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So this was how it felt to be a queen .
Her engagement party was being held in Celebre, Boston's best restaurantthe place where Matt had first proposed to her. The champagne was flowing. There were red roses by the dozen on every table, and fairy lights lit the satin-draped walls. She wore a watered-silk dress of softest silver green and the McLachlan family diamond necklace, earrings and bracelet set, all supplied by her adoring fiancé.
Given the stress of the past nine months, after Matt's father's death and the near collapse of both his business and hers, it felt amazing that they were here now.
Well, amazing that she was here, anyway. Matt fitted into this world perfectly.
The cream of Boston societyall childhood friends of Matt'sfilled the room and spilled out onto the terrace. Her own family hadn't been able to make it from Sydney at such short notice. But her friends, affectionately known as The Wedding Belles, because they ran a complete-weddingpackage business in Boston, were here either with their own wonderful men or working the room. They were creating new business just by being there, because they were responsible for this "wedding of the year."
Julie shook her head, as if to clear it. She, plain, publicity-shy Julie Montgomery from Rockdale, a suburb of Sydney, Australia, was the bride in what the media had dubbed Boston's Wedding of the Year. She, just a simple general assistant for The Wedding Belles, had captured the heart of Boston's most eligible bachelor. Why they'd chosen her wedding, she didn't know, any more than she knew why a man like Matt had ever fallen for someone like her.
Why she'd fallen for him was no mystery. She looked across the room at him, and her heart almost burst with pride and love. Tall and lithe, he wore the tux as though he'd been born in it, which, given his family background, he probably had been. His dark hair curled just enough to look sexily mussed; she loved the light streaks of early grey about his ears and temples, which always made her fingers ache to plunge right in there. His eyeswhat woman could look into that ice-blue perfection and not do what she'd done the first minute she'd seen him? Intelligent, kind and strong, he could never see someone in need without doing something about it, whether helping out at charity events or donating funds to needy causes. If she'd fallen in love with him at a glance, she'd fallen even deeper for the man beneath, the man of integrity and generosity. He worked hard, had true creative genius, and a heart that never stopped giving.
And those hands what he could do to her with a touch!
He'd been so busy lately, and, oh, how she'd missed him. But tonight was theirs, their engagement party, and he was hers alone. Needing to be near him, she smiled and detached herself from her future mother-in-law and began to go to him.
"Miss Montgomery, could we have a minute for a few questions?"
Julie held in the sigh. This was one part of her engagement she found less than appealing. As the love interest of Matthew McLachlan, president of McLachlan Marine Industries since his father's death, she was subject to public scrutiny. It was almost like being part of a second marriage. She could always count on the presence of the press in her life, during both the good times and definitely through the bad.
The Belles had come up with the idea of throwing them a wedding when it looked like Matt was going to lose the company after his father's wildly unsuccessful speculations. Since then her private love story had become public entertainment. The invitation list for the quiet family wedding The Belles had planned was now up to over 150, and the simple garden venue was now the cathedral on the harbour front, which had room for media photo shoots and the live television feed. Their wedding had become an official "human interest story," and was being followed by a top magazine, three tabloids and two TV stations covering the tristate area.
But all the media interest had also saved The Belles from going under when the high-society Vandiver wedding cancellation had left them deep in the red; so Julie's every smile for the cameras held as much gratitude and relief as it did resentment.
She turned now, with the smile that had felt more like a grimace for the past few months. "Of course Jemima, isn't it?"
Jemima Whittaker of Boston People Today, the magazine covering her wedding, beamed at her. "So good of you to remember."
Remember? It was impossible not to when the woman had been in her face almost constantly for the past few months.
"So how do you feel about your fiancé's phenomenal success in saving McLachlan Marine Industries from financial flatlining?"
Her gaze flicked to Matt, talking to some people she didn't recognise in the centre of the roomprobably more members of the pressand she felt her smile soften with the love she couldn't hide. "I'm incredibly proud of him, of course, but I knew he could do it. He's so dedicated to his workers and their families."
"Your fiancé didn't just save jobs, Miss Montgomery. The new water converter he's invented will revolutionise the industry." The reporter sounded one point less than smug with the information. "The new contracts with Jet Stream Industries and Red Line Marinenot to mention the giants in the motor industry showing marked interest in a land prototypewill give McLachlan's more power and wealth than it's known in its eighty-year history. Matt's done more than rescue the company from the investment mistakes of his fatherhe's become a multimillionaire, is being hailed as a wunderkind, and has been nominated for businessman of the year after he gave shares in the converter to every McLachlan's worker that waited for their overdue salaries. Many of them are now well on their way to being rich. How do you feel about that?"
It took all of Julie's willpower to not blink or frown. Matt had enjoyed so much success in the public arena, had done so much more than save the company, and he hadn't told her? "As I said, I always knew he was a genius," she replied with another halfway-to-grimace smile, wondering why this reporter knew so much about the importance of Matt's invention, while she, his fiancée, knew nothing.
"I suppose you think so because he chose you instead of Sara Enderby or Elise Pettifer," Jemima laughed, totally without spiteprobably because, like Julie herself, she came from less exalted origins than most in the room. Jemima's hand swept to where Matt stood in a crowd of people, laughingand it was only then Julie realised that six of the eight people surrounding him were very attractive women. "You're one secure woman, obviously. If Matthew McLachlan were my fiancé, and he had two very beautiful exes making him laugh the way those women are right now, I'd drape myself over him faster than Speedy Gonzalez." She laughed again as she said, "Or kick them out of the way like that baby kangaroo on the cartoons."
The two exquisite blondes on either side of him were his ex-girlfriends?
Self-control. Julie held her hands at her sides, refusing to check the current state of her French twist. Her bright-red French twist. She didn't smooth her hands over her lightly applied makeup. She knew the freckles showed anyway.
"With Elise in particular, everyone was taking bets on the wedding date," Jemima went on, still without malice but with a good deal of curiosity. Digging. "She's an engineer, too, you know. In fact, I've heard rumours that she worked with him on the design of the water converter. They seemed the perfect match. That's why there was such interest when he broke up with her, and was seen with you so soon after."
A perfect match oh, weren't they just? The handsome, high-born genius and the beautiful, high-society woman, one of his own people, who made him laugh so easily. Perfection, side by side .
Julie had met both women earlier, but hadn't thought much about either of them afterward. They'd seemed nice women, without any sign of cattiness in their conversation or demeanour. Not by word or act had they shown anything but kindness to her.
But then, why would they need to compete, when they were so beautiful?
Then she remembered the look in Matt's eyes when he'd seen her tonight, and the world seemed to spin the right way again. "You'll have to ask Matt about who he works with and why. That's his place. Thanks for the advice, but after all, those women are in his pastI'm his future. I'm the one wearing his ring." With a cool smile she ended the interview.
But she didn't continue toward Matt. That might make it seem as if she didn't trust him, which could create fodder for a speculative story about the status of their relationship. She'd had enough of that in the past few months.
Finally the night was over, his gift to Julie. Now, after all his months of work to save McLachlan's, he could be alone with the woman he loved.
Matthew McLachlan smiled, almost bursting with the pride and love he felt. In a love story filled with obstaclesfrom his father's opposition to Matt falling for an unknown Australian woman, to the intense media speculation, to the problems with his business and hersJulie had risen to every occasion. She'd won everyone over with her quirky humour, her strength, grace and dignity. An extraordinary woman and she was all his. His woman, his love.
He'd known she felt intimidated by the overwhelming media and social interest in their lives, especially since The Belles'plans for their wedding had become public knowledge. He'd seen her trepidation about tonight. Then he'd given her the dress he'd bought for her on his last trip to New York and the McLachlan diamonds his mother had brought down for her, the possession of all the future McLachlan brides. He'd seen the utter delight in being so spoiled fill her face, the excitement at being the belle of the ball, as he'd jokingly called her, playing on her job at The Wedding Belles.
Though he'd also known she didn't like all the hype, and felt she didn't quite know what to say to his high-powered friends, he could barely hold in the pride when she was nothing but herself, without an ounce of pretentiousness or trying to fit in. She'd neither clung to him, nor hidden out with her own friends, but had spent the night circulating. His mom, who'd adored Jules from the start, hadn't even had to show her future daughter-in-law the ropes of a society function. Julie had dealt with the press, the cattier members of high society, and won the approval of the older women, so hard to impress. "A lovely girl," had been the consensus he'd overheard after Jules had moved on.
She'd even chatted pleasantly with two of his ex-girlfriends, Elise and Sara, asking them about themselves, as she always did. She had such an interest in people of all walks of life. And when the press had seen the women together and had taken a picture, Matt had seen the frustration on the face of the reporter, because all three women were laughing, their body language relaxed and friendly.
"What a sensational woman," his old friend Victor had said as he left the party. "Why didn't she fall at my feet?" he'd muttered, with true envy in his voice.
"You're a lucky man," his other oldest friend, Guy, had added, with a quick, wistful glance at Julie.
Secure in Julie's love, Matt only grinned. Lucky didn't he know it.
Now at last they were home, Mom had gone tactfully to bed and, remembering the utter love in Julie's eyes as she looked at him all night, he couldn't wait anymore. "Come here, woman." He dragged her into his arms. "Do you have any idea how incredible you looked tonight? I've been dying to take this off you for hours." He lowered a strap of her dress and softly kissed her shoulder.
"Matt," she whispered as her shoulder lifted and her head fell back in the abandoned sensuality he could arouse in her with a touch.
He felt her quiver, and smiled. Hell, yes, he was a lucky man. Every day it just got better. He'd never been so happy in his life. To have a magnificent woman like Julie crazy in love with him from first sight, before she'd known who he was or what his bank balance was, had been unbelievable to him from the start.
To have her love him still, through the turbulent months where he'd sold off almost everything to prevent his mother from losing her apartment, to keep McLachlan's afloat and his workers in their jobs; to have her love him through the endless weeks when he'd been so deep in thought with the practical applications of the water converter, he'd practically forgotten she was there; to love him through a backyard engagement party and few presents, to cheerfully agree with the plans for a private wedding at City Hall to save costs
Julie Montgomery was a walking, loving miracle, and he intended to hold on to her for life.
That's what tonight had been about. Now that he'd returned to his place in the world, McLachlan's was safe and all its workers secure, he wanted to thank her for everything, to show her off to the world for the extraordinary woman she was, to pronounce to the world that this was no temporary thing. Matt McLachlan was a one-woman man, and he was definitely taken.
Jules turned her face to his, kissing him softly, once, twice. But when he dropped the spaghetti-thin strap from her shoulder, she shook her head. "Your mother's here," she whispered.
He moved to kiss her throat in a way he knew she couldn't resist. "She knows we're lovers, Jules."
She shivered again with the touch, and Matt grinned as he bent to kiss lower.
"But it doesn't feel right," she said softly, punctuated with kisses. "I'm sorry, darling, but I can'tnot with your mother in the house."
With a sigh he kissed her shoulder, and put the dress back in its place. "Ah well, she's only here for two nights. I can wait that long. You do realise I won't sleep, don't you? You're a cruel woman, Montgomery."
"Did your mother know about the importance of the water converter from the start?" she asked out of nowhere. "Or was it only when you sold it?"
Though her voice held the usual love and faith, there was a note in itsome deeper insecurity he'd never heard beforeand Matt started. "What was that?"