Kiss an Angel(6)

By: Susan Elizabeth Phillips



Why hadn’t she listened when her mother’s Parisian lawyer had explained there would be nothing left after Lani’s debts were paid? She suspected now that it was guilt that had pushed her into her disastrous months-long spending spree following that numbing time immediately after the memorial service. For years she had wanted to escape the emotional blackmail that had pinned her to Lani’s side on endless rounds of pleasure-seeking. But she hadn’t wanted Lani to die. Not that.

Her eyes filled with tears. She’d loved her mother desperately, and despite Lani’s selfishness, her endless demands, and her constant need to be reassured that she hadn’t lost her beauty, she knew Lani had loved her, too.

The more guilt Daisy had felt about the unexpected freedom Lani’s death had given her, the more money she’d spent, not only on herself but on any of Lani’s old friends who were down on their luck. When her creditors’ threats had grown ominous, she’d written more checks to hold them off, not knowing or caring that she didn’t have enough money to cover them.

Max found out about her extravagant spending the same day a warrant was issued for her arrest. Reality crashed in, and she realized the enormity of what she’d done. She’d begged her father to lend her the money to hold off her creditors, promising to pay him back as soon as she got on her feet.

That was when he’d resorted to blackmail. It was high time she grew up, he told her, and if she wanted to stay out of jail, she was going to put an end to her extravagance and do as he said.

In crisp, uncompromising tones, he had dictated his terms. She would marry the man he chose for her as soon as he could arrange it. Furthermore, she would promise to stay married to him for six months, serving as an obedient and dutiful wife during that time. Only at the end of the six months would she be free to divorce and benefit from a trust fund he would set up for her, a trust fund he would control. If she was frugal, she would be able to live in relative comfort off the interest for the rest of her life.

“You’re not serious!” she’d exclaimed when she had finally recovered her powers of speech. “People don’t arrange marriages any more.”

“I’ve never been more serious. If you don’t agree to this marriage, you’ll go to jail. And if you can’t stay married for six months, you’ll never see another penny from me.”

Three days later, he had presented her future bridegroom without mentioning a word about his background or occupation, merely giving her an admonition: “He’s going to teach you something about life. For now, that’s all you need to know.”

They crossed the Triborough Bridge, and she realized they’d be at La Guardia soon, which meant she couldn’t wait any longer to broach the subject they needed to discuss. Out of habit, she withdrew a slim gold compact from her purse to make certain everything was as it should be. Reassured, she closed it with a snap and put it away.

“Excuse me, Mr. Markov.”

He didn’t respond.

She cleared her throat. “Mr. Markov? Alex? I think we need to talk.”

The lids over those pale amber eyes drifted open. “About what?”

Despite her tension, she smiled. “We’re total strangers who’ve just gotten married. I think that gives us a few things to discuss.”

“If you want to pick out names for our children, angel face, I think I’ll pass.”

So he did have a sense of humor after all, if only a cynical one. “I mean that we should talk about how we’re going to get through the next six months before we can file for divorce.”

“I figure we’ll just take it day by day.” He paused. “Night by night.”

Her skin prickled, and she told herself not to be foolish. He’d made a perfectly innocent remark, and she’d merely imagined that husky undertone of sexual innuendo. She fixed a bright smile on her face.

“I have a plan; a simple one, really.”

“Oh?”

“If you’ll give me a check for half of what my father is paying you to marry me—and I think you’ll agree that’s only fair—the two of us can go our separate ways and end this awkwardness.”

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