Read For Business...Or Marriage? Online
Authors: Jules Bennett
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Contemporary
No. No, no, no. Throwing another kink into his chaotic life right now was simply not an option. And Abby Morrison would most definitely be a kink. Something he’d never considered until last night.
Well, okay, maybe he’d thought of her as attractive before, and something about her had always intrigued him. Perhaps the way she kept to herself as if protecting her private life. But Abby had worked for him and his brother, Brady, for nearly a year, and he’d never, ever considered her a woman to fantasize about all night. Until now.
How had her sexy, yet foolish side managed to work its way into his every thought for the past ten hours?
Just watching her dip her Danish into the small tub of cream cheese and lick the excess off her fingers made him grit his teeth and turn toward the kitchen to get her a glass of juice. Nothing about this situation was professional—especially on his part.
With his impending engagement to Mona Tremane, he had to remain focused. Mona was just the break he needed since his father had handed the reigns over to his sons before passing away ten months ago.
After becoming co-CEO with Brady, Cade had been waiting for a chance to build up Stone
Enterprises and launch their real estate company into other countries. Brady was one hundred percent on board with going global, but he was thinking in the distant future. Cade was thinking now.
Mona’s father had mentioned a form of partnership between his multi-billion-dollar real estate firm and Stone Enterprises…then conveniently laid the marriage card on the table. Just the thought of moving into another league had Cade salivating and ready to sign by the X—even if it was a marriage license.
Why not propose to Mona? They’d gone out to the theatre a couple of times and were already good friends. Why not make the partnership permanent on all levels? After all, his brother had married and seemed to be enjoying holy matrimony. Granted, Brady and Sam were totally in love…something Cade had yet to feel for or tell a woman.
Love was for some people—he just didn’t consider himself one of them. People who “fell in love” were just filling a void for something else. He was more than happy to fill any void with a new plane, fast cars and beachfront homes.
Besides, didn’t power and money last far longer than love? Anyway, he wasn’t convinced love even existed unless it was from a toddler to a puppy. Or a son to his father.
Cade shook off the remorse that crept up at the thought of his late father. Dwelling on the man who’d molded him into the businessman he was today wouldn’t bring his father back. Nothing would. But
he could honor his father’s legacy by making their company the best in the world.
As he poured a tall glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, Cade knew that it was time for him to settle down and start a family so the Stone name could live on. Mona had already agreed to a family. He wanted to pass down the company to his kids as his father had. Brady and Sam were already well ahead of him. They were due with twins in less than three months.
He turned toward the living room just in time to see Abby’s mouth open wide as she gobbled up the last bite of Danish. When she proceeded to lick each and every one of her fingers clean, Cade cleared his throat and stepped down into the living area.
Forget the damn image of those hips while she was on the bull.
“Here you go.”
Cade set the juice on the table, then crossed the room to lean against the entertainment center. With his arms crossed, he glared at her and waited for an explanation.
Abby merely stared back and said, “What?”
“Care to tell me why you drank so much last night?”
One creamy shoulder lifted. “I’m a grown woman, Cade. I wanted to unwind, have fun. Surely you know about having fun. Right?”
“We’re not talking about me,” he said through gritted teeth.
“No, if we were you could tell me why this sudden
engagement is the first I’ve ever heard about Mona Tremane.”
Levering off the entertainment center, Cade came to his full height, resting his hands on his hips. “My personal affairs are none of your concern. You are my employee.”
A flash of hurt skipped across her face or maybe he just imagined the reaction because now her rounded chin tilted up.
“You’re right,” she agreed. “Which is why when I want to go out and have a good time, I’m entitled. I don’t need you to come play daddy.” She paused and picked up the juice. “Although, you see more of me than he ever did,” she muttered, almost under her breath.
Her tone had gone from indignant to sad, and it drew him into her web of innocence.
What had gotten into his private, dignified assistant? And why was this the first time he’d ever heard about anyone in her family?
Because they only had an employee/employer relationship, as he’d just told her. So why did that suddenly make him feel cold, uncaring?
She pushed her messed hair back from her face. “I’m too tired to deal with this right now. Give your fiancée my name and number. I’ll see when I can start planning this wedding.”
Cade watched as Abby scooped up her purse and slid into her little pink-heeled sandals. Did she always have French-manicured toenails? Hmm, sexy.
He forced his eyes back up. “I’ll drive you to get your car.”
“I’ll take a cab,” she called over her shoulder.
Before she could reach the door, Cade stepped up from the living area and blocked her exit with a slap of his hand to the door. “We’ll use the time in the car to talk.”
Her lids fluttered shut for a brief second before lifting again. “I’m not on the clock, Cade, and we don’t discuss personal things, remember? We can talk business on Monday.”
Why did her words have such a sting to them? Had he sounded this frigid to her?
“We will be discussing business,” he assured her, refusing to look down to her chest, which was nearly brushing his black T-shirt. “I’m signing partnership papers with Tremane International as soon as Mona and I say ‘I do.’ I want this merger, both business and the marriage, to be done in a month.”
ona Tremane was everything Abby wasn’t. Beautiful, tall, curves in all the right places. Wealthy.
Too bad Abby’s green-eyed monster had to join them for lunch.
Abby sat across from the woman, who wore a sparkling emerald cut engagement ring, trying her best to smile and nod at all the appropriate times.
Could there be a more miserable way to spend a lunch hour?
“I can’t tell you how nice it is to get out of the office for a few minutes.” Mona beamed, leaning across the table. “I guess we’re just lucky that my one o’clock canceled. But, really, the details of the wedding don’t matter to me. You’re the professional. Whatever you think best is fine with me.”
Thankfully they had met at a neutral locale. The café beside Stone Enterprises was a perfect place to eat her lunch—if she could stomach it after Miss Shiny Teeth got done smiling like she’d won the bachelor lottery. This meeting couldn’t end soon enough.
“You really don’t want to discuss details? What if you don’t like what I choose?” Abby said with what she hoped was a sincere smile. “I may have a totally different image of what is romantic than what you do.”
“I don’t have time,” Mona said simply. “Besides, there is nothing romantic about this arrangement. I don’t have on rose-colored glasses. Cade and I are doing this strictly as a wise business move for both our companies.
“Cade was confident that you’d do a good job. I was actually going to hire the wedding coordinator you previously worked for, but when Cade suggested you, it just made sense to deal with one person instead of a company.” Lucky me.
Between the pale pink Chanel suit and glossy lips, Abby knew there was no way she could ever look this attractive or appealing to Cade.
Blah, blah, blah…God, why did Mona’s voice go into Abby’s ears sounding like the Charlie Brown teacher?
Because the third member of their lunch party—Abby’s green-eyed monster—was rearing her ugly head again.
In all honesty there was not a thing wrong with Mona Tremane and that’s what irritated Abby the most. She could hardly fault Cade for wanting to spend the rest of his life with this polished, upscale beauty. She was nice, professional…the perfect image to help front an imperfect marriage.
“Well, I’m glad the two of you have confidence in me.” Abby folded the paper back over her untouched chicken wrap and signaled the waiter for a to-go box. “This will be a tedious job, but I’ve done it before and everything will work out just fine. We’ll just be very busy for the next four weeks.”
Mona waved her well-manicured hand. “Actually, I have to do some traveling on business for my father and I’ll be in and out for the next three weeks. You have my cell if there’s something you definitely have to ask, but like I said, I don’t much care. I’ll give you my measurements for the dress and other than that, you’ve got free reign.”
Mona wasn’t even planning on picking out her own wedding gown? Abby hadn’t lied when she said she’d planned weddings in a crunch, but the bride was usually around to at least confer with and assist.
“Not to be judgmental,” Abby started slowly, “but isn’t your wedding more important than business? Could your father send someone else?”
Mona shook her head, sending her curled, highlighted hair dancing around her shoulders. “As the vice-president, there are sites I need to oversee and I want to get all of that out of the way so I can
concentrate on this merger of companies. Oh, and I assume you’ll do the honeymoon, too?”
Honeymoon. The one word Abby truly did not want to hear—at least in association with Cade and Mona.
“I do.” Abby confirmed, cringing. “Do you have any input on that?”
“None at all.” Mona reached her perfectly manicured hand across the table and squeezed Abby’s short, unpolished fingers. “I have confidence in you. If Cade says you’re the best, then I know you are.”
Abby felt like a traitor. This woman was genuinely sweet and was putting her trust in Abby.
Why did she have to feel guilty about loving someone?
After their brief wedding-planning lunch came to an end, Abby took her white to-go bag and headed back to the office where she attempted to get her mind off this wedding and onto real estate.
What would happen to the San Francisco office if Cade and Brady went global? Would Cade and his new bride want to jet-set from country to country and check out new properties? Would they hire a stranger to take over the office their late father had started from scratch?
Abby sighed as she stepped behind her desk and dumped her uneaten lunch into the trash. She toed the can aside and slumped into her chair. This upcoming marriage would be perfect and the only person who was unhappy about the arrangement was her…and she had no right to be.
With the absurd amount of money she was getting for arranging the wedding of the year, she could not only pay off her mother’s old medical bills, but she could also afford to buy a house of her own and get out of her studio apartment. Granted the only reason she chose the tiny, cozy place was to get out of the house she’d shared with her mother. The house where she’d watched her mother’s life wither away day by day.
When a tear slipped down her cheek, Abby didn’t even bother to swipe it away. What good would it do? Swatting away tears almost seemed as if she was brushing aside her mother’s memory.
At Cade’s demanding, powerful voice, Abby turned in her chair and pasted on a smile. “Yes.”
“What happened?” His brows drew together and, in a gesture that shocked her, he plucked the canary-yellow handkerchief from his navy Italian suit jacket and dabbed her cheek. “Are you all right?”
She didn’t know if she was more impressed at the fact he truly cared about her feelings or the fact he may be the last man on the planet who actually used the handkerchief for something other than decoration.
She tried to back away, but his intense, concerning gaze held her still. The silk slid over her cheek, making her shiver, making her recall the feel of his sheets against her skin.
“Did you need something?” she asked, trying to
pretend his touch hadn’t just sent shiver chasing after shiver through her body.
For a moment, Abby wondered if he heard her. He was, after all, only inches from her face. But then, as if he just realized their close proximity, Cade handed her the silk cloth and came to his feet.
Clearing his throat, he shoved his hands in his trouser pockets. “How was the meeting with Mona?”
Clutching the handkerchief, as if she could actually squeeze some of Cade’s courage and strength into her body, she nodded. “The meeting went well. I’ll be swamped, though, since Mona will be out of town a lot until the wedding, plus my work here. But…”
“You can handle it.”
His confidence warmed, yet irritated her. Was he completely dismissing the fact she’d be in utter chaos or was he just that sure of her abilities? And, God, why did she let him tie her up in knots? She’d never questioned her ability to do her job before.
“There is one area that you need to do yourself, though,” she added before he could turn away.
“Whatever you decide will be fine.”
Abby came to her feet and handed the handkerchief back. “No, as the groom, it is your responsibility to plan the honeymoon. Normally I assist, but that was when I only had wedding planning to do and when I had plenty of time to plan the big event. And, since I know you, I don’t feel a bit guilty asking you to take on that part. Besides, you’ve traveled enough to know what would be a nice getaway.”
Nope. She didn’t feel the least bit guilty asking him to plan the erotic—er, exotic—honeymoon where the two of them would be able to frolic and make love for days as an orange, glowing sunset made their picture-perfect backdrop.
Ugh. This was not her idea of a dream job. But, if it paid the bills…
He folded the silk cloth and slid it into perfect position in the slim pocket of his navy jacket. “I don’t care where we go. You pick and book something.”
Cade’s brows shot up. “Excuse me?”
“I said no.” Some of his strength had come off that cloth after all. “A bride wants something special, something romantic. She doesn’t want the groom’s assistant to choose something so intimate.”
The corners of his kissable mouth tilted. “You already know this after meeting with Mona for an hour?”
Exasperated, she rolled her eyes. “No, I know this because I’m a woman and I’ve worked with hundreds of brides. We all want romance. If we wanted something impersonal, we wouldn’t hire a wedding planner. We’d go to the county courthouse.
“You’re due to go to Jamaica to look at some property. Why don’t you bump up your trip and check out the surrounding resorts. Call it a business trip if that makes you feel better.”
The muscle in his jaw ticked and Abby held her breath. Had she pushed too far? She’d never spoken to Cade in such a harsh manner. Then again, before
she’d heard of the engagement, she’d never gotten drunk and ridden a mechanical bull, either. Why was she suddenly getting so courageous? Probably because she had nothing to lose at this point. The man she’d once thought was her very own knight was going to ride off into the sunset with the princess…not the hired hand.
Even so, why was she pushing so hard for him to add romance into the mix? Both Mona and Cade were up-front about this arrangement. Neither was in love and they weren’t looking for it. Though, Abby admitted, a part of her was thrilled he didn’t love Mona.
But was everything in the man’s life about business? Was moving into other countries that important to Cade and Brady?
And as a woman, how could Mona settle for something other than true love? Yet again, this was none of her business, no matter how much she wanted it to be.
“Fine,” he conceded. “I’ll leave Friday. Change my schedule for two weeks and contact my pilot. While I’m out, I’ll fly into Cancún, Cozumel and Jamaica. I have some unsettled business to attend to.”
She should’ve known he’d take his “research” and run with it. Cade never did anything halfway. Perhaps that was one of the reasons she’d fallen for him months ago.
So why wasn’t she fighting for him?
Because she knew she didn’t stand a chance against perfection and Cade had handpicked the perfect wife.
After all, they were both more focused on their careers and the getting ahead than the wedding and the living happily ever after.
“Consider it done.”
“Don’t forget to pack your sunscreen this time,” he told her.
“Sunscreen. Last time we were in Florida you got scorched during the afternoon meeting we had on the patio.”
She recalled the painful experience due to her strapless sundress. She also recalled the way Cade kept insisting she see the resort doctor, and that was after he’d personally applied aloe lotion to her crispy shoulders and back—when she recalled feeling a different kind of burn.
Just the thought of those strong hands gliding over her bare skin sent a ripple through her entire body, hitting every major nerve in the process.
“I’m not going,” she informed him with a definite tilt of her chin.
“You most certainly are.” He straightened his shoulders and propped his hands on his hips. “This is no different from any other business trip.”
Because she knew he wouldn’t back down, Abby turned, took her seat and pulled up Cade’s schedule on her computer.
When she heard his office door close a moment later, she shut her eyes, bowed her head and sighed. How could he be the one, the man of her dreams and wildest fantasies, when he never once showed
her he was interested? If Cade Stone was truly the man fate had chosen for Abby, wouldn’t he at least acknowledge her as something other than an assistant?
But, even more, would he really be marrying someone else for the sake of business? Absolutely not.
Well, that was fine. Strumming up every ounce of power and courage, Abby vowed to make this the best, biggest and most glamorous wedding the country had ever seen. If they wanted to get ahead in their businesses, well, she’d just boost their image by making their wedding the talk of the century.
She’d go out of this job with a bang…even if it damaged her soul and heart for the rest of her life.
Cade couldn’t concentrate. How the hell could he when Abby’s scent surrounded him? Literally. Oh, the aroma was subtle—much like the woman and her single teardrop that nearly had him on his knees—but it still consumed him as if she were embracing him in her delicate arms.
Something jasmine and soft kept filtering up from the handkerchief, wreaking havoc on his thought process.
Why had she been crying? He knew even before he asked that she wouldn’t open up to him. Why would she? He’d certainly never asked about her private life before. Up until the other night, he’d never socialized with her outside work—and traveling on business didn’t count.
Traveling on business.
Why had he insisted she assist him as if this were any other business trip? Because it was, he told himself. Checking for honeymoon destinations was just as much business as the wedding.
The merging of two real estate moguls like the Stones and Tremanes was beyond perfect. Once their contracts and the wedding were behind them, he and Mona would start to build the next phase of real estate in numerous countries. Who said marriage had to be built on love? This was just another business deal.
Even though Brady didn’t know about the nuptials yet, Cade knew his brother would be completely behind the merging of companies.
Brady would agree to nearly anything right now because he was still floating in the clouds. Only eight short months ago Brady had gone to Kauai determined to steal back their family’s resort. But Brady’s plans had been rearranged when he fell in love with the current owner.
But now that Brady and his new wife, Sam, were expecting twins, Cade was pretty much in charge of the San Francisco office while the newlyweds and parents-to-be were renovating the Kauai resort.
Cade, however, knew love wasn’t going to happen to him. Besides, his reasons for marriage far outranked love. Money and power were two very compelling motivations.