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“Full of the author’s trademark humor, this witty romance is a jaunty romp through the world of the rich and mischievous.”
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Berkley Sensation Titles by Elizabeth Bevarly
FAST & LOOSE
READY & WILLING
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
READY & WILLING
A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with the author
Berkley Sensation mass-market edition / November 2008
Copyright © 2008 by Elizabeth Bevarly.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form
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eISBN : 978-1-440-60763-9
Berkley Sensation Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
BERKLEY SENSATION and the “B” design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
For the faculty and staff
of St. Francis School in Goshen, Kentucky.
Thank you for giving my son
an educational garden in which to blossom.
AUDREY MAGILL WENT INTO THE THIRD STREET ANTIQUE
store looking for a chair and found a man instead. His gaze caught hers within moments of her entering, no easy feat since the place was crowded with Gilded Age furnishings, Baroque mirrors, Victorian serveware, and Art Deco lamps. He watched her no matter where she moved, with dreamy brown eyes beneath a fall of dark hair that tumbled insouciantly over his forehead. And he smiled at her, too, in a way that was shrewd, sexy, and seductive. Without saying a word, he enchanted her. Unable to help herself, she picked her way through the shop’s wares until she stood in front of him and met his gaze full-on. Up close, his eyes were even more eloquent and his smile even more succulent, and she was helpless not to return it.
And when she discovered it would only cost a hundred dollars to take him home with her, she was delighted. Especially since that hundred dollars included the frame.
“Captain Silas Leyton Summerfield,” the woman behind the counter said when she saw Audrey looking at the portrait. She was in her midfifties, with chin length salt-and-pepper hair and eyes made large by the thick lenses of her even larger glasses. “He was a riverboat captain,” she added as she came out from behind the counter. “He lived from 1839 to 1932, and when he wasn’t shipping silk and coffee between New Orleans and Philadelphia, he called Louisville home.” She came to a halt beside Audrey to look up at the painting, and judging by the smile on her face, the woman had very much enjoyed having the good captain’s company in her shop. “He owned a house on this very street, in fact. Up near Magnolia.”
“That’s where my house is,” Audrey replied.
The salesclerk turned to look at her. “What a coincidence. Captain Summerfield lived at number three-eighteen. Might he have been your neighbor were he still alive?”
Audrey’s eyes widened in surprise, and she couldn’t quite prevent the little gasp that escaped her. “No, he would have been my roommate. Three-eighteen is my address.” She looked at the portrait again, and although she knew it wasn’t possible, his smile seemed to have changed just the tiniest bit, looking even more shrewd and seductive than it had before. Although she knew she had a greater need to spend a hundred dollars on other things, she asked, “Why is he so inexpensive?”
The shopkeeper gave her a funny look. “He’s not. That painting is priced at a thousand dollars.”
Audrey thought. She must have missed a zero on the sales tag dangling from the frame. She looked at it again, arrowed her black brows downward, then lifted it for the salesclerk to see. “It says a hundred dollars here.”
The salesclerk opened her mouth to say something, but looked at the price tag first. She saw what Audrey did—there were clearly only two zeros after the one and before the decimal point. She closed her mouth and frowned. “I guess Mrs. Tenney marked him down for some reason. That’s definitely her handwriting. A hundred dollars he is.”
Audrey smiled again. “Then I guess I’m just going to have to take Captain Summerfield home with me.”
“Sounds as if it were fated,” the woman agreed. But there was still a note of bewilderment in her voice, and she was still looking at the price tag when she said, “I’ll wrap him up for you.”
“Thank you,” Audrey replied. “But I actually need to look at a few other things, as well. I’m just moving into the neighborhood, but my house is zoned for my business, too, and I need a few things for both.”
She explained to the clerk that she would be opening a hat shop—which she’d dubbed Finery, after her maiden name of Fine—in less than a week, to coincide with the start of the Kentucky Derby Festival. The two weeks preceding the Derby, she hoped, would be enormously lucrative, since every woman who was any woman had to have a hat to wear on race day.
Audrey Fine Magill intended for her name to be the one dripping from everyone’s lips when it came time to buy their Derby headwear, and she hoped to make enough in the next few weeks to sustain her for much of the rest of the year. She’d done reasonably well for herself the last few Derbies, making hats and selling them through local boutiques and on the Internet. Now, she knew, the time was right to open her own place.
At least, she hoped the time was right. Just as a precaution, she’d sold her house in the suburbs and bought a rambling brick Victorian in Old Louisville instead, intending to use the first floor as her business and the upper floors as her home. She’d learned working as an accountant that new businesses were risky ventures under the best of circumstances. But she’d also learned as an accountant that one’s annual income could depend on a short span of time every year. She was, after all—or, rather, had been—a tax accountant.
She swallowed the fear that rose every time she remembered she’d left an extremely rewarding career to pursue what many of her coworkers had thought was a pipe dream.
Hats, of all things,
Who bought hats in this day and age?
In Louisville? In April?
Audrey had countered.
And a lot of them didn’t even balk at price tags in excess of three or four hundred dollars, especially if it guaranteed that their chapeaux would be one of a kind and fashioned to match their Derby ensembles perfectly. Her orders alone—which she’d been taking since October—had kept her busy for months.
Before leaving Tenney’s Antiques, Audrey found not only a chair, but a pair of lamps and a mirror, too, in addition to the delectable Captain Summerfield. She had no idea where she’d hang the good captain, since the business part of her house had deliberately been decorated in an impossibly feminine décor that his overwhelming testosterone—even if was oil on canvas—would in no way complement. But she’d figure out something. The coincidence of his having once owned the place, coupled with his very affordable price, had just made him too good to leave behind.
If there was one thing Audrey Fine Magill had learned in life, it was that good men were few and far between. She’d been married to one of them, once upon a time—the best, in fact, Sean Magill—and had lost him. Captain Summerfield would be the perfect companion for her: handsome, gentle, and easy to talk to, just as Sean had been. The three years since Sean’s death had been the loneliest Audrey had ever known. It would be nice to have a man around the house again. Even a painted one. That was preferable, in fact.
“Since you’re right up the street, I can have everything delivered this afternoon, if that will be all right,” the salesclerk told Audrey.
“That will be perfect,” she replied. And with a little wave to Captain Summerfield, she paid her bill and went home.
SHE WASN’T QUITE AS BEAUTIFUL AS HE’D FIRST
thought. Oh, certainly, she was a handsome woman, with ebony hair that spilled like a curtain of silk to the middle of her back, and blue eyes that proclaimed her every emotion. But her mouth was a bit too full, and her nose not quite delicate. Her eyes, too, as clear and intelligent as they were, were almost too large for the rest of her. But her figure was exquisite, full where a man liked to see fullness and trim where he preferred a woman be small. And her smile . . . Well. That made up for much, for it, too, was larger than most women claimed. Mrs. Magill had a very good smile indeed.
She would do,
Yes, she would do nicely
Captain Silas Leyton Summerfield watched his houseguest with much interest—or, rather, his hostess, he supposed, since it was she, not he, who owned the house now—noting with masculine appreciation her poetic motion and economy of movement. And he marveled that she could manage both. Most women, he had observed on many occasions, were either poetic or economical, but rarely—if ever—both. They existed either to look beautiful or to work hard, and neither the twain should meet. Audrey Fine Magill, however, seemed to exist for both.