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Marriage by Mistake

By:Alyssa Kress

a close enough relative he'd been put in a job that rated a 'Mr.' from the company receptionist, but had to pay for it by sitting through a business conference. She could just see him, lounging in the back of the room and folding paper airplanes. Oh, it was a sad fact that despite the many choices of men available to a dancer in a glamorous Las Vegas production, Kelly always managed to pick the goof-offs, the dead-beats, and the lying bums.

The receptionist glanced back at her computer. "The conference is supposed to last all day, but there will be a break for lunch."

"Lunch!" Kelly's eyes went wide.

The receptionist regarded Kelly thoughtfully. "You do have Mr. Singleton's personal card, so I suppose it would be all right if you waited."

Kelly gaped at the woman. She was supposed to wait for Dean, the scum-sucking slug, until lunch? The horrible part was that she could feel the 'good girl' part of herself starting to agree to this delay. She didn't like to make trouble. Why not wait?

And then Kelly remembered Dean had used the very same word yesterday, right before he'd left her.

Wait.

Pressure built behind Kelly's forehead. The memory was painfully clear. Wait, Dean had said, while strolling with a smile toward her front door. He would only be gone for a minute, to pick up donuts and coffee. Be right back, he had said.

And Kelly had believed him. Of course she had. She'd loved him.

And now she was supposed to wait? In the wake of her deep pain over the betrayal roared a powerful combination of anger and fear. If she sat back, obliged waited for a man who'd done that, what would it make her?

Kelly looked straight at the receptionist. "I'm not waiting."

"What?"

Before she could chicken out, Kelly sidled around the marble counter.

"Now, just a minute," squeaked the receptionist, rising from her seat.

But Kelly was already stalking down one of the polished halls. Reason told her it could take a while to track Dean down in this big office building. Common sense screamed she was stepping out of bounds, but she couldn't stop now. She was determined to retrieve her self-respect.

"This way?" Kelly twirled to face the receptionist, who was scuttling after her down the hall. "You might as well tell me, honey, or I'll be opening every door in the place."

"Now, really, you can't "

"Oh, can't I?" For once in her life, Kelly would. Heart pounding, she twirled forward again, groped for the first closed door she saw, and whipped it open.

She found a glossy wood table and a dozen black leather chairs all empty.

"Wait " the receptionist squealed.

There was that word again. The worst part was Kelly had waited. She'd waited amid the tousled bed sheets, a stupid smile on her face, expecting to see Dean come back through the door. She'd waited long after it had become clear he'd gone farther than the corner donut joint. She'd waited until she'd had to admit she'd done it again, let herself get used. Even despite the extraordinary precaution she'd taken. Even so!

But this was it, the last time.

"Call security," Kelly heard someone order behind her. She felt alarm, an amazed shiver at her own gall, but her rage, and a kind of fear, overwhelmed everything. If she stopped now, she'd never be able to look herself in the mirror again.

He'd promised her love, then sneaked out. She could not wait to deal with that.

Kelly wrapped her hands around the knob of the next door down the hall, telling herself she was going to keep on trying if it took all day, if it took all night

Kelly flung the door open and stopped dead. A dozen business-suited professionals seated around a convex table stared at her in shock.

But the business-suited professionals filling the room were not what stopped Kelly's heart. What did that was the one man standing at the head of the table, a pointer in his hand and a fancy Italian designer suit stretched across his broad shoulders.

"Dean," Kelly breathed.

Or was it? He looked so odd in that suit, as if he were born to it. His jaw was unexpectedly clean-shaven and the dark curls Kelly had loved to tousle were ruthlessly tamed.

Most peculiar of all, he stared at her in the same manner as the rest of the people in the room. As if he'd never seen her before in his life.

Kelly felt a hard bump in the progress of her quest. He was supposed to shrink back in guilt. He was supposed to crumple in shame and panic. And for heaven's sake, he was supposed to look like Dean. Faded blue jeans, crooked grin, come-get-me eyes.

This man looked like he'd been carved from a slab of Massachusetts granite. His lips were a straight slash of severity and his glacier-blue gaze was steady. Indeed, not a single part of him moved as he stood there, pointer upraised. Strong and cool, he looked like a king.

He looked like he could be the actual, real-life head of Singleton Industries.

Kelly felt a shiver run down her spine. Her rage slipped. Was this Dean?

But a commotion behind her security? propelled her back into action. "Okay," she said, and straightened. "Okay, so you didn't feel anything, the way I did. That's no crime. But " She drew in a steadying breath against a sudden upwelling of pain. Two days before she'd hoped for so much, been so happy. "But why'd you have to go and make promises?" she whispered.

That's when she caught it, finally, his reaction. He flinched. Five hours flying and maxing out her credit card for a flinch.

The next instant strong arms seized her from behind. Security. It was almost laughable. He was the dirty rotten crumb, but she was about to be thrown from the premises.

"Let her go."

The words emerged from Dean. Yes, he heard himself say them, but he felt like he was watching the whole drama from the end of a very long hall. Or as if he were in the type of nightmare where one needed to escape dire disaster, but could not move one's arms or legs.

It had happened. The fallout he'd

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