“You were too late?” he asked needlessly.

She nodded and squeezed her eyes shut as more hot tears escaped.

He gathered her in his arms. “I’m so sorry, Bella. I promised I would have you here on time.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” she whispered.

“Come on, let me get you up to your room,” he urged as he turned her toward the elevator. “You’re soaked through.” He nodded tersely at Reynolds. “I’ll take her up.”

Numbly, she let him escort her into the elevator. As they rode up, images of Alannis and Theron filtered through her mind. They’d looked so happy.

Happy.

Almost like…they were in love.

She closed her eyes again. Why couldn’t he love her?

Marcus took the key from her shaking fingers and unlocked her door. Cool air immediately washed over her, eliciting a chill.

“You’re soaked, too,” she said as she became aware of his wet shirt and slacks.

He gave her a wry smile. “I took off after you and got caught in the downpour.”

She tried to smile and failed miserably. “Sorry.”

He sighed. “Why don’t you go take a hot bath? I’ll order up room service and see if they can’t also get me some dry clothing brought up from the boutique.”

She nodded and shuffled toward the bathroom.

Theron slipped his hand in the inside pocket of his suit and pulled out his BlackBerry. He frowned when he saw his last message had gone unanswered.

Excusing himself from Alannis with a smile, he nodded to the other guests assembled around them and backed away. He walked out of the ballroom and headed to the men’s room just two doors down. As he was about to enter, he looked down the hallway and saw Reynolds standing next to his men. He was soaking wet.

With a frown, Theron stalked toward the three men. Reynolds glanced up as he heard Theron approach.

“Where’s Isabella?” Theron demanded.

“In her room with Atwater,” Reynolds replied.

Sure he had heard wrong, Theron’s eyes narrowed. “With who?”

“She went up a few minutes ago with Atwater,” Reynolds said calmly. “They were both soaked.”

Theron’s pulse pounded against his temple. It was all he could do not to charge up to her room and drag Marcus out. Then he’d beat the hell out of him.

With a muttered curse, he spun around and headed for the elevator. Anger rushed like lava through his veins. What the hell was Marcus thinking? Theron knew damn well what he was thinking, and what he was thinking with.

When he finally reached Isabella’s door, he rapped sharply. A few seconds later, the door opened to a smiling Marcus who wore just a bathrobe.

He looked startled to see Theron standing there, and then his eyes narrowed to slits. “Sorry, I thought you were room service,” Marcus said. Then he turned his head toward the bathroom. “Stay in the tub a little longer, sweetheart. Food’s not here yet.”

Turning back to Theron, Marcus did a slow up and down perusal, and then he asked in a bored voice, “Now, what can I do for you?”

“You arrogant…” Theron said in a menacing voice.

“You broke away from your engagement party to come up here and call me names?” Marcus asked in amusement.

A sound down the hallway had Theron looking to see the room service cart being wheeled toward Isabella’s door. Marcus pressed forward and stared as well.

“Ah, there’s the food now. If you’ll excuse me. Or was there something you wanted?” Marcus asked pointedly.

Theron backed away, unsettled and feeling like he’d just gone a round in the boxing ring. Without a word, he turned and stalked away, his fists clenched into balls at his sides.

His gut churned as he got back onto the elevator. Why did it matter? He’d set Marcus up to be a choice in Isabella’s hunt for a husband. Why then did he feel absolutely sickened by the prospect that Isabella had made her choice?

Twelve

I sabella was wakened by a loud knock at her door. She opened her eyes, wincing at how scratchy and dry they felt. Her hands went to wipe the swollen lids, and she remembered that she’d cried herself to sleep the night before.

Theron had proposed to Alannis. She’d been too late. And they’d looked so happy.

Fitting that she was completely miserable.

A knock sounded again, prompting her to slide her legs from the covers and push herself from the bed. Gathering her robe that lay over the chair a few feet away, she pulled it on and tied it as she walked to the door.

When she stared through the peephole, she saw Sadie standing outside, or at least someone who resembled Sadie. It was hard to tell with the platinum blond wig adorning her head. She opened the door, and Sadie brushed by talking a mile a minute.

“Thank goodness you’re here,” Sadie said. “For a minute I thought you’d forgotten about tonight.”

Isabella closed the door and turned to look at Sadie.

“I’ve got everything in my bag, and we have plenty of time to prepare,” Sadie chattered on. “It’ll be a snap.”

Then Sadie stopped as she got a good look at Isabella. Her brow creased in confusion, and her lips parted.

“Bella, what’s wrong? Have you been crying?”

To Isabella’s dismay, she felt the sting of more tears. Irritated, she blinked them away, determined not to shed a single one.

Sadie closed the distance between them and slung an arm around her friend, guiding her toward the couch. Isabella found herself seated, and then Sadie plopped down beside her.

“What happened?” she asked. “Is it Theron?”

Isabella closed her eyes and nodded.

“Oh, honey, I’m sorry.” Sadie enfolded her in her arms. “Did he propose to Alannis? Is that it?”

Isabella nodded against Sadie’s shoulder. Sadie pulled away and brushed the hair from Isabella’s face.

“Let’s forget all about tonight. We’ll order in some really good takeout and binge on desserts that have a gazillion calories.”

Isabella smiled. “You can’t miss your party, Sadie. It’s too important. Just because my life is in shambles isn’t a reason for you to lose your job and your chance at Broadway.”

Sadie looked doubtfully at her. “I’m not sure you’re up for this, Bella.”

Bella forced a broader smile to her lips. “How bad can it be? I’ll dress like you, dance some and attract male attention. It won’t last long, and you’ll keep your job.”

“Are you sure?”

Isabella nodded. “Let’s order something to eat. I’m starved. Then you can teach me the moves I need to know.” She glanced at the bright wig Sadie was wearing. “Is that what I’m wearing out of here tonight?”

Sadie grinned. “It’s the perfect way past your security guys. I made sure they saw me come in, and honestly, who could miss this?” she said as she slid her hands suggestively down the curves of her body.

Isabella cracked up. “No false modesty for you.”

Sadie winked at her then continued on. “We’ll dress you like me and you’ll sashay out of here. No one will know that I’m still up here. I’ll give you a good head start and then I’ll get ready for the party and leave, looking nothing like the blond bombshell who arrived earlier.”

“Well, what’s the worst that can happen?” Isabella asked with a shrug. “We get caught and Reynolds throws another fit. I’m sure Theron is too busy with his new fiancée to give a damn about my whereabouts.”

“That’s the spirit,” Sadie crowed. “Let’s do it!”

She was certifiably insane to have agreed to this. Isabella took a deep breath as the elevator stopped at the lobby level, flipped a long lock of the blond hair over her shoulder and waited for the doors to open.

The getup that Sadie had poured her into was many things. Modest wasn’t one of them. And while Isabella didn’t mind displaying her assets to her best advantage, this bordered on obscene.

The heels of her thigh-high boots clicked on the marble floor as she hurried for the exit. Her shorts were a slightly more expensive version of a denim Daisy Duke style, and they dipped low in front, showing her navel and more skin.

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