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The Fiance Fix

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«The Fiance Fix» - Кэрол Мортимер

International bestselling author Carole Mortimer makes a special guest appearance in Harlequin Romance!Joanne Delaney will do anything to protect her beloved daughter from a custody claim–including marrying for :onvenience! Only, she receives two unexpected proposals–one from handsome stranger Nick Mason, and another from wealthy businessman David Banning….
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Acclaim for Carole Mortimer:

Dear Reader,

We’re constantly striving to bring you the best romance fiction by the most exciting authors…and in Harlequin Romance® we’re especially keen to feature fresh, sparkling, warmly emotional novels. Modern love stories to suit your every mood—poignant, deeply moving stories; lively upbeat romances with sparks flying; or sophisticated, edgy novels with an international flavor.

All our authors are special, and we hope you continue to enjoy each month’s new selection of Harlequin Romance novels. We’re proud to feature international bestselling Harlequin Presents author Carole Mortimer, who makes a special guest appearance in Harlequin Romance this month! Carole has more than 50 million books in print worldwide—her strong characters and dramatic stories keep readers enthralled until the very last page. In The Fiancé Fix, Carole has created a tantalizing feel-good story with a gripping emotional dilemma….

We hope you enjoy this book by Carole Mortimer—and look out for future sparkling stories in Harlequin Romance. If you’d like to share your thoughts and comments with us, do please write to:

Harlequin Romance

Eton House,18-24 Paradise Road

Richmond, Surrey

TW9 1SR, U.K.

Happy reading!

The Editors

Carole Mortimer says, “I was born in England, the youngest of three children—I have two older brothers. I started writing in 1978, and have now written over ninety books for Harlequin.

“I have four sons—Matthew, Joshua, Timothy and Peter—and a bearded collie called Merlyn. I’m in a very happy relationship with Peter senior. We’re best friends as well as lovers, which is probably the best recipe for a successful relationship. We live on the Isle of Man.”

Acclaim for Carole Mortimer:

“Carole Mortimer integrates great character development into a fast-paced story.”

—Romantic Times on The One and Only

“Carole Mortimer does an excellent job of piquing readers with a mysterious plot and multi-faceted characters that blend to perfection.”

—Romantic Times on Fated Attraction

“Carole Mortimer dishes up outstanding reading as she blends dynamic characters, volatile scenes, superb chemistry and a wonderful premise.”

—Romantic Times on Married by Christmas

The Fiancé Fix

Carole Mortimer



www.millsandboon.co.uk

My Husband,

Peter

CONTENTS

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER ONE

‘IS THIS place only for women, or do you do men as well?’

Now, there was a leading question, Joey thought humorously, looking up from the money she had been counting in the till at the end of a long working day.

Wow! The man standing in the doorway might not have a way with words, but his looks more than made up for it: tall and muscular, with a ruggedly handsome face, shaggy dark hair, and come-to-bed eyes the same colour as melted brown chocolate.

Joey paused; now, where had that last thought come from? She was a thirty-year-old single mother with a six-year-old daughter. During the last ten years or so she thought she had heard every chat-up line in the book—she had certainly never been attracted to a man because of the unspoken message in his eyes—the opposite in fact!

She straightened. ‘This is a unisex hair salon, if that’s what you’re asking,’ she answered drily.

His mouth twisted. ‘That’s what I was asking,’ he confirmed wryly. ‘Do you have the time to do something with his?’ He ran a rueful hand through the thickness of his dark, unruly hair.

In fact, the salon had closed at five-thirty, five minutes ago, but Susie, the last assistant to leave, must have forgotten to put the catch down on the door on her way out.

‘Actually, we’re closed—’

‘I’m sorry to have bothered you.’ The man nodded, turning to leave.

‘—but if you’re only wanting a trim…?’ Joey finished with a questioning rise of her blonde brows.

It was Lily’s evening for ballet, so Joey didn’t actually have to leave to collect her for another half an hour or so.

‘That’s great!’ The man did such a quick about-face as he strode back into the salon, closing the door behind him as he did so, that Joey took a step backwards.

He certainly wasn’t backward in coming forward! And in the confines of the modern salon, with its black and chrome decor, posters of the latest hairstyles adorning the walls, the man’s sheer size was even more noticeable. Broad shoulders in a checked work shirt, tapered waist, long legs in blue, slightly dusty denims—the man had to be well over six feet tall.

Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all, Joey worried as she came out from behind the reception desk; despite his size, the man seemed friendly enough, but the two of them were very much alone in here, and even serial killers could probably be charming!

‘Believe me, I’m only interested in having my hair trimmed,’ the man reassured her as he settled himself down in one of the chairs that faced the mirrored wall.

Joey’s face flamed with embarrassment. So much for the cool sophisticate she believed herself to be; one look at her expression, and this man had known exactly what she was thinking!

She took down one of the protective wraps hanging on the rail behind her and draped it around him, effectively trapping his hands beneath its folds; a rose-pink wrap usually set aside for female clients. Two could play at this game!

‘Now, what would you like done?’ she enquired in her most professional voice, looking at his reflection in the mirror, dismissing the realisation of how tiny she looked standing next to him. Only as tall standing as he was sitting down, her shoulder-length blonde hair cut in a shaggy easy-to-manage style, guarded green eyes surrounded by dark lashes as they met his gaze levelly.

He shrugged. ‘As I said, just a trim.’

He had very nice hair, as chocolate-brown as those teasing eyes. If a little dusty, she discovered as she ran her hands professionally through the healthy brown waves.

‘Would you like your hair washed before I cut it?’ she offered lightly.

‘I’ll wash it later when I shower,’ he refused with a grimace. ‘If you don’t mind the fact I’m a little dusty, that is?’ He raised dark brows.

‘Not at all.’ Joey turned away to pick up her comb and scissors, having noticed on closer proximity that he gave off an odour of aftershave, with an underlying masculine smell of sweat usually engendered by physical labour. ‘Are you working on the building site next door?’ she asked conversationally as she began to cut his hair.

He nodded. ‘I really am sorry I’m such a mess,’ he grimaced again. ‘Ordinarily, I would never have come in here straight from work, but—’

‘You have a heavy date tonight?’ Joey guessed teasingly—looking like this, when wouldn’t this man have a ‘heavy date’?

‘Something like that.’ He chuckled softly, a deep, throaty sound that made Joey’s nerve-endings tingle.

Much to her disquiet. Really, this man had just walked in here off the street, was obviously a building labourer, probably a transient worker; the chances were Joey would never see him again after today. Besides, he had a ‘heavy date’ this evening…

‘How are things progressing over there?’ She nodded in the direction of the building site behind the salon.

‘Not bad. This place will be coming down soon too, won’t it?’ he queried lightly.

Joey’s fingers faltered slightly as she shaped the hair over his ears, glad she was bending forward so that he couldn’t see her expression clearly. ‘Soon, yes,’ she confirmed hardly.

She tried not to think about it, despite the fact that her landlord had informed her several weeks ago that he wouldn’t be renewing her lease when it came to an end in two months’ time.

Like everyone else in this block of buildings, he had sold out to the Mason supermarket chain. A supermarket chain rapidly becoming the biggest in the country, and so able to pay her landlord a much larger sum than he would ever receive in rent, even over a hundred-year period! In fact all of the other properties in this particular square were already empty, or in some cases demolished.

This man might be slightly dusty, but the salon had been in a similar condition since the first building came down several weeks ago, dust covering every surface no matter how often it was cleaned.

‘Sore point?’ the man in front of her prompted softly.

‘Yes.’ Joey didn’t even attempt to prevaricate; ‘sore’ didn’t begin to describe how she felt over effectively being evicted. ‘I realise you work for Dominic Mason,’ she sighed, ‘but—’

‘The building work for the new supermarket is contracted out to Harding Construction,’ he cut in.

‘Whatever,’ Joey dismissed—what did it matter who built the damned thing? The fact that she was having to find new premises for her business was still causing a major upheaval in her life.

As if she needed another one just now! Lily’s father had crawled out of the woodwork two months ago too. In fact, she had received notification that her lease wouldn’t be renewed and the letter from Lily’s father on the very same day. A black day in her life!

The first, in view of the fact that her lease was coming to an end anyway, it appeared she could do nothing about. The second she had dealt with by way of a very abrupt letter informing Daniel Banning that she had absolutely nothing to say to him, that anything that needed to be said had already been done so. The silence since she had sent that letter had been oppressive.

‘You were saying…?’ her customer prompted curiously. ‘About Dominic Mason,’ he reminded her as Joey looked at his reflection blankly.

Dominic Mason, Joey thought disgustedly. Since his appearance in the supermarket line ten years ago the man had managed to buy out two other prominent chains, expanding to the States and Europe, as well as increasing his own chain in England.

‘The man will only be happy when he owns every supermarket in the world,’ she gritted.

‘A supermarket megalomaniac,’ the man said with knowing humour.

‘Exactly,’ Joey agreed, easily getting into full stride where the subject of Dominic Mason was concerned. ‘Just how much money does one man need?’ she scorned, snipping away at the dark hair. ‘He—’

‘Not too short, if you don’t mind,’ the man put in softly.

‘Sorry.’ She gave him a rueful smile, easing up on the cutting. ‘As you’ve probably guessed, Dominic Mason is not my favourite person.’

‘Hardly surprising, really.’ The man nodded. ‘Has your boss found somewhere else to go yet?’

Boss…?

‘I’m the “Joanne” over the shop front,’ she corrected him. ‘Although everyone calls me Joey,’ she added—for some reason she wasn’t completely sure of. Her friends called her Joey—and this man was far from being that!

‘I hadn’t realised you’re actually the owner,’ he admitted. ‘No wonder you’re p—er—not feeling very happy—’ he amended whatever he had been about to say ‘—with Dominic Mason.’

‘He’ll win in the end, of course,’ she sighed, brushing away the cut hair from the back of his neck. ‘His sort always do. But I don’t intend moving from here until I absolutely have to,’ she added resolutely.

She knew that her salon was probably causing problems to the building of the new Mason supermarket, standing as it did almost in the middle of the construction site! Good—any nuisance value she could give Dominic Mason was worth all the dust she had to contend with every day!

‘I can’t say that I blame you,’ the man acknowledged lightly, standing up once Joey had removed the pink wrap. ‘How much do I owe you?’

‘It’s eight pounds fifty for a trim,’ she related automatically, glancing at the serviceable watch on her wrist; nearly time to pick up Lily and her friend Daisy from ballet; it seemed flowers had been the fashion in girls’ names six years ago!

‘Damn!’ He had reached into his jeans pocket, the hand coming out empty. ‘I remember now. I left my wallet in my other clothes.’ He groaned. ‘A building site isn’t exactly the ideal place to carry money and credit cards.’

Great. Now it turned out the man couldn’t even pay her for the haircut! As for his ‘other clothes’, the dusty jeans and shirt looked as if he had been wearing them for some time. Not that this was the first time something like this had happened to her, but it was usually one of Joey’s regular customers who had simply left their purse at home by mistake.

‘Look, I’m really sorry about this,’ the man apologised, dark colour staining the hardness of his cheeks. ‘Is it OK if I drop the money in first thing in the morning?’

‘Fine,’ Joey answered, sure she wasn’t going to see this man—or the money—the next day.

Not that she was a cynic, exactly; it was just that life had a habit of throwing unexpected curves at her. Being taken in by this man was just one more thing to add to an already lengthy list!

‘You don’t believe me, do you?’ he realised slowly as he studied her with narrowed eyes.

Joey gave him a quick smile. ‘I said it’s fine.’ After all, it had been her own time she had been wasting! Time, she realised after a second glance at her watch, that she no longer had to waste.

‘I hope I haven’t kept you from anything?’ He had obviously seen that second glance at her wristwatch.

‘Not at all,’ she assured him lightly. ‘And please don’t give paying for the haircut another thought.’ She waved a dismissive hand.

‘I’ve said I’ll pay you in the morning, and I will,’ he assured her grimly. ‘I should lock this door after me, if I were you,’ he advised firmly.

Come-to-bed eyes and a caring nature…! Quite an attractive combination.

No way, Joey, she immediately reproved herself. There were enough complications in her life already—finding new premises for her salon, as well as fending off Daniel Banning’s attempts to disrupt the life she had painstakingly built for Lily and herself—without finding herself attracted to a man who had a ‘heavy date’ this evening—and who didn’t even have the money to pay for his haircut!

‘Thanks.’ She followed him over to the door.

He turned in the doorway. ‘I really will be by first thing in the morning to pay you,’ he repeated.

‘Of course you will.’ She nodded, unconvinced.

His mouth tightened at her obvious scepticism. ‘What time do you open?’

‘Nine-thirty. But, as I’ve already said, don’t worry about it—’

‘Oh, but I will,’ he cut in softly. ‘It will probably keep me awake all night,’ he teased, before striding off to get into the dusty pick-up parked outside.

Joey gave a derisive snort as she watched him drive away; he might not get any sleep tonight, but she had a definite feeling it would have more to do with his ‘heavy date’ than it would worrying over the fact that he owed her eight pounds fifty!

‘OK, Daisy, we’re home,’ Joey told her young charge drily. The two young girls seated in the back of the car were talking so much that she was sure neither of them was aware they had reached Daisy’s home.

Joey wouldn’t mind, but the two girls saw each other every day at school, and for a couple of hours afterwards, but as soon as tea and homework were over Lily would be on the telephone to her best friend, talking away as if the two girls hadn’t seen each other for weeks!

Had she ever been like that? Joey wondered ruefully. She didn’t think so. But, for all her faults, her mother had at least been waiting at home for her every day when she came home. Both being children of single mothers, neither Lily or Daisy had that…

‘Thanks.’ Daisy grinned at her before scrambling out of the back of the car.

‘Tell your mother I’ll be here to pick you up at eight-thirty in the morning,’ Joey told her automatically, returning Hilary’s wave as the other woman came out of the house to greet Daisy.

Both on their own, the two women shared the responsibility of their two daughters while they juggled the careers they needed to support them—Joey driving the girls to school in the morning, Hilary picking them up in the afternoons and keeping Lily with her until Joey picked her up after work. The arrangement had worked very well so far.

‘Did you have a good day, Mummy?’ Lily asked interestedly as they drove the extra mile to their own home. She was a tiny replica of Joey—thank goodness Joey could see none of her father in her!

Joey frowned. Until five-thirty it had been like all the other days she had had recently—busy, and dusty. Until she had been taken in by that—But there was no reason to bother Lily with that.

‘It was fine, darling,’ she responded lightly. ‘How about you?’

Her daughter’s face was screwed up when Joey glanced at her in the driving mirror. ‘I’ve brought my spelling test home for Friday.’

Joey held back a smile; the trouble with schoolwork was that it got in the way of Lily’s social life!

‘I’m sure we’ll cope,’ she promised, straight-faced. ‘Now, what do you fancy for tea today?’

‘Pasta and chicken nuggets,’ her daughter answered predictably—she very rarely willingly ate anything else.

Joey smiled indulgently. ‘I think we’ll put a few peas with that, don’t you?’ she teased—Lily’s aversion to vegetables was universal in children her age.

‘If you have to,’ her daughter allowed grudgingly. ‘I—Oh, look, Mummy, there’s a car parked outside our house,’ she said excitedly.

Joey frowned as she looked at the blue car parked at the roadside; visitors were few and far between to the tiny end-terrace house the two shared in a quiet residential part of town. Between work and caring for Lily, with all that entailed, there was very little time for a social life of her own.

‘Perhaps they’re visiting next door,’ she dismissed, parking her own car behind the blue one before getting out and opening the back door for Lily, deliberately not paying too much attention to the parked car. Just because they rarely received visitors that was no reason to stare at the car as if it were a vehicle from outer space!

Her daughter felt no such inhibitions, openly ogling the car as she held on to Joey’s hand and they walked to their front door. ‘There’s a man sitting inside, Mummy,’ she told Joey in a stage whisper.

Joey winced at the loudness of her daughter’s voice, sure the ‘man sitting inside’ the car must have heard her. After all, the car engine was switched off, and it was a warm evening, so the man probably had the window down too.

She unlocked their front door before pushing it open. ‘Come on, Lily’ she encouraged as her daughter still hung back curiously.

‘He’s getting out of the car, Mummy,’ Lily informed her even as she pulled on the sleeve of the light jacket Joey wore over a pink T-shirt and black trousers.

Joey could see that for herself, her gaze narrowing against the evening sunshine as she watched the man slowly unfolding his long length from inside the car.

Tall and blond, with a smoothly handsome face dominated by a pair of analytical blue eyes that raked over her in cool assessment, before moving down to stare openly at Lily. Joey felt as if she had had all the breath kicked out of her as she instantly recognised him.

Lily’s father.

The ominous feeling that had dogged her for the weeks following her terse letter in reply to his own came back in full force.

Because Joey knew, as she put a protective arm about Lily and pulled her daughter close against her, there could be only one reason why Daniel had come here…

.

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