enough to convince your mother to marry himâand I got to help your mommy plan their wedding.”
Juliana's gaze flickered toward the star-studded sky, remembering the music and the twinkling lights and the thousands of flowers for that spectacular December night. She'd never seen two people more in love. Lexi had looked like a princess in an exquisite silk gown with diamonds sparkling in her chestnut hair. Juliana had planned every detail of the wedding and every detail had been perfect. Even her father had said so.
“That's how I discovered I wanted to be a wedding planner. It's sort of like being a fairy godmother to brides. They get to be Cinderella with their own prince.” Juliana sighed softly and stroked Cort's head, missing the glamour and the romance of her job. She even missed the thousand and one details that had required her constant attention. While she hoped she'd be returning to that life after this weekend, a part of her ached at the thought of being separated from Cort.
After five months together, she knew each of her tiny charge's smiles and cries. She knew the plump rounded curves of his cheeks and limbs and the delicious scents of his skin and his hair. Her heart folded into a tight contented box whenever she held him. Saying goodbye was not going to be easy.
“But for the moment, pumpkin,” she mused as Cort continued to whimper and grumble like a radio with static, “I'm
fairy godmotherâuntil your mommy comes to her senses and realizes she can't hide your birth from the rest of the world.”
To her relief, Juliana rounded a dark curve and the headlights flashed on an accommodations sign for the next exit. “It won't be much longer now.” She gave Cort's head one last caress and put both hands on the steering wheel.
Within fifteen minutes, she'd managed to secure a motel room and juggle the baby, his diaper bag, her purse and her carry-on bag up to the second-floor room. She gave Cort another dose of pain reliever, changed his diaper and snapped him into a miniature baseball sleeper while a portable crib was brought up to the room. Then she put a bottle in the warmer. Cuddling Cort against her, she pulled the cell phone from the diaper bag to call her father.
“Juliana? It's practically midnight.” Her father's voice was stiff with disapproval. “Where are you?”
“Sorry, Papa. I thought I could surprise the Collingwoods tonight, but Cort is fussing. His ears are bothering him still. The doctor said it would be a good twenty-four hours before the antibiotics took effect.” Juliana rocked from side to side as Cort started to whimper, his fingers clinging to her cotton sweater. “We've just checked into a motel about two hours from Severance. We'll leave first thing in the morning and arrive for breakfast. Cort usually wakes around six.”
“Well, then, I suppose it can't be helped.”
Juliana closed her eyes, hearing the unspoken accusation that she'd failed him yet again echo in her ears. Typically, her father viewed the baby's ear infection and her failure to arrive by the designated hour as a poor reflection on him. Would she ever stop failing him? Probably not. Why did she even try?
“I need to go, Papa. Cort needs his botâ” Her words were drowned out by an explosive roaring transmitted over the phone line. What on earth? “Papa! Are you there? Answer me! What's happening?”
Juliana strained to hear as she pressed the receiver close to her ear, her heart thundering in her chest, while her other arm clutched the baby. Oh, dear God. The phone line was not dead. She could hear distinct crackling and popping sounds. Flames?
“Papa!” she shouted into the receiver. “Can you hear me?”
To her relief she heard her father's voice, fading in and out, as if coming from the end of a tunnel. “There's been an explosionâa bomb. Take the baby, Juliana. Protect him with your life. Operation Guardian. Promise me as a Goodhew that you'llâ¦” His voice faded, snatching away the rest of his words.
Horror gripped her. “I promiseâ”
With a loud pop, the line went dead. Juliana stared at the phone and started to shake. Operation Guardian could only mean one thing. Ross and Lexi Collingwood were dead.
ICK WITH FEAR
over the safety of her father and the Collingwoods, Juliana called the police and reported the explosion, then punched in the number she'd been asked to memorize in the event of an emergency such as this.
“Yes.” The voice that answered was curt and concise. One word, but totally male and in charge. She knew instinctively that he was the enigmatic security consultant Ross Collingwood had hired to head up the search for Riana. The man known only as The Guardian.
Juliana had never met him. But then, few people ever met The Guardian in the flesh or knew his real name. His existence and the services he supplied were a closely guarded secret of the world's upper class.
“Operation Guardian,” she replied numbly, the code word falling from her shocked lips like a blunt instrument
onto a table. She gripped the phone tightly as tears seared her eyes.
Please God, this wasn't happening. Not to her father. Or Ross and Lexi. They couldn't be dead.
Tremors wracked her body in undulating waves of disbelief and grief. If not for Cort's ear infection, she and the baby would have been caught in the explosion, too!
A softly muttered curse whispered over the line, the hint of raw emotion it conveyed so genuine it snagged her heart like a hook, connecting her to him. “Tell me your name,” he commanded.
The clear authority in his tone evoked a comforting image of an indomitable muscle-hewn Marine sergeant. Juliana caught the tiny precious foot of the child who lay on the bed beside her. Cort's golden gossamer eyebrows arched over his sooty blue eyes in surprise as he gnawed on a teething ring of plastic keys. She swallowed hard and glanced nervously over her shoulder toward the door, half expecting someone to kick it open. Whatever fate had been dealt her charge's parents, Cort was not alone. Not while breath still remained in her body.
“My name is Juliana Goodhew,” she said as calmly as she could.
“Juliana, I'm The Guardian. Tell me what's happened.”
Wanting to tear her hair out with the fear that was expanding in her until she thought her skin would burst, she told him about the secret rendezvous with the Collingwoods at a rented home in the Adirondacks and the horrible explosion she'd heard a few minutes ago when she'd called her father to inform him she and the baby would be delayed until morning.
“My father believed it was a bomb. He told me to call you. I called the police first to get them some helpâ¦.” Her voice broke.
After all her problems with her fatherâ¦was this how it was going to end?
I'm sorry, Papa.
A sharp stab of guilt lanced her side, torturing her with memories of a rainy autumn afternoon and a gleaming banisterâa forbidden and irresistible temptation to two young children. The day that had changed their lives forever.
She fanned her fingers over Cort's plump belly, her heart melting at the snugly warmth of his compact body and his gummy irresistible smile. Tears slipped down her cheeks, splashing onto his sleeper.
I won't let the baby out of my sight, Papa. I promise.
The Guardian's voice penetrated her thoughts. “You did the right thing, Juliana. Your father is wise to be cautious. Until we have more information confirming the cause of the explosion, I'm going to implement measures to keep you and the baby safe. Where are you now?”
“A motel in Utica.” She gave him the name and room number.
“Stay inside, away from the windows. Don't go out to your car. I'll catch a chopper and be with you in an hour and a half, two hours tops. Did you call your father or the police from the phone in the motel room?”
“No, I used my cell phone.”
“Good. So only the police know of your location.”
“And you didn't tell them who the child is with you?”
Did he think she had the IQ of an idiot? “Of course not,” she said shortly. “I told them I was the butler's daughter, and I'd been talking to my father when the explosion occurred.”
“Are you armed?”
The implication of his question slid over her like the blade of a razor. He thought the danger was real.
“Yes. Mr. Collingwood insisted I be trained properly in how to use a gun.”
“Excellent. I'm on my way. Stay alert and be ready to move.” The line clicked off.
She dropped the phone onto the bed as if it had burned her.
Be ready to move.
But moving with a baby required thinking ahead. She'd given Cort his second dose of antibiotics when she'd stopped for gas at 10:00 p.m., but he would need a bottle. Wary of casting a shadow across the window, she crawled on her hands and knees to the bathroom to grab the bottle from the warmer she'd set up earlier on the counter. Then she unplugged the device so she could pack it back into the diaper bag.