Saturday Excerpt: Escapade by Diana Palmer
New York Times bestselling author Diana Palmer has been entertaining us with amazing characters and compelling stories for years, and we are so excited for her new book Escapade! It just went on sale on Tuesday, so if you’re looking for a new book, keep reading to discover why Escapade needs to be on your TBR list.
When her father dies, heiress Amanda Todd inherits a nearly bankrupt newspaper that she’s determined to bring back from the dead. But controlling interest lies with mysterious millionaire Joshua Lawson, a man even more stubborn than he is handsome. So she heads off to Josh’s Caribbean estate to show him how she can save the failing business. Sparks fly as Amanda and Josh butt heads; she’s never been so attracted to any man before, let alone one whose support she needs to resurrect her family legacy. And he knows full well how much is riding on this. Can this beauty convince him he’s met his match in business…and love?
The colorful, noisy crowd on the docks at Prince George Wharf was a breath of fresh air to Amanda Todd after the sad, somber atmosphere of her home in San Antonio, Texas. She was enchanted with the way the musical accents of British speech mingled with native patois in the European-class boutiques. Usually she would have had time to shop and enough money to indulge her whims. Since her father’s funeral three days ago, however, her finances had become an unholy tangle. She worked at her family’s weekly newspaper and job press but her father’s will had stipulated that she wouldn’t inherit the company until she reached the age of twenty-five, in two years, unless she married first. Harrison Todd hadn’t held modern views concerning women in business. In fact, he’d screamed bloody murder when Amanda had pursued her dream of a degree in accounting at college, but Josh had prepared her for that.
It was Joshua Cabe Lawson, her late father’s business partner, who had always supported her while her father was alive, and even now he was watching over her. He had arranged for her to fly to Nassau’s Opal Cay in the Bahamas on one of the Lawson Company’s Learjets. So she could spend one week on his island recharging her emotional batteries.
Drained and worn out, Amanda hadn’t argued with him. Besides, Josh was executor of Harrison Todd’s will, which meant Amanda’s financial future was temporarily in his hands. She was certain that would lead to a lot of arguments, for Josh was no less strong-willed than she. In spite of the fact that Josh had always championed her cause, they had lately become sporting adversaries.
The Lawson Company of San Antonio, Texas, was a computer conglomerate that produced both main- frame and personal computers. Its international success meant that Josh, as its president, traveled often. His brother, Brad, was vice president of marketing, and had the charm and charisma his older brother sometimes lacked.
Brad and Amanda had known each other since childhood. Although they’d gone to separate grammar schools, they had attended the same private high school in San Antonio while Josh had been dispatched to an exclusive military academy, learning the stiff-backed discipline that had enabled him to take charge of his father’s company at the age of twenty-four. Josh had increased the company’s profits fifteen percent the first year he had control. The board of directors, dubious in the early days of his tenure, had become allies, though they still weren’t sure what to make of Brad. Amanda had always felt like a sister to Brad, a sentiment that had deepened when old man Lawson had died ten years ago. She was glad he’d come to pick her up when she arrived on Opal Cay. Josh was, of course, tending to business.
“Josh never slows down, does he?” Amanda asked the tall, handsome man as they strolled along the dock in Nassau. “It isn’t as if he’s going to starve.” Brad chuckled. He lifted his sharp-featured countenance to the warm sea air and closed his eyes. “That’s a fact. Making money is all Josh lives for. At least since Terri cut out on him.”
Amanda didn’t like her most vivid memory of Terri. She wasn’t a bad sort, but Amanda wanted someone special for Josh—and although she wasn’t sure why, she knew that someone wasn’t Terri.
She turned toward the bay, where several lumbering white cruise ships were setting in port. She’d been on a cruise ship only once. She’d been seasick the entire trip. These days she flew when she had to travel.
Amanda paused by a straw stall, smiling at the shy girl who was watching it for her grandmother. “How much?” she asked, pointing toward a particularly lovely hemp hat with purple flowers woven around its wide brim.
“Four dollars,” the girl replied.
Amanda pulled a five-dollar bill out of the pocket of her white Bermuda shorts and handed it over. “No, no, keep that,” she added when the girl handed her a colorful Bahamian dollar in change.
“Thank you, ma’am,” the Bahamian girl replied, laughing.
“You spoil these vendors rotten,” Brad muttered. “You’ve got a closetful of hats already, and you won’t bargain.”
“I know how long it takes to make one of those hats, or a purse. The tourists are only concerned with saving money. They don’t realize how much it costs to live here, or how hard these vendors work to make a living. I do.”
“I suppose you think a million dollars is too much to pay for a beachfront cottage?”
“Rich absentee owners have certainly priced the Bahamian people out of their own land,” she said noncommittally.
Brad stopped and studied Amanda through his sunglasses. Tall and slender, with black hair down to her waist and pale green eyes, she wasn’t exactly a beauty, but she dressed to emphasize her best features. And she had a warm heart and a loving nature. If her father hadn’t been such a strict parent, Amanda would probably have been long married at twenty-three, with a houseful of children.
“We were all sorry to hear about your father,” Brad said solemnly. “Rough, your being an only child.”
She shrugged. “He was hardly ever at home, until he got so sick. Even then he preferred the company of his nurse to me. I only saw him when we argued over my choice of possible futures.”
“So I recall,” Brad said, chuckling. “Harrison wanted to ship you off on a cruise with a new business contact, and you went to college to study accounting.”
Amanda felt cold all over. “It was the first fight I ever won, and I’ve still got the scars. But I knew if I didn’t stand up to him then, I never would. It seems that I was the number one contender for Dell Bartlett’s fifth wife. I shiver at the very thought.”
“So do I, and I’m not even a woman!” Brad muttered.
She laughed. It changed her face back to the impish, radiant one Brad remembered when she was in her teens. Amanda and her father had never been very close, even after her mother died, leaving Harrison quite a nice inheritance from her family. Yet despite her tyrannical father, Amanda had retained some small part of her mischievous nature over the years. But she’d missed out on a lot of fun. Harrison Todd had guarded his daughter as if she were the crown jewels.
“You look wicked when you laugh, Amanda,” Brad commented dryly. “Remember that vicious Siamese cat you used to have?”
“Oh, how could I forget?” She giggled. “He knocked Josh into a prickly pear cactus!”
“And you spent half an hour with a flashlight and tweezers pulling the spines out of him.” He smiled at her. “He hated being touched. Nobody got near him in those days. That military training made him so aloof. But he let you close enough to undo the damage, and he made you his pet. Now he thinks he owns you.”
“Not me, buster,” she said, grinning. “I had enough coddling while my father was alive. Besides, Josh is my friend, just as you are. That’s all.”
Amanda hailed a carriage driver whose horse wore a colorful straw hat. “Take us around Bay Street?” she asked, waving a ten-dollar bill.
“You bet!” the driver said, giving her a blinding white grin. “Climb aboard!”
She and Brad slid into the cart and held on as the driver urged the horse into motion. They rode past breathtaking eighteenth-century architecture mingled with high-rise banks and hotels.
“How’s the job?”
“Murder!” she exclaimed. “The Todd Gazette was part of my mother’s estate, you know, but Dad put it up as collateral on a loan to buy stock, and he defaulted. He had terrible business sense. Josh says he has an insurance policy that will pay it off, but until I’m twenty-five or married, I have no say in its operation.” She grimaced, thinking about how poorly the operation was presently being managed. She had wanted to tell Josh, but he had been so busy that she couldn’t even get him on the telephone. Aside from needing the rest, she hadn’t argued about this trip since it might afford her the opportunity to make Josh see that she stood to lose her inheritance if he didn’t give her some control over the paper.
“Your father should have listened to Josh on those stock options,” Brad pointed out. “Josh warned him not to invest in the airline in the first place.”
“I know. Even though Dad respected Josh’s business sense, he wouldn’t listen that time.” She glanced toward a white jasmine hedge with pure delight, reveling in the smell of it. “There wasn’t really much left to lose. Josh salvaged the good investments, but Dad owed every penny he had. He lived to the very limit of his credit.”
“And now you resent being left in the lurch.”
“Of course I do,” she replied. “But brooding won’t solve anything. I have a very nice little cottage all my own in San Antonio and job security. At least,” she added with a rueful smile, “until the Gazette folds. It isn’t doing very well these days.”
Brad took that in without comment.
“What I couldn’t do with that job press it’s attached to, given the chance,” she murmured almost to herself. “It’s got such potential.”
“Josh thinks it’s redundant,” Brad remarked. “He favors shutting it down and retaining the newspaper.”
“But he’s wrong!” she said fervently. “Brad, it’s only being mismanaged! It’s—”
He held up a well-manicured hand. “Stop! We’re here to enjoy the scenery and drink in atmosphere.” He closed his eyes and sniffed. “Just smell that sea air! It’s invigorating, isn’t it? No amount of money can buy back clean air and viable land.”
“I can’t argue with that,” Amanda agreed.
“This is the life,” Brad murmured lazily. “Sand, sun, and a congenial companion. To hell with business.”
“Don’t let your brother hear you, or you’re going to be out of a job.”
“Josh and I are the only two Lawsons left. He couldn’t fire me if he wanted to. I’m a marketing genius.”
“And so modest!” she commented playfully. “I’m only a working girl, not a self-serving layabout like you!”
He tried to swipe at her hat, and she ducked, laughing. She gave in gracefully after that, letting herself relax and take in the lazy, lovely atmosphere of Nassau.
Ted Balmain met the launch at the marina late in the afternoon. If Josh Lawson had a factotum, Ted was it. Indispensable as valet, bodyguard, and general organizer, the tall, swarthy Texan officially was overseer for Opal Cay, one of seven hundred islands in the Bahamian chain.
“Ted, someday you’re going to be delegated to death,” Brad remarked as he helped Amanda into a seat.
“That’s what I keep telling Josh,” Ted agreed pleasantly. He cast off the line from the pier and cranked the engine. “Hang on. I feel reckless.”
“I’ll throw up,” Amanda threatened.
Ted gave her a teasing glance. “No stomach,” he told Brad. “She’s always going to be a landlubber at heart.”
“That’s why we went into Nassau. You can forget you’re on an island when you’re browsing down the streets.”
“It was wonderful,” she agreed. “Thanks, Brad.”
“My pleasure, squirt. Don’t I always look out for you?”
Her eyes smiled up at him. “Yes. As usual.”
“Josh is back,” Ted remarked as he pulled out of the bay.
Amanda’s heart beat faster. Josh was so vital, so alive, that his very presence started her blood churn- ing. He could put her in a vicious temper with a few terse words and then make her laugh two minutes later.
Josh was a big brother to both Brad and her. But to everyone else he was “Mr. Lawson,” the man who entertained CEOs and diplomats on his yacht, in his San Antonio manor, and on Opal Cay. He had the ear of money moguls on Wall Street, and he was a millionaire many times over because he took risks that sensible men avoided. Sometimes he pushed the boundaries of ethical conduct, but Amanda was the only one who wasn’t shy about voicing her disapproval. While Harrison Todd had certainly sheltered his daughter from much, he had encouraged her to stand up for her beliefs. Her father had been happiest when she had fought him tooth and nail, and now Josh reaped the benefit of her in-house combat training. So to speak.