The freshly written resignation letter was practically burning a hole in her handbag as Steffy Forrester made her way through Customs. She was tired after the eleven-hour flight from Paris, and the American voices over the PA system sounded strange to ears that had been surrounded by the soft, melodic tones of the French language for the last year. She wanted a shower. She wanted her bed. She wanted her mother. But nothing was more important than delivering the letter in her bag.
First stop—Forrester Creations.
She passed through the airport on autopilot. Where was that feeling of belonging she always had when she came home? LA was her city, her village. These people rushing around her were her tribe. But nothing felt familiar today.
Nothing had felt familiar for a year. When she’d fled LA to get away from a broken heart and spend time with her father, she’d never imagined she’d be away for so long. But she hadn’t realized then how damaged she was.
The miscarriage had been completely devastating—both physically and mentally—and her recovery had been slow and painful. She had done a lot of soul searching. She had worked through doubts and recriminations and blame.
And there had been a lot of crying.
Steffy wondered if she had any tears left, but she knew she didn’t need them anymore. She knew she was stronger. She knew she’d entered the chrysalis broken and damaged and emerged powerful and sure.
She’d been reborn. She’d shaken off the past and was ready to go forward, changed and new and better.
And it started with her resignation.
Steffy smiled to herself as the strength that had been building for months now hummed inside her. It straightened her spine, focused her vision on the taxi rank beyond the glass doors and added a determination to her stride.
Unfortunately, it didn’t allow for the ebb and flow of the crowded airport and she ran smackbang into the hard wall of a very male chest.
The first thing Steffy noticed was his smell. It was difficult not to with her nose so inelegantly flattened against his shirt, and he smelled good enough to eat. Sweet, like the flower markets in Paris but with a hint of something spicy, like Caribbean rum and ancient voodoo.
She had the most absurd urge to lick him to see if he’d taste as good.
Next she noticed the bulk of the muscles beneath her hands. She’d automatically placed her palms on his chest to stabilize herself and the fleshy substance of his pecs filled them to perfection. They were the pecs of a man who looked after himself.
Old habits died hard as, subconsciously, Steffy awarded the man marks on his taste in couture. The crisp dark shirt beneath her palms screamed quality and the soft leather of his jacket told her he had money.
She became conscious then of his hands as they grasped her shoulders. Warm and big, easily spanning the circumference of her upper arms as he, too, tried to steady her.
And then there was no more time to think or analyze as he gently pried her away from him. It had probably only been a matter of seconds, but Steffy felt utterly dazzled by the contact, her system bombarded by confusing signals, the intoxicating smell of him still swirling through her senses like fairy dust.
She must be tired. “Apologies, I didn’t—”
“I’m so sorry—”
They both spoke at once before the cloud of what she could only presume to be jetlag induced insanity cleared and Steffy realized who she had run into.
Bill Spencer blinked. “Steffy … you’re back?” He looked down at his ex-daughter-in-law, his gaze roaming her face, pleased beyond words to see her. His pulse leaped in a not entirely fatherly way.
“You’ve cut your hair.”
“Oh … yes,” Steffy murmured, absently patting her nape where the wispy strands of her pixie cut brushed her skin. She’d had it done so long ago now—her first step to becoming a new woman—she’d forgotten. “I decided I needed a change.”
Bill nodded. “It suits you. Very … Parisian,” he said, smiling down at her. His breath caught a little when she smiled back. She’d been so unhappy when she’d left it was nice to see some of the old Steffy back. “Liam will be pleased to see you,” he said.
Steffy felt the smile on her face slowly die and every cell in her body hold its breath. Liam. Was she ready for that?
Steffy was conscious of Bill’s hands still on her shoulders. They felt warm and solid against her and the urge to lean into him was scarily overwhelming. She and Bill had been through their ups and downs but he’d always been a supporter of her relationship with Liam.
Except she was done with all those toxic relationships.
“I have to get going,” she said, straightening her shoulders and shrugging them to displace his hands.
Bill let her go although, strangely, he didn’t want to. He knew that the miscarriage and subsequent events devastated Steffy immensely and he wanted nothing but to comfort her; to tell her it would be okay.
He cursed under his breath. Why hadn’t he just said that he was pleased to see her? Why dump all those memories back in her lap the second she set foot on American soil?
“Have you got a driver waiting for you?” Bill asked, looking at the row of uniformed chauffeurs lining the concourse of the arrivals lounge, holding aloft their placards bearing hand-written names.
“No,” she said. “No-one knows I’m home. I was just going to catch a cab.”
“Oh no,” Bill said, shaking his head. “I can’t let you do that. You’re a Forrester. I insist that you come with me. There’s plenty of room in my limo.”
Steffy hesitated. She didn’t want to accept Bill’s offer, no matter how graciously and genuinely it was made—she was trying to start anew and Bill belonged in her past. But one look over Bill’s shoulder at the line at the cab rank confirmed her worst fears about LAX crowds.
“I’m not going home, I’m going to Forrester Creations first.” Nothing was going to stop her from delivering the letter she had written on the plane.
“Of course,” Bill said. “Carrington—” he inclined his head toward a uniformed chauffer hovering nearby “—won’t mind the detour.”
Steffy prevaricated for only a few seconds before she smiled gratefully at Carrington and then turned back to Bill. She was too tired to wait in line.
“Thanks,” she murmured. “I really appreciate it.”
Bill smiled back. “After you,” he said, placing a hand in the small of Steffy’s back, guiding her through the crowd.
“So,” Steffy said as Bill slid onto the seat beside her and Carrington shut the door behind them, “why were you at LAX today?”
“Just got back from Melbourne,” he said. “Spencer Publications is looking at acquiring some Australian magazines.”
“Ah,” she said. “Ever the entrepreneur.”
Bill chuckled. “I guess.”
Steffy frowned at him. “That doesn’t sound very enthusiastic.”
Bill shrugged. “Just tired from all the traveling, I suppose. It’s a bitch of a flight.”
Steffy inspected his face. Bill was a handsome bastard and he used it ruthlessly to his advantage. God knew there was a time when she’d been more than a little dazzled by him; still was, if her reaction to him earlier was any indication.
But he was Liam’s father—her ex-father-in-law. Despite the age-defying quality of his good looks, he was too old. And too much part of a past she didn’t want to go back to.
She dragged her gaze away from his impossibly square jaw and the mouth that could have been found on any of the famous sculptures inside the Louvre. “The flight from Paris is no picnic either,” she said.
Carrington slid into the driver’s seat and immediately raised the privacy screen, cocooning them in the back of the spacious limo. Bill’s scent, the one she’d noted earlier, drifted toward her in sultry waves and his large frame seemed to dominate the space. With the tinted windows and the cacophony of traffic noise shut off in their sound-proof bubble, it was as though they were the only two people in the world. The knowledge prickled down Steffy’s spine and tingled in about a dozen different places but she resolutely ignored it, turning her gaze to the window. The Spencer men were trouble. With a capital T.
The limo pulled away from the curb and Bill took a moment to inspect Steffy as she looked out the window. The hem of her fashionable leather skirt sat just above her knee. It looked expensive and Bill had to suppress the urge to touch it, to see if it really was as soft as it looked—and if her thighs were really that slender.
Her long legs stretched out in front of her and silver stilettos with diamante-encrusted buckles emphasized slim ankles and toned calves. They didn’t look like great traveling shoes but Steffy was a Forrester and fashion ran in her blood.
Her silky sleeveless blouse matched the color of her heels and draped softly against her high, firm breasts, molding them to perfection. The V-neck plunged to a row of buttons that started in the depths of her cleavage and disappeared behind a wide black belt that highlighted her small waist. A waist he knew, from intimate experience, his hands could easily span.
Bill dragged his gaze away as his thoughts started to take him down memory lane. What had happened between him and Steffy was water well under the bridge. Since then, she’d been in love with his son and, had sweet meddling Hope not been around to spoil it, Bill firmly believed Liam and Steffy would still be together. They would have gotten over the miscarriage of their child together and grown stronger because of it.
Liam had been a fool to ever let Steffy go. Agreeing to the annulment had been a grave error of judgment. He’d tried to talk his headstrong son out of it, but Liam, too, had been hurt and grieving.
And of course Hope had been there to help him through it.
“I was sorry to hear about your relationship troubles.”
Steffy’s words yanked Bill out of his thoughts and he turned back from the window he hadn’t even been aware he was looking out of.
“Thank you.” He grimaced. “Being single at my age is strange and … well, it’s never easy when a relationship you’ve been in for a long time comes to an end.”
His voice was low and surprisingly emotional. It was a rare thing to see Bill Spencer Jr., ruthless CEO of Spencer Publications, so gutted. She’d been exactly where he was—invested in a longterm relationship that hadn’t worked out—and she felt strangely compelled to comfort him. Steffy almost reached out and put her hand on top of his.
He suddenly looked very much his age—the lines around his eyes, the slight graying at his temple—and Steffy got the feeling she was being treated to something few people ever saw: Bill Spencer laid bare.
And then, as she watched, he pulled himself out of it, turning to her with a smile on his face. A smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “But shh,” he murmured. “Don’t tell anyone. Don’t want them thinking I’m curled in a fetal ball. Can’t afford to have anyone thinking I’m a pushover.”
Steffy returned his smile, allowing him to bring her back from the edge too. She didn’t want to be suckered in by another Spencer man even if he wasn’t fooling her for a second.
“Perish the thought,” she said.
He shot her a smile of genuine delight and Steffy felt a little dizzy at being alone with Bill.
“So,” Bill said, steering the conversation back to safer topics. “You’re heading over to Forrester to say hi to your grandfather? Eric’s missed you like crazy.”
Steffy briefly glanced away as the question caught her unaware then looked back at him, nodding her head vigorously to hide her consternation. “Yes.”
Bill narrowed his eyes. “Sounds like there’s a bit more to the story?”
Steffy shrugged and avoided his gaze again. “Not really,” she fibbed.
“Not really?” he teased. “Could have fooled me.” Steffy sighed. She should know better than to show any hesitancy in front of Bill Spencer; he had the tenacity of a bloodhound and the instincts of a piranha. He could spot a person’s weakness at a hundred paces, which was what made him such a formidable business man—and why it’d been so unusual to see a glimpse of his vulnerabilities before.
“Come on, Steffy. We’re practically family. Why don’t you tell good old Dollar Bill all about it?” He grinned at her, knowing he had to keep it light if he was going to persuade Steffy to confide in him. He knew she didn’t trust easily—trusting just wasn’t in her nature. She’d been deeply hurt, not just by the miscarriage but by other people in her past. But he felt remarkably in tune with her today and she looked like she needed a friend. “It’s a long way to Forrester Creations and I can be very persistent.”
Steffy rolled her eyes at him. “I remember.”
She sighed again, surprised at how much she wanted to tell him everything. Who knew, he may be able to give her some kind of perspective she hadn’t considered during the long flight. And what the hell, he’d be finding out soon enough.
Steffy opened her bag, reached inside and pulled out the thick white envelope. She handed it to him silently.
Bill hesitated. “Are you sure?”
His uncertainty spoke volumes to her. He’d sensed that this was important and she admired his restraint. She appreciated that he seemed genuinely concerned for her.
She nodded. “Off the record, of course,” she said, smiling at him. She knew the contents of the letter would be in Bill’s magazine, Eye on Fashion, soon enough; a Forrester deserting the family business would be big news. But she really didn’t want to read about it in the next edition.
“Of course.” He grinned.
Bill took the envelope, noting it was addressed to Eric Forrester. Her writing surprised him. It wasn’t frilly or girly—if anything, it was quite masculine, with bold incisive strokes. It was the writing of someone who was sure of herself and confident in her words.
The envelope wasn’t sealed and he freed the folded sheet of paper noting the address listed on the letterhead was in the seventh arrondissement—home of the most exclusive real estate in Paris. He glanced at Steffy but she was resolutely looking out her window.
Bill read the brief letter of resignation, which cited Steffy’s desire to stretch her wings and try something new without comment. He wasn’t ignorant of its impact or the flurry it would cause at Forrester Creations. Not to mention how international fashion markets would greet the news.
Forrester Creations was the Forrester family—all of them. Including Steffy. She’d been a part of the company for many years. She’d grown up in its hallowed halls and taken her position there as soon as she’d been old enough. Hell, she’d stopped at nothing—including seducing and blackmailing Bill—to get the company back in Forrester hands all those years ago.
Steffy turned to face him. “Do you think I’ll be written out of the will?”
He doubted that would happen; Steffy was the apple of Eric’s eye. Bill folded the page and pushed it back into the envelope. “What’s this really about?” he asked.
She lifted a shoulder in a barely perceptible shrug. “It’s all I’ve ever known.”
Bill shook his head. “And?”
Steffy ran suddenly sweaty palms down her skirt. Bill’s steely gaze was disconcerting. “There’s no and, Bill.”
“I know you, Steffy, and I’m not buying it. I know how much this company means to you.”
Steffy was disheartened. If she couldn’t convince Bill, how was she going to convince those closest to her?
She found herself wishing her grandmother was still alive; she’d always welcomed her wise counsel. Sure, her grandmother would probably have had kittens over Steffy’s decision, but Stephanie Forrester had always known what to do.
“It’s time to move on.” “And?” he asked again.
“Bill,” Steffy said wearily, “there is no ‘and.’”
“Do you really believe this stuff too?” he asked, waving the envelope in front of her. “That you want to try new horizons? Because I don’t think you do. If you’re going to walk away from your legacy, Steffy, if you’re going to make such a monumental decision, then you’ve got to be honest with yourself—if no-one else—about the reasons.”
Steffy glared at him, but the look of determination in his eyes told her he wasn’t going to give up on this. She knew deep in her heart he was right: she at least had to be true to herself.
“I’m just … sick of it, okay?”
“Of all of it,” Steffy retorted. “Of the twisted love triangle between Liam and Hope and me. Of my mother trying to push me toward Liam and undermining Hope. Of Brooke trying to push Hope toward Liam and undermining me. Of the constant bickering and stress.”
Steffy stopped. She could already feel the tension in her shoulders at the thought of going back. After a year away, the mere thought of facing it all again made her ill.
“I’m sick of the fallout from Team Brooke and Team Taylor always jockeying for position at Forrester, having never let go of their feud. Having been slaves to a sick connection to a man who couldn’t make up his mind.”
“Ridge,” Bill muttered.
She nodded and then glanced at him. “I suppose that sounds disloyal to my father?”
Bill shook his head. “Your father has hardly been blameless in this.”
Steffy nodded. “I love my father, and finding sanctuary with him this last year has been exactly what I’ve needed. But it’s true, he’s as responsible as my mom and Brooke over this whole mess. And then they continued this feud with their daughters and we got caught up in that same stupid cycle. I’m tired of all the toxic relationships at Forrester because of it. I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want Hope and I to repeat history. I just want out.”
She fell back against the seat as though her admission had been wrenched from deep inside her. Bill watched her silently.
She looked at him and grimaced. “Sorry. I don’t know where that came from.”
“Feels better though, doesn’t it?”
Steffy smiled at him. “Yes,” she admitted. “It feels surprisingly cathartic.”
“Good.” He handed her the letter. “My work here is done.” He chuckled.
His low laughter slid along Steffy’s frayed nerve endings, soothing them. “So you think I should rewrite this?” she asked, taking the envelope and turning it over in her hands.
Bill shook his head. “Nope. You’re your own woman, Steffy Forrester. You’re strong and capable and confident. You don’t need to explain yourself to anyone or apologize. As long as you’re being honest with yourself.”
Steffy nodded slowly. Clearly it was fate that had set her on a collision course with Bill this morning. “Thank you.”
Bill smiled. “Any time.” He glanced out the window, noticing they were nearing Forrester Creations. Their time was running short and a part of him regretted it. Their conversation had been refreshingly candid.
“What will you do?”
Steffy shrugged. “I have absolutely no idea.”
He liked the way her new bangs feathered around her face, giving her a maturity he’d not seen before. Or maybe that was the effect of her revelations. “Well, don’t rush it,” he murmured.
She nodded. “I’m lucky I have the luxury of not needing to.”
Bill’s gaze meshed with hers. He’d never noticed the shimmer in her blue eyes, how luminous they were, before now. Her eyes had always seemed so hard and determined as she’d fought for Forrester with him. And when she’d fought for Liam, battled with Hope and Brooke to keep hold of her man. But—and maybe it was just because of what he knew now—he could see vulnerabilities in the wavy blue pools.
“My son is an idiot,” he murmured.
Steffy couldn’t look away from the honesty in Bill’s eyes. They were like the richest, darkest chocolate, sweet yet bitter all at once. “Yes. He is.”
Their gazes stayed locked, the space between them seeming to shrink, and it was only the limo gliding to a halt that pulled them out of the trance.
“Looks like we’re here,” Bill said.
Steffy felt like she had been dipped in honey and weighed down in chains. She looked slowly out the window. “I guess this is it. The moment of reckoning.”
As if on cue, the door opened and Carrington said, “Ma’am.”
Steffy nodded at him. “Thank you,” she said, turning to Bill. “For the ride. For everything. You’ve helped. A lot.”
Bill bowed his head slightly. “Any time you need a sounding board.”
Steffy smiled. “I may just take you up on that.” She turned to go.
Bill’s gaze locked with hers again and he was overcome with an urge he couldn’t suppress. She was so brave and resilient—his admiration for her skyrocketed. He couldn’t help himself: he slid his hand onto her jaw and pressed his mouth against hers in a brief, hard kiss.
“Don’t let anyone talk you out of it,” he murmured against her mouth before he pulled away, his breathing surprisingly erratic for such a brief act.
Steffy blinked, her lips tingling, her heart hammering like a steam engine in her chest. She shook her head, suddenly mute.
“Go,” he said pulling completely back, his hand dropping away. “Go start your new life. I’ll see that your bags get to your apartment.”
Steffy felt a lump in her throat at his words. Bill wasn’t looking at her resignation as a door shutting, but as one opening. Maybe she should too.
She nodded. “Thank you.”
And then she exited the limo.
Excerpted from The Bold and the Beautiful: Forbidden Affair by Amy Andrews. Copyright © 2014 by Amy Andrews.
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