First Chapter Friday: Weekend Agreement

I call this the little book that could. Weekend Agreement won the Golden Heart for best unpublished manuscript in 2007 and convinced Harlequin to take me on as a potential author. Later, with Entangled Publishing, it hit 101 overall on the Amazon Bestseller’s list. I love this book.

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Cynical billionaire Daniel Moretti works hard, plays harder, and has one ironclad rule. Never trust a woman. Bad news for historian Charlotte Doherty who shows up at exactly the wrong time. Like every other woman in Daniel’s life, Charlotte wants something from him–the deed to her family farm. Daniel agrees, but only if he gets something in return: Charlotte’s company for the weekend!

The property is Charlotte’s only link to the mother she never knew. Desperate to keep her history alive, she’ll accept Daniel’s indecent proposal, but not without a few terms of her own. Namely, a propriety clause. No flirting. No kissing. No sex.

Daniel has no intention of honoring her conditions, but after one weekend with Charlotte leaves him hungering for more, he can’t help wondering if she could be the exception to his unbreakable rule…

Chapter One

Daniel Moretti tossed the gossip magazine on his desk, scowling at the young actress clinging possessively to her new director’s arm and made a note to cancel Valerie Pinochet’s line of credit. Let her new director pick up the tab for her extravagance.

That his now ex-girlfriend strayed didn’t really surprise him. She’d gotten what she wanted; it was time to move on. It was what women did, wasn’t it?

“Sir,” a male voice interrupted, “your eleven o’clock appointment is here.”

He swiveled back and forth in his chair, not bothering to reply to his intercom. The benefit of being Daniel Moretti was he could make people wait while he did more important things. Like ruminate on the evils of women.

Okay, so maybe not all women were superficial, conniving witches. If he put his mind to it, he could probably think of one good female. Mother Theresa, for example, God rest her soul.

His first nanny. The woman who ran the shelter for drug-addicted teenagers downtown. Although even she asked him for a donation.

Thing was, Valerie’s picture shouldn’t have put him in such a bitter mood. After all, it wasn’t like he didn’t expect her to betray him. Or care that she did, for that matter. She was just another woman trading sex for opportunity. He gave the magazine another shove, hoping to push the thoughts from his mind. Instead, he sent a small pile of papers fluttering from his desk. With a frustrated sigh, he walked around to retrieve them from their Oriental nesting ground, freezing when he saw the ivory invitation lying there.

Now here was something to put him in a bad mood. Mr. And Mrs. William Ferncliff Cordially Invite You to Join Them As They Celebrate Their Twenty-fifth Wedding Anniversary. He brushed his finger across the raised type. Talk about superficial, conniving women. His mother trumped them all.

The party was this weekend. He didn’t know why he was bothering to attend, except William had been sort-of decent to him. And who knew Mother would ever make it twenty-five years. It was a testimony to William’s stamina, as well as his wallet. Now he would be attending stag, thanks to Valerie’s little antics. He should just skip the event. Would his family even notice?

Of course, they would. As soon as the press asked his mother where he was. That was the downside to being Daniel Moretti. He seldom escaped public notice.

“Mr. Moretti?” The voice on the intercom sounded again. “Are you ready to see Professor Doherty now?”

Ah, yes, the persistent Charlotte Doherty. He leaned over and jabbed the speaker button with a sigh. “Yes, Doug, send her in.”

Still fingering the invitation, he walked toward the windows that lined one wall of his office and looked out. In the distance spread Boston Harbor, white caps dappling the blue Atlantic surface. That he stood on the top floor of one of the city’s tallest buildings was no accident. All those people who wanted a piece of him had to climb up. It was the office space equivalent to keeping your back to the wall.

He loved watching the ocean. He envied its freedom and unpredictability. Mother Nature. Now there was a woman he could respect.

On the horizon, a jet rose slowly, steadily, cutting across the hazy September sky. A hurricane was working its way up the East Coast, the Boston skyline remained calm, serene.

Behind him, his office door opened and shut. He didn’t bother turning around.
“I appreciate you seeing me,” a soft voice said.
“Well, Paul Wharton and I go way back,” he replied, still watching the jet, “and he asked

me to do him this favor. I admit though, I’m intrigued by your need to meet with me face to face. What exactly does an expert on Sam Adams want from me?”

He turned around and his next sentence died in his throat.

The woman standing in his office wasn’t the dowdy, scholarly college professor he expected. To begin with, she wore emerald green. A shimmery, silky sundress that turned her body into a long stretch of curves. Before he could stop himself, his eyes traveled down those curves and over a pair of shapely calves. She stood ramrod straight and still, briefcase by her side, one foot set in front of the other, looking more like she was poised to walk down a runway than do business. It made for a very enticing picture.

“John Adams.” Her voice was low but even, like a person used to being listened to. “Excuse me?”

“My book is about John Adams, the second president of the United States. Sam Adams was his cousin.”

“My mistake,” he replied, sauntering to his desk. Her book could be about Pete Adams for all he cared. Some long-winded tome about the American Revolution wasn’t on his reading list, bestseller or not.

He settled into his chair and motioned for her to take a seat. She moved like a model, too, he noticed. Fluidly, one hip at a time. He wondered how long it took for her to perfect such grace. When she sat down and crossed her legs demurely at the ankles, Daniel found himself slightly disappointed. He’d hoped for a better view of her legs.

“So what does an expert on John Adams want from me?” he asked.
“Do you appreciate the past, Mr. Moretti?”
“Only so much as it prevents me from repeating mistakes. Otherwise, I prefer to deal in

the present.”
“But the past helps illuminate the present, don’t you think? We all need context. At least I

believe we do.”
“Which is why you’re the historian,” he noted dryly.
Her eyes matched her dress, he noticed with irritation. An outfit, chosen no doubt, to

emphasize their sparkle. He wondered if she was wearing tinted contact lenses. That shade of green was too rich to be natural.

It was also incredibly distracting.

He cut to the chase. “Bob told me you had a business request, Professor. What is it? Are you looking for a donation? Support for some new historical foundation or to save some landmark? I already give quite generously to the Boston Historical Society, thanks to Bob’s arm- twisting.”

“I’m here about 219 Craymore Road.”

He didn’t answer.

“The Craymore Farm. In Midvale,” she continued, as if to fill in the blanks for him. Daniel knew the address. He knew every piece of property he owned. This particular piece of land consisted of an old farm sitting on one hundred fifty acres of prime residential real estate.

He pursed his lips. “What about it?” His people hadn’t mentioned any problems with historical landmarks. Something better not have fallen through the cracks.

“You purchased it a couple weeks ago. From my brother.”
“I purchased it from an estate.”
“Which my brother represented.”
She pulled a stack of papers from her briefcase and presented them on his desk. “You see,

that property’s been in my family – my mother’s family – since before the Revolution. Unfortunately I was traveling all summer promoting my book and unaware of my brother’s activities.”

Daniel glanced at the documents fanned on his desk. They were mostly genealogical in nature, proof that the farm had indeed been owned by a single family. He saw no legal documents, however, or any other paperwork, that might indicate a problem with the sale.

He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Professor, but I fail to see what this has to do with me. If you have a conflict with your brother, or didn’t get your proper share of the sale price…”

“You misunderstand. My brother had no business selling that property outside the family. I’m here to repurchase it.”

“Really?” Her matter-of-fact assumption amused him. “What makes you think I would sell it back to you?”

“Because I’m willing to buy it and considering the family history attached….”

“I told you before, I don’t put much stock in history, family or otherwise. The loss of one farm to one family doesn’t mean much to me.”

“I’m sure you’d think different if it were your family,” she remarked sharply.

“Professor, if it were my family, I’d help pack the moving van.”

His words stopped her short. Obviously, she’d counted on the notion of familial loyalty to help her. Wrong gambit.

Pressing his fingers together, prayer-like, he moved in to end the conversation once and for all. “Even if I were willing to sell, Professor, I doubt you can meet my asking price. We’re discussing prime property in a town where housing demands are at a premium.” He planned to divide the land into housing lots. Even in a downturned economy, high-end neighborhoods in towns like Midvale were good investments.

“Do the math and see what kind of money we’re discussing,” he continued. “Last time I checked, academia didn’t pay that well. And, while your book might be on the bestseller list, it’s still a non-fiction book from a small publisher. Hardly the stuff fortunes are made from.”

The sparkle left her eyes and for a moment, Daniel felt guilty about being so hard-nosed. But business was business. Surely, she knew that.

“To be brutally honest,” he continued, “your brother undersold. That land is worth at least three times what I paid for it.”

“Three times,” she repeated.

“Like I said, I doubt you can meet my price.”

“What makes you think that?”

He’d have to hand it to her, she didn’t acknowledge defeat easily. But years ofnegotiating and fighting off his enemies taught him to recognize the signs. Like the hint of panic in her eyes when he mentioned the price or the way she tilted her chin ever so slightly before speaking, as if to keep her lower lip from quivering.

“Can you?”

She looked down at her hands.

“I didn’t think so.” He gathered up her papers and left them on the edge of his desk for her to take. “I’m sorry we couldn’t do business, Professor, but as they say, sometimes the past is best left in the past.”

She continued to study her lap. “My mother grew up in that house.” She spoke so softly Daniel wondered if she were talking to him.

“It’s only a house.”

“Oh, no, it’s more than that. Much more. Are you sure we can’t find some middle ground, Mr. Moretti?” She looked plaintively up at him. “Perhaps some kind of arrangement….”

Did her eyes have to be so green? A man could get lost in eyes like hers, they were so deep and clear. A strange falling sensation settled over Daniel. He wanted to coolly dismiss Charlotte Doherty, like he would any other pesky business deal wannamaker but he couldn’t. He couldn’t break her gaze. She looked so wide-eyed and dejected. He could almost hear the silent pleading she was trying not to let show in her eyes. It made him feel like Simon Legree in one of those old-fashioned melodramas where the pretty young maiden would do anything to save the family farm.

Do anything. Of course, he thought, a bitter taste rising in his mouth. Suddenly it all made sense. Her insistence on meeting face-to-face. The dress, the tussled ebony hair with its errant strands curling about her temples. She pulled out all the stops didn’t she? Probably right down to the sun-kissed sprinkling of freckles on her nose. And he almost went for it, feeling like a miserable lout when she turned all misty-eyed.

Without realizing it, his gaze had switched to the discarded invitation on his desk.

Women. They were all alike. Please do me this one little favor, darling. Oh, I’d be so grateful if you could help me, sweetheart. You mean the world to me, Daniel. He’d heard all the lines, the lies, the promises. He’d heard them his whole life.

And this woman, this Professor, thought she could waltz in here all green and leggy and manipulate him into getting what she wanted. Wasn’t that like the rest of them?

He smacked his palm against the invitation with a force so hard it made his guest start.

The raised letters pressed into his fingers, giving him an idea. So Charlotte Doherty wanted to play helpless maiden, did she? Well, he could play villain with the best of them.

“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “I’ll consider selling back the land – at the price I paid your brother – on one condition.”

She eyed him warily. “What kind of condition?”

“Well, we’re talking about selling an incredibly valuable price of property at below market value. There has there to be something in this deal for me.”

“Such as…?”

He leaned forward, wanting a good view of her reaction when he made his outrageous ultimatum. This, he thought, was going to be good. “You.”

Her jaw dropped. “Excuse me?”

Daniel chuckled. The shocked indignation was a nice touch. “Quid pro quo, Professor. You want something from me; I should get something in return. Something worth my while.”

“And you think that something is me?”

Wasn’t that why she was wearing that sexy green dress? “I’m going to Nantucket this weekend. I’d like you to accompany me.”

“You’re kidding me!” She glared at him.

Again, nice touch, thought Daniel. Indignant and outraged, but not overly so. All and all very believable.

“You asked if we could make some kind of arrangement,” he remarked, leaning back in his seat. “This is it. You attend this party with me, and I’ll sell you back your property.”

“You honestly think I’m going to sleep with you?”

What he thought is that she was like any other woman looking for something from him. Nevertheless, he would ease her mind. “Nothing that crass, Professor. There’s an anniversary party that I’m obligated to attend. You would be my date. In return, I’ll sell you back your farm.”

“Unbelievable.” She practically threw herself back as she folded her arms. “Tell me something, Mr. Moretti. Is this how you get all your dates?”

“Trust me, I don’t need to go looking for women.” His assets guaranteed they’d come looking for him. “However,” his eyes darted to the magazine on his desk, “I find myself without a companion this weekend, and while I could go alone, for business reasons, I prefer to seen with someone. You fit the bill. You’re educated, well-known enough to carry to some social cache. Not to mention, you’re fairly attractive to look at.”

“Gee, I have all my teeth, too.”

Saucy. She had backbone in addition to bravado. Her eyes, he noticed, grew more brilliant when annoyed, a fact that only fueled his own annoyance. He forced a smile.

“I’m sure you do. In fact, I’m sure you have many attributes. I look forward to discovering them.”

“You arrogant –” She exhaled long and hard.

“Oh please, you were giving such a good performance. Don’t spoil it now with false dramatics.”

“You think I’m acting?”

Wow, she really was good. To bad for her, he’d seen this game too many times to count. “Really, Professor Doherty, did you actually think you could sashay in here and charm me into selling you a piece of land below market value? You may be a beautiful woman…” His eyes scanned her length. Might as well let her know the effort wasn’t completely wasted. “However, I’ve seen lots of beautiful women in my life. The effect wore off a long time ago.”

“Unbelievable!” She stood up began shoving papers back in her briefcase. Daniel was surprised to note her hands were shaking. “I came to see you because Paul Wharton said you were a fair and honorable gentleman. Apparently he was mistaken on all three counts.”

“I’ll take that to mean you’re not interested in any kind of arrangement.” He rose and strolled back to the row of windows. Back to watching the watching the ocean.

“I’m sure you can see yourself out,” he clipped.

Charlotte glared at Daniel Moretti’s back, unable to think of a proper reply. She settled for an exasperated groan between clenched teeth.

Okay, so it was a bit naïve of her to think he would sell her back the land. She had at least expected him to be proper and businesslike, not suggest she date him for it. Talk about a pompous jerk. No wonder he didn’t have a date. Angry and disappointed, she gathered the last of her papers and prepared to leave.

This whole situation was Michael’s fault. He never should have sold the land out from under her in the first place. She’d been sitting in a Seattle hotel room when she read the email giving her the news. Coward that he was, he didn’t dare call her.

“How could you?” she’d demanded, tracking him down at his office. “That farm’s been in our family for generations. Why do you think Aunt Helen left it to us in the first place?”

“Aunt Helen left it to us because she didn’t have anyone else,” he brother had replied. “I did what any good executor would do.”

“Mom grew up on that farm.”

“I know. And now she can do something for us, for once.”

“You should have talked to me first.”

“Why? To listen to you argue about family history and all that nonsense? Look, Momdidn’t give two hoots about family. I got a good price for that cow pasture. Take your share and be grateful.”

But she didn’t want the money. She wanted that farm. So she came here and made a fool of herself with one of the country’s richest men.

 She gave one last look at the infamous Mr. Moretti. Dark hair, dark eyes, dark suit. Dark personality. He reminded her of the heroes in those gothic novels, all brooding and formal and detached.

Not to mention angry. The emotion hummed beneath his cool exterior, like lava trapped in a volcano. She wondered what it was that made him so upset at the world.

And what would happen if he ever erupted.

Not that his feelings mattered to her. Clearly, a reasonable business arrangement was out of the question. She’d have to find another way to undo her brother’s actions. Perhaps a petition citing the historical ramifications.

“The farm’s scheduled to be razed a week from tomorrow,” he said as she reached the door.

The breath rushed from her lungs. A week from tomorrow. Eight days, and her last, best link to her mother would be gone forever. The emptiness hit her like a steam train. Her connection, her history… her context… wiped away as if it never existed.

What Daniel Moretti was suggesting was ludicrous. She couldn’t go to Nantucket with him.

An image of the old white farmhouse with its faded green shutters and overgrown roses flashed before her eyes. She’d never been there as a young child, only as a teenager and later an adult. Her father never approved of her visits. He, like her brother, preferred to erase the memories of her mother. But not her. She’d sit for hours at the scarred kitchen table sipping weak lemonade and listening to her great aunt ramble about the past. She got to know her mother when she was young and happy. The mother she always dreamed of. The mother who wanted her.

That farm made her mother real. Without it, she had nothing more than a handful of fading memories. And now, thanks to her brother and Daniel Moretti, her farm was slipping through her fingers.

The desperate feeling grew stronger. Charlotte hung her head. She didn’t have much choice, did she? Not if she wanted to hang on to the last maternal tie she had.

“So who’s this party for?”

He turned, obviously surprised she was still there. “My parents.”

“You need an escort to go to your parent’s anniversary party? What? Trying to impress Mommy and Daddy?”
“I don’t need to impress anyone,” he said tersely. “Like I said before, it looks better to have an appropriate companion. I assure you, however, I can muddle through alone.”

“You act like you’re doing me a favor,” Charlotte said.

“Aren’t I though?”

It sure didn’t feel like it. She joined him at the window, wondering what it was he found so fascinating. All she saw was the harbor, which though beautiful, hardly seemed enough to captivate a man like him. Maybe he was calculating the price per square foot.

A short distance away she could make out the tip of the Constitution’s mast. The connection calmed her. If Old Ironsides could weather any storm, so could she. She’d play Daniel Moretti’s game. But she’d lay down the ground rules.

“I want it in writing,” she said aloud. “If I attend this party Saturday, I want a legally- binding contract that says you agree to sell me back the land for the purchase price.”

“Naturally,” he replied. If her change of heart surprised him, it didn’t register on his face. “I’ll have my legal department draw up the papers.”

“And I want the agreement to stipulate that my accompanying you is strictly business. Nothing further. A weekend agreement, that’s all.”

“You mean a propriety clause?”

“Propriety, decency, hands-off – call it whatever you want. But any move on your part to turn this trip into something other than business results in the land automatically revoking to me. At no charge.” She added the last part for emphasis.

“You make quite an assumption, Professor. What makes you think I would have to make the first move?”

Despite the arrogance of his statement, tingles ran down Charlotte’s spine. Forcing them away, she folded her arms across her chest, issuing a silent ‘No Trespassing’ sign that couldn’t be missed. “Trust me, I won’t be issuing any invitations.”

His gaze fell to her lips. “Are you sure?” he asked, his voice suddenly low and sweet. “Or should I put that in writing too?”

“No need. Romance will be the last thing on my mind this weekend.” She meant the retort to sound saucy, but noticed to her dismay, her voice caught a little.

“That, Professor, makes two of us.” The sweetness disappeared from his demeanor, so quickly Charlotte blinked at the abruptness. “Very well. You can have your propriety clause, Professor. No private parties will be expected.”

“Thank you.”

“So does this mean we have an agreement?”

Every ounce of her better judgment screamed for her to throw Daniel Moretti’s offer inhis face. Common sense told her she would be making a deal with the devil.

She extended her hand. “Very well, Mr. Moretti. You’ve got yourself a date.”

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