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Authors: Jayne Ann Krentz

The Golden Chance

BOOK: The Golden Chance
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Books by Jayne Ann Krentz

The Golden Chance

Silver Linings

Sweet Fortune

Perfect Partners

Family Man

Wildest Hearts

Hidden Talents

Grand Passion

Trust Me

Absolutely, Positively

Deep Waters

Sharp Edges

Flash

Eye of the Beholder

By Jayne Ann Krentz writing as Jayne Castle

Amaryllis

Zinnia

Orchid

Published by POCKET BOOKS

 

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

An
Original
Publication of POCKET BOOKS

POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc.
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

Copyright © 1990 by Jayne Ann Krentz
Cover art copyright © 1990 Morgan Kane

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
For information address Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

ISBN-10: 0-7434-9637-X
ISBN-13: 978-0-7434-9637-7

POCKET and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster Inc.

Visit us on the World Wide Web:
http://www.SimonSays.com

T
HE
G
OLDEN
C
HANCE
CHAPTER ONE

 

Something in Nicodemus Lightfoot understood and respected small towns and the kind of people who lived in them. He did not wax nostalgic about them, nor did he believe in the myth that small towns were somehow best at incubating American values and right thinking. He did not even particularly like small towns, especially small farm towns in the summer. They tended to be hot and slow. Every kid who had just graduated from the local high school was probably desperate to get out of town as soon as possible, and Nick understood their desire.

He was afraid that his intuitive knowledge of towns such as Holloway, Washington, was in his blood. Nick himself was only one generation away from jobs like working cattle or driving a combine, and he knew it. He accepted it. He had no problem with it. And that was what gave him the edge over everyone else in the families. The other members of the Lightfoot and Castleton clans were still trying to forget how close their roots ran to towns such as this one in eastern Washington.

Nick took another swallow of beer and shifted into a more comfortable position. He was leaning against the trunk of an aging apple tree that dominated the front yard of a little white clapboard house. The grass in the yard was rapidly turning brown. By August it would be dead.

Nick had been sitting in the shade of the tree for almost an hour. The beer was warm, the street of small, neat houses was empty and Nick was getting bored. That took some doing, because he was good at waiting.

Hearing a clatter in the distance, Nick turned to watch two lanky youngsters hurtle down the street on beat-up skateboards. Faithful dogs, tongues lolling, jogged behind. The boys seemed oblivious, as only kids can be, of the late June heat. Nick watched the foursome until they disappeared around the corner, and then he finished the beer.

None of the neighbors had come out to ask him what he was doing sitting under the apple tree, although Nick had seen a few curtains twitch in the houses across the street.

Earlier a couple of teenagers had checked out his Porsche with shining eyes. One of them had worked up the courage to ask if the car was Nick's. He'd admitted it was and tossed them the keys so that they could sit in the front seat and dream for a while. They'd finally left reluctantly when a curly-haired woman down the street had waved them home. That had been the end of Nick's social interaction with the neighbors of Miss Philadelphia Fox.

He was beginning to wonder if the Fox was ever going to return to her lair when the insistent whine of a small-car engine made him glance down the street.

A candy-apple-red mosquito-sized compact darted around the corner and homed in on the one open space left at the curb. With the unerring instinct of a small, annoying insect spotting bare skin, the little red car zipped around a battered pickup truck and dove headfirst into the parking space behind the Porsche.

Nick watched in fascination as the driver of the mosquito realized she was not going to be able to wedge the vehicle into the limited space from such an angle. The compact whined furiously, jerking back and forth in several short, convulsive movements before abandoning its attack.

Nick held his breath as the thwarted mosquito maneuvered its way back out of the parking space and reluctantly pulled forward alongside the Porsche so that it could back properly into the slot. The Porsche survived unscathed, but Nick had the impression the mosquito was defiant in defeat.

He guessed then that the driver of the red insect was Philadelphia Fox. He watched her turn off the engine and climb out of the car holding two paper bags of groceries that were so full they effectively blocked her vision.

His first impression was that he was watching an entity of condensed, restless energy. Her movements were quick, sharp, impulsive. With a flash of insight Nick realized that he was looking at a woman who did not wait for things to fall into place in their own time and in their own way. She pushed them into place.

So this was his ticket home. He did not know whether to be dismayed or delighted.

He had been in exile for three long years and was not yet certain what to make of Philadelphia Fox, but if he played his cards right he might be able to use her to do what had to be done. It wasn't as if he had a lot of choice, he reminded himself. It was Phila Fox or nothing. He had no other options, and time was running out.

The real question, of course, was whether he really wanted to go home. He told himself he was still ambivalent, but he knew that in his heart he had already made the decision. He would not be sitting in the heat and boredom of Holloway, Washington, if he didn't know what he wanted to do.

Nick smiled faintly as he watched Philadelphia struggle with the grocery bags and her keys. From this distance she looked neither sufficiently powerful nor beautiful enough to be capable of tearing the families apart. But that only went to show that dynamite could be packaged in raspberry-pink jeans and an orange, green and black jungle-print camp shirt.

Fox
. She suited her name, Nick decided. There was something vixenish about her, something that was both keen and delicate. Her eyes were large in her triangularly shaped face, and they tilted slightly upward at the corners. They were watchful, wary eyes.

She was not very tall, probably only about five-four, and she was slender, with small, high breasts and a narrow waist. Her tawny brown hair was cut in a smooth, shining bob that hugged her jawline. He knew she was twenty-six years old and that she was unmarried. That and the fact that she had apparently had close ties to Crissie Masters was about all he knew.

Yesterday morning's phone call from Eleanor Castleton replayed itself in his head.

“She's a problem, Nick. A terrible problem.”

“Yeah, I can see that. But she's not my problem.”

“That's not true and you know it, dear. She's a serious threat to the families, and you're family. What happened three years ago doesn't change that fact, and deep down inside I'm sure you realize it.”

“Eleanor, I don't give a damn what happens to the families.”

“I don't believe that for one minute, dear. You're a Lightfoot. You would never abandon your heritage when the chips are down. Go and see her, Nick. Talk to her. Someone has to deal with her.”

“Send Darren. He's the one with charm, remember?”

“Hilary and Darren both tried to talk to her. She refused to listen to either of them. She's biding her time, looking for a way to turn the situation to her advantage. I know that's what she's doing. What can you expect from someone of her background? She's just another mischief-making little tramp like that Masters creature who descended on us last fall. That horrid little tart started all this. If it hadn't been for her—”

“What makes you think this, uh, other little tart will talk to me?”

“You'll find a way to deal with her, dear.” Eleanor Castleton spoke with serene confidence. “I know you will. I have complete faith in you. And you're family, dear. You simply must do something about Philadelphia Fox.”

“I'll think about it, Eleanor.”

“I knew you wouldn't let us down. Family is family when all is said and done, isn't it?”

To his chagrin, Nick had discovered Eleanor was right. When all was said and done, family
was
family. So here he sat under an apple tree contemplating possible methods of manipulating a mischief-making little tramp.

Philadelphia Fox walked right past him up the sidewalk to the front door of the little white house. The screen door banged as she opened it, caught it with her toe and shoved her key into the lock of the main door. The paper bags wobbled.

Nick got slowly to his feet, removing his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose as he strolled up the cracked walk behind her.

The key seemed to have gotten stuck in the old lock and refused to turn. The grocery bags jiggled precariously. The screen door escaped the restraining toe, and Nick heard a softly uttered curse as Philadelphia tried to force the issue.

Nick nodded to himself and replaced his glasses on his nose, satisfied with this confirmation of his suspicion that Miss Fox did everything the fast way and, therefore, sometimes wound up doing things the hard way. This was the kind of woman who, once she made up her mind, would charge straight toward her goal. The eager, zealous, reckless type. Nick contemplated that tantalizing tidbit of information. One didn't run across eager, zealous, reckless, mischief-making little tramps every day.

He wondered suddenly if the little Fox made love at a hundred miles an hour, the way she appeared to do everything else.

Nick scowled at that errant thought and slid his glasses back onto his nose. It was not like him to let such thoughts get in the way of business. Besides, Philadelphia Fox was not his type. At least, he didn't think she was.

Still, perhaps he shouldn't blame himself for the brief fancy. After all, he had never had a woman make love to him at a hundred miles an hour. It sounded exciting.

But maybe that was because it had been so damned long since he had had a woman make love to him at all.

Moving up very close behind the struggling Phila, he asked politely, “Can I give you a hand with those bags?”

He had expected to startle her. He was not expecting the truly frightened gasp and the flash of raw terror in her huge eyes when she swung around to face him. He barely managed to catch one of the grocery bags as it fell from her arms. The other hit the steps, spilling out a loaf of bread, a can of tuna fish and a bunch of carrots.

“Who the hell are you?” Philadelphia Fox demanded.

“Nicodemus Lightfoot.”

The fear vanished from her gaze, replaced first by an odd relief and then by disgust. She glanced morosely down at the spilled groceries and then looked up again, her eyes narrowed.

“So you're a Lightfoot. I wondered what one would look like. Tell me, are the Castletons any better-looking? They must be or Crissie wouldn't have turned out so lovely.” She crouched and began to retrieve her groceries.

“The Castletons got the looks and charm. The Lightfoots got the brains. It's been a profitable partnership.” Nick scooped up the tuna fish and reached out to jiggle the key in the frozen lock. He maneuvered it gently, and a second later the door popped open.

“Funny,” Philadelphia Fox said, her face grim as she got to her feet and glared at the open door. “That's what Crissie and I used to tell each other. She got the looks and I got the brains. It was supposed to be a profitable partnership for us, too, but it didn't quite work out that way. I expect you want to come inside and browbeat me, right?”

Nick gazed thoughtfully into the colorful, plant-filled interior of the little house. Bare wood floors gleamed beneath red and black throw rugs, and the walls were painted a brilliant sunshine yellow. The sofa was as red as the little car parked out front. Somehow all the vivid hues combined to look very cheerful and welcoming. Apparently Miss Fox's sense of interior design was similar to her taste in clothing. He smiled again.

“Yes,” Nick said. “I would very much like to come inside and talk to you.”

“Come on, then,” Philadelphia muttered as she pushed past him into the house. “We might as well get this over with. I've got some iced tea in the refrigerator.”

Nick smiled again with satisfaction as he watched her precede him into the house. “That sounds just fine.”

 

There was a word for what was wrong with her, Phila knew. Several words, in fact. As she slapped the groceries down on the counter and went to the refrigerator, she considered those words.
Burnout
was one.
Stress
was another.

Her grandmother would have brushed aside such contemporary jargon, of course, and gotten right to the point.

Stop feeling sorry for yourself. The trouble with you, my girl, is that you've let yourself wallow around in your own emotions long enough. It's time to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Get hold of yourself, child. Get up and get going. The world is waiting for you to fix it. If you don't do it, who will
?

Matilda Fox had seen everything as a challenge. The prospect of righting the wrongs of the world was what had kept her going, she had frequently claimed. It gave life purpose. Her son, Alan, Phila's father, had followed in his mother's footsteps. He had been passionate about his causes and in due course had married another passionate world-fixer named Linda. The two of them must have shared a few passions other than the political sort because eventually they had produced Phila.

Phila had no real recollection of her parents. They had died when she was very young. She had a picture of them, a faded color photograph of two people dressed in jeans and plaid shirts standing beside a jeep. Behind them was a cluster of huts, a brown river and a wall of jungle. Phila carried the photo in her wallet along with a picture of Crissie Masters and one of her grandmother.

Although she had no clear memory of them, Phila's parents had bequeathed her more than her hazel eyes and tawny brown hair. They had left within her their philosophy of life, which Matilda Fox had in turn nourished into full flower. From the cradle Phila had been inculcated with a healthy dose of skepticism toward established authority, conservative thinking and right-wing institutions. It was an independent, decidely liberal philosophy. Some might have called it radical. It was the sort of philosophy that thrived on challenge.

BOOK: The Golden Chance
13.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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