"I do" to a man she barely knows.
True, David Elliot is ideal husband material. He's handsome, talented and happy to fulfill his side of the bargainEve gets to please her family, and David gets to run the business. But sealing the deal with a kiss changes everything. David orders their marriage contract to be torn upand Eve to share his bed!
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Bride By Design
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHe was used to glitter, for it surrounded him always. He had grown accustomed to the iridescent mystery of opals, the sullen fire of rubies, the icy brilliance of diamonds, the chilly gleam of platinum and the quick warmth of gold.
But he had never seen anything like this jewelry store - a store so well known that its formal title didn't bother to specify exactly what it was. Instead, it was simply known as Birmingham on State. The proprietor's name and the street, that was all - for nothing else was needed. Everyone knew that Birmingham on State was the place to go for jewelry - if one wanted the beautiful, the unique, the costly, or the innovative.
It didn't look like the usual jewelry store, either, but more like a fashion salon. There were no display windows in front, facing onto Chicago's famous State Street. Inside, instead of rows of display cases, there were only half a dozen individual glass boxes, each perched atop a gray marble pillar at perfect viewing height and each containing only a few items. The boxes were scattered seemingly at random across an expanse of plain blue-gray plush carpet. Nearest the door, the only case he could really see held an inch-wide diamond choker draped across a velvet display board so that it looked like a waterfall offire under the spotlight above it.
A man in a dark suit approached him, his steps hushed on the thick carpet. "May I help you, sir?"
David was still looking at the choker. There was something unusual about the way those stones were set. Even from several feet away, he knew it as clearly as if the necklace had spoken to him. But he didn't know exactly what made it different. His fingertips itched to get hold of the necklace, to take a closer look at the workmanship, to see if he could figure out precisely how it had been done.
But he hadn't been invited to fly out here from Atlanta to inspect Henry Birmingham's merchandise and learn all the old man's tricks. At least, he didn't think that was why he was here - but the truth was, he really didn't know why he'd been summoned, out of the blue.
"David Elliot to see Mr. Birmingham," he said.
"Oh, yes. He's expecting you." The man led the way across the acre of carpet and around the artfully designed end of a wall into a tiny room which hadn't even been visible from the main entrance. It contained three small but comfortable-looking armchairs and - between the chairs - a small table with the top half draped in velvet the same color as the carpet. In one of the armchairs was Henry Birmingham. At the moment, the old man looked as if he was playing tiddledywinks with a dozen diamond rings.
David stopped in the doorway. Henry pushed the rings aside into a careless heap and stood up.
David had seen Henry Birmingham from a distance, of course, at jewelers' conventions and seminars, but he'd never before come face-to-face with the king of jewelry design. He was startled to see that the man was smaller than he'd expected - both shorter and slighter, his spine slightly stooped with age. But his hair, though it was iron-gray, was still thick and unruly, and his eyes were as brilliant as the stones he worked with.
The old man's gaze focused narrowly on David. For nearly ten seconds he simply looked, and when at last he smiled and held out a hand, David felt as if he'd just finished running a quarter-mile high-hurdle race blindfolded, and still managed to come in the winner.
"Welcome to Birmingham on State," Henry said. "And thank you for coming all the way out here to see me. Have a chair." He sat again himself and looked contemplatively at the rings spread in front of him. "A most unusual request, this one. The lady gathered up all the rings she's acquired through the years - family pieces that have been handed down, her own wedding rings from her first couple of marriages, that sort of thing. Not a valuable one among them, really - the gold is all right, but they're of ordinary design, set with undistinguished stones. Certainly there's nothing here she'll ever wear again. But instead of leaving them at the bottom of her jewelry case to gather dust for even more years, she brought them here and asked me to make them into a piece she will enjoy." He looked up. "Any ideas?"
David smiled slightly. "I don't think you invited me to Chicago because you need my advice on how to design a piece of jewelry, Mr. Birmingham. You've been in the business fifty years longer than I have."
"Call me Henry. Everyone else does." Henry Birmingham sat back in his chair. "No, I didn't invite you because I was stumped over this project. But I would like your opinion."
David leaned forward and picked up the nearest ring. The shank was worn thin, and the brushed-gold pattern which had once surrounded the stone had been almost rubbed away through daily wear. The small diamond was, as Henry had said, ordinary in cut and color and clarity, and one of the prongs that held it was almost worn through. He put it down and picked up another. Even without getting his loupe out of his pocket so he could take a closer look, he could see that this diamond was chipped along the girdle.
A quick glance told him that the rest of the assortment was much the same - the cuts of the stones were old-fashioned, the workmanship both commonplace and well-worn. "There's not much here to work with. What does she want? A brooch? A pendant?"
"She left the matter completely up to me."
"So if she doesn't like the finished product she can blame you."
"Perhaps." Henry leaned forward, elbows on the table, hands tented under his chin. "What would you do?"
"Take the stones out. Melt each ring separately, and pour the gold into water so as it cools it will form a random-shaped nugget. Then I'd reset the stones into the nuggets and string them together with a nice heavy chain to make either a bracelet or a necklace. If she'd rather have a showier piece, then I'd make one big nugget." David tossed the ring back into the pile. "So do I pass your test?"
"Does that suggestion make the cost of my plane ticket worthwhile to you?"
Henry sat silent, while - too late - David thought better of the flippant question. Of all the stupid things to say ... He didn't even know the man, much less have an idea of why Henry Birmingham had asked him to visit his store. It was no time to be making wisecracks.
"If I hadn't already concluded that the plane ticket was money well spent," Henry said finally, "I wouldn't have asked your opinion about the rings. Let's get out of here so we can talk. It's a little early for lunch, perhaps, but we can have a drink." He left the rings scattered on the velvet, picked up a gold-topped ebony cane that had been leaning against the end of the table, and led the way out of the little consultation room.
David hesitated. "Shouldn't these be put away securely before you leave? Even if they're not collector's items, they have value."
"One of the clerks will do it." Henry's smile was quick. "That's the good thing about being the boss, and - even more - being thought to be a genius. I've got my staff convinced that I'm too busy creating to be bothered with details like picking up after myself."
David glanced back over his shoulder as they crossed to the main entrance and saw a woman in a black dress going into the small room.
He wouldn't have been surprised if Henry had taken him to the fanciest private club in town - he was sure the man must belong to them all, since that was where his clients were to be found. So he was startled when instead of hailing a cab, Henry strode down the block to a side street and turned into a little tavern that looked as if it had been there for a hundred years.
Henry shot him a look. "Not much atmosphere here. But the food's good, the beer's reasonably priced, and the staff doesn't hassle you to hurry, which is more than you can say for most of the fancy spots." He headed toward a booth in the far corner. "What would you like, David?"
Henry raised an eyebrow. "Do you have a problem with drinking a beer? Or something stronger?"
"Not at all, under the right circumstances. Today I think I'd be wise to keep a very level head."
Excerpted from Bride By Design by Michaels 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.