Marriage by Mistake

By: Alyssa Kress

Acknowledgements





The author would like to thank the members of the ever-evolving critique group, all of whom have given immense support and help in creating this and other stories: Julie Woolley, Kathy Bennett, Cathy Yardley, Rose Murray, John Lovelady, and to Ruth Barges of blessed memory.




CHAPTER ONE





On a sidewalk in downtown Boston, two thousand miles from home, Kelly Williams should have been standing on the brink of sweet success. Instead, she caught the distinctive whiff of failure.

Jet-lagged and dazed, Kelly braced herself against the people jostling to get to work, her cowboy boots and snug jeans at odds with the tailored suits and designer outfits of the crowd. She peered up at the big, glass office building matching the address of the business card she clutched in one hand. At the roof, huge metal letters spelled out SINGLETON INDUSTRIES.

Please. She was supposed to believe the building was named after Dean? Dean the devil-may-care, Dean the definitely not-at-all-serious Singleton? This big, fancy office building, not to mention the corporation it housed, was named after the casual smile of a man she'd met sliding quarters into a slot machine in time to the song he'd been whistling?

The man she'd foolishly allowed to become her lover, and more, two nights ago?

"Drat," she muttered, wishing her upbringing allowed her to use a word that was much, much stronger.

The whiff of failure was becoming a positive stench. Here Kelly'd thought she was going to do something strong for a change, take action when a man walked out on her, instead of sit huddled in her apartment, crying.

So she'd begged off work and maxed out her credit card — only to end up at this phony address Dean had put on his sham of a business card.

She was no closer to the bum than before.

With a furious groan, Kelly spun away. She tried to calm down, but it was so...stupid. Indeed, she'd been so stupid since three days ago when Dean had looked up from the slot machine and into her face, his easy grin fading. She'd been sucked in by his seemingly awkward, apparently sincere, charm.

Oh, he'd been an operator, all right. He'd got her, a seasoned chorus girl, to believe every honeyed word and warm look he'd tossed her way. He'd acted like he understood her desire to desert the life of glitter in order to build a real home, a home with a man who truly loved her. Kelly supposed he had understood that part, for he'd used it. He'd sweepingly declared he was that man. He'd said they were made for each other.

And she'd believed him.

She'd married him.

Just so he could have a one-night stand.

An awful pain constricted Kelly's chest. She'd been in love, while he'd — he'd — She gritted her teeth and shook the pain away. Uh-uh. No matter what he'd intended, she wasn't going to cry.

She was going to seize her self-respect.

Kelly brushed a windblown strand of hair from her eyes and straightened her shoulders. She would declare to Dean, the world, and herself that she deserved to be treated better. She didn't deserve to have a man marry her, and the very next morning sneak out on her.

Her smoldering anger burning once more, Kelly narrowed her eyes and turned back to the black glass office building. Her gaze traveled up to the huge metal letters and her brain began to function again.

Okay, so the building wasn't named after Dean, but he'd known about it. He'd put this address on his fake card. There was a good chance he was related to whoever actually did run Singleton Industries.

Yes, maybe he was related. Maybe someone inside the building knew Dean.

Better yet, maybe someone knew where Dean was.

The possibility galvanized Kelly. She strode toward the busy revolving glass door at the base of the building and joined the crowd filing into the lobby.

A gleaming black elevator took her to the top floor, the one indicated on the phony business card. Kelly's jaw set as she took in the expanse of elegant marble, the partitions of polished oak paneling, and the humming professionalism.

Dean, the man who didn't even wear a watch, wasn't going to be found here.

But she didn't expect to find him, Kelly reminded herself. Just her next clue. An address — a real address — would be nice.

Her cowboy boots clicked on the smooth wood floor as Kelly approached the closest cubicle, one that looked like reception. The fringes of her lucky faux-deerskin jacket flicked over the marble countertop as she held out the well-worn business card. "Do you — Well, have you ever heard of this guy?" she asked with a polite smile.

The woman on the other side of the marble counter skimmed Kelly's smile and looked down at the card, the one Dean had given her the night they'd met. The incandescent lights gleamed on the receptionist's sleek chignon as she gave the card a good, long stare. Then she looked up to give Kelly an even longer stare. "That's his personal card," she finally said, sounding suspicious.

"His — ?" Kelly blinked. "You mean...it's real?"

Confusion now tinged the receptionist's earlier suspicion. "Of course."

Of course. Kelly drew her hand back to look at the card, herself. It was real. It was real. That meant — Her breath rushed into her lungs. Her head jerked up. "Then he's here."

"Excuse me?"

"He's here." Heat immediately flooded Kelly's veins. He was there. She'd found him. Broad smile, gleaming eyes, aura of sincerity and acceptance. Handsome. Oh, handsome as all get out. Something inside her convulsed with an emotion that felt a lot like longing.

Kelly instantly pulled herself back from that brink. Not longing. None of his sincerity stuff had been real. He hadn't loved her. He'd left her. "I see, the card is — ahem. What I mean is, could you tell me where to find him, please?" Kelly did her best to disguise her riotous emotions behind another polite smile.

The receptionist tapped the end of her pen on her desktop. "Well, since you have his personal card..." She turned to glance at a computer monitor looming at her side. "According to this, Mr. Singleton is in a conference right now."

"Mr. Singleton? Is in a conference?"

"That's right." The receptionist turned back to Kelly, stone-faced.

Kelly looked back at her — and laughed. Apparently Dean was a close enough relative he'd been put in a job that rated a 'Mr.' from the company receptionist, but had to pay for it by sitting through a business conference. She could just see him, lounging in the back of the room and folding paper airplanes. Oh, it was a sad fact that despite the many choices of men available to a dancer in a glamorous Las Vegas production, Kelly always managed to pick the goof-offs, the dead-beats, and the lying bums.

The receptionist glanced back at her computer. "The conference is supposed to last all day, but there will be a break for lunch."

"Lunch!" Kelly's eyes went wide.

The receptionist regarded Kelly thoughtfully. "You do have Mr. Singleton's personal card, so I suppose it would be all right if you waited."

Kelly gaped at the woman. She was supposed to wait for Dean, the scum-sucking slug, until lunch? The horrible part was that she could feel the 'good girl' part of herself starting to agree to this delay. She didn't like to make trouble. Why not wait?

And then Kelly remembered Dean had used the very same word yesterday, right before he'd left her.

Wait.

Pressure built behind Kelly's forehead. The memory was painfully clear. Wait, Dean had said, while strolling with a smile toward her front door. He would only be gone for a minute, to pick up donuts and coffee. Be right back, he had said.

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