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Cinderella Bride - Monica McLean

Cinderella Bride - Monica McLean

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Published by Sharifah Hadhrami

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Published by: Sharifah Hadhrami on Jul 22, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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02/03/2013

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Contents:Prologue12345678910111213141516PrologueCinderellaCandidates,theprivateinvestigatorhadlabeledthereports—halfinjest,halfintruth.Carter Kingextractedthethickestofthefoldersfromthemahoganyfilecabinetandcarrieditbacktohisoffice.GazingdownfromthetopfloorofCarolinaBankingandTrust,thetallestbuildinginRaleigh,hesawtreetopsdoffingthelandscapeasfarastheeyecouldsee,makingthelandscapelooklikeahugeplateof  broccoli.Somewhere,amidallthatvegetation,laythelastmissingpieceoftheperfectlifehe'dfought,struggledandslavedtoachievewitheveryounceofhisstrength.Awoman—thewomanwhowouldgivehimachild.MarlyAlcott,thelabelread.Heopenedthefolderandtookoutaphotographtheprivateinvestigator hadentitled"MissMarly'sKids."SomethingaboutthisparticularshotappealedtoCarterovertheothersinthesmallcachetheP.I.hadprovidedhim.Foralongtime,hestaredattheplain,fair-skinnedwoman
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withherroundglassesandwistfulsmile.Hordesofsmallchildrensurroundedher.Notjustanychildren.Low-income,underprivileged,economicallydisadvantaged—politicallycorrecttermsthatsaidthesameoldthing:poor.MissMarly'sKidswerepoor.Poor,thewayhe'doncebeen.Awhite-trashboyfromtheprojects,ashisex-wifehadremindedhimonmorethanoneoccasion.Heclosedthefolderwithoutrelinquishingthephotoandwishedhecouldcloseoutbittermemoriesof EvaAnnaseasily.Carterpridedhimselfonlearningfromhismistakes,andmarriagetoEvaAnnhadcertainlyprovedthebiggestmistakeofhislife.Thistimewouldbedifferent.Carterhadseentoit.Nolongerwashefoolenoughtomarryforlooks,andhesureashellwouldneverriskmarrying"abovehimself"again.No,sir,thistimeCarterKinghadchosenhisfuturewifeusingthesamecareful,logicalprecisionwithwhichheexecutedeverythingelseinhiswell-planned,risk-averselife—withthesoleexceptionofhavingmarriedEvaAnn.He'dlaiditalloutonaspreadsheet,listinghiscriteriaandhiredaP.I.toscoutoutpotentialcandidates.Thenhe'dselectedtheonlywomanwithanXineverybox:MarlyAlcott.Thistimearound,hismarriagewouldbeaunionnodifferentfromanyotherjointbusinessventure.Bothentitieswouldgivetoeachother,creatingasynergy,foronepurposeandonepurposeonly:offspring.Hewasthirty-eightyearsold,andwhilecertainlynotonhisdeathbed,afenderbenderthepreviousweekhadservedasareminderofhowunpredictablelifecouldbe.Whatifhediedtomorrow?Hislawyerhadadvisedhimtimeandtimeagaintomakeawill.Butwhowouldinheritthesmallempirehe'd builtfromscratch?Somecharitableorganizationthatwouldhanghisframedportraitinadustycorridor?No,whatCarterneededwasanheir,andhewouldn'trestuntilhegotone.Heneededthehelpofawoman,bothinbearingandraisinghischild.Asidefromthat,therewouldbenoemotionstrongerthanfriendship,mutualunderstandingandasharedlovefortheirchildren—nothingthatwouldupsethisregainedandhighlyprizedequilibrium.OnlyoncehadCarterstrayedfromthecriticalpath,boughtintothemythofbeinginlove.Beingloved.Heknewbetternow.Heunderstoodhislimits.Hecouldtemptfateonlysofar.Thistimehewouldgetnotonlywhathewanted,butexactlywhatawhite-trashboyfromtheprojectsneeded.ACinderellabride.Chapter1«MarlyAlcott'sstomachgrowleddespitethecandybarandtwoglassesofwatershe'dgulpeddownfolunch.Mostdays,shepackedtwolunchestotakewithhertoLittleLearners.Althoughherdaycarecenterprovidedthenoondaymeal,thetightbudgetdidn'tallowforextras,anditwasalmostguaranteedsomeonewouldneedalittlemorefromhavinggonewithout.Todayitwastwosomeones,andMarlywhohadgonewithout.Animatedlaughtertinkledthroughtheair,thehappinessalmostaphysicalpresenceontheplayground.
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Mostdaysshecouldsitandwatchherchildrenplayforhoursonend.
 Herchildren— 
thatwashowshethoughtofthem,theonlylittleboysandgirlsshewouldeverhave.Buttoday,noteventheirlaughter couldliftMarly'sspirits.Unlikethechildren,blissfulintheirinnocence,sheknewtheirdaysonthis playgroundwerenumbered."Hey,MissMarly!"Five-year-oldTylerCameronstoppedchasinghisbestfriend,Aaron,longenoughtopointtothesleekblackvehiclepullingintotheparkinglot."Look!"Tylershouted."Thatfunnycar's back."Thatfunnycarwasalimousine,andittookMarlyamomenttomaketheconnection.Then,inawaveof  panic,sheshavedherwire-rimmedglassesfartheruponthebridgeofhernose,clappedherhandsandshouted,"Children!Inside!"Limousinesdidn'tfrequentthisneighborhood,oneofthepoorestpartsoftown.Tyler'sfather,BillyRayCameron,adruglordwhohadbuilthisbusinessbypreyingonthepoor,hadrecentlytakentodrivingasimilarvehicle.Tyler'smother,Linda,hadfinallyleftherabusivehusband.Thoughsheplannedtotestifyagainsthiminanupcomingdrugtrial,shefearedBillyRay'sretaliation.Lastweek,she'dalertedMarlytoapossiblekidnapattempt.Marlyglancedoverhershoulder,relievedtoseethatoneofherteachers,MissNancy,hadalsosightedthelimoandwasroundingupthechildren.ButwhenMarlylookedback,neitherTylernorAaronhadmoved.Theboysstoodthere,thoroughlyfascinatedwiththevehicle.Horrified,Marlywatchedthecadooropen."Tyler,Aaron!Getawayfromthefence."Shedartedtowardthem,gravelshiftingunderneathhesneakers.Frominsidethecar,onefootappeared.Thenanother."Tyler!"sheyelled."Aaron!""Butwhy?"Aaronwhined."Moveit!"Shecaughtthembytheirelbowsandreeledtheirsmallbodiesaround."Now.Go.Run!"Theurgencyinhervoicefinallyoutweighedthefive-year-olds'naturalcuriosity,andtheboysrespondedinkind.Withoutanotherword,theytookoff.Theirteachermetthemhalfway,usheringtheminsidethroughtheopenschooldoor.SheturnedasiftowavetoMarly,thenfalteredmidway.Followinghergaze,Marlylookedbacktowardthelimoandfroze.Shedidn'tknowhowshe'dexpectedBillyRayCamerontolookinperson—she'dseenhimonlyinagrainynewspaperphotosoonafteroneofhisarrests.Butshehadpicturedsomeoneouto
TheGodfather 
movies—agiantwithslicked-backhair,anuglyscarandagoldtooth.Certainlyshehadn'texpectedhimtolooklikethemanwhostoodattheedgeofthefence,motioningfohertocomeover.Theonlythingshe'dgottenrighthadbeenthegiantpart.Thismanwasblond,andhisface,althoughmoreangularthanmost,didn'tappearscarred—sheadjustedherglasses—atleastnotfromthisdistance.Hisnosemighthavebeenalittlecrooked,probablybrokenseveraltimesinba brawlsorworse,butitwasn'tsobad.
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