Theron picked up the phone as Madeline called back to say that Reynolds was on the phone to give his daily report. He listened as Isabella’s head of security listed the morning’s activities which consisted of shopping and lunch alone at the hotel.

His hand tightened around the receiver when Reynolds got to her plans for the evening. An outing with Marcus Atwater.

He swore in Greek and then quickly recovered. What was she thinking? Surely she couldn’t be attracted to a man such as Marcus. He was smooth, too smooth, and he’d been all over her at the party.

Not to mention he had a different woman on his arm every week.

“You are to keep a close watch on her,” Theron ordered. “I don’t trust this man she’s going out with. Under no circumstances are they to be left alone.”

“Yes, sir,” Reynolds replied.

Theron hung up the phone, his lips compressed into a tight line. Was she just trying to drive him insane? She had to know he wouldn’t approve of her spending time with Marcus after what had happened the previous night.

And maybe she could care less what he approved of. She hadn’t exactly paid him any heed in any other area.

He leaned back in his chair and opened his desk drawer, reaching for the small black box that nestled in the corner. His fingers touched it, and then he picked it up and opened it.

The diamond ring sparkled in the light as he studied it. Tonight he’d put it on Alannis’s finger. So why wasn’t he more enthused? Why wasn’t he looking forward to his future?

This time next year he could even have a child, a family. He’d be settled. And yet he felt decidedly unsettled about her—about everything.

His intercom buzzed again, and Madeline announced that he had another important call. She cut the connection before he could ask who. Shaking his head, he picked up the phone.

“Have you lost your damn mind?” Piers’s demand made Theron frown.

“Give him a chance,” Chrysander said dryly. “Then we’ll ascertain whether he’s lost his sanity.”

“You told Madeline not to tell me it was you two calling, didn’t you?” Theron accused.

“Damn right,” Piers said. “You wouldn’t have answered if you’d known. Coward.”

“There’s nothing to say I won’t hang up,” Theron said idly.

“Your sister-in-law wants to know why you didn’t tell her you were thinking of getting married,” Chrysander said.

Theron winced. “It’s not fair of you to use Marley to make me feel guilty, and you know it.”

“What are you doing?” Piers asked impatiently, cutting through the banter. “What could you possibly be thinking?”

“What our brother is trying to say is that we were caught by surprise, and we’d like to offer you our congratulations, just as soon as we understand why we’re only just now finding out,” Chrysander said diplomatically.

Piers made a rude noise. “Not me. If he tells me he’s really doing this, I can only offer my condolences.”

“What’s wrong with me getting married?” Theron asked, surprised by Piers’s reaction.

“Besides the fact that I think anyone willingly entering the institution of matrimony has a few screws loose, there is the fact that you’re marrying Alannis Gianopolous. She’s so wrong for you,” Piers said bluntly.

Theron frowned. “Alannis is a perfectly acceptable choice.”

There was a long silence, and then Chrysander cleared his throat. “Acceptable choice? That’s an odd way of putting it.”

“I’m more interested as to why you believe she’s so wrong for me,” Theron said, ignoring Chrysander’s remark.

“Hell, Theron, apart from the fact that her father has been angling for her to marry one of us for years, she’s…she’s…”

“She’s what?” Theron cut in.

“Just tell us why the sudden urge to get married,” Chrysander said calmly. “And why you felt the need to include such momentous news in an e-mail.”

“Probably because of the reaction I’m getting now,” Theron said pointedly.

“Since when did you become so worried about what we thought?” Piers asked.

“Does anyone find it ironic that not so long ago, it was me and Piers having this talk with Chrysander about Marley? We were wrong about her, and you two are wrong about Alannis.”

Chrysander sighed, and Theron knew he had him. What could he say when it was the truth? Theron and Piers had been quite vocal in their opposition of Marley. They’d also been dead wrong.

“Just be sure this is what you want,” Chrysander said in resignation. “And keep us apprised of your plans. Marley will want to make it for the wedding.”

Piers wasn’t quite so ready to throw in the towel. “Think about what you’re doing, Theron. This is the rest of your life you’re talking about here.”

“I appreciate your concern,” Theron said dryly. “I am capable of making my own decisions.”

“Tell me how things are going with Isabella,” Chrysander broke in, an obvious attempt to change the subject. “Did you get her off to Europe?”

Again, there was a long silence. Theron wiped a hand through his hair wishing he’d pressed Madeline harder about who was on the phone.

“She didn’t go to Europe,” he said.

“Who is Isabella?” Piers demanded. “Are we talking about little Isabella Caplan?”

“I’ll fill you in later,” Chrysander said. “Why didn’t she go to Europe? Where is she then?”

“She’s here. She’s decided to stay in New York,” Theron said. “And she’s not so little anymore,” he added, though he was unsure why he felt the need to make that point.

Chrysander chuckled. “Poor Theron. Saddled with women on all sides. I imagine you’re cursing me about now.”

If he only knew.

“I’ve seen to Isabella’s needs, and gotten her settled in. Everything is fine. I’m fine. You two can get off my

back now.”

“He sounds a little defensive, does he not?” Piers said smugly. “I smell something here. Something rotten. I only wish I was in New York to see for myself.”

“You just stay the hell where you are,” Theron muttered. “You have a hotel to build.”

Piers’s laughter flooded the line.

“I’m hanging up now,” Theron said before lowering the receiver.

Now he knew how Chrysander had felt when he and Piers had given him such a hard time about Marley. Well-meaning relatives were always the worst.

Eleven

“H ave any idea what you’re going to say yet?” Marcus asked Isabella as he picked up his wineglass and brought it to his lips.

Reluctantly she shook her head and stared down at her barely eaten entrée. “I don’t want to make an ass of myself, but at the same time I have to make him see that I’m not teasing. I’m not playing some silly game nor is he a passing infatuation.”

When she looked up, she saw sympathy in Marcus’s dark eyes.

“Put yourself in his shoes,” she murmured. “You’re about to ask a woman to marry you. You’ve kissed another woman twice, and you’re fighting the attraction hard. What could this other woman say to you to convince you not to marry someone else?”

Marcus set his glass down, leaned back and blew out his breath. “Boy, you don’t ask the hard ones, do you? I guess it would depend on whether I truly loved the woman I was about to marry, but then I wouldn’t propose unless I was certain of that. And if I was certain, and I intended to propose, then nothing would sway me.”

“I was afraid you’d say that,” Isabella muttered.

“All you can do is try,” he said gently. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and all that jazz.”

A smile cracked through her lips. “Between you and me, we have all the trite clichés wrapped up.”

He reached over and took her hand. “Are you sure this is what you truly want, Bella? I hate to see you hurt or disappointed.”

“You’re sweet,” she began.

“Lord, but a man hates to hear those words from a woman’s lips,” he said with a groan. “It’s as bad as hearing you’re just like a brother to me.”

She laughed and relaxed her shoulders. Tension had crept into her muscles until her entire body had gone stiff with it. Marcus was right about one thing. All she could do was try. Whatever happened afterward was out of her control.

“You look fantastic tonight,” he said as he relinquished her hands.

“Thank you. You really are too sweet.”

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