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If he had to deal with inheriting a mansion he'd hated on sight, he'd rather do it alone.
If he had to go through all the boxes in one room of that mansion, searching for clues to a mother about whom"to put it mildly"he felt ambivalent, he'd much rather do it alone. But it would take forever, and Luke Griffin didn't have forever. He had a financial empire to maintain.
He needed help.
Not his usual way of operating. He'd been doing things on his own since he was too little to remember.
He thumbed through the Yellow Pages again until he found the company that had looked like a helpful lead. Organize Your Home. With a name like that, surely someone should be able to help him go through the boxes? The other choice was to haul them to the dump.
They were his only chance to find out anything about his past. Luke punched the numbers and waited for the ring.
A woman's voice. A rich contralto voice, with an undertone of huskiness that managed to turn two ordinary syllables into something very close to an invitation. He said briskly, "Is this Organize Your Home?"
"You have the right number," the woman said.
"But the business is no longer in operationâ€¦sorry."
She didn't sound sorry. She sounded jubilant, like sunlight through the amber depths of brandy. "My name's Luke Griffin," he said. "I'm staying temporarily at Griffin's Keep, and I have at least three days' work for you."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Griffin"as I said, I've disbanded the company. Last week."
He said implacably, "What do you usually charge per hour?"
"Just answer the question. And perhaps youcould tell me your name?"
Her voice warmed with temper. "Kelsey North. Forty dollars an hour. It's not on."
"I'll pay two hundred and fifty an hour. Multiply that by three days"I'm sure you can do the math."
There was a taut silence. Then she said crisply, "What sort of work?"
"My grandmother"Sylvia Griffin"left me some papers that are of personal interest. Unfortunately they're scattered throughout her financial records. Boxes and boxes of them, and each one has to be gone through page by page. I'm a busy man and I have to get back to Manhattan. I can't take the time to do this on my own."
"I see," Kelsey North said. "Give me your number. I'll call you back later this evening."
He rhymed off the numbers on the phone. "I look forward to hearing from you," he said smoothly. "Goodbye, Ms North."
The woman at the other end banged the receiver down with a force that was not remotely professional. If she was one of his employees, she'd be taking a course on customer relations, Luke thought, idly wondering why she'd closed her business. Although with a voice like that she was wasted organizing other people's closets.
If, when she called back, she said no, he was in deep trouble.
He'd up the rate to five hundred an hour. That'd get her, he thought cynically, and went to see if he could rustle up a cup of coffee in the archaic kitchen of Griffin's Keep.
Kelsey glared at the receiver as if Luke Griffin was standing on top of it. The nerve of the man. The arrogance. As if she was supposed to levitate six feet in the air the moment he said jump.
Organize Your Home no longer existed. Finished. Kaput. She was free, free, free!
She did an impromptu twirl around the living room, then sat down again at the table where she'd been working on her list when the phone had rung. It was a list, in bright red marker, of all the things she wanted to do now that her life was her own.
Go to art school. Travel. Paint a masterpiece. Paint her toenails purple. Have torrid sex.
Her brow knitted. She crossed out torrid. Any kind of sex would do, wouldn't it? Still frowning, she erased Have sex and substituted Have an affair. It sounded more romantic. Classier. Especially if she had it with someone tall, dark and handsome, who'd treat her like a piece of breakable china and give her roses and breakfast in bed.
None of her dates in the last few years had been tall, dark and handsome; there wasn't much choice in Hadley, the village where she lived. Kelsey heaved a sigh, then added Holiday to her list.
But until she sold the house, how could she afford a holiday? Nearly all her savings had gone to the art school in Manhattan as the deposit with her application.
Two hundred and fifty dollars an hour for three days. Six thousand dollars.
Yes, she could do the math.
He was bribing her, she thought with a spurt of rage. The famous"or rather, infamous"Luke Griffin thought she could be bought.
Well, she could. Couldn't she?
Why did everything always have to come down to money?
If she had six thousand dollars she could pay for her first two semesters and have a bit left for a trip. Somewhere south, where it was warm.
It wasn't as though Luke Griffin couldn't afford it. He could. He'd graduated from millions to billions several years ago, or so Alice at the post office said.
Organizing a dead woman's papers wasn't anywhere on her list.
So what? She'd go to Griffin's Keep, work her butt off for three days, take the money and run. And in the meantime she'd check the internet for inexpensive package tours to a tropical island with palm trees, white sand and drinks with little colored umbrellas in them. Quickly, before she could change her mind, Kelsey picked up the phone and dialed the number for Griffin's Keep.
Luke brushed a layer of dust off the receiver and held it to his ear. "Luke Griffin."
"This is Kelsey North. What time do you want me to start?"
Her brandy-smooth voice was overlaid with irritation. "Tomorrow morning at eight-thirty," he said. "I can't find anything but mouse droppings in the pantry, so if you need caffeine to get yourself moving in the morning, you'd better bring your own." He smiled into the phone. "Wear old clothes, the place hasn't been cleaned in months. I look forward to meeting you, Ms North." Gently he put the phone down.
One more woman who could be bought, he thought, and wondered if her appearance would in any way measure up to the beauty of her voice.
Kelsey dressed with care the next morning. Then she picked up a can of Colombian blend and a carton of coffee cream, and left the house. Her car started like a dream, and the ten-minute drive to Griffin's Keep gave her time to think.
Since Sylvia Griffin's death a few days ago, gossip had run rife in Hadley. Sylvia's grandson, whose name was Luke, hadn't gotten a cent in her will; he'd inherited the whole packet; he was bringing his stretch limo to her funeral; he was in Hong Kong and would arrive by helicopter; he was worth one billion dollars, ten billion, a hundred billion!
There was consensus on only one subject: women fell like flies at his approach, and his mistresses were legendary for their beauty, wealth and elegance.
In the end, he hadn't bothered attending his grandmother's funeral at all, Kelsey mused, driving down a side road where last week's snow still lingered in the ditches. He'd arrived late yesterday, the day after the funeral. As far as she knew, he'd never taken the time to visit Sylvia while she was alive, and certainly not in her last brief illness. Too busy amassing his fortune and bedding every beauty in sight, she thought unkindly, and pulled into the driveway of Griffin's Keep.
Her heart beating a little faster than usual, Kelsey rang the doorbell. The brass around it was pitted and tarnished.
Through the narrow windows on either side of the door she heard the thud of footsteps on the stairs, then the door was yanked open. Her jaw dropped.
Luke Griffin was wearing jeans with the button undone, and a thin white T-shirt that molded every muscle in his chest. There was an awful lot of muscle, she thought, swallowing, and forced her gaze upward. A long way up. Tall. Yep, he was tall, all right. His hair, ruffled and untidy, was dark as night; dark stubble shadowed his cheeks and jawline.
So was he handsome? His eyes, deepset, were of a startling blue under brows as dark as his hair; his lashes were like dabs of soot. Add a decided nose, jutting cheekbones and a strongly carved mouth that made her feel weak just to look at it, and she was left with a face infused with character, none of it gentle. Forceful, decisive, ruthless: the words tumbled through her brain. Handsome, she thought faintly, had been left way behind.
"Luke Griffin," he said, running long, lean fingers through his disordered hair and stifling a yawn. "Sorry, I only just woke up. Jet-lagged the wrong way"this feels like three in the morning."
"You told me to arrive at eight-thirty," she said edgily.
"Yeah." His smile shot through her like a sunburst. "Just goes to show what lousy decisions I make when I cross the dateline. Come on in, and I'll show you what I want done." His eyes fell to the package she was carrying. "Don't tell me that's coffee? Real coffee?"
"You're a jewel among women," he said fervently, and pulled her into the house, shutting the door behind her.
Because his fingers were gripping her elbow, she was entirely too close to that tautly muscled chest. He smelled warm and indescribably male: a man who'd just climbed out of bed.
Bed, Kelsey thought faintly. Torrid sex. "Is something wrong?" he said. "No! Of course not." Maybe he slept naked. He gave her another of those brain-sizzling smiles. "I know you're here to sort papers. But if you could produce a decent mug of coffee in that horror of a kitchen, I'd be everlastingly grateful."
Charm. Hadn't gossip indirectly warned her he could charm the birds out of the trees? Or, to be more accurate, charm a woman who'd been determined to dislike him? "I'll try," she said.
"I'll go have a shower. I promise I'll be fully awake when I come downstairs, Ms North."
"Kelsey. I prefer to be called Kelsey."
"Luke, then." He nodded to his left. "The boxes are in the third room down the hall."
Okay? Was that all she could come up with? Her mouth dry, she watched him take the stairs"a curving sweep of mahogany "two by two. His bare feet left tracks in the thick dust.
The kitchen. Coffee. Focus, Kelsey.
How would she last three days without jumping him? She, who'd never jumped a man in her life.
Blindly she marched down the hall until she located the kitchen, with its outmoded appliances and stale-smelling grease over counters and floor. For a moment Kelsey forgot about Luke Griffin, stabbed with pity that someone who'd been a very rich woman could have lived in such squalor.
If Luke had taken the time to visit he could have hired a housekeeper, Kelsey thought, finding a battered percolator in a cupboard and scrubbing it in the filthy sink. How could he have ignored his grandmother so woefully while she was alive, yet be so intent on going through her papers now that she was dead?
It was unforgivable.
Holding tight to her anger, Kelsey put the coffee on, then located the room with the boxes.