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'Married?' Jasper Caulfield almost choked on the word.
'Are you out of your cotton-picking mind?'
Duncan Brocklehurst gave his client an empathetic look. 'I guess it's your father's way of still exerting control from the other side of the grave.'
Jasper's dark brows snapped together irritably. 'You mean there's no way out of it?'
The lawyer shook his head. 'I'm afraid not, Jasper. If you want the Crickglades estate you're going to have to fulfil the terms of the old man's will, and soon, otherwise the whole lot is going to your brother Raymond.'
Jasper sprang to his feet and began to pace the room in agitation. 'This is totally outrageous. Raymond's a priest for God's sake. What's he going to do with a place the size of Crickglades?'
'Look, it might not be so bad,' Duncan consoled him. 'All you have to do is convince Hayley Addington to be your wife and live with her for a month and the place is yours.'
Jasper turned around to glare at him. 'Hayley Addington? Are you completely nuts? Even if I was the marrying type, which I'm very definitely not, she's practically the last woman I would consider tying myself to, even temporarily. Besides, she hates my guts.'
'Which is probably why Gerald constructed his will this way,'Duncan pointed out. 'But for all that it does seem a rather strange caveat.'
'Strange?'Jasper gave an incredulous snort. 'It's bloody ridiculous, that's what it is. Who on earth gets married for a month?'
'I know it's unusual but I'd think about it very seriously if I were you,'Duncan said. 'This is a property developer's dream. The land is worth a fortune in terms of redevelopment. Surely it's worth putting up with a short term marriage?'
Jasper blew out a breath as he sat back down. He had his own reasons for wanting Crickglades-and he was damned well going to make sure he got what he wanted. He scraped a hand through his thick black hair before fixing his gaze on the document on the desk as if it were something poisonous. 'So how am I going to convince Hayley to marry me?'
Duncan chuckled with amusement. 'You are such a comedian.'He leaned back in his chair, still grinning. 'Why not use some of that lethal charm you're so well known for? You have a veritable drove of adoring women following you about all the time if what's reported in the press is to be believed.'
Jasper rolled his eyes. 'Yeah, well, it's going to take a lot more than charm to get Hayley to agree with this. Anyway, what does she get out of the deal? I was under the impression she'd sweet talked him into leaving her the lot. Did the old guy change his mind at the last minute?'
'His previous will had been pretty straightforward but he drew up a new one a few days before he died.' Duncan's eyes flicked back to the legal papers in front of him. 'This time around she gets a lump sum from Gerald's estate, but only if she marries you and lives with you for the month as stated.'
'How much is the lump sum?'
Duncan told him an amount that made Jasper's dark brows shoot upwards. 'That much, huh?'
'Yep,' Duncan said. 'A nice little carrot, if you ask me.' Jasper's expression twisted cynically. 'It wouldn't matter what size carrot my father had organised, she'd never agree to marry me,' he said, his frown deepening. 'What was the old man thinking of?'
'I don't know, but your father insisted no money must change hands between you. You can't pay Hayley to be your wife. And no pre-nup either.'
Jasper jerked upright in his chair. 'What?'
Duncan pushed the document across the desk for him to inspect the fine print. 'There it is in black and white. No pre-nuptial agreement.'
'That's just financial suicide!' Jasper raged. 'This is total madness, especially when you consider what happened to my father when Hayley's bitch of a mother Eva stripped him of half his assets. Come on, surely there's a way around this?'
Duncan shook his head. 'Sorry, Jasper. Your father has tied this up so neatly it would take more than Houdini to get out of it. You really have no choice but to do as it says. Get Hayley Addington to be your wife, then hope and pray she doesn't still hate you at the end of the month and take you to the cleaners.'
Jasper rubbed at his jaw for a moment. 'Does she know the details of the will?'
'I met with her yesterday.'
Duncan gave him a sober look. 'You've got yourself one hell of a challenge on your hands, Jasper,' he said. 'Not only does she hate you to hell and back, she's currently engaged to another man.'
Jasper felt as if someone had punched him in the midsection. 'Engaged?'
Duncan nodded. 'You'll have to work quickly as she plans to get married some time next month.'
Jasper's one short, sharp curse cut the air like a knife. Hayley engaged? How did that happen without him finding out about it? Not that it was any of his business, of course, but then again...
'She mentioned to me you hadn't gone to the funeral,' Duncan interrupted Jasper's wandering thoughts.
His eyes moved away from the lawyer's to look at the array of graduation certificates on the wall. 'I didn't make it back in time,' he said in a flat emotionless tone, which he hoped belied the truth of what he was feeling. 'I was overseas on business.'
'She wasn't too happy about it, I might add,' Duncan went on. 'She was under the impression you were cavorting in the Caribbean with Collette or Claudia or whatever your current girlfriend's name is.'
Jasper turned back to look at him. 'Her name is Candice and she's no longer current.'
'Just as well, then,' Duncan said in a pragmatic tone. 'So when was the last time you saw Hayley?'
'A few years ago at one of my father's fund-raising garden parties for Raymond's parish, I think,' he said, inwardly wincing as the memory returned. 'I made some comment about the outfit she was wearing and she threw her drink in my face. It ruined a brand-new designer shirt, I might add.'
'Yeah, that's Hayley, all right,' Jasper said with a curl of his lip. 'But it's a pity my father couldn't see what a little cat she was. You'd have thought he would have learned from his experience with her sluttish mother, but no-he thought Hayley was different. He thought the sun shone out of her blue-green eyes. God, it used to make me sick the way she sucked up to him all the time.'
'You never know, she might have changed for the better,' Duncan said. 'She seemed all right to me when I met her yesterday. I thought she was rather sweet, actually.'
Jasper grunted. 'You spent an hour with her. I supposedly have to spend a bloody month with her.'
'That's if you can convince her to marry you instead of Myles Lederman,' Duncan reminded him.
'Myles Lederman, eh?'Jasper rubbed his chin thoughtfully. 'My brother Raymond is right,' he said with a glinting smile. 'There must be a god after all.'
'You know this Lederman fellow?' Duncan asked. 'We've crossed paths a couple of times.'
'Yes, well, I still think you've got a bit of a fight on your hands even if you do have some convenient connections,' Duncan said.
Jasper got to his feet and gave the lawyer a determined look as he reached for the door. 'If I have to drag Hayley kicking and screaming to the altar I'll damn well do it. You just watch me.'
'Your next client is here,' Lucy informed Hayley as she poked her head around the facial room door.
'Thanks, Lucy,' Hayley said as she straightened the covers on the treatment table. 'I'll be out in a second to get her.'
'Erm...' Lucy cleared her throat. 'It's not a her-it's a him. A rather gorgeous him too, I might add.'
Hayley turned around with a frown. 'But Mrs Fairbright always comes in at this time for her eyebrow tint. Did she cancel at the last minute?'
'Must have,'Lucy said. 'Anyway I'm sure you won't be disappointed in her replacement. God, I wish I could wax his chest or whatever it is he wants done.'
'What does he want done?'
Lucy shrugged. 'I don't know. I didn't look at the appointment book. He just said he had an appointment at three p.m. with you. He was quite adamant about it, actually.' narrowed eyes. 'What did you say?'
He smiled one of his lazy smiles. 'I've just purchased some real estate on this block. It was an absolute bargain. A steal, you could say.'
She felt a sudden chugging in her chest as if her heart were trying to decide whether to beat harder or stop altogether. 'So?'
'So ' he said, deliberately pausing over the word, 'as of today I am your new landlord.'
Hayley gaped at him. 'But but that's impossible!'
He folded his arms across his broad chest, his dark gaze gleaming with satisfaction. 'The legal work was finalised this morning,' he said. 'That's why I am here.'
The front door pinged cheerily as another client came in.
Hayley gave the woman a quick smile of greeting and mumbled something about Lucy attending to her shortly, before she turned back to Jasper. 'We can't discuss this out here,'she said in a stiff undertone. 'You'd better come to my office out the back.'
She led the way on leaden legs, her stomach feeling as if someone were twisting her insides into hard little knots. Every time she saw Jasper Caulfield she felt anger charging through her system like high voltage electricity. She hadn't seen him in three years and yet nothing had changed.
She still hated him with a vengeance.
She pushed open her office door and took refuge behind her desk, but it wasn't much of a barrier. As soon as he came in the room it seemed to shrink to half its size, and when he took the chair opposite she felt the brush of his long legs against hers under the desk. She clamped her thighs together and hastily repositioned her legs as she sent him another gimlet glare.
'I suppose you're going to charge me an outrageous rent or something,' she bit out resentfully.
'That depends,' he said, his dark inscrutable eyes running over her taut features.
'Your cooperation.' She grasped the edge of the desk with both hands. 'Why don't you get straight to the point?' she asked. 'If you're here to try and intimidate me, then you can leave right now. It won't work.'
'Actually I'm here on another matter.'
'Oh?' She gave him a scornful look. 'So you want a deluxe facial after all, do you?'
'I want you to be my wife.'
Hayley blinked at him. 'Your what?'
'I want you to marry me,'he said, his darker-than-night gaze still holding hers.
'You have got to be joking.'