Bought:One Bride

By: Miranda Lee

That had been one of his little tests. Letting them choose the wine, of which he never drank much. No way did he want any decision he made influenced by being intoxicated. By the end of dinner, every one of the four had made it obvious they would be only too happy to accompany him home to bed.

Richard didn’t think he was that irresistible to women.

He was a good-looking enough man. Tall and well built with strong, masculine features. His steely grey eyes, however, were on the hard side, he’d been told, and his manner was formidable.

Forbidding was the word one female employee had called him.

He supposed his approachability was not helped by his manner of dress, which could only be described as ultra conservative. The board at the bank preferred their CEO to look dignified, rather than sexy. The mainly pinstriped suits he wore were expensive, but not trendy. His dark brown hair was kept short. He shaved twice a day when necessary, and his after-shave was discreet. His only jewellery was a gold Rolex watch.

Women did not throw themselves at him as they did at Reece, or even at Mike, whose long-haired bad-boy image seemed to attract a certain type of lady. Probably the ones who liked to live dangerously.

No, Richard didn’t think it was his natural sex appeal that had made his dates salivate by the end of each dinner. More likely the unlimited limit on his credit card.

So he’d sent each of them home in a taxi afterwards and returned home alone, where he’d filled in the questionnaire required after each date, ticking the box that said he didn’t want to see the lady again and emailing it to Natalie Fairlane.

That was another of Wives Wanted’s hard and fast rules. If either person didn’t want to see the other again, that was it. Finis. If the female attempted further contact they were struck off the database. If it was the male doing the harassing, he was no longer a client of Wives Wanted.

No doubt this system was much better than going through a normal introduction agency or internet dating service. For one thing, the weirdos were weeded out. Richard knew he’d been put through an extensive background check before being accepted as a client. Ms Fairlane had informed him of this necessary procedure during his personal interview, at the same time assuring him that every girl on the database had been through the same security check, and was exactly what she purported to be.

Physically, at least, that was true. Each girl he’d dated had been as beautiful as they were in their photos.

But more and more Richard was beginning to think Mike was right. Most of these women were gold-diggers. Maybe Reece had just been damned lucky with Alanna.

But, having paid his money, he was determined to see the list through before giving up on the idea. He was planning to contact his fifth choice on the list when the front doorbell rang.

“Who on earth?” he muttered, standing up and making his way across the study and into the main hallway.

The Crawford family home was not a mansion, but it was spacious and solid, with the kind of character associated with houses built in Sydney’s better suburbs in the nineteen thirties. Tall ceilings, decorative cornices, wide verandas, and wonderful stained-glass panels on either side of the front door.

As Richard strode towards the door the sunshine filtered through those panels, making coloured patterns on the polished wooden floor, then on the pale grey trousers he was wearing.

Wrenching the door open, the first thing he saw was a huge bunch of red roses. Followed by a face peeping around them.

A female face.

“Oh,” the owner of the face exclaimed, her big brown eyes widening. “I wasn’t expecting… I didn’t realise…” She grimaced, then drew herself up straight, holding the roses at her waist, a bit like a nervous bride. “Sorry. I don’t usually babble. Is Mrs Crawford home?”

“I’m afraid not,” Richard replied, whilst thinking to himself that he already liked this girl much better than any on that damned database.

Yet she wasn’t nearly as beautiful. Or as well groomed.

Her long dark brown hair was somewhat wind-blown. And there wasn’t a scrap of make-up on her oval-shaped face. Her outfit of a wraparound floral skirt and simple blue T-shirt shouted department-store wear, not designer label.

But, for all that, he couldn’t take his eyes off her.

“My mother’s gone out for the day,” he heard himself say whilst his hormone-sharpened gaze took in her ringless left hand.

Not that that meant much. She could still be living with someone, or be dating some commitment-phobic fool who hadn’t snapped her up off the single shelf. That was one thing each of his Saturday night dates had bewailed over the dinner table. How many men these days didn’t want to become husbands and fathers.

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