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'You could marry me,' said Max Carmichael as he stared at the civic centre drawings on Evie's drawing table. The drawings were his, and very fine they were indeed. The calculations and costings were Evie's doing, and those costings were higherfar higherthan anything she'd ever worked on before.
Evie stopped chewing over the financials long enough to spare her business partner of six years a glance. Max was an architect, and a visionary one at that. Evie was the engineerwet blanket to Max's more fanciful notions. Put them together and good things happened.
Though not always. 'Are you talking to me?'
'Yes, I'm talking to you,' said Max with what he clearly thought was the patience of a saint. 'I need access to my trust fund. To get access to my trust fund I either have to turn thirty or get married. I don't turn thirty for another two years.'
'I have two questions for you, Max. Why me and why now?'
'The "why you" question is easy: (a), I don't love you and you don't love me'
Evie studied him through narrowed eyes.
'which will make divorcing you in two years' time a lot easier. And (b), It's in MEP's best interest that you marry me.' MEP stood for Max and Evangeline Partnership, the construction company they'd formed six years ago. 'We're going to need deep pockets for this one, Evie.' Max tapped the plans spread out before them.
She'd been telling him this for the past week. The civic centre build was a gem of a project and Max's latest obsession. High-profile, progressive design brief, reputationenhancing. But the project was situated on the waterfront, which meant pier drilling and extensive foundation work, and MEP would have to foot the bills until the first payment at the end of stage one. 'This job's too big for us, Max.'
'You're thinking too small.'
'I'm thinking within our means.' They were a small and nimble company with a permanent staff of six, a reliable pool of good subcontractors, and the business was on solid financial footing. If they landed the civic centre job they'd need to expand the business in every respect. If they got caught with a cash-flow problem, they'd be bankrupt within months. 'We need ten million dollars cash in reserve in order to take on this project, Max. I keep telling you that.'
'Marry me and we'll have it.'
'Shut your mouth, Evie,' murmured Max, and Evie brought her teeth together with a snap.
And opened them again just as quickly. 'You have a ten-million-dollar trust fund?'
'Fif And you never thought to mention it?'
'Yeah, well, it seemed a long way off.'
He didn't look like a fifty-million-dollar man. Tall, rangy frame, brown eyes and hair, casual dresser, hard worker. Excellent architect. 'Why do you even need to work?'
'I like to work. I want this project, Evie,' he said with understated intensity. 'I don't want to wait ten years for us to build the resources to take on a project this size. This is the one.'
'Maybe,' she said cautiously. 'But we started this business as equal partners. What happens when you drop ten million dollars into kitty and I put in none?'
'We treat it as a loan. The money goes in at the beginning of the job, buffers us against the unexpected and comes out again at the end. And we'd need a pre-nup.'
'Oh, the romance of it all,' she murmured dryly.
'So you'll think about it?'
'The money or the marriage?'
'I've found that it helps a great deal to think about them together,' said Max. 'What are you doing Friday?'
'I am not marrying you on Friday,' said Evie.
'Of course not,' said Max. 'We have to wait for the paperwork. I was thinking I could take my fiancée home to Melbourne to meet my mother on Friday. We stay a couple of nights, put on a happy show, return Sunday and get married some time next week. It's a good solution, Evie. I've thought about it a lot.'
'Yeah, well, I haven't thought about it at all.'
'Take all day,' said Max. 'Take two.'
Evie just looked at him.
It took them a week to work through all the ramifications, but eventually Evie said yes. There were provisos, of course. They only went through with the wedding if MEP's tender for the civic centre was looking good. The marriage would end when Max turned thirty. They'd have to share a house but there would be no sharing of beds. And no sex with anyone else either.
Max had balked at that last stipulation.
Discretion regarding others had been his counter offer. Two years was a long time, he'd argued. She didn't want him all tense and surly for the next two years, did she?
Evie did not, but the role of betrayed wife held little appeal.
Eventually they had settled on extreme discretion regarding others, with a two-hundred-thousand-dollar penalty clause for the innocent party every time an extramarital affair became public.
'If I were a cunning woman, I'd employ a handful of women to throw themselves at you to the point where you couldn't resist,' said Evie as they headed down to Circular Quay for lunch.
'If you were that cunning I wouldn't be marrying you,' said Max as they stepped from the shadow of a Sydney skyscraper into a sunny summer's day. 'What do you want for lunch? Seafood?'
'Yep. You don't look like a man who's about to inherit fifty million dollars, by the way.'
'How about now?' Max stopped, lifted his chin, narrowed his eyes and stared at the nearest skyscraper as if he were considering taking ownership of it.
'It'd help if your work boots weren't a hundred years old,' she said gravely. 'They're comfortable.'
'And your watch didn't come from the two-dollar shop.'
'It still tells the time. You know, you and my mother are going to get on just fine,' said Max. 'That's a useful quality in a wife.'
'If you say so.'
'Dear,' said Max. 'If you say so, dear.'
'Oh, you poor, deluded man.'
Max grinned and stopped mid pavement. He drew Evie to his side, held his phone out at arm's length and took a picture.
'Tell me about your family, again,' she said.
'Mother. Older brother. Assorted relatives. You'll be meeting them soon enough.'
She'd be meeting his mother this weekend; it was all arranged. Max showed her the photo he'd just taken. 'What do you reckon? Tell her now?'
'Yes.' They'd had this discussion before. 'Now would be good.'
Max returned his attention to the phone, texting some kind of message to go with the photo. 'Done,' he muttered. 'Now I feel woozy.'
'Probably hunger,' said Evie.
'Don't you feel woozy?'
'Not yet. For that to happen there would need to be champagne.'
So when they got to the restaurant and ordered the seafood platter for lunch, Max also ordered champagne, and they toasted the business, the civic centre project and finally themselves.
'How come it doesn't bother you?' asked Max, when the food was gone and the first bottle of champagne had been replaced by another. 'Marrying for mercenary reasons?'
'With my family history?' she said. 'It's perfectly normal.' Her father was on his fifth wife in as many decades; her mother was on her third husband. She could count the love matches on one finger.
'Haven't you ever been in love?' he asked.
'Have you?' Evie countered.
'Not yet,' said Max as he signed for the meal, and his answer fitted him well enough. Max went through girlfriends aplenty. Most of them were lovely. None of them lasted longer than a couple of months.
'I was in love once,' said Evie as she stood and came to the rapid realisation that she wasn't wholly sober any more. 'Best week of my life.'
'What was he like?'
'Tall, dark and perfect. He ruined me for all other men.'
'That too,' said Evie with a wistful sigh. 'I was very young. He was very experienced. Worst week of my life.'
'You said best.'
'It was both,' she said with solemn gravity, and then went and spoiled it with a sloppy sucker's grin. 'Let's just call it memorable. Did I mention that he ruined me for all other men?'
'Yes.' Max put his hand to her elbow to steady her and steered her towards the stairs and guided her down them, one by one, until they stood on the pavement outside. 'You're tipsy.'
'How about we find a taxi and get you home? I promise to see you inside, pour you a glass of water, find your aspirin and then find my way home. Don't say I'm not a good fiance.'
'Vitamin B,' said Evie. 'Find that too.'
Max's phone beeped and he looked at it and grinned. 'Logan wants to know if you're pregnant.'
'Who's Logan?' Even the name was enough to cut through her foggy senses and give her pause. The devil's name had been Logan too. Logan Black.
'Logan's my brother. He's got a very weird sense of humour.'
'I hate him already.'
'I'll tell him no,' said Max cheerfully.
Minutes later, Max's phone beeped again. 'He says congratulations.'
It couldn't be her. Logan looked at the image on his phone again, at the photo Max had just sent through. Max looked happy, his wide grin and the smile in his eyes telegraphing a pleasurable moment in time. But it was the face of the bride-to-be that held and kept Logan's attention. The glossy fall of raven-black hair and the almond-shaped eyesthe tilt of them and the burnt-butter colour. She reminded him of another woman
a woman he'd worked hellishly hard to forget.
It wasn't the same woman, of course. Max's fiancée was far more angular of face and her eyes weren't quite the right shade of brown. Her mouth was more sculpted, less vulnerable
but they were of a type. A little bit fey. A whole lot of beautiful.
Entirely capable of stealing a man's mind.
Logan hadn't even known that Max was in a serious relationship, though, with the way Max's trust was set up and Max's recent desire to get his hands on it, he should have suspected that matrimony would be his younger half-brother's next move.
Evie, Max had called her. Pretty name.
The woman he'd known had been called Angie.
Evie. Angie. Evangeline? What were the odds?
Logan studied the photo again, wishing the background weren't so bright and their faces weren't quite so shadowed. The woman he'd known as Angie had spent the best part of a week with him. In bed, on their way to bed, in the shower after getting out of bed
She'd been young. Curious. Frighteningly uninhibited. There'd been role play. Bondage play. Too much play, and he'd instigated most of it. Crazy days and sweat-slicked nights and the stripping back of his self-control until there'd been barely enough left to walk away.
At a dead run.
He'd been twenty-five at the time, he was thirty-six now and he doubted he'd fare any better with Angie now than he had all those years ago.
He squinted. Looked at the photo again. Could it be Angie? They were very long odds. He'd never kept in contact with her; had no idea where she was in the world or what she was doing now.
No, he decided for the second time in as many minutes. It wasn't her. It couldn't be her.
'She pregnant?' he texted his brother.
'Hell, no,' came Max's all-caps reply, and Logan grinned and sent through his all-caps congratulations. And then deleted the picture so that he wouldn't keep staring at it and wondering what Angiehis Angiewould look like now.