Front Page Engagement

Front Page Engagement

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by Laura Wright

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PARK AVENUE Apartment: 12C

TENANT: Carrie Gray, the proverbial girl-next-door

SCANDAL: Will she marry for money?

Millionaire media mogul Trent Tanford had one week to find a wife…or lose his empire. But none of his current Manhattan flings met his father's stringent standards. Then Trent noticed the innocent house sitter next


PARK AVENUE Apartment: 12C

TENANT: Carrie Gray, the proverbial girl-next-door

SCANDAL: Will she marry for money?

Millionaire media mogul Trent Tanford had one week to find a wife…or lose his empire. But none of his current Manhattan flings met his father's stringent standards. Then Trent noticed the innocent house sitter next door.

In tortoiseshell glasses and loose T-shirts, Carrie Gray surely had no skeletons in her closet. But how would she feel about…marital duties, so vital to a virile man like Trent? Trent had the money and the charm to convince her, but he'd never spoken a word to Carrie…. How was he going to ask, "Will you marry me?"

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Park Avenue Scandals , #1885
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…wire one million dollars into an untraceable offshore bank account…or else your past indiscretions will be exposed…
In the center of his steel-and-suede office, Trent Tan-ford leaned forward in his chair and tossed the letter into the trash. He felt no anger, no concern, just a desire to get back to work. He was no stranger to threats— e-mailed, snail-mailed or otherwise. He'd received them from his father; from recently fired and subsequently pissed-off employees of his family's media empire, AMS; from women, past lovers who had refused to accept the end of a relationship.
The threats were irritating, yes. But impactful?
The thirty-one-year-old media mogul knew who he was and what he wanted—in business and in life—and no amount of outside influence was going to change that.
Trent signed a stack of contracts as outside the floor-to-ceiling windows to his left, the sun crept up the horizon bringing with it a hot new August day and an office building buzzing with activity.
"Good morning, Mr. Tanford."
Trent's door was open, as it usually was before 7:00 a.m. He nodded at one of his new young executives as she passed by, a pretty and brilliant redhead who had just graduated New York University the previous year. He glanced at the clock on his monitor. "Six-thirty. Good for you."
"Yes, sir." She smiled an ultraprofessional smile and moved on.
Trent went back to work. She was pretty, but he never dipped his pen into the company ink pot, not to mention the fact that she was way too young. But he did like redheads. In fact, he had a date with one tonight. A woman who was just as pretty, but not nearly as brilliant. Which wasfine. Trent sniffed as he recalled their date the previous evening. The woman had spent twenty minutes assuring him that Mitt Romney was no politician, but was in fact a famous baseball player.
Trent grinned. He loved women. He loved the way they laughed, smelled, moved—each so different, yet so similar in their belief that she was going to be the one to change him, the one to bag him, the one to make him so deliriously happy he'd forget all about that ultrastrict dating code he'd followed for the past ten years: four weeks maximum then all ties cut.
Why didn't they get it? Why couldn't they understand that he'd never come to heel? He'd never be bagged. In his past experience, Trent had learned the hard way that in four weeks a woman could become more than a casual distraction, and going there again was unacceptable at this point in his life.
Trent moved on to his computer and the must-see lineup for the following year. He was no insensitive ass when it came to his view of relationships. He was always up-front about the four weeks, and what not to expect from him. It wasn't a personal attack on anyone; it had nothing to do with a woman's beauty or her personality. It was simply a fact, a rule of order…and, maybe, if Trent was forced to admit it, a way for him to have his cake and his ice cream and his steak and his candy and eat it, too—without getting a raging headache afterward. A relationship headache that would keep him from his one and only desire—his ascent to president of AMS when his father retired.
Now, much to Trent's chagrin, his father subscribed to a very different view on the matter of relationships. According to James Tanford, a wife and children stabilized a man, made him stronger. A family made a man more open to power and in turn made him respected by his peers and competitors. In the man's 1950s view of things, a wife took care of the details and let the husband focus on the real issues.
Unfortunately, the senior Tanford believed this so completely that after several failed attempts to coax his son into settling down, the older man had resorted to memos referencing the subject. This last one Trent held in his hand. The memo had been placed—by one of his father's faithful minions, no doubt—under one of Trent's computer monitors, a warning that James might decide not to step down as head of AMS until Trent was settled into matrimonial bliss.
Or matrimonial hell, Trent mused darkly.
Yes, threats came to Trent's office in all shapes, sizes and media.
All in a day's work.
Trent tossed the note from his father into the trash, watching as it settled beside another crumpled ball of BS on the bottom of the trash bin—the one that demanded he wire a million dollars into an untraceable, offshore bank account on Grand Cayman Island if he didn't want certain unsavory actions from his past revealed.
Something as likely to happen, he mused, as überbachelor Trent Tanford taking a bride anytime soon.
It was Sunday brunch in the Big Apple. A sacred event for most Manhattanites, who worked sixty-hour workweeks and used Sunday midmornings to continue to decompress before they started it all over again on Monday.
Normally Carrie Gray celebrated brunch with pastries, eggs, bagels, schmear and, if it were appropriate, booze. Unfortunately, she'd been too tired to set up such a feast for her friends that morning. Hell, she'd barely had enough time to stick her long, brown hair up in a ponytail. And forget about contacts. It was glasses all the way today.
After a late night working on a few sketches of a logo concept for a graphic design job she was trying to land, she'd been woken up by another member of "Trent's Troops."
Trent being Trent Tanford, the dark-haired, blue-eyed, dimple-cheeked tall drink of water who lived in the apartment next door, a man who had constant guests of the female variety coming and going at all hours of the night. These were his "Troops." The name had been invented by Carrie and her two girlfriends, Amanda Crawford and Julia Prentice, who were good enough friends of Carrie's to allow her to bitch about her annoying neighbor.
The problem was that some of Trent's lady friends hadn't learned how to read yet and were mixing up Carrie's pad, 12B—the Upper East Side apartment she house-sat for European businessman and prince, Sebastian Stone—with 12C, Trent's apartment at 721 Park Avenue. And last night around 1:00 a.m., another of Trent's size-zero glamazons, complete with red hair and plump lips, had come knocking.
"Again, I'm sorry about the spread," Carrie told her two beautiful blond friends as they sat around the glass-and-wrought-iron coffee table in Sebastian Stone's uncluttered but artfully furnished three-bedroom apartment.
Amanda's gray eyes flashed in a friendly, teasing way as she crossed her long, thin legs. "No worries. Coffee and doughnuts are classic."
Julia touched her growing belly and added, "And these glazed ones are my baby's favorite." Four months pregnant, Julia had occupied apartment 9B in Carrie's building, until she moved in with her fiancé, Max Rolland, last month. Now her previous roommate, Amanda, had 9B all to herself.
Relieved at her friends' forgiving words, Carrie watched the pair as they downed their doughnuts in ten seconds flat, then reached for another. It was so funny. Julia and Amanda couldn't have been more different from herself. Both blue bloods, both graduates of the chichi Ivy League school Vassar, both impeccable dressers.
And then there was plain old Carrie with her green eyes and mop of dark hair, her big breasts, curvy hips and a very anti-high-fashion tie-dye hippie dress. She was okay, cute maybe, but nothing like her stunning, fabulous friends. And she was fine with that. Carrie had no insecurities about her looks or background. She was who she was. And Julia and Amanda couldn't agree more. The socialite and the event planner didn't care about Carrie's lack of looks and breeding or her lack of funds. They just wanted her friendship.
"Besides a chicken sausage quiche and an arugula salad I really wanted to make cinnamon rolls," Carrie told the two women in between sips of coffee. "But the dough's rising time and mine didn't mesh well today."
"It's no big deal, Carrie, really," Amanda assured her. "Did you have a late night?" She grinned, her makeup-free face model perfect. "A date, maybe?"
"No," Carrie answered with a laugh, as if that was the silliest question in the world. And then she stopped and wondered why that would be so silly, and how long it had been since she'd had a date. Had it been in this millennium? Sure. A year, maybe, before her mom was diagnosed…
Her blue eyes narrowed, Julia broke into Carrie's thoughts. "Let me guess. Another late-night visitor?"
"She said she didn't have a date, Jules," Amanda said, reaching for another doughnut.
"I didn't mean a male visitor," Julia clarified. "I was talking about a member of the 'troops.'"
Amanda nearly choked on her doughnut. "Oh, no. One of Trent's ladies came by?"
"Yes," Carrie said, falling back into the beautiful oak Glastonbury chair.
"The blonde again?"
Amanda shrugged. "At least the guy's versatile."
But Julia wasn't about to be so relaxed about the whole thing. The woman may have been petite in stature, but she had the temper of a protective tigress when she saw injustice. "Carrie, this is total insanity. You need to confront him."
"I know," Carrie said evenly. And she did know; it was just that—
"Or at least put a sign on your door," Amanda joked, pouring herself another cup of coffee, her short blond hair falling about her face.
Julia shook her head. "You swore if another woman came looking for Trent, you'd—"
"I know, I know," Carrie said quickly. She was just embarrassed at her own lack of fortitude in the situation. "I've never had a problem with confrontation before, but this guy…Trent Tanford…he's like…I don't know, too good-looking. Those cute dimples on such a fierce face…it's off-putting. He's like the boy in high school you had a massive crush on and made sure you wore your blue eye shadow and Love's Baby Soft perfume for every day in case by some miracle he noticed you."
Julia lifted a brow. "The boy you had a crush on? Trent is like the boy you had a crush on, Car?"
"I just mean that he's that good-looking, that charismatic, that crush inducing if one was to talk to him or get to know—"
"Do you want Trent to notice you?"
"No." Carrie released a weighty breath. She was doing some major backpedaling here. "I mean, only for the purpose of telling him off."
"Because if you do want to meet him, talk to him, whatever, all you have to do is knock on his door."
"Yes, Jules, I know," Carrie said drily.
Clearly ensconced in her own world, not hearing much of Carrie and Julia's exchange, Amanda sipped her coffee and looked dreamy. "I remember that boy. But it wasn't Love's Baby Soft. It was Patchouli oil."
Carrie and Julia both turned to stare at Amanda, then burst out laughing. When Carrie got hold of herself she said, "Incidentally, that boy never did notice me except to point out when I had a fresh pimple."
"Honey," Julia interjected, "no doubt that boy is now the Fry King at your local burger shack."
"Actually I heard he plays football for the Indianapolis Colts."
"Well, I'm sure he's been rejected by many a cheerleader, then."
Carrie sighed. "I doubt it. Guys like Mr. Touchdown and like Trent, they go their whole lives never hearing the word no." She shrugged. "I just don't get it. What makes a woman get all nuts for a man like that? A guy who's arrogant, who's basically just after sex?"
"The tall, dark, rich thing is pretty powerful," Julia said drily.
Amanda nodded. "For some women it's the dating trifecta."
Carrie rolled her eyes. "I'm being serious, you guys."
"So are we," Julia said tightly. "To some women, some people, looks and money are everything."
Sipping her lukewarm coffee, Carrie thought about what her friends had just said, and how naive she was to even argue the point. She understood the realities of the world. It's just that she had a hard time believing that most women, at their core, wouldn't want more substance from their men. Money and looks were great, but they didn't last. They didn't rub your feet when you had a hard day's work. They didn't care when you got a small, but substantial new job. They didn't sit by your side and help you remember your past when you were going through the first stages of Alzheimer's.

Meet the Author

Laura has spent most of her life immersed in the worlds of acting, singing, and competitive ballroom dancing. But when she started writing, she knew she'd found the true desire of her heart!

Although born and raised in Minneapolis, Minn., Laura has also lived in New York, Milwaukee, and Columbus, Ohio. Currently, she is happy to have set down her bags and made Los Angeles her home. And a blissful home it is -- one that she shares with her theatrical production manager husband, Daniel, and three spoiled dogs.

During those few hours of downtime from her beloved writing, Laura enjoys going to art galleries and movies, cooking for her hubby, walking in the woods, lazing around lakes, puttering in the kitchen, and frolicking with her animals.

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