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The Marriage Patent

Can a successful inventor overcome her failure at love to find happiness? Maybe her next project should be a patent for marriage....When inventor Julie Simmons enters her latest project in the Minnesota Inventors Congress, she gets more than she expected. She just wants a good marketing deal so she'll be financially secure. But invention marketing consultant Mark Klement displays interest in her product and in her. As they learn to work together on her project, they fall in love. But will they live happily ever after? Julie needs to overcome her distrust of consultants and her previously failed engagement before she can admit her love, and more importantly, place her trust in Mark's love. Mark has memories of a bitter father relationship and failed marriage to deal with. Can he believe that Julie's love includes the trust he needs? Learn how they overcome their past hurts and learn to trust in love again as they strive to market an important new invention in THE MARRIAGE PATENT.

A Hard Shell Word Factory Release


Mary Z. Wolf

Mary Wolf wrote her first novel at the age of 12 when she ran out of TRIXIE BELDEN books--she wrote her own. She and her friends became secondary characters in the story. Then Mary and her best friend discovered Harlequin Romances (smuggled from her friend's mom) and so began her love affair with the romance genre. Several careers (and motherhood) have kept Mary occupied over the years but she continued to read romances and dreamed of writing them. Her fifth trip to accompany her Invention Consultant husband to the National Inventor's Congress sparked the idea for her first novel. Stopping in a store for a paperback to read while her husband was busy, she instead picked up a notebook and started writing THE MARRIAGE PATENT. She has since purchased Hard Shell Word Factory, her original publisher. Prior to that Mary belonged to RWA, WisRWA, the Outreach Chapter of RWA, the FF&P RWA Chapter, Painted Rock (Online) Writers and Readers Colony, and was a founding member of EPIC. She resides in central Wisconsin with her husband, Rodney, their two sons, two cats, and an assortment of uninvited wildlife.

Reviews

"Ms. Wolf has written a sweet contemporary romance that easily holds its own with the best romances of Harlequin and Silhouette. The characters are real and endearing, and the storyline is a romance lover's delight. This reviewer recommends plugging into this new service because genre fans will find an exciting novel awaits them."

Harriet Klausner -- Painted Rock Reviews


"The Marriage Patent was a refreshing read without all the forced love scenes that seem to be prevalent among books today. The development of Julie and Mark's relationship was beautiful to read. Well done on a sweetly moving story. Patent for Passion practically invents love all over again! The romance firmament has a new star in the brightly shining Mary Z. Wolf!"

Gloria Lower -- The Literary Times


"A contemporary romance with a real twist. I know nothing about inventions and inventors--or the world they inhabit--but Ms. Wolf's skilled writing made them seem like my next-door-neighbors. Neighbors that I like very much. Ms. Wolf has penned a warm, totally delightful romance. Highly Recommended."

Under The Covers Book Reviews
Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

"Great! Just what I need on the most important day of my career," Julie Simmons muttered under her breath as an icy gush of water from the showerhead blasted away the last remnants of her drowsiness.

"Dad?" she called through the bathroom door. "Tyler?"

No answer.

"Come on, Dad, I need you to light the gas. There's no hot water."

She listened for a reply, but all she got was empty silence. "Where are you guys?" She was either going to have to put something on and go out and relight the gas that ran the furnace and hot water heater on the motor home, or resign herself to a cold shower.

She didn't have time to wait for the water to heat anyway. Being late for the debut of her latest invention wouldn't make a good impression. This show could mean the difference between success as a full time inventor, or giving up and going back to teaching.

The official opening was noon, and she'd slept until almost ten-thirty. Why had her father had let her sleep? He knew how important today was.

She shivered again. Goose bumps made a wonderful addition to the butterflies in her stomach. Where on earth was everyone? Tyler must have talked her dad into taking him to playground they'd seen when they arrived yesterday in Redwood Falls, Minnesota.

Sputtering at the cold, she lathered shampoo into her hair. Eyes closed, she stepped forward to rinse it out. Something brushed her big toe. She felt around with her foot; she didn't want to slip on a bar of soap. A broken limb would be catastrophic right now.

When her foot touched it again, it moved. It was alive.

She shrieked and scrambled out of the shower. She half slid, half fell out onto the floor, taking the curtain, rod and all, with her. Dashing the wet, soapy hair out of her eyes, she turned to look.

One glimpse was enough. Another screech accompanied her dash from the motor home. She cleared the steps with one leap, still half blinded by shampoo, half-wrapped in the trailing shower curtain.

She cannoned into something solid, the force driving the breath from her body in one whoosh. Strong arms clamped around her, preventing her from falling. She fought to breathe, beating at what she recognized as a man's chest, until he loosened his grip and she was able to suck in a lungful of air.

She pulled from his grasp, still gasping, and barely able to see. She pointed, "S-s-snake! In the shower--"

The shrill voice of her eight-year-old nephew, Tyler, drowned out the man's, "What?"

"Oh, no! Did you hurt my snake?"

Julie stepped back from the man, noticing several things at once. Not only was Tyler headed into the motor home to check on the damage she'd done to 'his' snake, but her screams had drawn a small crowd of fellow campers. To top it off, the man she'd run into happened to be the most attractive guy she'd seen in ages.

She swallowed a groan, her stomach giving a queasy lurch. Her gaze traveled up over the man's broad chest and shoulders, to meet sparkling dark blue eyes. The stranger returned her attention, his gaze sliding up her curtain covered, wet body, to settle on her warm cheeks.

"Excuse me!" Julie gasped. She tried wrapping the vinyl shower curtain more securely around her, not sure how concealing the curtain was. Although it had a floral pattern, there were spaces between that were clear. Hoping the flowers covered the important parts, she forced her shoulders straight and headed back into the motor home.

"Wait!"

The man's deep voice sent additional shivers through her. She stopped and glanced back, to find he'd followed her.

"Don't go in yet. I'll check and see that the snake isn't still loose."

She let him enter the motor home. Bumping into him had made her forget for a moment why she was outside, wearing a shower curtain. The stares of the last few onlookers burned holes in her composure as she attempted to cover more of herself with the ripped curtain.

"It's okay," he called from inside. "Tyler's got him."

Julie made her way back inside, trailed by a girl a little bigger than Tyler. She must have come with the man in her camper. The man who now stood in the bathroom door.

As Julie squeezed past with a quick "Excuse me," she noticed Tyler sat on the floor, the snake coiled around his arm. She shuddered, remembering the feel of it moving against her foot.

She slipped into the bedroom, closed the door, then struggled her wet body into matching aqua shorts and tank top. Tyler should know better than to put a snake in the shower. Even her veterinarian sister wouldn't put up with that.

Glancing up, she caught a glimpse of her shampoo streaked, frazzled hair in the mirror. Oh, geez! She couldn't go out like that. Peeking out the bedroom door and seeing a clear path to the bathroom, she tiptoed in. After rinsing the suds out as fast as possible with cold water, she towel dried and combed out her hair. Good thing she'd recently gotten a perm.

Julie started to giggle. She must have made quite a sight. The only thing that kept her from fully appreciating how amusing it must have been, was being seen half-naked by that hunk out there.

Mark sat at the dinette, watching the kids as they played an impromptu game of "Keep the Snake on the Table." He still reeled from the impact of the woman's small, perfectly shaped form. The glimpse he'd gotten as she pulled away played through his head as if in slow motion. His gaze had been drawn to her wet breasts plastered against the shower curtain she'd clutched to herself. Her shiver dislodged a few clinging water droplets that trickled a tempting trail down along her collarbone. Pearly skin had seemed to glow in contrast to wide smoky eyes and dark, dripping hair.

Mark shifted his position. At the age of thirty-five it was unsettling to be so instantly aroused. Could have been his adrenaline reaction. He'd been watching his daughter play with her new little friend, when screams shattered the morning calm like a rock through a window.

He'd taken off at a run, sure the woman screaming in the camper was in mortal danger. He now had to stifle a laugh as he remembered how the shower curtain had revealed more than it covered. And the rod, bouncing and dragging behind as she ran, added a comic note.

Just then he heard her quick, light footsteps approaching. He stood up and took her hand, which became lost in his firm grip. "My name is Mark Klement, and this is my daughter Stephanie."

The woman's gray eyes, still clouded with embarrassment, met his. When she tugged her hand free, he realized he was holding on far longer than was usual for a handshake. He stared as her paleness disappeared under his gaze and her cheeks turned rosy.

"I'm Julie Simmons." She motioned for him to sit. "I see that you both seem to be acquainted with Tyler."

Before Mark could answer, Tyler piped up, "I found this snake in the park by the swings. It lost its mom and dad. I knew you'd let me keep it, so I put it in the shower 'til you woke up. Gramps told me to let you sleep, so I was real quiet. Can I keep it, please?"

"Not this time." Julie rolled her eyes in apparent exasperation. "The snake looks like he's okay. I'm sure he'll find his family if you let him go."

"Aw, C'mon. Gramps would let me keep it." He held the snake's head between his fingers, it had again curled its length around his arm. The boy's bright blond hair accented the tan he'd already acquired, even though it was only early June.

Mark gave her high marks for ignoring Tyler's attempt to manipulate her.

Hands on her hips in a no-nonsense stance, she questioned the boy. "Where is Gramps? I thought he was outside with you."

Tyler squirmed under her gaze. "He said he'd go on ahead and check your stuff. He went with the man from the green camper. I was supposed to come in and tell you, but I found the snake and forgot."

"You should have come right away," Julie said. "You know you're not supposed to be outside by yourself. You're going to have to let the snake go, there's just no room for him in the camper."

"Oh, all right." Tyler's tone held no surprise at her answer. "Come on, Stephanie, let's go." He clutched the snake to his chest and took off out the door.

Julie took a deep breath and inhaled the aroma of the coffee her dad must have started earlier. She pulled a mug down from the cabinet, then realized she was preparing to give Mark some without even checking to see if he wanted any. "Would you like a cup of coffee?" Seeing his nod of assent, she poured them both a cup. The mugs rattled as she set them on the table. Avoiding his glance, she sat down across from him. How she was ever going to get over this?

Mark thanked her, then took a healthy gulp of coffee. Leaning back, he glanced out the window. "This is a beautiful park for a town this size." He looked back at her with a smile.

"I know what you mean." Still too embarrassed to meet his gaze, she, too, glanced out the window. She had a good view of the small, cozy campground that was a part of Ramsey Park. Two other motor homes and a trio of folding campers nestled under the spreading branches of oak and maple trees. Here and there a few evergreens added variety. She looked back at Mark, to find him still watching her.

Those eyes were like deep, spring-fed mountain pools, pulling at her, making her want to dive ever deeper. She broke contact. No doubt about it, her butterflies were back in force.

"We got here yesterday and Tyler and I have already hiked over to the petting zoo and up around the falls. Are you camping here too?"

"No. I'm here on business. I didn't know about the park. When someone mentioned it to me yesterday, I knew it would be a good place to bring Steph to play for awhile." He looked out again. Julie turned to follow his gaze. The main playground adjoined the campsite area. She could see Tyler and Stephanie bent over a box they'd apparently found for the snake instead of letting it go. The two heads -- Tyler's blond, Stephanie's the same dark shade as her father's, were a sharp contrast. After some fussing and rearranging, they went back to climbing on the large wooden play structure. Stephanie's mom didn't seem to have accompanied them to the park.

She smiled. "I'll bet Tyler's glad he found someone to play with. I think he had enough of my company yesterday. It's hard to get an eight-year-old who's intent on exploring to stick to an ordinary path. He probably thinks I'm a real coward. This snake incident will prove that." Julie sipped more coffee, it had cooled enough to drink. Why was she telling this to a stranger?

"Actually, he doesn't," Mark said, then laughed.

Had she said that aloud? Apparently so, because he continued.

"Tyler told us about his pets, and he bragged that his mother and you weren't wimps like some of his friends' mothers are." His eyes gleamed with amusement while his hands swiveled his mug from side to side. "Is that right?"

After the scene he just witnessed, he had to doubt that. Her chuckle sounded weak even to her own ears. "Well, despite evidence to the contrary, I usually don't have problems with animals. My sister, Sandy, and I were always rescuing them just like Tyler does. I draw the line at snakes, though. I was almost bitten by a rattlesnake when I was little, and I'm afraid it left a lasting phobia."

"Sandy's a veterinarian. She lets Tyler keep all sorts of animals, but I don't think even she'd have let him keep this snake."

What compelled her to explain her fear to this strange man? For some reason, even if she never saw him again, she wanted his memory of her to be more than the impression of a crazy woman fleeing a harmless snake.

She gestured to indicate the cramped quarters. The dinette where they sat was neatly sandwiched between the driver's compartment and the wall of the bathroom. The kitchen consisted of a small sink, a minuscule counter that could fold up or down in front of the door, a two burner stove and a microwave set in above it. The refrigerator was built into the hallway wall. "There's not a speck of extra room in here." Mark grinned in response. His glance turned to her hands, which were bare of jewelry. "Do you and your husband camp a lot?"

Julie gasped. Her mug came down with solid clunk as her arm lost its normal control.

"Are you all right?"

"I'm not married." She'd been close, but Ron's death was something she couldn't talk about yet. "What kind of business are you in?"

He accepted the change of subject, but his look told her he realized there was more she left unsaid.

"I'm an invention consultant."

Julie felt her face become rigid. Invention consultant... After what happened to her father in the hands of a so-called invention consultant, she considered them just about the lowest creatures on the planet. Just a step up from drug dealers and child abusers.

"I act as go-between for inventors and manufacturers," he explained. "My clients are either inventors looking for a company to manufacture their product, or a manufacturer looking for new products to make."

Mark checked his watch. "I need to get going, I have a meeting soon, and I have to drop Steph back at the motel with her grandmother."

Startled, Julie looked at her watch too. She'd lost track of the time on the one day she couldn't be late! Then she relaxed, amazed at how little time had actually passed. It seemed like they'd been talking for hours, instead of a few minutes.

"I'll go with you, Tyler needs to come in too."

Her whole system was at war. Her almost instant attraction to the guy was doused by the double whammy of being reminded of Ron, and finding out Mark's profession. What else was going to happen today? Think positive. How can it get any worse?

As they walked from the campsite to the playground, Julie noticed for the first time the richness of the early June day. She took a deep breath of air that was filled with the clean scent of grass and spring blossoming trees. She hadn't noticed details like this for quite awhile. She was getting better. Maybe if she told herself that a million times she would come to believe it.

They found Tyler and Stephanie in the center of a small group of children, showing off the snake, who had now become "Squiggly."

Stephanie came running at Mark's call.

"Hi, Daddy. What took you so long?"

"You looked like you were having so much fun, I thought I'd sit and talk with Julie for awhile."

Stephanie kicked the dirt with the toe of her once white sneaker. "Aw, we were just playing with a dumb old snake. Anyway, this park is boring. When can we go?"

"Right now. Grammy's waiting to take you to the pool."

Tyler's small face drooped. "Do you have to go already? Those kids want us to play ball." He turned to Stephanie. "Can't you play some more?"

Julie put her hand on his shoulder. "We have to get going too, Tyler. You know Gramps is waiting for us at the school. You'll be able to play some more tomorrow morning."

Stephanie moved closer to her father and clutched his arm. "Daddy, I want you to play with me tomorrow. You promised."

The studied picture of woe on Stephanie's face as she turned to her father made Julie hide a grin. An experienced teacher, she could easily spot those little manipulations.

"Sure, honey. You know I plan to spend lots of time with you while we're here. We're going to have lots of fun." He hugged her to his side, his smile full of reassurance. "Now, why don't you say good-bye to Tyler and Julie?"

Stephanie instead turned without comment and headed for the parking lot. Mark glanced back at them and shrugged. "I'm sorry, I don't know what's gotten into her lately." With a quick wave, he followed his daughter. "Bye. We'll see you later."

Julie waited while Tyler found a good spot to release Squiggly from his box, then walked with him back to the motor home.

"Julie, are Stephanie and Mark coming to the Inventor's Congress? He said he'll see us later."

"I don't know, Tyler. Sometimes people say they'll see you later as their way of saying good-bye, so we'll just have to wait and see." She considered chastising him about the snake in the shower, but now that she was no longer angry, she could see the funny side of the incident.

She fed Tyler an early lunch and made sure he was clean and dressed nicely. Julie changed into a new plum silk pantsuit instead of the older dress she'd planned to wear. Why did she feel the need to look her best all of a sudden?

I'll look more like a successful business woman in this outfit. It had nothing to do with the possibility of seeing Mark. He was probably married. Besides, she'd dedicated herself to her new career.

She gave Tyler one last check; boys this age seemed to attract dirt. Then they climbed into the car and headed to the high school where the Congress was being held.

"Julie, are there going to be games and rides there?"

"I'm sorry, Tyler, I guess we never explained what the Inventor's Congress is. There won't be anything like that, but there will be all kinds of new inventions."

When his face fell, she added. "Some may even be games or toys." How could she describe the Congress to an eight-year-old?

"Do you remember the Science Fair you had at your school last year? A lot of the kids did projects or made things and then showed them at the fair."

He nodded.

"Well, the Inventors Congress is like a Science Fair for grownups. All of us have made something we're going to show. There are even prizes, but the main reason we come is to see what people think of what we made, and to see if there's anybody who would like to make and sell them for us."

She glanced over at him with a smile. "Now, do you have a better idea what it's going to be like?"

"Yeah. Are we almost there?"

Julie laughed at the perennial question. "We're here now." She pulled into the exhibitor's parking lot and parked the car.

Inside the school, the booth was complete, and her dad was putting up the "Help-Mate" sign when they arrived. Julie paused to watch him finish. Except for silver hair, and the laugh lines around his eyes, he didn't appear his age. His still healthy, trim physique proved him an active man. If only he could find a nice female companion soon. As far as she knew, he wasn't looking, but he was too special to be alone.

"Hi, Dad. The booth looks great. You should have kicked me out of bed this morning. I could have been here helping."

"I heard you tossing and turning last night. Thought you could face the day better with a bit of sleep. You look great, by the way."

He stepped down from the stool and stood back to inspect the sign.

"Anyway, you know I'm happy to help you with this project. Since I retired I've been boring myself to death."

"In that case, do you mind if I take a quick look around at the competition? I want to get some idea of what I'm up against."

"Go ahead, but don't be too long. Several interested people have been by already. I told one man to come back around two o'clock." A proud smile lit up his face. "It looks as though you have another winner here, girl."

She had several other products she'd invented that were already out on the market, the first of them she'd invented while still in college. This was the first time she'd entered anything in the Inventor's Congress, though. It was good to hear her new product had already attracted some interest.

He put his arm around his grandson's shoulders. "Tyler, why don't you stay with me and tell me what you did this morning? After your aunt comes back, I'll take you around to see the other inventions."

The small blond boy settled in with no argument and launched into the tale of his morning adventures.

Julie spent the hour before her meeting looking over the other exhibits, keeping a wary eye out for Mark. If he saw her he'd expect her to acknowledge him, and she hadn't decided yet how she felt about his revelation.

She saw a wide range of exhibits: all kinds of business, medical, agricultural, and recreational inventions. Any number of them could revolutionize their industries. Seeing this was a humbling experience. What would the other inventors think of her product?

She arrived back at her booth well before two and relaxed with a sigh, glad to be off her feet for awhile. She wasn't used to wearing heels anymore.

"Dad, there are some awesome inventions out there."

"Just like yours." He quirked a brow at her. "By the way, Tyler tells me he has a new friend. He said he and Stephanie played while you talked with her dad."

"Tyler thrust them upon me rather unexpectedly." Julie grinned. "You missed quite a scene. I'm afraid the shower curtain needs to be replaced, I had to use it for a robe."

Surprise registered, then he had to laugh. After he finished chuckling, he said, "Tyler tells me Stephanie's mother lives in California?"

"Does she? I wondered where she was, but we never got around to that subject." Julie was intrigued by this bit of information. Did that mean Mark was divorced? "Dad, he's an invention consultant." "Oh, good. He's probably here for the Congress too. I'll get to meet him."

Julie expected more of a reaction than that. "Dad, did you hear what I said?"

He gave her one of his fatherly 'Yes, I'm not deaf yet' looks. "Julie, you're getting paranoid. Not every consultant is out to swindle unsuspecting inventors. Remember why you entered the Congress. You've wasted time and money coming here if you're going to react suspiciously to anyone interested in your invention."

If he thought she was being paranoid, maybe she was too suspicious. Before she could consider his words further, they were interrupted by someone stopping to see her invention.

Julie kept busy explaining the uses of her invention, the "Help-Mate". She received a lot of favorable comments and suggestions; a good sign. Her Dad brought someone up to her, just as she'd finished speaking to another visitor at the booth.

"Julie, here's the fellow who was so anxious to talk to you about your "Help-Mate."

As she turned to greet him, a shock of recognition warned her. When she looked into those blue eyes, she remembered they'd seen a lot more of her than she was comfortable with. The heat she felt rising in her cheeks was going to remind him too.

"Hello, again." Mark's expression mirrored her surprise. "I didn't expect to find you here. You have a very promising product."

"Really? I mean, thank you." Now she felt foolish for not telling him she'd be here. He'll surely wonder why she hadn't, after he'd told her what he did for a living.

Julie tried to keep from ogling him. She'd thought him attractive in casual clothes; he certainly did things to her breathing dressed in a tailored summer suit.

Glancing up in time to catch him staring at her, she felt her blush spread even further. She was suddenly conscious of her father's keen interest as he glanced from her to Mark.

"Dad, this is the man Tyler told you about -- Stephanie's father."

Mark acknowledged the introduction, then glanced at her model. "I think your invention would interest a couple of my clients. If you're looking for a manufacturer, I think I can help you."

"I'm not interested." Good thinking. Now he can ask why you've entered the Congress.

"I'd like the chance to change your mind." Mark smile looked a little uncertain this time. "Tell me a little more about the "Help-Mate". What inspired you to invent this?"

"It's a long story."