Fic – Sweet Justice – Chapter 3

Her stomach still twitched with nerves as Kelly followed Jackson Hunter and a bailiff into the small room where defendants in criminal proceedings could meet with their attorneys. Jackson was one of those defendants, charged with murdering his ex–girlfriend and fellow police officer Crystal McCall.
She had only come to his bond hearing out of curiosity — he had been the bad boy of Cagemont High School during the years when she had been known as the Brain. Somehow, though, she had ended up stepping forward to defend the man.
The room felt as small and claustrophobic as a broom closet when Jackson took a seat at the small table across from her. He was too close. Even though he was still cuffed — and even though she somehow knew instinctively that he wouldn’t hurt her — she was intensely aware of his size, his strength.
“I’m sorry I just barged in there and took over. I’m not usually so impulsive. Or so presumptuous.”
“Sorry? I don’t know what I would have done without you. I was sure I was going to be remanded without bail. I wouldn’t have survived months in jail until my trial date.”
“You still have to come up with $100,000 bond. Is that going to be a problem?”
His shrug was a vivid reminder of the strength in those broad shoulders. “I’ll figure something out. I can always put my house up against it.”
“Good.” She pulled out one of her business cards from her slim leather briefcase. “When you hire counsel, have your attorney contact me and I can brief him — or her — on today’s hearing.”
He frowned. “What do you mean, when I hire counsel? You’re my counsel.”
Kelly’s eyes widened in surprise. “I only stepped in today so you wouldn’t get stuck with an overworked public defender.”
“And you did a hell of a job. I can’t imagine anybody I’d rather have defend me than the Brain of Cagemont High.”
“You don’t want me as your counsel, I promise you.”
“Why not?”
She debated how to answer that and finally admitted she had to tell him the truth. “Because I’m worse than the most inexperienced public defender. I’ve never tried a criminal case before. I’m sorry.”
“Never? Last I heard you were heading to Yale.”
She swallowed the bitterness of unfulfilled dreams. “Things change, Officer Hunter. Fate sometimes makes different plans for us.”
He lifted his handcuffs, his dark eyes wry. “You don’t have to tell me that. But you are an attorney, right?”
“Yes. I went to school at the University of Denver. I’m qualified to try criminal cases. I’ve just never had the opportunity. I work with my father, and his firm specializes in corporate and contract law.”
“So you could still defend me.”
“Then why won’t you do it?”
“You’re on trial for murder! You need a defense attorney who knows her way around a courtroom.”
“I’ve been a cop for a long time, Kelly, and I’ve testified for the prosecution in my share of trials. In my experience, most defense attorneys only care about getting their client off any way possible.”
“Isn’t that what you want?”
“I want justice! I didn’t kill Crystal McCall and I want the whole damn world to know that.”
She believed him, she realized. Despite all the evidence she had heard against him in that courtroom, she firmly believed Jackson was telling the truth.
“You’re the smartest person I’ve ever met,” he went on. “More than that, you were also one of the most decent people at Cagemont High. I want you to defend me. Please?”
How could she possibly agree? She hadn’t been joking when she’d talked to her friends earlier in the day — her father would be aghast at the idea of her defending an accused murderer.
She thought of what Pat had said. For 10 years she had sacrificed everything for her family. How much more did she have to give them? This had been her dream all through high school, undergraduate work and law school. She wanted to be a trial attorney more than anything else in the world. This could be her chance to follow that dream — and help an innocent man in the process.
“I hope we both don’t regret this, but yes. I’ll defend you.”
His smile took her breath away. “With the Brain on my side, how can I lose?”

Kelly gazed out the window of her office at the crocuses beginning to poke through the cold earth around the renovated Victorian that housed the offices of Wainwright & Wainwright.
Spring was on its way. The sun was shining, the snow was all but melted, a warm Chinook breeze blew off the Rockies. And she was stuck alone at the office on a Saturday afternoon, trying to catch up on work.
She had a feeling she would be putting in many 80–hour workweeks in the next few months, especially if she was to prepare adequately to defend Jackson Hunter.
She blew out a breath. She still couldn’t believe she had actually had the temerity to stand up in court the day before on his behalf. And then to actually agree to take on his defense! She must have been temporarily insane.
Just as she expected, her father had been incredulous. She grimaced, remembering their strained conversation the night before.
“The man’s an accused murderer, Kelly.” William Wainwright had said, his still handsome features stiff with dismay and disappointment. “Not the sort of person I want my firm — or my daughter — to represent.”
“He’s innocent until proven guilty, remember? He deserves a fair trial.”
“Let someone else help him get it, then. Not my little girl. We don’t need the work. We have more than enough to keep us busy.”
She had tried to explain to him as gently as she could that this was about far more than “keeping busy” to her. She couldn’t let Jackson Hunter go to prison for a crime he said he didn’t commit.
As usual, her father heard only what he wanted to hear. She couldn’t blame him for his obstinacy. Not really. He couldn’t help that his dreams and expectations for her didn’t mesh at all with what she wanted for herself. Sometimes she felt so tangled up by those dreams and expectations of his, she couldn’t move.
In the end, she had been firm. “I’m going to represent him, Dad. I gave him my word and you always taught me a Wainwright’s word is more binding than the most ironclad contract.”
He hadn’t been happy about it but he had dropped the subject. She knew her father’s patience with her decision wouldn’t last indefinitely but she would enjoy it for now.
Kelly sighed and turned back to her computer. She was trying to immerse herself in her work when the silence was shattered by someone tapping on the glass of the big picture window in her office. In startled reaction, her fingers flexed on the keyboard and she typed a string of gibberish. She mumbled an oath then turned to see who had scared her half to death.
Jackson Hunter stood on the other side of the glass, looking dark and dangerous in jeans and a worn leather jacket the color of deerskin in the spring.
He must have made bail! Relieved that he was a free man again, she smiled at him then gestured toward the front door.
She unlocked the door, then let him into the spacious reception area of the firm. “How did you know I was here?”
“I just took a chance. This was the only address I had from your business card. Look, I know it’s Saturday but I could use your help. Do you have a minute to talk?”
She had a desk full of work but she suddenly couldn’t think of one thing she’d rather do than talk to him again.


Fic – Sweet Justice – Chapter 2

What in heaven’s name was she doing here?
Kelly slipped into the back of the courtroom where her old high school classmate Jackson Hunter was being arraigned for the murder of another police officer. He was the next one on the docket, the bailiff at the door had told her.
She hadn’t meant to come. Despite her friends’ urging, she left Gray Lee’s Fifty Yard Line restaurant after lunch fully intending to stay as far away as she could from Jackson Hunter and his troubles. But she had been at the courthouse anyway for another hearing in a probate case. She had finished up just a few moments ago and remembered his arraignment was scheduled for 3 p.m., so here she was.
She scanned the packed courtroom — full of other defendants on the docket, their attorneys, and no small number of media representatives — and wondered if she would even recognize Jackson Hunter. It had been more than a decade since she’d seen him. For all she knew, he’d lost his hair and developed a beer gut.
The courtroom suddenly buzzed with excitement and an instant later, two sheriff’s deputies led in a handcuffed man. It was Jackson, no doubt about it.
Okay. He hadn’t gone to fat. Kelly caught her breath. The aloof, brooding teenager she had known at Freemont High School had become a hard, dangerous man, big and muscled and heartbreakingly gorgeous. He had straight black hair cut short, piercing dark eyes and a mouth that would have sent her imagination into overdrive under other circumstances.
He looked arrogant and aloof as he scanned the courtroom but as he looked toward the back of the courtroom at the rapacious crowd — most here for his hearing — she couldn’t control her shiver. She had never seen such pure, undiluted fury. She thought she saw something else there, a deep, baffled betrayal, as if he couldn’t quite figure out what he was doing there, then his gaze suddenly landed on her and those intense dark eyes narrowed with shocked recognition.
She shouldn’t have come. He must think she was no better than the rest of the vultures come to pick his bones clean.
Before she could slip out of the room again, the gray–haired judge called for counsel to approach the bench. Martin Frinkel, who had been a year behind her at law school and now worked for the district attorney, stepped up to the bench. She waited for defense counsel to approach but no one stepped forward.
“Where is your attorney, Mr. Hunter?”
Jackson lifted his chin. “I haven’t retained counsel yet, your honor.”
“Then I’ll assign you an attorney, just for these proceedings.” He scanned the courtroom. “You, Mr. Huang. You’ve just won the lottery.”
The young public defender in question looked up from a pile of briefs in his hand, horror in his eyes. “But…but, Your Honor, my caseload is full.”
Kelly couldn’t let Jackson Hunter be represented by a green kid who couldn’t have passed the bar more than a month ago. Not after seeing that raw emotion in his eyes. Her heart started to pound, a wild panic flared in her stomach. No. She couldn’t do this!
She fought the instinct as long as she could. Then, with a sense of grim inevitability, she stood up on knees that suddenly wobbled. “Your Honor, if you have no objection, I will represent Mr. Jackson in these proceedings.”
All the heads in the courtroom swiveled toward her. The judge frowned down at her. “And you are?”
“Kelly Wainwright, sir. Of Wainwright & Wainwright.”
“I know your father, young lady. He’s a good man. Well, Mr. Huang, you’re off the hook. Step forward, Ms. Wainwright.”
She grabbed her briefcase and walked to the front of the courtroom, afraid to look at her new client for fear of what expression she might see in those dark eyes now.

As a whole, the past 36 hours had really sucked.
From the moment he’d woken up with only hazy memories of the night before and found Crystal McCall’s body in his living room, his entire world had shattered.
Now he watched Kelly Wainwright — the Brain of old Cagemont High — walk to the bench in a slim gray suit and high heels, looking cool and composed. His life had only needed this to go from horribly surreal to truly hellish.
Kelly Wainwright. He hadn’t seen her since those miserable days of high school, when she used to figure very prominently in his more lurid teenage fantasies. He never expected to run into her again. Last he heard, she was heading for Yale, for fame and fortune and stunning success as a lawyer.
But here she was, coolly announcing to the world she would represent him. He wanted to tell her to go straight to perdition, the same place he wanted to consign every last person in the courtroom :— and most especially his former brothers on the force who had been so damn quick to send him here.
Fury prowled through him, wild and dark. How in the hell had he ended up here, charged with Crystal’s murder? He never would have killed her. Not in a million years. He didn’t know how she ended up dead in his living room but he did know he wasn’t the one who put her there. All he knew was he’d woken up at 3 in the morning feeling woozy, went to get a drink of water from his kitchen, and practically tripped over Crystal’s body.
He watched the judge finish conferring with the Brain and that weasel Marty Frinkel from the district attorney’s office. The lawyers returned to their respective tables, then Kelly spoke. “Your Honor, may I have a moment to confer with my client?”
“Yes, but just a moment. We have a packed house today, Ms. Wainwright.”
She turned toward him at last and he cursed again the circumstances that had brought him to such a low point. Fury turned his voice sharp, mean. “Are you so desperate for clients that you go trolling for them in bind–over hearings?”
Hurt flashed briefly in those hazel eyes so stunning in her café au lait features, but she blinked and it disappeared, leaving her cool and professional once more. “What do you plan to plead to the charge against you?” she asked quietly.
“Not guilty, damn it,” he growled, ashamed of himself for taking out his emotions on her. “I did not kill Crystal McCall. I swear it.”
She nodded, as if his answer was just as she expected, then told the judge they were ready to begin. Jackson listened to the prosecution lay out the preliminary evidence against him. Even though he knew how important these proceedings were — this was where the judge would determine if there was enough evidence against him to warrant a trial and where a bail amount would be set — Jackson had to fight off exhaustion. Between being interrogated, fingerprinted, searched, and booked, he hadn’t slept in 36 hours, since finding Crystal’s body.
The D.A. laid out a grim picture, he had to admit. Hell, if he’d been the investigating officer on the case, he no doubt would have arrested himself, too. Crystal’s body was found at his house; she was killed with his Glock 9 mm service weapon, left at the scene with only his fingerprints on it; he had no alibi after Tony left him at his apartment. Not only did he not have an alibi, he didn’t have any memory of most of the night. All he remembered was feeling sick, loopy, after only two beers at Seymour’s.
As he listened to the steady litany of evidence, he wanted to scrub his face in frustration, to pound his fists into something hard. The people had a terrifyingly strong case against him.
He was being framed. It was the only explanation he could come up with. He wouldn’t have killed Crystal. He knew in his gut he couldn’t have done it, even though his memory had huge, glaring gaps in it.
But if he didn’t, who did?
He jerked his mind back to the court proceedings in time to hear the little weasel of a prosecutor finish up. “Mr. Hunter, you’ve heard the evidence against you,” the judge said. “How do you plead.”
Kelly stood up along with him. “Not guilty, Your Honor,” he said.
“The people are seeking to have the defendant remanded to custody without bail,” Frinkel said.
No! He was going to be stuck in a damn jail cell until his case went to trial. He hitched in a breath as rage and hopelessness buffeted him.
He didn’t make a sound but some of his sick dread must have shown on his features. The Brain reached out and squeezed his arm for an instant before turning back to the bench.
Just that one simple, comforting touch completely took his breath away. He felt as if he’d finally gotten his first glimpse at humanity again after 36 hours in hell.
“Your Honor,” Kelly said, her voice strong, persuasive, “The people’s case against my client is completely circumstantial. Detective Hunter is an exemplary police officer who has dedicated his life to serving and protecting the people of this city. He has strong ties to the community and poses little flight risk.”
The judge frowned for a moment, then nodded. “I’m inclined to agree with you, Ms. Wainwright. The defendant is hereby bound over for trial and bail is set at $100,000.”
With the bang of a gavel, it was over. The bailiff came forward to lead him to the holding room outside the courtroom. Kelly aimed a killer smile at the man that had him gaping at her elegant features. “Deputy Nichols, would there be an open interview room where I might confer with my client before he is returned to the holding cell?”
The bailiff looked dazed, as though he’d just stared a few seconds too long at the sun. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Good, Jackson thought. He had a few words of his own to say to the Brain.


Fic – Sweet Justice – Chapter 1

M.J. was late, as usual.
Kelly Wainwright sat in one of the trendy swivel chairs in Sunny Jones’s elegant beauty salon and tried not to think about the stack of contracts waiting for her perusal on her desk at Wainwright & Wainwright, or the deposition in the Thompson probate case she was supposed to be taking in just a few hours.
She wasn’t going to worry about any of that, not when she was here with two of her four best friends in the world — Sunny and Pat Turner, in town from New York for a long weekend with her fiancé, Gray Lee. Investigative journalist M. J. Carter was supposed to meet them any minute now for lunch. The only one missing from their group was Isabella Sanchez, the world–famous cover model who was off on a photo shoot in Brazil.
“When are you going to let me give you a makeover, Kel? Top to bottom,” Sunny asked. “A few highlights, a new style, and a brighter shade of lip color and you’d be a brand–new woman.”
Kelly raised one eyebrow at Sunny, who stood over Pat with weapons in hand — a blow dryer and round curling brush. While they waited for M.J., Pat had convinced Sunny to give her sleek hair a trim.
“I like the old woman, thanks all the same,” Kelly murmured.
“We like her, too. You know we do. You look great, as usual — poised and professional. But no offense, hon, you look like a lawyer.”
“Isn’t that a coincidence? I am a lawyer,” Kelly replied, smiling.
“What legal code says you have to look like you just stepped out of the courtroom every moment of your life?”
Coming from anyone else, Kelly might have been offended. But she and Sunny had been having variations of this argument for years, since their days at Freemont High School, better known by its inmates as Cagemont. Even in high school, Kelly had never had an easy time dressing casually. On the rare occasions when she wore jeans, she topped them with an Oxford shirt and blazer.
Her parents had had some influence on her fashion choices. Both lawyers themselves, they’d emphasized the importance of looking the part to instill confidence in their clients. William and Nadine Wainwright wanted their daughter to dress like a junior associate in their firm.
She hadn’t minded. Kelly liked looking professional, serious. In high school it helped keep her focused on her goals: a 4.0 grade point average, being class valedictorian, and eventually graduating from Yale Law School. Two out of three wasn’t bad, she reminded herself as she once more felt the familiar sting of failure. After her mother died in a car accident the month before high school graduation, Kelly had traded in her Ivy League dreams and full–ride Yale scholarship for a perfectly respectable — if unremarkable — education at the University of Denver.
She had done the right thing. Her father had needed her. He’d been adrift without Nadine — they all had, William, Kelly and her two younger brothers — so she had stayed. She was still here, 10 years later, despite the offer of her dream job after she graduated — as a trial associate at a leading New York firm.
Once more fate had intervened, though. Three years ago her father, William, had been diagnosed with cancer. He’d needed her help again or Wainwright & Wainwright would have folded.
She sighed. Why did she continue to angst about this? She didn’t regret any of her choices. Not really. She had done the right thing by staying. Sometimes she just wondered what might have happened if her life had taken the road she’d mapped out for it.
“As always, I appreciate the offer,” she told Sunny. “But I’m going to pass.”
Before Sunny could push the matter, M.J. rushed in, out of breath, and threw her leather backpack on one of the chairs. “Sorry I’m late but you’ll never guess what I just heard.”
All three of them waited expectantly, used to M.J.’s little announcements. She lived for moments like this, when she could spring juicy tidbits of information on them. “Don’t keep us in suspense,” Kelly finally said. “Give.”
“Okay, but you’re not going to believe it. Do you remember Jackson Hunter from Freemont? Big, gorgeous guy a few years ahead of us?”
“I think so.” Pat frowned. “Didn’t he have detention with us?”
The five of them had become lifelong friends after spending six memorable weeks in detention for their free–for–all with the Four Queens, the self–proclaimed social rulers of Cagemont.
“I remember him,” Sunny said. “Dark, sexy. Never said much, just brooded a lot.”
“What about him?” Kelly asked, trying to calm her suddenly racing pulse. She hadn’t thought about Jackson Hunter in years. He’d been one of those unwilling fascinations. She wouldn’t call it a crush, exactly — how could it be when she’d never even talked to him? They moved in completely different circles. Well, she moved in a different circle, anyway. Jackson Hunter always seemed to stand alone. Still, she used to watch him sometimes, and a few times she had even caught him watching back.
“Apparently he’s been a Denver cop all these years and a pretty good one if my sources are accurate. Won several commendations and made detective after just a few years.”
“And?” Kelly prodded.
“Hold your horses. I’m getting to that, counselor.” M.J. paused for dramatic effect. “And, word in the newsroom is that he was arrested today for murder.”
Kelly stared at her friend while shock and dismay churned through her. “Who is he accused of killing?” Her voice sounded funny, Kelly thought. All hollow and distant.
M.J. didn’t seem to notice. “Get this. Another cop. A woman he recently had an affair with, apparently. They broke it off a few months ago and the speculation is that he didn’t take it well. Too bad this isn’t my beat. It has all the elements of a huge story. A decorated cop is accused of killing another cop over a secret affair that went wrong. The tabloids are going to have a field day over this one. I bet the wolves are already circling.”
“Poor guy.” Sunny was always on the lookout for a cause. “It sounds like what Jackson Hunter needs is a good lawyer.”
As if they were joined at the earlobes, all three of Kelly’s friends turned their heads to look at her.
“No. No way. Absolutely not.”
“Come on, Kelly.” Sunny’s eyes gleamed with excitement. “This could be your big chance!”
“My big chance to what?”
“To get some trial experience, just like you’ve always dreamed. It sounds like it’s going to be the murder case of the year. Think of the exposure!”
“Think about how my father would have a heart attack if he knew I ever even thought about defending an accused murderer!”
Pat spoke up for the first time since M.J. joined them. “At some point, you have to think about your own dreams, Kel. You’ve given 10 years to your family. Don’t you think that’s enough?”
Trust Pat — a syndicated advice columnist — to cut right to the heart of the matter. No matter what she might think, Kelly’s family still needed her. Her father’s cancer was in remission but chemotherapy and radiation had left him permanently weakened.
“I’m sure Jackson Hunter already has a lawyer. Even if he didn’t, why would he want me as his counsel? I’ve never even tried a case.”
“Because you’re the Brain of Cagemont High. If I were accused of killing someone, I wouldn’t want anyone else to defend me,” Sunny said loyally.
“According to my sources, he’s being arraigned this afternoon at three,” M.J. added. “If I didn’t already have an interview lined up, I’d run over just to get a look at him, to see if he’s as hot as he used to be.”
“The man’s accused of murder,” Kelly said dryly. “He’s probably been interrogated for hours. I doubt he’s going to look his best.”
“Why don’t you go? Check it out for us?”


*sigh* (27th oct 10)

This morning when I on my ym.. msg from Frank.. saying that I don’t love him anymore…*sigh*..but I will reply him in email and poem.. if I ever find one later.. will tell him “if I don’t love him, I won’t be hurting so much…thinking about u all the time, when u come online to chat with me or call me.” We chat last night, cos I tell him that I don’t feel good and ask me why..i told him that someone had no time for me, ask me “who”..i said “idk”..then he get what I mean… then ask me am I happy now?? He asking me twice, jz said abit better.. he told me, he waited me to invite him to come here, so I told him that any time when he have leave, but I don’t have much leave to spend with him. So I ask him nxt yr but he said is too long cos he want to show / prove to me that he love me so much. I ask him how long he want to stay if he do come, he said as long as I want him too. I told him I want him to stay forever, when I said, he can’t rite cos of his work. He say ‘yes’ and ask me when I can marry him.. I told him ‘yes’ if he proposed nicely, when he come.
This is the poem that im going to send to him today….
Many times you have told me
You love me dearly
You love me more than I ever know
And it will be forever, ‘till your last breath…

Your love that keeps me going
Making my day brilliant
Giving me encouragement and hope
When I am so depressed
being alone in the desert

Many times I am hearing from you
You will be joining me
To express your love
To let me know what
really is inside your heart…

Many times I have waited
For you to fulfill your promise
But until now…
I am still alone in the desert…

Alice call me, she so sad when I ask her bout the trip to Perth. She not really happy and she want to cry, so I ask her don’t talk bout it. So, I told her don’t think bout if u don’t really want to talk. She post in my fb wall… thank me for sharing her sadness and unhappy. After that, we talk bout westlife and our trip to London in yr 2012 .

I received lot of mail from wayn..but I haven’t reply them to some of them or I not sure whether I want to email to them.. depend who they are first. I’ll write to her when I’m free..but I don’t know when I’m going to free all this well.. *sigh*


Fic – Husband Material – Chapter 8

The pained expression on Maxwell’s face made Kate turn away from him. Nothing had worked out the way she’d planned — not telling him about her new job, not her well–intentioned, woefully misbegotten proposal. She’d only ended up hurting him and being hurt herself. Kate grimaced. They needed to talk, but not here. She walked toward her desk.
Maxwell didn’t want her help, not when it came to his personal life. He wanted her to be his assistant, period. She had resigned herself to it this past weekend. Today she had accepted it. A good thing, too.
He’d been correct about one thing. She deserved better than a guy like him. A week ago she might have been satisfied marrying him to help save his mother’s ranch and not care if he loved her, but no longer. Kate knew what she wanted — true love, requited love and a happily–ever–after. She wasn’t about to settle for anything less, not with Maxwell or any other man.
At her desk, she turned to face him, but he wasn’t there. Maxwell hadn’t followed her back. Her chest tightened. Where could he be?

What was he going to do without Kate? Max stood frozen in the elevator. He couldn’t move his feet, couldn’t do anything but watch her walk away as the doors closed. He exited at the next stop.
I’m Connor Andersen’s new executive assistant. Kate’s words reverberated through Max’s head. Anger and disbelief gave way to numbness.
As he walked into a mass of desks and noise, the air buzzed with energy. Max recognized the drive and ambition on the determined young faces surrounding him. He’d pulled Kate from a similar bull pen to be his assistant six years ago.
A heaviness settled in the center of his chest. She’d made it to mahogany row. Instead of congratulating her as any proud, happy boss would, Max had acted — was acting — like a spoiled, jealous child who’d lost his favorite toy. Kate had achieved her goal, and he still thought only of himself. He hung his head.
Max walked farther into the sea of desks. A man, about thirty, sat behind one and smiled. “Nice call on Intel.”
“Thanks.” Max extended his arm and shook the man’s hand. “Maxwell Cooper.”
“I’m John Hill.” He gave Max a cigar–shaped chocolate tied with a pink ribbon. “We just had a baby last week. Her name is Eva.”
“Congratulations.” Max stuck the cigar in his shirt pocket. Kate would like it. Kate. An instant, squeezing hurt gripped his heart. He ignored it. “Thanks.”
“Do you have any kids?” John asked.
“No.” Max noticed the pictures lining the edge of John’s cluttered desk. “How many do you have?”
“Four.” John’s telephone rang. “Keeps me on my toes.”
As the man answered his phone, Max looked at the pictures. A pretty blond woman with a baby. Two smiling children eating ice cream. A family portrait.
A funny, tingly sensation grabbed hold of his stomach. Nothing on his desk suggested he had a family, let alone a mother, three brothers and a nephew. Nothing in his office suggested he had a life outside of work.
Because…he didn’t.
The truth hit with the force of a sucker punch to his gut.
Max had a job. A job he’d allowed to take all his time. A job he’d allowed to define him. A job he’d allowed to be his only priority.
Talk about a pea–sized brain. There were smarter horses at the Flying C.
Kate had tried to tell him, tried to teach him, tried to help him. But he hadn’t listened. He hadn’t understood. Until now.
Suddenly, everything was so clear. He was losing his assistant, but he could be gaining something so much better. Max rushed to the elevator. He knew exactly whose picture he wanted sitting on his desk. He just hoped it wasn’t too late.
Max found her, more beautiful than ever, sitting at her computer. Hair up or down, glasses or contacts, Max didn’t care. He just wanted her.
“I thought you might want this.” He placed the chocolate cigar on her desk. “It’s chocolate.”
“T–thanks.” She bit her lip. “I’m sor —”
“Please. Not yet.” Max had made so many mistakes already. He wanted to do this right. “Do you have anything official about your job transfer?”
Concern filled her eyes. “No.”
“I need you to write me a resignation letter or an intent to transfer letter. ” His heart pounded in his throat, yet his voice remained steady, strong. “Something official saying you’ll no longer be under my supervision.”
She raised a brow. “Now?”
He nodded. “Please bring it into my office when you’re finished.”
As she typed, Max stood in his office, counting the seconds until she appeared. Two minutes later, she entered holding a piece of white paper. His blood pressure rose. He leaned against his desk. “Come in and close the door.”
She did, handed him the paper and sat in her usual chair.
“Thanks.” Max read it, a feeling of contentment and destiny rising inside him. He placed the paper on top of his inbox. “Now we can talk.”
“I didn’t mean for you to find out about my new position that way.” The words tumbled from Kate’s mouth. “I was upset and not thinking straight.”
“That makes two of us.”
“I can’t use that as an excuse.” Her eyes glistened. “I’m so sorry, Maxwell.”
How could he have not realized the depth of his feelings before? “You have nothing to apologize for, Kate. I’m happy for you. You deserve this.”
She leaned forward. “Really?”
“Yes, really.”
Her smile lifted him up. He needed that, needed her.
“I’m the one who’s sorry, Kate. For six years, I’ve taken advantage of your skills, your intelligence, you. I never gave a thought to your career, only my own. Can you forgive me?”
“I forgive you, Maxwell.”
Her words gave him the strength to continue. “I’m also sorry for being such a poor student. In spite of an excellent teacher, I had my priorities all screwed up by putting work ahead of everything — everyone — else. Thanks to you, I learned there is more to success than a fancy title, an office with a view and a high salary.” He watched her straighten. “I deserved an F after today’s performance, but I hope you’ll give me another chance to show you I can be husband material. Your husband material.”
Her eyes widened.
“I want to marry you, Kate.” He dropped down on bended knee and held her hand. “I want you to be my wife.”
She jerked her hand away. “You only want your inheritance.”
Max didn’t blame her for not believing him. He’d hurt her. Badly. But he wasn’t about to go down without a fight. “I need the money to save my mother’s ranch, but you are the only woman I want to marry. You are the only woman I love.”
Kate’s mouth formed a perfect O.
“And I don’t need a spreadsheet to tell me that,” he added. “Just my heart.”
She blinked.
“I love you, Kate Reynolds, but was too focused on my job to see it. I was so worried about the consequences, I forgot about the benefits.” He pulled her up with him. “But with your transfer so clearly stated in the letter, ethics and company policy are no longer issues. Nothing is standing in my way. Our way.”
Max lowered his mouth to hers, pressing against her lips with an aching need. She leaned into him, into his kiss, and he felt her heart beat against his chest. The rapid beat matched his own. He wove his fingers through her soft hair. He wanted the kiss to go on forever, but there was time, plenty of time for more. Slowly, reluctantly, he drew the kiss to an end.
“Will you marry me?” he murmured into her ear. Her warm breath caressed his neck, but she gave no answer. His heart rate sped up even more. “Kate?”
“Just a minute,” she whispered. “I’ve been in love with you for so long, Maxwell Cooper, I just want to savor the moment.”
Kate loved him. Him. He held her away so he could see her face, glowing and full of love. “I didn’t know.”
“No, you didn’t.” Kate grinned. “It’s been quite aggravating.”
The anticipation was killing him. “Is that a yes?”
“Yes!” She raised her chin. “I would be honored to be your wife.”
Excitement rushed through him and settled around his overflowing heart. “It’s going to have to be a short engagement.”
“I know.” Kate winked. “Danielle is due at the end of the month and Connor wants us to have time to transition.”
He brushed his lips over the top of her head. “I love you, Kate Reynolds.”
“And I love you, Max Cooper.”
“Max?” he asked.
Laugher gleamed in her eyes. “Maxwell is too stuffy for someone whose job is no longer his entire life.”
Max pulled her into his arms. “I couldn’t agree more.”
The End


Fic- Husband Material – Chapter 7

At three o’clock, Max followed two of the company’s newest fund managers out of the meeting room. As they neared mahogany row — where the founders, general partners and managing directors had offices — one manager elbowed the other.
“I’d like a piece of that,” Scott Parsons muttered under his breath.
Max couldn’t see who he meant, but the guy’s suggestive tone spelled trouble. Not to mention a total disregard for company policy, a lack of respect for co–workers and unacceptable behavior from someone in his position.
“You want to share?” Eric Richardson asked.
Scott laughed. “You think there’s enough for both of us?”
Curiosity got the better of Max. He glanced over their heads and saw Kate with her back to them.
They were talking about Kate. His Kate.
His temperature shot up. His blood pressure spiraled. Muscles bunched and knotted. A protective instinct roared to life. He wanted to punch someone — two someones.
Don’t lose control, Cooper. She’s worth it, but they aren’t.
Max took a deep breath, three actually. “I don’t know what the corporate environment was like where you came from, but here at Andersen Willet, we respect employees like my hardworking, brilliant assistant over there.”
He pushed his way between the two pea brains and strode toward Kate. She spoke with a very pregnant, very glowing Danielle Freed, the executive assistant to Connor Andersen. Max waited for Kate to notice him. She didn’t. Funny, but she was normally so attuned to him.
“Kate,” he said finally.
She straightened and turned. “What are you doing here?”
“The presentation, remember?”
“Oh, yeah,” she sounded preoccupied.
“That graph you added at the last minute was a huge hit.” He smiled. “Made several of the higher–ups take notice.”
The corners of her mouth lifted. “Good for you.”
“Are you heading down?”
“Yes.” She waved the folder in her hand at Danielle. “I’ll talk to you later.”
“One day we’ll be working up here,” he whispered, walking Kate to the elevator. “An office on mahogany row. Can you imagine?”
She nodded. “Maxwell, we need to talk.”
“I know.” This wasn’t the best time or place, but he wanted to get it over with. Inside the elevator, he pressed the button for their floor and the doors closed. “I wanted to tell you that I’ve been reviewing my husband–material notes.”
“You took notes?”
“A student, remember?”
Max expected a smile. He didn’t get one. The muscles in his shoulders tensed.
She watched the floor numbers decrease. “It’s not so clear–cut.”
“True, but I’m finished with the lessons.” He needed to save the Flying C ranch, but he also needed to stop these crazy feelings about Kate. As soon as he got married, things between them would return to normal. They had to, right? “It’s time to find a wife.”
The corners of her mouth tightened. “You need to find her yourself.”
“I know, and I’ve already started,” he explained. “I created a spreadsheet with information about each wife candidate to make sure I choose the correct one.”
“Oh, Maxwell.” Kate sighed. “You’re one of the best analysts on Wall Street, but you don’t have a clue unless it relates to economics, the Dow or NASDAQ.”
He drew his brows together. “What do you mean?”
“You research information to rate a company’s stock performance — buy, sell, hold and all the variations in–between — but you can’t use the same process to pick a wife.” She bit her lip. “What are you going to do? Downgrade each of the women on your list until only one is left?”
Her words ripped his logically conceived method in two. He raised his chin. “That was the plan.”
The elevator stopped, the doors opened, but no one stepped inside. The doors closed.
“A wife is not a commodity,” Kate said. “She’s the woman who will wake up next to you every morning, who will be the mother of your children, who will grow old with you.”
“I understand that, but I have to be realistic.” Max shifted his weight uneasily. “I’m not looking for true love. Just someone I can grow to love over time.”
“No.” Kate’s lower lip trembled. “You have to follow your heart, not pick out a wife as if you were buying a new car and hope it’s what you need over the long haul.”
“Desperate times call for desperate measures.”
“This shouldn’t be a desperate choice, Maxwell.”
Sweat broke out on his forehead. He couldn’t allow his mother to lose the ranch, but what would be the price he paid? Spending time with Kate had given him a glimpse into what a couple — what a husband and wife — could have together. Yet finding that with someone took time. Something he didn’t have. “What do you suggest?”
A beat passed. And another. Kate flipped her hair behind her shoulder and stared into his eyes. “Marry me.”
The air whooshed from his lungs. Her proposal was an invitation into Heaven and a ticket straight to Hell. He stared at her. Stunned. Grateful. Confused.
The elevator stopped on another floor. The doors opened and three people entered, talking about a hit reality TV show. He felt as if his chest might explode. Who cared what bozo was going to be kicked off the show when the most important person in his life had just proposed.
Marry me.
Was she serious? No, she had to be kidding. But the way her gaze held his, he wondered.
Marry me.
Kate would be a great wife. He knew that with pulse–pounding certainty. She was caring, nurturing and an amazing kisser. She took care of everything and made life easy for him. Time after time, she’d worked to make him shine in the spotlight not wanting any credit except a simple thank–you. If he hadn’t known what he wanted in a wife before, he knew now.
Marry Kate?
She was willing to sacrifice so much in order to marry him. But Max couldn’t ask her to do that.
He wasn’t husband material. She deserved an equal in the area of romance and relationships. He also knew how focused she was on her career — all those late nights and weekends. She thrived at work as much as he did. Sure, she could find another position, but he couldn’t ask her to do that. He didn’t want to.
Selfish as it might be, he needed her in his office, not in his bed. Though, he had to admit, that was an appealing thought, but not enough for him to want another assistant. Surely she would understand.
The elevator stopped and the trio exited.
“So what do you say?” she asked him once the elevator doors closed. “Will you marry me?”
Her lighthearted tone contradicted the anticipation in her eyes. Emotion, an unfamiliar mix of regret and guilt, clogged his throat. He was doing the right thing, the only thing. “I’m flattered, Kate. Any man would be. But you deserve better than a guy like me.”
“Isn’t that for me to decide?”
“You’re too valuable to me,” he countered. “If we got married, you couldn’t be my assistant.”
“So I’m too valuable in the office,” she said carefully. “That’s it, right?”
The disappointment in her voice hit harder than a thousand–point drop in the Dow. Max hadn’t wanted to hurt her, but he wasn’t going to lie either. “Yes.” “You are not an A student, Maxwell.” Anger flared in her eyes. She grabbed a pen from her notebook and scribbled a giant F across his piece of paper and shoved it at him. “You failed your husband–material lessons. Miserably.”
“You’re important to me, Kate,” he said. “I’m not going to let you throw away your career for me.”
“It’s a job, Maxwell, my job.” She pursed her lips. “Nothing else.”
“It’s more than that, Kate.” He wanted to convince her, needed her to agree with him so the gnawing anxiety in his gut would disappear. “We’re in this together. You and me. I don’t know what I’d do if I ever lost you.”
She tilted her chin. “You’d better figure it out because I’m no longer your assistant.”
“No. You can’t quit.” His mind reeled. His stomach clenched. Max had never considered the possibility that Kate would leave him. “What will you do? Where will you go?”
“Mahogany row,” she said. “I’m Connor Andersen’s new executive assistant.”


Fic- Husband Material – Chapter 6

Over the weekend, Max reviewed his husband–material lessons. Time was running out for the Flying C ranch and his mother. Unfortunately, this latest development with Kate only complicated matters. He still couldn’t stop thinking about her and their kiss.
More than once he picked up the telephone, but hung up before dialing her number. Kate hadn’t agreed with his canceling the husband–material lessons for this weekend, but he knew they needed distance. He couldn’t put them in another potentially romantic position. The consequences were too great. Plus, Max had to find a wife. Without Kate’s assistance.
Monday morning, he was ready to face whatever challenge arose. With the determination of a warrior intent on the enemy’s front line, he attacked the contents of his inbox.
“Good morning, Maxwell.”
He glanced up from a financial report and did a double take at the beautiful woman in a lime green fitted jacket and short skirt. The style flattered her hourglass shape, taking advantage of her voluptuous curves and full breasts, and showed a lot of skin. He’d never seen so much of her legs before. “Kate?”
As she walked toward him, Max noticed the way she jiggled. He squirmed in his chair and glanced at her feet. New shoes — high–heeled pumps that showed off her long legs — had replaced her sensible flat ones.
“Did you have a nice weekend?” she asked with a polite smile.
She acted as if today was no different than any other day. But it was. She was. He forced his gaze away before he started to drool.
Max cleared his throat. “Yes. Did you go…shopping?”
As she nodded, her past–her–shoulder–length strands of auburn hair shimmered. Soft hair meant for running fingers through. “And your hair?”
“I decided to try something new.” She tilted her chin. “Do you like it?”
Like didn’t begin to describe what he thought. He swallowed. Hard. But then he remembered her wind–blown ponytail and how the escaped tendrils had framed her face when they were at the beach. “Yes, but I like your ponytails, too.”
She studied him for a moment, then placed a folder on top of his inbox. “I have your travel plans for SEMICON West.”
He caught a whiff of something exotic. Not her normal flowery scent. What was going on? Not that it mattered. His thoughts about her were inappropriate. He had to stop. Now. “Thanks.”
She smiled. “I forwarded you links to some articles you’ll want to read.”
“Okay.” Something else was different about her. Her eyes. Same sky blue, but they stood out more. Makeup, he realized, but it wasn’t just that. “What happened to your glasses?”
“I’ve had contacts for ages, but never wear them at work.”
Max missed her turquoise frames. He missed her. Sure Kate–the–sexy–chick was hot, but so was Kate–his–fresh–faced–assistant. The realization made him feel even more unsettled. He didn’t want to think of Kate as hot or even a woman, just his assistant. The way it had been before. “Why?”
She stared at him, a smile on her lips and a challenge in her eyes. “I thought it was time.”
“Time for what?”
Her smile tightened. “A change.”
“You don’t need to change. You’re…” Perfect, he thought. “Fine the way you are. Were.”
“Maybe ’fine’ isn’t good enough.” She placed his schedule for the day on his desk. “Maybe I want to show more of the real me.”
“The real you is inside.” He’d discovered it for himself over the past week. “It’s always been inside you, Kate.”
“Well, now it’s time for it to come out.” She motioned to his schedule. “You have lunch with a reporter from the Financial Times, a presentation at two and the monthly staff meeting at four–thirty. Your computer will remind you.”
Thorough as always. She was still his Kate. Correction, his assistant Kate.
“Do you have anything for me?” she asked.
Oh, yeah.
Stop before it’s too late.
Max wet his lips. He still felt the effects of their kiss, and now he was feeling the effects of her. Time to put an end to his husband–material lessons and get their relationship back to the comfortable place it had once been. “Why don’t you sit?”
She did and readied her pen and notebook. “What’s up?”
Her skirt, that’s what. The hem inched up her thighs. Not all the willpower in the world could keep him from looking at that peek of thigh. He wanted to tell her something, but couldn’t remember what.
Closing his eyes, he rubbed his forehead to keep a headache from exploding.
“Are you okay?” The tender concern in her voice tugged at his heart.
Heart tugging was not allowed. He opened his eyes and squared his shoulders. “Let’s do this later. I just remembered I have a conference call.”
“It’s not on your schedule.”
“It just came up.”
She rose. “Later, then.”
As she walked out of his office, the sway of her hips hypnotized him.
Get a grip, Cooper.
Max glanced at the digital stock ticker scrolling by on his monitor, but he couldn’t comprehend a symbol or number. All he could see was Kate. Beautiful, sexy Kate. Pretty, sweet Kate.
He wanted them both. Trouble, big trouble.
Max owed it to his mother and to the Flying C ranch not to do anything stupid, but most especially he owed it to Kate. She deserved so much more than he could give her.

Kate expected some reaction from her co–workers about her new look, but their positive responses overwhelmed her. She wasn’t used to so much attention and had forced herself to just say thank–you and not blush when anyone complimented her. Including Maxwell.
She smiled. He liked the new her, but he still liked the old her, too.
The real you is inside. It’s always been inside you, Kate.
His sincere words had wrapped around her like her grandmother’s quilt. Yes, he had his priorities mixed up, but she’d always known there was something special about him. This past week had proved it. Her love for him had grown from what she now recognized as a crush and hero worship to something stronger, more real. If only things could be different for them…
The telephone rang. Her extension, not Maxwell’s. “Kate Reynolds.”
“Good morning, Kate,” a man’s deep and cheerful voice bellowed through the receiver. “It’s Connor Andersen.”
He was a company cofounder who had offered her a job two weeks ago. A position she’d turned down.
“Mr. Andersen.” Kate’s heart hammered against her chest, but she managed to keep her voice calm. “What can I do for you?”
“I’d like to see you in my office this afternoon at two–thirty.”
“Okay.” But it wasn’t. Not by a long shot. Was Mr. Andersen upset over her not taking the job? Had someone seen her kiss Maxwell in the park? Was she going to be reprimanded? Or fired? Was he? Suddenly, a new her had a totally different meaning. One not so appealing.
Kate gulped. “Would you mind telling me what this regards, Mr. Andersen?”
“It’s Connor,” he said. “I respect your loyalty to Cooper, but I still want you to be my executive assistant, Kate. Is that what you need to know?”
Not fired. Good. She blew out a puff of air. “Yes.”
“Right to the point. I like that about you,” Connor said. “Just so you know what you’re walking into, I’m not going to make it easy for you to say no this time.”
Did she want to say no again? Did she want to turn down a high–profile promotion to look after Maxwell while he looked for a wife?
No. She deserved more. But this change was more serious than shortening her skirt or letting her hair down. And, Kate realized, she was more than up for it.
Anticipation rippled through her. “I’m looking forward to it, Connor.”


Fic – Husband Material – Chapter 5

“Dinner was delicious.” As they walked through the park that ran from Chelsea Piers down to Battery Park, the temperature hot and the air humid, Maxwell rolled up his sleeves. “So what’s my lesson for today?”
Oh, no. Kate forced her feet to keep moving. She hadn’t planned a lesson; she had planned a date.
“Look around you,” she said, trying to think of something, anything.
People were out and about enjoying the Hudson River Park before the sun went down. Jogging, walking hand–in–hand, pushing high–tech strollers. At the sight of a man, woman and baby, an ache started in Kate’s stomach and pulsated outwards. That’s what she wanted — a family of her own. She glanced at Maxwell. “If you were out with your wife, what would you be doing?”
His forehead creased. “Talking like this isn’t enough?”
“No, it’s fine, but are there any little things you could do to make the time together more…”
“Fun?” he suggested. “Memorable? Romantic?”
“All of the above.”
“Do you want me to tell you or show you?” he asked.
Oh, my gosh. Is he going to hold my hand? She wet her lips. “Either.”
“How about both?” He grinned. “An A student. Remember?”
She nodded as they strolled past an ice–cream vendor.
“Let’s see.” He picked a dandelion from the grass. “I’d start with something a little silly like this.” He held the flower under Kate’s chin. “Does she love me?”
The air whooshed from her lungs. She knew this wasn’t for real, but still…
Maxwell studied it closely. “Very interesting.”
She swallowed. “W–w–what does it say?”
“Only that you like butter.”
Kate grinned. “Actually, I love butter.”
And you.
Maxwell handed her the dandelion. “Your turn.”
She held the flower under his chin. As a yellow spot reflected on his skin, the warmth of his breath caressed her hand. She glanced up at him. The tenderness of his gaze made her want to stay like this forever.
“So do I or don’t I?” he asked finally.
“You do.” Her voice sounded strange, husky. She waited for him to look away. He didn’t. This was her chance to show Maxwell what she really wanted.
Still she hesitated. Scared. Excited. Unsure.
Do it now. Before it’s too late, she thought.
She had nothing to lose. Except his respect, her job, her heart.
Kate inhaled sharply and kissed him. On the lips.
The moment her mouth touched Maxwell’s, he tensed. Mortified, she drew back. But he reached for her, pulled her toward him and kissed her back.
Hot, moist, male.
As his arms encircled her, his mouth pressed against hers with an urgency she had only dreamed about.
Wow! Double wow!!
She couldn’t believe this was happening. Her knees trembled and she splayed her hands on his back, the ridges of muscles beneath her palms.
For years she’d imagined Maxwell’s kisses, but nothing could have prepared her for the real thing. More satisfying than fried chicken, more tempting than chocolate cupcakes. Her heart fluttered. Her pulse skittered. Sensations rippled. Heat pooled. Kate felt as if she’d just begun to feel, to see, to live.
Angling his head, he deepened the kiss. A kiss that hinted of things to come. Kate couldn’t wait. She leaned into him, wanting more, so much more…

Nothing had prepared Max for the power and passion of Kate’s kiss. The world around them stopped: children playing in the park, boats sailing on the Hudson, traffic rumbling on the west side highway. It was only the two of them touching, exploring, kissing.
Returning her kiss broke every rule in the book. Stopping was the only thing that made sense. But the moment Kate’s lips had touched his, Max’s common sense had disappeared faster than shares of a hot IPO.
She wove her fingertips through his hair and showered kisses along his jawline. He wanted — no, needed — another taste of her. Cupping the back of her head with his hand, he reclaimed her lips. Sweet–oh–so–sweet.
Kate pressed her lips against his with an urgency and hunger that matched his own. A moan escaped her lips. The sound sent his already heated blood roaring. What little control he had slipped another notch.
Something nudged between them. Something hard.
“Max?” Kate muttered, not removing her lips from his.
He glanced down. A dog, a yellow Labrador, tried to separate them with its nose. Talk about bad timing. Max pulled away from Kate.
An elderly couple hurried up and pulled the dog’s leash tighter. The old man, wearing a Yankees cap and Mets T–shirt, smiled. “I’m sorry. Trixie always gets jealous when she sees me kissing the missus like that.”
“Stop telling tales.” The white–haired woman with rosy cheeks swatted his thin arm. “I told you to keep that dog of yours on a shorter leash.”
“Sixty years of marriage and she’s still telling me what to do.” The man laughed. “We’ll be on our way. You two get back to what you were doing.”
That sounded good to Max. No, not good. Not good at all. He stared at Kate. Wide–eyed, flushed cheeks and swollen lips, she looked utterly and thoroughly kissed. He was a jerk.
He brushed his hand through his hair. This was Kate. Kate Reynolds. His assistant extraordinaire. One of the main reasons for his success at Andersen Willett. Too valuable to risk losing. Too sweet to risk hurting.
Yet he’d just crossed the line. Who was he kidding? He’d jumped ten feet over the line without a second thought.
He stepped back. “I shouldn’t have done that.”
“I’m the one who kissed you.”
She had. Why had she?
Her reasons didn’t matter. He was responsible for letting things get out of hand.
“But I kissed you back,” he said. “And I’m…I’m your boss.”
She pursed her lips. “I’m not planning to run straight to Human Resources if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“It’s not just that,” he admitted. “You are important to me. I wouldn’t want our kissing to interfere with our ability to work together.”
Kate drew her brows together. “You’re concerned about our working relationship?”
Of course he was.
“You’re my assistant, Kate. The best I’ve ever had.” His gaze implored her. “I wouldn’t want to do anything to screw that up.”
She stared at the ground. “And the kiss…”
“Was my mistake,” he said firmly. Even though it had felt so right, so…perfect. Whether Kate complained to HR or not, Max knew hitting on his assistant — his young, single, beautiful assistant who cooked like an angel and kissed like a dream — was just plain wrong. An abuse of his power and her trust. “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”
“I’m sorry, too.”
Because she’d kissed him? Or because it could never happen again?
Max pulled himself together. He couldn’t go there. He was her boss. He had to do the right thing — the only thing — for both their sakes.

The kiss wasn’t a mistake. Maxwell could lie to himself, but he couldn’t fool Kate. And if he believed he didn’t need any husband–material lessons this weekend, so be it.
Sooner or later, he’d figure out what was really important in life. With or without her help. She was finished trying to anticipate his every need. She had her own needs to worry about.
By Saturday morning, things had become much clearer. Kate was happy she’d gone after what she wanted. She had no regrets about that impulsive kiss in the park. She probably should have done it a long time ago, but no going back. From now on, she was only looking forward. Looking and moving forward.
Kate stared at the work clothes strewn over her bed. Beige, navy, black. Every neutral piece mixed and matched. Talk about boring. No bright colors, no originality, nothing that said Kate.
Picking up a boxy navy jacket, she sighed. Sensible and professional. The cut hid those extra pounds when her weight fluctuated and was easy to wear. Just like her ponytail. She tossed the jacket on the bed and removed the rubber band. Hair cascaded past her shoulders.
She had accused Maxwell of having no life, but she was just as guilty. Kate had been too busy working and building his career and loving him from afar to do anything for herself. She’ become what she thought he needed and wanted her to be — an efficient, sensible, hardworking assistant. Only here, in her apartment, could she be herself.
But no longer. Kate owed that to herself.
Walking out of her bedroom, she stopped at the doorway and glanced back. It was time to say goodbye. It was time to show everyone at Andersen Willett the real Kate. It was time…to go shopping.


Fic- Husband Material – Chapter 4

Kate opened the door of her apartment. “I had fun today.”
Maxwell realized she was showing him out. It was ten o’clock and time to go home. All he had to do was say goodnight and be done with it. That was the logical thing to do. But he didn’t want to say anything. He wanted to kiss her instead.
He couldn’t. This was Kate.
Sure, he’d always found her attractive in a girl–next–door–best–friend kind of way. But she was directly under his supervision. That meant untouchable. A kiss would be unethical. Against the rules. A way to lose her.
Kissing her was definitely not an option.
But the way she said his name and glanced at him through her eyelashes made him want to exercise that option anyway.
How come he’d never noticed how pretty she was before? Or that her eyes were the color of the sky at the beach? Or that she seemed to be waiting for him to do…something?
He felt himself drawn to Kate, to her full, oh–so–kissable lips…
Say good–night before you do something you’ll regret, he thought.
He’d asked for her help to find a wife. He couldn’t repay her by hitting on her. But there was more to it than that.
Think. Andersen Willett Employee Code of Conduct. Think. Managerial Training and Avoiding Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Training. Think. Lawsuit.
It wasn’t worth the risk. Not for either one of them. Max straightened. “Good night.”
She bit her lip. “Do you want to have another lesson tomorrow after work?”
Spending more time with her was the first thing he wanted to do, but the last thing he should do. Still, he couldn’t forget about his mother and the Flying C. He’d just have to be careful around Kate. “Sure.”
“Great.” She smiled. “I’ll see you in the morning, then.”
“In the morning,” he echoed. Not only would he spend the day with her at the office, but the evening, too. He would have to be extra careful around her.
Too much was at stake to allow this sudden attraction to get in the way. He’d never had trouble getting his thoughts and feelings under control before. And now, with the ranch on the line, Max had more reason than ever to concentrate on the job at hand. He couldn’t think about kissing Kate. He had to focus on the business of getting a wife. What had Kate said? He needed to loosen up, relax, have fun.
He had had fun today. A lot of fun. But how come he felt anything but relaxed right now?

As Kate strolled down the hallway at work early Friday morning, she fought the urge to skip. Even though she hadn’t slept much last night, she hadn’t felt this good in…well, ever. Yesterday with Max had been the best day of her life. And had changed everything.
Depositing her bag and picnic basket under the desk, she glanced at Maxwell’s office. The door was ajar and he bent over his desk. At least he didn’t look as if he’d spent another night there. That was a step in the right direction. And she hoped the dinner she’d stayed up preparing until the wee hours of the morning would be another.
She straightened her ponytail and smoothed her navy skirt. “Good morning, Maxwell.”
He was at her desk before she had time to sit down. Strange, but he usually waited for her to come to him. Maybe things would change between them at the office, too. A warm glow flowed through her.
“I’m so glad you’re here early,” he said.
She hadn’t mistaken the desire in Maxwell’s eyes before he’d said goodbye. The bud of hope she’d clung to through the night blossomed. She might have a few — okay, more than a few — pounds to lose, but she was attractive, intelligent, a great cook and loved Maxwell Cooper with all her heart. What more could he want in a woman? Or a wife?
He had to marry someone. Why not her?
Kate smiled. “I’m glad you’re glad.”
She waited for him to say something about the wonderful time he’d had yesterday or notice she wore her best suit or ask about the plans for tonight.
“I need a presentation typed up by eight, a breakdown of the latest orders by nine and the letters in this morning’s mail,” he said instead.
Ignoring the twinge of disappointment, Kate nudged the picnic basket farther under her desk to keep tonight’s dinner plans a secret. Time to work, not play. “No problem.”
“This is for the presentation,” he said. “The files are on the server.”
As he handed her a two–inch thick manila folder, his fingers brushed her hand. Tingles shot up her arm and she sucked in a breath.
Maxwell’s startled gaze met hers. “Sorry.”
Had he felt it, too? Her pulse quickened at the thought. “It’s okay.”
He cleared his throat. “About tonight…”
The thought of the two of them having a picnic sent a pleasurable shiver down her spine. “Yes?”
He shifted his weight. “We’ve got so much to do, I doubt we’ll make it out of here in time for dinner.”
Her heart jolted. “I don’t mind eating late.”
“I’m sorry, Kate.” He set his jaw. “It’s just not going to work out.”
Normally, she would have just nodded and said okay, but not today. Things had changed between them. She wasn’t about to go backward. Kate met his gaze directly. “You need to eat dinner.”
“I’ll be fine,” he said. “You can order takeout for yourself.”
She didn’t need to order anything. She had an entire meal packed in the basket at her feet, but a picnic in the office didn’t sound as romantic as one in the Hudson River Park. “I made dinner. For us.”
A vein in his neck flicked. “I didn’t know.”
“It was going to be a surprise.”
A beat passed. “What did you make?”
“Fried chicken. My grandmother’s secret recipe,” she added. “But I can order takeout for you.”
“No,” he replied quickly. “I mean, you went to all that trouble. The least I can do is eat it.”
For once, Kate held the upper hand where Maxwell was concerned. She liked how it felt. “What about our lesson tonight?”
His mouth narrowed. “I don’t —”
“I baked chocolate cupcakes for dessert.” The interest gleaming in Maxwell’s eyes gave her the impetus to take a chance. She adjusted her glasses. “What if I let you eat my home–cooked dinner if you let me give you a lesson after work?”
His lips parted, then a slow smile spread over his face. “I never thought you were capable of blackmail, Kate.”
She tilted her chin. “I’m capable of quite a lot.”
“I’m learning that.”
Her confidence soared. “Is that a yes?”
“Yes.” He raised an inquisitive brow. “I can’t wait to see what else you’ve got up your sleeve.”
Neither could Kate. All she needed was the opportunity. And the courage.


Fic-Husband Material – Chapter 3

Sitting with Maxwell at a candlelit table tucked away in the corner of a small, but romantic restaurant had been darn near perfect so far. It wasn’t fair. Tonight’s dinner reaffirmed everything Kate knew in her heart to be true. She and Maxwell belonged together. Whether in the office or out of it, they were a seamless team. A perfect match. If only he saw it, too… .
His pager sounded. Again.
A not–so–subtle reminder this wasn’t a date but a lesson. Kate took a bite of her crème brulee.
Maxwell glanced at the pager and pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. The guy really didn’t know how to act on a date. No wonder he could never keep a girlfriend for long. Not that she was his girlfriend or this was really a date, but she was still a woman and having dinner with him. Yet he treated her better at the office. As he started to dial, Kate snatched the phone from his hand.
He stared at her. “I need to make a call.”
“You can wait until after dinner.”
“But — ”
“Husband material lesson number two,” she said. “It’s rude and not at all husbandly to ignore your wife during dinner and make phone calls.”
“What if it’s important?”
“You said calls one through seven were important.”
His gaze shifted from his cell phone to her. “Do you care if I make another call?”
“This isn’t about me,” Kate said, more for her benefit than his. “You asked me to turn you into husband material and that’s what I’m trying to do. If you would rather I not — ”
“No. Please. Do whatever you need to do. I’m sorry.” His sincere gaze made her feel tingly inside. “This is just going to be hard for me.”
Welcome to the club. “It’ll get easier.” At least she hoped it would.
“I’m sure it will now that I have you,”
But he didn’t have her. She sipped her ice water. Not the way she wanted him to have her. And worse, it was looking like he never would.

Not returning calls during dinner last night had been difficult for Max, but he’d survived his lesson without any far–reaching consequences. This morning, however, was another story. In spite of what Kate said, a walk along a beach, on a Thursday no less, was not going to turn him into husband material. He wouldn’t be a good provider if he let business languish, now, would he?
But that’s exactly what he was doing. Ignoring work. Quarterly earnings were about to be announced by several of the companies he covered. A presentation for institutional investors was due on Friday. Kate, of all people, should understand. But instead, she’d foiled every attempt he’d made to contact the office. “Could I at least have my phone back?”
“No.” She walked through the water, kicking at the waves like a little kid. She carried one shoe in each hand and had rolled up her jeans, but the water still drenched the hems. “I brought you to Long Island so you could get away from work.”
“I’m away from work.” Far, far away. And hating every minute of it.
Max stepped around a wave rolling to shore. He could only imagine what disaster needed his attention. He couldn’t believe he had allowed Kate to take him away this morning when she’d shown up in tennis shoes, jeans and a T–shirt. “I really need to check my voice mail.”
She splashed him with her hands and he jumped back, just avoiding getting salt water on his dry–clean only pants. “Loosen up a little.”
“I’m loose. I ditched my tie, my shoes and my socks. See?” He raised them in the air. “I even had a beer at the clam bar. I never have a drink during lunch.”
“Maybe you should call Julia and Madeline and see if that’s enough to change their minds about marrying you.”
He frowned. “That’s not funny.”
“Come on.” Kate splashed him again. “We have a reason for playing hooky. But instead of taking your husband lesson seriously, you’re only proving you’re a workaholic. Have you even noticed where we are?”
“We’re at the beach.”
“It’s not just the beach. Look at the blue sky with the white puffy clouds.” She closed her eyes and stretched out her arms. “Smell the salt in the air. Feel the heat of the sand beneath your bare feet.”
Forget the beach. He wanted to watch her. Kate’s well–worn jeans accentuated the curve of her hips. Her yellow T–shirt stretched tight across the front, hinting at the treasure that could be found underneath. But it was the carefree expression on her sun–pink smiling face that mesmerized him.
“Forget about having an office on the sixty–fourth floor with a view,” she said. “This is what life is about.”
She looked so relaxed, so free. Such a dichotomy from the woman he knew at the office. And he didn’t like it. He didn’t like thinking of Kate as anything but his hard–working assistant. Company policy frowned upon romantic relationships within departments and prohibited them between bosses and subordinates. He wasn’t about to do anything that would cause him to lose her. Or jeopardize their careers.
She opened her eyes. “Can’t you at least try to have some fun? For your mother’s sake?”
He stopped staring at Kate, abruptly reminded of the reason for the excursion. This wasn’t about him. This wasn’t about Kate, as pretty as she looked with her fresh face and her windblown hair. He was here because of the Flying C ranch and his mother. Time was running out. He had to find a wife.
So he tried. For the rest of the day, he didn’t ask to call the office or to check his pager. He didn’t worry about market fluctuations, quarterly earnings, economic forecasts and equipment orders. He concentrated on learning to be husband material. And somewhere between building a sand castle complete with a moat and eating a hot fudge sundae, he no longer had to try. The fun had sneaked in.
When they returned to the city, he planned on grabbing a fast food dinner and working at the office, but Kate’s invitation for a home–cooked meal had him sitting in her apartment instead. He couldn’t remember the last time a woman had cooked for him. Unless he counted his mother.
“Dinner was great.” He wiped his hands with his napkin. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome.”
“Not even my mom makes meatloaf like that,” he said. Kate was as efficient and talented in the kitchen as she was in the office. “And those chocolate chip cookies melted in my mouth.”
“Comfort food is my specialty.” She smiled wryly. “I guess you can tell.”
Was she actually concerned about her weight? She looked fine to him. Better than fine.
“Well, I’ll take your comfort anytime.” He realized how that must have sounded. Not good. He couldn’t allow a hint of impropriety. “I mean, food. Comfort food.”
She smiled. “Anytime.”
Max wanted to take her up on the offer. This new side intrigued him. After working together for so long, he thought he knew everything about Kate Reynolds. He’d been wrong. She was dependable, hardworking, had an eye for detail and could handle any client who called. But today he’d learned she was also funny, adventurous, didn’t mind getting her hands dirty and an amazing cook. Those turquoise glasses of hers finally made sense, too.
She clasped her hands together the way she always did at the office. “Do you have any questions?”
“About today,” she explained. “How to enjoy the moment and not worry about what’s waiting for you at the office or who left a message on your voice mail.”
He’d forgotten today was a husband material lesson. Funny, but it felt more like a…date. The thought gave him a start. He’d never thought about Kate as anything more than his assistant. Doing so would be…wrong. “I stopped thinking about work today and had fun if that’s what you want to know.”
He expected her to reward him with on of her light up her face smiles, but the corners of her mouth barely curved. “Will I find you asleep at your desk tomorrow morning?”
Going into the office tonight seemed less important. He’d rather stay here. Max glanced at the clock. Ten. Where had the time gone? He rose from the table. “The only place I’m going is home.”
His apartment was bigger than Kate’s with brand new leather furniture and an amazing stereo system and a state–of–the–art flat panel screen TV. But he was rarely there. And now he realized why. His apartment was a place to store his stuff and sleep. Kate’s apartment was a home. The feminine and cheery décor was as welcoming as its owner. Everywhere he caught glimpses of her. In the multicolored wood frames surrounding family photos to the yellow, green and orange plaid and striped pillows on the comfortable couch. Even the floral scent from a bowl of potpourri seemed to say Kate.
She stood. “You deserve a good night’s sleep in your own bed.”
What about her bed?
Max wasn’t sure where the thought had come from. Probably all the earlier musing about her apartment furnishings, but still… What was he thinking? This was Kate. Not some woman he met in a bar or at a meeting or…
“Do you want to call a cab?” she asked.
“It’s not that late.” He was still coping with the realization that he had thought about taking Kate — Kate his assistant, super–efficient, helpful Kate — to bed. Not that he would