Family Merger - By Leigh Greenwood

Chapter One
Kathryn Roper suddenly found herself face-to-face with one very handsome, very angry man. Tall, neatly groomed and impeccably dressed in a custom-made suit, he looked too young to be so conservatively dressed. The gray pinstripe was something her father would wear. This man ought to be wearing a cream-colored Polo shirt and tan slacks. He had the body of an athlete, though she didn't know any athletes who had such good taste in clothes and such bad taste in visiting hours.

"Don't stand there staring at me," he snapped. "I've flown halfway around the world to get here. I want to see Miss Roper."

If she'd had any doubts this man was Ron Egan, she didn't have them any longer. He had the imperious attitude of a man who thought nothing was important but himself.

"I'm Kathryn Roper," she said, "and I don't allow visitors after nine-thirty. You'll have to come back tomorrow."

His angry gaze narrowed its focus, bore into her like a laser. "You're too young and pretty to have turned into a battle-ax."

Kathryn couldn't stop a spurt of laughter. "Who says a battle-ax has to be old and ugly?"

He appeared to be weighing her up, calculating his approach. He was just like many upper echelon types she'd run across, ready to shout at people they thought unimportant but immediately taking a different tack when they encountered someone they considered on their level.

Yet she was having a very different reaction to him than what would have been usual for her - one of a purely physical nature, one that caught her off guard. She felt attracted to this man. She had never denied the possibility of instant chemistry between two people, but this was the first time it had happened to her.

What a tragedy his outside should be so beautiful when his inside was rotten. But that's the way it seemed to go with her and men.

In a way, she was just as impressionable as the girls who came to her for help. All too often they had been seduced by a man's appearance. Only she was older, more experienced and had her physical desires firmly under control. She might have a gut-clenching reaction to Ron Egan, but he'd never know it.

"I want to see my daughter. Where is she?"

"She's in bed, as are all the girls in this house. You can see her in the morning."

"I've come all the way from Geneva. I got on the next flight out after your phone call and spent the last eight hours on a plane. I'm six time zones away from where I started, and I'm tired. It won't hurt her to miss thirty minutes of sleep."

"It's not the sleep I'm concerned about so much as that your visit will upset her. It's extremely important that she remain calm. She's going through a stressful experience."

They still stood there in the entrance hall, facing each other like gladiators, each trying to decide how to manipulate this conversation to their own advantage. At least that's how Ron read it.

"She's a minor," Ron said. "I can force you to give her up."

"It's not a matter of my giving her up. She came here of her own free will. She wants to stay. If you care for her, you'll let her stay."

Ron didn't know quite how to respond. From the moment he'd received a call from a stranger telling him his daughter was pregnant and had run away from home, he hadn't known what to think. He hadn't expected to find his daughter housed in an elegant old mansion in the heart of the oldest and most fashionable neighborhood in Charlotte. Kathryn Roper wasn't at all what he'd expected, either.

His first impulse was to shout at this woman for having the effrontery to imply he didn't care for his daughter. Who was she to make such a judgment? She didn't know anything about him. Cynthia had every right to be upset, but he was sure if he could talk to her, they could straighten things out.

Still, there was something about this woman that caused him to look at her again, to reevaluate. He was used to women being visibly affected by his appearance. She didn't show any reaction whatsoever. She didn't appear the least bit intimidated by him, by his size, his reputation or his gender. She looked quite young and slender, even fragile, but she acted as if she thought she was as tough as any man.

"I can have you arrested for kidnapping."

"But you