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Lauryn Lowes would make him a perfect wife because he didn't love her and wasn't attracted to her.
Hell, Adam Garrison realized, he barely knew her. Their bi-weekly meetings since she'd started working for him seven months ago had never allowed time for get-to-know-you chatter. She worked days when the club was closed, and he worked nights when Estate was open. He knew little about her except what he'd read on her job application.
A tap on his open door revealed the woman in question. "You wanted to see me?"
"Come in, Lauryn. Close the door. Have a seat."
She did as he instructed and perched on the edge of the visitor chair in front of his desk.
According to his lawyer, who happened to be Adam's best friend and someone whose judgment Adam trusted, Lauryn was the perfect wife candidate.
Adam's leather chair creaked as he leaned back to make his own assessment. Lauryn wasn't bad-looking. Bland. No makeup. Pale-blond hair which she always kept pinned up. An intelligent and independent worker. Otherwise he never would have hired her to handle his nightclub's multimillion-dollar books.
"Is something wrong? This isn't our usual meeting day." Lauryn pushed the narrow rectangles of her tortoiseshell glasses up her straight nose, and then with slender, ringless fingers adjusted the longish skirt of her boring navy suit.
He'd never noticed her hands before. But then he'd never considered those hands touching him. Intimately. Her short, unpainted nails were a far cry from the lacquered claws the majority of women in his life preferred.
Besides a manicure, she'd need new clothing to carry off this charade. Maybe contacts. Better shoot for a complete makeover. Otherwise no one would believe he'd chosen her out of all the fashion models and celebrities who frequented Estate and/or his bed.
He had his pick of women. Just not the type he needed for this assignment. The council already considered him a playboy. His female equivalent would not help his cause. Lauryn was far from a party girl. If she'd dated at all in the past months no one on the staff knew it. He'd asked. Discreetly, of course.
She shifted in her chair, reminding him he hadn't answered her question. That was something else he'd always admired about her. She knew how to be quiet instead of chattering endlessly.
"Nothing's wrong, Lauryn. In fact, I'd like to offer you a raise and a promotion of sorts." He punctuated that with what he hoped would be a reassuring smile. Whether for her or for himself, he couldn't say.
God knows he had reservations about this plan. He was only thirty and he liked being single. Between witnessing his parents' far-from-perfect union and his front-row seat to the nightly dating safaris at the club, he'd never planned to marry for any reason, but he couldn't see any other way to achieve his goals.
He wanted a bigger stake in the family business and there was only one way short of murdering his two older brothers to get it. He had to gain their respect. His father had died unexpectedly in June, and here it was the first of November, and Parker and Stephen still hadn't given Adam more responsibility in Garrison, Inc., because they didn't take him seriously. Frustration burned Adam's stomach.
Lauryn's smooth brow furrowed. "I'm confused. I'm Estate's only accountant. How can I get a promotion? Are you planning to hire an assistant for me? Because I assure you, Mr. Garrison, I can handle the workload. I don't need help."
"Adam," he corrected not for the first time. She never relaxed around him. In fact, she always seemed on edge, and he didn't know why. Peoplewomen in particularliked him. More than one reviewer had attributed Estate's popularity to Adam's charm. He knew how to work a crowd, how to make guests feel welcome and want to return.
Of course, he'd never tried to charm Lauryn Lowes. She was an employee and that was a line he'd never crossed. But he would today.
"The president of the Miami Business Council is retiring next year. As you may have heard, it's a pretty conservative group."
She nodded. "I've been an active member for years, but the council's not willing to entertain the idea of a single guyespecially one who runs a scandalous South Beach nightclubbeing in charge no matter how qualified he might be."
"You mean you want to run for president?"
The surprise in her voice stung like salt in a fresh wound.
"Yes. And the only way for me to have a chance at that nomination is to become the stable, settled guy they require. I won't give up Estate. That means I need to acquire a wife."
Her look of confusion grew. "What does that have to do with me?"
"You're the perfect candidate."
She blinked once, twice, a third time. "To be your wife?"
She sat back in the chair, her posture stiffer than usual. After a few moments an uncertain smile wobbled on her lips.
"II You're joking. Right?"
Nice lips, he noted. Pale pink. No lipstick. Not collagen enhanced.
Natural. That's it. Lauryn's a natural.
Too bad that would have to change. "No." He leaned forward and pulled the file pertaining to this merger from the stack on the side of his desk. "Brandon Washingtonyou've met my attorneyhas drawn up the necessary paperwork. I'll pay you five hundred thousand per year for two years plus reasonable living expenses. After that we'll quietly divorce. We'll have a contract and a pre-nuptial agreement. What's yours stays yours including any gifts I buy you. What's mine stays mine."
Extracting the relevant documents, he pushed the pages across the polished wood surface toward her. She didn't take them. "You're welcome to have your attorney look over the agreement."
Tightening her grip on the arms of the chair, she eyed the papers like she would a hungry gator. "You actually expect me to agree to this proposition?"
"You'll be paid a million dollars to do nothing for two years. Why wouldn't you accept?"
"Because I don't love you?"
A little surprised by her reluctance, he shrugged. He could think of several dozen women who'd jump at this chance, but they weren't the type he needed.
"I don't love you, either, but it's an advantageous match for each of us and a sound business decision. You'll move into my loft and I'll buy you a new car. Maybe a Mercedes or a Volvo wagon. We need to give the impression we'd like to start a family soon."
Eyes wide with shock, she made a choking sound. "A family?"
"We won't of course, but we need to play the part."
"Part?" she echoed.
Lauryn's quick grasp of details was one of the things he'd liked about her at that first interview and in subsequent meetings. But she wasn't picking up quickly now. He stifled his impatience. "The picture of domestic bliss. Stable. Settled. Rooted in the community."
She shook her head as if bewildered. "I'm sorry. I just can't wrap my brain around this. You're seriously asking me to marry you?"
"Mr. GarrisonAdam" Her lips stretched in a fleeting and clearly forced smile. "I'm not the woman for this position."
"I think you are. You're poised, articulate and conservative. You're exactly whatwhoI need, Lauryn."
Although she flushed at his compliments, the words didn't ease the starch from her spine. Biting her bottom lip between straight white teeth, she rose. Her fingers knotted so tightly at her waist that her knuckles gleamed white in the overhead fluorescent light. "I am extremely flattered by your, um proposal, but I'm afraid I'll have to decline."
She gasped and worry pleated her brow. "My refusal isn't going to cost me my job, is it?"
"Of course not. What kind of jerk do you think I am? But if you marry me you'll be too busy doing whatever it is South Beach socialites do to put in a forty-hour workweek here."
He came around the desk and stopped just inches from her. For the first time he noticed her scent. She smelled like the night-blooming vines growing on his condo neighbor's patio with an additional kick of something spicy and alluring mixed in. "Consider it a two-year paid vacation. Pampering, shopping"
"But I enjoy my job. And I like working. I'm sorry, but no thank you. I'm sure you can find someone else who"
"I don't want anyone else. I want you."
She snapped to attention at his adamant tone and lifted a trembling hand to push her glasses up the bridge of her nose. Adam intercepted, curling his fingers around hers. A spark ignited on contact. He blamed it on the knowledge he was crossing the employee/employer line by touching her and invading her space. Always a risky proposition in this litigious age.
He removed her glasses with his other hand. She had extraordinary eyes. Brighter than olives. Darker than grass. The exact shade of the waters off Miami's coast.
His pulse quickened and his mouth moistened. Because of what's at stake, he told himself.
He sure as hell wasn't attracted to his mousy bookkeeper. But not being repelled by her was good. Considering
"I'd be a good husband." His voice came out huskier than intended. He cleared his throat and continued. "I guarantee you'll be satisfied."
A beat later her eyes widened. "You're saying we'd sleep together?"
"Maybe not sleep. I like my space. I have a study we can convert into a bedroom for you. You'll have privacy when you need it. But for appearances' sake this must appear to be a normal marriage in every way."
"But you'd expect sex. With me." She didn't sound as if she relished the idea and that pricked his pride. He was good in bed, dammit. He'd been perfecting his technique since he was sixteen. And he never left a woman unsatisfied.
"Definitely. We'll be together for two years. That's a long time to be celibate. Infidelity would negate the purpose of the union by showing I couldn't be trusted."
She gaped for a full ten seconds and then yanked her hand free, plucked her glasses from his grasp and backed toward the door. "No. I can't. I won't."
She was turning him down? When had a woman ever turned him down? Hell, when had he ever even had to voice an invitation? Usually he cocked an eyebrow and his choice for the night rushed forward to do whatever he asked. Whatever he wanted.
He had to change Lauryn's mind. She was the right woman for the joban outsider who wouldn't spill all his secrets to the very community of people he was trying to fool. She was smart enough to pull this off, and the timing was too tight for him to search for another candidate. The final slate of business council nominees would be proposed in six months. That meant he needed to prove his stability now.
"Name your price, Lauryn."
"I don't have a price. And I think I'd better go."
"I'll call you tomorrow."
"Don't, Mr. Garrison. Don't call. Not about this." This wasn't going well. "Besides the money, think of the advantages"
"Of selling my body?"
"of being my wife. Of being one of the Garrisons of Miami. Doors will open for you."
She gurgled a disgusted sound. "I don't care about getting into A-list nightclubs. I'm not even awake when they're open."
She tilted her head and appraised him through narrowed eyes. The angle revealed the pulse fluttering rapidly at the base of her slender neck. Her ivory skin looked smooth not sun-baked or covered with sprayed-on tan. Was she as pale all over?
"I suppose it's because of your family's wealth and power that you believe you can buy anyone or anything. Like a wife. Or the presidency of the business council."
She held up a hand. "You should stop now. Before this becomes harassment. Surely your attorney warned you about that?"
Oh yeah. Brandon had warned him in the same breath he'd insisted Lauryn was The One. That warning was the only reason Adam hadn't planted a hot kiss on Lauryn's lips to prove to her that he could please her in bed. But he would never convince her that the marriage could work when she was in this frame of mind. Time for a strategic withdrawal.
"Let me remind you of the confidentiality agreement you signed as part of your employment contract. Anything related to my business, and that includes my strategy to win the Business Council nomination, does not leave this room."
"No one would believe me if I told them Adam Garrison tried to buy a wife. But don't worry. I won't blab unless you make that necessary." She hustled out, closing the door behind her.
Adam shoved a hand through his hair, expelled a frustrated breath and dropped back into his desk chair. He was used to women chasing himnot running from him as if he'd suddenly announced he had the avian flu.
As one of the heirs to the Garrison hospitality and entertainment empire he was a great catch. All the society columns and his tax returns said so. Not only did his family have deep pockets, but Adam's personal investments had exponentially increased his net worth. Add in his recently inherited fifteen percent of Garrison, Inc. and saying he was financially comfortable would be a gross understatement.
And he'd seen a mirror. He wasn't ugly.
So why wasn't Lauryn biting?
There must be something she wanted. Something he could use for leverage.
All he had to do was find it.