Undaunted

By: Diana Palmer

 One

Emma Copeland was sitting on the end of the dock, dangling her bare feet in the water. Minnows came up and nibbled her toes, and she laughed. Her long, platinum-blond hair fell around her shoulders like a silk curtain, windblown, beautiful. The face it framed wasn’t beautiful. But it had soft features. Her nose was straight. She had high cheekbones and a rounded chin. Her best feature was her eyes, large and brown and gentle, much like Emma herself.

She’d grown up on a small ranch in Comanche Wells, Texas, where her father ran black baldies in a beef operation. She could ride and rope and knew how to pull a calf. But here, on Lake Lanier in North Georgia, she worked as an assistant to Mamie van Dyke, a famous and very wealthy writer of women’s suspense novels. Mamie’s books were always at the top of the New York Times bestseller list. That made Emma proud, because she helped with the research as well as the proofing of those novels in their raw form, long before they were turned over to editors and copy editors.

She’d found the job online, of all places. A Facebook friend, who knew that Emma had taken business courses at her local vocational school, had mentioned that a friend of her mother’s was looking for a private assistant, someone trustworthy and loyal to help her do research and typing. It wasn’t until she’d applied and been accepted—after a thorough background check—that Emma had learned who her new boss was. Mamie was one of her favorite authors, and she was a bit starstruck when she arrived with her sparse belongings at the door of Mamie’s elaborate and luxurious two-story lake house in North Georgia.

Emma had worried that her cheap clothing and lack of social graces might put the older woman off. But Mamie had welcomed her like a lost child, taken her under her wing, and taught her how to cope with the many wealthy and famous guests who sometimes attended parties there.

One of those guests was Connor Sinclair. Connor was one of the ten wealthiest men in the country—some said, in the world. He was nearing forty, with wavy jet-black hair that showed only a scattering of silver. He was big and broad and husky with a leonine face and chiseled, perfect lips. He had a light olive complexion with high cheekbones and deep-set eyes under a jutting brow. He was handsome and elegant in the dinner jacket he wore with a spotless white shirt and black tie. The creases in his pants were as perfect as the polish on his wing-tip shoes. He had beautiful hands, big and broad, with fingers that looked as if they could crush bones. He wore a tigereye ring on his little finger. No other jewelry, save for a Rolex watch that looked more functional than elegant.

Emma, in her plain black cocktail dress, with silver stud earrings and a delicate silver necklace with a small inset turquoise, felt dowdy in the glittering company of so many rich people. She wore her pale blond hair in a thick bun atop her head. She had a perfect peaches-and-cream complexion, and lips that looked as if they wore gloss when they didn’t. Light powder and a soft glossy lipstick were her only makeup. She held a champagne flute filled with ginger ale. She didn’t drink, although at twenty-three, she could have done so legally.

She was miserable at the party, and wished she could go somewhere and hide. But Mamie was nearby and might need an iPad or her phone, which Emma carried, ready to write down something for her. So she couldn’t leave.

From across the room, the big man was glaring at her. She squirmed under his look, wondering what she could have done to incur his anger. She’d never even seen him before.

Then she remembered. She’d been out on the lake in Mamie’s speedboat once. She loved the fast boat. It made her feel free and happy. It was one of the few things that did. She’d been crazy about a boy in her class at the vocational school where she’d learned administrative skills. When he’d asked her out, all her dreams had come true. Until he’d learned that her father ran beef cattle. They were even engaged briefly.Unfortunately, he was a founding member of the local animal rights group, PETA. He’d told Emma that he found her father’s profession disgusting and that he’d never have anything to do with a woman who had any part of it. He’d walked out of her life and she’d never seen him again. After that, he ignored her pointedly at school. Her heart was broken. It was one of the few times she’d even had a date. She went to church with her father, but it was a small congregation and there were no single men in it, except for a much older widower and a divorced man who was her father’s age.