by Penny Jordan
I can hardly believe that it is almost twenty years since I wrote my first Harlequin book. The thrill of having that book accepted and then seeing it on the bookshelves—being picked up and chosen by readers—is one I shall never forget.
Twenty years seems a long time. So much has happened during those years; so much has changed and yet so much remains the same. The changes that we have all seen within society are, I believe, reflected in the books we, as Harlequin authors, write. They mirror the changes that take place around us in our own and our readers’ lives. Our heroines have changed, matured, grown up, as indeed I have done myself. I cannot tell you how much pleasure it gives me to be able to write of mature—as well as young—women finding love. And, of course, love is something that has not changed. Love is still love and always will be, because love is, after all, an intrinsic, vital component of human happiness.
As I read through these books that are being reissued in this Collector’s Edition, they bring back for me many happy memories of the times when I wrote them, and I hope that my readers, too, will enjoy the same nostalgia and pleasure.
I wish you all very many hours of happy reading and lives blessed with love.
Back by Popular Demand
Penny Jordan is one of the world’s best loved as well as bestselling authors, and she was first published by Harlequin in 1981. The novel that launched her career was Falcon’s Prey, and since then she has gone on to write more than one hundred books. In this special collection, Harlequin is proud to bring back a selection of these highly sought after novels. With beautiful cover art created by artist Erica Just, this is a Collector’s Edition to cherish.
cover illustrator for the
Penny Jordan Collector’s Edition
Erica Just is an artist and illustrator working in various media, including watercolor, pen and ink, and textiles. Her studio is in Nottingham, England.
Her work is inspired by the natural forms, architecture and vibrant colors that she has experienced on her travels, most especially in Africa and India.
Erica has exhibited her work extensively in Great Britain and Europe and has works in private and public collections. As an illustrator she works for a number of companies and also lectures on textile design throughout the country.
Artwork copyright © Erica Just 1997
SHE must be getting old, Kelly thought tiredly as she snapped on the office lights. Time was when she had worked well into the evening and had still left the office with her batteries fully charged and her brain working on overdrive, but that had been when she had first started the agency off. Now that it was successful she was missing the challenge of those early days.
She sighed as she pressed the button for the lift. Her offices were in a prestigious block owned by one of the major insurance companies—clients of hers. The publicity work she had done for them had been so successful that she had been able to negotiate a very reasonable rent for the premises.
One of the reasons she had had to work late was that she had spent the morning with her accountant going over the figures for the company’s current trading year. Ian Carlisle had been full of praise and admiration. The company looked set to turn in a record profit. ‘And with the sound capital base it’s had right from the start, you’re in a very good position, Kelly,’ he had told her.
Ian worked for the firm who handled her grandfather’s affairs. He had been the one to shock her with the astounding news of her grandfather’s wealth, shortly after his death. To find herself an heiress at eighteen had come so totally out of the blue that it had taken her quite some time to come to terms with it. Kelly had never dreamed that the grandparents who had brought her up in the modest detached house just outside London had possessed such wealth, and with hindsight she doubted that even her grandmother had known of her husband’s predilection for the Stock Market, nor his astounding success.
At first Kelly had been too overwhelmed by the money to cope with the responsibility of it. It was only later—after Colin—that she had become possessed by the need to make the money work, to prove that women could be just as successful and astute as men.
So why was it that she felt so depressed? By rights she ought to be celebrating the company’s third birthday and its enviable success—not planning a lonely meal in her apartment followed by an early night after she had checked Sylvester’s figures for the Harding contract.
That success often equalled loneliness was something she was only just beginning to realise; but that was what she wanted, wasn’t it? Far better the hard-won fruits of success than the perils of emotional commitment—of relying on another human being. Since Colin she had not relied on anyone other than herself—and that was the way she wanted it, she told herself firmly.
Outside, the streets were empty of the rush hour traffic. Success meant that one could not work a mere nine-to-five day—but it had been worth it, Kelly assured herself, barely giving her reflection more than the merest fleeting glance as she glimpsed her slender trench-coated figure in the store window. Kelly’s was one of the most successful companies of its kind in the city, and Kelly herself had the reputation of being a genius where getting good publicity for her clients was concerned. Top-class advertising agencies vied with one another to work alongside her, and she knew without a trace of vanity that the company’s success was solely due to her own hard work and flair.
So why, tonight of all nights, was she in this oddly introspective mood? Why on earth was she questioning the quality of her life? The cost of total commitment to her career? She had made the choice, no one had forced her. After Colin she could simply have continued as she had done before; she was a wealthy young woman with no need to work. A form of therapy, Ian had once called it, and she wasn’t sure if he wasn’t right. And it had worked. So why was she feeling so restless? She was twenty-six; wealthy in her own right; commercially successful. She was attractive, intelligent, and had a close if small circle of friends. What on earth had she to feel restless about?
By the time she reached her apartment she had managed to throw off her earlier mood, and she unlocked her door with a small sigh of relief.
The apartment had been carefully chosen and decorated to reflect the image of the agency. The walls and carpet of the large living-room merged in matching softly grey blues; two large settees covered in off-white silk facing one another across a glass and stained-wood coffee table that matched the décor exactly, as did the silk-covered cushions heaped artfully on the off-white settees, in colours ranging from soft blue-grey to a rich deep azure. Kelly had employed the same firm of interior designers for the apartment as she had done for the office, and the result was a classical, if somewhat cold perfection. The apartment, as always, was impeccable. Kelly was lucky enough to have a first-class cleaner who came every morning to restore the apartment to its pristine splendour. Normally she enjoyed the cool remoteness of the living room with its gracefully modern Italian furniture, its ‘touch me not’ air of impeccability, but tonight, for some reason, it repelled her, and she found herself thinking instead of the house in Hampstead she had shared with Colin; of the bliss that had been hers for those few short months she had spent planning the décor—a décor far removed from the elegance of her apartment.
What was past was past, she told herself firmly as
she shrugged off her trench coat in her bedroom, hanging it up as she had been taught to do by her grandmother, who had been a stickler for tidiness. She remembered that Colin had mocked her for this habit—as he had done for so many things, only at the time she had been too blind to recognise the truth for what it was, and had thought he was simply teasing her.
The excellence of her plain navy pin-striped skirt and white silk blouse spoke for themselves. The silk clung treacherously to the curves of her breasts—too generous in Kelly’s opinion, and in the early days of the company she had had to freeze off the admiring looks of more than one client. Personally she thought her figure too voluptuous. Her waist was too narrow for the fullness of her breasts, her legs too long. If she had to find one word to describe her figure, that word would be ‘flamboyant’, Kelly acknowledged distastefully, and she always dressed in a style that minimised rather than maximised her curves. Her hair was long and dark, and she normally wore it in a neat chignon. She had always worn it long.
Her grandmother used to brush it for her every night, and once released from its constraining pins it had the texture and sheen of rich silk. She really ought to have it cut, she thought, slipping off her skirt and carefully returning it to its hanger, but wearing it up helped to add to her air of reserve, and this had been a useful weapon in establishing the company. Men never tended to take seriously women they were thinking of going to bed with rather than giving a business contract to, and Kelly had found out very quickly that her distant air, coupled with her formal clothes and severe hairstyle, helped to preserve the image she wished to maintain.
The day had tired her more than she had thought. She had little appetite and longed only to relax and go to bed, but first she had those figures to check. She always changed her clothes when she came home at night, never into the jeans and tops she had favoured in the days before Colin, but tonight for some reason something within her rebelled and instead of reaching for the plain dress she had been about to put on, Kelly found herself removing from her wardrobe a richly patterned silk kimono that one of her Japanese customers had sent her the previous Christmas.
The azure blue background enhanced the darkness of her skin and the sapphire depths of her eyes. Her skin was almost too pale—a result of not having had a holiday for too long, she thought ruefully as she tied the sash, and removed the light layer of make-up she had worn during the day, brushing her hair methodically before returning to the living room and curling up on the settee with the papers she had brought home with her.
She was deeply engrossed in the figures when her doorbell pealed. Frowning, she went across to the intercom in the hallway and asked crisply to know the name of her visitor.
‘It’s me, Kelly—Jeremy Benson.’
Kelly’s heart sank as she heard the familiar and, to her ears, faintly unpleasant drawl of her best friend’s husband’s voice. She had never liked Jeremy in the days when he and Sue were merely engaged, and her dislike had grown into loathing in the years that followed. Sue and Jeremy had been married for six years, and Kelly doubted that Jeremy had remained faithful to her friend for even one of them.
Sue and Kelly had been at school together. Sue was the closest friend she had, but ever since Jeremy had made it plain that he was sexually attracted to her, Kelly had found that she saw less and less of her friend, apart from brief shopping trips together, fitted in on Sue’s infrequent visits to London, when Jeremy could not accompany them.
That Jeremy knew how she felt about him, and still persisted in his blatant attempts to seduce her, infuriated Kelly all the more and only reinforced her opinion of men in general, which was that as far as the majority of them were concerned, despite Women’s Lib, and the much vaunted equality beloved of the newspapers, women were still things as opposed to people with equal rights, and that it was simply enough for a man to want and try to take, without having the slightest regard for the feelings, or lack of them, of the object of his wanting.
For Sue’s sake, she had not told Jeremy how much she despised him. He was a weak and vindictive man and over the years she had seen him gradually alienate Sue from all her old friends, so that she was entirely dependent on him emotionally, while he was free to pursue his flirtations and affairs. Sue never mentioned Jeremy’s failings to her, and Kelly genuinely believed that she was not aware of his real personality. She loved him, as she was constantly telling Kelly, and Kelly dreaded what would happen to her friend if she ever discovered the truth. Had she not had first-hand experience of the devastating effect such a discovery could have on a woman in love?
‘Come on, Kelly, don’t keep me waiting down here all night! I’ve got a message for you from Sue.’
It was on the top of Kelly’s tongue to tell him to simply give her the message and go, but she knew that, if she did, Jeremy would consider that he had scored against her. Jeremy was well aware of her aversion to him and, far from putting him off, it only seemed to increase his desire for her. If she refused to let him come up to the apartment he would goad her at a later date of being afraid to be alone with him: twisting the facts until it appeared that she was afraid to be alone with him because she desired him! Kelly knew quite well how his mind worked.
Her mouth twisting bitterly, she told him to come up.
His eyes widened appreciatively as she let him in, and as he bent forward to kiss her cheek, Kelly kept her body rigidly away from him.
He merely looked amused.
‘Still the same old frigid Kelly,’ he mocked. ‘What’s the matter? Afraid of what might happen between us if you really let go? No need to be, old girl.’
His manner, as always, set Kelly’s teeth on edge and she could feel her temper simmering just below boiling point as she poured him a drink and handed it to him before sitting down opposite him.
‘Fantastic place you’ve got here,’ Jeremy said appreciatively, glancing round the room. ‘Sue hasn’t the faintest idea about décor,’ he added disparagingly, ‘but then, of course, I suppose everything’s possible if one has the money.’
Two thrusts with one blow, Kelly thought acidly. First the criticism of her friend, and then the reminder that she had the wealth to buy good taste.
‘You said you had a message for me from Sue,’ she reminded him frostily.
‘Welcoming, aren’t you?’ Jeremy complained, adopting a hurt little boy air that irritated Kelly beyond bearing, although she knew it worked well with poor Sue. ‘We haven’t seen you in months and now you can’t wait to get rid of me.’
‘I’ve got some work to do.’ She indicated the pile of papers beside her. ‘What are you doing in town anyway?’
Jeremy was an accountant with his own practice in the New Forest, where they lived, and it was a constant bone of contention with him that Kelly wouldn’t transfer her business to his practice.
‘A business meeting,’ he told her. ‘And Sue suggested I call and see you. She wants to show off the new house and suggested you might like to come down for the weekend. She’s feeling a bit low at the moment, with the baby and everything.’
Was it Sue who wanted to show off the new house they had just bought, or Jeremy? Kelly wondered acidly, but the last part of Jeremy’s sentence reminded her that her friend had just lost a much wanted baby, and it smote her conscience that apart from a telephone call she had not spoken much to Sue since the tragic event.
‘What’s the matter?’ Jeremy asked, watching her craftily. ‘Don’t you fancy the idea? Or is it that you fancy it too much? There’s something about you, Kelly. It really turns me on; the high-powered woman image. Poor Sue can’t really hold a candle to you. She’s developing into a boring little hausfrau, I’m afraid, and all this fuss about the baby hasn’t helped.’
God, he really was callous and unfeeling! Kelly fumed, longing to tell him that in her opinion Sue was worth ten of him—at least. Part of her longed to refuse the invitation to refute his smug comments, but she valued her friendship with Sue and was suddenly conscious of the fact t
hat her friend probably needed her company badly right now. If she refused there was no telling how Jeremy might react. He was vain enough to poison Sue’s mind against her in the same way he had done with Sue’s other friends, and she could not retaliate by telling Sue the truth—especially not now when she was bound to be feeling particularly insecure.
‘I’ll come,’ she announced briefly, ‘but you really must leave now, Jeremy. I have to finish these figures tonight…’
She got up as she spoke, expecting him to follow her, but instead he reached up, caressing her hip, his gaze blatantly sexual as he stared at her body. A shudder of revulsion coursed through her, as Kelly pushed him away, her face taut with anger.
‘All right, I get the message, but there’ll be other times,’ Jeremy warned her. ‘No woman, even a women like you, can live the life of a nun for ever. See you at the weekend,’ he added mockingly as she opened the door for him.
When he had gone reaction caught up with her and Kelly sank down on to the settee, her face a tortured mask of hatred and pain. God, the arrogance of the male sex! She loathed Jeremy’s touch, and yet he assumed he had the God-given right to touch her, just because he wanted to!
Men! She despised them all! Frigid, Jeremy called her. Well, he was probably right. Colin had said much the same. Colin! She closed her eyes, unable to stop the shudders trembling through her. Dear God, would she never be able to forget?
She had met him just after her grandfather’s death. He had worked in the same office as Ian, as a trainee accountant. They had met when Ian told her about her unexpected inheritance. At first she had been so overcome by the unexpected news that she hadn’t even been able to think properly, and it was Colin who came running after her in the street with the umbrella she had left behind.