“I need a wife, Carter, and I needed her yesterday.” Riding in the back of the town car en route to a Starbucks, of all places, Blake Harrison glanced at his watch for the tenth time that hour.
Carter’s startled laugh rode on Blake’s last nerve. “Then pick one of the masses and walk the aisle.”
His best friend’s offhand advice might have held merit, if Blake could trust the women in his life. Sadly, he couldn’t. “And risk losing everything? You know me better than that. I don’t need emotion clogging up something as important as a marriage agreement.” An agreement was exactly what he needed. A contract. A business deal that would benefit both parties for the course of one year. Then they could go their separate ways and never lay eyes on each other again.
“Some of the women you show up with would be happy to sign a prenuptial agreement.”
He’d already thought of that. But he’d worked hard for his emotionless bastard reputation and didn’t need to mess it up by pretending he was in love in order to have a woman walk up the courtroom steps with him. “I need someone who’s on board with my plan. Someone I’m not remotely attracted to.”
“You sure this dating service is the right way to go?”
“Matchmaking, not dating.”
“What’s the difference?”
“They don’t match your love interests. They match your life plan.”
“How romantic.” Carter’s sarcasm came across like a shout.
“I’m not the only one in my position, apparently.”
Carter laughed and then choked on his own breath. “Really,” he sputtered. “I don’t know any other men with your title and your wealth calling a stranger to set them up.”
“This guy comes highly recommended, a businessman helping men like me in similar situations.”
“What’s his name?”
“Never heard of him.”
Traffic clogged the intersection two blocks from where his appointment with said businessman was taking place. The seconds clicked past the time of his scheduled appointment. Damn, he hated being late.
“I gotta go.”
“I hope you know what you’re doing.”
“Business is what I do, Carter.”
His friend huffed in disapproval. “I know. It’s relationships you suck at.”
“Screw you.” But Blake knew his friend was right.
“You’re not my type.”
Blake’s driver swerved in traffic to make a light. Ruthless, just like his boss wanted him. “See you tonight for drinks.”
Blake hung up the phone, slipped it into the pocket of his dress coat, and sat back in his seat. So he was late. Men in his position could walk in half past the designated hour and still have people climbing over themselves to make it look like it was their fault. A lot rode on the outcome of this meeting. Finding a wife before the week was out in order to keep his ancestral home to go with his title, not to mention the remainder of his father’s fortune, hinged on Sam Elliot.
He hoped to hell that his personal assistant’s contact knew what he was talking about. Otherwise, Blake might be forced to broach the subject of marriage to Jacqueline, or maybe Vanessa. Jacqueline loved her independence more than his money. The fact that she kept a lover other than him pushed her out of the running for wife. That left Vanessa. Beautiful, blonde, and already riding the wave of soon-to-be ex because of her hints about being exclusive. He didn’t like the thought of leading her on. He was a bastard, but never cruel. Some women would disagree, and the tabloids had branded him as pompous and cunning. If the papers sniffed around what he was doing, they’d write it up as a joke. He’d like to avoid the added scandal. Reality however was a rightful bitch, and he knew his fake marriage would need to look real in order to keep his father’s lawyers satisfied.
Neil pulled the long black car up to the curb and quickly opened Blake’s door in front of the green and white painted coffee house. With briefcase in hand, Blake ignored the turned heads as he strode into the storefront. The rich smell of freshly ground beans filled his nose as he scanned the tables searching for the man he pictured as Sam Elliot. Blake assumed he’d find a man wearing a business suit and carrying a portfolio with possible wifely prospects inside.
The first glance didn’t deliver, so he removed his sunglasses and started over. A young couple with dueling laptops sipped their lattes across from each other at one small table. At another, a man in crew shorts and a t-shirt argued with someone on his phone. At the counter ordering, was a couple pushing a stroller. Stepping farther in, Blake noticed the small frame of the back of a woman with a mass of curly auburn hair. Her toe tapped anxiously, or maybe she was listening to music through a set of ear buds. Eyes still skimming the small crowd, Blake found a lone man occupying a plush chair. He wore a casual pair of pants and looked to be in his late forties. Instead of a briefcase, the man held a book. Blake narrowed his eyes and caught the other man’s attention. Instead of a flicker of understanding, the man’s dark gaze fell back to his book.
Damn, maybe Mr. Elliot was caught in the same traffic.
Late never boded well for prospective clients, no matter what business they were in.
If Blake had other choices, he’d turn and leave.
Walking past the lone redhead, Blake stepped around the stroller and ordered a plain coffee, then resigned himself to sit for a few minutes and wait. He placed his briefcase on an empty table and turned to get his coffee when the teenage kid behind the counter called his name.