The Millionaire Claims His Wife

By: Sandra Marton

“I’m warning you, Chase!”

“There I was, a college freshman, minding my own business and dancing with my girlfriend at her high school’s Valentine Day dance—”

“You were never innocent,” Annie snapped.

Chase grinned. “You should know, babe. Anyway, there I was, doing the Mashed Potato, when I spied our Annie, tottering out the door, clutching her middle and looking as if she’d just eaten a bushel of green apples.”

Annie swung toward Milton Hoffman. “It wasn’t like that at all. My date had spiked my punch. How was I to know—”

A drumroll and a clash of cymbals drowned out her voice.

“...and now,” an oily, amplified voice boomed, “Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Babbitt will take their very first dance as husband and wife.”

People began to applaud as Nick took Dawn in his arms. They moved onto the dance floor, gazing soulfully into each other’s eyes.

Annie gave Milton a beseeching look.

“Milton,” she said, “listen—”

“It’s all right,” he said quickly. “Today’s a family day, Anne. I understand.” He started to reach for her hand, caught himself, and drew back. “I’ll call you tomorrow. It was...interesting to have met you, Mr. Cooper.”

Chase smiled politely. “Call me Chase, please. There’s no need to be so formal, considering all we have in common.”

Annie didn’t know which she wanted to do more, punch Chase for his insufferable behavior or punch Milton Hoffman for being so easily scared off. It took only a second to decide that Chase was the more deserving target She glared at him as Hoffman scuttled back to his seat.

“You are lower than a snake’s belly,” she said.

Chase sighed. “Annie, listen—”

“No. No, you listen.” She pointed a trembling finger at him. “I know what you’re trying to do.”

Did she? Chase shook his head. Then, she knew more than he did. There wasn’t a reason in the world he’d acted like such a jerk just now. So what if Annie was having a thing with some guy? So what if the guy looked as if he might faint at the sight of a mouse? So what if he’d had a sudden, blazing vision of Annie in bed with the son of a bitch?

She could do what she wanted, with whom she wanted. It sure as hell didn’t matter to him.

“Are you listening to me?” she said.

Chase looked at Annie. Her face was still shot with color. It arced across her cheekbones and over the bridge of her nose, where a scattering of tiny freckles lay like sprinkles of gold. He remembered how he used to kiss those warm, golden spots after they’d made love.

“I know what you’re up to, Chase. You’re trying to ruin Dawn’s wedding because I didn’t do it the way you wanted.”

Chase’s eyebrows leaped into his hairline. “Are you nuts?”

“Oh, come off it!” Annie’s voice quavered with anger. “You wanted a big wedding in a big church, so you could invite all your fancy friends.”

“You are nuts! I never—”

“Keep your voice down!”

“I am keeping it down. You’re the one who’s—”

“Let me tell you something, Chase Cooper. This wedding is exactly the kind Dawn wanted.”

“And a damn good thing, too. If it had been up to you, our daughter might have ended up getting married on a hillside in her bare feet—”

“Oh, and what that would have done to Mr. Chase Cooper’s image!”

“—while some idiot played a satyr in the background.”

“Sitar,” Annie hissed. “It’s called a sitar, Cooper, although you probably know a lot more about satyrs than you do about musical instruments.”

“Are we back to that again?” Chase snarled, and Annie’s color heightened

“No. We are not ‘back’ to anything. As far as I’m concerned—”

“...the bride’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Chase Cooper.”

Annie’s and Chase’s gazes swung toward the bandstand. The bandleader was smiling benevolently in their direction, and the crowd—even those who looked a bit surprised by the announcement—began to applaud.

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