Reissued: March 19, 2019
David, her best friend's brother, is the man Jayne always wanted and knew she could never have. . .
In high school, studious Jayne Scott and wild child Rebecca Worden became unlikely best friends--a tie that endured even after Rebecca fled her family to live overseas. After Jayne's mother passed away, she became part unpaid assistant, part surrogate daughter to the wealthy Wordens. But now, ten years later, Rebecca is coming home to L.A. to cause havoc for Elizabeth, the mother who all but rejected her. And Jayne finds herself pulled deeper into the Wordens' complicated family dynamics--especially when Rebecca's brother, David, returns as well.
David is the man Jayne always wanted and knew she could never have. But when he gravitates toward her despite Elizabeth's protests, her vow to escape the family's shadow is put to the ultimate test. And as lies are shattered and true feelings exposed, Jayne must decide where loyalty ends, and love begins…
"THE BEST OF FRIENDS is Susan Mallery at the peak of her writing...Complex and creative and definitely addictive, THE BEST OF FRIENDS is an intriguing read that will smash your concept of family and friendship."
Romance Reviews Today
Night Owl Reviews (Maria)
4.5 Roses! "Riveting!"
A Romance Review
Susan Mallery writes with emotional mastery.
“No gold-digging for me… I’ll take diamonds. We may be off the gold standard someday.” Mae West
There were two types of people, Jayne Scott told herself as she hurried from the waiting car toward the international terminal at the Los Angeles airport. Those who skated through life never spilling coffee on themselves, or tripping or showing up at the wrong time for the wrong event. Then there was the rest of the world. As she dabbed at the growing damp spot on her shirt, left by her grande non-fat latte, Jayne knew exactly which camp she fell into.
She scanned the crowded arrivals area, ignoring the dozens of different languages, the happy families reuniting, the couples in love. Instead she looked for a tall, beautiful blonde with an excessive amount of luggage and a half dozen or so minions. Seconds later she spotted two porters with overflowing luggage carts, a burly guy with a briefcase chained to his wrist and a head-turning woman wearing leather pants and a leopard duster. Leave it to Rebecca to make an entrance.
Jayne waited until her friend spotted her, then waved.
“I’m late,” Rebecca called, then hurried forward and hugged her. “I got stuck in customs. They thought I was a jewel thief. Don’t you love that?”
“Anyone offer to do a strip search?” Jayne asked, hugging her back and inhaling a floral perfume that was custom blended.
Rebecca straightened and wrinkled her nose. “No, and I didn’t want anyone to.”
“No one cute enough?”
“Pretty much. Jayne, this is Hans, my bodyguard.”
The burly guy barely made eye contact before returning to scanning the crowd.
Jayne glanced at the briefcase in his hand. “You couldn’t use a courier service like everyone else?” she asked, leading the way to the waiting limo. “You had to bring them yourself?”
“That’s what the customs people said. They lack imagination.”
“Or maybe they were overwhelmed by seeing a couple million in loose gemstones.”
“I’m a jewelry designer. It’s what I do.”
“If you were a ship builder, would you travel with a three-ton hull?”
“Ships are so last year.” Rebecca said, linking arms with her. “Thanks for coming to meet me. I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you, too.”
They walked out to the waiting limo that Jayne had arranged. She’d known better than to bring her own car. Not only did Rebecca prefer to travel in style, there was no way all the luggage would fit in Jayne’s Jetta.
Rebecca stared at the vehicle with approval. “It’s a stretch limo.”
“I know you love them.”
“I do. Wait until you see the place I rented in Santa Monica. It has a view of the ocean and everything. I’ll have to get a car, of course. Everyone needs a car in LA.”
“You could just hire the limo permanently. It could go with you everywhere.”
Rebecca slid in the backseat, then looked up at her. “Now you’re mocking me.”
“I can’t help myself.” Jayne settled next to her. “Do you want to talk about your mother now or later?”
“How about never?”
“She’s the reason you’re back.”
“I’ve returned to announce myself,” Rebecca said, leaning back in the leather seat. “To reintroduce myself to society after a ten year absence.”
“You’re here to be a pain in her ass.”
“Rearranging your life to annoy your mother is expected at thirteen. At twenty-nine it’s just kind of sad.”
Rebecca turned her. “Tragedy keeps my art fresh.”
“I see you’re still dramatic.”
“I see you’re still dressing badly.”
Jayne glanced down at the faded magenta scrub shirt she wore, now decorated by the latte stain. “I came straight from work.”
“Maybe something more tailored.”
“I’m a nurse, Rebecca. This is what I wear.”
Rebecca gave a little sniff, then pulled a bottle of water out of her carry-on.
She was the only person Jayne knew who could fly from Italy to LA and look ready to step into a photo shoot. Carefully highlighted blond hair hung past her shoulders in layered curls. Her skin was flawless, her mouth full, and gold and diamond earrings, her own design, glittered as she moved.
Hans finished supervising the luggage being loaded into the trunk, then walked to the front passenger seat and slid next to the driver.
“What about a workspace?” Jayne asked. “You’re not going to be making jewelry at the condo you rented, are you?”
Rebecca laughed. “I think the landlord would object to me melting gold in my living room. I’m going to look at a place in an industrial park.”
“You’re not the industrial park type.”
“People grow and change, Jayne. I have.”
Jayne ignored the smug smile. “Is this where I remind you that you’re back in L.A. to piss off your mother?”
“Not if you love me. Speaking of the socially correct Mrs. Worden, how is Elizabeth?”
“Stuck in France.”
Rebecca raised her eyebrows. “Seriously? Did the private jet develop mechanical trouble? Are my parents being forced to fly commercial?”
“Nothing that dramatic. There’s fog. She and Blaine are delayed a few hours.” Jayne glanced at her watch. “Which means I asked the driver to drop me off at my place. I need to head to your parents’ house.”
“I have to open it up for David.”
Jayne was careful to keep looking Rebecca as she spoke. Her friend might be self-absorbed, but she wasn’t stupid. Still, after nearly twelve years of keeping her secret, Jayne was an expert at making sure nothing ever showed.
It was foolish, really. One of those freak things that happen every now and then—like plane-grounding fog in France. Twelve years ago, at the age of sixteen, Jayne had gone on vacation with the Worden family. They’d spent the holidays at an exclusive resort in the Bahamas. The hotel had been fabulous, the weather perfect, but what Jayne remembered most was how she’d taken one look at David, Rebecca’s older brother, and fallen madly and completely in love.
Well, as much as a sixteen year old could.
Since then, she’d seen him every couple of years. The conversations had been casual and friendly. Sibling like. Because that’s how David saw her. As a sister.
Having him ignore her would have been better. At least then she could have held on to the fantasy that one day he would look up, finally notice her and utter the classic, “Ms. Scott, you’re beautiful.” Or in her case, he could just call her Jayne. He didn’t even need to think she was beautiful, although it would be a nice little bonus. Instead, he thought of her as a sister.
She’d overheard the damning truth about eight years ago, at a lovely Worden Christmas celebration. The tasteful party had included a few hundred of Elizabeth and Blaine’s closest friends. David had flown home and Jayne had been all quivery at the thought of seeing him again.
She’d been supervising the catering staff, checking everyone had enough stuffed puffs or caviar when she’d heard David’s girlfriend de jour asking who Jayne was.
“A friend of the family,” he said easily. “Has been for years. She’s nice enough. Sort of a second sister, without being a pain in the ass.”
And that had been that.
She’d tried to console herself that at least he’d had good things to say about her. While “not a pain in the ass” wasn’t anything she wanted on her gravestone, it was nice. In a dismissive, I’ve-barely-noticed-you kind of way.
Now in the back of the limo, she reminded herself it was better this way. It was one thing for her to be friends with Rebecca and an unpaid part-time assistant to Elizabeth. It was quite another to get involved with the heir...or as Rebecca loved to call him, the young prince.
Over time Jayne had accepted that her feelings were little more than an intense crush. But knowing they were irrational, and based on nothing but her personal vision of what she wanted David to be, didn’t make her knees tremble any less when he was around.
“Carmine can do it,” Rebecca said.
Carmine being the Worden’s housekeeper.
“Carmine is visiting her daughter in Chicago.”
“Let me guess... Mother called and asked for your help.”
“A few hours ago. She had planned to be back this morning, but fate intervened.”
“You’re choosing her over me?”
“On nearly a daily basis.”
Rebecca pouted. “You’re my best friend. You can’t do what she says. You have to take my side.”
“It’s an hour,” Jayne said calmly, used to the tantrums and mostly immune to the guilt. “I’ll be by later. Besides, if I don’t do what Elizabeth asks, she’ll want to know why. If she starts asking questions, she might find out you’re back before you want her to.”
“I hate it when you use logic on me.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Fine. Go be dutiful. One of us should be. It’s a family thing.”
Jayne didn’t bother pointing out she wasn’t family. Not in any way that mattered, at least from their perspective. From hers, the Wordens were the closest thing she had to relatives, which made her relationship with all of them complicated.
The driver pulled off the freeway. Rebecca looked out the window. “You still live in your condo?”
“We can’t all have a villa in Milan.”
“It wasn’t a villa, exactly.”
Jayne had seen Rebecca’s Italian house a few times. It was pretty damned fabulous with seventeenth century tile and the original stained glass windows. “It was amazing.”
Rebecca shrugged. “I never did learn enough Italian to fit in with the locals. Your place is nice. Homey.”
“I like it.” The condo was close to work, affordable and a safe haven from the craziness of the Worden world.
The limo pulled up in front of the multi-story building. Before opening the door, Jayne hugged her friend. “I’ll be by later.”
Rebecca nodded. “You have the address?”
“You e-mailed it to me about forty times.”
“We’ll have dinner?”
“Yes, and drink wine and tell lies about boys. Here.” Jayne pulled the current issue of OK magazine out of her handbag. “I bought this for you.”
Rebecca took it and hugged her. “You’re so sweet. All I brought you is a of pair earrings I made.”
Which was why, after all this time, they were still friends, Jayne thought, knowing that in Rebecca’s mind, the cheap magazine and the no doubt fabulously expensive earrings were on par. Because she and Rebecca were freakishly addicted to celebrity gossip and the magazine showed she cared.
“I’ll see you later,” Jayne said, hugging her. “Welcome home.”
“Rearrange the pictures on the mantel,” Rebecca called after her. “It will make my mother crazy.”
“If I have time.”
Jayne waved, then hurried to her condo in the back of the building. She had less than an hour to shower, change and get over to the Worden house in Beverly Hills. While she’d been willing to pick up Rebecca in her scrubs, her crush was powerful enough that she wasn’t willing to face David in shapeless hospital wear and no make-up.
She raced to unlock the front door and stepped inside. Bright light flooded the spacious room where her comfy Ikea sofa acted as a divider between the living and eating area. There was a kitchen around the corner to the left and a hallway to the right, leading to the bedroom and bath.
What she liked best about the condo was the courtyard in back. It was nearly as big as the whole unit, with Mexican pavers and potted plants. She could sit out there in the morning and have her coffee. She often ate dinner at the glass-topped table. There was a small barbecue and a little fountain in the corner. It was her haven.
But there was no time to enjoy it now, she thought as she flew into the bedroom, tearing off clothes as she went. After plugging in her electric curlers, she brushed out her long brown hair and quickly rolled it on the curlers. She replaced her plain white bra with a lace one that pushed her breasts together and up in a way that made the most of what little she had, then washed her face and applied a tinted moisturizer. She used eye shadow, mascara and blush.
She’d spent more time than she wanted to admit planning what she was going to wear. A dress seemed too fancy and obvious while jeans were just...jeans. It was spring in L.A. which meant high seventies and clear skies. She pulled on a pair of tailored white pants and a fitted cotton shirt with a scoop neck. After taking out the curlers, she finger-combed her hair, sprayed the life out of it with hairspray, hoping the curls would last more than six minutes, then ran back toward the front door. She had less than thirty minutes to make it to Beverly Hills.
Blaine Worden’s great-great-great grandfather had established Worden’s Jewels back in the 1800s in New York. Blaine’s grandfather, excited by the fledgling movie business, had moved the family and the company headquarters to Los Angeles in the 1920s. He’d bought in Beverly Hills when land was cheap and houses were built to be the size of airplane hangars. Over the years the mansion had been remodeled and some of the land had been sold off, but the estate was still one of the largest and most elegant in town.
Jayne hit the remote control on her passenger visor, then waited for the big wrought iron gates to swing open. She sped up to the main house, jumped out and ran to the front door.
Her concern was silly—she knew that. Carmine would have taken care of everything before she left. It wasn’t as if David was expecting a marching band and floats to announce his return to the family home. But Elizabeth had asked and Jayne...well, Jayne didn’t mind welcoming David home.
She’d only seen him a couple of times in the past few years. Before each meeting she’d desperately hoped he’d gotten old or fat or had grown an unattractive hump on his back. If that wasn’t possible, she waited desperately for her crush to fade. She was twenty-eight—a crush on her best friend’s brother was no longer cute.
But every time she saw him, her heart pounded, her knees went weak and she found herself torn between wanting to bolt for cover and beg him to take her, just one time, up against the wall. Okay, she thought as she hurried up the steps and opened the front door. Against the wall would be tacky and was probably one of those positions that only looked sexy in movies. But she wouldn’t turn down a nice, slow, private seduction.
Instead David was charming, friendly and so obviously disinterested in her that she was left feeling foolish. It was hard to hope in the face of constant reality, but Jayne did her best.
She punched in the alarm code, then checked her watch. David was due any minute. She scanned the foyer, with its marble floors, two story ceiling, crystal chandelier and custom furniture, then frowned when she saw that the large, round table in the middle of the department store-sized space was empty. Elizabeth always put flowers there. Well, technically Elizabeth told Carmine, who always put flowers there, but still. Hadn’t the flowers been delivered?
“No one was here,” she said aloud. She dropped her purse onto the chair by the wall, then raced down the hallway, through the kitchen, past the utility room—which was the same size as her entire condo—to the back door.
Sure enough, a gorgeous spray of flowers sat on the wide rear step. It was done in Elizabeth’s signature white—a combination of Casablanca lilies, calla lilies, dendrodium orchids and roses.
Jayne bent down to grab it and nearly lost her balance. Not only was the glass vase wet from being overfilled with water, five or six hundred dollars worth of flowers was damned heavy. She tried again and got the arrangement off the pavers, then stood. Her hands slipped a little. She swore. Dropping the vase wasn’t an option.
She made her way through the house to the foyer, where a series of events conspired to ruin her day.
First, she heard someone put a key in the front door. Trying to get rid of the armful of flowers before David walked in, she started to run...only to catch the side of her right foot on the leg of a small, curved sofa. She was moving too fast to stop her forward momentum, and scrambling only caused her to skid like a cartoon character. Then her fingers slipped on the wet glass of the vase. She threw herself forward in an effort to keep it from falling.
The vase went up, the flowers rained down and Jayne was caught in the middle. She stared helplessly at the soaring glass vase. Even as cold water and flowers drenched her, her only thought was to keep it from hitting the marble floor and shattering. She reached up and grabbed it. The unexpected weight caused her to stagger back, where her heel came down on a lily stem. Her foot shot out from under her and she fell, just as David walked into the house. She landed on her hip and her left wrist. The unfortunate cracking sound didn’t come from the glass...it came from her.
David Worden, tall, handsome, blond and blue-eyed, immediately rushed to her side. “Jayne? Is that you? Are you all right?”
She sat in a puddle of water, wet flowers and greenery hanging off her, the picture of humiliation. If only she could believe the pounding in her chest was a result of her fall and not him crouching next to her, looking all concerned and drool-worthy. Even the sharp pain from her wrist, regrettable proof that she’d probably snapped a bone, wasn’t enough to jolt her out of her longing for up-against-the-wall sex.
So much for being over her crush, she thought sadly as he took the vase from her arms. So much for the sophisticated first impression she’d planned. She probably looked like a drowned rat and so few men found the pathetic thing appealing.
“Where does it hurt?” he asked.
“My wrist. I think it’s broken.”
“Then we’d better get you to the hospital,” he said, helping her to her feet. “Can you walk?”
“It’s my arm, not my leg.”
“You have wet flowers in your hair. Do you really think attitude plays well with that look?”
Despite her humiliation and the pain and the fact that she would never be able to look David in the eye again, she smiled. “Attitude is all I have going for me right now.”
“Rebecca would tell you to work your strengths.” He pulled a couple of flowers out of her hair, then put his arm around her. “Let’s go get you x-rayed.”
Rebecca waited while the limo driver carried in all the luggage she’d brought, but her attention was on Hans. The security expert had disappeared into the second bedroom of her rented space to check out the safe she’d purchased. Only after he’d declared it acceptable would she get possession of her little beauties.
The driver finished and she walked down the short hall to the spacious spare bedroom.
As her landlord had promised, it was prepared for guests. A queen-sized bed sat opposite a sliding glass window with a view of the beach and ocean. There was a flat-screen TV on the wall, a private bath and a big closet. And sitting right in the middle of that closet was a black 980 pound safe.
“It will survive two and half hours at over 1200 degrees,” she said, leaning against the door frame. “There are twenty-six locking bolts securing the door and a drill-proof steel plate.”
“I know,” Hans said in his lightly accented voice. “I read the specs.” He closed the door and locked it. “Tell me the combination.”
She smiled. “I might be a natural blonde, but I’m not stupid. No one knows that combination but me.”
One dark eyebrow raised. “Very good. I give you your diamonds now.”
He unlocked the briefcase from his wrist and set it on the bed. Rebecca moved closer as he opened the case and unfastened the protective covering. Inside, three hundred and eighty-seven diamonds glittered and winked in the afternoon light. Her cost—three million. Retail value once she set them in jewelry—about twelve million.
A few of the diamonds were white, but most of them were colored. They ranged from pale yellow to champagne to cognac, to the rare dark pink stones.
“Very nice,” Hans said.
She pulled her inventory list and her triplet loupe out of her purse, then set the bag on the bed. Hans also had an inventory list and a loupe. Together they went over each diamond, confirming it was exactly the same as it had been before they’d left Italy. When they were finished, they signed each other’s copy of the paperwork and she put the diamonds in the safe. Hans made a call to the insurance company, letting them know the diamonds were back in her possession.
“Great doing business with you,” Rebecca said. “The limo driver will take you wherever you want to go.”
Hans put his jeweler’s loupe back into his jacket pocket, then smiled. “Or I could stay.” He moved toward her. “Just for an hour.”
He was big and handsome and probably knew what he was doing, and she couldn’t have been less interested in an afternoon quickie with a stranger. Must be jet-lag, she told herself. It couldn’t be for any other reason.
“A thrilling offer,” she said with a smile. “Tempting, but no.”
He shrugged as if to say the decision was incredibly stupid on her part, then left. When she’d locked the front door behind him, she returned to explore the rest of the condo.
There was a master suite, with a balcony and west-facing view of the Pacific, a big living room with the same view as the master, and a kitchen she would only use to store leftovers. An envelope from the car rental company sat on the counter. She opened it and withdrew the keys. A note told her which underground parking space held her car which was information she would need when she went out to get something to eat. Or maybe she and Jayne could walk down to one of the oceanfront restaurants for an early dinner.
Rebecca went into the master to deal with her luggage. Hans had carried the diamonds, because they were the most valuable, but she had the settings with her, and a little something Hans and the insurance company didn’t know about.
She opened her carry-on and pulled out several boxes of platinum settings that she’d designed over the past year. One-of-a-kind pieces waiting for her beautiful diamonds to complete the looks. She removed her small laptop, a book, the OK magazine Jayne had bought her and a six pack of Oreo cookies. When the bag was seemingly empty, she felt around at the bottom, until she found a small, plastic snap partially concealed by a fold in the lining. She pulled it free and removed the fabric covered treasure from its hiding place.
Three layers of soft cloth protected the uncommon diamond. She unwrapped the stone and let it fall onto her palm where it winked in the afternoon light. Six carats of perfect blue diamond.
Blue diamonds were so rare, most jewelers never saw one, let alone owned or sold one. Rebecca remembered her father taking her to the Smithsonian years ago, where she’d seen the famous Hope diamond. But that stone, while large, had been a grayish-blue and this one was deep ocean blue. Flawless. Precious.
Nigel had given it to her six months ago, when he’d flown to Milan to tell her he was getting married. But not to her.
Despite her claims of independence, her need to go it alone, she had truly been defined by two people in her life. Her mother and Nigel. She had loved others—her father, David and, of course, Jayne. She’d hated her mother and she’d lived through every emotion possible with Nigel. In the end he’d chosen someone else.
She’d told herself it didn’t matter, that she was too powerful for him, too determined. That he had never respected her abilities, her intelligence or drive and he’d been threatened by her success. All of which was true, but didn’t take away the ache inside. For ten years he’d been the center of her universe and now, without him, the world was a darker place. He hadn’t wanted her. Shades of the conversation she’d overheard when she’d been seven. Her mother complaining to her friends that Rebecca had been an accident—one she’d always regretted. At least Nigel’s dismissal had been more kind.
She told herself that the diamond was a hell of a consolation prize. Natural blue diamonds were nearly impossible to value and this one was perfect. A small, cold piece of rock she’d been given instead of a man’s heart. Only time would tell if she’d gotten a good deal.
She rewrapped the diamond in the cloth and put it back in her carry-on bag. The bag went in the safe, where it would stay until she decided what she was going to do with it.
She’d barely closed the door and made sure it was secure when her cell phone rang. She recognized David’s number on the small screen.
“Are you back?” she asked by way of greeting. “Did Mom arrange a band or did you have to make do with a small plaque?”
“Nice. Very loving and supportive.”
“The young prince returns home. All is well in the kingdom.”
“I’m not the young prince anymore.”
She grinned. “I know, but the rapidly-aging prince doesn’t have the same ring to it.”
He chuckled. “You’re pushing thirty, kid.”
“You got there first.” She had planned to say more, then heard a loudspeaker in the background. “Where are you? Still at the airport?”
“No.” He hesitated. “At the hospital.”
Her humor faded. “What? Are you okay? What happened?”
“I’m fine. It’s not me, it’s Jayne. She had an accident.”
Rebecca’s stomach tightened as her whole body went cold. Panic surged. “Is she all right?”
“She’s going to be fine. She broke her wrist. They’re setting it now. She’ll be released in a couple of hours. I know you two are tight, so I wanted to let you know.”
Broke her wrist? “How?” she asked, then thought about Jayne’s errand to her parents’ house. “This is about you, isn’t it? This has young prince written all over it.”
He winced. “It wasn’t totally my fault. She was carrying a big vase of flowers. I wasn’t there at the beginning, so I don’t know how it started. Apparently she slipped and when she fell, she broke her wrist.”
Some of the panic eased. “I am so going to kill you. Jayne is my friend. How could you hurt her?”
“I didn’t hurt her. It was an accident.”
“It was your fault.”
“Hey,” he said, sounding both amused and frustrated. “I don’t like this either. And before you go off on me, I’ll remind you that I have a pass for the rest of my life. Let’s not forget that, little sister.”
He was right—ten years ago she’d promised him she would never get mad at him again. “This is different. This is about Jayne.” She walked to the master bedroom and dug a notepad out of her purse. “What hospital? I’m coming right over. And don’t for a minute plan on leaving until I get there and say you can.”
“You’re turning into Mom. You know that, right?”
“Don’t think you can distract me, David. You’re in big trouble. Now stay with Jayne and make sure she’s all right. I’ll be there as fast as I can.”
“I’ll alert the media.”
“You’re trying to be funny and it won’t work.” She put her purse over her shoulder and walked to the kitchen where she grabbed her car keys.
“I’m trying to tell you everything is fine,” he said. “Of course I’ll stay with her until you get here. I’ve always liked Jayne.”
“Oh, please. You’ve never even had a conversation with her in your life.” She walked out of the condo and locked the door behind her.
“Sure I have. She’s funny.”
“Don’t for a moment think you can make time with my best friend. Just stay put and don’t make trouble”
“Promise. Jayne and I will be here, waiting for you, planning our elopement.”
“You’re are so not her type.”
“There’s a challenge.”
“I’m hanging up now.”
“See you soon.”