The CEO's Accidental Bride(2)By: Barbara Dunlop
“We were married by Elvis.” She clamped determinedly down on a spurt of nervous laughter.
Zach’s gray eyes flashed.
“Come on, Zach,” she cajoled. “You have to admit—”
He retrieved a manila envelope. “Just sign the papers, Kaitlin.”
But she wasn’t ready to give up the joke. “I guess this means no honeymoon?”
He stopped breathing for a beat, and there was something familiar about the way his gaze flicked to her lips.
She was struck by a sudden, vivid memory, instantly sobering her.
Had they kissed that night in Vegas?
Every once in a while, she had a fleeting image of his mouth on hers, the heat, the taste, the pressure of his full lips. She imagined that she could remember his arms around her waist, pulling her tight against his hard body, the two of them molding together as if they belonged.
In the past, she’d always chalked it up to a fevered dream, but now she wondered…
“Zach, did we—”
He cleared his throat. “Let’s try to stay on track.”
“Right.” She nodded, determinedly pushing the hazy image out of her mind. If she’d kissed him even once, it was the worst mistake of her life. She detested him now, and the sooner he disappeared, the better.
She reached out her hand and accepted the envelope. “It only took us five minutes to get married, no reason why the divorce should take any longer.”
“Glad you see it that way.” He gave a sharp nod, and his hand went to the inside pocket of his suit. “Of course, I’ll want to cover any inconvenience.” He extracted a gold pen and a brown leather checkbook, flipped open the cover and glanced at her. “A million?”
Kaitlin blinked in confusion. “A million what?”
He breathed a sigh of obvious impatience. “Dollars,” he stated. “Don’t play coy, Kaitlin. You and I both know this is going to cost me.”
Her jaw involuntarily dropped a notch.
Was he crazy?
He waited expectantly.
Was he desperate?
Wait a minute. Was he desperate?
She gave her brain a little shake. She and Zach were husband and wife. At least in the eyes of the law. Clearly, she was a problem for him. She doubted the high-and-mighty Zach Harper ran into too many problems. At least, none that he couldn’t solve with that checkbook.
This time, Kaitlin did chuckle, and tapped the stiff envelope against the tabletop. She certainly didn’t want Zach’s money, but she sure wouldn’t say no to a little payback. What woman would?
This divorce didn’t have to happen in the next five minutes. She’d be in New York for at least another couple of weeks. For once in his life, Mr. Harper could bloody well wait on someone else’s convenience.
She took a breath, focused her thoughts and tried to channel Lindsay. Lindsay was brilliant, and she’d know exactly what to do in this circumstance.
Then, the answer came to Kaitlin. She raised her brows in mock innocence. “Isn’t New York a joint property state?”
Zach looked confused, but then his eyes hardened to flints.
He was angry. Too bad.
“I don’t recall signing a prenup,” she added for good measure.
“You want more money,” he spoke in a flat tone.
All she really wanted was her career back.
“You got me fired,” she pointed out, feeling the need to voice the rationale for her obstinacy.
“All I did was cancel a contract,” he corrected.
“You had to know I’d be the scapegoat. Who in New York City is going to hire me now?”
His voice went staccato. “I did not like your renovation design.”
“I was trying to bring your building out of the 1930s.” The Harper Transportation building had infinite potential, but nobody had done anything to it for at least five decades.
He glared at her a moment longer. “Fine. Have it your way. I got you fired. I apologize. Now how much?”
He wasn’t the least bit sorry for having her fired. He didn’t care a single thing about her. The only reason he’d even remembered her name was because of the accidental marriage. And he’d probably had to look that up.
She squared her shoulders beneath the dusty T-shirt, determined to take this victory. “Give me one good reason why I should make your life easier?”
“Because you don’t want to be married any more than I do.”
He had a fair point there. The mere thought of being Zach Harper’s wife sent a distinct shiver coursing its way up her spine.
It was distaste. At least she was pretty sure the feeling was distaste. With any other man, she might mistake it for arousal.
“Mrs. Zach Harper.” She pretended to ponder, warming to her stubborn stance as she purposely slowed to note her half-packed apartment. “Don’t you have a roomy penthouse on Fifth Avenue?”
He clicked the end of his pen, slowly lowering it to his side. “Are you daring me to call your bluff?”
She cracked her first genuine smile in three months. He wouldn’t do it. Not in a million years. “Yeah,” she taunted boldly. “Go ahead. Call my buff.”
He stepped closer, and an annoying buzz of awareness tickled its way through her stomach. They stared each other down.
“Or you could leave the divorce papers,” she offered with mock sweetness. “I’ll have my lawyer read them over next week.”
“Two million,” he offered.
“Next week,” she retorted, trying not to show her shock at the exorbitant figure. “Summon up some patience, Zachary.”
“You don’t know what you’re doing, Katie.”
“I’m protecting my own interests,” she told him.
And there was something to be said for that. Seriously. Who could guess what his lawyers had hidden in the divorce documents?
They were both silent. Horns honked and trucks rumbled by five floors below.
“I don’t trust you, Zach,” she informed him tartly. Which was completely true.
His expression hardening by the second, he stuffed the pen into his pocket, then deliberately tucked the checkbook away. He closed and latched the briefcase, and sharply straightened the sleeves of his jacket.
Seconds later, the door slammed shut behind him.
Zach slid into the passenger seat of the black Porsche Carrera idling at the curb outside Kaitlin’s Yorkville apartment building and yanked the door shut behind him.
“Did she sign?” asked Dylan Gilby, as he slipped the gearshift into First.
Zach tugged the seat belt over his shoulder and clicked the latch into place. “Nope.”
He normally prided himself on his negotiating skills. But there was something about Kaitlin that put him off his rhythm, and the meeting had been a colossal failure.
He didn’t remember her being so stubborn. To be fair, he hadn’t known her particularly well. They’d met a few times before the party, but it was only in passing while she was working on the renovation plans for his office building. He remembered her as smart, diligent, fun-loving and beautiful.
He had to admit, the beautiful part certainly still held true. Dressed to the nines in Vegas, she was the most stunning woman in a very big ballroom. Even today, in a faded baseball T-shirt and jeans, she was off the charts. No wonder he’d gone along with Elvis and said “I do.” He was pretty sure, in that moment, he did.
“You offered her the money?” asked Dylan.
“Of course I offered her money.” Zach had wanted to be fair. Well, and he’d also wanted the problem solved quickly and quietly. Money could usually be counted on to accomplish that.
“No go?” asked Dylan.
“She’s calling her lawyer,” Zach admitted with a grimace, cursing under his breath. Somehow, he’d played it all wrong. He’d blown his chance to end this neatly, and he had nobody to blame but himself.
Dylan flipped on his signal light and checked the rearview mirror on the busy street. He zipped into a tight space between a Mercedes and an old Toyota. “So, basically, you’re screwed.”
“Thank you for that insightful analysis,” Zach growled at his friend. Harper Transportation could well be on the line here, and Dylan was cracking jokes?
“What are friends for?” joked Dylan.
“Procuring single malt.” If ever there was a time that called for a bracing drink, this was it.
“I have to fly today,” said Dylan. “And I get the feeling you’ll need every brain cell functioning.”
Zach braced his elbow against the armrest as the car angled its way through traffic on the rain-dampened street. He reviewed the conversation with Kaitlin like a postgame tape. Where had he messed it up?
“Maybe I should have offered her more,” he ventured, thinking out loud. “Five million? Do people say no to five million?”
“You might have to tell her the truth,” Dylan offered.
“Are you out of your mind?”
“Tell her that she’s inherited my grandmother’s entire estate?”
Hand the woman control on a silver platter? Did Dylan want to guarantee Zach was ruined?
“She did, in fact, inherit your grandmother’s estate,” Dylan pointed out.
Zach felt his blood pressure rise. He was living a nightmare, and Dylan of all people should appreciate the outrageousness of the situation.
“I don’t care what kind of paperwork was filed by the Electric Chapel of Love,” Zach growled. “Kaitlin Saville is not my wife. She is not entitled to half of Harper Transportation, and I will die before—”