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"Are you sure about the price, Mr. Hass?" she asked, concerned at how close she was to losing her heart. The lodge so exactly fitted her dream of the bed-and-breakfast place she wanted to establish that she had to remind herself it wouldn't be a picnic. Taming the garden alone would keep her busy for some time.
"I'm quite sure," the agent said in his elusive accent. "This used to be a country retreat for a wealthy family, but it hasn't been used for two years. The owner died nine months ago after a long illness, and the new owner instructed me to sell it off. He's in the Carramer Royal Navy and away a lot, so doesn't want to be encumbered by a country house."
"Who was the owner?"
Hass hesitated before saying, "It was someone called de Valmont. He willed the property to his nephew, my client."
She had met the agent by chance at the Monarch Hotel in Tricot, where she had based herself so she could look at a property in the area. She had told the agent that she was Australian and had lived in Carramer when she was fifteen with her brother and diplomat father. She had never visited this area, but the name of the former owner was familiar. "Aren't the de Valmonts part of the royal family?"
The agent looked away. "A lot of Carramer families claim royal connections."
She thought of the de Marigny brothers she had known when she was a teenager. They hadn't claimed to be royal. They were the real thing. Mathiaz was a baron and Eduard was a marquis. For a time, she had believed she was in love with Eduard. Even now, a flutter in her stomach accompanied the thought of the handsome young royal.
He wasn't the reason she had chosen to return to Carramer after her father died, she assured herself. Long over that teenage crush, she was only interested in the house's royal connections as a potential attraction for visitors.
Hass led her along a gravel path to a back door. "The house comes with many of the original furnishings and fittings."
"That will help. Most of my possessions are in storage."
His eyes gleamed, and she regretted letting him see how interested she was in the house before she had set foot in it. "Of course it needs a lot of work," she added, trying to sound like less of a pushover.
"The condition of the house is reflected in the price, which is negotiable."
She was pleased to hear it. Even at a bargain price, she would be straining her budget to buy the lodge. Hass had confided that the new owner was willing to provide a mortgage with generous terms. But after paying the substantial down payment Hass had named, she wouldn't have much of her inheritance left for redecorating.
She noticed that the agent was having trouble with the lock, which was broken. He gave her an apologetic smile. "The keys have been lost. That's why I'm taking you in through the kitchen." Seeing her frown, he added, "There are sturdy bolts on the inside for nighttime security. If you decide to buy, there's a locksmith in Tricot who can fit new locks for you."
"I'll look into it." So much for objectivity, she thought. She was already sold and they both knew it. She must have had a premonition about the lodge, because she carried a bank check for the deposit in her purse, having taken Hass's advice and withdrawn the money before making the inspection. Now she had seen the place, she hated the idea of anyone else snapping it up.
She didn't try to pretend that she wasn't delighted with the inside of the house. The old-fashioned kitchen was large with a scrubbed timber table in the center, perfect for preparing the home-cooked meals she intended to offer guests. Beyond was a dining room with a vaulted, timber-lined ceiling, a comfortable living room with old but elegant furniture arranged around a massive stone fireplace and five bedrooms in two wings off a wide gallery hallway. Three of them had en suite bathrooms with traditional claw-footed baths and brass fittings.
As Hass led her back along the hallway, Carissa inspected the portraits lining the walls. "These look like originals."
"They are excellent reproductions, aren't they? They come with the house."
As they returned to the kitchen, she took a deep breath. "How negotiable do you think the new owner is willing to be?"
Excerpted from The Marquis And The Mother-To-Be by Valerie Parv
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.