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Are you packed?
Kimber Karlton glanced up from the file she was reading and smiled at her paralegal, Anna, who stood in the door of her office. "Are you kidding? This is my first vacation in two years. I've been packed for a week."
"I'm so jealousa week on a remote island in the Indian Ocean with a handsome man." The woman sighed. "It's so romantic, I could die."
"You can't die, Annawhat would I do without you?"
"Well, you'd be out of the loop on the office gossip, that's for sure." The woman's eyes danced. "Would you like to hear the latest?"
Kimber held up her hand. "No, thanks. I'm not interested in rumors."
"Not even if they're about you?"
Kimber pursed her lips, then set down her file. "Okay, what?"
Anna stepped forward and covered one side of her mouth. "Well, you didn't hear it from me, but word has it that Gil is going to propose to you on the island!"
Surprise barbed through Kimber and she unwittingly released a pent-up breath she'd been holding for most of the three years that she'd dated fellow Atlanta attorney Gil Trapp. Despite working for the same firm and being on the same floor, they were both so busy they rarely saw each other these days. They had toyed with the idea of moving in together for the sake of convenience, but Kimber had resisted. Since puberty, her independent, divorced mother had drilled a message into her head: a woman should keep her own name, her own apartment and, if necessary, her own company, until a man made an offer that was too enticing to resist. And for months now, Kimber had secretly hoped that Gil would propose already so she could stop agonizing over whether he was "the one" and they could start theirlives together on sound legal footing.
With a solid prenuptial agreement, of course.
Her heart raced, but still, she wasn't the kind of person who put faith in rumors. Kimber bit her lip, trying to hide her excitement from Anna. "Who told you that?"
"A little Bertie."
Roberta, Gil's paralegal. So it was true! Relief washed over her, and she laughed into her fingers. Then, mindful of her audience, she sobered abruptly. "You and Bertie can't tell anyone else. After all, Gil might change his mind."
"He's not going to change his mind," Anna scoffed. "Look at youyou're young, beautiful, talented and successful. If you ask me, Gil's crazy not to have snapped you up before now."
Kimber smiled, but a little bubble of apprehension rose in her chest. It was a common question among her friends and familywhy hadn't Gil proposed yet?
Weren't things going okay? Weren't they happy? What was he waiting for?
"I guess he was waiting for the perfect setting," Anna offered as if she'd read her boss's mind.
"I think you're right," Kimber agreed with a nod.
This time tomorrow they'd be lying in hammocks under palm trees, watching azure water wash over pink sand, sipping frozen drinks, far, far away from civilization. The long flight to the other side of the world would be worth it. The Maldives were a group of several hundred islands off the Indian coast. Each island was so tiny and remote that only a small percentage of them were inhabited, and fewer still welcomed tourists with exclusive accommodations. It was a once-in-a-lifetime destinationthe ultimate backdrop for a marriage proposal.
"When are you leaving the office?" Anna asked.
"Gil had a meeting in Alpharetta. He's picking me up in one hour, so fingers crossed that nothing pops up or falls apart in the next sixty minutes. Thank goodness the Pennington divorce is put to bed."
Over the past year, she'd spent more time with Della Pennington than she'd spent with her own mother. Della had been heartbroken over her husband's request for a divorce. Kimber personally thought the woman was a little soft in the headit wasn't healthy to be so invested in a man. True, her husband, Gerald, had been evasive about his reason for wanting a divorce, but in Kimber's experience, that usually indicated a girlfriend waiting in the wings. But Della had kept insisting that her husband didn't really want the divorce.
"Heaven help us all," Anna said. "I didn't think that divorce would ever be over. I couriered the final papers this morning."
"Good." Even after months of arbitration and many billable hours, Della Pennington was in deep denial. At times Kimber had felt more like a therapist than a legal counselor, coaxing the woman to accept the inevitable. She hoped that the reality of receiving the final papers hadn't been too traumatic, but Della was going to have to face reality sooner or later. Kimber pushed her thoughts away from the dissolution of the Pennington marriage and back to her goal of getting out of the office on time.
"I purposely didn't schedule any appointments this afternoon," Kimber explained. "I'm just going to finish paperwork."
Anna grinned. "I will personally block the door if anyone tries to get in your office."
"Thanks, Anna." Kimber waited until the paralegal left before pumping her fist in the air and giving a little squeal. Gil was going to propose! When she came back from Maldives, she'd have a ring on her finger and a wedding to plan. So many details. They'd have a big ceremony, of course, and she'd wear a Marchesa gown. And in practical terms, it made more sense to sell her condo and move into his house. But plenty of questions swirled in her head. Would she take Gil's name? Would one of them have to leave the firm? And would they change their minds about remaining childless?
Reminding herself she still had paperwork to wrap up, Kimber forced her focus back to the file she'd been reading. But after scanning the same paragraph three times, she gave up and picked up the phone, trying to look serious as she dialed, in case anyone glanced into her glass-walled office.
"Tinsel Travel, this is Elaina."
Kimber frowned. "What makes you think something's wrong?"
"Sisters know these things. Don't tell me you're sick. You can't miss this trip, Kimber. The Maldives are the most exclusive vacation spot my agency offers."
"I'm not sick, and I'm not going to miss the trip. Relax, the cat's out of the bag."
"What cat and what bag?"
"Ha, ha. The fact that Gil plans to propose while we're on the island."
Silence boomed on the other end. "He does?"
"As if you didn't know."
"Uh, Gil didn't say a thing to me."
"Sure. Whatever you say." Kimber knew her older sister was hanging on to the lie to keep Kimber guessing. As a travel agent, Elaina had planned hundreds of surprise getaways and knew how to play dumb.
"Did Gil tell you he was going to propose?" Elaina asked, her voice suspicious.
Fishing for informationa dead giveaway, she knew. "No, his paralegal told my paralegal."
"Oh. Well if he does propose, what are you going to say?"
Kimber frowned, then laughed. "I'm going to say yes! What do you think I'm going to say?"
"I don't knowthat's why I asked. Do you really want to marry Gil?"
Hurt flashed through Kimber's chest. Elaina and Gil had never exactly clicked, and if she didn't know better, she'd think Elaina was trying to plant doubts in her head. Then she smiled in realizationit was all part of the gag to keep from spilling the beans. Her sister had probably helped pick out the engagement ring. "If I didn't want to marry Gil, why would I have dated him all this time?"
"Don't ask me," Elaina said.
Kimber laughed at her sister's attempt at diversion. "A heads-up would've been nice, but luckily, I packed all my best lingerie. Still, maybe I should dash home and get another cocktail dress out of my closet."
"Kimber, Maldives is so remote, the trip alone will be taxing. By the time you get there, all you'll want to do is relax. You won't need a cocktail dress. In fact, you'll barely need shoes."
"Uh-oh," Kimber said, thinking of all the chic outfits she'd packed. "I'll be a tad overdressed."
"Don't worry, you can pick up some casual things when you arrive. This is your chance to loosen up a little, sis. Take advantage of it."
Elaina was always telling her to let go and lighten up. Kimber had to bite her tongue to keep from reminding her sister that she'd contributed to Kimber's uptight personality by being the older wild-child sibling. When Kimber had seen how much angst Elaina had caused their mother, she'd fallen into the role of the obedient child. Maybe she was wound a little tight, but it worked for her. Meanwhile, Elaina lived with her longtime boyfriend Mike, who epitomized the word "dreamer." Kimber resented how hard her sister worked in comparison to her partner, but she held her tongue to keep sisterly peace.
"Just for you, I'll try to loosen up," she said lightly.
"You packed lots of sunscreen, didn't you? Someone with your complexion wasn't meant to be so close to the equator."
A wry smile curved Kimber's mouth. "I'm stocked up." She was accustomed to protecting her pale skin. She only hoped the humidity on the islands didn't turn her wavy hair into a mass of brown frizz. "If there's nothing else you have to tell me," Kimber said in a singsongy voice, "I'll let you go."
"No, there's nothing else. Have a great time, sis."
Elaina's voice sounded concerned, and Kimber realized her sister was worried about the engagement no longer being a surprise. To put her at ease, she murmured, "Everything is going to be wonderful, thanks to you."
"I hope so," Elaina said, sounding unconvinced. "Call me if anything goes wrong."
Kimber laughed. "In that case, don't expect to hear from me because this is going to be the vacation of a lifetimenothing is going to go wrong on this trip."
At the knock on her door, Kimber lifted her gaze to see Anna standing there with a stricken look on her face. Next to her stood the immaculately coiffed Della Pennington, holding a large white envelope in her elegant, diamond-studded hands.
"Gotta go," Kimber murmured, then disconnected, unease stirring in her chest. She conjured up a smile. "Mrs. Pennington, so nice to see you. Is there a problem?"
Della Pennington burst into tears. "I need your help."
"I tried to explain that you have to leave soon," Anna offered.
But her client's tears alarmed Kimbernormally the woman was like a little oak tree. "It's all right. Come in, Mrs. Pennington." She stood, grabbed a couple of tissues from a box and motioned for Anna to close the door on her way out.
She guided Della to a chair. "I see you received the final papers. I'm sorry, I should've called and warned you."
Della dabbed at her shimmering eyes. "No, dear, it's fine. I knew this day would come." Suddenly she smiled. "These are happy tears because a divorce will no longer be necessary."
Panic blipped in Kimber's chest. "Has something happened to Mr. Pennington?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact. I hired a private investigator to follow him."
Kimber swallowed hard, worried that Della had uncovered a girlfriend and had snapped, doing something terrible. "And?"
"And I found out about the brain tumor."
Kimber blinked. "Brain tumor?"
"I knew something was wrong with my Gerald, and it turns out I was right. He was hiding it from me."
"Is Mr. Pennington going to be okay?"
Della sighed. "The tumor is benign, but it's growing and affecting his mind, which is why he started all this divorce nonsense in the first place."
Kimber's chest filled with wonder. "All those times you defended your husband, I thought you were in denial. After all he put you through, you still believed in him."
Della's bright blue eyes shone with wisdom. "When you truly love someone, my dear, common sense goes out the window. If you follow your heart, you might get hurt, but you'll never go wrong." She winked, then sobered. "Now I have another problem. Gerald refuses to have an operation that surgeons say will save his life."
"Do you think the tumor could be preventing him from making an informed choice?"
"Yes. Which is why I need to have Gerald's medical guardianship assigned to me as soon as possible." She clasped Kimber's hands. "I realize you're about to leave town on vacation, but you understand our situation better than anyone, and time is of the essence. Will you help me, dear?"
The flash of regret over changing her travel plans lasted only a heartbeat. Mr. Pennington's life was on the line. Kimber squeezed Della's hands. "Of course. I'll get the forms ready. After that, it's only a matter of getting them signed by your husband's doctors and finding a sympathetic judge. Let me make some phone calls and start putting things in motion, okay? With luck, we might be able to wrap this up in a couple of hours. You can wait in the lounge and Anna will get you whatever you need to be comfortable."
The woman's shoulders fell in relief and her eyes teared up again. "Thank you so much. I'm sorry to disrupt your plans."
"Don't worry about it," Kimber soothed. "I'll still have time to catch my flight."
As the woman left her office, Kimber picked up the phone and dialed Gil's cell phone. After several rings, he answered.
"Hi, sweetheart. I'm on my way."
She made a mournful sound. "Slight change of plans. Something came up with a client that I need to handle."
"Oh, no," he said, disappointment resonating over the line. She could almost hear the wheels turning in his head, thinking about all the details he had to take care of once he reached the Maldives. If she knew Gil, he was planning a big production before getting down on his knee to propose. He didn't like surprises, interruptions or delays.
"Don't worry," she added quickly. "I should still make it to the airport in time to catch our flight to Singapore."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. You go on ahead. I'll see you there."