Cold as Ice
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by Cindy Davis
Description: Claudia is a survivor, in a world as cold as ice. It's 1954. During Christmas break from Colorado College, Claudia Goodwin's father delivers the news: she's to marry David VanBuren so he can merge the two families' frozen food companies. Claudia's outright balking doesn't work, ignoring the edict doesn't work. When she finds herself pregnant by the one she truly loves, David's black-sheep brother Max, a philandering wild boy, marrying David seems the only solution. She does her best to make things work but David seems determined to undermine their life together. Claudia manages to handle his demands and misogynistic attitudes?until he announces he and Max are buying a diamond mine--which means she and Max will be thrust together day after day. Will she be able to deny her love for him? What if he sees the birthmark on his son's arm and realizes the truth?
eBook Publisher: L&L Dreamspell/L&L Dreamspell, 2011 London, Texas
eBookwise Release Date: October 2011
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [514 KB]
Reading time: 319-447 min.
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Claudia Goodwin's fingers pummeled the tissue to shreds. The downy bits fluttered to the floor of PanAm's First Class cabin. If Paul Michael thought she'd kowtow like a geisha--anything you say, Daddy, since it's for the company, Daddy--then, he had another think coming. She was his daughter dammit, not a chess piece he could move at his merest whim. She rummaged in her purse for another tissue.
"Is everything all right?"
She blinked twice to bring her seatmate into focus. Grey hair cut in a flattop, a small nick at the corner of his jaw where he'd cut himself shaving, and a pink shirt. She hated pink, especially on a man.
"Didn't your mother ever tell you not to frown because your face might freeze that way?"
"Didn't your mother ever tell you pink is for girls?"
"Touche. My name is Richard."
He jabbed a hand at her. It was warm and uncalloused. Possible professions raced through her head, all of them ended in "desk job." Not that it mattered. This guy was old enough to be her father. Another father figure, she didn't need.
"Want to talk about whatever put the frown on that pretty face?"
This particular problem--more like an episode in the soap opera that was Claudia's life--hadn't even been shared with Monique, who was probably in Woodland Park porking the new ski instructor. Though she and Monique shared everything, her friend tended to be quick with opinions and hasty solutions. This particular situation needed much contemplation.
Why not share with this stranger? His opinions would leave with him when the plane landed. A man's perspective might prove interesting. She looked him in the eye. Light blue with almost-invisible brown lashes. "What would you do if your father told you that in six months you had to marry the most boring person on earth?"
Richard England's reply was slow coming. This obviously wasn't the problem he'd fixed in his mind. "I thought arranged marriages went out with knights and damsels in distress." He paused a moment, then added, "You're not, um, er...?"
Was he blushing? Claudia laughed and supplied the word he'd obviously hesitated to say, "Expecting?" She laughed again, a sharp sound that squelched the drone of the engines in her brain. "I've met the guy exactly three times--once when I was ten and his family visited our place in Richmond. The second: four nights ago, at my parents' Christmas party. The third was last night when he took me to the opera."
"I rest my case."
The corners of his lips twitched, suppressing a smile. "Otherwise, I can only think of one reason for an arranged marriage--money."
"Ever hear of Goodwin Frozen Foods?" She spread her arms. "You're talking to the owner's only daughter, Claudia Goodwin."
"Who's your intended?"
His low whistle made a man across the aisle look up from his magazine. "I've heard of them but-- Wait just a minute." His index finger poked the space between them. "Didn't I read something about Edgar VanBuren retiring?"
"You're not marrying him!"
"No. There are two sons. David and Maximillian. David pretty much runs the show now." If it had been Max, things might be different. Max was personable and fun. Max was the man in every erotic dream she'd ever had.
"So you're running away."
"If I thought I could get away with it." She straightened her skirt even though his eyes hadn't strayed to her legs. "I go to Colorado College. I'm headed back from Christmas break."
His lips pursed. "I don't see you as a psychologist."
"It was the farthest I could get from the food business." The funny thing was, she actually enjoyed the subject. But wouldn't admit it to anyone, not even this oh-so-understanding stranger.
"Have the classes given you insight into the workings of Daddy's mind?"
"I don't need school for that--it's money that drives him, only money."
The stewardess appeared, looking prim in her form-fitting navy blue uniform with the PanAm logo sewn on the left breast pocket. She took Richard's empty highball glass and Claudia's tray. "We'll be landing soon."
"I assume you've got a plan to get out of this ah...situation," Richard said, fastening his seat belt.
"I'm working on one." Claudia did likewise.
He crossed long, lean legs. "I suppose talking to either of them is out."
"You don't talk to Father."
The plane broke through the clouds. Below, a straight ribbon of black bisected a shaggy field. Claudia wadded up the remaining tissue, picked up the pieces from the floor and dropped it all in her purse as the plane's gear thumped onto the runway.
"Have you talked to David? Maybe he--"
"He wears bow ties."
A sudden smile revealed perfect teeth. "What about your mother?"
Claudia gave an exaggerated eye roll.
"What kind of man is this David? Besides boring, that is. I mean, does he have six legs? Pick his nose in public?"
Rather than react to his wit, Claudia shook her head. "He's good looking, tall, dark and distinguished, well dressed. He's just stuffy and boring. I spent three hours the other night listening to him talk about the process for freezing chicken so the batter stayed on when it defrosted."
"Seems like that's a good thing."
"You're kidding right? He's just like my fath--" When she realized he was kidding, she gave his forearm a playful slap. The timbre of the four engines lowered as the plane ground to a stop. For a moment Claudia felt sadness that they would be parting. "I didn't get to learn anything about you."
He laid his hand on hers in a fatherly gesture. "I can tell you're a smart lady. I've no doubt you'll find a way out of this."
As the plane bumped to the tarmac, Claudia gave him a wan smile that mutated into a sanguine grin. "Thanks for the vote of confidence."
"If I see your fighting spirit, so can your father. He'll expect you to fight back."
"That's what I'm worried about--his counterattack."
Her seatmate patted her hand again and stood up. "Good luck, my dear. I wish you all the best."
Was she mistaken or did his tone insinuate she'd need a lot of luck? He'd be right. To Paul Michael Goodwin people were put on this earth to obey his every wish. Claudia squeezed her eyes shut, wishing away the tic in her left eye so her brain might devise a plan.
Nobody could be so desperate for a business deal.
Oh yes they could. Sacrificing his only child for the betterment of Goodwin Frozen Foods wouldn't take more than a millisecond's consideration. Paul Michael knew only two things: money and power. To that end he needed a successor to the Goodwin empire; someone on whom the reins could fall should something happen to him. Hints had been dropped during her ten-day visit home. The hints weren't in reference to her, she knew that much. Paul Michael would never allow a woman in a position of power. That meant he was bringing in someone from the outside, and this someone would be in direct line for her inheritance. David VanBuren.
Sure, she liked having money, loved it, as a matter of fact, but it would not be the reason she got out of bed in the morning.
Five minutes before time to leave for the airport, Paul Michael had called her to his office. Claudia thought she was prepared...until the moment she stepped up to that gargantuan desk, smelled the leather furniture and splash of aftershave, saw his steely expression. She became a quivering mass, a small insignificant gnat with a tic in her left eyelid, and anger at her insipid weakness growing into a lump so big she feared she'd choke on it.
Claudia listened to Daddy's pronouncement--one utterly different than what she'd prepared for--and did something she'd never done, gave in without a fight.
Which had probably been the biggest surprise of Paul Michael's life. She hadn't argued. What was the point? He always won. That was how she'd felt at that moment.
It wasn't how she felt ten minutes later. Or twenty minutes later when the chauffeur swung south on Route 5. Or fifty minutes later when they pulled up to the Departing bay of San Diego International. By then, a decision had been made. She would fight this like she'd never fought anything in her miserable life.