June 26, 2007
Buchanan Family, Book No. 4
When trust turns to passion, the potential for disaster is only a tabloid scandal away.
After three romantic flame-outs in a year and a restaurant career going nowhere, Dani Buchanan needs a fresh start. She goes looking for her biological father, but never expects to find a senator running for president. As his long-lost "love child," Dani could seriously derail the election--something his handsome campaign manager Alex Canfield isn't going to let happen. Dani isn't about to let Alex run her life, no matter how tempting she finds him--and Alex isn't going to allow Dani to melt his cynicism, no matter how close he has to get. The last thing either of them wants is love, especially with scandals brewing and family trouble on the way. But Dani and Alex are forced to trust each other, and when trust turns to passion, the potential for disaster is only a tabloid scandal away.
4.5 stars! "With emotional punch and sexy flair, Mallery concludes her highly regarded Buchanan family saga. The complex characters have all undergone major evolutions over the course of the series, and Mallery wraps things up on an emotional high note."
RT Book Reviews
Five hearts! "Susan Mallery is my go-to for contemporary romance novels! I adore her writing, and have yet to meet a character/story I don't just adore!"
For Love and Books
"Let me make this easy for you," the man in the expensively tailored suit told Dani Buchanan. "You don't get to speak to the senator until you tell me why you're here."
"Amazingly enough, that information doesn't make things easier," Dani Buchanan murmured, feeling equally scared and excited which made for a very queasy stomach. She'd already talked her way through a receptionist and two assistants. She could actually see Mark Canfield's door at the end of the corridor. But standing between her and a long warehouse hallway was a big, determined-looking guy.
She thought about pushing past him, but he was pretty tall and she wasn't. Not to mention the fact that she'd actually worn a dress and high-heels—neither of which were normal for her. The dress was no big deal, but the heels were killing her. She could handle the pain in the balls of her feet and the slight pulling in her arches, but how did anyone stay balanced on these things? If she moved at anything faster than a stroll, she was in danger of snapping an ankle.
"You can trust me," the man said. "I'm a lawyer."
He actually made the statement with a straight face.
Dani laughed. "A profession designed to inspire trust? I don't think so."
His lips twitched, as if he were holding in a smile. A good sign, she thought. Maybe she could charm her way past this guy. Not that she'd ever been especially good at charming men, but she didn't have much of a choice. She was going to have to fake it.
She drew in a breath and tossed her head. Of course her hair was cut short, which meant there was no flip over her shoulder. Which left Dani completely out of charming-men-type tricks. Good thing she'd sworn off dating for the rest of her life.
"Think of me as the dragon at the gate," the man said. "You're not getting past me until I know your business."
"Didn't anyone ever tell you that dragons are extinct?"
Now he did smile. "I'm living proof they're alive and well."
Fine, she thought absently. She would go all the way to fine for this guy. He had a nice face—handsome enough that you wouldn't turn to stone looking at him, but not so pretty that he wouldn't need to develop a personality. Killer blue eyes. A strong jaw, which meant stubborn.
"I'm here for personal reasons," she said, knowing that wasn't going to be enough, but feeling the need to try. What else was she supposed to say? That she'd recently discovered she might not be who she thought and answers to her questions were in this building?
Dragon-man's face tightened as he crossed his arms over his chest. Dani had the instant sensation of being shut out and judged, all at the same time.
"I don't think so," the man said sharply. "The senator doesn't play those kind of games. You're wasting your time. Get the hell out of here."
Dani stared at him. "Huh?" What was he... Oh. "You think I'm implying the senator and I—" She grimaced. "Yuck. No! Never. Eww." She took a step back, a dangerous act, considering the shoes, but she had no choice. Distance was required. "That is too disgusting for words."
She sighed. "Because there's a chance I'm his daughter." Better than a chance, if her upset stomach were anything to go by.
Suit-guy didn't even blink. "You'd do better to imply you were sleeping with him. I'd be more inclined to believe you."
"Who are you to pass judgment on what Mark Canfield may or may not have been doing twenty-nine years ago?"
"I'm his son."
That got her attention. She knew all about the senator's large family. "Alex, I presume?"
Interesting. Not that she and the senator's oldest son were blood relations. Mark Canfield and his wife had adopted all their children, including Alex. But it was possible they were family.
Dani wasn't sure how she felt about that. Dealing with her known family was complicated enough. Did she wanted to take on another one?
Obviously, she thought absently. After all, she was here.
The sense of needing to belong by blood burned hot enough to give her the answer. If Mark Canfield really was her father, she wanted to get to know him, and no one was going to get in her way. Not even his oldest and unrelated- to-her son.
"I've been patient through one secretary and two assistants," she said firmly. "I've been polite and understanding. If nothing else, I'm a registered voter in this state and I have every right to see my senator. Now if you'll just step aside, before I'm forced to escalate the situation."
"Are you threatening me?" Alex asked, sounding almost amused.
"Would it work?" she asked.
He slowly looked her up and down. In the past six months she'd learned that male attention was not a positive thing in her life. It inevitably ended in disaster. But even though she'd sworn off men, she still felt a little quiver as his steady gaze drifted across her body.
"No, but it might be fun," he said.
"You are such a guy."
"Is that a bad thing?"
"You have no idea. Now step aside, dragon-boy. I'm going to see Mr. Canfield."
The amused voice hadn't come from the person in front of her. Dani turned toward the sound and saw a familiar man standing by an open door.
She recognized Senator Mark Canfield because she'd seen him on television. She'd even voted for him. But those acts had been from a distance. She'd never thought of him as more than a political figure. Now he was here and there was a very good chance he was her father.
She opened her mouth, then closed it. Words faded from her brain as if she'd just lost the power of speech.
The senator walked toward them. "Are you Dragon-boy, Alex?" he asked the younger man.
Alex shrugged, looking faintly uncomfortable. "I told her I was the dragon at the gate."
The senator put a hand on Alex's shoulder. "You do a good job, too. So is this young lady causing trouble?" He turned to Dani and smiled. "You don't look especially threatening."
"I'm not," she managed.
"Don't be so sure," Alex told him.
Dani glared. "You're being a little judgmental here."
"You're going to make trouble with your ridiculous claims."
"Why are they ridiculous? You don't know for sure, yet."
"Do you?" Alex asked.
The senator looked at both of them. "Should I come back at a better time?"
Dani ignored Alex and turned to the senator. "I'm sorry to barge in like this. I've been trying to make an appointment to see you but every time they ask me why, I can't give them the real reason. I..."
The enormity of what she was about to do crashed in on her. How could she just blurt out what she'd been told? That twenty-nine years ago he'd had an affair with her mother and she was the result? He would never believe her. Why would he?
Mark Canfield frowned at her. "You look familiar. Have we met before?"
"Don't even think about it," Alex told her. "You don't want to mess with me."
She ignored him. "We haven't, Senator, but you knew my mother. Marsha Buchanan. I look a little like her. I'm her daughter. And, I think, maybe yours."
Mark Canfield's face barely showed any reaction at all. Must be all that political training, she thought, not sure what she was feeling herself. Hope? Terror? A sense of standing on the edge of a cliff, not sure if she should jump?
She braced herself for rejection because it was crazy to think he would just accept what she said.
Then his expression softened as he smiled. "I remember your mother very well. She was..." His voice trailed off. "We should talk. Come on in to my office."
Before Dani could take a step, Alex moved in front of her. "You can't do this," he told the senator. "You can't meet with her in private. How do you know she's not with the press? Or the opposition? This could be a set up."
Mark glanced from Alex to her. "Is it a set up?" he asked Dani.
"No. I'm who I said. I have ID, if you'd like to run a background check on me." The last statement was aimed at Alex.
"I will," he said smoothly and held out his hand.
"You expect me to hand over personal information right now?" she asked, not sure if she should be impressed by his efficiency or nail him in the shin with the pointy toe of her shoe.
"You expect to speak with the senator. Think of this as a security deposit."
"I'm not sure this is necessary," Mark said calmly, but he didn't try to stop Alex.
Dani dug in her purse for her wallet and pulled out her driver's license.
"You wouldn't happen to have your passport on you?" Alex asked.
"No, but maybe you'd like to take my fingerprints?"
"I'll do that later."
She had a feeling he wasn't kidding.
Mark glanced between them. "You two finished?"
Dani shrugged. "Ask Dragon-boy."
Alex nodded. "I'll join you as soon as I get one of the IT people working on this." He waved Dani's license.
"IT people?" Dani asked as she followed the senator into his office.
"Information technology. You'd be amazed at what they can do with a computer." He smiled and closed the door behind her. "Or maybe not. You're probably very computer literate. I wish I were. I know as much as I need to so I can get by, but I still have to call Alex every now and then to get me out of a bind."
He motioned to a conversation area at the rear of the room. There were two worn sofas, a couple of chairs and a coffee table that looked as if it had served time in a frat house.
"Have a seat," he said.
She perched on the edge of one of the sofas and glanced around the room.
It was big and open, but lacking in windows. Not a surprise, what with the entire campaign office being in a warehouse. From what she'd seen so far, the senator didn't believe in spending a lot of money on appearances. The desk was old and scarred, and the only color on the wall came from large-scale maps of different parts of the country.
"Are you really running for president?" she asked, realizing it was a question she'd never seriously thought about in her life. That someone she'd just met could be doing so now was beyond astonishing. It was just plain weird.
"We're exploring the possibility," he told her as he settled in a chair opposite the sofa. "This isn't a permanent arrangement. If my campaign looks like a go, we'll move to a more accessible location, but why spend the money now if we don't have to?"
He leaned forward and rested his forearms on his knees. "I can't believe you're Marsha's daughter. It's been what? Thirty years?"
"Twenty- eight," Dani said, then felt herself blush. "Although I suppose for you it's been closer to twenty-nine."
He nodded slowly. "I still remember the last time I saw her. We were having lunch downtown. I remember everything about how she looked. So beautiful."
There was a darkness in his eyes, as if he were lost in a past Dani couldn't begin to imagine. She had so many questions and wasn't comfortable asking any of them.
While Mark hadn't been married, her mother had been. Dani barely remembered either of her parents. The man she'd always thought of as her father...at least until she'd found out otherwise a few months ago...was little more than a blur.
Still, she found herself thinking about him, wondering when her mother had stopped loving him and had Mark Canfield been a part of that decision.
"I never knew why she ended things," Mark said quietly. "A couple of days after that lunch, she called me and said she couldn't see me anymore. She wouldn't say why. I tried to get in touch with her, but she'd taken the boys and gone away. She wrote me and told me she was serious about us being over. That she wanted me to get on with my life, to find someone I could have a real relationship with."
"She left because she was pregnant with me," Dani said, making a statement rather than asking a question.
The moment was too surreal, she thought. Although she'd wondered what her first conversation with Mark would be like, she hadn't really thought it would happen. Now that she was having it, she felt almost disconnected.
"That would be my guess," he said.
"So that means you really are my biological father."
Before Mark could answer, the door to his office opened and a woman entered. She gave Dani a quick glance, then looked at Mark.
"Senator, you have a call from Mr. Wilson. He says you know what it's about and that it's urgent."
Mark shook his head. "His definition of urgent and mine differ, Heidi. Tell him I'll call him back later."
Heidi, an attractive woman in her early forties, nodded and left the office.
Mark turned back to Dani. "I think it's very possible I'm your biological father."
The interruption had thrown Dani. It took her a second to mentally recreate the emotional storm that had been swirling inside of her. But the senator seemed very calm about the whole thing.
"You didn't know about me before?" she asked.
"Your mother never said anything and I never considered she could be pregnant."
And if you had? But before she could ask that, the door opened again and Alex entered.
"I've run a preliminary check background check on her," he said as he crossed the room. He stopped in front of Dani and looked down at her...in every way possible. "No felonies."
"You mean that bank robbery conviction from last week hasn't posted yet? The federal government is just so busy these days."
"This isn't a situation I find amusing," Alex told her.
Dani stood. Despite the dangerous heels, she was still a good six inches shorter than him. "You think I do? I spent my whole life thinking I was one person and suddenly I may be someone else. Do you have any idea what it's like to question your very existence? I'm sorry if my search for my father gets in the way of your daily schedule."
She was mad. Alex could see the fire in her eyes. She was also scared. She tried to hide the latter, but it was visible, at least to him. When he'd been very young, he'd learned what it was like to live in constant terror and the ability to recognize it in others had never left him.
But was she who she claimed? Her timing made him more suspicious than normal and he was, by nature and training, a cautious man. Trust had to be earned and once broken, was never given again. He doubted there was anything Dani Buchanan could do to make him trust her.
Alex studied her, searching for similarities to the senator. It was there, in her smile, the shape of her chin. But how many random strangers had a passing resemblance to each other? She could have stumbled across some information about the senator's affair with Marsha Buchanan and decided to use that to her advantage.
"We'll need to do a DNA test," he said flatly.
"I agree," Dani said, meeting his gaze with a steady look of her own. "I want to be sure."
"I'm sure," Mark said as he stood. "But testing will confirm everything. In the meantime, Dani, I'd like us to get to know each other."
Dani's smile was both hopeful and apprehensive. "Me, too. We could go to lunch or something."
"No public meetings," Alex said.
Mark nodded. "He's right. I'm a public figure. Having lunch with a pretty young woman would get people talking. We don't want that." He thought for a second. "Why don't you come over to the house for dinner tonight? You can meet the family."
Dani physically took a step back. "I don't think so," she murmured. "I'm not ready for that and they don't know about me. Your wife doesn't know about me and—"
"Nonsense. Katherine is an amazing woman. She'll understand and want to welcome you into the family. Alex and Julie don't live at home but there are still six Canfield children for you to meet." He frowned. "Not blood relations, of course. Katherine and I adopted all our children, but then you probably know that."
"I did some research on the family," Dani admitted.
And found out there was plenty of money, Alex thought cynically.
"You could have a few meetings here," he said. "Before you take Dani home."
But the senator had made up his mind and he was rarely convinced to change it. "No, dinner will work. Dani, you might as well find out the chaos you're getting yourself into right away. Besides, Katherine will adore you." He glanced at his watch. "I have a meeting I can't be late for. Alex, give Dani the address. Say six tonight?"
Alex nodded. "Are you going to tell Mom or should I?"
Mark considered the question. "I'll do it. I'll leave a little early." He smiled at Dani. "I'll see you tonight, then."
"I, ah, all right," Dani said, sounding a little shaken.
Mark left the office.
Dani clutched her handbag so tightly her knuckles turned white. "The family. I didn't expect that."
No, she'd probably thought she could weasel her way into Mark's good graces without having to face his children.
She turned to him. "What about your mother? Is this going to bother her?" She briefly closed her eyes, then opened them. "Stupid question. Of course it will. I know they weren't together when he had his relationship with my mother, but still. A kid from his past can't be easy to accept. I don't want to make trouble."
"Too late for that."
She tilted her head. "You don't approve of me."
"You don't want to know what I think of you."
Surprisingly, she smiled. "Oh, I can imagine."
"I don't think so."
He didn't frighten her, which annoyed him. He was used to intimidating people.
"So when's the DNA test?" she asked. "I assume you'll be hiring a lab?"
"Someone will be at the house tonight."
"Will they be using a cheek swab or would you prefer dismemberment?"
"I don't want you hurt," he told her.
"No. You just want me gone." She sighed. "I wish I could make you believe that I'm just looking for my father. I need that connection. I don't want anything from him other than to get to know him. I'm not the enemy."
"That's only one person's opinion." He moved closer to her, hoping to crowd her into stepping back again. She didn't. "You have no idea what you' ve gotten yourself into, Dani Buchanan," he said coldly. "This isn't a game. My father is a United States Senator who is considering a run for the presidency. There is more on the line than you can imagine. You will not be allowed to compromise him in any way. I'm not the only dragon at that particular gate, but I'm the one you're going to have to worry about most."
She leaned toward him. "You don't scare me."
"No, you won't. You assume there's something I want, which means you have leverage over me. But you're wrong." She shifted her handbag onto her shoulder. "It's okay. I respect what you're doing. In your position, I'd do the same thing. Protecting family is a big deal. But be careful about how far you take things. You don't seem like the kind of man who enjoys apologizing. I'd hate to see you have to come crawling back to me when you discover how wrong you are about me."
She had guts. He had to respect that. "You'd love me to come crawling with an apology."
She smiled. "I know, but I was trying to be polite."