faced with the possibility of not being with the one person she wanted.

“We kissed last night,” she said when Sadie finally drew away.

“See? I told you,” Sadie exclaimed.

“Don’t celebrate yet,” Isabella said glumly. “He gave me the lecture this morning, or at least he tried.”

Sadie’s eyebrow went up. “The lecture?”

“Oh, you know, the whole this can never happen again, it was a mistake lecture.”

“Ah, that one.”

“At least now I know why.”

“Okay, so it won’t be as easy as you thought it might be,” Sadie said. “That doesn’t mean you won’t be successful. From what you’ve said, it hardly sounds like a love match.”

Isabella sighed again. “So what do I do, Sadie?”

Sadie squeezed her hand and smiled. “You make him fall in love with you.”

“Which requires me to make him see past this whole guardian-ward thing. The kiss was…” She took a deep breath and smiled dreamily. “It was hot. I need him to see me like he did in that moment.”

“If I can make this all about me for a moment, I might have a somewhat devious method for getting him to see you sorta naked.”

Isabella reared her head back in surprise. “You certainly have my attention now.”

Sadie grimaced. “I’d planned to ask you this anyway, and it sounds awfully self-serving, but it could work. Maybe.”

“So, tell me,” Isabella said impatiently.

“I have an audition Saturday night. Well, it’s not exactly an audition but it could turn into one if I play my cards right.”

“Will you just get on with it?” Isabella said. “The suspense is killing me.”

Sadie grinned. “I have to work this Saturday. It’s a pretty big deal. A group of rich out-of-towners who only come through once a year. Well this weekend is it and they’ve rented out the entire club for the night. All of the dancers are expected to be there, no excuses. Only I have this party I was invited to. Howard Griffin is going to be there and Leslie is going to introduce me.”

“Who is Howard? And who is Leslie?” Isabella asked.

“Howard is producing a new Broadway musical. And, he’s opening auditions next week. They’re by invitation only. People would kill to get an invite from him. Including me. Leslie has an invite but then she’s all over Broadway right now. Everyone wants her. I met her a couple of weeks ago, and we became friendly. She’s doing me such a huge favor by basically recommending me to Howard. I can’t miss that party.”

“Okay, so what does that have to do with me?”

Sadie gave her an imploring look. “If I don’t show up for work, I’ll lose my job, and until I land enough steady roles—big roles—I can’t afford to lose the kind of money I make at the club. So I thought you could fill in for me just for a few hours Saturday night.”

Isabella burst into laughter. “You want me to pose as you in a strip club? Sadie, we look nothing alike. I’m a terrible dancer. I’d get you fired in two seconds.”

Sadie shook her head vigorously. “First of all, I wear a blond wig. We’re of similar height and with the right makeup, no one would be able to tell the difference if you wear the same clothes. No one looks at your face in that place anyway,” she added dryly.

“And how does this have anything to do with Theron? He’d have heart failure if he knew I even went into a strip club, much less worked there for a night.”

Sadie’s eyes twinkled in amusement. “Just think about it. If he knew where you were, he’d blow a gasket, and he’d no doubt go haul you out by your hair which would of course force him to see you half naked.”

“How does this not get you fired?” Isabella asked pointedly.

A frown creased Sadie’s forehead. “Damn,” she muttered. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

Isabella instantly took pity on her friend. “How about I cover for you without Theron knowing, and I’ll figure out another way to get his attention.”

“Are you sure?” Sadie asked anxiously.

“I’ll give his security team the slip. Apparently he’s hired a team to follow me around New York. If you ask me, he’s taking this guardian thing a bit far.”

Sadie’s mouth gaped open. “You have a security team?”

“Yeah, I know, ridiculous isn’t it? I’m to report to his office bright and early in the morning to meet them, and then, according to Theron, I’m to go nowhere without them.”

A mischievous smile curved Isabella’s lips.

“Why do I get the impression you’ll see this security as a challenge?” Sadie asked.

Isabella’s grin broadened. “It’ll make Theron crazy. See, I can give them the slip to cover for you at the club. Word will get back to Theron. He’ll never know where I went, but it’ll give him another chance to lecture me. I’ll think of some way to get his attention. If the lecture gets too bad, I’ll just kiss him again.”

“You know, I hope he’s worth all this trouble you’re going to,” Sadie said. “My first thought is that no man is worth all this effort.”

“He’s worth it,” Isabella said softly.

Isabella climbed out of the taxi in front of Theron’s office building and walked briskly toward the entrance. She took the elevator up to his floor, and when she entered his suite of offices, she saw a pile of luggage in the hallway.

She walked into Madeline’s office to ask what was going on, but saw that the area was full of people. She approached Madeline’s desk and leaned over to whisper.

“What’s going on?”

Madeline cleared her throat. “Alannis and her mother arrived early. That is your security team,” she said, pointing in the direction of three intimidating-looking men. “And the others are this morning’s appointments which are waiting because Alannis and company are in his office.”

Frowning, Isabella straightened and glanced toward Theron’s closed door. Without another word, she headed for his office, ignoring Madeline’s calls.

Part of her wanted to run as fast and as far away as she could, but another part of her wanted to see for herself the woman that Theron wanted to marry.

She threw open the door and walked in. Theron who was standing in front of his desk looked up and frowned when he saw her. Not good. An older woman also turned, and her frown was much larger. The last, who had to be Alannis, picked up her head and stared curiously at Isabella.

Of course she wouldn’t be homely, because that would be asking far too much. Alannis and her mother both were extremely beautiful in a classy, elegant way. While her mother wore her hair upswept in a neat chignon, Alannis’s hair fell to her shoulders in a dark wave. Her brown eyes were warm and friendly, and she smiled tentatively in Isabella’s direction.

“Bella,” Theron said gruffly. “Did Madeline not tell you I was occupied?”

The reproach was clear in his voice, but Isabella ignored it. She was too busy trying to find fault with Alannis. Unfortunately for her, unless Alannis’s voice was grating, the woman was darn near perfect. She and Theron even looked fabulous together.

“She might have mentioned that you were busy,” Isabella murmured.

“Who is this?” Alannis’s mother asked imperiously.

Theron turned and smiled reassuringly. “This is the girl I told you about, Sophia.” Then he looked back at Isabella. “Isabella, I’d like you to meet Alannis Gianopolous and her mother, Sophia. Ladies, this is Isabella Caplan, my ward.”

Sophia immediately lost her guarded look and smiled warmly at Isabella. To Isabella’s further surprise, the older woman approached her, holding her hands out.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Isabella. Theron has told us so much about you. I think it’s wonderful that he’s taking the time to introduce you to potential husbands.”

Sophia kissed her on either cheek while Isabella murmured her stunned thanks.

“I’m very happy to meet you, Isabella,” Alannis offered with a shy smile


“Likewise,” Isabella said weakly. Her gaze found Theron’s again. She looked for any sign that he was miserable, but his expression was unreadable.

“Was there something you needed?” Theron prompted.

She made a show of checking her watch. “You told me to be here this morning. Well, here I am.”

He frowned for a moment and then remembrance sparked in his eyes. “Ah, yes, of course. You’ll have to forgive me.” He flashed a smile in Alannis’s direction. “In the excitement of Alannis’s arrival, I completely forgot about your security team. They’re waiting out front. I’ve briefed them on my expectations. Madeline can go over the rest with you.”

He walked over to his intercom and proceeded to tell Madeline that he was sending Isabella out to meet her security force.

And just like that, she was dismissed.

Sophia hugged her warmly while Alannis gave her a friendly smile. A moment later, Isabella found herself all but shoved from the office.

Numbly she made her way back to Madeline’s desk. Madeline gave her a quick look of sympathy before getting up and circling her desk.

“Come with me,” she directed as she all but dragged Isabella after her.

Isabella allowed herself to be led into the same conference room as the day before. Madeline shut the doors behind them and then turned on Isabella.

“I’ve changed my mind. I’ve decided to help you.”

Isabella looked at her in surprise. “What do you mean?”

Madeline sighed. “Alannis is a lovely girl.”

“Now you’re making her sound like a poodle,” Isabella pointed out, remembering that Sadie had told her the same.

“She’s truly lovely, but she’s all wrong for Theron. I knew it the moment I met her and her forceful mama. Alannis is a mouse while Theron is more of a lion.”

“Maybe he wants a mouse,” Isabella murmured.

“Have you given up then?” Madeline asked as she tapped her foot impatiently.

Isabella gave her an unhappy frown.

Madeline shook her head in exasperation. “This marriage would be a disaster. You know it and I know it. Theron has to know it somewhere behind that thick skull of his.”

“I thought you had a strict policy against interfering in your employer’s personal life?” Isabella said.

Madeline snorted. “I’m not going to interfere. You are.”

Isabella raised her eyebrows.

“He plans to propose this Friday night after the opera. He has the tickets, the ring, the entire evening planned. I’ve given you the information. What you do with it is up to you,” she said with a shrug.

“So soon?” Isabella whispered.

“Yep, which means you have to move fast,” Madeline said cheerfully.

Isabella slowly nodded. Her mind was already racing a mile a minute.

“While you’re pondering, let me introduce you to your security team,” Madeline said as she herded Isabella back toward the office where the men waited. “They have strict instructions to accompany you wherever you go.” She turned to Isabella and grinned. “Should make things interesting for you.”

Isabella only half heard the introductions. She had to crane her neck to look up to the three really large men. They certainly fit the part of security, though she couldn’t imagine that subtlety was their strong point. But then subtlety wasn’t one of Theron’s strong points, either.

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