The Millionaire Claims His Wife

By: Sandra Marton



There had been a time, though. Oh, yes, there’d been a time that just standing next to him this way, feeling his arm brush lightly against her shoulder, smelling the faint scent of his cologne, would have been enough to—would have been enough to—

Bang!

Annie jumped. The doors at the rear of the church had flown open. A buzz of surprise traveled among the guests. The minister fell silent and peered up the aisle, along with everybody else, including Dawn and Nick.

Somebody was standing in the open doorway. After a moment, a man got up and shut the door, and the figure moved forward.

Annie let out a sigh of relief. “It’s Laurel,” she whispered, for the benefit of the minister. “My sister. I’m so relieved she finally got here.”

“Typical Bennett histrionics,” Chase muttered, out of the side of his mouth.

Annie’s cheeks colored. “I beg your pardon?”

“You heard me.”

“I most certainly did, and—”

“Mother,” Dawn snapped.

Annie blushed. “Sorry.”

The minister cleared his throat. “And now,” he said in tones so rounded Annie could almost see them forming circles in the air, “if there is no one among us who can offer a reason why Nicholas Skouras Babbitt and Dawn Elizabeth Cooper should not be wed...”

A moment later, the ceremony was over.

* * *

It was interesting, being the father of the bride at a wedding at which the mother of the bride was no longer your wife.

Dawn had insisted she wanted both her parents seated at the main table with her.

“You can keep your cool, Daddy, can’t you?” she’d said. “I mean, you won’t mind, sitting beside Mom for a couple of hours, right?”

“Of course not,” Chase had said.

And he’d meant it. He was a civilized man and Annie, for all her faults—and there were many—was a civilized woman. They’d been divorced for five years. The wounds had healed. Surely they could manage polite smiles and chitchat for a couple of hours.

That was what he’d thought, but reality was another thing entirely.

He hadn’t counted on what it would be like to stand at the altar, with Annie standing beside him looking impossibly young and—what was the point in denying it—impossibly beautiful in a dress of palest green. Her hair had been the wild cluster of silky strawberry curls she’d always hated and he’d always loved, and her nose had been suspiciously pink. She’d sniffled and wept her way through the ceremony. Well, hell, his throat had been pretty tight there, once or twice. In fact, when the minister had gone through all that nonsense about speaking up or forever holding your peace, he’d been tempted to put an arm around her and tell her it was okay, they weren’t losing a daughter, they were gaining a son.

Except that it would have been a lie. They were losing a daughter, and it was all Annie’s fault.

By the time they’d been stuck together at the head of the receiving line as if they were a pair of Siamese twins, he’d felt about as surly as a lion with a thorn in its paw.

“Smile, you two,” Dawn had hissed, and they’d obeyed, though Annie’s smile had been as phony-looking as his felt.

At least they’d traveled to the Stratham Inn in separate cars—except that once they’d gotten there, they’d had to take seats beside each other at the table on the dais.

Chase felt as if his smile was frozen on his face. It must have looked that way, too, from the way Dawn lifted her eyebrows when she looked at him.

Okay, Cooper, he told himself. Pull it together. You know how to make small talk with strangers. Surely you can manage a conversation with your ex-wife.

He looked at Annie and cleared his throat. “So,” he said briskly, “how’ve you been?”

Annie turned her head and looked at him. “I’m sorry,” she said politely, “I didn’t quite get that. Were you talking to me?”

Chase’s eyes narrowed. Who else would he have been talking to? The waiter, leaning over to pour his champagne?

Keep your cool, he told himself, and bared his teeth in a smile.

“I asked how you’ve been.”

“Very well, thank you. And you?”

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