Risk versus return. What can be lost versus what can be gained. The
essence of every critical decision. Invest in those dependable
Treasury bonds yielding a slim but certain return, or throw caution
to the wind and snap up shares of the high-tech start-up that could
become next week's billion-dollar headline --- or, just as easily,
a bankrupt memory. Marry the safe, stable person your parents
adore, or run away with the lover who ignites body and soul with a
single glance --- but lives only in the moment. Risk versus return.
A simple concept that often imposes difficult choices. And,
sometimes, terrible consequences.
Angela Day had chosen well in her business career. It was in her
personal life where accepting the risks had proven
Until a few minutes ago the four-hour flight from Virginia had been
silky smooth. Zero chop in the dark winter sky, which came as a
relief because Angela hated to fly. So many times she'd heard the
catchy stat about planes being safer than cars --- usually from
amused colleagues sitting beside her when she made the sign of the
cross over her heart as the aircraft began to roll forward on
takeoff. But as the Gulfstream V banked hard left on its final
approach into Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and hurtled through a nasty
air pocket, the statistical crutch disintegrated --- just as it
"Get this thing on the ground," she whispered, her fingernails
digging into the arms of the plush leather seat, her stomach
starting to churn. "Now."
On the way west a uniformed steward had attended to her every want,
serving a delicious crab imperial dinner an hour into the flight
and constantly topping off her crystal glass with a dry Chardonnay.
She was accustomed to commercial aircraft and economy class,
accustomed to flat Coke in plastic cups, stale pretzels, and
uncomfortable seats beside infants who screamed at any change in
air pressure. So, being the only passenger on a private jet as
lavish as a five-star hotel suite was a welcome change, even if the
luxury was a one-time-only offer made available for some
as-yet-unexplained reason by a reclusive billionaire she'd only
read about in the press.
But the pleasurable experience had been ruined somewhere over South
Dakota, when one of the pilots had sauntered back to let her know
in his gravelly, Chuck Yeager monotone that the landing might get a
little dicey. A winter storm had blown in to northwest Wyoming a
few hours ahead of schedule, and he wanted to make certain she was
buckled in securely. He chuckled at her suggestion that he make a
U-turn and beeline it back to the East Coast, then told her he'd
see her on the ground. Hopefully in one piece, she thought. She
tried to convince herself that "a little dicey" wasn't pilot-speak
for "imminent disaster." Suddenly she missed economy class and its
screaming infants. She glanced out the small window beside her into
total darkness. Probably the side of some mountain we're about to
slam into, she figured grimly.
Then the plane's two engines powered up, landing lights flashed on,
and she was hurtling through a wall of white. "Oh, God," she
murmured, digging her fingernails even deeper into the leather. A
moment later, eerie blue lights appeared through the thick clouds
and a snow-covered runway rose up to meet the aircraft. A hard
bounce, a softer one, a deafening roar and they were taxiing
through a blizzard, apparently under control. She let out an
"Welcome to Wyoming, Ms. Day. I hope you enjoyed the flight."
Angela looked up into the smiling face of the clean-cut attendant
who had appeared from a door at the back of the cabin. "Thank you."
She thought about telling him the truth --- how she wished Orville
and Wilbur's mother and father had never met. "Everything was
"Good. Well, it's 11 p.m. here in Jackson Hole. We'll be taxiing
for a few minutes, and we'd like you to remain in your seat until
the plane comes to a complete stop."
"As opposed to a partial stop?" She grinned but he didn't react.
"You didn't really have to say all that stuff about me remaining in
my seat, did you? After all, I am the only passenger."
"Regulations are regulations," he answered firmly, handing her the
small makeup kit she had stowed in an overhead compartment. "The
rest of your luggage will be taken care of for you."
"Have you ever met Jake Lawrence?" she asked before the young man
He hesitated. "I can't say."
She smiled at him. "Does that mean you don't know if you've ever
met him? That you don't even know what Mr. Lawrence looks like? Or
that you know what he looks like, but you aren't allowed to talk
The young man smiled politely. "I can't say. I hope you enjoy your
time here in the Tetons."
Then the young man disappeared through the doorway at the back of
the cabin. Angela's favorite meal was crab imperial, accompanied by
dry Chardonnay. The movie on the way out --- Erin Brockovich ---
was one of her favorites. The books and magazines on board were her
favorites, as well. It was all too neatly packaged to be
"Sorry about the bumps on the way down, Ms. Day." The pi- lot
helped her slip into her long winter coat as she stood by the cock-
"I'm just glad we're on the ground," she said.
He opened the plane's outer door as a utility truck rolled a metal
stairway up to the fuselage. "Well, enjoy your stay."
"I'm sure I will."
A bearded man in orange overalls hustled up the steps toward
Angela, open umbrella tilted into the driving snow. "Welcome to
Jackson Hole, Ms. Day," he called loudly over the roar of the
idling jet engines, holding the umbrella above her head. "Careful,"
he warned, holding out his arm and helping her down the slick metal
stairs. "Over there," he directed when they reached the ground,
pointing toward a Ford Expedition that had swung out onto the icy
As they neared the SUV, he handed her the umbrella, then jogged
ahead and opened the passenger door. A moment later she was in-
side and the cold, wind, and exhaust smell were gone, replaced by
warmth and the soothing aromas of leather, tobacco, and
"Good evening, Ms. Day. Welcome to Jackson Hole."
Angela took a deep breath, then glanced over at the driver. He was
a big man wearing a ten-gallon hat and a leather jacket with a
thick wool collar. In the dim dashboard lights she thought she
detected friendly eyes. Beneath his full mustache there was a wide
"Is everyone out here always so darn polite?"
"Why wouldn't we be?" he answered as a baggage handler placed her
luggage in the back. "After all, this is paradise."
"Sure it is," she said, watching the snow whip past the
"Helluva night, huh?"
"Yes," she agreed, "especially when you'd rather crawl across hot
coals than fly." She hesitated. "And you can call me Angela. After
all the'Ms. Day this' and'Ms. Day that' on the way out here, I'm
starting to feel like an old maid."
The driver shook his head as he shifted into first gear. "I don't
think anybody's going to mistake you for an old maid."
He had a nice voice, she decided. Confident but not cocky. Strong
but not overwhelming. Soothing, almost. "What's that supposed to
"Nuthin'," he said, guiding the SUV out of the small airport and
onto a deserted main road already covered by two inches of fresh
powder. "I don't want to get into any hot water."
"Tell me what you meant. I'll have to mention your remark to Mr.
Lawrence if you don't."
"That wouldn't be very nice," he protested, picking up a coffee mug
sitting in the console between them and taking a swallow.
She grinned. "Oh, I'm only kidding." She searched for a place on
the dashboard to put her makeup kit down.
"Let me move all that for you." He put the mug back down, then
reached in front of her and slid two revolvers and several boxes of
ammunition out of her way.
"That's quite an arsenal you've got there."
"Hey, you never know what you're gonna run into in Wyoming.
Yellowstone's only thirty miles north of here and every once in a
while the grizzlies come down out of the park to see what's what. I
have no desire to end up bear chow. That's not how I picture myself
"Which would explain the .44 Magnum," she agreed, eyeing the larger
gun now resting on the dash in front of the steering wheel. "Even
though I assume most bears are hibernating, given that it's the
middle of February."
"Well --- "
"But what about the long-barreled .22?"
"You sure know your guns."
"I've had some experience."
"Interesting. Well, the .22's for rattlesnakes. And before you say
anything, no, there aren't any of them around this time of year,
either." He hesitated. "The guns are my security blanket, just in
"Just in case what?"
"Just in case."
She glanced over at him, trying to see beneath the brim of his
ten-gallon. "You didn't tell me your name."
"John Tucker," he answered, reaching across the console without
taking his eyes off the road. "Nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you, too." She could tell he was trying to be gentle,
but she still felt immense strength in his grip. "So, what did you
Tucker smiled. "You're like a dog on a bone, aren't you?"
"That's one way to put it." She'd never been accused of lacking
"Uh-oh. Now I've gone and done it."
"Tell me what you meant."
"Jesus, just that you're an attractive woman. At least, what I can
see of you. But saying something like that can get a man in a lot
of trouble these days."
"It won't get you in trouble with me," she assured him. "At my age
I welcome all compliments."
"Your age? I bet you aren't more than twenty-five, right?"
"Really?" Tucker pushed out his lower lip and raised his
"Does that surprise you?"
"A bit," he admitted.
"It shouldn't. Jake Lawrence is one of the wealthiest men in the
world. Would you really expect him to waste time on a business
meeting with someone who's just a few years out of college?"
Tucker took another sip of coffee. "Right," he murmured softly. "A
For a while Angela watched the snow falling in front of the
headlights. "Have you worked for Mr. Lawrence very long?" she
"Almost twenty years. I manage the working ranch where you'll be
"Yeah. We have about three thousand head of cattle here in
"How big is the ranch?"
"Four hundred thousand acres."
Angela whistled. "My God."
"And Mr. Lawrence won't ever see more than a small part of it from
the ground. Which is a shame, because some of the scenery is
spectacular. He's been all over it in a chopper, but you can't
really appreciate it from the air. You have to immerse yourself in
something to truly appreciate its beauty." Tucker shrugged. "But
Mr. Lawrence is a busy man. I suppose he doesn't have time for
Angela looked over at him again. "Are you from Wyoming, Mr.
"No. My father was in the military, so I moved around quite a bit
when I was young. I'm from a lot of places. And please call me
"I bet you don't have many women come out here on business, do you,
"More than you'd think," he said quietly.
"What did you say?"
"Oh, nothing. Just reminding myself of something I need to take
care of in the morning."
"Uh-huh." Angela relaxed into the seat. "So, what's the reclusive
Jake Lawrence really like?"
"Can't say," Tucker replied.
Almost as if he'd been coached, Angela thought. "What is it with
you people? Is everyone scared to death of him, or does he have all
of you drinking some kind of secret punch? Cherry Kool-Aid with a
"Mr. Lawrence protects his privacy. I respect
Angela unbuttoned her coat. It was warm inside the Expedition.
"He's worth more than most small countries, and I couldn't find a
picture of him anywhere. Not even on the Internet. He's been linked
romantically to some of the world's most beautiful women, travels
constantly, owns many companies, and probably has thousands of
employees. But no photo's ever surfaced. According to a couple of
Web sites I checked out, the National Enquirer is offering a
million-dollar reward for any credible photograph of him, but they
haven't had to pay out yet. I would think one of you would snap a
picture of him and get rich quick."
Tucker turned down the SUV's heat. "People are loyal to him."
"Loyalty usually fades at the prospect of collecting a million
"I don't know what to tell you."
"What does Mr. Lawrence look like?" she asked.
Tucker bit his lip.
"Have you ever seen him?"
Again, there was no answer.
She shook her head in disbelief. "You don't actually know what he
looks like, do you?"
Tucker's arm shot across Angela's chest, pinning her to the seat as
he slammed on the brakes. The tires grabbed the snow-covered road
for a moment, then the SUV began to slide. In the high beams a
hulking form materialized out of the storm, standing in the middle
of the road like a statue, mesmerized by the bright lights bearing
down on it.
Then the tires caught and the SUV skidded to a stop ten feet short
of the form.
"Is that an elk?" Angela asked, breathless.
"Yup. A big male."
"A male? But it doesn't have any antlers."
"The males lose their antlers every winter and grow new ones in the
spring. All deer species males do that. Antelope keep their antlers
"Then how do you know it's a male?"
"The shoulders. Look how broad they are."
"If you say so." After Tucker's arm slid from her body, Angela
reached around and buckled her seat belt. "Thanks for catching me."
"I should have reminded you to buckle up at the airport," he
apologized, dousing the headlights and leaning on the horn. When he
turned the lights back on thirty seconds later, the elk was gone,
the only proof of its presence a disturbed line in the snow leading
off into the darkness. "Like I said, you never know what you'll run
into out here."
She hadn't come close to hitting the dashboard or the windshield
despite the sudden stop. John Tucker was a powerful man. A few
minutes later they turned off the main road and the snowy surface
quickly gave way to clear, wet blacktop. "How is that possible?"
Angela asked, leaning forward and pointing at the pavement as they
approached a guard station. "Where's the snow?"
"Welcome to Jake Lawrence's world."
"What do you mean?"
"There are steam pipes buried beneath the road that prevent the
surface from freezing," he explained, slowing to a stop as he
waited for the guards inside the station to electronically open the
gate that spanned the roadway.
He nodded to one of the guards as they passed the station. "No, I'm
not. When your father is the original financial backer of the young
genius who invents the software running 90 percent of all the
personal computers in the world and leaves 40 percent of the
company to you when he dies, you can do just about anything you
want. No more worrying about the monthly mortgage. Instead of
looking for ways to save, you start looking for ways to
Several hundred yards past the guard station, the road turned
steep, snaking back and forth through a thick pine forest as it
climbed a mountain. Then bright lights appeared through the snow.
Moments later Tucker pulled the Expedition to a halt beneath the
porte cochere of the ranch's main lodge --- a four-story log
structure brightly illumi-nated by powerful spotlights affixed to
"Well, I hope you enjoy yourself here, Angela." Tucker held out his
hand as a man who had emerged from the lodge opened her door, then
retrieved her luggage from the back.
"Thank you." She took his hand, noticing this time how tough the
skin of his palm was. It was the palm of a man who worked hard for
a living. "Will I see you again?"
He shrugged. "Maybe. That's not up to me."
And then he leaned subtly toward her, and she knew what had
happened. The light from the lodge had caught her eyes just so,
giving him his first good look at them. She'd seen that same double
take many times before.
"Well, good night, Angela," he said quietly.
She stepped out of the Expedition and followed the attendant into
the lodge's foyer and down a long hallway into a huge room. The
massive area was sixty feet square beneath a twenty-five-foot-high
ceiling. The far wall was dominated by dramatic floor-to-ceiling
windows, and the other three split-log walls were covered with
stuffed animal heads, including those of several species not native
to North America.
"So he kills for sport," she murmured. The words echoed in the
stillness of the room.
As her words dissipated, a young woman wearing a maid uniform
appeared from a side doorway and took Angela's makeup kit.
"Oh, thank you."
"This way, Ms. Day," the young man called over his shoulder,
motioning toward a wide winding staircase that seemed to tumble
into a far corner of the room like a rocky waterfall.
But, as Angela took a deep breath and prepared to climb, the
attendant stopped beside the first step, pulled back a hinged
picture mounted on the wall, and pressed a button. Moments later,
he opened a door beside the button and ushered her and the maid
into a small elevator. When the elevator opened on the fourth
floor, he led Angela down another long hall to a cozy room
dominated by a queen-size sleigh bed that seemed to be calling her
name. It was almost midnight, which meant it was two o'clock in the
morning back East. She hadn't realized until now just how exhausted
"The bathroom is in there," the attendant explained, placing her
bag down on a stand beneath a window, then moving to the bathroom
doorway and flicking on a light. "If you need anything, simply pick
up the phone on the table by your bed and wait for the operator.
The kitchen is open twenty-four hours a day for your convenience,"
he said, moving back to the hall doorway. "Will there be anything
else?" "What about tomorrow?" she asked, watching the maid
disappear into the bathroom with her makeup kit, then reappear
empty-handed. The woman then moved to the bed and began turning
down the covers.
"What time should I be ready for Mr. Lawrence?"
"Your meeting with him is at three o'clock. We have instructions to
allow you to sleep until noon. If you wake up earlier, call us and
we'll serve you breakfast here or downstairs, whichever you
"Which do you suggest?"
"Downstairs. The view from the dining area off the great room is
"Unless it's still snowing."
"The storm should be past us by midmorning. It's moving
"How many other people are staying in the lodge tonight?" An-gela
"You are the only guest."
"I see." Somehow she wished there were at least a few other
occu-pants on the floor.
"Good night, Ms. Day," the attendant said, ushering the maid out
ahead of him.
When they were gone, Angela slid the deadbolt across the door, then
walked into the bathroom. After removing her clothes she stood
before the large mirror above the double sink, gazing at herself.
She was tired but she wanted to shower before curling up in the
sleigh bed. Flying always made her want to take a shower. It was as
if she needed to cleanse herself of the fear she'd endured.
She put her hands on the sink, and gazed at the face she had
inherited from her parents. The wavy, jet-black hair of her
Sicilian mother. The gold-specked green eyes of her Irish father
and the long, thick eyelashes of her mother. Her mother's full lips
below her father's thin nose. Her high cheekbones, slender face,
and delicate chin.
She leaned forward until her lips almost touched the mirror, trying
to be objective as she scanned her face for any signs of age lines
or wrinkles. There was nothing, but she knew it wouldn't be that
way for long. The physical signs of age were just around the
She took two steps back and rose to her full, five-foot-eight-inch
height. She was slim-waisted, and her thin upper body was dominated
by large, firm breasts. She pivoted, took one of her buttocks in
her fingers and squeezed. No dimples at all was an absolute
impossibility under this stress, but there weren't many, and none
at all when she stopped squeezing.
Her eyes focused on the tiny tattoo high on her hip. It was an
etching of a colorful butterfly, its yellow and orange wings no
more than an inch across. She'd gotten it near the end of her
second year at Duke, at her future husband's urging and despite her
own reluctance. He had taken her to a tiny parlor in downtown
Durham one Saturday himself, trying to convince her to have the
tattoo etched in a more prominent spot on her body as they'd driven
from his apartment. On her shoulder, he kept saying, so he could
see it when they went swimming or when she wore something
strapless. But she had refused. Ultimately, she was glad she had
kept the butterfly in a spot that even a skimpy bathing suit could
Angela ran her finger slowly across the butterfly's wings. Despite
everything that had happened, despite all the emotional pain she'd
endured because of him, she didn't regret getting it because it
reminded her of those times with him that had been good. So good.
The best she'd ever known.
She turned back around so she was facing the mirror. She might be
thirty-one, but by sticking religiously to a demanding exercise
regi-men and a healthy diet, she'd kept herself looking pretty
darned good. She leaned forward again and grimaced at the faint
stretch marks on her lower belly. They were small, almost
invisible, unless you knew they were there. But they were there,
all right. And they were impossible to get rid of. She shook her
head and moved toward the shower. Pregnancy had left an indelible
The man on the other side of the bathroom's two-way mirror eased
back in his chair and let out a long, slow breath as Angela Day
disappeared into the shower. The pictures of her he'd been provided
with a few hours ago hadn't done her justice. She was even prettier
with nothing left to the imagination, her body only inches from his
eyes. He ran his hands through his hair, still picturing the
butterfly tattoo. One way or another, he would get what he
As promised, the view from the small dining area off the great room
was spectacular. Less than a hundred yards from where Angela sat, a
deep gorge fell away from the lodge, and in the distance she could
see soaring peaks iced by a fresh layer of pristine snow. She
shielded her eyes as the early afternoon sun momentarily broke
through the storm's lingering clouds and a brilliant glare burst
upon the landscape.
"Let me fix that, Ms. Day." The same woman who had taken Angela's
breakfast order a few minutes ago closed the blinds over the window
beside the table.
Angela watched as the woman freshened her cup with more of the
delicious Brazilian blend, thinking about how easily she could get
used to this life. After her midnight shower she'd slipped between
the flannel sheets and fallen asleep right away. Next thing she'd
known, it was nine o'clock in the morning. She'd tried to get up
but the sheets had seemed to pull her back onto the comfortable
mattress, and she'd fallen asleep again. Just before eleven she'd
been able to get her feet to the floor, take another shower, and
dress for her three o'clock appointment with Jake Lawrence. Now it
was almost one, and the anticipation of meeting one of the world's
wealthiest men was intensifying.
When the woman was gone, an elderly black man shuffled into the
dining room carrying a tray ladened with plates. After setting the
tray down on a highboy along one wall, he moved to the table and
picked up the white linen napkin folded before her, preparing to
place it in her lap.
"You don't need to do that." Angela caught his hand. "Let me have
"I really don't mind."
"No," she said firmly, slipping the linen from his fingers.
"As you wish." He moved back to the highboy and returned a moment
later with a plate of blueberry pancakes and a small pitcher of
maple syrup. His second trip from the highboy brought scrambled
eggs and bacon, and the third a bowl of fresh fruit and a basket of
warm biscuits. "Would you like anything else?" he asked with a wide
"No, thank you. God, I'll explode if I make it through even half of
The man picked up Angela's fork and handed it to her.
She shook her head. "Please don't --- "
"I'm not bitter, Ms. Day," he said. "So don't you feel guilty. It
doesn't do anybody any good."
Angela looked up. "What do you mean?"
"If I were white, would you have allowed me to put the napkin in
She hesitated. "No."
He nodded slowly. "Well, don't hesitate to ring me if you need
anything," he instructed, tapping a small bell on a far corner of
the table as he headed back toward the kitchen.
Angela looked up to see John Tucker standing in the doorway of the
great room, pulling off dusty leather work gloves. She rolled her
eyes, embarrassed by the forkful of blueberry pancakes she'd just
put in her mouth and the strip of bacon she was holding.
"How in the world do you keep that slim figure of yours eating
pancakes and bacon?" he wanted to know, sitting in the chair
opposite hers and shaking his head as he surveyed the food. "Taking
Mr. Lawrence up on his generosity, I see."
"This is a rare treat for me, I assure you." She'd been right last
night in the SUV. Tucker did have friendly eyes. And in the light
of day she could see a hint of mischief in them as well. "I usually
start the day with half a bowl of oatmeal and two egg whites but,
given all of the luxury around me, I decided to make an
"I'll bet you don't eat your first meal of the day at one in the
after-noon very often either." Tucker dropped his gloves and his
grimy tan ten-gallon down on the white tablecloth. "I heard they
were about to send someone up to your room to wake you."
"Someone?" Angela asked coyly.
She'd thought about Tucker while getting dressed this morning,
hoping this might happen. He would never grace the cover of GQ
magazine, but he was attractive in a rugged way. He had wavy, dirty
blond hair that fell to the bottom of the wool collar of the
leather jacket he'd been wearing last night. His eyes were large
and brown, and his face was broad and ruddy beneath a three-day
growth of stubble --- a hint of gray rippling through the whiskers
on his chin. He was a big man, too. Six three, she guessed, with
wide shoulders and thick-fingered hands. He appeared to be in his
midthirties, but she wasn't sure. Maybe he was older if he'd been
Jake Lawrence's employee for twenty years.
Tucker had a natural swagger about him she liked, too. He'd am-bled
into the room with one hand in the back pocket of his jeans, pulled
the chair out with the toe of his muddy boot, and sat down like he
owned the place. It was a swagger that told her he was confident he
could handle whatever came his way. A swagger she was drawn to, as
she had been drawn to another man's once before.
"Yeah, someone," he repeated with a slight smile.
"Sure, cowboy," she said quietly so the help wouldn't hear, slowly
raising one long, thin eyebrow at him. "I bet you wouldn't mind
finding out what I wear to bed." It was a forward thing for her to
say, but she already felt very comfortable with him, as if they'd
known each other for a long time. She prided herself on being a
quick and accurate judge of character, and he seemed honest and
sincere. A man who wore his heart on his sleeve. "Come on. Tell me
He tried to hold back, but then chuckled and looked down. "No, I'm
sure I wouldn't. But I'm not allowed upstairs without an
"I thought you ran this place."
"I run the ranch, but not the lodge. The lodge manager is very
careful about all that. Particularly with female guests."
"Oh," she said, thinking back on how the maid had appeared last
night and accompanied her to the room with the male
Tucker dug into the basket of biscuits, grabbed one, and polished
off half of it in a single bite. "So, how'd you sleep?" he asked
through the mouthful.
"Like a baby. It's been a while since I slept eleven hours in one
night. Usually I get six or seven. But it was as if someone had
glued my eyelids shut."
"Happens to people all the time when they visit from back east.
It's the elevation," he explained, shoving the rest of the biscuit
into his mouth. "And all that wine you drank on the plane."
"I didn't drink that much. And, anyway, how would you know?"
"I have my sources."
"Well, it was the flight attendant's fault. He kept refilling my
glass and thank God he did, because if he hadn't, I might not have
survived the landing. It felt like I was on the space shuttle and
we were re-entering the earth's atmosphere." She watched Tucker
rummage through the bacon. "Do you treat everything as tenderly as
you do your food?"
"Most of the time," he answered, finding a large, particularly
crisp piece. He smiled suggestively. "But I can get rough when I
"I'll bet." Something caught her eye and Angela leaned across the
table to get a better look. "How'd you get that?" she asked,
touching a long scar on the back of his wrist.
"I was wrassling a stray steer a few years ago," Tucker explained,
holding up his hand. "I've got this thing by the neck and all of a
sudden he turns and gores me."
"Jesus," Angela whispered.
Tucker chuckled. "I was the lucky one."
"What do you mean?"
"Cow killed the horse."
Angela shook her head as she reached for the fruit, filling a small
bowl with wedges of fresh melon. "So what are you doing here? Why
aren't you out roping steers?"
"Well, I --- "
"Couldn't wait to see me again?" she interrupted. "Even if you
couldn't come upstairs to wake me."
Tucker slowly wiped biscuit crumbs from his mustache with the back
of his hand. "That's a nice dress you've got on, Ms. Day," he said,
avoiding her question. "Ver y chic. I'm sure Mr. Lawrence would
"Thank you," she said, impressed that he'd noticed. He didn't seem
like the type who would. "I bought it especially for the
"It's nice, all right," he continued, "but you're gonna have to
"Your meeting with Mr. Lawrence is at the ranch's upper cabin, and
there's only one way up to it other than by helicopter, which we
"Horseback. And that dress would make the ride mighty
uncomfortable, maybe even dangerous."
"I'm not getting on a horse," she said flatly. "No way."
Tucker shrugged. "Suit yourself. But if you don't, you won't be
meeting Mr. Lawrence."
An hour later, Tucker hauled himself up into a Western saddle
strapped to the back of a huge black stallion, then leaned down and
held out his hand. "Put your left foot in the stirrup and take my
arm," he ordered. "And swing your right leg over the horse's ass on
the way up."
"Lord," Angela murmured, careful to avoid the butt end of a rifle
protruding from a saddle holster. Then she was behind Tucker and
they were moving ahead when he dug his heels into the animal's
flanks. Instinctively, she grabbed his wide shoulders. "This is no
fun," she called nervously, swaying from side to side.
"What's your problem?" he asked with a smile, guiding the animal
away from the lodge and out over an open field of pristine
"I've never been on a horse before," she admitted, resting her face
on his broad back. Again she became aware of that soothing leather
smell. "It seems higher when you're up here than it does from the
He laughed loudly. "You'll be all right. Just make sure you throw
yourself clear if we go down."
"I'm only kidding. We'll be fine."
"Hey!" she yelled.
Angela pointed at two men near one corner of the lodge who had just
pulled up in snowmobiles. "I thought you said there was only one
way to get around without a helicopter."
"Snowmobiles wouldn't do us any good."
Soon the open field stretching away from the lodge was behind them
and the horse was climbing a trail that twisted through the thick
pine forest covering the mountain. The trail grew steadily steeper
and the trees sparser until they broke into the open. Then the
trail quickly turned into a narrow, rocky path that seemed barely
etched into the side of a vertical wall.
The view from the private dining room had been nothing com-pared to
this. To her left Angela could reach out and touch the rock face
soaring above them --- it made her dizzy when she looked up. To her
right, the mountain fell five hundred feet straight down to the
bottom of a canyon. Her heart rose into her throat once when the
horse stumbled going over a large stone, but Tucker skillfully
brought the stallion back under control. Now she understood why a
snowmobile wasn't an option. It wouldn't have been able to
negotiate this stretch of the trip.
As they moved ahead she watched her breath rise in front of her.
She was glad Tucker had ordered her back up to her room to change
into the clothes a maid had scrounged up for her at the last minute
--- jeans, a wool sweater, a ski jacket, warm socks, and insulated
boots. The sky had turned overcast again, and it was windy and much
colder up here.
"So what do you wear to bed?" Tucker called over his shoulder when
the path widened and became less treacherous.
She'd been lost in thought, enjoying the view despite the danger.
It was as if they were on top of the world. "Depends," she
answered, playfully tilting his ten-gallon forward.
"On what?" he asked, pushing the brim back up.
"I'll let you figure that out."
Tucker sighed, then laughed. "You're killing me, Angela."
"Where did you fly in from?" he asked.
"Is that where you're from?"
"No. I grew up in North Carolina, near Asheville. That's in the
western part of the state."
"How'd you end up in Richmond?"
The series of events that had led her to Virginia flashed through
her mind. "A man," she answered curtly.
"I'm not one to muck around where I'm not wanted, but it doesn't
sound like this guy ended up being your knight in shining
"No, he didn't, and I like your rule about not mucking around where
you aren't wanted." She hesitated. One reason she'd hoped to see
Tucker again was to have the opportunity to ask him this
"Why were you so skeptical last night about my meeting with Mr.
Lawrence being legit?"
"What are you talking about?" he asked innocently.
"Come on, John. I heard that sarcastic comment you muttered under
your breath when we were driving from the airport to the ranch. You
thought I didn't, but I did."
He didn't answer for a moment. "Look, Mr. Lawrence is one of the
world's most eligible bachelors, and he likes the company of
attractive young women. I'm not violating any deep dark secrets
here. I've made this trip to the cabin before with a woman behind
Angela's pulse quickened and her cheeks began to burn. Though he
had provided few details, her boss in Richmond had promised that
this meeting was on the up-and-up, and that it could prove to be a
tremendous opportunity for the bank and for her personally. "I
assure you that's not what's going on here," she said stiffly.
Ahead Angela sawthat the mountain was flattening out into a high
meadow ringed by rock ledges. At the far end of the meadow was a
small cabin, and beside it a helicopter, blades still slowly
rotating. "I'm not that kind of woman, and I resent your assuming
that I am." "Then I sincerely apologize."
Angela noticed several men milling around the front of the cabin.
Most of them carried rifles slung over their shoulders, barrels
pointing to the sky. "Apology tentatively accepted."
Tucker pulled back on the reins. They were still fifty yards from
the cabin, but one of the men was trudging through the snow toward
them. "Be careful, Angela," Tucker warned, his tone turning
serious. "Jake Lawrence is a powerful man. He's used to getting his
"I can handle myself."
"You're late, John," the man called out in a heavy British
"It's wonderful to see you, too, Billy boy," Tucker replied. "This
guy's a real prick," he muttered over his shoulder.
"Ms. Day, I'm William Colby," the man announced as he neared them,
looking past Tucker. "Please get down from the horse. We're be-hind
Colby had closely set eyes, and a wide, hooked nose that seemed out
of place on his thin face. He was completely bald. Unlike the other
men milling about the cabin, he wasn't wearing a blue knit ski cap
--- or shouldering a gun.
"He's Secret Service via Scotland Yard," Tucker whispered. "Very
British, very stuffy, and very --- "
"Very efficient," Colby finished, his aristocratic accent knifing
through the cold air. "I'm very good at what I do, Ms. Day, which
is why I run global security for Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Tucker runs a
"Confident chap, wouldn't you say?" Tucker grunted, helping Angela
slide down from the horse.
She nodded subtly at Tucker from the ground. But, despite his
slight build, there was an unmistakable aura of competence about
Colby. A sense of purpose.
"Please take ten paces toward the cabin, Ms. Day," Colby ordered,
signaling to one of his men.
"There's no need for all of that," Tucker assured Colby, swinging
his right leg over the horse and dropping down into the snow.
"She's clean. I checked."
"Stop right there, Ms. Day," Colby demanded as Angela completed her
Angela stopped and waited as the man Colby had motioned to pulled
the weapon from his shoulder, handed it to another man, and jogged
"Hands behind your head and spread your legs," the guard or-dered
Tucker rolled his eyes. "Billy, don't --- "
"Do as you are told, Ms. Day," Colby directed, cutting Tucker off.
When Angela complied, the guard frisked her, starting with her
shoulders then moving down her arms.
Tucker shook his head. "You're an asshole, Billy."
"And you are a cowboy, Johnny," Colby retorted. "But we each have a
job to do. So I won't tell you how to shovel pig slop, and you
won't tell me how to protect Mr. Lawrence." The man frisking Angela
had halted his search and Colby pointed at him. "Finish!"
"Easy," Angela warned when the man squatted in front of her.
"Dammit!" she shouted, stepping back quickly when he placed his
hands on her knees, then began moving them up her inner
"She's not carrying a weapon, sir," the man reported to
"All right," he acknowledged. "Please proceed to the cabin, Ms.
Day. Mr. Lawrence is waiting for you inside."
"Who's responsible for getting her back down the mountain?" Tucker
wanted to know.
"You are," Colby snapped.
"Can't you give her a ride to the airport in the chopper, Billy?
I'll have somebody from the lodge take her luggage out
"We aren't going directly to the airport when Mr. Lawrence is
finished with Ms. Day."
"I'm waiting inside, then."
"You'll wait out here," Colby declared, "where I can keep an eye an
Tucker let out a frustrated breath. "Then I suppose I'll have to
re-sort to other means of warmth." He pulled a flask from a saddle
bag, unscrewed the top, and brought it to his lips.
"Go on, Ms. Day," Colby ordered, watching Tucker take several
healthy gulps from the flask.
"I'll be here," Tucker called after her, wiping his mouth with the
sleeve of his jacket. "Don't worry."
Angela followed the man who had frisked her to the cabin, then
skirted around him as he held open the door and gestured for her to
proceed. The door closed behind her and for a moment she could see
little as her eyes adjusted to the dim light. Despite the overcast
sky, it had been bright outside with the snow cover, and the only
light inside the cabin came from the glow of a low fire.
"Hello, Ms. Day."
Angela's eyes flashed in the direction of the voice. She could
barely discern the outline of someone sitting in a large chair in a
corner of the room away from the fireplace.
"I'm Jake Lawrence." The figure stood up and came toward her out of
the darkness. "Let me help you off with your coat. You'll melt in
here if you keep it on."
He was right. It was warm inside the cabin. Very warm. She'd
noticed the heat as soon as she'd stepped through the door. Her
thoughts flashed to Tucker's cynical view of this meeting. Perhaps
there was a reason the room was so warm.
"It's nice to meet you," Lawrence continued, taking her hand.
Lawrence's hand was as smooth as Tucker's had been rough. "It's an
honor to meet you, Mr. Lawrence."
"I appreciate your coming all the way out here from the East Coast
on such short notice, Ms. Day. I know it was inconvenient, but this
arrangement worked out best for me. And I wanted to get together
with you as soon as possible. So, thank you."
"Certainly," she replied. She'd promised herself she wouldn't
beimpressed with Jake Lawrence, but now, in his presence, she found
it difficult not to be in awe of him. He was one of the wealthiest
and most powerful men in the world. Earning interest on interest
faster than he could spend it, and influencing the decisions of
world leaders from behind the scenes. She'd grown up digging for
nickels and dimes be-neath the cushions of the double-wide's ratty
sofa. "I appreciate all the hospitality your staff has shown me,
especially John Tucker's." She felt Lawrence's hand subtly contract
around hers at the mention of Tucker's name. "I like John," she
continued. "He's one of those people you trust right away, you
"John is a good man," Lawrence agreed quietly, his demeanor
chilling slightly. "A dedicated employee."
"I have to tell you I was nervous coming up here on horseback,
particularly when we got to the narrow part of the trail. But it
was no problem for John. I get the feeling he could handle almost
"Yes," Lawrence cut in curtly, "we are fortunate to have a man like
Mr. Tucker managing the ranch."
For a moment there was no sound in the room except the crackle of
Angela cleared her throat. "Well, I just want you to know that I've
been treated like a princess since boarding your plane in Richmond
yesterday," Angela said.
"Standard operating procedure." Lawrence slowly allowed her fingers
to slip from his. "Especially for a creature as lovely as
"Thank you," she murmured self-consciously, glancing up. Lawrence
was about the same height as Tucker, but he was slimmer, so he
seemed taller. Instead of a flannel shirt, dusty wool-collared
jacket, frayed jeans, and muddy boots, Lawrence wore a stylish
white turtle-neck sweater, pressed, pleated pants, spit-shined
brown boots, and a sharp, fawn-colored Stetson. His face was
intricately sculpted and, when he smiled, small lines formed at the
corners of his mouth and a distinct dimple appeared in each cheek.
His smile was warm, but his dark, dead eyes were decidedly not.
Though she didn't get a long look at them, she saw instantly in the
large black pupils that he was a man who expected immediate
compliance with his orders, was accustomed to and comfortable with
wielding power, and had little tolerance for opposing opinions. She
found herself pulling down the zipper of the borrowed jacket. He
was used to getting his way, Tucker had warned.
"Let me take that for you," Lawrence offered, slipping the jacket
off her arms from behind. "If you don't mind, please remove those
wet boots, as well." He hung up her coat in a nearby closet. "Leave
them by the door," he suggested, returning to his chair.
She slipped out of the boots, then followed his gesture and padded
to a couch along the wall near his chair.
"Have some coffee," Lawrence offered, nodding at the pot and cups
arranged on a long, low table in front of the couch.
"Thanks. I will." She poured herself a cup, then sat back. After
the cold ride up the mountain, the coffee tasted delicious.
"I'm sorry if Bill Colby and his deputies offended you in any way.
I asked him not to put you through the standard inspection routine,
but he's very thorough."
"Thorough would certainly be an accurate description," Angela
"The thing is I have to be very careful," Lawrence explained, his
voice measured. "You must understand my situation. It's difficult
for me to trust anyone. There are people who, for various reasons,
wouldn't mind seeing me dead."
"I'm sure you're safe here with that personal army of yours camped
"I'm never completely safe, Ms. Day."
It sounded paranoid but maybe when you had more money than God ---
as the Wall Street Journal had once described his
multibillion-dollar net worth --- there really was such danger. "Of
course, all that money allows you to own a place like this."
"Money does provide me certain luxuries others don't enjoy,"
Lawrence replied evenly.
For the first time Angela thought she detected irritation in his
voice, and it occurred to her that few people probably ever
challengedJake Lawrence. After all, what would be the point? There
could be no upside in making an enemy of him. Perhaps now wasn't
the time to let her trailer park bitterness rear its ugly head. Or
allow her penchant for putting a poor little rich boy in his place
boil to the surface either. "I'm sure you deal with circumstances
and pressures I could never under-stand, Mr. Lawrence."
"There's nothing I can't handle." He waved, as though swat-ting at
a fly. "But enough about me," he said. "Let me hear about your
Angela ran her tongue along her upper lip. She'd noticed a strange
flavor to the coffee, not an unpleasant taste, but one she didn't
recognize. She glanced over into Lawrence's dark eyes, barely
visible beneath the brim of his Stetson. She was thinking again
about Tucker's inference that this wasn't a legitimate business
meeting. That Lawrence had other motivations.
"Something wrong?" Lawrence asked, watching Angela place the cup
down on the table.
Lawrence grinned. "It's Irish whiskey. My staff knows that I always
take Irish whiskey in my coffee. I should have warned you."
"No, no, it tastes good." A remote cabin. Heat turned way up.
Whiskey in the coffee. An army of men outside. John Tucker had
known Lawrence for twenty years. How could she have doubted his
judgment? She crossed her arms tightly over her chest. Well, if
that's what Jake Lawrence has in mind, he's going to be very
"Please tell me about yourself, Ms. Day."
"Do you mind explaining why I'm here?"
"We'll get to all of that," he assured her. "But I want to hear
about you first."
At eight thousand feet even this small amount of alcohol in the
coffee was affecting her. She could feel it seeping into her
system. "I'm a vice president at Sumter Bank, which is
headquartered in Richmond, Virginia," she began. "I make loans to
Old Economy manufacturing and retail companies mostly in Georgia
and Alabama. That's my territory, so I travel down there quite a
bit. Sumter isn't as big as the New York banks but, with thirty
billion in assets, we're not small either. We certainly wouldn't
have been able to get that big just making loans to companies in
Virginia. I've been with the bank for almost six years, and in my
current position for four." She watched Lawrence pick up a glass
resting on a small table beside his chair. "But you already know
all of that."
He froze, the glass just short of his lips. "What do you
"A man like you wouldn't fly a nobody like me across the country
without a purpose. And purpose implies a certain level of
"You're starting to sound more like a lawyer than a banker, Ms.
"The flight out here was obviously arranged with me in mind. Crab
imperial for dinner, Erin Brockovich for me to watch, the books,
the magazines: all my favorites. Same with my room at the lodge: my
favorite shampoo, my favorite soap, little Brach's peppermint
candies by my bed instead of the standard hotel chocolates. You
researched me. Candidly, it was a little unnerving."
"Of course I researched you," he answered. "Actually, it was a
woman on my staff who did all the legwork," he admitted. "She
pre-pares me for all my meetings. Preparation is one of the most
important success drivers. Wars are won or lost before they're ever
fought, and the deciding factor is always preparation."
"I didn't know we were talking about war."
"Don't kid yourself," he replied quickly, nodding at the door.
"Every day there's an economic war going on out there. Everybody is
constantly battling for their piece of the pie."
"Yes, and some people have bigger forks."
Lawrence smiled. "Keep taking me through your background, Ms. Day.
You said you worked for Sumter Bank in Richmond."
"Yes, a bank you own 8 percent of, Mr. Lawrence. Which, I have to
believe, has something to do with why I'm here." She saw that he
was about to speak up. "I checked Free Edgar and the 13-d filings,"
she explained, anticipating his question. "The 13-d is the report
that requires investors like you to inform the Securities and
Exchange Commissionthat he or she has acquired 5 percent or more of
a public company. There were a couple on file. You're up from
owning 6 percent of Sumter two months ago." She shook her head. "I
did a rough calculation. As near as I can tell, you've got about
$450 million tied up in Sumter stock."
"Actually, it's closer to $490 million. Almost five hundred."
"Wow." Angela couldn't help reacting aloud. It wasn't just the
amount of the investment that impressed her. It was the fact that
Lawrence would invest that much in one stock. She assumed his
financial advisors would keep him widely diversified, so even the
liquid portion of his net worth had to be huge if he could devote
almost half a billion dollars to a single investment. Even if he
was using margin.
"I've spent $490 million so far," he continued, "but you are
correct in that my investment is only worth $450 million. The stock
has dropped a few points over the last couple of months, even as
I've been buying. Usually, the price of a stock rises as word gets
out that I'm accumulating. The press calls it the 'Lawrence
Effect.' My in-vestment bankers are curious about why the Lawrence
Effect isn't kicking in this time. I always said hell would freeze
over the day an in-vestment banker didn't have an explanation for
something. Maybe it has. I don't know. I hope I never find out. But
I do know I'm down $40 million."
Down forty million. The amount was mind-boggling.
"I don't like losses, Ms. Day. In fact, I hate them. Even small
ones like forty million."
"Do you mind if I ask why you're so interested in Sumter
"Not at all. Sumter has a strong market position in the Southeast,
and the Southeast is one of the fastest-growing regions of the
country. Its earnings, and therefore its share price, have a lot of
room on the upside."
"But Sumter's shares already trade at almost two times book value,
even with the recent decline in the stock price you mentioned.
Isn't that pretty good for a bank? I mean, it's not as if we're
going to discover a cure for cancer or invent the next white-hot
wireless device. When you get right down to it, bank stocks are
"You have your opinion," he replied stonily, "and I have
Angela cleared her throat, realizing how arrogant she must have
sounded. Jake Lawrence and his people were probably in and out of
world stock markets on a minute-by-minute basis, trading millions
of dollars worth of securities every day. She executed a couple of
transactions a year in her tiny portfolio. "I'm sorry, Mr.
Lawrence. I --- "
"Don't ever be sorry, Ms. Day. It's a certain sign of
She looked up and saw that he was smiling.
Excerpted from SILENT PARTNER © Copyright 2005 by Stephen
Frey. Reprinted with permission by Fawcett Books, a division of
Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.