The Hired Husband

By: Kate Walker

CHAPTER ONE




‘YOU want what?’

His expression said it all, Sienna reflected unhappily. He didn’t have to speak a single word. Shock, disbelief and sheer antipathy to her suggestion were stamped clearly onto Keir Alexander’s hard features, leaving her in no doubt as to how he felt.

‘You want what?’ he repeated now, the edge in his voice sharpening on every word as his deep brown eyes glared into her anxious blue-green ones.

‘I—I want you to marry me.’

It sounded so much worse the second time around. Starker, more incredible, more impossible. She couldn’t believe she’d ever had the nerve to ask him once, let alone manage to reiterate her request in the face of his reaction.

If she could have taken it back she would have done so at once, but she had no alternative. She’d tried every other approach, considered every possible answer, but none of them would work. It was Keir or no one. He was her last chance; and if he didn’t agree to help her then she was lost. Finished.

‘No way, lady!’ It was hard, inflexible, adamant. ‘No way at all.’

‘But—’

‘I said no!’

‘But, Keir…’

But she was talking to the back of his head, and a moment later to empty air as the door slammed to behind him. Keir had walked out on her, rejecting her and her proposal outright, not even sparing her a backward glance. Closing her eyes in despair, her sigh a deep, helpless sound of defeat, Sienna sank down into the nearest chair.

So what did she do now? she asked herself, shaking her dark head despondently. There was nothing she could do. No answer presented itself. No fairy godmother appeared to wave her magic wand and put everything right. When she opened her eyes everything was the same as before, the future stretching ahead dark, bleak and with no light at the end of the tunnel.

It had been the worst year of her life so far, and it was still only July. First Dean, and then the loss of her job as an aromatherapist when the beauty salon in which she had worked had closed down. That had been followed by the discovery that her mother, who had clearly been unwell for some time, was in fact suffering from multiple sclerosis. And then, to cap it all, the landlord who owned the small flat she and her mother rented had informed them that he was selling the building. The new owners planned to turn it into a set of offices and they would have to move out—soon.

Oh, it wasn’t fair! Sienna slammed one fist into the palm of the other hand in a gesture of frustration and distress. Her mother had to have a home. Somewhere she could live in the comfort and security she needed. The perfect place was available—was hers for the asking. But only if she could meet the conditions laid down. And with Keir’s rejection of her proposal her last chance of doing that had been destroyed. She doubted if she would ever see him again.

She didn’t know how long she sat there, lost in her misery. She had no idea how much time had passed before the sound of the doorbell pealing through her flat jolted her out of her unhappy reverie. At first she was tempted to ignore it, but when it became obvious that whoever was outside had put their finger firmly on the button and intended keeping it there until they got a response, she forced herself to her feet, dashing down the stairs and wrenching open the door.

She couldn’t believe the sight that met her eyes. Keir Alexander stood on the doorstep, dark head held high, his jaw tight, every muscle in his tall, strong body taut with resistance.

‘All right,’ he said, his voice cold and hard as a sharpened knife. ‘Start talking—convince me.’

Sienna talked as she never had in her life before. She couldn’t believe that she’d been given a second chance, but she was going to grasp it with both hands, do everything she could—anything she could—to ensure it didn’t get away from her.

‘I know this isn’t the way either of us would have done this,’ she began, even as they were still climbing the stairs to the first floor where she and her mother lived. ‘Not in an ideal world, anyway. It’s certainly not the way I ever dreamed of marrying, but beggars can’t be choosers. It’s the only way I can think of for getting out of a very tight corner indeed, and if you don’t agree to help then there’s no one else I can turn to.’

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