The CEO's Accidental Bride(7)By: Barbara Dunlop
Though they’d spoken briefly at the office this morning, she’d been wearing her coat at the time. He’d had no idea what was hidden beneath. Just as well he hadn’t had that image inside his brain all day long.
“Thank you,” she acknowledged, handing him the coat.
“I’m…uh…” He pointed in the general direction of the hallway and the kitchen, making his escape before she noticed he was ogling her body with his mouth hanging open.
In the kitchen, he found that his housekeeper had left a note informing him there was salad and a chicken dish in the fridge. She’d also left a bottle of Cabernet on the breakfast bar. Zach automatically reached for the corkscrew, breathing through the dueling emotions of frustration and arousal.
Sure, Kaitlin was an attractive woman. He knew that. He’d known that from the minute he met her. But there were attractive women everywhere. He didn’t have to fixate on her.
He popped the cork.
No. No reason at all for him to fixate on her.
In fact, maybe he should get himself a date. A date would distract him. He’d been working too hard lately, that was all. A date with another, equally attractive woman would nip this fascination with Kaitlin in the bud.
He reached for the crystal glasses hanging from the rack below the cabinet.
Dylan had offered to introduce him to his newest helicopter pilot. He’d said she was attractive and athletic. She was a Yankees fan, but he could probably live with that. And she had a master’s degree in art history. Who didn’t like art history?
Before Zach realized what he’d done, he’d filled two glasses with wine.
Then again, he supposed the woman deserved a drink. If she signed the papers, they’d toast the accomplishment. If she refused to sign, maybe the wine would loosen her up, and he could take another stab at convincing her.
He shrugged out of his suit jacket, moving farther down the hallway to the master bedroom. There, he hung the jacket in his closet, shed his tie and glanced in the mirror above his dresser.
He definitely needed a shave. And his white shirt was wrinkled from being worn all day.
He glanced once at the jacket and considered putting it back on. But common sense prevailed. Instead, he unbuttoned his cuffs and rolled up the sleeves of his shirt. If this was a date, he’d shave and redress. But it wasn’t a date. And his looks would be the last thing on Kaitlin’s mind.
More comfortable, he returned to the kitchen and retrieved the wineglasses. He moved down the hallway to the living room. Inside the doorway, he paused.
Kaitlin seemed to have made herself at home. She’d kicked off her strappy shoes and curled her legs beneath her, knees bent and pressed together, stocking-clad feet pushing up against the arm of his sofa. Her hair was drying to a wild, glossy halo that framed her smooth skin. And her face was a study in concentration, red lips pursed, green eyes slightly squinted as she read her way through the pages.
She looked good in his living room, somehow settled and at home.
Funny, he’d seen her dressed up, dressed down, dancing with laughter and crackling with anger. But he’d never caught her unaware. And somehow he had the feeling this was the real woman, halfway between Vegas glitter and Saturday casual, her energy turned inward, mind working. He sensed a calm intelligence in her that he hadn’t noticed before.
He must have moved, because she finally noticed him.
“Wine?” he offered, raising one of the glasses, walking forward, pretending he hadn’t been staring.
“You’re right,” she told him, letting the papers drop into her lap, stretching an arm across the back of the sofa in an obviously unintended, sensual gesture.
“Never thought I’d hear you say that.” But there was no bite to his words. He’d meant to mock her, but it came off as a gentle joke.
She flipped the document back to the first page and set it in front of her on the coffee table. “I’ll sign it.”
“Really?” Too late, he realized he sounded surprised. To cover, he handed her the glass of wine.
She accepted the glass and shrugged. “It’s exactly what you said it was.”
“How about that,” he couldn’t help but tease.
“Shocked the heck out of me,” she returned, doing a double take, seeming to note he’d shed the jacket and tie.
He sat down on the other end of the couch. “Then, cheers.” He lifted his glass.
She allowed a small smile, which made her prettier than ever. She leaned toward him, holding out her glass to clink it against his. The motion gave him a glimpse of her cleavage, and he was forced to drag his gaze away from her soft breasts.
They each took a sip.
Then her smile grew, and an impish dimple appeared in her right cheek. “Tough day at the office, dear?” She mimicked what was obviously a wifely voice of concern.
Something inside him responded warmly to the banter. “You know—” he paused for effect “—the usual.”
“Is this weird?” she asked, eyes narrowing.
“Because it feels weird. I mean, on a scale of one to, well, weird, it’s weird.”
“Did that make sense inside your head?”
She took another drink, waving a dismissive hand. “I’m sure you got the gist of it.”
“I did. And I agree. It’s weird.”
“We’re married.” She said the words in a tone of wonder.
“Yes, we are.” Zach took a healthy swig from his own glass. He’d never been married. And even if he had, he couldn’t help but doubt anything could prepare a man for this particular situation.
She paused, and then her voice went soft. “I’m not trying to ruin your life, you know.”
He didn’t like it that she seemed so vulnerable. It was better when she was acting tough and feisty. Then, it was easier to view her as a combatant. And he was beginning to admit fighting with Kaitlin was much safer than joking with her.
He struggled to put a hard note back in his voice. “I guess it was the blackmail scheme that had me confused.”
Her green eyes were clear, open and honest. “I’m not looking to gain anything.”
He made a show of skeptically raising his brows.
“I’m looking to set things right,” she assured him.
He tried to sound doubtful. “Is that how this is playing out inside your head?”
“Once I’ve earned my way back into the good graces of my profession, you’ll be home free. I want a career, Zach, not your company.”
He had to admit, he believed her. He understood she was trying to make her own life better. Her methods weren’t the most noble from where he was standing. But he did accept the fact that he was collateral damage.
She leaned forward and flipped to the signature page of the document. “Do you have a pen?”
“Sure.” He rose and crossed to the small rosewood desk that held a telephone and a reading lamp.
“I’m meeting Lindsay for dinner,” Kaitlin explained from behind him. “I don’t want to be too late.”
“I have a date,” he lied, extracting a pen from the small desk drawer. He’d call Dylan and get the number of the pretty helicopter pilot just as soon as Kaitlin left.
“You’re cheating on me?”
Her outburst surprised him, but when he turned, he saw the laughter lurking in her jade-green eyes.
“Yes,” he answered easily, not about to rise to the bait. “I’ve been cheating on you since the wedding.”
“Men,” she huffed in pretend disgust, folding her arms across her chest, accenting her breasts.
Focusing beyond her lovely figure, he shrugged an apology on behalf of his gender as he crossed the room. “What can I say?”
She accepted the pen, bending her head to sign the papers. “Well, I’ve been faithful.”
He waited for the punch line.
It didn’t come.
“Seriously?” he asked.
She finished her signature with a flourish, declining to answer.
But he couldn’t let it go. “You haven’t had sex with anybody since Vegas?”
“What do you mean since Vegas.” She sat up straight, handing the pen back in his direction. “Who do you think I had sex with in Vegas?”
He accepted it, feeling a twinge of remorse. “I didn’t mean it that—”
“The only person I was with in Vegas was you and we didn’t—” The amusement suddenly fled her eyes, replaced by uncertainty. “We, uh, didn’t, did we?”
Okay, this was interesting. “You don’t remember?” He might not have total recall of the entire night’s events. But he knew they hadn’t made love.
Then the vulnerability was back, and she slowly shook her head. “I barely remember the wedding.”
He was tempted to string her along, but quickly changed his mind. The cursed vulnerability again. It made him want to protect her, not mess with her mind.
“We didn’t,” he assured her.
She tilted her head to one side. “Are you sure? Do you remember every minute?”
Their gazes locked for a couple of heartbeats.
“I’d remember that.”
“So, you can’t say for sure…”
“Has this been bothering you?” he asked.
“Because it sounds like—”
Suddenly, she snagged her bag and hooked it over her shoulder, coming to her feet. “It’s not bothering me. If we did it, we did it.”