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Luring a Lady

Nora Roberts

  Luring a Lady

  The Stanislaskis

  Book Two

  Nora Roberts

  The Stanislaskis: an unforgettable family saga by #1 New York Times bestselling author Nora Roberts

  Nothing in Sydney Hayward’s background of wealth and privilege prepared her to take the helm of her family’s corporation, and her new responsibilities left no room for complications. Mikhail Stanislaski was definitely a complication. Earthy and entirely masculine, Mikhail came from a world utterly different from her own. But the way she felt when he put his strong, work-hardened hands on her was wreaking havoc with Sydney’s resolve.















  She wasn’t a patient woman. Delays and excuses were barely tolerated, and never tolerated well. Waiting—and she was waiting now—had her temper dropping degree by degree toward ice. With Sydney Hayward icy anger was a great deal more dangerous than boiling rage. One frigid glance, one frosty phrase could make the recipient quake. And she knew it.

  Now she paced her new office, ten stories up in midtown Manhattan. She swept from corner to corner over the deep oatmeal-colored carpet. Everything was perfectly in place, papers, files, coordinated appointment and address books. Even her brass-and-ebony desk set was perfectly aligned, the pens and pencils marching in a straight row across the polished mahogany, the notepads carefully placed beside the phone.

  Her appearance mirrored the meticulous precision and tasteful elegance of the office. Her crisp beige suit was all straight lines and starch, but didn’t disguise the fact that there was a great pair of legs striding across the carpet. With it she wore a single strand of pearls, earrings to match and a slim gold watch, all very discreet and exclusive. As a Hayward, she’d been raised to be both.

  Her dark auburn hair was swept off her neck and secured with a gold clip. The pale freckles that went with the hair were nearly invisible after a light dusting of powder. Sydney felt they made her look too young and too vulnerable. At twenty-eight she had a face that reflected her breeding. High, slashing cheekbones, the strong, slightly pointed chin, the small straight nose. An aristocratic face, it was pale as porcelain, with a softly shaped mouth she knew could sulk too easily, and large smoky-blue eyes that people often mistook for guileless.

  Sydney glanced at her watch again, let out a little hiss of breath, then marched over to her desk. Before she could pick up the phone, her intercom buzzed.


  “Ms. Hayward. There’s a man here who insists on seeing the person in charge of the Soho project. And your four-o’clock appointment—”

  “It’s now four-fifteen,” Sydney cut in, her voice low and smooth and final. “Send him in.”

  “Yes, ma’am, but he’s not Mr. Howington.”

  So Howington had sent an underling. Annoyance hiked Sydney’s chin up another fraction. “Send him in,” she repeated, and flicked off the intercom with one frosted pink nail. So, they thought she’d be pacified with a junior executive. Sydney took a deep breath and prepared to kill the messenger.

  It was years of training that prevented her mouth from dropping open when the man walked in. No, not walked, she corrected. Swaggered. Like a black-patched pirate over the rolling deck of a boarded ship.

  She wished she’d had the foresight to have fired a warning shot over his bow.

  Her initial shock had nothing to do with the fact that he was wildly handsome, though the adjective suited perfectly. A mane of thick, curling black hair flowed just beyond the nape of his neck, to be caught by a leather thong in a short ponytail that did nothing to detract from rampant masculinity. His face was rawboned and lean, with skin the color of an old gold coin. Hooded eyes were nearly as black as his hair. His full lips were shadowed by a day or two’s growth of beard that gave him a rough and dangerous look.

  Though he skimmed under six foot and was leanly built, he made her delicately furnished office resemble a doll’s house.

  What was worse was the fact that he wore work clothes. Dusty jeans and a sweaty T-shirt with a pair of scarred boots that left a trail of dirt across her pale carpet. They hadn’t even bothered with the junior executive, she thought as her lips firmed, but had sent along a common laborer who hadn’t had the sense to clean up before the interview.

  “You’re Hayward?” The insolence in the tone and the slight hint of a Slavic accent had her imagining him striding up to a camp fire with a whip tucked in his belt.

  The misty romance of the image made her tone unnecessarily sharp. “Yes, and you’re late.”

  His eyes narrowed fractionally as they studied each other across the desk. “Am I?”

  “Yes. You might find it helpful to wear a watch. My time is valuable if yours is not. Mr….”

  “Stanislaski.” He hooked his thumbs in the belt loops of his jeans, shifting his weight easily, arrogantly onto one hip. “Sydney’s a man’s name.”

  She arched a brow. “Obviously you’re mistaken.”

  He skimmed his gaze over her slowly, with as much interest as annoyance. She was pretty as a frosted cake, but he hadn’t come straight and sweaty from a job to waste time with a female. “Obviously. I thought Hayward was an old man with a bald head and a white mustache.”

  “You’re thinking of my grandfather.”

  “Ah, then it’s your grandfather I want to see.”

  “That won’t be possible, Mr. Stanislaski, as my grandfather’s been dead for nearly two months.”

  The arrogance in his eyes turned quickly to compassion. “I’m sorry. It hurts to lose family.”

  She couldn’t say why, of all the condolences she had received, these few words from a stranger touched her. “Yes, it does. Now, if you’ll take a seat, we can get down to business.”

  Cold, hard and distant as the moon. Just as well, he thought. It would keep him from thinking of her in more personal ways—at least until he got what he wanted.

  “I have sent your grandfather letters,” he began as he settled into one of the trim Queen Anne chairs in front of the desk. “Perhaps the last were misplaced during the confusion of death.”

  An odd way to put it, Sydney thought, but apt. Her life had certainly been turned upside down in the past few months. “Correspondence should be addressed to me.” She sat, folding her hands on the desk. “As you know Hayward Enterprises is considering several firms—”

  “For what?”

  She struggled to shrug off the irritation of being interrupted. “I beg your pardon?”

  “For what are you considering several firms?”

  If she had been alone, she would have sighed and shut her eyes. Instead, she drummed her fingers on the desk. “What position do you hold, Mr. Stanislaski?”


  “Yes, yes, what is it you do?”

  The impatience in her voice made him grin. His teeth were very white, and not quite straight. “You mean, what is it I do? I work with wood.”

  “You’re a carpenter?”


  “Sometimes,” she repeated, and sat back. Behind her, buildings punched into a hard blue sky. “Perhaps you can tell me why Howington Construction sent a sometimes carpenter to represent them in this interview.”

  The room smelled of lemon and rosemary and only reminded him that he was hot, thirsty and as impatient as she. “I could—if they had sent me.”

  It took her a moment to realize he
wasn’t being deliberately obtuse. “You’re not from Howington?”

  “No. I’m Mikhail Stanislaski, and I live in one of your buildings.” He propped a dirty boot on a dusty knee. “If you’re thinking of hiring Howington, I would think again. I once worked for them, but they cut too many corners.”

  “Excuse me.” Sydney gave the intercom a sharp jab. “Janine, did Mr. Stanislaski tell you he represented Howington?”

  “Oh, no, ma’am. He just asked to see you. Howington called about ten minutes ago to reschedule. If you—”

  “Never mind.” Sitting back again, she studied the man who was grinning at her. “Apparently I’ve been laboring under a misconception.”

  “If you mean you made a mistake, yes. I’m here to talk to you about your apartment building in Soho.”

  She wanted, badly, to drag her hands through her hair. “You’re here with a tenant complaint.”

  “I’m here with many tenants’ complaints,” he corrected.

  “You should be aware that there’s a certain procedure one follows in this kind of matter.”

  He lifted one black brow. “You own the building, yes?”

  “Yes, but—”

  “Then it’s your responsibility.”

  She stiffened. “I’m perfectly aware of my responsibilities, Mr. Stanislaski. And now…”

  He rose as she did, and didn’t budge an inch. “Your grandfather made promises. To honor him, you must keep them.”

  “What I must do,” she said in a frigid voice, “is run my business.” And she was trying desperately to learn how. “You may tell the other tenants that Hayward is at the point of hiring a contractor as we’re quite aware that many of our properties are in need of repair or renovation. The apartments in Soho will be dealt with in turn.”

  His expression didn’t change at the dismissal, nor did the tone of his voice or the spread-legged, feet-planted stance. “We’re tired of waiting for our turn. We want what was promised to us, now.”

  “If you’ll send me a list of your demands—”

  “We have.”

  She set her teeth. “Then I’ll look over the files this evening.”

  “Files aren’t people. You take the rent money every month, but you don’t think of the people.” He placed his hands on the desk and leaned forward. Sydney caught a wisp of sawdust and sweat that was uncomfortably appealing. “Have you seen the building, or the people who live in it?”

  “I have reports,” she began.

  “Reports.” He swore—it wasn’t in a language she understood, but she was certain it was an oath. “You have your accountants and your lawyers, and you sit up here in your pretty office and look through papers.” With one quick slash of the hand, he dismissed her office and herself. “But you know nothing. It’s not you who’s cold when the heat doesn’t work, or who must climb five flights of stairs when the elevator is broken. You don’t worry that the water won’t get hot or that the wiring is too old to be safe.”

  No one spoke to her that way. No one. Her own temper was making her heart beat too fast. It made her forget that she was facing a very dangerous man. “You’re wrong. I’m very concerned about all of those things. And I intend to correct them as soon as possible.”

  His eyes flashed and narrowed, like a sword raised and turned on its edge. “This is a promise we’ve heard before.”

  “Now, it’s my promise, and you haven’t had that before.”

  “And we’re supposed to trust you. You, who are too lazy or too afraid to even go see what she owns.”

  Her face went dead white, the only outward sign of fury. “I’ve had enough of your insults for one afternoon, Mr. Stanislaski. Now, you can either find your way out, or I’ll call security to help you find it.”

  “I know my way,” he said evenly. “I’ll tell you this, Miss Sydney Hayward, you will begin to keep those promises within two days, or we’ll go to the building commissioner, and the press.”

  Sydney waited until he had stalked out before she sat again. Slowly she took a sheet of stationery from the drawer then methodically tore it into shreds. She stared at the smudges his big wide-palmed hands had left on her glossy desk and chose and shredded another sheet. Calmer, she punched the intercom. “Janine, bring me everything you’ve got on the Soho project.”

  An hour later, Sydney pushed the files aside and made two calls. The first was to cancel her dinner plans for the evening. The second was to Lloyd Bingham, her grandfather’s—now her—executive assistant.

  “You just caught me,” Lloyd told her as he walked into Sydney’s office. “I was on my way out. What can I do for you?”

  Sydney shot him a brief glance. He was a handsome, ambitious man who preferred Italian tailors and French food. Not yet forty, he was on his second divorce and liked to escort society women who were attracted to his smooth blond looks and polished manners. Sydney knew that he had worked hard and long to gain his position with Hayward and that he had taken over the reins during her grandfather’s illness the past year.

  She also knew that he resented her because she was sitting behind a desk he considered rightfully his.

  “For starters, you can explain why nothing has been done about the Soho apartments.”

  “The unit in Soho?” Lloyd took a cigarette from a slim gold case. “It’s on the agenda.”

  “It’s been on the agenda for nearly eighteen months. The first letter in the file, signed by the tenants, was dated almost two years ago and lists twenty-seven specific complaints.”

  “And I believe you’ll also see in the file that a number of them were addressed.” He blew out a thin stream of smoke as he made himself comfortable on one of the chairs.

  “A number of them,” Sydney repeated. “Such as the furnace repairs. The tenants seemed to think a new furnace was required.”

  Lloyd made a vague gesture. “You’re new to the game, Sydney. You’ll find that tenants always want new, better and more.”

  “That may be. However, it hardly seems cost-effective to me to repair a thirty-year-old furnace and have it break down again two months later.” She held up a finger before he could speak. “Broken railings in stairwells, peeling paint, an insufficient water heater, a defective elevator, cracked porcelain…” She glanced up. “I could go on, but it doesn’t seem necessary. There’s a memo here, from my grandfather to you, requesting that you take over the repairs and maintenance of this building.”

  “Which I did,” Lloyd said stiffly. “You know very well that your grandfather’s health turned this company upside down over the last year. That apartment complex is only one of several buildings he owned.”

  “You’re absolutely right.” Her voice was quiet but without warmth. “I also know that we have a responsibility, a legal and a moral responsibility to our tenants, whether the building is in Soho or on Central Park West.” She closed the folder, linked her hands over it and, in that gesture, stated ownership. “I don’t want to antagonize you, Lloyd, but I want you to understand that I’ve decided to handle this particular property myself.”


  She granted him a small smile. “I’m not entirely sure. Let’s just say I want to get my feet wet, and I’ve decided to make this property my pet project. In the meantime, I’d like you to look over the reports on the construction firms, and give me your recommendations.” She offered him another file. “I’ve included a list of the properties, in order of priority. We’ll have a meeting Friday, ten o’clock, to finalize.”

  “All right.” He tapped out his cigarette before he rose. “Sydney, I hope you won’t take offense, but a woman who’s spent most of her life traveling and buying clothes doesn’t know much about business, or making a profit.”

  She did take offense, but she’d be damned if she’d show it. “Then I’d better learn, hadn’t I? Good night, Lloyd.”

  Not until the door closed did she look down at her hands. They were shaking. He was right, absolutely right to point out her inadequacies. But he co
uldn’t know how badly she needed to prove herself here, to make something out of what her grandfather had left her. Nor could he know how terrified she was that she would let down the family name. Again.

  Before she could change her mind, she tucked the file into her briefcase and left the office. She walked down the wide pastel corridor with its tasteful watercolors and thriving ficus trees, through the thick glass doors that closed in her suite of offices. She took her private elevator down to the lobby, where she nodded to the guard before she walked outside.

  The heat punched like a fist. Though it was only mid-June, New York was in the clutches of a vicious heat wave with temperatures and humidity spiraling gleefully. She had only to cross the sidewalk to be cocooned in the waiting car, sheltered from the dripping air and noise. After giving her driver the address, she settled back for the ride to Soho.

  Traffic was miserable, snarling and edgy. But that would only give her more time to think. She wasn’t certain what she was going to do when she got there. Nor was she sure what she would do if she ran into Mikhail Stanislaski again.

  He’d made quite an impression on her, Sydney mused. Exotic looks, hot eyes, a complete lack of courtesy. The worst part was the file had shown that he’d had a perfect right to be rude and impatient. He’d written letter after letter during the past year, only to be put off with half-baked promises.

  Perhaps if her grandfather hadn’t been so stubborn about keeping his illness out of the press. Sydney rubbed a finger over her temple and wished she’d taken a couple of aspirin before she’d left the office.

  Whatever had happened before, she was in charge now. She intended to respect her inheritance and all the responsibilities that went with it. She closed her eyes and fell into a half doze as her driver fought his way downtown.

  Inside his apartment, Mikhail carved a piece of cherrywood. He wasn’t sure why he continued. His heart wasn’t in it, but he felt it more productive to do something with his hands.