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“I’d like to clarify a couple of points,” Cam said, clearing his throat
He’d never realized how intimate his study could be. Maybe because he didn’t usually bring a woman into it in the wee hours. Especially not a woman enjoying chocolate torte the way Deborah was. She didn’t merely eat it. She savored it. Occasionally her eyes closed and an expression of pure bliss spread over her features.
“I would, too.” Deborah seemed in no hurry, though. She took another bite of her cake. Hypnotized, Cam stared at her mouth. Right from the beginning, he’d noticed she had really great lips. Tonight they were off-the-scale great.
“But you go first.” With a delicate sweep of her tongue, Deborah licked chocolate off her full lower lip.
Cam stifled a groan. How was he supposed to get this woman out of his thoughts when she sat there eating cake like…like…that?
This was impossible.
Happy New Year! Harlequin American Romance is starting the year off with an irresistible lineup of four great books, beginning with the latest installment in the MAITLAND MATERNITY: TRIPLETS, QUADS & QUINTS series. In Quadruplets on the Doorstep by Tina Leonard, a handsome bachelor proposes a marriage of convenience to a lovely nurse for the sake of four abandoned babies.
In Mindy Neff’s Preacher’s In-Name-Only Wife, another wonderful book in her BACHELORS OF SHOTGUN RIDGE series, a woman must marry to secure her inheritance, but she hadn’t counted on being an instant wife and mother when her new husband unexpectedly receives custody of an orphaned baby. Next, a brooding loner captivates a pregnant single mom in Pregnant and Incognito by Pamela Browning. These opposites have nothing in common—except an intense attraction that neither is strong enough to deny. Finally, Krista Thoren makes her Harlequin American Romance debut with High-Society Bachelor, in which a successful businessman and a pretty party planner decide to outsmart their small town’s matchmakers by pretending to date.
Enjoy them all—and don’t forget to come back again next month when a special three-in-one volume, The McCallum Quintuplets, featuring New York Times bestselling author Kasey Michaels, Mindy Neff and Mary Anne Wilson is waiting for you.
Wishing you happy reading,
Associate Senior Editor
Harlequin American Romance
For Vikki Thoren
Wonderful person, loving sister, classy lady.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Krista Thoren grew up in Indiana. After ten years of college teaching, she now stays home with her toddler. She writes whenever possible, especially if the alternative is cleaning.Krista has too many hobbies and not nearly enough time. She lives near Chicago with her husband and daughter.
Books by Krista Thoren
HARLEQUIN AMERICAN ROMANCE
I’m happy to be writing for Harlequin American Romance. As both reader and writer, I enjoy books that feature a strong sense of community. In High-Society Bachelor, shop owners are friendly and loyal. Still, Deborah Clark and Cameron Lyle find that the community grapevine is more active than they’d like!
The idea for this book came largely from classic movies featuring elegant parties and sophisticated heroes. But I also wondered what would happen when a compassionate white lie backfired. My love of humor and fondness for cats combined to produce Libby, a cat with personality to spare.
I loved writing High-Society Bachelor, and I hope you’ll have a great time reading it.
“I expected more of a welcome from my girlfriend.”
Deborah Clark stared at the man who leaned with nonchalant grace against the corridor wall outside her apartment. During the three months since she’d moved in above his office, Cameron Lyle had said about two dozen words to her, most of them brusque. Lofty and remote, that was him. Like Mount Everest, only not as warm.
And now he was making no sense.
Then she remembered and drew in a sharp breath. Uh-oh. Her throat felt like something big and sharp had lodged in it.
Now she knew why he was here. This time it wasn’t because her music was too loud, her cat too curious or her mail too abundant. No, this time it really was her fault.
The question was, how had he found out?
He crossed his arms and fixed a sharp green gaze on her. “My girlfriend.” His polite tone and neutral expression gave her no clues as to his mood. His eyes showed a flicker of something that, in anyone else, she might have interpreted as humor. But in her admittedly limited experience of this man, he’d shown no signs of having a sense of humor. Maybe someone as good-looking and rich as he was never got the chance to develop one.
Deborah forced her thoughts to a halt. “I can explain the whole thing,” she said in her most cheerful tone.
“You can?” He gave her that intense stare again, the one that always made both her brain and her mouth run amok. Which was silly, since it wasn’t as if she cared what he thought of her. Wealthy man-about-town types didn’t appeal to her.
Deborah nodded. “Yes. It’s simple, really. In fact, you wouldn’t believe how simple it is.” Right, as in simpleminded. She couldn’t believe it herself.
“Are you going to let me come in?” It wasn’t really a question. At that moment, as if to underline his demand, the door downstairs opened, sending an icy blast of January air up the stairway.
“Come in?” She didn’t want him in her apartment. He was too big, too…male. But under the circumstances, she didn’t have much choice. “Well, I guess so, if it’s necessary. But I’m sure we can settle this very quickly, without taking too much of your time.” Or hers. She was running a tight deadline on arrangements for the Tyler twins’ birthday party, and their mother was not a calm woman.
“We need to talk.” He brushed past her, and with his six-foot-plus frame inside it, her apartment immediately shrank to shoebox size. His aftershave smelled fresh and piney.
“Talk?” Deborah took a breath and forced herself not to say anything else for five seconds. She wasn’t letting any man, especially one in pinstripes, turn her into a parrot. The problem was, Cameron Lyle made every cell in her body go haywire. He always did. He’d stand and look at her without saying anything at all. He didn’t smile much, either. The man should learn how to smile. It was, after all, a very natural thing to do, and it put people at ease.
But Cameron Lyle wouldn’t know anything about that. And if he did, the idea of putting people at ease probably wouldn’t be a selling point.
Deborah pointed to the couch. “Have a seat. Are you allergic to cats?”
He raised one dark brow. Now that he did well. It was obvious that he disapproved of not only her music, but practically everything else about her, too. She’d gotten a lot of brow action from him over the past three months. He had strong, very masculine brows to go with a strong, very masculine face. And his jaw was way more aggressive than any jaw she would consider going out with.
Deborah grimaced. She didn’t want to guess where that thought had come from. It wasn’t as if she even liked the man, for heaven’s sake. He was the only person she knew who consistently challenged her natural optimism and good humor.
Still, he had to have a good side to him somewhere. After all, he attracted an amazing number of women. How many times had she gone downstairs to chat with his assistant, Barb, and found some glamorous woman waiting for him?
“No,” said Cameron finally, settling himself onto her couch.
Deborah sat down in the armchair opposite the sofa and tried to remember what he was saying no about. “Cat hair,” she explained after a moment. “Cat dander, to be more accurate. Libby sheds, and the hair doesn’t always vacuum up completely. So it’s a good thing you’re not allergic. Now, let me tell you how this boyfriend-girlfriend thing came about.” She took a long, steadying breath. “Actually, I never used the word boyfriend to Marilyn. I just said I’d been seeing someone, and she asked who, and I said you.”
What that meant, and what exactly he saw, was a mystery to Deborah. His face gave nothing away. But based on all her other encounters with Cameron Lyle, disapproval had to figure in there somewhere.
“Strictly speaking, I do see you from time to time,” she pointed out, trying not to sound as defensive as she felt. “But of course Marilyn drew her own conclusions.” Which I did nothing to correct.
She wanted to clear her throat, but that would make her sound as nervous as she was. Instead she traced a pattern on the arm of her chair. So much for telling herself that Cameron would never find out about her little misrepresentation, and that even if he did, he dated so many women he wouldn’t notice one more in the crowd.
Wrong on both counts.
Deborah stifled a sigh. It would be nice if he would stop looking at her as if she were a zoo exhibit. His gaze was too intense. It made her feel completely off-balance. Plus, using the word “boyfriend” in connection with the man seated opposite her went beyond weird. Not only were they an unlikely pair, but there was nothing boyish about him. He was all lean muscle and hard edges.
In short, all man.
Which, of course, she had noticed even when she had been engaged to Marilyn’s son, Mark.
His gaze held steady on her face. “I’ll admit I’m curious as to why you didn’t use your fianc? if you needed to claim a boyfriend. I’d have thought he would be the ultimate in convenience.”
Deborah blinked. Aside from those two sentences being the longest ones he’d ever sent in her direction, he was apparently the only person in this little corner of Indianapolis who hadn’t heard the news.
The interest her broken engagement had generated in Tulip Tree Square had taken Deborah totally by surprise, but as her friend Ann had pointed out, their small community of shop owners was closely knit, and people had to talk about something. If they didn’t care about sports, then love lives were a decent alternative.
Tulip Tree Square needed more sports fans.
“I don’t have a fianc?,” Deborah said.
His brows shot up, but not in a supercilious way this time. He looked genuinely surprised. In his eyes she saw a quick flash of something else, too, something undefinable, before his gaze dropped to her left hand. For the first time since her breakup, Deborah was acutely conscious of her bare ring finger.
“No fianc?,” he murmured.
“Right. Not anymore. Mark broke it off a month ago. And his mother was so concerned about me that I had to say something to reassure her. We had lunch together, except she wasn’t eating any of hers, and she badly needs to get her strength back after her surgery—”
Deborah stopped. She simply had to control herself. She had to ignore his intense eyes and her own embarrassment and remember that this man didn’t care two hoots about Marilyn not eating any of her roast beef au jus sandwich. Or that she’d been like an extra mother to Deborah for years. There wasn’t much Deborah wouldn’t do for Marilyn. A little white lie hadn’t seemed too terrible if it brought her peace of mind.
“His mother. I suppose that would be Marilyn Snyder,” observed the lofty Mr. Lyle.
“Right.” Her own mother’s best friend. Now that her mom had remarried and moved to Florida, it was up to Deborah to keep an affectionate eye on Marilyn during her convalescence. “You know her, obviously,” Deborah added.
“Only slightly. Committee work.”
She nodded. “Well anyway, Marilyn had an emergency appendectomy a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, her appendix exploded on the operating table, and the infection got really nasty.”
He winced. “I see.” He looked like he wished he didn’t. “I had no idea she had a son. She didn’t mention him to me at all during our conversation.”
Deborah lifted one shoulder. “Well, since she thinks you’re my new boyfriend—which, as I’ll repeat, is not what I told her—she probably decided against mentioning an ex-fianc?. Besides, Marilyn hasn’t been too thrilled with Mark lately.”
That was an understatement. When Mark had broken off their engagement, his mother had been crushed. Deborah’s mother hadn’t turned any handsprings, either, because she and Marilyn had decided years ago that Deborah and Mark would make a perfect couple. The two mothers had been a lot more upset about the breakup than Deborah had been. Which, in the end, had told them all a lot.
She and Mark were both lucky to have escaped marriage. After all, Mark couldn’t even decide which graduate degree to go for. He was obviously not ready to commit to any woman. And in the days following their breakup, Deborah had realized he wasn’t the man for her.
All things considered, the two of them were lucky their mothers had given up gracefully.
But there was no point in going into details. Even if Cameron Lyle were interested, which he wouldn’t be, it was none of his business.
“Marilyn’s clearly a big fan of yours,” he said. “Wanted to let me know how happy she is that you’re having some fun these days.”
Deborah stifled a groan. Marilyn, sweetheart that she was, had said those very words to Deborah, but somehow, coming from beautifully chiseled masculine lips, they sounded a lot less innocent.
“So tell me,” he said. “Exactly what kind of fun are we having?”
She stared at the strong curve of his mouth. It tilted up a smidgen at the corners. Not a smile, but it wasn’t a frown, either, so apparently he wasn’t mad at her. He sounded curious, more than anything else. Curious and intrigued. Deborah met his interested stare and felt her pulse pick up speed.
“Well?” he prompted. “Are we talking generic, G-rated fun, here? Or a more interesting kind of fun?”
All sorts of images popped into her head, and not a single one was G-rated. Her face felt hot. “I don’t think I specified,” she muttered.
“I see.” He watched her. “She also wanted to make sure I appreciated you.”
Oh, boy. What in the world had he said to that? Maybe nothing. Hopefully nothing. After all, this was not a man who chatted.
His eyes held a gleam. “I assured her I appreciate you very much.”
Deborah’s pulse thudded faster still, but she ignored it. Probably just shock. Cameron Lyle obviously wasn’t himself today, but tomorrow he’d give her the familiar stiff nod and everything would be back to normal. This was no time to be thinking that he looked like a human being this afternoon. A very attractive man, in fact, in spite of the ultraconservative and downright boring three-piece navy pinstriped suit he was wearing.
“After all,” he continued, “it was clear that you were the one who told her we were involved, so I decided you must have a reason for this idiocy.”
Scratch that last thought. He was not a human being.
Deborah counted to ten. He had helped her out by not giving her away to Marilyn. So what if Mr. High Society was a snob and considered the idea of dating her ridiculous? She wasn’t lining up to go out with him and his jaw, either.
He still watched her closely. “Why did you pick me?”
“I didn’t pick you!” She took a calming breath. “Well, I picked your name, that’s true. But only because Marilyn wanted to know who the guy was. Like I said, at first I just told her I was seeing somebody. You know, somebody tall, dark and handsome.” Deborah felt her cheeks warm. Why had she said that?
A skeptical little smile appeared at the corners of his lips. “And then my name popped into your head?”
“No.” She shifted. “Well, yes, actually, it did. Why shouldn’t it? I pass by your sign downstairs at least six times a day. Cameron Lyle, M.B.A., Financial Consultant.” And, of course, he fit the tall, dark and handsome description, although handsome was too bland a word to describe his aggressively attractive face and body.
However, his looks were completely irrelevant. She had not been thinking of Cameron Lyle, the man. In fact, she hadn’t been thinking at all, because otherwise she’d have realized that Marilyn, a businesswoman herself, would have heard of him. And even though she’d never figured Marilyn would say anything, using his name had been dumb.
But then, impulses often turned out to be dumb, which was why she was trying to stop having them.
He leaned forward, his gaze sweeping over her face and body in leisurely passes. “You know, you should have dropped me a few hints. Why play games? We’re both free, and I like admiration as much as the next guy. I’m sure we could arrange something—”
“Arrange something? I don’t want—” Deborah saw his face and stopped. The crinkles around his dark green eyes gave him away, despite his deadpan expression.
He was laughing at her.
With anyone else, she’d have gotten a chuckle out of it, too. She liked to laugh, and she appreciated a good joke, even when it was on her.
But besides laughing at her, Mr. High Society was patronizing her. Every time he talked to her, she read dismissal in his eyes. It was all too obvious he saw her as an unsophisticated and na?ve girl, instead of as the mature woman she really was.
“Very amusing,” she muttered. It just went to show he wasn’t always humorless and unfriendly. Sometimes he was humorless, unfriendly and sarcastic.
Deborah plucked a piece of lint from her royal blue leggings. Well, that wasn’t quite true. Okay, so the man did have a sense of humor. She could acknowledge that fact, even though the discovery of it completely stunned her and his humor was unkind and came at her expense.
Still, Cameron Lyle should be careful, because an even less sophisticated woman than she was might think he’d been flirting with her just now. Which of course he hadn’t been. After all, this was the man who drove a sleek, expensive car and had recently made Indianapolis Living’s “Most Eligible Bachelors” list. Not that she read columns like those, but from the moment she’d moved into the apartment directly over his large office, she’d gotten an earful from several interested parties in Tulip Tree Square, all of them female.
So she knew enough about Cameron Lyle’s love life to realize that she was the total opposite of the women he dated. They were all sophisticated and impeccably stylish. Probably petite, too, and ultrafeminine.
All things she would never be. Things she would never want to be.
Deborah got up from her chair. “So that’s the situation. A bit of a mess, I know, but it’s only temporary. I apologize for any inconvenience…” She let her sentence trail off because it sounded uncomfortably like a renovation notice in a department store.
His dark head tilted. “I accept your apology, but that’s not the main reason I came to talk to you.”
“It isn’t?” How could they have anything else to talk about? They had nothing in common. He spent his days in stiff business suits doing boring paperwork while she spent hers in comfy leggings planning cheerful kids’ parties. In the evenings he ate elegant catered meals and escorted beautiful women to social engagements while she ate frozen dinners and read.
Lengthy, deep conversations between the two of them were not even a remote possibility.
“I want to hire you,” he said.
Deborah stared. For a moment, that was all she could do, because although a variety of thoughts leaped into her head every time she saw the handsome and remote Mr. Lyle, none of those thoughts had anything to do with dinosaur birthday cakes, pizza parties or clowns.
He had to be kidding.
On the other hand, he looked serious, like someone ready to talk business. And it wasn’t entirely impossible that he could need her company’s services.
Even confirmed bachelors had nieces and nephews.
Deborah cleared her throat. “You want to hire me? To organize a party?”
She considered the idea, turning it around in her mind with the caution of someone tasting a food of unknown character. The difference was that in this case, she had enough knowledge to make her suspect that planning a party for Cameron Lyle would be a mistake. Accepting him as a client was a risk she shouldn’t take. After all, sooner or later she’d have to say something to him. Then he’d give her one of those brusque, stuck-up, disapproving replies, and she would tell him to go soak his haughty head, and then—
“Will you do it?” he asked, saving her imagination any more work.
She opened her mouth to say “no” and then remembered that Libby’s vet bill was due in less than two weeks. “Maybe. I’d need some details first.” Deborah snagged a pen and some paper from the coffee table and gave him her best businesslike voice. “How old are the children?”
He frowned. “The children? There aren’t—”
“Age group is the biggest factor, you know. It determines everything, from food to games. After all, we can’t have twelve-year-olds playing pin the tail on the donkey, can we?” Mentally Deborah winced. She sounded like a geriatric nurse. And one look at his face told her he was completely lost.
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