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Marriage On Command
By Lindsay Armstrong
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDamien Moore was tall, dark and unimpressed, Lee Westwood decided as he raised an enigmatic eyebrow after scanning her thoroughly.
True, she acknowledged inwardly as she sat in the chair he had waved a negligent hand towards, she was not as formally dressed as those who worked in the hushed and hallowed legal offices of Moore & Moore. But her newest pair of jeans, although not that new, were sharply pressed, her short brown boots were shining and her green blouse had been carefully chosen to match her eyes. In fact she couldn't remember taking as much care to co-ordinate her appearance for quite some time. Her shoulder-length auburn hair shone, as it always did, and was tied back neatly.
The one slightly jarring note was her old string bag, which she looped over the arm of the chair - she'd forgotten to change it for something more chic and, as usual, it bulged.
True, too, she reflected, that she had expected the senior partner of Moore & Moore to be older. This man was in his middle thirties at the most, she judged. Nor had it entered her expectations that he would be quite as devastatingly attractive, with lean lines, broad shoulders, clever dark eyes set in an intelligent face and a definite air of command. Well, perhaps that was to beexpected, she amended her thoughts as he sat down behind a hugely impressive desk.
However, she wasn't going to allow this extremely good-looking but superior lawyer to intimidate her for any reason. And she said coolly, "I need some legal advice, Mr Moore."
He sat back in his exquisitely tailored charcoal suit and made a steeple of his fingers. "So you informed my secretary on many an occasion, I gather," he replied dryly.
"It's not easy to get an appointment with you," Lee shot back. "It's obvious you value yourself very highly, Mr Moore," she added tartly.
A stray glint of amusement lit his fine dark eyes for a moment. "My fees certainly don't come cheap," he said, "but if that's a problem for you I'm not sure why you persevered to the extent of driving my secretary up the wall, Miss ... uh -" he consulted the file in front of him "- Westwood?"
"Well, I'll tell you, Mr - uh - Moore," Lee parodied, "I did some research and it seems to me that you are the best in the business. It's that simple." She shrugged her slim shoulders, as if to say it was incomprehensible to her at the moment, but she would go along with it anyway, and added, "I've got the strong feeling that's what I need, you see. On the subject of your fees, incidentally, I have a nest egg that should take care of them."
Damien Moore resisted the urge to smile as he studied the snippy redhead seated opposite him. She had driven his secretary mad - no mean feat - and he got the strange feeling his wisest course would be to pack her off before she drove him mad. But really, he mused, how could a thin, young - twenty-three? - redhead, who appeared to have all her possessions packed into a bulging string bag, do that?
He sat up abruptly. "All right, Miss Westwood, tell me what kind of trouble you've got yourself into."
Lee looked pained. "I haven't got myself into any trouble at all - I'm extremely law abiding!"
"So why are you here?" he asked impatiently.
"My grandparents ..." She paused to collect her thoughts. "They were persuaded to invest their life savings into a dubious investment scheme. Not only did they get no return for their money, but the principal has disappeared into thin air - the scheme was a scam right from the start," she said intensely.
Damien Moore twirled a silver pen in his fingers and looked sceptical. "Firstly, why am I not dealing with your grandparents?"
"They ..." Lee hesitated. "They're the salt of the earth - they brought me up when my parents died in a car accident when I was six - but ... well, they're rather unworldly. I guess," she said awkwardly, "that's why they fell for it in the first place." Her expression hardened. "But I intend to get back every penny they lost!"
"I see. That's where I come in, I presume?"
"To be honest -" Lee looked wry for a moment "- I was hoping to be able to achieve it on my own. I didn't succeed."
"I hesitate to ask this, but what means have you already undertaken to get back your grandparents' life savings?" he enquired.
Lee threaded her fingers together and took her time about replying. "I went to the police, but they seemed to think if there was any problem it was a civil matter. The contract contained the fine print to safeguard the proposer of the scheme, so I ..." she grimaced "... I camped out on his doorstep with a placard a couple of times."
Don't laugh, Damien Moore warned himself. "On the doorstep of the man who allegedly conned your grandparents?"
"What did the placard say?"
Lee looked away. "Basically, it was very uncomplimentary towards his integrity."
"What did he do?"
Lee looked back at Damien Moore, contriving, he reflected, to be embarrassed but a picture of youthful dignity at the same time. "He - that is to say, a member of his staff - threatened me with a restraining order."
This time he had to laugh. "I'm not surprised! I thought you were so law abiding, Miss Westwood - don't you know you can't go about impeaching people's integrity at will?"
"I happen to know," Lee said stiffly, "that he's a con man and a thief! How would you feel if your grandparents were in the same position?" she asked burningly.
"All right." Damien sobered and made a few notes on the pad in front of him. "Who is this man?"
The silver pen dropped from his fingers and he blinked at her. 'You're joking!"
"No, I'm not," Lee denied.
"Miss Westwood, Cyril Delaney is a respected property developer with a long-standing and impressive record. It is highly unlikely that he would be going around pulling scams on defenceless old age pensioners."
"I have a document signed by a C. Delaney, I have my grandparents' word that the man they dealt with gave his name as Cyril Delaney, and I have their explanation that it was Cyril Delaney's 'impressive record,'" Lee said with irony, "that got them in. What do you make of that, Mr Moore?"
"That it was very likely someone masquerading as Cyril Delaney," he replied promptly.
"Then he has a double," Lee retorted.
A frown grew in Damien Moore's eyes. "Are you serious - really serious, Miss Westwood?"
Lee looked heavenwards briefly. "Do you honestly think I'd have gone to the amount of trouble I have on a deluded whim, Mr Moore? I've spent a fortune on phone calls alone, trying to get this appointment with you. You're only lucky," she said, "that your secretary gave in - otherwise I might have camped out on this doorstep!"
"Heaven forbid." He looked at her coolly.
Lee grimaced. "I can be determined and stubborn," she conceded.
He studied her in silence for a long moment, then shrugged. "I believe you. So you never got to meet Cyril?"
"No. I was fobbed off all the time. And then - well, I've told you that bit."
"Have you put your claims down in writing to him?"
"That too, but I've received no reply. But he wouldn't reply, would he, if he was guilty?"
Damien Moore tapped his pen thoughtfully on his desk. "It may have been interpreted as a crank claim." He seemed to come to a decision."All right - show me your document."
Lee delved eagerly into her string bag and produced it. "What do you think?" she asked anxiously when he'd read it.
"That ninety-nine per cent of the population always fail to read the fine print," he said witheringly. "However, it would appear to me that some scam has been perpetrated, so I will write to Cyril Delaney and apprise of him of this document's existence - as well as the failure of the scheme."
"And?" He looked amused.
"That's all I can do at the moment."
"What if he ignores you the way he ignored me?"
He raised his eyebrows. "I doubt that will happen, Miss Westwood."
Lee failed to look reassured. "I really want to face him and have this out with him," she said passionately.
"Yes, well, Miss Fire-eater, I don't know why that doesn't surprise me, but you'll have to practise some patience. We'll do this one step at a time - unless you'd like to find yourself another lawyer. May I have some details - where we can get in touch with you, et cetera?"
Lee subsided - until it became obvious that he required virtually her life history. "I am not going to skip town without paying your fees," she said proudly.
"Perish the thought," he murmured, and threw her a keen, dark look. "So you're a horticulturist? In what way?"
"I work as a landscape gardener, but my dream is to have my own business one day. I've always been passionate about gardens."
Excerpted from Marriage On Command by Lindsay Armstrong Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.