Duncan's Bride(2)

By: Linda Howard



He'd read a magazine article about how many farmers in the Midwest were advertising for wives, and he'd also seen a television program about men in Alaska who were doing the same. Part of him didn't like the idea of advertising, because he was naturally a private man and had become even more so after his disastrous marriage. On the other hand, he wouldn't have to spend a lot of money just put a few ads in the personal sections of some newspapers, and money meant a lot to him these days. He wouldn't have to meet the women who didn't appeal to him, wouldn't have to waste time driving here and there, taking them out, getting to know them. He didn't particularly want to get to know them, not even the one he would eventually choose to be his wife. There was a hard layer of ice encasing him, and he liked it that way. Vision was much clearer when it was unclouded by emotion. The impersonality of an ad appealed to that part of him, even though the private part of him disliked the public nature of it.

But he'd decided that was the way to go, and Reese Duncan didn't waste time once he'd made a decision. He would put the ad in several of the larger newspapers in the West and Midwest. Drawing a pad of paper toward him to begin framing how he wanted the ad to read, he wrote in bold, slashing strokes: WANTED:

A WIFE...

* * *

Madelyn Sanger Patterson sauntered back into the office after lunch. You never got the sense that Madelyn had hurried over anything, her friend Christine mused as Madelyn strolled toward her. Nor did you ever think that Madelyn sweated. It was ninety-five degrees outside, but no dampness or wrinkles marred her perfect oyster-white dress, set off by the periwinkle silk scarf draped artfully over one shoulder. Madelyn was a clotheshorse; everything looked good on her, but her own sense of style and color added a panache that stirred women to envy and men to lust.

"You're a disgusting person," Christine announced, leaning back in her chair to better appraise Madelyn's approach. "It's unhealthy not to sweat, unnatural not to wrinkle, and ungodly for your hair not to get mussed."

"I sweat," Madelyn said with idle amusement.

"When?"

"Every Tuesday and Thursday at 7:00 p.m."

"I don't believe it. You give your sweat glands an appointment?"

"No, I play racquetball."

Christine held up her fingers in the sign of the cross to ward off the mention of exercise, which in her opinion was the eighth deadly sin. "That doesn't count. Normal people sweat without exertion in weather like this. And do your clothes wrinkle? Does your hair ever hang in your face?"

"Of course."

"In front of witnesses?" Satisfied she had won that exchange, Christine looked pleased with herself.

Madelyn propped herself against the edge of Christine's desk and crossed her legs at the ankle. It was an angular, almost masculine pose that looked graceful when Madelyn did it. She tilted her head to study the newspaper Christine had been reading. "Anything interesting?" Christine's mother always mailed her the Sunday edition of their newspaper from Omaha, so Christine could stay up-to-date on local news. "My best friend from high school is getting married. Her engagement announcement is here. A distant acquaintance has died, an old boyfriend has made his first million, the drought is driving feed prices sky-high. Usual stuff."

"Does she hold the old boyfriend against you?"

"Nan. She couldn't stand his guts when we were dating. He was a know-it-all."

"And it turns out he did know it all?"

"Evidently. It's disconcerting when things turn out to be exactly as they seemed."

"I know," Madelyn sympathized. "It's hard on your natural skepticism." Christine folded the paper and handed it to Madelyn, who enjoyed newspapers from different cities. "There's a good article in here about relocating to a different part of the country for a job. I wish I'd read it before I left Omaha."

"You've been here two years. It's too late for culture shock."

"Homesickness is on a different timetable." "But are you really? Or are you just in a blue mood because you broke up with the Wall Street Wonder last week and haven't found a replacement yet?"

Christine sighed dramatically. "I have a bad case of heartbent."

' What's a dent to a Sherman tank?"

"Bent, not dent!"

"Then shouldn't it be 'heartbend'?"

"That sounds like something you get from diving too deep, too fast."

"Surfacing."

"Whatever."

They grinned, content with the exchange, and Madelyn returned to her own office with the newspaper in hand. She and Christine honed their wits on each other with mutual enjoyment while still maintaining a totally amicable relationship. Madelyn had learned early that not everyone enjoyed that kind of conversation. Several teenage boyfriends had been, in various degrees, insulted, angered, or intimidated, which had promptly ended her fledgling relationships with them. Boys were too caught up in their hormonal urges and too wildly protective of their newfound masculinity to tolerate what they saw as the faintest slight to that masculinity, and unfortunately, Madelyn's lazy wit often seemed to offend. She sighed, thinking about it, because somehow it didn't seem that things were much different now.

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