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The Billionaire Takes A Bride
By Liz Fielding
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHIS was a mistake. A big mistake. Every cell in Ginny's body was slamming on the brakes, digging in its heels, trying to claw its way back behind the safety of the rain-soaked hedge that divided her roof top terrace from the raked perfection of Richard Mallory's Japanese garden, with its mossy rocks, carp pool and paper-walled pavilion.
Her boots had left deep impressions in the damp gravel. So much for stealth.
She was not cut out for burglary. Even her clothes were wrong. She should have been in svelte black and wearing lightweight tennis shoes that made no noise, her hair bolted down under a tight ski cap ...
Oh, for heaven's sake. It was the middle of the morning and the last thing she wanted to look like was a burglar.
In the unlikely event that she was discovered it was important that she looked exactly what she was. A distressed neighbour looking for her lost pet ...
Somebody totally innocent. And an innocent person didn't change shoes, or happen to be wearing the appropriate clothing to battle through a hedge. Her lace-ups, baggy jeans and a loose shirt in an eye-gouging purple - fifty pence from her favourite charity shop - screamed innocent. Of everything except bad taste.
Distressed was right.
She had promised herself that she would never volunteer to do anything like this ever again. Not even for Sophie. Famous last words.
Her mouth hadn't been paying attention.
She took a deep steadying breath and firmly beat back the urgent desire to bolt. It would be fine. She had every angle covered and this was for a friend. A friend in trouble.
A friend who was always in trouble.
A friend who'd always been there for her, she reminded herself.
She took another deep breath, then stepped through the open French windows into the empty room.
Her voice emerged as a painful croak. A bit like a frog with laryngitis. She had her story all ready in the unlikely event that someone answered, but that didn't stop her heart from pounding like the entire timpani section of the London Philharmonic ...
The only response was the faint whirr of a washing machine hitting the spin cycle.
Apart from that no sound of any kind.
No turning back.
She had fifteen minutes. Maybe twenty if she was lucky. A brief window of opportunity while the cleaner, having opened up the French windows to let in the fresh air, as she did every morning - why had she mentioned that to Sophie? - and put on the washing, was downstairs flirting with the hall porter over a cup of coffee.
Okay. She wiped the sweat from her upper lip. She could do this. Fifteen minutes was more than enough time to find one little computer disk and save stupid Sophie's stupid job.
Excuse me? Who exactly is the stupid one here?
The prod from her subconscious was unnecessary. She was the one burgling her neighbour's apartment while 'stupid' Sophie was safely at work, surrounded by an office full of alibi-providing colleagues. Should the need for one arise.
While quiet, sensible Ginny - who should at this moment be safely tucked up in the British Library researching Homeric myths - was the one who'd be arrested.
All the more reason not to waste any more time wool-gathering. Even so, she took a moment to look around, get her bearings. This was not the moment to knock something over ...
Mallory's penthouse apartment, like his garden, tended towards the minimalist. There was very little furniture - but all of it so perfectly simple that you just knew it had cost a mint - a few exquisite pieces of modern ceramics and absolutely acres of pale polished wood floor.
Stay well away from the ceramics, she told herself. Don't go near the ceramics ...
There was only one 'off' note.
Spotlit by a beam of sunlight that had found its way through the scudding clouds, a black silk stocking tied in a neat bow around the neck of a champagne bottle next to two champagne flutes looked shockingly decadent in such an austere setting.
A linen napkin - on which something had been scrawled in what looked like lipstick - was tucked into the bow.
A thank you note?
She swallowed hard and firmly quashing her curiosity - she was in enough trouble already - resisted the temptation to take a look.
Whatever it said, the scene confirmed everything she'd heard about the man's reputation. Not his reputation as a genius, or money machine. Those went without saying. The financial papers regularly genuflected to his brilliance while salivating over Mallory plc's profits.
It was his reputation as a babe magnet that seemed to be confirmed by this still-life-with-champagne tableau.
Despite being his next door neighbour, albeit on a temporary basis, their paths hadn't yet crossed so she'd had no opportunity to check this out for herself. Not that she was the kind of 'babe' he'd look at twice - she wasn't any kind of 'babe', as she'd be the first to acknowledge.
Whether or not he magnetised her.
Not that he would. Magnetise her.
No matter how superficially attractive, she didn't find anything appealing about a man who had a reputation for casual affairs, even if the gossip columns loved him for it. But then she didn't think much of gossip columns, either.
She pushed her spectacles up her nose and, putting her hand over her heart in an effort to cut down on the jack-hammer noise it was making, made a big effort to concentrate on what Sophie had told her.
He'd taken the disk home with him earlier in the week and it would be lying about on his desk somewhere. Probably.
Totally confident of her ability to find the thing -"I mean, how difficult could it be?' - Sophie had been weak on actual details.
About as weak as her reason for not doing this herself. If this was such a breeze, why couldn't she squeeze through the rain-soaked hedge - the very prickly rain-soaked hedge - and get it herself? After all, she only lived a few floors down, in the same apartment block.
"But darling, you're living next door to the man. It's just so perfect. Almost as if it was fate. If he even suspects I was anywhere near his study I'll not only lose my job, I'll never get another one. The man's a complete bastard. He has absolutely no tolerance for anything less than perfection ..."
Right. Of course. She remembered now. Sophie couldn't risk getting caught. The whole point was to save her job. The only mystery was why she was working for a computer software company in the first place. She usually preferred a little light PR work, or swanning about looking decorative in an art gallery ...
Excerpted from The Billionaire Takes A Bride by Liz Fielding Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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