Read an Excerpt
Ten months later
Find. Wife. Find. Wife. Find. Wife.
Every time the soles of Gray's running shoes bounced against the narrow tree-lined path, the words seemed to echo in his head.
He picked up speed, pushing harder as the path rose sharply beneath his feet.
"Shut. Up. Shut. Up," he muttered under his breath.
Find. Wife. Find. Wife. His footsteps answered.
He made it to the peak of the hillside and looked out over the horizon that would have been nearly obscured if not for the footpath cut through the trees. He propped his hands on his hips, hauling in long breaths, feeling his heartbeat charging in his chest. The sweat soaking his shirt felt cold.
He spent precious time driving most mornings to this particular park because it was far enough away from his digs near the waterfront that he'd never once run into someone he knew.
The park wasn't a fancy place. It didn't have paved paths. It didn't have riding stables, or formal picnic areas or art displays. And often, he seemed to have the hilly tree-congested expanse to himself, but even when he didn't, it was rare to encounter more than one or two other runners.
Pretty much the way he liked it since his time was generally used up dealing with others. That was just one of the prices he paid for being president of a major corporation. A price he'd gladly pay many times over sinceaccording to those who knew himhe'd been aiming for the helm of HuntCom since he was in the womb.
Until lately, Gray had never doubted that he would someday succeed his father as chairman of the board.
He set off down the hillside, oblivious of the slim rim of golden sunshine working its wayinto a sky that was unusually clear.
Find. Wife. Find. Wife.
He muttered an oath, and picked up speed.
Nearly a year had gone by since Harry called him and his brothers into his library and issued his damn marriage decree. Nearly a year since his brothersand he, he admitted reluctantlycame to the consensus that they had to fall in line with their father's wishes or lose everything that mattered.
Everything. Not that giving in had been easy. Hell, no. In fact, Gray'd had his attorney come up with the flipping contract he and his brothers had all signedas well as Harry, after some serious arm-twisting of their ownthat detailed everything from marital deadlines and requirements of intent to procreate on one side to transfers of HuntCom voting shares on the other. But he'd only done it when it had become clear that Harry was not going to come to his senses.
Harry was a literal-minded soul. Not good with relationships of any sort, pretty much. He was more like the early computers he'd once programmed. Want results of X? Then do A. Then do B. Then do C.
He hadn't been successful in his marriages and family life and didn't want his sons ending up like him. So the answer?
Do what Harry hadn't done.
Marry the right woman. Resulting in the right kids. Resulting in an existence unlike Harry's.
Find. Wife. Find. Wife.
Gray gritted his teeth, moving even faster down the sharply curving trail, muscles warm and fluid from years of running, even though his brain felt uncommonly cold and tight. He'd thought that Harry would realize the error of his ways before it came down to the crunch.
But Harry was immovable. And he'd started talking to those in the industry who could possibly buy out portions of HuntCom.
Find. Wife. Find. Wife.
Everything that Gray had ever wanted to accomplish in life, he had. He was successful in every endeavor, because that was who he was. What was the point of wasting his time if he didn't plan to succeed?
But in this one damned thing he was
Barreling straight for a runner squatting square in his path. Cursing a blue streak, he tried slowing up, but momentum had him in its grip. "On the left," he barked, hoping the girloh, yeah, definitely a girlwould heed his warning and move to the side. But the path was too narrow and Gray's speed was too fast and maybe if she hadn't decided to straighten from her crouch, he could have hurdled over her
Instead, he got a glimpse of pale skin, wide dark eyes and flying dark hair as she rose and took the impact with a gasping "oomph!"
He cursed again, reaching to catch her in the same moment that he'd been trying to avoid her, and managed to miss the mark as completely as he'd managed to plow over her.
His shoes skidded on the dirt as he finally succeeded in slowing enough to turn around and run back to her.
She was flat down, sprawled across the rocks that lined the edge of the path.
"I didn't see you."
"Obviously." Her voice was muffled as she gingerly pushed herself to her hands and knees. The gray sweatpants she wore were as utilitarian as the ones he had on, but she'd rolled the waist over a few times and as her rear pushed off the ground, the skin between the nearly threadbare sweats and the hem of the thin T-shirt she wore gleamed smooth and pale in the dawn.
His lips tightened, as much from noticing that band of skin below the white shirt as from her husky sarcasm. "I tried to warn you," he reminded.
She tossed back her head, giving him a severe look that not even the half-light could dim. "If you'd given me more than a microsecond, it might have helped." She drew her knees up farther beneath her, which only caused that shapely derriere to round even more.
He grimaced again, well aware that she was right. "Let me help you up." He closed his hand around her arm and felt her instantaneous recoil. He let go, backing up a step. "Relax. Just trying to help."
"Well don't. I can do it myself." She ducked her chin, and her hair slid over her shoulder. Muttering under her breath, she finally pushed herself to her feet and faced him, only to sway unsteadily.
His hands shot out and caught her shoulders. "Easy there."
She hitched her shoulder, clearly wanting him to let go again.
Which he did.
She leaned over, plucking at the knees of her sweatpants and he realized they were both torn right through.
She gave him a quick "you think?" look that made him grimace all over again. This time at himself.
A preoccupied bastard is what he was.
Just like Harry. He shoved his fingers through his hair. "Are you parked in the lot?"
Which could mean anything, he knew, but most likely that she lived within close proximity. "Can you make it to the bottom of the hill?" His cell phone was in his car. It would be a simple matter to call for assistance whether or not she could make it there under her own steam. He'd get her bandaged up, make sure there were no lasting effects that would come back to bite him or HuntCom in the butt, and on their way they'd go.
She nodded and started to move past him, only to gasp again, hitching forward to grab her left knee.
He caught her around the shoulders. "Don't put any weight on it." She'd stiffened again, but this time he ignored it. "If you want to sit, I'll go down and call for help."
"Then you can let me help you walk down. Your choice." He realized her hands were scraped, as well, when she pressed them gingerly against her thighs, leaving behind a smear of blood. "Something tells me you're not going to let me just carry you down."
Her head ducked again. "That won't be necessary," she assured stiffly.
He eyed the top of her head. The brightening sunlight picked out glints of gold among the soft brown strands. She was a bitty thing next to him, even with the shapely curves that pushed against her running clothes. And he was not bitty at all. "I am sorry," he said quietly.
She hesitated, then looked up at him. He couldn't quite tell the color of her eyes. Just that they were dark and rimmed with long, curling lashes.
She pressed her lips together for a moment. "I am, too," she finally said. "I, um, I stopped to tie my shoe." She wiggled her left foot, drawing his attention.
The lacing of her shoedefinitely not custom-made as his own werelay untied and bedraggled against the dirt path.
"Hold on." He cautiously let go of her shoulders and, once certain that she wasn't going to tip over, crouched down at her feet.
She made a soft sound and he glanced up as he tied the shoelace. "Something wrong?"
She shook her head slightly. "No. It's just I it's been a long time since I've had my shoelaces tied for me."
His head was on a level with her thighs. He made himself keep his eyes on her scraped knees and lower. To his chagrin it was harder than he'd have thought.
He tugged the bow tight, then double looped it. "Next time, use a double knot," he suggested wryly.
He rose and caught the twitch at the corner of her lips. But the second she took a step, the barely there smile was replaced by a definite wince of pain.
"We need to get you to the hospital."
Her eyes widened. "No. Really, that's not necessary."
"You might have a sprain. A fracture."
She shook her head emphatically. "Just bumps, I promise."
"Bumps and gravel and blood," he pointed out. "At the very least I need to make sure you get cleaned up, and clearly, you can't walk on that ankle."
She gave him a look he couldn't interpret. "I don't need medical care."
And sad to say, he didn't need a nuisance suit for personal injury, either. Not to say that she'd instigate anything of the kind, but he hadn't gotten to where he was without learning a thing or two about human nature.
People were greedy beings. And though Gray knew he wasn't any particular exception to that trait, he also knew painfully well that the Hunt family and HuntCom made a particularly enticing target even to people who would ordinarily never think such things.
That was reality.
But so was the sight of her bleeding knees that made him wince inside. She was hurt and he was responsible. She hadn't untied her fraying shoelace on purpose, after all.
"I insist," he told her.
Her eyebrows rose, nearly disappearing into the tendrils of hair clinging to her sweaty forehead. "Is that so?" She seemed about to say more, only to press her lips together again. "We can work it out when we get you off this path," he suggested. He'd simply call Loretta. She'd arrange everything with her usual minimum of fuss. Gray could be assured that this girl wouldn't suffer any ill effects from their collision and he could get back to the matters at hand.
"You mean you think you'll get your way," the girl murmured. "Once we're off the trail."
He almost smiled. Fact was, Gray nearly always got his way, as she put it. "Do you have something against doctors?"
"Only their bills," she assured, looking a little too solemn for her wry tone. She lifted her shoulder. "I'm in the insurance void and, well, to be honest, I can't afford yet another bill."
"I, um, just started a new job here. My health insurance won't kick in for another few weeks."
All new employees of HuntCom had to wait out their probationary period of ninety days before receiving insurance benefits. Simple business practice, he knew, yet this was the first time he'd ever personally encountered someone in the "void" as she called it. "Where do you work?"
He could feel her withdrawal again like a physical thing. Who'd she think he was, anyway?
The thought had him looking more sharply at her smooth, oval face. There was no question that she was pretty. But she had a wide-eyed earnestness about her that was disconcertingly disarming. "Are you new to the area, too?"
"Pretty much." She swiped her hand over her forehead, leaving her bangs in disheveled spikes, and another smear of blood in its wake.
"Then as a Seattle lifer, I can't have you thinking we're hogs on the running trails." He put his arm around her again, and this time she didn't protest. He took part of her weight as they laboriously stepped along the path. It would have been much more expedient for him just to tote her entirely, but this time he kept his mouth shut on the reasoning.
"On the left."
He looked over his shoulder at the runner bearing down on them and moved the girl out of the way with plenty of time as the young guy trotted past.
"Worked for him," Gray pointed out.
She gave a soft half laugh, as if she couldn't quite prevent it, even though she wanted to. "He also wasn't going eighty in a thirty-mile zone."
He knew he'd been putting on the speed. Trying to outrun the problem hanging over him. "You should visit the hospital," he said again. "The bill won't be a problem," he assured somewhat drily.
"I suppose you're another one of those guys who made a fortune in the dot-coms or something." She flicked him a glance from beneath those long, soft lashes.
"Or something," he murmured, giving her another measuring look. It wasn't arrogant of him to say that he was somewhat well-known, particularly in the Seattle area. Either she was a master of understatement, or she hadn't recognized him. Once he told her his name, though, she undoubtedly would. "Where'd you say you moved from?"
Her eyebrow arched. "I didn't."
They rounded another curve in the path. It was beginning to level out. Another quarter mile, he knew, and they'd be back at the lot where his BMW was parked. "If you won't let me take you to the hospital, at least let me get you to a clinic. You need some first aid, here. Even you must admit that."
She stopped her laborious limp of a walk and gave him a searching look. "Why are you doing this?"
"That's an odd question."
"I plowed over you."
"Well" she looked slightly discomfited "I'm a big girl. I can take care of myself."
"Big is a relative term," he countered. "I could fit you in my pocket."
"Or your trunk."
He frowned at the flat statement. "Believe me, honey, you're safe with me."
She looked away again. "And if you're so wary of strangers, why do you run at this hour of the morning? It's just now getting light and there are hardly any people here."
"I fit it in before work." She still sounded stiff. "Why are you here at this hour?"
"I fit it in before work," he returned.
Her lips compressed. "Well, there you go, then." She began limping along again, faster this time, but no less awkwardly.
"Look, I don't mean to be rude, but I really well, I really don't need your coddling.And I have things to do before I go to work."
He could see the parking lot. There was only one car. His. "You plan to walk back home, then, do you?"
"That's how I got here."