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Five still hated him!
"If I could get straight on to the terms of Mr Gresham's will!?" David Brewster prompted politely once they were seated.
"Go ahead," Rufus instructed tersely.
He didn't want her here, Gabriella knew. Or his cousin Toby, if the way the two men had greeted each other a few minutes ago was anything to go by. On that she could agree with him however, after what Toby had done.
But although she knew Rufus wouldn't believe her, she really wished she weren't here.
Given a choice, she would rather James hadn't died at all. She'd much rather he were still here giving her the fatherly advice and love that she had found so invaluable since her mother's death a year ago.
James had been devastated after Heather was killed in a car crash last year, and never really seemed to fully recover from the blow. He had suffered a heart attack six months later, and then another, fatal one, a month ago.
No, given a choice Gabriella would rather have had both James and Heather still alive than being summoned to this lawyer's officeas must Rufus and Toby have beenat this time, on this day, for a meeting about James's will.
She and Rufus hadn't spoken at all since they had arrived separately.As they hadn't spoken for the last five years. As they wouldn't ever speak again once this last link with James was severed.
David Brewster's expression was grave as he opened the official-looking document on top of his desk to look at them over the top of the halfmoon glasses he had perched on top of his nose. "First things first,"he said slowly. "I have already informed by letter the recipients of small bequests in MrGresham's will, members of the household staff and suchlike,"he dismissed. "And there is, of course, a trust fund for his granddaughter Holly, to be administered by her father and myself until she is of an age to receive the bulk capital."
"Lucky old Holly," Toby said cheerfully, an actor by profession, his dark good looks unfortunately not matched in talent, meaning that he was very often "resting' rather than actually working. "Pity she isn't eighteen rather than seven, then I could have married her!"
"If necessary," Toby came back tauntingly. Gabriella barely listened to the exchange, her earlier tension rising to an unbearable pitch as David Brewster dismissed so lightly those "small bequests'.
What did that mean?
That she was a recipient of a large bequest!? If so, Rufus was just going to dislike her more than ever.
If that were possible!
Rufus's gaze narrowed on the elderly lawyer. "Can I ask if this is a recent will of my father's?"
"Indeed it is, Mr Gresham," the lawyer answered him lightly. "In fact, it's dated only two months before your father's death."
Rufus's uneasiness about the contents of his father's will increased.
Of course, that uneasiness could have something to do with the fact that Toby, his disreputable cousin and a constant sponge on James's good will until uncle and nephew had fallen out about three months ago, was also here.
He had rarely seen her the last five years, Gabriella having lived and trained as a chef in France for three years after that!incident!in Majorca, and their paths had rarely crossed since she came back to England to live two years ago.
But whenever they had chanced to meet, he had been very aware of the burning intensity of her dislike.
Those five years had done nothing to lessen her beauty, he noted clinically as he looked at her between narrowed lids. In fact if anything she was even more beautiful, none of that youthful eagerness in her face now as she sensed his gaze on her and turned to look at him challengingly.
Her hair was still that gloriously wild cascade of ebony curls loose down her back, but her slenderness was now of almost model-like proportions, her face thinner, too, making those violet-coloured eyes look bigger, her cheeks slightly hollow, her chin more pointed, with only the full, sensual pout of her lips remaining the same.
And he remembered every silken inch of thatblack trousers and a red gypsy-style blouse that emphasized the fullness of her breasts.
His mouth curled self-derisively as he turned away abruptly, not wanting to dwell on memories of how it had felt to touch her there.
Gabriella saw that scorn on Rufus's face before he turned his attention back to the lawyer, easily able to guess the reason for it. Rufus still believed her to be nothing but a money-grasping little witch.
"Now we come to the reason I asked to speak to you all today," the lawyer continued briskly. "Mr Gresham was most specific that I speak to the three of you alone concerning this matter. I'm sure that once I have explained the contents of the will to all of you it will become clear as to the reason why he made that request," he added ruefully.
Gabriella felt her stomach muscles clench, filled with a terrible premonition.
David Brewster nodded briskly. "You may read the will for yourselves, but the main provisions are as follows: To his two children, namely Rufus James Gresham and Gabriella Maria Lucia Benito, Mr Gresham leaves the bulk of his estatesome fifty million pounds at the time the will was made' "Will you marry me, Gabriella?" Toby put in facetiously.
Gabriella didn't even qualify the question with an answer, Toby knowing of the complete loathing she felt towards him after he had tried to force himself on her three months ago.
Besides, she was too stunned to do any more than stare disbelievingly at David Brewster!
"If I might continue!?" The lawyer gave Toby a disapproving look above those halfmoon glasses. "All properties, overseas and in England, are to be equally divided between the above-named children, with the exception of the family-owned stores of Gresham's both in England and NewYork which are to become the property of Rufus James Gresham, at the end of six months, provided that Rufus and Gabriella have lived together in Gresham House for the duration of that time as husband and wife. Those monies and said properties, and all monies owing, will become forfeit to Mr Gresham's nephew, Tobias John Reed, if this above condition is not met Did you say something, Miss Benito?" the lawyer asked kindly.
Had she groaned out loud? If she had, she hadn't meant to, aware that both Rufus and Toby were now looking at her curiously, too. "No, nothing," she quietly assured the elderly lawyer.
But she inwardly cringed, knowing exactly what James meant by "all monies owing'.
Shortly after her mother's death a year ago Gabriella had attained a bank loan with which to open up her own restaurant, something she had always wanted to do. She had finally felt that she had enough experience to do it, but from the start everything had gone disastrously wrong.
The builder making the alterations on the property she had leased for a year had run way over budget, and then downed tools until she paid up.
There had been a fire in the kitchen prior to opening night meaning that she'd had to hastily and expensivelybring in new appliances.
And then two months after opening an employee had swindled a customer out of five thousand pounds on their credit card. The customer had refused to be compensated and had sued instead, with the case being reported in all the newspapers, totally tarnishing the reputation of Benito's and closing her down within a month because there had been simply no customers for her to cook for.
All of which had left her with a thirtythousand-pound loan from the bank, and only the wages from the job she had managed to secure as assistant chef in someone else's bistro with which to pay it.
James had stepped into the breach and rescued her from sure disaster. But only, at Gabriella's insistence, on the condition that they had a legal contract between them that she would eventually pay the money back to him.
A legal contract stating exactly what "monies' were "owing'!
And if she didn't live with Rufus as his wife for six months she would owe that money to Toby, of all people. A man she despised even more than she did Rufus.
She glanced across at Rufus beneath lowered lashes, knowing by the expression on that arrogantly handsome face that he definitely hadn't missed her pained groan. And wondered at the reason for it!