Grayson's Vow

Page 9


Maybe I was judging her unfairly. If anyone knew what that felt like, it was me. Maybe I was just hung over, and she had reminded me of the type of woman my stepmother was. And of course, there was the fact that she had just strode in here and blatantly offered me a marriage for money . . . But perhaps Kira Dallaire wasn't exactly what she seemed to be.
I sat down at my desk and turned on my computer to google her. One good turn deserved another. As soon as I typed in her name, a whole slew of images appeared: Kira Dallaire in an evening gown, exiting a limo, Kira Dallaire at the premiere of a movie at some theatre or another, Kira Dallaire standing beside the man I recognized as Frank Dallaire at a black tie benefit. Always with the same small, tight, haughty smile. In several photos, she was standing beside a good-looking blond man who appeared to be at least five to ten years older than her. I clicked on one of the photos and read the byline, identifying the couple as Cooper Stratton and his fiancée Kira Dallaire. Fiancée? I looked at the date—a little over a year ago. Had that been what had "cut short" her college career? Had she dropped out to become a society wife?
I clicked through several articles, my disdain growing as I pieced together Kira Dallaire's actual situation. None of the news stories came right out and said it, but it was easy enough to read between the lines. Kira had been engaged to Cooper Stratton, a young assistant district attorney running for superior court judge in San Francisco, when she was involved in some sort of embarrassing scandal—drugs were heavily hinted at—that took place in a penthouse at the St. Regis Hotel. Her father, in an effort to protect her and get the help she needed, shipped her off to some rehab center, more likely a glorified spa in London or Paris. And her fiancé had broken off their engagement. Who could blame him? But now she was back and her father, he what? Wouldn't fund the partying lifestyle she was accustomed to? Refused to give her any cash until she could prove she was willing to improve her life? Of course, on that I was only guessing. Either way, Kira Dallaire had decided to take matters into her own hands.
I'd been right in my judgment of her: she was just like my stepmother. A woman who'd been given everything in life and thought it was because she was entitled to it. A selfish woman who expected life to bend to her will. And when it didn't, she'd go to extreme lengths to bend it back, regardless of whom it hurt.
I leaned back for a minute, thinking things through. Never in a million years had I expected to wake up to this.
We were both desperate in our own ways. The question was: was I desperate enough to hand over my name—even temporarily—for the cash I needed to save this vineyard and fulfill my vow?
Something on the computer screen caught my eye, a small picture at the bottom of the article I'd been reading, and I clicked on it, making it as large as possible. It was another picture of Kira Dallaire and Cooper Stratton. He had his hand resting possessively on the small of her back and was smiling proudly as she grinned up at him. My eyes homed in on her right cheek. She had a dimple. The little witch had a dimple. And what it was about that small feature that made my pulse quicken, I couldn't have explained if my life depended upon it.
He looked like a prince, but if I were going to cast him in a fairy tale now, I'd cast him as The Dragon! A beastly, judgmental, fire-breathing dragon.
Of course, it wasn't surprising, really. My skill in judging character was sadly . . . not skillful. That had been proven once. Quite painfully.
Still, I hadn't been prepared for his mocking contempt. And yeah, okay, so my offer probably sounded outrageous to him initially. But I was the one doing him a favor here. I was offering him free money. Or practically free. There was a price—I admitted that. I was asking him to marry for money. I couldn't help cringing at the blunt truth. But I'd made a list, and there were far more "pros" than "cons" for both of us, I thought. Although, arguably, the "cons" were very weighty and could tip any scale, regardless of what you titled it. Despite having tried to present the offer in a very business-like manner, he'd looked at me with such disdain, as if I were yesterday's trash. The fact that I felt like yesterday's trash only made it that much worse.
The more condescension he'd shown me, that faint derision never leaving his expression, the more nervous and ruffled and unsure I'd become. I hated that feeling. I'd known it my whole life. Being scorned felt heartachingly familiar.
And then he'd told me I wasn't his type. As if it mattered. It didn't matter. Not at all. Not one bit. I only needed my money to be his type.
So why had it hurt?
I let out a sigh. He'd said he would call me, but based on his rude dismissal, I wouldn't hold my breath. Well. I'd tried. Another one of my Very Bad Ideas and Grayson Hawthorn had let me know that's exactly what he’d thought of it. In that slightly bored, pleasantly masculine voice of his no less. I felt my lips curve down. So the question was, what was I going to do now? Going back to my father was out of the question. I'd sooner sleep on a street corner. Or at the drop-in center. My heart sank when I thought of the center. What were they going to do now? So much was riding on getting my hands on the money Gram left. I supposed I could pull my car over and choose any number of people off the street to make the same offer I'd made to Grayson Hawthorn. Or place an ad on the Internet like I'd joked about with Kimberly. I could sell my car. It was in my name, one of the few things I'd bought with my own money. But then I wouldn't even have a place to sleep if and when my cash ran out.