With the help of her friends, caterer Shelby Dixon is taking justice into her own hands--she's going after the sleazebag who swindled her parents out of their life savings. It's a little vigilante, but hey...no one's perfect.
That is, except the sleazebag's half brother.
Millionaire businessman Trevor Banfield is perfect. Perfect looks, perfect everything. And Shelby can't help herself from...well, helping herself. But mixing a sexy fling with revenge seems to be a recipe for disaster. Now she's torn between her taste for Trevor...and her thirst for righting wrongs!
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Harlequin Enterprises, Limited
May 01, 2012
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Excerpt from Sizzle in the City by Wendy Etherington
"There is no such thing as justice--in or out of court."
--Clarence Darrow, 1936
The New York Tattletale April 12
Financial Finagling? by Peeps Galloway, Gossipmonger (And proud of it!)
Hello, fellow Manhattanites! As tax day approaches, all the corporate yuk-yuks are frantically lining up numbers in neat little columns. Yawn. You and I know what really matters in this town--power and popularity. And it seems tycoon wannabe Maxwell Banfield finally has it clutched tightly in his overly tanned hands.
He's now the proud owner of The Crown Jewel, a popular luxury hotel on West 42nd Street in Midtown. Presumably, he'll offer the usual glamorous offerings in the hotel's restaurant, Golden.
But the real jewel in the Crown isn't the four-star eatery, it's the thirtieth-floor lounge, where it's rumored '50s movie star Teresa Lawrence once tossed her drink(a very stiff martini) into legendary singer Paul Casto-no's face, bringing an end to their tumultuous two-year marriage. In a fit of nostalgia (or perhaps the convenience of the notorious private elevator), the high-flyers of stage and screen still occasionally flock to the joint.
Let's hope Mr. Big Talker Banfield can keep his lucrative clientele happy this time.
After all, there were some rumors a few years back about a bit of book-diddling that the IRS wouldn't necessarily approve of. Even if that story was proved unsubstantiated, there's nothing wrong with repeating it here, is there, kids! Besides, Max has a social cushion and cache many of us would sell our designer bags and shoes for in a heartbeat.
He's heir apparent to his powerful father, the Earl of Westmore (that's the title of nobility held by the Ban-field family of England and Wales). According to my compats in London, however, the future earl hasn't exactly lived up to his respected family name, given all his appearances in the tabloids. (And, oh, dear, there's yet another one!) It's rumored dear ole Daddy has cut his son off financially. But here he is, doling out cash for a luxury hotel.
Makes one go hmm...huh?
Certainly members of the peerage slithering away from a sticky situation has never happened before in our just and pristine land. So I'm sure those rumors about Max were, well.. fraudulent. Wink, wink.
I, your humble squire, just write and wonder. Maybe Max has suddenly got savvy? Maybe he miraculously found thirty million dollars under his sofa cushions? You be the judge, Urbanites. I know I'll be hitting the streets to find out more.
Keep your ears tuned and your gums flapping!
"We have to do something."
As Shelby Dixon shoved aside the newspaper, she sighed in disgust. "Where'd that crook Banfield get the money to buy a hotel?"
Her best friend Calla Tucker patted her hand in sympathy. "Apparently there are a lot more swindling victims besides your parents."
Victoria Holmes--her other best friend--narrowed her ice-blue eyes. "For thirty mil, there's a hell of a lot more."
Shelby sipped from her coffee mug and knew the bitter taste wasn't the drink she'd been served at Javalicious, where she and her friends gathered most Sunday afternoons in mid-town Manhattan.
Though she was originally from Savannah, Shelby had moved to the city to attend culinary school five years ago, started her own catering business after graduation and had no intention of ever leaving. She loved the vibrancy, the chaos and the struggle of the people and its urban maelstrom of clashing cultures and agendas. She'd adjusted to the size of her meager apartment that contrasted sharply with the extreme wealth of some of the homes she'd visited on the job. She'd learned to groan at the tourists gawking, wandering and clogging the subways, streets and cabs. She'd gotten used to the symphony of horns honking and angry shouts in a variety of languages.
She was home.
Moss dripping from lazy swaying palms was more her parents' style.
Thanks to Max Banfield and his fraudulent investment scheme, however, their seaside retirement had become a nightmare instead of a dream. Their savings account was shot, their spirits broken, their new condo on the verge of foreclosure and they were looking to their only daughter for salvation.
"He's got a rich father." Shelby's gaze flicked to the gossip article. "Maybe I could appeal to him."
Victoria shook her head. "You're chasing a dream. Guys like Max never pay. He's practically British royalty. He probably has an army of peons running behind him to clean up his messes."
"Don't be so negative," Calla said, exchanging a sharp look with Victoria. "Just because that lawyer you went out with tried to use you for your marketing contacts and clearly wanted to get his hands on your trust fund, that's no reason to be pissy."
"Sure it is," Victoria asserted.
Calla's eyes turned dreamy as she propped her chin in her palm. "I had a drink in that top-floor lounge last weekend. Very chic. Great lighting, cozy booths and a curving mahogany bar that probably seats fifty."
"Did Frank Sinatra--the ultracool 1950s version--jump out from behind the potted palm and sing you a tune?" Victoria asked.
Calla blinked. "Well, no."
Victoria swirled her finger in the air. "Then, whooppee."
Calla sighed--though not as deeply or hopelessly as Shelby had. "Come to think of it, the bartender was hotter than my date."
"Could we get back to my crisis here?" Shelby interjected. Normally her friends' opposing attitudes--positive for the ethereal blonde Calla and darkly realistic for the ebony-haired Victoria--were helpful. Today, they tried her patience. "We all have enough lousy date stories to fill the Hudson. Table the romance chat. I can't get the cops to do anything about my parents' case. And if I don't find a way to get their money back, they're going to wind up moving in with me."
"Talk about no romance," Victoria said sagely.
Calla bit into her scone--one Shelby had made and sold to Javalicious on a weekly basis. She'd spent so much time cultivating relationships with local businesses that they cross-promoted and shared temporary employees and suppliers.
Was all that hard work in jeopardy?
Her parents couldn't live with her in her one-bedroom apartment, and she couldn't afford a bigger place, or continue sending them enough money to pay their condo mortgage. She'd already begged the bank for more time, putting up her catering company as collateral. What if she had to liquidate her business and move back home to support her parents?
That was her duty, she supposed, but it would break her heart. There had to be another way.
"How can there be despair and strife when there are delights like this to enjoy?" Calla said, licking blueberry scone crumbs off her lip. "This is your best creation yet, Shel."
Unfortunately, Shelby couldn't appreciate the compliment. "I don't sleep. I bake."
"Strife?" Victoria narrowed her eyes. "What is this? The Canterbury Tales?"
"If only," Calla returned. "Then we could call a knight to raise his sword and strike down the tyranny of injustice, rescue the princess from the castle and bring peace and hope to all the land."
"Darling," Victoria began, clearly making strides for patience, "you're a talented travel writer, but surely you're not thinking about moving into fiction."
"I could, you know." Calla nodded for emphasis. "How hard could it be?"
"I'd imagine quite--"
Shelby poked Victoria. "Hang on. Who's the princess in this story?" she asked Calla.
Calla cocked her head. "Your mother, of course."
"Why not me?" At the moment, Shelby figured she could use a knight or two to save the day.
"Because you're the knight," Calla said as if this were obvious.
Shelby and Victoria exchanged frustrated looks.
"Knives I can handle," Shelby said finally. "Swords aren't really my forte."
"And that chain mail would ruin the body-buffing treatment I got last week," Victoria added.
"Yeah." Calla bit her lip. "Maybe you're right. There has to be a better..." Calla's eyes sparked with inspiration. "We'll go Robin Hood."
Victoria peered into Calla's mug. "Did you add whiskey?"
Calla wrapped her hands protectively around the ceramic. "I added coffee, creme and caramel. I'm perfectly sober."
"Yet you suggested we involve Robin Hood in solving Shelby's parents' financial crisis," Victoria reminded her.
Calla scowled. "You brought up The Canterbury Tales."''
Victoria nodded. "Because you started down Fairy Tale Lane."
"I was helping," Calla said, an atypical fierceness infusing her voice. "You, however--"
Shelby, holding up her hand, was beginning to feel like a referee. "Back to Robin Hood. Are we talking the costumes or the concept?"
"The concept, of course," Calla said. "I'm going nowhere in green tights and a short skirt after eating two of these scones."
"But you're suggesting we steal my parents' savings from Max Banfield," Shelby said slowly.
"Robin Hood didn't steal," Calla asserted. "He brought peace and justice to the land."
"By modern standards he was a vigilante," Victoria argued.
"Well, yes." Calla wiped her hands on a napkin. "But he was right, wasn't he? Fighting against the corrupt establishment? Helping people who'd been wronged and had no means or power of retribution? And I'm not suggesting we steal anything. I simply think we should take the law into our own hands. This investment scheme of Max's had to have affected a lot of people. We should find them and talk to them. We should band together."
"Shelby the Caterer and her Unhappy Retirees," Victoria said sardonically.
"We get proof of his swindling," Calla insisted.
"We get proof," Shelby repeated, both skeptical and curious of this obviously crazy idea.
"Sure." Clearly glad to have an eager audience, she leaned forward. "I'm great at research. How different could this be? We talk to his customers and his former clients. This new hotel gives us the perfect excuse. We could observe him, even interview him. I could pretend I'm doing a story on local entrepreneurs. We gather information and get proof that he's a lying, swindling creep."
Victoria's expression remained passionless. "Something nobody in the entire NYPD has been able to do."
"Only because they haven't really tried," Calla said, tossing a glare in her direction.
Shelby had to admit the idea of seeing that creep Max Banfield led off in handcuffs was appealing. But they all had jobs and businesses to run. Not to mention they had absolutely no authority to go poking around a criminal situation. What if Banfield had diplomatic immunity or something in America? Then the cops couldn't touch him, and she and her friends would get thrown in the dungeon for pestering him. "I appreciate you trying to help, Calla. But I have to agree with Victoria. I don't see how a caterer, a travel writer and a PR executive can solve a case the cops can't."
Calla stubbornly lifted her chin. "We can. We just have to--"
Victoria held up her hand. "Ladies, there's an obvious solution to this problem. I'll loan Shelby's parents the money to get by."
Shelby shook her head. "No. No way." When Victoria looked on the verge of insisting, she added, "They can't pay back a loan. The money they got from selling their dry cleaning business went to the down payment on the condo."
"A beachside condo won't be easy to sell these days," Calla said in an I-told-you-so kind of voice.
Shelby scowled. "No kidding."
"Our social lives are in a serious rut," Calla continued. "We need an adventure to break the monotony." She paused and grinned. "Plus, when is revenge against a creepy guy not fun?"
At this, even Victoria seemed intrigued.
Apparently, Shelby was staring desperation right in the eye, since the Robin Hood plan suddenly sounded like a viable option.
Victoria drummed her manicured fingernails on the table. "We've got one other problem."
"What's that?" Shelby asked, tensing.
"Robin Hood was a myth," Victoria said.
Calla cleared her throat. "Well, yes. That's a small wrinkle."
Shelby resisted the urge to drown herself in her latte.