Chas Regan slammed the phone down. Fuck! What the hell was he supposed to do now? He leaned back in his executive chair, allowing the front rollers to lift off the floor, and dug the base of his palms into his eyelids. His heart still raced so fast that it caused a shot of stomach bile to blast into his throat.
The company was lost. Gone. No more. His entire family’s empire, a glimmering speck of its former glory lost in the vast abyss of others that had gone before it.
He could have saved it, too, he knew, if only he’d been able to come up with that measly five million in time. But he hadn’t been able to liquidate enough capital before tonight’s deadline. If only that blasted prospective buyer would loosen her grip on her cash, he’d have had his two-year-old thoroughbred sold a month ago and his problems would be solved.
He needed more time. More money and time.
The intercom on his phone buzzed, followed by his assistant’s voice saying, “Chas, Delilah Perrault is here to see you. Should I show her in?”
His churning stomach sank to his toes, but he couldn’t see a way out of meeting with her right now. He sprang into an upright position and did a quick finger-comb through his hair. “Yes. That’s fine, Sharon.”
* * *
Delilah walked into the office with a big grin on her face. She couldn’t wait to tell Chas all that had happened this morning. He’d been a sage advisor these past few months since they’d begun working on the charity together and she hoped he wouldn’t mind giving her a little more now.
After the strange encounter with the beggar woman two days ago—and the ‘found’ diamond—Delilah had called Chas and canceled their lunch. To tell the truth, if it weren’t for the diamond that rested in the bottom of her coin purse, she’d have tossed the whole thing off as a lucid dream.
She hadn’t told a soul about the encounter, either, and she was pretty sure she wasn’t going to.
“Hi,” she said, noticing immediately the sexy contrast between his slightly rumpled blond hair and his crisp, tailor-made suit. Her already jangled nerves started to tap dance across their endings the closer she came to him. Breathe in, breathe out. Thankfully, she’d managed to keep her deeper feelings for him to herself, thus far. She could just imagine how awkward their friendship would become if he ever realized what she felt. He probably wouldn’t want to work with her anymore.
It wasn’t until she’d taken a seat on his leather couch that she picked up on the tension lines around his eyes and mouth. “Is this a bad time? Am I interrupting something?” She shot to her feet. “I’ll just leave now. I-I shouldn’t have come without calling first. But I have got some exciting news to tell you, so maybe—could we meet for dinner?” She took a step toward the door.
Chas jumped up and waved her back to her seat. “No, no, no. Sit. Tell me the good news.”
She hesitated and then shrugged. “Well, if you’re sure?” She sat down and beamed at him. “Guess what?” She was so excited and proud of herself, she wanted to do a jig. Instead, she clasped her hands in her lap and said, “I’m a multi-millionairess as of ten-thirty-two this morning.”
“How many? Two? Three?”
“More.” She sat forward. “It’s like all my years of training as a gemologist have finally paid off.” She bit her lip to keep from grinning like a buffoon and glanced down. Lifting her gaze to his, she said, “A couple of days ago, I got it in my head to put some of my savings in diamond stocks—not a lot—just enough to get my feet wet.”
Chas’s brows shot into his hairline. “A couple of days ago?”
“I know. Amazing. Anyway, today I made—I made a hundred million! Dollars.”
Chas jackknifed forward in his chair. “A hundred million? That’s—that’s near to impossible.”
She laughed. “Exactly! I feel like crowing! You were the first person I thought to tell because you’re so—so good with money. Will you help me to invest it?”
A strange look flashed in his baby blues as he studied her for a moment. It unnerved her. Maybe she’d overstepped their friendship with the request? She was about to apologize to him and tell him she’d find someone else to help her when he laughed and the look changed. Brightened. Became recognizable. Comfortable. Compelling. For the first time since she’d entered his office, his face relaxed into the boyish grin that had become so familiar to her since they’d started working together on the charity event months ago. “Well, I guess I can’t propose to you now. You’ll think I’m only doing it for your money.”
Her heart tripped, then hammered against her ribcage. It took every ounce of her willpower not to let on with her eyes, her hands, or any other part of her body that he’d just spoken her deepest wish, made it a joke. She hoped the grin she gave him was less hungry than friendly. “Hey, women do it all the time—why not a guy?” She linked the fingers of her hands together and did a little stretch. Did her voice sound as out of breath, wobbly, to him as it did to her? “Besides, I could use a financial wizard for a husband, now that I’m worth loads of dough.”
Chas’s expression grew serious. He swiveled around and pulled something from his desk drawer then rose to his feet and came toward her. Instead of sitting next to her, as she expected, he knelt down in front of her.
“What’s this?” A nervous chuckle escaped her throat. “What are you doing?” Against her will, his close proximity brought on a fiery blush.
He lifted both of her hands. When her fingers twitched over the velvet box in his palm, her breath caught in her lungs. “I know you think I wasn’t serious,” he said. “But I was. I’d been planning to ask you to be my wife on Valentine’s Day, but if I wait any longer, you’ll be suspicious of my motives.”
He released her hands and opened the box. Resting inside was a brilliant cut solitaire in a platinum setting. “Will you marry me, Delilah?”
A rush of euphoria made her head spin, but somehow she managed to say, “YES!”
* * *
Delilah was so high with happiness, she felt as if she floated across the parking garage toward her car. She sighed. They’d finally kissed. She lifted her fingers to her lips. They still tingled from the warm contact. It had been as wonderful as she’d dreamed it would be. He’d tasted so masculine, felt so strong. It’d made her feel feminine, sexy even.
She shook her head and grinned. She was going to marry Chas Regan. Amazing. All this time she’d been pining away for the guy and—who knew?—he’d been doing the same thing for her!
Since he’d returned to the family business a year ago, moved back to Houston from Boston, they had formed a companionable friendship. Based mostly on their shared interest in charity work. He was very much involved in funding for cancer research—his mother had died of a rare form of it a little less than two years ago—and that was one of Delilah’s pet charities as well.
Once they’d met up again at a charity benefit, become reacquainted, they’d started sharing meals together several times a week, sometimes twice in the same day. He’d even begun confiding in her about his devastation at his mother’s sudden illness and death, a thing, she was sure, he didn’t speak of with others. And the more she learned about him, the man he’d grown up to be, the more she’d fallen in love with him.
Of course, she, being the fat one in her family, never thought for a second that he could ever think of her in any romantic way.
She stopped walking and thrust her hand out in front of her. The ring sparkled, even in the dim light, and the fit was perfect. He must have done some sleuthing to get it just right. The thought of him planning for weeks such a romantic proposal gave her a giddy feeling in her chest. He loved her! Oh, he hadn’t said the words—he wasn’t the sort, she knew. So many men weren’t. At least that’s what she’d read in loads of women’s magazines. But she hoped that one day, somehow, she’d finally get him to say them aloud.
She started to walk again, and then it became a jog, and then a full-out run, which wasn’t easy in her floral print slim lined dress. She couldn’t wait to tell her stepmother and half-sister! Wouldn’t their jaws drop to the floor! Not only had she managed to pull their family back into the financial realm they’d been in before her father’s imprisonment, but, she, Delilah Perrault, had snagged the one perfect prospect her stepmother had pegged to be her skinny, beautiful half-sister’s future husband.
* * *
Chas hung up the phone. Relief washed over him. The creditors were going to give him until a week from this coming Monday to wire them the money now that he had access to some funds.
He sat back and gnawed on a piece of dead skin next to his fingernail. Okay, asking Delilah to marry him hadn’t been the noblest way to deal with his dilemma. But he’d been desperate. He’d briefly thought of simply asking her for the money, but he’d quickly nixed it. He needed this all kept under wraps, and keeping her in the dark about it while he ‘borrowed’ some of her money—just long enough to swing things back in his favor—seemed the best plan of action.
His already burning stomach twisted into a knot and he popped several antacids into his mouth. Okay. He admitted it. He’d taken advantage of a sweet girl who had a crush on him so that he could keep the hounds at bay a little longer—and get hold of those funds he needed.
He’d pay her back. With interest. And heck, he just might go through with the marriage, too. If she really wanted him. He liked her a lot. She was a good friend. And easy to talk to. Most times, made him feel calm and settled inside. His stomach hardly ever gave him grief when he was with her. That was something, wasn’t it?
She was pretty, too. Electric blue eyes, dark silky hair, long limbs, but soft and curvy. At five-eight, she was just right for his own six-three height.
And, dear God, that kiss they’d shared! It had sent shock waves all the way through him. No, it wouldn’t be such a bad match. Not such a bad match at all.
Except, he needed her to be on his arm over the next few months while he proved to his creditors that he was a responsible sort—they could trust him with their money. So, he’d best spend a little less time at the office and spend some real time with her. Not in bed, of course. He wouldn’t be that much of a bastard. Once he’d paid back the money, then yes. After that kiss—hell yes. But not until then.
His gaze dropped to the ring box on his desk. Good thing his last fiancée—the fourth to be exact—had over-nighted that ring to his office eight months ago. It had come in handy.