“A wonderful romance where a couple get a second chance at happiness. This story is never boring, yet it is very heartwarming as well.” HUNTRESS REVIEWS
“A grandmother who goes skinny-dipping in public, a mother who plans
a wedding when there isnt one, and Caras reluctant boyfriend, the hapless Roger, bring life to this romance…THE MARRIAGE CONTRACT is a very entertaining read.” FOUR STARS Romantic Times Sunnye Tiedemann
a wedding when there isnt one, and Caras reluctant boyfriend, the hapless Roger, bring life to this romance…THE MARRIAGE CONTRACT is a very entertaining read.” FOUR STARS Romantic Times Sunnye Tiedemann
* * * * *
They were destined to fall in love.
But sometimes fate steps in…
Cara Carvalho and Devin Michaels became best friends one distant summer. No two people were more in sync about what they wanted their lives to be. But fate and their own inner need for success forced them to separate.
And sometimes fate needs a helping hand…
Now both are approaching that magic age of 35 and are seeking more from their lives. When Cara’s mom finds a glib promise on the back of Cara’s 17th birthday card, she decides to take matters into her own hands and bring Devin and Cara together again. With a little help and “creative” planning, can they have a second chance at happiness?
Cara Cavarlho could think of a hundred places she wanted to be right now.
This wasn't one of them.
She tugged on the rope dangling above her head. A musty cloud of dust hit her in the face as the stairs leading to the attic of her parents' Westport home dropped, gaining her access. Gripping the splintered stairs, she began her ascent into the “black hole”, she so affectionately dubbed the attic in her childhood, with mixed emotion. Ever since her parents decided to sell the home she had grown up in and move to Florida with the senior league, she found herself becoming overwhelmed with emotion.
Of course, her thirty-fifth birthday being right around the corner wasn't a big help. That her mother kept reminding her of her single, childless status only added to her emotional unrest.
She yanked on the metal chain dangling above her head and light quickly spilled into the sweltering crawl space. “It's a furnace up here!” she called down, immediately feeling the cool air below bathe her warm face.
Whose idea was it to delve into this black hole on a hot August afternoon? Certainly not mine! she fumed silently.
“I know. We should have done this earlier in the day, before the sun had a chance to heat the attic,” she heard her mother, Ruthie, call up from below. “Do you want me to get the fan?”
I want to get out of here and not do this. “No. I can't stay up here long, anyway. I'm already sweating like a pig.”
On her hands and knees, she carefully crawled along the aged planks, feeling them bend under her weight. Aerobics twice a week and running three miles a day had her wearing the same size she had worn since college. With each creak of the aged floor boards, she was glad she’d taken pains to keep her figure trim.
Despite the dim light, it was difficult to see. She squinted and tried to focus. Boxes. There were loads of them scattered Helter Skelter around her, tucked into corners they'd been placed in years ago and long since forgotten. The life she used to lead was lost up here. Why couldn't things ever remain the same...?
“Just start with a few, dear. We can rummage through them first and price anything you want to include in the tag sale,” Ruthie suggested.
“Sounds like a good idea. I'll come back up tomorrow morning before breakfast to get more. I can barely breathe up here now.” Cara's eyes roamed the piles of memories one last time. After choosing the five boxes closest to the hole and carefully lowering them to her mother, Cara descended to fresh air once again.
She helped her mother drag the boxes down the stairs and out to the back porch of the beachfront home. Plopping the last one on the wrought iron patio table, she puffed her cheeks and slid the back of her hand across her sweated forehead. The sooner we get through this the better.
Ruthie was the first to begin the unveiling and plunged into the first box while Cara poured both of them a tumbler of her mother’s homemade lemonade. After a few minutes of digging, Cara found her tension ease. While she'd been dreading the idea of unearthing old memories, she found the task easier once she delved in and became lost in them.
The first box was filled with old Christmas ornaments and treasures she and her brother, Manny, had made in school when they were kids. A paper doll chain. An old wooden whale Manny had made in woodshop. The next box had old crochet blankets and booties from when they were babies. While Cara fingered the soft yarn of a baby afghan, Ruthie dove into the box filled with old yearbooks and newspaper clippings from Manny's athletic high school days.
“You suppose Manny would want to keep any of these things?” Ruthie asked, picking up a yearbook and fanning the pages open. A candied piece of what looked like edible underwear fell to the floor boards by their feet. Ruthie retrieved the “article” and held it up in the air between her fingers.
Cara laughed, remembering the gag gift Manny had given her years ago. It was harmless, but she knew her mother wouldn't find the truth so humorous.
“Those are mine, Ma. Manny gave them to me before he left for the seminary.”
As she expected, Ruthie threw her an appalled look. “How would your brother know about such things? He's a priest, for goodness sake!”
Cara sobered immediately, sucking in her cheeks to keep her laughter at bay. She knew her mother had a hard time remembering Manny as a normal everyday teenager before he'd left for the seminary. Now wasn’t the time to remind her.
But as usually, Cara didn't leave it alone. She reached across the table for the naughty underwear. “What size are they anyway?”
“Never you mind.” Ruthie dropped the brittle article of “clothing” in the green rubber garbage can by the table. “If your grandmother saw this, she'd probably take them for herself.”
Cara gasped. “She would not!”
“Oh, you'd be surprised. The other day I caught her standing in front of the full length mirror, trying on one of those tight bustiers Madonna wears all the time.”
“You're kidding. You are kidding, aren't you?”
Ruthie sighed heavily, a worried looked suddenly etching her face. “I think she has Alzheimer’s.”
Cara’s hand flew to her chest. “Why?”
“She's acting strange.”
“So what’s new? She always acts strange. She's a free spirit.”
Ruthie remained somber. “As we speak, she's at church.”
“What? People only go to confession on Sunday?”
She slapped the yearbook on the table. “She thinks she's Madonna. And there's the fishing thing.”
Cara held up her hand to halt her. “Fishing?”
Ruthie sighed and reached across the table, patting Cara's hand. “You’ve been away for a while, honey. You'll see what I mean after a few days.” Cara turned her attention back to one of the boxes in front of her and pulled out a pair of white baby booties.
“Oh, were these mine?” she crooned, examining the tiny booties.
“No, dear. I made them for your children, just after you were born. Not that they'll ever be used,” Ruthie quipped under her breath.
“You made booties for your own grandchildren when I was still a baby? What about me? What did I get to wear?” Cara shook her head in disbelief. Utterly bewildered, she stared blankly at the silk threads sewn in minute stitches with loving care. Her eyebrows furrowed as she read the name embroidered on the heels. “Omar? What's this Omar you have embroidered here?”
“Your grandmother made you plenty of booties when I was a little girl. I was merely passing on the tradition. One that I won't hold my breath you'll continue.”
Oh, this vacation is going to be good, Cara thought. A full three weeks helping her parents get the house ready for sale, and listening to poor Ruthie dig about her lack of grandchildren, was going to be a slow, agonizing death.
It was times like this she could throttle her brother for becoming a priest and dropping all the procreation pressure on her shoulders.
“And Omar,” Ruthie continued, “is the name I picked out for your first born son. What can I say? I had a thing for Dr. Zhivago.”
“You were already naming my kids!? Omar?” She mouthed the name with disgust.
“You didn't like Dr. Zhivago?”
Cara drew in a deep cleansing breath of salted sea air, wondering how she could have been born to this crazy family. This was going to be an extremely long three weeks.
Ruthie plucked out an old birthday card from the box and read it. “Devin Michaels. Mmmm. Now that's a name I haven't heard you speak in a long time.” Turning it over, she read the ink staining the back and squealed in delight, practically jumping from her seat. “Devin proposed to you!”
“What are you talking about? He did not.”
“On your birthday card. He proposed!” Ruthie sputtered, “How come you never told me about this?”
“Let me see that.”
Cara nabbed the card from her mother and speed read the note, smiling.
I, Devin Michaels, agree to marry you,
Cara Cavarlho should both of us still
be single at age thirty-five.
Signed: Devin Michaels
“I remember this.” The memories poured back one by one. She and Devin had just toasted her birthday. After sneaking out on her own birthday party, they sat on the concrete ledge of the watchtower at Gooseberry Point, watching the midnight moon, drinking cheap wine illegally, and toasting to their future success.
She had been lamenting about Manny leaving for the seminary and the predicament he'd left her with regarding her mother's future grandchildren. If she dared to remain single—which, given her lofty career goals, she'd whole-heartedly planned to be at age thirty-five—Ruthie was sure to hound her for the rest of her life. Or at least until menopause, whichever came first.
Devin joked that he would be chivalrous and rescue her from being eternally damned by her mother. What was nothing more than a little joke between two friends was now coming back to haunt her.
Cara couldn't help but smile, remembering the boy, the friend Devin had been. They'd been inseparable that summer. There’d always been something special about Devin. Something just a little bit more…
“Devin always had a thing for you, you know.” Ruthie raised her eyebrows and shined her matchmaking smile.
“Thirty-five seemed so old to us back then.”
“Still is when you're single, dear,” Ruthie returned.
Some things never change.
Cara rolled her eyes. “We were just kids, Ma.”
Kids or not, back then they thought they knew everything. Most of all, what they wanted in life. Devin was going to take on the world as a lawyer. From the little bits and pieces she'd heard over the years from people back home, and news coverage on the tube of the highly publicized cases he'd won, he'd done just that, as a prominent Manhattan defense attorney.
Winning one highly publicized case he'd taken straight out of law school, one that the prosecution as well as the world thought he'd lose hands down, had propelled him into the most exclusive law firm in Manhattan. It hadn't taken him long to make a name for himself and become a much sought after, multi-million dollar baby of law.
Cara had her own plans in which marriage had no part. She had to admit pride in the fact that, like Devin, she'd reached the pre-set goals made that fateful summer. She had worked hard and become a home interiors expert, opening her own successful shop in the posh Back Bay area of Boston nearly ten years earlier.
Looking at her mother's bright expression, and knowing what conclusions she'd already drawn, Cara said, “This was a joke, Ma.”
“It's in black and white.”
“Blue and white.”
“How many assistants have you lost to motherhood already?”
“Four,” Cara sputtered.
“In a month or so, Louise will make five.”
The heaviness of her mother's statement hit Cara hard. Especially in light of the feelings she'd been having of late. Forcing the thoughts away, she tossed out the usual response she used when her mother started this line of conversation.
“That's why I’m not getting married. In case you hadn't heard, barefoot and pregnant went out long ago, Ma. Women have careers now.”
“That may be so, but look me. I was so thrilled when you were born, I never once regretted leaving my catering business behind.”
“My point exactly. You gave it up.”
Ruthie scowled and snatched the card back, holding it to her chest as if it were the only hold she had on getting any future grandchildren. “That’s right. The women of your generation want it all.”
“You say it like it’s a dirty word.”
“It feels like it when I have no grandbabies to spoil. Mark my words. I may just get to see your father walk you down the aisle before I die after all. I think you should call Devin.”
Cara cocked her head to one side and blinked hard, trying her best to gather up her control. “I haven't heard from Devin in over fifteen years! I doubt he hardly remembers me.”
Even as she said the words, she knew it wasn’t true. She and Devin had been inseparable. Warmth spread from the center of her chest outward just thinking of their friendship. It had been a long time since she’d thought about Devin.
Ruthie gasped. “Don’t be ridiculous! Devin would never forget you. If I know Devin, he’ll keep his word. He’ll honor this marriage contract,” Ruthie continued, as if she were in her own world. “You must have some feelings for him or you wouldn’t have kept his card all this time.”
“I didn’t even know it was there.”
The way her mother clutched the card, fanning herself from mid-day August heat, Cara knew this was only the beginning. These next three weeks were going to be the longest weeks of her entire life.
* * *
Devin Michaels strode through the full glass door of his lavish downtown office in the heart of Manhattan, success evident from his steady gait.
“Congratulations, Mr. Michaels,” the receptionist at the front desk said with a gleaming smile.
“Thank you, Lucy.” He walked by the woman without so much as a nod of his head, ignoring the overt physical appraisal she made of him in his expensive suit as he paced down the corridor, leather briefcase in his hand. Despite his court win this morning, his mood was growing fouler by the moment. If will alone could kill the bitter taste his profession left in his mouth, he'd have done it long ago. But the past few months of trying hadn't managed that feat.
“Way to go, Devin.” Kurt Langdon, an associate partner, slapped him on the back, and then shook his hand, squeezing it with competitive zeal. “They said it couldn't be won, but then again, you always prove them wrong. Victory is sweet, huh?”
Devin glared at Kurt's hand on his shoulder until it was removed. He'd become used to the other lawyers in the office wanting to befriend him for the sole sake of furthering their own interests within Wallingford, Collins, and McCaid. Kurt's transparency made him nauseous. In fact, all of the vultures working in this firm were circling the dead flesh, waiting for their chance to have their name stand aside the big boys.
Devin had made it his purpose to ensure his name alone would stand out before the rest. That’s the way it had always been, and what he’d worked so hard for all these years. He didn't know when it had started, but lately he wondered why he ever thought that was worth fighting for.
Kurt cleared his throat. “We're toasting the big win in the conference room in fifteen.”
Devin nodded, and then ventured toward his office door, hoping to find a quiet moment before he'd have to pretend to actually be happy he'd won a case where the guilty won.
“Congratulations, Mr. Michaels,” Brenda said softly. His administrative assistant's soft brown eyes twinkled admiration at him and forced him to smile for the first time that day. They reminded him of warm cinnamon brown eyes that used to smile at him in his youth. Years stood in the way of those memories. Funny how, ever since Brenda started working for him three months ago, those memories kept creeping back into the recesses of his mind.
Brenda shuffled some papers on her desk and stacked them into a neat pile, which she cradled in the crook of her arm. She was green out of business school, and although Devin had balked at the idea of taking on an assistant so inexperienced, she was quickly shaping up to be an asset to him. His reputation for being an arrogant barracuda was one that made it a difficult position to fill. Brenda’s determination to keep up with him was something he admired.
He smiled his gratitude. “Thank you, Brenda.”
She quickly grabbed her daily planner and steno pad, adding to the stack and followed on his heels through the double oak doors of his office. “You have a lunch meeting at noon with the senior partners. Mr. Ryan of Ryan Enterprises at two fifteen. Logan Hayward confirmed your squash game at three. You have a meeting with your Real Estate agent at four thirty to finalize the sale on your Co-op.” She took a deep breath before continuing, her pause causing him to lift his head to look at her for the first time. “Dinner with Cheyenne at--”
“Cancel dinner,” he cut in, remembering he'd forgotten to take care of that loose end himself. Cheyenne Lewis, his companion for the last six weeks when time permitted during his grueling schedule, had overstayed her welcome in his life. She was beginning to get too clingy. “Send her flowers—I think she likes lilies—and tell her...” he thought a minute and shook his head. “I'm sure you'll think of something, but don't make any promises.”
“Yes, Mr. Michaels,” Brenda said, jotting the note in her steno. “Today's mail is on your desk as well as your phone messages. Ruth Cavarlho was insistent-”
Devin snapped his head up, his pulse quickening. “Who called?” He sucked in a deep breath as if the wind had been knocked out of him after hearing the name. When he saw his young assistant’s startled expression, he realized his surprise was evident in the way he’d barked at her.
“Ruth Cavarlho,” she repeated, darting her gaze from his face to her steno, her hand still poised in place for the next instruction. Then back again.
It wasn’t like him to unravel in front of anyone. He’d be damned if he’d start today.
“That'll be all, Brenda,” he said, straightening his spine and pushing strength into his voice as he spoke. A pen on his desk suddenly became his anchor and he gripped it between the pads of this fingers until Brenda nodded.
“Yes, Mr. Michaels.” She turned and walked to the wide oak double doors and added, “They're toasting in-”
“Fifteen.” He pushed up his suit jacket sleeve and glanced at the gleaming gold watch on his wrist. “Ten minutes. Call me. And get Ruthie Cavarlho on the phone for me, please.”
The heavy door echoed in his head as it was closed. He sunk deep into his thick leather arm chair behind his desk and swung the seat around. Rubbing at his jaw, he stared out the window at the hustle and bustle of people on the street below his Manhattan office. Everything seemed so small. So very small.
For a man who'd made it his purpose in life to remain frozen, void of emotion, he was thawing fast. To feel anything at all would mean death in the snake pit of a career he'd willingly entered. It amazed him that the mere mention of a name, the thought of Cara could still trigger a deep emotional response to their friendship. The years somehow hadn't managed to wash that away.
He leaned forward in his seat and rested his chin on his steepled fingers. The Manhattan skyline had always been a source of inspiration. It was his dream. But lately, he’d been far too unsettled about the career that had always driven him hard. Instead of thrilling in the victory of a court case like this morning’s win, his mind eagerly sought out memories of those easy summer days with Cara.
He remembered it well. It was the summer before his father passed away. Carl Michaels had taken ill earlier that spring, told to get his affairs in order and spend time with his family. The elder Michaels had never been willing to take time for anything other than activities he suspected would further his business interest. When they'd received the news his condition was terminal, the family rented the same beach house on the coast of Westport, Massachusetts they’d always spent summers, hoping to capture years of what they missed in what little time they had left. Before that summer, Devin didn't even know his father, and when they finally had a chance to connect, he was losing him.
A bittersweet grin tugged at his lips. Although they were polar opposites in the looks department, he was a lot like his father. Cara had pointed that out to him. She saw it, even back then. It was only lately that he could see the resemblance.
Cara had been more than a friend. She'd been his rock, the one thing that he could always count on to keep him stable while the earth beneath him crumbled. When he first saw her, he was instantly attracted to her cinnamon brown eyes and chestnut curls. The coral string bikini she wore wasn't half bad, either, he recalled, thinking of her walking along the shore collecting shells, flaunting assets she hadn’t yet discovered a man found so desirable. And he had.
But it was the friendship that bound them together. It hadn't taken long for her laughter to embrace him and, eventually, they’d become inseparable.
Devin chuckled at the irony. He'd built his reputation being a hard as nails, cut throat, defense attorney. Respected and admired by his peers, he was feared by his opponent. In one fell swoop, seventeen year old memories flooded him and brought him to his knees like a spineless jellyfish.
The buzzer on his telephone sounded and Devin swung around in his chair to answer the page from Brenda.
“Mrs. Cavarlho on line one,” she announced.
His heart raced as his pushed the blinking yellow light on the phone panel. Ruthie Cavarlho. Everything he remembered about her spoke of love and warmth.
“Devin, dear. It's so good to hear your voice,” Ruthie said brightly.
“It's been a long time. I hope everything is well with you.” And Cara. Tell me everything about Cara, he said inwardly. Look at him! He was shaking in his shoes like an eighteen year old boy pumped full of testosterone. If only the vultures outside his office door could see this...
“Yes. How's your mother doing, dear? It’s been a few years since I’ve seen her. She doesn’t come to Westport anymore.” Ruthie continued her small talk and filled Devin in on the family's plans to move to Florida within the month.
“I'm sure Harold is happy to be retiring.” With a brisk motion, he slicked back his hair in frustration, waiting for her to be the one to mention Cara's name. A hot fire burned in his gut as he waited, anticipating the news that she was married, maybe with children, living happily ever after in the arms of another man.
But no, what was he thinking? That wasn’t Cara at all. The Cara of his memory was a carbon copy of himself, driven in her quest for success. She’d chanted over and over again how she’d never marry. But that was a long time ago...
“Did you receive Cara's card in the mail, yet?” Ruthie said, mentioning her daughter for the first time.
He quickly rummaged through the stack of mail on his desk, tossing each letter aside until he found the thick violet enveloped. “I’m just reading it now.” He tore the seal and pulled the cards--yes there were two, he noticed--and began to read the first.
Happy Birthday, Dev!
It's pay up time!
Confused, he glimpsed the second card, finding it vaguely familiar, and laughed out loud when he finished reading the back. Lord, it felt great to laugh and actually feel it! “I can't believe she kept this!” A strange feeling tugged at his heart that she’d kept a keepsake of him.
“Well, you know, Devin, she always had a thing for you,” Ruthie said as if it was a known fact among them all.
“How is she doing?”
He paused a second, a tinge of disappointment settling in his gut with her lack of elaboration.
There was a slight pause before she continued. “She's staying at home until Labor Day, helping her father and me with the move and all. We're having a bit of a bash for her thirty-fifth birthday. We'd love to have you. Are you available?”
The inflection in her voice rose as to emphasize her double meaning. Same ol' Ruthie.
It wasn't until faced with the possibility of seeing Cara again that Devin realized he'd give anything to see her. He punched up his schedule on the computer and immediately groaned at entries flooding each and every day for the next month. “Things don't look good, Ruthie. I'm not sure I can get away.”
“Oh, but...what about the wedding?” she gasped.
“Why...yours and Cara's, of course. You did read the card, didn't you?”
“Yes, but...” Puzzled by her query, Devin picked up the card again and turned it over in case he’d missed some important piece of information. The search proved futile.
“Cara will be thirty-five next week.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Well, then you know what that means, don’t you?”
He was silent.
“Do you or don't you intend to honor that contract, young man.”
A grin tugged at his lips. Although Ruthie's voice held a hint of amusement, he sensed her taking this line of offense immensely serious.
Knowing in advance how Ruthie Cavarlho operated, he proceeded with caution. “Ruthie, it’s not really a contract.”
“It’s in black and white.”
“Yes, but…it’s bogus. There was no serious intention of marriage by either of us, no meeting of the minds. No-”
“Devin, dear, don’t talk to me in legal mumbo jumbo. I don’t understand a word of it.”
“It was a joke. It’s not legal.”
“Not legal,” Ruthie grunted.
There was silence on the other end of the line for a few seconds. Devin picked up the ball point pen he'd strangled earlier and started tapping in his desk to fill in the void.
“Would Cara know this?” Ruthie finally asked.
“I'll bet she doesn't,” she proclaimed, an undertone of hope resonating in her words. He could almost hear the wheels in her head spinning triumphantly when she declared, “What she doesn't know won't hurt her.”
A grin tugged at his lips. “Ruthie, what are you up to?”
“Nothing. I’m merely planning a birthday party for my single daughter, and I would love for you to attend. Is there anything wrong with that?”
“Of course not.”
“And once you're here, if things should happen to, how shall we say, fall into place, then so be it.”
He had to laugh. It surprised him how good it felt inside. He'd always been a sucker for Ruthie’s charm and seventeen years of passing time had made no difference.
“Devin Michaels, you know how fond I am of you. I've never made any bones about that,” she admitted warmly. “And all these years I have been praying my daughter would someday find a nice man just like you. So why can’t it be you? I know you care for Cara.”
He couldn’t deny that. But it had never been the way Ruthie had always wanted. What he and Cara had shared was friendship, nothing more. His whole world with Cara felt like a lifetime ago. And at the same time, their friendship was so close to his heart he could almost touch it.
His heart pounded in his chest and he rubbed the spot that squeezed tight. “I'll see what I can do,” he conceded, his smile fading. “But I can't make any promises.”
“Be sure to bring your tuxedo.”
He heard the phone click just as Brenda paged him again. “They're waiting for you in the conference room.”
He cradled the phone in his palm wondering what the hell had just happened? He couldn’t quite get a grip on the flood of emotions coursing through him. Dropping the phone, he fingered the pink slip on his desk with Ruthie Cavarlho's name scribbled on it for a good long time.
He wanted to see Cara. More than he could even think right now. There was a time when the very first person—the only person—he'd seek out was Cara. She'd certainly seen him through the worst times in his life. And some of the best.
This was it, he realized. Going back to Westport to reconnect with his best friend was the medicine he needed help him get his life back on track.
Devin pressed the intercom button on the panel, suddenly feeling good for the first time in days. “Cancel,” he said briskly, the rush of excitement from this morning’s victorious court appearance long forgotten. The excitement of a new battle took its place.
“I...I beg your pardon.”
“I said cancel! Make some excuse, I don't care what it is.” Rubbing his face with his hand, he drew in a long breath. He couldn't believe he was actually considering something so foolish, so destructive, putting everything he'd work so hard for on the line.
All he had to do was make a few calls and he could catch the next flight. In a matter of hours he'd be standing face to face with Cara. Something inside him clicked, as if everything that was laid out before him no longer held any meaning. He knew what he had to do.
“Cancel the rest of the day, too. In fact, cancel the month. I'm taking a leave of absence starting now.”
He heard Brenda’s slight gasp. “Mr. Michaels, I don't understand-”
“Just do it! And Brenda, get me my realtor--” His voice broke off, “No, never mind. I'll take care of that myself.”
He leaned back in his chair and swung the seat around. Rubbing his chin between his thumb and index finger, he stared vacantly at the Manhattan skyline. The city he'd sought out in his youth, that drove him with every beat of his heart, had lost its magic with a single phone call. The unsettled feeling that had plagued him for the past few months suddenly lifted and he could finally breathe again. He was taking a new direction, and it felt great.
Hearing the buzz from Brenda again, he swung around and saw the light panel on his phone lit up like a Christmas tree. The grapevine in this office was as fast as a New York cabby racing from one green light to the next. He could almost hear the whispering vultures strategically planning his downfall outside his office door, starting with the moment he walked through it. And suddenly he didn’t give a damn what they did.
Brenda sounded again with a repeated buzz that spoke of urgency. If he didn't make a quick getaway soon, the senior partners were sure to barrel through the doors of his office in full justifiable protest.
* * *
Cara smiled regally at the many people inspecting the odds and ends she and her family had accumulated her entire life and had displayed on their front lawn for purchase. She was annoyed, to say the least, at their perusal. This was her life they were scrutinizing!
When had she gotten so sentimental? Sure, her parents were moving away, selling the home she loved so much. But she'd left home long ago. Maybe it was just her time of the month. No, that would mean she had perpetual PMS for feeling the way she did. Who could possibly endure that?
Or maybe...it was because Roger, the man she'd been dating for the past year and a half, had become a fixture she wasn’t sure she wanted to keep in her life. She'd been a success in business, lived on her own in her Back Bay condo for the past few years. But this thirty-five thing was beginning to hit home.
She pushed the thought away, refusing to believe that her internal clock was waging war, and she was losing the battle.
“Is this real crystal?” a young woman—still a girl really—asked, holding the carafe Cara had given her mother as a birthday gift when she was fifteen. Her other arm was wrapped tightly around the waist of a young man. Amorous glances and giggles reflected the youth of their love. She wondered if they were newly married, filling their home with items they would someday put up for sale on their front lawn.
“Yes,” she replied shortly, watching the young man knock over a vase. He had a familiar stand. It took her a moment, but she realized that he reminded her of a young Devin Michaels.
Funny. Ever since she found that damned birthday card, her mind wandered until it settled on Devin Michaels.
“We’ll take it,” the young man said, smiling affectionately at the girl. After digging through his wallet, he handed her the amount indicated on the little white tag Cara had so carefully placed on the bottle the previous evening. With their hands entwined, the young couple walked away.
That's when she thought she caught a glimpse of him. Devin Michaels. She stood on the far side of the lawn, squinting from the sun’s harsh rays to focus on the man strolling through the open white picket gate. A dozen or so people had stopped and parked along the side of the road and were now leisurely waltzing across her parents lawn.
The man could just as easily be someone who lived along the beach, just out for a stroll. She’d lived away from home so long that she’d lost touch with the comings and goings of neighbors. It couldn't possibly be Devin just because her mind suddenly wanted it to be. But as he ambled closer, she knew without a doubt it was Devin.
A glimmer of recognition registered on his face when their eyes met, and his mouth tilted to reveal a perfect smile. Her breath lodged in her throat, and she couldn’t keep from feeling giddy. Nibbling on her bottom lip, she fought to compose herself.
The years had been good to him. The lanky boy he once was had filled out in all the right places. The man sauntering toward her now had wide shoulders and ripples along his chest, clearly visible beneath his polo shirt, a telltale sign that he spent time working out regularly. His charcoal eyes had deepened in color, giving off a masculine power of attraction that seared straight through her. It wasn't the Devin Michaels that she remembered from her youth, the shy but funny friend she'd teased so often. He was a man now. Powerful, stunning in movement and frightening with his dynamic presence all at the same time.
But he was still Devin Michaels, her childhood buddy.
“Devin,” she said, catching her breath when he was finally standing before her. She looked up and noticed the inches he'd grown taller. He was now at least six inches taller than her five foot seven inch frame.
“Hello, mia Cara.” The words of endearment rolled off his tongue with ease, sounding as soothing as the ocean that lulled her to sleep at night. My dear one was the meaning. Her grandmother had referred to her that way on countless occasions in her youth, which Devin had teased her about when he'd been privy to hear. But this time, the pure emotion with which he spoke the simple words cascaded over her like the incoming tide.
# # #
ORDER The Marriage Contract