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The Millionaire Claims His Wife(5)

By:Sandra Marton



Chase had never struck a woman in his life. Hell, he'd never even had  the urge. Men who hit women were despicable. Still, just for an instant,  he found himself wishing Annie were a man, so he could wipe that  holier-than-thou smirk from her face.

He did the next best thing, instead.

"If you're asking if there's a special woman in my life," he said, his  gaze locked on hers, "the answer is yes." He paused for effect, then  went for broke. "And I'll thank you to watch the way you talk about my  fiancée."

It was like watching a building collapse after the demolition guys had  placed the dynamite and set it off. Annie's smirk disintegrated and her  jaw dropped.                       
       
           



       

"Your-your...?"

"Fiancée." he said. It wasn't a complete lie. He'd been dating Janet for  two months now, and she hadn't been at all subtle about what she wanted  from the relationship. "Janet Pendleton. Ross Pendleton's daughter. Do  you know her?"

Know her? Janet Pendleton, heiress to the Pendleton fortune? The blond,  blue-eyed creature who turned up on the New York Times Sunday Society  pages almost every week? The girl known as much for the brilliance she  showed as vice president at Pendleton as for having turned down a  million-dollar offer to lend her classic beauty to a series of perfume  ads for a top French company?

For the barest fraction of a second, Annie felt as if the floor was  tilting under her feet. Then she drew herself up and pasted a smile on  her lips.

"We don't move in the same circles, I'm afraid. But I know who she is,  of course. It's nice to see your tastes have gone from  twenty-two-year-olds to females tottering on the brink of thirty. Have  you told Dawn yet?"

"No! I mean, no, there hasn't been time. I, ah, I thought I'd wait until she and Nick get back from their honey-"

"Milton. There you are." Annie reached out and grabbed Milton Hoffman's  arm. She was pretty sure he'd been trying to sneak past her and Chase  undetected, en route to the line at the buffet table, but if ever  there'd been a time she'd needed someone to cling to, it was now.  "Milton," she said, looping her arm through his and giving him a  dazzling smile, "my ex has just given me some exciting news."

Hoffman looked at Chase, his eyes wary behind his tortoiseshells. "Really," he said. "How nice."

"Chase is getting married again. To Janet Pendleton." Could your lips be permanently stretched by a smile? "Isn't that lovely?"

"Well," Chase said, "actually-"

"I suppose it's the season for romance," Annie said, with a silvery  laugh. "Dawn and Nick, Chase and Janet Pendleton..." She tilted her head  and gazed up into Milton Hoffman's long, bony face. "And us."

Hoffman's Adam's apple bobbed so hard it almost dislodged his bow tie.  It was only a week ago that he'd asked Anne Cooper to marry him. She'd  told him how much she liked and admired him, how she enjoyed his company  and his attention. She'd told him everything but yes.

His gaze leaped to her former husband. Chase Cooper had taken his  father's construction firm and used his engineering degree and his  muscles to turn it into a company with a national reputation. He'd  ridden jackhammers as they bit deep into concrete foundations and  hoisted pickaxes to reduce the remainder to piles of rubble. Hoffman  swallowed hard again. Cooper still had the muscles to prove it. Right  now, the man looked as if he wanted to use those muscles to pulverize  him.

"Chase?" Annie said, beaming. "Aren't you going to wish us well?"

"Yes," Chase said, jamming his hands into his pockets, balling them so  hard they began to shake. "I wish you the best, Annie. You and your  cadaver, both."

Annie's smile flattened. "You always did know the right thing to say,  didn't you, Chase?" Turning on her heel, she propelled herself and  Milton off the edge of the dance floor and toward the buffet.

"Anne," Milton whispered, "Anne, my dearest, I had no idea..."

"Neither did I," Annie whispered back, and smiled up into his stunned  face hard enough so he'd have to think the tears in her eyes were for  happiness and not because a hole seemed suddenly to have opened in her  heart.

* * *

Married, Chase thought. His Annie, getting married to that jerk.

Surely she had better taste.

He slid his empty glass across the bar to the bartender.

"Women," he said. "Can't live with 'em and can't live without 'em."

The bartender smiled politely. "Yes, sir."

"Give me a refill. Bourbon and-"

"And water, one ice cube. I remember."

Chase looked at the guy. "You trying to tell me I've been here too many times this afternoon?"

The bartender's smile was even more polite. "I might have to, soon, sir. State law, you know."

Chase's mouth thinned. "When I've had too much to drink, I'll be sure and let you know. Meanwhile, make this one a double."

"Chase?"

He swung around. Behind him, people were doing whatever insane line  dance was this year's vogue. Others were still eating the classy  assortment of foods Annie had ordered and he hadn't been permitted to  pay for.                       
       
           



       

"I've no intention of asking you to foot the bill for anything," she'd  told him coldly, when he'd called to tell her to spare no expense on the  wedding. "Dawn is my daughter, my floral design business is thriving  and I need no help from you."

"Dawn is my daughter, too," Chase had snarled, but before he'd gotten  the words out, Annie had hung up. She'd always been good at getting the  last word, dammit. Not today, though. He'd gotten it. And the look on  her face when he'd handed her all that crap about his engagement to  Janet made it even sweeter.

"Chase? You okay?"

Who was he kidding? He hadn't had the last word this time, either. Annie  had. How could she? How could she marry that pantywaist, bow-tie  wearing, gender-confused-

"Chase, what the hell's the matter with you?"

Chase blinked. David Chambers, tall, blue-eyed, still wearing his dark  hair in a long ponytail clasped at his nape the same way he had since  he'd first become Chase's personal attorney a dozen years ago, was  standing alongside him.

Chase let out an uneasy laugh.

"David." He stuck out his hand, changed his mind and clasped the other man's shoulders. "Hey, man, how're you doing?"

Chambers smiled and drew Chase into a quick bear hug. Then he drew back and eyed him carefully.

"I'm fine. How about you? You all right?"

Chase reached for his drink and knocked back half of it in one swallow.

"Never been better. What'll you have?"

Chambers looked at the bartender. "Scotch," he said, "a single malt, if  you have it, on the rocks. And a glass of Chardonnay, please."

"Don't tell me," Chase said with a stilted smile. "You're here with a lady. I guess the love bug's bitten you, too."

"Me?" David laughed. "The wine's for a lady at my table. As for the love  bug... It already bit me, remember? One marriage, one divorce...no,  Chase, not me. Never again, not in this lifetime."

"Yeah." Chase wrapped his hand around his glass. "What's the point? You  marry a woman, she turns into somebody else after a couple of years."

"I agree. Marriage is a female fantasy. Promise a guy anything to nab  him, then look blank when he expects you to deliver." The bartender set  the Scotch in front of David, who lifted the glass to his lips and took a  swallow. "The way I see it, a man's got a housekeeper, a cook and a  good secretary, what more does he need?"

"Nothing," Chase said glumly, "not one thing."

The bartender put a glass of Chardonnay before David, who picked it up.  He turned and looked across the room. Chase followed his gaze to a table  where a cool-looking, beautiful brunette sat in regal solitude.

A muscle knotted in David's jaw. He took another swallow of Scotch.

"Unfortunately," he said, "there is one other thing. And it's what most often gets poor bastards like you and me in trouble."

Chase thought of the feel of Annie in his arms on the dance floor, just a couple of hours ago.

"Poor bastards, is right," he said, and lifted his glass to David.  "Well, you and I both know better. Bed 'em and forget 'em, I say."

David laughed and clinked his glass against Chase's. "I'll drink to that."

"To what? What are you guys up to, hidden away over here?"

Both men turned around. Dawn, radiant in white lace and with Nick at her side, beamed at them.

"Daddy," she said, kissing her father's cheek. "And Mr. Chambers. I'm so glad you could make it."

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