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Inconvenient Bride

By Eleanor Wilson,2014-11-04 17:24
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Inconvenient Bride

    “Why fight it? It’s what we both want. Unless you only

    believe in one-night stands?”

    “Of course not!”

    “Then maybe you’re a chicken.”

    Her eyes flashed. “I’m never a chicken!”

    “No?” Dominic challenged softly. “Then prove it.”

    For a long moment she didn’t move. Then something changed. The corners of her mouth turned upin a smile that set his heart pounding. And quite deliberately Sierra reached out and snaggedhis tie from where he’d tossed it on the chair.

    She ran it through her fingers as she stepped forward to meet him. And his heart slammedagainst his chest as she whispered, “How nice of you to remember I had a use for this.”

    ANNE MCALLISTER was born in California. She spent long lazy summers daydreaming on localbeaches and studying surfers, swimmers and volleyball players in an effort to find the perfecthero. She finally did—not on the beach, but in the university library where she was working.She, her husband and their four children have since moved to the Midwest. She taught,copyedited, capped deodorant bottles and ghostwrote sermons before turning to her first love,writing romance fiction.

    Books by Anne McAllister

    HARLEQUIN PRESENTS ?

    2005—THE PLAYBOY AND THE NANNY

    2060—GIBSON’S GIRL

    2126—RHYS’S REDEMPTION

Anne McAllister

THE INCONVENIENT BRIDE

Thanks to Jane Dolter and April Collier for helping Sierra do all that hair!

And for Ann Leslie Tuttle, who is everything an editor should be: helpful, wise, patient and

encouraging—especially when it wasn’t even her book! For Jack and Judy, Happy 30th!

    CONTENTS

    CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE CHAPTER SIX CHAPTER SEVEN CHAPTER EIGHT CHAPTER NINE CHAPTER TEN

    CHAPTER ONE

    “YOUR father on line one.”

    They were the words Dominic Wolfe least wanted to hear.

    He sighed and shut his eyes. It had already been a hellish morning.

    He liked a brisk walk to his office. The mile trek downtown from his Fifth Avenue apartment wasordinarily exactly what he needed to compose his thoughts, run over his mental list of to-do’sand psyche himself up to tackle the day.

    Today he’d got drenched halfway there. The “early morning shower” predicted by the weatherservice had become an eight a.m. cloudburst instead. And by the time Dominic had decided it wasmore than a sprinkle, taxis had become nonexistent.

    He’d arrived, damp and annoyed, to a message that the president of the company with whom hewas negotiating a buyout had chosen this moment to rethink his options. While he was trying tosort that out, a supplier in Japan sent a fax saying the shipment would be delayed. Hissecretary, Shyla, was morning sick, pale and wan and gasping, although trying to mask it withruthless efficiency.

    And Marjorie—the woman he’d been quite sure would never want more from him than his presencein her bed—had just banged the receiver in his ear after delivering an ultimatum: if he wantedto see the inside of her bedroom again, she expected an engagement ring.

    And now the old man was on line one?

    Dominic did not want to talk to the old man.

    “Did you hear me, Dominic?” His secretary, Shyla, interpreted his silence for distraction,not reluctance. “He said it was urgent.”

    It was always urgent now that his father was no longer running things.

    Douglas Wolfe had far too much time on his hands since he’d retired. He’d gone merrily off toFlorida eighteen months ago, telling Dominic he intended to catch up on his reading, fishingand all the other things his years at the top of corporate America had never permitted him todo.

    Shuffleboard, Dominic had thought. He’d expected his father to fish and read, to play gamesand eat Egg McMuffins with his friends.

    Instead the old man had spent his every waking moment researching new strategies for thecompany he was no longer running and attempting to assure its future. That meant he wasdetermined to find the woman who would tempt Dominic to leave bachelorhood behind.

    It wasn’t going to happen.

    Dominic had told him that. They’d been over it a hundred times. More.

    Douglas had tried his hand at matchmaking once before. He’d found Dominic a fiancée a dozenyears ago. Carin had been absolutely perfect. Young, sweet, gorgeous, and the daughter of oneof Wolfe Enterprises’ biggest suppliers. Dominic had been young, handsome, ambitious, andnaive. He’d thought marriages like that worked out.

    He’d never expected Carin to jilt him.

    But she had. He’d been left standing at their Bahamas hideaway with a ring, a red face and twohundred intrigued wedding guests, but no bride.

    He sure as hell wasn’t letting the old man have another shot.

    For a dozen years, Douglas had lain low, had let Dominic revel in easy bachelordom. Butretirement had apparently pricked his need to meddle again. For the past eighteen months, he’dshowed up with a woman every month for Dominic to “look over.”

    Dominic had assumed it was biological—some sort of urge to become a grandfather that hit menwhen they turned sixty-five. Thus he’d expected the old man to let up when his youngestbrother Rhys had, just this past Christmas, inadvertently provided their father with twins.

    But it hadn’t mattered. It was May now, and in the past five months Douglas had appeared withone woman after another—each as precise and tailored and businesslike as Dominic himself.

    They wouldn’t have sex, they’d have mergers, he’d told the old man after the last one. Therewas no way on earth he would ever consider someone like that!

    “Well, what do you want?” Douglas had sputtered.

    “To be left alone,” Dominic growled and banged down the phone.

    He had been for the past three weeks. He’d hoped his father had got the message at last. Nowthe old man was on line one.

    Dominic punched the button and barked into the phone. “What?”

    “And a lovely fine morning to you, too,” his father’s cheerful voice boomed in his ear.

    “Not lovely here. It’s raining like hell.” Dominic scowled out the floor-to-ceiling windowsof his office onto the gray damp dismal world beyond.

    “I’ll tell Evelyn to pack my umbrella and rubber boots.”

    “Pack—? Why?” Dominic sat up straight, his fingers strangling his Mont Blanc pen.

    His earlier vague sense of foreboding was presently slamming him right between the eyes. Whyshould his father’s housekeeper be packing Douglas’s umbrella and rubber boots, unless—

    “I’m having dinner with Tommy Hargrove this evening. Been talking to him about maybe comingon board. So Viveca and I are catching the noon flight to New York and—”

    “Whoa. Stop. Tommy Hargrove is not coming on board.”

    If they’d been through this once, they’d been through it a thousand times. Tommy Hargrove’ssmall company might once have been a possible acquisition. It was no longer. “WolfeEnterprises isn’t in the market for a small outdated communications firm. And who the hell isViveca?”

    “Tommy and I are old friends.” Douglas ignored the last question, going on smoothly, “We goback a long way, since before you were in diapers, young man.”

    Whenever Dominic became “young man” it meant Douglas was meddling again.

    “And,” his father went on, “it is not a foregone conclusion that Tommy’s company isn’tjust what we need.”

    “Yes,” Dominic said, his voice pure steel. “It is.”

    “We’ll see,” Douglas said enigmatically.

    “We won’t—”

    “It is possible,” Douglas went on as if Dominic hadn’t begun to speak, “that I could agreewith you. If you and Viveca…”

    Dominic slammed his pen down on the solid teak desk.

    “Haven’t I spoken of Viveca?” Douglas was all mild innocence.

    “No,” Dominic said through his teeth.

    “Ah. Well, she’s why I called actually,” Douglas said with determined good cheer. “Lovelygirl. Stunning, really. Pauline Moore’s daughter. You remember Pauline. Miss America pageant.Mensa. Phi Beta Kappa. Ran into Pauline and her daughter at the club on Monday. Paulineintroduced us. Wondered if I didn’t have a son about her age. Of course she meant Rhys.Viveca’s much younger than you. Gorgeous girl. Long blond hair. Brilliant. Witty. Charming.Did I tell you she’s getting a Ph.D. in art history. She—” Douglas was gearing up for a longdiscussion of Viveca Moore’s best qualities.

    “Cut to the chase,” Dominic said wearily.

    “Marry her,” Douglas said flatly.

    “What!”

    “You heard me. Get married. To her. You need to get married. To have children. To carry on theline. Marry Viveca,” Douglas said, “and I’ll tell Tommy we’ve taken another direction.”

    “I’ll tell Tommy we’ve taken another direction and I won’t have to marry her.”

    There was a second’s silence. “Then I’ll tell the board I don’t support you.”

    It was as if all of Manhattan had ground to a halt. For one long moment there wasn’t a sound,beyond the pounding of his own blood in Dominic’s ears.

    And then he said with a calmness he didn’t begin to feel, “Is that a threat?”

    “Of course it’s not a threat,” Douglas blustered. “It’s a damn promise, boy. You’re notgetting any younger. You’re thirty-six years old! You should have got over that nonsense withCarol—”

    “Carin.”

    “Carol, Carin—whatever her name was—years ago! It’s like riding a horse, lad! If you falloff you don’t run away and lick your wounds, you damned well get back on again.”

    “Marry the next woman down the pike, you mean?” Dominic was amazed his voice sounded so mild.He felt like the top of his head was about to come off.

    “Of course not. Not just any woman! But there’s plenty of damn fine gals around. You’ve hada dozen years to find one and you haven’t done it!”

    “Maybe I don’t want to.”

    “Nonsense!” Douglas didn’t even consider that. “You need to. For the business if not foryourself. People trust a married man. He seems responsible, reliable. They’ve given you thebenefit of the doubt for years. But you’re walking the edge now. Besides,” Douglas changedhis tack, “you’ve got the makings of a fine family man. A fine father.”

    “Like you?” Dominic’s voice was scathing, but his father didn’t even notice.

    “Chip off the old block,” Douglas agreed without missing a beat. “That’s why I know you’lllike Viveca.”

    “I don’t want—”

    “You don’t know what you want anymore! I bring you a redhead, you want a blonde. I bring youa homemaker, you want a Ph.D. I bring you a—”

    “I want you to stop bringing me women!”

    “I will.”

    “When?”

    “After tonight. After you meet Viveca. You won’t want another woman after Viveca! She’severything you want. A blonde. A homemaker with a Ph.D.! And—”

    “And if I don’t marry her you’re going to go to the board with a vote of no confidence,”Dominic said through his teeth.

    There was a split second’s hesitation. Then Douglas said, “You’re damn right.”

    Dominic understood that split second. It was the point-of-no-return. It was the jumping offspot. The last chance to turn back.

    Douglas hadn’t turned back.

    “Viveca and I will be in the city this evening,” he said firmly. “Join us—and Tommy—fordinner at Le Sabre’s. At eight.”

    “I’ve got—”

    “At eight, Dominic.”

    The phone crashed down in his ear.

    Dominic stared at it. Then he set it slowly back in its cradle. He tilted back in his chair andshoved it round so that he sat staring at the rain coursing down his window on the world. Hedrummed his fingers lightly on the arms of his chair and considered his options.

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