Wife for a Week(4)

By: Kelly Hunter


It was a brown-paper package tied up with string. Hallie snipped and ripped to reveal a slim travel guide to Hong Kong and Nicholas Cooper’s business card. The card said he was a software developer. Good to know. She flipped it over and discovered a message on the back.

‘Marco’s on Kings,’ it read in bold black scrawl, and beneath that, ‘7 p.m. tonight, Nick.’

Presumptuous, yes, he was certainly that. His kiss had been presumptuous too.

Not to mention annoyingly unforgettable.

So what if Marco’s was one of the best seafood restaurants this side of heaven? No sensible woman would even consider his proposal. Pretending to be a complete stranger’s wife for a week was ridiculous, even by her standards.

And yet…

Hallie reached for the travel guide and smoothed it open, first one page, and then another.

Hong Kong: gateway to the orient. Money and superstition. Heat and a million camera shops. A squil-lion neon signs.

‘An enchanting blend of East meets West,’ read the travel guide. Half a world away from this shoe shop, whispered her brain. Ten thousand pounds.

So there were a few drawbacks.

Lies. Deception. Nick Cooper’s kisses. Hallie tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear and closed the book with a snap.

Big drawbacks.

And yet…



Twenty minutes later, Hallie let herself in through the front door of her brother’s Chelsea flat and dumped her handbag on the sideboard. Why Tris had bought the little two-bedroom apartment when he never stayed more than a year in any one place was a mystery, but she certainly appreciated the use of it. She’d never save enough money to finish her diploma if she had to pay rent. Not on her current wage, at any rate.

Ten thousand pounds, whispered her brain as she slipped off her shoes and padded down the hallway.

No.

Dinner at Marco’s, then. It’s only dinner.

No, it’s not. If you go to dinner you’ll ask him why he needs a wife for a week and then where will you be? Next thing you know, you’ll be agreeing to go to Hong Kong with him.

So?

Oh, boy. Hallie stumbled over the hallway runner and wondered just what it was about Nicholas Cooper that made her lose her mind.

He had a wicked smile. No doubt about it.

And his offer was definitely intriguing.

A rueful smile tugged at her lips. Best not to even think about his kisses.



Come ten to seven, Hallie had finished her argument and was in the bathroom, hurriedly applying make-up, when she heard the front door open and close, followed by the sound of a man’s long, loping strides down the hall. Moments later Tris appeared in the doorway, little more than a vague shadow at the edge of her vision. ‘You’re back,’ she said, busy with the mascara. ‘I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow.’

‘Plans change,’ he said. ‘Going somewhere?’

‘Dinner at Marco’s on Kings Road.’

‘Classy.’ Was it just her imagination or was Tris a whole lot more preoccupied than usual. ‘Who with?’

Ah. That was more like it. ‘Nick.’

‘Nick?’

‘We met today. At the shop.’

‘He wears ladies’ shoes? Is this supposed to be reassuring?’

‘He came in with his mother. He bought her some shoes.’

‘Run,’ said Tris. ‘Run the other way.’

‘Nope. I’ve made up my mind. I’m having dinner with him.’ She finished with the mascara, reached for a smoky grey eyeliner.

‘So…’ said Tris. ‘Does Nick have a last name?’

‘Of course he does, but if I tell it to you you’ll run a check on him at work and come home and tell me what kind of toothpaste he uses. Where’s the fun in that? Besides, it’s not even a date, exactly. More of a business opportunity.’

‘What kind of business opportunity?’

‘I’m not sure yet.’ No need to bore him with details. ‘Something involving travel.’

Tris sighed, heavily. ‘And you believed him.’

Time to change the subject. ‘There’s leftover lasagne in the fridge,’ she said as she dropped her lipstick into her evening bag and turned to leave the bathroom, halting abruptly as she took her first good look at her brother. ‘Whoa.’ His dark, shaggy hair was filthy, his left hand was carelessly bandaged and his clothes looked as if they’d been dragged through a sewer with him still wearing them, but it was his eyes that bothered her most. Because they were full of frustration and pain. ‘You look terrible.’

‘I’m fine.’

‘Liar.’ She hated to see him hurting. ‘Want me to stick around?’

‘What? You’re going to cancel a free feed at Marco’s to stay here and fight me for the last of the lasagne?’ Tris summoned a faint smile. ‘Touching, yet stupid.’