Read an Excerpt
The Token Wife
By Sara Craven
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhen Alex Fabian was displeased, his annoyance invariably radiated from him like static electricity, alerting the wary to keep their distance.
Tonight, entering his grandmother's Holland Park house, he was crackling like an approaching storm, although he managed a brief smile for the elderly manservant who admitted him, and who'd known him since childhood.
"Barney - you're well? And Mrs Barnes?"
"Both fighting fit, thank you, Mr Alex." Barnes paused. "Her ladyship hasn't come downstairs yet, but you'll find Mr Fabian in the drawing room."
"My father?" Alex's brows snapped together. "I thought they weren't speaking to each other."
"There has been a rapprochement, sir." Barnes' tone was sedate. "Last week."
"I see." Alex shrugged off his overcoat, and cast a fleeting but critical glance at his reflection in the big gilt-framed mirror before crossing the wide hall to the double doors which led into the drawing room.
He supposed he should have fitted in a visit to the barber, he thought, raking an irritable hand through the tawny hair which brushed his collar.
But the charcoal suit he was wearing, set off by a silk waistcoat in a paler shade of grey, the pristine white shirt, and discreetly striped tie acknowledged that this was a formal visit.
That he'd been sent for.
And his tight-lipped expression and smouldering green eyes indicated that he suspected what was behind the summons.
He found George Fabian seated on one of the sofas that flanked the fireplace, glancing through a newspaper.
He said, without looking up, "Good evening, Alex. We have been instructed to help ourselves to a drink."
"Thank you, sir, but it's a little early for me." Alex glanced pointedly at his watch. "I wasn't sure whether I was being invited for dinner, or nursery tea."
"I suggest you ask your grandmother that," his father advised curtly. "This little family gathering was her idea, not mine."
"And its purpose?" Alex walked to the hearth and gave the logs that burned there an impatient kick with a well-shod foot.
"I understand to discuss the arrangements for her birthday party." George Fabian paused. "Among other things."
"Indeed?" Alex's brows rose sardonically. "And am I permitted to speculate what those "other things" might be?"
His father gave him a dry look. "I imagine your position as chairman in waiting at Perrins Bank might come up for discussion."
There was a silence, then Alex said, with a touch of hauteur, "Are you implying that it could be in some doubt? I wasn't aware that my ability to run the bank was being called into question."
"It isn't, as far as I know." George Fabian folded the paper, and tossed it aside. "It's more a matter of image." He pursed his lips meditatively. "Too many pictures in the wrong sort of paper. Too many pieces in the gossip columns. And too many girls," he added flatly.
"I wasn't aware that I required a vow of celibacy to work at Perrins." Alex kept his tone light, but his fingers beat a restless tattoo on the edge of the mantelpiece. The fact that he'd been expecting this made it no less unwelcome, he thought, his edginess increasing.
"Then think again," his father said brusquely. "Perrins is an old-fashioned bank, run by conservative people, and they don't like the kind of adverse publicity you've been attracting."
He shook his head. "The customers want to know that there's someone solid and reliable at the top, whom they can trust. Not a playboy." He paused. "You're a high-flyer, Alex, but you're getting perilously close to the sun. Take care you don't come crashing down."
"Thank you," Alex said with dangerous politeness. "Have you been asked to pass on these words of wisdom, or was it all your own work?"
George Fabian sighed wearily. "Don't be so damned prickly, boy. I'm your father, so I think I have the right to be concerned. I don't want to see you throw away the potential for a brilliant career."
"If the worst happens, there are other banks besides Perrins," Alex said tautly.
"Indeed there are," his father agreed. He gave the younger man a long, steady look. "Unless, of course, you become too hot for any of them to handle."
There was a silence, then Alex said quietly, "Maybe I will have that drink after all." He went over to the side-table, where decanters and glasses were set out, pouring himself a single malt whisky. "So." He turned back, glass in hand, his expression challenging. "What's the rumour on the piazza?"
"This and that." Mr Fabian paused. "I gather Peter Crosby is going to be promoted in the next government reshuffle," he added almost inconsequentially.
Alex stiffened. "And?"
"And that means he'll become of increasing interest to the tabloids."
George Fabian drank some of his own whisky. "I gather the Daily Mercury is already on red alert. And that a news team has been detailed to keep a close eye on his wife."
There was another, longer silence. Then, "I see," said Alex, his voice expressionless.
"In addition," Mr Fabian went on, "there's an unconfirmed report that Crosby has consulted a lawyer, and is considering hiring a private detective to follow Mrs Crosby, and monitor her calls.
"There are no children, of course, and he may be preparing to dump the beautiful Lucinda before she jeopardises his triumphant march to power by some further indiscretion. You're not the first, you know."
"I am aware of that." Alex's look and tone were icy.
"And it's by no means certain he would go for a simple, no-fault divorce. He has the reputation of being a vindictive bastard." He gave his son another steady look. "He could decide to name and shame."
"It's a pity the bloody gossip-mongers haven't something better to do." Alex threw the whisky down his throat with a jerky movement.
"They have their uses," his father returned placidly. "Perhaps you should be grateful to them. Featuring in a messy, high-profile divorce is something that the Perrins board would never stand for in their chairman."
Alex's smile glittered. "Gratitude is not my overriding emotion at the moment."
George Fabian looked concerned. "I hope you're not going to tell me that Lucinda Crosby is the love of your life."
"Certainly not." His son gave a cynical shrug. "I doubt if such a creature exists." He'd been thoroughly enjoying his liaison with Cindy Crosby who was not only beautiful but also sexually voracious, he thought with an inward grimace. But he'd been planning to end it anyway, married women not being entirely to his taste.
He gave his father a stony look. "I hope that reassures you."
"Don't congratulate yourself too soon," Mr Fabian cautioned. "You're not out of the woods yet." He paused. "Have you ever heard your grandmother talk about a cousin of hers who went off to South Africa just before the war - Archie Maidstone?"
Alex frowned. "Yes, she's mentioned him. I got the impression she'd been very fond of him at one time, and then he got himself into some kind of trouble, and had to be shunted out of the country."
"That's the one." George Fabian nodded. "He had a job with Perrins, and embezzled some money. The family closed ranks and made good the loss, apparently, but he was warned never to come back to England."
"And has he?" Alex gave a faint whistle. "He must be a hell of an age."
"Actually, he's dead," said Mr Fabian. "But his grandson isn't, and he's been over here visiting. Building bridges. Seems to have made an excellent impression on your grandmother, too." He paused. "He even got her to invite him down to Rosshampton for the weekend."
Alex's attention was suddenly, sharply focused. "Go on."
"He's married," said George Fabian. "And she's asked him to come back for her birthday, and bring his wife so that he can show her Rosshampton too."
Alex went on staring at him. "Meaning?"
"Just that your inheritance may not be as secure as you thought," his father said bluntly. "There's an alternative claimant."
"I'm her only grandson," Alex said. "What is this guy - a second ... third cousin? And she's always said that Rosshampton will ultimately come to me. You really think that's in doubt?"
"I don't know," George Fabian admitted. "But she's very taken with him - and the fact that he's married ... stable. She likes that - and she may have been drawing a few unfavourable comparisons."
Excerpted from The Token Wife by Sara Craven Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.