The Secret Wife(3)

By: Susan Mallery


Millie walked around the desk and paused in front of Cole. “Don’t you start anything,” she said, poking his chest with each word. “We need help in this office and Elissa is the only decent applicant we’ve had in a month. I’ve been putting in extra hours, but I can’t keep doing that indefinitely. If you’re going to get all macho on me, then I’m out of here.”

Cole straightened. “What does that mean?”

Millie didn’t seem affected by his obvious irritation. She folded her arms over her chest. “Unless you can give me one good reason why Elissa shouldn’t work here, I’ve already hired her. As the director, you can order me not to do that, but I’m warning you, if she goes, I go.”

That got everyone’s attention. “Millie, you don’t have to do this for me,” Elissa said quickly, wondering why the other woman was putting herself on the line.

“I’m not doing it for you,” Millie told her, never taking her gaze off Cole. “And he knows it. What’s it going to be?”

“You want one good reason why she shouldn’t work here?” Cole asked.

“That’s all.”

He looked at Elissa. “You want to tell her, or should I?”

Elissa didn’t know what to say. If Cole wanted to accuse her of something, there was nothing she could do to stop him.

“I’ll do it, then,” he said, returning his attention to Millie. “Elissa can’t stay because she’s my wife.”

* * *

Millie deserved a lot of credit, Cole thought when his office manager didn’t even blink. He didn’t know if it was raising four kids, running her own business, or routinely entertaining groups of a hundred, but she was known for remaining unflappable. Just once he would like to see her speechless. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the moment.

“Why should that matter? After all, aren’t you the one always telling me your personal life is none of my business?” she asked without missing a beat. “Now, if you’ll excuse us, I’d like to start the tour.”

Cole didn’t move, and Millie couldn’t get around him to get out of the office. She glared, but he still refused to budge.

“I wasn’t kidding,” she said. “I give you and the kids as much as I can, but I’m about burned out here. We both know you can’t manage this place without me.”

“Why her?” he asked, wondering how much longer he would be able to pretend to ignore Elissa. Not looking at her didn’t help. He sensed her, as if some homing beacon inside him had come to life as soon as she’d reentered his life.

“There’s no one else here to hire,” Millie said and glanced around the room. “At least give it a try. Three months.”

After nearly five years of silence, Elissa walked back into his life. No explanation, nothing. And the one person who kept the orphanage running insisted he hire her. Even more amazing, he was considering it.

What the hell was wrong with him?

“Cole, it’s not what you think,” Elissa said.

He couldn’t avoid looking at her forever. Her voice drew him. Impressions formed. Gold-blond hair sitting high on her head. A few curls teasing her neck. Green eyes, pale skin, a wide mouth, usually smiling but now quivering at the corners. A soft white dress hiding curves. Curves he would recognize even after a lifetime of being away from her.

“Why are you here?” he asked. “If you need a job so badly, you could have found one in Los Angeles.”

She stiffened. Did she know he’d kept track of her, or would she assume he was guessing? Of course he knew where she’d been living and working all these years. It was his job to know. She was his wife—or she had been once. Back before she’d left him.

“I want this one,” she said.

“Why?”

“It doesn’t matter why,” Millie said. “I meant what I said, Cole. Decide. Give her a three-month trial. If she doesn’t work out, we’ll hire someone else. Assuming we can find anyone.”

Millie was perfectly capable of following through on her threat to leave. In the past several months she’d worked nearly double her regular hours. Offering overtime or other incentives wasn’t an option. Not only was the budget already stretched to breaking, Millie had always refused to accept a salary. Her presence at the orphanage was on a volunteer basis.

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