The CEO's Accidental Bride(8)By: Barbara Dunlop
“We didn’t.” Not that he hadn’t wanted to. Not that he wouldn’t love to. Not that he wasn’t still—
Damn it. He had to stop going there.
“Because I’m not pregnant or anything,” she said, slipping into her sexy shoes and straightening her clingy dress. The action pulled it tighter against her lithe body, and it was more than he could do not to let his gaze take a tour.
He summoned his strength. “Kaitlin. I think we need to leave Vegas back in Vegas.”
That was true.
“But it didn’t work,” she pointed out.
“Blame Elvis,” he drawled, fixing his gaze firmly on her face and telling himself to leave it right there.
Her smile grew. “You’re funnier than you let on, you know?”
He gritted his teeth against her softening expression, those lips, those eyes, that tousled hair. It would be so easy to pull her into his arms and kiss her.
But for the first time in his life, he ignored the powerful urge.
“Thanks for signing the papers,” he offered gruffly.
“Thanks for giving me a job.”
The specter of her previous designs appeared inside his head. He didn’t know what he’d do if she insisted on resurrecting them.
Now might not be the time. Then again, now might be the perfect time. They seemed to have come to a truce. Maybe he should take advantage of it.
“You know that building has been in my family for five generations,” he declared.
“That doesn’t mean it can’t look good.”
“There are a lot of different ways to make it look good.” Classic ways. Functional ways. They were a transportation company, for goodness’ sake, not an art museum.
He wished he could interest her in using the Hugo Rosche plans as a jumping-off point. Hugo had taken over after he’d canceled Hutton Quinn. Zach had paid a penalty to get out of the contract. But Hugo had left on good terms with a reference and several prospective clients set up by Zach. Hugo’s plans made the most of the existing layout, and they’d only take about six months to implement.
“And I’m going to find the best one,” she breezily promised. Her bravado frightened him.
“It’s my heritage you’re playing with, you know.”
Her expression faltered for a split second, something close to pain flitting through her eyes. But she recovered instantly, and the confidence returned. “Then, you’re a very lucky man, Zach Harper. Because I’m going to make your heritage a whole lot better.”
The following week, Kaitlin and Lindsay made their way into the bright pool of sunshine on the roof of the Harper Transportation building. The cement was solid beneath Kaitlin’s feet, and the building seemed to fit seamlessly into its surroundings. Modern high-rises towered over on two sides, while across Liberty, they studied a row of dignified—if chipped—lion statues, and looked farther to the river.
The roof was square, blocked on one side by the service level and staircase. It was bordered by a three-foot-high concrete wall. Years of rain had stained it, but the mottled color evoked a certain nobility. Kaitlin couldn’t help wonder what it would be like to work under the same roof as five generations of your ancestors.
Her mother had died when she was born. Her father was “unknown,” not even a name on a birth certificate. And if nineteen-year-old Yvette Saville had had relatives somewhere nobody ever found them. All Kaitlin had of her own heritage was a single, frayed and blurry photo of her mother, and the address of the rooming house where Yvette had been living prior to Kaitlin’s birth.
While her anger and frustration toward Zach had diminished as the days went by, she couldn’t seem to fight off the spurt of jealousy that bubbled up when she thought about his heritage. He’d had such a safe and privileged upbringing. While she was on the outside looking in, he’d been wrapped in the loving embrace of his wealthy family, wanting for nothing, experiencing the finest life had to offer.
“Explain to me again why we couldn’t go straight to Rundall’s for lunch?” called Lindsay. She’d fallen behind in her higher heels and straight skirt.
“See that?” Kaitlin turned to walk backward, banishing her negative thoughts as she swept her arm, pointing toward the deep blue Hudson River. “If I can get a permit to add three stories, the view will be amazing.”
A steady hum of traffic rose up to meet them, while barges slipped by against the tree-dotted New Jersey shoreline.
“Will that be expensive?” asked Lindsay, as she picked her way across the rough surface, steadying herself against a mechanical box, then an air-conditioning unit.
“Wildly,” said Kaitlin, picturing the expanse of glass and the marble floors.
Lindsay flashed a wide grin as she came abreast of Kaitlin near the edge of the roof. “That’s my girl. Not that Harper will ever notice. The man has more money than God.”
“It would seem,” Kaitlin agreed, thinking back to the fine art and antiques that decorated his huge penthouse apartment.
“I’ve been checking,” said Lindsay in a conspiratorial tone, swiping back her stray blond hairs in the freshening breeze. “Did you know it started with the pirates?”
“What started with pirates?” Kaitlin peered over the edge to the busy street below. She wished she had a scaffolding so she could see exactly how the view would look if they went up three stories.
“The Harper family wealth,” Lindsay said. “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum. Pirates.”
Kaitlin stretched up on her toes, shading her eyes against the brilliant sun. “I’m sure that’s just a rumor.”
New York City was full of colorful stories of countless founding families. Most of them were concocted by the families themselves to add social cachet and impress their friends. The Harpers could just as easily have been former potato farmers who arrived in the city from Idaho in 1910. Perhaps they’d sold something as mundane as farmland and crops to buy their first boat and start Harper Transportation.
“Of course it’s a rumor,” Lindsay pointed out. “It happened three hundred years ago. It’s not like they have videotape.”
Kaitlin cracked a smile at her friend’s faux outrage. “Are you suggesting I’ve inherited tainted money?”
“I’m suggesting the man you’re blackmailing was descended from thieves and murderers.”
“Does that scare you?” Zach didn’t scare Kaitlin anymore.
Well, not much. She was still intimidated by his angry glare. And she was definitely unsettled by the sexual awareness that bloomed to life whenever he strode by. It was becoming a regular part of her workday: email, coffee, drafting, Zach. Then boom, buzz, all she could think about was kissing him.
“Hell, no,” Lindsay assured her. “I’m just sayin’ you should watch out for his sword.”
Kaitlin waggled her finger at Lindsay in admonishment. “That’s a terrible joke.”
Lindsay peered closer. “Are you blushing?”
“No,” Kaitlin answered with a shake of her head, switching her attention to the steel gray barge plodding up the river.
“I didn’t mean it the way it sounded.”
“Sure you did.”
Lindsay leaned forward to get a better view of Kaitlin’s face. “You are blushing. What did I miss?”
“Nothing. I’ve barely seen him in three days.”
Okay, so she’d seen him from afar, more than a few times. And he looked good from that distance—no frowns, no scowls. Her reaction to him was becoming almost comically predictable. Her pulse rate would jump. Her skin would heat up. And she’d lose her train of thought.
“Are you falling for him?” asked Lindsay.
Kaitlin started to speak, but then stopped, unwilling to lie to Lindsay. “I’m admiring his features from afar,” she admitted. “Along with half of the city.”
Zach was an undeniably attractive man. So she found him good-looking? Big deal. So she occasionally found him charming? Another big deal.
He had breeding and education, and plenty of practice at dating and small talk. If she forgot about the fact that he’d tried to ruin her life, she could almost pretend he was a decent guy.
“He does make a hot pirate,” Lindsay concurred with a saucy grin.
“Hot” definitely described the way he’d looked that night at his penthouse, his tie off, sleeves rolled up, a day’s growth of beard shadowing his chin. He’d looked every inch the rakish pirate of his ancestors. And it had been more than sexy.
Lindsay was watching her closely. “Promise me you’ll keep your head in the game.”
Kaitlin tucked her loose hair firmly behind her ears, taking a quick check of her diamond stud earring. “My head is completely in the game,” she assured Lindsay.
There wouldn’t be a repeat of Vegas. Kaitlin had slipped up that night. She’d let down her guard, and Zach had turned on her within the week.
Apparently satisfied, Lindsay eased forward to peer over the edge. Taxis, buses and delivery trucks cruised past. Three city workers in hard hats set barriers up around an open manhole, while a police cruiser, lights flashing blue and red, pulled halfway up on the wide sidewalk.
“So, have you started unpacking yet?” asked Lindsay.