The Millionaire's Cinderella Wife

Can I beg you on my bended knees to stick around for a bit, Sierra? Ty said.Every woman on the entire East Coast would have dreamed of receiving such an offer from 'the handsome millionaire businessman who now graced the cover of A-list magazine. But not Sierra Garrett. Because few people knew that their «bachelor of the year» was still her husband! Sierra intended to correct that technicality. But, when she arrived, Ty sidetracked her with his proposition to ward off his new female fans.Of course, Ty had another motive. Because as long as Sierra stayed, he planned to use every charm known to mankind to convince jier to stay…and give their marriage a second chance!
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The Millionaire's Cinderella Wife


“Help me out with this?” Ty begged.

   “I don’t think so.”

   Sierra put her hand on the door, intending to climb out of the car, but he leaned across and stopped her, laying one arm across both of hers. She froze. His bare arm brushed her stomach and would brush her breasts if she leaned just a little bit.

   At one time they’d been way more intimate with each other than this, so she shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about it. Problem was, his touch opened up too many memories, and too many lost possibilities.

   “I’m not joking, okay?” Ty said, with his voice dropped low. “Stay. A couple of weeks.”

   “I—I can’t.”

   “You’re on school summer break. Your family can manage without you. Some people consider Stoneport a great place for a vacation.”

   Sierra’s heart shouldn’t race like this. Her head shouldn’t spin. And she should absolutely not consider that he was offering a second chance at their marriage.

   Dear Reader,

   What are your favorite memories of summer? Even though I spend my days reading manuscripts, I love nothing better than basking in the sun’s warm glow as I sit immersed in a great book. If you share this pleasure with me, rest assured that I can make packing your beach bag really easy this month!

   Certainly, you’ll want to make room in your bag for Patricia Thayer’s A Taste of Paradise (SR #1770), part of the author’s new LOVE AT THE GOODTIME CAFÉ miniseries. Thayer proves that romance is the order of the day when a sexy sheriff determined to buy back his family’s ranch crosses paths with a beautiful blond socialite who is on the run from an arranged marriage. Watch the sparks fly in Rich, Rugged…Royal by Cynthia Rutledge (SR #1771) in which an ordinary woman discovers that the man whom she had a one-night affair with is not only her roommate but also a royal! International bestselling author Lilian Darcy offers an emotional tale about an estranged couple who are reunited when the hero is named bachelor of the year, in The Millionaire’s Cinderella Wife (SR #1772). Finally, I’m delighted to introduce you to debut author Karen Potter whose Daddy in Waiting (SR #1773) shows how a mix-up at a fertility clinic leads to happily ever after.

   And be sure to leave some room in your bag next month when Judy Duarte kicks off a summer-themed continuity set at a county fair!

   Happy reading,

   Ann Leslie Tuttle

   Associate Senior Editor

The Millionaire’s Cinderella Wife Lilian Darcy


   

Books by Lilian Darcy

   Silhouette Romance

   The Baby Bond #1390

   Her Sister’s Child #1449

   Raising Baby Jane #1478

   Cinderella After Midnight #1542

   Saving Cinderella #1555

   Finding Her Prince #1567

   Pregnant and Protected #1603

   For the Taking #1620

   The Boss’s Baby Surprise #1729

   The Millionaire’s Cinderella Wife #1772

   Silhouette Special Edition

   Balancing Act #1552

   Their Baby Miracle #1672

LILIAN DARCY

   has written over fifty books for Silhouette Romance and Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance (Prescription Romance). Her first book for Silhouette appeared on the Waldenbooks Series Romance Bestsellers list, and she’s hoping readers go on responding strongly to her work. Happily married with four active children and a very patient cat, she enjoys keeping busy and could probably fill several more lifetimes with the things she likes to do—including cooking, gardening, quilting, drawing and traveling. She currently lives in Australia but travels to the United States as often as possible to visit family. Lilian loves to hear from readers. You can write to her at P.O. Box 381, Hackensack, NJ 07602 or e-mail her at lildarcy@austarmetro.com.au.


Contents

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

Chapter One

   At seven on a Tuesday morning in June, both the waterfront and the adjacent marina in Stoneport, North Carolina were quiet.

   Pre-dawn fishing expeditions must already have departed, while the more tourist-oriented charter trips and sailing classes didn’t get under way until a little later. Sierra Taylor walked from her nearby hotel, passed a café called Tides, open for breakfast, and decided she’d go back there and wait over coffee if the office at Garrett Marine was unattended at this hour.

   On edge about the coming confrontation with Ty, she almost hoped it would be.

   No such luck, she soon discovered.

   Ty Garrett had always been an early riser, which must have been an asset in his business success. Through the glass door she saw a woman behind the main desk frowning at a computer screen, and when Sierra dipped the handle the door swung inward, jangling a nautical bell.

   “Good morning!” The woman was young, twenty-two at most, and her voice sounded impossibly perky at this hour. Behind her head, a blonde ponytail swung through the hole in her baseball cap, keeping time to the music of her words. “Can I help you?”

   “I’m here to see Mr. Garrett.”

   “Are you booking a sailing class? Already booked? Questions about our boat rentals? Give me your name, and—”

   “Actually, no, it’s personal.”

   “Well, give me your name…” This time she enunciated slowly and clearly, as if she dealt with too many people who weren’t all that bright.

   “Sierra.” No point in fighting over it.

   “Last name?”

   “He doesn’t need my last name.”

   “O-kay.” Miss Perky Ponytail shrugged and sashayed off down a short, dark corridor in the direction of a closed door.

   She moved as if she was climbing around the deck of a sail-boat on a sunny day, and she didn’t knock at the door—which must surely lead to Ty’s private office—but peeled off into another room, from which Sierra soon heard various clinking and gushing sounds which suggested that coffee was being made.

   She took a couple of careful breaths, reining in emotions that were too strong and too complex to fully make sense after so long. Why so much ambivalence? Why shouldn’t this be easy? She’d driven the six hundred miles from Landerville, Ohio, primed for this moment and coolly determined. She really hadn’t expected to feel so messed up about it.

   Trying to center herself, Sierra leaned her elbow on the high desk. Her gaze idly wander over the desk’s surface, taking in a pile of glossy printed brochures, a pen and a box of mints. And then she saw it—the magazine that had brought her to Stoneport—right there at an angle in front of her.

   Ty’s face grinned up at her from A-list’s front cover—tanned, sheened with sun screen and faintly dusted with salt, handsome as a Greek god. His dark hair begged for a woman’s fingers to tidy its wind-swept waves. Behind him, a brightly colored spinnaker sail bellied against the breeze, while the glimpse of a sun-bronzed shoulder at the bottom of the frame strongly suggested he was shirtless.

   Even though she’d seen it countless times now, the image and the four words that captioned it in bold red letters still made Sierra catch her breath with shock and self-doubt, a healthy dose of anger, and something else that she didn’t want to put a name to.

   “Bachelor Of The Year!” trumpeted A-list’s banner headline.

   As for the three-page feature article inside, Sierra knew it almost by heart.

   It catalogued Ty’s business success here on the Stoneport waterfront. It painted in dramatic colors the story of how he’d rescued a young couple from a stricken sail-boat during a spring storm, how he’d kept the unconscious husband alive, delivered the wife’s premature baby, and saved both mother and child. It quoted local residents and Garrett Marine staff praising him in extravagant terms, and guesstimated his growing wealth in the tens of millions.

   Finally, just in case the front cover had left any woman in America in any doubt, it included several more photos that proved his good looks and stunning physique were not merely the products of clever lighting and heavy use of an air-brush.

   You’d have to be pretty mean-spirited to suggest that Ty Garrett hadn’t earned the Bachelor of the Year label.

   Sierra had only one small problem with it, herself.

   She was already married to him.

   Miss Ponytail had made the coffee. With a big, milkless mug of it in her hand, she finally reached the closed door and knocked. Then, without waiting for an answer, she called, “There’s another one, Ty.”

   Sierra heard his still-familiar voice through the door. “Early bird.”

   “Says the worm.”

   “Yeah, already squirming. Does she want a class or a charter?”

   Miss Ponytail opened the door a crack, leaned in and dropped her voice, but didn’t drop it low enough. “No, she’s going with the ‘It’s personal’ angle. Won’t give her last name. Thinks that’s an original game plan, just like the other forty-seven women who have tried it.”

   “And is she pretty?”

   “You be the judge.”

   “So what’s the first name?”

   “Sierra.”

   Thick silence.

   Sierra discovered she’d stopped breathing.

   “Here’s your coffee, by the way…Oops!” Miss Ponytail said.

   Appearing in the doorway, Ty had almost made her spill it, but they both recovered in time. He didn’t take the hot beverage, however. Instead, his gaze arrowed over Miss Ponytail’s head and reached Sierra. Lord, in the flesh he was better looking even than in the professional photos, she realized at once, as she took in a long, slow drag of air. Better than all of her memories.

   He wore a white polo-neck shirt that set off his tan the way whipped cream set off chocolate mousse, and baggy navy shorts that ended just at the hard knots of muscle above his knees, and he looked at her as if he’d half-expected her but didn’t fully believe she was here, all the same.

   “Sierra,” he said.

   “Got it in one.” Her tone came out flip and unnatural.

   The tension in the room sang like wind through a sailboat’s metal stays.

   “You haven’t changed so much in eight years.” His guarded expression didn’t telegraph his opinion on any of the changes that had occurred.

   “You have, Ty,” Sierra blurted out.

   He’d filled out his strong frame over the past few years, and success and maturity had given him a confidence of bearing that made his jaw look as strong as iron and his blue eyes as steady as the moon. And as Sierra knew very well, he hadn’t ever lacked confidence, even in his early twenties.

   “I guess this one was right,” Miss Ponytail said. “You really didn’t need her last name.”

   “Cookie, can you go check that Footloose is ready to roll for that two-day charter?” Ty asked, not looking at Miss Ponytail.

   His eyes seemed to have the power to heat Sierra’s skin like a radiant lamp, and, oh, she suddenly remembered in such vivid, physical detail all the reasons why she’d once loved him so much, why she’d believed so completely in what they had, why she’d ached and burned so hard when it had ended.

   “You might have to handle things on your own, this morning,” he told his employee. “And can you dump the coffee?” he added.

   “Sure,” Miss Ponytail said. Cookie, apparently.

   She disappeared back into the room where she’d made the coffee. At the edge of her buzzing, shrilling awareness, Sierra heard the liquid splosh into a sink, then the sound of another door opening and closing, and Cookie’s feet on the wooden planking of the dock. She’d left via the back entrance, and Sierra and Ty were alone.

   Alone.

   For the first time since the take-it-or-leave-it, marriage-busting conversation that Sierra remembered every word of, even after eight years. Ty had left Landerville that same day, and he hadn’t been back since. They hadn’t even spoken on the phone.

   They should have done.

   They should never have let things drag out for this long.

   “I guess I know why you’re here,” he said. He looked wary, and ready to be angry if the right trigger came.

   Sierra’s heart thudded suddenly. “Do you?”

   “I wondered if you’d see the magazine.”

   “If I’d see it?” She laughed briefly. “Sometimes I feel as if everyone in America has seen it.”

   “You could have called.” He mimicked a voice every bit as perky as Cookie’s. “I saw the cover story. Photos came out great. Congratulations.”

   Perky, but with a metallic edge.

   “You know that’s not why I’m here.” Her voice sounded scratchy, and not nearly as strong as she wanted it to.

   “Wait a minute,” he drawled, in mock surprise. “You’re not here because of A-list?”

   “Don’t do this.” Okay, that was better. Harder. “Yes, I’m here because of A-list. Of course I’m here because of A-list. But not to—”

   The nautical bell jangled again at that moment as the front door opened, and Ty took a couple of backward steps into the doorway that led from the front office to the short corridor, then froze as if it might be dangerous for him to move in either direction.

   A woman stepped awkwardly inside the building. She looked to be in her mid-thirties, and was dressed in a too-tight cutesy sailor suit with navy shorts, a striped top, and a red sailor-style neck tie, all of which the sales assistant in Silly Outfits ‘R’ Us really should have talked her out of.

   “Um, I was wondering about sailing classes,” she said, shyly ducking her head.

   “Sure,” Ty answered cheerfully. He wore the same smile showcased to such stunning effect on the front cover of A-list, but he still hadn’t moved. To Sierra it looked as if he might make a run for it when he did. “We’re pretty full, right now, but I’m taking down contact details, because we’re putting together some extra classes.”

   “And will those extra classes be handled by…uh…by you personally. Um. Or will they be, um, taught by someone else?”

   Ty’s smile tightened a little. A stranger might not have spotted it but Sierra did and she was stunned at how well she remembered details about him like this. “Not sure, at this stage,” he said.

   “Because I’d rather be handled by you personally.”

   “I’m sure you would.”

   “Oh!” The woman suddenly clapped her hands to her mouth. She blushed and giggled. “I didn’t mean that to come out the way it did! I’m so sorry!” As with the sailor suit, the blush, giggle and hands on mouth were not a good look for her. She took several steps closer and reached out, as if itching to give him an apologetic and lengthy squeeze. “I’m really so, so sorry!”

   “We’re actually closed right now,” Ty said quickly. “Could I ask you to come back at eight, when our office opens, and give your details to my assistant?”

   “Oh, of course.” She reversed direction like a mechanical toy, and the hands went back to the mouth, muffling another repetition of, “I’m so sorry.”

   She backed up to the door, dragged one hand from her mouth long enough to grab the doorhandle, edged through the narrow opening she’d made, and pulled the door shut with a slam. The nautical bell protested as if it, like Ty, had showcased its skills for too many similar women in recent days.

   Ty sighed. “Can we close this place up and go grab coffee somewhere else?” he said to Sierra. “I appreciate that you want to talk.”

   His eyes flicked over her, taking in—probably—the way she’d aged, and the conservative outfit of matching skirt and top that she wore. They’d seemed appropriate, in her hotel room this morning, for an assertive confrontation with her husband. Now they made her feel plain and staid.

   “Talking makes sense,” Ty was saying. “We’ve both been stubborn about the situation for far too long. But it’s obvious we’ll never be able to do it here.”

   “No?” Sierra wasn’t sure that she liked the idea of having this conversation in public, even if “public” did mean the quietest corner of that café she’d passed on her way here. On the other hand, a more private location had its downside, also.

   “You think that sailor suit gal is the first?” Ty drawled. He leaned his elbow at head height against the doorjamb, as if he’d already reached the end of a long day.

   “Uh, not from what your assistant said, no. But I’d have thought the extra traffic was good for business.”

   “Extra traffic? The whole of Garrett Marine has been under siege from the day A-list hit the stands.” He glanced through the full-length front windows and along the boardwalk that led back to the waterfront’s other businesses, spotted a pair of female figures moving toward the office and decreed, “Out the back way. Now. I’ll lock.”

   This time, Sierra didn’t argue. Didn’t even say, “Serves you right,” although she couldn’t help thinking it.

   And that really was mean-spirited.

   Get a grip, Sierra. Cool down.

   Ty locked the front door, dimmed the computer screen, switched off the interior lights and ducked into the back room, all in the space of seconds. Sierra followed him, hearing a disappointed, “Oh, they’re not open yet,” through the glass door behind her.

   “Let’s roll,” Ty said.

   He grabbed her arm and pulled her around the side of the small office building, so they could escape down the boardwalk while the two women were still reading Garrett Marine’s office hours on the sign hanging against the glass. His palm and fingers felt warm against her skin, and his grip was as strong and confident as ever. Metaphorically, he’d tried to pull her from Landerville to Stoneport in exactly the same way.

   Grab.

   Roll.

   Go where I want, never mind your own plans.

   Back then, on that issue, she’d objected. This time, since it was just coffee and a long overdue conversation, she didn’t. His hand on her arm felt better than she wanted it to, however, and the way he moved was like a charge of energy that overflowed into her own body and brought her back to life. They covered forty yards in what felt like five seconds, and her heart beat sped up.

   “Here we go,” Ty said, and pulled Sierra into Tides, the café she had noted earlier.

   “Hey, Mr. Garrett,” said another perky female.

   He didn’t flinch, so Sierra guessed the girl was an employee, not one of the besieging women he’d mentioned. This must be the café described in A-list as part of his extensive and still growing business empire.

   “We’ll take the corner table,” he told the waitress. “And can you…like…move the potted plants, or something?”

   “The model boat?”

   “Perfect!”

   “I’ll get Evan to help.” She called someone from the kitchen and the two of them shifted a glass case containing the fully-rigged model of an old clipper ship so that it did a good job of blocking the corner table from general view. Nobody seemed surprised that this strategy was necessary, which lent credibility to Ty’s claim that Garrett Marine was “under siege.”

   Once seated, he didn’t wait for a menu, but ordered a Danish and black coffee for himself—“Just keep it coming, Gina, okay?”—while Sierra asked for a muffin and a cappuccino. Both orders arrived promptly, which meant they didn’t have to spend long pretending they had nothing important to talk about.

   Gina left to serve some new arrivals, and Sierra seized her opportunity, because there had already been interruptions enough. “Please don’t pretend that you don’t know exactly why I’m here,” she said.

   “Tell me straight out, and neither of us should have to pretend anything.”

   “If you want a divorce, Ty, ask for a divorce. That’s all you have to do. Don’t advertise yourself in a national magazine as being gloriously available, and wait for me to draw the obvious conclusions, the way the entire town of Landerville has.”

   “You think this was about me wanting a divorce? You honestly think—”

   “I’ve had hints and innuendoes and the same tired jokes over and over, total strangers coming up to me in the supermarket wanting to know the exact status of—well, our marriage, if there is one.”

   “Okay, for a start, your Dad’s been mayor for about a hundred years; you know no-one in a town like Landerville is going to consider you a total stranger. Your life is town property, and so was mine, before I left.”

   Sierra ignored him and went on, “My sisters are acting like someone died, and Dad was threatening at one stage to—” But Ty didn’t need to know about her father’s threats to his son-in-law’s safety. “It’s been…very embarrassing,” she finished lamely, knowing she hadn’t communicated a fraction of what she felt.

   “Embarrassing?” Ty echoed, on an impatient laugh. “Yeah, tell me about it! That sailor suit lady a few minutes ago was more subtle than most. Trust me, Sierra, I’m winning in the embarrassment stakes, hands down!”

   “In that case,” she told him with a sharp edge, “it might have been a good idea if you’d thought the whole A-list thing through a teeny-weeny bit, before you agreed to it, huh?”

   His blue eyes narrowed. “I never agreed to it, Sierra! Is that the kind of man you think I am? Interested in that kind of cheap publicity? Hell, interested in getting dates for myself that way? Listen! The Bachelor of the Year headline was the journalist’s idea, not mine.”

   “You could have said no.”

   “I had no clue she was going to present the boat rescue story like that, until it appeared in the magazine. I didn’t realize how much she was going to hook it into my business success, or that it would be on the cover. Let alone that it would bring this kind of response from total strangers. This mess has just erupted. You have no idea!”

   “Gee, all that extra money coming in for extra sailing classes. All the extra business in your restaurants and waterfront stores. Yeah, most tourist enterprises really hate feel-good national publicity, I’m sure!”

   He frowned. “Don’t do that thing with your mouth. It doesn’t suit you.”

   “What thing?”

   “Looks like you’re sucking on a lemon.” Still frowning, he reached across the table and tried to do something to her lips with his fingers, the way he might have brushed a crumb from a child’s cheek. What on earth…?

   Smoothing them out? Yes, soothing those tight little muscles around her mouth.

   With his touch, Sierra could feel the tight muscles herself, and wondered if that was why her face so often felt stiff and tired by the end of the day. Even before this whole mess with the magazine, she’d had so much on her plate.

   There was her teaching job, working with a class of special needs kids, and three younger siblings who still depended on her a lot, and Dad’s health to monitor—he tended to leave the treatment of his diabetes largely to her—as well as his role as Landerville’s mayor to support.

   She knew she needed a vacation, but…sucking on a lemon?

   Ty’s finger-tips moved cool and light against her skin, like a caress, but still she flinched away and drawled, “Gee, thanks!”

   “You’re doing it again.”

   “Maybe because of all the extravagant compliments you’re paying me.”

   “And again.”

   “Ty, do you or do you not want a divorce?” she blurted out desperately.

   “You wouldn’t contest it?”

   Okay, Sierra. Don’t sigh. Don’t suck on a lemon.

   She lifted her chin, managed not to gust out the big whoosh of air that tightened her chest, and said quietly, “No, of course I wouldn’t contest it.”

   “You’ve had eight years to file for one, and you haven’t.”

   “No, I haven’t. Neither have you. But I want to, now. It’s way overdue, don’t you think?”

   Of course she was right, Ty conceded to himself. About seven years and eight months overdue, probably. He should have filed the papers himself, as soon as he’d realized that she had called his colossal, confident, angry bluff and really wasn’t going to follow him to Stoneport.

   But he’d been stubborn about it. That was how he’d dealt with the hurt, by channelling it into sheer pigheaded pride. He wasn’t the one making their marriage impossible. He wasn’t wrong about any of this! Let Sierra take the steps to legally sever their union, if that was what she wanted.

   She never had.

   He’d been so cocky at twenty-four, so sure of himself, his goals, his decisions. “You know where to find me,” he’d told her.

   “And you know where to find me!”

   And the hurt and disappointment had eased with time and hard work, the way such things did. The way they must have eased for her, too.

   “If it’s so overdue,” he answered her at last, “why haven’t you done something about it long before this? Why did it take some frothy magazine article to bring you here?”

   She colored and shrugged, and paused for almost as long as Ty had, before she answered. “Let’s just label it a wake-up call, shall we? Principles have a limited shelf life, I’ve discovered.”

   “Principles?” The word startled him. “Whose principles?”

   “I’m not the one who walked out of our marriage. I’m not the one who wanted it to end. You did, Ty. So the divorce should have been up to you.”

   “I never walked out of our marriage! I walked out of Landerville.”

   “That’s the same thing, isn’t it?”

   “No, it isn’t! I was pretty clear on that at the time, I thought. There was no future for me there. Not one that could possibly have made me happy. I needed this.” He swept his arm around, encompassing his world.

   “What’s ‘this’?” She hooked her fingers around the word to make the quotation marks.

   “The ocean, the boats, a chance to make a future for myself in a place where I wasn’t just that more-or-less-orphaned Garrett boy who might get as far as managing the hardware store some day, if the love-struck mayor’s daughter from the right side of the tracks could keep him honest. But you still don’t get any of that, do you?”

   “No, I don’t. Dad never looked at you that way.”

   “The rest of Landerville did.”

   “You weren’t just asking me to turn my back on a few narrow-minded attitudes. You were asking me to—” She stopped. Her cheeks were pink and angry and her dark eyes flashed. “A family is not something you can just walk away from, Ty. My family was not something I could just walk away from.”

   He sat up straighter. “I don’t consider—I’ve never considered—that I was asking you to do that.”

   “Just listen to us!”

   Sierra did the lemon thing with her mouth again and he couldn’t find an answer. Yeah, listen to them! Back to square one. Back eight years to exactly what had slammed them apart in the first place.

   She was so right. The divorce was overdue.

   She sat there looking at him over the rim of her cappuccino cup and he took a moment to assess the changes in her. She’d been stunningly beautiful, to his eyes, when they’d gotten married twelve years ago. That graceful figure, as lean as a catwalk model’s. That creamy skin. That wide, expressive mouth. That dark, straight, silky hair, flowing like a satin waterfall down her back. Those big, slightly exotic brown eyes—a throw-back to some distant Cherokee heritage on her mother’s side.

   And she was still beautiful. The hair was the same, only kept a little shorter and folded into an efficient pleat high on the back of her head, this morning. The figure was a touch more womanly beneath its conservative olive and beige top and skirt, but if there was a man in this world who didn’t like a few feminine curves in the right places, then that man wasn’t him.

   Her eyes and her mouth and her skin?

   Yeah, beautiful.

   Stunning.

   Except…

   She looked tired, at certain moments. Stressed. Angry? Unhappy?

   And her eyes and mouth and skin were the places where the problems showed, whatever they were. The sucking on a lemon thing. A tightness to her skin which sketched out to the world where her wrinkles would some day appear. A way of narrowing those dark eyes so that the fire deep inside them almost looked as if it had gone out.

   If the limbo of their non-marriage gave an explanation for any of this, all the more reason to get it dealt with so that both of them could get on with their lives.

   Ty gulped some coffee and took a bite of the cherry and cream cheese Danish, wondering how best to get down to the nitty gritty of lawyers and such.

   They had no kids, no joint property acquired during their four years together. And Sierra had never been the grasping type. On the contrary she was far too generous for her own good at times. She would never stake any kind of a claim on the wealth he’d acquired since their split, and even if she did no judge would award it to her.

   He leaned closer to her across the table. “There’s no reason why this can’t be simple and amicable and quickly dealt with, right? Since it’s what we both want?”

   “No reason at all,” she agreed.

   “Then, yes, let’s get it taken care of, get the ball rolling, before you head back.”

   “I’d appreciate that,” she said. “No fuss.”

   “No going over old ground.”

   “No. Because we’ve—”

   “Ty?” said a musical female voice that he recognized, and Sierra didn’t get a chance to finish.

   Ty looked away from her tight face to find A-list journalist Lucy Little smiling at him, much more casually dressed than Sierra in clam-diggers and a tight little black tank. She seemed as relaxed and at home as if she lived here, even though Ty had had no idea she’d planned to come back to Stoneport once she’d completed the magazine story that was causing all the current trouble.

   He wasn’t thrilled to see her, especially not at this moment. Sierra still looked so tight and emotional on the other side of the table, and his own feelings were attacking his sense of certainty like a guerilla-style ambush.

   Before he could react to Lucy’ greeting, she leaned down, cupped her hand around his jaw and kissed him European style, once on each cheek. The second kiss caught the corner of his mouth and trailed away slowly enough to signal unmistakable interest, and he remembered a couple of cryptic comments she’d made about professional boundaries and personal needs during the three days she’d spent here last month.

   Okay…

   He couldn’t remember the exact wording, but the intent was much clearer, now. Their professional interaction was done with. Roll in the personal needs. Apparently all her questions about the state of his private life while she was researching the article hadn’t simply related to the banner Bachelor of the Year headline he’d disliked so much.

   “Lucy,” he said, hiding what he felt behind the customary warmth he gave to clients. After all, the article had brought a serious surge in his cash flow. And it had brought Sierra, with her necessary wake-up call. “It’s great to see you back in town.”

   “It’s great to be here. You knew I would be, didn’t you?” She looked at him through flirty lashes.

   She pulled a chair across from the adjoining table and sat down, angling herself so that her veiled curiosity about Sierra wafted across one of her bare shoulders for a moment, disguised as a smile, then wafted away again. Sierra gave an uncertain smile in return, and took refuge in her muffin.

   “I could have called, I know,” Lucy said, her smile disarming and self-mocking now. “But I had to come find out in person whether you’re pleased about the reaction to the article. We’ve had a ton of feedback at our end, let me tell you!” She gave a gurgly little laugh. “An astonishing number of e-mails and calls from women wanting your contact details. My editor is threatening me with a follow-up story.”

   “Threatening you?”

   She pouted her mouth. “I’m technically on vacation time, this visit. Don’t you remember what I said about professional boundaries, before?”

   Yeah, he did.

   Unfortunately.

   The journalist wasn’t his type. Nothing to do with her looks. Dark and willowy like Sierra, Lucy could have been her sister. But he’d never responded to the combination of little-girl giggles, seductive body language and man-eating aggression that she displayed.

   He’d been as warm and courteous to her as their roles required, while she was working on the article, but apparently she’d read too much into that, and now he’d have to set her straight. At least the dozens of women who’d tried to flirt with him over the past couple of weeks had given him plenty of practice at getting his message across.

   “What more could you possibly say in a follow up story?” he asked her, a little too blunt about it.

   “Well, the reaction, of course. The women. A-list is primarily a celebrity gossip magazine, Ty, and you’re a celebrity now.”

   Like hell he was!

   “My fifteen minutes of fame?” he drawled.

   “A lot longer than that, if you play it right.” She sketched it all out, in far more detail than he wanted, while he gulped a refill of his coffee. Apparently, this could change his life.

   No, thanks.

   He liked his life just the way it was, apart from the small problem of needing an overdue divorce.

   “Can I get back to you on that?” he said to Lucy, regretting again that he’d ever agreed to the original article.

   He should have researched the magazine itself in more detail. He should have asked for the right to review and veto the article before it appeared. His main reason for agreeing to it had been to publicize issues about boating safety that he felt strongly about, particularly after the dramatic ocean rescue that could have cost four lives, and when he’d talked about all this to Lucy, she’d expressed only wide-eyed, enthusiastic agreement.

   Boating safety? Of course! That couple should never have been out on the water by themselves in those conditions, for sure, and Ty was such a hero.

   When the article had contained precisely one six-word quote from him on the risks he was concerned about, she’d apologized and talked about “my editor” and “cutting for length” and he’d taken her words at face value. Now, he wondered. He’d been uncharacteristically naive.

   And he wondered, too, what would happen if he turned down a second article, point blank. Publicity and celebrity were two-edged swords. Never having experienced either on a major level, he’d over-looked this fact six weeks ago. But it didn’t take much imagination or experience, now, to realize that one deliberately negative story could turn the tide of a successful business and threaten to destroy everything he’d achieved and worked for.

   “I’m on vacation time,” Lucy repeated. “Ten days. I told my editor I’d approach you regarding the second article, but nothing would be set in stone until my vacation’s over. Even then, I might hand the story on to a colleague. Boundaries, remember?” Again, her eyes glinted at him through her lowered lashes. “My integrity as a journalist means I have to be objective, and…well…it’s hard to be objective in certain positions…I mean situations.”

   Her giggly, suggestive tone reminded him of the recent and unfortunate sailor suit woman who wanted to be “handled personally.” His heart sank.

   Gina appeared again, leading two women to the adjacent table, from which Lucy had stolen her chair. She stood, apologized and slid it back. The two women sat down in a flurry of bag rummaging and menu shuffling and questions to each other about their sunglasses, all of which somehow managed to give them several long and unsubtle opportunities to look in Ty’s direction.

   Gina mouthed at him, “Sorry. Last table,” and he realized that the place had filled up without him noticing.

   There were a few regulars and a couple of tourist families, but most of the clientele was female, aged somewhere between twenty and forty, and every single one of them had either his Garrett Marine Sailing School brochure or his Stoneport Seafront Gallery brochure or his Nautilus Restaurant brochure in their hands.

   He’d had each brochure printed with his own scrawled handwriting and signature. “Welcome to my world! Ty Garrett.” An astonishing number of women had taken him at his word.

   “I should catch you later when we’ll have more time,” Lucy said.

   Deprived of her seat, she obviously felt that she lacked panache, standing there. People were craning past the fish tank to look at her. And at Sierra and Ty. And he was by this time a lot more familiar with this neck-prickling awareness of public attention than he’d ever wanted to be.

   “Here’s where I’m staying.” Lucy flipped him a card with the address and phone number of an upmarket bed-and-breakfast. “But I’ll call you, so we can set something up.” She gurgled her laugh once more. “Maybe I’ll even take a private sailing class.”

   No.

   This whole thing had to stop.

   Now.

   And he had to stop it at the source with something that neither Lucy nor anyone else in Stoneport could ignore.

   Across the table, Sierra had quirked her mouth into a variation of the lemon thing that Ty couldn’t interpret beyond a general sense that she wasn’t impressed, and he realized that she represented the only obvious, tangible, workable solution to his current problem. If he didn’t act at once, though, it would be too late. It wouldn’t carry conviction.

   He had to say it now, or not say it at all.

   “Before you go, Lucy,” he said, his voice as smooth and casual as he could make it. “I want you to meet Sierra, the most important woman in my life and, I should tell you, the reason you won’t be able to call the next article Bachelor of the Year II.”

   “Oh, really?” Lucy cooed, with a dazzling, clueless smile. Clearly, she was still a couple of steps behind.

   “Yes, really.” He reached across the table and covered Sierra’s smooth, pretty hand with his. He would have caressed her if he hadn’t been so sure she’d snatch her hand away. “Because Sierra is my wife.”

Chapter Two

   “Just tell me, if it’s not too much trouble, what that was for, Ty Garrett!” Sierra said to her soon-to-be ex-husband, through clenched teeth, as soon as the A-list journalist had gathered her shredded composure—her big-selling, drop-dead gorgeous Bachelor of the Year already, excuse me, had a wife?—and managed a more or less upright exit.

   “Shh! Not yet,” Ty answered. “Not here. Let’s go.”

   He stood up and grabbed tighter onto the hand Sierra was trying to snatch away. Then he gave a quick tilt of his head to Gina to say they were leaving, and began to weave his way confidently between the tables toward the café’s kitchen door. At least a dozen pairs of female eyes tracked their progress, and as she followed him Sierra heard several whispered comments.

   “That’s him!”

   “Lordy, what a body!”

   “I have a private two-hour sail-boat cruise with him tomorrow…”

   “Not here?” Sierra echoed, as the swing door closed behind them, shutting off the whisperings and the looks. The sounds and sights of a busy kitchen took their place. “Okay, Ty, we’ve tried your office, we’ve tried your café. What’s next down the list?”

   “Have to be my place, I guess,” he said.

   Well, I walked right into that one, didn’t I?

   She didn’t know why it bothered her to think of continuing this confrontation with Ty on what was indisputably his own personal turf, but somehow it did. Maybe because she was too curious. She wanted to know what kind of a home he had set up for himself.

   Sierra had gone back to live with Dad and her brother and sisters after the split and, because of their various needs, she was still there. In contrast, with no family ties and no budget constraints, Ty had only his own taste and lifestyle to consult. Did he inhabit a sterile bachelor pad? A designer decorated mansion? A permanent hotel suite?

   She didn’t want to feel so curious about him, when they’d just agreed on a divorce. Still less did she want to think that there might be any threat to her emotional health in being alone with him. She was over all that. She had to be, for her own well-being.

   So why this sense of nerves jumping in her stomach, and pulses jumping everywhere else? Purely because this morning had been so much more complicated than she’d initially hoped?

   The best solution would be to discuss everything they needed to discuss in private at Ty’s, then get back to her motel, check out and leave town.

   Still following in his wake, Sierra exited through the café’s service doors and found herself in the access lane that backed the waterfront buildings. Since the lane largely serviced the various Garrett Marine businesses, she wasn’t surprised to find it comparatively clean and well ordered.

   The only item out of place was an ancient mud-brown sedan, parked crookedly so that it almost grazed the back wall of the next building and just left room for the delivery truck nosing its way past. The vehicle seemed to be one small step above a junk-heap shell, with dented panels, rusted bumpers and a silhouette that was thirty years out of style.

   She nearly gasped out loud in disbelief when Ty aimed a key right for its passenger side lock.

   “Decoy and get-away car,” he explained, so apparently she actually had gasped out loud.

   “This is—”

   “The car I was driving when I left Ohio, yes.”

   “It looks—”

   “Even worse. First three years here, it was the only car I could afford. I was plowing every cent that I could into the business, back then.”

   He opened the door for her and nudged her into the front seat with a gentlemanly gesture. She would have resisted, except that a glance at the interior told her it was neat and clean and—good grief!—upholstered with glove-soft taupe leather seats.

   “Appearances can be deceiving, I guess,” she drawled.

   “Yeah, well, the original upholstery cracked and tore, and it seemed like I might as well replace it with something decent.”

   “I don’t know why you kept this car at all.”

   Loyalty? Sentimentality? Was Ty like that?

   “Told you, as a decoy,” he said, as he arrived in the driver’s seat. “Don’t always want the whole town to know my movements. Which tend to be fairly obvious when I’m driving the Porsche.”

   “I wish you’d been as concerned for your privacy when A-list approached you about the article.”

   “Damn straight!” he drawled. “One issue we agree on, at least. Hindsight is a beautiful thing.”

   “So why that ridiculous announcement to the journalist, just now? If you want privacy in your personal life, why tell the world that you have a wife, especially when we’re not going to be married a day longer than we have to be?”

   “You saw what it was like, back there. And I’m sure your ears are as good as mine, so you heard, too. I’ve had it up to here, seriously, and notifying a very vocal journalist of the truthful fact that you and I are married seemed like a handy tool for dealing with it. You’ll notice she didn’t hang around.”

   “She’s pretty.”

   “She’s not my style. Neither was the sailor suit gal this morning. And none of the others were, either. And it’s not how I’d choose to start a relationship, in any case, even if there had been a woman who’d made my heart stop beating and my breathing get stuck from the moment I first looked at her.”

   What would it be like, Sierra wondered, her own heart syncopating suddenly, to have Ty feel that way about her? Once upon a time he had. But he’d moved on since then, a lot farther than she had. His words hadn’t been intended as a reminder, she knew. It was purely her problem that she’d taken them that way.

   She said quickly, “The hordes might flood back again when they find out we’re getting a divorce.”

   “Who’s going to tell them?”

   “People tend to notice when there’s no visible evidence of a wife in a man’s life, no?”

   Ty swivelled in the driver’s seat to face her. The car still sat crookedly in the lane, challenging the driving skills of another delivery man hard on the tail of the first, but he ignored the guy’s problems and fixed her with a very serious, narrow-eyed gaze. It took him around four seconds to think the problem through.

   “Then can I beg you on my bended knees to stick around for a bit, Sierra?” he said. “Help me out with this?”

   “Stick around? Help? You mean act like we’re still really married? Are you joking?”

   “I don’t think so.”

   “Work it out, and get back to me.”

   She put her hand on the door, intending to climb out, but he leaned across and stopped her, laying one arm across both of hers. She froze. His bare arm brushed her stomach, and would brush her breasts if she leaned just a little bit.

   At one time they’d been way more intimate with each other than this, so she shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about it. Problem was, his touch opened up too many memories, and too many lost possibilities.

   “I’m not joking, okay?” he said, with his voice dropped low. “I want this whole situation to go away, and that pushy, man-eating journalist’s attitude just now, on top of everything else, made me realize it’s not going to, not on its own. Or not before it’s driven me crazy, anyhow. I’m not the type to get my head down and wait out a storm.”

   “No…”

   “I like to take action. I need to. You knew that about me eight years ago.” True. “And it hasn’t changed. So I’m asking for help.”

   “Now, that has changed,” she couldn’t help saying.

   “What has?”

   “You asking me for help.”

   “Yeah?”

   “That’s never happened before.”

   He shrugged, dismissing her claim as either untrue or unimportant, but she had a strong inkling in the back of her mind that he was wrong on both counts. “Well, it’s happening now,” he said. “Stay. Couple of weeks.”

   “I—I can’t.”

   “You’re on school summer break. Your family can manage without you. Some people consider Stoneport a great place for a vacation.”

   “I don’t need a vacation.”

   He ignored the statement. “My place is big enough for us to keep out of each other’s way,” he said. “And I’ll be in my office or on the water most days. The only thing I’ll ask is for us to go out together a handful of times. In the Porsche, so that we’re noticed. Make it real romantic, so that everyone gets the idea. When the heat fades, we can each see a lawyer, and you can head back to Ohio with a new tan and some friendly divorce papers in your suitcase.”

   It sounded easy, when he put it like that, yet Sierra still told him, “That’s insane.”

   Probably because her inner reaction was insane. Her heart shouldn’t race like this. Her head shouldn’t spin. And she should absolutely not consider for a second that he was offering her a second chance at their marriage, because he wasn’t, and neither of them wanted one.

   After eight years?

   When even without the A-list article he probably had half a dozen beautiful, eligible, perfect women dangling after him at any given moment?

   And, most important of all, when none of their reasons for splitting up in the first place had changed?

   “It’s not insane,” he told her. “It’s practical. There’s no risk, is there, if we try this? After all, we’re already married, and on the verge of a divorce that any sane person could have predicted before the ink on our marriage certificate was dry. Nothing worse we can do to each other than that!”

   “That’s what you think about marriage? About our marriage?”

   If he hesitated, it was only for a fraction of a second. “Pretty much.” His voice sounded like gravel rolling slowly in a cement mixer.

   Sierra felt both hurt and angered that he would look at their four years as man and wife so cynically. No wonder he hadn’t been in any hurry about a divorce, before this. He clearly had no intention of falling into the marriage trap again any time soon, so he didn’t need the legal freedom. For different reasons, neither had she.

   Beyond the hurt and anger, however, she was still thinking about the fact that he’d actually asked.

   Asked her.

   For a favor.

   More than a favor. He’d said he needed her help. Self-sufficient Ty Garrett, who’d once had a chip on his shoulder the size of a tree trunk and wouldn’t have admitted to needing anything in case somebody noticed, and who in fact never had needed anything, judging by the success he’d made of his life without anyone else’s input…That same Ty Garrett had just looked her right in the eye and asked for her help.

   Sierra didn’t have time to explore the reason why, but it was the thing that tipped the balance for her, in the end—the fact that he’d actually asked for her help. If it wouldn’t create problems for her family, she would stay in Stoneport a little longer and do what Ty wanted. Along the way, she might get a few answers to questions about their marriage that she hadn’t known she still had.

   “I’ll have to call home,” she said, and saw him frown.

   “That’s your basis for a decision? Whether you’re needed at home?”

   “It’s a factor.”

   He was silent for a moment as if debating his reply, but finally he just shrugged and said, “We’ll head out to my place, then. Take a look at it, see what you think, and you can make the call.”

   He took the back streets, leaving Sierra with the impression of a town that had found its feet as an attractive vacation spot and commercial hub for smaller surrounding communities.

   She saw old Victorian houses spruced up as antique stores, restaurants, craft boutiques and bed-and-breakfast enterprises. On the far side of the harbor, which opened onto the sheltered waters of Carteret Sound, she saw a nineteenth century brick warehouse converted to upscale apartments, and on the way out of town there were signs indicating a theme park, hiking trails and golf.

   Within a few minutes, they’d left Stoneport behind to thread their way along Onslow Banks, where the road offered stunning glimpses of green and white Atlantic breakers rolling onto the shore.

   “You’re not in town?” she asked.

   “Not far out. Another couple of minutes…Here.”

   Wow.

   Not a sterile apartment, not a lavish mansion, and definitely not a hotel suite. Instead, Ty had a year-round beach-house that was every bit a home. Set high up behind the dunes to put it out of reach of all but the strongest storms and tides, and surrounded by a wide wooden deck, it looked quirky and unique and as if it had grown in that spot.

   It pretty much had, Sierra soon found.

   “Built by one of the fishing fleet owners a hundred years ago,” Ty told her. “When nothing else was out here. Quite an eccentric guy, I understand. It started out as just a cottage, but his descendants added to the place over the years which is why it looks…a mess, I guess.”

   “No!”

   “You don’t think so?”

   “It has character.” Sierra forgot to feel self-conscious about telling him what she really thought. “Feels as if it’s inviting me in, to explore. That little window up top is winking at me, and that set of stairs disappearing round the corner is asking if I can guess what I’ll find.”

   “Round the corner? There’s a bench and seats built into the deck. Then there’s a kind of Florida room, with a—You’ll see. Come in and make that call to your family.”

   “They’ll be fine, I’m sure,” she said, then realized it sounded like a definite commitment to stay. “But if they’re not, then the deal’s off,” she added, offering herself a way out.

   He led her, business-like, into a large living area that opened onto a stunning deck, and pointed to a phone sitting on a small antique desk. “That’s my private line. I have a business line in my office, right here, and I need to make a couple of calls myself, so just make yourself at home.”

   He indicated the direction of kitchen, bathroom and spare-room, then disappeared into the adjacent office, and Sierra sat down at the living room desk and picked up the phone. Her youngest sister Lena answered and assured her, “We’re fine, Sierra. Absolutely. Don’t worry.”

   “You’re making sure Dad tests his blood sugar levels when he’s supposed to, right?”

   “He took a test yesterday—”

   “Just one?”

   “—and it was a little high. But don’t worry. I’ll nag him about it.”

   “And did Angie pick up the dry-cleaning? Because he has that big function on Saturday and he needs the suit.”

   “I’ll check. But you’ll be back by then, won’t you?”

   “I’m thinking of staying a little longer.”

   “Why? Ty’s not making trouble, is he? Won’t he give you the divorce? I’d have thought he’d be only too happy about it.”

   “Yes. No. I mean, yes, we’re both only too happy about it, but that’s not it.”

   How should she explain?

   She sat back in the chair and let her gaze drift to the view from the windows on the far side of the room. Across the undulating, sea-grass-covered dunes, the Atlantic Ocean crashed onto the beach, perpetually scouring it clean. The summer air made a symphony of color and light—dazzling sun, powdery sky, salt spray hanging like a transparent curtain.

   It was so beautiful that it hurt, and it did something to her soul that felt painful and good at the same time, like an aerobic stretch.

   “He’s…asked me for help with something, that’s all,” she continued to Lena. “And I kind of feel that I owe—”

   Lena wasn’t interested in what Sierra kind of felt she owed. “How long?”

   “Ten days, maybe a couple of weeks.”

   “A couple of weeks? I have summer classes, and my job, and Dad’s going to want one of us to do your First Lady thing at the dinner on Saturday, if you’re not here. To be honest, Sierra, his blood sugar was, like, quite a lot too high yesterday. I didn’t want to worry you…”

   Sierra felt her temples tightening. She closed her eyes and forgot about the view of the ocean.

   Okay, she’d have to coach Lena or Angie through the blood sugar and insulin thing again. Or Dad himself. But he just didn’t seem able to grasp it, with all the other commitments he had between his business and his city hall duties, and anyhow he always thought she was overreacting. So what if his sugar level was a little high?

   “Well, okay, ten days,” she said. “Max. I guess it shouldn’t take more than that to…uh…handle this problem Ty needs help with. Maybe even just a week.”

   Maybe she could tell Ty he was on his own. He’d spent the past eight years proving that he could be happy that way. Why should his brief admission of need strike her as so important?

   She took a big breath and said to Lena, “Listen, I’m going to print out an exact summary of what Dad needs to do, at what times of day, and what he needs to watch out for, and I’m going to fax it to you. I’m sorry, I thought he had a better handle on it after all this time. His doctor is a phone call away, and so am I, on my cell or here, and the bottom drawer of the desk in my room is filled with diabetic education brochures and booklets.”

   “Booklets?” Lena sounded skeptical and daunted.

   “They’re actually not that hard to read and understand. You and Angie and Jordy were too young when Mom died, so I took over from her with managing Dad’s illness, but you’re all old enough now.”

   Even during the years of her marriage, Sierra had stopped in at Dad’s a couple of times, most days, to help him with his shots and his blood sugar tests. She’d also helped him as much as she could with the younger three, and handed out leaflets for his mayoral election campaign.

   She finished, “I’m not expecting you to push Dad to handle it himself. I’ll do that when I get back.”

   How? Dad was stubbornly determined to stay as ignorant as possible about his disease.

   Sierra decided to ignore this problem until she was actually home again.

   “You can handle it, okay?” she said to her twenty-two year old sister, using the same encouraging tone she used to her special needs pupils when they struggled with their math.

   “Yeah, I know,” Lena said. “But we just really miss you, okay?”

   Which was why Sierra let herself remain the lynch-pin that kept the whole Taylor family together and functioning, ultimately. Because she knew she was loved.

   “I miss you guys, too,” she said, then gave Lena the phone number here at Ty’s and ended the call.

   Apparently Ty himself was still busy in his office, and the door was closed. He’d told her to make herself at home so she explored a little. Huge, gorgeous granite and wood kitchen; Florida room full of quirky, beachy furniture; wide wooden deck; powder room with decor befitting a five-star New York hotel.

   Like the living room, the spare-room he’d designated for her overlooked the dunes and the ocean, on its own up a flight of stairs right at the top of the sprawling, higgledy-piggledy house. Since the room had windows on three sides, Sierra could see up the coast as far as the opening into Carteret Sound, and down the coast as far as a tall Carolina lighthouse with its broad, distinctive stripes.

   French doors opened out to a narrow, wood-railed balcony that also skirted the room on three sides. A widow’s walk? Was that what it should be called? Sierra wondered about it as she paced to one end of the balcony and back again, before pausing just to lean on the railing and look at the beach. She didn’t know for sure. She’d only been to the Atlantic shore twice, both times down in Florida, which had felt very different to this.

   Taking a deep breath of the fresh, salty air, she felt a surge of energy and anticipation that made sense when she thought about how long it was since she’d taken a real vacation.

   Years.

   Ever?

   Never on her own, for sure. Dad wouldn’t have felt safe about her doing that, in case his diabetes gave him trouble. She and Dad had always gone to places that were easy, like Disneyworld with Lena, Angie and Jordy when they were younger.

   Once they’d taken a special cruise with medical facilities on board that were equipped to handle diabetic complications. That had been fun. And relaxing, when Lena and Angie weren’t fighting. They’d been sixteen and seventeen then, which meant the cruise had happened, gosh, six years ago, already.

   “I’m on vacation,” Sierra said aloud.

   The breeze caught her words and took them away out to sea, so she said it again, louder. “I’m—on—vacation!” And then she laughed.

   It felt good.

   But it got more complicated as soon as she heard Ty’s voice, calling her from downstairs. The vacation came with conditions and obligations attached.

   “I need to get back to the marina,” he told her as soon as she came down to him. He already had car keys jingling in his hand. “How about I drop you at your hotel on the way? Then you can check out, and—You drove from Ohio, right, so you have your car?”

   “Yes.”

   “Can you find your way back here? I’ll give you a map for back-up. And a key, of course, and a garage door opener. The alarm’s easy. I’ll show you the code.”

   “I’ll be fine.”

   “And your folks are okay?”

   “Seem to be.” She didn’t mention Dad’s blood sugar, or Lena’s doubts about the proposed length of her absence. Maybe this really would only take a few days.

   She noticed that Ty had never actually asked if she agreed to his plan. He just assumed she’d found the house and the sleeping arrangements satisfactory and her family’s reassurances good enough. Typical, on his part. But she didn’t feel inclined to protest about his assumptions now.

   “So drop off your stuff here,” he said. “Get settled in your room, have coffee, sunbake on the deck, whatever you want.”

   “Type up something on your computer and fax it to Ohio?”

   “Sure. I’ll leave you my cell number in case you have any trouble with the machine.”

   “Okay. Thanks.”

   “Then it would be…really useful…if you could meet me at the marina office, in a very public way, and we can go for lunch at the bar. That’s pretty casual. Tonight, dinner at Nautilus would be great, and that’s dressier, so if you didn’t bring the right clothes I can give you the names of a couple of boutiques and you can shop for something this afternoon.”

   “Okay.”

   “I’ll cover the tab, of course. Tomorrow—shades of irony, here—I’m dining with the mayor, who’s a friend, and it’ll be pretty formal, so if you could get a second dress—”

   “How about you print out the full program for me with wardrobe requirements, as a handy reference,” she cut in.

   He stopped with his hand stretched to open the door leading to the double garage, and looked at her.

   She glared at him. “Don’t say that thing about sucking on a lemon again, okay?”

   “Actually, I was going to apologize.”

   “For the lemon thing?”

   “For bull-dozing you too much. Do you need more time? Are you committed to this?”

   “Are you offering me an out?”

   “We’ve both agreed on an out where it counts, with the marriage.”

   Not “our” marriage, she noticed. Just “the” marriage. As impersonal as you could get. Not that she wanted to argue with that. But it was…sad. Even after so long.

   “I’m committed,” she said.

   Maybe if they could spend a few civilized, conflict-free days together, she wouldn’t go home to Ohio with quite such a sense that they’d both failed. Maybe she would discover why his admission of need seemed important.

   “Great!” he answered. “We can make this work exactly the way we need it to, I know it.” Sierra would have liked a couple of words added, like “thanks” and “I really appreciate it,” but she wasn’t surprised when they didn’t happen.

   In his garage, she discovered the silver Porsche, holding pride of place right in the middle, with plenty of space on all sides. The poor, loyal old decoy sedan was relegated to a stretch of raked gravel at the side of the house, where anyone snooping around would see it and think it belonged to the yard man or the cleaner.

   They roared back into town in the Porsche, and when Sierra went to the hotel’s front desk to check out after Ty had roared off again, the man at the desk asked her at once, “You a friend of Mr. Garrett’s?”

   “Sort of,” she said. Not the answer Ty would have wanted, so she added, “His wife, actually.” She saw the raised eyebrows across the desk, but didn’t deal with them because she was too busy dealing with the strange feeling inside her.

   Ty’s wife.

   She’d said those words so proudly and so happily for four years, all through college. Then she’d gotten her first teaching job and he’d left town, and she’d never said them again.

   Who knew it would churn her up so much, saying them now?

Chapter Three

   Ty’s marina office was crowded when Sierra arrived back there and let herself quietly in the front door, at just on twelve-thirty. She’d changed into black stretch pants, open-toed shoes and a pretty pink top. She’d also let her hair fall loose down her back, painted her toenails to match the top, and put on dangly earrings and a gold bracelet, in the hope that she looked right for her new role as the wife of a wealthy man in a casual waterfront town.

   She counted eight women milling around the space, after their morning sailing class. Six of them were young, skinny and gorgeous, while the other two would have passed for young, skinny and gorgeous in a softer light. There was also a single, solitary male, around twenty-five, who looked as if he couldn’t believe he’d been so lucky today. Cookie stood behind the desk, dealing with questions and the phone.

   “So fun!” said a tanned blonde.

   “I’m going to take a week of full-day classes,” replied someone else.

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