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Rich Man, Poor Bride
By Linda Goodnight
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBones aching, Meredith Montrose put the finishing touches on her makeup in preparation for another day of managing La Torchere, the single most exclusive and private resort in southwest Florida. Dabbing blush over her wrinkled, leathery cheeks, she sighed. Who would believe an old crone like her was not yet thirty years old? Thirty.
Yet it was true. Though she still reeled with the knowledge that her own beloved aunt and godmother Lissa Bessart Piers would do such a thing, the fact re-mained. Aunt Lissa had cast a spell upon her. Just because Merry was a tad bit selfish, had an occasional temper tantrum, and had tried to sabotage her father's engagement to an older woman, her godmother decided she needed a lesson in humility and the power of love - and more empathy for the aging.
Now the deadline for breaking the curse loomed like an oncoming tidal wave. Less than a year left to break the spell that held her beautiful young body captive inside this withered, ugly, aching form. Less than a year to complete the task of pairing twenty-one couples with their true loves. She thanked her lucky stars that the latest matched couple, Jackie Hammond and Steven Rollins, would soon be married here on La Torchere's beach.
Seventeen down andfour to go.
Then she could be free again - the beautiful, brilliant princess Meredith Montrosa Bessart of Silestia. But if she failed she would serve out her lifetime in this body as hotel manager Merry Montrose without ever seeing her family or her beloved homeland again.
A shiver of dread made her hands tremble as she took up her cell picture phone, the most special tool in her bag of magical matchmaking tricks. At the press of a button, a handsome Latino face, a little sad and resigned and a lot weary, appeared in the tiny video screen. If fate was kind, Dr. Diego Vargas was about to meet his match.
Flip-flops popping, Ruthie Ellsworthy Fernandez rushed down the hallway of La Torchere Resort dropping off extra gourmet coffee packets in Room 12 and a bottle of Perrier in Room 7 before jumping into the elevator. As she hit the ground floor, her pager buzzed for the hundredth time and a text message appeared: Towels to penthouse, followed by the guest's name.
A quick check of the time told her she had five whole minutes before reporting to lifeguard duty at the outdoor pool. Grabbing a stack of fluffy, blindingly white tow-els emblazoned with the candelabra insignia of the resort, Ruthie greeted several of the wealthy, high-class guests as she hopped back onto the elevator and headed to the penthouse. That suite, on the same floor as her small apartment, had been empty this morning. A new guest must have just arrived.
At the door she rapped softly, having learned in her few months as the hotel's Jane-of-all-trades that the rich and cultured expected the best in serene but entertaining surroundings, and they didn't mind paying for what they wanted. But they were darned fussy when service wasn't prompt and perfect.
When no one answered, she rapped again then used her maid's key to open the door.
All around her lay the trappings of class and wealth. Sumptuous carpets, plush furnishings. Casually elegant, the tasteful decor was alive with splashes of tropical color. The suite was bigger than the home back in Texas she had shared with her late husband Jason and his mother, Naomi. And much bigger than the small suite of rooms she and Naomi now occupied at the resort.
Not that she was complaining. Not at all. She was ever so grateful to have a job that not only gave her a place to live as part of her pay, but allowed her to work as much as possible while still having time to care for her beloved mother-in-law. Naomi and her medical treatments came first, above everything else.
Ruthie entered the beautiful luxury suite, crossed through the living room and bedroom on her way to the bathroom to put the towels away. She pushed the door open, stepped into the massive bathroom ... and sucked in a gasping lungful of damp, masculine-scented air. For there at the sink stood a gorgeous man without a stitch of clothing on his fit and trim, dark-skinned body. In the mirror a pair of onyx eyes reflected the shock in her own.
To Ruthie's horror, he whirled around and demanded, "What do you want?"
As she slowly backed toward the doorway, she thrust the towels at him. He ignored the offer and continued to stare at her.
"I'm the maid, Mr. -" She searched her memory for the man's name. Had it been on the pager? At this point she couldn't remember her own name, much less his. Mortified, she thrust the towels in his direction one more time, hoping, praying he would take them. "I didn't know - I thought you were - Please excuse me."
Ripping the towels from her grip, the man had the belated decency to hold them over the proper area. Still, she was in the same room with a handsome, mostly naked stranger. The heated blush moved from her face to her ears and clear down to her toes. Ruthie was certain if she looked down, her naked legs would be fiery red. Never had she walked in on an unclothed guest.
From somewhere his name appeared in her mind.
Excerpted from Rich Man, Poor Bride by Linda Goodnight Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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