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Authors: Kim Lawrence

The Engagement Deal

BOOK: The Engagement Deal
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Niall slid a large, flashy sapphire ring onto her finger.
 

“I can’t wear this thing!” Holly gasped.

 

“Sorry if it’s not to your taste, but it’s only for one night.”

 

Actually the ring was beautiful. Holly toyed with the sapphire.

 

“And the only reason you went along with this pretense,” Niall continued, “was because you wanted to prove to me that age had improved you beyond all recognition.”

 

Holly went scarlet. How could he know? This man got more detestable with each passing second.
I must have been totally blind as well as besotted when I was a silly teenager,
she concluded wrathfully….

 

KIM LAWRENCE
lives on a farm in rural Wales. She runs two miles daily and finds this an excellent opportunity to unwind and seek inspiration for her writing! It also helps her keep up with her husband, two active sons and the various stray animals that have adopted them. Always a fanatical consumer of fiction, she is now equally enthusiastic about writing. She loves a happy ending!

 
Kim Lawrence
 
THE ENGAGEMENT DEAL
 

CHAPTER ONE
 

H
OLLY
pulled the pillow over her head and tried to ignore the strident peal of her sister’s doorbell. After several minutes of teeth-clenching determination to remain asleep, she rolled over onto her back and stuffed her fingers in her ears.

Whoever it was wasn’t going away. With a defeated sigh, she threw the pillow over her head. As luck would have it, the feather-filled item managed to ricochet off the wall and knock a porcelain pig off her sister’s cluttered dressing table.

Holly looked at the broken pieces and decided optimistically that with a bit of superglue it would be as good as new—always supposing it wasn’t actually antique and valuable. You never knew with Rowena; her up-in-the-clouds flat was filled with an eclectic mish-mash of tacky but
fashionable
rubbish and staggeringly expensive items.

She looked around briefly for a robe. Although she’d moved in a week ago, she still hadn’t had the opportunity to unpack her clothes. On reflection, she concluded that her pyjamas covered everything—if not more—that modesty demanded, and the style was unlikely to drive anyone on the doorstep mad with lust.

‘Yes!’ she snarled, opening the door a crack on its security chain.

‘I need to speak to Rowena.’

You and about every other male under ninety in the city, if my sister’s answering machine was anything to go by, Holly thought sourly. This was the first one that had got past the building’s tight security, though, so she assumed that under normal circumstances he was a welcome visitor.

Holly brushed a heavy hank of dark copper-red hair from her eyes. ‘Well, she isn’t…’ she began impatiently, wrinkling up her eyes against the light in the brightly illuminated communal hallway. ‘Oh, it’s you!’ Disbelief rushed through every inch of her, from her untidy red head to her curling bare toes.

This wasn’t how her dream went at all! A flicker of annoyance crossed her face as she brushed aside the inane thought.

Without thinking, she clicked free the bolt. Niall Wesley wasn’t the sort of man you left standing on a doorstep; neither, she reflected, was he the sort of man usually to be found on her doorstep. Beautiful men—and this adjective was fully justified, in Niall’s case—wearing dinner jackets didn’t as a rule come calling on her at eight o’clock in the morning.

‘Do I know…?’ The beautiful, disturbingly electric-blue eyes swept briefly over her diminutive figure, before illumination dawned in those azure depths. ‘Oh…Polly, isn’t it…?’ Long-legged, and elegant down to his fingertips, he walked past her into the bright open-plan living area.

I always knew I made a deep impression on him! And it did a girl’s confidence no end of good to have her suspicions confirmed, she decided wryly. She looked with steadily growing resentment at the impressive rear view of his broad-shouldered, lean-hipped figure silhouetted against the full-height windows that ran the entire length of one wall.

‘Holly,’ she corrected him coolly.

His smile was perfunctory and distinctly impatient as he glanced around the room. ‘Have you had an accident or something?’

She’d completely forgotten about that! Holly’s hand went automatically to her right eye. She winced and rushed over to a mirror; there were quite a few to choose from in the flat her sister called home.

She gulped. ‘Or something,’ she confirmed drily, surveying the damage. It could, she concluded with stubborn optimism, be a lot worse. Nothing too dramatic; a bit of make-up should disguise the worse of the damage.

‘When will Rowena be back?’ He glanced at the metal-banded watch on his wrist.

Some people might have registered the expensive brand of this accessory automatically, but Holly was much more aware of the fine dark hairs on his forearm briefly revealed by the impatient gesture. Her stomach gave an uncomfortable lurch. For heaven’s sake, she thought in exasperation, anyone would think I’m still a silly infatuated teenager!

She suddenly remembered that intense adolescent vow she’d made the last time she’d seen him in the flesh—far too much flesh, as it happened, for her fragile peace of mind at the time!

The next time she saw Niall Wesley, she’d vowed, she’d have no trace of teenage acne, no braces and her hair would no longer be a violent show-stopping shade of red. The first two criteria had been filled, and she’d made the surprising discovery since those far-off days that some people—of the male variety—actually liked red hair!

She seemed to have some hazy recall that he’d be struck dumb by her stunning beauty and witty eloquence. A black eye and pyjamas that didn’t even register on the seduction scale—and which, into the bargain, made her look like an undersized gnome—had not figured anywhere at all! This was what came of accepting hand-me-downs from a frugal parent who was too polite to tell his elderly aunt that his waistline had enlarged a little since he was sixteen!

At sixteen, Holly had nourished wild, foolish dreams, but she’d grown out of them; reality was far too challenging and exciting—not to mention
exhausting
! All the same, she knew that had she known she was going to see this man, she’d have made an effort to look at her best. Which means what? she pondered. A woman knew that even in the twenty-first century, she would ultimately be judged on her looks—was she vain? Either way, acknowledging that her adolescent desire to impress this man hadn’t entirely vanished made her frown with annoyance.

‘I said, when will Rowena be back?’

Holly closed her half-open mouth with a snap. None of the plagues she’d so viciously wished upon him had come to pass, either. He hadn’t grown short or fat and his head was still covered by a lustrous, nicely trimmed dark growth—the sort of hair a girl could really sink her fingers into! Her cheeks flamed hotly as she imagined herself in circumstances where sinking her fingers into his hair would be almost obligatory. Her imagination definitely needed a refresher course in obedience school!

‘In six months.’

‘What?’ he yelped, his dark brows forming a firm line of disapproval.

‘Don’t look at me like that.’ She sniffed. ‘It’s not my fault she didn’t tell you.’ She knew he had lovely manners; he was clever, witty, in a slightly cruel way. He walked into a room and people en masse fell under his spell. It only seems to be me, she thought, that can see past the high-voltage charisma and observe what a selfish, smug jerk he is. Although it seemed likely his ex-wife had caught on eventually, hence the
ex
!

‘God, just when I need her and she’s… Where is she?’

There he goes—me…me…me. The man’s so egotistical! She watched him slump down into one of the massive leather sofas with a small derisive smile. Her smile faded; she knew with gut certainty that he’d slumped there before! Was it the only thing he—they’d—done there? she found herself wondering.

‘New York.’ With a gulp, she drew a firm curtain over her lurid imaginings. What her sister got up to with this man—or any other—in the privacy of her own home was none of Holly’s business.

‘That’s it, then,’ he said with a grim finality. With one hand pulling at the tie around his neck, he sank his head into the deeply padded headrest and closed his eyes.

‘What’s it?’

His dark eyelashes lifted and from the expression in his eyes Holly had the distinct impression he’d forgotten that she was there. Either that or he was just hoping she’d gone away so he could indulge in a bout of self-pity.

‘I’m stitched up unless I can find a…’ He shot her a sudden hopeful glance; by the time his quick once-over had reached her toes, he was already shaking his head.

‘What are you doing here anyway, P…Holly?’ Why, he wondered, would a grown woman choose to wear those hideous stripy pyjamas?

‘The lease had run out on the flat I shared, and Rowena offered to let me hang my hat here until I get myself sorted.’ Her new contract was only for six months; afterwards, who knew where she’d be?

Niall could recall some mention of the sister being a student. In fact, Rowena had regaled a dinner party with quaint second-hand stories of student penury—he remembered thinking at the time that it probably wasn’t quite so amusing, up close—but all that had been a long time ago. There were lots of young people with good degrees who didn’t have a job. It sounded as if she was one of them.

He nodded without, she noticed indignantly, even pretending a scrap of interest in what she was doing in the present, future or for that matter what she had been doing since he’d last seen her almost ten years ago.

Ten years ago he’d been one of the select group of beautiful, brilliant people, including her sister, who had gravitated together at university. The charmed circle was how she’d always thought of them. Their glamorous lives had been equally charmed since they’d emerged to conquer the world, at least professionally—Niall wasn’t the only one of the charmed circle to be divorced, though his had been the most public and visible failure. Served him right for marrying his trophy girlfriend.

‘What’s Rowena doing in New York?’

‘The editor’s job here is hers when Annabel moves onwards and upwards in six months. They want Rowena to…’ Holly’s slim shoulders lifted. ‘I don’t know what they actually want her to do,’ she confessed. The inner workings of a glossy international fashion magazine were a closed book to her. ‘But they want her over there, and they didn’t hang around once they’d made up their mind.’ Which obviously accounted for Niall’s ignorance.

‘We probably passed each other mid-Atlantic,’ he mused. ‘Good for Rowena.’ Despite his words he still looked pretty gloomy about his friend’s—did ‘friend’ cover their relationship?—success. Obviously he was more concerned about how it would inconvenience him! Thank goodness I don’t have any friends like him, she decided with virtuous disapproval.

‘I’m sure she’d have refused if she’d known of your dire need.’

Her sweet voice was acid laced. Niall shot her a sharp look, and wasn’t fooled by the round-eyed innocence of the sarcastic little witch! Yes, there was something of the witchy woman about her, with those big dark eyes and that wild hair.

‘I’m very happy for Rowena. I know this is what she’s been working for.’ And scheming for, if he knew Rowena, he thought with affectionate admiration. She was a woman who knew exactly what she wanted from life and went for it. ‘I’m just more unhappy for myself.’

‘Yes, it must be so hard,’ Holly commiserated gently. His eyes swept over her face, half-query, half-irritation in their depths. ‘Being healthy…’ —and that was some understatement; the man simply oozed a restless vitality— ‘Rich, handsome…’ She didn’t even mention the stately pile and title that would be his when his father died.

Even though he was sitting down he managed to look down his nose at her, a distinctive masterful nose identical to those she’d seen on several of his ancestors’ portraits. She’d seen the paintings that covered the walls of his family’s ancestral home, Monksleigh Manor. She’d visited the house during its one open day a year—the one occasion mere mortals like herself were given the opportunity to drool over the accumulated wealth and history of the Wesley family.

‘Thank you.’ He smiled.

Holly felt suddenly less confident. On the whole, she preferred the snooty disdain to that heart-stopping grin.

‘For what?’ she wondered suspiciously.

‘Handsome…?’ One dark satanically slanted brow quirked.

Holly gave an exasperated sigh. ‘Like you had no idea.’

He gave a modest shrug of his shoulders, but behind the cynical amusement in his eyes she thought she glimpsed something that was more weary acceptance. Did he find it hard to be judged by most people on his startling good looks? Holly dismissed this revolutionary idea with a frown. Who wouldn’t like having conversations stop when they walked into a room?

‘What did you want Rowena for, anyway?’ She thought for a second he was going to tell her to mind her own business, but then his sensual lips twisted into a wry smile.

‘Why not?’ he said to nobody in particular. ‘I was going to ask her to be my fiancée tonight.’

The breath whooshed out of her lungs in one noisy gasp and Holly plonked herself down on the nearest chair. ‘You wanted to ask Rowena to marry you?’ Under the circumstances, he was allowed to look a little piqued—at the very least!

‘Did I say that?’

Holly, who had just started breathing again, felt her hackles rise when he looked at her as though she was incredibly dense. ‘You said you wanted her to be your fiancée.’

‘I’ve every intention of
never
getting married again. I only need a fiancée for tonight. The only halfway plausible reason for getting married, in my opinion, is to have a family—I’ve already got one, end of story.’

It was a plausible theory if you’d never seen the gorgeous Tara. ‘You can’t expect anyone to believe the only reason you married Tara was to have babies!’ she hooted. She was no expert on male mental processes, but no man she’d ever come across looked at a supermodel and thought about babies.

‘Although,’ he conceded, choosing to loftily ignore her snide little interjection. ‘Rowena is probably the only woman I’d even consider…’ Knowing Rowena’s opinion of the married state, he felt quite comfortable making a claim like this.

With shocked disgust, Holly recognised the knife twist in her guts as jealousy. She suddenly had a nauseating vision of herself in a dire frilly pink bridesmaid dress stumbling up the aisle behind the glowing vision of her sister. He might be an
ex
-fantasy figure, but she’d have to be a saint to be actually happy for her sister under these circumstances, and unhappily she was no saint.

‘You’re not making any sense.’ Except with the bit about Rowena being the only woman he’d marry—he was being
very
clear there.

Had he asked, and been turned down? she wondered, her imagination now working in top gear. Rowena had some very inflexible ideas about a career and marriage and she often said that a girl couldn’t have both if she wanted to succeed in either.

BOOK: The Engagement Deal
7.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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