8

The printer spit out page after page. Mia glanced at David, who looked just as lost as she felt. The perfectly dressed woman in the bridal registry department smiled as she tore off what looked like an endless list.

“Now, these are just some ideas. Obviously you don’t need to register for everything on the list.”

Mia took the offered papers. “Okay. Great. We’ll, um, just look around?”

“Exactly. Write down your choices as you make them. I’ll be right here if you have any questions.” She smiled again, her perfectly made-up features barely moving. “Do you need a pencil?”

Mia patted the small purse she’d slung over her shoulder. “Got one, thanks.” Then she grabbed David by the arm and hurried away.

“She’s scary,” Mia muttered when they were out of earshot. “Aren’t people’s faces supposed to move when they talk?”

But David wasn’t paying attention. Instead he stared at a large display of china with all the enthusiasm of a vegetarian facing a steak dinner.

“So we have to pick one?” he asked, desperation tinting his words.

“That’s the basic idea.” She scanned the list. “My God. Just the dish section-which they call china-is broken down into sections. Plates, bowls, side plates, dessert plates, fruit nappies.”

David stared at her. “What the hell is a fruit nappy?”

Mia giggled. “Don’t the British refer to diapers as nappies? Maybe it’s some weird kind of fruit diaper.”

David rolled his eyes. “Yeah, right.”

She continued to scan the list. “Serving pieces. Then we move into flatware. I think that’s like knives and forks. Oh, and there’s everyday china or stoneware, which I guess means we’re supposed to have two sets.” She thought about her postage-stamp-size kitchen. “I don’t think we’re going to have room for all this.”

David grabbed the list. “Water glasses, wineglasses, highball glasses, tumblers. What’s a highball?”

“A type of cocktail.” She drew in a deep breath. Somehow she had thought that shopping for future presents would be more fun. “Okay, let’s just start with the china. We don’t have room for one full set, let alone two, so we can find a pattern we like and use it all the time. Later, when we have a house or something, we’ll deal with two sets. How’s that?”

“Great.” He eyed the wall displaying over a hundred different patterns. “What do you like?”

Twenty minutes later Mia was ready to choke the life out of her intended. She liked flowers, he didn’t. She wanted color, he thought beige was enough color for anyone. Then he’d picked a pattern with three dimensional fruit that made her want to gag. They’d discovered that fruit nappies were basically cereal-size bowls, and that they both hated anything with a gold rim, but otherwise, they couldn’t come close to an agreement.

Rather than shed blood right there in the middle of fine china, Mia suggested a compromise.

“Let’s start with something different,” she said, refolding the list to the section entitled: “Stocking your kitchen.” “What about small appliances?”

“Sounds good.”

They headed for that department, passing flatware on the way. If they couldn’t pick out china, Mia figured they’d better avoid any department with sharp knives.

However, kitchenware had knives. It also had dozens of appliances she’d never seen before. Nor did she have any idea as to their purpose or usefulness. She stood in front of a multitiered device that was supposed to dry fruit.

“Who eats dried fruit?” David asked.

“I do.” Mia studied the machine. “Wouldn’t it just be easier to buy it?”

“Or eat chips.” David poked at a massive box containing a pasta maker. “Dad never cooked much. I sure didn’t learn anything from him.”

“Don’t look at me. The Grands have always done the cooking at our house.”

He looped an arm around her and grinned. “You’re gonna be the wife, Mia. I guess you’ll have to learn.”

She shrugged free of his embrace. “That is so not going to happen. Just because I’m the female here, don’t assume I’m going to be taking care of you. As far as I’m concerned, household chores will be split fifty-fifty, and that includes cooking.”

Suddenly David wasn’t smiling. “I’m not going to learn to cook.”

“Why not?”

“I’ll be busy with school.”

“And I won’t? While you’re still trying to figure out your major, I’ll be applying to grad school, taking my regular classes, and working part-time at one of the consulates, assuming I get into that internship program.”

“Mia, I’m a guy.”

She eyed the selection of knives on a nearby wall. But as her father liked to say, violence was the refuge of the incompetent.

“I guess if you don’t cook and I don’t cook, we’ll be buying a lot of take-out,” she said lightly.

“Works for me.”

“The good news is there are a ton of great places by campus. And when we’re in D.C., there will be all-new places to try.” She saw a display of coffeemakers. “Hey, I could use a new one of these. What do you think?”

But David didn’t follow her to the display. Instead he stood in the center of the aisle, feet braced, hands in his pockets, an unruly lock of hair falling across his forehead.

She turned to him. “What?”

“You’re talking about Georgetown.”

“Of course. I know I have to apply to other grad schools, but that’s the one I really want.” She frowned at his stern expression. “David, it’s not like this is news.”

“Are you applying to UCLA?”

She felt the ground turn into quicksand. Actually, she was not. Although she was enjoying her undergrad experience there, she wanted to attend a different school to continue her studies. Preferably somewhere on the East Coast.

“I haven’t decided,” she hedged.

“When you graduate, I’ll still have two years left there.”

She shifted her weight from foot to foot, hating that she felt almost…guilty. “I know.” She had known. She just didn’t like to think about it.

Then she reminded herself she had nothing to feel guilty about. This was her life, her dream, her career. She’d wanted to go into the State Department since she’d first learned what it was nearly six years ago. She’d already compromised. Wasn’t it his turn?

“Look,” she said. “I wanted to take that Japanese language class in Japan, and you agreed it would be fun. We talked about it being our honeymoon. Then you changed your mind and didn’t want to go. So we switched to D.C. Now I’m taking the language class and you’re just going to hang out for six weeks. I’m okay with that. Why can’t you be okay with me not getting my master’s at UCLA?”

“Because it means I have to change schools.”

“Which you already said was fine with you.” She tried not to scream. “Is this all about you? You need a wife who can cook, and you need a wife who won’t study a foreign language in a foreign country, and you need a wife who has no dreams of her own, except you don’t have any dreams or plans, either. You don’t even have a fucking major.”

They glared at each other. Mia refused to be the one who blinked first.

David sighed, then shrugged. “I don’t know what I need, Mia. You’re the one with all the answers. Maybe you should tell me.”

Suddenly picking out items for their gift registry didn’t seem like such a good idea. She carefully folded the sheets of paper in half.

“Look. I have a report I have to work on. You want to do this another time?”

David shrugged. “Sure.”

They headed for the escalator. Mia had the weirdest feeling that she couldn’t catch her breath. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, she thought frantically. Was it? She and David were engaged. Shouldn’t they be happy?

The first time Katie had walked into Zach’s office, she’d been excited about the job offer of a lifetime. The second time she’d been dealing with post-humiliation repercussions. Now she had to wrestle with the fact that he was not only her client and a future in-law, but a man who had rocked her world with a simple kiss (annoying but true). He was also her sister’s divorce lawyer. If they got any more involved, they would become symbiotic beings.

She was determined to make sure that didn’t happen. She would be wary, on guard, and completely professional. No visceral reactions allowed.

Dora Preston sat outside of Zach’s office. She smiled when she saw Katie. “He’s waiting for you,” Dora said. “Go right in.”

“Thanks.”

Katie straightened her spine, tried her “You’re the best” mantra for good measure, and stepped into the shark’s lair.

Zach rose when he saw her. And smiled. As she had yet to receive her Zach-smile vaccine, she found herself instantly melting.

Stop! No melting, she told herself. No being excited to see him. Nada!

“Katie, what a pleasure.”

He walked around his desk and approached her. Instead of shaking her hand, he squeezed her upper arm and sounded genuinely pleased to see her. Uh-huh. Sure. Cool, she told herself. She was ice.

“I come bearing paperwork,” she said calmly, holding up her stuffed briefcase. In her other hand she held a portable file box.

Zach led her to the desk, then offered coffee, which she accepted. While he walked over to a small tea tray by his credenza and poured her a cup, she unloaded her briefcase and started on the file folder.

“Cream? Sugar?”

“Just black,” she said.

By the time he returned to sit next to her, she had spread out several sample invitations.

“We need to get the order into the printer,” she said. “I like this one.” She pointed to a thick paper invitation edged in black and gold.

Zach laughed. “The last invitations I picked out had toy soldiers on them. I think it was for David’s eleventh birthday party. You go with what you like.”

“I’m happy to pick, but do you want to run the selections by your partners?”

“Not even on a bet.”

She forgot herself for a second and smiled. “Okay. So you’re not party planners.”

She pulled out her master list and noted the invitation number. “Now, before I can do anything, I will need one thing from you. And that’s budget approval.”

The five-page document listed every possible expense, although some items, such as liquor, had to be estimated. Zach took the document and scanned it.

“You’re very thorough,” he said after a minute.

“I try to be. As I noted at the bottom, should there be an unexpected expense of more than three hundred dollars, I’ll send out written notice immediately.”

“Fair enough.” He read a little more. “Goody bags for adults. Isn’t that a kid thing?”

“Not at all. I’ll do a smaller, less expensive bag for the regular guests and a dynamite one for our high rollers.” She shrugged. “I can’t explain it, but there is a serious thrill in getting something for free. I practically shimmy in delight when my favorite makeup lady offers me a sample, even if it’s something I’ll never use. I thought a goody bag would be a fun way to leave our guests with warm fuzzies about the party.”

He continued to study the budget. As he read, she watched him. There was something so sexy about his eyes, she thought. And of course, his smile. She also liked the way he seemed comfortable in his own skin all the time.

She groaned silently. Damn. What happened to being ice? Ignore him. Which was easier said than done, considering how the man turned her on. Her resolve seemed to have all the tensile strength of potato chips.

He tossed the budget down on the desk. “I’ll take it to my partners right away. When do you need to hear back?”

“Within a week. The invitations need to be engraved. Some of the food has to be ordered well in advance, and I won’t even go into the trauma of picking out flowers.”

“Please don’t.” He leaned back in his chair. “I guess this means I need to get my tux into the dry cleaner.”

“Don’t complain to me about that,” she told him. “You know exactly what you’re going to wear, while I have the challenge of finding the perfect dress. I need to fit in, and yet not look like a guest.”

He raised his dark eyebrows. “What about your date?”

She hardly needed the pressure. “It’s a working night for me.”

“No Mr. Right?”

She couldn’t tell if he was making idle chitchat or trying to figure out if she was seeing someone. The possibility of the latter made her thighs tingle.

“Not even a Mr. Adequate. And you? Who will you bring?”

“I haven’t decided. How’s Brenna doing?” he asked.

“She’s hanging in there. Her mood seems to swing between a strong desire to get revenge and feelings of devastation.”

“The loss of a marriage is like a death. It takes time to move through the grieving process.”

His insight surprised her until she reminded herself that this was what the man did for a living. Of course he would be familiar with the process.

“Brenna said you won’t be meeting with her for a few weeks.”

He nodded. “We’ll speak regularly, but there’s no need for a face-to-face. I’ve filed all the papers. We’re going to have to deal with the settlement, and that’s what’s going to take the planning.”

“Do you know Jeff’s lawyer?”

Zach smiled again, but it wasn’t the least bit friendly. “I’ve dealt with him before. Not to worry. I’m a whole lot better.”

“Will you think I’m a complete bitch if I say ‘good’?”

“No. She’s your sister. She’s in pain and you want blood for that.” He studied her. “You can’t have it both ways, Katie. You can’t complain about my tactics, then use them for your own self-interest.”

“Actually, I can, but it’s tacky.” She shuffled through the papers she’d brought, pulling out three more sets of the budget. “So you don’t have to make copies.”

“Very thoughtful.”

She returned to the issue of her sister’s divorce. “While there might have been a snag in the ‘all Marcellis stay married forever’ theory, I’m still not on your side about breaking off Mia and David’s engagement.”

“I’m okay with that. However, I reserve the right to use any means at my disposal to change your mind.”

Hardly news, she thought wryly. “Why me?”

He leaned back in his chair and considered the question. “Two reasons. No, three. First, I have the most access to you. That means plenty of time to work my charm.”

She widened her eyes in surprise. “Is this charm? I hadn’t noticed.”

He grinned. “Second, your family listens to you. If I convince you, you’ll convince them, or at least Mia, and she’s the one who matters.”

“Never going to happen.”

“I’m taking bets.”

“Sure you are. What’s number three?”

He turned his gaze fully on her. Dark blue eyes narrowed slightly, and his expression turned predatory. “You’re the Marcelli who interests me the most.”

Two parts intrigued and one part terrified, she did her best to act unconcerned. “You’re saying spending this much time with Grandpa Lorenzo wouldn’t blow your skirt up?”

“I don’t wear a skirt, but if I did, no.”

“Those are really fabulous reasons. Thanks for sharing.” She began to pack up her briefcase.

“Leaving so soon?”

“I have another meeting.”

“What if I wanted to take a few minutes to work on convincing you?”

“No, thanks.”

He chuckled. “You haven’t heard what I had in mind.”

Oh, but she could imagine. “I don’t need to know.”

“You’re tempted.”

“Not even close.”

She had a feeling they both knew she was lying. She finished with her briefcase and went to work on the file box. When she was done, she turned back to him.

“Thanks for taking the time to see me today, Zach.”

He leaned forward and rested his hand on hers. “I’m always happy to see you, Katie. You know that.”

Was it her or had it just gotten really hot in here?

“How nice,” she said primly and stood. She’d wondered if he would kiss her again. Now that he hadn’t, she told herself she was happy. Really.

He stood. “You’re not easy.”

“That’s not much of a compliment, but thank you anyway.”

He grinned. “I’m not easy, either. If we manage to get through the next couple of months without killing each other, I’d like you to be my date for the fund-raiser.”

The phrase about being knocked over by a feather had never been more appropriate. A date? With Zach? Only a fool would say yes.

“I’ll be working,” she said instead.

“That’s okay with me.” He winked. “I like to watch.”

Zach never left work early and he almost never took Pacific Coast Highway home. But at three o’clock that afternoon, he did both. He drove west to Lincoln and turned south. The congested street met up with PCH in Marina Del Rey. It was a warm, sunny afternoon, with a hint of salt in the air. He opened his car’s sunroof, as well as the windows, inhaling deeply.

Despite his busy schedule, he felt restless. As he headed toward the airport, he saw jets taking off toward the ocean, heading west. Where were they going? Who was on board and what would they do when they arrived? He didn’t want to be going with them, but he did want something…A woman?

He had an answer to the question before he even asked it. Yes. A woman. And not just in bed, although he wouldn’t mind an hour or two of pleasure in a pair of willing arms. No, what he wanted was more than sex. He wanted to talk to someone long enough to grow comfortable. He wanted rhythms and patterns and familiarity.

How long had it been since he’d had a relationship that lasted more than two dates? A year? Longer, he thought. Although he’d never been interested in getting married again-Ainsley and his belief that long-term relationships didn’t work had cured him of that particular desire-he’d always enjoyed the company of women. Generally one at a time, and often for as long as a few months, then he walked away. He might not do marriage, but he was deeply committed to serial monogamy.

It had been a long time since anyone had tempted him for more than a night or two. He couldn’t remember the last woman who had surprised and challenged him. Some of it was his own fault. His position in a prominent law firm and his growing bank balance brought out a certain kind of woman. Those who were more interested in what he had than who he was. He’d gone out with enough of them to earn a reputation. Once he’d dated the shallow, those with substance didn’t think he was worth the effort. Which meant he had to go find them.

Or wait on fate.

Is that what had happened with Katie Marcelli? Had fate dropped her into his lap? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, he intended to take advantage of the situation, because that was what he did. Fate might have brought her to him, but he would be the one getting her into his bed.

Contents

Обращение к пользователям