The CEO's Accidental Bride(4)

By: Barbara Dunlop



“I finished reviewing your papers,” Lindsay said, swiping her shoulder-length blond hair over the shoulders of her classic navy blazer while they strolled their way down the concrete path.

Kaitlin and Lindsay’s friendship went back to their freshman year at college. Social Services had finally stepped out of Kaitlin’s life, and Lindsay had left her family in Chicago. On the same floor of the college dorms, they’d formed an instant bond.

They’d stayed close friends ever since, so Lindsay knew that Zach had ruined Kaitlin’s career, and she applauded Kaitlin’s desire for payback.

“Am I safe to sign?” asked Kaitlin. The sunshine was warm against her bare legs and twinkled brightly where it reflected off the rippling pond. “And how soon do I have to let him off the hook?”

Lindsay grinned in obvious delight. She pressed the manila envelope against Kaitlin’s chest, and Kaitlin automatically snagged it.

“Oh, it’s better than that,” she said.

“Better than what?” Kaitlin was puzzled

Lindsay chuckled deep in her chest. “I mean, you can name your own ticket.”

“My ticket to what?”

Why was Lindsay talking in riddles?

“Life,” Lindsay elaborated in a singsong voice. “What do you want? A mansion? A jet? A billion dollars?”

“I told you, I said no to the money.” Kaitlin hadn’t changed her mind about the money. She didn’t want what she hadn’t earned. “And what do you mean a billion? He was talking about two million.”

“It’s more than just two million.” Lindsay shook her head in what appeared to be amazement. “It’s Sadie Harper herself.”

Kaitlin lifted her hands, palms up, to signal her incomprehension. She assumed Sadie Harper must have something to do with Zach Harper, but that was as far as she got with the connection. What did the woman have to do with his money?

Lindsay lowered her voice, sounding decidedly conspiratorial as she moved closer to Kaitlin, her gaze darting dramatically around them. “Sadie was the matriarch of the Harper family. She died a month ago at the Harper house on Serenity Island.”

The pathway split, and Lindsay eased Kaitlin toward the route that skirted the pond. Their high heels clicked against the smooth, sun-warmed concrete.

Kaitlin still didn’t understand Lindsay’s point.

“I read a copy of her will,” said Lindsay. “You, my girl, are in it.”

“How can I be in it?” This conversation was making less sense by the minute. Kaitlin didn’t know Sadie Harper. Up until this minute, she’d never even heard of Sadie Harper.

“In fact,” Lindsay continued, a lilt of delight in her voice, “you are the sole beneficiary.”

Kaitlin instantly halted, turning to peer at Lindsay with narrowed eyes. Traffic zipped past on Liberty, engines roaring, horns honking. Cyclist and pedestrian traffic parted around them, some people shooting annoyed looks their way.

Lindsay tugged on Kaitlin’s arm, moving them off to the side of the pathway. “She left her entire estate to Mrs. Zachary Harper.”

“Get out,” Kaitlin breathed.

“I am dead serious.”

Kaitlin stepped farther aside to make room for a pair of cyclists skirting the edge of the path. “How did she even know about me?”

“She didn’t.” Lindsay gave her head a shake. “That’s the beauty of it. Well, part of the beauty of it. The whole thing is truly very beautiful.”

“Lindsay,” Kaitlin prompted with impatience.

“The will holds her estate in trust until Zach gets married,” said Lindsay. “But he’s already married so, in the eyes of the law, you own fifty percent of Harper Transportation.”

Kaitlin’s knees went weak.

No wonder Zach had seemed desperate.

No wonder he was in such a hurry to get rid of her.

“So, what do you want?” Lindsay asked again, a giggle at the end of the question.

Speechless, Kaitlin shoved the envelope back at Lindsay, overwhelmed by the thought of what was at stake. She took a step away and shook her head in silent refusal.

“I don’t want anything,” she finally managed to reply.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Lindsay cajoled.

“The wedding was a joke,” Kaitlin reminded her. “It was a mistake. I didn’t mean to marry him. And I sure don’t deserve half his company.”

“Then take the money instead,” Lindsay offered reasonably.

As if that made it better. “I’m not taking his money, either.”

Lindsay held up her palms in exasperation. “So, what do you want? What’s the payback?”

Kaitlin thought about it for a moment. “I want him to sweat.”

Lindsay chuckled and linked her arm with Kaitlin’s, turning her to resume their walk. “Trust me, honey.” She patted her on the shoulder. “He is definitely sweating.”

“And I want a job,” said Kaitlin with conviction. That was what she’d lost in this debacle. She needed her career back.

“I don’t want free money,” she told Lindsay, voice strengthening. “I want a chance to prove myself. I’m a good…no, I’m a great architect. And all I want is a fair shot at proving it.”

The path met up with the sidewalk, and Lindsay tipped her head and stared up at the Harper Transportation sign on the pillar-adorned, ten-story concrete building across the street. “So, ask him for one,” she suggested.

Kaitlin squinted at the massive blue lettering. She glanced to Lindsay, then again at the sign. Suddenly, the possibilities of the situation bloomed in her brain.

A slow smile grew on her face. “There’s a reason I love you,” she said to Lindsay, giving her arm a squeeze. “That is a brilliant plan.”

And it was exactly what she’d do. She would make Zach Harper give her a job. She’d make him give her the job that should have been hers in the first place—developing designs for the renovation of his corporate headquarters.

She’d pick up right where she’d left off. In fact, she’d come up with an even better concept. Then, once she’d proven to him and to the world that she was a talented architect, she’d sign whatever papers he needed her to sign. He’d have his company back, and she’d have her life back. And, most importantly, she wouldn’t have to leave New York City.

The light turned green, and she tugged on Lindsay’s arm. “You’re coming with me.”

Lindsay hesitated, staying on the curb. “I have a class now.”

“We’ll be quick,” Kaitlin promised.

“But—”

“Come on. I need you to spout some legalese to scare him.”

“Trust me, he’s already scared.” But Lindsay started across the street.

“Then it’ll be easy,” Kaitlin assured her, stepping up on the opposite curb then mounting the short concrete staircase.

They made their way across the small serviceable lobby of the Harper Transportation building. Kaitlin had been in the building many times, so she knew Zach’s office was on the top floor.

While they took the groaning elevator ride up twenty stories, she straightened her short black skirt and adjusted her sleeveless, jade-green sweater, anchoring the strap of her small handbag. She moistened her lips as they exited the elevator. Then she determinedly paced down the narrow hallway to Zach’s receptionist.

“I’m here to see Zach Harper,” Kaitlin announced with as much confidence as she could muster.

Her pulse had increased, and her palms were starting to dampen. She was suddenly afraid the plan wouldn’t work. Like a drowning woman who’d been tossed a life vest, she was afraid her chance would float away before she could grab on to it.

“Do you have an appointment?” the young brunette woman asked politely, glancing from Kaitlin to Lindsay and back again. Kaitlin had seen the woman from a distance while working on the project for Hutton Quinn, but they’d never been introduced.

“No,” Kaitlin admitted, realizing the odds were slim that Zach was available at that particular moment.

Lindsay stepped forward, standing two inches taller than Kaitlin, her voice telegraphing professionalism and importance. “Tell him it’s a legal matter,” she said to the receptionist. “Kaitlin Saville.”

The woman’s head came up, curiosity flaring briefly in her blue eyes. “Of course. One moment, please.” She rose from her wheeled desk chair.

“Thanks,” Kaitlin whispered to Lindsay, as the receptionist walked down the hallway that stretched behind her desk. “I knew you’d come in handy.”

“I’ll send you a bill,” Lindsay responded in an undertone.

“No, you won’t.” Kaitlin knew her friend better than that. Lindsay had never charged her for anything in her life.

“Ten minutes from now, you’ll be able to afford me,” Lindsay joked.

“Send Zach the bill,” Kaitlin suggested, a nervous sense of excitement forming in her belly. If this worked. If it actually worked…

“Will do,” Lindsay promised.

The receptionist returned, a practiced, professional smile on her face. “Right this way, please.”

She led them past a few closed doors to the end of the hallway where a set of double doors stood open on a big, bright, burgundy-carpeted room.

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