Anne McAllister.

Hired by Her Husband






George sucked in a breath.

For the first time in nearly four years he and Sophyhis wifewere face to face.

Wife? Ha.

They might have stood side by side in a New York City judges office and repeated after him. They might have a legally binding document declaring them married. But it had never meant anything more than a piece of paper.

Not to her.

Not to either of them, George told himself firmly, though the pain he felt was suddenly different than before. He resisted it. Didnt want to care. Sure as hell didnt want to feel!

The very last thing he needed now was to have to deal with Sophy.

Hired by Her Husband

by

Anne McAllister

www.millsandboon.co.uk

Award-winning author ANNE MCALLISTER was once given a blueprint for happiness that included a nice, literate husband, a ramshackle Victorian house, a horde of mischievous children, a bunch of big, friendly dogs, and a life spent writing stories about tall, dark and handsome heroes. Where do I sign up? she asked, and promptly did. Lots of years later, shes happy to report the blueprint was a success. Shes always happy to share the latest news with readers at her website, www.annemcallister.com, and welcomes their letters there, or at PO Box 3904, Bozeman, Montana 59772, USA (SASE appreciated).

Chapter One

WHEN THE PHONE RANG that evening, Sophy grabbed it as fast as she could. She didnt need it waking Lily. Not just when her daughter had finally fallen asleep.

Lilys fourth birthday party that afternoon had exhausted them both. Normally an easygoing sunny-natured child, Lily had been wound up for days in anticipation. Five of her friends and their mothers had joined them, first at the beach and then here at the house for a cookout, followed by ice cream and cake.

Lily had been on top of the world, declaring the party, the bestest ever. Then, in the time-honored fashion of overtired four-year-olds everywhere, shed crashed.

It had taken a warm bath, a cuddle on Sophys lap, clutching her new stuffed puppy, Chloe, and half a dozen stories to unwind her.

Now finally she was asleep, sprawled in her bed, but still clinging to Chloe. And, with the house a wreck all around her, Sophy didnt need Lily wide awake again. So at the phones first shrill ring, Sophy snatched it up.

Hello?

Mrs. Savas?

The voice was a mans, one she didnt know. But it was the name she heard that gave her a jolt. Of course her cousin and business partner Natalie was now Mrs. Savashad been ever since her marriage to Christo last yearbut Sophy wasnt used to getting calls asking for Natalie at home.

For a split second she hesitated, then said firmly, No. Im sorry. Youve got the wrong number. Call back during business hours and you can speak to Natalie.

No. Im not trying to reach Natalie Savas, the man said just as firmly. I need to reach Sophia Savas. Is this He paused as if he were consulting something, then read off her telephone number.

Sophy barely heard it. Her mind had stuck on Sophia Savas.

That had been her name. Once. For a few months.

Suddenly she couldnt breathe, felt as if shed been punched. Abruptly she sat down wordlessly, her fingers strangling the telephone.

Hello? Are you there? Do I have the correct number?

Sophy took a quick shallow breath. Yes. She was relieved that she didnt stammer. Her voice even sounded firm to her own ears. Cool. Calm. Collected. Im Sophia. Sophia McKinnon, she corrected, then added, formerly Savas.

But she still wasnt convinced he had the right person.

George Savass wife?

So much for not being convinced. Sophy swallowed. Y-yes.

No. Maybe? She certainly didnt think she was still Georges wife! Her brain was spinning. How could she not know?

George could have divorced her at any time in the past four years. Shed always assumed he had, though shed never received any paperwork. Mostly shed put it out of her mind because shed tried to put George out of her mind.

She shouldnt have married him in the first place. She knew that. Everybody knew that. Besides, as far as she was concerned, a divorce was irrelevant to her life. It wasnt as if she were ever marrying again.

But maybe George was.

Sophys brain abruptly stopped spinning. Her fingers gripped the receiver, and she felt suddenly cold. She was surprised to feel an odd ache somewhere in the vicinity of her heart even as she assured herself she didnt care. It didnt matter to her if George was getting married.

But she couldnt help wondering, had he finally fallen in love?

She had certainly never been the woman of his dreams. Had he met the woman who was? Was that why she was getting this call? Was this official-sounding man his lawyer? Was he calling to put the legal wheels in motion?

Carefully Sophy swallowed and reminded herself again that it didnt matter to her. George didnt matter. It wasnt as if their marriage had been real. Shed only hoped

And now she told herself that her reaction was only because the phone call had caught her off guard.

She mustered a steadying breath. Yes, thats right. Sophia Savas.

This is Dr. Harlowe. Im sorry to tell you, Mrs. Savas, but theres been an accident.

Are you sure about this? Natalie asked. She and her husband, Christo, had come over the minute Sophy had rang them. Now they watched as she threw things in a duffel and tried to think what else she needed to take. Going all the way to New York? Thats clear across the country.

I know where it is. And yes, Im sure, Sophy said with far more resolution than she felt. It had nothing to do with how far she was going. It was whom she was going to see when she got there. He was there for me, wasnt he?

Under duress, Natalie reminded her.

Snap, Sophy said. There was going to be a fair amount of duress involved in this encounter, too. But she had to do it. She added her sneakers to the duffel. One thing she knew from her years in New York was that shed have to do plenty of walking.

I thought you were divorced, Natalie said.

So did I. Well, I never signed any papers. But she shrugged I guess I thought George would just take care of it. God knew hed taken care of everything elseincluding her and Lily. But that was George. It was the way he was.

Look, she said finally, zipping the duffel shut and raising her gaze to meet Natalies. If there was any way not to do this, believe me, I wouldnt. Theres not. According to the papers in Georges personnel file at Columbia, Im his next of kin. Hes unconscious. They may have to do surgery. They dont know the extent of his injuries. Theyre in wait and see mode. But if things go wrong She stopped, unable to bring herself to voice possibilities the doctor had outlined for her.

Sophy, Natalies voice was one of gentle warning.

Sophy swallowed, straightened and squared her shoulders. I have to do this, she said firmly. When I was alonebefore Lily was bornhe was there. It was true and she made herself face that fact as much as she told it to her cousin. He had married her to give Lily a father, to give her child the Savas name. I owe him. Im paying my debt.

Natalie looked at her doubtfully, but then nodded. I guess so, she said slowly. Then her eyes flashed impatiently. But what kind of grown man gets run over by a truck?

A physicist too busy thinking about atom smashing to watch where he was going, Sophy thought privately. But she didnt say that. She just told the truth.

I dont know. I just know I appreciate your dropping everything and coming over to stay with Lily. Ill call you in the morning. We can arrange a time and do a video call, too. She patted her briefcase where shed already packed her laptop. That way Lily can see me and it wont be so abrupt. I hate leaving her without saying goodbye.

She had never left Lily in four yearsnot for more than a few hours. Now she knew that if she woke Lily shed end up taking her along. And that was a can of worms she didnt intend to open.

Shell be fine, Natalie assured her. Just go. Do what needs to be done. And take care of yourself, she advised.

Yes. Of course. It will be fine, Sophy assured her, picking up the briefcase as Christo hefted the duffel and headed out to the car.

Sophy allowed herself a quick side trip into Lilys room. She stood there a moment just looking at her sleeping daughter, her dark hair tousled, her lips slightly parted. She looked like George.

No. She looked like a Savas, Sophy corrected herself. Which Lily was. George had nothing to do with it. But even as she told herself that, her gaze was drawn to the photo on the bedside table. It was a picture of baby Lily in Georges arms.

Lily might not remember him, but she certainly knew who he was. Shed demanded to know about him ever since she discovered such people as fathers existed.

Where was her father? shed asked. My daddy, she said. Who is my daddy? Why wasnt he here? When was he coming back?

So many questions.

For which her mother had had such inadequate answers, Sophy thought miserably now.

But how could she explain to a child what had happened? It was hard enough to explain it to herself.

Shed done her best. Shed assured her daughter of Georges love. She knew that much was true. And shed even promised that some day Lily would meet him.

When? her daughter had demanded.

Later. Sophy kept the promise deliberately vague. When youre older.

Not now. And yet, at the same time Sophy thought the words again, another thought popped into her head: What if he died?

Impossible! George had always seemed tough, impervious, imminently indestructible.

But what did she really know about the man who had so briefly been her husband? She only thought shed known

And what man, even a strong tough one, could fend off a truck?

Sophy? Natalies voice whispered from the door. Christos waiting in the car.

Coming. Quickly Sophy bent and gave her daughter a light kiss, brushed her hand over Lilys silky hair, then sucked in a deep, desperate breath and hurried out of the room.

Natalie was waiting, watching worriedly. Sophy mustered a smile. Ill be back before you know it.

Of course you will. Natalie gave her a quick smile in return, then wrapped Sophy in a fierce tight hug intended, Sophy knew, to supply a boatload of encouragement and support. You dont still love him, do you? Natalie asked.

Sophy pulled back and shook her head. No, she vowed. She couldnt. She wouldnt! Absolutely not.

They werent giving him any painkillers.

Which would be fine, George thought, though the pounding in his head was ferocious and moving his leg and elbow made him wince, if they would just let him sleep.

But they werent doing that, either. Every time he fell blessedly asleep they loomed over him, poking and prodding, talking in loud kindergarten-teacher voices, shining lights in his eyes, asking him his name, how old he was, who was the president.

How idiotic was that? He could barely remember his age or who the president was when he hadnt just got run over by a truck.

If theyd ask him how to determine the speed of light or what the properties of black holes were, he could have answered in the blink of an eye. He could talk about that for hoursor he could have provided he was able to keep his eyes open long enough.

But no one asked him that.

They went away for a while, but then came back with more needles. They did scans, tutted and muttered, asked more of their endless questions, always looking at him expectantly, then furrowed their brows, worried, when he couldnt remember if he was thirty-four or thirty-five.

Who the hell cared?

Apparently they did.

What month is it? he demanded. His birthday was in November.

They looked askance when he asked them questions.

He doesnt know what month it is, one murmured and made quick urgent notes on her laptop.

Doesnt matter, George muttered irritably. Is Jeremy all right?

That was what mattered right now. That was what he saw whenever his eyes were closedhis little four-year-old dark-haired neighbor darting into the street to chase after his ball. That andout of the corner of his eyethe truck barreling down on him.

The memory still made his breath catch. Hows Jeremy? George demanded again.

Hes fine. Barely a scratch, the doctor said, shining a light in Georges eyes. Already gone home. Much better off than you. Hold still and open your eyes, George, damn it.

Ordinarily, George figured, Sam Harlowe probably had more patience with his patients. But he and Sam went back to grade school. Now Sam gripped Georges chin in firm fingers and shone his light again in Georges eyes again. It sent his head pounding through the roof and made him grit his teeth.

As long as Jeremys okay, he said through them. As soon as Sam let go of his jaw, George lay back against the pillows and deliberately shut his eyes.

Fine. Be an ass, Sam said gruffly. But youre going to stay right here and youre going to rest. Check on him regularly, Sam commanded the nurse. Keep me posted on any change. The next twenty-four hours are critical.

Georges eyes flicked open again. I thought you said he was all right.

He is. The jurys still out on you, Sam told him gruffly. Ill be back.

As that sounded more like a threat than a promise, George wanted to say he wouldnt be here, but by the time he mustered his wits, Sam was long gone.

Annoyed, George glared after him. Then he fixed his gaze on the nurse. You can leave, too, he told her irritably. Hed had enough questions. Besides, his head hurt less if he shut his eyes. So he did.

He may have even slept because the next thing he knew there was a new nurse pestering him.

So, how old are you, George? she asked him.

George squinted at her. Too old to be playing games. When can I go home?

When youve played our games, the nurse said drily.

He cracked a smile at that. Im going to be thirty-five. Its October. I had oatmeal for breakfast this morning. Unless its tomorrow already.

It is, she told him.

Then I can go home.

Not until Dr. Harlowe agrees. She didnt look up while she checked his blood pressure. When she finished she said, I understand youre a hero.

George squinted at her. Not likely.

You didnt save a boys life?

I knocked him across the street.

So he wouldnt get killed by a truck, the nurse said. That qualifies as saving in my book. I hear he just got a few scrapes and bruises.

Which is what Ive got, George pointed out, about to nod toward the ones visible on his arm. So I should be able to go home, too.

And you will, she said. But head injuries can be serious.

Finally, blessedly, sheand all her persistent colleaguesleft him alone. As the hours wore on eventually the hospital noises quieted. The rattle of carts in the halls diminished. Even the beeps and the clicks seemed to fade. Not the drumming in his head, though. God, it was ceaseless.

Every time he drifted off, he moved. It hurt. He shifted. Found a spot it wasnt quite so bad. Slept. And then they woke him again. When he did sleep it was restlessly. Images, dreams, memories of Jeremy haunted his dreams. So did ones of the truck. So did the grateful, still stricken faces of Jeremys parents.

We might have lost him, Jeremys mother, Grace, had sobbed at his bedside earlier.

And his father, Philip, had just squeezed Georges hand in his as hed said over and over, You have no idea.

Not true. George had a very good idea. There were other memories and images mingling with those of Jeremy. Memories of a baby, tiny and dark-haired. A first smile. Petal-soft skin. Trusting eyes.

She was Jeremys age now. Old enough to run into a street the same way Jeremy hadHe tried not to think about it. Tried not to think about her. It made his throat ache and his eyes burn. He shut them once more and tried desperately to fall asleep.

He didnt know how much sleep he finally got. His head was still pounding when the first glimmers of dawn filtered in through the window.

Hed heard footsteps come into the room earlier. There had been the sound of a nurses voice speaking quietly, another low murmured response, then the sound of the feet of a chair being moved.

He hadnt opened his eyes. Had deliberately ignored it all.

All hed thought was, please God they would go away without poking him or talking to him again. He didnt want to be poked. He didnt want to be civil.

He wanted to go back to sleepbut this time he didnt want the memories to come with it. The nurse left. The conversation stopped. Yet somehow he didnt think he was alone.

Was that Sam whod come in? Was he standing there now, staring down at him in silence?

It was the sort of juvenile nonsensical thing theyd done as kids to try to psych the other out. Surely Sam had grown out of it by now.

George shiftedand winced as he tried to roll onto his side. His shoulder hurt like hell. Every muscle in his body protested. If Sam thought this was funny

George flicked open his eyes and his whole beingmind and bodyseemed to jerk.

It wasnt Sam in the room. It was a woman.

George sucked in a breath. He didnt think he made a noise. But something alerted her because she had been sitting beside his bed looking out the window, and now as he stared, dry-mouthed and disbelieving, slowly she turned and her gaze met his.

For the first time in nearly four years he and Sophyhis wifewere face-to-face.

Wife? Ha.

They might have stood side by side in a New York City judges office and repeated after him. They might have a legally binding document declaring them married. But it had never meant anything more than a piece of paper.

Not to her.

Not to either of them, George told himself firmly, though the pain he felt was suddenly different than before. He resisted it. Didnt want to care. Sure as hell didnt want to feel!

The very last thing he needed now was to have to deal with Sophy. His jaw tightened involuntarily, which, damn it, made his head hurt even worse.

What are you doing here? he demanded. His voice was rough, hoarse from tubes and dry hospital air. He glared at her accusingly.

Irritating you, obviously. Sophys tone was mild, but there was a concern in her gaze that belied her tone. Still, she shrugged lightly. The hospital called me. You were unconscious. They needed next of kins permission to do whatever they felt needed doing.

You? George stared in disbelief.

Thats pretty much what I said when they called, Sophy admitted candidly, crossing one long leg over the other and leaning back in the chair.

She was wearing black wool trousers and an olive green sweater. Very tasteful. Professional. Businesslike, George would have said. Not at all the Sophy of jeans and sweats and maternity tops he remembered. Only her copper-colored hair was still the same, the dark red strands glinting like new pennies in the early morning sun. He remembered running his fingers through it, burying his face in it. More thoughts he didnt want to deal with.

Apparently you never got around to divorcing me. She looked at him as if asking a question.

Georges jaw tightened. I imagined you would take care of that, he bit out. Since she had been the one who was so keen on it. Damn, but his head was pounding. He shut his eyes.

When he opened them again it was to see that Sophys gaze had flickered away. But then it came back to meet his. She shook her head.

No need, she said easily. I certainly wasnt getting married again.

And neither was he. Hed been gutted once by marriage. He had no desire to go through it again. But he wasnt talking about that to Sophy. He couldnt believe she was even here. Maybe that whack on the head was causing him to hallucinate.

He tried shutting his eyes again, wishing her gone. No luck. When he opened them again, she was still there.

Getting hit by a truck was small potatoes compared to dealing with Sophy. He needed all his wits and every bit of control and composure he could manage when it came to coping with her. Now he rolled onto his back again and grimaced as he tried to push himself up against the pillows.

Probably not a good idea, Sophy commented.

No, it wasnt. The closer he got to vertical, the more he felt as if the top of his head was going to come off. On the other hand, he wasnt dealing with Sophy from a position of weakness.

You should rest, she offered.

Ive been resting all night.

I doubt you had much, Sophy said frankly. The nurse said you were restless.

You try sleeping when theyre asking you questions.

They need to keep checking, you have concussion and a subdural hematoma. Not to mention, she added, assessing him slowly as if he were a distasteful bug pinned to paper, that you look as if youve been put through a meat grinder.

Thanks, George muttered. Yes, it hurt, but he kept pushing himself up. He wanted to clutch his head in his hands. Instead he clutched the bedclothes until his knuckles turned white.

For heavens sake, stop that! Lie down or Ill call the nurse.





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