Courted by a Cain
Cooper Larson doesn't care about finding Hollister Cain's long-lost daughter, even though a huge inheritance hangs in the balance. As Hollister's illegitimate son, the renegade snowboarder broke away and made his own millions long ago. So when his former sister-in-law Portia Callahan insists she's spotted the missing Cain heiress and solicits his aid, it isn't money that motivates him. It's his long-forbidden hunger for Portia. So he agrees to help if she'll collaborate on an event to finance his latest venture. With Portia finally within reach, he quickly melts the cool society princess's resistance but will the barriers that kept him a black sheep before get the better of him now?
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Portia Callahan wanted to die of humiliation.
Only one thing kept her from actually doing it. If she died during the Children's Hope Foundation annual gala, the charity's silent auction would bomb. Everyone would be so busy gossiping about how Celeste Callahan had finally berated her daughter to death that no one would raise their paddles to bid.
So instead of dying, Portia stood in the service hallway outside of the Kimball Hotel ballroom and let her mother rant at her.
"Honestly, Portia! What were you thinking?" Celeste's crisp pronunciation grated against Portia's already frayed nerves.
She breathed out a sigh and let go of all the logical, sensible answers she could give. I was thinking of the chil- dren. I was trying to do the right thing. Instead she said what she knew her mother needed to hear. "I guess I wasn't thinking."
Which was also true. Three months ago, when she'd visited the inner-city Houston high school on behalf of Children's Hope Foundation, she hadn't been thinking about how her visit might "look" to the Houston society types. She'd been thinking about connecting with the students, encouraging them to dream of a life beyond minimum wage work. She'd been thinking of them and what they needed. There hadn't even been anyone from the Foundation there that day. It had never occurred to her that the teacher snapping photos might send them in to the Foundation or that a few of them might end up in the photomontage that played in the background at tonight's annual gala. And it had certainly never occurred to her that members of Houston high society might be offended by pictures of her playing a pickup game of basketball with former gang members.
"No, Portia. You clearly weren't thinking. That photo " Celeste sighed.
God, Portia hated that sound. It was how-could-you-do-this-to-me and what-did-I-do-to-deserve-you all rolled into one exhalation of disappointment.
"It's not that bad," Portia tried to explain. She kept her voice low, painfully aware that they weren't really alone. Sure, her mother had dragged her off into one of the hotel's service hallways, but the gala's waitstaff were filtering past with trays of drinks and appetizers. A couple of them had even slowed down, straining to catch what they could of the argument.
"It would be bad enough if it was just the photo," Celeste said. "But with Laney's pregnancy, everyone is watching you, waiting to see how you'll"
"Laney's pregnancy?" Portia interrupted. Nausea bloomed in her stomach, turning those butternut squash appetizers into bricks. "Laney is pregnant?"
Laney was Portia's ex-husband's current wife.
Not that Portia had anything against Laney. Or Dalton for that matter.
She was thrilled, just thrilled, that they'd found love and were blissfully happy. She really was. Or she really tried to be. But it would be easier if her own life didn't feel so stagnant.
And now Laney was pregnant? Portia and Dalton had struggled with infertility for years. But apparently all Dalton needed was a vivacious new wife.
Portia pressed a palm to her belly, willing the appetizers to stay put.
"Laney is pregnant," she repeated stupidly.
"Yes, of course she is. They haven't announced it yet, but everyone has noticed the bump. Honestly, Portia, how do you miss these things? All of Houston has noticed, but you're blissfully unaware of it?"
"I just didn't"
"Well, you need to. You simply have to be more concerned when gossip is brewing around you. And for God's sake, try not to provide all of Houston with photographic evidence of your midlife crisis."
"It's not a midlife crisis!"
Celeste's gaze snapped from self-pity to anger. "It's a photo of you and five gang members, one of whom is staring down your dress and another of whom has his hand entirely too close to your person."
"He was blocking. He wasn't even touching me!" Was that really how the photo looked to other people? "Mother, it's just a picture. There are fifty pictures in the slide show that illustrate the amazing work the foundation does. One of them happens to have me in it. It's not that big a"
"It is a big deal," Celeste snapped. "The fact that you think it isn't only shows how naive you are. A woman in your position"
"My position? What is that supposed to mean?"
"A woman's position in society changes when she goes through a divorce. You've seen this in your own life and in Caro's. Thank God you've fared better than she has. So far."
"Right," Portia said grimly. "Caro."
After her divorce from Dalton, Portia had stayed friends with her former mother-in-law. Caro Cain wasn't the warmest person, but she was still easier to deal with than Portia's own mother. And right now, Caro needed every friend she had. Her divorce from Hollister Cain had left her a social pariah.
"Do you know how many people are out there snickering about that photo?" Celeste demanded.
"Nobody but you cares about that photo!"
Celeste took a step closer. "This is how the world works. Stop being naive."
"It's not naive to want to help children."
"Fine, if you want to help children, I can have Dede set something up."
"I don't need Daddy's press secretary to set up a photo op for me."
"Fine. If you don't want my help, do this on your own. Go make puppets with a kid with cancer, but for God's sake, stay out of the ghetto, because"
But Celeste never got a chance to finish her thought, because just then, one of the waitresses walked by with a tray of champagne and somehow tripped, spilling a flute of the amber liquid down the sleeve of Celeste's dress.
The older woman reared back, gasping in shock.
The waitress stumbled again and barely stepped out of the way before Celeste whirled on her. "Why you clumsy, little"
"Mother, it's okay." Portia grabbed her mother's arm, more out of instinct than out of fear that her mother might hit the girl.
Celeste jerked her arm free, her mouth twisting into a snarl. "I'll have your job for this!"
"Let me handle this, Mother." Portia looked nervously around the hall. It was empty now except for this one waitress. "Go on to the bathroom and clean up what you can. Champagne doesn't stain. It'll be okay."
Celeste just glared at the waitress, who glared back, her jaw jutting out.
Portia guided her mother a step away toward the doorway that led into the ballroom. "I'll handle it. I'll talk to the girl's supervisor."
"That clumsy bitch shouldn't be anywhere near a function like this." Then Celeste flounced off to clean herself up.
Portia turned back to the waitress, half surprised to still see her there. The young woman looked to be in her early twenties. Her hair was dyed a dark maroon, cut short on one side and long on the other. She wore too much eye makeup and had a stud in her nose. And she was glaring belligerently at Portia.
"My name's Ginger, by the way. If you're going to go tattle to my boss."
Portia held up her hand palm out in a gesture of peace. "Look, I'm not going to have you fired, but maybe you could just stay out of Celeste's way for the rest of the night."
Ginger blinked in surprise. "You're not?"
"No. It was an accident."
"Accident. Right." Her tone was completely innocent, but there was a slight smirk to her lips as she stepped toward the door into the ballroom. Her smirk made her look so familiar. "Thanks."
"Wait a second" But the door swung open and two more waiters came into the hall and pushed past them. Portia reached for Ginger's arm and stepped off to the side, where they weren't in anyone's way. "Did you do that on purpose?"
"Tip the glass down your mother's back? Why would I do that?" Ginger smirked again and Portia felt another blast of recognition. Like she should know this girl.
"I don't know," Portia admitted. She looked pointedly at the tray of champagne flutes. "But it seems like it'd be awfully hard to tip just one glass without them all spilling."
"You gonna have me fired or not?"
Portia sighed. "Why would you do that?"
"What? Spill a drink on someone who's verbally abusing her daughter in public? I can't imagine why." Ginger turned as if she was going to stalk off, but stopped and turned back before she reached the door. "Look, it's none of my business, but you shouldn't put up with that. Family should treat each other better."
"Yes. They should." Portia had no illusions about her mother. She wasn't sure why she felt as if she had to justify her mother's wordscertainly not to a strangerbut she found herself doing it anyway. "I know my mother can be a bitch. I'm not going to pretend she has my best interests at heart. But when it comes to this kind of thing, she's almost always right. And I'm usually wrong. If she thinks people will misinterpret those photos of me, then I'd bet money they already have."
"That's messed up." Ginger just shook her head. "That doesn't bother you?"
"It does, but it's the world I live in."
"I don't care if that's the world you live in. Family should be on your side. No matter what." Ginger's expression darkened. "The world you live in sucks."
The fierceness in Ginger's gaze took Portia aback for a moment. Portia looked at the girl closely. Again she was struck by how familiar she seemed.
"Have we met before?" she asked impulsively.
Ginger took a step back, the startled movement jostling the champagne flutes on her tray. "No. Where would we have met?"
Before Portia could press her for more information, the waitress spun away and disappeared through the door.
Now Portia was sure they'd met before. It was something in the girl's smile. And something through the eyes.
Portia's breath caught in her chest as the realization hit her.
This young woman. This waitress whom Portia had met by chance had eyes the exact same color as Dalton Cain's. Now that she'd placed the eyes, Ginger's other features seemed to slip right into place. That fierce intensity was pure Griffin Cain. That sarcastic smirk looked just like Cooper's. Ginger was a near perfect amalgamation of the three brothers. Yes, in a more delicate and feminine form, but still, she could be their sister.
Which Portia might be able to dismiss, except for one crucial fact. Dalton, Griffin and Cooper actually had a half sister. They all knew she existed, but no one knew who or where she was. As impossible and unlikely as it seemed, had Portia just found the missing Cain heiress?
Portia looked for Ginger the rest of the night. She constantly scanned the crowd for the waitress's maroon hair and nose stud, but she seemed to have disappeared completely.
By the time Portia had made it back to her small home at the end of the night, she was determined to track down the waitress. It wasn't that she was obsessed with finding the girl, but it gave her something to think about other than the gossip about her that had been simmering in the background.
Why was it acceptable for people to talk about her merely because her ex-husband was going to be a father? Or because someone had snapped a photo of her playing basketball with some disadvantaged teens? Other people could do truly bad things and no one seemed to care.
The same brutal dynamic was at work with Caro Cain. Hollister Cain, Portia's ex-father-in-law, had had countless affairs. Somehow Caro had held her head up through it all. When Caro divorced him, people gossiped about her.
Of course, Hollister and Caro had paid the price for his many affairs. Just last year, when Hollister's health had been so bad, he had received a letter from one of his past conquests. The woman had heard he was on his deathbed and had taunted him with the existence of a daughter he'd never known about.
Whoever had written the letter had known what a manipulative bastard Hollister was. She had known it would drive him crazy to learn he had a daughter he'd never met and couldn't control. When he'd received the letter, Hollister had called his three sons to his bedsideDalton and Griffin, his legitimate sons, and Cooper, his illegitimate son. He'd demanded that they find the daughter and bring her back into the family fold. Whichever son found her first would be Hollister's sole heir. If she wasn't found before Hollister died, he'd will his entire fortune to the state.
The quest he'd set his sons on had torn the family apart. It had destroyed his own marriage. And now, a year later, the missing heiress still hadn't been found. And Hollister's health had improved. The last time she'd seen him, he'd seemed as bitter and angry as ever, but he was no longer haunted by death. He was just as determined that someone find his daughter.
Maybe it was ridiculous for Portia to think that she might have just found the woman tonight.
As far as she knew, Dalton and Griffin had figured out that their sister was from somewhere in Texas, but that hardly narrowed it down. There were almost thirty million people in Texas.
But of all the people Portia had ever met, only five of them had Cain-blue eyes. Hollister and his sons and now Ginger. This woman with Cooper's smirk and Dalton's determination. She looked just like a Cain.
Not that it was any of her business.
So what if a waitress at a hotel in Houston looked like she could be Dalton's sister?
It didn't have anything to do with Portia.
Except that when Portia thought about Gingerabout the waitress's petulant defiance, about the fierce way she talked about how families should treat each other, Portia felt oddly protective of her. If she was the missing heiress, someone would find her. Somedaymaybe someday soonone of the brothers would stumble on a piece of evidence and they would track her down. Everything about her life would change in a moment. And she was completely unprepared for it.
Ginger was about to be thrust into a world of cutthroat gossips where her every action and motive would be questioned, analyzed and criticized. Where mothers berated their daughters in public and where divorcées were ostracized when they didn't get a lavish divorce settlement.
It was a world of wealth and power, but it was also a crummy world.
But maybe there was something she could do to make this world a little less crummy.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
“A Bride for the Black Sheep Brother” by Emily McKay has been nominated by the Romance Writers of America as a RITA finalist – meaning that romance writers have judged her book to represent excellence in romance writing. Cooper Larson is the illegitimate son of Hollister Cain and even though Cooper grew up around his father’s millions, he made his own wealth being a snowboarder and businessman. Yet there was always one thing he’s wanted, Portia Callahan, his former sister-in-law. Portia comes to Cooper claiming she’s spotted the missing Cain heiress (common theme tying all four ‘At Cain’s Command’ books) and Cooper sees a way he can get Portia to help him on his latest resort investment while getting to know Portia. The beginning of the book was filled with fast paced sexual tension and I was glued to the pages wondering how Cooper, the black sheep rogue brother, was going to win over the society princess, Portia. But the ‘winning’ didn’t take very long and after the relationship was consummated, I felt the pace slowed down and I couldn’t figure out how things were going to pick back up again. Overall, I felt this book should have been longer to address character growth for Portia and Cooper and reach a more satisfying ending for this reader.