The Husband Hunt (Smoky Mountain Matches) (25 page)

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He cleared his throat. “Ladies, please, come in.”

Eyebrows raised, Mrs. Singletary brushed past him and began a slow perusal of his office. Molly followed a step behind. Her floral scent hit him like a rough blow to the heart.

When he finally ventured to look into her face again, and she didn’t quite meet his gaze, he felt a sense of validation. Though she hid her reaction behind a benign smile, Molly was nervous in his company. At least he wasn’t alone in his struggle to remain indifferent.

Affecting a bland expression of his own, he edged around her and concentrated on the task of directing Mrs. Singletary to a chair facing his desk.

While he waited for her to settle, he watched Molly wander to the lone window in his office and look out. Her shoulders were unnaturally stiff. Garrett suspected he was the cause of her tension and that wrecked him. He wanted to go to her, to tease a laugh out of her like he had when they were children.

He no longer had that right.

Adopting a relaxed demeanor for this odd meeting, he sat on the edge of his desk in front of Mrs. Singletary. “To what do I owe this unexpected honor?”

The widow set her reticule carefully on her lap and got straight to the point. “I have a mind to expand my business holdings into new areas and I want you to assist me.”

He blinked at the unprecedented request. He’d met the widow only a few times, the most recent when she’d been about to invest in a lumber operation and Reese had asked Garrett to review the final contract with her.

“I see I have shocked you.” She looked rather pleased at the prospect, proving her reputation as an unconventional woman with a penchant toward the outrageous.

“Why not make this request of your own attorney?”

“Reese will continue overseeing my legal matters, but I have decided that you, Mr. Mitchell, will assist me with the expansion of my fortune.”

By the satisfied expression on her face, she knew she’d piqued his interest. This was just the sort of opportunity perfectly suited to his skills. “Again, why me?”

“I should think that obvious. You were invaluable during my purchase of the lumberyard.”

“I merely did my job.”

“No, Mr. Mitchell, you went far beyond the minimum. You have a remarkable mind for business, much like my Reginald.” At the mention of her late husband, she gave a wistful sigh. “I find myself growing bored of late. I want to take more risks.”

She had his attention. Although Garrett usually steered his clients into conservative investments when they solicited his advice, he’d taken considerable chances with his own finances, to very lucrative ends.

But to guide the firm’s wealthiest client down a similar path was another matter entirely. “Have you discussed this with Mr. Bennett directly?”

“I have.” She smoothed a steady, elegant hand over her skirt. “Once I explained the particulars of my plan, he thought my seeking your assistance a splendid idea.”

Reese had said nothing to Garrett, not yet anyway. If he agreed to this, how much contact would he have with Molly? He glanced at her now and found her staring at him.

A muscle knotted in his chest.

Shifting his position, he addressed Mrs. Singletary and her very tempting offer. “What you are suggesting comes with certain dangers. You could lose a large amount of money.”

“I could also make a great deal more.”

A valid point. But why would a woman as wealthy as Beatrix Singletary need more money? When was enough, enough?

She answered his unspoken query with a relaxed smile. “With the additional resources I will be able to expand my charitable giving. A few of my pet projects are in great need.”

Now she really had his attention. Garrett believed in doing good and being generous.
To whom much is given, much is expected.

“Do we have a deal, Mr. Mitchell?”

He cleared his throat. “I need to discuss this with Mr. Bennett first.”

“If you feel you must.”

“I must.” On this point, he would not relent. “Assuming all is in order, when would you like to begin?”

“Immediately.” Her eyes sparkled with a shrewd light. “I will expect you to be available to me on a regular basis.”

“I have other clients who require my time and attention...”

She brushed this aside with a flick of her wrist. “I’m confident you will find a way to satisfy their needs and mine.”

He opened his mouth to respond, but she cut him off. “I intend for our partnership to be a success, Mr. Mitchell. As such, we must first get to know one another better. Agreed?”

He nodded. What she was suggesting would require a high level of trust between them, and that could only come with time.

“You know my companion.” She indicated Molly with a hitch of her chin.

He glanced at Molly out of the corner of his eye. She’d retired to a seat by the window. She appeared serene, calm. Garrett knew better. He could feel the storm of emotion brewing beneath the surface. “Miss Scott and I are acquainted, yes.”

Molly stiffened at his dry tone, but said nothing.

“Well, then.” Mrs. Singletary rose and Garrett did the same. She moved through the room, idly touching random books on the shelving to her left, the stack of ledgers on her right. “Since you and Molly are...acquainted, I trust you have no objection to attending the opera with us this evening.”

Molly made a soft sound of protest in her throat, barely audible but Garrett had caught it. And so, it appeared, had her employer. “You have a concern, my dear?”

“No, Mrs. Singletary. In fact...” She blessed Garrett with a sweet, sweet smile, all politeness and easygoing manner. “I look forward to Mr. Mitchell’s company this evening.”

They both knew that wasn’t true. But he adopted her same casual attitude and said, “If Mr. Bennett has no objections, it will be my pleasure to attend the opera with you both.”

Molly’s smile faltered. Garrett’s expanded.

“Then it’s settled,” the widow drawled, staring at him with that same shrewd expression as before. “I expect you to arrive at my home seven o’clock this evening.”

Finished issuing her command, she headed toward the door, but not before Garrett caught sight of her satisfied expression.

His eyes narrowed. Mrs. Singletary clearly had some secret scheme she was keeping to herself. Patient, wily in his own right, Garrett would discover what she was up to, eventually.

For now, he joined her in the middle of the room. “Is there anything else I can do for you this afternoon?”

“That will be all.” Head high, she swept into the hallway.

Garrett followed at a more sedate pace. Working with the widow might be just the break he needed to prove he was more than that “other Mitchell boy” or Fanny’s older brother. Ever since his sister’s engagement to his boss, Garrett had worked twice as hard to prove he’d been hired for his legal mind alone.

Apparently, he’d done just that, as evidenced by Mrs. Singletary’s stunning offer.

Back in their younger days, Molly had understood Garrett’s desire to make his own way in the world. She’d actually been the one to encourage him to pursue a career in the law. He remembered that now, and found himself softening toward her as he strolled back into his office.

When he drew alongside her and she climbed gracefully to her feet, he took her hand without hesitation. “Until tonight,” he murmured.

“Until tonight,” she repeated, then tugged on her hand.

Garrett held on tight. He wasn’t ready to let her go.

He’d never been truly ready to let her go.

Copyright © 2013 by Renee Halverson

ISBN-13: 9781460321959

THE HUSBAND HUNT

Copyright © 2013 by Karen Vyskocil

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