Merger Of Fortunes. Peggy Moreland
Merger of Fortunes
MILLS & BOON
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Special thanks and acknowledgment are given to Peggy Moreland for her contribution to the DAKOTA FORTUNES series.
To Kathy Combs and Mary Crawford, the two saps who were left out of the book I dedicated to my college buddies. You may have been overlooked, but will never be forgotten!
Coming Next Month
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Case Fortune murmured in disbelief. He would’ve thought librarian-attire would be a pre-requisite for writing kids’ books. Horn-rim glasses, sensible shoes, a dress that covered chin to ankle. That kind of thing.
He glanced up at the banner that stretched from one end of the bookstore’s children’s corner to the other to make sure he was at the right place: Signing Today! Gina Reynolds, Award-Winning Author of TALES FROM TOADSVILLE.
Toadsville, he thought, swallowing a laugh. What kind of woman wrote stories about toads? A nerd, he decided, and shifted his gaze back to the woman in question.
But Gina Reynolds didn’t look like any nerd he’d ever seen before. At the moment she was perched on a child-size chair holding a book open, so the children scattered on the floor around her could see the illustrations as she read the story to them. Seated as she was, her legs appeared incredibly long, their length enhanced by the short black skirt that hit her above her knees and the black leather boots that came just short of reaching them.
Her style of dress wasn’t the only contradiction to Case’s preconceived image of Gina Reynolds. Long strawberry-blond hair framed her face and tumbled in soft waves over slender shoulders. A faint sprinkling of freckles speckled her nose. Her eyes, a stunning leaf-green, sparkled with animation as she read to the children in a voice that changed tone and depth to match the personality of the characters in the story.
Case hadn’t come to the signing expecting to find a raving beauty—and he hadn’t—yet there was something about her that encouraged a man to take a second look. Whether it was her physical attributes or her voice that demanded that second look, he wasn’t sure, but the sound of her voice had him moving to brace a shoulder against the end of a bookshelf to listen, as enthralled as the children with her storytelling skills.
When she read the last page and closed the book, the children let out a collective sigh of disappointment, then immediately began clamoring for her to read another. A woman—probably the manager of the bookstore—quickly stepped into the circle of children to intervene.
“I’m sorry, children” she said, with regret, “but that’s all the time Ms. Reynolds has to read to you today. If you’d like her to sign copies of your books, please form a line against the far wall.” She turned to smile at Gina. “I know that Ms. Reynolds will be happy to personalize each one.”
With surprising gracefulness, Gina rose and moved to sit behind the table set up for her, where stacks of her books were displayed. Children scrambled to form the requested line, which quickly stretched from one end of the store to the other.
Though irritated that he would have to wait a little longer to introduce himself, Case wasn’t giving up. He needed Gina’s assistance in bringing a merger to fruition, and wasn’t leaving until he’d at least had the opportunity to discuss it with her. Seeking an inconspicuous spot, he slipped between the aisles of books and pretended to study the titles, while waiting for the kids to clear out.
When the last kid in line turned away, Case made his move. Quickly crossing to the table, he picked up a book from the display. “Would you mind autographing one for me?” he asked.
Bent over to gather her purse from beneath the table, she glanced up, a friendly smile ready. Though her smile remained in place, it lost some of its warmth when her gaze met his—and that surprised him. He didn’t know her and was sure that she didn’t know him, yet it was definitely dislike—or, at the very least, disapproval—that darkened her eyes.
Straightening, she accepted the book and laid it on the table in front of her. “And who would you like it inscribed to?” she asked as she flipped open the front cover.
She glanced up in surprise. “You?”
“Is that a problem?”
Blushing, she quickly shook her head. “Of course not. It’s just that…well, you’re the first adult male who’s ever requested an autographed book.”
He shot her a wink. “I’ve always prided myself on being ahead of the curve.”
Instead of the smile he’d thought his teasing comment would draw, he received a frown.
Bending her head over the open book, she scrawled an inscription, then closed the cover and handed it to him. “You pay the clerk at the register,” she informed him curtly and reached for her purse again.
He nodded. “Thanks.”
Before he could get to the real reason for his visit, the manager called from behind the checkout counter, “Ms. Reynolds? I’d like to speak with you before you leave.”
“I’ll be right there,” she replied, then rose and said to Case, “If you’ll excuse me.”
Irritated by the obvious brush-off, Case pulled his wallet from his hip pocket and followed her to the front of the store. He tossed a credit card on the counter, but kept an ear cocked to the conversation transpiring between Gina and the manager, and overheard the woman congratulate Gina on receiving the Newbury Award. While he continued to listen, he noticed a photo on the wall behind the register of the woman with Gina. The plaque beneath it read “Susan Meyer, Manager.”
After signing the credit slip and accepting his autographed book, he approached the two women.
“Ms. Meyer?” he asked hesitantly.
She glanced his way. “Yes. May I help you?”
He extended his hand. “Case Fortune.”
Her eyes shot wide at the Fortune name. “Oh, Mr. Fortune,” she gushed and pumped the offered hand enthusiastically. “It’s an honor to have you in our store.”
“The honor’s mine,” he said humbly. “I’m sorry to interrupt,