To: My assistant
From: Scott Prince
Re: Will you marry me?
Bachelor Scott Prince knows he wants a familyso it's time to find a wife. But for a workaholic construction company owner with no time for romance, the perfect woman may just be his very loyal, very pretty assistant Tess Miller. For Scott, their engagement is a practical business deal with a bonus.
Scott's proposal is exactly what Tess needs to prevent another holiday season alone. And then he kisses herand she realizes she's not as immune to her sexy boss as she thought. But this is a business deal, with no room for emotion right? Or can Tess find a real happy-ever-after with her "Prince"?
About the Author
Born Gina Ferris Vaughan on December 20, 1954 in Little Rock, Arkansas, daughter of Beth Vaughan, an executive secretary, and Vernon Vaughan, an electrician. In February 1972, she married John Wilkins, a wood turner, and they have three children.
She obtained a journalism degree from Arkansas State University (ASU) and worked in advertising and human resources. In 1987 she sold her first book to Harlequin and embarked on a career as a full-time writer. Since then, she has written more than eighty-five novels for various Harlequin and Silhouette category romance lines. Her early Silhouette novels were written under the pseudonyms, Gina Ferris and Gina Ferris Wilkins, which she later dropped in favor of Wilkins. Her books have been translated in twenty languages and appear in more than one hundred countries.
Wilkins was awarded a Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award in 2003 for Best Silhouette Special Edition, Make-Believe Mistletoe and has been nominated for both a Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award for Best Harlequin Temptation (1998 for Tempting Tara) and a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award. The Georgia Romance Writers have awarded her the Maggie Award for Excellence four times, and Wilkins has seen her books appear on the Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, and USAToday Bestseller lists.
Wilkins is a member of Novelists, Inc. and the Romance Writers of America, and often speaks at schools to emphasize literacy, goal-setting, and motivation.
Read an Excerpt
Tess Miller stood quietly nearby as her older sister. Nina Miller Wheatley, made a minute adjustment to an impeccably set Thanksgiving dinner table. Nina's formal dining room glowed not only with the light from a crystal chandelier but from multiple candles on the table and antique sideboard. Fall flowers spilled over crystal vases onto Pilgrim figurines and pumpkins nestled beside them. Calligraphy place cards rested in little turkey-shaped holders beside the brown-andorange plaid place mats. Tess didn't know why they needed place cards when the entire dinner party consisted of Nina, her husband, their three kids and herself, but her overachieving sister never did anything halfway.
There was enough food for another six people, at a minimum. Turkey and dressing, several side dishes, salads and four choices of desserts crowded the serving tables. Tess had brought a casserole and a cake, both of which Nina had proclaimed "very nice" and had then set at the back of the buffet.
Nina wore a rust silk blouse and dark brown slacks that showed off her gym-toned body. Not a salon-tinted blond hair was out of place in her stylish do, and her makeup was perfect despite the hours she'd spent in the kitchen. She'd given a critical once-over to Tess's black wrap top and slim charcoal pants, but her only comment had been that maybe Tess should consider adding more red highlights to her hair, just to "spice up" her shoulder-length auburn bob. Tess was perfectly content for now with the color nature had given her, but she hadn't wasted breath arguing.
The sisters didn't look much alike. Tess's brown eyes had a more golden tint than Nina's, her face was more oval and she'd inherited their father's shallow chin cleft. At five-four, she was two inches shorter than her sister, though she'd always wondered if being taller would have made any difference in Nina's still treating her like a child.
"Everything looks beautiful, Nina," she said, knowing just what to say to make her sister happy. "I can tell you've worked very hard."
Nina heaved a long-suffering sigh. "You have no idea. All the chopping and mixing, cooking and baking, not to mention keeping up with all the kids' extracurricular activities and volunteering at two different schools. I'm utterly exhausted, but of course it's all worth it for my family."
Through her mental sigh, Tess heard a football game playing in the den. She knew her brother-in-law, Ken, and her nephews, thirteen-year-old Cameron and nineyear-old Austin, were parked in front of it, though both boys were probably engrossed in handheld video games. Almost fifteen-year-old Olivia was in her room, likely risking carpal tunnel syndrome with marathon texting to her bazillion friends. None of them had offered assistance to their mother, though Nina wouldn't have accepted if they had. She loved being a martyr to her overly indulged family.
Nina shook off her air of selfless weariness to replace it with a sympathetic smile toward her much younger sibling. "You wouldn't understand, of course, not having a husband and children of your own to take care of."
She didn't add the uniquely Southern, artfully patronizing "bless your heart," but Tess heard it anyway. Ever since Tess turned twenty-one eight years ago, Nina rarely missed an opportunity to voice her concern that her sister would remain single and childless. It didn't help that her only semiserious relationship during those years had crashed and burned.
While Tess wanted a family of her own, she was increasingly resentful of her sister's condescension, making every holiday gathering progressively more uncomfortable. That was a shame, because she and her sister were the only surviving members of their immediate family. Their parents, who'd been in their mid-forties when Tess was born thirteen years after Nina, had both died within the past six years. Now Nina always made a big show of including Tess at every holiday table because as she said, "Tess has no one else to share the special days with."
Tess drew a deep breath before asking, "Would you like me to call everyone to the table?"
"In a moment. First I want to ask if you'd allow me to give your number to Cameron's orthodontist, Dr. Mike. He's really quite nice, if a bit socially awkward. He's been divorced for almost a year. He seemed interested when I showed him your photo on my phone, but after that little fit you threw last time, I knew better than to give him your number without asking." Nina rolled her eyes, as if making it clear she thought it unreasonable that Tess objected to Nina handing out her number to just any single stranger.
"Seriously, Nina, stop trying to fix me up," Tess said with a firm shake of her head. She didn't mind her friends arranging the occasional blind date, but she'd rather her meddlesome sister stay out of her love life, such as it was. The thought of her photo being shown to random men made her very uncomfortable. "I don't need you to arrange dates for me."
"Well, someone should. I don't see how you're going to find anyone sitting in that office working for your taskmaster of a boss. I mean, sure, you meet construction workers and architects and suppliers, but you're too professional to flirt with them on the job and you're never not on the job, so where does that leave you, hmm? Needing a little help meeting someone, that's where. And because I'm actually out in the community mingling with nice, successful people, who better to direct a lead or two your way?"
"If I want your help, I'll let you know, all right?"
Nina didn't quite growl her frustration, but she seemed to be making an effort to restrain herself. "You haven't forgotten about Dana's party the second Saturday in December, have you? You have to be there. Everyone's expecting you. You can come alone, of course, but you know how snooty some of our cousins would be if they think you can't find a date. Perhaps that would be a good time for you to spend an evening getting to know Dr. Mike?"
"I'll find my own date, thank you." Tess wasn't sure where or how, but she'd bring a date if she had to hire someone!
Maybe she shouldn't let Nina get to her this way. Maybe she should go to the family gathering alone as she usually did, with her head high and her shoulders squared. Confident, composed and contentedly independent. But then she'd have to endure everyone trying to set her up with their dentists, accountants and gynecologists.
Before her sister could demand details, Tess turned toward the dining room doorway, which was decorated with a garland of autumn leaves and just-too-cute little gourds. "I'll call everyone in to eat. It would be a shame to let this delicious food get cold."
It was probably the only threat that could have derailed Nina's attention from Tess's personal life. At least for now.
Tess must not have known anyone else was in the office at 6:00 p.m. on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. No other reason she'd be chatting on her cell phone with her office door open, so her words drifted out very clearly to Scott Prince in the lobby. He didn't mean to eavesdrop, really. It was simply that while he hesitated, trying to decide if it would be rude to interrupt her, he heard a bit more than he intended.
He'd just quietly entered the reception area of Prince Construction Company, Inc., the Little Rock enterprise into which he'd invested all his time, sweat, money and dreams for the past nine years. It had been a struggling little local-only construction company when he'd purchased it from the retiring owner, with whom Scott had interned while he'd obtained a master's degree in construction management. His family and friends had been concerned to see him take such a major financial risk, considering him too young and inexperienced at twenty-seven to successfully run a complicated business. It had taken almost a decade of personal sacrifice and unwavering determination to prove their doubts unfounded, but he was now owner and CEO of a successful, multistate enterprise specializing in small to medium commercial construction projects.
Tess had started working for him as a clerk over six years ago and had become his office manager and valued administrative assistant. No one got to him except through her. Some people said he was gifted when it came to surrounding himself with the right people. Tess was a prime example of that. He admitted freely that the whole operation would fall apart without her to oversee the office.
But this was Thanksgiving weekend, not an official workday. Shouldn't she be spending it with family or friendsat least unless he needed her for some crisis or another, as he confessed he so often did?
"It was the usual painful family meal," he heard her say from the other room, almost as if in answer to his silent question. "My sister tried to fix me up with every single male she's ever met, because she says I'm incapable of finding eligible men on my own. My brother-in-law finally told her to lay off because as he said, 'Some women are just meant to be single.'"
Scott grimaced, knowing now why Tess had chosen to work on the long weekend rather than to spend more time with family. He almost spoke up then to let her know he was there, but she started talking again.
"So, anyway, Nina nagged me about bringing her son's orthodontist to Dana's big Christmas bash, but I told her I'd find my own date, thank you very much. No, I don't know who it will be. You know my lousy luck with the online dating sites I've tried lately. Maybe I'll just take Glenn. Yes, I know you keep telling me he's boring, but maybe we've been too critical of him. He's a nice enough guy. Makes no secret that he's ready to settle down and start a family. Maybe I've just been too"
Scott opened and closed the front door. More loudly this time. He'd suddenly realized that he'd been standing in one place for too long, hearing more than Tess would surely want him to know.
He heard her mutter something quickly, followed by the thud of her phone, then the squeak of her chair. Moments later she appeared in the open doorway looking slightly flustered, though she almost instantly assumed her usual calm and collected expression. She was dressed more casually than on weekdays in a blue-and-black patterned tunic with black leggings tucked into flat boots. She'd left her hair down rather than in the neat twist she usually wore for work. He'd seen her weekend look many times before, of coursebut he thought she looked particularly pretty today. The slight flush that lingered on her cheeks was definitely becoming.
"Scott? What are you doing here? I thought you and your dad and brothers were driving to Missouri for the Razorbacks game today."
"We were. But Eli had to be on call because one of his partners broke an arm in a Thanksgiving biking accident. Then Jake's son came down with a virus and our plans all fell apart. We gave our tickets to Mom and Dad's neighbors and their kids. They were happy to get them."
"I'm sorry your plans were canceled. You really needed a break from work."
He felt his mouth quirk into a half smile. "Are you saying I've been surly lately?"
"Not surly, just Okay, maybe a little surly," she said with a quiet laugh.
He could count on Tess to be honest with him, sometimes brutally so. Somehow she always managed to do so without crossing boundaries of the employee-employer relationship, even when she was annoyed with him. And she had been annoyed with him on several occasions.
He cleared his throat. "Sorry about that. You have to admit, the past few months have been challenging." They'd dealt with a couple of big, complicated jobs, a burglary at a job site that had cost them several expensive tools, even a break-in here at the office earlier in the year. Speaking of which
He frowned. "Why was the security system turned off? You shouldn't be here alone on a weekend, especially after dark, without that alarm activated. As I've just proved, anyone could have walked in."
She lifted an eyebrow. "Didn't you have to use your key?"
He was still surprised she hadn't heard him enter the first time, which only illustrated how focused she'd been on her conversation. "Well, yes, but still."
Relenting, she smiled. "I've had the security system on almost the whole time I've been here. I turned it off when I ran out to my car for something I'd forgotten and I was going to turn it back on after I finished a phone call in my office."
He kept his expression as unrevealing as he could manage. He knew she'd be embarrassed if she thought he'd overheard too much of that call. "I want you to be safe when you're here alone. Keep the blasted thing turned on."
Sending a salute toward him that was just short of impertinent, she said, "Yes, sir. I'll do that."
He sighed and shook his head. "Insubordination. Remind me again why I keep you around?"
She laughed easily, slipping back into the comfortable relationship they'd forged during their years of working side by side. "Because you know this entire enterprise would collapse without me."
He chuckled after she pretty much echoed his thoughts from earlier. He had to concede her point.
She'd made her mark on every aspect of his business, from the state of the reception area to the total of the bottom line.
Speaking of the reception area He suddenly noticed decorations that hadn't been there a few days earlier. A Christmas tree sat in the front corner, decorated with gold-and-white ornaments and tiny white lights. A strand of garland wound with gold ribbon draped the front of the reception desk, matching the wreath on the door. On the tables sat frosted glass holders with fat white candles. All very subtle and tastefulvery Tess, he thought with a faint smile. She could have assigned one or two of the clerical workers she now supervised to decorate, but she'd no doubt taken care of it herself, as she had every Christmas since she'd started working for him.
"You came in today just to decorate?"
"I thought I'd get the decorations up while I had a quiet afternoon to work on them. I'm almost finished."
"Looks nice. Is there anything I can do to help?"
"I've got it, thanks. There are only a few more things I want to do."
Nodding, he moved toward the closed door of his own larger office to the right side of hers. "Let me know if you need anything. I'm going to review the paperwork for that Springdale job we start Monday, just to make sure everything is lined up."
"I left a couple of contracts on your desk for you to look over and sign. They could have waited until Monday, but since you're here."
"I'm on it."