The Millionaire Claims His Wife

By: Sandra Marton

Annie sighed and smoothed down the skirt of her knee-length, pale green chiffon dress. “I suppose there’s no getting out of it. Okay, let’s do it... What?”

“You might want to take a look in the mirror first.”

Annie frowned, swung toward the sink again and blanched. Her mascara had run and rimmed her green eyes. Her small, slightly upturned nose was bright pink, and her strawberry blond hair, so lovingly arranged in a smooth, sophisticated cap by Pierre himself just this morning, was standing up as if she’d stuck her finger into an electric outlet.

“Deb, look at me!”

“I’m looking,” Deb said. “We could always ask the organist if he knows the music from Bride of Frankenstein.”

“Will you be serious? I’ve got a hundred people waiting out there.” And Chase, she thought, so quickly and so senselessly that it made her blink.

“What’s the matter now?”

“Nothing,” Annie said quickly. “I mean...just help me figure out how to repair some of this damage.”

Deb opened her purse. “Wash your face,” she said, taking out enough cosmetics to start her own shop, “and leave the rest to me.”

* * *

Chase Cooper stood on the steps of the little New England church, trying to look as if he belonged there.

It wasn’t easy. He’d never felt more like an outsider in his life.

He was a city person. He’d spent his life in apartments. When Annie sold the condo after their divorce and told him she was moving to Connecticut, with Dawn, it had damn near killed him.

“Stratham?” he’d said, his voice a strangled roar. “Where the hell is that? I can’t even find it on a map.”

“Try one of those big atlases you’re so fond of,” Annie had said coldly, “the ones you look in when you’re trying to figure out what part of the country you’ll disappear into next.”

“I’ve told you a million times,” Chase had snapped, “I have no choice. If I don’t do things myself, they get screwed up. A man can’t afford that, when he’s got a wife and family to support.”

“Well, now you don’t have to support me at all,” Annie had replied, with a toss of her head. “I refused your alimony, remember?”

“Because you were pigheaded, as usual. Dammit, Annie, you can’t sell this place. Dawn grew up here.”

“I can do what I like,” Annie had said. “The condo’s mine. It was part of the settlement.”

“Because it’s our home, dammit!”

“Don’t you dare shout at me,” Annie had yelled, although he hadn’t shouted. Not him. Never him. “And it’s not our home, not anymore. It’s just a bunch of rooms inside a pile of bricks, and I hate it.”

“Hate it?” Chase had repeated. “You hate this house, that I built with my own two hands?”

“You built a twenty-four story building that just happens to contain our particular seven rooms, and you made a million trillion bucks doing it. And, if you must know, yes, I hate it. I despise it, and I can hardly wait to get out of it.”

Oh, yeah, Chase thought, shuffling uneasily from one foot to the other and wishing, for the first time in years, that he hadn’t given up smoking, oh, yeah, she’d gotten out of the condo, all right. Fast. And then she’d moved herself and Dawn up to this—this pinprick on the map, figuring, no doubt, that it would be the end of his weekly visits with his daughter.

Wrong. He’d driven the hundred-and-fifty-plus miles each way every weekend, like clockwork. He loved his little girl and she loved him, and nothing that had happened between Annie and him could change that. Week after week, he’d come up to Stratham and renewed his bond with his daughter. And week after week, he’d seen that his wife—his former wife—had built herself a happy new life.

She had friends. A small, successful business. And there were men in her life, Dawn said. Well, that was fine. Hell, there were women in his, weren’t there? As many as he wanted, all of them knockouts. That was one of the perks of bachelorhood, especially when you were the CEO of a construction company that had moved onto the national scene and prospered.

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