Mr. Destinyby Candy Halliday
From the author of "Dream Guy" comes this hilarious romantic comedy about a disciplined woman who learns the pleasures of spontaneity from a tall, dark, handsome cop. Original.
From the author of "Dream Guy" comes this hilarious romantic comedy about a disciplined woman who learns the pleasures of spontaneity from a tall, dark, handsome cop. Original.
Read an Excerpt
By Candy Halliday
Warner ForeverCopyright © 2005 Candy Viers
All right reserved.
Chapter OneKate Anderson flashed hot all over. The summer heat wave assaulting New York City had nothing to do with it.
Here she was, Miss Efficient Art Gallery Manager, overseeing the annual "Art in Central Park" outdoor exhibit cosponsored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Yet, what was she doing? She was fantasizing about the handsome mounted patrol officer galloping up the path in her direction.
Fantasizing about him naked, to be exact. Prewedding jitters Kate assured herself. That, and her pesky subconscious trying to challenge her belief that size didn't matter. Size didn't matter.
Not to Kate. Not if you were a prominent corporate attorney with a no-nonsense outlook on life that would finally bring focus and clarity to her life.
She'd met Harold Trent Wellington shortly after her time-to-grow-up-now thirtieth birthday. From their first date, Kate had known Harold was exactly the type of man she needed to keep her grounded. Harold was handsome by any woman's standards-tall, lean, a touch of distinguished-looking premature gray at his temples. He was older and settled, another plus. They shared the same interests: opera, art, the finer things in life.
Maybe Harold was a neat-freak and a tad bit anal. Maybe they had a nonexistent sex life at the moment, but they wereworking through Harold's feelings of inadequacy in the bedroom with a reputable couple's therapist. The main thing was, Harold had been a calming and positive influence over her life from the moment they started seeing each other.
Proof being, overseeing today's outdoor art exhibit; a responsibility her still-in-her-irresponsible-twenties self wouldn't have been able to handle in her pre-Harold days. So size didn't matter at all.
Kate simply wouldn't allow size to matter. She blinked twice, willing the officer's naked image to go away. It didn't. Her fantasy was still nude, rippling muscles everywhere, begging to be touched. The total opposite of Harold, Kate thought briefly. Harold's only interest had been in passing the bar, not in pumping one.
But yikes! Now the police officer was staring back at her just as intently.
Oh God. Had he read her mind? Of course not.
That was impossible. There was no way the officer could have known what she'd been thinking. Still, the look on his face was more than just perplexed. He looked shocked. As if he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing.
Kate sent a nervous look around her, pleased to see the crowd of people milling in and around the exhibit couldn't have been more orderly. There were a few couples, several small groups, one or two lone art admirers. Many of them were regular customers she recognized, politely showing their support for Anderson Gallery of Fine Arts. Everyone was even speaking in hushed tones, as if the exhibit were being held inside at her grandmother's prestigious art gallery in SoHo, one of the most notable art galleries in the city.
No, nothing was amiss with the crowd. Nor would he find anything wrong with her paperwork, if that was the reason for the concerned look on the officer's face. She had a permit and everything else in order right there on her clipboard.
But wait. Was he looking at her? Or was he staring at the painting beside her?
Kate glanced at the oil painting sitting on an easel to her right. She'd never cared for the artist who called himself "Apocalypse." His paintings were usually dark and violent. But there was nothing offensive about this painting. Who could possibly be offended by a painting of the Madonna and Child?
She squared her shoulders when the officer pulled on the reins, bringing his mount to a stop a short distance away from her. He slid one leg easily over the back of the horse. The second his shiny black boots hit the ground her fantasizing stopped.
Thank God. He was fully clothed again. He walked up and stopped in front of her, the name on his badge announcing he was Officer Anthony Petrocelli. An Italian on a stallion, Kate thought.
No wonder her libido had kicked into overdrive the minute she saw him.
She followed his gaze to the painting. "From your expression, I can't tell if you like this painting, or if it disturbs you," she said. "And that's a first for me. I can usually read people pretty well."
His sexy grin caught her off guard. Kate tensed.
She was not going to let her gaze drift any lower than his chin-even if he held his gun to her head. He didn't reach for his revolver. Instead, he unsnapped his chin strap and took off his helmet.
Mercy. He was all male and even more handsome than she'd imagined. Sexy brown eyes. Chiseled features. Olive skin. Just a hint of a five-o'clock shadow running along his strong angular jaw.
Maybe it was the contrast between this guy and Harold, Kate decided, that made him so appealing to her. He had that reckless unrefined edginess about him-something calm, cool, and always collected Harold didn't have.
He ran a hand through his short black hair and hit her with another grin. "I don't know how to tell you this," he said, "but you and I were destined to be together."
What? The fantasizing was definitely over. After an idiotic statement like that one, he could have been stark naked with a willy the size of Texas, and she still wouldn't have been interested in Officer Anthony Petrocelli.
Kate sent him a bored look. "That has to be the corniest pickup line I've ever heard."
"I'm not trying to pick you up," he said quickly. "If you'll let me explain, I think you'll understand why I had to stop and talk to you."
"Not interested," Kate told him. His challenging look called her a liar. "A total stranger walks up to you. He tells you the two of you are destined to be together. And you aren't the least bit interested in why a guy would be willing to make a complete fool of himself with a statement like that?"
"Not in the least," Kate said. Of course she was curious. But she wasn't going to tell him that.
For all she knew he could be some weirdo pervert who was only impersonating a police officer. Except for the horse, she decided, glancing past him for a second. She doubted even a pervert would go to the trouble of rounding up a horse. Plus, this was one fine-looking weirdo pervert, if he was one. One she doubted had any trouble whatsoever when it came to picking up women.
"I'm interested in why you would make a complete fool of yourself with a statement like that one."
Kate turned around to find Alexis Graham, a.k.a. best friend, standing behind her. The best friend who was supposed to have arrived at the exhibit hours ago to lend support. And the best friend who was also camping out on Kate's sofa at the moment, thanks to the current squabble Alex was having with her husband.
Alex was dressed for success as usual-a power suit befitting her important AT&T executive title. Her signature short dark hair was heavily moussed and slicked back dramatically-manly almost. Except there had never been anything manly about Alexis Graham. Not her seductive grin. Not her flirtatious personality. Definitely not her dynamite all-woman figure.
"Oh, come on, Kate," she said. "Let the officer tell us his story." She ignored Kate's stern look, stepped forward, and thrust out her hand. "Alex Graham, best friend." She looked back at Kate. "This is Kate Anderson."
He smiled. "Are you the artist, Kate?" Kate missed the question.
Her mind was wandering back in the naked direction again. It made no sense, but now that she knew he wasn't trying to pick her up, it was safe to fantasize about him. Besides, fantasizing was harmless. Her thoughts were her own. It wasn't anybody's business if standing this close to a man with such raw sex appeal made her want to ...
Alex punched Kate with her elbow. "What?" Kate said when Alex sent her a what's wrong-with-you look.
Alex looked back at the officer. "No, Kate isn't the artist," she said. "Kate's grandmother owns the gallery hosting this exhibit. Kate is the manager of Anderson Gallery of Fine Arts."
Damn! Her best friend was giving her fantasy way too much information.
Alex ignored Kate's frown and smiled at him. When he happily smiled back, Kate's eyes betrayed her and moved slowly down from his chin. Lower, lower ...
"It's ironic you should bring up the subject of grandmothers," he said. "My grandmother is the reason I'm standing here now."
Forget grandmothers! Grandmothers had no place in the middle of her fantasy. He pointed to his name tag. "Petrocelli. Think big, meddlesome, Italian family. That would be mine. Think an adorable but eccentric grandmother from the old country. That also would be mine. A grandmother who reads tea leaves for the male members of the family on their sixteenth birthdays so she can make a marriage prediction."
"Fascinating," Alex said. Kate was still only half-listening. Her gaze kept wandering back to his mouth. He had the most incredible lips. Full, yet firm. The kind of lips that would ...
He laughed, snapping her back to the conversation. "I'm glad you think tea-leaf reading is fascinating, Alex," he said. "I call it ridiculous."
"I'd say ridiculous is a fair description of this whole situation," Kate said, and Alex quickly shushed her.
He said, "Twenty years ago my grandmother read my tea leaves. She predicted I wouldn't marry until I was thirty-six years old. That I would marry a beautiful blonde with green eyes. And ..."
"Oh, please," Kate said, and "pop" went her fantasy bubble again.
"And," he repeated, "my grandmother said I would meet this woman in Central Park, standing beside the Virgin Mary."
Alex gasped. All three of them automatically looked at the painting sitting on the easel directly beside Kate.
"Unlike the rest of my crazy family," he said, "I've never had a superstitious bone in my body. Tony, I told myself, a blonde with green eyes? Maybe. But the Virgin Mary hanging out in Central Park? Forgetaboutit."
"Until today," Alex spoke up. "When you came riding through Central Park and saw Kate standing beside this painting."
"Exactly," he said. "And since I just turned thirty-six a few weeks ago and I'm still not married, the Twilight Zone music definitely kicked in for a second." "And who could blame you?" Alex said. "Right, Kate?" All Kate said was, "Wrong blonde." She held her left hand up, hoping the sizable bling bling on her finger would snap both of them back to reality. "I'm already engaged. I'm getting married in two months."
Alex nodded-sadly, Kate noticed-confirming everything she'd just said.
She felt like slapping Alex. And she definitely didn't like the way he was staring at her now-searching her face-as if he sensed that whether she was getting married in two months or not, she'd been fantasizing about the naughty things she'd like to do to him from the moment he'd come trotting up the trail.
"Well, there you go," he finally said, impaling her with one last look. "So much for destiny." "And such a pity," Alex said.
This time Kate gave Alex an elbow-to-the-ribs punch. He snapped on his helmet. "Thank you, ladies. For listening to my story."
"Our pleasure," Alex said with a wistful sigh. "And thank you, Kate, for finally putting my grandmother's prediction to rest."
Kate's nod was cordial. Almost.
She wanted him gone. On his way and out of her face. She was an engaged woman. Soon to be married. The last thing she needed was some gorgeous and overly congenial hunk like this one showing up to remind her that if she did marry reserved and marginally stuffy Harold, she might be getting the short end of the stick-in more ways than one.
Good. He's leaving.
He sent both of them a friendly salute, then turned and walked back to his horse. After slipping a boot into the stirrup, he pulled himself effortlessly up on the back of his horse, rode off down the path, and never looked back.
Alex immediately sent her the perturbed look Kate was expecting. "You dummy. He was gorgeous. He had a great sense of humor. He even got a little misty-eyed talking about his grandmother, for Christ's sake. How could you let a romantic guy like him ride out of your life like that?"
Kate rolled her eyes. "You tell me, Alex. Why do you think I wasn't interested in some misty-eyed cop with a crazy story about his tea-leaf-reading grandmother? Aside from the fact that I'm already engaged. Because I am going to marry Harold, Alex. You can boycott my wedding. You can even keep pulling stunts like the one you pulled just now, trying to fix me up with random guys on the street. But it isn't going to work. I'm interested in Harold. And only Harold."
Alex snorted. "Oh, come on, Kate. The only reason you've ever been interested in Harold is because you've always been a sucker for a sad story."
"A sad story?" Kate shook her head in protest. "Harold doesn't have a sad story. He's smart. He's successful. He ..."
"He has a gherkin instead of a dill?" Alex said. "And that's pretty damn sad if you ask me."
Kate frowned. "I never should have told you his exgirlfriend made some ego-shattering comment that Harold's still trying to overcome."
"And I still can't believe Harold told you his french fry was a tad short of a Happy Meal. What kind of a man would admit that? Unless, like I said, he was trying to play on your sympathy?"
"He didn't just walk up to me and say, 'Hi, I'm Harold Wellington, and I have a small penis,' Alex. Harold's intimacy problem is a mental issue, and you know it. You were the one who suggested we should see a couple's therapist so Harold could get his confidence back in the bedroom."
"And how's that going for you?" When Kate frowned again, Alex said, "I'm boycotting your wedding because I don't trust him, Kate. You're my dearest and closest friend. It worries me that Harold has been rushing you to the altar from the first night he met you. What's the big hurry? You've only known him six months."
"Eight months," Kate corrected. "Long enough to know Harold is the most charming man I've ever met. Plus he adores me. Tell me how being married to a successful and charming man who adores you can be a bad thing."
"He's nauseatingly charming to you, Kate," Alex said, "but he's an arrogant prick to everyone else." She thought for a second, and said, "No, make that an arrogant unresponsive prick, since that's more appropriate for Harold and his limp Wellington."
"Alex!" Kate scolded, looking around them. "Clean up your language, or at least keep your voice down." Alex grinned, leaned forward, and whispered, "I bet there's nothing limp about Officer Petrocelli. And from the way he was looking at you earlier, I'd say he'd be more than willing to prove it to you."
"Not interested," Kate said, and it was true, now that temptation had finally ridden off down the path and out of her sight.
"Liar," Alex said with a smirk. "I saw the way you were ogling the guy before he even stopped to talk to you. Admit it. Why do you think you didn't even realize I was here?"
Kate's cheeks flushed. "Okay! I admit it. I was attracted to the guy the second I saw him. It was all I could do to keep from dragging him into the bushes and demanding that he frisk me. But that still doesn't change a thing." "How do you know? If he'd frisked your brains out, you might have come to your senses and called off the wedding."
"See!" Kate said. "There's just no winning with you, Alex."
Alex reached out and put a supportive arm around Kate's shoulder. "Hey, there's no reason to feel guilty about being attracted to a good-looking guy. Especially with your hopeless celibacy situation. What bothers me is that I've never once seen you look at Harold the way I just saw you look at the man who could very well be your Mr. Destiny."
Again, Kate blushed at the truth. She pushed Alex away, and said, "I'd be worrying about my own celibacy situation, if I were you." There.
She could give back as good as Alex could send. Alex only sent her a sympathetic look. "At least I know my celibacy situation is only because I'm being too stubborn to go home right now."
"Don't lecture me, Alex." "Don't mess with destiny, Kate." Alex's warning made her shiver.
She'd had her own premonition moments earlier as she'd watched him ride away. Something told Kate she hadn't seen the last of Officer Anthony Petrocelli.
"Well, I just took stupidity to a whole new level," Tony said aloud, when he was safely out of hearing range of the two women who had just witnessed him making a complete fool of himself.
Skyscraper shook his head up and down several times, pulling his bridle from Tony's hand. "Hey!" Tony said. "That wasn't a cue for you to agree with me."
The horse's ears pricked for a second, then relaxed, signaling to Tony that even his horse wasn't going to argue that moot point. Except stupidity didn't accurately describe the stunt he'd just pulled.
Insanity would be a better word. Only a crazy person would have walked up to a total stranger and spent five full minutes telling her about the idiotic marriage prediction his grandmother had made twenty years earlier-especially when she'd told him up front that she wasn't interested in anything he had to say.
Excerpted from Mr. Destiny by Candy Halliday Copyright ©2005 by Candy Viers . Excerpted by permission.
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