Secrets of the Playboy's Bride(2)

By: Leanne Banks

Calista’s heart pounded as she walked away from one of the wealthiest men in the world. Drawing in a calming breath, she accepted the bottle of water the waiter offered on her way to the opposite end of the grand ballroom. She rarely drank alcohol because she always had to be on guard. Since her father had died, there’d always been too much at stake.Time would tell her if her fishing expedition with Leonardo Grant was successful. He was the kind of man who liked a challenge, and she had spent the last two months planning how to become his challenge. He was better looking in person than in the rare photographs she’d seen in the newspaper. Tall with dark hair and black eyes, he had a dangerous air that seemed to whisper beneath the surface.

She knew he was a huge benefactor of charitable causes. Probably paying his own version of penance for what his father had done, she thought bitterly. Not many people knew Leo Grant was the son of the late, unlamented Clyde Hawkins. Leo might have had enough money to pay for most of his past to go away, but she had a photograph of Clyde Hawkins and the boy who’d ruined her father. The boy in the photo was Leo Grant and he didn’t know it, but he was going to help her.

On Sunday afternoon, Calista pulled her eight-year-old, but well-maintained, BMW in front of her cousin Sharon’s home in the suburbs just as she did every week. Two hours from Philadelphia, the home had mostly insulated her twin sisters from the scandal that had wreaked havoc on their lives years ago.Calista smiled at the beautifully-tended shrubs and flowers. Even with a son of their own, Sharon and her husband, Walter, had tended her sisters in the same loving way they approached everything. She walked up the steps to the small cottage and knocked on the door. “Hello? Anyone home?”

She heard a screech followed by pounding feet. The door flew open and her sister Tina and Sharon’s son, Justin, elbowed each other. “Beat ya,” Tina said and gave Calista a hug.

“Uh-uh,” Justin said. “I got here first.”

Despite the fact that Tina was seventeen and Justin was nearly fifteen, the two engaged in friendly competition at every opportunity.

Her other sister Tami appeared behind them with more predictable teenage cool. “As if it matters who gets there first,” Tami said, yawning as she nudged past them. “Cal, can you take me for a mani-pedi? My nails are a mess.”

“I wanted to ride go-karts,” Tina said.

“Second that one,” Justin said. “I’d win again.”

Tami rolled her eyes. “Tina always gets her way. I’ll watch.”

“Maybe we could do both,” Calista said. “Go-karts first, then a mani or pedi.”

“I can’t sit still long enough for a manicure, but I’ll take the pedicure,” Tina said.

“And you can just let me off at the ice-cream parlor,” Justin said. “It’s on the way.”

Sharon appeared in the doorway and smiled. “Cal, sweetie, I didn’t know you were here.”

Calista reached forward to embrace her cousin. “I barely had time to knock with these two,” she said.

Sharon ruffled her son’s hair. “I shouldn’t be surprised. What’s the sister outing for today?” she asked.

“Looks like go-karts and a manicure,” Calista said.

“What a combination,” Sharon said. “Can I chat with you before you go?”

“Sure,” Calista said, stepping inside the house. “And Justin can join us.”

“For a manicure?” Sharon said.

“Go-karts and ice cream,” Justin said.

“Hmm. We’ll see,” Sharon said and led Calista to the back porch. “Would you like something to drink?”

Calista shook her head. “I’m fine. What’s up?”

“It’s Tami,” Sharon said quietly. “I caught her smoking again and I don’t like the crowd she’s hanging around. She got in well past her curfew last night and I think I smelled alcohol on her breath.”

Calista’s stomach clenched. It had been her most fervent goal for her sisters to grow up in a safe, nurturing environment until it was time for them to go to college. Since Sharon was a stay-at-home mom, and her husband, Walter, made a modest income, Calista provided all the necessary financial support for her sisters since she’d finished college three years ago.

Now, with both her sisters graduating from high school, Calista was determined that they would attend the college of their choice, regardless of the expense. There was also the added complication of Tami’s asthma. Even with insurance, the cost of her medications and treatments had prevented Calista from being able to save extra money for her sisters’ future.

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