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Duncan's Bride(5)

By: Linda Howard



If you're still interested, I can see you two weeks from Saturday. Let me know by return mail. I'll send you a bus ticket to Billings.

There was no closing salutation, only his signature, G. R. Duncan. What did the G stand for?

His handwriting was heavy, angular and perfectly legible, and there were no misspellings. Now she knew his name, age and that he was divorced. He hadn't been real before; he had been only an anonymous someone who had placed an ad for a wife. Now he was a person. And a busy one, too, if he could only spare the time to see her on a Saturday over two weeks away! Madelyn couldn't help smiling at the thought. He certainly didn't give the impression of being so desperate for a wife that he had been forced to advertise. Once again she had the distinct impression that he was simply too busy to look for one. He was divorced, the letter said, so perhaps he had lost his first wife precisely because he was so busy.

She tapped the letter with her fingernails, studying the handwriting. She was intrigued, and becoming more so. She wanted to meet this man.

* * *

Madelyn S. Patterson had answered promptly, which the other two hadn't; he had yet to hear from them. Reese opened her letter.

Mr. Duncan, I will arrive in Billings on the designated date. However, I can't allow you to pay for my travel expenses, as we are strangers and nothing may come of our meeting. My flight arrives at 10:39 a.m. I trust that is convenient. Enclosed is a copy of my flight schedule. Please contact me if your plans change.

His eyebrows rose. Well, well. So she preferred to fly instead of taking the bus. A cynical smile twisted his mouth. Actually, so did he. He had even owned his own plane, but that had been B.A.: before April. His ex-wife had seen to it that it had been years since he'd been able to afford even an airline ticket, let alone his own plane.

Part of him appreciated the fact that Ms. Patterson was sparing him the expense, but his hard, proud core resented the fact that he wasn't able to afford to send her an airline ticket himself. Hell, come to that, even the bus ticket would have put him in a bind this week. Probably when she found out how broke he was, she'd leave so fast her feet would roll back the pavement. There was no way this woman would work out, but he might as well go through the motions to make certain. It wasn't as if applicants were beating down his door.

Madelyn invited Robert to dinner the Thursday before her Saturday flight to Montana, knowing that he would have a date on Friday night, and she wanted to talk to him alone. He arrived promptly at eight and walked to her small liquor cabinet, where he poured himself a hefty Scotch and water. He lifted the glass to her, and as always his eyes smiled without his mouth joining in.

Madelyn lifted her wineglass in return. "To an enigma," she said. He arched his elegant dark brows. "Yourself?" "Not me, I'm an open book." "Written in an unknown language."

"And if your covers were ever opened, what language would be there?" He shrugged, his eyes still smiling, but he couldn't refute the charge that he held himself off from people. Madelyn was closer to him than anyone; his father had married her mother when she was ten and he sixteen, which should have been too great an age difference for any real closeness, but Robert had unaccountably taken the time to make her feel welcome in her new home, to talk to her and listen in return. Together they had weathered first the death of his father, then, five years later, that of her mother; most step-siblings probably would have drifted apart after that, but they hadn't, because they truly liked each other as friends as well as brother and sister. Robert was a true enigma: elegant, handsome, almost frighteningly intelligent, but with a huge private core that no one was ever allowed to touch. Madelyn was unique in that she even knew that core existed. No one else had ever seen that much of him. In the years since he had inherited the Cannon Companies, he had reshaped the various enterprises and made them even larger and richer than before. An enormous amount of power rested in his lean hands, but not even the Cannon empire seemed to reach that private center of him. The inner man was a citadel, inviolate. It was as if he kept himself leashed, his fires banked. Women flocked around him, of course, but he was particular in his bed partners and preferred monogamy to musical beds. When he chose a particular woman friend, they were usually together for at least a year, and he was entirely faithful to her for as long as the affair lasted. One of his ex-amours had gotten drunk and cried on Madelyn's shoulder at a party shortly after Robert had ended their affair, sobbing that she would never be able to love another man because how could anyone compare to Robert? The woman's drunken confession had, so far, been pathetically accurate; she had drifted into a couple of affairs, but both of them had been short-lived, and since then she had stopped dating entirely. Now he was watching Madelyn with his amused eyes, and after a minute she answered her own question. "Your language would be an obscure one, dead, of course, and translated into a cipher of your own invention. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, you're an enigma inside a puzzle wrapped in a riddle, or some such complicated drivel."

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