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"I'm going to marry him."
The wrong man.
No, the right man, Eva corrected herself, irritated for even momentarily adopting her father's negative perspective.
True, there was no gut feeling of rightness, of destiny, but then she told herself to stop being illogical.
How many times during her party planning career had things seemed off before proceeding without a hitch? She'd also seen what should have been perfect events erupt into flaming disasters.
No, there was no predicting the future, she decided, even as she met her father's annoyed and disbelieving gaze.
Marcus Tremont stood and slapped a hand on the massive oak desk before him. "Damn it, Eva! Are you out of your mind? Carter Newell is a fortune-hunting snake. You won't get a penny from me!"
Her lips tightened, but she refused to show how her father's words hurt. She'd come from work today Mondays were her slow daysto meet her father in his wood-paneled library at the family estate in exclusive MillValley. She'd girded herself for this battle.
"Fortunately," she responded, "we don't need a penny from you. Occasions by Design is doing very well."
Her reputation in the Bay Area as a party planner had grown in the past several years. She was regularly called on by many of San Francisco's high-profile society hostesses, as well as by well-known philanthropic organizations.
Her father raked his hand through his shock of gray hair. "What you see in Carter Newell, I'll never understand."
They'd been over this ground before, each time with the same result. Somehow, though, now that her engagement was a reality, she'd hoped today would be different.
Unlike her father and his kind, work wasn't Carter's mistress. Instead he made her a priority.
"Carter loves me," she said simply.
Her father's brows snapped together. "Or your bank account."
She ground her teeth. Her father had always been wary, suspicious even, when meeting her boyfriends. She supposed it was because she was an heiress and an only child. But with Carter, the initial wariness had never eased. Of course, she'd never gotten close to the altar with any of her prior boyfriends
"Does Carter even have a job?" her father continued. "Refresh my memory, Evangeline. What's his line of work again?"
Her father knew very well what Carter did for a living, but Eva decided to play along with his game. "Carter is an independent financial consultant."
She'd thought, the first time she'd mentioned it months ago, that Carter's profession at least would meet with her father's approval. Marcus Tremont respected getting a return on his dollar.
Instead her father's response had been lukewarm. And when she'd started hinting she was considering marrying Carter, her father's reaction had taken a sudden nosedive.
"Baloney," her father pronounced, echoing his skepticism on previous occasions. "A trumped-up title to provide window dressing for his real occupation as an heiress hunter."
"Carter comes from money!" Despite her best intentions, they were revisiting previous arguments that had gone nowhere. She felt a headache coming on.
"He came from money," her father countered.
"He makes a show of managing other people's money since he doesn't have any of his own."
That did it. "You're impossible! Just because the Newells aren't as wealthy as they once were, you think Carter is a fortune hunter!"
Even as she spoke, she regretted that she so frequently fell back into sounding like an adolescent when dealing with her father.
"Trust me on this, Eva. There's nothing more tenacious than a person who's trying to hold on to his economic perch in life and avoid a nasty fall."
They'd both raised their voices, and Eva gave up on trying to make the announcement of her impending marriage into a joyous occasion.
"Where's the ring?" her father asked abruptly, looking at her hand. "I don't see one."
"I don't have one yet."
Her father's expression said it all: See? What other proof do you need?
"Oh, no, you don't," she said, heading him off before he could give voice to his thoughts. "We're picking one out together."
"With what?" her father asked pointedly. "A loan from the bank?"
She supposed her engagement wouldn't really be official until she had a ring, but she refused to have the argument with her father focus on mere symbolism.
A knock sounded, calling a halt to their argument and making them both turn toward the closed library door.
"Come in," her father barked.
The door opened, and Griffin Slater strode in. Eva's eyes narrowed.
Griffin Slater. Her father's right-hand man.
If anyone had the perfect credentials for a husband in her father's eyes, it was Griffin.
She disliked Griffin Slater intensely. She had since she'd met him a decade before, soon after he'd started working at Tremont Real Estate Holdings.
At first, she'd barely been aware of his existence, since he'd been just another newly minted Stanford MBA learning the ropes of the real estate business and climbing the corporate ladder.
Now thirty-five, he was more boss than employee, especially since her father's advancing age necessitated that he loosen his grip on the family real estate empire.
Griffin was also a constant reminder of her own shortcomings as her father's sole heir. She'd shown no interest in the family firm, and had instead embarked on her own business ventures right out of college at UC Berkeley.
She was well aware that her field was regarded by many as frivolousjust glorified debutante busywork. And she had no doubt Griffin Slater shared that opinion.
But at least she'd had the guts to build her own business rather than usurp someone else's.
Now, looking at Griffin Slater's face, she noted his expression gave nothing away. He was a master of the poker facethat is, when he wasn't baiting her.
Over six feet, he had rough chiseled features more suited to a boxer than a male model. Still, his effect on women was potent. She'd witnessed that herself at numerous social occasions over the years.
She supposed it had something to do with his piercing dark eyes. Or maybe the sable hair that insisted on curling despite being kept regimentally short. And certainly a body that was all leashed male power didn't hurt. She'd even given it a lingering look on more than one occasionbefore she'd trapped her runaway mind. "You're just in time for the show, Griffin," she said. Griffin raised his eyebrows in mild interest as he shut the door behind him.
She hated the fact that her father looked relieved to see Griffinor as she secretly liked to call him, Mr. Fix-It.
Now Griffin would be witness to another epic Tremont family battle. Somewhat fittingly, she thought, since he seemed to have an instinct for turning up at key moments.
"What show? I have to admit to being curious," Griffin said, his voice continuing in that mild, amused tone that never failed to irritate her.
Her father slapped his hand on his desk. "My daughter has decided to marry the most worthless man I know."
"Dad!" she said, outraged.
Griffin's gaze shot to her, and she felt the tension in the room shoot up.
"Who's the lucky man?"
As if he couldn't guess, Eva thought. Griffin had met Carter on a couple of occasions. Once at a casual social gathering at her parents' house, and another during a chance encounter at an art gallery opening.
Both times, Griffin had been without a date, but Eva wasn't fooled. She'd seen women come and go.
Mostly go, since Griffin seemed disinclined to bestow his greatness on any one woman for too long.
Her chin lifted, her eyes locking with Griffin's. Despite her father's poor introduction, there was no reason she should be defensiveshe was perfectly comfortable with her decision.
"Carter Newell," she said emphatically. Griffin strolled farther into the room. "So congratulations are in order."
She noticed he didn't say he was offering any, just that it was what politeness dictatedif he were being polite.
Griffin's gaze swept over her, and despite being dressed appropriately enough in a vintage Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress, she felt as if she were on display.
Her blood pressure went up. This was par for the course in her interactions with Griffin. Their conversations always had a subtext that her father was oblivious to.
"Congratulate her, but send condolences my way," her father grumbled.
Griffin's eyes focused on her hand. "Where's the ring?"
His words were such a perfect echo of Marcus Tremont's, she ground her teeth. "You're just like my father."
"And there's nothing wrong with that!" her father said.
Her eyes stayed on Griffin's, daring him to make some other comment.
Griffin's lips quirked, almost as if he was ready to diffuse the challenge that hung in the air. "You look as if you'd like to lob hors d'oeuvres at me or maybe spear me with a dessert fork."
There it was againan oblique, patronizing reference to her business, sailing straight over her father's head. She should have known better than to believe for a second Griffin would back away from a challenge.
She smiled thinly. "Don't tempt me."
Turning to her father, she decided to change tactics. "You know, you should be happy," she offered. "After all, the sooner I'm married, the sooner you might get the grandchild you keep referring to."
To herself, she admitted the timing of her engagement to Carter might have the teeny, tiniest thing to do with the fact that she longed for a baby.
Though she'd dated through her twenties, the right man had never come along. Her mother had entered menopause prematurely, and she didn't know how much time she herself had left. Of course, she'd taken a test, and while it indicated her egg supply wasn't dire at the moment, she also knew waiting was a gamble with increasingly bad odds.
She'd told Carter about her issue with premature menopause, and he'd been enthusiastic about starting a family as soon as possible after the wedding.
"Anyone but Carter Newell," her father shot back now.
She read Griffin's silence as tacit agreement with that statement. Damn him.
Her father looked from Griffin back to her, his expression grumpier than ever. "If you two were at least friendly, I could have entertained the hope you'd marry each other."
Eva sucked in a breath.
There it was, out in the open. Her father had finally given voice to what she'd always suspected he'd been thinking.
With a quick, sidelong glance, she noticed Griffin continued to look unruffled.
His reaction was so true to form, it was maddening.
She, on the other hand, was still waiting for the hot sting of embarrassment to recede from her face.
She opened her mouth. "Marcus," Griffin drawled before she could speak, "you know Eva is too"