Authors: Kathleen Long
Tags: #Romantic Comedy, #humor, #contemporary romance, #kathleen long
Nate sighed inwardly. A man could do worse than marry Melanie Brittingham. They’d been together for the past five years, and had been expected to be together for years before that. Their families had made that much clear.
She came from good stock, she was a bright young woman, and she could, on occasion, make Nate laugh.
But could she make him as hot as Miss Beatrice Love had
He coughed, tamping down the mutinous, whispering voice in his brain.
Melanie’s pale blue gaze narrowed. “Do you have a cough as well? Perhaps we should cancel our dinner plans. I’ll come to your apartment and make some soup.”
Melanie? Cook? Now that
be enough to put him in the hospital. “No, no.” He cupped her elbow in his palm, steering her toward the door. “I just need some fresh air. Aunt Martha’s looking forward to seeing you.”
He waved goodnight to his secretary as he slipped his arm around Melanie’s waist. “I’ve got exciting news to share with you both.”
Bunny snuggled into the beanbag chair in the corner of Matilda Stringer’s living room, sipping her lime daiquiri. She watched Tilly dance excitedly across the room. “This is so wonderful. I can’t believe you landed the job with McNulty on your first try.” Tilly beamed with excitement.
Bunny smiled at the amazement etched across her friend’s face, warming from the friendship and the daiquiri. Tilly had been the bright spot in Bunny’s life since she’d moved into her parents’ apartment. As the only two residents under the age of fifty, they had quickly learned the value of sticking together.
Tilly sank to the floor. Her raven hair hung well past her shoulders, cobalt streaks brushing softly against her pixie face. She plucked her own fruity cocktail from an end table and took a quick sip. “Maybe he likes you.” Her eyes sparkled with amusement.
Bunny wrinkled her face, remembering the smoldering heat in Nathan McNulty’s gaze. She let out a rush of breath. “Oh, please. I was the only warm body he could find for the job.”
“I sense he’s smitten.” Tilly squinted, scrutinizing Bunny’s features. “Are you blushing?”
Bunny lowered her gaze to hide the heat flooding her cheeks. “You, my friend, are certifiably insane.”
“No. Peggy Sue from the hotline says I’ve got a gift.” She tapped her temple. “I’m touched.”
Bunny gulped her drink and smacked her friend’s knee. “You’re touched all right, but I don’t think it’s with psychic ability. Do you ever wonder whether it’s a bad thing you know every psychic on the hotline by first name?”
Tilly shook her head, her eyes growing wide. “No. I’m right about this one. Nathan McNulty will fall in love with you. It’s destiny.” She winked dramatically. “You’ll see.”
A shiver rippled up Bunny’s spine as she waved off her friend’s suggestion. After all, an uptight suit like McNulty probably never had a romantic notion in his life, although serious heat had simmered in the depths of his mocha eyes.
She thought of the Barbie vision she’d encountered after her interview, wondering what type of woman turned Nathan’s head.
“You should have seen the woman I ran into after my interview.” She shook her head. “Totally polished and refined. Now
belonged in that office. Me, I’m not so sure about.”
Tilly scooted close to tap Bunny’s knee. “Like what? Tell me.”
Bunny described the cotton candy ensemble and the woman’s flawless, smooth hair. “I’ll never look like that.”
Tilly wrinkled her nose. “Why would you want to look like that?”
“I need this job to keep a roof over my head.” She met her friend’s curious gaze then let out a dejected breath. “Maybe I need to look like that.”
Tilly shrugged. “At least your parents will be happy.”
“Great.” Bunny rolled her eyes. “I’ll finally be the corporate daughter they always dreamed of.”
Her parents had never understood her creative side. How could they? They’d been too busy attending dinner dances at the club and planning golf outings. Her sister had somehow slid under the radar screen, marrying right out of college and producing the first grandchild. But Bunny? Bunny had never quite measured up to her parents’ idea of success. If anything, her often unorthodox ideas had given them fits.
And forget about men. She had yet to bring home one that fit their picture of the ideal son-in-law. Heck. She had yet to bring home one that fit her own picture of the ideal son-in-law. Every man she’d dated had either scoffed at her creative thinking or wanted her to change.
. Were they kidding?
Tilly held up one finger, jumping to her feet. “Be right back.” She dashed from the room. “Close your eyes.”
Bunny did as Tilly instructed and sat, eyes shut, waiting for her friend’s return. She felt the brush of rough fabric against her hands and blinked her eyes open.
A violet suit lay draped across her knees. “What’s this?” she whispered excitedly.
“A Chanel suit.” Tilly shrugged, taking a long draw on her straw. “Well, I mean, I think it is.”
“Where on earth did you get a Chanel suit?” Bunny stroked her fingers across the nubby wool, fingering the double row of beautifully polished buttons. Minute flecks of orange and green peeked from the fabric’s weave. Gorgeous. The suit was simply breathtaking.
Tilly grinned. “I wore it in last year’s production of
. They let us keep our costumes...sort of.” She tipped her chin. “You’ll knock ‘em dead in that.”
Tilly sank to her knees, and leaned toward Bunny. Bunny often wondered how so much vitality could be packed into such a tiny person, but Tilly pulled it off. She was nothing but raw energy, which might explain her inability to hold a job for more than one week. If not for her family’s trust fund, she’d be no more able to afford living in the building than Bunny.
“I heard about the Condo Board and Thurston.” Tilly’s face pinched into a deep frown.
. Bunny’s enthusiasm for her new job and the beautiful suit faded. “He hates me.”
“A little feng shui never hurt anyone,” Tilly offered in a falsely cheerful tone.
“He fractured his wrist.” Bunny grimaced. “I think that hurt him a bit.”
Tilly shook her head. “Six weeks in a cast and four months of rehab.”
Bunny ran a hand over her face. “He’ll never approve my application.”
“He should have been looking where he was going.”
Tilly was right. How could someone fall over a sofa, for crying out loud? And the rearrangement had created a major improvement in the lobby’s energy. Anyone could see that. Except Monroe.
“They can’t say no now that you’ll be able to get financing, right?” Tilly’s features brightened hopefully.
“Well,” Bunny gave one shoulder a quick shrug, “I haven’t gotten the financing yet. I haven’t even started the job.”
“But it shouldn’t be a problem.” Tilly’s concerned gaze narrowed.
Bunny fought to contain the flutters building in her own stomach. She squeezed her friend’s hand. “He can still block me just because he thinks I’m unsuitable.”
Tilly’s jade green eyes narrowed to tiny slits. “He wouldn’t dare. The rest of the Board would never let him. They adore you.”
“I hope so.”
so.” Tilly moved in close, giving Bunny a reassuring hug. “Everything will be all right.” She sat back and winked. “It’s in the stars.”
Nate hoisted his glass, raising his voice to be heard above the din of the popular restaurant. “I’m pleased to inform you McNulty Events has landed The Worthington Cup.”
“Marvelous,” Aunt Martha declared.
“Oh, Nathan.” Melanie clapped her hands. “Fabulous.”
A waiter bustled past, his serving tray piled high with steaming entrees, trailing the aroma of succulent beef.
Nate took a long sip of scotch. “We only have five weeks. Tight planning is crucial, but won’t be a problem.”
A mischievous grin spread across Aunt Martha’s face as she set down her martini glass.
“Once again,” Nate said, “you got your way.”
She winked, forking a bite of cheesecake into her mouth. “This will make the firm. All those smaller clients are too much stress and not enough income. This will be different. Besides, Kitty Worthington is a dear friend and a lovely woman.”
“She’s a bit...odd.” He chose his words carefully.
“Nathan.” His aunt’s tone admonished, but her artificially blue gaze intensified. “Why do you say that?”
“For one thing, her poodles are named after white wine.”
“Well, yes, there is that.” Martha took another bite of cheesecake, swallowed and rolled her eyes. She dabbed a linen napkin to her lips and narrowed her eyes. “She’s a dog person, Nathan. You’ll need to understand dog people if you’re going to make The Worthington Cup a success.”
He closed his eyes and wished for sanity—in his family and his clients. “I’ll do my best.”
His aunt smiled the serene, practiced smile those with money learn to affect at a young age, tapping a burgundy acrylic nail against her chin. “This is the opportunity you need to catapult the firm to a new level. Don’t blow it.”
“Nathan, darling. I’m so proud.” Melanie’s words were soft but sincere.
Good old, predictable Melanie. He could always count on her to do or say the expected.
“Your parents would have been proud of you as well,” Aunt Martha said, waving her fork in the air. “May they rest in peace.”
Nate sat quietly for a moment, digesting her words. He lifted his glass to the woman who had raised him and his older brother after their parents’ tragic deaths. “Here’s to you. For sending Kitty Worthington my way.”
“Just remember our discussion from the other day,” she reminded.
“Don’t worry.” Nate’s gut clenched. She always knew which button to push, and when. “How could I forget?” He met his aunt’s cool expression and smiled. If she thought he’d let her get away with selling the firm, she had another thing coming.
“What discussion?” Melanie asked, her eyes bright and perky.
“Nothing you need to be concerned with,” Aunt Martha dismissed her question. “What we do need to discuss is your engagement.”
Nate coughed on his mouthful of scotch, tears welling in his eyes as the liquid scorched the back of his throat. He jerked his handkerchief from his jacket and held it over his nose and mouth.
“Engagement?” he croaked.
“Yes.” Aunt Martha wore a puzzled expression. “Melanie tells me you’ve discussed an announcement.”
“We did discuss it,” Melanie’s pale blue eyes grew wide, her expression meek, “but we hadn’t set definite plans, Martha.”
“Then it’s time you do.” Aunt Martha turned to Nate.
“Well, yes, but there’s no need to rush-”
“You’ve been seeing each other for years,” his aunt interrupted. “There are appearances to be considered.”
Melanie leaned toward Nate, her slender fingers pressing lightly against his hand. “She’s right. What will people think if we don’t announce our intentions soon?”
His mind raced. There had been others before Melanie, but their involvement had lasted the longest. Probably because they had known each other since prep school and because what they shared was...comfortable. Straightforward. Refined.
He looked from Aunt Martha’s expectant face to Melanie’s. They were both right, of course. Polite society expected a decision, and McNultys respected the dictates of polite society.
He nodded. “Fair enough.”
“It’s settled then.” Aunt Martha raised her glass. “To Nathan, Melanie, and a lifetime of joy and happiness.”
Nate plastered on a smile as the three clinked glasses. Was it his imagination, or had Melanie gone pale? He truly cared for her, but did he love her? Would he know true love if it hit him over the head? Perhaps this thing called love was nothing more than a myth propagated by legions of romance novelists.
His aunt’s sharp tone cut through his rambling thoughts. “Yes?”
“I’m speaking to you.”
“Yes, I’m well aware of that.” Quite frankly, he hadn’t heard a thing.
“You haven’t answered my question.”
He narrowed his eyes. “About the engagement?”
“No.” Aunt Martha let out a small sigh. “About your staffing. Are you prepared to handle an event like the Cup? You know, if you’d give up the firm and accept the position at Brittingham Insurance with Melanie’s father, you’d never have to worry about staffing again.”
Nate bristled. “You want me to sell insurance?”
Her expression grew serious. “Insurance is safe.”
Nate had been hearing the safe lecture as long as he could remember. “You can’t blame a motorcycle accident on the family business.”
“Your father and mother were rebelling against stress.”
Nate paused, not wanting to revisit the tired topic. Someday he’d prove his aunt wrong, but for now he decided to refocus their discussion to The Worthington Cup. “I hired a new coordinator late this afternoon. She starts tomorrow.”
His aunt pressed her palms together. “I’d love to meet her. How about lunch Wednesday? You’ll clear your schedule?”
“Absolutely.” Nate ignored the dread pooling in his stomach. Hopefully Miss Love had learned her lesson where chi, or whatever it was she had called it, was concerned. “Her name is Beatrice Love and she comes highly recommended.”
Aunt Martha’s eyes narrowed. “I’m not familiar with that name. Is she new to Philadelphia?”
“No,” Nate shook his head, “just a well-kept secret.”
“Is that the young woman I saw leaving your office?” Melanie asked.
Nate choked again mid-sip. “You met Miss Love?”
“Petite? White suit?” Melanie wrinkled her nose. “Not terribly graceful, though.”
Nate pictured Beatrice Love’s wild hair, bright smile, and soft, warm touch. Sudden heat spread to his fingertips and toes, forcing him to recount the number of drinks he’d consumed.
“Yes, that sounds like her.” He loosened his tie for the second time that day. What was wrong with the thermostats in this city? “I can assure you, Aunt Martha, Beatrice Love comes highly recommended and extremely qualified. We’ve got nothing to worry about.”
He tossed back the last of his scotch and gestured to a passing waiter, all the while battling to keep Beatrice Love’s vivid blue eyes and soft vanilla scent out of his brain.