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Millionaire in Command

By:Catherine Mann

Millionaire in Command
Catherine Mann

       One



Phoebe Slater brought a baby to the millionaire  military hero's seaside  welcome-home gala.Undoubtedly most of the guests  plucking canapés and  champagne from silver trays at this high-profile  affair could afford  nannies. Of course the Hilton Head Island wealthy  could also afford  tailored tuxedos and sequined high-end dresses as they  mingled the  evening away in the country club gardens by the shore. Her  basic little  black dress had been bought at a consignment store to wear  to the few  mandatory cocktail parties related to her position as a  history  professor at the University of South Carolina.

Of course she usually didn't accessorize with baby drool dotting her shoulder.

Phoebe  jostled the fractious five-month-old infant on her hip,  smoothing down  the pink smocked dress. "Hang on, sweetie. Just a few  more minutes and I  can feed you before bedtime."

As waves crashed in the distance, a  live band played oldies rock,  enticing guests to the dance floor with a  Billy Joel classic. Even  South Carolina's governor was dancing under  the silver silk canopy with  his wife. Darn near gawking, Phoebe stumbled  on the edge of the  flagstone walkway.

Definitely this was a  party for the movers and shakers in the political  world-as well as on  the polished wood dance floor planked over the  sandy lawn. She untangled  her low heel from between two decorative  rocks. She wasn't here to  socialize tonight. She'd come to find little  Nina's father.

If only she had a better idea of what he looked like.

Her  longtime friend and old sorority sister-Nina's biological  mother-had  told Phoebe that Kyle Landis was the baby's daddy a couple  of months ago  when she'd asked for "just a little help" with Nina while  she went on  an audition for a dinner-theater production in Florida.  Bianca had been  so excited to get her prebaby body back, insisting this  was her chance  to provide a better life for her daughter.

Who could have known Bianca wouldn't return?

Phoebe  hugged Nina closer, all the more determined to make sure this  precious  baby had a stable life. Which meant finding Kyle Landis, a man  she'd  never met in the flesh. She'd hoped to ID him by his Air Force  uniform,  but the place was packed with tall, dark-haired guys decked  out in  formal military gear. Medals gleamed in the moonlight.

Cupping  the back of Nina's bonnet-covered head as the little one  finally dozed  off, Phoebe scanned the sea of faces, their profiles  shadowy with only  the illumination of moon, stars and pewter tiki  torches. She only had an  older photo to go by, a picture tucked deep in  the bottom of the  flowered diaper bag slung over her clean shoulder.  No way was she going  to disturb Nina by looking, not now that the baby  was nearly out for the  count.

He used to appear in the newspapers frequently when his  late father had  been a senator. Then his mother and brother had stepped  into the  political spotlight, too. But the family kept Kyle out of the  media's  scrutiny as much as possible for safety's sake because of his  tours of  duty in war zones.

The crush of people grew thicker,  faces tougher to see. As much as she  hated to draw attention to herself,  she was going to have to ask for  help finding-

"Can I get you something?"

The  deep voice rumbled from behind her as if in answer to her very   thoughts, jolting her with a clear shot of sexy bass on the salty ocean   breeze. Lordy, the waiter must rack up tips with that bedroom voice of   his. She glanced over her shoulder to ask for a napkin-she'd forgotten   the burp rag again, damn it.

Her smile froze.

Captain Kyle Landis-in the flesh, all right.

His  dark brown hair was trimmed military short, mellow blue eyes  creased at  the corners from a deep tan she knew he'd earned in a Middle  Eastern  desert. A broad forehead and strong jawline gave him a  masculine appeal  just shy of harsh.

She should have realized the guy would be even  better looking in  person. He was a lucky son of a gun from an  established old Southern  family-handsome and rich, with a smoky voice to  boot. He'd even  reportedly survived a crash unscathed. His muscled  chest in a blue  uniform jacket sported at least double the medals of  most here, perhaps  only outdone by his stepfather, a general.                       
       
           



       

What  were the odds of Kyle finding her tonight, instead of the other  way  around? But then, as the guest of honor, maybe he felt obligated to  make  sure everyone else was having a good time.

"Can I get you something?" he repeated, a cut-crystal whiskey glass cradled in his hand.

An  older woman angled past, whipping a full, ruffled train against   Phoebe's leg. The scent of strong perfume made Nina sneeze. She   readjusted the baby, wishing they were at home in her bentwood rocker   rather than here with this man. "I actually don't need help anymore,   since I was looking for you."

A dimple dug into his cheek with his one-sided smile. "I'm sorry, if we've met before, I'm not remembering."

That  dimple would have been charming if she hadn't already heard from  Bianca  to be wary of his prep-school-polished sense of humor. She might  be out  of her financial league here, but she was a smart, determined  woman.

Phoebe forged ahead, needing to say something before he turned her over to a bouncer. "I'm not here for myself."

He  glanced behind her quickly, then focused his full, deep-blue-eyed   attention on her face again. "Which one of my pals are you with? We   don't get many chances to meet the wives."

"I'm not married." But  she had been. She shoved away even the thought  of Roger before the  inevitable stab of pain could steal her focus.

Kyle's gaze flicked briefly to Nina, then away. So much for him recognizing his child on sight.

To  be fair, he didn't even know about Nina's existence. Bianca had   insisted early in the pregnancy that, while she wasn't sure if she   wanted to keep the baby, she would inform the baby's father. Then later   said she'd chickened out, then couldn't find him and certainly didn't   want to send this kind of news to him overseas through his family.

As  if Bianca would've even gotten past personal assistants to talk to   anyone in his famous family. It had been a major challenge to gate-crash   this shindig, but no security could outdo her determination.

That  drive-along with channeling some acting tips she'd picked up from   Bianca-and Phoebe had convinced them all she was the caterer's   assistant's wife. Easy enough to do, since she was more the   friend-next-door than the flashy-leading-lady.

Nothing could stop  her, not now that Kyle had come home. Somebody had  to tell him about  his new "little" responsibility and since Bianca was  MIA, that left it  up to her.

Might as well get this over with. "Is there somewhere we can step aside to talk?"

"I'm  sorry, but my mother would haul me back in by my ear if I tried to  duck  out of my own welcome-home party." He angled closer, the fresh  scent of  his aftershave teasing her nose. "Maybe later, though?"

Undeniable interest flared in his cobalt-blue eyes, his full attention fixed on her.

Holy crap. Could he actually be hitting on her? She'd prepared herself for any possible reaction from him-except that.

She jolted back a step, holding up one hand. "Wait, that's not what I meant."

And  even if he were interested enough to actually contact her, what if  it  took him a week to call? She didn't have another week to waste  waiting  for him to phone her back.

Nina didn't have a week.

Phoebe  patted between the baby's shoulders, praying she would stay  asleep. The  last thing she needed was a colicky nuclear meltdown. "I  have to speak  with you for five minutes out of earshot of everyone  else. I promise I  won't keep you long and you can get back to your  welcome-home party.  Perhaps you could just escort me to the door? Then  you'll know I'm truly  on my way out of your hair."

"Fair enough." He set his drink on the bar behind him. "Do you need some help with the kid?"

Instinctively, she backed farther away until her butt bumped a column plant-holder, jostling the fern on top.

Laughing,  he held out both hands. "Hey, no need to freak out. I won't  drop her.  I've never been much of a kid person, but I'm getting  practice lately  with my nephew."

Nina had a cousin. How wild to think about, and  imagine them playing  together happily. Nina needed a life full of people  who loved her. And  the sooner Phoebe cleared this up, the sooner Nina  would be settled.  "We're fine, but thanks for asking. Just lead the way  and we'll  follow."                       

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