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Marriage of Inconvenience (Knitting in the City Book 7)

By:Penny Reid

Part I


What Happens in Chicago, Stays in Chicago


Chapter One


Marriage: The legal union    of a couple as spouses. The basic elements of a marriage are: (1) the parties' legal ability to marry each other, (2) mutual consent of the parties, and (3) a marriage contract as required by law.


-Wex Legal Dictionary


**Kat**


What did you just say?"

My sharp question earned me a sharp look from Ms. Opal. She eyed me from across the room. Mouth pinched into a disapproving pucker, my coworker's gaze lingered on the cell in my hand. Ms. Opal didn't do this often-send me disapproving looks-just whenever I spoke too loudly. Or laughed. Or smiled. Or showed any emotion.

None of which I did with any frequency.

"Sorry," I said to her, even though my sharp question hadn't been directed to Ms. Opal.

It had been directed to the person on the other side of my call. The unexpectedly disastrous, panic-inducing call.

I heard a chair creak, and then he repeated, "He's planning to have you committed."

"Please wait," I whispered, dipping my chin to my chest, allowing my hair to fall forward. Blocking my face from Ms. Opal and anyone else who might walk through our shared space, I whispered, "Let me call you back. I'm at work."

Uncle Eugene huffed, the sound ripe with impatience. "At work."

"Yes. At work. As in my job."

"Your job." His words were as flat as matzo.

"Please give me five minutes. Thank you," I said on a rush.

Not waiting for his response, I ended the call and clutched my cell to my chest. I stared unseeingly at the dark, solid wood surface of my desk while trying very, very hard not to FREAK THE FREAKITY FREAK OUT!

Oh God, oh God, oh God. What am I going to do? Why now? Why-

"Kat?"

I stiffened, instinctively straightening my spine, and managed a raspy, "Yes, Ms. Opal?"

I sensed the older woman hesitate, and felt her disapproving eyes move over me. I was familiar with this look of hers. It was the kind of look I imagined mothers gave their kids during teenage years. The kind of look parents everywhere administered to children when they were acting like a fool, as I sometimes caught Ms. Opal muttering under her breath.

Struggling to paste on my polite smile of perpetual calm, I glanced at the older woman. We'd been working together in the same space for going on five years and I'd grown accustomed to her pointed looks, usually. But today, as Ms. Opal lifted her eyebrows and narrowed her eyes, my throat tightened and my cheeks heated.

I was officially off-kilter.

Discovering one's cousin wishes to send thee away to a nunnery will do that. And by nunnery, I mean a mental hospital. And by send away, I mean lock me away forever if he can manage it.

As far as coworkers went, I liked Ms. Opal a lot. I appreciated her exacting nature. We were the two highest-ranking administrative employees in the firm, and we worked well together. She was no-nonsense, dedicated, and never gossiped. The woman was always five minutes early and fully prepared for all meetings. Sometimes I thought she liked me too, like the time she came back from vacation and discovered I'd organized the copy room according to her preferred design. She hadn't given me a pointed look after that for a full six weeks.

Presently, she cleared her throat. "I need a few number-ten envelopes from the supply closet. Will you please retrieve them for me? I'll cover your desk."

Startled, I stared at her. She was still giving me a pointed look, but even through the wild jungle of my panic I recognized that it wasn't a look of disappointment. She seemed concerned.

"Yes. I will."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome." Forcing myself to nod, I stood from my desk. As my chair made a clumsy scraping noise against the floor, I darted out of our shared office. It wasn't until I was three cubicles away from the supply closet, and one of the senior architects gave me a weird side-eye, that I realized I hadn't stopped nodding or clutching my phone.

It didn't matter.

Maybe nothing mattered.

Maybe not even cheese mattered.

Ceasing my inane nodding, I redirected my attention to my sleeve, fiddling with the buttons in order to avoid eye contact. I then pulled at the keys attached to my waist and unlocked the closet. Once inside, I shut the door behind me and flicked on the light, hoping none of the staff architects had spotted my mad dash.         

     



 

Architects were like junkies around office supplies, insatiable. I didn't understand their preoccupation with mechanical pencils and graph paper, especially since all their work and renderings were done using computer models. Regardless, we could never keep either in stock.

I once had a junior architect buy me a fruit basket for a packet of highlighters. I felt like saying, Dude. Anyone can buy highlighters. Just go to an office supply store. Instead, I wrote her a thank you note.

Staring at the screen of my phone, I pushed past the rising tide of fear and redialed Uncle Eugene's number.

He picked up the phone immediately. "Hello?"

"Hello," I said. Waited. When he was quiet, I added, "It's me. It's Kat."

"Yes. I know."

I waited again. When he said nothing else, I asked, "What am I going to do? Please tell me what to do."

"You don't have many options." He sounded grim, but then he always did. I appreciated his consistency.

Eugene Marks wasn't really my uncle. He was my family's lawyer, but I'd known him since I was a kid, and he'd always been nice to me. Grim, but nice. The bar had been set so low by my blood relatives, to the extent that Uncle Eugene had been my favorite person growing up. I always remembered his birthday with a hand-stamped card and an edible bouquet of mostly pineapple. Pineapple was his favorite.

"Please, tell me my options." I paced within the small closet.

"Fine. First option: you allow your cousin to become the guardian of your person and your property. He will promptly commit you, take control of your inheritance when the time comes-specifically, your controlling shares in Caravel Pharmaceuticals-and you may spend the next several years institutionalized. He'll have control of your accounts and finances, therefore you'll have no funds for legal representation."

See? Grim, right?

"Please explain to me how any of this is possible. I've been-voluntarily-going to counseling for just over two years now. I earned my GED, and my AA all on my own. Now I'm putting myself through the part-time business program at the University of Chicago, maintaining a 3.9 GPA while working full time."

"Yes. Even though some of those actions will work in your favor, it won't be enough."

"Please explain."

"Firstly, you aren't ready to lead a multi-national pharmaceutical empire."

"I agree. Of course I'm not ready." I kept my tone calm, firmly dispassionate. "But I have been flying there two weekends a month, haven't I? I've been meeting with you, the board, learning, preparing. As far as I know, the board is happy to vote my father's shares as a collective until I reach thirty-one. That was the plan we all agreed to two years ago, and I've done everything asked of me."

"Except quit your job and move back to Boston."

I shook my head. "We've already discussed this."

What I didn't say, what I hadn't admitted to anyone, was that I didn't know if I'd ever be ready to move back to Boston, to assume the role I'd been born into. I'd been stubborn, stalling, putting off the inevitable, because just the thought of living that life, living in that empty mansion, sequestered from the real world, filled me with misery.

"Caleb has never been a proponent of the plan. He believes the shares should reside with the family, not with the board." Eugene's reminder was unnecessary.

Whenever I saw my cousin, he mocked me, told me how I'd failed my family, and how I'd never be capable of leading the company. He's say I was too shy. Too inexperienced. Too timid. Crazy like my mother. His favorite taunt was that I could snap at any time.

I wasn't shy. He mistook my silence for timidity. I saw no reason to converse with people I didn't like and the truth was I didn't like him. Just thinking about the weasel made me want to throw spoiled milk on his weasel face. And then heft loaves of maggoty pound cake at his weasel face. And then rotten tomatoes. And then drown him in a vat of sewage. And then bring him back to life just to burn him in a dumpster full of dead rat carcasses . . .         

     



 

I might have unresolved anger issues.

That said, on the bright side, dealing with weasel-like Caleb and his weasel face had forced me to become more assertive. The intensity of my desire to prove him wrong was 49 percent of the reason why I'd stayed the course over the last two years.

"Whether that . . . Caleb is pleased with the plan or not makes no difference," I seethed through clenched teeth, acknowledging the uncomfortable spike in my blood pressure for what it was, an uncharacteristic display of emotion. "I am Rebekah and Zachariah's child. He is not."

"Yes. But Caleb is your closest living relative. Well, closest relative who is not institutionalized."

I had to swallow my sorrow before I could respond. "How is that relevant?"

"He will make the case that you, like your parents, are unstable."

"Again, please explain to me how he can make a case that I'm unstable."

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