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Emma Wiggins is about to marry her heart-stopping, gorgeous boss, CEO Evan Fletcher, in seven days—too bad he doesn’t know it yet!
Desperate to fulfill her ailing grandfather’s last wish to see her settle down and get married, Emma Wiggins, a 30-year-old, career-focused executive tells him a little white lie on his deathbed that she is in fact engaged–to her boss, deliciously handsome and emotionally unavailable, Evan Fletcher.
The situation takes an unexpected turn when her grandfather’s condition improves slightly and to her shock, he goes ahead and arranges a wedding ceremony at his hospital bedside before he passes on. Now, all Emma has to do is convince unsuspecting, commitment-phobic Evan to tie the knot with her in seven days. Can love blossom in the most unlikely situation?
“You mean to tell me, you can’t find a decent man? Not one?”
“Grampa!” Emma Wiggins felt the blood siphon from her face. She could not believe she was having this conversation.
She shifted her hips uncomfortably on the hospital bedside of her ailing grandfather, trying to find the right words to say. She knew quite well where he was going with his comment. He was desperate to see her settle down, get married and have kids one day. But after her previously tainted relationships left her with emotional burns to 70 percent of her heart, no way was she going down that yellow brick road to happiness again. There’s no place like home…alone.
“Oh, Gramps!” she whispered, tilting her head to the side, gently stroking his wrinkled forehead with her free hand as if comforting a fragile kitten.
“Look, I promise you, I won’t end up…dying alone and penniless. You have my word on it—okay?”
Her whispered reassurance was virtually inaudible as she ingested what seemed like a handful of sand in her throat. Was that a promise she could even keep? She wanted to give him hope, something to cheer about. Especially now as he neared the end of his long time battle with what he called “a dreadful opponent that had a habit of sneaking up at the wrong time—prostate cancer.”
The long-term care unit at Mercy Springs Memorial Hospital was unusually quiet during the busy lunch hour. The place was tranquil except for the sound of the air conditioner gently humming in the background and the odd clanking of knives scraping plates as some patients ate their meals. The aroma of hospital food filled the air. The scent of fresh cut flowers she’d bought and placed at the bedside table wafted to her nostrils. She eyed his untouched lunch tray. The smell of mashed potato with gravy and sliced beef reminded her she hadn’t eaten.
Laced with guilt, Emma glanced down at her watch. She didn’t want to leave him. Not ever. Not after what the doctor told her about his prognosis. But she didn’t want to push her luck at work either. Her boss, Evan Fletcher, president of Fletcher Advertising where she worked as an account executive had been more than kind already to extend her lunch hour to visit her ailing Gramps. They had the pivotal conference call meeting in half an hour with one of their biggest potential clients. She didn’t want to blow this. Not now.
This was a career clincher for her. But speaking of careers…. Her grandfather, whom she’d always referred to as Gramps when she was a little girl and had trouble pronouncing Grandpa, just finished a fresh round of chastising his only granddaughter for putting career ahead of love and family. If only he knew. She would love to have a family and a husband. But…
Her grandfather, Mr. Wiggins, reclined weakly and peered at her with droopy eyelids. His favorite pair of thick brown spectacles propped on the tip of his nose. He felt comfortable with them on, even when resting. The head of his bed elevated to a ninety degree angle. The green and white hospital bed sheets covered him up to his chest. He hadn’t eaten much during the past few days. He appeared older than his eighty years. Emma knew her grandfather loved her and wanted the best for her. She was also painfully aware that he regretted only having one child, a son, Emma’s father. Oh, she looked like her dad. Deep, almond shaped brown eyes that sparkled, dark, curly long ebony hair that shined. And a dimpled smile to melt even the coldest of hearts. Always willing, always helpful.
“I know that silly guy hurt you when he left you but—”
“Oh, Gramps. Why are you talking about that now? I’m so over him.” She emphasized the “so” and bit down on her lower lip. She wished she could simply delete the bitter memory of her ex-fiancé’s betrayal from her mind. She longed to erase the baggage of emotional scars he packed her off with. Yes, her hope was singed during that nasty breakup period, but she couldn’t dwell on relationships now. Her work was her love. And so was Gramps.
“Sometimes you need to take your messed up relationships with a grain of grace so you can appreciate when the right one comes along. I just don’t want to see you let him ruin your chances of happiness with someone else. In hindsight, I can say that other guy was a goof, not worthy of you!” He struggled to lean forward and touched her cascading mane of dark, spiralling curls.
Emma was amazed at his strength. She didn’t realise that many palliative patients had energy before their inevitable demise. In fact, she was always in amazement when she visited the quiet unit. Patients were up and about, walking, conversing, and partaking of typical activities. Of course, not all patients were responsive and ambulatory. It was a mixture of diagnosis, prognosis, and illness processes. The ages of the patients ranged from eighteen-years-old to those who reached their ninety-ninth year.
“You realise you’re my only grandchild.” A muffled cough emitted from his throat. He grabbed a tissue from the side table and covered his mouth with it, coughed up, and wiped his mouth clean before tossing the Kleenex in the black garbage bin by his bedside. “The Wiggins line will be finished if you don’t marry and have kids, pumpkin,” he emphasised tearfully, water filling his eyes. Emma could barely watch him cry.
Just then, one of the nurses, a perky redhead sporting bright pink scrubs, bought in a plate with a slice of cake on it. Her cheeks glowing red.
“Oh, what’s the occasion?” Emma was glad to change the subject as she peered at the icing on the cake.
“Oh, this is from Mr. Harry next door. His granddaughter just got married in the room.”
“Yes.” The nurse placed the cake on the table before the untouched tray of food. “We sometimes get requests for wedding ceremonies to take place at the bedside for palliative patients who are too ill to otherwise attend. He wanted to give his daughter away. We arranged for the chaplain to do the honors, but sometimes patient’s family members bring in their own minister.” The nurse smiled and fixed Emma’s grandfather’s pillow and repositioned him before darting out of the room.
Emma couldn’t help but notice her grandfather’s fresh round of tears.
“What’s wrong, Gramps?” Surprise caught her voice.
“I just wished it were you, pumpkin. It’s my only wish before I go to be with your dear old grandma to see you get married, settle down, have a family. You’re hiding yourself in your work. There’s so much more to life than work, you know. We all need love, pumpkin. It won’t be nice to be alone when I’m gone—” His voice cracked and broke off. “I just hate to think you’ll be alone with no one. Just don’t give up too easy on finding true love.”
Emma’s heart took a serious plunge into the deep end of despair. She could bear no more. If only he knew it was just as unsettling to her as it was to him to see her in this state.
Lord knows she tried hard to make things work with her ex-fiancé, of whom she could barely bring herself to recite his name. But, oh, nothing escaped the careful observation of her grandfather. He knew her all too well.
Truth was, she really did hide behind her work, bury herself in its corporate arms, lose herself to the company’s aims and objectives.
But it was the perfect cover. And why not? She’d at least be doing some good service while keeping her mind busy at the same time.
Why not pour her heart into working to change images through advertising? Fulfill a need. Utilize her communications skills to write and design advertisements for special clients to inform the public about products and services that could help them to make their lives better. Contribute to economic growth. Yes, there were some things much more critical than love, Emma tried to convince herself.
Still, she really couldn’t live with herself knowing the doctor told her in the family meeting earlier that Gramps only had days to live. Days! How could she not want to see him happy?
Her large, tearful brown eyes surveyed his aging, graceful face as if each blessed, earned wrinkle had a story of its own to tell. Her eyes penetrated his dark, kind, tired eyes glazed over with cataracts. At one time, this same pair of eyes was so filled with life. Love. Hope.
He was all she had now.
She was all he had.
Those time-honoured crow’s-feet in the corners of his eyes ever so present. Each representing wisdom and sacrifice made to his country. His family.
“Gramps, don’t worry. I’m…I’m okay. I-”
His tears fell hard like the Texas rain. Her grandfather bellowed out in pain. Her grandfather, the stronghold of the family, loving, determined, but wore his heart on his shirt sleeves, was never afraid to weep. That took a powerful man to do that. This same man took her in when everyone else—meaning her parents—could not care for her.
Soon, the nurse would come back in and wonder what Emma did to upset this poor, dying man.
“Gramps, I didn’t want to tell you before but…I’m seeing someone. I am getting married.” Liar.
Emma bit down on her full, defined lips. Anything to make him happy—a dying man’s last wish. But before Emma could stop herself, she swallowed another hard lump of reality. What did she just do? Did she just tell a lie to spare his feelings? She could shoot herself. But she hoped he didn’t hear amongst his own wailing.
As if someone turned off a faucet, his flow of tears almost dried up immediately.
“What did you just say, darlin’?” He sniffled and grabbed a tissue at the bedside to dab at his tears, his shaky hand removed his spectacles while the other free one wiped his eyes.
“I’m…you know…” Hesitation. Crackles shadowed her vocal chords.
“Getting married? Sweetheart, that’s wonderful news. Why didn’t you tell your dear old Gramps before? Getting me all worried. Who’s the lucky guy? What’s his name?” He peered over his spectacles. A light seemed to beam from his face.
Okay, now what do I say?
Think, Emma. Think.
“Evan.” She could kick herself. By the time she was through she would be beaten and worn.
“Fletcher.” Good Lord. Okay, now I’ve done it. What’s wrong with me?
She tried to convince herself she wasn’t entirely dishonest. She was seeing her sexy, heart-stopping, gorgeous boss Evan for the sole purpose of work—every day. They worked closely at the agency for the past three years—sometimes late nights to meet tight deadlines, travelling together. He’d promoted her from new grad receptionist to office manager to account coordinator and possibly more. He’d always believed in her. She admired him from afar. Though Evan was as distant as a star in the galaxy from Earth. Okay, so he was a self-professed bachelor who had made it known to staff he despises the institution called marriage. He’d never know about this little secret lie she just spilled out to her grandfather.
Emma’s BlackBerry vibrated with a gentle hum. It was the office. Evan probably wanted to know where she was—since they had that important conference call shortly.
“I’d love to see him,” her grandfather blurted out. “When are you going to bring him by so that we can meet?”
Emma’s entire body stiffened.
Emma drove back to the office in a daze. What did I just do? I told my grandfather I was getting married to the president of my company. Have I taken leave of my senses?
She didn’t know how she arrived at the reserved parking lot at the Hope Plaza in Mercy Springs, Texas where the Fletcher Advertising Corporation, or FAC, building situated itself. The warm April sun glazed her skin as the gentle spring breeze whisked her curls in her face and flapped her opened satin trench coat. Her hands were in the pockets while her bag swung over her shoulder. She flipped her hair back as she walked away from her car and whisked up the stairs to the fourth floor. She bypassed taking the elevators to the top floor of the four-story plush building. Ordinarily, she was cheery and cracked a joke with the doormen. Not now. Her mind was bursting at the seams with too much in her head.
Her client meeting.
“Evan’s in the conference room waiting for you,” Lucinda, one of the two receptionists at the front desk informed her as she walked in through the double glass door.
“Right. Thanks, Lucinda.” Emma regretted she didn’t have time to use the ladies room to make sure her face was relaxed and her makeup still intact. She also hoped Lucinda, the wonderful office career receptionist, administrator and full-time office gossip didn’t notice her dazed expression. She tried to keep a distance of a thousand words from the woman who staff members often referred to as “loose-lips-Lucinda.”
Got a secret? Lucinda would discover it like oil in a well and was sure to turn the story loose. Coworkers put a new twist on the old joke about the three most effective ways of mass communication: Telegraph, telephone, tell a woman. Now it was simply, Tell Lucinda. Emma had been forewarned of Lucinda’s reputation when she started working at FAC three years ago.
Emma used to work at reception with Lucinda but was promoted after studying business and advertising part-time at Mercy Springs Community College. She finally graduated with her associate’s degree and was promoted. Hard work and sassy ideas on client projects helped.
She always tried to keep on everyone’s good side. As much as possible.
“Please, have a seat.” Evan leaned back in the executive leather chair in the boardroom as he gestured to the chair nearest him. His voice was deep, low. Sexy.
God, he was stunning.
His arresting good looks sure cranked up Emma’s heart rate. She’d worked with him for three years, and he never ceased to have that effect on her. His dark, sensual brown eyes, chiselled cheekbones and dimpled smile were a definite turn-on for her. Dark, healthy, wavy hair that made you wish you could run your fingers through it.
And his body? Though he sported a business suit, Emma could not ignore his tall, muscular physique. He worked out hard at the gym as much as he worked diligently at the office. A sure catch. Unattached by sheer choice. Not that all the women in the office didn’t throw themselves at him. He’d been known to have affluent dates, from society elites, to actresses, models, and heiresses, but commitment just was not his thing and he made that known. Emma didn’t even try to compete. She wouldn’t know where to begin. She kept her mad crush on him a private and confidential secret.
“Sorry I’m late.” She flushed.
The graphic designer, art director, and two account coordinators sat around the oak boardroom table waiting for the conference call from Weddings R Us. It was new corporation that will open a record twenty stores across the U.S. in the next year. They were already a huge success in Canada. A one-stop shopping for all your bridal needs for all budgets. Kind of like having your own wedding planner for a fraction of the cost. They also handled bookings for receptions, pre-marriage counselling, attire, decorations, cakes, the whole works. The seven-figure deal would be the largest for Fletcher Advertising and Emma knew Evan had her in mind to head the account with him.
During the conference meeting, thirty-three-year-old Evan stole discreet glances at his beautiful employee, Emma. She looked much younger than her thirty years. He loved her simple, yet chic, dress style. She rarely followed fads, knew what colors complemented her sweet, honey complexion and what styles accentuated her natural curves. He loved her silhouette. He didn’t think there was anything not to like about her. He tried to divert his eyes from her gorgeous toned legs as she crossed them to the side.
If Emma Wiggins were any hotter she’d be a fire hazard, he mused.
He could also sense she was preoccupied. Maybe he should have given her leave knowing that her grandfather was ill. Evan truly didn’t know how ill he was.
But this was a huge deal and Fletcher Advertising couldn’t afford to blow it. Evan admired Emma. She was the best. He knew this would be ideal for her career, too.
Still, he admired more than just her brains. He often imagined her and him together in… It was just a fantasy, he dismissed the thought as quickly as it entered his mind. Men were allowed to fantasize once in a while. But he wouldn’t dare let on to his employee he had those thoughts about her. She was young, but at the age where she deserved a man who believed in commitment. Evan could never, even if he wanted to, commit to any woman.
He’d learned his lesson the hard way. It almost destroyed him on many levels. His career. His business. His health.
Fletcher men and marriage didn’t mix.
Or else, the consequences could be…
Evan didn’t want to entertain that thought now. He had to keep his reserve of positive energy flowing. He didn’t know why he was drawn to Emma, but he was more drawn to keeping his sanity in tact and his business away from another potential scandal.
She was an employee.
An hour later after the conference call ended, Evan pressed the release button on the phone.
“Nice work, team.” He was buoyed and cheered his group on. The initial pitch went well. They would present to Weddings R Us in person tomorrow when the execs from New York reached town.
Evan drove his team hard but commended them for their efforts. He was a fair boss and a team player, but everyone knew how to hold their own. He wasn’t someone who tolerated poor excuses or failure. But he was there if you were willing to put out the effort.
As everyone left the meeting, Evan, who had been eyeing, Emma told her to stay back.
“Is everything okay, Emma? How’s your grandfather doing?” Evan admired how Emma worked conscientiously at the firm and gave it her all. He also loved her tenacity and commitment to taking care of her grandfather. He knew she spent a great deal of time at the hospital visiting him. In fact, when her car conked out he’d given her a ride to the long-term care facility a few times.
“Sorry, Emma, you have an urgent call from the hospital.” Lucinda bolted through the door of the boardroom and told her the call was on line one.
Emma looked as if her heart stopped.
“Emma, do you need me to stay?” Evan offered, a look of concern befalling his face.
Relief swept over her tensed shoulders. “Actually, sure…if you don’t mind.” She seemed breathless.
Oh, no. Is he dead? And I wasn’t even there by his side. Emma had planned to leave work earlier today—which meant on time-to go back to the hospital to visit her grandfather.
“Hi, Emma. This is Petra, your grandfather’s nurse.”
“Yes?” She sounded too sharp, anxious at first. She must have come across way too strong. She could picture the look on the face of the redhead nurse with the bright pink uniform.
“Nothing to worry about. It’s just that your grandfather’s condition has…well, changed slightly.”
“What do you mean? Is he okay?” Panic rose in Emma’s chest. She was conscious of Evan’s concern and his warm energy flowing her direction. She was thankful for his support.
“Well, yes. You see, when you left, he perked up. He started eating again. He had more energy. The doctor was saying that he probably had more than days. More like weeks. It’s not unusual for some patients to get a sudden burst of energy. We call it the Hope Factor. Sometimes a wave of hope keeps their spirit going a little longer. A lost relative on their way to see them after all these years. Things like that. Sometimes they hold on until whatever they’re waiting for comes to pass.”
“Oh, thank God.” Emma sighed a deep sigh of relief as she expelled a whiff of suppressed air. She didn’t realize she had held her breath.
“Oh, and congratulations!”
“On your engagement.”
“My what?” Emma’s brain activity fired up all kinds of thoughts. She wondered if the news of her fake impending marriage had anything to do with her grandfather’s topped up spirit—his second wind of hope. Just then, a sick feeling sank inside her stomach. She could not bring herself to peer into Evan’s concerned, unsuspecting face. He had no idea what was going on.
“Right. Of course.” Emma swallowed, ever aware of Evan’s soft, sexy brown eyes on her.
“By the way, the reason why I’m calling now is because your grandfather is so excited about you getting married that he’s spoken with the chaplain at the hospital. The end of next week would be fine to have the ceremony here. We can have the wedding take place in your grandfather’s room. We just need to get the groom’s name. Is that Evan Fletcher spelled E-V-A-N F-L-E-T-C-H-E-R.?”
The phone pressed firmly to her ear, she could not move or blink or breathe.
Oh, God, help me! Now, what have I done?
“Not to pry, but is everything okay, Emma? You don’t look too well.” Evan leaned in closer to her as if he were ready to catch her fall as she stood looking as if she would pass out any minute by the side table.
She was clearly in a daze.
The look of shock—or was that horror–glazed over her face. Evan looked aghast as if she was having a cardiac arrest and he needed to do something—quick!
“Um…” She could barely speak. But she had to say something.
Oh, Lord. Now what have I gotten myself—and my boss— into?
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