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Christine Rimmer New York Time Bestselling Author
Christine Rimmer Christine RimmerChristine Rimmer
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Christine Rimmer - New York Times Bestselling Author

Bravo Brides

The Millionaire She Married

Chapter One
by Christine Rimmer

The shop, like the steep, rather narrow street it stood on, had a feel of times past about it. The oyster-white sign over the door read Linen and Lace in flowing script. Vines and morning glories twined and trailed in and out of the lettering.

Mack McGarrity stood beneath a striped awning, his hands fisted in his pockets, staring in the window to the left of the shop’s entrance. Beyond the glass was a brass bed. The bed was draped with lacy white curtains, covered in filmy white linens and piled with embroidered white pillows.

Next to the bed, on the left, stood a white dresser bearing a white pitcher and bowl. On the right, a white nightstand, with a vase of white roses and a white-shaded lamp. White lacy nightgowns, each one a little different from the next, had been tossed in an artful tangle across the pillows and the filmy bedcovers, as if the lady who owned them all couldn’t make up her mind which to wear.

Mack smiled to himself. The fists stuck in his pockets relaxed a little.

On their wedding night, Jenna had worn a nightgown like one of those thrown across that white bed—an almost-transparent gown, with lace at the collar and down the front. And roses, little pink ones, embroidered around the tiny pearly buttons.

Those buttons had given him trouble. They were so damn small. And he had been nervous, though he’d tried not to show it.

But Jenna knew.

And she laughed, that soft, teasing laugh of hers. “It’s not as if it’s our first time,” she whispered.

“It is the first time. My first time…with my wife.” His voice had been gruff, he remembered, gruff with emotions he’d never allowed anyone but Jenna to see…

Mack turned from the window. He stared across the street, at a store that sold hand-painted furniture. A man and a woman stood at the display window there, admiring a tall bureau decorated with a woodland scene. Mack watched them, not really seeing them, until they disappeared inside.

Then, rather abruptly, he turned back to the shop called Linen and Lace. Two determined steps later, he reached the glass-fronted door. He took the handle and pulled it open.

The scent of the place hit him first—floral, sweet but not too sweet. An undertone of tartness. And something spicy, too. Like cinnamon. It didn’t smell like Jenna, exactly. But it reminded him of her. Sweet and just a little spicy.

He’d barely started to smile at the thought when he realized he’d tripped the buzzer that would warn her she had another customer. She turned and saw him just as he spotted her.

(#)

When the buzzer rang, Jenna glanced toward the door out of habit, ready to send her new customer a swift, be-right-with-you smile.

The smile died unborn on her lips.

It was Mack.

Mack.

Her ex-husband. Here. In her shop.

After all these years.

It couldn’t be.

But it was. Definitely.

Mack.

Her throat closed up on itself. She gulped to keep from gasping.

He looked…terrific. Older, yes. And somehow more relaxed. But in a deep and fundamental way, the same.

He was staring straight at her through those eyes she remembered much too well. Not quite blue and not quite gray, like a sky caught between sunshine and cloudiness.

He smiled at her—that beautiful, half ironic, half shy smile, the one that had dropped her in her tracks nine years before.

He’d lived in an apartment down the hall from her. And she had knocked on his door to tell him that she knew very well he’d been feeding her cat.

When he answered, he actually held Byron in his arms. That sleek midnight-black traitor had the nerve to purr as if he belonged there.

“I’ll have you know, that’s my cat,” she’d informed him, doing her best to sound bold.

He had smiled, just the way he was smiling at her now—like the sun coming out on a gray, chilly day. She felt the warmth, a warmth that reached down inside of her and then started to spread.

“Come on in,” he had suggested, as he stroked her cat. “We’ll talk about it.”

It had never even occurred to her to say no.

And now, all these years later, just the sight of him made her feel as if something inside her was melting. Her knees wanted to wobble; her pulse knocked in her ears.

Along with the weakness, the unconscionable excitement, she also knew dread.

Why had he come here?

When she had called him three days before, she’d asked one thing of him—made one simple, very clear request. He had said that he would take care of it.

Did his sudden appearance in her shop mean that he had changed his mind?

“Er…Miss? Are you all right?”

Jenna snapped her head around and forced a brilliant smile for her customer. “I am fine. Where were we?” She glanced down at the stack of brightly colored linens she clutched in her arms. “Ah, of course. I remember. And I do understand. Not everyone loves white. That’s why I wanted you to see these. They’re by an English designer I especially like. Summer Garden is the name of this pattern. Beautiful, isn’t it? The colors are so vivid, different intensities of green and blue, with the flowers like splashes of pink and yellow and red.” She held out the neatly folded pile of sheets. “Feel.”

Her customer ran a hand over the fabric. “Soft.”

“And durable, too. 300 thread count. The finest quality combed cotton, cool in summer, cozy in winter.” Jenna slid a glance at Mack. He was watching her. Waiting.

And he’ll just have to wait a little longer, she thought. “Come this way.” She indicated a display near the far wall. “I have more from this designer. Tell me what you think…”

A few minutes later, Jenna closed a sale of sheets, pillowcases, shams and a comforter. As soon as she rang that one up, there was someone new to wait on. And someone else after that. Since one of her clerks had the day off and the other had taken a two-hour lunch in order to handle a few personal errands, all the customers were Jenna’s. And Jenna never liked to make a customer wait.

Still, she could have stolen a moment for the civilities, a moment for hello-how-are-you. An opportunity to find out why Mack had come. She didn’t do that. Because she was stalling, foolishly hoping he might just give up and leave.

But no. He wandered the room, examining her merchandise as if he actually intended to buy something. He seemed…very patient, quite willing to wait until she had time to deal with him.

His patience bothered her almost as much as his sudden appearance in her shop. The Mack she had known had been far from a patient man.

But things had changed since then. Back then, Mack McGarrity had been a man on a mission. He’d been determined to carve out his niche in the world and he’d driven himself relentlessly toward that goal. Now, he had millions.

Maybe having lots of money made it so you could afford even more than a mansion in the Florida Keys and a 46-foot fishing boat. Maybe having lots of money made it so you could afford to wait.

Or at least, maybe it had done that for Mack McGarrity.

The thought probably should have pleased her. For a man like Mack to learn patience—that was a good thing.

But it didn’t please her. It made her nervous. Mack had always been relentless. To think that he might now be patient as well could cause her considerable difficulty if, for some reason, he decided to use those characteristics against her.

But why would he do that?

She didn’t want to know—which was why she kept stalling, kept letting him wait.

Nearly an hour after Mack entered the shop, Jenna found herself alone with him—save for an elderly woman who came in often to browse. The nice old lady took her time, as usual. Finally, she settled on a three-piece set of needlepoint antimacassars. Jenna rang up the sale and counted out change.

“Thank you so much. Come back again,” Jenna said as she walked her customer to the door.

“Oh, you know I will, dear. I love your little shop.” A cagey grin appeared on the woman’s puckered rosebud of a mouth. “And you always do pay such lovely attention to me when I visit.”

Jenna pulled open the door. To the accompaniment of the shop’s buzzer, her customer toddled outside, turning to wave as she made her way up the street. Jenna stepped onto the sidewalk to wave back. Stalling.

And then the time had come. Jenna went inside again and shut the door.

Mack had moved into the central aisle, only a few feet away from her. She felt cornered, so near the door that she kept triggering the buzzer, but distressingly reluctant to move closer to him.

He had the courtesy to back up a few paces. She moved warily toward him and the buzzing ceased.

There was silence.

She had to force herself to say his name. “Hello, Mack.”

“Hello, Jenna.”

She stared into his face, a tanned face now, with the creases around the eyes a little deeper than before. His light brown hair was still cut no-nonsense short, but more time in the sun had given it gold highlights. His brows, too, had gone gold at the tips.

He looked good. He really did.

And she had been staring too long. She cut her eyes away, not sure what to say next.

She wanted to demand, What are you doing here? To order, Go away, and don’t come back. To insist, I have my own life now. I run my own life. It’s a good life, and it doesn’t include you.

But she knew that if she said those things, she would only sound defensive, would only put herself at a disadvantage right from the start. So the uncomfortable silence continued for several more agonizing seconds.

At last, he spoke. “Struck speechless at the sight of me, huh?”

She met his eyes directly, sucked in a breath and forced out a brisk reply. “Well, I have to admit, I don’t understand why you’re here. Key West is a long way from Meadow Valley, California.”

Key West. She never would have believed it. Mack, the ultimate workaholic lawyer, living in the tropics, drifting around the Gulf of Mexico in that boat of his. The idea of her driven, success-obsessed husband—correction, ex-husband—drifting anywhere seemed a complete contradiction in terms.

And she wished he’d quit looking at her with that amused and embarrassingly knowing expression, quit making her feel so…young and awkward. As if she were twenty-one again, a lonely college girl far from home, instead of the mature, settled, self-possessed thirty she was now.

What was it about him? How did he do it? It had been seven years since she’d seen him face-to-face, and five since their divorce should have been final. Still, right now, staring at him, with him staring back at her, she felt exposed. Raw. As if the mere sight of him had ripped open old and still-festering wounds—wounds she’d been certain had healed long ago.

It had been hard enough to pick up the phone and call him, after tracking him down through one of his colleagues at his old law firm. Hard enough to talk to him again, to hear his voice, to ask him to send her the papers she needed.

When she’d hung up, she’d told herself, Well, at least that’s done.

But now, here she was. Face-to-face with him, feeling raw and wounded. Breathless and confused.

It shouldn’t be like this, and she knew it. All the hurt and recriminations were long past, not to mention the yearning, the tenderness, the love.

By now, she should be able to smile at him, to feel reasonably at ease, to ask calmly if he’d brought her the papers.

The papers. Yes. That was the question.

She cleared her throat. “Did you…decide to bring the papers in person, is that it? It really wasn’t necessary, Mack. Not necessary at all.”

He didn’t reply immediately, only kept looking at her. Looking at her so intently, causing that weakness in her knees and a certain disturbing fluttering in her solar plexus.

Now she wanted to shout at him, Answer me! Where are those papers?

But then the buzzer sounded again. Jenna glanced over her shoulder, pasted on a smile. “I’ll be right with you.”

“No hurry.” The new customer, a well-dressed fortyish woman, detoured toward a display of afghans and furniture scarves hung from quilt stands along the side wall.

Jenna looked back at Mack. He glanced toward the woman over by the afghans, then spoke low. “I want to talk to you. Alone.”

“No!” The word came out all wrong. It sounded frantic and desperate.

“Yes.” Lower still and very soft. Gentle. Yet utterly unyielding.

“Miss?” The customer was fingering the fringe of a piano shawl. “There’s no price tag on this one.”

Jenna realized she was scowling. As she glanced toward her customer, she rearranged her face into a bright smile. “I’ll be right there. Just one moment.” She turned to Mack again, the cheerful smile mutating instantly back to a scowl. “We have nothing to say to each other.”

“I think we do.”

“You can’t just—” Her voice had risen. She cut herself off, got herself back under control, then went on in an intense whisper. “You can’t just wander in here after all these years and expect me to—”

“Jenna.” He reached out and snared her right hand.

Before she could think to jerk away, he tugged her behind a wrought iron shelving unit stacked with Egyptian-cotton towels and accessories for the bath. Vaguely stunned that he had actually touched her, she looked down at their joined hands.

“Let go,” she instructed, much too breathlessly.

He did, which stunned her all over again, somehow. One moment, his big warm hand surrounded hers—and the next, it was gone.

He said, “I’m not expecting anything. I only want to talk to you. In private.”

She could see it in his eyes, in the set of his jaw. He was not going to just go away. She would have to deal with him, to listen to whatever he’d decided he had to say to her.

Right then, guiltily, she thought of Logan, her high school sweetheart, her dear friend—and now, her fiancé. Logan had waited a long time to make her his bride. And when this little problem with her divorce from Mack had cropped up, Logan, as usual, had been the soul of understanding. He hadn’t reproached her, hadn’t asked her how she’d managed, over five whole years, to let it slip her mind that she’d never received her copy of the final divorce decree.

He’d just gently suggested that she get the situation cleared up.

So she’d called Mack.

And Mack had said that he did have the papers and he would sign them, have them notarized and send them to her right away. So she’d reported to Logan that everything had been worked out. When the papers came, in the next few days, she would file them. Within six months, she and Logan would be free to marry.

Logan hadn’t been thrilled about the waiting period required by California law. But he had accepted it gracefully.

She wasn’t so certain how he’d accept the news that Mack had appeared in person and demanded to speak with her in private.

But then again, maybe he wouldn’t even have to know about this little problem until after it had been resolved.

Logan, who was an M.D. in family practice, had left two days ago for a medical convention in Seattle. He wouldn’t return until Sunday night—two more days from now.

By then, Jenna told herself, she’d have everything under control. By then, she would have listened to whatever Mack had to say, taken the papers from him and sent him on his way. The whole situation would be much easier to explain to her fiancé once she had the papers in her hands.

“Miss?” It was the woman over by the afghans, beginning to sound a bit put out.

“Go ahead,” Mack said. “Take care of her.”

The woman bought the piano scarf. Mack waited, standing a little to the side of the register counter, as Jenna rang up the sale.

Once her customer had left, Jenna sighed and conceded, “All right. I close up at seven. After that, we can talk.”

“Good,” Mack said. “There are a couple of promising-looking restaurants down the street. I’ll drop back by when you close and we’ll get something to eat.”

Not on your life, she thought. She would not spend the evening sitting across a table from him, fighting the feeling that they were out on date.

“No,” she said. “Come to the house at seven-thirty. We can talk there. Lacey’s visiting for a while, but she won’t bother us.”

“Lacey.” He said her younger sister’s name with more interest than he’d ever shown in the past. “Visiting? From where?”

“She lives in Los Angeles now.”

“What does she do there, rob banks?”

Jenna gave him a too-sweet smile. “She’s an artist. And a very talented one, too.”

“Still the rebel, you mean.”

“Lacey makes her own rules.”

“I believe it—and how’s your mom?”

Jenna didn’t answer immediately. Sometimes she still found it hard to believe that Margaret Bravo was gone. “She died two years ago.”

He looked at her for a long moment before muttering, “I’m sorry, Jenna.”

He’d hardly given a thought to Jenna’s mother while she was alive. Mack McGarrity didn’t put much store in family ties. But right now, he did sound sincere. Jenna murmured a reluctant, “Thank you,” then spoke more briskly. “Seven-thirty, then. My house.”

“I’ll be there.”

“Bring the divorce papers. You do have those papers?”

“I’ve got them.”

He had the papers. Relief washed through her. Maybe this wouldn’t be as bad as she’d feared.

 

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