Marriage Terms(7)By: Barbara Dunlop
“I’m sorry. Do you miss her?”
“I divorced her.”
“I don’t miss Sharon. Not for one second. Not for one nanosecond.” Which, when he really thought about it, meant Amanda could be right. He frowned.
She stood up and moved around the end of her desk. “So it was the small talk and designer gowns.”
“You’ve got me on the ropes, and you’re willing to score points?”
Daniel sighed. What had attracted him to Sharon in the first place? His father had supported the marriage, but that couldn’t have been all there was to it.
He was recovering from losing Amanda at the time. Maybe he simply hadn’t cared whom he married. Maybe he thought Sharon would be a safer wife. A wife that knew his world and wouldn’t expect things from him that he simply couldn’t deliver.
Like Amanda had.
“Daniel?” Amanda’s voice interrupted his thoughts.
He focused on her face. She’d moved closer, and he could smell her perfume.
“I asked you when.”
Her mouth curved into a patient smile. “Dinner with Cullen and Misty?”
He stared at her smile. She was still so incredibly beautiful, with full lips, shiny hair, bottomless eyes.
He shifted from one foot to the other. “Oh. Friday, eight o’clock at The Premier.”
“Good.” He had a sudden urge to touch her hair. He’d always loved running his fingers through its scented, silky softness. It was one of his favorite things in the world.
He curled his fingers into fists to keep them still. “Yeah?”
“I’m sorry I brought up Sharon.”
“Do you really think I hired her to be my wife?” He was genuinely curious.
“I think your priorities are mixed-up.”
She paused. “You’re a very driven man, Daniel.”
“Yeah? Well you’re what’s driving me crazy at the moment.”
She tilted her head and a slow grin formed on her lips. “Then you should stop hunting me down.”
“You’re probably right about that,” he breathed, daring to move a little closer.
“But, apparently, I find you irresistible.”
Her eyes widened.
He touched her hair—stopped fighting the compulsion and simply reached out. His fingers released its scent, and he was catapulted back fifteen years. “I’m trying to help you here, Amanda.”
Her voice was breathless. “I don’t need any help.”
“Yes, you do.” He kissed her lightly on the forehead. “And lucky for you, I’m available.”
As the office door rattled shut behind Daniel, Amanda grabbed the corner of her desk for support.
I’m available? What did that mean? I’m available.
And why had he kissed her?
Okay, so he hadn’t exactly kissed her. But he had—
“Amanda?” The office door opened, and Julie stuck her head in the room. Her brows waggled and a secretive smile curved her dark purple lips.
“So, who was hubba hubba man?”
Amanda stared at her blankly.
“The guy who just left,” Julie elaborated.
“Right.” Julie mimicked a swoon. “Delectable Daniel.”
“He’s my ex-husband.”
Julie drew back. “Hello? You exed that guy?”
“What were you thinking?”
“That he was uptight, pretentious and controlling.”
Good question. No, bad question. Amanda had left Daniel for some very good reasons, not the least of which were his single-minded desire for success and his refusal to maintain even the slightest independence from his father.
“I cared,” she said to Julie.
Julie shook her head and gave an exaggerated sigh. “To each his own, I guess. So what did he want?”
Amanda pressed her fingertips into her temple. “To run my life.”
“Going to let him?”
“Not a chance.”
“Going to see him again?”
“Nope.” Well, not after Friday. And that didn’t count, since Cullen and Misty would be there.
Julie shrugged. “Okay, then. Your two o’clock’s here.”
Amanda glanced at her watch. “It’s nearly two-thirty.”
“I didn’t want to disturb you.”
She gave Julie a gentle shove toward the doorway. “He’s a paying client. Disturb me already.”
Julie strained to look back over her shoulder. “I thought you might be jumping Mr. Delectable on the desktop.”
“Yeah, right,” said Amanda, ignoring the rise in her pulse.
Julie chuckled low. “That’s what I would have done.”
Amanda slid the hanger of her red Chaiken silk along the rod at the far end of her closet. She didn’t mind that it was several years out of date. She did mind that it was too sultry for an evening in the same room as Daniel.
Next she peered at the V-necked Vera Wang. Nope. Too Vegas.
Then she frowned at the sequined Tom Ford. Nope again. Too princess.
Her ten-year-old, multicolored Valentino sunburst was the last one on the rack.
As far as comfort went, it left a lot to be desired. It was strapless, and she’d have to wear one of those underwire torture devices to keep her breasts in the right position. But it was made of beautiful orange, yellow and red-streaked silk, snug across the bodice, with a flowing skirt and a scalloped hem that was very flattering.
It was elegant, without giving in to basic, New York black.
She glanced at her watch. Oops. For better or worse, this was the dress.
Tossing it on the bed, she headed for the shower. A light was blinking on the answering machine, but she ignored it. She’d stayed too late at the office reading a brief, and now she had five minutes to wash her hair, throw on a little makeup and strap herself into the torture underwear.
Halfway through the shampoo, she remembered she also needed shoes. More specifically, she needed those little gold sandals with the crossover straps.
They were in the front hall closet…maybe.
So much for makeup.
She ducked her head under the spray, scrubbing her nails furiously against her scalp. Then she shut off the tap, rubbed her skin with a towel and headed for the entry hall.
She dropped to her knees on the soft carpet in front of her closet and scrambled through the untidy pile of shoes. Black, beige, flats, sneakers…
Ah ha. Little gold sandals. Well, one, anyway.
She hunted for the other, coming up lucky.
She threw them by the door and dashed back to her room.
She snapped on the bra and stepped into a matching pair of panties. Thank goodness she’d shaved her legs this morning. Lately, she hadn’t been as diligent about that as she should.
She shimmied into the dress, pathetically grateful when the zipper slipped up easily. In the bathroom she ran a comb through her hair. In the hallway, she stuffed her feet into sandals. Finally, she was set.
Darn. She ran back to the bedroom and grabbed an evening purse. She spied a pair of garnet earrings on the dresser and slid them through her pierced ears.
That had to be it.
Her hair would dry in the taxi.
She grabbed her keys and headed out the front door.
“Ms. Elliott?” A uniformed chauffeur was waiting at the bottom of the stairs beside a stretch limousine.
Amanda’s steps faltered. “Yes?”
He opened the back door with a flourish. “With Mr. Elliott’s compliments, ma’am.”
Amanda stared at the car.
“He apologizes if you didn’t get the phone message.”
Amanda’s first instinct was to send the limo back to Daniel. But then she mentally shrugged. Why chase down a taxi out of spite?
She smiled at the driver and crossed the sidewalk. “Thank you.”
“Of course,” said the driver with a nod.
Amanda peeked inside at a bar, a television, three phones and a video-game controller. It had definitely been a while since she’d ridden in this kind of luxury.
She glanced back at the driver. “I don’t suppose you have a hair dryer in there.”
The driver grinned. “Afraid not. Do you need a few more minutes?”
“No thank you. I’m already late.”
“A lady’s prerogative,” he said.
She shook her head and stepped into the car. “They’ll just have to take me as I am.”
“You look lovely, ma’am,” he said diplomatically.
“Thank you,” Amanda returned, making herself comfortable on the bench seat. “And thank you for picking me up.”
“My pleasure.” He closed the door.
The limo glided smoothly away from the curb. Low purple lights came on around the perimeter and soft music floated out from unseen speakers.
“Would you care for a beverage?” asked the driver.
“No, thank you.” Amanda leaned back and watched the surrealistic blur of traffic lights through the tinted windows. She really shouldn’t enjoy this quite so much.
“Mr. Elliott asked me to apologize about the mix-up with the restaurant,” the driver continued.
“Mix-up?” asked Amanda, straightening.
“He wasn’t able to get reservations at The Premier.”
Amanda hid a small grin. An Elliott turned down by a maître d’? That must have driven Daniel wild.