"Oh, sweet heaven, it can't be him." Joanna Trent squeezed her eyes shut and opened them again. He was still there. Ruthlessly she closed the back of her throat, trapping the hysterical scream that was forming before it could escape. This can't be happening to me, not today. Forgetting the petite silver-blond at her side--and everyone else in the crowded ballroom--Joanna watched with horrified fascination as the dark-haired man walked away from the door to join a cluster of people nearby.
"Jo, what is it? Do you feel all right?" Diane Barringer looked at her friend and business partner in confusion. A strangling noise sounded directly in her ear, and it came from Joanna, who suddenly seemed frozen in place, her green eyes fixed on a point across the room. There was a look of abject fear on her usually poised face. "What did Dr. Jessop say about your check-up today?"
"The man in the brown suit standing next to Evan Hartford, who is he?" Joanna asked abruptly. She forced the words between clenched teeth, so they came out in a whispered hiss instead of her usual husky tone. There wasn't time to worry about her health right now.
Diane turned her head, then gave a short laugh. It was easy to locate the commanding gray-haired figure of the president of Hartford Consolidated--and host of the reception that Trent-Barringer had organized. A tall, dark-haired man in his early thirties stood next to him. "Relax, it's his nephew. I met him while you were out with the flu, just before you went to Nassau."
Nassau. The word sent a shiver of emotion skating up Joanna's spine. Ruthlessly suppressing the bone-melting image it brought to mind, she grasped her friend's arm, unconsciously exerting pressure with her tapered fingernails. "His name, what's his name?"
"Hey, take it easy. That's Nathan Hartford. Don't worry though, he's harmless. Tanned, gorgeous, and with the sexiest mustache I've ever seen, but harmless to our public relations business," Diane replied with another slight laugh, but she gave Joanna a curious look when she made another strange noise.
"That's what you think," Joanna replied, taking pride in her normal sounding voice. She'd managed to keep the scream at bay, but she wasn't sure for how long. "Diane, I'll be right back. I'm going to the ladies."
She turned and walked briskly away before Diane could ask any awkward questions, or her nervous stomach could embarrass her in front of a room full of strangers. As she skirted the side of the ballroom, she kept a wary eye on both the Hartford men. Nathan hadn't seen her, yet. She had to do some fast thinking before he did. He was smiling that heart stopping, slanted grin; she wondered what would happen to that grin if she told him about the phone call this afternoon.
Would he be as devastated as she had been? No, that was undoubtedly wishful thinking. She was nothing more than a pleasant holiday diversion to him, not someone who had haunted his dreams for the past two months. It was possible that he didn't remember her at all.
Potent danger. Joanna recalled the words that blazed across her mind the moment she'd first laid eyes on Nathan two months ago. She'd been napping on the float in the middle of the cove and opened her eyes to discover--
Shaking her head, she dismissed the tantalizing memory of his smoky gray eyes watching her with amused speculation.
She slapped her hand harder than necessary against the swinging door of the restroom. The lounge area was deserted. Her nausea had passed for now, and she sank gratefully onto the nearest mauve brocade vanity bench. Burying her face in her hands, she muttered dark invectives at herself, Nathan, the entire world. The day began a slow descent toward disaster with an innocent phone call, and now was close to rock bottom at Nathan's sudden appearance.
How many times have I wondered about his last name in the past two months? She answered the question with another groan. Looking into the wall length mirror, she knew her carefully arranged French plait should be stark white instead of brunette with reddish-blond highlights. Shock was supposed to do that. She'd classify the whole day as a shocker of the horror variety, Friday the Thirteenth, parts one through one hundred and ninety-nine.
"You decided after twenty-nine and a half years that you were tired of being too practical, too level-headed, and too responsible. You had to be carefree and spontaneous, didn't you?" She challenged her oval faced reflection, noting the paleness of her skin. It wasn't just the loss of her holiday tan. "You had to prove that by having a whirlwind, no-holds-barred holiday affair with a man whose last name you didn't even know. The same man who just walked in the ballroom, and judging from his last name, is one of the new owners of the company that's your biggest client."