CHAPTER ONESolitude the perfect name for the toy that defined Jake Stevens, not because he liked being alone. He didn''t. He''d always found it better to be surrounded by the right kind of people, and Jake had a knack for collecting friends just like he collected brandy snifters from the cities he''d traveled to. But the only way to be completely autonomous was to be unattached. It was a credo Jake lived by, and it meant that he knew the value of his own solitude. At the top of the pyramid that was Jake''s life, there was only one person the one he smiled at in the mirror every morning. At thirty-nine, he was just where he''d wanted to be at this point in his life. Unfettered and financially fluid, he had the world by the tail, and today he was going to bag it and take it home.Ignoring the doorman who greeted him, he trotted down the steps in front of the Biltmore. At the bottom of the steps, his red Porsche idled as the valet got out. "Hey, put the top down, will ya?" Jake called down.The kid, who looked no more than eighteen, knew exactly how to do it, and as the top began to buzz back, Jake''s attention was snatched away by the blonde on her way up the steps. She was college aged, probably twenty years his junior, but he''d never found that to be a problem. Tipping his sunglasses, he gave her that engaging grin that had always worked for him before.She smiled back, as they always did, and slowed her step as he came toward her."I''m not usually this blunt, Ma''am, but I''ve learned over the years that if I let an opportunity slip by me, I sometimes never get it again. And you are, by far, the most beautiful woman I''ve laid eyes on since I pulled into St. Clair yesterday."She laughed, as though she''d heard the line before, but it didn''t seem to hurt his chances. "I''m Sarah," she said. "Are you staying in the hotel?""Yes," he said, "and if I had time, I''d turn around and escort you right back inside. But alas" He threw his hand dramatically over his heart and sighed heavily as she laughed again. "I have to be somewhere to look at a plane I''m thinking about buying." He waited a beat for her to be sufficiently impressed, and when her eyebrows lifted slightly, he went on. "Now, I don''t want you to think I''m the kind of guy who hits on every woman he sees, but do you think, by any chance, you''d care to meet a lonely transplanted Texan for drinks later? I can call you when I get back."He knew he wasn''t imagining the sparkle in her eye, for he''d seen it many times before. "I''m in room 323," she answered. "But if I''m not there, I''ll probably be out by the pool."The pool, he thought with a grin. Perfect. "I''ll call as soon as I get back.""You haven''t told me your name yet.""Oh, yeah," he said. "Jake. Jake Stevens."But already he''d forgotten hers. The room number was all that really mattered. Waving, he trotted the rest of the way down the steps. Tossing a five-dollar bill at the valet, he slid behind the wheel.Florida was great, he told himself as he pulled onto Highway 19. Opportunities everywhere he looked. It was pure luck that he''d gotten transferred here. He only wished he could spend less time house hunting and more time playing in the few days he had left before he had to report to work.He pulled up to a stoplight and leaned his head back on the headrest, letting the morning rays of sunlight beat down on his face. The wind was picking up, haphazardly blowing his hair. I should stop somewhere and get a haircut, he thought, glancing into his mirror. But it didn''t look so bad a little longer, and the women seemed to like it. Idly, he decided to wait.The stoplight didn''t change, and he started to get irritated. Traffic often made him feel out of control, and there was nothing he hated worse.He glanced around at the billboards that dominated the four corners and saw one for his favorite cognac, another for a restaurant near Honeymoon Island, a third for the outlet mall, a fourth for a television station.The light still hadn''t changed, and heBlackstock, Terri is the author of 'Evidence of Mercy' with ISBN 9780310200154 and ISBN 0310200156.