Ultimatum: Marriage(3)

By: Ann Major


“You think I don’t know that? I’m already taking the rap for what Mitchell did. Look, why don’t you concentrate on taking care of things here while I go to see what she wants, okay?”

“You’re right, of course. This whole thing just has me upset.”

When he reached the parking garage, his gut twisted as he thought about all the people he’d have to fire later because of Alicia Butler and her father. Damn her.





When Jake braked sharply in his drive, six reporters stampeded across the wet grass toward him. There had been only one this morning. No sooner did he open his door than they shoved raised microphones at his face.The curtain next door on Jan Grant’s front window was pulled aside and he made out the stout bulk of his landlady, who wasn’t about to miss anything.

A snicker from the closest reporter. “What was Alicia Butler doing on your doorstep?”

Instead of dignifying the man with an answer, Jake focused on the slim figure hunched in the back of the single patrol car parked in front of his home beyond the reporters’ dripping black umbrellas. Then he looked at the broken window beside his front door.

He knew he should hate Alicia, but he couldn’t forget the beating she’d taken from the press for the past few weeks. Ever since that article about how he’d appointed Mitchell Butler treasurer of Houses for Hurricane Victims, and about how all the funds had vanished, he’d really been able to relate to what she must have been going through.

She looked too crushed and defenseless cowering in the back of that car, so utterly unlike the tall, elegant woman he’d bedded or the defiant woman who’d told him to go to hell the next morning. He couldn’t hate her. Fool that he was, his chest constricted with sympathy.

A cop, who was probably Officer Thomas, pointed needlessly toward his car. “She’s over there.”

“Thanks.”

Jake loped past the reporters, his Italian loafers sinking into the ooze of his soaked lawn as he made his way toward the patrol car.

“Alicia?” he muttered in a harsh tone as he rapped his knuckles on the glass window.

She rolled the window down a few inches and his gaze roved the length of her willowy body, taking in her white, translucent skin. Mascara ran beneath her long-lashed, almond-shaped, brown eyes. Wet, dark ropes of her hair stuck to her neck. Despite her thinness and her pallor, she affected him every bit as intensely as she had their one night together.

Opening the door, he took her hand, which felt icy, and helped her out.

She wore a white, gauzy dress that clung. When his gaze lingered on the raindrops moistening her full lips, he remembered with an almost visceral ache exactly how soft that mouth had been against his and exactly how sweet she’d tasted.

His lips thinned as other memories of the intimacies they’d shared assaulted him. With all her problems, why was she here?

“Thank you for coming so fast,” she said.

“How did you get here?” he asked. “Taxi.”

“Well, you were reckless to come in a public taxi and let your horde follow you.”

“I—I didn’t think. Sorry I embarrassed you.”

“You could have called me. We could have met somewhere discreet.”

“Sorry. I hate all this as much as you do.”

The officer had been right about her looking ill. The brown eyes that had sparkled with fire each and every time he’d kissed her or licked her that night were dull and glazed with pain.

“Meow!”

Frowning, Jake looked across his yard and saw Officer Thomas talking to the reporters. Jake’s selfish agenda would be best served if he told the officer to see about her. But an unhealthy mixture of curiosity, sympathy and some self-destructive emotion that was better left unanalyzed overpowered him.

Fool that he was, instead of signaling for the policeman, he grabbed her hand and pointed her in the direction of the sidewalk that led to his front door. Then he leaned inside the car and picked up Alicia’s suitcase and her cat carrier. Hissing, the animal lunged at the walls of his cage. Ignoring the beast, Jake strode up the walk after Alicia. Pulling out his keys, he unlocked his door, then thrust it open so violently it banged the wood paneling of his interior wall.

He stood to one side so that she could enter. Reluctant to follow him, she remained frozen, her skirt dripping, her eyes staring at him, so he said, “In case you didn’t notice, I’m inviting you inside.”

“I noticed,” she whispered in a sexy croak that unnerved him.

“So, ladies first.”

A bolt of lightning was followed by a crash of thunder. Then several flashbulbs went off in their faces.

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