Man of the Hour

By: Diana Palmer
PROLOGUE

Steven Ryker paced his office at Ryker Air with characteristic energy, smoking a cigarette that he hated while he turned the air blue in quiet muttering. A chapter of his life that he’d closed the door on four years past had reopened, leaving his emotional wounds bare and bleeding.

Meg was back.

He didn’t recognize his own fear. It wasn’t a condition he’d ever associated with himself. But things had changed. He’d gone through a period of mourning when Meg had walked out on him to begin a balletic career in New York. He’d consoled himself with woman after willing woman. But in the end, he’d been alone with the painful memories. They hurt, and because they still hurt, he blamed Meg. He wanted her to suffer as he had. He wanted to see her beautiful blue eyes fill with tears, he wanted to see pain on that exquisite face framed by soft blond hair. He wanted consolation for the hell she’d put him through by leaving without a word when she’d promised to be his wife.

He put out the cigarette. It was a habit, like loving Meg. He hated both: cigarettes and the blond memory from his past. He’d never had a woman jilt him. Of course, he’d never asked a woman to marry him, either. He’d been content to live alone, until Meg had kissed him in gratitude for the present he’d given her when she turned eighteen. His life had turned over then.

Their fathers, hers and his, had become business partners when Meg was fourteen and her brother, David, just a little older. The families had developed a closeness that tied their lives together. Meg had been a sweet nuisance that Steven had tolerated when he and David had become best friends. But the nuisance grew up into a beautiful, regal woman who’d melted the ice around his hard heart. He’d given everything he was, everything he had, to Meg. And it hadn’t been enough.

He couldn’t forgive her for not wanting him. He couldn’t admit that his obsession with her had all but cost him his sanity when she left. He wanted vengeance. He wanted Meg.

There would be a way to make her pay, he vowed. She’d hurt her leg and couldn’t dance temporarily. But that ballet company she worked for was in real financial straits. If he played his cards right, he might yet have that one magical night in Meg’s arms that he’d dreamed of for years. But this time, it wouldn’t be out of love and need. It would be out of vengeance. Meg was back. And he was going to make her pay for what she’d made of him.





1




Meg was already out of humor when she went to answer the phone. She’d been in the middle of her exercises at the bar, and she hated interruptions that diverted her concentration. An injury had forced her into this temporary hiatus at her family home in Wichita, Kansas. It was hard enough to do the exercises in the first place with a damaged ligament in her ankle. It didn’t help her mood when she picked up the receiver and found one of Steven Ryker’s women on the other end of the line.

Steven, the president of Ryker Air, had been playing tennis all afternoon with Meg’s brother, David. He’d obviously forwarded his calls here. It irritated Meg to have to talk to his women friends at all. But then, she’d always been possessive about Steven Ryker; long before she left Wichita for New York to study ballet.

“Is Steve there?” a feminine voice demanded.

Another in a long line of Steve’s corporate lovers, no doubt, Meg thought angrily. Well, this one was going to become a lost cause. Right now.

“Who’s calling, please?” Meg drawled.

There was a pause. “This is Jane. Who are you?”

“I’m Meg,” she replied pertly, trying not to laugh.

“Oh.” The voice hesitated. “Well, I’d like to speak to Steve, please.”

Meg twirled the cord around her finger and lowered her voice an octave. “Darling?” she purred, her lips close to the receiver. “Oh, darling, do wake up. It’s Jane, and she wants to speak to you.”

There was a harsh intake of breath on the other end of the line. Meg stifled a giggle, because she could almost read the woman’s mind. Her blue eyes twinkled in her soft oval face, framed by pale blond hair drawn into a disheveled bun atop her head.

“I have never…!” An outraged voice exploded in her ear.

“Oh, you really should, you know,” Meg interrupted, sighing theatrically. “He’s so marvelous in bed! Steven, darling…?”

The phone was slammed in her ear loud enough to break an eardrum. Meg put a slender hand over her mouth as she replaced the receiver in its cradle. Take that, Steven, she thought.

She turned and walked gingerly back into the room David had converted from the old ballroom into a practice room for his sister. It didn’t get a lot of use, since she was in New York most of the year now, but it was a wonderfully thoughtful extravagance on her brother’s part. David, like Meg, had shares in Ryker Air. David was a vice president of the company as well. But the old family fortune had been sacrificed by their late father in an attempt to take over the company, just before his death. He’d lost, and the company had very nearly folded. Except for the uncanny business acumen of Steven Ryker, it would have. Steve pulled the irons out of the fire and made the company solvent. He owned most of it now. And he should, Meg thought charitably. Heaven knew, he’d worked hard enough for it all these years.