The Millionaire's Proposal, страница 1
The Millionaire’s Proposal
Copyright © Janelle Denison, September 2014
Cover Photo Copyright by Karen Gibas Photography
Cover Photo Couple: Fred and Brittany Sigman (and Kambria!)
eBook Cover Design by Novel Graphic Designs
eBook Formatting by BB eBooks
All right reserved. No part of this may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from Author.
Table of Contents
Destined For Love Series
About the Author
THE MILLIONAIRE’S PROPOSAL was originally written as a Harlequin Romance in 1998 (as The Baby Surprise), and is much sweeter and more traditional in tone than my current books. I’m thrilled to have the rights back to this book that has been out of print for years, and I’m equally thrilled to share some of my earlier novels with my readers.
This book was originally written at a time when millionaires, cowboys, babies and brides were a very popular theme in romance novels. I’ve made a few changes to update certain aspects of the story, but the classic tone remains the same.
I hope you enjoy Grace and Ford’s story!
The impact of colliding into such a solid wall of masculinity knocked the breath out of Grace Holbrook, and dazed her to the extent that she saw a few stars. It was as if he’d appeared out of nowhere, though she was sure he’d just come out of the bank where she’d been heading. That’s what she got for ogling the new brochures she’d just picked up from the printer’s for her flower shop, instead of watching where she was going.
“Are you all right?”
His voice was deep, rich, and incredibly sexy, coaxing her back to the present with that direct pull on her feminine senses. Still feeling dazed, she blinked and slowly glanced up, summoning an apology for her clumsiness.
The words caught somewhere between her vocal chords and lips. He was a tall man, towering over her own five-foot-five frame with shoulders wide enough for a woman of her petite stature to completely lose herself in.
He was staring at her. At least she assumed he was watching her through the dark sunglasses he wore. She couldn’t see his eyes, and resented that they concealed what appeared to be, by lack of original description, a drop-dead gorgeous face. What she could determine of his features was chiseled with strong lines and angles, except for his nose, which looked like it might have been broken at one time. The slightly crooked slope, and those sensual, well-shaped lips of his, and thick, rich sable hair cut into a short, executive style, only served to accentuate his good looks.
Her admiration took in a hunter green and beige patterned silk shirt, and tan pleated trousers that fitted to lean hips and thighs. Expensive Italian loafers completed his urban image.
He wasn’t from around the small town of Whitaker Falls, Virginia, of that she was certain. For one, they didn’t grow such sophistication, and second, word would have spread that a gorgeous new hunk had taken up residence nearby.
“Are you still with me?” He tilted his head and smiled, producing a fascinating dimple at the corner of his mouth that flirted, charmed, and made Grace’s breath hitch in her throat.
I know that dimple, that devastatingly seductive smile, she thought, then shook off the notion as absurd and a trick of her imagination. Her internal chastisement did little for the awareness fluttering in her belly.
“Since it seems I’ve knocked the breath out of you, maybe I ought to administer mouth-to-mouth?” he suggested, amusement evident in his voice. “I’d be happy to oblige . . . ”
Her face flushed. “Yes. I mean no.” She groaned in mortification. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been so flustered. Attempting to untie her tongue, she tried again. “No to the offer of resuscitation, and yes, I’m fine.”
“I’m disappointed,” he murmured.
Oh, so am I. Her gaze dropped to his lips, imagining the ways they could revive a woman. An all too familiar emptiness within her expanded to startling proportions.
She realized he was holding her upper arm; he must have steadied her when they’d collided. His grasp was gentle, his long fingers incredibly warm against her skin. Those same fingers that had offered her balance were tucked next to the side of her breast—innocently, of course, yet her pulse quickened erratically.
“I’m more embarrassed than anything,” she said, for lack of something better to say. “I should have been paying more attention to where I was going.”
“As I should have,” he said, sharing half the blame.
His thumb stroked along her arm, an idle caress that caused another riot of sensations to bloom just beneath the surface of her skin. Unable to bear much more of the physical stuff, she eased her arm back and he released her. The movement caused the strap of her purse to slide down her shoulder, jarring the arm carrying the brochures. Half of the printed material slid out of the protective plastic insert and fluttered to the brick sidewalk.
Groaning at yet another blunder, and in an attempt to conceal the heat creeping up her neck and over her face, she bent to retrieve the brochures. Could this encounter get any worse, or any more humiliating, she wondered.
He crouched beside her, picked up one of the brochures, but didn’t hand it over. In fact, as she collected the mess she’d made, she grew uncomfortably aware of him watching her.
Tucking the last of the brochures back into the protective insert, she glanced up and found herself irritated by the sunglasses preventing her from really knowing him. She was certain his gaze was directed at her, but what part she couldn’t be sure.
Uneasy under such intense private scrutiny, she grappled for something to say. “I’m okay, really,” she told him, just in case his perusal was nothing more than the concern that she still might be feeling unstable. She almost laughed at that. Who was she kidding? He’d shaken up sensual emotions she’d long ago buried and had her thinking tempting, provocative things no sane woman would consider with a man she’d known less than five minutes.
“You’re more than okay,” he said, his voice low and husky. “You’re absolutely beautiful.”
Grace wanted to melt into a puddle at his feet, but that certainly wouldn’t do. How could this man make her feel so special, so desired, with nothing more than three ordinary words? She’d never considered herself beautiful. Oh, she supposed she was pretty enough, but her simple beauty didn’t inspire men to do double-takes. She wasn’t voluptuous by any stretch of the imagination, but slender with gentle curves. She had thick, shoulder-length blonde hair she normally wore up, or in a French braid, like today, and had inherited common brown eyes with little specks of gold in the center. Nothing distinctive or spectacular about her othe
You have the sweetest mouth I’ve ever seen or tasted.
The eleven year old memory whispered through her mind. One man had appreciated that physical trait of hers, told her as much, and proved his reverence by spending hours teaching her all the sensual delights to be found with her mouth, and his.
She closed her eyes and shivered at the recollection, and along with the memories came the dull pain of loss, confusion, and a long-ago heartache that had never completely healed.
“The compliment wasn’t meant to cause you distress.”
She opened her eyes, searching what she could of the man’s face. That engaging smile again. That irresistible dimple. He was a stranger, yet . . . there was something familiar about him. Something she couldn’t quite put her finger on. A connection she struggled to understand.
As if she’d scrutinized him longer than was comfortable, he straightened abruptly, breaking the silent contact and forcing her to stand, too, or remain staring at his knees.
She shifted the load in her arms, curiosity getting the best of her. “Have we met before?”
His expression revealed nothing, if in fact he had anything to hide. “I suppose, in another lifetime.”
Was that a yes or no? His ambiguous answer frustrated her, and made her more determined to find out who he was. “Well, I guess I should introduce myself. I’m Grace Holbrook, the clumsy proprietress of Grace and Charm Flower Shoppe, located in Whitaker’s Towne Square.” Smiling, she offered her hand, a prompt for his own introduction. “And I promise I’m not nearly so clumsy with my customer’s orders.”
He laughed, a deep throaty sound that did wonderful things to her nerve endings. Reaching out, he clasped her hand in his, but instead of giving it the brief shake she expected, he brought her fingers to his mouth and brushed the tips against his slightly damp lips.
“It’s a pleasure,” he murmured, his warm breath, the vibration of his voice, tickling her fingertips.
The unanticipated gesture stunned Grace. Her stomach dipped and tumbled and she experienced a moment of sheer light-headedness. The attraction between them was strong and undeniable . . . And dammit, she wanted to see his eyes, his entire face, without those sunglasses!
He moved her hand away from his lips and his mouth curved into a mischievously wicked grin. “Maybe we’ll run into each other again sometime.”
His witty, double meaning wasn’t lost on her. Her muddled brain just couldn’t think of an equally clever response at the moment.
He nodded amicably, as if hadn’t just turned her inside out with a reckless, dangerous kind of wanting. “Have a good day, Ms. Holbrook.” One of her brochures still in hand, he headed toward a champagne colored luxury coupe she’d never seen before, his stride relaxed and confident.
As he slid inside the leather interior and pulled out of the parking slot, it occurred to Grace that the rogue hadn’t given her his name.
Ford McCabe blew out a deep breath and glanced in his rearview mirror, catching one last glimpse of Grace Holbrook before she disappeared inside the bank where he’d just conducted his business. For all the ways he’d imagined a reunion with her, none of them had included literally bumping into her. And nothing had prepared him for the wave of emotion that had gripped him upon seeing her, or the heated desire that still flared between them. It had taken every ounce of willpower he possessed not to touch more than her hand, to kiss more than her fingers . . . to let his tongue taste the wild pulse he’d felt thrumming at her wrist.
To take off his sunglasses and shock the hell out of her.
Not knowing if she’d welcome him after so long, or scorn him for what had happened in the past, he refrained from doing something so spontaneous. But it hadn’t stopped him from flirting, or spinning a web of sensuality she’d easily tangled herself into. She hadn’t recognized him, but he’d had the advantage of wearing the sunglasses he’d just put on before exiting the bank, and years of a gradual, steady metamorphosis that had changed him, inside and out.
His physical appearance had altered greatly from the lanky, twenty year old rebel he’d been when he’d fled Whitaker Falls. Gone was the thick, dark-brown hair he’d let grow to his shoulders and allowed the wind, or his fingers, to style. The years had darkened the strands to nearly sable; his tastes had changed to a short, no-nonsense precision cut that complimented the executive he’d become. His body had filled out to fit his gangly frame; racquetball and jogging had honed his muscles and kept him in shape. As for the expensive silk shirt and pleated trousers—no one who remembered Ford McCabe would associate him with nothing less than faded and ripped jeans, tattered t-shirts, and tennis shoes held together with duct tape.
He’d come a long way in eleven years, driven by a fierce determination to become something other than the illegitimate kid of a woman who’d lived her life in the depths of a bottle, and died in the same manner. Driven, too, to banish the haunting memories of his best friend’s death, one man’s all-consuming hatred, a town’s criticism, and the sweet love of a girl he could never have.
No matter how hard he worked or the million dollar success he’d achieved as a developer despite his impoverished upbringing, exorcizing any of those personal demons had been impossible, because they all linked to the one person he couldn’t forget: Grace Holbrook, a woman who was lovelier than he remembered in his dreams. While an entire town spurned him for a heritage he’d been unfortunate enough to be born into, she’d been the one person who’d accepted him unconditionally.
Shaking off those unsettling recollections, he set his mind back to his encounter with Grace. She’d introduced herself using her maiden name. Since he hadn’t seen a ring on her left hand—and he’d definitely looked—he assumed she was single, which amazed him. He’d honestly thought she’d be married by now, with the half a dozen kids she’d talked about having tagging alongside her.
It didn’t mean she wasn’t involved with someone, though he doubted as much. A woman in love didn’t respond to another man the way she had to him that afternoon. He’d wanted her eleven years ago, and he wasn’t all that surprised to realize he ached for her still. Considering the spark still evident between them, he intended to pursue the possibility of something more.
Glancing at the passenger seat of his car to the Grace and Charm Flower Shoppe brochure he’d deliberately taken from Grace, he smiled, an impulsive idea forming in his mind. Instead of heading straight toward the hotel he was staying at, he made a left turn at the edge of Oakton Avenue, toward Whitaker Towne Square.
It was time to set his eleven year old plan into motion. He was back in Whitaker Falls to claim what was rightfully his, and to prove that he belonged. He couldn’t think of a more pleasant way to begin his adventure than stating his intentions to Grace with an outrageously lavish and romantic gesture.
Grace loved flowers. From the most elegant roses, tulips and lilies, to the simple wildflowers that grew in the fields on the outskirts of Whitaker Falls. She loved their vibrancy and lush scent, and how a simple bouquet could brighten someone’s day and make them feel special.
Her business gave her an everyday opportunity to share her joy of flowers, and to surround herself with the beauty of nature’s gift to earth. Opening a flower shop was a dream she’d had since she was a little girl, a goal inspired by a mother who’d loved growing her own flowers and tending the enormous garden that had once been behind their home. Now, at the age of twenty-nine, Grace and Charm was the focal point of Grace’s life.
Two hours after her run-in with the gorgeous stranger, Grace pulled her van into a vacant slot in front of her shop, mentally chastising herself for checking the area for a champagne colored vehicle, or the tall, dark-haired, sexy man she couldn’t seem to get out of her mind. Neither car nor man were around, much to her disappointment—most likely he was already heading back to where he’d come from, their encounter forgotten.
Sighing, she gathered her briefcase, broc
The bell above the glass door tinkled as she entered the establishment. Darcy grinned as she walked out of the long, glass enclosed refrigerating unit where they stored their supply of fresh-cut flowers. Carrying a bucket of bright yellow calla lilies and deep red dahlias, she brought them to the sturdy wooden work bench dominating the area just behind the front counter.
“Afternoon, boss,” Darcy greeted, her brown eyes sparkling cheerfully. She wore her dark-brown hair in a pony-tail, and a lavender apron over her t-shirt and jeans, the front of which was embroidered with the shop’s name and a colorful bouquet of flowers.
“Hi, Darcy.” Grace gave the fresh flowers in the cooler a cursory glance as she passed, a habit that helped her keep a mental inventory of what she had, what she was low on, and what she needed to order. The flowers were categorized in plastic buckets of water by type of blossom and foliage, then grouped by color.
Her gaze stopped at the section where she stocked the long-stemmed roses. Yesterday afternoon before closing she’d noted over twelve dozen, in a variety of colors, and had planned to use the excess blooms in the basket arrangements and centerpieces she made up on Mondays for Whitaker Country Club’s standing weekly order.
Amazed that she’d sold out of the expensive roses, she shook her head and pushed through the low swinging gate that separated the work area from the gift part of the boutique, where she displayed gift baskets, figurines, cards, and other specialty items. She set a white bag on a side counter along the back wall—lunch from Marie’s Cafe for the both of them, another Saturday routine Grace had established.