Wed By Deception(3)

By: Emilie Rose

She folded her dust cloth, parked her hands on her hips and stared at the shelves filled with books and videos Rand had sent. She’d promised herself she’d stand on her own two feet in Dallas, and she hadn’t wanted to accept her brothers’ help, but she also hadn’t wanted to starve. So she’d caved and accepted his gifts. With the aid of the tapes and books and cable TV, she’d taught herself to cook. And since cooking was messy, she’d also learned to clean. She’d even managed to master laundry and all those other little things that had always been done for her as a Kincaid heiress. She was proud that she’d only had a few minor mishaps.

So there, Daddy. Two months and I’m still standing. Bet you didn’t expect that.

She’d caught up on practically every movie and bestseller released in the past decade and even found a grocery store that delivered to downtown Dallas. Delivery, she’d discovered, was cheaper than taking a taxi to and from the store.

The only challenge she hadn’t yet met was the driving lessons. She wasn’t ready to get behind the wheel of a car.

Look how much damage she’d done from the passenger seat.

The memory sent her scrambling for a distraction the way it always did when the past slipped from its sealed vault. Whipping her rag back out, she dragged it across the polished granite mantle and focused on her anger toward her father.

He’d underestimated her again by giving her this stupid penthouse-sitting, find-herself, real-world job while giving her brothers more meaningful tasks.

Rand had been forced to return to Kincaid Cruise Lines and step into their father’s shoes as CEO after a five-year self-imposed exile. Mitch would be playing daddy to their father’s illegitimate toddler. But Mitch hadn’t been forced to give up his job as the CFO.

She got to watch her nails grow.

But grief underlay her anger like silt at the bottom of a river waiting to be stirred up by a change in current. And her thoughts, like river water, turned murky at the oddest of times. Such as now.

Yes, she was furious with her father for treating her like an inept child, but she also ached with the knowledge that there would be no more head-butting arguments with him, no more irate confrontations because he’d gone over her head or behind her back and undermined or overridden her decisions at work. There’d be no more fighting over the business section of the paper during breakfasts at Kincaid Manor, no more appropriate-behavior lectures and no more looking up at work or at a society event and knowing he was watching her every move. Watching and waiting for her to screw up and need bailing out.

Three months ago she’d been chaffing at his smothering surveillance and, yes, she admitted grudgingly, over the years she’d done some outrageous things just to get a rise out of him. Now she missed knowing she mattered to someone. Sure, her brothers cared, but they had their own lives and having her disappear for a year was no great loss to them.

But you don’t want anyone to get too close. Caring means losing and losing means hurting.

And self-pity is pathetic. Get over yourself.

But she’d swallowed all the domestic goddess junk she could handle. Her brain was atrophying. What else could she do? The will stipulated she couldn’t get a job, but she needed more to fill her days than cooking, cleaning and sitting on her butt with a book or movie and waiting for a sound from the hall.

No doubt the security guards and Ella, the neighbor’s maid, thought she was stalking them since she rushed out to chat each time she heard the elevator doors open.

She glanced at the window but her own reflection on the darkened glass stared back at her instead of the lush greenery and bright flowers and tomatoes filling the trio of container gardens Mitch had sent her. Her gaze bounced to the grandfather clock. Eleven? Where had the day gone? Without a job to report to every morning and some social event to occupy her evenings time seemed to slip away from her.

Slowly, like a receding ice cap.

She had to find a new hobby, but it would have to wait until morning. And she wasn’t going to call anyone else for help. She had to work this one out for herself.

What could she do to fill the hours before even the chance of sleep would come? With the time difference, it was too late to call her brothers and get an update on their romances. Both had fallen in love during her solitary confinement, and Rand and Mitch were well on their way to fulfilling their parts of the inheritance clause. Their happiness only reinforced the fact that she couldn’t mess this up. Success or failure now rested solely on her shoulders. Her father and brothers expected her to make a mess of this, but instead she was going to be the one to nail the deal.

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