Dressed in black, Joshua Raven was a sharp contrast to the glistening white marble foyer. Though his attire was casual, slacks and a short-sleeved polo shirt, he was every inch as striking today as he had been in his tuxedo.
Wendy vividly recalled her first sight of him. Standing there, tall and elegant across the room, his black eyes trained on her. Shed felt an electrical shock when their glances met, as though shed been in the cross-hairs of a rifle. Shed shaken off the irrational thought, but she hadn't forgotten how it made her feel. She supposed any man who clawed his way up from poverty to reach such extraordinary success at his age, probably looked at everybody as potential prey.
She watched as his gaze fell on her-and the albino crow perched on her head. His ebony eyes widened a fraction. She sensed the tiny reaction was quite a show of emotion for a man accustomed to keeping his own council. Waving broadly, she urged her balky father forward. "Hello, Mr. Raven. Welcome."
Their guest seemed to have difficulty pulling his glance from her headgear. When their eyes met, she smiled. "If you're wondering, this is Al." She reached up and stroked the bird along its wing and was promptly pecked for her trouble. "Ouch!"
"Miss?" Millville asked in his sedate way. "Shall I take her?"
"Millville, Id love it, but daddy shouted." She shrugged.
Millville knew without need for explanation, when Gower Isaac shouted, her crow flew up to cling, panic-stricken, to her head. The butler nodded. "Ill fetch the persuader."
"Oh, what a wonderful idea," Wendy said. "Id forgotten about that."
"What is it?" Josh asked, his lips quirking. "A slingshot?"
Wendy laughed. "No. Al likes Twinkies. Sometimes it works."
"Ah." Joshs perusal lingered on the crow for another moment before he peered at Gower.
Wendy noticed her father's face was a shade of red shed never seen before. "Dad, would rather I didn't wear Al to dinner," she teased. "Actually, I think he'd like to have Al for dinner."
Josh Raven's husky laugh echoed in the cavernous room. "Eat crow? Gower Isaac? I know people who'd pay big money to see that."
Startled by his wit, she giggled. Reaching up, she stroked Als soft feathers and was relieved when the bird didn't peck at her. "I like Mr. Raven, Al. What's your opinion?"
"You're a pretty boy," the bird blurted. "Kiss me, pretty boy."
"Oh, lord," Gower muttered.
Josh laughed, and once again the foyer rumbled pleasantly with his mirth. "A white crow that talks and doubles as a hat. I'm impressed." His glance shifted to Wendy. "By the way, please call me Josh."
"Thank you-Josh." Wendy found their guest to be unlike anything shed expected. Oh, shed known he was handsome, even before last night. Anybody who'd lingered in the checkout line in a supermarket knew his face. He was quite the lady's man, according to the tabloids-naturally, she only scanned the stories. Cameras loved him, making him look darkly seductive in every grainy photo shed seen.
As she examined his face, she had to rethink that notion. Cameras didn't do justice to that cleft chin or the shadowed hollows beneath his strong cheekbones. And those deep set eyes--
"Kiss me, pretty boy!" Al squawked, drawing Wendy out of her musings.
"I'm not into feathers, Al, old buddy," Josh said with a crooked grin. "But thanks anyway."
Deciding hed passed a test she hadnt been aware she was giving, she reached up and stroked the crows soft breast. "Okay, Al, youve made your point." She met their guest's darkly sexy eyes. "Als short for Alberta. Shes a shameless flirt. We think her former owner was a lady of the evening."
"Clearly Als made a change for the better," Josh said.
She experienced a flutter of admiration. No wonder he was so popular with women. If he could make her feel as though having a crow on her head was perfectly proper dinner attireeven as it shrieked propositions at himthen he deserved his reputation as a charmer.
The sound of footfalls attracted their attention. "Oh, good, the cavalrys coming." She turned to see Millville approach.
Looking starched and professional in his dark uniform, he carried a shaft of sponge cake. "Come to Uncle Millie, Alberta," he cooed. "You and I shall have a Twinkie-pig-out in my quarters."
With a squawk, Al fluttered off Wendys head, pulling out reluctant strands of hair in the process. Landing on Millvilles outstretched arm, the crow tore into the cake.
"Thanks Millville." She ran her fingers through her ruined curls in an attempt to minimize the damage. "Ill pick her up before I go."
"No hurry, Miss," the old man offered. "Ive missed this naughty girl."
"Millville," Gower said in an unusually restrained tone, "Get rid of that refugee from a corn field, and tell Cook our guest would like to eat."
As Millville exited the foyer, Al squawked, "Pretty boykiss me!" spraying Twinkie crumbs into the air. The crows high-pitched plea snapped Wendy from an odd trance, and it struck her that shed been staring at Josh with an inane grin on her face.
Though she was positive he was accustomed to women gaping longingly at him, she hadnt though of herself as the type of ninny to be drawn in by a playboys charisma. Chagrin heated her cheeks. How superficial! Turning toward her father, she forced an offhand tone. "Im starving, Dad. Lets eat."
She was starting to have major regrets about meeting this man with a crow on her head. But it was too late to alter his impression. The best course was to get this dinner over as quickly as possible and hope that Joshua Raven would be charitable and forget he ever met her.
From the book BOARDROOM BRIDEGROOM, by Renee Roszel
Published by Harlequin books S.A. Copyright © 1999 by Renee Roszel
Publication Date (USA), June 1999, ISBN # 0-373-83409-8
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