CHAPTER FOUR

Dani pulled up in front of Gloria’s house. Climbing out of her car, she stared at the elegant, three-story building that had been constructed nearly a hundred years ago.

When she’d been little, the house had terrified her. As a teenager, it had represented a way of life she couldn’t understand. In her early twenties, she’d seen the structure as something to be conquered. Later, it was like her grandmother-unapproachable and solitary. Now it was just Gloria’s house. Not good, not bad, just a place where someone lived. Someone who wasn’t the person she’d first imagined.

She’d both loved and hated Gloria for so long, it was hard to let go of either feeling. She’d resented the other woman’s harshness in declaring that Dani wasn’t a real Buchanan. But in the past few weeks, Gloria had apologized several times for what she’d done. She’d claimed to have changed and from Dani’s perspective, she actually had.

Oddly, Dani found herself missing Gloria as her grandmother. Not the meanness or the impossible standards, but the connection. Gloria had been a part of her world since her birth and now they weren’t related at all. Perhaps the smartest decision would be to walk away but Dani couldn’t bring herself to let go.

She climbed the steps to the front door and rang the bell. Reid, the middle of her three brothers, opened it and grinned at her.

“We’re not interested, but thanks for coming by.”

She pushed past him before he could close the door. “Very funny.”

“Hey, kid.” Reid wrapped an arm around her. “How are you doing?”

“Good. Dealing with a lot of stuff.”

Reid led her into the living room, where Cal, her oldest brother, and Walker, her youngest, waited. Both men greeted her. Cal handed her a latte from The Daily Grind, which he owned, then hugged her.

“Gloria will be out in a minute,” Walker said as he pulled Dani close. “How are you holding up?”

She looked at her three brothers, the men who had been there for her any time she’d needed them and a lot of times when she hadn’t. “I’m okay. I feel weird-sort of disconnected from my life.”

They settled on the sofas in the huge living room. Dani ignored the city view in favor of her brothers.

“I met Mark Canfield yesterday.” she said.

“And?” Walker asked.

“And, I don’t know. He was very open to the possibility of me being his daughter. He admitted to the affair with Mom and said he never knew why she broke things off. He was nice and friendly…”

“But?” Cal prompted.

“I don’t know. I didn’t feel any connection. I guess I had this fantasy that we’d run into each other’s arms and instantly bond. I’m still trying to deal.” She sipped her coffee. “Adding to the excitement is Alex Canfield, his oldest son. Alex sees himself as the protector of all things Canfield and me as a threat to his family in general and his father’s presidential campaign in particular.”

“Want Walker to take care of him?” Reid asked cheerfully. “He will. I’m guessing there won’t even be a stain where Alex once stood. It will be like he never existed at all.”

“I’m not sure we need to go that far,” Dani said, remembering how Alex had annoyed her, but also how she’d kind of liked him. She respected his loyalty to his family, even if it drove her crazy.

“I went over to the house last night,” she continued. “I met the whole clan. There are eight kids-okay, one of them was at college, and Katherine, Mark’s wife. She’s incredible. Beautiful and patient and all the kids have issues, but that doesn’t matter. She’s like a saint. I think I want to be her when I grow up.”

“That all sounds good,” Cal said. “So what’s the problem?”

“I don’t know. I keep feeling like I’m living someone else’s life. That none of this is about me. I wanted to know who my father was, but I never expected this. Why can’t he just be a plumber or sales executive? Why did he have to be a senator?”

Reid glared at her. “You’re not going to choose them over us. Just so you’re clear. You’re one of us and we’re not letting you go.”

She smiled. “I know. You’ll always be my big brothers, which is both good and bad.”

“You’re damn lucky to have us,” Cal reminded her.

“Of course I am, and you reminding me over and over really helps.” She looked at Walker. “I just want to know where I belong.”

“Why not here?” he asked.

“Because there’s more. I don’t have your history. Not anymore.”

She could see he wanted to disagree. They all did. While she appreciated how much they loved her, she wasn’t sure they could understand what it had been like to find out she wasn’t really a Buchanan. That her father was someone she’d never known.

“Just don’t get any big ideas about turning your back on us,” Reid muttered.

“I won’t,” she promised. “So that’s my life. New father, new siblings and I’m loving my job at Bella Roma. What about with you three?”

Walker cleared his throat. “I’m hiring on permanently. Inking over the company.” He looked at Dani “I know it’s what you wanted, but you said you’d changed your mind.”

It was so like him to worry about her, she thought happily, feeling the love and support from all three of them. “I never wanted the company,” she corrected. “I wanted to run one of the restaurants. Now I have something close to that. Sure it’s not Buchanan’s or The Waterfront, but it’s still good. I’m glad you’re part of the business, and a little surprised that Gloria would be so willing to leave you in charge.”

“She’s getting older,” Walker said. “She knows she can’t handle it all now.”

“I’m not that old.”

The strong voice came from the woman standing in the doorway. Dani looked at Gloria Buchanan, well dressed as always, as straight-backed as ever, barely leaning on the cane she now used to get around.

“I can handle it if I want to,” Gloria continued. “I simply choose not to.”

Dani’s brothers rose as Gloria walked into the living room. Reid ushered his grandmother to a chair and everyone sat.

Dani eyed the woman who had been such a large part of her childhood. Doing well to impress Gloria had once meant everything to her. The praise had been hard-won and more meaningful because of it… until Dani had entered her teens and there hadn’t been any more praise.

The old woman had been difficult and cruel, yet Dani still found herself missing Gloria. Which probably meant she, Dani, needed some serious time in therapy.

“Thank you all for coming,” Gloria said, smiling at them, then leaning forward and touching Dani’s hand. “I know you’re all busy.”

The touch was familiar and made Dani’s chest tighten. A few years ago, a hint of kindness would have meant the world. After years of rejection Dani had done her best not to care what the old woman thought of her. Now Gloria was trying to reconnect and Dani wasn’t sure what to do about that. Did she trust again or not?

“I want to talk about my estate,” Gloria continued.

“Why?” Walker asked bluntly. “What aren’t you telling us?”

“Nothing. Don’t get too excited. I’m not dying anytime soon. I’m simply getting things in order. I’m unlikely to live forever.”

Dani wondered if Gloria’s recent medical trouble had made mortality seem more real. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that.

“I’m worth a lot” Gloria said. “My shares in the family business alone are worth several million. I have investments, this house, some real estate, that sort of thing. I’m dividing it up for all of you.”

Dani wanted to run. She didn’t want to hear about all this. She was happy for her brothers, but as she wasn’t actually Gloria’s grandchild, there was no reason for her to-

“I’m dividing my estate into fourths” Gloria added.

None of her brothers reacted, but Dani felt as if she’d been struck by lightning. She couldn’t hear, couldn’t speak and sure as hell couldn’t understand what was happening.

“Why?” Dani asked without thinking. “I’m not a Buchanan.”

Gloria turned to her. “Of course you are, child, I’m sorry about what I said before. How cruel I was to you. There aren’t any excuses. Not really. I wish I could have been different for you. I can’t change the past, but I can make sure you know that you matter to me. That you all matter. The estate will be divided equally in value. Reid and Lori will get the house in a few years, when they’re done with that ridiculous houseboat of his and are ready to start their family. Walker is taking over the business, so he’ll get more shares. Dani will get my jewelry, along with a stake in the company. Cal, I happen to be a major stockholder in the Daily Grind. I’ll turn that over to you.”

Cal frowned. “I know the major stockholders. You’re not one of them.”

“You don’t know the name of my holding company.”

He swore under his breath. “You’re good.”

“No, but I should have been. Now don’t expect to get anything right away. I haven’t changed that much. But I wanted you to know it was there for you.”

Reid stood and pulled Gloria to her feet. Then he hugged her. Dani rose and found herself pulled into the embrace. Soon they were all hugging and for Dani, it felt long overdue.

A few minutes later, the party broke up. Her brothers headed out, but Dani lingered. Gloria settled back on the sofa.

“Tell me about your meeting with your father.”

Dani gave her a brief outline of what had happened. “I thought there would be more,” she admitted. “I guess that’s not fair.”

“Sometimes we don’t know our expectations until we’re in the situation,” Gloria told her. “Alex sounds interesting.”

Dani laughed. “Are you matchmaking? Don’t bother. My luck with men is hideous. Besides, he’s so the wrong guy for me. We’re practically related.”

“You’re not blood relatives at all. How was Katherine?”

“Elegant. Gracious.” Dani sighed as she remembered the other woman’s patience with her children. “Their family is like something out of a movie. All those kids and the household runs smoothly. Ian’s in a wheelchair and a couple of the kids have Down’s syndrome. Trisha’s deaf. I know the others are special-needs kids, as well, but I don’t know the reasons.”

“Why that woman would burden herself and her husband that way is beyond me,” Gloria said. “Who needs eight children with problems? It’s ridiculous. She’s practically a martyr. Does she want to be on a stamp?”

The mini outburst was vintage Gloria. Dani couldn’t help smiling. “So you haven’t changed totally.”

Gloria sighed. “Apparently not. But I’m working on it. I’ve met Katherine a few times. She’s lovely and gracious-reasons why we were never close.”

“She was so nice to me. I don’t think I would have been able to act that way if I’d been her.”

“Perhaps not. Still, watch yourself. The situation is complicated.” Gloria shook her head. “You’ll do what you want to do. You’ve always been stubborn.”

“I get that from you,” Dani said, then pressed her lips together. “I mean-“

Gloria grabbed her hand. “Stop! Stop backtracking. You do get that from me. Maybe it’s just from watching me be stubborn all your life. Dani, I still want to be your grandmother. We have a history. I want you to think about forgiving me for all I did. Is that possible?”

Dani wasn’t sure. Did forgiveness imply trust? Because she wasn’t totally ready to believe Gloria wouldn’t turn on her again. Still, under the circumstances, saying “Of course it’s possible,” seemed the right thing to do.

***

Dani flipped through the receipts for the night. Not bad for a Wednesday, she thought as she did a quick mental tally. Nick’s pasta special had been a huge hit and they’d sold a fair number of her wine pairings, as well.

It had taken Dani the better part of a week to convince Bernie to offer wine pairing suggestions. He kept telling her that guests found it insulting to be told what wine went with what foods. As if the management assumed they were too stupid to figure it out themselves.

Dani argued that people liked being given ideas that allowed them to try a wine they might not have taken a chance on otherwise.

Their compromise had been to add a wine pairing to half the specials and see if they sold. She had a feeling Bernie would want to add more pairings to other items on the menu.

Her minor success pleased her. She wanted to do well in her work. This was her first real job outside the Buchanan empire, so in her mind, it was a make-it or break-it situation.

“Dani, one of our guests wants to talk to you. He didn’t say why.”

Dani smiled at the server. “Thanks, Eddie. Which table?”

“Fifteen.”

“I’ll head right over.”

A request to see a manager could mean anything from a tirade to praise for exceptional service. Things ran smoothly enough at Bella Roma that Dani wasn’t worried.

She rounded the corner and was halfway through her “Hi, I’m Dani Buchanan. How may I help you?” when she recognized the lone diner. The power suit was familiar as were the dark eyes and stubborn jaw.

“This is a surprise,” she told Alex Canfleld.

“I heard the food was good.”

She glanced at the menu in his hand. “I take it you haven’t ordered. Would you like a few suggestions?”

“Are you going to spit on my food before they bring it to me?”

She grinned. “It depends on why you’re really here.”

“Maybe I just want to get to know you.”

“Oh, please. I may not have gone to law school and lost my humanity, but I’m not an idiot.”

“You went to Cornell, which is tough to get into, and I never said you were an idiot.”

As she stared down at him, it occurred to her she wasn’t disappointed he’d shown up at the restaurant. Interesting. She also noticed she sort of enjoyed bantering with him. They were both verbal and quick.

But he hadn’t answered the question-why was he here?

“Being an idiot was implied,” she said.

He motioned to the chair across from his. “You could join me.”

“Or I could not.”

He glanced around at the dining room. “It’s after nine. Your dinner crowd has left. Have dinner with me. We’ll get to know each other. I’ll even let you pick the topics we discuss.”

Somehow she doubted that. He’d been less than friendly the last time they’d been together. She was ambivalent-understanding his need to protect his family and hating that she was considered the enemy. Still, she pulled out a chair and sat down. “I want to order the food,” she told him.

“Why am I not surprised?”

“And the wine.”

“Will you cut my food into tiny pieces and feed me, as well?”

“Only if you have bad table manners.”

Eddie walked over and looked at her.

“Mr. Canfield and I will be having dinner together, Eddie.” Dani placed the order, picking her favorites, then chose a bottle of Leonetti Cellar Sangiovese.

“Nice,” Alex said when Eddie left. “The wine’s a little pricey.”

“It’s worth it. Besides, you’re rich. You can afford it.”

He raised his eyebrows. “You’re assuming I’m buying.”

“You did the inviting.”

“This is your place.”

“Fine. You can take advantage of my employee discount.”

He nodded. “I appreciate that.” He passed her the bread basket. “How are you enjoying your job here?”

The implication being it was a new job. She wasn’t surprised he knew that-no doubt dragon-boy had investigated every aspect of her life.

“I like it a lot. Bernie and his mother are great. I know Mama Giuseppe makes everyone crazy, but I think she’s very entertaining. The kitchen staff are terrified of her. I like the food, the staff and the regulars. I hope to be here a long time.”

“Why the restaurant business?” he asked.

“I never thought about doing anything else. I grew up as a Buchanan. I want to say it’s in my blood, but I guess that isn’t true. It’s what I know. Why did you go to law school?”

“My soul was getting in the way of being a ruthless bastard. I knew they’d suck it out of me.”

She glared at him. “I answered your question seriously.”

“Fair enough. I wanted to do the right thing. Be on the right side of the law. For that, I needed to understand it.”

That surprised her. “You consider yourself an idealist?”

“Why not?”

“You’re in corporate law and you’re working on a presidential campaign. Is there idealism left in either place?”

“Democracy is alive and well.”

“So is the need to raise millions of dollars for nearly every kind of campaign.”

“We can still make a difference, either on a local and individual basis, or nationally and globally.”

He was serious. She hadn’t expected that.

“I’m getting worried,” she admitted. “I don’t want to have to like you.”

“I’m totally charming.”

“Not to me.”

“It’s a subtle charm.”

“Apparently.”

Eddie appeared with the bottle of wine. After he opened it, she hesitated, as if not sure who would do the tasting. Alex gestured to Dani. “Please. It’s your party.”

She nodded at Eddie, who poured her a sample. Dani swirled, inhaled, then tasted. “Excellent,” she said. “Thanks.”

Eddie poured, then left.

Alex sipped the wine. “Nice,” he said.

“I like it.” She eyed him. She had a feeling she knew the reason for his visit. So did his friendliness mean she was Mark’s daughter or not?

“You’re being nice, in a twisted kind of way” she said, deciding there was no reason to be subtle. “It’s been two days. You have the results. I’m trying to decide how your presence here and attempts to get to know me figure into things.”

His humor faded. “It’s a match. You’re Mark Canfield’s daughter.”

Dani set down her wineglass and braced herself for a flood of emotion. There wasn’t any. Not elation or happiness or even an internal “golly wow.” There was nothing.

“Okay,” she said slowly, wondering if the feelings were going to be delayed. “Good to know.”

“Are you going to the press?”

The blunt, almost rude question didn’t surprise her. This was the Alex Canfield she remembered.

“What do you think?” she asked. “You’ve had plenty of time to delve into my background, interview my friends and tap my phone. Am I going to the press?”

She couldn’t read his dark eyes. His body language was relaxed as he took a sip of the wine. He could have been mulling over how his stock portfolio had performed that day, or developing a way to murder her and leave her body in the woods.

How did this impact him? He was Mark Canfield’s oldest son… by adoption. She was Mark’s biological child. Did Alex have any feelings about that? Did he resent her or wasn’t she significant enough to generate emotion?

“You have money, or at least access to it,” Alex said at last. “So that’s not why you came looking for the senator. I don’t think it was for publicity, either.”

“Grudging, but there it is,” she murmured as she took a slice of bread and spread on garlic butter. “Acceptance. I’m touched. Deeply. I might even tear up.”

“I have reason to be suspicious,” he told her, “Your timing, for one thing.”

“I contacted the senator within days of finding out he might be my father.”

“So you say.”

She sighed. “I like you better when you’re not assuming the worst about me.”

“Do you know what a scandal could do to the campaign?” he asked. “How you could destroy everything we’ve been working toward?”

She tilted her head. “If I’m just in it for notoriety, don’t I have a built-in reason for wanting to keep the news to myself? Wouldn’t I have more fun with Daddy as president?’

“Interesting logic.”

“I’m an interesting person”

He shrugged. “So it seems.”

Okay-that was unexpected. Was it possible that, despite everything, dragon-boy liked her? She found herself warming to the thought.

She leaned toward him. “Admit it. You might have been wrong about me. I just might be an okay person.”

“Maybe.”

“Probably.”

“I’ll accept that.”

He shook his head and grinned. “You’re not easy, are you?”

“Never,” she said, but she wasn’t really focused on her answer. Instead she found herself caught up in what Alex’s smile had done to his expression. For a brief second, he’d seemed approachable and funny and sexy as hell.

Interest perked up and stretched. Anticipation sniffed the air. Heat rolled over and made her insides quiver.

Dani recognized the signs. Attraction to a man. Something she’d sworn off of. No way, no how, not ever. Or at least until she stopped picking the wrong guy.

Alex might not be a lying, cheating weasel or an until recently ordained-into-service-to-God kind of guy, but he was the adopted son of her newly discovered biological father and deeply involved in said man’s campaign for president.

Getting involved was not remotely logical or sensible or even sane.

Not that it mattered. He wasn’t the least bit interested in her. He probably didn’t actually realize she was female. She was simply an impediment with a name.

So she did what made sense-she ignored her hormones, pretended Alex was charming, but gay, and leaned in to enjoy a yummy dinner accompanied by a great side of dragon baiting.

“You can’t really believe that,” Alex said as Eddie cleared the dessert plates.

“Why not?” Dani asked, humor brightening her hazel eyes. “The rich can afford it. Having everyone who makes over five hundred thousand a year financially sponsor a poor child makes perfect sense.”

She was bullshitting, he thought, both frustrated and amused. She was smart and quick, but determined to find every button he had and stomp on it.

“I’m changing the subject,” he said. “You’re not being serious.”

“Is serious required?”

“It helps.”

“You’re a little stuffy. I think it’s the lawyer thing. We should-” She glanced at her watch. “Yikes. I’m keeping staff here late. That’s not good.”

He checked the time and saw it was after eleven. How had that happened? He would have guessed they’d been there an hour at most.

Dani stood. “I hate to make you eat and run, but I’ve got to get everyone out of here or they’ll hate me forever. Dinner’s on me.”

He rose. “I don’t think so.”

“Don’t get all macho on me, Alex. Seriously. Bernie won’t even let me pay for it, so we’re good. I appreciate you stopping by. Now leave.”

“Ever gracious. When do you go home?”

“In about fifteen minutes.”

“I’ll wait.”

She frowned at him. “Why?”

“I’ll walk you to your car. It’s late. You shouldn’t go to your car alone.”

She rolled her eyes. “I do it every time I work dinner, yet I’ve managed to survive. I appreciate the offer, but I’m good.”

He shrugged into his suit jacket. “I’ll wait.”

She sighed. “I recognize that stubborn tone of voice. Fine. You can sit by the door.”

“I live to serve.”

“If only that were true.”

He used the time to check his cell phone. There was a call from his mother.

He called back on her private line, which only rang in her office. If she’d already gone to bed, it wouldn’t disturb her.

“You’re working late,” he said when she answered.

“So are you.”

“I just finished dinner.”

“A campaign dinner,” she said. “You’re working too hard.”

He hesitated, then decided not to tell her otherwise. “I could say the same about you.”

“Then we both need to reform. You mentioned you might come by later?”

“It would be close to midnight.”

“I’ll be up another hour at least.”

“Then I’ll be by.”

He hung up just as Dani walked toward him with her purse over her shoulder. She wore a fitted red dress that emphasized her curves but covered her completely. It was a combination designed to make a man crazy.

He’d done his best to be immune to her physical charms, but he’d noticed all of them. The curves, the big eyes, the easy smile.

“Are you armed?” she asked. “Are we going to fight our way to my car, do you think? What about snipers? We could scurry along the perimeter of the building. Of course you’re so big and strong, I don’t really have to worry.”

She was making fun of him. It should have bugged the hell out of him. Instead he found himself wanting to lean in and kiss her.

Kiss her? Where had that come from? Sure she was pretty and sexy and funny, but so what? He wasn’t interested. Not in her. She was the enemy, or at the very least, a big problem. Yet once the thought shot into his head, he couldn’t seem to let it go.

“We’ll risk the snipers,” he said as he pulled open the door.

“Oooh, you’re so brave,” she cooed. “I’m over there.”

She pointed to a late year import. He followed her to the car and waited while she dug her keys out of her purse. When she waved them in front of her, he started to take a step back.

At least that had been the plan. But instead of moving away, he found himself moving forward. Until they were close. Very close.

“You’re a pain in the ass.” he said.

“Right back at you.”

“You should be afraid of me.”

She pretended to yawn. “I’m sorry. Were you talking? I couldn’t hear anything just then.”

She made him crazy. So he kissed her.

He put his hand on the back of her neck, bent down and pressed his mouth to hers.

She went totally still. For once she didn’t have a snappy comeback. Instead she rested one of her hands on his chest and softened her mouth against his.

Heat exploded between them like a fireball.

Long-forgotten need flared until every part of him was hard, hot and ready. The desire was as immediate as it was powerful. Suddenly the hood of her car looked plenty inviting.

He brushed his tongue against her lower lip and she parted for him. He dived inside, wanting to claim her and arouse her until she was as desperate as he was.

He put his hand on her waist and pulled her close. She melted into him, her body supple and soft, touching him in all the right places.

She tasted of wine and whipped cream. Even better, she matched his urgency with quiet moans.

It was a kiss of desperate lovers, one that left him shaken with a passion he’d never experienced before. All that in less than a minute and with the one woman he should never be with.

Reality returned in the form of male laughter coming from behind the restaurant. He drew back; just as Dani pulled away.

They stared at each other in the overhead lights of the parking lot. She looked stunned, which was exactly how he felt.

She swallowed. “That can’t be good. Us kissing. Like that.”

Her breathing was still ragged. Considering he was hard enough to rupture steel, he appreciated knowing it hadn’t been a party for one.

“Agreed.”

She exhaled slowly. “To quote Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman-big mistake. Huge.”

“Epic.”

“Epic’s good.”

Her eyes were dark, her mouth swollen. He wanted her again. He wanted her naked and he wanted to kiss her everywhere. He wanted to hear her scream and feel her come for him.

Damn.

“You are so the wrong man,” she whispered. “I couldn’t be a worse woman. Well, that doesn’t sound right, but you know what I mean.”

He nodded. “So it never happened,” he told her.

She gave a strangled laugh. “Right. Like we’re going to believe that.”

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