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Normally, a surprise trip to Manhattan ranked high on Meredith Chandler-Harris's list of Really Cool Things. A visit to one of the most highly respected fashion houses in the world hit the list even higher than that. Having to tell the man she'd spent two years trying to forget that they were married, not so much. It pretty much ruined Manhattan, fashion andhell, even martinis. That had been Jason's drink.
Meredith shifted as unobtrusively as possible on the leather couch as she waited for the receptionist to admit her to the inner sanctum of Jason Lynhurst, chief operating officer of Lyn Couture. Who was also Meredith's husband. Apparently.
"Mr. Lynhurst will see you now," the receptionist called in her frostiest voice.
Meredith always got frosty from women, who were largely unforgiving of the assets God had bestowed on her at birth. And she especially expected frosty from a woman who'd tried not-so-politely to show Meredith the door. She obviously had no clue who she was dealing with.
Lyn Couture bustled beyond the reception area, with sharply dressed men and women engaged in a myriad of tasks. Fascinated, Meredith craned her neck to peek at chalk outlines of sleek outfits stenciled on parchment and fabric swatches laid out on cluttered desks.
This was where the alchemy of fashion and style converged. It was enough to make a woman giddy. She adored everything about clothes: buying them, wearing them, owning them, matching them. But to a woman who wanted to buy half of her sister's wedding-dress-design company, Lyn Couture was so much more than a place of businessthis was a mecca for like-minded people.
Even Meredith had a pair of Lyn jeans. Of course, she hadn't known who Jason was when she'd caught his eye across the dance floor at that club in Vegas. She'd only known that he moved like a man comfortable in his own body and had cheekbones to spare. And she'd wanted a piece of him. Only to learn two years later she'd bitten off a much bigger piece than she'd ever dreamed.
Curious gazes swung in Meredith's direction as she followed Frosty Receptionist to the corner office.
"Mr. Lynhurst?" the receptionist called through the open door. "Your visitor is here."
Mr. Lynhurst. Please. That man had done more wicked things to Meredith in one weekend than all the men since then
combined. Much to her chagrin. Wasn't there one who could make her forget the perfection of the man who had rocked her world so very long ago?
"Thanks, hon. I'll take it from here." Meredith skirted the receptionist and swept into the office as if she owned it because that's how you got people's attention.
And she needed Jason's attention. Because she had to talk him into a quiet divorce. Immediately. It was the only way she'd be able to stomach approaching her father about a loan so she could buy into her sister's business.
Plus, she wasn't ready to be married, to Jason or anyone. Not until she figured out who she was going to be when she grew up. That was why in the cold light of morning, the Las Vegas-style marriage ceremony from the night before had seemed like the opposite of a good idea. The paperwork was never supposed to be filed, but here she was. Married to Jason.
The man in question sat behind a glass desk, modern and sharp. Much like the man. As their gazes collided
her breath stuttered. Oh, yeah. That was why no man in existence could erase Jason from her mind.
Those cheekbones. To die for. Artfully messed-up spiky pale blond hair, begging for her fingers to slide through it as she pulled him down for a scorching kiss. Witty, sensual and, God Almighty, he listened when she talked. Men rarely glanced above Meredith's shoulders, but Jason had asked her opinions, accepted her thoughts.
He was the man she'd compared to all other men and found them lacking. And two years hadn't diminished his potency in the slightest.
Jason rose from behind his desk, mouthwatering in a slim dark suit likely conceived, created and cut yards from his office.
"Meredith. You look well." If she'd surprised him with this unexpected visit, he kept it from his smooth voice.
"Thanks for seeing me on short notice." Well, wasn't this pleasant? Two people reacquainting themselves, who'd never thought they'd lay eyes on each other again. No point in beating around the bush. "We have a problem. The more quickly and quietly we can resolve it, the better."
A shield snapped over his expression. "I sincerely hope you are not about to tell me you got pregnant and are just now getting around to mentioning it to me."
What kind of woman did he take her for? She tamped back the ire. They really didn't know each other very well. Their wild weekend in Vegas had been about being at a crossroads, not about finding a lifelong mate.
The marriage had been a mistake. They both knew that.
"No, nothing like that." Meredith waved it off and perched on the edge of one of the chairs flanking Jason's desk, hoping he'd take the hint and sit back down. This was a friendly visit.
He relaxed, slightly, but didn't sit down. "Then anything else is manageable. What can I do for you?"
This was so weird. She'd spent hours upon hours sliding her slick body against this man's. Her tongue had tasted every inch of the skin hiding under that suit. They were strangers, then and now. And yet, not strangers. It felt oddly like they'd seen each other only yesterday.
"So, funny story." She grinned as if it really was. "Remember how we found that all-night marriage-license place and then thought it would be so great to tie the knot in Vegas to seal the Grown-Up Pact?"
The Grown-Up Pact.
It had seemed brilliant at the time
after four rounds of tequila shots and countless cosmopolitans and martinis. After that first initial meeting of gazes, they hadn't left each other's company the rest of the weekend. They'd embarked on a seemingly endless conversation during which Meredith spilled more of her soul to this man she'd just met than she ever had to anyone else. And he'd claimed the same. They'd both been searching for something, anything, to help them navigate the bridge between the caprices of youth and the rest of their lives.
The Grown-Up Pact had never been about staying married, but about proving they could do grown-up things, that a commitment like marriage wasn't so scary if they could do it together.
Ironic how the marriage that was supposed to prove they were grown-ups had resulted in a very adult problem.
"Of course I remember," he said. "It was the only time I've ever acted on a stupid idea."
She sighed. That made one of them. She did stupid things all the time. The Grown-Up Pact should have given her the fortitude to move past her beauty-pageant pedigree and find a place in the world where she could be appreciated for what went on between her temples. But she hadn't found that place, not yet.
"Turns out the marriage license got filed somehow."
"What?" Jason's expression turned flinty. "How did that happen? You were supposed to shred the license."
"I did! Well, I threw it away." She had to have thrown it away. The problem was she couldn't precisely recall the actual throwing away part. "No one said anything about shredding."
"That's what you do with something you don't want to fall into the wrong hands, Meredith." That seemed to be enough to get him to finally sit down. "Credit card numbers, legal documents. Marriage licenses that you realize the next morning you never should have registered for in the first place."
He threaded fingers through his messy hair and her own fingers flexed in response, aching to feel him again. It was a brutal reminder that she'd half thought they might catch up for old times' sake, once they sorted out this stupid mistake she'd made. One last roll in Jason's bed would probably cure her for good and then she could finally move on.
The fierce expression on his face didn't exactly put a warm fuzzy in her tummy.
"So, it happened," she said. "We're legally married and have been for two years. Now we need to deal with it. And then maybe we can, you know, have a drink or two later?"
The suggestion wasn't at all subtle, but no one did brazen better. She had a perverse need to see if any of the spark between them still existed.
"Deal with it? Oh, I see. You're here because you saw the announcement of my engagement and you want a payoff." He nodded wearily. "How much do you want?"
Jason was engaged? That was great. Obviously he'd want to handle this quickly and quietly, as well. She kept trying to convince herself of the greatness and failed.
The disappointment at learning he'd moved on so much better than she had was bitter and sharp. There would be no catching up, then. No last wild weekend.
"I don't want your money, Jason. Just a no-fault, no-division-of-assets divorce."
"Sure." His sarcasm was thick. "As soon as you found out I was Bettina Lynhurst's son back in Vegas, little dollar signs must have danced before your eyes. Admit it. You filed the marriage license on purpose, hoping to cash in later. Frankly, I'm shocked it took this long for your trick to play out."
Her mouth fell open. "You've obviously forgotten I'm a Chandler and a Harris. I don't need your piddly fashion-empire fortune. My father's money built Houston. So keep your snotty dollar signs, sign the divorce papers and go about your business."
Of course, she'd cut up all her father's credit cards, but Jason didn't need to know that.
For God knew what reason, Jason grinned. The tension leeched away as he sat back in his chair. "I wish I could say I'd forgotten how sassy you are. If you're not here for money, what are you here for?"
"Is this rocket science?" Airily, she motioned to him so it would seem like something other than the really big deal it actually was. Her family could not find out she hadn't taken care of this problem. "It's in both our interests to get a quiet divorce. So I'm here to get that done."
"You already have papers drawn up? Great. Give me a copy and I'll shoot them to my lawyer. As long as everything's in order, I'll sign and mail you a copy. Thanks for coming by. I'll walk you out."
He stood. She didn't. "What guarantee do I have that you won't spill all of this to the media?"
If her father found out how supremely rash his daughter had acted, he'd never agree to give her a loan to buy half of Cara's design business. And Meredith wanted to prove once and for all she had what it took to make something of herself.
This loan was the key to the rest of Meredith's life. Finally, she'd be able to call herself something other than a pageant winner. Finally, other people would have something to call her besides a former Miss Texas: a grown-up.
Jason's laughter was harsh. "Why in the world would I want to advertise something so ridiculous as a spontaneous wedding in Las Vegas to a woman I'd just met who's bone-headed enough to accidentally file the marriage license?"
"Well, don't hold back, sweetie. Tell me how you really feel." She eyed him. "We're on the same page. I'd prefer no one found out I married someone boneheaded enough to have me. Here's a copy of the papers."
"I'll have my lawyer check them out. Don't go anywhere," he advised. "I want to settle this before you leave town."
"I'll be around for a few days, but no longer, so make it snappy."
With a flourish, she wrote the name of her hotel and her cell-phone number on a sticky note and pasted it to his lapel in a senseless effort to touch him one last time.
Shame about that fiancée. More was the shame that Jason Lynhurst was totally over Meredith.
But the biggest shame was that she couldn't say the same.
Meredith. Of all the freaking people to waltz into Jason's office on an otherwise unremarkable Friday.
She was the only woman who'd ever enticed him out from behind his all-business exterior, the only woman who could claim she'd slept in his bed, when normally, he kept women away from his personal space. Their brief relationship had been crazy, wild, the stuff of his hottest fantasiesand totally out of character.
Meredith was also the only woman he'd ever considered truly dangerous. For his well-being, his future, his state of mind. And definitely dangerous to his self-control. Because he couldn't resist her back in Vegas and he had a feeling nothing had changed.
This was not the time, nor the place, to dwell on that.
He had a meeting with Avery in fifteen minutes and his sister was going to lord it over him for being late. And getting across town at this hour was more impossible than wishing himself invisible. Hefting his messenger bag to his other shoulder, Jason hailed a taxi instead of taking the company car because it would take too long to retrieve it from the garage.
Yet another disruption in his jam-packed day, thanks to that blast from the past.
Once Jason slid into the cab, his mind immediately flipped back to the bombshell Meredith had dropped on him. Apparently he couldn't resist thinking about her any more than he could resist that come-hither look she'd used so effectively in Vegas to drive him just this side of insane.
Married. To Meredith.
Once, it had seemed like a fantastic plan, to bond himselfsymbolically, of course, as part of the Grown-Up Pactto a woman who seemed to effortlessly understand his misery and pain and then take it all away.
Their brief affair had its place. In the history books.
Vegas had been a spontaneous trip, born out of his confusion and frustration over his parents' announcement. Not only were they divorcing after thirty years of marriage, but they were also splitting apart Lynhurst Enterprises, the company they'd founded. Lyn Couture to Bettina, Hurst House Fashion to Paul. Jason would stay at Lyn and Avery would go to Hurst House. Everyone seemed fine with itexcept no one asked Jason's opinion.
He hated it. The legacy he'd been born to, depended on, planned for, was gone. Fractured beyond repair. All at once, he couldn't deal with it and jetted off to forget in Vegas.
Meredith had been a balm to his broken soul. Exactly what he'd needed at the time, and she'd honed his focus. If it hadn't been for the turmoil going on at home, he'd never have been open to what she'd offered, but thank God he'd decided to play by different rules for one weekend. He'd left her in that hotel room with a kiss and a thank-you and flown back to New York with new purpose.
He'd reunite Lynhurst Enterprises under one umbrella again or die trying.
That was what he'd hoped to gain with the Grown-Up Pact. A direction, a sense that he could take on this new paradigm and succeed. And the seed of his plan was about to bear fruit.