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Authors: Eugenia Riley

The Great Baby Caper

BOOK: The Great Baby Caper
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To “bag” her promotion, Courtney must find the most
eligible bachelor in the French Quarter willing to marry her . . . by morning!
Can charming and sexy Mark help her win?

 

“Courtney, I do have a question,”
Mark said.

“Yes?” she asked.

“Just what are you planning to
tell your boss about our ‘sudden’ engagement—to convince him this isn’t just an
act?”

She shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know. I
guess that we met in the French Quarter, and it was love at first sight.”

He frowned. “I’m still rather
afraid he might call your bluff and insist we marry.”

She couldn’t resist teasing, “And
you’re saving yourself for the girl back in England, right?”

“Something like that.”

Though the prospect was daunting,
she responded with bravado. “I wouldn’t worry too much about our being forced
into matrimony on the spot. Besides, doesn’t a marriage take time, a license
and blood tests, all that?”

He scratched his jaw. “True. So
you just might pull it off. Only, there’s one aspect that might be hard to
pretend about.”

“Oh? What’s that?”

He stared straight into her eyes,
and all at once the mood changed from one of playfulness to one of breathless
anticipation. “Don’t you think it will be difficult for us to pretend to be in
love unless there’s some spark of chemistry between us?”

Courtney gulped, his gaze, his
words, searing her with unexpected sexual heat. “Well . . . I hadn’t thought of
that.”

“Wouldn’t your boss expect us to
be lovey dovey, to hug and kiss and whatnot?”

“I hadn’t thought of that,
either.”

He took her hand, raised it to his
mouth and slowly, gallantly kissed it. “Well, you’d best think, Courtney. For
me personally, it would be difficult to simply pretend consuming passion for a
woman I hardly know.”

His words made a certain sense,
provocative though they were, and she was already feeling hot from the touch of
his lips on the back of her hand. “Then what are you suggesting?”

A hint of roguishness gleamed in
his eyes. “I think we must share a kiss.”

“A kiss?”

At once he grew utterly solemn.
“You know, strictly in the name of gamesmanship, to make our pretense
believable.”

He had a point—a valid
one—Courtney had to admit it. And he made his argument with the charm of a
master.

Who was she kidding? This man was
sexy as hell, and he wanted to kiss her—not just her hand, but her mouth. A
brigade of bulldozers couldn’t stop her from accepting his offer.

“Well, okay,” she conceded
demurely, raising her face toward his. “I guess one kiss wouldn’t hurt.”

For a moment he regarded her with
wry humor. Then, smiling tenderly, he leaned over and pressed his mouth to
hers. It was a sweet, gentle kiss, and never would Courtney have expected her
world to be so rocked by it. But jolted she was. As his lips held hers and the
heat of his breath seared her mouth, a current of sexual need warmed her
midsection, then arced treacherously lower. She gasped against his mouth, and
felt his strong arms move to envelop her. The protectiveness of his gesture
further melted her. For a preppie Brit, this man certainly knew how to kiss.
When his hot tongue just teased the contours of her lips, she went light-headed
and could feel her insides melting.

“Well?” he asked a moment later.

“I—I think we’ll be believable,”
she managed huskily.

He nuzzled his mouth against her
flushed cheek. “Do you, love? I personally think we could use a bit more
practice.”

“Sure,” Courtney replied
recklessly, shocking herself to the core. Then she stunned herself even more
when she kissed
him
this time.

The Great Baby Caper

 

Eugenia Riley

 

Contemporary Romance

Eugenia Riley Classic

Copyright 2001 © by Eugenia Riley Essenmacher

Publication History: First Dorchester Publishing Edition, 2001;
First Kindle Original Edition, October, 2014, v.1b.

 

Cover by Ramona Lockwood

 

The Great Baby Caper
is a novel. Any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events is purely coincidental.

 

The cover image of this novel is used strictly for literary
and illustrative purposes, and any models depicted in the cover image bear no
relationship whatsoever to this work of fiction or to any of the characters or
events depicted herein.

 

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce or
transmit this book or any part thereof by any means whatsoever, without written
permission of the author, except where permitted by law.

 

Address inquiries to:
Eugenia
Riley Essenmacher
P.O. Box
840526 Houston, TX 77284-0526

 

[email protected]
   
www.eugeniariley.com

 

THE GREAT BABY CAPER

by

Eugenia Riley

 

Chapter One

Back
to Contents

 

This has got
to be the craziest caper I’ve ever suffered through in my life
, Courtney
Kelly thought as she clipped across Bourbon Street, avoiding piles of manure
and cursing her demented boss, M. Billingham Bootle, with every step she took.

She could not believe the
ridiculous mission she was undertaking tonight. Dressed in her best navy blue
raw silk suit, her wheat-blond hair neatly bobbed, her intelligent green eyes
pointed straight ahead, she was slogging through the steamy streets of the New
Orleans French Quarter, ruining her expensive leather pumps and searching for .
. .
a man
. Ten yards behind her, her driver cruised along in the silver
limo, tailing her. He must be having a really good laugh about now.

How on earth had she landed in
this insane predicament? Courtney was an MBA with five years of experience on
the corporate fast track. Only twenty minutes ago, she’d been at the posh hotel
back on Canal Street, sipping daiquiris with several associates at the five
o’clock mixer that had opened her company’s annual convention here in the Big
Easy.

Then chaos had descended in the
person of M. Billingham Bootle himself, president and CEO of Bootle’s Baby
Bower, a Denver-based baby products company, with retail stores in Colorado and several other western states. Among corporate gurus, Mr. Bootle was politely
referred to as “eccentric”; among his staff, he was known to be totally bonkers.
He was famous for his practical jokes and the outlandish capers he sometimes
staged at the company’s annual convention—like last year in Dallas, when he’d
hired actors to perform an Old West-style shootout right in the middle of the
company’s awards banquet. Courtney shook her head at the memory. With fake
bullets popping and actors yelling epithets, several frightened women had run
screaming from the room; other attendees had sat in stunned silence; most,
however, had only laughed, well-used to the “crazy” old chairman and his
outrageous antics.

This year had proven to be no
exception, Courtney mused glumly. In fact, M. Billingham’s latest stunt might
well take the cake. She recalled the moment back at the ballroom when Mr.
Bootle had ascended the podium, his crafty blue eyes gleaming, his shock of
white hair catching the light. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to New Orleans and the twenty-fifth annual convention of BBB. As all of you are aware, when
you came to work at Bootle’s Baby Bower, I made you only one promise: That life
working here would never be dull.” Waiting for the predictable laughter to die
down, he had continued, “Tonight, I fully intend to keep that promise. But
first of all, I have a very important announcement to make. I don’t suppose
it’s a secret to any of you that I’m getting along in years. So, I’ve decided
it’s time to get off the corporate merry-go-round. Although I will remain
active on the board, I’m ready to relinquish the reins as your CEO, and am
prepared to begin the process of selecting my successor tonight.”

Even as startled murmurs had
rippled through the room, Courtney’s heart had raced with excitement and
anticipation. This was the announcement she’d been waiting for, praying for,
ever since she’d come to work for BBB four years ago. She’d already
accomplished much during that time, and was currently Vice President in charge
of product management, supervising the acquisition of merchandise for all their
stores. She knew that, of the corporate executive staff, only she and a few
others were high-powered enough to qualify as potential CEO candidates.

Her hunch had proven correct as M.
Billingham’s next words had confirmed: “Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased at
this time to announce the four finalists for the position of your new CEO: Ms.
Kelly and Messrs. Gilchrist, Gideon, and Getz.”

Courtney had grinned at the news,
accepting the polite congratulations of those standing nearby. Inwardly she was
sailing high, and not at all daunted by her three male competitors. Wally Gilchrist
was the corporate manager of operations, Al Gideon the comptroller, and Gil
Getz the head of planning and development. The three men were so similar in
their names, thick-lensed glasses, paunchy stomachs, and balding heads that
everyone in the company frequently got them mixed up. More importantly, though,
of the four, only Courtney stood out as the hard-charging CEO prototype. The
other three were efficient workhorses, team players who occasionally indulged
in fits of whining when things didn’t go their way.

The news could not have been more
thrilling—yet so quickly had M. Billingham burst Courtney’s bubble. For no
sooner had he made his stirring announcement than he’d taken one of his all too
frequent laps around the bend. No one in the room had been prepared for what
had happened next. Struggling to hold back a roguish grin, M. Billingham had
declared: “In keeping with our festive surroundings and our competitive company
spirit, I thought we should make the contest for new CEO really interesting and
fun. Thus I’ve decided to organize a scavenger hunt—a trial by fire if you
will—to determine who will win the promotion. Each of the four executive
candidates will receive secret orders to bring back a certain—well, shall we
say,
item
—and the first one to bag his kill will win the prize. Just to
keep the match spirited, each set of marching orders will have a unique New Orleans style flavor.” M. Billingham had clapped his hands together as if bursting
with pride at his own cleverness. “So there you have it—the competition in a
nutshell. And may the best man—or woman—win.”

Courtney remembered the hush that
had fallen over the ballroom, amid whispers of “Has the old coot has really
lost it this time?”, and “Yeah, looks like he has totally flipped!” Meanwhile,
four clerks were dispatched bearing official-looking envelopes for each of the
four unwitting “contestants.” Even as Courtney’s missive had arrived, she had
watched her competitors rip open theirs and, to a man, grow ashen-faced.

Then one look at her own edict had
twisted her insides into knots.

Her “orders” still lay in the
pocket of her jacket, and she retrieved them now with a shake of her head. Her
instructions were engraved in black on a plain parchment card: “COURTNEY, DEAR:
YOU MUST FIND THE MOST ELIGIBLE BACHELOR IN THE FRENCH QUARTER WILLING TO MARRY
YOU, BY MORNING. BEST OF LUCK, M. BILLINGHAM.”

Horror and outrage had consumed
Courtney on reading those audacious words. She was to . . .
what
? Pick
up some drunk in a seedy bar—and
marry
him?

She had rushed up to the chairman
right as he’d descended the podium. Waving the card in his face, she’d
declared, “You’re joking.”

The old guy had merely grinned at
her. “Courtney, dear, never let it be said that I lack a sense of humor. But in
this case, suffice it to say the outcome of this little scavenger hunt will be
deadly serious.”

“B-but this is preposterous!”
she’d sputtered. “You can’t mean you expect me to go find a—”

“Shhhh!” he’d interrupted, glancing
around at several people intently watching them. “I said the instructions were
secret, my dear. Divulge them and you haven’t a prayer of winning.”

“And you haven’t a snowball’s
chance in hell that I’ll obey this ridiculous dictate!” she’d ranted back.

The old man had given a shrug.
“Suit yourself, then. I’m sure one of your competitors will prove more
amenable.”

Temper surging, Courtney had
snapped, “But this is unfair, sexist, why it’s sexual harassment—”

“Sue me, then,” he’d interjected
calmly.

“I damn well may.”

M. Billingham had shaken his head.
“Courtney, dear, why get into such a dither? It’s all in good fun, you know.”

“Fun? But from what this says, you
expect me to . . .” Leaning toward him, she whispered fiercely, “
To get
married
.”

“Indeed, I do,” came the unabashed
reply.

“What?”

He’d stepped closer, bright blue
eyes boring into her own. “Courtney, may I remind you that ours is a baby
products company? We may be on the brink of major expansion and an initial
public offering, we may need a savvy new CEO, but that does not mean we should
lose sight of our core values.”

“What does
that
mean?”

“Do you actually think I’d give
this promotion to someone lacking in—er—family perspective?”

“But—I have a family,” she’d
argued. “A very large one.”

“Not one of your own. Now consider
your three illustrious competitors: All of them are married, with children,
even though I must admit they’re clones and drones about it. Why, last year at
the company picnic, they even got their wives mixed up, as I recall. And didn’t
one of the babies end up going home with the wrong family?”

Courtney waved the card at him.
“Why are you wasting my time with this?”

“Why are you wasting yours?” He
nodded toward the ballroom doors. “Your rivals, Gilchrist, Gideon, and Getz,
have already departed on their respective missions. Just to reassure you, let
me state that their assigned tasks are every bit as daunting as your own. But
if I were you, I wouldn’t allow any grass to grow under my feet.”

“Meaning what?”

He winked. “If you want the
promotion, my dear, you’d best hustle your buns.”

“Hustle my . . . you are a horse’s
patootie, sir!”

The old guy had roared with
laughter. “So it’s taken you this long to figure that one out?”

Courtney had seethed inside, all
the while realizing she was cornered and hating M. Billingham to the core.
“Very well. I’ll go on your insane mission. Besides, if I stay here, I’m bound
to strangle you.”

The old man had only chuckled. “I
knew I could count on your fiercely competitive nature, my dear.”

Courtney had stormed out of the
ballroom, and now she gritted her teeth at the memory. She’d been struggling
with her dilemma ever since. How dare the tyrant dictate that she must find a
husband in order to gain a promotion! At first she’d been tempted to go hire a
lawyer, or march straight down to the EEOC. Then once she’d begun to calm down,
she’d looked at the situation more rationally. Yes, the old man was a lunatic,
but if she sued, she’d only brand herself a troublemaker, not the best route to
go in the stuffy, conservative corporate world. Especially not the best way for
a
woman
to go, when penetrating that glass ceiling was difficult enough
already.

The bottom line was, if she wanted
to salvage the situation in any kind of positive way, she had no choice but to
cooperate—or at least pretend to.

But what was the bottom line of
finding a fiancé—in the seamy Vieux Carre? As a passing drunkard tossed her a
leer, she had her answer.

On the other hand, was it really
all that complicated? After all she was an MBA, and she ate daunting dilemmas
for breakfast. Besides, surely all she really needed to do was to hire some
respectable-looking guy with half a brain to pose as her fiancé for a few
hours. She would pray that should be enough to appease her delusional employer.
Once the promotion was in the bag, she could kiss Romeo goodbye.

But that didn’t make her task any
less intimidating. The very thought of picking up some stranger in a squalid
bar and paying him to . . . She’d ranted about her predicament to her chauffeur
all the way over here, and the insufferable man had only laughed, even daring
to say, “It’s the Big Easy—just enjoy it,
chère
.”

Enjoy it, indeed.
Courtney
hadn’t been club-hopping since her college days. And New Orleans was as bawdy and
disreputable as they came. Horns belted out raunchy jazz from the bars on
either side of her. The scents of decay and sour beer filled the air. Revelers
with flushed faces, and sloshing cups of beer, tripped down uneven sidewalks
past gin mills and strip clubs.

She grimaced and tugged at the
collar of her silk blouse. Even in mid-April, the air was warm, humid, and
sticky, while above, the overcast skies seemed to mock her dilemma. Not that
she could really become any more uncomfortable than she already was.

Where to begin?
she
wondered, surveying a sea of gaudy neon signs. Crossing the street, she decided
she may as well dive into the first dive she encountered. She swept through the
opened double doors of a corner bar.

She paused, grimacing at the odor
of smoke as her eyes adjusted to the dimness. The jukebox belted out “Rambling
Rose,” while several couples nursed drinks in the shadows. At the bar slouched
four men, all with their backs to her. One head was gray, another bald, a third
graced by a pony tail. But the fourth—neat, blond, attached to a body ensconced
in a presentable looking polo shirt and khaki slacks—well, he looked decent. He
might do.

Exuding an air of confidence she
hardly felt, she briskly crossed the room and tapped her candidate on the
shoulder. “Excuse me, sir.”

Her mistake. All four of men
turned to ogle her.

“Yes?” they inquired in unison.

Courtney gulped. She hadn’t
expected this. Not a group reception. And what a group. All four of them drunk
and disreputable. Baldie had an ugly scar running down his cheek; Pony Tail
sported a crooked nose; and Grayhead had a stubbly face and a cigar dangling
from his mouth. Worst of all was Blondie—the one she had
thought
was
respectable. He was bleary eyed, with a red nose and florid skin. An AA recruit
if she’d ever seen one.

Retreat was clearly the best
possible solution. “Oh, sorry, gentlemen,” she muttered, backing away.

“Need some help, doll?” slurred
Blondie.

“Oh, no, certainly not.”

“Then why are you hitting on us?”
teased Grayhead.

“I’m not.” She wheeled about
toward the door.

“Hey, wait a minute, honey—we
really want to help,” called out Baldie. “We don’t bite—honest Injun.”

BOOK: The Great Baby Caper
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