He needed a wife on paper, she needed a way to pay for school. Neither bargained for the danger their marriage-of-convenience brought on.
CEO Jack Sutton isn't about to be backed into a corner by the stipulations of his mother's will. She might have wanted to be sure he was married by the time he was thirty, but that doesn't mean he needs to give in. As the head of a powerful venture capital firm, there’s one thing he’s learned. There’s always a way around anything standing in his way. This marriage clause is no exception.
Kelly Bradley got into the law school of her dreams, but the financial aid she was counting on didn’t come through. When she finds out Jack Sutton is looking for a wife in name only, she propositions him to get the funding she needs. What could be the harm in linking herself to a well-respected businessman for a year? It’s not like he’s hard to look at or tough to be around.
But will her fix end up costing a whole lot more than either she or Jack had bargained for? When her life is on the line, Jack finds himself racing to save the woman he's fast losing his heart to.
Heartwarming romance meets heart-stopping suspense in the Sutton Capital Series. Legal Ease is the first book in Lori Ryan's wildly popular Sutton Capital Series, but it can be read as a stand-alone book.
WHISH, SWOOSH, WHISH, swoosh, whish, swoosh.
Jack Sutton lost himself in the rhythmic sound of the churning wheels of his bike as he rounded the final bend of an eight-mile morning ride. He was with his cousin, Chad, who was more like a brother to him than a cousin, and their best friend, Andrew. The three met once or twice a month to ride through the picturesque neighborhood next to the Long Island Sound where Jack’s home was located.READ MORE
Jack saw Chad soar past him out of the corner of his eye and sprint the last few yards into Jack’s driveway ahead of him and Andrew. It never ceased to amaze Jack. Chad had a good three inches over Jack’s tall frame, and he was built like a military tank, but he was still somehow faster and more agile than both Andrew and Jack. Jack and Andrew exchanged a look, laughing at Chad’s need to beat them every time they rode. Most days, Andrew and Jack would at least give Chad a fight over the winning slot, but beating Chad wasn’t on Jack’s mind today, and he had a feeling it wasn’t on Andrew’s either.
The showdown he would have with Chad’s mother, Jack’s Aunt Mabry, later today was what had him tense and uneasy. He thought pushing himself hard on this morning’s ride would help take the edge off his mood, but it hadn’t helped. He shoved aside his mood long enough to grin at Chad while the three men rode slow laps through the circular drive to cool down, each one sipping water and talking trash as they rode. He’d be damned if he’d let Chad see anything was wrong. He wouldn’t make Chad choose a side no matter what Aunt Mabry threw at him.
It wasn’t until after his cousin had loaded up his bike and pulled out of the driveway that Jack raised the subject Andrew and he had been avoiding for the last couple of hours.
“Spill it,” Jack said. Andrew had been grinding his jaw the whole ride, so Jack knew whatever he’d been avoiding saying in front of Chad wasn’t good.
Andrew was the only one who knew Chad’s mother was finally making good on her threat to try to take over the company Jack’s father had built. She planned to use the terms of Jack’s mother’s will to take control of a large portion of the shares of Sutton Capital, and attempt to vote Jack out of his position as Chief Executive Officer. She wanted Chad to take Jack’s place at the head of the board table. Jack and Andrew had been quietly approaching the shareholders in the privately-owned company to be sure Jack had their support if Mabry got her hands on the stock his mother had once controlled.
Andrew didn’t blink when he looked at Jack and broke the news. “John Barton died of a heart attack last night.”
Jack swallowed a curse and swiped his face with his hand. “He wasn’t very old at all. When did it happen?” he asked, the shock evident in his voice.
“Only fifty-eight. Happened late last night. His wife called me this morning. They were supposed to leave for Italy in three days for a month-long vacation. I don’t think the man has taken a vacation in twenty years, but Anne finally talked him into relaxing with her and then this happens.”
The two men were silent for a few minutes before Jack realized what this meant for his battle with Mabry.
“I know this isn’t a great time to bring this up, but— ” Jack began before Andrew cut in.
“But nothing. You have to think about the rest of the shareholders, the company, its employees – there’s a lot at stake for a lot of people here, Jack. I know you don’t want to talk about it, but we need to figure out who will have control of Barton’s shares, and find out what that does to our chances against your Aunt Mabry.”
This time Jack didn’t bother to swallow his curse. This part of his role as CEO sucked.
“Grab a shower and meet me at the office. We’ll deal with this there,” he said. He didn’t wait for an answer. He turned and took the front steps two at a time, hustling to get showered and dressed to deal with the latest catastrophe in his ongoing battle with his aunt.
An hour later, Jack stalked through the lobby of his New Haven office with his jaw clenched. His scowl wasn’t aimed at anyone or anything in particular on his way up to the 26th floor offices of Sutton Capital, but people moved out of his way. He stabbed “26” on the elevator control panel and thought about the unpleasant conversation he and Andrew were about to have. It wouldn’t be fun trying to figure out how a man’s death would affect this vote, but they didn’t have a choice right now. The clock was ticking thanks to the terms of his mother’s will.
Ding. The elevator doors slid open to reveal the reception desk and waiting area of Jack’s company. His nod to the receptionist was curt but polite as he moved past her toward his corner office.
He stopped in front of his secretary’s desk before entering his office and glanced down at the temp. “Jennie, Andrew will be here in a few minutes. Show him right in when he arrives.”
“Yes, Mr. Sutton,” Jennie said with a nod.
Jack strode to his office and shut the door. He paced and waited for Andrew to arrive. Andrew wasn’t just his best friend; he was also the Chief Financial Officer of Sutton Capital and Jack’s right-hand man at the company. He hoped Andrew would have good news to help him out of the colossal mess he now found himself in. Andrew was one of the few people that knew Jack the man, beyond Jack the CEO of Sutton Capital. They went far enough back that neither saw the other the way their adversaries did.
Jack was used to his opponents fearing him and his investors respecting him. He never felt weak or anxious when he stepped up to the negotiating table, and he normally thrived on stress and pressure. But, on this, possibly the biggest deal of his life, the unique circumstances had him feeling as if he had maneuvered and negotiated himself right into a corner.
He moved to his mahogany desk and stared down at his reflection in its uncluttered surface. He considered how quickly his plans had fallen apart. He had been so certain that his strategy would work that he’d become overconfident. That wasn’t like him at all. Jack knew it was his late mother’s involvement in his current situation that had thrown him off his game. He needed to come up with another plan and execute it quickly if he was going to save his position in the family company.
When Jennie opened the door and ushered him inside, the tight line of Andrew’s lips told Jack things hadn’t gone as they’d hoped.
Andrew had been in on his plan from the beginning. He was Jack’s closest confidant and supporter, but right now it didn’t look like his friend had the news they needed.
“Thank you, Jennie. Hold my calls,” he directed.
“Yes, sir.” Jennie closed the door behind her, leaving the two men in silence.
Jennie rushed back to her desk to turn on her intercom. As a temp secretary, she took a lot of liberties she might not take if her job were more secure – and listening in on what promised to be a juicy conversation was one of those liberties.
Early on at Sutton Capital, she discovered the indicator light on the intercom between Jack’s office and her desk didn’t light up when it should. She’d been listening in on conversations ever since.
The one her boss had with his aunt yesterday was the best by far. From what she could gather, when his mother passed away five years ago, she’d held the largest single chunk of shares in the company – at thirty-five percent. The remaining shares of the privately-held company were owned in varying amounts by the six members of the board of directors, including Jack. Jack’s mother cared more about her son’s marital status than the state of the family business. She placed her shares in a trust, with Jack holding the proxy voting rights to the shares in the trust.
If Jack wasn’t married by the time he was thirty-five, the trust remained – but the proxy rights reverted to his Aunt Mabry. Yesterday, Aunt Mabry threatened to use the strength of those shares to make a bid for Chad to take Jack’s place as CEO.
For some reason that wasn’t clear in the conversation Jennie overheard, his Aunt Mabry wanted to hurt Jack. She apparently didn’t care that Chad had no interest in being CEO or that Jack was the best man to head the company.
If he wanted to save his position as CEO, Jack either needed to have enough board members on his side to know he could win a vote…or he needed to get married before he turned thirty-five. Next week.
If Jack was married, the shares his mother left in trust would become Jack’s outright. Mabry wouldn’t be able to touch him.
In the two months Jennie had filled in as secretary for Jack Sutton, she’d heard no mention of a fiancée or even a serious girlfriend, so she’d almost fallen out of her chair when she heard Jack tell his aunt he planned to marry his fiancée at the end of the week. If you believed the tabloids, Jack Sutton had a different woman on his arm every week, and none of the women had any marriage potential from the looks of them. They were partying debutantes, at best.
When his aunt pressed for a name, he was vague and told his aunt she could drop by the next afternoon to meet his fiancée.
As she listened in on Jack’s meeting with Andrew, Jennie finally figured out why he’d told his aunt such a flat-out lie.
“NOT GOOD NEWS, huh?” Jack knew from the look on Andrew’s face he didn’t have anything but bad news.
“Sorry, Jack, but John Barton’s death put a real kink in things for us. Our plan to get enough of the shareholders on our side to ensure your place as CEO may not work now. John held eight percent of the shares. Mabry holds ten percent of her own. It seems that John’s shares were left to his son, Bryan. I made some calls to try to find out more about the son so we can figure out how he’ll vote, but I can’t be certain yet. It turns out that Bryan Barton went to school with Chad. What I haven’t been able to find out is whether they were friends, enemies, or indifferent,” Andrew reported. “If Bryan votes with Mabry, and she has her shares plus control of the proxy shares – they’ll have a small majority.”
Jack leaned back in his chair and let out a frustrated growl. “This is a nightmare. How is it possible that it’s all falling apart at the last minute? If we don’t have Bryan on our side, I’ll be out.” Jack frowned.
“I know it’s wrong to talk about a man’s death like this, but the timing couldn’t be worse. Andrew, you know it’s not the money that matters to me.” Jack was silent for a long time as he stared at the wall and tried to come up with a plan that had this ending well for him.
Andrew nodded. Jack had been wealthy before he took over Sutton Capital, and Andrew had helped Jack wisely invest his inheritance and the money he had earned over the years. He was well aware of Jack’s financial comfort. Jack had more than enough money to last him ten lifetimes, whether he worked another day in his life or not. This wasn’t about the money.
“My dad started this company from the ground up, and I was proud to take over for him. I think I’ve done a damn good job expanding it, too,” Jack said, crossing his arms as if he dared Andrew or anyone else to deny the assertion.
“I know. We all do. That’s why any of the existing board members would have voted for you. Your risky decisions pay off, and people trust your judgment. But, Bryan Barton is a wild card. We can’t predict what he’ll do.” Andrew shook his head. He leaned forward, his forearms resting on his thighs. He looked at his longtime friend. “I guess you’re going to have to get married, bro.”
Jack grunted. “I’m not getting married. I happen to like my life the way it is,” Jack said. But, even as he said it, he knew on some level he was lying to himself.
He would kill to have what his mom and dad had when they were alive; his parents shared a love so powerful, it lasted until the day they died.
Andrew sat quietly and let Jack vent. The ability to do so was one of Andrew’s strengths – knowing when to be quiet and wait out a storm. Jack knew there really wasn’t anything his friend could say for the moment, but it helped to gripe.
“I’m perfectly happy living as a bachelor. I don’t know why my mom couldn’t understand that. Just because they had a great marriage doesn’t mean that’s the only way I’ll be happy, does it? Well, does it?” Yeah, it does, thought Jack, but forced that thought out of his mind. He had never met anyone who made him feel the way he knew his mother and father felt together, so he was careful not to let those hopes surface anymore.
Andrew remained silent but shook his head.
Jack knew he sounded more like a toddler than the CEO of a multimillion-dollar corporation, but he had come to realize a long time ago he wasn’t cut out to have the kind of love his parents had found. Being forced to marry to save his company sent his mood into a downward spiral.
“No. Marriage isn’t the only way you’ll be happy, but that’s hardly the issue now. What do you want to do? We can gamble that your aunt won’t be able to get the swing votes she needs or we can go to Chad and ask him to step in and stop her. Honestly, I think it’s time to ask Chad to get involved.” Andrew suggested.
Jack ran his hands through his hair and leaned back in his chair to think. He stayed that way for a few moments and then sat up and turned back toward Andrew before speaking.
“I don’t want to leave things up to chance, but I won’t ask Chad to step in and confront his mother over this. I know it’s hard for you to understand, but I remember what my Aunt Mabry was like before her husband walked out on her. You can’t see it now because she’s so filled with hate, but she was once so happy and loving. In those days, I loved her as much as I loved my own mom. When my uncle left her, she cracked.
“If Chad stands up to her and sides with me, she may think he’s abandoning her too. I can’t do that to her. I know it’s crazy, but I can’t.” Jack crossed to the window on the other side of his office and stared at the view of the Yale campus. His commitment to what was left of his family warred with his drive to protect his position as CEO.
“I still don’t understand why she’s focused on hurting you,” Andrew said as he shook his head.
Jack sighed. “She went after my dad before me. When my uncle left her, she wasn’t able to lash out at him because he just took off. He left her almost all their money and Chad was an adult, so custody wasn’t an issue. There was no fight she could throw her anger into. I think she needed to lash out at someone and my parents were happily married. That seemed to make her angry so she began to attack them. Now that they’re gone, she’s moved on to me.” He shrugged, knowing his aunt’s anger made no more sense than his need to protect her in the face of it.
“All right, but let’s walk through this. Even if she gets the board to vote you out, Chad will refuse the position of CEO, won’t he? He doesn’t want the job, right?” Andrew reasoned.
“Yes, but at that point, the board’s confidence in me may waver. If my own aunt takes me out, they’ll question my ability, so even if Chad refuses the position, the board could go outside of the company for a new CEO instead of coming back to me. If that happens, the business my father built will be lost. And, even if none of that happens, if she has the proxy rights, she can make every decision that comes before the board into a battle. We have a great board right now with really sharp people. We work well together. She’d tear this board apart if she had those voting rights, and the company could crumble given enough time.” Jack couldn’t see any way around the mess he was in. And he knew he didn’t want to ask Chad to confront his mother.
“I told Aunt Mabry I was getting married, for God’s sake. She’ll be here at three o’clock to meet my fiancée. Hell, I thought I was just buying time. I planned to tell her there was no fiancée, but that she would be powerless to oust me as CEO with the votes we had behind us. Now, it doesn’t look as if I have those votes.” Jack laughed at the ridiculous situation he found himself in but there was no humor behind it. Only frustration and disbelief that something like this could have happened without him getting out ahead of it.
“Well, that’s three hours from now. Let me see if I can find out more about Bryan Barton or come up with something else. I tried tracking down Chad earlier so I could casually mention Bryan and see if they were friends, but I haven’t been able to reach him since he left your house this morning.” Andrew said.
“Okay. Let’s work the problem. We can’t exactly call Bryan Barton and ask what his vote would be since he’s burying his father tomorrow. But, let’s try to talk to other alumni we know to see if Barton and Chad were tight in school. And, keep looking for Chad to see what you can get out of him without letting him know what’s going on.”
“Why not tell him what’s going on?”
Jack shrugged. “Why tell him if I don’t want him to solve the problem?”
“Maybe he’ll have an idea. Another way out?”
“Can’t chance that.” Jack turned back to his desk. “He’ll want to go to his mom, and I’m not ready for that.”
“I’ll let you know what I come up with. In the meantime, start running through your little black book and figure out which of your booty calls may be looking for something more permanent,” Andrew said as he strode out of the office.
“Oh man, that isn’t funny,” Jack groaned.
Jennie quickly hit the intercom button as Andrew came walking down the hallway. She ducked down and pretended to rummage for something in a drawer as he walked by. Stunned, she grabbed her purse to head out for lunch. Boy did she have a juicy story for Kelly!
KELLY BRADLEY PULLED into the parking lot of her condo complex and shut off her car. Grabbing three bags of groceries from the trunk, she headed for the stairs but went right at the top instead of toward her own condo on the left. She raised her fist and pounded. Hard.
“Mr. Anders! Mr. Anders!” she called loudly through the door. “It’s Kelly. From next door.”
Kelly stopped and waited. And waited. She knew it would take Mr. Anders a little while to work his way to the door. His car was in the parking lot and he wasn’t much of a walker, so chances were he was home.
While she waited, Kelly propped her grocery bags against the wall next to her doorway and pulled out the cookies she’d bought for her neighbor. The door behind her opened. She turned to find the slender white-haired man smiling at her with a mouth that was now fairly devoid of teeth.
“Hello, dear!” the old man bellowed, but it came out more like “hewwo deah” due to the lack of teeth.
His hearing had gone long before his teeth had. They compensated by hollering at one another most of the time.
Whenever it snowed, Mr. Anders always managed to beat her downstairs to the parking lot. He’d clean off his car and then do hers. He would have scraped the ice from the windows before she even made it out of bed. Since he wouldn’t stop doing it even though she insisted he didn’t need to, Kelly had taken to bringing him occasional treats as a way of saying thank you. It was summer now, but she kept the treats up year round.
“Hi, Mr. Anders!” she shouted back as she handed him the box of cookies. “I got you cookies since I was at the store.”
“You got me cookies from a whore?” he yelled back with a puzzled look on his face. Kelly felt her cheeks burn red and she sputtered, trying to figure out what to say.
Within seconds, her neighbor cracked a grin. “Gotcha,” he said and slapped his leg as he laughed. “Can you come in for a cookie?”
Kelly laughed, but the red spots stayed high on her cheeks as she shook her head at the incorrigible man. “Sorry, Mr. Anders. I’m meeting a friend for lunch so I’ve got to run. I’ll stop by soon though.”
He was still laughing when he shut his door. Kelly whipped into her place, unpacked the refrigerated and frozen items in her grocery bags, and grabbed her purse. She wanted to run to the mailbox before heading to lunch. With any luck, she’d get the final few envelopes she’d been waiting for today.
She crossed the lawn to the large bank of mailboxes that served the entire complex. The letters arriving today would make or break Kelly’s dream.
Kelly sat at the café table waiting for her friend Jennie to arrive. She usually loved lunches with Jennie – she always had great gossip and funny stories. Kelly could never get over how gutsy Jennie was. She was the queen of espionage when it came to getting the scoop on things. Kelly was never sure why her friend wasn’t in journalism. But she couldn’t get in the mood for lunch and gossip today. With no real job prospects in sight, it was beginning to look as if her bachelor’s degree in Political Science was every bit as useless as people said bachelor’s degrees are nowadays. To top it off, she’d finally received the last of the results of her scholarship applications for law school.
It was hard to believe she had fulfilled her dream of being accepted into Yale Law School. But, it didn’t matter in the end because she didn’t have the money.
Kelly looked up to see Jennie coming toward the table and pasted a smile on her face for her friend. She didn’t want her bad mood to ruin their lunch, and she didn’t want Jennie to feel sorry for her.
“I have juicy gossip today! You won’t believe what I overheard,” Jennie started off but slowed when she saw the look on Kelly’s face. “What’s wrong? You don’t look like…well, like you.” Jennie frowned at her friend.
“I got my acceptance letter to Yale. I got in,” Kelly said quietly.
“What? That’s fantastic! Kelly, that’s great. Wait, I don’t get it. Why aren’t you happy about this?” Jennie asked.
“I didn’t get enough scholarship money to cover half the tuition there. I thought I had a shot at more grants, but they’re getting really tight nowadays. And if I take out that much money in loans, I’ll be paying for the rest of my life.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. It must feel good to know you got in, though, huh? Ugh. That’s sounds so ‘hey it’s an honor just to be nominated,’ doesn’t it? I’m sorry, Kel.”
“I know.” She shrugged and tried to smile, but she knew it probably came off somewhat sad.
“How much money do you need?” Jennie asked hesitantly.
“Well, it costs $52,000 per year for three years. I managed to get about $22,000 per year in grants and scholarship so when I say I’m short, I mean I’m really short. Even if I defer for a year and work the whole time I’m in school, there’s no way I’ll have enough,” Kelly explained.
Jennie frowned. “I’m so sorry. I know you had your heart set on Yale, but maybe you can apply to other places? Maybe the state law school?”
Kelly raised her chin. “You’re right. I’ll apply at University of Connecticut next year and save my money until then. UConn is a really good law school, too. Top fifty. It was really stupid of me not to apply there as a backup school this year, but I’ll apply next year. It’ll be fine… So now, distract me.” She pasted another bright smile on her face for Jennie. “Tell me your latest tidbit. What have your secret spy skills found today?”
In hushed tones, so no one around could hear, Jennie launched into the story of the infamous Jack Sutton’s desperate need for a wife. As Kelly listened to her talk, she wished she could sometimes be as brash and brave as Jennie. I mean, really, who had the guts to listen in on their boss’s conversations like that? Sounded like her boss would have to find someone fast. In fact, she was surprised Jennie hadn’t marched into the room and proposed to Jack right then and there – just for the fun of it.
Propose to Jennie’s boss, Jack…? What if I propose to Jack? What? Whoa! Where did that thought come from?
Sure it was a crazy idea, but why not? If she married Jack Sutton for one year, he’d get his shares, his job and his company would be secure. She’d get the money to go to Yale for three years. She and Jack would go their separate ways at the end of the year. Voila!
Oh. My. God. I can’t believe I’m actually sitting here thinking about this. Kelly shook herself and tried to get rid of that crazy idea. But the more she thought about it, the more it sounded like a good one. A reasonable idea. The kind of idea she could pull off if she took a page out of Jennie’s playbook for once.
“Is Jack nice?” Kelly suddenly interrupted Jennie.
“What?” Jennie asked. “Oh, well, yeah, I guess he’s a nice boss. Scares the hell out of most of the people he does business with. If you cross him or try to cheat him in a deal, you better look out. But, he’s actually really good to the people that work for him. It surprised me at first. I always thought he would be a real ball breaker.” Jennie leaned forward in a conspiratorial whisper.
“He has a whole division that he calls his security division, and they do some security, but they’re really mostly there to investigate any companies he’s going to invest in or anyone he’s negotiating with. They say he never goes into a deal blind. If you enter a deal with Jack Sutton or walk up to the negotiating table against him, he’ll already know what color underwear you have on that day.” Jennie prattled on, not understanding where Kelly was headed.
“Well…but I mean, is he a nice guy? Like, would you date him or would he be a total jerk?” Kelly clarified.
“Noooo, he’s not bad. He’s a really good guy,” Jennie said slowly, looking at Kelly as if she were trying to figure out what she was thinking. “I’d date him… Oh my God! What are you thinking? Oh my God! Don’t answer that. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking you’ll marry him!”
“It could work.” Kelly blushed. “I go in there and ask for my tuition in exchange for a year of marriage. We head to the courthouse, then a neat and easy divorce a year from now.” When she was younger, she’d always thought she would marry for love. That when it happened to her, it would be forever. But, she still hadn’t met anyone who made her think of spending her whole life with them. And, she supposed a fake marriage would be okay as long as it had an expiration date, and it was to a man she could trust – a good man. It wouldn’t stop her from finding the real thing someday, and it meant that she’d be able to get her law degree.
“Besides,” she said as she continued to justify her plan, “I might as well. It’s not like I’m going to miss out on falling in love with someone else because I tie myself up with Jack Sutton for a year.”
“Kelly, don’t be silly. Of course you’ll fall in love some day. You just haven’t met the right guy yet.”
“Maybe someday, but I’ve dated some really great guys. I mean really, really great. But I’ve never felt more than ‘like’ for any of them – even when they said they were in love with me. I really don’t think love is in the cards for me, and even if it is, what are the chances that during the year I take off from dating for a fake marriage, I’ll miss out on the one guy who I’m destined to fall in love with? I think the chance of that is slim. And, if it’s true love that’s meant to be, wouldn’t it somehow work out after my fake marriage?” Kelly knew how to push Jennie’s helplessly romantic buttons to win the argument.
Jennie stared at her, shaking her head. Kelly could imagine what her friend was thinking. Jennie was supposed to be the daredevil. Jennie was the one who took risks. She did stupid things. Kelly was the levelheaded, kind, sweet, calm, orderly one. The kind of person who most certainly would never do this.
Jennie appeared to be speechless as she stared back at her. And if Jennie was speechless, things could not be headed in a good direction.
KELLY ARRIVED AT Jack’s office as she and Jennie had planned, a few minutes before three o’clock. She had run home to print up the marriage license application from the New Haven Office of Vital Statistics website. She showered and dressed in black wool slacks and a fitted ivory cashmere sweater from T.J.Maxx.
When Jennie saw Kelly step off the elevator her jaw dropped. “I can’t believe you’re going through with this. By the time I got back to the office, I was sure you’d chicken out.”
Kelly squared her shoulders and stood up to her full height. “I’ve decided I’m not going to second-guess myself on this. I want to go to Yale and I’m going to, damn it. I think if I keep moving without stopping too long to think about it, I can go through with it, so get me in there.”
Jennie raised an eyebrow and Kelly knew she’d owe her friend big time. And this scene about to play out would essentially put Jennie’s job on the line. By getting Kelly in there, she’d be revealing she had spied on Jack. She had a week left in the temporary placement. With this move, she would most likely lose not only this placement, but any chance of getting a new placement through the temp agency as well.
“Well, you may be off your rocker, but at least you look good. Jack’s Aunt Mabry and his cousin Chad are already in the office. They’ve only been in there for a minute, though,” said Jennie.
“Here goes nothing.” She took a deep breath and waited for Jennie to announce her.
With a huge grin on her face, Jennie pushed the intercom button on her phone and calmly spoke into the speaker. “Sir, your fiancée has arrived. Shall I show her in?”
Jack sat in his office with his aunt and cousin and wondered how the hell to start to explain that there was no fiancée. Andrew had sent a text at two o’clock saying he hadn’t found out anything more, and Chad still wasn’t in the office. Andrew said he was working on something. He just didn’t say what he was working on, so Jack had no idea if he should stall.
He had actually been desperate enough to start calling some of the women he’d dated in the last year or so. He wasn’t exactly a ruthless player, although the tabloids tried to make it look like he was. Sure, he got around, had a few dates a month and slept with some of them, but those women all seemed shallow and fake to Jack.
Two of them didn’t answer the phone, one was gushing about her new husband and another had moved to London when she was offered a modeling deal with a European agency. That was as far as he got in his little black book before his aunt arrived – twenty minutes early. It seemed Chad had been with Mabry this morning because they arrived together and now they both sat, mother and son, looking expectantly at him.
“We’re here to meet Jack’s fiancée,” a smug-looking Mabry announced to Chad. Jack watched a bemused expression come over his cousin’s face.
Chad had to be wondering what the hell was going on. He and Jack were close. They were more like brothers than cousins, so if he were getting married, Chad should have been the first to know.
Oh, great. I’m never gonna’ hear the end of this from him.
So there they sat, waiting for an introduction to a fiancée that Jack had never mentioned; a fiancée Chad had never set eyes on.
Jack leaned forward in his chair, took a deep breath and prepared to come clean. Just then his secretary’s voice cut in, and he could swear he heard her say his fiancée was here.
His head whipped around and he stared at the phone, unable to process what was going on. Jack’s experience in business had taught him to school his expressions and hide his thoughts from those around him, and though he was shocked, he did just that. He quickly hid all emotion from his face as he listened to his secretary.
“Sir, did you hear me? Mr. Sutton? Your fiancée has arrived. Shall I show her in?” Jennie spoke again.
Andrew. Andrew must have sent him a fiancée. How in the hell had Andrew found him a fiancée? I mean, how does one go about that, Jack thought. Oh God, what if Andrew sent him a prostitute?
“Uh, yes, send her in, please.” Jack forced the words out as his mind raced through the possible scenarios.
Jennie opened the door to his office and stepped aside. Kelly swept into the room as if she owned the place. She glided over to Jack’s desk, brushed a light kiss on his cheek, and casually handed him a stack of papers.
“Hello, sweetheart,” Kelly said to Jack before turning to his aunt and Chad. “You must be Jack’s Aunt Mabry and his cousin. He’s told me so much about you. I’m Kelly Bradley.” She took the hand of a very stunned Aunt Mabry and pumped it before she turned to Chad, whose amusement had turned to confused surprise. Kelly shook his hand as well.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Chad said, but it came out more as a question than a statement. “I don’t know where Jack’s been hiding you, but I can see why he wanted you all to himself,” Chad said with a huge grin on his face.
Jack was too busy trying to figure out who had just walked into his office…and what she was doing, to respond to Chad’s dig. This Kelly person had walked in as though she belonged there. As though she and Jack had the kind of intimate, close relationship that lets a woman waltz into a private family meeting and announce herself rather than wait to be invited and introduced.
Whoever she was, she was beautiful. Her hair was a deep chestnut color, and it fell down her back in loose waves over the soft ivory cashmere of her sweater. She had incredible, bright blue eyes and a lightly freckled complexion. Her snug sweater showed off a soft, curvy figure that begged to be held. Wherever Andrew had found her, he had done well. She was exquisite.
Jack tore his eyes off her and skimmed the papers in his hand while she stood chitchatting with his aunt and cousin as if nothing were out of the ordinary. The papers appeared to be an application for a marriage license for the State of Connecticut. There was a yellow sticky note on the top page that said: One year of marriage for $154,000. He quickly tucked the note in his pocket as his mind flew over possibilities.
Andrew had found him a wife for $154,000.
What the hell?
Had Andrew hired some call girl service? Asked some girl off the street? As he did in all of his deals, Jack quickly scanned all potential scenarios in his head. He assessed and evaluated the merits or drawbacks of each possibility. Obviously, if she were a call girl, the drawbacks were significant. In this case, he realized, he was woefully uninformed, and that wasn’t a position he was used to being in.
What the hell should he do? He had no idea who this woman was, but he didn’t have a choice if he wanted to continue to head up the company his father had built. The company Jack had expanded and come to love. Now, he stood stiffly in his office as his head reeled from the sudden proposition in front of him… But reason kicked in; he had to trust that Andrew wouldn’t have sent a hooker or someone Andrew didn’t know. Could Andrew have found a willing friend of his? Or maybe an ex-girlfriend?
How weird would that be if this was one of Andrew’s exes? Wait, I know all of Andrew’s exes, don’t I?
Jack hadn’t felt so off balance in his life. He suddenly realized that his supposed fiancée was talking to him.
“Jack? Honey, I need to know if you can make it to the courthouse to apply for the marriage license tomorrow? We both have to be there to get it. Does that work for you?” Kelly asked, indicating the papers in his hand.
“Uh, yes. Yeah, that works for me.” Jack spit the words out through the haze in his head and turned to smile at his aunt and cousin. No matter what Chad’s relationship with Bryan Barton was, it looked as if Jack had just committed himself to a year of marriage with a stranger.