Bride by the Book (Crimson Romance) (7 page)

BOOK: Bride by the Book (Crimson Romance)
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In the meantime, she’d show him a thing or two. He was going to rue the day he lost such a good secretary.

“Slow down, Angie,” Garner said from the door of his office. “You’re wearing us out watching you.”

She put on her most impersonal smile. “I have a lot of energy.”

Cliff groaned. “Did you hear that? She has a lot of energy. Would you mind telling me what you eat to get all that energy?”

“I’m like the Ninja Turtles. I eat a lot of pizza.” Angie tackled a dust ball behind the leather sofa. “When I can’t get pizza, I eat tacos.”

“Lord, I’m starving.” Cliff headed for the door. “See there, Garner? Pizza is good for you. Carry on, Miss Brownwood. This office needs you.”

“Call me Angie,” Angie said, smiling.

She liked Cliff. Garner, on the other hand, was now Mr. Holt, and she didn’t care what he said. If he wanted his office cleaned and caught up, he’d better go along with her.

She returned to sweeping the moment Cliff left. Opening the door, she swept vast quantities of dirt and dust out, waving as Cliff rode by on his red bicycle.

“He’s on an exercise program.” Garner joined her. “He decided riding his bike ten blocks rather than driving his car will work off a few more calories.”

“Isn’t that what exercise is supposed to do?” she asked coolly.

“When you’re counting every little calorie, they do eventually add up.” Garner studied her a moment while she made a point of ignoring him. “I need to ask a favor of you, by the way.”

“Yes?” Angie stopped sweeping and waited.

“Mindy Adams is going to make my life miserable if I don’t turn up at her party.” He turned his most charming smile on her.

Angie felt the impact of that smile, but her professional demeanor didn’t crack. She lifted her brows and said nothing.

Garner frowned, no doubt detecting a distinct chill in the air. “What I had in mind was bringing you. You’ll have a chance to meet people, and Mindy will think you’re my date. What do you say?”

Angie swiftly drummed up a speech about professionalism and secretarial ethics. The man was out of his mind if he thought she’d pretend to be his date while she was working for him as his secretary.

She opened her mouth to make a speech on high secretarial standards.

“Thank you,” she found herself saying instead. “I’d love to go.”

Chapter 4

Garner arrived at his office at eight the following morning. He still couldn’t believe the sight that met his eyes. Angie Brownwood had spent most of the evening cleaning her own office, then she’d turned her formidable energies toward his.

Cliff followed him inside. “Gawd,” he said, in awestruck tones. “I haven’t seen the place this clean since the day you moved in. What did you offer her?”

“My body,” Garner quipped, and laughed when Cliff turned an indignant glare toward him. “Seriously, Cliff, I don’t know what the woman’s agenda really is, but I’ll tell you one thing. I no longer care.”

“You’ll give yourself? Just like that?” Cliff’s sardonic tones didn’t sit well on his smoothly guileless face. “Wait’ll I tell Mindy she didn’t use the right bait when she went fishing for a husband.”

Garner felt abashed. Perhaps Cliff was right. Perhaps his time in Dallas had warped his thinking.

Still, he couldn’t think of any secretary he’d ever known who would do the amount of work Angie Brownwood had done last night without demanding something in return beyond her salary. Most of them would have flatly refused to touch a broom and would have told him in lofty tones that cleaning duties were not in their job descriptions. Now that he’d seen the lengths to which Angie would go to impress him, Garner was willing to believe almost anything about her motives.

She had carted every stack of books out of his office, then she’d tackled the floor. After that, she had attacked his desk with the zeal of a Green Beret primed to kill. Once Garner had realized she wasn’t going to touch the papers he was working on, he had given her a key and gone home.

That had been at ten o’clock, the hour he usually went to bed. At four that morning he’d received a phone call from a client who had landed himself in jail in the nearby city of El Dorado and needed a lawyer to bail him out. When he drove by his office, he discovered the lights blazing and Angie still hard at work. She was cleaning windows with paper towels and spray cleaner.

When, he’d wondered, did she plan on sleeping?

“You’re right, Cliff.” He stared down at the shining, hardwood floor. She had actually polished it. “Why would a woman go through this much work just to get me?”

No woman would do that much hard labor just to impress a potential husband, Garner reiterated inwardly. She wanted something else. She had to. But what?

“That’s what I’d like to know.” Cliff studied the neat stacks of books waiting on the clean floor for their shelves. “It isn’t as if you’re good-tempered, or rich, or any sort of social asset …”

Garner turned and caught his brother-in-law’s grin. “You’re right about that. Maybe I’m the key to saving her beloved little brother from prison or something.”

“Actually, she’s probably just a woman trying to hold a job, and who happens to have a lot of energy.” Cliff studied a framed painting of wood ducks nesting in a hollow tree that hung in the outer office. The painting was the only tangible evidence of Garner’s former glory as a corporate attorney. “Yesterday this picture had cobwebs and dust an inch thick on the frame. The woman’s a treasure. Better give her a big raise before one of those old lawyers in the Pritchard Firm discovers her.”

Garner scowled. Any lawyer’s office would be happy to have someone like Angie Brownwood sitting at their front desk.

“At four this morning, she was still at it,” he said, inspecting the clean, polished floor in his office. “In white linen trousers, no less. What time do you think she’ll come dragging in this afternoon?”

“Who cares?” Cliff followed, gazing in awe at Garner’s diplomas, newly dusted. “Give the poor girl a break, Garner. She just did the work of six cleaning services.”

“I just hope she’s here to supervise those shelves,” Garner grumbled. “They’re supposed to be delivered at nine on the dot, just as Her Highness ordered.”

He set his briefcase on the shining hardwood floor beside his desk and followed Cliff across the street to the diner. Naturally, he was thrilled at the state of his office, but the idea that his wonderful new secretary wasn’t likely to be on time depressed him. He’d been looking forward to seeing her.

Perhaps he should make an appointment with a good psychiatrist.

On the other hand, who could blame a jaded cynic such as himself for wanting to warm himself at the blazing fire of her innocent enthusiasm for life?

He ordered his usual lean breakfast and the same for Cliff, ignoring the other man’s hangdog expression. “Cheer up. You’ve lost five pounds already.”

“Is all this suffering worth a mere five pounds?” Cliff asked Dolly Sims, who was grumpily writing down the order.

“Five pounds?” Dolly glared over the edge of her order book at Cliff’s middle. “Can’t tell it,” she said, and stalked off.

Cliff buried his face in his hands with a heartfelt groan.

“Shut up, Cliff. You have a pretty young wife to enchant. She—” He broke off and stared out the picture window. “Good God. Look who’s here.”

Cliff turned to look. “Well, I’ll be. Didn’t you say she was still cleaning at four this morning? She looks mighty chipper to me.”

Sure enough, Angelina Brownwood walked briskly toward the diner. She wore a beautifully tailored pink cotton suit with a slim, short skirt, and her blond hair was tucked into a neat chignon that wouldn’t dare shed a tendril. High-heeled pumps, a leather briefcase, and the tortoise-shelled glasses added to the impression of big-city efficiency. The elegant, businesslike sight of her stunned the diner occupants into silence.

She sailed inside, blithely unaware of an audience, and headed toward the booths.

“Does she really need those glasses?” Cliff muttered.

“I doubt it.”

“She looks much prettier without them,” Cliff went on. “And with her hair down.”

“The glasses and the hair are part of the outfit.” He waited until Angie was beside them. “Hi, Angie. Won’t you join us?”

• • •

Angie directed a beaming smile at her new employer, then caught herself. No professional secretary should display this much emotion in public. The truth was, she was responding to his dark good looks and the lurking smile in his silvery eyes. This was what happened when she went a whole day without reviewing her manuals and imbibing the proper secretarial attitude.

She reminded herself this job was a three-month prelude to a better position, probably in nearby El Dorado. “Thanks, but I’ll just sit over here so I won’t disturb your discussion. You’ll be seeing enough of me the rest of the day.”

“What discussion?” Cliff asked. “Since you were the subject of our conversation, you might as well sit down and keep us straight.”

Angie shook her head. “If you’re still dieting, you don’t want to watch me eat. I’m having buttered toast and grits.”

“Oh, Lord,” Cliff said on a groan.

“Sit down, Angie.” Garner moved aside, so that Angie had little choice but to sit. “I just want to know one thing. When do you sleep?”

She had slept only three hours, thanks to her excitement about the job and planning her new life, but Garner didn’t need to know that. He already had the wrong impression of her. “I don’t need much sleep. Besides, I wanted to be early in case those shelves are delivered this morning.”

Angie noticed Garner studied her profile closely. When she turned her face toward him, he focused on the dark circles beneath her eyes, which she feared her careful makeup job had failed to cover.

“You need a heck of a lot more sleep than you’ve been getting,” he said roughly.

She blinked. “Who says?”

“I do. Are you bucking for overtime pay or something? You were cleaning windows at four this morning when I drove by on my way home from El Dorado.”

“What were you doing in El Dorado at four in the morning?” Angie countered in disbelief.

It was incredible. Usually, her father yelled at her because she took time off from her usual long days at BrownWare occasionally to catch up on her sleep. He’d claimed late nights were a requirement in software development. This was the first time anyone had ever told her she had a right to more sleep than she’d gotten.

“Who’s the boss around here?” Garner wanted to know. “I was getting someone out of jail, for your information. It’s part of what a small-town lawyer does for a living.”

“Anyone getting himself put in jail at that hour deserves to stay in jail until a decent hour the next morning,” Angie said with an austere frown. She turned as the sour-faced Dolly Sims slapped a glass of water and a menu before her. “Oh, thank you. The water here is really wonderful. I’ll have scrambled eggs and crisp bacon, please, with toast and grits and lots of extra butter.”

A sound like a dying bullfrog emanated from Cliff.

“It’ll have to wait till the cook can get to it,” Dolly said, glaring. “Folks who order chicken dinners first thing in the morning take up all the cook’s time.”

Angie nodded sympathetically. “I know exactly what you mean.”

Dolly snorted and headed back toward the counter. “Five pounds. Humph.”

Angie turned a beaming smile on Cliff. “You’ve already lost five pounds? That’s wonderful. You’ll be eating grits again before you know it.”

The dawning expression of hope on Cliff’s face vanished when Garner spoke.

“No, Angie,” he said, as if chastising a child. “Cliff will not be eating grits again. Unless, of course, he wants to eat them without butter. I have an obligation to my sister. She wants a live husband, not an early statistic at the coronary unit.”

“You have such a way with words,” Cliff complained. He eyed the plate Dolly slapped on the table before him with dislike. “What makes you think I’m a potential statistic?”

“The fact that your father and grandfather are no longer alive to view their first grandchild,” Garner returned ruthlessly. “Bad genes, son.”

“My genes aren’t any worse than yours.” Cliff picked up his fork, resigned. “According to Laura, your family has a long history of early heart trouble.”

“Why do you think I’m such a fanatic on the subject?” Garner grinned. “What Laura needs to do is pitch a fit and ask how you expect her and my incoming niece or nephew to get along without the family breadwinner.”

“What nonsense,” Angie struck in. “With all the advances they’ve made in the field of heart disease, why should a man barely thirty years old have to eat shoe leather for breakfast?”

“You’re hired,” Cliff said. “Whatever he’s paying you, I’ll triple it.”

“You can’t afford her,” Garner said. “You have a baby on the way. And a big bypass-surgery bill in your future if you listen to her.”

A plate of grits, bacon, and scrambled eggs whomped down on the table in front of Angie so hard, the eggs defied gravity and rose up a couple of inches. “Extra buttered toast on the house,” Dolly said.

“Extra toast and butter on the house,” Cliff repeated, watching Dolly’s retreat with a stunned expression. “She’s never given me one free extra slice in all the years I’ve been eating here.

“Mr. Holt probably bribed her,” Angie said. “Don’t you hate it when people have your best interests at heart?”

Cliff turned his reproachful brown gaze on Garner. “You Benedict Arnold.”

Garner’s broad shoulders shook with laughter. “I thought Dolly hated everything and everybody. Looks like I was wrong.”

Angie registered the brush of Garner’s shoulder against hers with an involuntary clenching of her stomach. If she moved slightly to the right, she’d be touching his thigh. She should never have sat down beside him.

Cliff grinned at Angie appreciatively. “Looks like you were. Here, Angie, hand over a slice. Maybe a little toast and butter will make this shoe sole palatable.”

Angie obligingly passed Cliff the butter plate and a slice of toast, only to have it intercepted by Garner’s long, slim hand.

“Five more pounds,” Garner said. “Until then, no buttered toast. And if you want to keep the weight off, you’ll eat your grits minus the butter in the future.”

BOOK: Bride by the Book (Crimson Romance)
12.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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