Leigh Michaels has written almost seventy novels for Harlequin Romance®. Her sparkling, warmly emotional style has captivated readers around the world, and she has over thirty million books in print. Translated into more than twenty languages, her stories feature characters that women everywhere, from all nationalities, can relate to—and enjoy reading time and again!
For fresh, emotionally exhilarating novels, look out for Leigh Michaels!
Bride by Design (#3720)
Leigh loves to hear from her readers. You can write to her at P.O. Box 935, Ottumwa, Iowa, 52501-0935, U.S.A. Or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
3628—THE CORPORATE WIFE
3637—THE BRIDAL SWAP
3656—A CONVENIENT AFFAIR
3672—HIS TROPHY WIFE
From boardroom…to bride and groom!
A secret romance, a forbidden affair, a thrilling attraction?
Working side by side, nine to five—and beyond….
No matter how hard these couples try to keep their relationships strictly professional, romance is definitely on the agenda!
But will a date in the office diary lead to an appointment at the altar?
Find out in this exciting new miniseries from Harlequin Romance®.
A Professional Marriage (#3721)
by Jessica Steele
AMY hesitated outside her father’s hospital room. Then she took a deep breath and pushed the door open. No matter what Gavin Sherwood wanted to tell her, she knew that delaying wouldn’t make it any easier to take, so she might just as well get it over with.
Inside the room, she paused to look at the man lying propped up in the hospital bed, surrounded by high-tech equipment. There was less machinery now than there had been three days ago, when she’d seen him in the intensive care unit right after his heart attack.
So whatever Gavin had on his mind, Amy told herself, she would listen patiently and politely and then do precisely as she pleased. She wouldn’t exactly blow a raspberry at him, of course, no matter what he said—because he was still her father. But she wasn’t going to be manipulated into making any deathbed promises to a man who clearly wasn’t on his deathbed.
Gavin opened his eyes. “You finally got my message, I see.”
He sounded a little querulous, Amy thought, and his voice hadn’t yet regained all its power—or perhaps the feeble quaver was intentional.
Amy moved closer to the bedside. “Message? It sounded more like a summons to me.”
“Took you long enough to get here. Where have you been? Out all night?”
As if he has any right to ask. “No, I got up early and went out for a walk. What is it you want, Gavin?”
“It’s a bit involved, I’m afraid. Sit down, Amy.”
“No, thanks. I didn’t come for a leisurely chat, and I’d just as soon not be here when your fianc?e gets back from the cafeteria or wherever she’s gone.”
“Honey went home for a while.”
Amy lifted an eyebrow. So she could rest, or so you could? she wanted to ask.
“This has been an ordeal for her.”
“She was obviously under a lot of stress the night you came into the hospital,” Amy agreed. In fact, she seemed to regard your illness as a great personal inconvenience.
“She’s very young,” Gavin Sherwood said quietly. “She’s never faced serious illness before in anybody she truly cares about.”
And perhaps she still hasn’t. Amy’s tongue was getting sore from biting it, but she knew better than to say what she thought. Her father was already quite aware that his soon-to-be trophy wife was a major thorn in his daughter’s side, so it was unnecessary—and hardly sporting—for Amy to take cheap shots at Honey’s expense. Even more important, if she kept criticizing Honey, her opposition would only drive Gavin into defending his choice, further deepening the chasm between father and daughter.
But as long as Honey wouldn’t be popping in at any moment, she might as well make herself comfortable, Amy decided, and pulled up a chair. “So what did you want to talk to me about? The message you left on my answering machine wasn’t exactly chatty.”
“The nurses were hanging around when I called. How’s the job hunt coming along?”
“Quite well, thanks. Which I could have told you on the phone. So why was it so important that I drive over here?”
Gavin’s fingers plucked at the sheet. “My doctor says I can be released from the hospital in a few days. But of course I’m still facing a long recovery. I won’t be able to do much for myself at first.”
“I’m sure Honey will make a terrific nurse,” Amy said firmly. “It’ll give her a preview of the real meaning of ‘for better or for worse.’ And she looks stunning in white.”
“That’s not what I’m concerned about. Of course she’ll be there for me.”
I hope you’re right, Amy wanted to say.
“It’s the auction house, you see. My doctor says I can’t go back to work for several weeks, so someone will have to step in, and of course you’re the obvious choice…” His voice trailed off as he looked up at her.
Amy was already shaking her head, and her voice was steady. “I don’t work there anymore, Gavin. Remember?”
“Officially you’re still on a leave of absence, you know.”
“I told you I quit, and I meant it. It was your choice not to accept my resignation.”
Gavin didn’t seem to hear her. “And if it hadn’t been for that silly misunderstanding, you would still be there. So it’s only sensible that you come back and—”
“Silly misunderstanding? I walked into your office and found you on the couch with Honey, and you call it a silly misunderstanding?”
“Of course you were upset, Amy.”
“Darn right I was. Remember? That was the first clue I had that you were planning to divorce my mother.”
“I know. And I truly wish you hadn’t found out that way.”
“That,” Amy said tersely, “makes two of us.”
“But to actually leave your job, to turn your back on the family business, over something like that…Honestly, Amy, now that you’ve had a chance to cool off and think it over, don’t you agree that you were being a little excessive?”
Amy considered. “Yes,” she said finally. “I was a little excessive. I should have gone back to my desk and written you a polite resignation letter instead of screaming ‘I quit!’ at the top of my lungs in the middle of the executive suite while Honey was still trying to get her sweater back on. My technique left a lot to be desired, I admit—put it down to the shock of the situation. But if you’re asking whether I have regrets over my decision—no, I don’t. After a display of that sort of bad judgment, I’d have trouble trusting any boss.”
Gavin looked at her shrewdly. “You can’t expect me to believe that you don’t miss the auction house.”
He was right about that, Amy conceded. She couldn’t honestly say that she didn’t miss Sherwood Auctions. She’d worked in her father’s business, in one capacity or another, ever since she could remember. Before she was a teenager, she’d been running errands, cleaning offices, watching the cloakroom. Later she’d moved up to writing catalog copy, spotting bids during auctions, and researching merchandise. And as soon as she had her degree she’d joined the full-time staff, though she’d still moved from department to department—taking a hand wherever she was needed.
Leaving a firm which had occupied so much of her life wouldn’t have been easy under any circumstances, but that fact didn’t mean she was sorry she’d done it. Once she was finally settled in a new job, she’d be contented again.
“It was time for a change, and I’m looking forward to new challenges.” She knew she sounded evasive.
Gavin bored in. “Doing what?”
“I’m not absolutely certain yet. But just because I haven’t accepted a job doesn’t mean I don’t have any prospects.”
“But the bottom line is that you’re still out of work,” Gavin mused. “Even after more than two months of looking.”
“Blame yourself for that, because you paid me well enough that I could take my time and look around instead of jumping at the first possibility. And if you’re speculating on why no one seems to want me—as a matter of fact, it looks as if I’m going to have three different offers any day now. Good offers, too. I’ll have a hard time figuring out which one I want to take.”
Gavin said slowly, “And each of them will give you a big change and a new challenge? Is that really what you want, Amy?”
“Yes, it is. I’m sorry, but—” She could afford to be gentle, now that he finally seemed to be hearing her.
“That’s exactly why you should come back and run the auction house instead,” Gavin pointed out brightly. “That’ll be a big change and a new challenge, too, because you’ve always worked in the separate departments. You’ve never before tried being in charge of everything.”
“And that’s why I’m the wrong person for the job. You’ve got a personal assistant who already oversees all the details. Why not promote him?”
“His name isn’t Sherwood.”
“So maybe he’ll change it if you ask him nicely.”
Gavin looked at her narrowly. “You still haven’t forgiven me for hiring Dylan instead of giving you the job, have you, Amy?”
“Where did you get that delusion? I didn’t want to be a glorified secretary, making phone calls and excuses.”
“Dylan is not a glorified secretary.”
“Great. If he’s been so involved in the business, he’s capable of taking over for a while. I don’t know why you wanted a personal assistant in the first place if you aren’t going to use him to advantage.”
“Dylan is very good,” Gavin said, but Amy thought the tone of his voice sounded far less certain than the words. “But you know how personal the auction business is. It’s a matter of trust, and I’ve worked for decades to build up that trust. My clients trust Sherwood Auctions because they trust me.”
“So if you’re saying that no one can take your place, Gavin, what’s the point of asking me to try?”
“Because the next best thing to the Sherwood they’re familiar with is a different Sherwood. It’s just the same as when my father handed the business down to me, back when we were still selling farm machinery and odds and ends instead of antiques and fine art. His clients were willing to give me a try, because I was his son. And you don’t only have the name, Amy, and the instincts—you’ve got twenty years of experience in the business.”
“Only if you count when I was six years old and I handed out catalogs to bidders as they came into the auctions,” Amy muttered. “I had to stand on a chair.”
Gavin smiled. “And our auctions in those days were still small enough that a child could handle the weight of a stack of catalogs.”
“Nostalgia is not going to change my mind, Gavin. Give your personal assistant a chance. If this hadn’t happened, you’d have counted on him to keep the place running while you were on your honeymoon. What’s so different about letting him take over now? It’s just a little longer, that’s all.” Amy stood up and firmly changed the subject. “Speaking of honeymoons, is the date firm yet? Though I suppose it would be chancy to choose a day for the wedding before the divorce is final.”
Gavin didn’t seem to hear her. His hand went out to clutch at her sleeve. “All right. I didn’t want to tell you this, Amy, but I suppose I don’t have a choice.”
Now what was he going to try? Hadn’t he already run the gamut of persuasive techniques?
“You know, of course, about the financial settlement your mother and I have agreed to as part of the divorce.”
“I know you made an agreement,” Amy said slowly. “She didn’t give me the details, and I didn’t think it was any of my concern as long as Mother was satisfied.”
“Well, that’s the problem, you see. She may not be satisfied for much longer.”
Amy sat down again. “Perhaps you’d better take this from the top, Gavin.”
“We agreed to split our assets as equally as possible. After being married so many years, I felt it was the only arrangement that was fair to Carol.”
“Also the only arrangement she’d have accepted, considering that you were the one who wanted out of the marriage,” Amy said, almost under her breath.
“But it was impossible to split everything straight down the middle. For instance, Carol wanted the house and I—of course—wanted to keep the business. But because the values of those two things weren’t anywhere near equal, I agreed to make her a lump sum payment as compensation for her share of Sherwood Auctions. It’s quite a large amount, and it’s due pretty soon.”
“If you’re threatening to withhold that payment unless I cooperate,” Amy said, “you’d better think again.”
“I’m not trying to blackmail you, Amy.” Gavin fidgeted a little. “The fact is I can’t pay Carol, because I don’t have the money. My expenses these last few months have been heavier than I anticipated. All the attorneys’ fees, you know…. I’ve ended up paying your mother’s as well as my own, and the legal bills are still coming in. And of course it isn’t cheap setting up a new apartment from scratch.”
“To say nothing of the cost of tickets for a honeymoon in Italy,” Amy agreed. Poor Daddy—Honey’s obviously been a lot more expensive than you anticipated.
“It isn’t as if I haven’t been working on it,” Gavin said. He sounded almost defensive. “There are a number of potential clients I’ve been working on for some time. You know the routine, Amy—it takes people time to decide to part with treasures they’ve collected. Time, and gentle handling, because they have to be comfortable with the decision. I was planning to see several of those people again in the next couple of weeks because I think they’re ready to confirm some deals. But then this happened.” He waved a hand at the machinery that surrounded him. “And I’m stuck.”
“I don’t suppose you’ll be making any goodwill calls for a while,” Amy agreed.
“Without the personal approach, those people are likely to change their minds altogether, or else take their business to another auction house. I can’t really blame them for thinking that they might not get the kind of attention at Sherwood that they would if I was there.” He shot a sideways look at her. “Unless you take over, Amy. Because you’re my heir, you see, the reputation of the firm is just as important to you as it is to me, so you’ll work just as hard to uphold it.”
“Or at least the clients will believe that,” Amy murmured. “How could they possibly know the truth?—that Dylan is probably a lot more concerned about the reputation of the auction house than I am. It’s his bread and butter, after all—not mine. Not anymore.”
“You already know, Amy, that perception is everything in this business. What the clients believe is important. And in any case, it’s true—you’ve lived and breathed the auction business all your life, my dear, and whatever you say, you don’t want to see it destroyed. All I’m asking is a few more weeks. And it’s really more for your mother’s sake than mine.”
Cunning of him, to put it that way. Amy shrugged. “Now that’s a thought. You could just turn the business over to Mother for a while. After all, she’s lived and breathed it even longer than I have, and with her financial future at stake—”
Gavin’s eyebrows tilted. “You’re joking, surely.”
“Well, yes, I suppose I am,” Amy admitted. “But couldn’t you just talk to her? Explain what’s happened?”
Gavin shook his head. “I can’t see her being very understanding. And I can’t blame her, exactly—I got myself into this predicament.”
He was no doubt right about his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s lack of sympathy, Amy thought. Who could blame Carol Sherwood for still being furious over her ex-husband’s behavior? Amy didn’t think her mother would actually be shortsighted enough to put revenge ahead of her own financial interests. But Amy could understand why Gavin was hesitant to confess his predicament to Carol. If she did become vindictive, she’d be within her rights to demand her money even if it required Gavin to liquidate everything he owned, and he didn’t want to take the slightest chance of having that happen.
“And postponing the payment for a few weeks wouldn’t help much anyway,” Gavin said heavily, “if the business I’ve cultivated so carefully goes somewhere else in the meantime.”
Amy sighed. “All right. I’ll see what I can do.”
Gavin gripped her hand. “That’s my girl,” he said. “I knew I could count on you.”
Amy paused for a full fifteen seconds on the sidewalk, looking up at the block-square brown-brick building—originally a warehouse—that housed her father’s auction business, before she took a deep breath and pulled open the main door.
It had been nearly three months since she had set foot inside Sherwood Auctions, and just an hour ago, she’d have sworn that she would never walk through those doors again. But here she was anyway—pretty much resigned to the fact, if not precisely happy about it.
She stopped in the small entrance lobby. The half-dozen comfortable chairs opposite the reception desk were all empty, but that wasn’t unusual. It wasn’t exactly early, but the auction business didn’t really get moving till at least the middle of the day.
Behind the reception desk, a man in a dark suit was on the telephone, obviously scheduling an appointment for the caller with one of the auction house’s expert appraisers. That might take a while, Amy knew. Though she tapped the toe of her sandal on the marble floor, the action was more to give her something to do than because she was feeling impatient.
“Mrs. Gleason will see you on Thursday morning at ten,” the man at the desk said. “Thank you for calling Sherwood Auctions, Mrs. Carter.” He stood up. “Good morning. How may I help—” His question broke off abruptly as he got a good look at Amy, and he went on disbelievingly, “Ms. Sherwood?”
She didn’t blame him for being startled. “In the flesh, Robert.”
“But your father isn’t—” He sounded a bit apprehensive. “I mean, you do know about…don’t you?”
“About his heart attack? Relax, I haven’t been that far out of the loop. I just came from seeing him in the hospital. I’m here because…” She paused. Because I’m taking over. She hadn’t even said it out loud to herself, and at the last moment she realized she couldn’t get her tongue around the words to explain it to anyone else just yet. Not till she’d had a little more time to get used to the idea herself. So instead of telling Robert the truth, she said, “Because I need to see Beth Gleason. Has she come in yet?”
Robert nodded. “Go on up, Ms. Sherwood.” He pushed a button on the desk and the inner door unlocked with a soft buzz.
Amy was just a little startled that he hadn’t phoned Beth to come down to greet her. No one but the staff was supposed to wander around the building without an escort. In fact, considering the way Amy had departed almost three months ago, she wouldn’t have been too surprised if instead of casually letting her enter, Robert had vaulted the reception desk, seized her by the neck, and thrown her out onto the street. Even if her father had sentimentally left her name on the employee roster, the rest of the staff had to know the truth.
Amy stepped through the doorway and into the main lobby. While the reception area was elegant in a very understated way, the two-story-high lobby on the other side of the locked door—where no client or bidder or visitor ever went without an escort—had been deliberately designed to overwhelm. Though it contained nothing but a branching staircase with a cloakroom tucked underneath and a matched pair of elevators, the room often drew gasps from the first-time visitor. Quite an understandable reaction, Amy had always thought, since the staircase had been salvaged from a centuries-old manor house, the linen-fold paneling which covered the elevator doors from a minor palace, and the arched ceiling from a small cathedral. None of them were the sort of thing often seen in Kansas City.
Perception is everything in this business, Gavin had said, and he was right. It had cost him a fortune to create the image of a solid, wealthy, timeless business, but the investment had more than paid for itself. When clients who had been doubtful about what to do with their treasures saw this lobby, they abruptly relaxed, certain that they and their possessions were in good hands. Amy had seen it happen a hundred times.
She could have taken the elevator from the lower lobby all the way to the top of the building where the executive offices were located, but she much preferred to climb the stairs as far as she could. She liked to let her hand trail along the satin-smooth railing as she climbed, liked to see the view from the top step as a second and even larger lobby opened out in front of her. To one side, across what seemed an acre of carpet, was a pillared archway leading into the auction room where the rare and unusual items that were Sherwood Auctions’ specialty were put under the hammer. On the other side of the lobby, smaller doors led into a series of museum-like showrooms where prospective buyers could inspect the merchandise days or even weeks before the actual auction.