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Falling for the Millionaire

By:Merrillee Whren

Falling for the Millionaire
Merrillee Whren

 Chapter One

Blind dates mimicked test-driving cars. Tonight Melody Hammond had  another one to deal with. What would it bring? Her friends kept sending  her fancy sports cars when all she wanted was a nice simple sedan.

The doorbell rang. She peered through the peephole in the front door of  her small brick ranch house in her suburban Atlanta neighborhood. She  couldn't tell much from the distorted image except that the man was tall  and had dark hair.

This was one date that carried some consequences. Tonight's fund-raiser  for The Village of Hope Ministries was an event intended to raise money  for Melody's pet project-building more housing for abused and troubled  women. Too often the ministry had difficulty finding space for all the  women who needed help and had to turn many away. She planned to do  everything within her power to see this project funded.

People had paid a lot of money to attend this formal dinner dance,  including her date. She hoped it would go well, so she could represent  The Village properly. She wanted to believe anyone who had an interest  in helping a charity was a decent person. Unfortunately, she'd learned  over the years that not all donors to good causes were good people. Some  had ulterior motives.

Melody took a deep breath, then tried to produce a genuine smile as she  opened the door. That breath caught in her throat as she stared up at  Hudson Paine Conrick, the Fourth. In his black tuxedo he was handsome  beyond description. His dark hair curled and waved in a rumpled kind of  way. The five-o'clock shadow he sported gave him a dangerous look-at  least where a woman's heart was concerned.

A Ferrari.

No doubt.

He gave her a lazy grin. "Ms. Hammond, Hudson Conrick. Nice to meet you."

Melody nodded, hoping her brain would engage her tongue. "Please come in while I get my wrap, Mr. Conrick."

"Certainly. You look lovely, though it's a shame you have to cover that  stunning red evening gown with anything." He stepped across the  threshold.

"Thank you, but a pashmina doesn't cover much. Thankfully, it's not too  cold tonight." Smiling, Melody tried not to assign any connotation to  his compliment as she grabbed her purse and wrap from the nearby hall  table.

"Fortunately, Atlanta is having a mild January." Hudson opened the door for her.

"Thanks." She threw the wrap around her shoulders, then locked the door.  Turning toward the driveway, she stopped short at the sight of a black  limousine. She caught herself before she blurted, Wow! A limo! Was he  trying to show off? She shouldn't question their mode of transportation,  just enjoy it.

As they approached the vehicle, the driver appeared out of nowhere and  opened the door. Melody slid across the black-and-gray leather seats, a  combination of butter and silk beneath her fingers. The smell of cleaner  permeated the warm interior. A television in one corner broadcasted  business news while soft music played in the background. A lit  workstation with a laptop computer and a bar filled with rows of glasses  sat across from her.

Melody pressed her lips together to keep her mouth from hanging open at  the obvious display of wealth. Who was entitled to this much luxury when  people were starving?

She had to stop her judgmental attitude. This man was donating a lot of  money to her cause. She had no right to disparage his wealth.

As Hudson slid in beside her, he turned off the TV. "Sorry about that. I'm sure you don't want business news blaring at you."

Melody shrugged and let her pashmina fall from her shoulders. "No problem, Mr. Conrick."

Smiling, he reached for a glass from the bar, filled it with ice and  poured water into it. "Would you like one? Or a soft drink?"

"Water's fine, thanks."

He poured another glass of water, then handed it to her. "Shall we toast to a wonderful evening?"

"Sure." She clinked her glass against his and wondered what she should  talk about now. Hudson settled back and looked at her, his eyes, the  color of maple syrup, filled with amusement. "Let's set aside the  formality. Please call me Hudson. May I call you Melody?"

The tension in Melody's shoulders began to wither away. "That would make for a better evening."

"Agreed." Hudson grinned. "So you and Ian work together?"

Nodding, Melody wondered whether Ian Montgomery, her co-worker who had  set up this date, had any idea how mismatched she and Hudson were. "Yes.  In addition to being The Village's legal guy, he's the administrator of  the nursing facility and senior center."

Surprise registered on Hudson's face. "That's interesting. I knew he  handled your legal stuff, but I didn't know about the rest."

"All of us in the administration at The Village have multiple roles. I  came there to head up the women's ministries, but I also coordinate the  children's one, too."

"Must keep you busy."

"It does." Melody searched her mind for something to talk about that  didn't sound like a commercial for The Village. "Ian said you went to  law school with him. Where do you practice law?"         



Hudson gave her a lopsided grin. "I don't."

"Oh." Did she dare ask him what he did? Maybe he was one of those  trust-fund babies who did little work and spent time vacationing in  trendy locations. Ian had mentioned that Hudson had been overseas.

He chuckled. "I suppose you're wondering what I do with my time?"

As a heated blush crept up Melody's neck and onto her cheeks, she was  thankful for the dim lighting in the limo. She might as well be honest.  "Yes, I'm curious since you don't practice law."

A smirk curved his lips for a moment. "I went to law school because my  father insisted on it. Otherwise, he would've cut me off without any  money, and I couldn't have that, now, could I? Without that money, I  wouldn't have been able to be your escort tonight."

Was he joking, or was he serious? She resisted the urge to rub away the  headache that was forming at her temples. How would she endure a whole  night with a guy whose only thought was living off his daddy's money?  She had to be thankful for that money. It was helping to fund this  much-needed project.

Melody forced a smile. "That still doesn't tell me what you do."

"I try my best to stay out of my father's hair." Hudson gave her a sardonic smile.

Another cryptic answer. Maybe he really didn't do anything, and he  didn't want to admit it. Sounded as if he didn't get along with his  father. Sad. Hudson had a father he didn't have much use for, and Melody  wished her father was still alive. He'd died too young in an airplane  crash. "That's your job? Staying out of your father's hair?"

Laying his head back, Hudson laughed out loud. When he finally looked at  her, his eyes still sparked with laughter. "That's a good description  of what I do."

"And how does one accomplish that?"

"Excellent question." Hudson jiggled the ice cubes in his glass as if he  would find an answer there. "I work wherever he sends me. I've spent  the last year in the Middle East looking out for our oil interests. I've  only been back in the States for a few weeks. My mother insisted that I  come home for Christmas."

Melody's stomach roiled at the mention of that region of the world. So  much trouble. So much misery. So many deaths. "I'm sure your mother was  happy."

Hudson nodded as he smiled wryly. "Yes, and I managed to stay on my  father's good side for all of Christmas Day. You might as well know that  my presence at your fund-raiser tonight is all about pleasing him."

There it was-the ulterior motive. Pleasing his daddy. As reasons went,  that one wasn't all bad. At least Hudson was honest about why he was her  escort. She realized she was judging the man again. Maybe his daddy was  a real reprobate and staying out of his way was a matter of wisdom. She  stared at her glass of ice water. Why couldn't she put her critical  attitude on ice? "I'm glad you could join us this evening."

"Me, too. It's been a while since I've had the pleasure of going out  with a beautiful woman." Hudson's gaze didn't waver as he looked at her.

Melody produced another smile that she feared came across as pretentious  as his flattery. How did she acknowledge it? Believe he was sincere?  "Thank you for sharing your evening with me and contributing to this  very worthy cause."

He set his glass in the cup holder. "Tell me more about The Village of Hope."

"Sure." Melody took a deep breath, wondering whether a wealthy man could  begin to understand what it was like to be poor or down on your luck  and without resources. "It's a multifaceted ministry. We provide shelter  for women who have fled an abusive situation or women who need a  helping hand while they recover from addictions. As you know, we provide  legal help for those who can't afford it. We have a dozen children's  homes for abused, neglected or orphaned children. The Village has a  nursing facility and an assisted living center. We also have job  counseling and job training."