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Wife: Bought And Paid For
By Jacqueline Baird
Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Copyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePenny ran lightly across the field, leapt over the fence into the old stable yard, and headed straight for the back door of the house. She was late and Veronica would kill her. Penny had promised to return before five to babysit her half-brother, while her stepmother went to the hairdresser. But her boss in the antique shop had been late getting back, and then Penny had bumped into her best friend, Jane Turner, the local vicar's daughter, and Jane's brother Simon.
Simon had just returned from a trekking holiday in the Himalayas. A year older than the girls, he was full of his experiences, and waxed lyrical about his prowess as a mountain climber. Jane was delighted because her older sister Patricia, who was married and lived in New York, was coming home on holiday next month, and bringing her new baby with her. Penny was pleased for her friends but it had delayed her even more.
"Sorry, sorry," Penny yelled as she dashed into the rear porch that led to the kitchen.
Veronica stood, baby James in her arms, blocking her way. "About time! I'm going to be late and you know how important this dinner is tonight. We have invited Mr Maffeiano and his PA, and with a bit of luck not only will Maffeiano buy the land, and solve our immediate money worries, but also he might be persuaded into going into business with Julian. It could be the making of your father, and heaven knows we need the income to keep this place up."
It was the familiar moan, and Penny shrivelled a little inside. Veronica wasn't a bad person; in fact, when she had first married Penny's father Julian eighteen months ago they had got on well. It was only when Veronica had given birth to a baby boy ten months later, and begun talking of when James would inherit the estate, and her husband had disabused her of the notion, informing her Haversham Park was always left to the oldest child, irrespective of sex, that she'd changed.
Penny's own mother had died of cancer when Penny was thirteen, and for a while her father had been depressed. But four years later he had met and married Veronica.
"Well, take him, for heaven's sake! I have to dash," Veronica snapped.
"Sorry, Veronica," Penny apologised again, reaching out and taking James into her arms. She adored her brother. But, casting a glance at her stepmother, she could not help thinking uncharitably that it was amazing how quickly Veronica had lost interest in Penny, and to some extent the baby, when she'd realised her husband wasn't as wealthy as she'd thought.
"Sorry isn't good enough - we really do need the money. Working in that dusty junk shop for a gap year before going to university will nowhere near cover the cost of keeping you at college for three more. Your father will have to pay. Heavens! We can't even afford a caterer! Feed James, and put him to bed, then keep an eye on Mrs Brown's cooking. The woman is far too old to work and she flatly refused to take James for me, saying she was too busy. The nerve of the woman."
"Okay," Penny agreed as Veronica swept out. Penny sighed with relief as she walked into the kitchen.
"She's gone and left you holding the baby again," Mrs Brown, the live-in housekeeper, remarked grimly.
"I don't mind." Penny grinned at the older woman and slipped a gurgling James into his high chair, then set about preparing his bottle and food.
"Brownie," as Penny called her, had lived at Haversham Park since before Penny was born and Penny could not imagine the house without her. Much as Veronica complained about the woman, she had not tried to get rid of her.
However, this was probably because Brownie worked for a small salary and, more importantly, Veronica did not cook ... In fact Veronica's one aim in life, as far as Penny could see, was to look good and be part of what she called the social scene. This apparently, entailed flitting back and forward to London for dinners and charity balls.
Penny grimaced; it was a ball that was responsible for tonight's dinner. Veronica had persuaded her father to take her to an exclusive charity event in London. As luck would have it, Veronica had bumped into an old friend of hers, a businessman, and had introduced him to Penny's father. One thing had led to another, and apparently the man was interested in purchasing land, perhaps for a golf course. Personally Penny could not see the point but, as her father had explained, there was no money in farming any more, and they needed money. Veronica was right; this was an ideal opportunity for Julian to make some money and her father almost always bowed to what Veronica wanted, Penny thought ruefully. Who could blame him? He was a man in his fifties with a beautiful young wife and he just wanted to keep her happy.
But Penny took heart in the fact they would still keep the home she loved, a stone-built Tudor-styled house set in five acres of parkland, and she began feeding James with a smile on her face.
Once he was fed and happy, Penny left James with Brownie and set the large oak table in the dining room with the finest damask cloth and silver cutlery. Then, with a brief glance at her wrist-watch she dashed back to the kitchen.
A sleepy James stretched out his arms to her and she swept him up in hers, giving him a cuddle and a kiss. "Bed for you, little man,'" she murmured, and strolled out into the hall. Her foot was on the bottom step when the front door was flung open. Penny stopped and turned. Veronica was back quick.
"Ah, Penelope and my favourite boy." Her smiling father walked towards her.
Oh, my God! She stifled a groan. The guests had arrived early, over two hours early by Penny's reckoning!
Excerpted from Wife: Bought And Paid For by Jacqueline Baird
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.