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Authors: Barbara Bretton

The Marrying Man

BOOK: The Marrying Man
9.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Praise for USA Today Bestselling Author Barbara Bretton


"A monumental talent." --Affaire de Coeur


"Very few romance writers create characters as well-developed as Bretton's. Her books pull you in and don't let you leave until the last word is read." --Booklist (starred review)


"One of today's best women's fiction authors." --The Romance Reader


"Barbara Bretton is a master at touching readers' hearts." --Romance Reviews Today



A novella

by Barbara Bretton

Copyright 2012 Barbara Bretton

Cover design by Barbara Bretton


Chapter One

Catherine O'Leary Zaslow knew twenty-seven ways to kill a man and on that morning before Thanksgiving she contemplated a twenty-eighth. If looks could kill, her agent would be six feet under.

"I must be crazy," she announced as Max took her coat then handed it to his assistant. "I don't know how I let you convince me to come all the way down to Manhattan for this meeting. This is the day before Thanksgiving, Max. Normal people are home baking pies, not taking meetings."

"This was the only day Riley McKendrick could make it," Max said. "We had to grab him when we could."

Cat took a seat at the long conference table. "So who is this Riley McKendrick, the uncrowned king of England?"

"Better than that," said Max, taking a seat opposite her. "McKendrick's the best time management expert in the country. I know how you feel about organization, Catherine, but the time has come--"

"If you think I'm letting one of those schedule-loving lunatics into my house so he can alphabetize my spices and color-code the toilet tissue, you're crazy."

"Think how successful you'd be if you could actually find your computer in that rat-trap office of yours. I've been to your house, Catherine. I'm surprised you can find your children."

"You mind your business, Max, and I'll mind mine." What difference did it make if she had the organizational abilities of the average fruit fly? Everyone was clean, fed, and happy. If more was required in raising children, she couldn't imagine what it was. Besides, her kids weren't any of Max's business, her books were. And these days her mystery novels were number one on bestseller lists across the country.

"Frank Fairbairn's production has doubled since he hired a time management specialist to whip him into shape." Frank Fairbairn was her closest competition in the murder mystery field. Max looked downright wistful at the thought of double production.

"Frank Fairbairn is a man," Cat pointed out, choosing to ignore Max's statement about a time-management specialist. "His wife keeps his world running smoothly."

"Listen, if a wife'll get you back on track, I'll find you a wife."

"Jenny and I do just fine on our own." Jenny was her housekeeper, confidante, and partner in chaos.

"I know Jenny," Max reminded her. "That's not a very convincing argument. The woman can't make scrambled eggs without consulting the Joy of Cooking."

"I know why you're doing this," she said, tapping her index finger against the table top. "Last year it was a personal trainer, this year it's a time management consultant. You're too trendy for your own good, Max."

"Trends come and trends go," Max intoned, "but an organized life is forever."

She glanced at her watch. "What time was he supposed to be here?"

Max shifted uncomfortably. "Ten o'clock."

"It's ten-fifteen," she observed. "Sounds like the world's best time management consultant needs to have his credentials updated."

"This is Manhattan, Cat. He probably got stuck in traffic."

Cat rose then walked around to the other side of the table and placed a quick kiss atop Max's elegant, perfectly barbered head. "Dinner's at four o'clock tomorrow, Max. We'll pick you up at the train station at three-fifteen."

"Catherine, Catherine, Catherine! See reason, please. An hour with Riley McKendrick will change your life forever."

"Sure, Max," she said. "That and a magic lantern with a genie inside. No nearsighted weenie with an obsession for clocks and calendars is going to get close enough to--" She stopped, a frown creasing her forehead. Max's smile was incandescent. His eyes sparkled. He'd seen reason!

Her heart soared with delight until she realized Max was looking right past her toward the door.

"McKendrick!" Max said in a booming, hail-fellow-well-met voice he reserved for contract negotiations and Elite models. "We were about to send out a search party."

"Sorry," drawled a deep male voice behind her. "Flat tire on East 54th Street."

The number-crunching clockwatcher. She barely suppressed a groan. If she hadn't stopped to kiss Max on the head, she'd be safely in the elevator and on her way home.

No big deal. She'd turn, she'd smile politely at the poor dweeb in the doorway, and then excuse herself with dispatch.

She turned around.

She looked at him.

And her entire life seemed to pass before her eyes.

That was no dweeb. That was the Marlboro Man - in all of his untamed, uncivilized Wild West glory.

Her jaw dropped open and for a moment she wondered if she'd need professional help to get it closed.

The guy wore artfully faded jeans, a cream-colored sweater, and a leather jacket that looked as if it had a few stories to tell. Her gaze slid across his torso, down his long legs, to the boots. And not the kind of boots you'd find on some ersatz urban cowboy. These were the real thing, tough, worn, sexy as hell.

Same as the man who wore them. He was at least six-four and most of that was muscle. Hard, well-developed muscles, some of them in places she'd believed only Greek statues had muscles. Dark hair, green eyes, your basic Adonis. For a moment she considered swooning but thought better of it. This was the 90s, after all, and modern women were supposed to take things like amazing male pulchritude in stride.

He was the kind of guy you saw on the cover of a paperback historical romance, one of those perfect specimens that came complete with a bosomy blond companion clutching at his manly chest.

That couldn't be the clockwatcher. Maybe he really was a cover model and that was why he was looming in Max's doorway. If she could breathe at all, she'd breathe a sigh of relief. Max handled a few big name romance authors and he probably had a say in who posed for the covers. Riley McKendrick must be standing behind the Marlboro Man, hidden behind the cowboy's broad shoulders. You could hide a redwood tree behind those shoulders.

"Cat." Max's voice broke into her reverie. "I want you to meet Riley McKendrick."

She waited for a small, plain man to peer around the cowboy's shoulder but none did.
It can't be
she thought, heartbeat accelerating.
It's just not possible!

The cowboy smiled down at her. This was the man who watched clocks for a living? Men who looked like this guy did usually spent more time looking in the mirror. His teeth were white, shiny, and symmetrical. Instead of money, the tooth fairy had probably left porcelain veneers under his pillow.

"C. O. Lowe," McKendrick said, as her hand was swallowed up in his. "I know your books."

She nodded, aware that he'd said he knew her books, not that he either read and/or liked them.

"My name's Cat," she managed, wishing she had more experience dealing with cowboy Adonises, "and I'm not interested in getting organized." Blunt but true.

"That's what they all say."

"I'm sure they do," she murmured as reason made a delayed return, "but let me say it again: I don't know what Max promised you, but there's no deal. Not with me."

Max popped up between them, a referee in Armani. "Coffee," he said in an unnaturally cheerful voice. "That's what we need. Coffee." He looked toward McKendrick. "How do you take it?"

Talk about a loaded question. A voluptuous shiver rose up from the soles of her feet and she wondered if anyone would notice if she poured a pitcher of iced water over her head.

"Black," said the cowboy. "No sugar."

"Cat?" Max asked.

"With cream," Cat mumbled. "Two sugars. Decaf."

"Decaf?" asked McKendrick.

"What's wrong with decaf?" she asked.

"Most people drink coffee for the caffeine."

"I drink it for the taste."

"No taste in decaf."

"That's why the cream and sugar."

"That's illogical."

"So sue me."

Max mumbled something then vanished in search of refreshments. Cat considered the wisdom of following hard on his heels but the cowboy barred the way.

"So what exactly do you have against organization?" McKendrick asked, bracing an arm against the doorjamb.

In for a penny, in for a pound
"Organization is anathema to the creative spirit."
she thought with a grin. Let him chew on that for a while.

He didn't bat an eye. Was it possible, brawn and brains? Dangerous combination. "I've seen your office," he said. "Your creative spirit better come with a road map."

"What do you mean, you've seen my office?"

"Max sent me pictures."

"Max will need a road map of the intensive care ward if he doesn't stop doing things like that."

"Don't blame Max." The guy had a smile that could light up a movie screen. "I asked him for one."

"Someone should have asked me

"Someone should've sent in a wrecking crew."

Max hustled back in, balancing three mugs of coffee and a plate of bagels. "Now this is what I call synergy. Two people at the top of their respective fields, coming together for mutual benefit."

"Sorry, pal." McKendrick shook his head. "No deal."

Cat glared at him. "What do you mean, there's no deal? That's not for you to say." She turned to Max. "There's no deal."

"Don't be hasty," Max said, looking from Cat to McKendrick. "We can--"

"Forget it, Max," McKendrick broke in. "She doesn't want my help.""

BOOK: The Marrying Man
9.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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