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  Excerpt for A SCANDAL SO SWEET


Aman’s life could change in a heartbeat.

Seven days ago Zach Torr had been in the Bahamaselated to be closing the biggest deal of his career when he’d received the emergencycall about his uncle.

The one person who’d held Zach’s back thesepast fifteen years was gone.

Now,still dressed in the suit he’d worn to give his uncle’s eulogy, Zach stood onthe same narrow girder from which his uncle had fallen. He stared fearlessly down at his contractors,bulldozers, generators, cranes, and men, big tough men, who appeared evensmaller than ants in their yellow hard hats sixty-five stories below.

Zachwas tall man with thick black hair and wide shoulders; a man his competitors sworewas as cold and ruthless as the fiercest jungle predator. The women he’d left behind agreed, saying he’dwalked out on them without ever looking back.

Normallyhis eyes were colder than black ice. Today they felt moist and stung. Howhad Uncle Zachery felt when he’d stood here for the last time?

A shudder went through Zach. Men who walkediron were no less afraid of heights than other men.

The chill breeze buffeting him whipped histie against his carved face, almost causing him to step backwards.

He froze,caught his balance… hissed in a breath. Asneeze or a slip—was that how it had happened? Up here the smallest mistakecould be fatal.

Had Uncle Zachery jumped? Been startled by abird? Been pushed? Or simply fallen asthe foreman had said? Zach would neverknow for sure.

As Uncle Zachery’s sole heir, Zach hadendured several tough interviews with the police.

The newspaper coverage had been more criticalthan usual because he’d stayed in the Bahamas to close the deal before cominghome.

He hated the invasion of the limelight,hated being written about by idiots who went for the jugular with or withoutthe facts.

Becausethe fact was, for Zach, the world had gone dark after that phone call.

When he’d been nineteen and in troublewith the law for something he hadn’t done, Uncle Zachery had come back from theMiddle East where he’d been building a city for a sheik and had saved him. If notfor his uncle, he’d be serving hard time now.

Houston-bred, Zach had been cast out of thistown by Stella, his beautiful step-mother after his father had died. Her reason—she’d wanted everything. His father had naively assumed she’d begenerous with his sixteen year old son and had left her his fortune.

If it hadn’t been for Nick Landry, a roughLouisiana shrimper, who’d found him in a gutter after he’d been beaten by hisstep-mother’s goons, Zach might not have survived. Nick had taken Zach to his shack in BonneTerre, Louisiana, where Zach had spent three years.

It was in Bonne Terre where he’d met thegirl he’d given his heart and soul to. It was in Bonne Terre where he’d beencharged with statutory rape. And it wasin Bonne Terre where the girl he’d loved had stood silently by while he wastried and condemned.

Fortunately, that’s when Uncle Zacheryhad returned. He’d discovered hissister-in-law’s perfidy, tracked Zach to Louisiana, gone up against the town ofBonne Terre, and won.

He’d brought Zach back to Houston, educatedhim and put him to work. With his powerfuluncle behind him, Zach had become one of the richest men in America.

Hiscell phone vibrated. He strode to the lift and took the call as he descended.

To his surprise it was Nick Landry.

“Zach, I feel bad about your uncle,yes. I be calling you to offer mycondolences. Your uncle, he was a goodman, he was. The happiest day of my lifewas the day he came to Bonne Terre and got your sentence commuted and yourrecord sealed. I read about you in thepapers. I be as proud as a papa would beof your accomplishments, yes.”

So many people had called this past week,but this call meant everything. Foryears Zach had avoided Nick and anything to do with Bonne Terre, Louisiana, butthe warmth in Nick’s rough voice cheered him.

“It’s good to hear from you.”

And it was. He didn’t feel quite so alone.

“I’ve missed you, yes. And maybe you miss me a little too? I don’t go out in the boat so often now. I tellpeople it be because the fishin’ ain’t so good like it used to be, but maybeit’s just me and my boat, we’re gettin’ old.”

Zach’seyes burned as he remembered the dark brown waters of the bayou and how he’dloved to watch the herons skim low late in the evening as the mist had come upfrom the swamp.

“I’ve missed you too, yes,” he saidsoftly. “I didn’t know how much—until Iheard your voice. It takes me back.”

Not all his memories of Bonne Terre werebad.

“So why don’t you come to Bonne Terre and seethis old man before he falls off his shrimp boat and the crabs eat him?”

“I will.”

“We’llgo shrimpin’ just like old times.”

Aftersome quick goodbyes, Zach hung up, feeling better than he had in a week.

Maybe it was time to go back to BonneTerre.

Then he thought about the Louisiana girlhe’d once loved—blonde, blue-eyed, beautiful Summer, Summer with the sweet,innocent face and the big dreams.

She lived in New York now, a Broadwayactress. Unlike him, she was the press’sdarling. Her pictures were everywhere.

Didshe ever come home… to Bonne Terre?

Maybeit was time he found out.

Harlequin Desire
July 2012



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