Authors: Katherine Allred
A Cerridwen Press Publication
Second Time Around
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Second Time Around Copyright© 2005 Katherine Allred
Edited by: Pamela Campbell
Cover art by Syneca.
Electronic book Publication: September 2005
With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the publisher, Cerridwen Press, 1056 Home Avenue, Akron, OH 44310-3502.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the authors’ imagination and used fictitiously.
Cerridwen Press is an imprint of Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.®
SECOND TIME AROUND
The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the following word marks mentioned in this work of fiction:
Volvo: Volvo Personvagnar AB Corporation
Formica: The Diller Corporation
Stetson: John B. Stetson, Company
Resistol: RHE Hatco, Inc.
Jeep Cherokee: Daimler Chrysler Corporation
Rolodex: Berol Corporation
Band-aid: Johnson & Johnson Corporation
The hum of refined voices sent butterflies skittering through Lanie’s stomach even as she located her target. And he’d seen her, too. In spite of her good intentions, the hair prickled erect on her arms, and her heart thundered in her chest as she took a step toward him.
“Do you have an invitation?”
“No.” Lanie surveyed the woman who had stepped in front of her, halting her progress through the room. “I’m only here to speak with Quinn McAllister and then I’ll be going.” Her gaze went back to the man in question. He was moving in their direction through the crowd of richly dressed people occupying the museum reception room.
“I’m Judith French, his fiancée. What business could you possibly have with Quinn?”
“I’m his wife.” She tried to keep her voice lowered.
She flinched at the redhead’s elegantly belligerent tone, and her glance flicked to Quinn. The only indication that he’d heard her was a slight narrowing of his amber eyes as they moved over her.
“Ex-wife.” Casually, he handed one of the drinks to the auburn-haired beauty before draping his free arm around her shoulders. “Nothing to worry about, Judith, my dear. You can pull your claws back in.”
Trying to ignore his companion, Lanie faced the man she hadn’t seen in five years.
“Quinn, we need to talk.”
“Call my secretary and set up an appointment.”
The anger she’d been holding in since she’d crashed the museum fund-raiser erupted. “I’ve been calling your secretary since the minute I got to Chicago and you know it. If you hadn’t been avoiding me, I wouldn’t be here now. Either we go somewhere and talk in private, or we can do it here in front of your fiancée and all your fancy friends.” Sarcasm laced her words as her gaze ran over the woman’s chic black dress.
He took a deliberate drink from the glass, his eyes meeting hers over the rim.
“Fine,” Lanie snapped. “Just remember it was your choice. I have a little piece of news I thought you might be interested in. Our divorce? It was bogus. We’re still married. Which means you and Judith,” contempt dripped as she spoke the woman’s name, “can forget your upcoming nuptials.”
She spun, her ankles almost buckling in the unfamiliar high heels, and marched toward the door. She’d told him what she had to. Her conscience was satisfied. The next move was up to him.
It didn’t take him long to make it. His hand shot out and closed around her arm, his long fingers secure enough to prevent her escape. The force of his grip spun her to face him.
“What the hell do you mean, it’s bogus?”
A lock of hair had fallen onto his forehead at the sudden move, almost obscuring the thin scar that ran from his temple into that wild mane of hair. The last time she’d seen him, no white had marred the ebony mass. Now, the streak stood out starkly from the surrounding blackness like lightening on a dark night. Even though she was mad enough to spit, she had to stop herself from brushing the lock back. Old habits died hard.
“Take your hand off me,” she hissed, yanking away from his grasp. Every well-groomed head in the room turned in their direction. “I’ve wasted all the time I’m going to waste on you.”
She ignored the order, pausing only long enough to pull open the heavy glass doors before rushing out onto the street. He could have his damn charity events, his fancy women, and all his money. She leaned down and yanked her shoes off, letting them dangle from her fingers as she breathed a sigh of relief. She’d get her own divorce, and this time she’d make sure it was the real thing.
The museum door opened behind her as she flagged a passing cab. A muffled curse escaped her when it kept going.
“How many times have I told you, if you’re going to curse, do it out loud?” There was a hint of arrogant amusement in Quinn’s voice.
She kept her gaze on the traffic, praying for another cab. “Stay away from me, Quinn.”
“If you’ll remember, I have been. For five years. You’re the one who showed up here tonight.”
“My mistake. For a while I forgot who I was dealing with. Believe me, it won’t happen again.”
“Where are you going?”
She waved at another cab, barely stopping her mumbled curse when it also ignored her. “Not that it’s any of your business, but I’m going to the motel to get my things, then I’m taking the first plane back home. You remember Wyoming, don’t you Quinn?”
The sarcasm was back as she turned and stared at him. Somewhere under that tux had to be the man she’d fallen in love with, but he was buried so deep little evidence of him remained. Oh, he still looked the same. Tall, with a body that made women stop for a second look and prompted fantasies of hot nights and sweat-slicked skin. A body she’d made love to, and that still had the power to make her heart beat faster.
“Barefoot?” The amusement was back, one corner of his mobile lips lifting slightly.
“Even with the expensive dress and new hairdo you haven’t changed, Lanie.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. I’m not nearly as stupid as I used to be.” She glanced back at the street.
“Meaning when you married me?”
“Come on.” He took her arm again, just as firmly but without the bruising force. “It looks like we need to talk and I’d rather not do it out here on the street.”
Lanie pulled back against the pressure until she realized it was either give in or get dragged down the sidewalk. “What about your fiancée?”
“Judith and I have an agreement. She keeps my father off my back, and in return she gets lots of nice green money to play with. She won’t miss me.”
Lanie caught only a glimpse of a shiny black car before he opened the door and guided her into the plush leather seat. The odor of expensive perfume still lingered in the air. His fiancée’s, or someone else’s? Before she could get the safety belt fastened, he slid under the wheel. “Still a gentleman, I see.”
He glanced at her before pulling smoothly into the flow of traffic. “I don’t remember ever claiming to be one. It didn’t seem to bother you before.”
It hadn’t. She’d loved his confidence as much as she had his body, as much as she’d loved him. Loved that he’d treated her like an equal instead of a helpless female. At least he had in the beginning. There’d never been another man like him. Thank God.
“I’ve been staying at the motel on Franklin. You can drop me there and I’ll get a cab to the airport.” She braced for the right-hand turn, only to be thrown against the door when the car turned left. “This is the wrong way! Where are you taking me?”
“To my apartment. Where else would I take my
?” His lips curled in a sneer as he placed emphasis on the word “wife.”
She reached for her seat belt. “Stop the car this instant. I’m getting out. If you think an illegal divorce gives you any rights, you’re dead wrong.”
“Afraid to be alone with me?”
“You certainly have a short memory, Quinn. I
to get you alone tonight and you refused.” Anger oozed from every pore in her body. Another five minutes and she’d slug him.
“That was before I knew what you wanted.”
“If you’d bothered to answer my calls you’d have known what I wanted. A divorce.
A real one this time, and the faster the better.”
He turned again, this time into a parking garage, and pulled the car to a stop. “We can talk about it upstairs.”
She hesitated briefly, wondering if she shouldn’t make a run for it, then gave a mental shrug. This was what she’d come for. It was better to get it over with now.
Picking up her shoes and purse, Lanie hurried to catch up with him as he held the elevator door with one hand. No doubt about it. Jared had spoiled her. He was as different from Quinn as daylight from dark. She’d gotten used to having doors opened for her, to being treated like something rare and precious.
The ride up was a silent one, Lanie watching the floors tick off on the digital counter. It figured. He lived in the penthouse. Just one more thing to point up the differences between them, the reasons why their short-lived marriage could never have worked.
“How’s your father doing these days? Still the same S.O.B. he used to be?” The elevator doors slid open soundlessly and she stepped onto the cold marble floor of an ultramodern foyer.
He didn’t answer, just gestured down several steps into the living room.
Her battered feet sank into plush white carpet as she dropped her shoes and walked to the bank of windows overlooking the city. A shiver ran over her, goose bumps popping erect on her arms. How could he stand to live in such a cold, sterile place?
There was no color in the room, everything done in shades of black and white, with chrome providing the only relief. The Quinn she’d known would have died in a place like this. He’d loved color as much as she had. Here, even the air had a cold metallic smell.
She watched him approach in the wide expanse of glass, his reflection stopping mere inches behind her own. Stomach coiling into a hard knot of tension, she moved a few steps away and saw his mouth curve up again.
“What makes you think the divorce was bogus?”
Reaching into her purse, she withdrew an envelope and passed it to him. “I got this two weeks ago. The lawyer you hired wasn’t a lawyer. He conned hundreds of people.
The papers were never filed. After he was arrested the court confiscated his records.
That’s where they got our names.”
Face expressionless, he scanned the letter. “Why didn’t I get one of these?”
“I don’t know. Maybe they didn’t know where to find you. But your address is listed as the McAllister Ranch in Wyoming, and we both know you haven’t been back since…” Her words trailed off.
“Since the accident,” he finished for her. He lifted his hand, his fingers tracing the scar on his face. “You can say it.”
“I was going to say since the night you left, but have it your way.” She kept her tone curt. “The problem is, I need that divorce as soon as possible. I thought maybe one of us could go to Vegas and get it done. Doesn’t it take about six weeks?”
He folded the letter and stuck it back in the envelope. “Why the rush?”
Lanie hesitated then took a deep breath. “I’m seeing someone. Someone very special. He’s asked me to marry him.”
His gaze fastened on hers, and she wasn’t sure she liked what she saw there. The clear amber of his eyes had been replaced with the sharp yellow flames of anger.
“So who’s the poor sap you’ve roped in this time?”
Her chin went up and her body stiffened. “Jared is not a poor sap. He’s a wonderful man. He’s kind and smart and caring and he loves me. In other words, he’s everything you’re not.”