The Ceo's Accidental Bride

By: Barbara Dunlop

One




Zach Harper was the last person Kaitlin Saville expected to see standing in the hallway outside her apartment door. The tall, dark-haired, steel-eyed man was the reason she was packing her belongings, the reason she was giving up her rent-controlled apartment, the person who was forcing her to leave New York City.

Facing him, she folded her arms across her dusty blue Mets T-shirt, hoping her red eyes had faded from her earlier crying jag and that no tear streaks remained on her cheeks.

“We have a problem,” Zach stated, his voice crisp, and his expression detached. His left hand was clasped around a black leather briefcase.

He wore a Grant Hicks suit and a pressed, white shirt. His red tie was made of fine silk, and his cuff links were solid gold. As usual, his hair was freshly cut, face freshly shaved, and his shoes were polished to within an inch of their lives.

“We don’t have anything,” she told him, curling her toes into the cushy socks that covered her feet below the frayed hem of her faded jeans.

She was casual, not frumpy, she told herself. A woman had a right to be casual in her own home. Where Zach Harper had no right to be in her home at all. She started to close the door on him. But his hand shot out to brace it.

His hand was broad and tanned, with a strong wrist and tapered fingers. No rings, but a platinum Cartier watch with a diamond face. “I’m not joking, Kaitlin.”

“And I’m not laughing.” She couldn’t give one whit about any problem the high-and-mighty Zach Harper might encounter during his charmed life. The man not only got her fired, but he also had her blackballed from every architectural firm in New York City.

He glanced past her shoulder. “Can I come in?”

She pretended to think about it for a moment. “No.”

He might be master of his domain at Harper Transportation and at every major business function in Manhattan, but he did not have the right to see her messy place, especially the collection of lacy lingerie sitting under the window.

He clenched his jaw.

She set her own, standing her ground.

“It’s personal,” he persisted, hand shifting on the briefcase handle.

“We’re not friends,” she pointed out.

They were, in fact, enemies. Because that was what happened when one person ruined another person’s life. It didn’t matter that the first person was attractive, successful, intelligent and one heck of a good dancer. He’d lost all rights to…well, anything.

Zach squared his shoulders, then glanced both ways down the narrow corridor of the fifty-year-old building. The light was dim, the patterned carpets worn. Ten doors opened into this particular section of the fifth floor. Kaitlin’s apartment was at the end, next to a steel exit door and a fire alarm protected by a glass cover.

“Fine,” he told her. “We’ll do it out here.”

Oh, no, they wouldn’t. They wouldn’t do anything anywhere, ever again. She started to step back into the safety of her apartment.

“You remember that night in Vegas?” he asked.

His question stopped her cold.

She would never forget the Harper corporate party at the Bellagio three months ago. Along with the singers, dancers, jugglers and acrobats who had entertained the five-hundred-strong crowd of Harper Transportation’s high-end clients, there was a flamboyant Elvis impersonator who’d coaxed her and Zach from the dance floor to participate in a mock wedding.

At the time, it had seemed funny, in keeping with the lighthearted mood of the party. Of course, her sense of humor had been aided that night by several cranberry martinis. In hindsight, the event simply felt humiliating.

“The paper we signed?” Zach continued in the face of her silence.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she lied to him.

In fact, she’d come across their mock wedding license just this morning. It was tucked into the lone, slim photo album that lived in her bottom dresser drawer beneath several pairs of blue jeans.

It was stupid to have kept the souvenir. But the glow from her evening on Zach’s arm had taken a few days to fade away. And at the time she’d put the marriage license away, those happy minutes on the dance floor had seemed somehow magical.

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