The CEO's Accidental Bride(6)

By: Barbara Dunlop

Something hard and cold slid though her stomach.

It wasn’t right that she had this kind of power. All she wanted was to do her job. She didn’t want to have to sift through her confusing feelings for Zach. And she sure didn’t want to have to analyze the circumstances and decide if they were fair.

They weren’t. But then neither was the alternative.

“Get in the car, Kaitlin,” he told her. “We need to get this signed and settled.”

She couldn’t help but note the stream of employees exiting from the building. Even as they dashed down the rainy steps, most of them glanced curiously at Zach. Climbing into his car in full view of a dozen coworkers was out of the question.

She leaned slightly closer, muffling her voice. “Pick me up on Grove, past the bus stop.”

He gave a subtle but unmistakable eye roll. “You don’t think that’s a bit cloak-and-dagger?”

“I’m trying to blend,” she reminded him. Her plan to rescue her career would come to a screeching halt if people had any inkling that she had some leverage over Zach.

“You’ll get soaked,” he warned her.

A little water was the least of her worries.

Well, except for what it would do to her shoes. They’d been on sale, her only pair of Strantas. She loved what they did for her legs, and they looked great with anything black.

She braced herself, mentally plotting a path around the worst of the scattered puddles.

“Have a nice evening, Mr. Harper,” she called loud enough for passersby to hear as she trotted down the stairs.

She made her way along the sidewalk, surging with the crowd toward the traffic light at the corner. When it turned green, she paced across the street, avoiding numerous black umbrellas in her path and hopping over the gurgle of water flowing against the opposite curb.

On the other side, she negotiated her way to the edge of the sidewalk, raking her wet hair back from her forehead and tucking it behind her ears. She swiped a few raindrops from her nose then extracted her cell phone, pressing the speed dial as she hustled toward the bus stop shelter.

“Kaitlin?” came Lindsay’s breathless voice.

“What are you doing?”

“Riding the bike.”

Kaitlin pictured Lindsay on the stationary bike crammed into the small living space of her loft. “I’m going to be late for dinner.”

“What’s going on?” Lindsay huffed.

As she wove her way through the wet crowd, Kaitlin lowered her voice to mock doom. “I’m about to get into a big black car with Zach Harper.”

“Better send me the license plate number.”

Kaitlin cracked a grin, comforted by Lindsay’s familiar sense of humor. The two women had known each other so long, they were almost always on the same wavelength. “I’ll text it to you.”

A deep, classic-rock bass resonated in the background. A fixture whenever Lindsay exercised. “Why are you getting in his car?”

“He wants me to sign something.”

“Better let me read it first.”

“I will if it looks complicated,” Kaitlin promised. “He says it’s to reconfirm him as president and CEO.” Not that she trusted everything Zach said. In fact, thus far, she trusted exactly nothing of what Zach said.

“It could be a trick,” Lindsay warned.

Kaitlin grinned into the phone. “There is yet another reason I love you.”

“I’ve got your back. Seriously, Katie, if you see the words irreconcilable or absolute I want you to run the other way.”

“Will do.” Kaitlin caught sight of the black car. “Oops. There he is. Gotta go.”

“Call me when you’re done. I want details. And dinner.” There was a gasp in Lindsay’s voice. “I definitely still want dinner.”

“I’ll call,” Kaitlin agreed, folding her phone and tucking it into the pocket of her purse as Zach swung open the back door of his car and hopped out onto the sidewalk next to her.

He flipped up the collar of his gray overcoat and gestured her inside. She gathered her own wet coat around her and ducked to climb in.

“Lunatic,” he muttered under his breath.

“Lucky for you we’re not having children,” she said over her shoulder as she settled into the seat.

“Lucky for me we’re not buying plants.” He firmly shut the door behind her before walking around the vehicle to get in behind the driver.

She shook the rainwater from her fingertips, smoothing her soaked jacket and frowning at her soggy bag. “Green and Stafford in Yorkville,” she said to the driver, getting an unwelcome glimpse of herself in the side mirror.

“The penthouse, Henry,” Zach corrected.

“You’re not dropping me off?” She wasn’t sure why his bad manners surprised her. Zach was all about his own convenience. His minions obviously didn’t factor in on his radar.

“Henry will take you home later,” he said.

Later? She raised her brow in a question.

“The papers are at my penthouse.”

Of course they were. Having the papers available in the car would be far too simple. Resigned, she plunked her bag into her lap and gave up on trying to repair her look. She was a mess, and that was that.

“Don’t you worry about inconveniencing me,” she drawled. “It’s not like I have a life.”

Henry pulled into the snarl of traffic heading for Liberty and Wildon, while Zach sent her a speculative, sidelong glance. “Stroke of a pen gets you out of this any old time you want.”

She determinedly shook her head. Much as she’d love to sever both their marital and business ties, if she let him off the hook, the man would fire her in the blink of an eye.

He leaned back in the leather seat, angling his body so that he faced her. “What if I promised you could keep your job?”

Rain rattled harder on the car’s sunroof, while the wipers slapped their way across the windshield, blurring the view of the street.

Kaitlin made a half turn in the seat, meeting Zach’s dark eyes. “That would require me trusting you.”

“You can trust me,” he assured her.

She coughed out a laugh. “You ruined my life.”

He frowned. “I made you a very wealthy woman.”

“I don’t want to be a wealthy woman.”

“I say again. You can get out of this anytime you want.”

She made a show of glancing around the interior of the car. “Is there some way to exit this conversation?” she asked him. “Or does it just keep circling the drain?”

Horns honked in the lanes beside them as Henry inched his way through a left-hand turn. Kaitlin swiped at her damp, tangled hair, resisting an urge to slip off her soggy shoes and wiggle her toes into the thick carpet.

“You’re going to find it very inconvenient being my business partner,” Zach warned.

She cocked her head, watching him as she spoke. “Because you’ll go out of your way to make it hell?”

He resettled himself in the butter-soft seat. “And here I thought I was being subtle.”

“This is fifty pages long.” Standing in the middle of Zach’s penthouse living room, Kaitlin frowned as she leafed her way through the document.

“It deals with control of a multimillion-dollar corporation,” he returned with what he hoped resembled patience. “We could hardly jot it down on a cocktail napkin.”

Though he’d had a few days to come to terms with this bizarre twist in his life, Zach was still chafing at the circumstance. He didn’t want to have to justify anything about Harper Transportation to Kaitlin, even temporarily. His grandma Sadie had complete faith in him—at least he’d always thought she’d had complete faith in him. He’d never had to explain anything about the company to her. He’d basically been running the show for over a decade.

But now there was Kaitlin. And she was underfoot. And she had questions. And he could only imagine what kind of monstrosity he’d be left with for an office building.

Dylan had pointed out yesterday that appeasing Kaitlin was better than losing half his company. Maybe it was. But barely.

“I’ll need to have my lawyer look at this,” Kaitlin announced, reaching down to pull open her oversize shoulder bag in order to deposit the document inside.

“Give it a read before you decide,” Zach cajoled through half-gritted teeth. “It’s not Greek.” He pointed. “You and I sign page three, authorizing the board of directors. The board members have already signed page twenty, confirming my positions. The rest is…well, read it. You’ll see.”

She hesitated, peering at him with suspicion. But after a moment, she sighed, dropping her bag onto his sofa. “Fine. I’ll take a look.”

He tried not to cringe as her wet purse hit the white leather cushion of his new, designer Fendi.

“Your coat?” he offered instead, holding out his hands to accept it. The coat he’d hang safely in his hall closet before she had a chance to drape it over his ironwood table.

She slipped out of the dripping rain jacket, revealing a clingy, black-and-burgundy, knee-length dress. It had capped sleeves, a scooped neck and a pencil-straight skirt that flowed down to her shapely legs, which were clad in black stockings. Damp as they were, her high heels accentuated slim ankles and gorgeous calves.

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