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"Lady, when the clock strikes midnight, you're history!"
To settle an old score, dark and brooding Tripp Calhoun needed a wife for the night. Amber Colton could light up a room in five seconds, and even though her high-society pedigree clashed with his rough-hewn upbringing, she fit the bill perfectly. But what began as a "business trip" soon gave way to an outpouring of pent-up desire and shared dreams. Never before had he let a woman close enough to touch his tormented soul. ...
"Lady, when the clock strikes midnight, you're history!"
To settle an old score, dark and brooding Tripp Calhoun needed a wife for the night. Amber Colton could light up a room in five seconds, and even though her high-society pedigree clashed with his rough-hewn upbringing, she fit the bill perfectly. But what began as a "business trip" soon gave way to an outpouring of pent-up desire and shared dreams. Never before had he let a woman close enough to touch his tormented soul. Would the hardheaded doctor, used to controlling his own destiny, allow his trophy wife to close the deal?
Amber Colton stared at her bare feet. Her nail polish was chipped on the big toenail of her left foot. She sighed. She checked her fingernails and sighed again. There had to be more to life than nail polish.
If she listened hard enough, she could hear the ocean. She could smell it on the air, too, but she couldn't feel it. Whether it had been due to luck or planning, this portion of the garden was protected from the cool wind that could blow in off the ocean at a moment's notice no matter what the season.
Looping one arm around her bent knees, she shaded her eyes and studied the cotton-candy clouds in the sky. There was a time when finding clouds shaped like elephants, mushrooms, and all sorts of other objects had kept her and her brothers and sisters busy for hours at a time. Back then, the patio surrounding the pool had been wet constantly from so many children splashing, and voices, sometimes a dozen at a time, rang through the courtyard.
And Amber had never been bored. She pushed a shock of her strawberry-blond hair away from her face and rose to her feet. She never should have come home in this mood. She should have taken her friends up on their invitation to go to the Cayman Islands with them. But she just couldn't muster up enough enthusiasm to brave the airsickness that inevitably plagued her when she flew, just to watch the sun go down from another hemisphere.
It was the same sun. The same life. The same feeling of restlessness that threatened to drive her to tears. No, not to tears. Amber Colton didn't cry, not anymore.
At 26 she was far too young for boredom and restlessness to become a permanent condition.It would pass. She shouldn't have taken today off, that's all. But lately despite the fact that her work at the Hopechest Foundation was meaningful and worthwhile, she felt as if something was missing, and had been for a long time. She'd had vacation time to use up and she'd been missing her dad something awful, so she'd driven out from Fort Bragg to her childhood home in Prosperino to visit him. Still, Amber felt terribly alone. And bored. God, yes, she was bored.
She'd been bored last night, too. Her friend Claire Davis must have heard it in her voice when Amber had called her last night. Claire had shown up at the ranch at five this morning. Amber glanced at the woman who was sleeping soundly in the shade on the other side of the pool. Claire was a good friend. Amber sighed. A good friend who just happened to be nocturnal.
She didn't know what prompted her to peer into the backyard. A tiny bit of color caught her eye. For lack of any clear plan, she meandered to the edge of the formal-looking path.
Other than the ornamental and showy variety, there weren't many flowers in the garden anymore. Once upon a time, her mother had spent hours on end filling the garden with lush green foliage and flowering plants native to California. For the past 10 years, the gardening had been another of poor Marco's responsibilities. He managed to keep it fairly neat and tidy, but the riot of beautiful yet casual colorful flowers was but a memory these days.
Amber bent down. The tiny pink blossoms nearly hidden from view were more than a mere memory. Somehow, the plants had survived all these years of neglect. Curiosity sent Amber to her knees. From there, it was easy to get down on all fours and stretch out until she could reach the weeds growing behind the ornamental shrubs that had taken the place of her mother's flowers.
From this angle, Amber discovered more delicate blooms hidden among the weeds. Intrigued by the tenacity of the little plants, she ignored the hot sun at her back and the hard ground beneath her knees. Careful not to injure the shoots themselves, she tugged at the weeds that somehow had failed to choke them.
Footsteps sounded on the path. She didn't look up until she heard Inez Ramirez's voice.
"I brought you some iced tea. I see I should have brought the sunscreen. What are you doing, besides getting sunburned and dirty?"
Amber opened her mouth, but the longtime Colton housekeeper rushed on, as she always did.
"You are supposed to be relaxing. You're on vacation."
"I'm too restless to relax."
"Your swim failed to help?"
Amber shrugged. Swimming alone wasn't much fun, and it certainly wasn't stimulating. She swept a hand toward the far corner of the courtyard. "Remember how beautiful the garden looked, Inez, back when my mother loved to tend it?" She didn't say, "back when she loved to tend us all," but she could tell from the look on Inez's pretty, expressive face that she was thinking the same thing.
Inez didn't believe in feeling sorry for herself, and she didn't allow those around her to wallow in self-pity, either. Placing her hands on hips that had rounded over the years, she lowered her chin and raised her eyebrows. "If you would get serious about finding a husband and having babies, you would be too tired to be bored."
Amber rubbed the dirt from her hands then brushed a blade of grass off her thigh. Finding a man and making babies was Inez's answer to every problem. "Men are after two things, Inez: Sex and money, not necessarily in that order."
Inez crossed herself, her lips moving in silent prayer. Amber couldn't be certain whether she did it for Inez and Marco's two beautiful daughters, Maya, who had recently had a beautiful baby girl, and Lana, who had been distracted lately, or for Amber. "Not all men," she said when her litany was completed.
Amber reached for another weed. "Name one."
"My Marco. And your father and brothers are good men."
Amber shook her head. "Okay. Now name one man who fits that description and also isn't married or related to me."
As far as Amber was concerned, Inez's silence spoke volumes. Recalling the sound she'd heard a while ago when a car had pulled into the driveway on the other side of the sprawling estate, she asked, "Who's here, Inez?"
If she'd been looking, she might have noticed the change that had come over the older woman's features. She certainly would have seen the sudden glint in those dark brown eyes and been suspicious of the way the wheels suddenly seemed to start turning behind them.
"Oh," Inez said casually, "someone to see your father."
Before Amber could question further, the older woman was hurrying toward the wide French doors that led into the house. Sighing again, Amber turned her attention back to the weeds.
Excerpted from The Trophy Wife by Sandra Steffen. Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.