Just Between Friendsñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Breakfast is almost ready,”
Dylan came in, fastening his shirt. “You don’t have to cook for me. I don’t expect it.”
“I don’t mind.”
“At least you should wear something a little less…that is, something more suitable for cooking.”
Perplexed, Kate looked down at her nightshirt.
“What’s wrong with this?”
“For one thing, there’s nothing to protect your skin,” Dylan growled. “Your legs are completely bare.”
“Not really. See?” She plucked at the nightshirt, pulling it higher. The shirt went halfway down her thighs.
“For God’s sake, don’t do that!”
Whether our heroes are flirting with their best friends or taking care of adorable tots, their stories of falling for the right woman are sure to melt your heart. Don’t miss one magical moment of this month’s collection from Silhouette Romance.
Carolyn Zane begins THE BRUBAKER BRIDES miniseries by introducing us to the first of three Texas-bred sisters, in Virginia’s Getting Hitched (SR #1730). Dr. Virginia Brubaker knows the secret to a long-lasting relationship: compatibility. But one sexy, irreverent ranch hand has a different theory all together…that he hopes to test on the prim but not-so-proper doctor!
In Just Between Friends (SR #1731), the latest emotion-packed tale from Julianna Morris, a handsome contractor rescues his well-to-do best friend by agreeing to marry her—for a year. But he doesn’t know about her little white lie—for them, she’s always wanted more than friendship.…
Prince Perfect always answers the call of duty…to his sons and to his kingdom. But his beautiful nanny tempts him to let go of his inhibitions and give in to the call of the heart. Find out if this bachelor dad will make the perfect husband, in Falling for Prince Federico (SR #1732) by Nicole Burnham.
The newest title from Holly Jacobs, Be My Baby (SR #1733), promises a rollicking good time! When a carefree single guy finds a baby on his doorstep, he’s sure things couldn’t get worse—until he’s stranded in a snowstorm with his annoyingly attractive receptionist. With sparks flying, they’re guaranteed to stay warm!
Mavis C. Allen
Associate Senior Editor
Just Between Friends
To my sister.
Thanks for pitching in…even when it wasn’t fun.
Books by Julianna Morris
Baby Talk #1097
Family of Three #1178
Daddy Woke Up Married #1252
Dr. Dad #1278
The Marriage Stampede #1375
* Callie, Get Your Groom #1436
* Hannah Gets a Husband #1448
* Jodie’s Mail-Order Man #1460
Meeting Megan Again #1502
Tick Tock Goes the Baby Clock #1531
Last Chance for Baby! #1565
A Date with a Billionaire #1590
The Right Twin for Him #1676
The Bachelor Boss #1703
Just Between Friends #1731
has an offbeat sense of humor, which frequently gets her into trouble.
She is often accused of being curious about everything. Her interests range from oceanography and photography to traveling, antiquing, walking on the beach and reading science fiction.
Julianna loves cats of all shapes and sizes, and recently she was adopted by a feline companion named Merlin. Like his namesake, Merlin is an alchemist—she says he can transform the house into a disaster area in nothing flat. And since he shares the premises with a writer, it’s interesting to note that he’s particularly fond of knocking books on the floor.
Julianna happily reports meeting her Mr. Right. Together they are working on a new dream of building a shoreline home in the Great Lakes area.
“I’m sorry, you can’t go in.”
Dylan O’Rourke heard his secretary’s protest a split second before the door opened. He spun his chair around, prepared to deal with an insistent client, and saw Kate Douglas instead.
She smiled. “Hey, Dylan.”
“What do you want?”
With Kate it was wise to cut to the chase. When they were kids he’d had an annoying habit of being unable to say “no” to the lady—like the time she’d gotten him to help her run away from home. He still remembered his father’s blistering lecture over that particular stunt. After that Dylan had nicknamed her “Katydid,” to remind himself that he didn’t have to do everything that Kate did.
“Right now I want to sit down.”
Kate sank onto the couch and crossed her legs. Her long gold hair matched the earrings and the gold chain around her neck, and she wore a white silk dress, white silk hose and a pair of white leather sandals…an outfit that probably cost more than his first car.
White, in a construction office.
Dylan shook his head, yet he couldn’t help grinning at the same time. Common dirt wouldn’t dare stick to someone with Katrina Douglas’s kind of old money—gold dust, maybe, but never just plain dirt.
“It’s good to see you,” Kate said softly.
“Same here.” And he meant it. Kate might be a spoiled rich kid, but she was bright and full of fun…and she could wheedle a glass of water from a man lost in the desert.
Of course, he was older now, and not nearly so susceptible. He usually got stuck with buying tickets to some god-awful charity event when she stopped by to see him, but he’d refused other stuff. Like the time she’d wanted to auction him as a bachelor at one of her fund-raisers. Dylan shuddered at the memory. He was willing to escort her now and then to a party, but get auctioned?
Not a chance.
“What is it, Kate?” he asked, determined to get right to the heart of the matter. “Another fund-raiser? I’ll donate, but I’m not coming.”
“No, it isn’t another fund-raiser. Though it was mean of you not to show up at the last one. You were supposed to be my date.”
“No, I wasn’t. I told you I couldn’t go to that one, you just didn’t listen.”
She didn’t look convinced. “There I was, all alone,” she said. “It was terrible—it’s humiliating to be the only woman without an escort.”
Dylan almost fell into the trap before he caught the sparkle in her green eyes. “Brat,” he muttered.
“So, why couldn’t you come?”
“I was busy. And I’m tired of dry sandwiches with the crusts cut off.”
“They weren’t dry.”
“They’re always dry. You’ve dragged me to enough of those things for me to know I’ll be poorly fed and miserably uncomfortable. Honest, Katydid, you have the most boring friends. And they have an insatiable curiosity about how you happen to know an immigrant Irish construction worker. I should wear a sign that says My Dad Was One of the Help. Maybe I’d get left in peace.”
“Strictly speaking, your parents were the immigrants. You were born in the United States.”
“You know what I mean.”
“And you own the construction company,” Kate added. “You’re a very successful businessman.”
“Don’t glamorize me. I’m still a construction worker, and your friends wouldn’t know the difference between the working end of a hammer and a staple gun.”
“Maybe they’re curious because you’re Kane O’Rourke’s brother,” she said brightly.
Dylan snorted. His brother had become one of the wealthiest men in the country, but to the Douglases’ small and snobbish social circle, it was new money and not worth their attention. Of course, some of the unattached women he’d met at those fund-raisers had obviously hoped for an introduction to Kane, at least before he’d gotten married.
Thank God Kane had found a genuinely sweet and loving woman. Beth was terrific—down-to-earth and totally unimpressed with her husband’s money.
“Or maybe everyone wonders what such a great-looking guy is doing with me,” Kate suggested.
She did her best to look pathetic, but Dylan wasn’t buying a second of it. If he hadn’t watched her grow up from a skinny little kid, Kate’s golden-haired beauty would probably knock him breathless. Instead he was merely wary.
“Then when you don’t escort me,” she continued sadly, “I’ll bet they think you found someone prettier.”
“Give me a break,” Dylan muttered.
He didn’t usually think about the way Kate had blossomed. He wasn’t even sure when it had happened. One minute she was a bratty kid with a genius for talking him into trouble, the next minute she was dropping male jaws all over Seattle. But she still seemed awfully young—mostly because of the impish mischief lurking in her sea green eyes.
After a moment Kate looked up, but for once her eyes were very serious. “What you said about the ‘help’…does it bother you that your father used to work for my family?”
“Not particularly. Your friends, on the other hand?” Dylan lifted a shoulder.
“We might work on fund-raising projects together, but they’re my mother’s friends,” Kate said slowly. “I don’t fit in that well.”
“You’re young, give it a couple years.”
Frustrated, Kate regarded the tips of her toes, then wiggled them inside her sandals. Dylan was only two years older, yet he treated her like a little kid. Nothing she did seemed to make a difference to the way he saw her. She’d long since given up hoping that he’d look into her eyes and discover she was the woman of his dreams, but the least he could do was realize she’d grown up.
Honestly, it was so irritating.
She was a leftover piece of his childhood, someone he considered too immature, too flighty and too rich and spoiled to be anything but a friend. Men could be so blind when it came to women.
“I won’t fit in with mother’s friends if I live to be a hundred,” she declared, prompting a chuckle from Dylan.
“God, Katydid, you do make me laugh,” he said, settling back in his chair.
Kate sighed. Dylan didn’t laugh enough, not since his father’s death. He was so serious about everything, he needed someone to shake up his life…and she was just the one to do the shaking. And if he’d only realized it before now, she wouldn’t have to go to such ridiculous lengths to get his attention.
The O’Rourkes had been part of her world since before she could remember. She’d adored them from the beginning, and Dylan in particular. Keenan O’Rourke had worked seven days a week—five days for a forestry company, and two days as a handyman for her parents, but he’d always seemed to have time for his kids. Quite a contrast to her father, who’d been born wealthy, didn’t work, and rarely noticed her at all.
Dylan began looking through some papers on his desk, giving every indication that he’d forgotten she was in the room. Kate’s stomach clenched. Was she totally nuts, wanting him to decide she was Miss Right and fall desperately in love with her? Or would she just be getting one more inattentive man in her life even if he did decide he was in love?
“Dylan,” Kate said insistently.
He looked up. “Goodness, where did you come from, Katydid?” He grinned, then winked.
“You…rat,” she growled, but she wasn’t really angry. So Dylan had been playing a joke on her, she should have known he wouldn’t forget she was around. If nothing else, he’d been taught too much courtesy by his parents.
He put the papers back on his desk and crossed his arms over his flat stomach. “All right, kiddo, no more fooling around. What do you want? We’ve already ruled out one of your fund-raisers, but that leaves plenty of territory.”
Kate bit the inside of her lip and tried to look innocent. “Do I need a reason to visit my best friend?”
“Hah,” he scoffed. “I’m only your best friend when you want something. So stop stalling and let me have it.”
“So you can say no, right?”
“Yes.” Dylan scowled. “That is, no, I don’t always refuse. In fact, I say yes way too often when it comes to you. You’re a spoiled brat. Do you know that?”
“Whatever you say.” Kate wrinkled her nose. She might be spoiled by having too much money, but she’d trade every penny to be part of Dylan’s family. They were real and loving and took care of each other, no matter what. And Dylan was her best friend, even if he didn’t realize it.
Taking a deep breath, she tossed her head back.
“The name is Kate or Katrina. I stopped being Katydid a long time ago.” Actually, Dylan was the only one who’d ever called her Katydid, and she didn’t really mind except that it meant he still saw her as a child.
Of course she was stalling. He wasn’t going to like what she had in mind, but if she was careful about how she suggested it, he might agree. “You remember that my grandmother died several months ago?” she asked.
Dylan nodded. In his opinion Jane Elmira Douglas had been the Wicked Witch of the West’s less likable sister, but Katydid was softhearted enough to have loved the old bat, regardless. He’d gone over to see Kate the night of the funeral and even though she’d smiled and pretended it was all right, her eyes had been sad and bruised looking.
“Yes, it’s been about six months,” he said.
“And…?” Dylan prodded, as gently as possible.
“Uh, well, it’s my birthday next month.”
“I know.” A small frown gathered on his forehead. He was surprised she’d brought it up; ever since Kate’s parents had forgotten her sweet-sixteenth, she’d been a little touchy about the day.
She stirred restlessly, tugging at her white dress and smoothing the skirt. He waited, knowing that sooner or later she’d tell him what was going on—there was always a plan behind Kate’s verbal detours. As a kid he’d spent a lot of time bemused by the way she flitted around, the bright, elegant butterfly to his ordinary caterpillar. Now he mostly crossed his arms and sat back until she lighted on something.
“My birthday was mentioned in Grandmamma’s will. And that’s sort of the problem.”
“I see,” he said, though he didn’t see at all.
“She left me the Douglas Hill House, but only if I get married by my twenty-seventh birthday. I’m twenty-six now, so I don’t have much time.”
Dylan blinked. The Douglas Hill House was a mansion that overlooked the city of Seattle like a brooding raven and had to be the ugliest place ever built. He’d been inside it once when Kate had dragged him to an interminable party to raise money for disabled children. The only bright spot had been watching her play with the kids. She was great with youngsters; someday she ought to have a big family of her own.
“You’re going to be twenty-seven?” he asked.
Kate rolled her eyes. Dylan was an intelligent man, surely he had an inkling of what she wanted.
“Yes, I’m going to be twenty-seven. And Grandmamma was worried that I’d never marry, so that’s why she put the provision in the will. I get the final deed after a year of marriage.” Kate crossed her fingers because the next part was sort of a lie. “She knew I’d do anything to keep the house in the family.”
“Yeah, of course. You love the old place.”
She loved it, all right.
She’d love to see it dynamited.
Her grandmother had never had a clue about what her granddaughter wanted. The hardest part about losing Nanna Jane was knowing she’d been a disappointing afterthought to her own grandmother—never quite refined or proper enough to fulfill the Douglas legacy.
You’re just like your great-grandfather. You have no respect for our position, Nanna Jane would say, her lips pursed with disapproval.
Kate couldn’t remember the first time she’d heard the accusation, and it had taken years of digging and putting facts together before she learned what her grandmother meant. After his wife had died and his children were grown, Rycroft Douglas had gone to Alaska to dig for gold. The fact that her great-grandfather had added considerably to the family fortune hadn’t mitigated the outrageous scandal of a Douglas becoming a flamboyant adventurer.
Jiminy, Kate envied him.
She’d found Rycroft’s letters to his son, written from the Alaskan gold fields. The old man had been having the time of his life—much to the disapproval of his straitlaced daughter-in-law, who couldn’t quite embrace the idea that Seattle was basically a frontier town turned shipping capital. Kate didn’t know. Maybe certain owners of Seattle’s old money needed to be more uptight than their counterparts in places like Boston because their money wasn’t quite as old as they’d like it to be. Or maybe old money was the same everywhere.
Well, at least Nanna Jane’s will was giving her a chance to get what she wanted—though it was hardly what her grandmother must have planned.
“You understand my problem?” Kate said, a questioning note to her voice.
Dylan nodded. “More or less. You have a little over a month to get married.”
“But I don’t have anyone I want to marry.”
All at once suspicion grew in his face. “Now, Kate, you aren’t thinking…dammit, you aren’t thinking what I think you’re thinking.”
“But it’s the perfect solution.”
“For you, maybe. It’s a disaster for me.”
She didn’t have to manufacture tears, the implied insult was more than enough to make her cry. “That’s a terrible thing to say. A lot of men want to marry me.”
“Then marry one of them!”
“But they’d want a real marriage. I just need a husband for a year.” A tear dripped down her cheek.
“Now, Katydid, don’t start.”
A second tear joined the first. “We’re friends, and friends help each other.”
“Not that way. It’s out of the question.”
Out of the question in that tone of voice didn’t sound good, and she swallowed. She’d hoped so much that this would work. But she wasn’t going to give up, not yet.
“I’d just hate to lose Grandmamma’s house. There’s so much family history there, and all that…uh…hard-wood and parquet flooring.” Kate nearly gagged. If the house was completely renovated it might be a lovely home, but presently it was grim and depressing, a reflection of the austere woman who’d lived there for sixty-seven years.
“So bite the bullet and marry someone else.”
“But that would be the same as selling myself, just to get the house.” She tried to appear shocked. “How can you possibly suggest such a thing?” She actually was shocked, though women had been marrying men for money and position and property for much longer than she’d been around.
Dylan clenched his fingers. Truthfully, he wasn’t wild about the notion of Kate marrying one of the stuffed shirts who were always buzzing around her. He supposed it was because he was like a big brother to Katydid, and brothers never approved of their sister’s boyfriends. But there wasn’t any way he was going along with her nutty scheme.
Kate pulled a white handkerchief from her white purse and dabbed her eyes. “You want me to act like a prostitute, trading my body for gain. It wouldn’t be any different.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Dylan said, appalled.
“Yes, it is.” She lifted her chin. “Fine, if that’s what you want, I’ll decide which one of them I’m going to marry. You’ll get an invitation to the wedding.”
With a graceful twist of her body she rose from the couch and headed for the door.
She looked over her shoulder. “Maybe you can be best man,” she said as a parting shot. “I’m sure it’s an honor you deserve.”
The door closed behind her and Dylan groaned and thumped his head against his high-backed chair. She was working on his guilt and trying to make him feel responsible for a situation he had no part in creating.
Still, in a way Katydid was right. It would be selling herself to get the house. She plainly wasn’t in love with any of those suitors she’d talked about, and they would expect far more from the marriage than she wanted to give.
Suddenly he couldn’t bear the thought of sweet little Katydid submitting to a man’s attentions simply because her grandmother had been a conniving witch. There had to be another way. The Douglases’ small social circle wasn’t populated with a single man worth a red cent in terms of character. And several of those guys weren’t very nice beneath their silk shirts and monogrammed money clips.
Dylan rushed to his feet and hurried through the outer office. He caught up with Kate on the street below just as she was getting into her disreputable car. Why she insisted on driving the beat-up old Volkswagen Beetle was beyond him. Granted, it was a classic, but the least she could do was have the thing properly restored. He supposed it was her way of rebelling.
She turned and the look on her face made him wince.
“What? More advice?” Her chin rose higher. “Believe me, I have all the advice I need from you.”
“Please, Katydid, we need to talk.”
“I think we’ve said everything. Of course, I won’t be bothering you anymore to buy fund-raising tickets. I don’t suppose that my husband, whoever he turns out to be, would like it anymore than he’d like you showing up to watch something on the VCR with us.”
Dylan’s fingers itched with the illogical urge to throttle Kate’s theoretical husband. It would be a pain tying himself to a spoiled princess for a year, but on the other hand, he’d watched after Kate since they were children. Like the time he’d talked her down from the roof of her parents’ six-car garage after she’d convinced herself that she was really a fairy with invisible wings.
“Kate, there isn’t one man you’ve dated who you feel some affection for?”
Something flickered deep in her eyes—an emotion he’d never seen before—but it disappeared and he decided he must have been mistaken.
“There’s no one else.”ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî