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By Leona Karr
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
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Chapter OneCarolyn Leigh's eyes rounded as she looked at the two men seated across the table from her in the lawyer's office. "I thought this meeting was about my unknown benefactor, who's helped me financially through medical school, using your firm as a conduit."
"Well, in a way it is," the gray-haired lawyer, Mr. Bancroft, assured her as he pushed his glasses farther up his nose.
"Am I expected to pay it back?" she asked evenly, trying to keep the apprehension out of her voice. What she didn't need was more indebtedness. After having just graduated a month ago, she was trying to find a full-time medical position as soon as possible to alleviate her other debts.
"No, the grant was yours, free and clear," the lawyer assured her. "The news we have for you is good."
Carolyn tensed. Good news? Growing up as a sickly foster child, her life had been filled with people telling her they had good news for her, when the truth was she was just being shifted from one unsatisfactory foster placement to another. Even though she was an adult now, and had managed to get herself through medical school by sheer grit, and working a job for nearly six years, a remembered anxiety suddenly tightened her stomach. She still had nightmares about being helpless as a foster child, thrown into one traumatic experience after another. She'd felt like a pawn in some diabolical game. Here we go again, she thought, trying to steel herself for whatever was about to crash into her well-laid plans.
From the first moment Carolyn walked into the office, she'd sensed a certain hesitancy, as if the two men weren't exactly sure how to proceed. She'd only met William Bancroft, the elderly lawyer, once before, and had never met the good-looking, younger one, Adam Lawrence - Bancroft introduced him only by name, without identifying who he was and why he was there. She assumed he was a junior associate.
They politely offered her coffee, which she refused.
"Well, then, why don't you lay the groundwork, Adam?" Bancroft suggested, nodding at him.
"We'll cover the legal details after that."
The dark-haired man smiled at her, and she was aware of his strong features, slightly tanned complexion and the determined jut of his chin. Somewhere in his thirties, he must have been, and his clear, gray-blue eyes narrowed slightly as if he were searching for the right way to begin. Carolyn's heartbeat suddenly quickened as she waited for Adam Lawrence to speak. What was this all about?
"You've heard of Arthur Stanford," he began in a conversational tone, and smiled, as if he recognized her tenseness.
"No, I haven't," she answered with her usual honesty.
He seemed a little surprised at her directness. "Have you heard of Horizon Pharmaceuticals?"
"Of course. Everyone in the medical field is aware of Horizon. It's a major supplier of pharmaceutical drugs. One of the oldest companies in the Northwest, I believe."
He nodded. "That's right. Arthur Stanford is the owner of Horizon Pharmaceutical. He passed away recently."
"And there's some reason I should know this?" This man's death had probably been in the news, but she'd been too busy studying to read the newspaper. Something about this whole meeting put her on the defensive. There was an undercurrent in the room she didn't understand. Was she on the hot seat for some unknown reason? Plenty of schoolyard scuffles had conditioned her to get her mitts up before an expected blow came. She mentally geared up to be ready to handle whatever he was about to lay on her.
"The financial aid you've been receiving for medical school came from Arthur Stanford. He arranged for the grant to be paid through Mr. Bancroft's office."
"Really?" she answered in honest surprise.
She'd often wondered who'd set up the grant that had made it possible for her to attend medical school without interruption. She'd assumed that it was an organization, not an individual. The truth was, she'd applied for every financial aid listed in the college office. No one was more surprised than she was when the university's director of admissions called and told her that she'd been selected by an anonymous donor for a generous stipend.
"I've been very grateful for his financial help," she readily admitted. "It would have taken me an extra two years to work my way through medical school without it. My grant was a great deal more generous than most awards. Did Mr. Stanford financially help many medical students?"
"No, you're the only one."
"The only one?" she repeated in disbelief. "But why? I mean, why was I the fortunate one?"
Adam hesitated, not at all certain how to proceed. Bancroft had insisted that he be the one to tell her the truth, and he'd readily agreed, but Dr. Carolyn Leigh wasn't at all what he'd expected. By any standard, she was a very attractive woman: petite features, soft, shapely mouth, large, sky blue eyes and blond hair the color of rich honey. Even her simple, inexpensive pink summer blouse and navy skirt couldn't detract from a slender, shapely body that could easily give any man ideas.
Even though Adam had only been in her presence a few minutes, he'd already recognized that there was more to her than her appealing looks. An undeniable toughness and resilience radiated from her. He'd bet she could put any leering male in his place with a sharp word or a well-aimed kick. It wasn't hard for him to imagine her in a doctor's white jacket, a stethoscope around her neck and a bedside manner that could either charm or deftly manage the most unruly patient. No, she wasn't at all what he'd expected. He wondered if they were handling this all wrong. There was nothing to do now but plunge ahead and be as honest as he could.
"It wasn't an accident that you received the generous stipend," he explained. "You see, Carolyn, Arthur Stanford has a personal interest in you."
"How could that be? I told you I didn't know Arthur Stanford," she replied firmly. "I've never heard his name, as far as I know. And I have no reason to believe he'd have a special interest in me."
Clearly she wasn't about to accept the truth until she had more facts to back it up. Adam suspected this strong fiber in her personality was going to play havoc with his plans. He tried to keep his tone neutral, as if they were discussing something that wasn't going to change her life forever.
"It's true, isn't it, Carolyn, that you've grown up without family and without knowing who abandoned you as an infant?"
Excerpted from Semiautomatic Marriage by Leona Karr Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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