Authors: Janet Woods
Tags: #Contemporary Romantic Comedy
They exchanged smiles.
‘It’s nice to meet you, Miss Channing. Will you be in for dinner, Mister Price?’
‘Yes. And we’ll be staying the night, so make up the guest bedroom, please. But first, we’d like some coffee.’
Darcie opened her mouth to protest, and then slowly shut it again when he grinned. What was the use?
An hour later they were seated in a plush office in Perth, facing Leon’s lawyer across an expanse of polished wood - and she was perusing the papers he set before her.
She’d expected to see Colin’s neat handwriting, but scrawled across the bottom of the page was her father’s untidy signature. Bewildered, she gazed from the one man to the other. ‘I don’t understand. This is my father’s signature!’
‘Yes. He handled the deal personally.’ The lawyer tapped his pen on the desk and frowned. ‘Against my advice, I might add. Doctor Channing should have used a settlement agent, at least. However, it proved to be quite straightforward as there was no mortgage to pay out and he brought the deeds with him. They’re in my safe. Would you like to see them?’
‘I don’t see the point.’ Her eyes narrowed slightly. ‘When did he receive the money from the sale?’
Papers were consulted. ‘It was paid straight into his bank account the day after settlement, as he instructed. Is there some problem?’
‘Did he give a reason for selling the property?’
The lawyer frowned for a moment. ‘I believe your father mentioned something about going to Sydney. Yes, that’s it. He’d been offered a position at one of the universities. He seemed very pleased about it.’
He would have been. She’d always thought her father’s talents had been wasted teaching at the local high school. Darcie felt totally deflated. Why hadn’t he told her? Then she thought. Perhaps he died before he could. Tears pricked the back of her eyes. Gazing numbly at Leon she choked out. ‘I owe you an apology.’
‘Under the circumstances, anyone would have jumped to the same conclusion.’ His voice was sympathetic as his hand covered hers. ‘Would you like a copy of the offer and acceptance?
As she nodded the lawyer rose from his seat and took the papers through to the outer office.
‘The money must be in your account,’ he said.
Feeling numb, Darcie took a deep breath. ‘Then why didn’t the machine accept my card?’
‘I expect you used the wrong pin number.’
‘No ... I’m sure I didn’t. Not three times, anyway.’
Remembering her absent cousin - a man who bore the same name as her father, he could understand her unease. ‘Let’s not jump to any conclusions, Darcie. We’ll check with the bank when we get back, okay?’
She went to gaze out of the window when the lawyer came back and he and Leon began to talk business.
The office was situated high in an office block and looked down over Perth. It looked what it was, a clean, prosperous city with the river a blue ribbon winding through its midst.
It seemed odd to her that her mother hadn’t been able to settle here, that she’d gone back to the ugly town in the North of England where she’d been born, leaving her child to be raised by her former husband. Of course, there had been another man involved in her life, but Darcie hadn’t known that when she’d been small.
Her mother had kept in touch with cards and presents for Christmas and birthdays, and later - when Darcie learned to read and write - with letters. There had been a couple of visits when she’d grown older - but if any close bond had existed between them it had been lost in the passing of time.
Darcie had been completely happy with her father, who although he’d had girlfriends from time to time, had never shown any inclination to remarry.
Now she was on her own.
Except for Leon, her custodian.
She’d been staring at his name for five minutes without really seeing it. Now it jumped out at her in bold blue letters. LEON PRICE LTD.
‘Your name’s on the side of a building over there,’ she said, pointing out the obvious as she turned to him in astonishment.
His eyes lit up with amusement. ‘Not for much longer if I can help it.’
Feeling foolish, she turned away, only to encounter his reflection in the glass - he was exchanging a smile with his lawyer. She poked her tongue out at the reflection and immediately felt slightly better.
‘There’s going to be difficulty about that, the lawyer was saying. Martin wants to retain the company name - and he wants you to stay as chairman on the board of directors.’
‘No to the first. The name can be incorporated without the company suffering damage. Price and Grainger for the first two years, then it reverts to Martin Grainger. As for the second request. ‘I’ll serve on the board for one year only. After that, he’s on his own.’
‘He should go for that.’
‘Another thing, Leon.’ The lawyer’s pencil tapped on the desk. ‘Martin wants his sister on the board.’
Darcie’s ears twitched at the sound of her name.
‘He intends to make her a partner in the future. She already owns a fair number of shares and wants to learn the ropes.’
Darcie watched Leon frown for a second, and then he nodded. ‘I guess I’ll be able to handle it. Helen’s got more sense than her brother when it comes to business. I’ve got no objection.‘
Leon’s ability to sort out the personal from the professional and make an instant decision awed her.
‘Right, I’ll set up a meeting with his lawyer to thrash out the financial details. Will next week suit?’
‘Fine. Just give me a ring.’ The two men stood up and shook hands - then she and Leon were outside the office and were being conveyed to the ground floor in an elevator plush enough to be a lounge room.
They emerged into the April sunlight and the bustle of the street.
‘Will you mind working with Helen?’ she said, voicing her concern straight away.
‘What’s more to the point, will
mind me working with Helen?’
‘Why is that the point?’
‘Because you’ll be my wife.’
Their glance collided with a suddenness that made her struggle for breath. What had she got herself into? She didn’t want to become Leon’s wife so he could prove something to Helen. She wanted to marry him because –! No, it was ridiculous. She’d only just met him. Love at first sight was a myth. Besides, once he got together with Helen again ...
‘Wrong,’ she said faintly. ‘I’ll be your kitchen-hand. And the thought of you working with Helen doesn’t affect me one way or the other.’
‘It doesn’t affect me one way or the other, either.’ He threw her a wicked grin. ‘The first meeting might prove to be a bit embarrassing though.’
She couldn’t return his grin. The thought of Leon and Helen thrown together again had suddenly brought a nasty taste to her mouth. From what she’d seen of her, the woman would eat him alive and spit out the crumbs. Perhaps it would be best to leave Helen and Leon to fate. After all, they were both adults, and she wasn’t really responsible for what had happened.
And you don’t want to hand him back to her on a plate.
Keep your nose out of my affairs!
Who are you trying to kid? This is the first affair you’ve been offered for years.
Leon’s a rarity, a hunk with marriage on his mind. Grab him while he’s going.
Someone collided with her back and propelled her against him. Immediately his arms came around her. He laughed as he gazed down at her. ‘You look as though you’ve swallowed a nest of wasps.’
‘I think I have,’ she muttered, but what she really feared was the thought that she might gladly eat crow before this farce was finally over.
They lunched at a small restaurant overlooking the river then wandered for a while through the city malls and gardens before returning to the house for dinner and to freshen up before going to the theater.
The fact that he’d managed to obtain good seats for what had been advertised as a sell-out show was awe-inspiring. When she asked him how he’d managed to get tickets he laughed. ‘The beauty of having money is that it buys you everything.’
She thoroughly enjoyed the energetic vitality of the Irish style dancing, and the magic of the tale brought a lump to her throat.
But the night didn’t end there. Leon took her to supper at an Italian Restaurant, then on to a nightclub where they danced until she was so tired that all she managed to do was cling to Leon’s body with her head on his shoulder, and sway in time to the music - which was kind of dreamy and romantic.
She fell asleep in the car on the way home, and only vaguely remembered getting undressed and crawling into a soft, luxurious bed.
The next thing she knew the sun was streaming through the bedroom window. The clock on the dressing table told her it was gone ten. Feeling as contented as a cat, she stretched her limbs and gave a big yawn before she rose and headed for the
This sort of life she could soon get used to, she thought as she showered and dressed.
Leon was nowhere to be seen as she made her way downstairs to the kitchen, where Anna was busy setting the table.
‘Just a slice of toast and some tea, please’ Darcie said when the woman offered to cook her some bacon and eggs. ‘I ate enough last night to last me a week. Where’s Leon this morning?’
‘Mister Price went to a meeting. He said to tell you he’d be back at lunch time.’
Georgie woofed from outside the back door and Anna laughed as she let him in. ‘Now, you behave yourself, you big spoiled baby.’
‘I hope he hasn’t been a nuisance.’
‘He’s a good dog, just a bit energetic.’
Darcie experienced a niggle of guilt. ‘I’ll take him for a walk after breakfast. Thanks so much for looking after him last night. He hates being left by himself.’
She walked along the edge of the river for a mile or so, arriving back at the same time as Leon. He looked strained.
‘You look as if you had a bad morning.’
The smile he gave was a mere sliver. ‘You could say that. My partner’s demanded a bigger slice of the pie, and I’ve decided he’s not going to get it.’
‘So it’s nothing I can help with.’
His smile softened as he came towards her. ‘You could kiss me better, I guess.’
‘We agreed there would be no unfair tactics,’ she reminded him, laughing.
‘You did. I didn’t.’
So she didn’t protest when his hands cupped her face and pulled her gently towards him. In fact she welcomed his kiss, because she couldn’t lie to herself and pretend she didn’t enjoy it.
‘Ah ....’ he sighed, laughing down at her afterwards. ‘That’s made everything better. You’re the only person I know who doesn’t want a piece of me.’
He was totally wrong, of course, because he’d just made her feel as if she wanted every piece of him. ‘Is it that bad, Leon?’
‘Worse.’ The frown forked between his eyes. ‘If word gets out that the gloves have come off the company will lose its contracts and there won’t be anything left to have a piece of within a few months.’
‘You’d be bankrupt?’
‘Would that worry you?’
Tall dark handsome and wealthy was the standard fantasy man. She couldn’t stop a grin sneaking across her face. ‘I think I’d enjoy it, I’ve never known another pauper.’
The combination of his chuckle and frown was endearing. ‘The trouble is, I’ve forgotten how to be one.’
‘I’m sure you’d soon learn the ropes.’ She reached up and smoothed the frown from his forehead with her finger, keeping the chuckle to warm her heart. ‘I’ve formed the impression you adapt to any situation you find yourself in and make the most of it.’
A range of different emotions chased across his face as he tried to figure it out, then a wry smile played around his mouth. ‘I’ll take that as a compliment, shall I?’
‘Of course. Do I look the type of woman who would insult her custodian and future ... employer?’
‘Don't you mean future husband?’ His hands lightly closed over her shoulders. ‘You look delicious enough to eat - and I’m kind of hungry.’
The situation between them was becoming more and more fraught with danger. He mixed her up both emotionally and physically. Men like Leon, with their power and money, were predators. They went after the woman they wanted - then discarded them just as easily. There were examples in every women’s magazine - and she had no intention of becoming a temporary wife to any man - however attractive. She slipped away from his grasp and turned towards the door. ‘I’ll make you some lunch then?’ ‘You can cook?’
Her expression threw him a challenge. ‘Name it. If the ingredients are in the kitchen I’ll cook it.’
‘I’d really like some homemade apple pie and custard.’
‘For lunch? You’ve got to be kidding!’
He smiled slightly. ‘That’s just for dessert.’
‘And for starters?’ She should have known better than to ask, and when his smile took on a devilish edge she purred. ‘I would suggest a cold shower followed by a salad.’
‘I’ve been standing under a cold shower since we first met.’
‘Tough luck.’ She turned and headed for the kitchen.
* * * *
Leon spent a couple of hours on the telephone after lunch, and was deep in thought as they drove back to the inn.
It was too late to go to the bank to sort out her account, so they went straight to the inn, where Leon’s time was immediately claimed.
They met at dinner. It was Friday, and the restaurant was crowded. The staff was pushed to the limit. Dinner was interrupted by the chef who consulted him about a mix up in the numbers for a wedding reception to be held the next day.
The place really hummed at the weekend, Darcie realized as Leon explained that on Saturdays there was usually a wedding reception or a conference - or both, in the two function rooms.
‘You should design a wedding package,’ she said. ‘If you built a wedding pavilion by the lake in the garden for summer weddings, you could include a week’s honeymoon at the inn.’ Her eyes became all dreamy. ‘In winter the conservatory off the smaller function room could be used. It would be so romantic.’
Leon looked pensive for a second, and then he laughed. ‘I’m all for romance. I like it.’