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The Millionaire Claims His Wife(7)

By:Sandra Marton



"A messy day, is what you mean."

"Don't kill me for saying this, but maybe you should rethink things. I  mean, I know he's getting married and all, but maybe you do still have a  thing for your ex."

"I wouldn't care if he were living in a monastery!" Annie's eyes  flashed. "I do not have a 'thing' for Chase. I admit, I'm upset, but  it's because my baby's gotten herself married."

"You know what they say, Annie. We only raise children to let go of them once they grow up."

Annie tucked the hanky back into her cleavage, picked up the champagne bottle and headed for the kitchen.

"It's not letting go of her that upsets me, Deb. It's that she's so young. Too young, I'm afraid, to make such a commitment."

"Well," Deb said, folding her arms and leaning against the door frame, "you were young when you got hitched, too."

Annie sighed. "Exactly. And look where it led me. I thought I knew what I  was doing but it turned out I didn't. It was hormones, not  intelligence, that-" The phone rang. She reached out and picked it up.  "Hello?"

"Annie?"

"Chase." Annie's mouth narrowed. "What do you want? I thought we said all we needed to say to each other this afternoon."                       
       
           



       

Across town, in his hotel room, Chase looked at the boy standing at the  window. The boy's shoulders were slumped and his head was bowed in  classic despair.

Chase cleared his throat.

"Annie... Nick is here."

Annie's brows knotted together. "Nick? There? Where do you mean, there?"

"I mean he's here, in my room at the Hilton."

"No. That's impossible. Nick is on a plane to Hawaii, with Dawn..." The  blood drained from Annie's face. "Oh God," she whispered. "Has there  been an accident? Is Dawn-"

"No," Chase said quickly. "Dawn's fine. Nothing's happened to her, or to Nick."

"Then why-"

"She left him."

Annie sank down into a chair at the kitchen table. "She left him?" she  repeated stupidly. Deb stared at her in disbelief. "Dawn left Nick?"

"Yeah." Chase rubbed the back of his neck, where the muscles felt as if  somebody were tightening them on a rack. "They, uh, they got to the  airport and checked in their luggage. Then they went to the VIP lounge. I  upgraded their tickets, Annie, and bought them a membership in the  lounge. I knew you wouldn't approve, but-"

"Dammit, Chase, tell me what happened!"

Chase sighed. "Nick said he'd get them some coffee. Dawn said that was  fine. But when he came back with the coffee, she was gone."

"She didn't leave him," Annie said, her hand at her heart, "she's been kidnapped!"

"Kidnapped?" Deb snapped. "Dawn?"

"Did you call the police? Did you-"

"She left a note," Chase said wearily. Annie heard the rustle of paper. "She says it's not that she doesn't care for him."

"Care for him?" Annie's voice rose. "People care for-for flowers. Or  parakeets. She said she loved Nick. That she was crazy about him."

"...not that she doesn't care for him," Chase continued, "but that loving him isn't enough."

"Isn't-?"

"Isn't enough. She says she has no choice but to end this marriage before it begins."

Annie put her hand over her eyes. "Oh God," she whispered. "That sounds so ominous."

Chase nodded, as if Annie could see him.

"Nick's beside himself, and so am I." His voice roughened with emotion.  "He's looked for her everywhere, but he can't find her. Dear God, If  anything's happened to our little girl..."

Annie's head lifted. As soft as a whisper, the front door opened, then closed. Footsteps came slowly down the hall.

"Mom?"

Dawn stood in the doorway, dressed in the going-away suit they'd bought  together, the corsage of baby orchids Annie had pinned on the jacket's  lapel sadly drooping. Dawn's eyes were red and swollen.

"Baby?" Annie whispered.

Dawn gave Annie a smile that trembled, and then a sob burst from her throat.

"Oh, Mommy," she wailed, and Annie dropped the phone and opened her  arms. Her daughter flew across the room and buried her face in her  mother's lap.

Deb picked the phone up from the floor.

"Chase?"

"Dammit to hell," Chase roared, "who is this? What's going on there?"

"I'm a friend of Annie's," Deb said. "You and Nick can stop worrying. Dawn's here. She just came in."

Chase flashed an okay sign to Nick, who hurried to his side.

"Is my daughter okay?"

"Yes. She seems to-"

Chase slammed down the phone, and he and Nick ran out the door.





CHAPTER THREE

THE MOON HAD RISEN, climbed into a bank of clouds, and disappeared.

Sighing, Chase switched on the lamp beside his chair and wished he could  pull a stunt like that. Maybe then people would stop looking at him as  if he might just come up with a solution to an impossible situation.

But the simple truth was that impossible situations required improbable  solutions, and he didn't have any. His mind was a blank. At this point,  he wasn't even sure what day it was. The only thing he knew for certain  was that a few hours ago, he'd been the father of-the bride. Now he was  the father of-what did you call a young woman who'd gotten to the  airport and then told her brand-new husband that they'd made an awful  mistake and she wanted out?

Smart. That was what Chase would have called her, twenty-four hours ago,  when he'd have given just about anything if Dawn had decided to put her  wedding off until she was older and, hopefully, wiser.                       
       
           



       

Chase closed his eyes wearily. But his daughter hadn't decided to put  off her wedding. She'd gone through with it, which put a different spin  on things. More than canceling arrangements with the church and the  caterer were involved here. Dawn and Nick were bound together, in the  eyes of God and in accordance with the laws of the state of Connecticut.

Severing that bond was a lot more complicated than it would have been a  few hours ago. And it sure didn't help that Dawn kept weeping and saying  she loved Nick with all her heart, it was just that she couldn't,  wouldn't, mustn't stay married to him.

Chase put his hand to the back of his neck and tried to rub the tension  out of his muscles. He had no idea what she was talking about, and  neither did Nick, the poor, bewildered bastard. Not even Annie  understood; Chase was certain of that, and never mind the way she'd kept  saying, "I understand, sweetheart," while she'd rocked Dawn in her  arms.

"What do you understand?" Chase had asked her in exasperation, when  she'd come hurrying out of the bedroom after she'd finally convinced  Dawn to lie down and try to get some sleep. Annie had shot him one of  those men-are-so-stupid looks women did so well and said she didn't  understand anything, but she wasn't about to upset Dawn by telling her  that.

"Dammit, Annie," Chase had roared, and that had done it. Nick had come  running, Dawn had started crying, Annie had called him a name he hadn't  even figured she knew...hell, he thought wearily, it was a good thing  Annie didn't have a dog, or it would have gotten in on the act and taken  a chunk out of his ankle.

"Now see what you've done," Annie had snarled, and the door to Dawn's room had slammed in his bewildered face.

Chase groaned. He was tired. So tired. There'd been no sound from behind  the closed door for hours now. Annie and his daughter were probably  asleep. Even Nick had finally fallen into exhausted slumber on the sofa  in the living room.

Maybe, if he just put his head back for a five-minute snooze...

"Dammit!"

Chase's head bobbed like a yo-yo on a string. That was just what he'd  needed, all right. Oh, yeah. Nothing like a little whiplash for neck  muscles that already felt knotted.

"Stupid chair," he muttered, and sprang to his feet.

For a minute there, he'd forgotten he wasn't in the den he and Annie had  shared for so many years. Annie had dumped all the old furniture when  she'd bought this house. She'd filled these rooms with little bits and  pieces of junk. Antiques, she called them, but junk is what the stuff  was. Delicate junk, at that. Sofas and tables with silly legs, chairs  with no headrests...

"You kick that chair, Chase Cooper, and I swear, I'll kick you!"

Chase swung around. His ex-wife stood in the entrance to the room. She'd  exchanged her mother-of-the-bride dress for a pair of jeans and a  sweatshirt and from the way her hair was standing on end and her hands  were propped on her hips, he had the feeling her mood wasn't much better  than his.

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