His 24-Hour Wife is the third book in The Hawke Brothers. They are:
Callie Mitchell straightened her skirt, took a deep breath to calm the butterflies in her stomach and followed the receptionist to Adam Hawke’s office on the top floor of a downtown LA office building. The central operations of his company, Hawke’s Blooms, took up the entire floor and, as CEO, Adam had a corner office, which had to have killer views.
In hindsight, it had probably been a bad idea to stop on the way for a little Dutch courage—especially because it had been alcohol that had started this whole crazy mess—but she’d needed some help. It wasn’t every day a woman had an appointment to see her secret husband.
In fact, she hadn’t seen him once in the three months since their wedding day, so this was quite the momentous occasion. They’d met at an industry conference in Las Vegas just over two years ago and spent an amazing night together, then had hooked up again at the following year’s conference. Third time had been the charm—this year they’d added vows to their rendezvous.
The receptionist opened the door and waved her through and suddenly Callie was standing in front of him. The man she’d spent the most explosive twenty-four hours of her life with. The rest of the world faded away, leaving only him. The oxygen must have faded away as well because suddenly she couldn’t get her lungs to work.
The receptionist had slipped out and closed the door behind her, leaving them alone, but Callie couldn’t find a word to say. Although Adam wasn’t saying anything, either.
He was as perfect as she remembered, which was a surprise—she’d been certain her imagination had embellished things over the years, that no man could be that gorgeous. Yet here was over six feet of proof standing before her. His green eyes were as intense, his frame as broad and powerful as the image she had in her mind’s eye. But he was wearing a suit with a crisp white shirt and dark blue tie. Most of her memories were of him stretched across the Vegas hotel sheets wearing nothing but a smile.
He cleared his throat. “You look different as a brunette.”
She’d gone back to her natural caramel-brown about three weeks ago, but instead of telling him that, she heard herself say, “You look different with clothes on.”
His eyes widened and she covered her mouth. That Dutch courage had been a very bad idea.
Then he laughed, a low rumble that seemed to fill the room. “I’m starting to remember why I married you.”
“And what drove you away again,” she said and smiled. After a day spent in bed, gradually sobering up, Adam had suggested a divorce. She’d been having so much fun—and was, in all honesty, so dazzled by the Adonis who’d proposed to her—that she would have given their marriage a shot. But she’d had no rational argument for staying together, so she’d agreed.
Still, after three months, neither one of them had ever started those divorce proceedings. She didn’t know Adam’s reasons, but there was a small kernel of hope, deep in her chest, that maybe he wasn’t quite ready to cut all ties with her yet.
He indicated two upholstered chairs near the windows, which, sure enough, offered a premium view of Los Angeles below. “Take a seat. Can I get you a drink?”
She knew he probably meant coffee or tea, but still she winced, remembering the gin she’d stupidly had before coming. “No, I’m fine. I won’t be here long.”
He nodded and took the chair across from her. Then his expression turned serious. “What do you need, Callie?”
For a moment all she could focus on was the sound of her name on his lips. His voice was deep and still sent a warm shiver through her. Three months ago he’d whispered her name in the heat of passion. Had murmured it when she’d kissed the smooth skin of his abdomen. Had shouted it as he’d found his release. More than anything, she wanted to hear him say her name again. Then his question registered, and she straightened her spine.
“Why do you think I need something?”
His forehead creased into a row of frown lines. “I just assumed…” He let the sentence trail off. “After all this time, I figured if you were contacting me, you must—”
“I don’t need anything,” she said, holding up her hands, palms out. “I’m here as a courtesy, to let you know something.”
His jaw hardened. “You’re getting married?”
The way his mind worked was intriguing. She remembered that from their short time together—she’d been constantly fascinated by the things he said.
“No, I’m up for a promotion.” Her PR firm had finally given her a chance to make partner—something she’d been working toward for years—and she wasn’t going to let the opportunity go.
“Congratulations,” he said. “So how does this involve me?”
“They’ve given me an assignment. If I handle this project well, I’ll make partner.” At twenty-nine, she’d be the youngest partner in the history of the firm.
He raised one eyebrow. “What’s the assignment?”
“The Hawke Brothers’ Trust.” His company’s new charity raised money for homeless children; it had already made a splash with various events, including as a bachelor auction, and was now ready to move to the next level. Something Callie was looking forward to being a part of.
“Ah,” he said, and rubbed the back of his neck. “I didn’t realize Jenna had brought in your company.”
Adam’s future sister-in-law, Princess Jensine of Larsland, had helped to create the charity and was in charge of day-to-day operations. Callie had suspected Adam wasn’t aware that her company had become involved. Which was why she was here, warning him, before she started work on the project.
“There was a good chance we’d run in to each other in a meeting or something, and I wanted to give you a heads-up before that happened.”
“I appreciate it. So,” he said, offering her half a smile, “how have you been?”
Despite being married, they didn’t really know each other well enough to catch up. They had no basic information to catch up on. So she said, “Good, and you?”
“Good,” he said, nodding.
It was awkward, so she took a breath and refocused. “I was thinking that maybe we should have our stories straight in case anyone puts two and two together.”
He rubbed a hand over his chin. “You mean about us being married?”
“Since I’ll be working with members of your family, it’s a possibility.”
“It won’t happen. They don’t know I—” He swallowed. “They don’t know what happened.”
“You didn’t tell your family that you got married?” She hadn’t expected he would brag about a short-lived Vegas wedding, but equally, she hadn’t expected that he’d keep it a secret from his two brothers. In the short time they’d spent together, he’d mentioned he was close to his younger brothers.
He shifted in his seat. “Did you tell your friends and family?”
“I didn’t tell everyone, but I told my sister.” She moistened her lips. “You seriously didn’t tell anyone?”
His face was unreadable. “I don’t generally telegraph my mistakes to the world.”
Asking her for a divorce had pretty much shown he had thought of their wedding as a mistake, but still, there was something in the way he held himself tall in the chair—and in his tone as he said it—that had made her feel small and insignificant. She’d thought of their time together as something wild and crazy, something out of character, where they just went too far. She hadn’t thought of herself as someone’s mistake. It hurt more than she would have expected.
But now that he’d made his feelings crystal clear, the stupid part of her needed to let go.
She took a breath. “While I’m here, we really should talk about a divorce.”
“Already underway,” he said without hesitation. “I’ve filled in the paperwork and was just waiting for my brother’s wedding to be over before filing it.”
“Oh, right. Good.” Everyone knew Adam’s younger brother was marrying Princess Jensine of Larsland, so Callie could see that he wouldn’t want to draw attention when the media could be hunting for stories.
“I didn’t want my alcohol-fueled decision to have ramifications for him.”
Flinching, she stood and hitched her bag over her shoulder. “I should go. Let me know when you’re ready to file the divorce papers.”
“Callie.” He reached out to her as he stood, and then let his hand drop. It was the first time his voice had held a note of tenderness since she’d entered his office. He’d been the only man who’d ever affected her with merely his voice and she wobbled. “I’m sorry,” he said. “That was probably harsh. I don’t want us to part on bad terms.”
“It’s fine,” she said, summoning a polite smile. “But I’ve taken up enough of your time. I just wanted to give you some forewarning and I’ve done that, so I’d better get back to promoting the Hawke Brothers’ Trust.”
He held her gaze for a heartbeat or two, searching her eyes. Then he nodded and stepped back. “Okay. Let me know if you need anything.”
Callie smiled and slipped out the door. Halfway down the corridor, her cell rang and she paused in the reception room to answer it. A colleague’s name flashed on the screen: Terence Gibson. He’d recently been up for the same promotion as Callie and his competitiveness had bordered on excessive. Since she’d been offered this project with the chance to win the promotion if she did well, she knew this wasn’t going to be a congratulatory call.
“Hi, Terence,” she said.
“I can see why the partners gave you this assignment,” he said, not bothering to hide the malice in his voice.
She punched the elevator button. “And why is that?”
“Being married to one of the clients will certainly give you an edge.”
“Oh, you mean they don’t know about your marriage to Adam Hawke? Oh, dear. I wonder what upper management will say when they find out. It will hardly make them feel as if they can trust you, and I hear they value open and clear communication in their partners.”
The elevator arrived but she ignored it, sagging back against the wall. “How did you…?”
“You really need to work on your poker face, Callie. The expression when they told you it was for the Hawke Brothers’ Trust would have told anyone watching closely enough that you had some sort of connection. The question was only about which brother. After a bit of searching I found that you married one of them three months ago. Although I couldn’t find a record of a divorce anywhere. I assume that’s where you are now? With your husband?”
Her stomach clenched tight. “What do you want, Terence?”
Despite asking the question she had a pretty good idea of what the answer would be.
“Stand back from this assignment and let them hand it to me.”
It was what she’d expected him to say, but still, the gall of the man, the entitled arrogance, was staggering. “You know I won’t do that. It would be handing you the promotion as well.”
“Then I’ll sell the story to the tabloids,” he said, his voice almost gleeful. “I’m sure you can imagine what a PR disaster that will create. They’ll love an exposé about the future prince’s brother having a drunken wedding in a tacky Las Vegas chapel.”
“No.” It would overshadow her assignment and ruin her chances of the promotion.
“Then step away now and give me a clear shot at the partnership.”
So either she stepped back and let Terence have the partnership, or she stayed and he caused a scandal, meaning he’d probably get the partnership instead of her anyway. Neither of those choices was appealing, but she especially didn’t like giving in to blackmail. She needed time to think. To find a third option. She had to stall him.
“Give me a few days to think about it. Even if I tell the partners I can’t take the assignment I’ll need some time to come up with a believable reason.”
“You have one day. Twenty-four hours.”
The line went dead.
Callie blew out a breath, turned on her heel and headed back to Adam Hawke’s office.
Adam stood when Rose, his receptionist, buzzed to tell him Callie Mitchell wanted to see him again. It had barely been five minutes since she’d left. He told Rose to let her through, and then had a look around the room for something Callie had forgotten. He couldn’t find anything. But then, he was hardly focused enough to be sure.
Since she’d first made the appointment yesterday, he’d been unsettled. He’d dreamed about her last night, about their time together. About making love to her. Though that wasn’t uncommon—he regularly dreamed about making love to her.
Which just showed how bad she was for his equilibrium. Control over himself and his life was important to him, and Callie made him feel off-center—a feeling he disliked intensely.
Then from the moment she’d appeared through his door this morning, he’d barely had two functioning brain cells to rub together. Hell, he hadn’t even greeted her, just made some inane comment about her hair. Though her reply had been memorable…
He prayed this would be a short visit so he wouldn’t make a fool of himself by blurting out something worse than what she’d said.
After a knock on his door, there she was again, as if conjured from his dreams, her rich, caramel-brown hair hanging sleek around her shoulders, her olive skin smooth. He knew from experience the taste of that skin and his heart skipped a beat as the memory flooded his senses.
“Did you forget something?” he managed to ask.
She shook her head, her silver-blue, almond-shaped eyes serious. Something had changed.
She tipped up her chin and met his gaze squarely. “We have a problem.”
He was careful not to touch her and set off more memories as he moved behind her to shut the door and lead her to one of the chairs they’d occupied only minutes before.
Once they were settled, he said, “Okay, tell me.”
“A colleague of mine,” she said, her emphasis on the word colleague telling him much, “noticed my surprise when I was given this assignment and started digging. He’s found our marriage license and is threatening to tell the tabloids.”
Adam swore under his breath. “What does he get out of it?”
“He wants this promotion and he wants me out of the way. He thinks the media coverage of your secret Vegas wedding will overshadow any PR work I do for the trust, and he’s probably right. He wants me to refuse the assignment and let him have it.”
“Like hell.” There wasn’t much that Adam hated more than a bully, and he refused to let Callie become the victim of one while he had any power over the situation. “The trust won’t work with a man who’s blackmailed his way to get the role.”
“If I step back and you refuse to work with him, he’ll probably still plant the story out of spite. We’d both still lose.”
Callie’s entire demeanor was professional, but underneath she had to be rattled. Every protective instinct inside him reared up, ready for whatever needed to be done.
“Give me one minute.”
He stood, strode over to his desk and pressed the buzzer for his receptionist. “Rose, cancel all my meetings for today.”
“Certainly. Do you want me to give a reason?”
“Just that something unexpected has come up. Then reschedule them as soon as you can.”
“Consider it done.”
He grabbed a legal pad and pen and returned to his wife. It wasn’t just Callie’s job in danger, though that alone would be enough to make him take action. No, he wouldn’t let his stupid mistake create trouble for his brother and future sister-in-law. The entire Vegas trip had been out of character for him, and since then he’d taken the consequences seriously—he hadn’t let himself drink more than a glass or two of alcohol at a time, and rarely let his control slip even an inch. This was just another consequence that needed addressing.
And he could fix this. That was what he’d always done in his family—fix things. The only difference was that this time, Callie was the one with the PR expertise.
“So, how do we handle the PR fallout when the story hits the press?”
A tentative smile crept across her face. “You want me to stand up to him?”
“Well, I certainly don’t want you to give in to blackmail.” He frowned, searching her features. “What did you expect me to say?”
“I don’t know. Thing is, I don’t really know you that well, so it’s a pleasant surprise that you’re willing to stand behind me.”
She might not know him as well as, say, his brothers did, but surely she at least knew this much of his character? “Callie, I know our history is a little unconventional, but don’t ever doubt that I’ll stand behind you.”
“Thank you,” she said, and for one brief, shining moment he recognized the passionate woman from Vegas who’d snagged his attention from the moment he’d laid eyes on her in the bar. “That means a lot. And it goes both ways.”
“I appreciate it. Now, what’s our first move?”
She tapped a bright red fingernail against matching red pursed lips as she thought. “We need to get ahead of the story. Be on top of it, and create our own story.”
“Sounds good,” he said. “How do we do that?”
“We need to come up with our own version of our wedding.” She rose to her feet and started pacing, her words coming rapidly. “Create a new truth—it was love at first sight. Make it a sweet story, not the sleazy version that the tabloids will want to print, and get that new truth in the media ASAP to beat the other story. My contacts will help get it out quickly.”
Adam made a few notes, and then looked them over. “It doesn’t seem like enough—it will be one version versus the other.”
“True,” she said, holding up an index finger, “but that’s only step one.”
He smiled. “Good.”
“The second part is to give them the current story.”
He made another note on the legal pad and asked without looking up, “What sort of current story?”
“Something about us.” She stopped pacing.
“About us being together?” he asked warily.
“That would be best.” She rested her hands on her hips, her mind obviously going at a million miles per hour. “Perhaps that we’re ready to have a real wedding.”
He hid the instinctive flinch. If they were to find a workable solution, he needed to be open to all ideas in this first brainstorming phase. “How does that help?”
“Then, the story of our Vegas wedding becomes a very sweet, love-at-first-sight beginning to our current relationship and can’t harm my career or your family. I’ll let my bosses know before the story appears, and apologize for not disclosing the fact sooner, saying we’d agreed not to tell anyone before the announcement.”
“A wedding,” he said, this time allowing his skepticism to show.
She shrugged one slim shoulder. “It doesn’t have to be forever, just until the story dies down and we can quietly separate and go back to our normal lives.”
“How do we explain the intervening months?”
“I’m not sure. Give me a moment.”
Again she tapped her nail against pursed lips and, as he watched, he sat back. She was even more beautiful in real life than she’d been in his dreams last night. They’d been back in the Vegas hotel bed where he’d kissed that same lush mouth, and covered her naked body with his. His blood began to heat. He stared at the light fixture in the ceiling as he brought his wayward body back under control.
“Okay,” she said, gracefully sliding back into the chair across from him. “What if we say we gave it a go at the start but circumstances tore us apart. However, we never lost touch and recently we’ve begun to work through our problems and can finally announce that we’re ready to begin a life together as husband and wife.”
He released a long breath, mentally checking all angles. “That roller-coaster history will feed in to the explanations when we break up again afterward. What will it take to convince them that we didn’t just make this story up as a stunt?”
“Besides the story itself, which we’ll give to an entertainment journalist I trust, I’ll have friends leak details to key journalists. We’ll also need to appear in public together, and do some media interviews. Then we’ll have the wedding.”
The last item on her list caught him off guard. His mouth dried. “You really want to go through with an entire wedding?”
Callie, on the other hand, seemed entirely unfazed by the prospect. Apparently she had nerves of steel. “We’re already married, so it won’t change anything legally. Either way, we’ll still need to get a divorce at some stage.”
Adam swallowed hard. She was right. Besides the cost of a wedding, which would barely make a dent in his bank balance thanks to the success of Hawke’s Blooms, marrying her again wouldn’t make any important difference—they were already married. But being around her, spending significant amounts of time near that lush mouth, just might change everything…