Married by Mistake

Married by Mistake

long white dress and a look of
utter despair.
Adam Carmichael saw her through the glass
wall of the Memphis Channel Eight boardroom,
scurrying down the corridor as fast as the full skirt
of her dress would allow, flicking furtive glances
over her shoulder.
Damn, a runaway bride.
Could this day get any
He stepped out of the boardroom, and she saved
him the effort of stopping her when she cannoned
into him, preoccupied by one of those over-the-
shoulder checks. Soft yet firm breasts pressed hard
against Adam’s chest; honey-gold hair tickled his
He steadied her with his hands on her upper
arms. And saw tears welling in her eyes. Instantly
he released her, took a step back.
She brushed at the tears with short, impatient
movements. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…” She
looked behind her again and said distractedly,

“Anyway, it was nice meeting you, but I really
She gathered up her skirt, ready to run, giving
Adam a glimpse of slim ankles above a pair of
silk shoes.
Overhead, the PA system crackled to life, and
Adam recognized the voice of Channel Eight’s
senior producer, unusually agitated. “Would Casey
Greene please return to makeup immediately.
Casey Greene to makeup.” There was a pause, then
the producer said, “Now!” more ferociously than
Adam had ever heard her speak before.
There was no mistaking the whimper from the
runaway bride, nor the flare of panic in her eyes,
which were the gray-green of the Mississippi when
a storm was brewing.
Adam clamped a hand over her forearm. “Sounds
like they’re looking for you.”
“I can’t go back.” She tried to tug her arm free.
Fleetingly, he considered letting her go. But
much as he hated this wedding show, he wasn’t
about to sabotage it.
They were due to go live in an hour, so it was a
safe bet people would be scouring the building for
the missing bride. In her panic to get away, she’d
obviously taken the elevator up instead of down. It
might take awhile for the search party to reach the
top-floor boardroom, but they’d get here in the end.
“You can’t leave like this,” he said. “You look

terrible.” Oops, that wasn’t the most tactful thing to
say to a bride. “I mean, you look great…fantastic.”
He ran a quick eye over her to check if he’d made
a fair assessment. She was a little on the short side,
around five-four in her shoes, he estimated, but the
dress hugged some very attractive curves.
He pushed open the door to the boardroom. “Why
don’t you take a minute to pull yourself together?”
He gave her no chance to refuse, shepherding her in,
then steering her to one of the black leather couches
arranged along the far wall. He turned a chair from
the boardroom table around to face her, and sat
down. “I assume you’re Casey Greene?”
She nodded. Someone walked past the board-
room, and she shrank down in the couch.
“It’s only my secretary,” he assured her. But she
looked jittery, as if she might spring up at any mo-
ment. Adam estimated it had been a minute since
that call over the PA, probably several minutes since
she’d left her minders. Where
those guys? He
said chattily, “So you’re a guest on
Kiss the Bride?

“I was.”
Uh-oh. This was just what he needed, after he’d
worked through the night to get this show into some
semblance of order, tying up the loose ends his
cousin Henry, the show’s creator, had overlooked.
Except Adam hadn’t had time to check if Henry had
lined up a replacement bridal couple in case some-
one pulled out. He’d bet money the answer was no.

Any minute now, representatives of the show’s
sponsor, New Visage Cosmetics, would arrive at the
studio to see the debut of “their” show. New Visage
was in a different league from Channel Eight’s
other sponsors; having them on board would bring
the station to the attention of the major players.
Adam couldn’t afford for anything to go wrong.
He wanted to haul this woman back to the pro-
duction suite—anyone dumb enough to sign up for
a surprise wedding show deserved whatever she
got. “It’s understandable you have cold feet. Just
remember, this is the happiest day of your life.”
He couldn’t have sounded very convincing, for
she shot him an unbridelike glare.
“Oh, sure,” she said. “I dupe my fiancé into
coming to the TV studio, and he won’t find out
until we’re on air that he’s here to get married.
Happy days.”
Adam should never have left Henry in charge
while he was in New York. His cousin must have
had this crazy idea in mind for months, to have set
the show up in just four weeks. Adam had come
home two days ago to find the station abuzz with
excitement about
Kiss the Bride.
He could have canned it. But then the family
stockholders would accuse him of being high-
handed again. Better to let tonight run its course,
then convince New Visage to put their money into
a higher quality program.

The muted sound of the PA system drifted in
from the corridor. “Paging Casey Greene. If anyone
has seen Casey Greene could they please notify
Production immediately.”
Adam eyed the telephone on the boardroom table.
Casey stiffened. “You wouldn’t.”
He would, if he didn’t think it would scare her
into resuming her escape. He had an hour of live TV
to fill, the viewers had been promised a wedding
show and that’s what they would get. A show de-
livered to the highest possible standard. Which
meant no empty seats on the set. “How about we
let the crew know you’re okay?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Who
“Adam Carmichael.” There was no flash of rec-
ognition—he had to assume she didn’t read those
magazines that voted him Memphis’s Most Eligible
Bachelor. “I run this place.”
“So you can get me out of here? Off the show?”
She stood in a flurry of excitement, a hopeful smile
curving her mouth, crinkling the corners of those
gray-green eyes, hinting at a dimple in her right cheek.
“Why don’t you tell me,” he hedged, “exactly
what the problem is?”
Her smile faded and she sat down again. “You’re
not going to help, are you? Don’t worry, I’ll figure
it out myself.”
Adam hadn’t missed the vulnerability that
shadowed her eyes.

The vulnerability that made her not his type.
“Have you changed your mind about the wed-
ding?” Maybe he could find someone—a woman,
someone happily married, anyone but him—to talk
her around.
“Not exactly. I’m desperate, or I wouldn’t have
resorted to coming on
Kiss the Bride.

She didn’t look desperate. With her eyes still
bright with moisture and her cheeks flushed at the
personal nature of the conversation, she looked
more than ordinarily attractive, like the kind of
woman who would have potential bridegrooms
lining up on her doorstep.
“Is your fiancé giving you trouble?”
Casey shook her head. “Joe is pretty well perfect.
Kind, good-looking, honest—fun to be with.”
“He sounds great,” Adam said heartily. “How
about we get you to the studio so you can marry him?”
Okay, so that wasn’t subtle. She fixed him with a
stung, accusatory expression. “But what about love?”
Adam felt the kick of a headache at his left tem-
ple. He looked through the glass, out into the empty
corridor. How the hell could the production team be
doing such a bad job of finding this woman? “I
don’t know,” he said cautiously. “What
Casey eased back into the cushions, as if he’d hit
on her favorite subject. “I love Joe, and he loves
me.” She spread her hands, palms up. “We wouldn’t
have got engaged otherwise, would we?”

“I suppose not,” Adam said.
“But sometimes, people love you for what you
can do for them, as much as for who you are, and
it’s hard to tell the difference. I always wanted a
husband who’d adore me just for myself, and some-
one I adored back. Real love, no strings attached.”
Her finger traced the piping that edged one of the
cushions. “If I’m honest, that’s not what Joe and I
Adam groaned. Poor Joe, expected to “adore” this
woman for the rest of her days, when, if he was any-
thing like most guys, all he wanted was a quiet life.
Her eyes sparked in annoyance. “Don’t you
think people should hold out for their dreams?”
“I think people should figure out what they
then go for it,” Adam said. “But…a guy who adores
you? No strings?” He shook his head. “Those are
teenage daydreams.”
She thought that over. “You mean, you used to
dream of marrying a woman who adored you, but
you grew out of it?”
Adam cast another longing glance at the phone.
“The last thing a teenage boy wants is to be adored
by some woman for the rest of his life.”
Some of
us never grow out of that.
“Boys dream about
NASCAR racing.”
“Did you?”
If sharing that misguided ambition would get
her back on the show, Adam would do it. He nod-

ded. “Believe me, I never regretted joining the
family business instead.”
Even if he had run off to Charlotte, the racing
capital, he’d probably still be on the receiving end
of constant demands from his grasping relatives.
“Are you married?”
Did he
like a sucker for punishment?
She rushed on without waiting for him to reply,
as if it was a relief to be revealing her doubts. At
least someone was enjoying this. “Joe and I started
dating in high school. We drifted into our engage-
ment at graduation—that was seven years ago. We
said we’d wait until we could afford to buy a house
before we got married.”
“Good idea,” Adam said. He inched his hand
toward the phone.
“Every time we set a wedding date, something
happens to change our plans,” she said. “But now
I need to hurry things up. Now, I
to get mar-
A shock of…surprise surged through Adam, and
he forgot about the phone. He stole another quick
look at Casey’s figure, to see if he’d missed any sus-
picious bulges. No sign of a baby—but pregnancy
would explain her emotional state.
She looked as if she was about to break down
again. Adam, inured to tears through years of deal-
ing with weepy female relatives, planned to wait her
out. But something about the way Casey’s eyes

shimmered, then widened as if to say she wasn’t
about to cry, no, not at all, got to him. He whipped
his handkerchief out of his pocket and offered it to
She took it without a word. He read the Emer-
gency Fire Instructions pinned to the wall while he
tried to ignore the way her snuffling did funny
things to his insides. Eventually he gave up, and
glanced sideways long enough to find and pat the
creamy shoulder nearest him. At his touch, Casey
straightened, drew on some inner reserve to blink
the tears away, and met Adam’s gaze full on.
“I’m sorry.” She blew her nose one last time.
“Why don’t you tell me more about Joe?”
Dwelling on her husband-to-be’s good points might
cheer her up.
“He’s very nice. We have a lot in common,” she
said. “He’s about to join the navy, which means
he’ll be away a lot, but I can handle that.”
For all Casey’s dreams of being adored, Adam
would bet the marriage she had lined up with Joe
would be a lot happier than one based on some in-
“Unless,” Casey said, “I pull out now, and wait
for a man who adores me.”
He wished she wouldn’t keep saying that. She
had stars in her eyes when she talked about love
and adoring.
Besides, if Casey was pregnant, she should

marry the father of her child. The pretty-well-
perfect father of her child.
“You could wait a long time for a man who
adores you,” Adam said, and was annoyed to find
he felt like a heel, telling her to abandon her
dreams. More forcefully, he added, “You might
never find one. Marry Joe and be happy with what
you’ve got.”
“Casey!” A voice from the doorway startled
them. Adam recognized one of the production as-
About time.
Casey leaped to her feet.
“There you are.” The woman’s voice was overly
bright. She flashed Adam a look of sympathetic ex-
asperation. “They’re waiting for you in makeup.
We need to hurry.”
Casey hesitated. She swallowed, then turned to
Adam. “You’re right, I’m sure it’ll be fine.” Her
voice held the faintest question, so Adam nodded
reassuringly. She smiled, a proper smile this time,
which made her eyes glow more green than gray.
“It was nice talking to you.”
“You, too. And—” he might as well admit he
knew what she’d been alluding to “—good luck
with the baby.”
Her eyes widened. He saw confusion, the dawn
of understanding, then amusement chasing through
them. She laughed out loud. “I’m not pregnant.”
“So why did you say you have to get married?”
She beamed, still amused. “It’s complicated.

Family stuff.” She stuck out a hand and said,
“Bye, Adam.”
“Goodbye, Casey. And good luck.” Whether it
was because he knew what desperate measures
family could drive a person to, or because he felt
unaccountably relieved she wasn’t pregnant, or just
because she was dressed in such formal, elaborate
style, Adam did the weirdest thing. Instead of
shaking her hand, he lifted it to his mouth, pressed
a kiss to the back of her fingers.
And found himself sorely tempted to kiss Casey
Greene all the way up her arm and keep right on
herself she had her nerves
under control. She’d gotten over that crazy bout of
crying in front of a complete stranger. She’d gone
through makeup, final adjustments to her hair and
the fitting of her veil, ninety-five percent certain that
following her dream justified this extreme step.
Now, a renewed surge of misgiving tightened
her grip on the seat of the high stool center stage in
the baking-hot television studio. The show hadn’t
started; a buzz of conversation drifted from the
studio audience toward the stage.
“Remind me why I’m doing this,” she muttered to
the bride on her right, her best friend, Brodie-Ann
Evans. Beyond Brodie-Ann, the third bride over-
heard the question and tittered. She’d introduced

herself as Trisha from Truberg and, in her wedding
dress, was alarmingly reminiscent of a giggling
“Two words,” Brodie-Ann said. “Push. Over.”
Oh, yeah. I am not a pushover. Not anymore.
Casey recalled the way Joe kept postponing the
date for their wedding, and how their plans to move
out of Parkvale kept getting put on hold. Then she
summoned to mind the letter she’d received last
month from her sister, Karen. A letter that gave
Casey the urge to get as far away as possible from
their hometown.
It was time her life started happening, and to-
night was the night.
“Thanks, hon,” she breathed to Brodie-Ann.
Signing up for the pilot episode of
Kiss the Bride
had been Brodie-Ann’s idea—but Casey had in-
stantly recognized its genius. If her best friend
could marry the man she loved after dating him
just six months, then Casey would darn well marry
Which was how she’d ended up here, dressed in
a silk-and-lace concoction she could never have
afforded in real life.
The floor director, who’d introduced himself
earlier, stepped up on to the stage in front of Casey.
“Two minutes, ladies, so get ready to smile. And
remember, don’t look at the cameras while you’re
being interviewed.”

Instinctively, Casey’s gaze darted to the nearest
camera, which appeared to be pointed right at her. The
director tsked. “Keep your eyes on Sally, the camera
will find you.” He paused, pressed his headphones
against one ear as he listened, then smiled at the
brides. “I’m happy to report that your men are ready
and waiting in the green room. No cold feet.” He
nodded brisk reassurance, then hurried to talk to Sally.
Casey wasn’t surprised to hear the men weren’t
She’d told Joe they were competing on a game
show and were likely to win a lot of money. They’d
driven three hours to Memphis this morning. Brodie-
Ann’s boyfriend, Steve, along with a third unsus-
pecting man had been taken out for lunch by
Channel Eight staff and given bogus details as to
what the show was about. They doubtless assumed
their female partners were getting the same treat-
How could it have occurred to Joe that Casey
would be selecting a wedding dress, having a
makeover and planning on marrying him in front of
millions of viewers?
She shuddered. Thank goodness it was only a
local show. No one outside of Tennessee would see
what she’d had to go through to get married.
“I’m not conning Joe into marrying me,” she
told Brodie-Ann. “I’m just bringing the date for-
ward a bit.”

“You told me that already. Twelve times.”
Casey closed her eyes and prayed she wasn’t crazy.
crazy was that her fingers should still
be tingling from the kiss of a stranger. Worse, as she
tried to conjure up Joe’s face, that same stranger’s
image kept intruding.
Adam Carmichael was the kind of guy any
woman would think about, she consoled herself.
Those broad shoulders, those strong hands that had
steadied her… At first, Casey had thought his eyes
an arctic blue, but when he kissed her, they’d
glinted a warmer azure color. Most of the time he’d
looked tense, with a furrow in his brow that told her
the tension might be habitual.
When Casey opened her eyes, Adam stood in her
line of vision, next to the camera she wasn’t sup-
posed to be looking at. He was looking right at her,
frowning again. She couldn’t see that furrow, but she
knew it would be there. She guessed he might be
worrying about her, and her delusions of romance.
She mustered a reassuring smile—
I’m not going
to fall apart—
and waggled her fingers at him. He
waved back, but it was a brief, tense movement.
A production assistant clipped a microphone to
her dress, obscuring Casey’s view of Adam. When
the assistant stepped aside, he was gone. A peculiar
loneliness made her chest ache.
Then someone was counting down. Sally
Summers, the show’s host, looked in the mirror one

last time and…they were on air. It took all Casey’s
willpower not to flee the set as Sally began her in-
troduction. The words passed Casey by, but she
was jerked back to reality when Sally came over to
interview Trisha from Truberg.
“Trisha, how long have you and Martin been
Five years, Trisha told Sally. They’d been en-
gaged for three, and their families still couldn’t
agree on a wedding date.
After the interview, a drumroll rounded to a cres-
cendo, then Sally called Martin Blake to the set. He
emerged from backstage to the strains of “Here
Comes the Bride,” and the audience applauded on
cue. Martin did a double take, but to Casey’s
maybe this won’t be so bad—
he got over his
initial shock.
Sally explained he could marry Trisha right now.
The deputy clerk of Shelby County Court would
issue a marriage license and a minister would per-
form the ceremony. Then Martin and Trisha would
head off on a luxury honeymoon.
Martin scratched his head. “Now? Tonight?”
Sally repeated the offer, this time stressing that
the honeymoon was all-expenses-paid.
“Just think, baby,” Trisha coaxed him, “no more
arguing with your mom about the wedding.” She
giggled as she darted a look at the camera. “Oops,
sorry, Mrs. Blake.”

Maybe that was the clincher, because Martin
said, “You’re right, hon, let’s do it.” Trisha squealed
with delight. The marriage license was completed
during the commercial break, and when they were
back on air, the minister stepped up. Five minutes
later, Trisha had her wish.
“That went okay,” Casey murmured, as the
audience clapped. Brodie-Ann didn’t reply. She
appeared frozen in her seat, as if she’d only just
realized what tonight was all about.
After the next commercial break, Sally intro-
duced Brodie-Ann to the audience and invited her
to tell everyone about Steve.
“He’s the most wonderful guy I ever met,” she
said, the quaver in her voice barely discernible.
“We haven’t been together long, but I adore every-
thing about him. I know he’s the one.”
The audience oohed appreciatively.
Casey felt a twinge of envy. She couldn’t re-
member ever loving Joe like that.
Then it was Steve’s turn to come on stage. He
was a smart guy; it took him only half a second
to realize what “Here Comes the Bride” and
Brodie-Ann in a long white dress meant. A huge
grin split his face. He stepped right up to her, went
down on one knee and said, “Sweetheart, will you
marry me?”
The crowd went wild—and they did again when,
at the end of the brief ceremony, Steve and Brodie-

Ann shared a kiss that raised the temperature in the
studio by several degrees. Then the new Mr. and
Mrs. Pemberton joined Trisha and her husband on
the studio couch.

,” Adam demanded of his
good friend Dave Dubois, who was standing next
to him at the back of the control room. As a free-
lance programming consultant, Dave occasionally
worked with Channel Eight. He hadn’t been in-
volved with this show. But he was keen to see it. In
front of them, the show’s director focused intently
on a wide, multiwindow screen. The footage cur-
rently being broadcast played out in the large center
window. Smaller windows around it displayed feeds
from the other cameras. Adam could see Casey, the
last bride, in one of those windows.
“It sure isn’t your normal kind of show.” Dave’s
response lacked the contempt Adam would have
“It’s no one’s normal kind of show. It’s my cousin
Henry’s kind of show.”
The director said into his headset, “Ready, two,
with a close-up on bride three. Standby mics and
cue.” Camera two obediently zoomed in on Casey,
ready for her to take center screen. Her jaw appeared
to be clenched so tightly she risked breaking a tooth.
“Look.” Dave pointed to the image feed from
camera three. The studio audience was apparently

enthralled by the whole tacky proceedings. To
Adam’s irritation, his friend evaded the opportunity
to savage Henry, settling for an ambiguous, “You’re
still the boss around here, right?”
“If you mean does my charming family still see
me as the bad guy, you bet. If you mean does fear
of me stop Henry creating idiotic new shows while
I’m out of town…”
“Hmm,” Dave said. “Any progress on the legal
Just what Adam wanted to think about right now.
He sent his friend a withering look.
Dave said hastily, “Y’know, this show’s not bad.
And the reality market is still booming, no matter
what the doomsayers predict.”
If he’d intended to distract Adam from thoughts
of the lawsuit that Henry and his mother had insti-
gated against Adam, he’d picked the wrong topic.
Adam fixed him with a black look.
“Okay, so it’s not the last word in good taste,”
Dave admitted. “But it’s got pretty women—that
third bride is a real babe. It’s got romance and
happy endings. Though I do think something’s
“A dancing girl bearing Henry’s head on a platter?”
Dave gave the suggestion due consideration.
“You’re on the right track. The whole thing needs
more tension. More drama.”

, then they were back
on air. Casey licked her dry lips, feeling very alone
at center stage. She looked around for Adam, but
couldn’t find him.
“Folks, this is Casey Greene. She’s come all the
way from Parkvale for today’s show,” Sally an-
The crowd cheered, expecting great things from
another Parkvale girl.
“Casey is twenty-five. She’s a journalist and a psy-
chology student, and she wants to be a novelist,” Sally
continued. “What do you want to write, Casey?”
“Books,” she answered numbly.
“And your fiancé is Joe Elliott,” Sally added
brightly. “Tell us about you and Joe.”
“We met in high school, and we got engaged at
graduation.” If she’d been any more wooden, they’d
call her Pinocchio.
Casey exhaled slowly
through her nose.
“How’s that, folks? High school sweethearts!”
Sally tried to rally some enthusiasm from the
crowd, but their applause was muted. They must
have sensed this wasn’t the love story of the decade.
“Casey, tell us what you love about Joe.”
Casey’s mind went blank. “Uh, he’s, uh…”
Sally’s smile froze.
“He’s so honest,” Casey said at last. “So hand-
some.” Silence. For Pete’s sake, they wanted more?

“I’ve known him forever. And…I can’t imagine
being with anyone else.”
At least she couldn’t until about an hour ago,
when a stranger had left the imprint of his lips on
her hand. She glanced quickly down at her
fingers—of course there was no sign of Adam’s
kiss. “I really want to get married,” she said, and
added, with an emphasis that was too loud and too
late, “to Joe.”
At last the interview was over. The strains of
“Here Comes the Bride” filled the studio. Across
the stage, Joe appeared. He stopped dead, looked
around, saw the other two couples on the couch,
heard the audience chanting, “Joe, Joe, Joe,” and,
finally, looked at Casey. A dragging inevitability
slowed his progress across the stage.
“Joe,” Sally cooed. “Welcome to
Kiss the Bride,
the show where you marry the woman of your
dreams.” She gestured to Casey. “Doesn’t she look
Joe opened his mouth, but it took him a couple
of tries to get any words out. “She does,” he man-
aged to answer at last.
Relief washed over Casey, restoring her heart to
its normal rhythm.
It’s going to be all right.
“Joe, this is your big moment,” Sally said. “All
you have to do is pop the question, and you can marry
Casey right here.” Her brilliant smile encouraged him.
Joe hesitated. Casey gave him what she intended

to be a loving smile, though she feared it might
have emerged as pleading. Still he hesitated.
“Joe, aren’t you going to ask Casey to marry
you?” Sally sounded like a mother addressing a re-
calcitrant child.
Joe spoke, loud and clear this time.
“No, I’m not.”

!” D
the air with his fist.
“You did it, buddy. This is much better than Henry’s
head on a plate.”
Adam cursed as the center screen flipped from
one camera feed to the next as the director searched
for something other than frozen expressions and
hanging jaws. So much for convincing New Visage
Cosmetics that Channel Eight could mount a pro-
fessional, sophisticated production.
With Dave on his heels, he rushed out of the
control room and into the studio, where stunned
silence had given way to a hubbub of excited
On the set, Sally Summers’s famous smile had
evaporated. Joe stepped toward Casey, and the mi-
crophone clipped to his shirt picked up what he
said, despite his low voice.
“I’m sorry, Casey, but I don’t want to marry you—
I don’t love you that way anymore. I didn’t want to
hurt your feelings….” He stopped, perhaps aware his
words were being broadcast around Tennessee.

Make that the entire U.S.A.
As Adam headed to the front of the studio he
noticed Channel Eight’s PR manager had pulled
out her cell phone and was talking in urgent
tones. She’d be instructing her assistants to get
this story on the late news. By tomorrow, she’d
have sold the program nationwide. Casey’s
disaster was great TV.
Joe said again, “I’m sorry.” Then he turned
and—as if he hadn’t done enough damage—all but
ran offstage. Sally patted Casey’s hand in what
might have been intended as a gesture of comfort,
but looked perfunctory.
Adam headed for his cousin Henry, next to
camera three. To reach him, he had to pass the New
Visage executives, huddled in anxious consultation
in their front-row seats.
“Adam.” Henry’s round face was flushed with
panic. He grabbed Adam’s arm. “I had no idea this
would happen, I swear.”
Damn, that meant there was no contingency plan.
Henry jerked his head toward the stage. “Do you
think she’s going to faint?”
Adam looked up at Casey, swaying on her stool,
blinking rapidly.
Behind him, the chatter of the studio audience
swelled to an unruly level. He shut out the sound,
focused on what needed to be done.
One, restore
order to the studio. Two, salvage the show so New

Visage doesn’t pull the plug. Three, get Casey out
of here before she decides to sue Carmichael
Broadcasting for public humiliation.
“Tell the crew to follow my lead on this,” he told
Henry. His cousin began issuing hurried instruc-
tions to the floor director, who was in radio contact
with the director in the control room. To Dave,
Adam said, “How good an actor are you?”
“I played a tree in
The Wizard of Oz
in fifth grade.”
“I hope you were a damn good one,” Adam said.
“Wait here until I tell you to come up on stage.
Then do as I say.”
The security people let Adam through and he
stepped up onto the stage. Sally became aware of
his presence. She turned and took a few hesitant
steps in his direction.
“Mr. Carmichael,” she said, then remembered
to flash her dazzling smile. “Welcome to
Kiss the
the show where—”
He stalked up to her and motioned to her to mute
her mic. When he was sure no one would hear him,
he said, “We need to fix this—

“How do you propose we do that?” she hissed.
“That bride—” he nodded toward Casey “—is
going to have a wedding.” He added grimly, “Even
if I have to marry her myself.”
“You can’t do—”
“You’re going to help.”
Sally flicked a yearning glance over his shoulder

at her teleprompter. When no script appeared, she
started to shake her head.
“Right now, Sally.” Adam dropped his voice to
a menacing murmur. “Your contract negotiations
are due at the end of the quarter.”
Sally Summers was nothing if not pragmatic.
Adam could almost see the dollar signs in her eyes
as she turned to the audience wearing a wide smile
that only the two of them knew was false. She
switched her mic back on and stepped forward.
“Well, folks, the course of true love never runs
smooth, and who knows that better than Casey?
But tonight, one man’s loss might be another man’s
gain. It turns out Casey has another admirer here in
the studio, a man waiting in the wings—literally—
for his chance at love.”
Adam winced at the stream of clichés. But Sally
was headed in the right direction, however painful
the route she took to get there.
“Folks—” she was warming to her task and
by now had some real enthusiasm in her voice
“—meet Adam Carmichael, Memphis’s most
eligible bachelor. And, if she’ll have him, Casey
Greene’s bridegroom!”
The audience broke into a cheer, which Adam
suspected was more out of confusion than celebra-
tion. He strode over to where Casey clung dazedly
to her stool, and took both her hands in his. She
clutched them as if he’d thrown her a lifeline.

“Casey—” he spoke loudly so his words would
carry to the audience without a mic “—will you
marry me?”
He heard a shriek from someone in the crowd.
Casey stared at him. He leaned forward, and his lips
skimmed the soft skin of her cheek as he whispered
in her ear, “We’re going to fake a wedding.”
He stepped back and said again, for the benefit
of the crowd, “Casey, will you marry me? Please?”
He wondered if she’d understood, she sat there,
unresponsive, for so long. Then she expelled a slow
breath and smiled radiantly, her gray-green eyes
full of trust. “Yes, Adam, I will.”
For a second, he felt a tightness in his chest, as
if he’d just seriously proposed marriage to the
woman he loved. Whatever that might feel like. A
din exploded around them, the audience cheering,
Sally yelling to make herself heard. Someone called
for a commercial break.
Five minutes later, the clerk had issued a mar-
riage license. Under Tennessee law there was no
waiting period, no blood test. Adam announced
he would use his own marriage celebrant, and
beckoned to Dave. His friend looked around, then
twigged that Adam meant him. He bounded for-
ward, and by the time he reached the set his face
was a study in solemnity. If you discounted the
gleam in his eyes.
Dave patted his pockets, then turned to the

ousted minister. “I seem to have forgotten my vows.
Could I borrow yours?”
Just as they went back on air he clipped on a mi-
crophone. He began laboring through the “wed-
“Adam James Carmichael, do you take—” He
slanted Casey a questioning look.
“Casey Eleanor Greene,” she supplied.
“Casey Eleanor Greene to be your wife? To have
and to hold, for—”
“I do,” Adam said.
“Right.” Dave moved down the page. “Casey
Eleanor Greene, do you—”
“I do,” Casey said.
“—take Adam James Carmichael to be your
“She said she does,” Adam snapped.
At the same moment, Casey repeated desper-
ately, “I do!”
Dave got the message and started to wrap
things up. “Then, uh—” he lost his place and im-
provised “—it’s a deal. You’re married, husband
and wife. You may—”
“Kiss the bride!” the audience yelled on cue.
Why not? They’d gone through all the other
motions of a wedding. Adam turned to Casey and
found she’d lifted her face expectantly.
One kiss and this nightmare would be over,
Casey told herself. She could escape the scene of

her utter humiliation, and barricade herself in the
house in Parkvale for the next hundred years.
Going after your dreams was vastly overrated.
She leaned toward Adam, went up on tiptoe to
make it easier for him to seal this sham.
Just kiss
the guy and we can all go home.
She wasn’t prepared for the same current of elec-
tricity that had left her fingers tingling earlier to
multiply tenfold as their mouths met.
Shaken, she grasped his upper arms to steady
herself, and encountered the steel of masculine
strength through the fine wool of his jacket. His
hands went to her waist and he pulled her closer. The
shock of awareness that somewhere deep within her
a flame of desire had been kindled snapped Casey’s
eyes open. She met Adam’s gaze full on, saw
mirrored in it her own realization that this was about
to get embarrassing. Even more embarrassing.
Slowly, he pulled back.
The audience hooted in appreciation. Casey
“Folks, none of us expected this when we came
on stage an hour ago, but there you have it. Casey
Greene married Adam Carmichael, right here on
Kiss the Bride.
” Sally ad-libbed with ease, now that
time was almost up. “These three lovely couples
will head off on their honeymoons, courtesy of
Channel Eight. Don’t miss next week’s show—
anything can happen on
Kiss the Bride!

Casey and Adam didn’t wait around for the in-
evitable interrogation. By unspoken agreement,
they headed offstage and back to the boardroom
where they’d met—could it really have been just
two hours ago?
Casey sank onto the leather couch, trying to
control the shaking that had set in now she was out
of the public eye.
Her savior scrutinized her as if she might be dan-
gerous. “Are you okay?”
She heard a wild quality in her laugh—no
wonder he looked nervous. She took a deep,
calming breath. “I’ve had better days.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have told you
to go ahead with the wedding.”
“I probably would have done it anyway.” She
ran a hand down her face, suddenly exhausted.
“I’m the fool for agreeing to go on the program in
the first place.”
“I should have cancelled that stupid show the
minute I heard of it.”
A gruff voice said, “When you two have stopped
arguing over who’s to blame for this mess, you
might want to think about how you’re going to get
out of it.”
A middle-aged man, tall and trim, dressed con-
servatively in a dark suit and tie, had entered the
room. Adam introduced him as Sam Magill,
Channel Eight’s in-house legal counsel and Adam’s

own attorney. The lawyer’s sharp eyes narrowed to
a point where Casey thought they might disappear.
“What you do in your private life is your busi-
ness, Adam,” he said. “But I’m amazed you’d get
married without a prenup.”
“Hey!” So what if it hadn’t been a real wedding?
Casey resented the implication she was after
Adam’s fortune, which presumably, since Sally
Summers had described him as Memphis’s most
eligible bachelor, was considerable. “I’m not that
kind of girl.”
“Missy, everyone’s that kind of girl when there’s
enough money involved,” the lawyer said. “I don’t
like what happened to you back there, but if you
plan on taking advantage of this situation to feather
your own nest, I’m warning you—”
“That’s enough, Sam,” Adam said sharply. “That
wasn’t a real wedding, and as soon as Casey has a
chance to work out where she’s going next, I’ll
make an announcement to that effect.”
The lawyer’s jaw dropped. Then he broke into
the wheezy laugh of a chronic smoker, a laugh that
sent a tremor of unease through Casey.
“What’s so funny?” Adam demanded.
It took a moment for Sam to regain his sober coun-
tenance. “Am I wrong, or was that David Dubois
who performed that little ceremony out there?”
Adam nodded.
“The same David Dubois who served as a com-

missioner in Fayette County a couple of years
Adam nodded again. “I believe he did.”
“Then, my friend, I have news for you. The state
of Tennessee allows marriages to be performed by
any current or former county executive, as well as
ministers, judges and the like.” The lawyer cast his
eyes to the ceiling as he spoke, as if reciting directly
from Tennessee Code. “And unlike most other
states, the executive doesn’t have to have served in
the county where the marriage is performed.”
He brought his gaze back to Adam, a smile
hovering on his lips. “For the rest of his life, your
pal Dubois can legally marry anyone anywhere in
Tennessee, as long as they have a marriage license.”
He paused, then delivered the coup de grâce. “You
did get a license, didn’t you?”
The wheezy laugh started again, and Casey knew
the sound would haunt her for the rest of her days.
. To a woman I don’t know.
The irony wasn’t lost on Adam as he held Casey’s
hand, waiting for the press conference to start. His
reluctance to rush into marriage had opened the door
to his relatives’ lawsuit against him. If it was
possible to laugh from beyond the grave, right now
Adam’s father would be in stitches.
Sorry, Dad, but this one won’t last.
The sooner
Adam extricated them from this mess, and got his

focus back on his real problems, the better. Sam
Magill had already left to start working on an an-
“Keep Casey with you until you hear back from
me,” he had said on his way out the door. He was
probably worried she would sneak off and open a
joint checking account.
Adam had agreed, mainly because he’d been
forced to scrap his plan of smuggling her out of the
building, which was surrounded on all sides by
media. Fortunately, Dave had slipped out before
the press arrived.
Casey hadn’t argued with the lawyer. She looked
as if she was in shock, Adam thought. Her face,
flushed with embarrassment in the studio, had paled
to the same shade as her dress.
As many journalists as could fit were crammed
into the Channel Eight lobby. Adam cursed the fact
it was silly season—midsummer, when there wasn’t
enough news to fill the papers—which meant their
wedding had attracted far more attention than it
should have. He’d agreed to the press conference
on the condition the journalists would allow them
to leave privately afterward.
“I’ll do the talking,” he told Casey. His plan was
to say as little as possible, to be noncommittal about
their future until they knew where they stood
legally. They would lie low for the weekend, and
with any luck the fuss would have died down by

Monday. Hopefully, by the end of next week the
announcement of their annulment would be ab-
sorbed by viewers over morning coffee, and his and
Casey’s brief alliance would soon be forgotten.

Kiss the Bride
is the hottest show in the land,” the
PR woman crowed to the media. “We’re expecting
huge demand from networks around the country….”
When she’d finished her spiel, she read out a
hastily prepared statement from New Visage, which
claimed to be delighted with the show and confi-
dent its relationship with Channel Eight would be
both long and mutually beneficial.
That succeeded where nothing else could in
putting a smile on Adam’s face as he and Casey
faced the barrage of camera flashes and the ques-
tions hurled at them.
“Mr. Carmichael, is this a ratings stunt?”
“Casey, why did you say yes?”
“Adam, how long do you give this marriage?”
“Are you in love?”
“Casey, what will your family think?”
At this last question, he felt the tremor of her
fingers in his grasp. She looked imploringly at him.
He held up a hand for silence.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, “as you’ve
probably realized, tonight didn’t go according to
plan for either of us.” Chuckles from the crowd told
him they were on his side. All he had to do was give
them enough to satisfy their immediate need for a

story, without exposing Casey to further humilia-
tion and without actually lying. “We’re asking you
to respect our privacy beyond what we tell you now.
I can reveal that Casey and I knew each other before
this evening’s show—” only an hour before, admit-
tedly “—and that for as long as I’ve known her I’ve
considered her a very special lady.”
Any grown woman who could cling to her dream
of being adored had to be special.
He looked down at Casey, noting that a few
tendrils of honey-colored hair had escaped her veil.
Gratitude warmed her eyes, and her lips curved in
a tremulous smile. He turned back to the waiting
media. “Can you blame me for seizing the chance
to marry her?”
Applause broke out among the journalists.
Pleased at the success of his speech, Adam grinned
at Casey. She smiled back, obviously relieved.
“Hey, Mr. C.” It was one of the older hacks.
“How about you kiss the bride?”
Photographers readied their cameras in a flurry
of motion.
Adam raised his eyebrows in silent question to
Casey. She gave a barely perceptible shrug, then a
Once again, their lips met.
Like last time, he intended a brief kiss, one that
would allow the cameras to get their shot.
Like last time, he found himself drawn to her.

Despite the crowd around them, he couldn’t
resist the temptation to test the softness of her lower
lip with his tongue. Her indrawn breath told him she
was just as intrigued by the exploration.
The catcalls of the journalists pulled them both
back to reality.
“Okay, folks, that’s all.” Mainly with the power
of his glare, but using his elbows where necessary,
Adam parted the throng and ushered Casey out the
front of the building and into a waiting limo. She
scrambled across to the far side, gathering her skirts
about her to make room for him.
“Where to now?” Casey asked. The last half hour
had passed in a blur, and she couldn’t imagine what
might come next. All she knew was it couldn’t be
worse than what had happened in the studio.
Adam’s half smile held equal measures of
cynicism and resignation. “Our honeymoon.”


at night—her wedding night—
by the time they got to the Romeo and Juliet Suite
at Memphis’s famous Peabody Hotel.
Casey—or Mrs. Carmichael, as the hotel recep-
tionist had called her—roamed around the room,
while Adam tipped the porter. The original honey-
moon Channel Eight offered hadn’t included the
suite, which Casey suspected went for several
hundred dollars a night. But a standard hotel room
wasn’t going to work for a newly married couple
who had no intention of sharing a bedroom, let
alone a bed.
Judging by the crowd of reporters who’d fol-
lowed them from the TV station, and were now
being held at bay by the Peabody’s doorman—so
much for their promise to respect the newlyweds’
privacy—Casey and Adam wouldn’t be leaving the
hotel in a hurry, so the bigger the suite the better.
Casey climbed the curving staircase to the bed-
room. The king-size bed was a sea of snowy-white
covers and elaborately arranged pillows. Surely a

real honeymoon couple would want something
There was a bathroom off the bedroom, in addi-
tion to the one she’d seen adjoining the living room.
More white—marble and porcelain—offset by
highly polished stainless steel fittings.
“Casey?” Adam called from downstairs.
Dreading having to sit down and hash out the legal
implications of what they’d done, she joined him in
the living room. How was she going to explain this
to her family? How would she respond when they
demanded her immediate return to Parkvale?
Right now, she doubted she could resist. The
newfound backbone that had empowered her to
seize control of her future had crumbled when Joe
jilted her. She would get it back; of course she
would. But not tonight.
“It’s late,” Adam said. “You must be exhausted.
How about we get some sleep and talk in the morn-
ing, when we’ve heard back from Sam about the an-
“Sounds perfect.” At least she’d married a man
who didn’t expect her to solve all their problems.
“You take the bedroom, this couch will do me.”
Considerate, too.
Casey wasn’t about to argue.
She tried but failed to stifle a yawn. “Thanks,
Adam.” She ran a hand around the back of her neck
to ease muscles exhausted from the strain of holding
her head high through today’s fiasco. “Good night.”

A knock at the door interrupted his reply. Adam
opened it and a bellboy presented him with an
envelope. Casey caught a glimpse of the words
Private and Confidential.
“From Sam,” Adam said.
Thank goodness. Hopefully the lawyer had
figured a way out of this predicament.
Adam tore it open. It took him only a second to
read the contents. He uttered a half laugh, half groan.
“What is it? Bad news?”
He didn’t answer, only gave her a brooding look.
She stretched out a hand. “May I see it?”
He held the note just out of her reach. “I’m not
sure you want to.”
In answer, she snatched it from him. And read
Sam Magill’s instruction, etched on the fine paper
in bold blue strokes.
“Oh.” Casey dropped it on the coffee table, her
cheeks burning. “As if we were going to. That’s…
“Sam is very thorough. I imagine he wanted to
cover all contingencies.” Adam grinned, and that
furrow of tension disappeared. “Perhaps he was
worried by your enthusiasm when you kissed me
at the TV studio.”
Casey sputtered. “
You’re the one

who heated things up.” The memory of his mouth
on hers flooded back, leaving her light-headed. She
clutched at the only possible explanation. “It was a
rebound thing for me.”
That wiped the smile off Adam’s face. He looked
pointedly toward the couch. “I think it’s time we got
some sleep. Separately.”
In the bedroom, Casey discovered the reason
why someone else had buttoned her dress for her at
the TV studio. There must have been at least thirty
tiny pearl buttons down her back, most of them
beyond her reach.
She grappled with the dress for another minute,
but it was hopeless. Peeking down into the living
room, she was relieved to find Adam hadn’t yet
gone to bed, he stood by the window, staring out
over Union Avenue, deep in thought.
Casey headed down the stairs. “Adam? I can’t
undo my buttons. Could you help?”
She half turned her back so he could see the
problem, and he came to her aid.
Casey had never realized the area between her
shoulder blades, where the buttons started, was so
sensitive. The brush of Adam’s fingers against her
bare skin stimulated a whole bunch of nerve end-
ings. She shivered.
“Cold?” he asked, his tone impersonal.
Casey nodded, holding herself rigid to prevent
any more of those traitorous shivers. But it didn’t

lessen the sensation. She felt the release of each
little button, aware that more and more of her flesh
was showing. Warmth rose within her—was it
possible her back was blushing?
This had to be because of that note from the
lawyer. They’d been told not to consummate the
marriage, and five minutes later she’d had to ask
Adam to undress her.
“You can probably manage the rest yourself,” he
said, his voice clipped.
She stepped away. “Thanks. I hope you won’t
be too uncomfortable on that thing.” She gestured
to the couch.
He looked at her for a long moment, then his
gaze dropped to her shoulders. He said tightly,
“Time you were in bed.”
, Casey slept badly. All
that subterfuge, her humiliation aired on national
TV, the extreme step of marrying a stranger, and she
was no better off than when she had left Parkvale
on Friday morning. Her family would be frantic to
know what was going on. But perhaps the worst
thing was that she hadn’t even thought about Joe
since he’d run out on her, aside from a brief urge as
she left the stage to murder him by the most violent
means possible.
That compulsion had passed, leaving a curi-
ous void.

It took no great psychological insight to realize
how little Joe really meant to her. How could she
have planned to marry him? She’d convinced her-
self she could give him the no-strings love she
wanted for herself, when really she was using him
to get away from her family.
In hindsight, she deserved to be dumped. Per-
haps not quite so publicly…but she’d brought that
on herself.
Casey allowed the recriminations to chase
around in her head as she lay in bed until eight
o’clock, when she was sure Adam would have had
time to get dressed. She showered, then looked in
her suitcase at the clothes she’d packed for her
honeymoon. She’d bought a couple of new items,
skimpier than she would normally wear, with the
idea, she supposed now, of turning Joe on.
She rejected a strappy top in favor of a white,
sleeveless T-shirt, which she teamed with a denim
skirt. She checked her reflection in the full-length
mirror. No way could Adam think she’d dressed to
turn him on.
He was standing at the dining table when she got
downstairs. Someone must have brought his lug-
gage during the night. He wore jeans and a black
polo shirt, open at the neck. Casey’s gaze was
drawn to his bare forearms, tanned and strong, as
he lifted the covers off several dishes on a room-
service trolley. He pulled a chair out for her, and

Casey wiped her palms against the sturdy fabric of
her skirt as she sat down.
“I ordered breakfast,” he said. “It’s not safe to go
down to the restaurant. The manager tells me a
couple of journalists checked into the hotel.”
Casey helped herself to fruit and yogurt, shaking
her head at Adam’s offer of a hot meal. He piled his
own plate with scrambled eggs, bacon and toast,
raised his glass of orange juice to her in salute, and
started on his breakfast.
Casey took a sip of her own juice as she glanced
at the newspaper that lay folded by her plate—and
promptly choked.
“Oh, no.” After all those photos she and Adam
had posed for at the press conference, they’d pub-
lished one taken in the TV studio, obviously at the
moment Joe had jilted her. Her face, panic in her
eyes, mouth open, gaped back at her from the front
page beneath the headline Carmichael Rescues
Jilted Bride. She grabbed a napkin, wiped away the
rivulet of juice she could feel on her chin, without
taking her eyes off the newspaper.
“It’s not as bad as it looks.” Adam was presum-
ably referring to the article and not to her photo,
because that couldn’t be any worse. “They speculate
that Channel Eight cooked up this scheme to boost
the ratings of
Kiss the Bride.
They tried to get a
comment out of your fiancé, but he wasn’t talking.”
Casey unfolded the paper, then clamped a hand to

her forehead at the sight of her father, peering around
the front door of the house. “They spoke to my dad.”
“That’s not so good,” Adam admitted. “They
also talked to my stepmother. Seems she told them
we’ve been secretly engaged for months.”
“Why would she say that?”
Adam shrugged. “My guess is she didn’t want
to be caught not knowing about something as im-
portant as my wedding.” Casey gathered from the
careful neutrality of his expression that he didn’t
much like his stepmother. “Still, she’s probably
helped confuse the press, which can’t hurt.”
“Any word from the lawyer?” Casey asked.
“I’ve had a few calls.” He gestured to the cell phone
on the table between them. “But not from Sam.”
His phone trilled again.
“Hello, Eloise,” he said with resigned patience.
“Did you like the show?”
Who was Eloise? His stepmother? His girl-
Whoever she was, Adam was obviously enjoying
her reaction to their wedding. Not his girlfriend,
then. He grinned and held the phone away from his
ear—Casey heard a spate of words pouring out.
“Sorry, Eloise, I have another call coming through.
I’ll get back to you.”
That set the pattern for the next few minutes,
with Adam receiving one call after another, mostly,
she gathered, from family, all anxious to know how

his marriage might affect their interests. His reti-
cence must have infuriated them.
Bored with waiting, Casey turned on her own
cell phone. Almost immediately, it beeped with a
text message from the answering service to say she
had twenty-one new messages.
She dialed the service and scrolled through the
worried communications from her father (five
messages), her sister (six) and her brother (one).
There was also one from Brodie-Ann, and several
from people who were concerned her wedding
might make Casey unavailable to help them. People
like the church choir director (did the wedding
mean she wouldn’t be singing her solo this Sun-
day?) and the head of the Parkvale Children’s Trust
(Casey was still okay to bake two cakes and a batch
of cookies for next week’s open day, wasn’t she?).
No and no. She couldn’t help smiling. She’d fig-
ured getting married would give her the perfect out,
but not like this. Still, she wouldn’t call anyone back
just yet. Not until she and Adam had talked. His
phone rang again, and she sighed. Whenever that
might be. She realized she hadn’t touched her food
yet, and took a mouthful of yogurt-smothered melon.
Then her own phone rang, chirping “You Are My
Sunshine.” By the time she’d convinced the Park-
vale librarian she wasn’t available to fill in during
children’s story hour that afternoon, Adam was off
the phone and regarding her quizzically.

“Did your phone just play ‘You Are My Sun-
shine’?” he asked.
“Uh-huh. It’s a personalized ring tone. It’s af-
He laughed, until the dignified raising of her
eyebrows told him she was serious.
“Affirmations are good for your self-esteem,”
she told him. “Every time my phone tells me I’m
its sunshine, it makes me feel good.” Though at
this precise moment it didn’t seem to be working.
Still, she gave Adam a sunny smile as she popped
another piece of melon into her mouth.
“You really believe that?”
She nodded. “You have to find an affirmation
that works for you, of course. ‘You Are My Sun-
shine’ gives me confidence.” Casey thought about
that furrow that had made a permanent home in
Adam’s brow. “Whereas you might want to look in
your mirror each morning and tell yourself you
won’t get stressed today.”
He frowned, and the furrow deepened. “I hope you
didn’t pay good money to learn that psychobabble.”
“That comes direct from my community college
lecturer,” she protested.
“I’ll bet he didn’t tell you to get affirmation from
your cell phone.”
didn’t. I’m extrapolating.”
Adam tackled his bacon and eggs, which must
surely be cold after all those phone calls, with

renewed energy. “So why are you studying psy-
chology? To overcome childhood trauma?”
“I’m not in therapy,” she said with exaggerated
patience. “I study psychology because it helps with
characterization in my writing.” Her phone warbled
again and she looked at the display. “It’s my dad.”
Her father took a moment to remind her he loved
her, then launched into a monologue about how
much her family needed her and how she’d better
sort out this confusion and get back home as soon
as possible. He ended with a plaintive query: “How
am I supposed to get to physical therapy on Tues-
Call a cab. Don’t you think I have more on my
mind right now?
But she’d taught her father she
would always be there when he needed her, so how
could she blame him? She was saved from answer-
ing by a beep on the line.
“Just a moment, Dad, I have another call.” She
switched to the other line.
Her sister. Casey straightened in her seat. “Yes,
Karen, I did just get married. No, I’m not crazy—”
she hoped that wasn’t a lie “—and no, I’m not
coming back to Parkvale.” She hoped that wasn’t a
lie, either. “I’d like you and Dad to— Hello?”
When she got back to the other line, her father
wasn’t there.
“Bad connection,” she explained to Adam. She
put her phone on the gilded, glass-topped table

between them and looked hard at her plate so he
wouldn’t see the hurt she knew must show in her
face. “Now that we’re both free—”
“Free being a relative term,” he interrupted.
“We’re still married.”
“—let’s have that chat you mentioned.” Her
phone rang again, but after a glance at the display
she ignored it.
“You could always turn that thing off,” Adam
said. His own phone rang, and he answered it.
Which at least gave Casey a chance to regain her
fighting spirit.
“You were saying?” she asked sweetly, when
he’d finished.
He frowned. “I’m expecting a call from Sam. I
don’t want to miss it.”
“And I need to talk to my family,” she said.
“Even though I don’t know what to tell them.”
There was a moment’s silence. Then Casey’s
phone chirped “You Are My Sunshine” again.
“Karen, please, honey, don’t cry.” Casey’s voice
wobbled. “I’m sorry, I know you wanted me there,
but this is for your own good, sweetie.”
Adam realized Casey was blinking in an effort
to hold back tears. Rising hysteria emanated from
her cell phone, audible even to him, several feet
He checked his watch. If she was going to spend
the whole morning arguing with her family, they’d

never get this mess sorted out. From what he could
see, her folks were as bad as his own relatives.
There was only one way to deal with people like
that. Get tough.
One look at Casey told him that wasn’t going to
happen. In two seconds, Adam had moved around
the table and slipped the phone from her grasp—
easily done, since she wasn’t expecting it.
“Karen? I don’t know who you are, but you’re
not helping Casey right now.” He crossed the room,
aware of Casey’s startled expression. Karen sput-
tered on the other end of the phone.
and I—” damn, that sounded weird
“—need some time alone.” He reached the huge
vase filled with an elaborate display of flowers, de-
livered last night compliments of the Peabody man-
agement. Casey, following right behind, bumped
into him. “So goodbye.”
With Karen still squawking, he dropped the
phone—right into the vase.
Casey yelped. “Have you gone crazy?”
“You’re not prepared to turn that thing off, and
it’s upsetting you. I’m dealing with the problem.”
He dusted his hands together. “Doesn’t that feel
“No! How could you…” She stopped. “Actually,”
she said slowly, “it does.” She ventured a small smile.
From across the room they heard the sound of his

“Allow me to deal with that.” Casey moved to-
ward it.
“It’s okay.” He followed her. “I’ll take it.”
She’d picked it up already and was reading the
display. “It’s Eloise.”
“My stepmother again.” He rolled his eyes.
“Pass it here.”
“I said I’d deal with it,” Casey reminded him.
She stepped back and moved around the other side
of the sofa.
Adam wasn’t quite sure what happened next.
But somehow, he went one way and she went the
other, toward the open window.
“Casey, don’t—”
Too late.
She dropped the phone just as he reached her.
Adam looked so shocked, Casey wondered if
she’d gone too far. She held her breath as he stuck
his head out the window. When he turned back into
the room, his face was grave. “You just killed an
Elvis impersonator.”
Casey clapped a hand to her mouth. “No! I
looked, there was no one—” Then she caught the
grin he was trying to hide.
And they were laughing, clinging to each other
in helpless hilarity that for a moment made the
whole mess go away.
Adam looked into Casey’s eyes, where tears of
merriment glistened. On automatic pilot, he wiped

the corner of her eye with his thumb. And found
himself robbed of all sensation except the pressing
desire to feel her mouth beneath his.

seemed to wipe away
Casey’s mirth. Her gray eyes widened and her teeth
caught her bottom lip. After the tiniest of hesitations
she swayed against him.
This time, there was no tentative overture on his
part—and no audience to inhibit the eager parting
of her lips to admit him.
Kissing her, Adam told himself as he claimed her
mouth, was a reaction to the stress of the past
twenty-four hours.
Then her tongue met his with a fervor that
matched his own, she wound her arms around his
neck and he gave up trying to justify his actions.
Gave himself up to the sensual pleasure of kissing
Casey, to the press of her body against his, to his
own undeniable physical reaction. He cupped her
firm derriere, pulling her closer. With a murmur of
surprise, she arched into him.
If he didn’t stop now, they’d be in danger of
complicating this disaster beyond repair.
Tearing his mouth from hers took a degree of

willpower he didn’t ever recall needing with a
woman. When at last they stood apart, Adam ran a
hand through his hair as if that might erase the
memory of her touch there. He made a conscious
effort to slow his breathing. Casey’s cheeks were
flushed, her lips still parted in what looked to him
like invitation.
“Adam.” Breathlessness made her breasts rise
and fall, her voice husky. “You have
to stop
doing that.”
Okay, maybe not invitation.
She turned away, gazed with studied casualness
at a framed photograph on the wall, a shot of down-
town Memphis at night. “Not that it wasn’t nice,”
she said. “But…you know.”
Yes, he knew it was a dumb idea to get distracted
from fixing this catastrophe. But she’d enjoyed that
kiss as much as he had, so he was damned if he was
going to apologize.
At the sound of rustling, they turned to the door.
A piece of paper had been slid underneath.
Adam picked it up and scanned it. “It’s a message
from Sam. He’s at home and ready to take my call.”
He’d instructed the hotel reception not to put any calls
through to their suite. He reached for the phone on the
sideboard next to the dining table and started dialing.
Casey took the opportunity to move as far away
from him as she could. She plunked herself on the
blue-and-gold-striped couch, grabbed up the room

service menu from the coffee table and held it open
so Adam couldn’t see her face. Her red face.
Good grief, she’d acted like a sex-starved wanton,
wrapping herself around him that way. She’d be the
first to admit that her sex life with Joe had been rather
lackluster the past few years—and nonexistent for
nearly a year—but that was no excuse to throw herself
at the first man she met. Even if he was her
From behind the menu, she listened shamelessly
to Adam’s side of the conversation with Sam.
Which didn’t tell her much; he was a man of few
words. When he’d finished, he dropped the receiver
back into its cradle. He muttered something under
his breath that Casey didn’t quite hear, but it didn’t
sound like, “Yippee, we got our annulment.”
“Is there a problem?” she asked.
He came to the couch, stood over her with his
hands jammed into the pockets of his jeans, his
eyebrows drawn together. “Getting an annulment
will be difficult.”
Casey gulped. “How difficult?”
“They’re something of a rarity in Tennessee.
There’s no statutory basis for annulment here. Each
case has to be argued on common law principles.”
“Meaning,” he said, “there’s no official annul-
ment process. My lawyer will put a case together
and argue it before a judge. If the judge agrees, we
get our annulment.”

“And if the judge doesn’t agree?”
“We get a divorce.”
“But I don’t want to be divorced,” Casey protested.
“Right now, I’d rather be divorced than married,”
he said, with a flat finality that prickled the back of
her neck. He sat down on the couch opposite,
saving her the strain of looking up at him. “Sam
tells me he can make a good case for annulment.
Nonconsummation of the marriage is a definite
plus. Even stronger is the fact we didn’t know it was
a real wedding. Still, some of those old judges take
marriage pretty seriously.” Cynicism twisted his
mouth. “Sam wants to make sure he gets a sympa-
thetic judge, and that might take up to a month.”
“So we’ll be married for a month,” Casey said,
“and then it’ll be as if it never happened.”
“Everything will be just the same as before.”
“Nothing will have changed.

“Yes,” Adam said impatiently. Didn’t she under-
stand plain English?
“No,” she said.
Adam’s head hurt. “What’s that supposed to
“I’m not going back to Parkvale. I’m done with
that place.”
“You can go wherever you like,” he said.
sooner the better.

“They’ll make me go back.” Her eyes flickered
toward the door.
He’d married a paranoiac.
She stood and paced to the window. There was
something hunted about the way she put her palms
against the glass. Staring out into the distance, she said
desperately, “Can’t we—can’t we just stay married?”
Keep her calm,
Adam told himself.
Talk up the
joys of a future on her own, then get Sam here fast
with some kind of agreement for her to sign, relin-
quishing all claim on me.
She turned around, perched that derriere he’d
enjoyed caressing—
that was before I knew she was
on the windowsill. “Stop looking like I’m
about to jump you.” She folded her arms under her
breasts. “I didn’t mean it about staying married.
Even if the past twenty-four hours hadn’t totally
turned me off wedded bliss, you’re not my type.”
He didn’t believe that for a second, not after the
way she’d kissed him. He started in on the keep-her-
calm stuff. “No one can make you go anywhere,”
he soothed. “You have your whole life ahead of
“You don’t know my family,” she said gloom-
ily. Her eyes narrowed as she looked at Adam.
“Your in-laws.”
His instantaneous recoil made her giggle.
“They’re not that bad,” she said. “I’ve just kind

of overdosed on them. I’ve looked after Dad—and
Karen and Mike, my sister and brother—since Mom
died when I was twelve. I’m the oldest, so I ended
up taking care of the house, the cooking, every-
“Very commendable,” Adam said politely.
She looked dubious. “It wasn’t like I had a
choice. They needed me. Not that I minded,” she
said hastily. “I love them to bits.”
“You don’t have to go back just because you
didn’t marry Joe.”
“I’m a pushover,” she said with the confessional
air of someone about to embark on a twelve-step
program. “When I tried to leave home and go to
college, Dad convinced me the others needed me
while they were still in high school. Then I was all
set to leave after Mike graduated, but Dad got
injured in an accident at work. He was in the
hospital for six months, in a wheelchair for a year.
He’s better now, but he needed a lot of help, and I
was the logical candidate.”
“You could have left once he was better.”
She leaned her head back against the window.
“Like I said, I’m a pushover. Dad’s become depen-
dent on me. For his sake, he needs to learn to look
after himself again. If I’d married Joe and moved
away like we planned, Dad wouldn’t have a choice.
Now he’ll insist I go back, and Karen will be right
there with him, putting in her two cents’ worth.”

“Does she still live at home?”
Casey shook her head. “She was a lawyer in
Dallas until she had a baby a few months ago. But
she just separated from her husband, and she’s
moving home to Parkvale. She wants to go back to
work and leave Rosie with me. She says she
wouldn’t trust a nanny.”
Casey didn’t tell Adam how Karen’s letter had
filled her with equal parts longing and dread. Dread
because once again her plan to leave home would be
thwarted. But even greater, and unexpected, had
been Casey’s longing to lavish all her maternal love
on her sister’s baby—love that might otherwise go
Adam walked over to the window. He stood so
close to her she could have reached out and touched
him. “Just tell them no.”
“Haven’t you ever said yes to someone when
you didn’t want to?” she demanded.
“I don’t do anything I don’t want to do,” he
said starkly.
She blinked. “Well, that’s nice for you. But I
just can’t say no to all that…that—”
“Emotional blackmail?” he suggested.
Casey nodded. Maybe, despite his uncomprom-
ising claim, he did understand. Back when Mom
died, Casey had been the only one who could do
what had to be done. She’d done so without know-
ing it would become a trap of her own making, a

mutual dependence none of them could escape.
Because being needed had a seductive appeal all its
own. Which made
being needed tantamount to
a withdrawal of love.
It was screwy, but somehow she’d fallen into
that way of thinking.
Even her relationship with Joe had been built on
need and dependence. Joe’s mom had left him when
he was a kid. He needed a woman who would stick
with him forever. He didn’t mind that Casey might
never have a baby of her own, if the doctors were
right; Joe would’ve been happy not to share her
with a child. Or so she had thought.
“A couple of months ago, I won a writing
contest with part of a young adult novel I’m
writing,” she told Adam. “The editor who judged
it wants to see the whole book. She’s speaking at
a conference in Dallas in August. I arranged to
meet her there and give her my manuscript.” She
sighed. “If I go home, I’ll never finish it. My
family sees my writing as a hobby, and every vol-
unteer organization in Parkvale has me down as a
soft touch.”
To Adam, writing a book sounded like another
girlish fantasy. It ranked right up there with being
adored. She needed to stop dreaming and start
doing something that would halt the emotional
blackmail. Like Adam was. Though in his case, the
blackmail was as physical as it was emotional.

And in his case, blackmail wouldn’t work. He’d
meant it when he told Casey he didn’t do anything
he didn’t want to. That was why his dad had gone
to such extreme lengths when he’d made his will,
a last-ditch attempt to make Adam do what his
father wanted.
It was ironic that despite the differences between
them, he and Casey were both struggling with
pressure from their families. Ironic that if their
marriage had been real, it would have solved both
their problems….
The idea burst into blazing, clamoring life.
“You’re right,” he said. “We should stay married.”
She slipped off the windowsill, grab-
bing for the curtain tieback to steady herself. “I’m
sure you’re very nice—” she didn’t sound at all
sure, he noticed “—but I’m not desperate enough
to stay married to a stranger.”
His eyes narrowed. “You were desperate
enough to lie to your fiancé and marry him on a
reality-TV show.”
“I was bringing the wedding
” she said.
“We were

“And we—” with a wave of his hand he indicated
the two of them “—are married.” He paced between
the window and the couch as he thought about how
they could make this work. “I don’t mean we’d be
married for real. We’d just stay together until the an-
nulment comes through. For a month, we pretend

we’re truly husband and wife. In public,” he added
“I can see that might help me,” she admitted.
“But how does it help you?”
Adam figured he’d have to tell her enough to
convince her. “When my father died, he left me his
majority share of Carmichael Broadcasting. His will
stipulated that if I’m not married—or as he put it, in
a marriage of a lasting and committed nature—when
I’m thirty, my share passes to my cousin Henry.”
“Is that legal, demanding that someone be
married in order to inherit?”
Adam shrugged as he leaned against the back of
the couch. “No. At least Sam says it’s not. But the
will stands until we make a case in court to prove
it’s invalid. Sam and I are working on that now. But
Henry and his mother, my aunt Anna May, have
their lawyers working to prove the will
They’re hoping Henry will inherit. They know I’d
never get married just to please my father.”
“Sounds like your dad was a real romantic,”
Casey said. She caught a glint of irritation in
Adam’s eyes.
“Dad had reason to believe I was anti-marriage.
I admit that when he died, getting married was the
last thing on my mind. But I assumed I’d find
someone suitable over the next few years.”
Someone suitable? Did he mean someone he
loved? “But you didn’t,” she guessed.

“I was wrong.” He shoved his hands into his
pockets. “I turn thirty next month. If the will’s ruled
legal, I’ll have until I turn thirty-one to find a wife.
My stepmother’s not so confident we can have it
overturned. She’d like me to get married, so that I
win either way. She’s spent the past few months ar-
introductions to the daughters of
her friends. She’s organizing a party for my birth-
day, and I know she’s planning on inviting practi-
cally every woman in Memphis. I don’t have time
for this crap—I have a business to run and a lawsuit
to fight. But with Eloise, my life is turning into one
” He poured loathing into the word.
“Hey,” Casey protested. “This sounds just like my
family. If you don’t do anything you don’t want to,
how come you don’t just tell Eloise to take a hike?”
“I wish I could,” Adam said with feeling. “Before
Dad died, he asked me to take care of her. I
honor his memory, to keep my promise. But she
makes it damn hard.”
“Were she and your father close?”
Anger flickered in his eyes, then vanished. “You
could say my father died for her.” The look he gave
Casey said,
Don’t ask.
Briefly, she considered asking anyway. But that
might be pushing her luck—and she still didn’t
understand why Adam wanted to pretend their
marriage was genuine. She abandoned her position
at the window to return to the couch. “So you want

to beat your aunt’s lawsuit and you want to escape
Eloise’s bridefest.” She spoke the word with relish,
and he glared.
“If I’m married, she’ll have to back off. No more
introductions, no birthday party. Anna May and
Henry will think they’ve lost the battle because I’ve
already met the will’s conditions. By the time the
annulment comes through and they realize they
were wrong, Sam and I will have built a compel-
ling case against the will.”
Adam spread his hands, palms up, as if to say
this was unarguable logic. “So what say we buy
ourselves some time? A month is long enough for
me to deter Eloise and get my legal battle under
control. Is it enough for your sister and your father
to sort out their problems? You can use the com-
puter at my place to work on your book, since you’ll
have nothing else to do.”
He smiled and Casey’s danger sensors went on
alert. This man was used to getting what he wanted,
and she suspected he might ride roughshod over
others to get it.
“It could be just what you dreamed of, a no-
strings marriage,” he added.
She’d dreamed of no-strings love.
“It sounds selfish,” she said, trying to imagine lying
to her family just so she could stay away from them.
“Exactly,” Adam said with satisfaction. “This is
all about being selfish for once in your life.” He

regarded her doubtfully. “I suspect you’re no good
at it, but I’ll show you how. Then, when our time is
up, we’ll go our separate ways. No demands on
each other, no…
” He all but shuddered
at the word, and in that moment Casey decided to
grab with both hands the opportunity he presented.
“You’re right.” She felt a sudden, blissful light-
ening of her gloom, and sprang to her feet. “I’m
sick of being needed. Let’s do it, Adam. Let’s be
“Utterly, totally, one hundred percent selfish.”
He smiled broadly, and that furrow in his brow
turned into a laugh line, making him look younger,
almost carefree.
He put out a hand to shake on the deal. By now,
the buzz of electricity his touch produced was so
familiar, Casey could almost persuade herself to
ignore it.
But could she ignore it for a whole month?


let her hesitation show
in her walk. Sam Magill had eyes in the back of
his head where she was concerned. She wouldn’t
put it past him to have sensed her arrival and be
watching her progress up his front path on this
fine Sunday afternoon.
She wouldn’t want him to get the wrong idea
about her turning up at his house uninvited. She
stiffened her spine and took brisk, businesslike
steps, which wasn’t easy wearing delicate high-
heeled pumps in the green silk-linen fabric that
matched her suit.
She pressed the brass doorbell near the wide
front door and waited, clutching her green kid
leather purse in front of her.
Sam opened the door. He blinked twice in aston-
ishment, making his face seem even more owlish than
usual. Then a flush crept up his cheeks from some-
where below his chin. Today, that predictable reaction
was a relief, not an embarrassment. Because Eloise
was here to take advantage of Sam’s…interest in her.

He smiled warmly. “Eloise, what an unex-
pected pleasure.”
She had to admit it was nice to know at least one
man was always happy to see her. Sam’s regard
went some small way toward countering all the
frosty welcomes she’d endured from her stepson
over the years.
“What can I do for you?” That catch phrase
prefaced their every conversation.
Eloise wondered if the man had ever heard of
“Good afternoon” or “How are you today?” He was
still smiling, hopefully now.
She shouldn’t have come. She dropped her gaze
from the transparent eagerness of his expression.
Then blinked. He was wearing bedroom slippers on
his feet! Brown-and-cream checked ones that had
seen better days, judging by the pilling at the toes.
Eloise drew in a breath. It was silly to be shocked,
but James would
have answered the door in
his slippers.
James is gone.
“I need to talk to you about Adam,” she said, the
wobble in her voice part grief at the reminder of
what she’d lost, but mainly anxiety for her stepson.
“I should have called first, but I thought you might
refuse to see me.”
“Refuse… No, of course… Why would I?” Sam
stepped back to let her in. He stumbled against an
Oriental pot used as an umbrella stand and it toppled

over, spilling two neatly furled black umbrellas onto
the polished floorboards. “Oh, dear, just let me—”
He bent to retrieve the umbrellas, and when he stood
up, dislodged a hat hanging on a row of pegs on the
Sam had never looked twice at Eloise during her
marriage, nor in those early years after James’s
death. But for three years now, he’d had this crush
on her. He knocked things over, blurted tactless
remarks, blushed to the roots of his hair—just like
a teenage boy, minus the acne.
Knowing it would take him half a minute to
regain his composure, Eloise waited in silence
while he stumbled over words and furnishings.
She valued loyalty, so she appreciated that his at-
tachment to her never wavered. But she wished she
wasn’t too much of a lady to tell him bluntly there
was no point. That she didn’t need or want anyone
if she couldn’t have James.
Blast you, James Carmichael, for leaving me a
widow. Do you know how lonely I feel every day?
Every night?
When Sam was coherent and no longer in imme-
diate danger of destroying anything, she followed
him into the living room.
She’d never been to this house before, and now
she looked around with curiosity. Leather couches
and chunky wooden tables stamped a masculine
seal on the high-ceilinged room. A deep-piled rug

in chocolate-brown warmed the floor, and book-
shelves lined the walls.
The room was comfortable, uncluttered. Expen-
sive. Adam often said Sam had the sharpest legal
brain in Memphis. In these surroundings, Eloise
could almost believe there was another side to the
man, beyond his bumbling adoration.
She moved toward the nearest couch, and a
sudden prickling in her throat made her cough. Now
she smelled a familiar, spicy aroma, saw the faint
blue haze that hung over the coffee table.
Sam caught the direction of her gaze. “Let me
get rid of that.” He pushed aside the newspaper
spread across the table, and reached for his cigar,
grinding the lighted tip into the cut-glass ashtray
until it looked quite dead.
“Thank you,” Eloise said. She waited for him to
offer her a seat.
But Sam was looking her up and down, taking
in her fitted mint-green suit and ivory silk blouse
with an overtness that surprised her. “That’s a very
nice outfit, Eloise. You look…crisp and, uh, fresh.”
Gracious, the man has no idea.
Small wonder
he’d never found himself a wife. “You make me
sound like an apple.”
He blushed again. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I meant
to say you look…you look…” The hunger in his
eyes dismayed Eloise.
“I can’t stay long, I’m on my way out for

dinner,” she said. He appeared so alarmed, she had
to add, “At a girlfriend’s house.”
“You look sensational,” he blurted, as if he’d just
found the right word. “And those shoes are perfect.”
Call her vain, but Eloise couldn’t help smiling.
“You know, Sam,” she said, “next time you meet
an attractive, unattached lady, you should try pay-
ing her a compliment like that. You’ll be amazed
at the results.”
“But you’re an—”
“May we talk about Adam now, please?” she
said firmly.
At last, he showed her to a seat, and took the
leather recliner next to her.
Eloise crossed her legs at the ankles, and strove
for the right blend of command and entreaty. “I
need to know about this wedding. I spoke to Adam
on his cell phone, but he wouldn’t talk—you know
how he gets. Now he’s not answering at all. Tell me
what’s going on, Sam.”
Patently uncomfortable, the lawyer ran a hand
through his iron-gray hair. “Adam is…married.”
She tightened her grip on her purse. “But who is
she? How long has he known her? Does he love
her?” Eloise heard the rise in her voice as she asked
the questions that had kept her awake the past two
nights. She drew a deep breath. “Sam, I’m worried
my pressuring him to find a wife might have driven
Adam to do something foolish.”

Sam shifted in his seat, clearly agitated. Eloise
could see he wanted to help her, but his voice was
firm when he said, “Adam’s my client. You know I
can’t tell you that.”
She flashed her most charming smile. “Now,
Sam, we’re friends. At least tell me if the woman is
nice. Does she love Adam?” Eloise swallowed. “I
can’t bear the thought of someone else latching on
to Adam for what she can get.” Not after what the
poor boy was going through with his aunt and his
cousin. “Tell me at least if you made her sign a
Still surprisingly unmoved, Sam spread his
hands. “I’m not at liberty to say.”
“Does his marriage mean Anna May’s lawsuit
won’t get anywhere?” Eloise pressed. If Adam had
traded one grasping woman for another, he might
at least come out even.
Sam coughed for several long seconds, with the
apparent intention of ignoring her question.
“Don’t think your smoker’s cough lets you off
the hook,” she said reprovingly. “Maybe you can’t
talk about Adam, but you can about Anna May.”
But Sam remained annoyingly reticent. “Hmm,
you know your sister-in-law.”
Which Eloise did, only too well. James’s sister
clung to Henry, her son, in a way that had stopped
the boy growing into a man with any decent back-
bone. Not like Adam—so independent, so strong-

minded. Of course, sometimes it would be nice if
Adam would allow just a tiny bit of clinging.
Eloise’s relationship with him was the polar
opposite of Anna May’s with Henry.
“Just take me to see him. Please, Sam, you’re my
friend.” Oh dear, she hadn’t meant to reach out and
clasp his hand where it rested on the arm of his
recliner. It was the sort of gesture she wouldn’t
think twice about with one of her girlfriends, but
with Sam… The feel of his fingers beneath hers dis-
tracted her, and for a moment she tightened her
grip. How long had it been since she’d touched
roughened male skin?
Oh, James, James.
Sam’s face was brick-red as he extricated his
hand. He stood up. “James was one of my closest
friends,” he said, and for a moment she thought
he’d read her thoughts. “I count Adam a good
friend, too. But you and I both know you don’t see
me as a friend, Eloise.”
She felt heat in her cheeks and was about to con-
tradict him when he said fiercely, “And we both
know I don’t think of you as just a friend.”
Eloise scrambled off the couch, less elegantly
than she’d have liked. She stared at Sam, uncertain.
But the fire left him as suddenly as it had blazed.
“If there’s anything else I can do…” he said mildly.
“Maybe drive you to your dinner tonight? If you plan
on drinking wine I could fetch you afterward….”
It was the sort of offer he was always making,

implying she was incompetent. “I am perfectly
capable of driving myself.” Eloise drew herself up
to her full five feet seven—which suddenly didn’t
feel tall enough—and said with all the imperious-
ness she could summon, “You asked what you
could do for me. I told you, and you refused. Don’t
ever say those hollow words to me again.”
As she swept from the room, she said over her
shoulder, “You, Sam Magill, are no gentleman.”
,” C
on Sunday afternoon. “Are
we rich and famous?”
Adam looked up from the newspaper. Casey was
sitting on the couch, along with…was that the hotel
maid sitting next to her, face blotchy and eyes puffy?
he said cautiously.
“Mr. and Mrs. Adam Carmichael.”
He flinched, and she grinned.
“Why do you ask?” The maid was definitely cry-
ing, sniveling into a handkerchief that looked sus-
piciously like one of Adam’s. Casey was clasping
the girl’s free hand.
Whatever was going on, Adam knew he wasn’t
going to like it.
“I mean,” Casey said, “do people do as you tell
“Usually.” Everyone except his family.
“Great.” Casey turned to the maid. “Don’t worry,
Ria, we’ll help you.”

The girl sobbed something incoherent in Spanish.
“Casey…” Adam murmured. Her eyes met his,
wide with innocent inquiry. He jerked his head
meaningfully at the maid. Counting on the girl not
understanding, or being too upset to listen, he said,
“Emotional blackmail.”
Casey bristled. “Poor Ria hasn’t seen her fiancé
in six months. He doesn’t have a U.S. work permit,
so he’s stuck in Mexico. I’d be crying, too.”
“Did she ask you to help?” The girl had a
nerve—Adam would complain to the hotel man-
“Of course not,” Casey said, affronted on the
maid’s behalf. “I offered.”
That was even worse.
“What happened to being selfish?” he demanded.
“I can’t be
“This—” he meant their plan “—won’t work if
you don’t.”
Before he could stop her, Casey phoned the
manager and invited him up to the suite. When he
arrived, she asked him to apply for a work permit for
the maid’s boyfriend and give him a job. “My
husband and I would be so grateful,” she said, with
what Adam conceded was an impressively straight
face. And when the manager appeared less than
willing, she grasped his hands and pleaded with him.
With Casey holding his hands and batting her
eyelashes, what else could the guy do but agree?

The maid was ecstatic, the manager thrilled to
have earned Casey’s glowing smile. Adam found
himself tipping the girl what he imagined would be
half a week’s wages. Which totally went against his
policy of giving generously through organized
charities. He suspected his sole motivation was to
earn the same kind of approval from Casey that the
manager had.
Why should I care what Casey thinks of me?
“See how easy that was?” she said, when they
had the suite to themselves again. She beamed that
wide smile he was coming to associate with her, an
open smile that drew people to her with their
problems and melted the hearts of hotel managers.
He wondered if it was a form of manipulation,
and the thought provoked him. “What I see,” he
said, “is that you’re as good at dealing out emo-
tional blackmail as you are at taking it. You pres-
sured that manager into something that’s most
likely against his job ethics.”
When Casey put a hand to her mouth, stricken,
he felt no satisfaction.
sleep on the couch in
the middle of the night on Sunday. Make that
Monday. The digital display on the clock across the
room glowed 1:30 a.m.
He heard it again, the noise that must have
woken him. A cry from upstairs.

He pushed the sheet aside, rolled off the couch
and grabbed his pants from the back of the chair.
He hauled them on, then headed upstairs.
“Casey?” he called softly, noting she’d left the
door ajar.
He snapped on the landing light and pushed the
door open.
She lay sprawled in the center of the king-size
bed, the duvet twisted across her lower body. Her
top half was bare save for a strappy, satin confec-
tion in turquoise, which he guessed she’d chosen for
her wedding night.
She didn’t stir; whatever dream had disturbed
her must have ended. Adam’s mouth went dry
and he felt like a voyeur. But, hell, how could any
red-blooded man not notice Casey was gorgeous,
even fully dressed? And Adam was as red-
blooded as the next man. He also happened to be
married to her.
Don’t go there.
His marriage to Casey was strictly business. As
they said on the infomercials: No Obligation, For
a Limited Time Only. Of course, on those infomer-
cials, they also said Satisfaction Guaranteed….
Damn. Adam pulled the door shut with a click
that hopefully hadn’t woken her, and went back
to his couch.
And didn’t sleep.


day of the week, found
him overtired, overstressed and even more relieved
than normal that the weekend had ended.
If he’d planned to fake a marriage to someone,
he would have chosen someone tougher than Casey.
Someone who could plow past other people’s feel-
ings in pursuit of her goal.
Not a woman who bought into the sob story of
a hotel maid she’d never met before and then didn’t
hesitate to drag him into it, as well.
He wouldn’t let her distract him from what he
wanted to achieve in their month together, he told
himself as he folded his clothes and packed his bag
in preparation for their return to real life. He ap-
proached Casey, who had been packed and ready
to go for ten minutes—he liked a woman who
didn’t keep him waiting—and said, “We need to set
some ground rules.”
“Hmm?” She looked up from her cross-stitching.
She’d taken a cross-stitch on her honeymoon.
Adam wasn’t sure if he admired her practicality or
pitied her. Had she been sleeping with Joe so long
that she wasn’t anticipating any excitement?
He scowled at the thought of the intimacy she
might have shared with her fiancé. “Ground rules,”
he said. “If we’re living together for a month, we
need some rules.”
“You mean who gets to go first in the bath-

room?” She smiled sunnily. “You go first. I don’t
have to get to work in the—”
“I have more than one bathroom,” he inter-
rupted, still trying to erase the idea of Casey in bed
with that jerk. “I want to make sure we’re in agree-
ment about what’s involved in this pretense. And
what’s not involved.”
As if they didn’t both know what was
involved. Casey kept her face blank, trying to
appear undisturbed by what had hung heavy in the
air between them all weekend. For goodness sake,
they were virtually imprisoned in a honeymoon
suite, with congratulatory cards and letters from
complete strangers being delivered every half hour.
Cards and letters addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Carmi-
“For example,” Adam said, “we’re both free to
spend our time as we wish. We don’t owe each
other any company.”
“Sure,” she agreed. “The last thing we’ll want is
to spend time together after we’ve been cooped up
here so long.” If that was true, how come she’d felt
more alive this weekend than she had in years?
“But to convince our families our marriage is
genuine, at times we’ll have to exchange caresses
and endearments.” He sounded as if he was propos-
ing some extreme form of torture.
“We seem to do okay on the caresses,” she said,
trying to be more positive than he was.

His brows drew together. “I like you, Casey, and
I think we’ll get along fine. But as soon as the an-
nulment comes through, it’s over. I wouldn’t want
you to think there’s any chance of a permanent re-
lationship between us.”
Good grief, the guy had an ego. Just because
she’d responded to his kisses like a heat-seeking
missile locking on its target… Kisses that had
sizzled in a way she’d never experienced with Joe…
“Ouch.” She’d pierced her thumb with her
needle. She sucked at the tiny hole, saw his eyes
following her movement. She put down her needle-
work. “Adam,” she said, “you’re a good kisser, I’ll
grant you. But from what I’ve seen, you’re single-
minded about your work, you’re resistant to
change and you’re emotionally unavailable. So
go getting any ideas, either.” That was
telling him.
“If emotionally unavailable means I don’t want
to adore anyone,” he said, “you’re damn right.”
She wished she’d never mentioned “adoring” to
him. It made her sound like a loser. She picked up
her cross-stitching, squinted at the green thread she
needed to knot. “I don’t know why we’re even talk-
ing about this,” she said. “Sure, we’ll be living in
the same house for a month, but it’s no big deal. You
won’t even know I’m there.”
Adam watched her as she made some compli-
cated maneuver with her needle. Watched his

Through the glass tabletop he observed that her red
skirt had ridden up to bare more thigh than he had
any right to see. Her navy T-shirt hugged her curves,
and she’d pulled her rich, honey-colored hair back
into a loose ponytail that made her look like an
He sighed. He’d know she was there, all right.
from the Peabody to Adam’s
home in Germantown, an upmarket district about
ten miles from downtown Memphis. Casey peered
out her window as the cab drove through wrought-
iron gates toward a three-story brick house. Make
that a mansion. Yet the impressive pillared,
Georgian-style structure had a welcoming look to
it, enhanced by rolling green lawns and patches of
colorful shrubbery.
She noted the high stone wall that edged one
side of the property, and the thick hedge of poplars
on the other. “I’ll bet you never even see your neigh-
bors,” she said.
No one would be knocking on her door several
times a day to borrow something or to ask if she
could “mind the kids for an hour.”
Adam looked alarmed. “No, I don’t. And if I
come home and find you’ve arranged a getting-to-
know-you party or any such thing, this marriage
will be over.”

The taxi driver’s eyes met Casey’s in the rear-
view mirror.
“No neighbors,” she promised, putting a hand on
her heart for effect. For the taxi driver’s benefit, and
to Adam’s further alarm, she added, “Sweetheart.”
Adam helped her out of the car while the driver
retrieved their bags from the trunk. “I’ll show you
around before I head to the office.”
She preceded him through the front door into a
two-story lobby, breathing in the smell of beeswax
from the gleaming oak parquet floor. Adam depos-
ited their bags at the foot of the staircase and di-
rected her into the living room.
Casey guessed the lobby and the living room
between them were almost the size of her father’s
whole house in Parkvale. Having just escaped her
long-time role of cook and cleaner, she shuddered.
Adam noticed. “Something wrong?”
She made a sweeping gesture that encompassed
the Persian rugs, classic furniture and eclectic art-
work. “This place is beautiful, but it must be a
nightmare to clean. You might want to think about
that next time you’re looking for a wife. Any
woman who took this on would have to be crazy.
Or masochistic. Or…”
Too late she recognized the warning in his eyes
and the signal in the barely discernible tilt of his
Casey turned and realized she’d come face-to-

face with his housekeeper. A gray-haired, gray-
faced woman in an apron regarded her with pursed
lips and open disapproval.
“—or very well paid. Or a saint,” Casey con-
cluded, with an apologetic smile she hoped would
redeem her. There was no answering smile. How
dumb of her, not to have guessed Adam would have
a housekeeper. She stuck out a hand to the woman,
who took it reluctantly.
“I’m sorry,” Casey said. “I didn’t mean to insult
you. The house looks wonderful. You obviously
take pride in your work. I’m Casey Greene—Casey
“Selma Lowe,” the woman said. “Pleased to
meet you, Mrs. Carmichael.”
A barefaced lie, if ever Casey had heard one.
“Please, Selma, call me Casey.”
Going by her sucking-a-lemon lips, Selma didn’t
take kindly to the suggestion.
“Thank you, Mrs. Lowe, that will be all,” Adam
said. “Don’t go upsetting her,” he warned Casey
when the woman had gone. “She’s worked here for
years and I don’t want to lose her. She’s the most
organized woman in Memphis.”
“I’ve never upset anyone in my life.” But it
wasn’t worth arguing the merits of nice over orga-
nized, Casey decided as she followed Adam
He showed her to a guest bedroom with a

colonial-style king-size bed covered by a hand-
stitched gray-and-white quilt. The window shutters
had been flung open to let in the morning sunlight.
Casey longed to slip out of her shoes and curl her
toes into the plush navy-blue carpet.
“I hope you’ll be comfortable,” Adam said.
“It’s lovely,” she assured him. “Where’s your
He pointed to a door across the landing.
“Won’t Selma—Mrs. Lowe—think it odd we’re
not sharing a room? Will she tell your stepmother?”
“Mrs. Lowe and Eloise despise each other. And
Mrs. Lowe is the soul of discretion.”
“If only you could have married her,” Casey said
brightly. More seriously, she added, “If she needs
any help, or if you do, I’d be happy to—”
“That’s exactly what I
need,” he said. “I
don’t need anything from you at all, beyond helping
convince Eloise. My home life is very well orga-
nized. I don’t want anything to change.”
Once he was satisfied Casey knew her way
around, he muttered something about going to
work, and headed downstairs. Five minutes later,
from her window, she saw a red Aston Martin DB9
sports car pass through the gates.
She only knew what sort of car it was because
Joe had always held it up as his dream set of wheels.
Imagine conservative order-freak Adam Carmi-
chael owning one. If that wasn’t sublimation of his

teenage desire to race NASCAR, she would eat her
Psychology 101 textbook.
Back downstairs, she found a less formal living
room, where the morning newspaper lay neatly
folded on a side table. She picked it up.
The headline jumped out at her: TV Couple’s
Peabody Love Nest. She groaned and began to read
the article, which was just as sensational as the
headline. According to the reporter, “Memphis’s
hottest couple, Adam and Casey Carmichael, spent
the weekend closeted in their Romeo and Juliet
Suite at the Peabody Hotel. They ordered in all
their meals, including reputed aphrodisiacs cham-
pagne and oysters, say hotel staff, and unplugged
the telephones. One employee described the Carmi-
chaels as ‘obviously very much in love.’”
Casey threw down the newspaper in disgust.
“How much do they pay people to tell these lies?”
“Did you say something, Mrs. Carmichael?”
The silent approach of grim-faced Mrs. Lowe
startled her, and Casey shrieked. The housekeeper
bent to pick up the newspaper, and folded it back
into shape with precise, sharp movements that
Casey knew were designed to make her feel guilty.
But she didn’t. In fact, she felt sorry for Mrs.
Lowe. The poor woman must be worried that the
new lady of the house would want to bring in her
own staff. Casey wished she could tell the older
woman to chill out, she’d be gone in a month. But

Adam hadn’t said anything about dropping their
pretense in front of the housekeeper.
“I’m planning country fried steak with gravy for
dinner, Mrs. Carmichael.”
“Really?” Casey managed to bite back her
distaste. She didn’t want to start off by disagreeing
with Adam’s perfect housekeeper, but surely it
would be even more offensive when she didn’t
touch the fatty meal set before her tonight. “I don’t
know, Selma—Mrs. Lowe. It’s such a hot day, do
you think we could have something lighter? Maybe
a chicken salad?”
“As you wish, Mrs. Carmichael.” The woman
glided from the room.
Whew, culinary crisis averted.


steak? The gravy?”
Adam asked as Mrs. Lowe set a plateful of leafy
green stuff before him. Mrs. Lowe didn’t reply but
as she left the room, her gaze flicked toward Casey.
He might have guessed.
Pretending he and Casey had a real marriage,
which in the confines of their suite at the Peabody
had seemed a brilliantly simple solution, now
seemed fraught with unexpected complexity. All
day at the office, when he should have been im-
mersed in his work, he’d found his thoughts drifting
to his honey-haired wife.
“Mrs. Lowe offered to prepare steak, but I asked
for a chicken salad instead,” Casey said. “I don’t
like a heavy meal on such a hot evening.”
“But I had a light lunch today, knowing it was
my favorite for dinner.” What hope did he have of
keeping her out of his thoughts, if he came home
every night to find his life disrupted? “I told you I
didn’t want changes around here.”
“I’m sorry, I won’t interfere again.”

His point made, Adam tackled the salad. It was de-
licious, as all Mrs. Lowe’s meals were, and he started
to feel better. He could always fill up on bread.
Prepared to be conciliatory, he said, “Are you
missing out on your psychology classes, staying
She shook her head. “Summer vacation. I start
again in September.”
“So what did you do today?”
Casey took a sip of her wine. “I read about you
and me in the newspaper, saw the highlights of our
wedding on the Channel Eight news and checked
out which TV stations are showing
Kiss the Bride
this week—which are quite a few.”
Adam made a mental note to tell the Channel
Eight newsroom not to run any more stories about
him and Casey. Then he remembered his strict
policy of nonintervention in the news department.
He sighed. “Did Eloise call?”
“The phone rang several times, but I wasn’t
sure if I should answer it. I think Mrs. Lowe took
some messages.”
“It’s okay to answer it,” he told her. “Did you do
any work on your book?”
“I don’t have it here with me,” she said. “I have
a couple of articles due to the newspaper I freelance
for, too. I’ll have to go back to Parkvale to fetch my
files. Besides, I’ll need more clothes. I thought I

might take a bus home tomorrow, then I’ll drive my
car back here.”
“A bus?” Adam thought about that as he
chewed. “Why don’t you do a one-way car rental?
It’ll be faster.”
She hesitated, her fork halfway to her mouth. “I
can’t afford that. The bus will be fine.”
“I’ll pay for the rental.”
Casey shook her head. “No thanks. Like you
said, you don’t want someone needy.”
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
“I know, but I don’t want to feel as if I’m taking
advantage of you.” She grinned. “What would Sam
Magill say?”
“Forget Sam.” Adam watched her evident en-
joyment of her meal. “If my wife is seen taking a
bus long distance, people will talk.” He drummed
his fingers on the table. This marriage was turning
into a whole new set of obligations he didn’t need.
“I’ll drive you to Parkvale myself. We’ll leave early
in the morning.”
She opened her mouth, and he said, “Don’t even
think about offering to pay for the gas.”
She closed it again.
He might as well get all his obligations out of the
way. “There’s one more thing.” He reached into his
pocket and pulled out a crimson velvet jeweler’s box.
Casey bit her lip. Surely he hadn’t gone out and
bought her a ring?

He opened it and she saw a gold wedding band,
engraved with a delicate, swirling pattern.
“This was my mother’s,” he said. “You’d better
wear it while you’re here.”
“I don’t think—”
“We’re trying to make this marriage look real,”
he interrupted. “You have to wear it.”
Casey extended her left hand. She could have
sworn that, despite his impatience, Adam hesitated
before he slid the gold band onto her finger.
His touch was warm as he held her hand for
another moment, looking down at the ring. She
couldn’t help feeling that in wearing it she was
joined to Adam by some invisible bond that hadn’t
been there a few minutes earlier.
“I guess your Mom’s not around anymore,”
Casey said.
His expression became shuttered. “She died
when I was ten years old. Just died in her sleep, no
one knew why.”
“How awful for you and your father.”
Adam took his time finishing the last of his salad
and she thought he wasn’t going to answer. But he
pushed his plate aside, looked her in the eye and
said, “My father didn’t give a damn. My mother
loved him, but there was never a day in their life
together when he acted as if he might love her back.”
The raw pain in Adam’s voice shocked Casey.
“Did he love you?”

His black look said he resented the question, but
maybe because he’d just put a ring on her finger,
he answered it. “Dad loved the business.”
She examined Adam’s mother’s ring, saddened
that the woman who’d worn it before her had been
unloved, at least by her husband. “You loved your
Mom,” she said to Adam.
“It wasn’t enough,” he said flatly. “She needed
my dad, but it seemed he just didn’t have it in him
to love people. Like an illness that wasn’t his fault.”
Suddenly, Casey had an inkling about some-
thing. “What about Eloise?”
Adam scowled. “When he met Eloise he became
a different person. He was crazy about her.” His
mouth tightened.
“You were jealous of Eloise?”
“I wasn’t jealous, I was angry,” he said calmly,
but she could see a glint in his eyes. “Dad was so
besotted with her, he lost all sense of balance. He
lost focus at work—he’d take days off at a time to
go away with her. He spent a fortune and let the
business slide. Then I discovered—” He bit off his
next words, pressed his lips together.
“But things came out right?” Casey asked.
Adam shrugged one shoulder uneasily. “When
he woke up to how much trouble we were in, Dad
did what he had to do. He mortgaged his house and
poured money from his personal investments in to
save the business and settle some of the lawsuits

against the company. But he didn’t want to tell
Eloise. So she kept spending. Dad had a heart attack
and died six months later.” Adam paused, then de-
livered his damning judgment. “Because of Eloise,
he lost control of the business he loved and paid for
it with his life.”
“Adam, I’m so sorry.” Casey reached across the
table and took his hand. Absently, he stroked the
back of hers with his thumb, drawing a tingling
energy to that spot.
“I’ve spent nearly seven years paying off the
debts, getting back on top. It’s been hard work, but
they’re all cleared. We’re profitable, we’re poised
for major growth and we’re finally starting to attract
the bigger advertisers.”
“You love that business as much as your father did,”
Casey observed. Suddenly, Adam’s single-minded
pursuit of what he wanted didn’t seem selfish. It
seemed like the only way he’d been able to get by.
He pulled his hand away. “I shouldn’t have said
anything—now your heart is going to bleed all over
me. Forget it, Casey, it’s all in the past.”
“If you say so,” she said doubtfully.
“Then stop frowning.” He stroked a finger across
her forehead.
“Frowning is your thing,” she said. “Don’t tell
me we’re already getting into that behave-alike
married-couple thing.”
Adam smiled reluctantly. “No chance of that.”

with the Aston Martin DB9 the
moment Adam started the engine. Its quiet purr, the
sensation of controlled power, its smooth accelera-
tion to speeds she’d never traveled at before—it was
“This is wonderful, Adam. We’ll be in Parkvale
in an hour at this rate,” she said in gross exaggera-
tion as they sped northeast on I-40.
Adam eased off the gas a fraction. “It’s a fast
car,” he agreed modestly.
They drove in silence for a while, but Casey
found that when she was left alone with her
thoughts, the air seemed to prickle with her
awareness of Adam. To relieve the tension, she
told him her theory about the Aston Martin as
sublimation of his NASCAR ambitions. He
snorted, but apparently didn’t consider that
worthy of comment.
“I don’t suppose you want to drive my car back
to Memphis and let me take this one?” she ventured
some time later.
He started, as if she’d suggested an equal divi-
sion of assets at the end of their month. “No one
drives this car except me.”
Casey sighed. “You NASCAR drivers are so
selfish.” That earned another snort.
Halfway there they stopped for gas. Relief pro-
pelled Adam out of the car. At last, a chance to put
some distance between them. Didn’t Casey realize

the navy linen skirt, which looked so prim and
proper, rode up her thighs every time she twisted to
talk to him? A guy could crash his phenomenally
expensive car with that kind of distraction.
Adam got back into the Aston Martin resolving
to keep conversation—and thus thigh baring—to a
minimum. But five minutes into the second half of
the trip, it occurred to him he wasn’t sure what to
expect in Parkvale.
“Should I be worried about meeting your family?”
he asked. “What are we going to say to them?”
Casey twisted in her red leather seat. Adam kept
his gaze fixed on the road ahead.
“They won’t be there,” she said. “Karen’s not
due home until later in the week. And Tuesday
morning is Dad’s physical therapy. That’s why I
wanted to come today,” she admitted. “I figured I’d
sneak in and sneak out again.”
“What about your brother?”
“Mike has a summer job in Dallas. But he’s not
as demanding as the other two—he’s a typical
young guy, caught up in his own stuff. It’s Dad and
Karen who are still calling me several times a day.”
“We’ll have to deal with them,” Adam said.
“They’re going to want to meet your husband, so
we should invite them to visit, maybe for a
“That’s a great idea,” she said. He knew without
looking she’d be beaming again.

“The sooner you convince them you’re truly out of
their lives, the sooner I’ve kept my part of our bargain.”
“I’ll keep my part, too,” she promised.
“I was going to talk to you about inviting Eloise
over for dinner tomorrow night, so we can put on
our happy couple act for her.”
“That’s what I’m here for,” Casey agreed.
“Yep,” he said. “I’m using you, you’re using me.
That’s what this marriage is all about.”
said anything bad
about her family, Adam had built up a mental image
of her home as an environment of daily drudgery,
enlivened only by her girlish dreams.
So he was surprised when they arrived in Parkvale
and she directed him into the driveway of a freshly
painted white cottage with a wisteria-draped porch.
Inside, the furnishings were simple, and obvi-
ously not expensive, but the place had been cheer-
fully and imaginatively decorated. Casey was, as he
might have guessed, a good homemaker.
“It’s nice,” he said.
She gave him a knowing grin. “What did you
“I had no idea,” he lied. “Did you do the deco-
She nodded. “I had a blitz in the spring. I thought
the sight of me working might get Dad out of his

“Did it?”
“Bad call,” she said, with a typical lack of resent-
Upon closer observation, he realized everything
was coated in a thin layer of dust. In the kitchen,
dishes were piled in the sink and flies hovered over
a mound of food scraps on the counter.
Casey headed toward the sink. “I might as well
wash these.”
“No, you won’t.” Adam moved quickly after her
and clamped his hands on her shoulders. He turned
her around, resisting the temptation to plant a kiss
on the lips she’d parted in surprise. “Your father has
to learn to cope without you, remember?”
“Yes, but—”
“Tough love,” he reminded her. He released her
to look at his watch. “I have a meeting at two
o’clock. We need to get out of here.” He was already
looking forward to two and a half hours of peace
and quiet, just him and the Aston Martin.
“You go ahead,” Casey said. “I’ll do a few things
then follow in an hour or so.”
“I’m not leaving you here to get sucked back into
this family stuff. You’ve got a job to do back in
Memphis.” And when she looked blank, he added,
“My stepmother, tomorrow night.”
“You can’t seriously think doing a few dishes is
going to keep me here.”

“It’s not just the dishes,” he said. “It’s the egg baked
onto the stovetop, the crumbs on the floor, the—”
Casey shuddered. “You’re right, I can’t believe
I even thought about it.” She walked briskly out of
the kitchen. Over her shoulder, she said, “I’ll get my
things together. How about you back my car out?
The key’s on the hook in the kitchen.”
Adam headed to the garage. “What the—”
Casey’s blue Ford Fiesta might have been a
peppy little car once, but not in the past twenty
years. It was clean, but there were limits to how well
rust scrubbed up. And while you could say the
matching dents in both fenders lent it an air of
symmetry, that was about all you could say.
“I didn’t do those.” Casey came into the garage
with an armload of files. She stepped in front of one
of the dents, as if to shield it from view. “They were
both hit-and-runs in the hospital parking lot when
I was visiting Dad.”
“Dangerous places, hospitals,” Adam said. He
didn’t ask why she was driving this heap of junk.
He knew the answer. Money. So he wasn’t about to
wound her pride by suggesting they drop her car at
a scrap dealer on the way out of town. “I’m follow-
ing you back to Memphis.”
Casey opened the back door and dumped the
files on the seat. “Don’t be so Neanderthal. This car
is perfectly safe.” She shut the door, but it didn’t
catch, so she opened it again and slammed it, which

caused the window to drop to half-mast. She glared
when Adam directed a pointed look at it. “You are
following me back.”
“What are you going to do?” he taunted. “Out-
run me?”
Her reply was drowned out by the sound of an
engine, louder than a car’s, in the driveway outside,
followed by a screech of brakes, then a crash and
the shattering of glass.
Adam had a horrible feeling he knew what that
crash was. By the way Casey’s face paled and how
she edged away from him, she did, too.
Outside, doors closed with angry thuds.
“You idiot,” a male voice yelled. “I drive all night
to get you here. All I ask is that you take over for the
last half hour so I can sleep, and this is what happens.”
“You might have told me this damn truck takes
ten minutes to stop after you press the brake,” a
female voice accused. “What is that…that
anyway? Who put it there?”
Adam pressed the button next to the light switch
and the garage door opened. He stepped forward into
the sunlight. “I did. And it’s an Aston Martin DB9.”
At least, that’s what it used to be. Now it was
an Aston Martin DB9 with built-in U-Haul. Adam
winced at the sight of the truck wrapped around
his bumper.
The woman, who turned out to be a younger, not-
so-pretty version of Casey, yelped.

Casey ran forward. “Karen, it’s me.” She hugged
her sister, and Karen stuck to her like a prickly bur.
Casey shook her, but didn’t manage to detach her.
“Where’s the baby? Karen, is Rosie with you?”
“She’s with her father. He’s going to bring her
down this weekend.” Karen hiccupped on a sob.
“You came home,” she said. “I knew you would.
Oh, Casey, thank you,
thank you.
” She squeezed her
tighter, then said tremulously, “Is this…is this your
rental car I smashed? I’m sorry. I didn’t expect
anything to be in the driveway. But I’ll pay for it, I
promise.” She directed a doubtful look at the Aston
Martin—even in its current state, it looked like a
million dollars. “Uh, did you take the insurance
option on the rental?”
Adam met Casey’s eyes over her sister’s head,
which she was patting reassuringly. She gave him
a breezy smile, one that said,
I have this under
It didn’t fool him. He counted to five, long
enough to convince himself the damage to his car
wouldn’t get any worse if he waited a few minutes
to inspect it.
“It’s my car,” he said, “I’m Adam Carmichael.”
She lifted her head, looked at him blankly. He didn’t
want to say it, but it was somehow easier than saying
he was Casey’s husband. “Your brother-in-law.”
She frowned. “What are you doing here?”
“Karen!” Casey turned to Adam. “She’s in shock
from the accident, she’s not usually—”

“Such a pain,” interjected the still visibly sim-
mering young man who’d been standing to one
side. “Yes, she is, Casey, and you know it.”
That set Karen crying again. Casey glared at
him. “Adam, this is Mike. My brother. Who can be
equally painful when he chooses.”
Mike grinned and maneuvered around Karen to
give Casey a belated kiss on the cheek. Then he shook
hands with Adam. “Sorry about your car. That’s one
hot set of wheels. Automatic or stick shift?”
“Stick shift.” Adam forced a smile.
“It’s great to see you, Mike,” Casey said.
Taking her cue from her sister, Karen said,
“Mike’s been wonderful. He loaded this thing for
me—” she indicated the U-Haul “—then he drove
through the night. I couldn’t have done it without
him.” She wrapped her arms around her brother.
Adam suppressed a shudder. Karen was a cling-
ing vine.
“Did Dad tell you I was coming today?” Karen
asked. “It’s so cool you’re here to help.”
Adam could see alarm in Casey’s eyes. They
hadn’t survived a wedding and a honeymoon for her
to give in now.
“My wife and I—” that turned out to be easier
to say than he expected “—are due back in
Memphis right away.”
Karen looked around as if she was trying to
figure out who Adam’s wife was.

“So Casey and I,” Adam clarified, “can’t help you.”
Casey shifted from one foot to the other. “Adam,
that’s a little harsh. I can stay a few hours.”
He mouthed something at her, and Casey rec-
ognized the words
tough love.
She bit her lip. He
was right. Postponing by two or three hours what
Karen would see as her abandonment wouldn’t
change anything.
She cleared her throat. “We’re not staying,
Karen.” She stepped closer to Adam. He locked her
hand in his, and she sent him a startled glance.
That’s right, they were pretending this marriage
was genuine.
Tears filled Karen’s eyes again.
Adam tightened his grip on Casey’s hand and
eyeballed Mike.
“Casey has to go,” Mike told Karen. “I’ll help
you unload.” Adam continued to stare at him, until
the younger man said, “I’ll stay on a couple of days
until you’re settled.”
Karen nodded, dragged her sleeve across her eyes
in a curiously childish gesture. “I—I love you, Casey.”
How the hell was Adam supposed to compete with
that? Karen must know it was exactly what her sister
wanted to hear. He couldn’t tighten his grip on Casey
any more without hurting her. He settled for caress-
ing the finger that bore his mother’s wedding ring.
“I love you, too, sweetie,” Casey said. “Too
much to stay.”

She was shaking as she turned away from Karen.
Adam wrapped an arm around her, shepherded her
to inspect the damage to his car. It wasn’t too bad—
drivable despite broken taillights and a dented
bumper. At his request, Mike moved the U-Haul
onto the lawn to clear the driveway.
“Go pack some clothes,” Adam told Casey. “I’ll
get the Aston Martin out of the way, then I’ll move
that thing you call a car out of the garage.”
The Fiesta started first try, which was something.
Adam drove it outside, moved the driver’s seat back
to where he thought Casey had had it, then got out.
When he walked around the back of the Fiesta, he
got an eyeful of the sticker fixed to the back bumper.
Honk If You Think I’m Sexy.
He was still trying to convince himself it
couldn’t really say anything so tacky, when Casey
emerged from the house lugging a suitcase and a
carry-all that was almost bursting at the seams.
“What is
” He pointed at the offending
sticker. “Let me guess, it’s affirming?”
Her smile, shaky after the encounter with Karen,
told him he’d got it in one.
“It was Brodie-Ann’s idea,” she said. “And I
must admit, it works.”
He rolled his eyes. “I’ll bet it does. Brodie-Ann
has a lot to answer for. Are you ready?”
“Yep. I left a note for Dad to say I’ll call him
about getting us all together.”

Adam stowed Casey’s bags in the Fiesta’s trunk
while she detached herself from a prolonged good-
bye hug with Karen. He waited until she was out of
the driveway before he headed for his own car.
Casey drove off at a speed that could charitably
be called sedate. More like a snail’s pace. Adam
sighed as he turned his key in the ignition of the
Aston Martin. This would be a long trip.
He pulled out his cell phone; he needed to call
his secretary and cancel his two-o’clock meeting,
then phone his insurance company. At this speed,
driving one-handed presented no problems.
Within three blocks, the honking started.


simple. His stepmother
would come for dinner. Adam and Casey would act
loving, which according to him meant he would call
her darling and hold her hand. They’d have an ex-
cellent meal, served by the efficient Mrs. Lowe,
then Eloise would go home, fully deluded that her
stepson had done what she wanted and married a
woman he loved. And the logical outcome was that
she would stay out of Adam’s life. No more party
planning, no more introductions to eligible women,
no more bridefest.
“How will she feel when we get an annulment?”
Casey had asked.
“She’ll get over it.”
“Adam!” His callousness shocked Casey.
She narrowed her eyes, and he threw up his
hands. “All right, she might be disappointed at first.
But by then I’ll have a plan in place for dealing with
Aunt Anna May’s lawsuit, the business will be
secure and Eloise will see it’s all good.”

The finality of it silenced Casey. “If you’re sure,”
she said at last.
“Quite sure. I know my stepmother. Don’t worry,
this plan is perfect.”
Adam had reckoned without his wife’s ability to
disrupt his arrangements, Casey thought grimly, as
Mrs. Lowe, back ramrod straight, stalked out the
front door and climbed into a waiting taxi.
How had this happened? All Casey had done was
offer to make dessert, and the housekeeper had
taken off her apron and said with chilly politeness,
“Mrs. Carmichael, I am not used to having my work
questioned.You may no longer require my services,
but many other people do. I will leave now, and I
will telephone Mr. Carmichael to send on my
Ten minutes later, she was gone.
The kitchen clock showed quarter to six. Casey’s
new mother-in-law—or was she a stepmother-in-
law?—was due in fifteen minutes, and right now
dinner comprised a half-assembled hors d’oeuvres
tray, several piles of chopped vegetables and a bowl
of marinating meat.
This was all Adam’s fault, she thought crossly.
He’d promised to be home by five-thirty. If he’d been
on time, he could have cajoled Mrs. Lowe into

Reluctantly, Casey decided to phone him and
confess. It would mean facing his anger sooner
rather than later, but at least he could call Eloise and
ask her to postpone. By tomorrow, Casey could
whip up a decent meal.
She dialed his cell phone on the assumption he
was on his way home. When he answered, the
tension in his voice made her hesitate to give him
the bad news.
“I’m glad you called, Casey. I’m afraid I’m going
to be late, so you’ll have to look after Eloise for a
while. I wouldn’t ask, but it’s an emergency.” She
heard agitated voices behind him, and Adam low-
ered his tone to murmur, “I’m in a room full of
lawyers, trying to figure out how not to lose several
million dollars.” He paused. “Did you want some-
“Uh, no, nothing important. I’ll see you later.”
Casey hung up the phone. She briefly considered
ordering pizza, but if Eloise was a stickler for routine
like her stepson, that would be a very bad idea.
She looked at the dinner ingredients on the
counter. Steak, mushrooms, potatoes, salad, garlic,
strawberries… She could do something with these.
Adam’s stepmother to display
the same unshakeable love of order as he did, and
arrive right on time. But fortunately, the doorbell
didn’t chime until twenty past six. Casey went to the

front door, only remembering as she opened it that
she was still wearing Mrs. Lowe’s voluminous apron.
The tall, elegant, silk-clad woman on the door-
step had light-blue eyes that right now were coolly
“Mrs. Carmichael?” Casey said brightly. “I’m
“Well.” Eloise sounded bemused rather than
hostile. “You look rather different from when I saw
you on television on Friday.” Then, as Casey hesi-
tated, she asked, “Are you going to invite me in?”
“I’m working in the kitchen,” Casey explained
as she followed her mother-in-law across the foyer.
When Eloise looked around, bewildered, Casey
wondered if she even knew where Adam’s kitchen
was. She led the way, aware of the silent tread of
her bare feet in contrast to the clack of Eloise’s
heels on the parquet floor.
“Where’s Mrs. Lowe?” Eloise surveyed the
clutter on the counter, sniffed the baking shortcake.
She cast a wary glance around.
“I’m afraid she’s gone,” Casey said. “I said
something to offend her—again—and she walked
Eloise broke into a huge smile that stripped away
the suspicion, the cool elegance, and left her look-
ing like someone’s mother. “Bravo, my dear,” she
said. “If I’d known it was that easy, I’d have tried
it years ago. This calls for a drink.”

She got a bottle of champagne from the refrigera-
tor, but clearly had no idea how to open it. Casey did
the honors. Eloise raised a glass of the fizzing liquid.
“Good riddance to Mrs. Lowe,” she said.
Casey joined her in the toast, feeling rather disloyal
to Adam, but sharing the sentiment wholeheartedly.
“So,” Eloise said, “have you told Adam yet?”
Her eyes gleamed with anticipation.
“I called, but it wasn’t a good time. He’s running
late, by the way, and sends his apologies. Mrs. Car-
michael, do you think—”
“My dear Casey, you can’t call me Mrs. Carmi-
chael,” she said in her soft Southern drawl. “You
may call me Mother—” she saw the doubt on
Casey’s face “—or Eloise, if you prefer.”
“Eloise, then.” Casey looked around the kitchen,
a trifle wildly. “Adam’s having a really bad day at
work. Yesterday his car got smashed thanks to
me—” Eloise drew in a sharp breath that acknowl-
edged the importance of the Aston Martin “—and
now I’ve lost his precious housekeeper. Maybe I
should tell him tomorrow, let him think Mrs. Lowe
cooked tonight.”
Eloise tilted her elegantly coiffed head to one
side. “Not a chance. That old dragon never makes
strawberry shortcake. She knows it’s my favorite.
It won’t take Adam two minutes to notice some-
thing’s wrong.”
Casey had feared as much. She groaned and got

back to her dinner preparations. To her surprise,
Eloise pitched in and helped, with a lot of enthu-
siasm if not much actual skill. Adam’s tale about his
father had given Casey the impression Eloise might
be demanding or selfish, but right now she was
By the time Adam arrived home a half hour later,
the steak had been seared and was ready to be
finished off in the oven, the mushroom sauce was
made, the vegetables were awaiting a final steam-
ing, and the hors d’oeuvres tray was a fully assem-
bled work of art.
When they heard the front door open, Casey
and Eloise froze, as if they’d been caught stealing
the silver.
“You run upstairs and change,” Eloise said. “I’ll
head Adam off at the pass.” She chortled as she
snatched up the champagne bottle and headed out
to the foyer.
“Adam, darling…” Her voice wafted back to the
As Casey raced up the back staircase, she heard
her cooing at her stepson, and getting what sounded
like a grunt in response. It didn’t seem as if Adam’s
day had improved any. Casey grimaced at her re-
flection in her bedroom mirror. She was flushed
with heat—and, no doubt, with champagne. Grease
streaked her face and her hair hung limply. Too bad
she didn’t have time for a shower.

She splashed cold water over her face and upper
body, then twisted her hair and pinned it at the back
of her head. Thankful she’d had the forethought to
select her clothes earlier, she put on the silky lilac
dress, taking pleasure in the way it shimmied over
her hips. The slim fit showed her figure off to ad-
vantage, and a slit up the side enabled freedom of
movement. Quickly, she applied lipstick—no need
for blusher. She grimaced as she realized a few
tendrils of hair had already escaped their pins.
On her way to join the others, she collected the
hors d’oeuvres from the kitchen. The heavy tray
forced her to slow her pace, so she had a moment
to collect herself.
When Casey entered the living room, Adam
moved immediately to relieve her of it. Although
she was expecting some kind of embrace, she
flinched when his lips touched her forehead.
“Darling,” he said, as he set the hors d’oeuvres
down on the table, “you should let Mrs. Lowe do
Casey looked at Eloise, who frowned and tipped
her head toward Adam’s untouched champagne
glass. Eloise was right. It might be better for him
to relax with a drink before Casey gave him the bad
news. “It was no problem…honey,” she said.
“But Mrs. Lowe—” Adam began.
Casey did the only thing she could think of to
forestall the inevitable. She stood on tiptoe and

planted a firm kiss on his mouth. Time slowed as
she absorbed the sureness of his lips against hers.
Her hands went to his chest to brace herself, and she
felt the strength of his muscles beneath the crisp
cotton of his shirt. The kiss lasted barely two
seconds, but when she pulled away, Casey felt
herself blushing furiously.
“What was that for?” Adam sounded dazed—
and not at all like he was thinking about his house-
“You had a bad day. I wanted to make it better.”
She took a step backward. “Did it work?”
He touched a finger to his lips. “Well, it didn’t
hurt any.”
“How did your meeting go with the lawyers?”
Casey asked.
“It, uh, wasn’t too bad,” he said distractedly.
“Adam, I must congratulate you on your wife,”
Eloise said. “She’s lovely.” She smiled at Casey.
Adam didn’t look at Casey, but took her hand,
entwined his fingers loosely with hers. “Yes, she is.”
Eloise lifted her glass in a toast. “To true love,
the kind that lasts forever.”
Casey raised her glass with only the tiniest
twinge of guilt. She still believed in true love, even
if it didn’t have a place in her marriage. Adam
muttered something about forever being a very long
time, but at last he drank some champagne. By the
time they finished the hors d’oeuvres, he’d had two

glasses and did seem more relaxed, though Casey
could still see that furrow in his brow.
“I’ll go check on things in the kitchen,” she said.
“Why don’t you two go through to the dining room?”
She steamed the vegetables and reheated the
sauce while the meat finished cooking in the oven.
She served the meal with some pride—she’d done
a great job at short notice.
When she carried all three plates into the dining
room—a skill she’d acquired waiting tables to help
pay her father’s medical bills—the atmosphere was
like thunder. Adam was glowering at his step-
mother, who looked decidedly sheepish.
“What’s going on?” Casey asked.
“Eloise has confessed that she annoyed Mrs. Lowe
so much tonight, the poor woman quit,” Adam said.
Something seized in Casey’s chest. She set the
plates down carefully. “Eloise, that is the nicest
thing you could have done.” She blinked and
clamped her lips together to stop the prickle behind
her eyes from turning into an overflow of emotion.
When she was sure she could continue, she said,
“Adam, it was my fault.” Briefly, she recounted the
true sequence of events.
“I figured I can do the cooking and look after the
house for the next…while,” she finished.
Adam had the same black look he’d worn the
night Casey had canceled the country fried steak.
Only this situation wouldn’t be so easily resolved.

“Darling, don’t be silly.” He smiled, but he spoke
through gritted teeth. His doting husband act
required him to stifle his annoyance in front of
Eloise. “This house is so big, no self-respecting
wife would take it on. I’ll call the agency and find
a replacement.”
“Perhaps Casey should interview the candi-
dates,” Eloise suggested, “to make sure she finds
someone she likes.”
Adam agreed. Even if his acquiescence was just for
Eloise’s benefit, Casey decided she would contact the
agency in the morning. It was the least she could do.
Over dinner, Eloise demanded details of their
romance—where they’d met and how long they’d
known each other.
“Here in Memphis and long enough.” Adam’s
evasive reply covered both questions.
He stopped just short of being rude to Eloise. He
might claim any ill-feeling toward his stepmother
was in the past, but obviously he still held a grudge.
“You must be a very special woman, Casey,” she
said. “I think Adam always believed he couldn’t
have both the business and a woman he loved, and
he was far more comfortable with the business.”
Adam scowled. “Eloise knows nothing about
it,” he said.
His stepmother ignored that. “I’m sure he’s
figured out by now that a marriage built on true love
will strengthen him, rather than weaken him.”

Adam clutched his head in his hands. “Spare me
two amateur psychologists in the family.”
Later, when Eloise rose to leave, she hugged
Casey warmly. “I can’t wait to get to know you
better, my dear.” To Adam, she said, “I know you’ll
be relieved not to have me foisting young women
on you every time I see you.”
“You bet,” he answered, with more enthusiasm
than he’d displayed toward her all night.
By Friday, Casey had recruited a new house-
keeper, Adam having failed in his attempt to
persuade Mrs. Lowe to return. Sue Mason was
good-natured, young enough to be happy about
using first names, and keen to start work on
Monday. Those were all the qualifications she
needed as far as Casey was concerned. She’d asked
Adam his opinion, and he’d told her to go ahead and
do what she thought best. He probably planned to
find a carbon copy of Mrs. Lowe as soon as the an-
nulment came through.
But for now, Casey thought, as she put the phone
down after confirming Sue’s employment, every-
thing was going just fine. She and Adam had been
married for a week, and she’d already made good
progress on her book. Karen was still calling several
times a day for advice about Rosie, but Casey’s ig-
norance on the subject of babies meant she couldn’t

be of more than limited help. By the time their one-
month marriage was over, Casey and Adam should
both have achieved their goals.
Who needs to be adored?
of their marriage flew by. Every-
thing was running smoothly in the house, thanks to
the new housekeeper. Adam was busy at work, and
Casey’s days involved plenty more writing, punc-
tuated by visits from Eloise, who seemed deter-
mined to get to know her daughter-in-law. When
Casey mentioned to Adam she felt guilty about de-
ceiving Eloise, he gave her a lecture about focus and
The next Sunday, they had lunch at the Peabody
Hotel with Eloise and two of her friends, Celeste
and Beth. Adam told Casey that whenever his step-
mother was home, he took the ladies to Sunday
lunch. “It lets me off the hook of having to see her
the rest of the week,” he explained.
But it seemed to Casey the way her husband
treated Eloise and her companions went beyond
routine courtesy. He made considerable effort to
charm the three women he called the Merry
Widows, as they sat at the best table in the house.
The Peabody staff had greeted Casey and Adam like
long-lost friends.
Casey sipped on her mint julep tea, ordered at
Eloise’s urging and served in a tall frosted glass.

The refreshing combination of bourbon, mint and
tea should have helped her relax. But Eloise had in-
troduced her to the other ladies as “my dear
daughter-in-law,” and Casey found herself the
center of the conversation. She felt like a fraud.
When Adam waved at someone, she was ready to
welcome any distraction. Even Sam Magill, the
lawyer, who’d arrived with another group. Sam
caught Adam’s signal and excused himself from his
“What is that man doing here?” Eloise creased
the fine linen napkin between her fingers as she
watched him approach. How did he do this, turn up
wherever she went? She couldn’t so much as take
Adam a tray of his favorite cornbread at the office
without Sam popping up to ask if she’d taken her
blood pressure medication, or to remind her it was
time to pay her federal taxes, or to warn her a
prowler had been sighted in her area. Now he was
fiddling with his tie, which was already perfectly
knotted, and in his distraction he bumped an elderly
woman’s chair on his way over.
Sam stopped to check if the old lady was all
right, then at last reached their table.
“Eloise.” He greeted her with a half bow, just
as James used to. When James did it, she’d thought
it charming.
“Hello, Sam.”
Sam knocked her purse, which she’d hung over

the back of her chair. He apologized, red in the
face. Feeling sorry for him, Eloise smiled. Hope
leaped into his eyes. Oh, dear. Sam could interpret
even ordinary courtesy as something more when he
wanted to badly enough.
That visit she’d paid to his house had revealed
he cared for her more deeply than she’d suspected.
It wasn’t fair to let it continue. Somewhere out there
was a woman who would return his feelings.
Eloise bit her lip. Though it went against her up-
bringing, though her mama would have a fainting
fit if she were alive to witness it, maybe Eloise
should be…less polite to Sam.
For both their sakes.
She turned her back on him to speak to Celeste,
making the exclusion deliberate.
Sam’s voice was gruff when he said to Adam, “I
planned to call you at home this afternoon.”
It was rare for Sam to phone on the weekend.
Adam figured it couldn’t be good news. He reached
around to the empty table behind him and pulled a
chair over for Sam. “What’s the problem?”
The attorney directed an anxious glance at Eloise
as he sat down, but she wasn’t paying him any at-
tention. “I heard a rumor from the offices of your
aunt’s lawyer. Your marriage—” he nodded to
Casey, sitting next to Adam “—has Anna May
worried you’ve met the conditions of the will and
put Henry out of contention.”

“That figures,” Adam said.
“So she’s claiming,” the lawyer said, “your
father was out of his mind when he wrote that will.”
Adam gripped the edge of the table. If Anna May
and Henry were here, he’d knock their stupid heads
together. This time, they’d gone too far.
“My father was
crazy.” His anger erupted at
the worst possible moment. The waiter had arrived
with their food, and the women had stopped talking.
Everyone at Adam’s table heard his declaration.
And judging by the curious glances directed their
way, everyone at neighboring tables, too.
“Adam?” Eloise said uncertainly.
This news would hurt his stepmother. He wished
he didn’t care, but… Casey reached over to prize
his fingers from the table edge. She curled her hand
around his and squeezed gently.
Adam felt the tension seep out of him. Whatever
Anna May was up to, they would get past it.
“It’s Anna May’s latest tactic,” he told his step-
mother. “She’s claiming Dad wasn’t of sound mind
when he wrote his will.”
He was about to add that his aunt wouldn’t get
anywhere with such a preposterous claim, when
Sam blurted, “She has evidence.”
Eloise uttered a word Adam didn’t know she
knew, not quite under her breath. Sam coughed into
his handkerchief.
“Are you still smoking, Mr. Magill?” Eloise gave

the lawyer a chilly look that cleared his cough mi-
raculously. “Such a bad habit,” she said to no one
in particular. “James smoked cigars when I met
him, but he stopped eventually. He always felt it
bespoke a lack of self-control.”
Sam made a choking noise.
Casey blinked. She’d never heard Eloise be any-
thing less than charming.
“But then,” her mother-in-law continued, “what
would James have known about it? Given he was
” She spoke lightly, but fixed Sam with a
gimlet glare.
The lawyer blushed, and Casey felt sorry for him.
From the second he’d approached their table, it had
been obvious he had a crush on Eloise. His harsh-
edged self-assurance evaporated, and it seemed all
he could do was open his mouth and insert both feet.
“I didn’t say James was insane,” Sam mumbled.
From somewhere, he dredged up a speck of his
usual confidence. “I had a lot of respect for James,
Eloise. You know that.”
She nodded jerkily. But when she spoke, she
still sounded hostile. “Then you won’t let Anna
May get away with this, will you?”
Sam looked as if he badly wanted to assure her
that hell would freeze over before Anna May got to
say anything against James in open court. But from
the way he squirmed in his seat, Casey guessed the
answer wasn’t that straightforward.

“I believe Anna May has a sworn statement with
regard to your husband’s state of mind. That statement
is the basis of her case,” the lawyer said formally.
Eloise gave a decidedly unladylike snort. “I’ll
bet she has no such thing.”
“Who made the statement?” Casey asked.
The lawyer’s eyes widened, as if he hadn’t an-
ticipated what was surely an obvious question. Yet
more evidence he didn’t think straight when Eloise
was around. He shot a pleading look at Adam. “We
should continue this discussion tomorrow.”
“We want to know now,” Eloise said.
Adam nodded at Sam to continue. The attorney
closed his eyes as if in pain. “The statement is from
one of the nonfamily directors of Carmichael
Broadcasting. He had a conversation with another
director, in which that director expressed a firm
opinion that James Carmichael had lost his mind.”
“Which other director?” Adam and Eloise de-
manded simultaneously.
Sam slumped in his seat and raised his hands,
conceding defeat to the forces ranged against him.
“It was you, Adam.”

stared at Adam, a flash of
white light blinded them.
“Thanks, folks.” A photographer, a man Casey
recognized from the crowd who’d gathered at the
TV studio after their wedding, slipped his camera
back into its case. “Enjoy your meal.”
Lunch pretty much fell apart after that.
Adam began to deny the accusation, then he
went beet-red and clammed up.
Eloise’s eyes filled with hurt. She stood up. “I
can ignore Anna May’s poison—that woman’s
always been a fool. But, Adam, for you to say
such a thing about your father, a man who,
whatever you may think, loved you. The finest,
most intelligent man I’ve known…” She stopped,
and Casey saw her throat working with emotion.

is a betrayal.” She slipped her purse off the
back of her chair, then asked a passing waiter to
bring her coat. “Thank you for lunch,” she said
with her usual good manners, “but I plan to take
a taxi home.”

The other two Merry Widows glared at Adam—
extending their hostility to encompass Casey by as-
sociation—with a ferocity that made Casey hope
neither of them was packing a weapon.
Sam sprang to his feet. “Eloise, how can I help
you? You shouldn’t be alone if you’re upset. I can
take you—”
Eloise gave him a look that said he’d done
enough, and stalked out of the restaurant.
Celeste and Beth left with her, while Adam
settled the bill. Casey followed him outside, where
the valet reluctantly relinquished the newly repaired
Aston Martin.
Adam pulled out into the traffic with a screech
of tires. From the passenger seat, Casey cast him a
sidelong glance. A frown darkened his face, and his
chin jutted forward.
“What?” he demanded.
She spread her hands. “I didn’t say anything.”
“You didn’t have to,” he grumbled. “I can see
you think I’m a prize jerk.”
“You’re certainly a contender,” she agreed. “But
right now I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt.”
He managed a half smile. “Thanks, but it’s more
than I deserve. I did tell John Hanson I thought
Dad had lost his marbles. Years ago, a few months
before the heart attack.”
The self-recrimination in his eyes gave Casey the
urge to comfort her husband, to wrap her arms

around him and tell him it would be all right.
Instead, she said, “Did you mean it?”
Adam shook his head, then nodded. “In a heat-
of-the-moment way. I’d just found out Carmichael
Broadcasting’s accountant had been embezzling
funds. It seemed Dad had lost touch with reality
when he married Eloise. The business was on the
brink of disaster, and I vented to John Hanson.
Big mistake.”
“No judge will accept a one-off remark as
evidence your father was insane,” Casey said.
Adam grimaced. “There was one other occasion.
At the reading of Dad’s will, when I heard about
that marriage clause, I did say something along the
lines of, ‘He must have been nuts.’ Eloise didn’t
take it well at the time. Anna May was there, too.
I’m sure she’ll remember.”
“But still,” Casey persisted, “it’s not exactly
expert psychiatric testimony.”
“Which we can’t get, now that Dad’s dead,” he
pointed out. “Maybe what I said isn’t enough. But
maybe we’ll get a judge who agrees that what Dad
did was crazy, and he’ll order a full hearing.”
Adam stopped at a red light. To think his own
careless remark had fueled Anna May’s case. His
foot tapped the brake.
“You made a mistake,” Casey said. “But you’ll
get past it.”
He turned to face her, found her expression full

of sympathy. Casey was on his side, without reser-
vation. She reached across to squeeze his hand on
the steering wheel—only it felt more as if she’d
squeezed all the air out of his lungs. She snatched
her hand back, but not before Adam had seen the
flare of desire in her eyes—one that matched his
“It might hurt Eloise less if you call to apolo-
gize,” she said.
Damn if she hadn’t tapped into the vein of guilt
he tried to pretend didn’t exist. Adam didn’t need
this. “What are you, my wife?”
She snickered, her cheek dimpling, and Adam
found himself saying, “I’ll think about it.”
for Brodie-Ann to take a day off
work just so she could drive up to Memphis and
have lunch with Casey.
When Casey got to the downtown bistro where
they’d agreed to meet on Tuesday, the woman who
would spill the contents of her soul at the slightest
urging shied away from Casey’s questions, deflect-
ing the conversation at their courtyard table to news
of what was going on in Parkvale.
“I saw your sister out with the baby last week,”
Brodie-Ann said.
“How were they?” Casey asked over a lump in
her throat. She missed her family, even if she didn’t
want to be back with them.

“We chatted for a few minutes, then Karen got
Casey chewed her lip. “Maybe I should call her
“She didn’t seem too bad,” Brodie-Ann assured
her. “It might have just been new-mom hormones.”
It wasn’t until the waiter had set their chicken
Caesars in front of them that Brodie-Ann got to
what might have been the point of this get-together.
“Is marriage what you expected?” she asked.
Casey took a sip of her ice water. “I can’t say I
ever thought about what it might be like to be
married to a complete stranger who happens to be
the cutest guy I ever met, even if he is a little set in
his ways.” She put her glass down and turned the
question back on Brodie-Ann. “Is marriage what
Her friend ducked the issue. “So you think
Adam’s cute, huh?”
Was Brodie-Ann blind? Could she not see he
Casey bit back the suggestion that
her friend have her eyes tested. “Sure I do. He’s a
great guy, too.” No point denying it.
“Does he have you ironing his shirts yet? Taking
meals to his dying grandmother? Hosting soirees
for important clients?”
Casey shook her head. “None of the above. He
doesn’t need me at all.” Somehow that came out
sounding pathetic.

“That’s great,” Brodie-Ann said uncertainly. “I’ll
bet you’re enjoying the break.”
“Absolutely.” Then why did Casey suddenly feel
Brodie-Ann glanced at her watch, then said
with a strange urgency, “Casey, sweetie, does
Adam like you back?”
“I don’t think so.” Why would he want a woman
who had nothing to offer him?
This is stupid. For
years I’ve wanted to get away from people who
only want me for what I can do for them.
What was
she, a dependence junkie? “Like I told you,” she
said, “we’re sticking together until the annulment
comes through, that’s all.”
When the waiter appeared suddenly to top up
their water glasses, her friend jumped a mile high.
“What’s the matter with you?” Casey demanded.
“I’ve never seen you so on edge.”
Brodie-Ann flicked a glance over her shoulder
across the crowded courtyard. “Nothing. I thought
it was…” She stopped, nibbled on a thumbnail.
“You’re scaring me,” Casey said. “I know you
didn’t come here for a chat, so tell me what’s going
on with you and Steve. Right now.”
To her shock, Brodie-Ann put her hands over her
face, and her shoulders started to shake. Casey
dropped her fork and moved around the table to hug
her friend. “Honey, what’s wrong?”
Brodie-Ann pulled herself together and wriggled

out of Casey’s embrace. “I’m sorry, I’m being silly.”
She waved Casey back to her seat and managed a
watery smile. “It’s just…it’s not how I thought it
would be. I mean, I still adore Steve, but it’s not…”
She gulped, on the verge of crying again.
“What’s he done? Is he mean to you?” Casey
half rose from her chair again.
Brodie-Ann laughed. “Can you imagine Steve
being mean to anyone? He’s wonderful. I’m lucky
to have him.”
“But?” Casey prompted.
“You’ll think I’m so selfish.” Brodie-Ann’s gaze
slid away from hers. “Before we were married, Steve
was so romantic, he’d do anything for me. Once, he
even laid his coat down in a puddle so I could step
across, just like that guy did for Queen Elizabeth.”
Casey looked suitably impressed, though she
wouldn’t dream of stepping on a man’s coat, even
if he did lay it down for her—she’d only have to
launder it afterward. That kind of romantic gesture
was all very well, but the kind of guy Casey could
love would be one who…
Who drops my cell phone into a vase when he
sees the caller is upsetting me.
Who listens when I suggest he apologize to his
stepmother, then goes and does it. And thanks me
Who from the very start of our marriage has
made my goals as much a priority as his.

Casey clapped a hand over her mouth, as if her
thoughts might escape.
I am not falling for Adam Carmichael.
“Did you even hear what I said?” Brodie-Ann
Casey shook her head in mute apology.
Her friend tutted. “Steve still does those things
sometimes, but often as not, I’m the one who’s
making sacrifices. And it’s all bigger stuff than walk-
ing on coats. It’s giving up my time, my priorities.”
“Does he give up those things, too?”
Brodie-Ann nodded glumly. “But he was
always good like that. I’m not. I’ve always been
about, well, about
” she said with such honesty
that Casey laughed. “I’m horrible, aren’t I?” she
said plaintively. “As soon as Steve figures that out,
he’ll leave me.”
“Steve fell in love with the real you,” Casey
reminded her. “Yes, you can be demanding. But he
loves that. You can also be sweet and generous. He
loves that, too. I’m right, aren’t I?”
Brodie-Ann didn’t reply. But though her lips
curved in only the smallest of smiles, her eyes
gleamed. Casey fought a twinge of envy.
“Honey, these things take time,” she said. “You
and Steve are made for each other, but that doesn’t
mean you don’t have to work at your marriage.
That’s a good thing.”
“I guess.” Her tone wasn’t enthusiastic, but Brodie-

Ann looked happier. Then she started chewing her
thumbnail again. “Casey, I have a confession.”
Casey realized the flush on her friend’s face was
guilt. “What have you done?”
“While I was worrying about whether I was right
to marry Steve, I started to think about you and Joe.
And although the wedding didn’t work out, I
wondered if maybe
were right that you should
marry someone you know really well.” Brodie-Ann
babbled on, getting pinker by the second. “Obvi-
ously, I didn’t know that you, uh, liked Adam, so
when Joe came to see me last night and asked if he
thought he had any chance of getting back with
you, and I was having lunch with you today, I,
A shadow fell across the table, and she stopped.
“Hello, Casey,” Joe said.
Her ex-fiancé stood there, handsome in his navy
uniform, twisting his cap in his hands.
“Sorry,” Brodie-Ann murmured. She pushed her
chair back. “I’ll let you guys talk.” Before Casey
could grab her, she was gone, crossing the court-
yard at a pace just short of a run.
“May I?” Joe sat in Brodie-Ann’s chair without
waiting for an answer.
A clammy heat dampened Casey’s palms, gave
her itchy feet. She’d been fine talking to Brodie-
Ann about Parkvale, but now, seeing Joe, she felt
her old life reaching out to her with long, bony

fingers. She wanted to shrink away from him and
sprint after her friend.
“I should have called you.” Joe read the reluc-
tance in her face. “But after what I did, I wasn’t sure
you’d talk to me. I had to tell you how sorry I am.”
An apology? That’s why he was here? Not to
get back together with her? The threat receded,
and Casey’s relief came out as a shaky laugh.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “I shouldn’t have
tricked you into going to the TV studio. It was hu-
miliating for both of us.” She smiled wryly. “Al-
though you might have told me sooner that you
didn’t love me.”
Joe grabbed her hand across the table, leaning
forward so his eyes gazed directly into hers.
“It wasn’t true. You’ve always been my girl,
Casey, since we were eighteen years old.” Urgency
raised the pitch of his voice. “I panicked, I made a
mistake. But you and I are perfect together. Come
back to me, Casey.”
She tried to tug her hand away, but he wouldn’t
let go, and it felt as if all of Parkvale was pulling
on her in a tug-of-war. “Joe, it’s over between us.
It’s too late.”
He came around the table and hunkered down in
front of her, grasping her knees. “How can it be too
late?” he demanded. “A couple of weeks ago you
were all set to marry me—so you can’t tell me your
marriage to this Carmichael guy is the real deal. In

your heart, where it matters, nothing’s changed at
all.” He gave her knees a shake to emphasize his point.
Mindful of the curious onlookers at nearby
tables, Casey lowered her voice. “Joe, what you
did in that TV studio was the exact opposite of
chickening out. Until then, you and I were both
prepared to settle for something comfortable, a
marriage we knew we could live with, rather than
risk not finding someone we truly love. You were
the one who was brave enough to say that wasn’t
“It’s not like that.” Confusion clouded Joe’s face.
“I do love you, Casey, and I need you. You’re the
only woman for me. Wherever you want to go,
whatever I have to do to make this work, I’ll do it.”
Coming on the heels of her realization that Adam
didn’t need her, Joe’s words soothed her spirit like
a comforting, even tempting, balm. Casey didn’t
doubt Joe loved her. She shut her eyes, imagined
Adam was here. He’d be mouthing,
Tough love,
holding her hand tight, pulling her away.
But Adam wasn’t here. She had to do this on her
She opened her eyes.
“I’m not coming back, Joe. What you and I had
isn’t enough for me, and it shouldn’t be enough for
It took another few minutes to convince him, but
at last he left Casey alone with the remains of her

lunch. Exhausted, she gulped down her water,
patted some of the cool droplets from the rim of the
glass on her temples.
She’d actively severed her ties to her family
and to Joe.
She was the temporary houseguest of a man who
didn’t need her.
She felt as if she’d cast herself adrift.

back into her work that
afternoon, so she headed out into the garden and
busied herself dead-heading the flowering shrubs
that grew against the wall between Adam’s house
and his neighbor’s. The work was calming and sat-
isfying, though what Adam’s gardener would make
of it on his next monthly visit she couldn’t be sure.
“Hello there.” A voice from above startled her
out of her absorption in a camellia bush.
An elderly gentleman peered over the wall, his
wrinkled face and blue eyes visible beneath the
peak of his orange baseball cap. He had to be
standing on a ladder—the wall was about seven
feet high. “I’m Bob Harvey,” he said.
Casey straightened and pushed her hair back off
her perspiring forehead. “Casey Gr-Carmichael,”
she replied.
“You must be one of the newlyweds. I saw you
on TV.”
She nodded.

“I don’t think I’ve met your husband.”
“He’s very busy with work.”
He nodded. “Thought that might be it. What
about you, do you work?”
Casey ended up spending a pleasant half hour in
conversation with Bob. She was still in the garden
when Adam came home, late, around eight.
The first clue she had of his arrival was the ap-
pearance of his polished black shoes in front of her
as she weeded around the base of the sundial.
“You know you don’t have to work in the yard.”
He sounded annoyed.
She looked up. With the sun low in the sky
behind him, his face was in shadow. “I’m doing this
for relaxation. Sue left a crab salad for dinner if
you’re hungry.”
“Maybe later.” His tone more friendly, he said,
“If you’re ready to stop relaxing, how about a
She smiled. “Sure, I’ll just finish up here.”
By the time she’d stowed her tools in the shed
and washed her hands, Adam had surprised her by
setting up drinks on the back porch. He stood
waiting for her, two glasses of chilled white wine
on the wrought-iron table. He looked tired, his eyes
shadowed, lines visible at the corners of his mouth.
He’d been putting in long hours with Sam, working
on their legal case, as well as running Carmichael

Casey sat on the swing seat and patted the space
next to her. “If we sit here we’ll see the sunset.”
He smiled faintly as he settled beside her. “I
wouldn’t want to miss that.”
Casey leaned back and took a sip of her wine.
With her foot, she pushed off the ground and set the
swing gently rocking. “I met one of your neighbors
today. Bob Harvey.”
Adam put one foot down. The swing stopped. “I
thought I said no neighbors.”
“He stuck his head over the wall while I was
gardening. I couldn’t ignore him.”
Adam looked skeptical. “And when are he and
Mrs. Harvey coming for dinner?”
She chuckled. “I wouldn’t do that to you.”
“Good,” he said with feeling.
Casey set the swing in motion again. Then Adam
said, “How was your lunch with Brodie-Ann?”
“Interesting.” She took a long swallow of wine.
“She brought Joe along.”
Adam stiffened. “The Joe who dumped you on
“Ouch,” she said in mild protest. “Yes, that Joe.”
Adam stopped the swing once more and put his
glass on the table. He’d figured this would happen,
just not so soon. A guy wouldn’t let Casey go and
not regret it. “I suppose he asked you to go back to
him.” Adam kept his voice controlled, though he
wanted to shout. Dammit, he never shouted.

“How did you know?” Casey ran a finger down
the condensation on the outside of her wineglass.
She wouldn’t meet his eyes; she must have decided
to go back to Joe.
“It’s obvious,” he said contemptuously. “It was
only a matter of time before Joe finally realized life
was a lot harder without you to look after him.”
“You think he can’t love me for who I am?”
She’d taken his words as an insult, but Adam was
too riled to pander to her hurt feelings.
“You mean, he loves you so much he was happy
to humiliate you in front of millions of people?”
Casey put her glass down. She made a face, as
if her wine suddenly tasted sour. “Don’t be hor-
Since that abortive lunch at the Peabody, Adam
had worked late at the office to stay out of Casey’s
way. He’d felt closer to her that Sunday than he was
comfortable with, and it made sense to put some
space between them. But even knowing she was at
home and that he would see her in the evening made
a difference to his days. That he would lose that
before he was ready to, and that Joe would have her
back, sent a surge of fury through him.
“I’ll bet he knew just the right words to have you
running back into his arms,” Adam sneered. “Did
he tell you he
“More or less,” Casey admitted. “He was very

“I don’t believe this.” The swing rocked vio-
lently as he stood up. “I shouldn’t have let you see
Brodie-Ann on your own. I knew something like
this would—”
Casey was on her feet now, too. “You don’t get
me or not let me do anything, you jerk. I’ll
decide who I see, I’ll decide who my friends are,
and I’ll decide if I should go back to Joe or not.”
She was pale with anger, and it made her lips look
redder, softer. Had she kissed Joe when she told him
she was going back to him?
“You don’t make decisions!” Adam roared. So
much for never shouting. “You’re a pushover, re-
member? You let people manipulate you with their
neediness and their sweet-talking and their adoring.
Just don’t blame me when you’re back in that rut
you used to call a life.”
Her cheeks flamed with anger, and she clenched
her fists at her sides. “I told Joe it was over!” she
shouted back. “I told him I wanted more than he
could offer. I told him no.”
She took the wind out of Adam’s sails. He
gripped the railing, breathing hard. “Why the hell
didn’t you say so?”
“You didn’t ask, you just assumed.” She
flounced past him, and he reached out and grabbed
her by the elbow.
“What else would I think when you’re such a
pushover? You’d still be in Parkvale with your

sister if I hadn’t dragged you out of there the
other week.”
“I learned something that day,” she said. “You
showed me how to say no, and today I did it for
He grinned at the pride in her voice—and delib-
erately shut out the relief that made him almost
light-headed. “That’s my girl.”
“I did it for me, not for you,” she said, annoyed.
“Of course.” His grin widened. “Sorry I yelled.”
She smiled back. “One good thing about you,
there’s no chance of you manipulating me with
sweet talk and neediness and adoring.” She sat back
down on the swing, and Adam did the same.
“Do you realize we just had our first fight?”
Casey turned to look at him and found him closer
than she’d thought, his face just inches from hers.
“Do you realize,” he parroted, “that your new
friend next door probably heard every word of it?”
Casey clapped a hand over her mouth.
“You see,” Adam said in a superior tone, “if
you’d never met him, it wouldn’t bother you. Now
you’ve opened a can of worms, and it’s your

“Likening Bob Harvey to a can of worms is
very rude.”
Adam slung an arm over her shoulders. It was
casual but nice. “So how do you feel about Joe? It
can’t have been easy.”

She leaned into him, just the tiniest bit. “It was
pretty awful. But now I feel…free.”
“You’re a married woman,” he teased. His hand
tightened on her shoulder, and a tingling warmth
spread down her arm. She looked away from him.
“Joe’s the only guy I’ve ever dated,” she said,
partly to explain to herself why she reacted so
strongly to the unfamiliar excitement of Adam’s
touch. “I need to learn how to build healthy rela-
tionships without getting sucked into that need
thing. I guess I should start dating. After our annul-
ment, of course.” She patted his knee in reassu-
rance, and left her hand there a moment longer than
she should just because it felt good.
Adam’s heart stopped. He’d only just gotten over
the shock of believing she was going back to Joe,
and now she was talking about dating other men.
His reaction to that news, on top of his over-
reaction to her lunch with Joe, confirmed that his
attraction to Casey was more than physical. He
didn’t want her thinking about dating other men
while she was still living with him. Which meant
he had to decide what he did want.
Keep her close…but not too close.
He twirled a strand of her hair around his finger.
“You don’t have to wait for the annulment.”
Her eyes widened. “Our fake marriage won’t be
very convincing if I start dating other guys.”
“You could date me.”

Casey’s stomach flipped. “Date…you?”
“I was Memphis’s most eligible bachelor,” he
pointed out. “I’m considered quite a catch.”
She looked at him, at his tall, graceful physique,
the strong planes of his face, his intense blue eyes.
“I don’t doubt it. So how come you don’t have a
He shrugged. “I haven’t met anyone suitable in
a while.”
There was that word again. “Suitable?”
“Someone who wants to make the most of it
when we’re together, but doesn’t demand a lot in
between times. And who’s happy to say goodbye
when it’s over.”
It sounded as if he dated the way he did every-
thing else. Logically, with decisive intent.
He smiled, a flash of white teeth. “Like you said,
I’m not about to manipulate you or need you.”
“When we were staying at the Peabody, you
warned me there was no chance of a relationship
between us.”
“I said a
relationship,” he corrected.
“We still have a time limit.”
“I want to learn how to date,” she said. “What
do you want?”
He ran a finger along her jaw. “Do you need to
ask? You’re a beautiful, sexy—” his voice turned
husky “—desirable woman.”
Adam wanted her.

“What exactly would dating you involve?”
Her practical question made him smile. “We go
out together,” he said. “Out for meals. Sometimes,
we stay in together. It’s not much different from
what we do already, except there’ll be more of this.”
He moved closer, so his lips were an inch from
hers. “It won’t hurt a bit,” he promised.
This kiss was more tender than the others. He
started at one corner of her mouth, worked his way
to the center, then his tongue teased her lips until she
parted them. At his slow, stroking entry she found
her whole body clenching, and it didn’t relax until
he hauled her against him and deepened the kiss.
By the time he released her, Casey was shaking.
He didn’t look a hundred percent steady himself.
He raked a hand through his hair, gave her a smile
that was part triumphant, part perplexed.
But his voice was calm when he said, “There’s
one other great thing about dating me.”
She raised an eyebrow and, despite the roiling of
her insides, said equally calmly, “Only one?”
“If we’re trying to convince people we’re happily
married, this might just do it.”
Casey stared straight ahead. As she watched, the
sun slipped below the horizon, leaving a glowing
pink swath across the sky.
“So, are we dating?” he asked impatiently. “I
like you, you like me. And I don’t believe you
would have kissed just anyone like that.”

“Well, maybe not a guy with bad breath and
warts on his nose.”
“I’m flattered,” Adam said dryly. “I had no idea
you were so picky.”
“I guess,” she said, striving for a casual tone
though her stomach tied in knots, “we’re dating.”

his desk at the cluster of
people filling his office at ten o’clock on a Wednes-
day morning. They’d arranged themselves in battle
lines—Anna May and Henry to his right, Sam and
Eloise to the left.
A faint curl of steam rose from a dish on Adam’s
desk. Eloise had brought him some of what she
called her famous, fresh-baked cornbread. Famous
for its ability to drown any man stupid enough to
swim after eating it. The stuff weighed a ton. But
it was Eloise’s mama’s secret recipe, and although
she had a cook to prepare her meals, Eloise insisted
cornbread was her domain. Years ago, Adam had set
himself a personal challenge of never eating a bite
of the stuff.
He didn’t plan to deviate from that this morning,
despite being warmly disposed to the world in
general, thanks to his newly elevated status as Casey’s
Anna May glared at Sam as they waited for
Adam to speak. She’d said no lawyers for the

meeting, a stipulation that suited Adam. But as
always, the minute his stepmother entered the
building, Sam found a reason to visit Adam’s office.
“Well?” Anna May snapped, losing patience.
“Let me get this straight,” Adam said. “You’re
saying that if I promote Henry to joint CEO, give
him a bonus equivalent to his first year’s salary and
agree to pay out a regular dividend to stockholders,
backdated for the past three years, you’ll drop your
legal action to prove Dad was mentally incompe-
tent when he made that will.”
From the encouraging nods Sam was sending his
way, Adam gathered he was supposed to see Anna
May’s offer as a good sign. An indication that she
feared she might lose and was therefore willing to
negotiate. But how good could it be, when his
aunt’s demands would undermine the financial sta-
bility of the business?
Anna May made a dipping, birdlike movement of
her head. Vulture-like, Adam thought. He quashed
the uncharitable impulse. Somewhere in his aunt’s
psyche lay the key to her attitude, but he was damned
if he knew what it was. It was the sort of thing Casey
liked to ponder. The sort of thing Adam didn’t have
time for.
Maybe he should try doing it Casey’s way.
“What made you decide on those particular
terms?” he asked Henry.
“We don’t want to be unreasonable, Adam,” his

cousin said apologetically, “but Mom feels—
“It’s the least Henry’s entitled to, according to
your father’s original will,” Anna May interrupted.
Adam and Sam hadn’t known about the earlier
will before this morning—Adam’s father hadn’t
used Sam for his personal legal work. Anna May
had made the most of that, flourishing a copy of the
document under their noses. But there was no
denying its contents: it divided James Carmichael’s
stock holdings in Carmichael Broadcasting equally
between Adam and Henry.
“But is it what you want?” Adam asked Henry.
He’d never seen any sign that his cousin had the
same kind of passion for the business that he did.
He rephrased the question in Casey-speak. “What
are your dreams?”
Henry swallowed nervously. “Actually, I always
thought I’d like to—”
“I don’t know what this new tactic of yours is,
Adam, but it won’t work,” Anna May said. “We’ll
be asking the court to overturn your father’s will on
the grounds that he was mentally unstable when he
signed it.”
So much for the friendly approach. Adam slipped
back into his more familiar, driven mode. “The
court will find my father was in his right mind when
he wrote his last will,” he said, aware of the absur-
dity of defending a document that he himself

planned to challenge, on the basis that his dad
couldn’t legally insist Adam get married in order to
He saw Eloise watching him, biting her lip,
blinking. He wished she wasn’t here, so he could
tell Anna May to do her worst. But he figured his
aunt had invited Eloise for that very reason. Emo-
tional blackmail. His family was so good at it. Even
Dad… When Anna May revealed the contents of
the earlier will, Eloise had suggested James had
changed it because he’d realized how important his
son was to him. Adam would have liked to believe
it. But more likely, Dad had seen how much effort
Adam was putting into the company, and he’d
wanted to be sure that continued.
Adam wished, as he often did, that his dad hadn’t
asked him to take care of Eloise. It meant he
couldn’t ignore that his stepmother would be heart-
broken to hear her beloved husband labeled crazy
in public. But Adam was damned if he was going
to cave in a moment before he had to. He turned to
his stepmother. “What do you think, Eloise?”
She swallowed, looked over at Anna May, then
back at him. “I never give in to blackmail, Adam
dear, and nor should you.”
Adam stared at her, and she inclined her
head. He didn’t give her a chance to change her
mind. “You heard Eloise.”
Not the least bit flustered, Anna May got to her

feet, and Henry did the same. “We’ll see you in
court,” she said over her shoulder as she stalked
Eloise left a minute later. Sam watched her go
with a kind of hopeless despair. “Such a brave
woman,” he murmured.
For once, Adam had no argument. He pushed the
dish of cornbread toward Sam. “Why don’t you
take this?”
“She made it for you.” But the lawyer looked at
it hungrily.
“Take it,” Adam insisted, and Sam didn’t need
any further encouragement to drag the dish to his
side of the desk.
“How do you rate Anna May’s chances with the
insanity thing?” Adam asked.
“Less than fifty percent.”
Not as low as Adam would have liked. “Surely
she can’t win on the basis of a couple of stupid
remarks I made?”
“I’m betting she’ll make a big deal out of your
father’s failure to notice his accountant stealing
money from under his nose,” Sam said. “She’ll try
to link that to a loss of mental competence.”
Which would be even more upsetting for Eloise.
Adam rubbed his temples.
“This marriage of yours…” Sam said thoughtfully.
“What about it?”
“Is it going well?”

“You tell me. You’re the one working on the
Sam waved that away. “I’m asking if you and
Casey get along. It seems to me that you do.”
Adam shifted in his seat. If burning up every
time he touched his wife, if craving the feel of her
lips under his and being aware of every movement
of her legs, her hips, counted as getting along, then
Sam was right. Adam suspected dating her defi-
nitely counted as getting along.
“I’m thinking,” Sam said, “that once we beat
this insanity thing, the simplest way to deal with
Anna May and Henry might be to remove the
grounds for their complaint, and drop your chal-
lenge to the will.”
“How do I do that?” Adam asked.
“You make this marriage for real.”
He dropped his pen. “You can’t be serious.”
Sam nodded, every bit as somber as he always
was. “I’m saying this as your friend, not as your
lawyer. In the strictly legal sense, I think we’ll
probably win the battle to have that clause struck
out of your father’s will. But if you want to do this
the easy way…the fact is, you
married, and as
the will stands you need to be married to inherit.
There’s a certain synergy.”
“There’s a certain craziness,” Adam retorted. He
winced. He’d sworn never to use the words
lightly again.

“Think about it,” Sam advised. “If there’s any
way you and Casey can make a go of it…”
“Not a chance.” Adam had to quash the thought
before it could take root. So what if he and Casey
were dating? He’d dated dozens of women without
ever wanting to marry them. He and Casey were
poles apart on the things that mattered, with the ex-
ception of their mutual exasperation with demand-
ing families. Even if he was interested in making
this marriage real—which he wasn’t—there was
one major obstacle. Casey wanted a man who
adored her.
He realized Sam was still talking. “Sorry, what
was that?”
“I asked how Eloise is after that fiasco at the
Peabody on Sunday. She seemed jumpy this morn-
“I think she’s forgiven me,” Adam said. He’d
phoned his stepmother that night, as Casey sug-
gested. Eloise had still sounded hurt, but also
grateful for Adam’s call. By the time he hung up,
she’d managed a couple of attempts at the light-
hearted interference that usually bugged him. This
time, he was surprised how relieved he was to know
she’d forgiven his indiscretion.
“She’s a fine woman.” It was a variation on a
theme Sam played often.
Adam made a noncommittal sound and added,
“She’s very loyal to my father’s memory.”

He didn’t intend to warn Sam off. But the
attorney had to stop pining for Eloise. He was get-
ting nowhere.
Sam was either in too deep to get the message,
or he ignored it. “Time I got going.” He stood.
“Think about what I said, Adam. Think about how
you might convince Casey to stick around.”
at eleven o’clock, interrupting
Casey just as she neared the end of a chapter.
“Come and join me for lunch.” There was no
question as to whether she had the time or the in-
clination. Just a command, delivered in Adam’s
deep, sexy voice.
“We’re dating,” he reminded her. “This is what
people who date do.”
It wasn’t something she’d ever done with Joe.
Spontaneous lunch dates had never featured in their
“Be here at twelve.”
“Did I ever tell you I prefer new-age guys?” she
said. “The kind of guys who ask a woman what
she’d like to do?”
“You might suggest something I don’t want to
do, and then I’d have to refuse,” he said. “Just be
here at twelve.”
Adam hung up before she could argue. If she said
too much more, he’d have second thoughts himself.

When he’d suggested last night that they date, he’d
planned to take her out for dinner Saturday. The
housekeeper had the day off, and they had to eat.
He’d had no plans of lunching with Casey until
Sam had said his piece about keeping this marriage
going. Then a crazy impulse had made him pick up
the phone.
Doesn’t matter,
he told himself. Whether he was
just dating her for fun or they were going to make
this marriage real, it made sense to start right away.
to the riverbank in a secluded area
of Ashburn Coppack Park that afforded a spectacu-
lar view of the downtown skyline.
“I can’t believe you thought of this,” Casey said.
She grinned, then noticed his hesitation before he
smiled back.
“I may be practical, but I’m not totally lacking
imagination,” he said.
She crossed one leg over the other. The move-
ment drew Adam’s gaze, as she knew it would, to
the shortness of the light green linen skirt she’d
chosen for just that reason, and which she’d teamed
with an off-the-shoulder white cotton top. She’d
spent half an hour trying on and discarding differ-
ent outfits, and wanted to be sure he appreciated her
final choice. “This is the perfect place for a picnic.”
“Perfect,” he agreed, his gaze still on her legs.
Casey couldn’t quite believe how wholeheart-

edly Adam had thrown himself into this dating
thing. Barely twelve hours after she’d consented to
the idea, he’d conjured up a picnic—at least, his
secretary had—and driven them to the park, insist-
ing Casey should leave her car at his office.
Adam threw a piece of bread to a passing duck,
then helped himself to more potato salad out of one
of the deli containers. He could get used to this.
The food was delicious, the chilled bottle of
white wine relaxing, and as for the company…
If there was one thing he would take from this
month with Casey, Adam reflected, it was renewed
pleasure in the simple things in life. Like picnics,
sunsets and conversation. Over lunch, he and Casey
had talked about everything and nothing, from the
new family drama series about to debut on Channel
Eight, to a plotting problem she was having in her
book. They’d even digressed to a game that in-
volved naming as many towns as they could think
of on the Mississippi. He won. At least, he thought
he had.
He looked at the potato salad on his plate and
realized he wasn’t the least bit hungry. He’d already
had dessert, a slice of key lime pie. Going back for
a second helping of potato salad was, as Casey
would say in her quack psychoanalytic way, substi-
He slid a sideways glance at her, lying on the
blanket, eyes closed, face raised to the sun. Her

hands were clasped behind her head, a pose that
lifted her breasts against the thin cotton of her
blouse and shortened that skirt even farther. Strands
of silky hair fell over her arms and grazed the
blanket. A smile hovered on her mouth.
As if sensing his scrutiny, Casey moistened her
lips with her tongue. Adam swung his gaze back to
the potato salad. Yep, right now, he was substitut-
ing potato salad for a taste of his wife’s lips.
Think about how you might convince Casey to
stick around,
Sam had said.
The most obvious way to do that, Adam had
decided, was to take their relationship to the next
level. Sex. And, dammit, he hadn’t been able to
think about anything else since. Not that the idea
hadn’t occurred to him before Sam started dispens-
ing his advice so freely. But back then, Adam had
been able to slap it away as totally inappropriate.
Now, it was as if Sam had given him permission to
think about having Casey in his bed, about all the
things he’d like to do to her there.
Not that he’d even decided he wanted her to stick
around. He should probably discuss Sam’s sugges-
tion with her.
Trouble was, talking was the last thing on his
mind now. The memory of the sweetness of her
mouth was driving him crazy.
“Adam?” Casey propped herself up on her
elbows, and the movement lifted her breasts even

more. There was a languidness in her voice that he
found infinitely seductive. “It’s sweltering. Can you
please pass the water bottle?”
He did as she asked, then stifled a groan as she
tipped her head back and, eyes shut, drank greedily,
so that a trickle of water escaped the side of her
mouth to run down her chin and throat. He touched
a finger there to stem the flow, and found her pulse
Casey’s eyes opened and he saw heat in their
depths, which the water had done nothing to cool.
Without looking away, she put the bottle down
beside her. Adam slipped his hand around the back
of her neck and pulled her up toward him, so their
mouths were an inch apart.
He didn’t rush into the kiss. He’d been here before
and he knew how right it felt. Now that he had her
so close, he wanted to savor every second. Her eyes
fluttered shut again as his lips drifted against hers.
But the instant their mouths met he could think
of nothing but how much he wanted her, and his
intended gentleness evaporated. Casey’s lips parted
to welcome his tongue. She moaned as he deepened
the kiss, and she struggled to pull herself upright so
she could press herself closer to him.
The hunger in Adam had its epicenter in one
obvious place. He moved a hand to cup a full,
rounded breast. He felt the tensing of her body, and
his mouth absorbed her sigh.

Her arms wound around his neck, and Adam
slipped his other hand beneath her shirt to caress her
back. He wanted nothing more than to tear every
stitch of clothing off her and make love to her. Now.
Then some small corner of his mind remem-
bered they were in a public place.
If he could somehow convince his mouth
to move away from hers, he would tell her to get in
the car, so they could go home right away and
continue this in private. Her protest when he finally
managed to pull away almost destroyed the last
shreds of his restraint.
“Let’s go home,” he croaked.

the take-out containers,
plates and food scraps into the picnic basket. The
blanket was bundled in as well, then they were
racing for the Aston Martin.
Adam kissed Casey again as they fumbled to do
up their seat belts, a searing kiss intended to remind
them both why were they were in such a hurry—
not that he’d forgotten.
He hit the road for home, driving as fast as he
Casey turned up the fan on her side. “If we go
home now, we’ll go to bed, right?”
Bed, floor, kitchen table… Adam realized with
a shock he didn’t mind where they did it. “Yep,” he
said. Had he ever wanted someone this badly?
“Which would mean we’d be sleeping together
on our first date.” She squirmed in her seat.
“No sleeping,” he said. “Definitely no sleeping.”

She sucked in a breath. “The thing is,” she said,
“I don’t do that on a first date.”
Adam slowed for a red light ahead. He turned to
her, saw her anxiously gnawing her lip. “You don’t
have a first-date routine,” he reminded her.
“If I did, this wouldn’t be in it,” she insisted.
The light turned green and Adam accelerated the
car, but without the same urgency.
normally do that on a first date?” she
“We’re married,” he said. “I see you every day.
Hell, I’ve probably seen more of you than I did the
last six women I dated combined.”
Casey stared out the window. “Joe is the only
man I’ve slept with.”
Yeah, and didn’t Adam want to punch the guy.
“You’re scared,” he said.
“I need some time to get used to the idea.”
“How much time?”
“How much time will you give me?”
He waited until he’d passed an old lady whose
Toyota was weaving down the center of the road
before he answered. “It’s not about what I’ll give
you. It’s about when you think you can decide
what you want.”
“Why don’t you come over to my place for
dinner tonight?”
Suddenly everything looked brighter again.
“Second date,” he said. “Great idea.”

at her computer keyboard,
unable to connect with the words on the screen in
front of her, the chapter she’d aimed to finish today.
The heat of that kiss in the park had seared
through her, destroying her focus.
In her seven years with Joe, Casey had never
known the overwhelming desire Adam had ignited
in her today. She’d spent three weeks with him, and
was ready to make love. To Casey that had to mean
she was in danger of losing her heart to him.
Which wouldn’t be a problem, if he lost his to
her in return.
She tried to evaluate the odds of that happening.
Adam wasn’t a lose-his-heart kind of guy. But she
knew she hadn’t imagined the deeper connection
between them. Maybe if they got closer, if they
made love, they could move ahead emotionally.
Casey looked at her watch. Four o’clock. She’d
promised to visit Eloise this afternoon. She would
make it quick, then come home to prepare for an
evening with Adam—when they would pick up
where they’d left off at lunchtime. Her stomach
was parked outside Eloise’s
front door when Casey arrived.
Eloise welcomed her inside. “Sam Magill is
visiting,” she said in a low, vexed voice. “He’s just
gone to the bathroom.” She led Casey into a spacious

living room, sunlit through a double set of French
doors and dominated by a huge fireplace, above
which hung an enormous gilded mirror. “He came
to see if I need any help dead-heading my roses—
though what he thinks I employ a gardener for, I
don’t know.” She shook her head. “That man thinks
I’m incapable of looking after myself. It’s insulting.”
Casey felt a surge of sympathy for the lovelorn
lawyer. And a rush of resentment for the emotional
independence that Eloise and Adam were so deter-
mined, each in their own way, to cling to.
“Most men as good-looking as Sam are too
selfish to worry about other people,” she told
Eloise. “I’ll bet he has a whole bunch of women
after him.”
Casey had noticed Eloise’s friends eyeing him at
lunch last weekend. Sam was tall, in good shape,
with rugged features. And he was single, in an age
group where men were in increasingly short supply.
Eloise stopped short. “Is Sam good-looking?”
she asked, astounded.
“I’m told I am,” Sam said from behind them.
Eloise gave a little scream. “Sam Magill, what
are you doing, sneaking up like that? You should
know better than…”
She trailed off as she looked at Sam—really
looked at him—as if for the first time. She blinked,
then blinked again. Color stole up her neck and
over her face, and her hand fluttered at her chest.

It was obvious Sam didn’t know how to react to
the scrutiny of the woman he’d admired so long. He
stood there in the middle of the living room, saying
nothing, with all the eloquence of a sack of
potatoes. Casey longed to give him a nudge, to tell
him to jump in and ask Eloise on a date.
“Well.” Her mother-in-law regained her senses
and spoke briskly. “I daresay you’re passably hand-
some. But that’s neither here nor there.” She turned
toward the door in an unmistakable signal that the
lawyer should leave. “I surely do appreciate your
dropping in, Sam, but I’m fine and so are my roses.”
He looked so downcast, Eloise gave him a
reprieve. “Just one moment while I fetch you a jar of
my pear preserves. I still do them myself every year.”
That she hurried out of the room was interesting
in itself, Casey reflected. Eloise considered hurry-
ing unladylike.
Casey decided she didn’t have time to pull any
punches. “You’re going about it the wrong way,”
she told Sam. “Eloise thinks you’re interfering.”
“I only want to help,” he protested, once he got
over his initial shock at her direct approach. “She’s
on her own and must need the occasional piece of
advice. But every time I open my mouth…”
“You mess up because you’re trying too hard,”
Casey said.
He moved over to the mantelpiece, stared down

at the empty grate. “I just want to do something for
her. To earn her…respect.”
They both knew he wanted a whole lot more
than respect. Casey recognized the problem. Sam
figured Eloise had to need him before she would
fall for him.
“What Eloise
is company, someone to
share the ups and downs with,” she said. “Then
maybe, eventually, someone to love.”
Sam looked doubtful.
“It’s worth a try,” Casey said awkwardly.
He harrumphed in a way that might have meant
he would give it some thought, or that he didn’t
want to talk about it. His eyes met Casey’s in the
mirror above the fireplace. “While we’re on the
subject of who likes whom,” he said, “you and
Adam appear to be getting along.”
She nodded.
“If you want to do something for him—” Sam
turned to face her “—stay married to him.”
Her heart raced. “Why do you say that?”
“If you two stay together, Adam won’t need to
challenge his father’s will.”
Casey licked her suddenly dry lips. “I don’t think
Adam wants to stay married to me.” But that didn’t
stop her pulse from jumping, her breath going
shallow. She heard the click of Eloise’s heels out in
the foyer and exhaled slowly.

Sam had heard Eloise, too, and he added in a
rush, “He didn’t sound opposed to it.”
“You…you suggested this to Adam?”
Sam nodded.
“When was that?”
Please, let it be after lunch
“This morning, right after we met with Anna May.”
Eloise arrived with a large jar of pears, which
Sam accepted with effusive thanks. He clutched it
to his chest as if it were the key to Fort Knox. Eloise
escorted him to the front door, giving Casey
precious seconds to pull herself together.
Giving her time to face the cold, hard truth.
When Adam had started his seduction today, it
had been with Sam’s suggestion in mind.
She closed her eyes, sick to her stomach. What-
ever that kiss had been about, it hadn’t been as
simple as him wanting her.
It never was.
at five o’clock for the first time
in years. Combined with his extended lunch hour,
that made it the shortest working day he could
Not short enough.
All afternoon he’d been able to think of nothing
except Casey. He’d never been so preoccupied by
a woman that his chief accountant had had to ask
him a question three times.

It was worryingly reminiscent of his father and
Eloise. But Adam figured he’d take the edge off his
distraction as soon as he went to bed with Casey.
She wasn’t home when he got there, and the
place felt empty. He called Eloise, who told him
Casey had just left. That meant another ten minutes.
He busied himself setting the table for dinner,
pouring wine, serving the meal the housekeeper
had left.
When Casey finally arrived, he wanted to haul
her into his arms and get started right then.
But this was supposed to be a date, and she’d
made it clear she didn’t want to be rushed. So instead,
he kissed her briefly and said, “Dinner’s ready.”
At first, when she didn’t say much through the
meal, he figured it was because she was as dis-
tracted as he was. But gradually he noticed little
details—the dip at the corners of her mouth, the
shadow in her eyes.
Adam got a sinking feeling.
He didn’t want to get into one of those emo-
tional discussions. For what felt like the umpteenth
time recently, he did something he didn’t want to
do. He ignored the warning bell in his head. “Is
something wrong?” he asked.
She dropped her gaze, apparently intensely inter-
ested in her baked fish and scalloped potatoes. “I’ve
been thinking about what we said this afternoon,
and I don’t think we should…you know.”

“If you’re worried this will affect our annulment,
Sam found out the nonconsummation thing is
mainly used in church annulments. Our case is based
on the fact we didn’t know it was a real marriage.”
“Adam,” she said, “Sam told me he talked to you
about us staying married for real.”
He put down his knife and fork. “I was going to
talk to you about that.”
“Before we made love, or after?”
“After I’d figured out whether I thought it was a
good idea,” he said. “It had nothing to do with you
and me going to bed.”
When she glared at him, he said, “Okay, maybe
it did…speed things up a bit. But you know I
wanted you before that. I wanted you the day I met
you, though maybe I didn’t acknowledge it then. I
want you now.”
Casey didn’t know what to believe. What had he
said to her the day they’d met? That people should
know what they want and go after it.
He could at
least pretend he cares.
She pulled herself up short.
She’d said she didn’t want to be loved just for what
she could do for a man—the implied corollary
being that she wanted to be loved for herself. But
wasn’t it equally true that if Adam wanted to ask
something of her, he should do it honestly, without
pretending it involved love?
“What did you decide…about Sam’s suggestion?”
Adam shifted in his chair. “It has its pros and cons.”

“Would you like to share those with me?”
“No,” he said. “I’d like to go to bed with you.”
He hadn’t said
make love.
“Very much,” he added. When she didn’t re-
spond, he said, “More than I’ve ever wanted to
before.” He sounded surprised, yet about as excited
as if he was discussing the scheduling of this week’s
TV movies. Maybe even less excited. Then he
added, “I know you want the same thing.”
“On…” Casey’s voice came out raspy, so she
cleared her throat and tried again, striving for the
same detachment. “On one level, that’s true.” She
saw the flare of triumph in his eyes. “But wanting
it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.”
He pushed his chair back and stood, then walked
around to her side of the table, his tread deliberate,
intent. Casey was forced to lean back in her seat to
meet his gaze. He loomed over her, searching her
face with smoldering eyes, and the masculine heat
that emanated from him scorched Casey’s nerve
endings. He hadn’t touched her yet.
He rectified that by pulling her from her seat.
Leaning against the edge of the table, he stationed
her between his legs, facing him, his hard thighs
around hers to keep her in place. His hands clasped
her waist, not tightly, but with enough possessive-
ness to tell her he wouldn’t readily let her go.
“I don’t know if it’s a good idea for us to stay
married,” he said, “but I do know this is a good idea.”

He dipped his head, took her mouth with certi-
tude. Beguiled by his tongue’s provocative explo-
ration, Casey lost the thread of her argument. She
opened to his moist caress, felt a thick warmth
spread through her, deadening any senses that
weren’t employed in touching and tasting Adam.
He flicked the buttons of her shirt undone,
parted it to reveal her breasts, full and aching in
her lacy bra. His eyes darkened, and when he
lowered his mouth there, she thought her legs
might collapse from under her. She leaned into
him, felt his unmistakable hardness, and clutched
at his hair.
“Sweetheart,” he breathed, as his hands moved
to the zipper of her skirt.
For the briefest instant, she reveled in the endear-
ment. Then the voice of reason whispered,
doesn’t mean it.
Casey wanted to scream, to drown out the
thought. But she couldn’t ignore it. She tugged on
Adam’s hair, lifting his head so she could see his
eyes. “Stop,” she said.
To her surprise, the word came out with sufficient
authority that Adam did stop. He straightened, put
some space between them as Casey did up the buttons
of her blouse, trying to ignore the scrape of her
fingers against the oversensitized skin of her breasts.
“I’m not going to make love to you,” she said.
“It’ll complicate everything and I won’t be able to

decide what I want. You know that, and you’re using
sex to manipulate me.”
His eyes darkened again, this time with anger. “I’m
not like your family or your boyfriend. I want you, you
want me—it can be that simple, if you’ll let it.”
She folded her arms. “I’m not a pushover any-
For a long moment, he stared at her. Then he
grasped her by the shoulders, planted a swift, hard
kiss on her mouth. “I’ll wait.”

, I had quite given up on
Adam marrying until you came along.” Eloise
stirred sugar into her coffee, then tossed the spoon
with practiced ease across the kitchen to land in the
When she’d first tried that maneuver a couple of
weeks earlier, the spoon had hit the window behind
the sink and cracked it. Since then, she’d taken to
calling in on Casey most days, and now, by the start
of the fourth week of their friendship, her aim had
improved remarkably.
Casey smiled, managing not to cringe at the ref-
erence to marriage, and continued preparing the
seafood salad. It was the housekeeper’s day off.
Adam had suggested they dine out, but Casey had
declined. He hadn’t called it a date, but she sus-
pected it was part of his campaign to get her into
bed. As far as she was concerned, all dates were
off. As extra insurance against temptation, she’d
invited Eloise for dinner on several occasions,
tonight included.

“Now, Eloise,” she chided the older woman.
“You hadn’t given up at all. I know all about your
Eloise chortled. “Adam used that awful word
just to annoy me.”
“Are you saying you weren’t trying to find him
a wife?”
Eloise almost succeeded in looking insulted.
“Not at all.” At Casey’s snort she added, “All right,
I introduced him to various young women I thought
I could tolerate as a daughter-in-law. I just wanted
him to know the happiness I once did. But I knew
it would take a miracle.” Her eyes misted. “And
then you came along.”
Uncomfortable, Casey turned the conversation
back to Eloise. “Were you very much in love with
Adam’s father?”
The older woman’s face lit up. “Oh, yes. I miss
James every day, but I thank God for the time we
had. We’d only been married six years when he had
that heart attack, and then a stroke right after.” She
shuddered. “We were in bed—just reading, my
dear,” she assured Casey, who really didn’t want to
“Next minute, I was dialing 911, and the am-
bulance crew was saying I was lucky I hadn’t lost
him already.”
“So he died that night?” Casey asked.
Eloise shook her head. “He recovered, quite

well. The stroke slowed his speech, and he couldn’t
move his right side much, but they ran all kinds of
scans and tests, which showed no damage to any-
thing that mattered. I thought I’d be taking him
home with me in a few days’ time.”
“Then what?” Casey asked, though the weight of
grief in Eloise’s voice gave her the answer.
“A week later, he had another heart attack.”
Eloise dabbed a handkerchief to her eyes. “We only
had those few years together, but, my, they were
wonderful. Every one of them was worth a decade
with an ordinary man.”
“Do you think you’ll ever marry again?” Casey
asked. If Sam could only stop making a fool of
himself every time he got near Eloise, he might be
a good match for her, with his old-world manners
and his obvious desire to cherish her.
Eloise shook her head. “I was forty-two when I
married James, a spinster and perfectly happy that
way. I don’t believe the man exists who could measure
up to him, and I’m not prepared to settle for less.”
“Good for you.” Casey meant it. She could learn
something from Eloise about not settling. Still, she
decided to have one last try at advancing Sam’s
cause. “Eloise, I know you have lots of friends and
you’re busy. But sometimes I catch something in
your face…. You look lonely.”
Eloise read Casey’s concern, and it warmed her.
Her daughter-in-law was such a sweet thing—Eloise

hoped Adam knew how lucky he was. She suspected
he didn’t. Not yet. Whatever the truth behind Casey’s
and Adam’s marriage, it wasn’t what the world saw.
But a boy as smart as Adam would eventually realize
he’d chosen the right bride, and would do what he
needed to make the marriage work.
“I won’t say I don’t get lonely,” she told Casey.
“Of course I do. But what I had with James… I
can’t replace that.”
“Was he the possessive type?”
Eloise shook her head. “He didn’t need to be. I
never had eyes for anyone else.”
“I wondered,” Casey said, “if you thought maybe
he wouldn’t want you to find someone else.”
“My dear, it’s not him, it’s me,” Eloise said, has-
tening to quash any implication that James might
have been less than the generous, loving man he
was. “I’m just…better on my own.”
Though if that was so, why on earth had that
stuffy Sam been occupying her thoughts to such an
alarming extent, ever since she’d taken a look at him
last week and realized Casey was right? The man
was handsome. Very handsome. She should have
noticed that before. Then it wouldn’t be bothering
her the way it did now.
Eloise fanned her face against a sudden heat that
had nothing to do with the late afternoon sun
streaming into the kitchen. She was behaving like
a silly girl whose head had been turned by a dash

of male attention. So what if Sam liked her, in a way
that was annoyingly, yet quite endearingly, inept?
He wasn’t James.
James isn’t here.
Eloise tamped down the traitorous thought. She
loved James and always would.
“The thing about Sam,” she said to Casey, “is he
acts as if I do everything wrong. If I ever wanted
another man, which I don’t, I’d want someone who
wants to love me, not to improve me or organize
me. Someone who wants what I have to offer.
Which is love. Only love.” She smiled at her
daughter-in-law. “Really, what could be better than
Casey didn’t know how to answer. In her expe-
rience, few people wanted only love. They wanted
love plus housekeeping. Love plus babysitting.
Never just love.
Sometimes not even love.
Eloise’s face softened. “I do wish we’d had longer,
so James and Adam could have reconciled. Adam
blamed James for his mother’s death, you know.”
Casey tipped the tomato she’d just chopped into
the salad bowl. “He says his father changed when
he met you.”
Eloise nodded. “After I met him, James was
ashamed of the way he’d behaved toward his
family. His own parents were cold and distant, and
he married Adam’s mother for the worst of

reasons—her family’s money—and made no secret
of it. By his own admission, he was a lousy hus-
band, and a poor father to Adam.”
“It must have been hard for Adam, to see his
father so loving toward you.”
“So you’ve noticed I’m not Adam’s favorite
person?” Eloise laughed at Casey’s stricken expres-
sion. “My dear, you can understand where he’s
coming from. I didn’t find out about the financial
mess James was in until he died, so Adam must
have thought me utterly profligate. He was prob-
ably right. He wouldn’t touch a penny of his father’s
life insurance to rebuild the business. He said I’d
need that for myself. There I was, living the life I’d
always lived, while that boy worked like a dog to
rescue Carmichael Broadcasting from a disaster he
blames me for.”
“It wasn’t your fault.” Casey whisked balsamic
vinegar in a jug, together with some olive oil.
“Adam felt betrayed,” Eloise said gently. She
slid the salt and pepper across the island to Casey.
“James taught him that the business came first, that
family was a distant second. Then, just as Adam
finally had the chance to get close to his father at
work, James changed the rules on him.
“Then he made that foolish will, which meant
Adam ended up more annoyed than grieved when
his dad died. I tried to convince James to change the
will after his stroke, but he refused.

“But then you came along,” Eloise said briskly.
She drank the last of her coffee. “And dear Adam
will have the happiness he deserves.”
“Adam and I… It’s early days. We’re still getting
to know each other.” Maybe Casey could prepare
Eloise for the blow she would suffer when the an-
nulment came through.
“Of course you are, my dear. It must be so ex-
citing. But one only has to look at the two of you
together to see how right you are.” Tears glistened
in her eyes, and she blew her nose delicately. “I’ll
just wash my hands, dear.”
When Casey heard the kitchen door open a min-
ute later, she assumed Eloise had returned. Without
turning around, she said, “How do you know when
two people are right together?”
“When wanting the other person keeps you
awake at night,” Adam said.
Casey squawked and spun around. “When did
you come in?”
“Just now.” He walked up to her, so close he
could kiss her, but he didn’t. “How long have you
been talking to yourself? You know that’s a sign
you’re not getting enough sleep.”
“Wanting you does not keep me awake at night,”
she said, as crushingly as she could.
“You mean you’ve been stockpiling sleep?” he
asked. “In that case, why not spend tonight with
me? We can stay awake all night long.”

He put his hands on her waist, closed the gap
between them. His eyes blazed down at her.
“I won’t be in your bed,” she said. “Other than
in your dreams.”
“Hmm, let me show you how my dreams start.”
He kissed her, long and hard, until she opened her
mouth to him. He walked her to the counter, deep-
ening the kiss so that her head dropped back, reveal-
ing her throat. With a murmur of appreciation he
left her mouth and started kissing her neck.
“Ahem,” Eloise said from the doorway.
Adam cursed and sprang away from Casey.
“What’s she doing here?” He obviously realized
that sounded rude even for him, and said, “Sorry,
Eloise, you startled me.”
“Evidently,” she told him serenely. “Casey in-
vited me to stay for dinner. But if you two would
rather be alone…”
“No,” Casey said quickly. “We want you to stay.
I thought after dinner we could…play Monopoly.”
“If that’s what you’d like, dear,” Eloise said.
“Though Monopoly does take rather a long time.”
“Does it?” Casey asked.
“Enthralling though that sounds,” Adam said, “I
need to go back to the office after dinner.”
“I’ll stay and keep you company then,” Eloise
offered happily. She reached for Casey’s hand,
squeezed it. “Truly, dear, getting to know you has
been a wonderful treat. It seems odd to say this

when I’ve known you such a short time, but already
I love you like a daughter.”
Casey returned Eloise’s impulsive hug, because
she couldn’t look her in the eye.
Eloise was offering the no-strings love Casey
had always wanted. A gift she couldn’t accept,
because she was an impostor.
Behind Eloise, Casey saw Adam’s startled rec-
ognition of what his stepmother was offering…and
something that looked very much like envy.

his somber mood next
morning. All he knew was that touching scene
between Casey and Eloise had left him feeling as
if he was missing out on something. He didn’t want
to think about what that was.
“Is anything wrong?” he asked Casey, in an
attempt to get out of his own head. She looked
about as cheerful as he felt.
She put down her cup of tea. “Adam, I don’t
know how to tell you this.”
For one awful moment he feared something
might have happened to Eloise. “What is it?”
“Sue—the housekeeper. She called last night
after you went back to work. She quit.”
Relief washed over him. He looked at Casey,
rubbed his chin.
“Say something,” she demanded.
“You must be doing something right.”

“Right? How do you mean?”
“As I recall, Mrs. Lowe lasted approximately
forty-eight hours after you moved in. Sue lasted,
what—two weeks? That’s a huge improvement.”
Casey smiled reluctantly. “It’s not funny, Adam. I
have no idea why she left. I’m starting to think it’s
“No way, darling,” he teased her. “I distinctly
recall you telling me you’ve never upset anyone in
your life. Right before Mrs. Lowe left, I think it was.”
She huffed in protest, and suddenly he was
smiling again. It felt good to have a problem as
trivial as who would take care of the house.
around it on the
calendar in Adam’s kitchen. It was the first round
of the court battle with Anna May and Henry. Today,
Anna May hoped to convince a judge that enough
evidence of James Carmichael’s mental incompe-
tence existed that the case deserved a full hearing.
Casey cooked eggs and bacon for Adam’s break-
fast, wishing there was something she could do to
ensure that Anna May’s farcical motion never got
beyond today’s preliminary hearing. Eloise was
dreading the media coverage, and Adam didn’t need
this on top of everything else.
He ate his breakfast in silence, then gathered up
his briefcase and cell phone. “I’ll call and let you
know how it goes.”

Casey stood. “Good luck.” And before she could
question the wisdom of it—before Adam could
back away—she grabbed hold of his lapels and
leaned in to kiss him.
It was meant to be a brief peck. But she ought to
know by now that a quick taste of Adam’s mouth
was never enough. She moved closer, all but plas-
tered herself to the length of him, and parted her
Adam got the hint. His tongue claimed hers and
he dragged her close, and Casey relished the weight
of him pressing against her.
When he broke away, he kept ahold of her shoul-
ders. “Thanks. I feel a lot better.”
The intense heat in his eyes unnerved her. “That
was for luck,” she joked. “They call me Lucky
With his thumb, he traced the outline of her mouth,
sending an erotic message straight to her core.
“Whoever ‘they’ are,” he said, “I hope they know
I’m the only man entitled to these lips.”
For now.
He didn’t say those words and neither did Casey.
But they hung between them like neon lights, illu-
minating the tenderness of the moment and reveal-
ing it to be false.
Casey stepped out of his embrace. “I’ll go see
Eloise while you’re in court.” Adam had asked his
stepmother not to attend the hearing, and she’d

gladly agreed. Casey wouldn’t go either, since, as
Adam’s bride, she was a sore reminder to Anna
May that Adam had fulfilled the will’s conditions.
As she drove to Eloise’s, Casey fretted over how
the older woman must feel. She’d been through so
much. To finally meet her soul mate, then to have
him suffer a heart attack and a stroke just a few
years later… And just when Eloise had thought
James might recover, he’d—
“That’s it!” Casey thumped her car’s ancient
steering wheel in excitement. Eloise had mentioned
all those tests James had undergone after his stroke.
They must have included tests on his brain.
Casey pulled out her cell phone and called her
stepmother-in-law. A car honked behind her—not
because the driver thought she was sexy, but
because she’d strayed into the next lane. Casey got
the Fiesta under control while she waited for Eloise
to answer.
Eloise caught on fast to her garbled questioning.
She promised to have the information Casey needed
by the time she arrived. Next, Casey phoned Adam.
But his cell phone was switched off. So was Sam’s.
She would have to go to the courthouse.
Fifteen minutes later, Eloise had made two calls
to the hospital that had treated James, and one to
her late husband’s lawyer. The news was all good.
She insisted on coming with Casey to the court-
house. “I’ll park the car, dear, while you run in.”

The hearing was scheduled for ten o’clock.
Technically, it wouldn’t matter if they were late, but
Casey wanted to stop it before it even started. She
wanted there to be no public mention of James Car-
michael being unhinged.
They made it with ten minutes to spare. Eloise
gamely took over the controls of the Fiesta, while
Casey raced inside. She found Adam with Sam
Magill outside courtroom number one. Across the
hall, Anna May and Henry waited with all three of
their lawyers.
Adam’s eyebrows shot up when he saw her. “I
thought we said…”
Casey was tempted to shout out that she had
evidence Adam’s dad wasn’t crazy. But it occurred
to her that some of the people milling around the
hallway were likely journalists who’d enjoy pro-
voking a discussion about the sanity of one of
Memphis’s benefactors. So she pulled Adam and a
bemused Sam into a huddle.
She told them how Eloise had called the psy-
chiatrist who’d tested James after his stroke, and
how the man was certain James was fully competent.
“We knew that,” Sam said. “What matters is
James’s state of mind when he wrote his will.”
Casey delivered her pièce de résistance. “Eloise
told me that after the stroke, she asked James to
change his will. He had his lawyer bring it in so he
could review it. In the end, he decided he was happy

with it as it was. Thanks to the psychiatric tests
he’d just had, we know the will reflects the thinking
of a sane man.”
“We do,” Sam agreed, surprised but pleased.
“But surely if we knew this…”
“Eloise forgot about James reviewing the will
until she mentioned it to me on Monday,” Casey
said, “and even then she didn’t make the link
between that and the psych tests.”
Adam grabbed Casey by the upper arms. “You,”
he said, “are incredible.” Then he kissed her, right
there. Not quite the bone-shaking kiss they’d shared
this morning, but with enough heat to cause Henry
to clear his throat across the hall.
By the time they surfaced for air, Sam was in
close discussions with the other side’s legal team
and Eloise was strolling through the courthouse
doors with a spring in her step more suited to a
garden party.
Five minutes later, a triumphant Sam announced
that Anna May had conceded Casey’s evidence out-
weighed anything she could present to the judge
today. The hearing would be cancelled. Even Anna
May’s threat that they hadn’t heard the last of this
couldn’t dampen their triumph.
“That’s marvelous, Sam,” Eloise said, laying a
palm on his arm. When she realized what she’d
done, her eyes widened. But before she could whip
her hand away, Sam covered it with his own.

“How about we adjourn to the café next door for
a celebratory coffee?” he said. “Maybe even one with
caffeine, Eloise, if your blood pressure is up to it.”
She stiffened, and Casey braced herself for the
usual retort that would singe Sam’s ego. But for
once, he appeared to have realized exactly how he
sounded, for he darted a look of apology at Eloise.
“On second thought, I bow to your superior knowl-
edge in these matters. You choose.”
It was obvious Eloise liked that. A smile played
at the corners of her mouth.
“Coffee, my foot,” she said. “It’s gone ten
o’clock. This calls for champagne.”
To his credit, Sam refrained from expressing any
concern about the state of Eloise’s liver, or about the
wisdom of buying champagne when an American
sparkling wine would be better value for money.
Instead he bowed, a gesture made awkward by the
fact that he wouldn’t relinquish his grip on Eloise’s
hand, and escorted her out the door.
Adam tucked Casey’s hand through his own
arm as they left the building. “Thanks,” he said.
“What you did today went way beyond our agree-
ment. I owe you.”

at some unearthly hour on
Saturday morning, Casey pulled her pillow over
her head to block out the noise.
But Adam’s shout pierced her feather-and-cotton
shelter. He thumped on the door of her bedroom,
and before she could tell him to wait, in he stormed.
He was brandishing the morning newspaper.
“Eloise called to say we should take a look at this.”
Casey sat up in bed and tried to ignore the fact
that his white terry-cloth robe hung open to reveal
his bare chest—a frankly yummy chest, its muscled
firmness accentuated by just the right amount of
dark, curling hair—and black boxers sitting snugly
on his hips.
She wasn’t doing a very good job of ignoring it—
he had to clear his throat to get her attention. The
appreciation wasn’t all one-sided, Casey realized as
she followed the direction of his gaze and looked
down at her nightdress. The thin straps had slipped
off her shoulders, and the way she was leaning
forward didn’t leave anything to the imagination.

Casey grimaced and tugged her nightie back into
place before she took the paper and read the
headline: TV Couple’s Wedding a Sham.
“Oh no!” A wedding photo—of her and Adam
kissing—had pride of place on the front page.
Around it were smaller photos of the two of them,
taken, if she wasn’t wrong, right here in this house.
“How did they—?” The photo at the bottom
answered the question. It was their erstwhile house-
keeper, Sue Mason. Only the picture was captioned,
“Sue O’Connor, undercover journalist.”
“How bad is it?” Casey couldn’t bear to read the
words that laid open their private lives—their
to the world.
“About what you’d expect.” Adam scanned the
article for what he presumably considered a choice
extract, and read aloud. “‘Adam and Casey Carmi-
chael, a doting couple in the public eye, sleep in
separate bedrooms and seldom exchange more than
the merest courtesies.’”
“That’s not true,” Casey protested. “I mean, the
bedroom part is, but how dare she say you’re
“Do you think this is funny?” he said.
She shook her head. “If I don’t laugh, I’ll cry.”
Her voice cracked on the last word. She squeezed
her eyes shut, picturing her family reading this stuff
and knowing the truth.
“It’s not all bad,” Adam soothed her. “Listen to

this. ‘Casey Carmichael is a kind and considerate
employer, who always has a smile on her face. But
one senses that beneath the vibrant facade—’” He
“What does it say?”
“Uh, nothing, it’s just—”
Casey snatched the newspaper from him and
quickly found where he’d left off. “‘One senses
that beneath the vibrant facade is a woman hurt by
her husband’s indifference.’” She stared at Adam.
“I don’t know if that’s worse for me or for you.”
“For you,” he said immediately. “It makes you
sound pathetic.”
“It makes you sound nasty,” she pointed out. “I’d
rather be pathetic than nasty.”
“But any self-respecting man would rather be
nasty than pathetic.”
“That explains a lot,” she muttered. She pushed
her quilt aside and climbed out of bed. On the way
to fetch her robe, she detoured to the window to
open the shutters.
“Casey, don’t.” Adam rushed to stop her, but it
was too late.
She froze. Adam must have left the gates open
last night because the front garden was a seething
mass of journalists. When the crowd saw her and
Adam at the window, the photographers raised their
cameras and began snapping away.

Sunday, Adam was starting to
feel as if they were on a rerun of their honeymoon.
Only this time around, even though they had a
whole house to share, being shut in with Casey was
even greater torment.
He sighed. Was it too much to hope that something
more newsworthy had happened in Memphis over-
night to drag the media away from his front yard?
He turned from the toaster to ask, “How are the
headlines today?”
Casey read from the front page of the Sunday
paper. “‘Love or Lies? Carmichaels in hiding.’” She
showed him the picture—of her in her nightgown,
openmouthed at the bedroom window, with Adam
behind her, his expression dark. “This paper claims
the other guys got it wrong, judging by the fact that
we appeared at the same window together, half-
“They just wish they’d thought of coming in
undercover themselves.” Adam took the opportu-
nity to inhale Casey’s fresh, morning fragrance as
he stepped closer to scan the article. He grimaced
at the rampant speculations it contained. “I wish
these people had something better to do. We need
a real disaster the press can focus on, something
else to fill the front pages.”
“Earthquake? Political assassination?” Casey
suggested helpfully.
“I didn’t say I wanted anyone to die. Some fraud-

ster conning old ladies out of their fortunes would
do. He could start with Eloise.”
“Adam! You don’t want that to happen. You
know you’d feel obliged to come to her rescue.”
“Very funny.” Not only would he feel obliged
to help Eloise, these days he’d actually want to.
Adam turned back to the toaster. “How do you
like your toast?”
“Toasted,” Casey said.
“What does that mean?”
“It means however it comes. How many ways are
there to have toast?”
“There’s well done, medium and light,” he said.
“But pardon me for asking.”
He gathered from her humph that she’d never
heard such a dumb question. That’s what a guy got
when he tried to be considerate. Life was so much
easier before he’d started…liking Casey.
“We need a strategy,” he said.
“Are you still talking about toast?” she asked
“I’m talking about proving our marriage is
“You can’t prove something that’s not true,”
she objected.
“If you think I’m going to let all of Memphis
believe I’m not capable of making my wife
“Didn’t you say it’s cool to be nasty?”

“I said it’s better than being pathetic. But if
they’re going to imply it’s my fault you and I aren’t
sleeping together…”
She laughed out loud. “This all comes down to
your masculine pride. Memphis’s most eligible
bachelor, unable to please his wife.”
Show Adam the man who wouldn’t take that as
a challenge, and he’d show you someone truly
pathetic. And they’d already established that
wasn’t him.
He advanced on her.
“Adam, put that knife down,” Casey warned him,
a wicked look in her eyes. He realized he was still
carrying the butter-smeared implement, and tossed
it onto the counter. She stepped backward, but soon
came up against the fridge.
Adam put a hand on either side of her, effectively
pinning her in position.
“I’ll scream,” she said. “The journalists outside
will hear.”
“I locked the gates last night,” he reminded her.
“There’s no one here but you and your nasty hus-
He cut off her next words by pressing his mouth
to hers. There was a moment of muffled protest,
then the familiar heat rose between them and Casey
was returning his kisses as fast as he could supply
them. The tautness of her breasts through the thin
cotton of her sundress, pressing against his chest,

reminded Adam of that first day they’d met, when
she’d run right into him.
She pulled away, but not before he’d completed
a thorough exploration of her mouth. “Okay,” she
gasped. “I’ll put out a statement to the media saying
you’re quite capable of satisfying me.”
“But you don’t know that,” he said. “In fact, this
whole thing with the housekeeper is your fault. If
we’d been sleeping together—as I suggested,” he
pointed out virtuously, “she wouldn’t have had any
ammunition for her article.”
“I’m not going to sleep with you just in case
every housekeeper we hire turns out to be a spy.”
“So much for your dedication to our cause,” he
said. “Let’s get back to my strategy, since I at least
am willing to prevent our good work so far from
being ruined. I think Eloise is okay about these
stories. I told her we were in separate bedrooms
while the journalist was here because you moved
out of our room in a fit of paranoid jealousy over
one of my past relationships.”
Casey squealed in outrage. “You and your ego.
Why couldn’t you be the one who was jealous about
“Eloise knows I’m not the jealous type,” he said
smugly. “Let’s not split hairs. We need to ramp up
our marriage for everyone else to see.”
“Ramp it up,” she echoed.
“There’s a charity gala on Thursday night,” he

said. “I’m one of the patrons, so I’ll be conspicu-
ous. If you go with me, we’ll both be conspicuous.”
She looked puzzled. “We’ll be conspicuously
“Okay…” she said doubtfully.
“And we’ll invite your family to stay next
Casey groaned, knowing he was right. “I guess
we should. Dad sounded suspicious about that
article when he called yesterday, and I think he and
Karen are making progress on getting their lives
together. I wouldn’t want to derail that.”
She was struck with a brain wave. “How about
we invite your family—all the stockholders in Car-
michael Broadcasting—for lunch next Sunday?”
Adam looked less than enthusiastic about having
to see his relatives on a weekend, but Casey per-
sisted. “It can’t hurt to mend some fences, Adam.
Whatever the outcome of this court battle, you’ll
still have to work with Henry and Anna May. And
if I introduce your family to mine, my folks will be
even more convinced.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” he conceded. “Maybe a
barbecue. We can keep it casual.”
“Sounds good.”
“There’s one more thing,” Adam said. “We’ll be
sharing a room when your family is here. Don’t you
think it’s time you and I made love?”
It was the first time he’d referred to it as “love,”

instead of sex or sleeping together. Casey sagged
into her seat, put a hand to her stomach as if she
could push down the heat that had pooled there.
“Absolutely not,” she managed to reply.
“It’s going to happen, Casey,” he said. “Start
counting down.”

Casey when she
insisted she would buy her own clothes for the
charity gala, and had sent Eloise to shepherd her
around the best Memphis boutiques in search of the
perfect dress. And what a dress it was.
The halter neckline of the lime-green satin gown
flattered her bosom, the ankle-length slim skirt
hugged her hips, and high-heeled black sandals
gave her a seductive sway when she walked.
Not that Casey would be seducing anyone to-
night, she told her reflection. But she wanted to
look as if she was at least capable of seducing her
husband. Adam’s wasn’t the only ego to have taken
a hit with Saturday’s newspaper article.
“You look great,” Adam said when she met him
downstairs. “How about you wear that on Satur-
day night?”
“Why on Saturday?”
“When we make love,” he said, “I want to take
that dress off you.”
Her face flamed. “I told you, we are not going
to make love.”

He tsked. “Are you sure you’re a pushover?” he
said. “Because I’m not seeing it.”
Casey beamed. He couldn’t have paid her a nicer
Determined to defeat the gossipmongers, she
held her head high and her husband’s arm tight as
she and Adam entered the restaurant for the gala.
There were probably a hundred and fifty people
there, and Adam had to talk with many of them.
Casey looked around for Eloise and found her in the
middle of a group of elegantly dressed women.
“Casey, my dear.” Eloise kissed her cheek, then
introduced her to the others. It seemed Casey had
interrupted a discussion about a controversial
painting by Memphis artist Kevin Mallory, which
had won a national award.
“It’s gobbledygook,” one woman said. “A mish-
mash of colors, lines that go nowhere…what’s it
supposed to be?”
mystifying,” Eloise agreed. “But I find it
not so much gobbledygook as—”
“Intriguing,” said Sam Magill from behind her,
once again startling Eloise. The women willingly
widened their circle to include this unattached male.
“I can’t say I get what Mallory’s trying to do, but
you look at those colors—the depth—and it takes
your breath away.”
Sam had the women’s rapt attention. He did look
rather dashing, Eloise conceded, in a tuxedo that

emphasized that he’d kept his shape. Really, some
of those ladies were too silly, fluttering their eye-
lashes, flashing coy smiles that would have been
more appropriate at a high school prom.
Eloise inched closer to him, in case the women
were making him uncomfortable. But Sam didn’t
seem to mind the attention. He gave his views
politely, allowed others to express theirs uninter-
rupted. That look of intelligent interest in his gray
eyes was rather appealing….
Sam turned and caught her staring at him. His
eyebrows rose a fraction. Eloise stepped away, and
the movement drew his gaze to her new, high-heeled
black sandals, which she knew flattered her ankles.
Sam’s eyes lingered there a moment, then he said,
“As always, you have excellent taste in shoes,
She put her hands to her cheeks to cool the heat
she could feel there, then turned to Casey. “My
dear, you must let me introduce you to one of my
dearest friends. Just over there…”
Casey managed to suppress a smile, but couldn’t
help shooting a look of encouragement at Sam as
she was led away.
They hadn’t gone far when Eloise stopped and
gazed around the room.
“One of your dearest friends?” Casey prompted
Eloise blushed. “Perhaps I was mistaken. I don’t
see her now.”

“We could go back to the others,” Casey
teased her.
“There’s Adam’s friend Dave Dubois, let’s go
and chat with him.”
It was the first time Casey had seen Dave since
he’d officiated at her wedding. She knew Adam
had confided in him about the true state of their
marriage, but he greeted her like an old friend, with
an enthusiastic kiss on the cheek. Eloise got the
same treatment. The older woman laughed, patted
his hand, then had to excuse herself when someone
summoned her.
“You look radiant,” Dave told Casey, all extrava-
gant charm.
“That sounded almost as convincing as your
marriage celebrant impersonation.”
He wagged a finger at her. “That was no imper-
sonation, Mrs. Carmichael, and you have the
husband to prove it.”
“Thanks,” she said dryly.
Dave inclined his head toward Adam, talking
with the mayor of Memphis on the other side of the
room. “He’s more relaxed than I’ve seen him in a
long time. I’d say marriage agrees with him.”
Casey assessed Adam as objectively as she
could. Dave was right. He smiled more these days,
and he seemed less unyielding. “Maybe,” she said.
“Does it suit you equally well?”

She laughed at his blatant nosiness. “It suits both
of us for a time.”
“I don’t know that you should be too hasty about
ending it,” he said. “Marrying you two…I couldn’t
have done better if I’d planned the whole thing.”
“You didn’t know that ceremony was for real,
did you?” she demanded.
“No idea,” he said. “But I’ve looked into it
since—turns out, as an ex-commissioner, I can do
all kinds of weird things.”
Casey sipped her wine. “Can you issue annul-
“Uh, no.” He shrugged in apology. “But if you
want a permit to keep an alligator in your back-
“Really?” She shuddered.
“Maybe I read that one wrong.” Dave grinned.
“It’s mainly pretty boring stuff.”
“Are you talking about a conversation with
you?” Adam found the small of Casey’s back,
applied a pressure with his hand that moved her
closer to him.
“I’m talking about what it must be like being
married to you.” Dave punched him lightly on the
“Is marriage to me boring stuff?” Adam asked
The heat of his palm branded her back through
the thin fabric of her dress. Somehow she’d moved

even closer to him. If she stood on tiptoe her lips
would brush his chin.
“Actually,” she said, “it’s kind of interesting.”
For a moment, everything seemed suspended…
her breathing, the chatter around them, the music…
everything except the deepening intensity in
Adam’s eyes.
“If you guys don’t quit ogling each other, I’m
going to think there’s more to this marriage than
you both claim,” Dave said.
Adam let go of Casey. “You’d be wrong.” He
glanced at his watch. “They’ll be starting the
speeches soon, I need to find out when I’m on.”
He left, and Casey excused herself a minute later.
As the evening wore on, she found most people
were interested to meet the woman who’d married
Adam Carmichael on TV, but they were polite
enough to keep a rein on their curiosity. Except for
one man around her own age she could have sworn
was flirting with her. He looked vaguely familiar….
Where had she seen him before?
She’d been fending off his advances for nearly
ten minutes when he said, “I guess congratulations
are in order. Maybe a Happy Anniversary?”
“Excuse me?”
“You’ve been married over a month now,
haven’t you?”
It was true. She and Adam had been married for

a month. Which meant any day now, the annulment
would come through.
The stranger’s words triggered the memory of
where she’d seen him—below her bedroom win-
dow at seven o’clock on Saturday morning. This
slug was a journalist. Casey struggled to keep her
dawning realization from showing on her face. How
could she use the knowledge to her advantage?
As it turned out, he handed her the opportunity
on a plate. With what looked like deep concern, he
expressed sympathy about the press coverage she
and Adam had been subjected to.
She nodded gravely. “It was awful.” She let a
tremor enter her voice. “And all of it lies.”
“Really?” He could barely contain his eager-
ness. “So you and Adam are, uh, a proper couple?”
With a naughty smile she said, “I don’t know
about proper.” She leaned forward confidingly, and
he did the same. “You’ve heard of spontaneous
He nodded.
“Adam and I—we’re like that.” She winked, just
to be sure he couldn’t mistake her implication.

in with the newspaper at
breakfast next morning.
He opened a lilac envelope without a stamp,
hand-addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. A. Carmichael,”
and scanned the contents.
“Casey,” he said silkily.
She looked up from her cereal. “Uh-huh?”
“This note is from Mr. and Mrs. Bob Harvey,
saying they’ll be delighted to attend lunch here on
Tuesday…. Tell me it’s come to the wrong address.”
“Uh, not exactly,” she said around a mouthful of
He scowled. “I distinctly remember telling you
our marriage would be over if you invited the neigh-
bors here.”
“They brought flowers after those awful news-
paper reports,” she said. “This lunch is to thank
them for their support. You’ll be at work. You don’t
have to get involved.”
“And it’s just Mr. and Mrs. Harvey?” he asked

“Uh, I invited Alison Dare on the other side as
well, with her three preschoolers. She and the
Harveys don’t know each other, but her kids don’t
have any grandparents, so I thought…”
With a snort of disbelief, he opened the newspa-
per and held it in front of his face. It was a milder
response than Casey had expected. Relieved, she
returned to her breakfast.
“What the—” He lowered the paper to gape at
her. “Have you seen the headline on page five?”
“How could I when you’re the one with the
paper?” she demanded reasonably.
He turned it around for her to read, Casey Carmi-
chael: My Husband’s Hot. “Did you really say that?”
“Of course not. I told him
was hot.” How could
that idiot journalist have got the angle so wrong?
And since when did she and Adam only rate as
page five news? “Typical man, giving you the credit
for any heat that’s going.”
“Entirely justified,” he assured her. “As you’ll
find out very, very soon.”
“I will not.” Had he heard the waver in her voice?
, Adam proudly surveyed
the Aston Martin’s dazzling red bodywork. It was
time consuming, but he still preferred to polish the
car himself.
He just hoped he could do as good a job of con-

vincing Casey’s family to relinquish their demands
on her. She owed it to herself to finish her book.
The other night, he’d asked if he could read some
of her work.
“Writers don’t let people read their stuff,” she
said. Then she handed him her almost completed
Although Adam’s teenage years were a distant
blur, he was pretty sure he hadn’t read anything
this good back then. Casey had managed to capture
teenage angst and put a comic spin on it. Adam
figured her book might achieve the near impos-
sible—getting young people not to take themselves
so seriously.
He’d considered her novel-writing a silly dream.
But Casey seemed to have a knack for making
dreams come true.
When he heard the crunching of tires on gravel
around the front of the house, Adam went inside and
joined Casey at the front door to greet her relatives.
“Let’s lay it on thick,” he murmured in her ear—
and got a jolt of pleasure at the wicked look in her
But they were only briefly arm in arm, present-
ing a united front. Then Casey rushed forward to
take the baby, car seat and all, from Karen.
“Let me,” she said.
Adam rolled his eyes and stepped forward. “Dar-
ling, that looks far too heavy for you,” he said so-

licitously. He took the car seat from her and gazed
down at Casey’s niece.
“Isn’t she gorgeous?” Casey demanded.
A far as Adam could tell, this was a pretty
ordinary baby—red in the face, with a trail of drool
at one corner of its mouth. He’d bet any daughter
of Casey’s would be far prettier.
Not that I care
what Casey’s babies might look like.
“Gorgeous,” he agreed with complete equa-
nimity. He juggled the baby seat to shake hands
with Casey’s father, Ed, who in turn had to juggle
the cane he was using to walk. Next, Adam kissed
Karen on her cheek. Mike hadn’t come, but since he
wasn’t the target of this campaign, that didn’t matter.
When they got everyone inside, Adam had to
forcibly restrain Casey from trying to simulta-
neously carry all the bags upstairs, make coffee and
feed the baby its bottle. No wonder her family never
did anything for themselves. He sent Casey and the
others to the living room, put the kettle on the stove
and took the suitcases himself.
He stowed Ed’s in a downstairs bedroom, since
the older man might have a problem climbing
stairs. Karen’s bag, along with the portable crib
and a mini-Everest of baby gear, went in what was
normally Casey’s room. Leaving it there reminded
Adam that he and Casey would be sharing a bed
tonight. Not that he’d forgotten.
Tonight, he wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Actually, he knew damn well that he would.
Somehow Casey had ended up calling the shots on
this sex thing. She was in control, and Adam hated it.
Yet somehow, he couldn’t get mad about it.
Back in the living room, he walked right up to
Casey and leaned over the sofa from behind to drop
a kiss on the top of her head. “How are you, my
love?” he asked tenderly. “Feeling better?”
“Is she ill?” Ed asked, confused. Casey looked
equally puzzled.
“She’s been working too hard,” Adam said. “I’m
always trying to get her to slow down.”
“What work?” Karen said curiously. “The news-
paper said you had a housekeeper.”
“I’d never expect my wife to do housework,
Karen.” The guilt in her eyes suggested he’d hit the
target. “Casey’s been working hard on her writing,”
he elaborated.
It was plain from Karen’s bewilderment that
she’d never thought of her sister’s writing as work.
“And you, Karen,” he said. “You’re not working at
the moment, are you? You’re taking maternity leave?”
“I—well, yes, but it’s not easy looking after a
baby on my own,” she said, a tremor in her voice.
“That’s right,” Adam said innocently. “You
wanted Casey to work as nanny for you, didn’t you,
so you could go back to your law job?”
If looks could kill, the daggers coming from
Casey would have slain Adam on the spot.

Karen’s lip quivered. “Casey always knows what
to do. She’d be better with Rosie than I am.”
“That’s not true, honey,” Casey assured her
warmly. “Rosie’s obviously very content—she’s
been asleep in her car seat ever since you arrived.”
It was clear to Adam that Karen actually believed
what she’d just said. So while she was being selfish
in her expectations of Casey, that selfishness
stemmed from fear, a lack of self-confidence. He
figured that attacking her would only encourage
Casey to take pity on her sister, which wouldn’t be
good for anyone.
So he said, “Of course it’s not true. Babies take
some getting used to, that’s all. You’ll be fine.”
Smoothly, he steered the conversation to safer
topics. He was still standing behind Casey, so he
took the opportunity to give her a neck massage, as
a loving husband might. Of course, it involved
burying his fingers in that thick, lush hair to reach
the tender skin of her nape. Barely discernibly, she
arched against him.
He managed to keep his hands on Casey one
way or another pretty much the whole afternoon.
“You’re overdoing it,” she said in a near whisper
at one stage, when they were on the back veranda
having predinner drinks. Casey had been sitting on
the swing, cuddling the baby, her legs stretched out
along the cushion. Adam sat on the end, and when
she started to put her feet on the ground, he held on

to them and played “This little piggy” with her
toes—not saying the words, of course, but she knew
what he was doing.
know what he was doing? Other than
having the time of his life? Of course he did. Play
acting, that was all. Just enough to convince his in-
laws he adored Casey.
Ugh. He was even thinking the word now.
only a word. Just because I’m thinking it doesn’t
mean it’s for real.
Still, Adam cooled it for a while, just stuck to the
endearments and kept his hands off her. Which left
him feeling as if his hands weren’t doing what
they’d been made for.
They had dinner late, after Rosie had been put
to bed upstairs. During the meal, Karen revealed
that she and her husband had now initiated divorce
proceedings, so she was back in Parkvale for good.
Adam learned that Ed had been doing poorly since
Casey left. Both were feeling sorry for themselves,
he surmised uncharitably.
At last Karen raised the hot topic of the week.
“What about the article in last week’s paper? It said
you sleep in separate bedrooms.”
“The woman was only with us a few days,”
Casey said. “Adam and I had an argument, so I
slept in the guest room a couple of nights. It just
happened to be while she was here.”
“It was my paranoid jealousy,” Adam said help-

fully. Casey choked on her water. “Are you all
right, darling?”
“Why were you jealous?” Karen asked.
“I found Casey flirting with the gardener,” he im-
provised, and earned a hard kick under the table. “I
mean, I
she was flirting,” he amended. “She
wasn’t, of course, and she moved out of our room
until I saw sense.”
Before he could get himself into more trouble,
Adam raised his glass in a toast. “To the Greene
family,” he said, “who raised me the best wife a guy
could have.”
The others lifted their glasses, but when Adam
sought Casey’s eyes to share this moment of
triumph, they were clouded with tears. Soon after
dinner, she excused herself, saying she was tired and
would go to bed. Had he done something wrong?
Adam was torn between wanting to go with her
and the need to be courteous to their guests, to make
amends for his earlier rudeness to Karen. He de-
cided Casey would appreciate it more if he stayed
with her family.
It was another hour before he made his own
way upstairs.
The light was off, and he couldn’t hear a sound.
Could Casey have fallen asleep? When he knew he
wouldn’t sleep a wink with her beside him? Damn,
she was annoying. In the darkness, he stepped care-
fully in the direction of the bathroom.

Casey closed her eyes when Adam switched on
the light in the bathroom. She lay motionless until
he’d closed the door. She’d never been good at
hiding her feelings. What if Adam had already
guessed the awful realization that had hit her this
evening, after she’d endured a whole day of his
caresses, his loving attention?
The realization that, for better or for worse, she
was in love with her husband.
The knowledge weighed on her, holding her
Today’s tantalizing glimpse of what it might be
like to be truly married to Adam, if he loved her, had
illuminated the truth she’d been denying for days.
was the meaning of the pleasure that curled in
the pit of her stomach when he smiled at her.
was the cause of the physical ache his slightest
touch induced.
was why, with him, she felt
fully alive, one hundred percent herself.
All week, his assertion that tonight they would
make love had caused excitement to thrum through
her veins, heightening every sensation, invoking an
unbearable tension, even as she’d told him it wasn’t
going to happen—and meant it. But now she knew
she didn’t have it in her to deny him.
Casey fidgeted under the crisp cotton sheets.
Just knowing that his body normally occupied the
space where she now lay was enough to set her on
edge. She should have dressed, or rather undressed,

for the occasion. Would Adam want her looking
like this?
Would he want her if she told him she loved
The bathroom door opened, and Adam’s deep
voice called softly, “Here I come,

“You’re being Neanderthal again.” Her attempt
at a casual comment came out a squeak.
He chuckled, then the bathroom light clicked
off, and she sensed rather than heard Adam making
his way across the room in the dark. Casey froze,
wondering where he would touch her first, the
suspense tearing her apart. Where was he, dammit?
His hands brushed her collarbone as he reached
for the duvet she’d pulled up to her neck despite the
hot night. He tugged the cover away, and she felt
the play of air over her body. Still he didn’t touch
her, yet she prickled all over. She heard the soft
swish of the comforter hitting the floor, felt a
sudden depression on the other side of the mattress.
He was in bed with her, no more than a dark shape.
She shouldn’t have closed the shutters, not when
she needed to see exactly where he was.
She felt his touch, featherlight on her forehead,
smoothing her hair aside. He ran a finger down her
nose, then traced the outline of her lips. Casey took
his finger into her mouth, nipped the pad between
her teeth, heard his ragged breath as she soothed it
with her tongue.

He moved his hand to her nape, buried his fingers
there the way he had earlier. Casey arched her neck,
felt him shifting closer. When she lifted a tentative
palm, she met the firm wall of his chest, felt the
coarseness of the hair there. She wondered if he was
already naked. Then she registered the brush of a
silky fabric against her thigh. Boxers, she concluded.
His hands moved over her shoulders. Then he
pulled away. “What on earth are you wearing?” The
lamp on the nightstand snapped on, making her blink.
Adam stared down at her T-shirt and jogging
shorts. Heat mingled with laughter in his gaze.
“You look fantastic,” he breathed, and she giggled
at the outright lie. The giggle turned into an indrawn
breath as his hand caressed the bare skin of her
abdomen where her T-shirt had ridden up.
“I guess your outfit means you’re still not planning
to let me make love to you,” he said regretfully.
“Actually…” She licked her lips and saw his
gaze follow the movement of her tongue. Her heart
began thudding so strongly she thought Adam must
surely hear. “It doesn’t mean that at all.”
He stared at her for a long moment. She nodded.
A smile curved slowly across his lips and ended up
in his eyes.
Then his mouth was on hers, and she was match-
ing him, kiss for searing kiss. Whatever she’d said
to that journalist about spontaneous combustion
had been an understatement, Casey thought, as

Adam’s lips trailed fire over her face, her neck and,
nuzzling her T-shirt aside, her shoulders.
His hands roamed beneath the shirt, exploring the
sensitized column of her spine, then moving around
to cup her breasts. At that touch, Casey couldn’t stifle
a cry. Adam pulled away, breathing heavily. The need
in his eyes was exhilarating…and terrifying.
“First,” he said unevenly, “I need to get rid of
your incredibly sexy nightwear.”
He helped her tug the T-shirt off. For a moment,
he held her hands over her head, snagged in the
T-shirt, while he dipped his head to her breasts.
She moaned and a low growl sounded in his throat.
The T-shirt flew across the room. He reached for the
waistband of her shorts and slid them down.
He paused, scanned her body with a heavy-
lidded gaze that set her quivering.
“Your turn,” she murmured, her hand fluttering
toward his shorts in sudden nervousness. He peeled
them off in one swift movement, and his glorious
nakedness sent a charge of desire through Casey.
Adam touched a hand to her hip, then trailed a
caress over her stomach, her breast, up her neck
to her mouth.
She reached for him, and he shuddered, the
guttural sound he made almost pained. He lowered
himself over her so she could feel his hardness, feel
how much he wanted her.
“My darling, you’re so beautiful,” he said.

She was ready for him right then. But the seduc-
tion he performed with his mouth, with his hands,
was tantalizingly, achingly slow. He found every inch
of her, bringing her to a level of desire she hadn’t
dreamed existed. And just when Casey thought she
might die of it, he claimed her as his own.
from the soundest sleep of her life to
find herself alone in bed. She jolted upright, then
relaxed again when she heard the shower running
in the bathroom.
She lay there, hands splayed on the quilt, and
let memories of the night before wash over her.
The intimacy, the passion that she and Adam
had shared had been beyond all her expectations.
And despite her limited basis for comparison, it
had been clear Adam found it equally sublime.
Enough to want to repeat the experience twice
during the night.
What next? Her body, which she’d believed to be
sated, tingled in readiness. Not
kind of next,
she told herself; what next as far as their marriage
was concerned? She didn’t expect Adam to have
fallen in love with her overnight. But surely they’d
moved onto a different plane.
The shower stopped, and Casey waited for him
to appear.
To her disappointment, he emerged from the

bathroom fully dressed. Her cheerful greeting died
on her lips, sent to its grave by the chill in his eyes.
“We need to talk,” he said, and he sat on the
very edge of the bed, leaving an expanse of quilt
between them.
Casey waited, suddenly not trusting her voice.
Adam seemed to have trouble finding the words he
wanted, and for a few moments there was only a
strained silence.
“Last night was a mistake. I know it was my
idea, and I’d been pressuring you, but I was wrong.”
“Why?” she managed to ask in a thin voice.
“I should have realized that because you were…
less experienced, it would mean more to you.”
“While it meant nothing to you?” she asked, stung.
His eyes darkened to indigo. “You know that’s
not true.”
Maybe he was just worried for her, and she could
reassure him. She reached across the coverlet and
laid her hand on his.
He snatched it away as if burned. “Casey,” he
said, “last night was incredible. But it doesn’t
change anything between us. You and I still want
very different things. You want a man who’ll adore
you. It’s your dream, and it’s what you deserve.
But…I’m not the one who can do that. Making
love—having sex—just confuses things.”
Tears pricked her eyes, but she refused to cry.
“You don’t sound confused, and neither am I,” she

said over the lump in her throat. She steeled herself
to lie to him, prayed she would be convincing. “I
don’t adore you, Adam, and I never thought you
would be the man to adore me.”
Was it relief that chased across his face?
“I didn’t even take precautions that first time,”
he said. “You could get pregnant.”
“It’s most unlikely.” Casey didn’t bother to tell
him why. There was hardly any point explaining her
probable infertility when he’d just told her they had
no future together.
Again he had the nerve to look relieved.
A surge of anger flowed through her, forcing
back the heartbreak she knew would return later.
“Leave me alone, Adam,” she said. “You were
great in bed, but when it comes to relationships,
you’re a washout.”
If she’d hoped he would protest, she was disap-
pointed. He nodded, then left the room.
Casey heard him whistling on his way down-
She eased back against the pillows, let out a slow
breath, as if by making only the gentlest of move-
ments she could somehow keep her heart from shat-
tering. Just as carefully, she spread her fingers on
the quilt again, forced herself to take another breath
in and out. The dull gleam of the wedding ring on
her left hand caught her eye.
She had more than this piece of jewelry in

common with Adam’s mother. Like the woman
who’d worn it before her, she had fallen in love with
a husband who could never love her.

Casey wanted was to face Anna
May and Henry, along with the rest of Adam’s
extended family, for the lunch they’d planned. Why
not just call an end to this charade now?
Because then Dad and Karen would know the
truth. Because it would hurt Eloise, and Casey
couldn’t help wanting to postpone that moment.
Because Adam needed more time to build his case
against his father’s will.
So they would go through with their performance.
Fortunately, both she and Adam were too busy
getting ready for their guests to have any awkward
moments together. Adam planned to barbecue, and
Casey had a half-dozen salads to assemble, plus
Eloise’s favorite strawberry shortcake to bake.
By one o’clock, all the guests had arrived, and
the beef fillet was grilling. Casey moved between
the clusters of guests, introducing her family to
Adam’s, making sure everyone had someone to talk
to and all glasses were filled.
Eloise watched her, proud of her gracious yet un-

affected daughter-in-law. She knew something
wasn’t right between Casey and Adam, but she
prayed that he would recognize Casey was nothing
like his own family. That while she needed him, he
needed her so much more.
Today, with the sun shining, and the sweet scent
of magnolias mingling with grilling beef, it was easy
to be optimistic. Eloise smiled as she turned back to
her friends’ conversation. But she had trouble focus-
ing. Her mind was restless with thoughts of love
and marriage. Unconditional love…
For some reason—probably because he was
standing not twenty yards from her—Sam kept cap-
turing her attention.
Adam should never have invited him to this
lunch—he wasn’t family. Of course, neither were
Beth and Cecile. Adam had included them because
he thought Eloise would prefer their company to
some of his relatives’. It didn’t help that Cecile kept
giving Sam looks that could only be called flirtatious.
Somewhat acerbically, Eloise said to her friend,
“You’re rather obvious in your attentions toward
Sam Magill, Cecile. It never pays to look too eager.”
“It’s called admiring the view,” Cecile said
promptly. “He’s a handsome man.”
“Tall, too,” said Beth, who at five foot one said that
about everyone. This time, Eloise happened to agree
with her. “He keeps looking this way,” her friend
continued. “I think he’s interested in you, Cecile.”

Cecile straightened in her chair and sent a glance
over her shoulder that Eloise considered far too
sultry for a woman who’d turned sixty last birthday.
Eloise bit back the retort that it was
couldn’t keep his eyes off. Tears stung her eyes at
the thought of how mean she was feeling toward her
friend. What was wrong with her? With a huff of
frustration that almost turned into a sob, she turned
her back on Sam, trying for a joke. “You girls have
been widows too long if you think Sam is anything
other than a…a tedious, pathetic little man.”
Oh dear, that hadn’t come out funny in the least.
She was met by horrified silence. Which was argu-
ably an overreaction. She’d said no worse than the
others had a dozen times about men who—
“Eloise.” Sam’s gravelly voice spoke behind her.
Eloise gasped. Her heart in her mouth, she turned.
He seemed bigger than she remembered. Only a few
inches taller than her five-seven, but just…bigger all
over. Not overweight, just…big. Male.
She closed her eyes, mortified. Once, when she
was a child, her mama had tanned her behind for
being rude to one of their maids. And she’d been
far less offensive then than she’d been to Sam now.
“Sam, I’m so very sorry. That was inexcusable.”
For the first time his gray eyes—gunmetal gray,
she realized—didn’t soften. This must be what he
looked like in a courtroom.
He didn’t blush or stammer or do any of the

inept Sam Magill things. “Eloise Carmichael,” he
said in the stentorian tone of a judge pronouncing
sentence, “you are a spoiled brat.”
Eloise heard Cecile titter, saw Beth’s mouth
round into an
of shock.
“When you decide to keep a civil tongue in your
head like the lady you were raised to be…”
Oh, this was too much; now he was channeling
her own thoughts back at her.
“…we’ll talk about what you think of me. Until
then, I’ll leave you with this.”
Strong hands grasped her shoulders, and
Eloise looked up at him in bewilderment. A mo-
ment’s stupidity prevented her from realizing
what he was about to do. Then his lips met hers
in a hard kiss.
She gasped and twisted away. “How dare—”
But his hands framed her face, forcing her back
to him. Again he kissed her, smothering her protest
with the hunger of a man too long denied.
Eloise pushed against his chest, but then—
she seemed to be melting into the man.
Her fingers curled into the fine linen of his shirt and
she heard a noise that sounded very much like
Finally, Sam released her, his face red, but not
with embarrassment.
He cleared his throat and said stiffly, “I am not
James. I will never be James.” The words were a

slap in the face. He took a step closer and Eloise
shrank back even as a traitorous corner of her
wanted to feel that mouth on hers again.
“You know what?” Sam said. “I don’t
to be
He gave her that half bow, so much more awk-
ward than James’s had ever been, yet in its own
way…endearing. Then he turned and strode across
the lawn toward the drive.
On the way, he bumped into the sundial.
Eloise watched him until he disappeared from
view. Cecile and Beth watched, too. Then Beth said,
“You see, Eloise? I told you he likes you.”
, Casey enjoyed the family
lunch. Enjoyed being Adam’s hostess, making
his family welcome. Even Anna May and Henry.
She especially enjoyed seeing Sam stake his
claim to Eloise, who left soon after Sam did,
pleading a headache.
Through the afternoon, Casey watched for an
opportunity to speak to Adam’s aunt alone. Casey
hadn’t discussed her plan with Adam. Now, she
wondered if it was a dumb idea. Adam’s family
problems were none of her business, he’d made it
clear this morning she was nothing more than a
one-month wife.
But she loved him.
Her chance came when everyone had finished

eating. Most people sat around on the porch,
nursing cups of coffee.
Adam, bless his orderly heart, was scraping
down the barbecue and generally getting things
straightened out.
Casey plunked herself down next to Anna May,
who was watching Henry play tennis with some of
his cousins on Adam’s grass court.
“That boy is such an athlete,” Anna May said
fondly, before she realized who it was sitting next
to her. She scowled.
“He’s good,” Casey agreed. To look at Henry’s
stocky figure, you’d never guess he was a sports-
man. But he was wiping the floor with the admit-
tedly limited competition.
“He’s always been talented out on the court,”
Anna May said.
“As opposed to
court.” Casey figured she
might as well get right down to it.
Anna May glared. “I’m not talking to you with-
out my lawyer.”
“Anna May,” Casey said. “Won’t you consider
dropping your legal action against James’s will?”
Anna May sniffed. “Certainly. All Adam has to do
is promote Henry and pay us a dividend. He owes us.”
Casey drew a breath. This was where she either
screwed up big time or pulled a rabbit out of the hat.
“I know you love Henry, and that’s why you’re
fighting so hard on his behalf.”

“Of course I love him.”
“But Adam had the impression at one of your
recent meetings that Henry’s heart isn’t in this battle.”
The older woman blushed. “You don’t know the
first thing about what my son wants.”
“I know what it is to do things for people out of
love.” She didn’t say,
as a means of tying them to
“But in the end, it’s not enough, for you or for
them.” She paused. “Have you asked Henry what
he really wants?”
Anna May gaped. “Don’t be impertinent. I know
what my son wants. I know what I can do for him.
Stay out of our business.” She turned away to ap-
plaud, as Henry lobbed a killer serve that had his
opponent scurrying for the ball.
Casey eyed the firm set of the other woman’s
shoulders with helpless frustration. She had been no
help at all.

around four o’clock. With
fewer people to act as a buffer, the strain between
Casey and Adam became more apparent. They were
wooden and stilted with each other, and despite
Adam’s best efforts, Casey found herself drifting
into brooding silence.
She could barely hide her relief when her father
and sister announced their imminent departure.
Before they left, Karen cornered Casey in the
living room. “Have you and Adam had an argu-

ment? He puts on a polite front, but I can see you’re
both in a terrible mood.”
Casey wasn’t up to pretending any longer. “Yes,
we have,” she said simply.
“Are you certain you’ve done the right thing,
Casey? I don’t know how long you and Adam
have known each other, but it can’t be all that long
a time. If this doesn’t work out you can always
come home to us.” For once, Karen’s concern
sounded genuine.
“I don’t know if my marriage will work out or
not,” Casey said. “Thanks for the offer, but I won’t
be coming back to Parkvale. I’m proud of you guys
and how you’re doing.”
Despite this morning’s disappointment, Casey
knew an unfamiliar lightness of spirit. Finally,
she’d said she wouldn’t go back, and meant it. All
those other times she’d talked about leaving home,
she realized now, she hadn’t been committed to
building her own future. In getting away from
Parkvale and writing her book, she’d discovered a
kind of self-belief that all the affirmations in the
world couldn’t deliver.
Karen must have recognized the strength of her
sister’s resolve. “I’m sure we’ll fix something up,”
she said meekly. She hugged Casey. “Good luck.
Thanks for everything. And I do mean everything.”
And that was it. Mission accomplished.

—” Sam’s gaze slid away
from Adam’s “—I should show Eloise the real me.”
“Casey said that?” Adam drummed his fingers
on his desk. It was only Tuesday, but already he
wanted this week to be over so he could spend two
days with Casey. Which made no sense after what
he’d said on Sunday.
“She’s the only wife you have, isn’t she? Or is
this about to get more complicated?” The lawyer
grinned. All through the meeting he’d been as
chipper as Adam was sour.
Adam ignored Sam’s joke. “If the way you
groped Eloise in front of everyone was the real you,
I’m not sure the world’s ready for it.”
Sam frowned and cleared his throat. “You may
not have realized, but I am, er, very fond of Eloise.”
“For Pete’s sake, Sam, you all but ate her for
lunch on Sunday,” Adam snapped, not interested in
hearing about other people’s love lives when his
own was such a mess.
Sam huffed. “I just want to warn you I intend to
pursue Eloise with romantic intentions.”
“Isn’t she the one you should be warning?
Assuming she hasn’t figured it out already?”
“I intend to do that, too,” Sam said.
“Okay, I consider myself warned.” Adam let out
a breath, and abandoned his churlish attitude.
“Good luck with that.”
The lawyer nodded, then switched the subject

smoothly. “Judge Skelton is back from vacation.
I presented our annulment petition to him this
Adam stilled. “Good.” His voice sounded thin.
“If you’re at all interested in making this mar-
riage a permanent thing, I can ask him to hold off
on his decision,” Sam offered.
A rushing in Adam’s ears left him dizzy.
“There’s no point,” he said. “Even if Casey stays,
Anna May told me she’s going to argue in court that
our marriage is fake, based on the TV wedding and
the media coverage.”
“I still think we can win our original argument
that the will’s not legal,” Sam said. “What I’m
saying is, if you and Casey do want to stay married,
now’s the time to say so. Then if Anna May gets
somewhere with her new complaint, we can ask
the court to allow a couple of years to demonstrate
that your marriage is lasting and committed. If you
and Casey stay married, we win no matter what.”
“How do we prove our marriage is genuine,
without inviting Anna May into our bedroom?”
Sam gnawed on his lip. “You have a baby.”
A baby! Adam felt as if he’d been socked in the
chest. He’d never thought about having children,
but he did know he wasn’t about to have a kid just
to prove a point in court.
“It might be your best bet,” Sam said. “We’ll still
challenge the will, saying your father can’t force

you to get married. But a lot of judges don’t take
kindly to that kind of thing. Most of them are within
a decade or two of dying themselves. They don’t
like the idea of someone tampering with a man’s
final wishes.”
“Casey and I aren’t going to stay married.” Adam
was suddenly adamant on that point.
The decision weighed on him like a ton of that
stodgy cornbread Eloise was so certain he liked. He
looked at his watch. “It’s nearly lunchtime. You
must need a cigar by now.”
The lawyer stood. “I’ve given them up.”
Adam clamped his mouth shut to keep his jaw
from dropping. “You love those things.” Sam didn’t
smoke during working hours, but at the end of most
evenings there were four or five cigar stubs in his
Sam shrugged. “Eloise doesn’t like it.”
“Did she ask you to quit?”
“She’s a lady, she’d never ask that. I wanted to
do something for her.”
Sam took his leave. Adam scowled at the door
as it closed behind the lawyer. How did Eloise do
that? Have men falling over themselves to do things
for her without her having to ask? As far as Adam
knew, she’d never asked anything of Sam. Adam
realized now she’d probably never asked anything
of his father, either. James had wanted to do things
for his wife. Because he loved her.

“Love, schmove,” Adam said.
He yielded to the irritation that had been pricking
at him all morning. Instead of enjoying his work,
all he could think about was his wife.
When had staying home with Casey started to
outweigh the appeal of Carmichael Broadcasting?
Staring unseeing at his computer, Adam real-
ized it was before Casey had spent last Saturday
night in his arms. The tenderness, the passion of
that night were symptoms of his current malaise,
not the cause.
Which brought him to the real question: what
this malady? There was only one diag-
nosis that didn’t give Adam the urge to lock himself
in his office and never come out again.
That Casey occupied his thoughts to an alarming
extent, not just with the memory of her exquisite
body, but with her smile, her eyes, her laugh, her
kindness, her mind. It all came down to lust.
He’d hurt her with his coldness the morning after
they made love, he knew. But the generosity of her
lovemaking had scared him. She’d given him every-
thing, and that intimacy had been more precious
than he’d known it could be.
Was she in love with him? Or did she at least
think she was?
Adam told himself he hoped she meant what
she’d said. That if on Saturday night she’d for some

foolish reason thought she loved him, his coldness
on Sunday morning had changed her mind.
Because Adam didn’t do love. And he especially
didn’t do adoring.
He glanced at his desk calendar. If Sam’s petition
to Judge Skelton was successful, the annulment
would be through very soon. Life would go back to
normal. Adam forced himself to smile.
Hopefully, he and Casey could part as friends.
Although, since Sunday morning, there hadn’t been
anything more than chilly politeness between them.
He should fix that before it was too late. Explain
himself better, make sure she understood. And let her
know he appreciated just how great her gift had
The clock on his wall clicked over to noon.
That’s right; she had the neighbors Adam had never
met coming for lunch. At his house. With his wife.
“Cancel my afternoon appointments,” Adam told
his startled secretary. “I’m going home.”
at noon, just as Casey typed
“The End” at the bottom of her manuscript. She’d
written the book, she’d revised it to her satisfaction,
and now those two little words gave her a deep
feeling of accomplishment.
They also gave her a sense of foreboding. As if
they might refer to more than her book.
She pushed her uneasiness aside as she went

downstairs, reminding herself to enjoy the release
that came from not having an incomplete manuscript
hanging over her head.
I feel great, really I do.
was an almost genuine smile on her face as she pulled
the heavy front door open to welcome the Harveys,
and, coming up the walk behind them, Alison Dare
and her children. “Come in,” Casey said.
She’d just served the soup when Adam walked
into the dining room.
What was he doing here? Surely he wouldn’t
throw the neighbors out, just because he’d told her
not to invite them?
He walked up to her, kissed her lightly on the
lips. “Hi.”
“Hi,” she said nervously.
Adam scanned the room. “Are you going to in-
troduce me to your friends?”
Casey performed the introductions, then sat
speechless through most of lunch as Adam chatted to
Mr. and Mrs. Harvey about the changes in the neigh-
borhood, and took an apparently genuine interest in
Alison’s three not-very-well-behaved children.
When Bob Harvey made mention of a street
party as he left, Adam didn’t even flinch.
?” she demanded, as he
shut the door behind the departing guests.
He headed for his den, Casey on his heels. “What
do you mean?”

“You didn’t want them here. Why were you
so nice?”
He leaned against the oak roll-top desk. “I know
you could have coped on your own. But you
shouldn’t have to.” When she didn’t say anything,
he added reluctantly, “That neighborly stuff matters
to you. I thought you’d like it if I was here.”
Casey caught her breath. “What do you care if
I’d like it? You don’t want me.”

seared Adam’s consci-
ence. “You can’t seriously believe I don’t want
“It’s what you said.”
And he’d been planning on saying the same
thing to her again now.
They stood facing each other, a few feet apart,
the tension almost a physical barrier between them.
Adam drew a calming breath, loosened the fists
he’d clenched at his sides. “I care about you, Casey.
That’s why I came home. And I care about your
future. You’re a wonderful person—I hope you find
a man who deserves you.”
She took a step closer to him, then another, until
she stood only inches away. She swallowed. “What
if I find him and he doesn’t want me?”
How, despite his best intentions, could Adam
not reach out and pull her to him, kiss her hard
on the mouth?
It took only a second of body-to-body contact for
him to be on full alert and ready for a rerun of the

other night. Casey’s arms were around his neck, and
she was kissing him with a fervor that left him in
no doubt as to her wants. He ran his hands down
her back to cup her derriere, pulling her against
him, and she whimpered with need.
Clumsy with desire, he fumbled at the buttons of
her shirt, at last managing to push the fabric aside
to cup her breasts through the ivory satin of her bra.
She arched against him, and he lowered his mouth
to the swell of flesh. At the same time, he tugged
the bottom of her shirt out of her shorts, slipped his
hands inside her waistband. Suddenly, his progress
eased considerably, and he realized she’d un-
snapped her shorts. He slid them down and she
stepped out of them. She began to tug at his belt.
Dimly, Adam registered that the phone on the
desk was ringing.
He ignored it, concentrating instead on the in-
credible sensation of Casey’s fingers undoing his
trousers, then pushing them down. He kicked off his
pants, then backed her toward the couch, not lifting
his mouth from the tender hollow he’d discovered
where her neck met her shoulder.
The room was silent, apart from muffled sounds
of their need. So when Sam’s voice boomed out
from the answering machine, it was as if a bucket
of cold Mississippi water landed on them.
“Adam, it’s Sam. Good news, my friend. I had a
call from Judge Skelton’s office. He’s granted your

annulment. I’ll send the paperwork out to you, but
congratulations, you’re Memphis’s most eligible
bachelor once again.”
Adam would never have believed that
married to Casey would be a complete passion
killer. But it was. He no more wanted to make love
to her now than she did to him—and he could see
in her eyes that she’d gone right off the idea.
“We can’t…” Casey choked on the words. She
twisted from his embrace—he didn’t try to stop her—
and stumbled over to pick up her shorts, dragging
them back on. Adam found his pants and dressed in
silence, not trusting himself to speak for a moment.
“So that’s it.” Somehow he managed to sound
calm, even casual, as he ran a hand through his hair
to smooth it. “We got our annulment.”
“I heard,” she said shortly.
Already, there was a distance between them that
was more than just the abrupt end to their love-
making. Frustration and disappointment gnawed at
Adam, and suddenly the room wasn’t big enough
for both of them. “I’m going for a run,” he said.

three miles, Adam turned
around and headed for home. Each thud of his shoes
on the sidewalk hammered in the reminder that
Casey would leave soon.
He didn’t want her to go. She added an extra di-
mension to his life that he would miss. He could make

her stay, of course. He sensed that if he wooed her,
she could love him. She might even love him already.
And marriage was in his long-term plan. So why not?
Because of the kind of marriage Casey wanted.
She wanted to be the most important thing in her
husband’s life. She’d never put it in those terms, but
what else did being adored mean?
Adam breathed more heavily as he ran uphill.
Only half a mile to go.
Think faster.
He cared for Casey. He even loved her, in his
own way. Though he wouldn’t risk telling her that,
in case she assumed he meant her kind of love. He
wanted to be with her, he wanted to make love to
her with a fierceness that scared him. He wanted to
have children with her.
Never mind that until Sam mentioned it, he’d
never thought about kids. Right now, something
inside Adam went mushy at the prospect of a child
of his own.
A son.
A chance for Adam to be the kind of dad his own
father had never been.
A chance to heal some of the hurt of his youth, to
set a new pattern for the Carmichael family. Adam
snorted. Healing! He was starting to sound like Casey.
He rounded the corner onto his street. Home was
just a couple of hundred yards away.
He forced himself to focus on the practicalities.
As Sam said, having a child would prove their mar-

riage was genuine. It could be the key to securing
their future.
Adam wasn’t prepared to trade his independence
for the emotional ties he’d convinced himself Casey
would demand. But maybe he was wrong about
her. She’d changed in the past month, as he had. Her
willingness to make love to him this evening, when
she knew their relationship was nearing its end,
when he’d reiterated they had no future, suggested
a more practical attitude toward love.
Maybe he should lay his cards on the table, find
out if his kind of love was enough to make a
marriage work.
a few seconds to identify the source
of the dread that enveloped her the moment she
awoke the next day. She looked around her bed-
room, with its luxurious furnishings, the wooden
shutters at the window. This place had become
home remarkably fast.
But no longer. There was nothing to keep her here.
She was thankful Sam’s call had come before
she and Adam made love again yesterday. How
much harder today would have been! With the
annulment, they’d tied up the last of the loose ends.
The only remaining problem—Casey’s broken
heart—wasn’t going to be fixed in a hurry. And it
wasn’t going to be fixed here.
She arrived downstairs for breakfast later than

normal and was surprised to find Adam still at the
table, lost in contemplation.
He looked up at her and smiled, a movement of
the mouth belied by the strain in his eyes. “Won’t you
join me?” he said, almost as if she were a stranger.
Casey tipped cereal into her bowl and nodded
her thanks as Adam poured her a cup of hot tea.
She ate in silence, aware of his somber scrutiny the
whole time.
It was off-putting, and she pushed her bowl away
when she was barely half-finished. The movement
seemed to act as a cue.
“Can we talk?” he said.
“Of course.” Were there more legalities to deal
Adam cleared his throat, and she realized he
was nervous.
“This might sound odd,” he said, “but now that
we’re no longer married…will you marry me?”
A bubble of hope, joy and laughter rose from
deep within her, splitting her face in a grin. “Are
you serious?”
Even as Casey asked, she realized Adam was
extremely serious. In fact, he looked more as if he
was about to have a tooth pulled rather than get
married. And nothing like a man who had just real-
ized he was in love. “Tell me more,” she said with
careful neutrality.
“It makes good sense,” he said, and she had the

impression he was launching into a prepared argu-
ment. “We get along well, I enjoy spending time
with you, we’re physically compatible. You’re a
great wife, and I think you’d make a wonderful
mother. We could remarry without anyone knowing
we’d had our first marriage annulled.”
“So it’s convenient,” she said. “And it fits nicely
with your father’s will.”
He shook his head, seeming annoyed at her
logical summation, even though it was just the sort
of thing he would say himself. “I still believe I’ll
win in court, if that’s all there is to it. But I’m very
fond of you, Casey. We could make a good life
Fond. That was how she’d felt about Joe. Five
weeks ago, Casey had been prepared to give up on
the idea of a man who adored her. Could what
Adam offered be enough? Could she be satisfied
with fondness on his part, and desperate, all-
consuming love on hers?
“And Eloise loves you,” he said.
Which only served to remind her that Adam
didn’t. And that Eloise had never given up on
finding true love.
Casey added sugar to her tea, even though she
preferred it unsweetened, and concentrated on
stirring the gold liquid.
“We could have a baby,” Adam said. “I know
you’d like that.”

Casey froze.
“Sam was saying a baby would help with our
legal battle,” he said. “He’ll ask the court to delay
its decision. He says the best way to prove our re-
lationship is lasting and committed is to have a
child.” He paused, then a smile—a boyish grin—
creased his face. He reached across the table,
grabbed her hands. “A baby, Casey. Let’s get
married and have a baby.”
Casey removed her hands from his. “Adam.” Her
voice shook. “I can’t have children.” And though
she’d known it for a long time, telling him now
brought a stab of pain so fresh it took her breath
It seemed a full minute before Adam spoke.
“What do you mean—can’t?” he asked, dazed.
Somehow she strung the words together. “When
I had a perforated appendix as a teenager, I got an
infection in my pelvis that damaged my reproduc-
tive system. The doctors tell me I’ll never con-
ceive.” She pressed her lips together. “Does that
answer your question?”
“Sweetheart, I’m so sorry.” His tenderness was
unexpected, and tears smarted in Casey’s eyes.
Adam came around the table and dropped down
beside her. Gently, he pushed a strand of hair behind
her ear, then ran a finger down her cheek. “My poor
darling,” he said, and her heart leaped. “I don’t
know what to say….”

Tell me you love me, that you want me for myself.
But she might as well wish for the problem with
her fertility to magically disappear. Adam was
being kind, but in his eyes she could still see shock
and, worse, distance.
She looked at him steadily, made absolutely sure
he understood what she was saying, and put the
final nail in the coffin. “So if you want a child, it
won’t be with me.”
She saw, in the sudden blankness of his expres-
sion, that he was letting her go. That although he
wanted to marry her—and she knew, even if he
didn’t, that his offer included some degree of emo-
tional commitment—he wanted to secure the
business more. And she accepted that. He would
never love her as much as she loved him, no matter
how fond he was of her now.
He had made his choice; now she must make
hers. So though it hurt beyond measure, she pushed
her chair back and stood. “I’ll leave tomorrow.”
“Casey, there’s no rush. Can’t we—?”
“My writing conference starts tomorrow night,”
she reminded him. “It’ll take all day to drive to
Dallas.” She paused. “I won’t come back afterward.”
Adam looked at her, stone-faced, and said nothing.

Adam was still struggling to absorb it as he lay
in bed, trying to sleep.

He felt betrayed, as if she had lied to him. He
shouldn’t, of course he shouldn’t, but she’d allowed
him to come to this momentous decision that he
wanted to marry her, which went against all good
sense, without telling him the one thing that would
never have allowed him to get to this point.
He was being totally unreasonable, he knew.
Hadn’t he reiterated over and over to Casey that
their marriage would have no future beyond the
time it took to get an annulment? Until now, her fer-
tility had been none of his business.
And yet he felt cheated of the babies he’d pic-
tured them making together, robbed of the family
life he’d imagined.
But however painful this was for him, it was
worse for her. A part of him wanted to take her in
his arms, comfort her, murmur to her that it didn’t
matter, they’d be all right.
But it did matter. And they wouldn’t be all right.

again until the next morn-
ing. She breakfasted early, alone, then went to pack
her bags. She’d half hoped, half dreaded that he
would go to work without saying goodbye, but when
she came downstairs at nine o’clock, he was waiting.
“I’ll take those.” He picked up her bags and
carried them outside, where he loaded them into the
trunk of the Fiesta. It took only a minute, then she
was ready to leave.

She cleared her throat. “Goodbye, Adam. It’s
been a memorable month. Thanks for your help.”
She stuck out a hand, but he ignored it.
Instead, he cupped her face in his palms and
kissed her fiercely. “Goodbye, Casey.”
She clambered into the car, holding herself rigid
so she wouldn’t cry. She turned the key in the
ignition and—nothing happened. She tried again,
several times. Still nothing.
“Aargh!” Casey thumped the steering wheel in
frustration, and the movement released the tears
she’d held in check for so long. She was weeping
floods by the time Adam opened the door and
helped her from the car.
He held her against him, arms wrapped around
her, shushing her gently, one hand stroking her
“Don’t cry, sweetheart,” he said. “It’s probably
the battery.”
“I got a new battery back in May.”
“It’ll be the starter motor then. We can have it
fixed by tomorrow.”
“But I have to be in Dallas tonight,” she wailed,
knowing she never would have cried about such a
thing if she hadn’t been at the end of her tether.
“Take my car.”
She hiccupped. “I can’t take the Aston Martin.”
“Of course you can,” he said calmly. He pulled his
keys from his pocket and pressed the remote control.

The vehicle beeped obediently as the doors unlocked.
“You have to get to Dallas and sell that book.”
While Casey wiped her tears and blew her nose,
Adam unloaded the bags from her trunk and put
them in his. He handed her the keys. “Come back
after the conference and we’ll do a swap,” he said.
With sudden urgency he added, “Casey, I don’t
want us to part like this.”
She summoned a faint smile as she thanked him
for the keys and climbed into the car. But about their
relationship, there was nothing left to say.
She drove off with a crunching of the unfamil-
iar stick shift that would have made a lesser man

into his life, nothing had
gone according to plan. Things hadn’t gone wrong,
exactly, Adam acknowledged, but if right meant “as
planned,” then they hadn’t gone right, either.
It certainly wasn’t right that he should be sitting
in Casey’s non-air-conditioned car in rush hour
traffic on a stinking hot evening a week after she’d
left. Why was he still driving this heap of scrap
iron, of which the most valuable part was the new
starter motor he’d bought earlier this week?
He could have taken a cab to the office each day.
Instead, however unwillingly, he squeezed into the
Fiesta and suffered the ignominy of being seen in
a car sporting a Honk If You Think I’m Sexy
bumper sticker, which had proven impossible to
remove—and boy, had he tried. And all this because
the car smelled, somehow, of Casey.
He scowled at the attractive woman in the BMW
alongside, who had honked several times. That was
another thing. There was no such thing as simple
enjoyment of the opposite sex anymore. Adam used

to admire the scenery as much as the next man, but
these days, it seemed the sole purpose of the female
species was to remind him of Casey.
If she and her pop psychology were right—that
he was sublimating his wild side by driving an
Aston Martin—what did it mean that he’d given her
his precious car to drive? And that he hadn’t
worried about it while it was gone? Did that mean
he was emasculated?
Don’t go there.
Adam was only too aware that he teetered on the
brink of something he’d assiduously avoided his
whole life. At least, he hoped he was still on the
brink—that he hadn’t yet fallen in the kind of love
that turned a guy’s world upside down and clouded
his logic. The kind that made him believe in prepos-
terous happy endings that in reality just didn’t
happen. Or if they did they didn’t last and you
ended up like Eloise, fixated on the past. Surely it
wasn’t too late to get back to his orderly and—he
was proud to admit it—predictable life?
Only it wasn’t proving that easy. He’d been dis-
tracted in the office, impatient with his staff and less
than polite to his stepmother. What really bugged
him was that Eloise didn’t even take offense, just
smirked every time he grunted or snapped.
But what irked him most of all was Casey’s
parting gift. She’d phoned Mrs. Lowe and begged
the housekeeper to come back to work for Adam.

And the grumpy old bat was driving him nuts. How
could he ever have thought she was a treasure?
Casey’s writing conference would be finished
by now, and she should have returned his Aston
Martin. But he didn’t want to call her cell phone,
for fear that, hearing her voice, he might give in to
the seductive urge to stop obsessing about the busi-
ness, remarry Casey and just enjoy life. Because
what kind of sense did that make?
And Eloise had rolled her eyes when he’d asked
her to help get his car back, even though he knew
she was still in contact with Casey.
He needed a distraction from his distraction.
There was probably a psychological term for it;
he must ask—
Cancel that.
By the time he got home, Adam was hot, uncom-
fortable and sick of being honked at. Did the
women of Memphis have nothing better to do? In
a fit of pique, he hurled Casey’s car keys into the
garden, where they sank out of sight into a yew
hedge. Ha! Temptation removed. Now he’d have no
choice but to take a cab to work.
Pleased that he’d taken the first step toward
banishing Casey from his head, Adam checked
the answering machine. Instead of deleting all
the messages from women who’d called to tell
him how sorry they were to read of his annulment
in the newspaper this week, he called a couple

back and arranged to meet for a drink over the
next few evenings. No more sitting around the
empty house.
And he’d better sort out his costume for Eloise’s
birthday party, which was a masked ball in the tra-
ditional style of her youth. The party wasn’t for a
couple of months, but it didn’t hurt to be prepared.
Adam whistled cheerfully as he signed on to the
Internet and began surfing the Web sites of costume
shops. It was a good five minutes before he realized
he was whistling “You Are My Sunshine.”
Two months later
more affirming,”
Casey pleaded down the line to the help desk at the
phone company. “You Are My Sunshine” simply
wasn’t powerful enough to counteract the funk
she’d slid into since the annulment.
“How about ‘Blue Eyes’ by Elton John?” the
girl on the other end suggested.
“No!” Casey took a deep breath. “Do you have
that old Split Enz tune ‘I Hope I Never Have to See
You Again’?”
“It doesn’t sound very affirming,” she said
doubtfully, “but I’ll check.”
They didn’t have it, and Casey ended up settling
for “Love Is a Battlefield.” She gave her credit card
number and got the code to download the new ring

tone. She’d barely finished the process when her
phone rang.
“Eloise.” She greeted the older woman with
genuine pleasure. “How are you?”
Eloise had called to remind her Casey had agreed
to dine with her tonight. “I can’t wait to see you, dear,”
she said. “It seems so long since we had a good chat.”
Guilt pricked at Casey. She’d been so busy
working on her new book that she frequently lost
track of time, shut away in the studio apartment she’d
leased near the center of Memphis. In the evenings
and on weekends, she was tutoring several kids in
English. She hadn’t had much time for Eloise.
“I’m looking forward to it,” she said. She ended
the call, pleased she’d stuck to her resolution of not
asking Eloise about Adam.
Not that she needed to ask. She’d never heard of
Adam Carmichael before she married him, but now
she couldn’t escape him. In the first few weeks after
their annulment, which had been front-page news for
only one day, his name had appeared regularly in the
business section, or in support of some charity. She
shuddered as she recalled the photo she’d seen of him
with a gorgeous, dark-haired woman on his arm.
Casey didn’t want to know how Adam was get-
ting along without her. It was easier to quit reading
the newspaper. Besides, she was too busy to keep
up with the Memphis gossip. She had sold her first
book—an editor from the conference had picked it

up—and Casey was making progress on her
She went back to Parkvale most Sundays to visit
Karen and the baby. She didn’t usually see her dad,
because he’d started dating a woman in the next
town and had taken up driving again.
On the subject of driving… Casey peered over her
computer screen to a window of her apartment, and
checked that Adam’s car was still parked in the street
below. She was terrified it would be stolen, yet
couldn’t bring herself to return it to him. She’d hoped
it would bring him back to her, however briefly. But
it seemed Adam was willing to relinquish his
beloved car rather than speak to Casey again.
She sighed. What was the point of postponing
the inevitable? She would leave the Aston Martin
at Eloise’s tonight and take the bus home. Adam
could get the Fiesta back to her however he chose.
She would take the car for one last spin, to lunch
with Brodie-Ann, who’d taken a day off work and
should arrive in Memphis any minute.
When Brodie-Ann arrived, they drove to the park.
“You sure get a lot of attention in this car,” her
friend commented, as yet another man honked his
horn at Casey, then gave her a thumbs-up when she
looked in her rearview mirror.
“I don’t miss my Honk If You Think I’m Sexy
bumper sticker,” Casey agreed as she gunned the
engine and took off from the lights, leaving the

car’s latest admirer to eat her dust. She’d attracted
more male attention in the past two months than she
had in the previous twenty-five years. She would
miss roaring around town in this beast.
Not that she needed the car as an ego boost.
She’d had plenty of offers of dates, from men who
hadn’t even seen the Aston Martin. No, these days
her confidence ran deeper than affirmations, deeper
than how many men asked her out, deeper than the
dubious satisfaction that came with believing others
couldn’t cope without her.
Thanks to Adam.
In the time she’d spent with him—and, ironi-
cally, through the inept marriage proposal that had
ended their relationship—he’d taught her she could
survive, and thrive, without being someone else’s
crutch. That life’s rewards were about taking as
well as about giving. That settling for what she
could get wouldn’t make her happy, but following
her passion would. Things she’d suspected before,
but never had the courage to test.
When they arrived at the park, Casey and
Brodie-Ann sprawled on the grass with their
picnic lunch. It was a bittersweet reminder of that
picnic Casey and Adam had enjoyed. And it was
only a hop, skip and a jump from there to think-
ing about the one night they’d spent together.
Casey had half hoped that, against all odds, she
might have conceived Adam’s child that night.

She hadn’t.
So here she was, oozing misery, while Brodie-
Ann couldn’t stop chirping about how wonderful
Steve was, how incredible married life was. Her
friend tapped her soda bottle against Casey’s in a
toast. “Here’s to three months of wedded bliss.”
“Happy anniversary,” Casey said gloomily.
“You were right. Steve and I are made for each
other.” Brodie-Ann grinned. “Things have been
great since I figured out how that give-and-take
stuff works.”
She scrutinized Casey. “Speaking of give and
take, have you seen Adam lately? As in, he gave you
his Aston Martin and you took it?”
Casey shook her head. “I keep thinking he’ll
come and demand it back.”
She didn’t state the obvious. That Adam was so
anxious to avoid her, not even his precious car
would bring him to her.
Brodie-Ann patted her shoulder. “You’re doing
great, Casey. Hang in there.”
Casey nodded. Things
good. She told
herself that every day. She had a book contract; she
was getting by. And she no longer depended on
people being unable to cope without her.
The only goal she’d failed to achieve was the no-
strings love. Because Adam had come with as many
strings as every other person Casey loved.


, Casey drove to Eloise’s house. She
climbed out of the Aston Martin and locked it for
the last time, then mounted the steps to the porch.
Eloise opened the front door.
“Come in, dear.” She tugged Casey inside, then
quickly shut the door behind her.
“Is something wrong?” Casey looked around.
“Eloise, what’s going on?”
The foyer was festooned with streamers and
flowers. A uniformed waiter hurried past her
carrying a silver tray stacked with wineglasses.
Down the wide corridor to the back of the house,
Casey could see doors flung wide to the garden
and—was that a marquee?
“Eloise, tell me.”
The older woman’s eyes danced above her guilty
smile. “Just a little party, dearest. For my birthday.”
“Fewer than three hundred guests, I promise you.
Much smaller than last year.” She took her hand.
“I’m sorry, Casey. I so wanted you to be here, and
thought you wouldn’t come if I told you.”
“I suppose Adam’s coming?” Casey grumbled.
“Of course. He hasn’t been happy lately, and I
thought a party might cheer him up.” Eloise’s eyes
didn’t meet Casey’s as she added, “I don’t recall if
I told him you’d be here.”
Casey shook her head, indicating any attempt to
match her and Adam up again would be futile, but

didn’t comment. Eloise knew as well as she did
that a party was the last thing Adam would want if
he was under stress. Casey told herself that why he
wasn’t looking happy wasn’t her business. He
probably missed his car.
She glanced down at her slightly rumpled cotton
shift. It had seemed all right for a casual dinner with
Eloise. “I’m not dressed for a party.”
Eloise accepted that as agreement that Casey
would stay. She smiled as she squeezed Casey’s
fingers. “I know, dear, and I hope you won’t mind
that I took the liberty of buying you something. A
birthday present from me to you.”
Casey couldn’t help laughing. “Shouldn’t it be
the other way around?” She allowed Eloise to lead
her upstairs to a guest bedroom.
“Oh.” She was left almost speechless by the
dress she found there—a strapless, midnight-blue
silk creation that she knew just by looking would
fit perfectly. And it did, hugging her curves as if
made for her.
“My hairdresser is waiting to do your hair,”
Eloise said. “And I bought you this.” From a box
on the bed she lifted out a mask, elaborately deco-
rated with gold feathers and blue ribbons.
“It’s a masked ball, darling,” she said, seeing
Casey’s confusion.
A sinking sensation hit Casey. Surely Eloise

wouldn’t… “Tell me this isn’t a bridefest,” she
Eloise snickered. “That’s a one-sided way of
looking at it. There are several very eligible men
coming tonight. Think of it as a groomfest.”
, C
Alone in the silence of his office, Adam found
the words easier to say than he’d expected. Instead
of feeling as if he’d lost control, anticipation
thrummed through his veins. Anything might be
possible when he had Casey by his side….
Except she wasn’t by his side. Because he had
let her go.
Smart, Adam. Very smart.
He tucked the phone between shoulder and chin
so he could lift a sleeve and look at his watch. Seven
o’clock. His stepmother’s party would be starting
right about now. He didn’t want to go—he didn’t
want to go anywhere ever again—without Casey.
“Did you say something?” Sam had been
hemming and hawing on the other end of the line
as he shuffled through his papers, searching for the
relevant section to read to him.
Adam shook his head, though of course Sam
couldn’t see that. “Just thinking aloud,” he said. He
could picture the lawyer pursing his lips.
“Strikes me you’ve done too much thinking
lately,” Sam muttered. “This was one crazy idea.

I’m amazed the judge even agreed to it. Wouldn’t
you be better just to move on?”
Adam grinned, ridiculously light-headed. “That’s
your professional opinion, is it?”
“For what it’s worth.” Sam clearly doubted his
advice would be followed. “Still, what’s done is done.
Just don’t expect to be able to undo it so easily.”
“I won’t be undoing it,” Adam said confidently.
He leaned back in his chair, propping his feet up on
his desk in a way he never did. “Are you going to
Eloise’s party?”
There was a pause at the other end. “She didn’t
invite me. Which in itself is significant, don’t you
“Uh, maybe,” Adam said.
“I’m going anyway.”
“You’re gate crashing?” Sam never did things
like that. No one did things like that to Eloise.
“I believe that is the vernacular term for it,” Sam
said stuffily.
“Wow.” Adam was impressed. “I guess I’ll see
you there.”
He ended the call and changed into the tuxedo
he planned to wear. But instead of heading to
Eloise’s house, he drove the company car he was
using, while he figured out what to do about the
Aston Martin, toward the leafy suburb where Casey
had her studio apartment.
Repeatedly pressing her doorbell brought no

response. Adam cursed. He’d been so buoyed up by
the thought of seeing her, by what he had to tell her,
he could hardly believe she wasn’t at home. No
sign of her car—his car—either.
He would wait.

the taxi at Eloise’s house,
then took a moment to adjust his costume. Damned
uncomfortable getup. The breeches were tight
enough to pose a permanent risk to a man’s ability
to demonstrate his passion, the coat sleeves ended
in a froth of lace around his wrists, and as for the
color… Sam had never worn peacock-blue in his
life and, after tonight, he never would again. He’d
drawn the line at the wig. He was Prince Charming,
not Prince Ridiculous.
He looked at his watch through the slits in his
mask. Eight-thirty. The party would be in full
swing. He would make a dramatic entrance, say
his piece, claim his prize. Then endure a few more
hours in this costume.
He picked up the cushion he’d placed on the step
while he straightened his outfit. It took two hands
to carry the blasted thing; the glass slipper was
attached by discreet threads, but wobbled unroman-
tically if he didn’t grip it right.
Sam blew out a calming breath. Wearing this

silly costume was a small price to pay if he got what
he wanted. He reminded himself how Eloise had re-
sponded to his kiss at that barbecue lunch—she’d
been even more shocked than he was at her passion.
He didn’t doubt that was why she hadn’t invited
him tonight. She was running scared, though she
might not know it.
In his younger days, Sam had worked as a pros-
ecutor of white-collar criminals. Some of his most
satisfying moments had come from cases where
a key witness hadn’t been able to see what had
been right there all along. When awareness
dawned, the witness’s credibility was even greater
than that of one who’d told the same story right
through. That was when Sam knew he had the
case in the bag.
He paused at Eloise’s front door. He wouldn’t go
so far as to say he had Eloise in the bag. But she was
in that dawning realization phase. And because Sam
was several steps ahead of her, he had the upper hand.
He lifted the heavy brass knocker, and let it fall
with a thud. Instantly, the door was opened by a
man in uniform, whose eyebrows shot up.
Sam stepped inside.
And realized immediately the advantage an in-
vitation would have given him.
“So,” he said to the doorman, as he surveyed the
sea of women dressed in bright evening gowns and
tuxedo-clad men, “it’s not a fancy-dress ball, then?”

“No,” the man agreed. “Just masked.”
Sam sent up a brief prayer of thanks that he’d
resisted the suggestion of the girl in the costume
shop that he paint an authentic eighteenth-century
beauty spot on his cheek.
“Sir, do you have an invitation?” the doorman
Sam decided he’d had enough of chatting to the
hired help. He’d screwed up on the costume front,
but he still had his mission. Clutching his cushion
and glass slipper, he stepped forward and paused in
the entryway, scanning the crowd for Eloise.
“Hey!” the doorman called from behind him,
but Sam ignored him.
There she was, stunning in dark green velvet, a
dress that molded her slim waist and showed she
had enough curves to satisfy any man. Her gold-
and-green mask rendered her mysterious, exotic,
but still the Eloise he…loved. Yes, loved, dammit.
He’d behaved like an idiotic schoolboy the past
three years. But over that time, his feelings for
Eloise had grown into an unshakeable love. If she
wouldn’t have him…
Her eyes met his across the room. He imagined
them widening with shock beneath her mask, as
much that he’d dared to arrive uninvited as with
surprise at his costume. She raised her hand to her
lips, but Sam saw the corners of her mouth quirk.
She was laughing at him.

Declaring his love for her now would doubtless
send her into hysterics.
Sam tasted bitter disappointment, and swallowed.
So the witness hadn’t yet reached the stage of en-
lightenment that he’d hoped. It was his job to fix that.
He nodded curtly to Eloise, shook off the re-
straining hand of the doorman, then strode into the
crowd, away from her.
Casey’s apartment until
eleven o’clock, growing increasingly despondent,
then annoyed.
She’d better not be out on a date.
He pushed away the unreasonable jealousy that
thought provoked. He wanted to see Casey tonight,
but had to accept that might not happen. The eve-
ning might be a disaster for him, but he’d better not
disappoint Eloise by missing her birthday party.
When Adam pulled into Eloise’s driveway, things
started to look a whole lot better. In the glow of the
fairy lights threaded around the pillars on the porch,
he saw his Aston Martin sitting right by the front door.
Elated, he ran up the steps and into the house.
People thronged the foyer, the staircase, every avail-
able space to the marquee out the back. Adam made
his way toward the ballroom.
He saw her immediately. Casey, in the arms of a
man he didn’t recognize. But he did recognize the
sappy smile the guy was giving her.

As Adam watched, the man leaned close and
whispered something in Casey’s ear. Adam stiff-
ened, his hands clenched at his sides.
At a light touch on his arm, he turned. It was
Eloise, resplendent in dark green velvet and a
green-and-gold mask.
“Adam, darling.” She patted his cheek below the
blue domino mask that didn’t hide his identity one
bit. “You made it.”
“I’m sorry I’m late,” he said formally, his gaze
back on Casey, who appeared to be smiling at
something that jerk had said.
“You’ve been unbearably slow these past months,
but you’re not too late, and that’s all that matters.”
“Huh?” Adam turned back to Eloise, who was
also looking at Casey. Of course, his stepmother
had known she would be here tonight, but had
chosen not to mention it to Adam. No doubt part of
some elaborate scheme to bring them together.
Typical. Didn’t she know he had this all
mapped out?
But gratitude for her good intentions welled in his
heart, constricting his chest. “Thanks,” he said gruffly.
Eloise smiled at him, tears in her eyes. “Go,” she
ordered. “Claim your bride, before Richard Loving-
ton III nibbles her ear off.”
Further realization dawned, halting Adam in his
steps. “Your birthday’s not till November,” he accused
her. “This party isn’t for you. It’s for me—and Casey.”

Eloise sighed, but the look in her eyes was far
from penitent. “It’s the bridefest, darling. I know I
shouldn’t have, but I—”
Adam hushed her with a kiss on the cheek.
“Thank you,” he said again. “Thank you, Eloise.”
She hugged him, then pushed him away, brush-
ing impatiently at her eyes. “I don’t think I’ll ever
understand men,” she said. Half indignant, half
amused, she added, “Sam came to my party without
an invitation. Look at him!”
Adam choked on a laugh. The preposterous
elegance of Sam’s Prince Charming costume
couldn’t hide his distinctive shuffling step, even as
he danced with a woman in a low-cut red dress.
“Has Sam danced with you?” he asked.
“He hasn’t even spoken to me,” Eloise huffed.
“What does the man think he’s playing at?”
The dance ended, and as if he’d guessed the
subject of their conversation, Sam made his way
over to Adam and Eloise.
The two men nodded to each other. Adam swal-
lowed his comment about Sam’s outfit.
“Good evening, Eloise,” Sam said. He stood
close to her, and Adam saw that she didn’t move
away, but swayed toward him slightly.
“Sam.” Her voice was cool.
“It seems my invitation to your party went
astray,” he said.
“I didn’t send you one.”

“Then I apologize if my presence here embar-
rasses you.”
Eloise inclined her head. “Not at all.”
“I had to come,” Sam said.
“To check how I’m spending my money?”
Eloise asked. “To see if I’ve briefed the catering
staff correctly? To nag me about keeping my insu-
rance paid up?”
“To dance with you,” Sam said.
“Oh.” Eloise was clearly flustered.
Adam enjoyed the spectacle.
But she had no trouble seizing the upper hand
again. “Then why haven’t you asked me to dance?”
she demanded acerbically.
“I’ve been waiting for the band to play the tune
I requested.” Sam paused, alert. “It should be
about now.”
Sam had done it again, Adam realized. Knocked
Eloise off balance. For the first time, it occurred to
him the lawyer might be good for his stepmother.
The band struck up “All the Things You Are.”
Eloise caught her breath, glanced uncertainly at
Adam. He nodded encouragement. She turned to
Sam. He gave her his hand. “Dance with me.”
the men she had chatted
with over dinner in the marquee, and danced with
in Eloise’s ballroom. But despite the masks that
concealed their faces, she knew none of them was

Adam. Had he heard she was coming and decided
to stay away? Eloise was at a loss to explain his
absence, and Casey sensed the older woman’s dis-
appointment. Damn the man.
Then, as if her anger had conjured him up, he
appeared over the shoulder of her current dance
partner, masked but instantly recognizable.
Adam tapped the other man on the shoulder.
“May I?”
Her partner, who had been in the middle of
asking her out to dinner, hesitated. To Casey’s
shock, the infallibly polite Adam Carmichael
elbowed him out of the way. The other man started
to say something along the lines of “See you later,”
but the glitter in Adam’s eyes, behind his blue
domino mask, deterred him from finishing.
Casey fitted her hand into Adam’s, trying to calm
the sudden racing of her pulse. How had he recog-
nized her in a dress he’d never seen, with a mask
obscuring most of her face and hair?
But she said nothing, just relished the sensation
of his hand at her waist. For a few moments they
danced in silence.
“I knew you by your shoulders,” he said at last,
sounding almost angry.
He lifted his hand and ran a finger along her
shoulder, from her neck to the top of her arm.
Casey shivered.

“Isn’t that curious?” he said, his tone conversa-
tional now. “I walked into the room and I knew you.”
“Curious,” she agreed, hardly daring to breathe.
He pulled her closer, both hands on her waist as
they danced. Casey was faint with desire.
“I’ve been reading about you in the newspa-
per,” she said.
“That photo. That woman?” he asked, and she
“There’s a psychological term for it,” he said.
“Sublimation, or substitution—something like
“Substitution for what?”
“You’re the psychologist, you figure it out. But
know this—I haven’t so much as touched another
woman since you left. Not beyond a kiss on the
“Thank you….” But it wasn’t enough. “It’s been
two months.”
“Some people are slow learners.” He rested his
chin lightly on the top of her head. “I have some bad
news for you.”
“What’s that?”
“I had your car towed away.”
“You what?” Casey pulled back in alarm, but he
wouldn’t let her move more than a couple of inches.
“I lost the keys,” he said. “What else could I
do?” He’d maneuvered her to the doorway that led
to the back porch, and they stepped out into the cool

evening air. He guided her to a seat on the edge of
the porch, where he pulled off his mask and,
without speaking, helped Casey remove hers.
“So I want you to keep the Aston Martin,” he
She gaped. “But you love that car.”
“It’s not a car, it’s the sublimation of my boy-
hood dreams.” He smiled, took both her hands
loosely in his own. “I have different dreams now.”
“Which are?”
“I’ll get to those in a moment. Besides, I wasn’t
happy at the thought of my wife driving around in
that heap of rust you call a car.”
“I’m not your wife.”
“Ah, yes. That’s the other piece of bad news.
We’re still married.”
Her heart stopped for a moment. “What? How?”
“All my fault, I’m afraid.” He didn’t look the least
bit apologetic. In fact, she’d bet he was enjoying her
outrage. “I couldn’t live a lie any longer.”
“What lie? Adam, what is this?”
“Sam gave me a copy of the judgment from our
annulment hearing. Turns out the judge considered
two key factors in deciding to grant it. First, we hadn’t
intended to get married. And second, we hadn’t—”
“Consummated the marriage,” she finished for
him. “Oh, no.”
“That’s not a particularly flattering reference to
our consummation,” he said.

“So this is about your ego? You didn’t want it on
public record that you hadn’t slept with your wife?”
He tightened his grip on her hands. “It wasn’t
public record,” he said. “The judgment was sealed.
I petitioned the court to revoke the annulment
because I couldn’t bring myself to deny the best
night of my life.”
“The best?” Casey swallowed.
He nodded. “Sam argued the case at the county
court, and he called me earlier tonight to say the
judge revoked the annulment.”
“So now what? We get divorced?”
“Now, I tell you my new dream. Which is to
spend the rest of my life being distracted, provoked
and seduced by you.”
“You asked me to marry you once before, Adam,
and I told you no.”
“But this time I’m laying down some strict con-
ditions,” he said.
“Oh, are you?” Indignation colored her tone.
“You might think it’s okay to be fond of your
husband, but I’m settling for nothing less than
mutual adoration.” He lifted her fingers to his lips
and kissed them.
The reminder of the day they’d first met, when
he’d told her she might never find a man who
adored her, brought a lump to her throat. Casey
gazed into his eyes, and saw all she needed to know
about how he felt toward her.

“Adoration? That’s a lot to ask,” she said thought-
fully. “You could wait a long time for a woman who
adores you, Adam. You might never find one.”
“I’ll wait,” he said.
“But what about your father’s will? What about
that baby you want to have, to secure the business?”
“That’s all over,” he said. “Soon after you left,
Anna May backed down from her lawsuit. Turned
out Henry didn’t really want to run the company.
He wants to coach high school tennis and still pick
up a fat dividend from the business every so often.
I said that can be arranged.”
“That’s great.”
“Anna May figured all this out after you gave her
a lecture about wanting what’s best for the people
you love,” Adam told her. “She asked Henry and he
finally got up the guts to tell her what he
He broke off as another couple stepped out on
the porch. A loaded stare from Adam soon had them
retreating back into the ballroom. “Once Anna May
dropped her opposition, Sam was able to get the
marriage clause struck from Dad’s will.”
“So you don’t need a wife,” Casey said. “Or a
Adam squeezed her fingers. “But I do need
I need your company, your love, your faith in me,
the way you inspire me to be a better person.”
“What about a baby?” Casey asked. “Because if
you need one of those…”

“We’ll figure something out,” he said carelessly.
“No!” She stood and stepped back.
He rose to join her, his face pale. “No, you won’t
stay with me?”
“Adam, I love you—I adore you—and I want to
us to be married. But I can’t promise you a baby.”
“We’ll figure something out,” he told her again.
“Maybe, if you want a child as much as I do, we
could look at adopting. I know you’ll be a great
mom, whether it’s our natural child or not. Or if you
want, we can try for our own baby and decide that
whatever will be, will be.”
He leaned forward and kissed her gently. “I
adore you, my precious, darling wife. Stay with me
forever, and we’ll take everything else as it comes.”
Had there ever been as sweet a sensation as this?
Casey almost laughed out loud with sheer joy.
“If I say no, do I still get to keep the Aston Martin?”
He chuckled. “Of course.”
“Mrs. Lowe’s not going to like it if I come back,”
she warned him. “You’d better think hard about
this, Adam, because it’s her or me.”
“I’ve already sent her off into retirement with
a healthy bonus,” he said. “I couldn’t take another
day of those frosty grimaces she seems to think
are smiles.”
Casey giggled, then snuggled into his embrace.
“I was wrong about something,” she said against
his chest.

Adam kissed her hair. “You, darling? Never.”
She pulled away just a little. “I agreed when you
said we should be selfish. I said I wanted no-strings
love. But it’s not true. I want to be tied to you,
Adam. And I want you tied to me.”
His eyes, brilliant with emotion, met hers. “Real
love,” he said, “comes with strings you tie your-
Casey’s heart swelled. The man was the perfect
soul mate for her. It seemed too wonderful to be
true. Reluctantly, she came back to the stumbling
block she couldn’t believe might not prove impass-
able. “You’re sure you don’t mind if we never have
our own baby? I wouldn’t blame you if you did.”
He paused. “Of course I want you to have my
child. But Casey, you are the only woman for me,
baby or no baby.”
She planted a kiss on his chin. “And what
“Enough,” he ordered. “You can make as many
objections as you like, but I’m not going to change
my mind. I adore you, you’re my wife and we have
the rest of our lives to argue over the details. Now,
are you coming back to me or not?”
“Of course I am.”
The kiss that followed lasted a very long time.
When they parted, Adam’s eyes were dark with desire.
“You’re quite sure we’re still married?” Casey

She held out her hand to him. “Then I know just
what I want to do next.”
They pushed through the throng, hand in hand,
single-minded in their determination to reach one
of Eloise’s many bedrooms. But Casey stopped
dead when she heard “All You Need Is Love”
playing tinnily from the vicinity of Adam’s pocket.
She turned to grab him by the lapels. “What,” she
demanded, “is that?”
Sheepishly, Adam pulled out his cell phone.
“Personalized ring tone,” he said. “It’s affirming.”
Casey took it from him, pressed the off button,
then slipped the phone back into his pocket. On
tiptoe, she pressed her lips to her husband’s. “Stick
with me,” she said, “and I’ll give you all the affir-
mation you’ll ever need.”

her cousin.” Casey
placed their beautiful daughter back in her crib and
tucked the blankets around her tiny body.
“She’s way more beautiful.” Adam leaned for-
ward to get another good look at his second-best
girl. “This one takes after her mom.”
“She’s very noisy,” Casey agreed with a grin.
“And she likes fast cars.”
“And she’s worth any amount of effort,” Adam
said, conscious that most of the effort had been
Casey’s. She’d had to have the surgery to repair her
damaged fallopian tubes twice before it worked. But
for the rest of their lives, Adam would do whatever
it took to cherish his family. Casey nodded, tears glis-
tening in her eyes. She always insisted her out-of-
kilter hormones were responsible for her easy tears,
but Adam knew his sensitive wife better than that.
He continued to list the similarities between his
daughter and his wife. “And she’s gorgeous, sweet-
natured, intelligent—”
“She’s six weeks old! You have no idea how in-

telligent she is. And she was three weeks late,”
Casey grumbled. “She’s going to have to improve
her timing.”
“Takes after her grandmother,” Adam said, and
dodged the swat Casey aimed at him. “Speaking of
her, what time are Eloise and Sam due?”
Casey looked at her watch. “Right about now.”
“Good, that gives us at least half an hour. Ever
since they got married, Sam’s been as hopeless as
Eloise at getting anywhere on time.”
“Half an hour for what? Oh!” Casey squealed as
Adam swung her up into his arms and carried her
along the hallway to their bedroom. He staggered
slightly and she said, “I still weigh a ton from
having your baby, don’t I? Admit it.”
“Never,” he said through gritted teeth. He depos-
ited her on the bed, then pulled off his T-shirt and
lay down beside her, propped up on one elbow.
With his free hand, he began to unbutton her shirt.
Casey felt the heat between them, so familiar yet
still untamed. She tugged Adam’s head down to hers.
“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” he said, an
inch from her lips. “Because if I kiss you now,
there’ll be no stopping me.”
Thrilled at the thought, she brushed the briefest,
teasing kiss across his mouth, so that he groaned
when she pulled away. “The Adam Carmichael I
married prided himself on always staying in con-
trol.” She ran a tantalizing hand down his bare chest.

In a movement so swift it startled Casey, he
straddled her. His strong hands pinned hers to the
pillow and he covered her mouth with a kiss so
hungry, so tender, so loving, that she seriously con-
sidered never leaving this bed again.
“In that case,” he said, “I must apologize for the
total loss of control you’re about to experience.”
With a sigh of satisfaction Casey gave herself
up to his demanding caress. “Apology accepted,”
she murmured.
* * * * *

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