“If you think Ryan McKay’s so hot, Faith, then you marry him.”
Faith Lewis watched in stunned silence as her boss’s bride-to-be flounced out of the penthouse suite, the train of her designer wedding gown trailing gloriously behind her.
No more than a moment after Erica Stanton walked out the door in a huff, Ryan McKay stepped in.
He threw Faith that look. The irritated, things-weren’t-going-his-way-and-he-wasn’t-happy-about-it look. The same expression crossed his handsome features at countless business meetings.
“I saw Erica leaving,” he said. “I called to her, but she slipped into the elevator before I could get there.”
Mere inches separated them. His six-foot frame towered over her, his crisp, clean scent calling to mind snow-covered mountain breezes. No man should be allowed to smell that good. Black hair, gray eyes and broad shoulders, he was the picture of handsome elegance. Her heart fluttered despite his angry scowl.
“Faith, what’s going on?” Ryan asked.
Offering up a silent thanks a lot to Ryan’s now-former-fiancée, she braced herself to deliver the bad news. This went way beyond her job as his executive assistant. “Umm, Miss Stanton has changed her mind about marrying you.”
Prepared for the inevitable McKay tirade, Faith couldn’t believe the disappointment shadowing his powerful features. “I see,” he said. “You couldn’t convince her?”
She’d never seen that defeated look before. Ryan McKay never gave up. But he was quickly running out of options. He had roughly five hours to get married or lose control of McKay Corporation and it was now a certainty that Erica Stanton wasn’t going to be the bride. That meant it was time to execute Plan B. She wondered if there actually was a Plan B.
“I tried, Mr. McKay, really I did. She changed her mind about having your child.” Faith had tried her best, but the ice queen had refused to listen to reason. No matter what she suggested, Erica countered. Faith surmised that Erica simply didn’t want to ruin her cover girl body with a pregnancy.
“We went over that a hundred times and she assured me she could handle it.” Ryan glanced at his watch, then back at Faith. “I don’t understand it. I’m the CEO of McKay Corporation. The Chalet Casino Hotel is the most prominent hotel in Las Vegas and I’m a multimillionaire. So why can’t I find one single woman willing to marry me?”
Faith opened her mouth to speak, then closed it. Silly thought, anyway.
“Tell me, Faith. Why the hell did I wait until the last minute when I had a year to get this done?”
She studied her sensible shoes and clasped her hands behind her back. “Actually, Mr. McKay, I…um, reminded you of that very fact several months ago.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know.” He sighed. “I thought I could find a loophole in Grandfather’s will that would get me out of needing to marry. After wasting nearly a year, I still haven’t found one.” Ryan plopped down on the sofa nearby, the Italian leather giving with a whoosh. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
She wanted to offer him comfort—wanted to sit down, pull him into her arms and reassure him. But, of course that would never happen. She wouldn’t dare. They didn’t have that kind of relationship. They didn’t have a relationship at all. She was an employee and nothing more.
Instead, she stood next to the sofa and waited, wondering if there was something else she could have said to Erica to convince the woman to go ahead with the wedding. Certainly appealing to Erica’s soft side would have done no good—she didn’t have one.
Tall, blonde and nearly perfect, Erica had one fatal flaw, in Faith’s opinion. She was utterly cold. Like a stone statue—a Venus of incredible beauty, but devoid of life or any emotion. Why Ryan had chosen to marry Erica was something Faith would never understand. Then again, this deal wasn’t exactly a love match, so it didn’t really matter who he chose as the woman he married.
But Erica? The homeless bag lady who wandered the streets would have been a warmer choice.
Ryan opened his eyes and stared at her. Faith’s heart leaped. Had he heard her quiet chuckle?
His gaze held hers and warmth seeped into her middle. She’d never had a steady man in her life, but if she had a fantasy guy he would look like Ryan McKay. Hair the color of midnight and turbulent eyes like the Oklahoma storms she remembered as a child.
She’d loved those come-out-of-nowhere squalls while growing up in her small town. Whenever a storm approached, she’d run outside on the front porch and watch as the clouds gathered momentum, moving ever closer until the wind whipped her inside the house to watch from the safety of the windows.
The energy had always charged her. The storms shook her to the core, fired up the energy around her and took her with them in a maelstrom of fury and passion.
Ryan’s eyes were like that. Changing like rolling clouds and loaded with the fire of a blistering rainstorm. She had seen those eyes flash with brilliance, light with anger, and shine like a glittering diamond when he closed a deal. Never had she seen them spark with passion, but she could imagine it.
“Faith, are you listening?”
“Oh. Oh, Mr. McKay, I’m so sorry.” She shook off the daydream. How many times over the years had she fantasized about him? She thought she’d finally had a handle on her crush and could now think of him only as her boss. He was, after all, as unattainable as a man could get.
At least for her.
“I asked you to sit.” He patted the sofa cushion next to him.
She sat. Clear on the opposite end.
“Yes?” She pulled a notepad out of her bag, ready to take down instructions.
“Come closer. You’re half a mile away. I won’t bite.” He flashed her that charming, devastating smile that made her insides melt away.
Maybe he wouldn’t bite, but then again maybe she’d like him to.
Really, she had to stop her errant thoughts. Ryan was her boss. The one who never noticed her. She remembered her mother’s lessons well.
Not a day went by during her childhood that her mother hadn’t reminded her to blend in and not call attention to herself—to stay away from men because they’d only hurt her. She was plain, her mother had told her, had little to offer and she’d better use her brains because her looks would get her nowhere in life.
She’d spent twenty-six years believing those words to be true. Every time she looked in the mirror she recalled her mother’s warnings.
At Ryan’s urging, she scooted a bit toward the center of the sofa, pulling her wool skirt down further over her shins. He motioned her closer. She moved. Another inch.
“This is ridiculous.” Ryan closed the distance, situating next to her in the center of the sofa. Their thighs touched. Faith’s burned. The room was definitely getting warm.
“I can’t talk to you when you’re so far away,” he said. “As I said before when you clearly weren’t listening, I need your help.”
Desperately trying for focus, she nodded. “Of course. Anything at all I can do to assist you, you know I will.”
He tilted his head, examining her with inquisitive eyes. “You’re single, aren’t you?”
“Involved? Dating anyone right now?”
What was this about? He never asked personal questions about her.
In the five years she’d worked for him, she’d found out every minute detail of his life, from his childhood to present day. But he never once asked about hers. Why would he? And why was he asking now?
“No, not dating anyone. Not involved. Mr. McKay, may I ask why you’re curious about my personal life?”
“I have a solution, but wanted to be sure I wasn’t stepping on any toes first.”
A rolling ache formed in the pit of her stomach. She swallowed. “A solution?”
“Yes. You know how I depend on you to help me with McKay Corporation. I need your help to hold on to it.”
“What can I do?” Did she really want the answer? Some thread of an idea crept into her head, but surely Ryan wouldn’t suggest it. Not with her. The very thought was ludicrous and she quickly banished it from her mind.
Ryan took the pen from her fingers and picked up her hands. Faith glanced down. Her hand looked so small encased within his. Her entire body trembled with the reaction of feeling the full-on contact of his skin against hers for the first time. Other than the brief brushing of knuckles when they passed a file back and forth, he’d never touched her. And definitely not like this.
“Marry me, Faith.”
The earth stopped turning. Her mind whirled with his soft-spoken words and her heart beat a rapid rhythm that threatened to send her spiraling into oblivion. She felt sick to her stomach.
Fainting would be a bad idea right now. So would throwing up. She probably heard wrong, anyway. “Could you repeat that?”
His whispered breath caressed her face. He’d asked the question she thought she’d never hear from a man. Any man. And never in her wildest dreams from Ryan McKay.
She swallowed. “You can’t be serious.” Her voice wasn’t working, coming out in a raspy squeak that sounded nothing like her. She was certain Ryan was close enough to hear the thumping of her heart as it tried to escape her chest. Her body vibrated from her rapid breaths as she struggled to control her errant thoughts.
If she kept this up she’d soon be breathing into a paper bag.
“I’m always serious about any proposal I make. This makes perfect sense to me, and it should to you, too. You know as much about this business as I do. You know about Grandfather’s will, the ridiculous hoops the old man is making me jump through just to maintain control of this company, and you know what happens if I fail.”
All she could do was nod. She’d been struck dumb and doubted she’d ever be able to speak again.
“Help me, Faith. Marry me. It’s only for one year, and then we’ll divorce. You’re the ideal person to help me with this. You know how much McKay Corporation means to me, and you can do this without getting involved. With you and me, nothing will change.”
Nothing will change. Reality struck her with a cold slap, effectively breaking the self-induced spell of Ryan’s proposal. Of course. This proposal was just business. It wasn’t a declaration of love. There was nothing personal in his motives.
Heat spread across her cheeks. How could she have thought someone like him could possibly have any feelings for her? One simple touch of his hand and she’d conjured up a full-blown fantasy of love and marriage. Her mother would have laughed if she could see her now.
Laughed and told her how ridiculous she was.
What was she thinking? She was twenty-six years old, not sixteen.
The time of girlish dreams was behind her, long ago replaced by a gritty reality that had nothing to do with romance and love.
She raised her eyes to his. “Yes?”
Ryan squeezed her hands. “Are you all right?”
“If you’re sure…”
“Yes, Mr. McKay, I’m sure.” She maintained a level gaze with his and almost smiled at his look of concern. It probably wouldn’t be good for his next intended bride to drop dead, considering he was rapidly running out of time and she was obviously his last choice.
“So, will you marry me?”
“Wh…what were the terms again?” She should know the terms. She’d quoted every line of the contract to Erica not more than a half hour ago, frantically trying to get Ryan’s fiancée to change her mind about backing out of the wedding. But for some reason, her mind had just gone completely blank.
“I’ll get the contract.”
Her eyes followed his retreating form, the custom-made tux fitting his broad shoulders perfectly. Could she really do this? Could she marry Ryan McKay, become his wife, bear his child, and then a year later go back to the way things were before? How could she sleep with someone, share his life every day for a year and then act as if it hadn’t happened?
But that’s exactly what he expected of her. She tried her best to appear calm and professional when he returned with the papers.
“Here’s the document. Read it carefully, because you have to be certain you can handle all the stipulations.”
Faith nodded and, with shaky hands, took the contract from him.
Trying to kick her brain into gear, she carefully read every word. It didn’t take long to refresh her memory. After all, she’d read it over what seemed like a thousand times with Ryan, trying to find the loophole that would free him from Quentin McKay’s marriage mandate.
“I can’t believe your grandfather is forcing you to marry just to maintain control of McKay Corporation. It’s so middle ages,” she grumbled, suddenly feeling a personal stake in this.
Ryan cracked a smile and Faith sucked in a breath. Gone was the austere businessman, replaced instead by a charming, incredibly handsome man. Her heart picked up its frantic pace again.
He was a heartbreaker. He could literally break hers if she let emotions enter into this relationship. Admittedly, she was attracted to him, but what happened if she fell in love? Could her heart take a chance on caring for someone who didn’t have the capacity to care back? And what about sex?
“What about sex?” he asked.
Had she said that last sentence out loud? Oh, no—she had! “Excuse me?”
“You asked me about sex. What do you want to know about it?”