Hunter Blackwell focused on his target and meandered through the crowd, turning heads of several women in his wake. It had been a long time. And although he seldom asked old friends for favors, he marched toward one now without a backward glance. If the rumors were true, half of his problems could be solved in a few short days.
Without any concern for the discussion he might be interrupting, Hunter moved behind his old friend, made sure those that could see him did, and lifted his chin.
The conversation died as the man in front of him turned and tilted his head.
A smile spread over Blake Harrison’s face. “Blackwell.”
Blake shot a laugh in the air and extended his hand.
Hunter accepted the man-hug and let a shiver of satisfaction wash over him as Blake Harrison apologized to his audience for the interruption, and then offered Hunter his complete attention.
“My God, man . . . how long has it been? Eight years, nine?”
“Texas,” Hunter reminded his friend. “I believe you were marrying your wife for the third time.”
Blake stared beyond him for a moment and let a memory take hold. “That had to be the craziest wedding to date.” The notion of marrying the same woman, repeatedly, was ludicrous. The fact that Blake and his wife never divorced yet proceeded to remarry every year was certifiable. In some circles, the running theory was Blake’s player ways had never changed, and he needed to reaffirm his vows annually to keep his wife happy.
Those who knew the duke, however, knew nothing could be further from the truth. Blake and Samantha Harrison had a marriage meant for the big screen. Young girls would pine over it, and happy bachelors would run.
“Married life is agreeing with you.” Hunter might have come off as if making conversation, but his old friend did indeed appear to have a glow around his eyes and a few extra healthy-looking pounds a man might acquire from a settled life.
“I will let Sam know you approve.”
He laughed. Chances were Sam wouldn’t remember Hunter. They’d met at said wedding, where she had been busy renewing her vows—again.
Hunter nodded toward the back of the massive hall, where the crowd celebrating the retirement of a fellow entrepreneur turned philanthropist thinned. “Do you have a minute?”
Blake narrowed his dark brows and lifted a hand for Hunter to lead the way.
They wound around a dozen colleagues, old friends, and even older enemies before they found a quiet corner where it would be obvious they were having a private conversation. With any luck, they wouldn’t be interrupted.
“You’re a man on a mission,” Blake said without judgment.
“Aren’t I always?” Hunter had spent that last decade of his life with one goal in mind. Win. Didn’t matter what he was doing, what business venture he’d taken on . . . what investment to dive into . . . his goal was to win.
“I’ve already given you the investment advice I have to offer.”
“This isn’t about an investment.” Well, not really. “I despise skirting around the issues.”
Blake grinned. “Then don’t. You don’t have to put on airs with me.”
One of the qualities Hunter liked most about his old friend. “Certain circles tell me that your wife has her own business.”
Blake kept his smile, but the way his eyes narrowed told Hunter he was walking close to an edge.
“I believe she can assist me.”
“Looking to remove your eligibility status, Blackwell?”
A slight weight lifted from his chest. Seemed his sources were right. “The Forbes list made my life more difficult than you can imagine.”
“I don’t know about that. I have a vivid imagination.”
Hunter knew how vivid Blake’s imagination could be. “Can she help?”
Blake reached to the inside pocket of his jacket and removed a single card from the back of his own business cards. He tapped the small paper on the edge of his hand and cocked his head. “You have to understand . . . I have nothing to do with Alliance. I can’t guarantee Sam and her girls will accept you as a client.”
Blake let his smile reach his eyes again. “My wife is meticulous when screening clients. If any of the women in her employ find a reason to dismiss you, you have to be willing to walk away.”
Hunter thought of his goals, offered an innocent smile. “Women love me.”
“Which works well when finding a date, not the same when searching for a wife. Fair warning, Blackwell: if they pass you over, I won’t step in on your behalf.”
Blake offered him Samantha’s business card.
Taking his time, he took it and tucked it away without a glance. “I’m not worried.”
Blake chuckled. “I know you, Blackwell . . . and I know my wife. Not only should you be worried, you might want to find plan B to whatever problems you have.”
“I’m not the same kid I once was.”
“None of us are. I just hope you’ve learned to take rejection better than your earlier years. I seem to remember you using your fist on occasion to get your point across.”
“I think we were both guilty of that.”
Blake considered his observation. “You were caught.”
“You were the son of a duke. Rather untouchable, if I recall.”
“True. Sam rejects violence of any kind.”