Marriage and children played no part in Armand De Luca's plans. Then the hard-driving tycoon learned he had to marry--and produce an heir!--or lose his company. When he discovered his late brother had fathered an as yet unborn child, Armand saw the perfect opportunity. But expectant mother Tamara Kendle was not at all sure she wanted any part of Armand, his millions or his convenient marriage. And she was so infinitely desirable, he wasn't sure this union could ever be strictly business.
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December 03, 2007
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Excerpt from The Magnate's Marriage Demand by Robyn Grady
Tamara Kendle couldn't seem to keep her eyes off the darkly attractive man who sat alone in the chapel's front pew--he was like a rock, unmoving, staring dead ahead.
Guilt pricked each time her attention wavered from the minister at the lectern. She was here to say goodbye to someone special. A person she missed so much, her heart physically ached. She felt clobbered, stuck somewhere between reality and hell.
And yet, to the left of the rosewood casket and waterfalls of perfumed lilies, broad-jacketed shoulders continued to intrigue. Though they hadn't met in person, Tamara knew the man by more than reputation.
Armand De Luca, Australia's multimillionaire steel magnate, the last of his bloodline.
Or so he thought.
Tamara had already been seated when De Luca had entered the funeral home chapel. Throughout the service the classic lines of his profile had exuded the confidence men admire and women fall immediately in love with. Square-cut jaw, well-proportioned nose and lips, those eyes...high noon blue, heavy-lidded, yet all-knowing.
"Thank you all for attending." Tamara's attention slid back to the minister; a solemn smile alleviated his long thin face. "There will be a wake in the adjoining building for those who wish to come together and remember Marc Earle."
Tamara crossed herself, recited a private prayer, then eased out a defeated sigh. Marc had been her dearest friend. They'd laughed together, confided in each other. And a few months ago, when a string of unfortunate events had threatened to pull her under...
Tears prickled and stung her eyes.
God knew she was a fighter. Growing up, she had to be. But that night she'd needed someone and, as always, Marc had been there.
As Tamara pushed to her feet, an icy shiver trickled down her spine. While others shuffled into the aisle, up ahead Armand De Luca was crossing the maroon carpet, headed for the casket. His face a stony mask, he gazed down then reached out to touch the gleaming wood.
A wave of nausea surged in Tamara's belly. Sweeping aside her long dark hair, she closed her eyes, gently pressing a hand below her waist. She breathed all the way in, then slowly out. When the morning sickness faded, she looked over again. De Luca was gone.
Suddenly chilled, she hugged herself then followed the majority's lead, drifting through ethereal shafts of light that crisscrossed down from parallel arched windows. Outside, she slid on dark glasses to shield her gritty eyes from a screen of mostly nameless faces that milled around like ghosts slow-waltzing to receding organ music.
Two of Marc's friends gravitated over. Identical in every way but their hair, twins Kristin and Melanie had often called upon their kind-hearted neighbor to help with handyman chores or settle sibling squabbles. Now the pair looked lost.
Kristin slowly shook her cropped blond head. "I'm still in shock." Her brows flew together. "I told him not to get that stupid motorbike."
Melanie's rust-colored locks quivered when she blew her nose. "This should never have happened to someone as good as Marc." She sighed then blinked at Tamara. "Can't imagine how you're coping. With your business going under, then the fire, now this."
While Tamara struggled to form words, Kristin snapped at her sister. "Great going, Mel. She doesn't need reminders."
"I only meant that three knocks in a row..." Melanie looked sheepish. "Well, it must be tough."
Make that four.
Others joined the trio. Half-listening, Tamara stared off at the distant cityscape sprawled below the funeral home's high vantage point. The glass-and-metal structures, poised like sentinels around Sydney Harbor's stretched-silk waters, normally charged her with energy and excitement. None of that registered today.
When her queasiness grew and mourners meandered off toward a room where triangular sandwiches, hot tea and more anguish awaited, she slipped away to the nearest bathroom. Moments later, she clutched the comfortless rim of a porcelain sink.
Oh, Lord, she was going to be sick. But at least she was alone in the private room available for anyone who needed time to gather their thoughts or composure. Bowed over, brow embedded on a forearm, she submitted to rolls of discomfort and the image that spun an endless cycle through her brain--Marc's face the night he'd learned he would soon be a father. He'd said that he loved her. Wanted to get married. How could she confess she loved him too--just not that way.
The scent of pine antiseptic and freshly cut gladioli hauled her back. A heartbeat later, her ears pricked and she straightened. Had she heard something--a knock?
She slumped again. No, just ragged nerves and imagination. Groaning, she cupped shaking hands under the running faucet. Another splash on her clammy face could only help.
"Excuse me, Ms. Kendle?"