Billionaire's Contract Engagement(7)

By: Maya Banks

She shook her head. “Yes, I have food, and yes, we can go back to my place. For God’s sake, Noah, how hard is it to pick up after yourself? Or if you can’t do that, at least pick up the phone and get another maid service?”

“I’ve sort of been blackballed,” he mumbled. “I have to find an agency where my reputation hasn’t preceded me.”

“I feel so sorry for the woman you marry. She’ll be in ten kinds of hell.”

“You don’t have to worry because that’s not going to happen.”

“Sure. Okay. I believe you.”

They both looked up when the others spilled into the living room. Noah gave her arm a light squeeze and mouthed “later.”

“Food’ll be on the table in fifteen minutes,” her father announced.

Her mouth watered. She didn’t even know what her dad had cooked. It didn’t matter. The man was a culinary genius.

Lunch was a rambunctious affair. Her brothers bickered and joked endlessly while her father looked on indulgently. She’d missed all of this during her years in New York. Though she loathed the circumstances that brought her home, she was glad to be back in the comforting circle of her family. Even if they were all just a generation from knuckles-dragging-on-the-ground cavemen.

After the table had been cleared, the argument started over what channel the television landed on. Noah didn’t know anything but ESPN or the Food Network existed, Dalton liked anything that was mindless, particularly if explosions were involved, and Adam liked to torment his brothers by forcing them to watch gardening shows.

Celia settled back to enjoy the sights and sounds of home. Her father sat on the couch next to her and shook his head over his sons’ antics.

It was the truth, she’d fled the hovering overprotectiveness of her family. She’d been determined to make her mark on the world while they wanted her to stay home, where they could support her and look out for her.

She wasn’t a vain woman, but she knew men found her attractive. She was probably considered beautiful by most, but her looks had been the cause of a lot of problems in her life.

Because of her delicate looks, her brothers and even her father thought her job was just to look pretty and let them provide for her. She hadn’t been encouraged to go to college—she’d done all of that on her own—and they certainly hadn’t wanted her to have a career in something as demanding as advertising.

She’d ignored their objections. She’d gotten her degree and after graduation, she’d taken a job in New York City. After a couple of years, she’d taken a position with a large, prestigious firm. She was on her way up. A promotion had just cemented her triumph. And then it had all come crashing down like a bridge in an earthquake.

Adam rising from his chair shook her from her angry thoughts. She forced her fingers to relax and winced at the marks she’d left on her palms.

“Leaving already?” she asked.

Adam pulled her up into a bear hug. “Yeah. I need to check on a job. I’ll see you at the season opener, though.”

She kissed his cheek and patted his shoulder affectionately. “Of course.”

She turned to Dalton. “I guess you’ll be going, too, since you brought him over.”

“Yep. I have a date I’ve got to get ready for anyway.”

No one seemed surprised by that announcement.

“I’ll walk you guys out. I need to run, too. I have a pitch to prepare for.”

Her father grimaced, and she steeled herself for another gruff lecture about how she worked too hard. An interesting statement since Adam worked harder than all of them, and no one ever lectured him.

To her surprise, he remained silent. She regarded him with a raised eyebrow and wondered if he’d burst at the seams, but his lips remained in a firm line. He rose from the couch to hug her and then gruffly reminded her to be sure and get enough rest.

They all walked out together, and her father reminded them all of lunch next Sunday. Celia waved to Adam and Dalton before climbing into her car. Noah stood, saying his goodbyes to their father, and she drove down the driveway. Noah would be along shortly and she needed to make sure her pantry would survive the assault.

Celia had just done a cursory examination of her stock of food—cursing the fact she hadn’t been to the market in far too long—when the door buzzer sounded.

She strode across to the call box and mashed the button. “That you, Noah?”

“Yep, buzz me in?”

A few seconds later, Noah walked in, and she smiled her welcome.

“I know that smile,” he said suspiciously. “That’s a smile that says you lured me here under false pretenses. You don’t have any food, do you?”