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In The Billionaire's Bed
By Sara Wood
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Hi, everyone."
Catherine tried to sound bright but failed. As she eased her narrow boat alongside Tom's massive Dutch barge she could see from her friends' faces that the rumours she'd heard in Saxonbury town were probably true.
Tom, Steve, Nick and Dudley rose from the spacious well of the foredeck, looking alarmingly sympathetic. That made things worse. Her stomach did an impromptu roll of its own accord.
Now she had to face the fact that if Tresanton Island had been sold then her immediate future lay in the hands of the new owner.
Turning her head, she looked back longingly at the beautiful island further up river. She'd had no legal right to be there, even though she'd had the mooring for the past three years. That hadn't mattered with the tolerant and genial Edith Tresanton as her landlady. But ever since Edith's death there had been an air of uncertainty about her situation.
Willing hands caught the ropes she tossed. Hitching up her long skirt, she let The Boys - as she called them - haul her on board. Her gypsy-black pre-Raphaelite hair escaped from its binding and she deftly fastened it again, her sweet, fragile-boned face an unusual pallor.
"Been talking about you," Tom said in greeting. "Cuppa?"
She shook her head and perched apprehensively on the deck lid. Steve gave her a friendly kiss and wasted no time getting to the point.
"You know the island's got a new owner?" he asked anxiously.
Her heart sank. "I suspected it. That means I could be in trouble," she said, her hopes disappearing into her tiny size three's. She rubbed suddenly damp palms on the thin cotton of her flowing skirt. "What do you know?" she asked. "Have the people moved in? I didn't see a car on the bank when I came past."
"Removal van's been and gone. Local traders say a bossy, yuppie London woman's taken it over," Tom answered, spiralling Catherine's spirits down still further.
"Fancy yuk-yellow sports car, all chrome and turbo thrust and so's she. City suit, egg-whisk hair, killer heels and an elaborately painted face."
"Not exactly a kindred spirit," she muttered.
She'd hoped that a nature lover would buy Tresanton Island. Who else would want somewhere so isolated, so rural? A nature lover would have liked having narrow boats around. Would have considered it romantic. The new owner didn't sound as if she'd be too empathetic.
"Yeah. Not our sort - or Edith's," he grunted. "A really bossy type. She's moved her stuff in and cleaned everyone out of expensive gourmet provisions - after screeching with shock-horror because Saxonbury doesn't stock wheat grass." He grinned. "Some bright spark directed her to a field for the grass and she went ballistic, calling him an ignorant peasant! That's all we know."
Catherine managed a smile then released a huge breath of resignation. It sounded as though there would definitely be changes to the island - and to Edith's house. The manor's charming, countrified air would probably be transformed with the addition of a stainless steel kitchen and futuristic technology. And the island laid to lawn.
But what of her? Her wistful gaze lingered on her boat's scarlet cabin roof cluttered with flower boxes, assorted chimneys and narrow boat paraphernalia. Traditional in style and wonderfully cosy, the narrow boat had been the ideal solution for somewhere cheap to live and work in an expensive area. In all her twenty-six years she'd never felt so insecure.
"Yellow car's coming along the lane," warned Steve, making everyone sit up sharply.
The colour screamed its yellowness so successfully that it was visible half a mile away. They watched it bumping slowly along. Catherine's heart bumped too. By the time she motored back to the island and moored her boat the new owner would be in residence.
She stood up shakily, her mouth set. Perhaps she'd be allowed to stay. Edith had let her have a small patch of ground for growing vegetables. And she'd liked to see Catherine's chickens roaming freely. Maybe this yuppie owner would be equally charmed.
"Thanks for the information," she said, determined to fight her corner. "I'd better introduce myself and see where I stand. There's no point in hanging around and imagining what's going to happen to me."
"Want us to come as your "heavies"?" suggested Steve, flexing his muscles and adopting a mock-belligerent pose.
She smiled gratefully. Each one of them had helped her enormously in the early days, when the workings of a narrow boat were a mystery to her. All The Boys were poor, but they had good hearts and would do anything for her.
Dwarfed by Steve, she rested her small hand on the thin sleeve of his hole-ridden jumper and made a mental note to knit him another before winter came. If she was still there ...
"I'll let you know," she replied. "First I'll appeal to her better nature. But keep the knuckle-dusters handy in case she hasn't got one," she joked feebly.
"Get into her good books. Find her some wheat grass," suggested Tom drily.
She gave a shaky little laugh. "Fat chance!"
"And if she says your clients can't use the bridge, or tells you to go?" Steve asked.
She sucked in a wobbly breath. They all knew that moorings were like rocking horse droppings. Nonexistent.
The thought hit her like a punch in the stomach. It would be the end of her idyllic life. Hello grotty flat in some crime-ridden ghetto. And she felt panic setting in because it would take years to build up her client-base again.
"I'd have no choice but to leave," she answered.
"Good luck," the men chorused with sympathy as she clambered back on board and cast off.
"Thanks," she managed to choke out.
Remarkably, she focused her mind on the tricky task of doing the watery equivalent of a three-point-turn where the river widened. With her stomach apparently full of jitterbugging butterflies competing for the World Title, she straightened the boat up and headed for home on the far side of the island.
Luck? She let out a low groan. Judging from the information about the new owner she'd need something nearer to a miracle.
Excerpted from In The Billionaire's Bed by Sara Wood Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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