~ excerpt ~
by Cindy Davis

Claudia Goodwin's fingers pummeled the tissue to shreds. The downy bits fluttered to the floor of PanAm's First Class cabin. If Paul Michael thought she'd kowtow like a geisha—anything you say, Daddy, since it's for the company, Daddy—then, he had another think coming; she was his daughter dammit, not a chess piece he could move at his merest whim. She rummaged in her purse for another tissue.

"Is everything all right?"

She blinked twice to bring her seatmate into focus. Grey hair cut in a flattop, a small nick at the corner of his jaw where he'd cut himself shaving, and a pink shirt. She hated pink, especially on a man.

"Didn't your mother ever tell you not to frown because your face might freeze that way?"

"Didn't your mother ever tell you pink is for girls?"

"Touché. My name is Richard."

He jabbed a hand at her. It was warm and uncalloused. Possible professions raced through her head, all of them ended in "desk job." Not that it mattered. This guy was old enough to be her father. Another father figure, she didn't need.

"Richard England."

"I'm Claudia."

"Want to talk about whatever put the frown on that pretty face?"

This particular problem—more like an episode in the soap opera that was Claudia's life—hadn't even been shared with Monique who was probably in Woodland Park porking the new ski instructor. Though she and Monique shared everything, her friend tended to be quick with opinions and hasty solutions. This particular situation needed much contemplation.

Why not share with this stranger? His opinions would leave with him when the plane landed. A man's perspective might prove interesting. She looked him in the eye. Light blue with almost-invisible brown lashes. "What would you do if your father told you that in six months you had to marry the most boring person on earth?"

Richard England's reply was slow coming. This obviously wasn't the problem he'd fixed in his mind. "I thought arranged marriages went out with knights and damsels in distress." He paused a moment, then added, "You're not, um, er…?"

Was he blushing? Claudia laughed and supplied the word he'd obviously hesitated to say, "Expecting?" She laughed again, a sharp sound that squelched the drone of the engines in her brain. "I've met the guy exactly three times—once when I was ten and his family visited our place in Richmond. The second: four nights ago, at my parents' Christmas party. The third was last night when he took me to the opera."


"I rest my case."

The corners of his lips twitched, suppressing a smile. "Otherwise, I can only think of one reason for an arranged marriage—money."

"Ever hear of Goodwin Frozen Foods?" She spread her arms. "You're talking to the owner's only daughter, Claudia Goodwin."

"Who's your intended?"

"VanBuren Foods."

His low whistle made a man across the aisle look up from his magazine. "I've heard of them but— Wait just a minute." His index finger poked the space between them. "Didn't I read something about Edgar VanBuren retiring?"

She nodded.

"You're not marrying him!"

"No. There are two sons. David and Maximillian. David pretty much runs the show now." If it had been Max, things might be different. Very different.