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Authors: Carol Rose

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BOOK: Momentary Marriage
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“So you’re stuck here like the rest of us. How the mighty are fallen.”

“Why Ms. Layton, I can’t believe you have trouble finding a cab.” Humor glinted in his dark eyes, enhancing his smile.

“Normally, no, but wet weather shifts the supply and demand,” she said, suppressing the urge to back up. An inch or two more space was all she needed to maintain her equilibrium. He was so close, so…masculine. His smile alone could endanger a woman’s well-being.

Had she been nuts to ask him out? Surely one date would be okay. Half the time, he teased her unmercifully. They’d probably end up in an argument before dessert.

He glanced down and Kelsey felt his hot gaze on the skin exposed beneath her short skirt. “Cabbies don’t really respond to a lovely pair of legs?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Kelsey replied demurely.

“I doubt that,” Jared said, his hand at her elbow. “Come on, let’s see if we can flag one down.”

“We won’t get one,” she said, feeling breathless as he gently propelled her toward the curb.

“Think positively,” he recommended.

The traffic light at the end of the block changed and a sea of yellow cabs surged forward in their characteristic mad dash to the next stop light. Jared stepped out from under the awning, one arm raised.

His ear-splitting whistle made Kelsey jump.

The thunder of cabs whipped past as if they weren’t there.

“Told you so,” Kelsey said, smirking. “But I am impressed with the whistle. I’ve lived in New York on and off most of my life and I’ve never learned to do that.”

Jared smiled with what she knew was assumed modesty. “Natural talent. And I don’t suppose cab drivers normally ignore you.”

She couldn’t help but chuckle. “I guess I’ll have to get drenched making a dash to the subway or be late meeting my friend for dinner. If that whistle didn’t get a cab, there’s none to be gotten.”

“You underestimate me,” Jared said softly. “I don’t give up so easily.”

“Jared,” she protested as he turned back to the curb, “you’re getting soaked.”

“It’s only rain.”

The light changed again. Kelsey covered her ears against the whistle she knew was coming.

To her shock, this time a cab separated itself from the thundering herd and pulled up docilely at the curb where Jared waited.

“My gosh!”

Jared opened the back door of the cab. “Jump in before he decides to take off again.”

Kelsey dove for the opening, scooting over to allow room for Jared.

“I don’t know if we’re headed the same direction,” she said, catching her breath, “but this is such a miracle, I feel we should celebrate.”

He shook some rain droplets from his short, dark hair. “Shall we just ride around the city laughing at people stranded under awnings?”

“That would be cruel,” Kelsey chuckled. “But tempting.”

“Well, maybe I could just drop you off where you’re meeting your date," Jared offered, stretching an arm across the back of the seat.

The taxi driver waited silently, the meter ticking away.

Kelsey leaned forward and gave him her destination.

“It’s not really a date,” she said, sliding back in the seat. “I’m just meeting a girlfriend for dinner.”

“Ah.” He smiled at her, an glimmer of satisfied amusement in his eyes.

Awareness rose in Kelsey’s chest, the atmosphere in the back seat of the cab steamy from more than the afternoon's rain. Sitting here next to him, she felt a slam of attraction. He sat easily next to her, his body lithe and muscular body, his confidence sexy as hell.

She drew in a shaken breath and tried to focus.

Beyond his obvious attributes--sable brown hair and chocolate eyes a woman could drown in—she’d gathered a few other pertinent bits of data about Jared Barrett. From everything she’d heard, he swam with the best in the shark-infested waters of the hotel business. His resorts weren’t necessarily the most lavish or best known, but he pulled down a substantial profit.

On the personal side of things, she’d heard scuttlebutt that he’d had an early, failed marriage. Of course, few people hadn’t these days. She could only account for her own avoidance of that statistic due to lack of temptation. Heaven knew she’d been exposed, but the idea of getting married simply hadn’t taken.

Of course, it would have been better for Doug and Amy if she had made a legal union with one of her occasional swains.

Thunder rattled overhead as the cab made its way through the wet, congested streets. The dimness inside the cab left Jared’s features in shadow, but his warm, clean scent surrounded her.

As young and successful as he was, Kelsey had never heard any indication of his being a party boy. She knew he liked females because she’d heard about a few he’d dated…and because he watched her with appreciation in his eyes.

For months now she’d been puzzled that he hadn’t asked her out. She wouldn’t have gone, of course. Probably. Certainly, shouldn’t see any more of him than necessary.

Just now it seemed necessary for him to kiss her, however.

He was so near, his arm on the seat behind her, his head turned toward hers. She felt engulfed, pulled toward him by a yearning for his touch.

Jared met her gaze, his own seeming suddenly dark and brooding with the same awareness, the same need. Time stretched out, each second a pearl on an endless string. The damp air between them seemed to thicken. She felt herself leaning toward him ever so slightly, her face turned and raised to his.

“So tell me,” he said, shifting away from her fractionally, “where shall I pick you up tomorrow evening?”

Kelsey blinked. “Oh. My place, I guess.”

She gave him the address, pushing aside her disappointment to say crisply, “I really appreciate your helping me out about the banquet.”

“My pleasure.”

Maybe she’d been wrong about the look in his eyes, she brooded as the cab pulled up to the restaurant. Sure, she’d promised herself to stay clear of the man, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t have liked him to at least try a pass. It would be interesting to kiss him, just once. No more.

*
**

The phone rang.

Amy turned blearily away from the coffee maker she’d been urging on with her fuzzy morning concentration and stared at the phone where it hung next to the refrigerator.

It rang again.

“Damn!” Someone was calling her at the ungodly hour of six o’clock in the morning. Amy grabbed for the receiver, stepping around the small kitchen table—

“Crap!” She lifted her stubbed toes to one hand, reaching for the phone with the other. “Hello!”

“Amy?”

“Doug!” Lowering her bruised foot to the floor, she hobbled closer to the phone, not wanting the cord to pull loose from the receiver in her hand.

“Are you okay?” he asked. “You sound kind of funny?

It spoke volumes that she found his concern endearing, even at this hour of the morning, with her toes throbbing and her brain misty from a lack of life-giving caffeine. “Yes, I’m fine.”

“Hey,” he said, sounding vaguely disconsolate. “I was just wondering if you’re going to the awards banquet tonight.”

“The banquet?” she echoed, her still-sluggish neurons perking up a little. He was calling her about the banquet? That meant Kelsey had turned him down, bless her big sister. Only now Amy had to think what to do. Act desperate and immediately agree to go with him or lie like a woman with self-respect and say she had plans for the evening?

“I guess I’m going,” she said, giving up on coherent thought and self-esteem all in one mumbled phrase.

“Good,” he said, sounding relieved. “Shall I pick you up?”

Amy stared blindly at the hideous Mickey Mouse magnet adorning the refrigerator door. This was going too far. Even for a woman as far gone on a man as she was on Doug.

“Pick me up? Like we’re carpooling?” she asked with the hint of a snap.

There was a pause from his end. “Well, no. I thought I could be your escort.”

A sudden, stupid urge gripped Amy and she leaned back against the refrigerator, breaking Mickey’s eye contact in order to grapple with and subdue the impulse to ask him if her sister had already turned Doug down.

She didn’t ask him for the simple reason that she didn’t want to know the answer.

“My escort, huh?” It was a step, she told herself. Rome wasn’t built in a day or something like that.

“Sure,” Doug said as if he were speaking to a slow child.

“Like go on a date together?” The question tumbled out of her mouth as if she was fourteen and Amy wondered if this one clueless man would always have the same effect on her.

“Yes,” he said with a hint of laughter in his voice. “I’m asking you out on a date.”

She straightened from the refrigerator, a surge of silly happiness making her suddenly giddy. “Well, I don’t know, Doug. I hardly know you!”

He chuckled. “Don’t say that, Amy. If you don’t know me, no one does.”

“Remember that,” she responded softly.

CHAPTER THREE

Kelsey tugged the short red dress down, slipping her arms through the sleeveless sheath’s arm holes. Counting her high-heeled sandals, she wore exactly four separate pieces of clothing. Panties were her only concession to modesty.

Dispensing with hose made her feel both summery and bare. The awards dinner would no doubt be hot and crowded, populated with the odd mixture of artistic types and business bottom-liners who made up the advertising scene. She wanted to stay cool.

She also wanted to make Jared Barrett sweat.

Her downstairs buzzer sounded and Kelsey sprinted over to press the button to let Jared in. She glanced around her crowded apartment, not overly concerned with its slight clutter, but curious as to what he’d see.

He knocked at the door and Kelsey pulled it open without checking the peephole.

“Hello,” Jared said with a lean smile.

“Hi.” She tried to keep the school girl squeak out of her voice, but, darn it, he was wearing a tuxedo and he looked good enough to eat. Not ordinary in any sense of the word, she reflected.

“Come in,” Kelsey offered, feeling oddly skittish. “I just need to get my wrap.”

When she came back into the living room, he stood studying a collection of photographs on the wall near the door.

“Did you do these?” he asked, a hint of surprise in his voice.

“Yes,” she admitted, feeling unaccountably defensive, “being an art director does require a measure of creativity.”

“I’m sure it requires a lot of talent,” Jared declared. “I’m just surprise at your choice of subjects.”

Kelsey glanced at the framed photos, now more embarrassed than anything. “I like houses. They’re peaceful and…homey.”

“Yes, they are,” he agreed, warmth and sincerity in his voice. “Beautiful, too.”

“Thank you.” She fidgeted with the sliver of red chiffon, catching it with an end over each elbow.

“Ready to go?” He gestured toward the door.

“Yes,” she said, plucking her sequined, heart-shaped purse up from a chair.

The elevator delivered them to the lobby with blessed speed. Kelsey stared at the numbers, aware that she was almost jumpy tonight for some weird reason. It wasn’t as if a date had never picked her up at her apartment before.

Jared cupped a warm hand behind her elbow and guided her toward the lobby doors. Kelsey walked outside, very conscious of him behind her.

“My goodness,” she said, spotting the gleaming black limo at the curb. “No taxi tonight?”

Jared laughed.

“Taxis are only impressive in rain storms. The limo has plenty of room for your ball gown.” His sardonic gaze seemed to caress her brief, clingy dress.

Kelsey couldn’t help an inward smirk as she climbed into the limousine. He wasn’t totally immune. Somehow that pleased her.

“I trust you arrived at your dinner engagement yesterday with only minimal dampness?” Jared inquired, leaning comfortably back on his side of the car.

“Yes, thank you,” she said. “And my friend was suitably awed when I recounted your taxi feat.”

He grinned. “I just love awing women.”

“I’m sure,” Kelsey said dryly, wondering how one man could pack such a punch with a simple facial expression. Truly the world wasn’t fair.

“So this banquet tonight…rubber chicken?”

“Probably,” she said, resisting the urge to tug her skirt down. With his slight angle towards her, Jared didn’t even have to turn his head to look at her and he was certainly looking his fill. She couldn’t help a small surge of satisfaction.

“Dinner, award-giving and…?”

“Dancing, usually,” she finished. “But a lot of the business people don’t stay.”

“Advertising people are such clean-living folk. Early to bed, early to rise,” he said, teasing.

“Boy, have you not been paying attention,” Kelsey commented. “The music is usually lounge lizard stuff, too artsy for the business folk.”

“Too hip, you mean,” Jared accused, his voice provocative. “And since I’m in the ‘business’ category, I’ll take that as an insult. We money-men just aren’t smooth enough for you creative types.”

BOOK: Momentary Marriage
8.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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