"Mama, where do babies come from?"
Faith stopped in her tracks on her way across the spacious old kitchen. Her gaze shot first to her daughter, Lindy, who sat on the floor pretending to feed her doll from a toy baby's bottle, then lifted skyward. "Couldn't she have waited another year ortwo?" she whispered urgently.
Lindy looked up at her expectantly, her warm brown eyes shining with love and trust.
Faith tugged a hand through her mop of curls, a gesture of frustration that only added to their disarray. Loose spirals of dark honey-blond shot through with tints of red tumbled across her forehead. She blew at them as she searched frantically for ananswer that would satisfy a four-year-old's natural curiosity. In some distant part of the house a doorbell chimed.
Smiling lovingly at her daughter, Faith breathed a huge sigh of relief. "I have to get the door, sweetie."
Lindy had already lost interest in the conversation. She was all wrapped up in putting her doll to bed in the little toy cradle Mr. Fitz had found for her in one of the attics. Faith started for the front of the house, trying to determine which of thedoorbells was ringing.
The house she had purchased to renovate and open as a bed-and-breakfast inn was actually a complex of several houses. The builder, an eccentric sea captain named Argyle Dugan, had added one house onto another over the years as his fortune from his shippingbusiness had increased. The end result after fifty-some years of work was an architectural monstrosity.
The main building was a three-story Victorian mansion, complete with a widow's walk. The front side of the house was graced with a large porch and ornately carved double doors flanked by etched glass panels. These were the doors Faith went toward, followingthe impatient sound of the bell.
Who could be in such an all-fired hurry, she wondered. It had to be a tourist. No one from Anastasia would be that anxious about anything. She swung back one of the heavy doors, and everything inside her went still.
Elegance was the first word that came to her mind. The man standing on her porch seemed to radiate it. Odd, she thought, because he wasn't dressed in formal attire. He wore black trousers and a dark gray shirt with a black tie. His long gray raincoat hungopen, the collar turned up against the brisk wind coming in off the ocean. Still, as he stood there in the late afternoon gloom, with the fog bank for a backdrop, there was a sense of elegance about him. Elegance and danger.
Faith's gaze darted nervously to the suitcase on the floor of the porch, then back up a good six feet to the man's face. He was handsome. No one could have argued that fact. His was a lean, angular face with high cheekbones, a bold straight nose, and palegray eyes that stared down at her with wary disdain. There was something of the arrogant aristocrat in his looks, and something that wasn't quite civilized in his cool silver eyes. The wind ruffled his night black hair, which was cut short on the sides--forpracticality rather than fashion, she guessed.
He looked like a no-nonsense sort. A no-nonsense sort with no sense of humor. "I'm sorry," Faith said at last, a thin nervous tremor in her voice. The fingers of her right hand automatically went to the necklace at her throat, sliding the heart medallion back and forth. "We won't be open for business for a few more days. I can giveyou directions to--"
"Are you Faith Gerrard?" His low voice made her think of whiskey and smoke and rumpled sheets.
"Kincaid," she corrected him, swallowing hard. Heaven help her, the man had a bedroom voice. Tingles raced over her skin like hedonistic fingers. She felt as if his voice had reached out and touched her intimately. Knock it off, Faith, she told herself,this is no time to fall into a romantic fantasy. "Umm--Faith Kincaid. Yes, I am."
He reached into an inside pocket of his overcoat and extracted what looked to Faith like a wallet, but when he flipped it open, there was a gold shield inside, as well as an identification card. His photograph frowned out at her with the kind of broodingquality that made GQ models rich.
"Shane Callan. The Justice Department sent me."
"Ah." Faith nodded, one hand gripping the door for support as her knees quivered. In spite of his heart-stopping looks, she should have recognized the glower. The people she had encountered in her dealings with the Justice Department had all been similarlyhumorless. With good reason, she supposed. Well, Mr. Callan's humor wasn't likely to improve when he heard what she had to say.
Outwardly she appeared calm and collected. She even managed a perfectly pleasant smile. She had learned that kind of control as a tool of self-preservation during her marriage to Senator William Gerrard. In truth her heart was racing and her hands wereclammy. Just do it, Faith, she told herself as nerves scrambled around inside her stomach like crabs on the beach.
"I told Mr. Banks it wasn't necessary to send you." The words came tumbling out of her mouth, defying punctuation. "I'm sorry you came all this way for nothing, Mr. Callan. You'll find a hotel in Anastasia. Good day."
Shane stared in disbelief at the door that had just been shut in his face. This wasn't quite the greeting he had imagined receiving from Senator Gerrard's ex-wife. But then, he admitted, he hadn't imagined the senator's ex-wife would be running aroundin a worn-out Notre Dame sweatshirt and faded old jeans that lovingly molded her curvy little figure either.
He could easily call to mind every detail of the photographs he had casually glanced at when going through her file. Silk and mink. Hundred-dollar hairstyles and flawless makeup. The woman who had answered the door had looked more like a maid than theowner of the Keepsake Inn.
Pretty, he noted, then stubbornly ignored the sweet ache of physical attraction. It didn't make a bit of difference to him that she had the kind of feminine appeal that made the average man's blood heat to the boiling point. His blood was only just simmering,and he was in complete control of it.
Faith Gerrard, or Kincaid, or whatever the hell she wanted to call herself, was no woman to get tangled up with. Senator Gerrard had found her angelic expression and sparkling dark eyes irresistible too. Now the senator was under indictment for bribery,racketeering, and conspiracy to defraud the federal government, and Faith was lolling her days away under protection of the Justice Department--probably because she had cut some kind of deal for herself.
He punched the doorbell again, irritation rubbing against his raw nerve endings. He didn't need this. He didn't need this wimpy assignment, didn't need the headache a woman like Faith was bound to inspire. But orders--no matter how distasteful--were orders.Banks had sent him there to do a job. No delectable little slip of a woman was going to keep him from doing it.
When she swung the door back on its hinges this time, Shane snatched up his bag and stepped inside in a move more graceful than any door-to-door salesman had ever mastered.
"Oh dear," Faith murmured, wide-eyed. Agent Callan looked awfully determined to stay. The prospect sent another flurry of tingles down her limbs. "Umm--Mr. Callan, I don't think you understand. It's like I told you--"
"I know what you told me," Shane said, staring down at her. Annoyance scratched at his temper when he realized his gaze was being drawn to the O of Notre Dame on her sweatshirt, where the letter distinctly outlined her nipple.
He cleared his throat and glared at her as if her body's involuntary response had been planned deliberately to distract him. "Now let me tell you a thing or two, Mrs. Gerrard. Mr. Banks believes you need protection. I take orders from Mr. Banks. When theJustice Department sends an agent to look after you, you can't just say no thank you and slam the door in his face. That may work with encyclopedia salesmen, but it doesn't work with me."
Faith stared open-mouthed at him for a full thirty seconds before she could scrape together a response. With her small chin set at a mutinous angle, she decided to fight arrogance with arrogance--provided she could fake it. Arrogance wasn't high on thelist of things this man was making her feel.
"The last I knew the United States was a democracy, not a police state," she said in her most businesslike tone. "My taxes pay your wages, Mr. Callan. That makes me your boss."
Immediately her imagination raced to consider the possibilities of having this government hunk at her beck and call. Her skin heated.
"That's an interesting theory," Shane said, successfully suppressing a chuckle. She was a feisty little thing . . . but that didn't interest him in the least. In an effort to keep his eyes off her breasts, his gaze wandered lazily around the spacious entrancehall, taking in the heavy mahogany reception desk, the polished walnut wainscoting, and the freshly papered wall above it. "Maybe you should join a debate club."
Faith cast a longing glance at his shins, wondering what the penalty would be for giving a federal agent a good swift kick. Her thoughts segued quickly into speculation about what his legs looked like under his fashionable trousers. Probably muscular,probably hairy, prob--
With a little gasp of surprise at the suddenly sensuous bend her mind was taking, she snapped her gaze back to focus just to the right of his handsome face.
"I really don't appreciate your attitude, Mr. Callan," she said primly. "You're awfully snippy."
Snippy? Shane had to rub a hand across his mouth to hide his amusement. He'd been called a lot of things in his day. Snippy was not among them. Damn, she was cute . . . but it wasn't his job to think so.
When his gaze swung back to her, it held the sharp glint of steel. "Mrs. Gerrard, the federal government is willing to spend time and manpower protecting that pretty little fanny of yours. The least you could do is cooperate."
"All I've done from the start of this nightmare is cooperate," Faith insisted, trying unsuccessfully to ignore the fact that he'd commented on her derriere. She crossed her arms in front of her to keep from running her hands over the seat of her jeans."I've been a veritable paragon of cooperation."
Shane watched with keen interest as Faith went to her daughter and knelt down. The little girl was adorable. Four years old, the file had said, a cherub with a heart-shaped face framed by red-gold waves. There was a smudge of flour on her button nose.Her eyes were the same sable shade as her mother's, and they sparkled with curiosity as she peered over Faith's shoulder at him.
"Who's that, Mama?" she asked shyly.
"Nobody, sweetheart," Faith said, trying nonchalantly to scoot around so Agent Callan wouldn't be able to stare at her behind.
Shane scowled. Nobody, huh? The little one smiled sweetly and waved a chubby hand at him. Something caught hard in his chest. He tried to ignore the feeling as he awkwardly lifted a hand to return her salute and then self-consciously ran it back throughhis hair.
Rolling her eyes, Faith frowned at him, then turned back to Lindy. "Sweetie, it's almost time for supper. Why don't you take your baby to your room and put her to bed?"
Lindy shook her head, an impish smile curving her mouth. "She's not sleepy."
"She will be by the time you get to your room," Faith assured her. She pressed a kiss to her daughter's forehead. "Go on now. Be a good girl."
Tossing Shane a heart-stealing smile, Lindy snuggled her doll, then turned and headed back down the hall. Faith remained on her knees for a moment, watching her daughter walk away. A day didn't go by that she didn't thank God for Lindy. When everythingelse in her world had seemed bleak and hopeless, Lindy had unfailingly provided her with sweetness and light. She was doing it still, Faith realized as she rose and turned to face Shane Callan once more.
"I imagine we can clear all this up with a phone call," she said pleasantly. After all, she'd been raised to have good manners. And she had learned to deal with all sorts of people during her twelve years in Washington.
Of course, none of them had rattled her the way this man had. Not even the Arab sheik who had offered her former husband nine camels for her.
She could feel Callan's gaze as he followed her. Electricity ran down her back in warm rivulets. Beneath her sweatshirt her nipples were tight knots. She became suddenly, acutely aware of her rear end. He must have been staring at it, the infuriating man.She tugged her sweatshirt down and tried not to wiggle as she led the way down the hall.
The inn's office was a small room, neatly kept, but crowded with a walnut desk and a four-drawer filing cabinet. The wallpaper was feminine and flowery with a background that women probably called mauve, Shane thought.
He shook his pounding head in disgust. Lord, he was losing his edge, going on about wallpaper. But then he had known he was losing his edge. He had just spent a week in a hospital nursing a bullet wound that proved it. Now Banks had stuck him on this glorifiedguard duty. After three years spent in undercover work, this was probably just the kind of assignment he needed, but that didn't make him like it any better.
He leaned against the doorjamb in a negligent pose as Faith went behind the desk. All he wanted right now was a hot meal and a soft pillow. The thought of a hot, soft woman was judiciously edited from the list as he dragged his gaze from Faith for thehundredth time. He was nursing a major case of jet lag and the remnants of a hangover. For two cents he would have bid this assignment adieu and gone south for some sun, but it was too late for that.
To escape his own introspection, Shane forced himself to study Faith with the cool, impersonal professionalism he was known for. A frown tugged at her mouth, but it wasn't petulance. She looked upset as she sat in the old swivel chair behind the desk anddialed the phone number from memory. While she waited for someone to pick up on the other end of the line, she studiously avoided looking at him. The fingers of her right hand toyed nervously with the small pendant that hung on a chain around her neck.
Nice neck, he thought, his mind drifting traitorously. It was a sleek ivory column that was mostly exposed because her dark blond hair had been cut into a mop of unruly curls. The smooth, soft-looking skin beckoned for the touch of a man's lips. Unconsciouslyhe ran his tongue over his, then ground his teeth at the surge of desire that stirred in his loins.
"Mr. Banks, please," Faith said to the receptionist on the other end of the line.
Excerpted from Heart of Gold by Tami Hoag. Copyright © 2010 by Tami Hoag. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.