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Authors: Carol Rose

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BOOK: Momentary Marriage
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“You, personally, are smooth enough to charm a kiss from a nun,” she declared with a sputter of indignation.

“Thank you,” he said, his voice all velvet. “I’ll remember that if I meet any nuns I want to kiss tonight.”

She laughed as the limousine pulled up outside the hotel entrance. The man deserved a kick in the seat of the pants.

Jared offered her his hand, tugging her out of the limo. When they climbed the stairs to the hotel lobby, he put his hand at the small of her back, his touch leaving her warm and disgustingly aware of him.

As escorts went, he’d earn her points, she knew. The fact that he was a successful, rich man was only part of Jared’s allure for females in general. Beyond that was his attractive physique, his smiling eyes and the damned pheromones that swamped her every time he got near. Most of the women in the room tonight would wonder what it would be like to go home with him.

Kelsey refused to consider the possibility.

It was fun playing with fire, but she wasn’t a girl who liked to get burned. Jared met her point for point and she had the sneaky sensation that he never fully showed his hand.

He might be her date for the night—out of desperation, she reminded herself as they found their table in the ball room, but she wasn’t dating him.

Jared pulled out her chair for her.

“Kelsey?” Doug stared at her from across the table. “You’re here with…Jared?”

“Yes,” she said as blandly as possible, dropping her napkin into her lap. “Amy, you look great tonight.”

Her sister, sitting beside Doug, beamed across the table. “So do you.”

“Good evening,” Jared said to those seated at the table. “Doug.”

Doug rose and introduced Amy.

“We’ve met before at the agency,” Jared commented pleasantly as he shook her hand.

“Listen,” Doug said, getting up. “Why don’t we move around the table to those empty seats so you girls can talk more easily.”

Amy sent him a puzzled look, but got up and followed him around to the chair he indicated, a seat away from Kelsey. Doug sat in the chair between them.

“So,” he said, turning to Kelsey and lowering his voice. “I thought you said I didn’t know your date for tonight.”

“Oh.” She’d forgotten that. Thinking fast, Kelsey said, “I meant you didn’t know
about
him, that we're going out.”

Doug shot his boss a dark glance. “No, I didn't know.”

Next to her, Jared continued chatting with several others at the table. If he’d heard her lie, he gave no indication.

“I wish you’d told me you were dating him,” Doug said, his gaze both worried and proprietary. “I thought you said your date was with someone I didn’t know. Jared can be a tough character. You could get hurt.”

“Don’t worry about me,” she said, patting his hand. “I can take care of myself. You just have a good time with Amy tonight.”

Doug glanced over at her sister as if he’d forgotten she was there. “Oh. Of course.”

Jared caught her eye, his expression full of sardonic comprehension mixed with an irritating tinge of humor. She glanced away, annoyed with herself for caring what he thought.

The waiters began moving between the tables, placing dinners before all the guests. Kelsey did her best to talk with everyone at the table, taking trouble to draw Amy in several times. Beside her, Doug seemed preoccupied. Throughout dinner, he only spoke twice to Amy, Kelsey noticed with a sinking heart.

When the lights went down and the awards part of the evening began, Doug leaned over to Kelsey and whispered, “You look fantastic tonight. Is that a new dress?”

“No,” Kelsey said briefly, wanting to wring his neck. He’d always been attentive to her, but tonight by ignoring everyone else, including his own date, he was crossing over into rudeness.

Doug wasn’t generally inconsiderate. He was, in fact, one of the nicest people she knew. When his friends were in trouble, he jumped to help them out.

It was just her. She had a deplorable influence on him.

Tonight, he was acting like a dog whose bone had been stolen. And it was her fault because all these years, she’d relied on him like a worn house coat. Naturally, he’d gotten the impression that eventually she’d give up catting around and decide to come home to him permanently.

The evening seemed to stretch out, Kelsey’s morose thoughts keeping her company. The awards that Jared’s campaign was up for came and went, rival agencies winning. Kelsey couldn’t keep from glancing at Amy frequently, knowing how Doug’s behavior must hurt.

Her sister’s expression was baleful the one time their eyes met. Kelsey couldn’t blame Amy if she wanted to wring her neck.

At various times during the lengthy presentation, several people excused themselves from the table. Kelsey watched Amy leave for the ladies room, her normally vivacious face clouded.

As soon as she could slip away, Kelsey followed her sister, a sense of foreboding gripping her as she thought of Amy’s increasing silence.

*
**

“I didn’t know you and Kelsey were dating,” Doug said, his lowered voice abrupt.

Watching Kelsey leave, making her way through the banquet tables, Jared said, “Didn’t you?”

“No.” Doug fiddled with an unused fork that hadn’t been removed by the waiters. “I’ve known Kelsey and Amy a long time.”

“Yes,” Jared responded, waiting. He valued Doug as an employee and a friend, but couldn’t see their friendship as a bar to pursuing Kelsey. She and Doug were so obviously wrong for each other.

“They had a rough time of it as kids,” Doug said, hesitating as if unsure what to say next.

“Yes.”

He left off fidgeting with the fork, saying bluntly, “Kelsey’s a good friend of mine. I’d hate to see her get hurt.”

“So would I,” Jared told him, meeting his challenging gaze squarely. “Hurting her is the last thing I have in mind.”

“She dates…a lot,” Doug said with obvious difficulty. “But she’s really…not like that. She’s a sweet, wonderful girl.”

Jared had to smile at the other man’s understatement. From what he’d seen, Kelsey had made dating into an art form, a game in and of itself. A form of self-protection, he suspected. While she flitted from man to man, she never let any guy close enough to hurt her.

“I think she’s sweet, too,” Jared said sincerely. He liked and respected Doug Morton, and he knew the guy had it bad for Kelsey, mooning over her like a sixth grader. Maybe that fact should have given Jared pause, but it didn’t.

The way he saw it, Kelsey was too complicated for Doug. Besides, if anything was going to happen between them, it would have popped years ago.

Doug sat back in his chair, as if he didn’t know what else to say. Appreciating his dilemma, Jared made no further comment. He knew his own agenda.

Kelsey’s defenses precluded the straight-forward dating approach, but Jared knew he excelled in brokering the tough sell. One way or the other, he’d find a way to get her on his own terms.

*
**

 

Pushing open the restroom door, Kelsey scanned the outer vanity area and not finding her sister there, went into the echoing tiled room.

“Amy?” Kelsey bent and searched the feet under the stall doors. “Sis, are you in here?”

“Go away,” Amy’s voice quavered from a stall on the left.

“Oh, sweetie,” Kelsey said, her heart contracting with sympathy at the forlorn sound. “Don’t be upset.”

“I-I have every right to be upset,” Amy wailed, her words trailing off into hiccupping sobs.

Kelsey stood by the stall door, leaning her head against the cold surface. “Please don’t cry. Come out and we’ll talk about it.”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Amy declared in a voice heavy with tearful loathing. “He loves you! Not me.”

The sound of flushing came from the stall next to where Kelsey stood, followed shortly by the opening of the door. A woman in pink silk who Kelsey didn’t recognize came out, sending her a sympathetic smile as she turned toward the sinks.

“Come out and talk to me, Amy,” Kelsey begged.

She heard her sister blow her nose and then felt the door against which she leaned, move inward.

“Oh, sweetie,” Kelsey crooned, taking her sister into her arms. “It’ll be fine. We’ll make it okay.”

Amy stood passively, not responding to her hug. “It won’t be fine. I’m not like you!”

Startled, Kelsey fell back, looking into her sister’s woebegone face. “What do you mean?”

Amy lifted an untidy wad of toilet paper to wipe her wet cheeks, turning away from the stall area. “I mean I not a dating machine. Keep it light and breezy and never really care about any of them. I love Doug!”

“And I don’t care about anyone?” Kelsey questioned, unable to keep the hurt out of her voice.

“You don’t ever let yourself get really involved,” Amy replied as she stood in front of the mirror trying to repair the ravages to her face.

“I get involved,” Kelsey insisted, feeling insulted at the image her sister presented. “Sometimes.”

Tossing the damp ball of toilet tissue into the trash, Amy yanked a paper towel from the holder and held it under a stream of water. “Please. You admitted it yourself. You date like a fifties prom queen—a different guy every month. I’m surprised you’re here with Jared tonight after what you said about him demanding a lot from a woman. You avoid commitment of any sort. Never serious, never long term. I don’t blame you. I understand you don’t want to get hurt if things don’t work out.”

Leaning back against the cold tiled wall, Kelsey didn’t bother hiding the grimness in her voice. “Well, you remember that old saying about the apple not falling far from the tree.”

“No,” Amy disagreed, swinging around to look at her. “Mom always gets involved. She falls into infatuation and thinks it’s true love and marries the guy before she even gets to know him. You, on the other hand, never keep them around long enough to get anywhere. Certainly not long enough to start caring about them.”

“That’s not totally true!” Kelsey argued indignantly. “You make me sound like some sort of sleaze with a string of one-night stands!”

Still patting her face with the paper towel, Amy’s glance was searching. “I’m not saying that. I know you don’t sleep with them. At least, not many of them—“

“Thanks!” Kelsey huffed.

“—you just go out with different men and have fun. You never let yourself close enough to get hurt. Never let yourself really fall in love. You’ve never made a secret of that. But that’s what I mean. I’m not like that. I
love
Doug.”

Kelsey looked at her younger sister, overwhelmed with guilt. How had she let this happen?

“I know he’s blind and stupid and insensitive,” Amy declared, tossing the towel in the trash. “But he’s also smart and sweet and really committed, when he makes up his mind.”

“Unfortunately,” Kelsey sighed.

“I’ve known him since I was thirteen,” Amy said, tears welling up in her eyes again. “I know his faults, but I also know all the wonderful things about him.”

Reaching out, Kelsey drew her sister close, hugging her tightly. “It’ll be all right, little sister. I’ll make it all right.”

*
**

Under the cover of the lowered lights in the ballroom, they made their way back to the table. Kelsey slipped into her seat, ignoring Jared’s searching look.

Somehow, she had to get through to Doug that his interest in her was hopeless. Only then was he likely to realize how wonderful Amy would be for him.

Her face turned toward the podium at the front of the large room, she schooled her features to look attentive, but all she could think about was how to fix the problem. She had to talk to Doug. Had to make him see that they had no romantic future.

Aware that Doug, sitting next to her, was trying to engage her attention, Kelsey tried to focus on the screen where the television commercials up for awards were played. At some point, Jared excused himself.

Within seconds, Doug leaned over, taking her hand in his. “Don’t be angry with me for what I said about you and Jared. I just don’t want to see you get hurt.”

“I know,” she whispered with as much patience as she could muster, drawing her hand away. “But you have to think about Amy's feelings.”

“Amy?” he said blankly.

“Yes,” Kelsey hissed as quietly as she could. “Remember her?”

He looked over at her sister as if he’d forgotten her existence.

Kelsey looked away, resisting the urge to give Doug a
whomp
upside the head. Men were so dense. Somehow she'd convince Doug that his hopes were in vain. He had to get over this infatuation.

“Kelsey,” Doug said, leaning toward her yet again. “Maybe we can go to that gallery tomorrow evening.”

Kelsey had had enough.

“Doug,” she muttered back, trying to keep her voice low. “Please try to remember that you
have
a date for the evening. It might be nice if you acted like you were with
her.

BOOK: Momentary Marriage
6.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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