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Authors: Carol Rose

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BOOK: Momentary Marriage
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Doug looked at her, his gaze puzzled and searching. “Yes.”

“I-I meant that, Doug,” she said earnestly. “I do love you. Like a brother and…nothing more.”

If he’d been a more emotionally demonstrative man, he’d have winced. As it was, she saw the half-dismayed, half-angry reaction in his face.

“Kels,” he said abruptly, shifting his feet to place greater distance between them. “What brings this on? Like you said, you told me all this years ago.”

“Last night,” she said as gently as she could. “Last night you acted like a jealous lover.”

“Don’t be silly,” Doug scoffed unconvincingly. “I was just worried about you going out with Jared. Don’t get me wrong. He’s a great guy. But he’s got a tough side and I was worried about you.”

“You don’t need to watch over me,” she told him, still trying to be as gentle as possible. Doug had been the brother she’d never had. She hated having to hurt him.

“Fine,” he said, shifting yet another step back and lifting his hands in surrender. “Enough said.”

“And you hurt Amy,” Kelsey said steadily, holding his gaze. “You hurt her.”

“Amy?” The puzzled look returned to his face. “She’s great. I didn’t mean to ignore her.”

“Then tell her she’s great,” Kelsey recommended before turning to go back into the meeting room, “and next time, don’t ignore her.”

*
**

Kelsey tapped her pencil on the notepad lying on the conference table in front of her, her gaze trained on her boss.

“…the television spots will run during the shows rated highest for our target demographic. But changing the timetable on this campaign would be problematic…”

J.T.’s narrow, rumpled figure stood outlined by the light from the window behind him, emphasizing his sallow skin and bad haircut. For a man in the business of promotion, he did a lousy job of promoting himself, appearance-wise. As far as actual function went, however, J.T. was as clever as they came. It was an honor to work with the man.

Despite her best efforts this morning, though, Kelsey could not drag her attention away from Jared Barrett. It had been hard enough to concentrate on work after her difficult conversation with Doug, who now sat across the table from her, his brooding gaze fixed in her direction. But ignoring Jared was taxing her even more.

He sat next to her, lolling back in his chair with great ease, his hand resting on the table mere inches away from hers. She’d never really thought much about men’s hands, but her peripheral vision lovingly detailed Jared’s in sensuous detail. Strong and square with blunt-tipped fingers. The kind of hands to cup a woman’s face and caress her cheek as he bent closer to kiss—

Kelsey straightened suddenly in her chair, drawing in a deep breath and redoubling her efforts to pay attention to what was being said. Across the table, Doug busily filled his own pad with notes, occasionally looking her way.

“…we can’t push up the ad campaign date,” J.T. responded, “if we want to get prime space in New England Travel and Metropolitan Monthly. It’s too bad because hotel space in the city is booking up at record rates…”

Jared leaned toward her, the sleeve of his suit jacket brushing her bare arm.

“How can you,” his warm breath caressed her ear, “actually pay attention to a guy with hair like that?”

Looking at the odd collection of tufts on J.T.’s head, Kelsey felt a bubble of laughter rising in her throat and sternly repressed it.

“Do you think he paid someone for that haircut? Or did he end up in the gutter after partying all night and a rat chewed on his head?”

Biting her lip, she kept her gaze glued on J.T. She couldn’t burst out laughing in the middle of her boss’ presentation!

She must have made some small, stifled sound, though, because Doug glanced her direction sharply before J.T. grabbed his attention again.

“You’re such a good, conscientious employee,” Jared murmured before shifting back in his chair.

“…and since the Millennium New Year celebration got such international coverage demonstrating New York is, once again, the place to be. It would be ideal, of course, to have The Meriton’s grand opening as soon as possible—”

“Then why don’t we?” Jared interrupted, his brain apparently still clicking on the subject at hand despite his attempt to distract her.

J.T. paused, giving the question calm consideration. “Well, as I said, it’s too late to get prime space in—“


New England
Travel?”

“Yes,” Doug said. “They have a longer lead time. We could manage some of the others—“

“And you said Metro Monthly?” Jared asked J.T.

“Yes.” J.T. waited.

Still leaning back indolently in his chair next to her, Jared smiled. “I know Lon Thomas.”

“The publisher of N.E. Travel?” J.T. nodded, his shrewd eyes watchful. “Yes, I know him, too.”

“We serve on a board together,” Jared said calmly. “I’m sure he could find a way to work with us on this campaign…in order to keep our business.”

“And Metro?” Doug asked, his mind visibly clicking as he considered Jared’s suggestion. “I suppose we could make do without them, but they have a large readership in our target demographic—“

Jared laughed, the sound rich and confidant. “Don’t worry about Metro.”

Watching him, Kelsey noted the sardonic smile, the ease with which he considered completely reworking the timetable on a multi-million dollar advertising campaign. Businesses rose and fell, depending on the effectiveness of their publicity.

“You may not have heard about it, but Metro screwed up our ads two years ago when we used another firm to launch The SeaCrest. That was part of the reason we switched agencies. But I got their IOU back then, in lieu of other compensation.” Jared shrugged. “It’s just a matter of reminding them.”

“Good,” J.T. said immediately. “I do remember that, now that you mention it.”

“Of course, we don’t have to push the launch up,” Doug said. “The Meriton is going to be phenomenally successful, one way or the other. It isn’t like this is our only window of opportunity.”

“No,” Jared agreed negligently, “but we might as well maximize our position if we’ve nothing to lose by doing so. Get the power. Use the power.”

Watching the smile playing on his lips, Kelsey repressed the shiver than ran up her spine. In her line of work, she dealt with powerful men and women frequently, people who made decisions and determined policy that affected thousands. It occurred to her as she watched the interplay between her boss, Doug and Jared, however, that she’d rarely seen anyone quite so comfortable with playing the game as Jared.

“They’ll have to bump someone else’s ad to accommodate us,” Kelsey said, the words out of her mouth before she knew it.

“Yes,” Jared said, a smile curving the corners of his lips.

“At the very least, they’ll have to rearrange an entire issue of copy,” she continued, her pencil making random doodles on the pad in front of her.

“Yes?” he said again, one brow arched in question as if he couldn’t see her point.

“If we don’t have to launch early,” she pushed on, not even sure why it mattered to her, “if it doesn’t cost us anything to wait….”

“Ah,” Jared said, “but it gains us something potentially if we move the launch up.”

“Potentially,” she murmured.

“Yes.” The word was soft, coming through lips now in a crooked, charming smile.

“I understand.” She did, too. Jared Barrett for all his smooth and enticing appeal really liked to win.

*
**

“Ms. Layton,” Jared said, standing next to her chair as the others filed out of the meeting room. “Now that you’ve once entrusted yourself to my care and come to no harm, perhaps you’ll be willing to help me with another business-related situation.”

Kelsey looked up at him, unable to keep herself from wondering if he was calling in an IOU from her, this time. He
had
helped her out with the banquet thing. Still, if the man had a business-related concern, why wouldn’t she help him out?

“Of course,” she responded, coming to her feet. The room had emptied out and they stood alone.

“Never agree to anything till you know the cost,” Jared chided, his hand at her elbow to guide her around the table. “That’s a good general rule of life.”

“The cost?” She lifted an eyebrow in question. Sure the guy had gone with her to an event at the last minute, but that didn’t exactly entitle him to anything.

“Yes,” he confirmed, “the outing I have in mind involves us having lunch together at The Meriton’s Classico Restaurant. I’d like your opinion of both the chef and the décor.”

She allowed a glimmer of a smile to coast over her face as they stood out in the hall. “Restaurants aren’t exactly my line of work.”

Jared leaned closer, lowering his voice. “I have it on good authority that Art Directors are creative people. Certainly creative enough to give feedback on whether or not the designer who handled the Classico has adequately done her job.”

“And the chef?” Kelsey questioned. “What makes me an expert in that area?”

They walked toward the elevator.

“Well, you are a very attractive woman in the midst of a city crowded with men,” he pointed out. “I’m sure you’ve been invited to dine at any number of restaurants.”

“I have,” she confirmed, reflecting that he’d made it difficult to refuse his craftily-worded invitation. What was the man up to?

“Good. Then perhaps you’ll spare the time today to give me your opinion?”

“I’d be pleased,” she agreed, mentally shrugging. Lunch didn’t really mean anything. Maybe he had no particular covert agenda. She’d had business lunches with him frequently, although usually they had been accompanied by Doug.

Jared drove them to the restaurant himself, this time. The classic Jaguar was long and low and beautifully restored. Sitting back in the cool leather seat, she couldn’t help her gaze straying to where his hands rested on the steering wheel. The confident way he handled the car shouldn’t have roused her notice, but she’d discovered an odd sensitivity in herself to Jared Barrett. All the more reason, to step lightly and carefully when in his presence.

Seated in the Classico five minutes later and having placed their orders, Kelsey looked around the restaurant he’d ostensibly brought her to survey. She’d expected cool pinks and mint greens combined with bamboo chairs. That or some version of an English pub, all leather and brass railings. The Classico, however, conveyed wealth with its plush, subdued environment. Navy and maroon with rich cherrywood furniture.

“What do you think?” Jared asked, his gaze intent on her face, that now-familiar faint smile on his lips.

“Very nicely done,” she pronounced, glancing around the room again. “Good placement of tables with some open areas, some secluded nooks. Good, classic color scheme.”

“Nothing else would do, given the name of the place,” he agreed dryly. “Any ideas on a layout for promoting just the restaurant?”

Kelsey thought about it, very conscious of the man across the table watching her with unreadable eyes. Amazing. The way he smiled and laughed, yet still managed to be anything but an open book. He intrigued her.

“If it were me,” she said finally, “I’d push the experience. Fine dining at its best. That sort of thing.
Crystal
, champagne. People who look like they live this way every day.”

Amusement gathered in his face. “Live what way?”

She waved a hand, indicating the dining area around them. “Dinner done formally.”

“You don’t have dinner every day?” he teased.

“Out of a take-out carton,” she admitted with a laugh. “More and more people are squeezing meals in between other commitments. They have busy lives. But this is the way they want to eat dinner, most of them. In a place like this.”

Jared laughed. “Okay, we’ll push the ‘dinner done right’ theme.”

After a moment’s pause, he said, “So, tell me about your sister and Doug. What’s up with that?”

His question triggered the concerns she’d been holding at bay since her brief conversation with Doug, and she couldn’t help frowning. “She’s in love with him.”

“And he’s in love with you,” Jared concluded.

Kelsey made a disgusted sound in her throat. “He thinks he’s in love with me, but the man’s too clueless. We’re all wrong for each other. I have to make him see that. I owe it to Amy.”

“You really love her.”

“Of course,” she responded, surprised. “Don’t you love your sister?”

Jared smiled. “Yes. Both of them, but none of their swains has indicated a preference for me.”

“Good for you,” Kelsey said, laughing softly. “I wish I could say the same.”

CHAPTER FIVE

The next morning, Kelsey put the telephone receiver back in the cradle and sighed. Still no answer. When she’d returned from lunch with Jared yesterday, Kelsey found that Amy had called in sick for work. Kelsey had tried calling her and had only gotten the answering machine. On the third attempt, she’d decided to leave a message. But here another morning was starting and her sister hadn’t called her back yet.

BOOK: Momentary Marriage
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