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These two cowboy dads need a helping hand?a woman's hand, that is!
MOMMY FOR HIRE
Grady McCabe is in the market for a wife?in name only. Alexis Graham's job is to find him the ideal candidate. But only one woman seems to fit the sexy single dad's conditions, and that's Alexis! Too bad she's not available. Of course, that doesn't stop Grady from popping the question to the ...
These two cowboy dads need a helping hand a woman's hand, that is!
MOMMY FOR HIRE
Grady McCabe is in the market for a wife—in name only. Alexis Graham's job is to find him the ideal candidate. But only one woman seems to fit the sexy single dad's conditions, and that's Alexis! Too bad she's not available. Of course, that doesn't stop Grady from popping the question to the widowed matchmaker. And this take-charge man is not used to taking no for an answer.
A BABY FOR MOMMY
"So you're the best ForeverLove.com has to offer." The silky male voice seemed to engulf Alexis Graham the moment she walked through the imposing double mahogany doors into the executive suite of Grady Mc-Cabe Enterprises.
"And you must be Mr. McCabe," Alexis replied, striding forward and holding out her hand. Although why the eldest son of the legendary Josie and Wade McCabe would need to hire a matchmaking agency was beyond her.
At thirty-five, the wildly successful Texan was renowned for the skyscrapers he built and leased to businesses throughout the Southwest. He was no slouch in the looks department, either. Six foot four inches tall, with the kick-butt physique of a Hollywood heartthrob, he had a strikingly masculine face that commanded attention. He wore his dark brown hair in a short, sexy cut that looked great even now in rumpled disarray. His tie was loosened, the first two buttons undone, and the sleeves on his pale blue dress shirt were rolled up to his elbows, revealing strong, sinewy forearms. As he moved, Alexis couldn't help but notice his flat stomach and lean hips.
His lips curved upward. "Call me Grady." He clasped her hand in his big, rough palm. "And let's get right to it, shall we?"
Her skin still tingling from his brief, warm touch, Alexis sat down and removed a notepad and pen from her leather briefcase.
Grady circled his desk and sat down in his high-backed leather chair. "I need a mommy for my five-year-old daughter, Savannah, and I'm willing to marry to get one."
Alexis made a note of that, before gazing up into his deep velvet, blue eyes. "I have to tell you-that's not the best opening for a man on a first date."
Grady McCabe obviously couldn't have cared less. "I'm not going to be less than honest," he told her bluntly. "Which is where you come in."
Alexis was beginning not to like this. Or at least not like the commercial real estate developer's attitude. She had gotten in the matchmaking business because she believed wholeheartedly in the possibility of lifelong love. She knew how short life was, how cruel fate could be, and she wanted to be instrumental in helping well-meaning couples find each other. But what she did not want to do was promote loveless unions. Unfortunately, her employers were not as idealistic. The four business partners who owned ForeverLove.com only cared that the customers left happy, and the bottom line remained healthy.
Grady McCabe was an important client. Not only was the multimillionaire a member of the famed McCabe clan of Laramie, Texas, he was one of the premiere businessmen in Fort Worth. His mixed-use development projects were the pride of the downtown area.
Alexis had been given the task of ensuring that Grady found whatever he wanted in a woman, no matter what it took. A lot was riding on her success.
Grady sent her a level look. He seemed to know that what he was asking was highly unusual. That made him no less serious in his ambition, however.
"I already had the best. I lost my wife shortly after our daughter was born. A few days after we took the baby home from the hospital, Tabitha had an aneurysm and cerebral hemorrhage that resulted in her death."
Alexis recalled reading about it in the paper. Grady had been at work and had come home to find his wife, but by then it was too late. The funeral had brought many prominent people to Fort Worth. Grady's grief, the tragedy of a young mother dying so suddenly and the newborn baby growing up without a mother, had been all folks talked about for weeks. "I'm sorry."
Grady accepted Alexis's sympathy with a grim nod. "Since then I've had nannies. A lot of them, actually. My eighth one just quit."
"Goodness," Alexis murmured before she could stop herself.
Grady kicked back in his chair with a heavy sigh. "I'm not surprised. Savannah doesn't need a nanny. She needs a mother." He paused to give Alexis a pointed look. "Which is where you come in."
Alexis did not deny Grady needed help, when it came to the domestic front. "I'm supposed to find women for you to date and hopefully marry."
He shook his head. "You are supposed to find a woman who will make a great mommy for Savannah."
It was Alexis's turn to disagree. "That's not really what we do at ForeverLove.com."
"I've spoken to your boss, Holly Anne Kirkland, and she assures me that not only will it be done, but you are the right person to do it." Grady's blue eyes narrowed in obvious displeasure. "Was she wrong?"
That should have been an easy question, Grady thought. One that brought forth a flurry of apologies and assurances that yes, his demands would be met, without any further delay.
Instead, Alexis Graham studied him in thoughtful silence.
He couldn't say he minded. The pause in conversation gave him a chance to size her up, too. Decide if she was indeed the right woman for the task.
Outwardly, she certainly looked it.
The thirty-something matchmaker had the city-chic sophistication of the upwardly mobile career woman she was reputed to be. Her figure-hugging suit was made of a pale yellow fabric perfect for the balmy June weather. Understated makeup accented the delicate, feminine features on her oval face, drawing attention to her high cheekbones, soft full lips and long-lashed, teal-blue eyes. Her shoulder length, honey-blond hair only added to the aura of pulled-together perfection. Had he been in the market for a dalliance with an intelligent, engaging female, he would have had to look no further. He wasn't.
All he wanted was a solution to his problem.
And the sooner Alexis Graham understood that, the better.
"Should I ask for another matchmaker from the agency?" Grady drawled.
"No. Of course not." Alexis exhaled sharply. "I've been assigned the job. I'll do it."
"Good, then let me tell you what I want."
She picked up her pen and notebook and began to write, but Grady couldn't help but notice her exasperation.
"First and foremost, my daughter has to like this woman. She has to be the mommy of Savannah's dreams."
"What does Savannah want?" Alexis inquired coolly.
If Grady had a clue about that, he wouldn't be in this position. "You'll have to ask her." His little girl was not cooperating with him on any level right now, for reasons known only to her.
With no discernible change in her expression, Alexis continued taking notes.
Grady added even more seriously, "Second, and equally important, the candidates you present to us will have to understand a marriage to me will be in name only. There will be no romance, no sex, no emotional intimacy-other than the normal family dynamic. There, I can promise everything will be status quo."
The elegant arch of Alexis's blond brows lifted slightly.
"You have a problem with that?" he asked.
"I don't think any woman in her right mind will agree to that. Unless " faint color tinged Alexis's cheeks " you're giving your potential mate license to look elsewhere for, um companionship?"
Grady frowned. "Absolutely not. Any woman who marries me will have to be completely faithful to me and our family. Otherwise, it would be too confusing for Savannah."
Alexis sighed. "So this woman is just supposed to do without sex and romance for the rest of her life?"
Her sarcasm grated on his nerves. "It's not impossible." He had been doing without both since his wife died and had been managing okay. "Particularly when one trades that for the love of a family and a luxurious lifestyle." He paused, discerning that Alexis was still not convinced. "I am sure there are women who get that," he said dryly.
She nodded and scribbled something else. "Oh, I have no doubt that you're right."
"Then." he prodded.
Looking reluctant to speak her piece, but also determined, Alexis sat back in her chair and eyed him carefully. "If I may?"
Grady had a feeling he was going to regret this, but not knowing what was on the tip of her tongue would be worse. "Go ahead."
She lifted her slender shoulders in a shrug. "I think you're selling yourself short. It's not just the woman who deserves more, Grady. You do, too."
"So how did it go?" Holly Anne asked when Alexis returned to the penthouse offices in downtown Fort Worth.
Alexis looked at the managing partner. The forty-year-old entrepreneur had founded the matchmaking business fifteen years prior. Of the four investing partners, she was the only one involved in the day-to-day operations. The others came and went as the demands of their other business ventures allowed.
Holly Anne was the one who delivered the sales pitch that brought in all the wealthiest clients. She was also a pretty tough taskmaster, expecting nothing less than absolute devotion from the firm's twenty-seven employees. Alexis figured her boss had thought long and hard about whom she was going to send to see Grady McCabe.
Alexis followed her into her office. "You knew what he was going to ask me to do, didn't you?"
Her boss ran a hand through her sleek black bob, paused to adjust one of her diamond earrings, and sank down in her custom leather chair. "He might have mentioned his request was unusual."
Alexis looked past her toward the view of the skyline. Without warning, she could feel a hint of melancholy coming over her. She pushed it away and began to pace. "Unusual or ridiculously heartless?"
Holly Anne gestured for her to sit down. "He has a lot of money."
Reluctantly, Alexis complied, crossing her legs at the knee. "Not to mention the McCabe name."
"The family is legendary," Holly Anne agreed.
And notoriously warm and loving, Alexis had heard, wishing she could be part of such a large, inclusive clan. Unfortunately, she'd been an only child and had lost both her parents in a car accident. She sighed and let loose some of her pent-up emotion. "Which makes me wonder if they know what he's up to."
Holly Anne tilted her head to one side. "I imagine they want to see him married again."
"Not this way."
"Maybe any way. He was completely in love with his late wife."
Alexis knew how that felt. She had been completely in love with her late spouse, too. She swallowed, then forced her mind back to the present, and the ethical problem in front of her. "So he said."
Her boss paused again. "I chose you, Alexis, because I thought you would understand where Grady is coming from, better than anyone else on staff."
She did, Alexis thought, as silence fell. And she didn't
Holly Anne leaned forward, a compassionate gleam in her eyes. "I know this is an unusually tough assignment, but you're the right matchmaker for the job. Unless your heart isn't in this anymore?"
Lately, Alexis had been wondering that herself. Had she been doing this way too long? Not always for the most idealistic of reasons? Or was she just feeling blue as she always did when the second weekend of June approached and she was forced to confront all those painful memories? She turned back to her boss. "Is that what you think? That I'm burned out?"
"I think you've been on track for a promotion for many years. Finding that perfect woman for Grady McCabe would not only make his little girl very happy, but it would put you at the top of the list to run the new office in Galveston." Holly Anne paused. "The move to the coast would be a fresh start for you. And the bump up in salary is considerable."
And money, Alexis thought, was essential if she ever wanted to get out of debt, put the past behind her and live in something more than a tiny efficiency apartment in a not-so-great neighborhood. And Holly was right. In the middle of this crazy request was a little girl who'd never really known her mother, and wanted-as every child did-to have a mommy in her life. If Alexis could find someone who was right for Grady and his daughter, it was possible love could blossom. Grady McCabe could get more than he expected. He could do what she was trying to do right now-come all the way back to life again.
Alexis smiled. "Then I'll do it." And in the process, maybe convince Grady McCabe that it's plain crazy to give up on love.
Grady wasn't sure what had happened in the last month or two to make his daughter so uncooperative where her schoolwork was concerned. He did know that at-home assignments were a stringent part of the curriculum at the prestigious Miss Chilton's Academy for Young Women.
Not that it would take the incredibly bright child very long to actually do the work sheet, if she would just get to it.
Savannah slumped on the leather sofa in his study, the picture of five-year-old distress. "But, Daddy, I don't want to do my homework."
Grady worked to curtail his exasperation. "It's not up for discussion, Savannah," he reminded her gently.
"I want to go outside and swing!" she whined loudly.
"After you've finished your work sheet," he promised.
Savannah's lower lip slid out, and tears welled in her eyes.
The doorbell rang.
Grady sighed and went to answer it.
Alexis Graham stood on the other side of the portal. She looked every bit as beautiful as she had that afternoon in his office. Briefcase in hand, she was clearly ready to get to work. "Come on in." He stood back to let her pass. "I've got someone I want you to meet."
The only problem was, when he entered his study, his daughter wasn't there. "Savannah," Grady called, and was greeted with silence. "Savannah!" His voice turned stern. He looked behind the sofa, the desk, in the storage closet concealed behind paneled doors.
No sign of her anywhere.
Her abandoned homework sat on the child-size wooden table in the corner, next to her pushed-back chair. Figuring he knew where she had gone, Grady grumbled, "You may have to interview her outside."
Alexis's shapely brow lifted in inquiry.
"Savannah's going to have to approve of anyone I marry," Grady explained, leading the way through the sprawling first floor of his multimillion-dollar home, to the French doors that opened onto the patio. "So I figured we'd start by finding out precisely what she wants in a mother."
As suspected, his misbehaving daughter was seated on her swing, knowing full well that she was doing something wrong. "Look how high I can go, Daddy!" she exclaimed, pumping her legs.
Figuring the lecture could wait, Grady said, "Savannah, this is Ms. Graham. She's going to help us find someone to take care of you."
Savannah's eyes narrowed. "I don't want another nanny!"
"I know you don't." He stopped the swing, then hunkered down in front of her, so the two of them were at eye level. "Which is why we're now looking for a mommy?''