They grew up together yet worlds apart. But a wealthy young man and a classy young woman find that some bonds can’t be broken . . .
The only thing Marigold Reynolds and billionaire Hagen Allbrook ever had in common was their attraction. Marigold made sure that never went anywhere by cutting ties with him six years ago. Now, however, she needs a job—and Hagen’s design assistant desperately needs someone to fill in for her at his family’s construction firm. Trusting that time has dimmed the electricity between them, Marigold accepts. But as she undertakes his challenging renovation of her own ancestors’ home, it’s soon clear she’s mistaken.
A year after his wife’s death, Hagen is coming to terms with the past. He’s as drawn to Marigold as ever, but as they finally cross long-held boundaries, a misunderstanding, and Marigold’s belief that she can never measure up to his perfect wife, threatens to tear them apart once more. Hagen’s only chance of winning her back is to reveal the truth about his marriage. And perhaps then Marigold will reveal a heartfelt secret of her own . . .
“Taylor crafts a believable opposites-attract romance. . . . With a South Australia setting, the book’s realistic Aussie dialog will transport readers to this distant locale while making Sets Appeal a fun, lighthearted departure from standard romance fare.”
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In the glimmer of early morning light provided by a high bank of windows, Marigold Reynolds picked her way through white-sheeted furniture, a collection of floor lamps with oddly angled shades, a table needing another leg, and a stack of badly folded canvas sheeting. Two long shelves along the back wall of the warehouse sat blatantly empty while boxes of who-knew-what had been scattered higgledy-piggledy across the long expanse of the concrete floor. Wan picture frames had been huddled together, waiting to fall onto the unwary. For a woman with an orderly mind, this was her idea of being dragged through hell.
The loading bay door she had slid shut after her entry began to rumble open again, and a larger patch of light hovered around the ghostly shapes. She sneezed.
"Is that you, Marigold?"
"I'm over in the far aisle," she called.
The top of Antigone Allbrook's blond head bobbed up behind one of the stacks. Tiggy, a tallish, long-limbed sweetheart, dodged and twisted through the unmarked aisles toward Marigold. "Sorry I'm late." Tiggy was always late.
Marigold was usually early. "I've been exploring." She gave her friend a hug. "I need to know what you've got here if I'm expected to look after it."
"This is pretty well everything." Tiggy glanced around, scratching at her eyebrow. "Though, I often find weird little surprises that I'm sure I haven't seen before. Treasures all," she said in an offhand tone. Her unicorn-pink hair matched her tight jeans, contrasting with her green sneakers and her flowing yellow top. Tiggy had decided long ago that as the artist of the family, she should dress accordingly. "And I won't miss a single one of them."
Marigold laughed. She and Tiggy had met at school, or maybe she had met Calli, her sister, first. The two were identical twins, though Tiggy made sure everyone knew she was the elder. Somehow Marigold and Tiggy had clicked, perhaps because their opposing natures complemented each other. Artistic Tiggy had a wayward streak while unimaginative Marigold was embarrassingly methodical.
Marigold's tidiness hadn't diminished over the years, and Tiggy still hadn't settled down. She had decided to take a break from her job with her father, a property developer, and do something in Cambodia. When Marigold had asked what, Tiggy had shrugged. "Teach orphans to paint?"
From that, Marigold had deduced Tiggy planned to do charity work. She also planned to be back in three months, and she had asked Marigold to take over as AA & Co.'s property developer and event coordinator, the first of a more comprehensive decorating job than Marigold had handled before. "Let's hope I learn where everything is before I break my neck."
"It won't take you any time. You've seen half the props before because you made all the curtains and the cushion covers, and I don't know what-all else."
Marigold had done odd sewing jobs from home for the past six years, and her weekly orders from Tiggy were not only her way of supporting herself but also the highlights in her soulless existence. When everything in her life had consisted of routine trips to the hospital, counting out tablets, cooking special meals, and keeping her mother interested in life, having another focus kept her going. Plus, she needed a steady income. "I hope you have enough here to cover every event."
"Don't worry about that now. Hagen's going to show you around." Tiggy planted her hands on her hips, an expectant smile on her face.
Marigold dragged in a breath and eked it out, her cheeks tingling. She doubted Tiggy's brother Hagen, the golden boy, would be particularly thrilled to see her. He had always been polite, but golden boys were best left to golden girls, not those with a slight tarnish. At school, Marigold's tarnish came from being a poor scholarship student. In those days, Hagen preferred the people who had as much cash to splash around as he did. "It will be very nice to see him again," she said, using her impartial voice.
Tiggy made a wry face. "He's not the same man. Mercia's death knocked the stuffing out of him."
Last year, Hagen's beautiful wife, Mercia, had been killed in a car accident, and at the time Marigold had commiserated with Tiggy. Marigold didn't want to be mean-spirited about the death of anyone, but Hagen's stuffing had been so tight in recent years that he could barely acknowledge her. A little less stuffing might not be so bad. "You left a list of this week's jobs?"
Tiggy found a pocket in her loose cashmere top. "It's a bit messy, but I think you'll understand it."
Marigold skimmed over the words in the torn-out page of a small notebook. She had been dealing with Tiggy's lists for three years now and her writing no longer confounded Marigold. Nor did Tiggy's shorthand. "My biggest problem will be finding things. Where did you leave the furniture for today's staging job?"
"Close to the loading door. It's easiest if you go with the props. I give myself a day for each job when I'm staging a house. I plan a month ahead, if possible, but sometimes I only have days. The events take much longer. The bigger event, the trickier. We often need to hire chairs, but we have most things in the warehouse. I'll wait until Hagen arrives, and then I'll go. My plane leaves this afternoon, and I want to see Calli and Ma before then. Last minute requests in my will." Tiggy laughed.
"Don't even joke about dying, Tiggy." Marigold grabbed Tiggy and hugged her again. "Because if you leave me with this mess for more than three months, I'll kill you."
Tiggy laughed. "Trust me, I'll be back." She smoothed Marigold's carefully tied back hair in a motherly way. "If you hadn't said you would do this, I probably wouldn't have been able to go. I don't know too many people I would trust to take this on, but you're an experienced stager and you know my style. This time of the year we're busy, but I had to get away. I couldn't stay here any longer, letting my life pass me by."
Friend or not, Tiggy hadn't shared her personal problems, but most women's problems stemmed from a man. Likely, Tiggy's did, too. Marigold's didn't. She couldn't remember the last time she'd had a date, and only one man had ever caused her a problem, other than in family matters where males were the cause of all the ructions.
Tiggy let her go and led the way to the furnishings she had picked out for one of the houses in a new row of ten in the western suburbs. AA wanted a single show home readied for publicity photographs before putting the houses on the market later in the month. "The list will tell you what is meant for each room, but you have wriggle space. If anything looks out of place, move it elsewhere. If it looks really odd, you'll need to come back and pick around for what you want. As you know, in the warehouse I keep tables together, chairs together, and the soft furnishings on the shelves."
As Marigold was trying not to look surprised at Tiggy's gross exaggeration of her placement skills, a car drew up outside. The view from the twelve-foot-high open door showed a bleeding, bloody, red Porsche rumbling to a stop in the staff car park. Marigold didn't have to guess who the driver might be. Even in his last year at school, Hagen had owned a nice Mazda sports model. He had no qualms about flashing his parent's cash. If Marigold still had a family, they would have been horrified.
Unlike Hagen, she came from 'old money' but in her case, the money was so old that it had disintegrated and wafted off into the air after three generations. She was the fifth. Her father had snatched a little back, but her mother was his first wife. His second wife lived in comfort with him and his two sons, while Marigold's mother had accepted his half of her house with her child support.
Then, as she and Tiggy watched, the golden boy strolled into the warehouse. Over the years — Hagen would be almost thirty now — the gold had remained. His white-blond hair had darkened somewhat, but in the light of the doorway he stood surrounded by a halo that he could never have earned. If the fates collaborated with justice, a person as endowed with money, brains, and athletic ability as Hagen should be only minimally attractive. Instead, the man was a tall, wide-shouldered heart stopper.
Her breath sighed out as he hesitated and glanced across the shrouded furniture. He spotted Tiggy and lifted a hand. Then his gaze slowly shifted to Marigold. Her mouth dried.
Nothing in the world would let her visibly react. She'd last seen him at Calli's wedding a year ago, but she hadn't spoken to him on that day. His aloof expression had warned off everyone. She managed a polite, if not vague smile. "Hi."
"Marigold with the marigold hair." He sounded surprised, probably because he had finally connected her name with her appearance, but her hair was a dead giveaway. She had been named after the orange of her hair, the name an embarrassment she had tried to argue her mother into letting her change a long time ago.
"It'll be tricky when I go gray." She shrugged. "No one will ever remember me."
"Your hair is aggressively red enough to defy fading."
Even uttering that line, which was mildly funny, he didn't smile. His thick-lashed eyes didn't glint with slow amusement the way they used to. His words seemed to come from someone else, not from the handsome young man she remembered who had the world at his feet, but from a man who would more likely kick the world in passing. Anyone could see Hagen hadn't yet dealt with his grief.
She was also bereaved, though admittedly she'd had time to come to terms with losing the person she loved most. Her mother had passed away little by little. His wife had died on impact when her car had crashed into a tree. "I'll probably adopt the clown red. I'm the eccentric type."
Tiggy sighed loudly. "Civilities completed, I will now leave you to Hagen. I'm off to pack." She kissed Marigold's cheek, kissed Hagen's cheek, and left two people sharing the same heavy silence.
Hagen let out an audible breath. "It's very good of you to take over at such short notice," he said stiffly. "Calli could have done the job, but she's busy on her own projects, or so she says."
"You're implying she's lying?"
He briefly drew his imperious eyebrows together. "I'm using poor phrasing. Calli says she is busy on her own projects. Does that suit you better?"
Marigold decided to smile rather than answer. She could haggle with him all day, but he was her employer now and she had already shifted the boundaries on a burgeoning boss/drudge conversation. "Tiggy said you would show me around."
"You'll have to find your own way around," he said unhelpfully, pushing his hands into the pockets of his perfectly cut gray trousers. His perfectly cut gray jacket sat perfectly misplaced. A thousand dollars wouldn't buy either item. "I have no idea of Tiggy's filing system. She doesn't have one as far as I can tell."
Marigold paused for the beat of three, again holding her words. "I think she meant the main building — her office, and the amenities, etcetera. I know the warehouse because this is where I deliver my goods, but I've never been in her office, and I don't know where to powder my nose, for example."
He glanced at her nose. "That would be old money's way of saying the bathroom, I expect."
"Old money can also say loo, but I wasn't sure if new money would understand." Her heart dropped. Her mother would have been ashamed to hear her talk that way. Descended from the earliest settlers, Sir Patrick and Lady Grace, her mother would never have dreamed of belittling anyone else who had arrived in the country since. "That was ungracious of me."
"And old money is never ungracious." He turned away, as if shutting out the knowledge of a past memory.
"I wouldn't consider it if I stopped to think, but you have to admit you goaded me," she said with an apologetic lift of her shoulders.
He examined the expression on her face, and appeared to lose concentration. "Through that side door is a corridor," he said, his broad shoulders squaring. He averted his gaze and pointed to where the main building, a modern concrete office block, joined onto the warehouse beneath the rest of the building. "That leads to the amenities and to the staff room. You can make tea or coffee or enjoy whatever sugar-loaded filler is currently available. I'll walk you through and show you where my office is. Tiggy's, now yours, is there, too."
"Right," she said as he led the way.
He walked like a cat, using a smooth, athletic stride. A grieving widower or not, he still had an admirable back view, though his suit jacket hid what used to be a very tight behind. His hair had been well-cut, not shorn or trendy, but expensively styled, and brushed back. Even in the throes of mourning, he presented himself like a billionaire's son.
The corridor had been carpeted with industrial gray and the walls were painted a lighter shade. He showed her the all-white bathroom and the facilities, and she was impressed by the staff room, possibly the only staff room she'd seen in her life, other than that at school. This one had the flow-through gray carpeting and the same walls, but bright, modern paintings hung grouped together on one wall. Immediately, the place looked friendly. Tables and chairs sat around the room and a few comfortable armchairs, but the pi?ce de résistance was the glass servery.
Apparently, with no charge, an employee could help herself to Greek pastries, short breads, custard slices, or a cheese-and-olive platter. Hagen's Greek mother used to be a compulsive feeder of people and apparently hadn't changed since the days when Marigold was hauled by Tiggy into the lovely big house the Allbrooks filled with their noise. Coming from a single-parent household, Marigold couldn't get enough of people shouting with laughter, or arguing obscure and wonderful points. She was a natural arguer of points herself.
"My — our — office is two doors farther along."
"Ah. Good placement."
He stared down at her.
"Two doors away from coffee and shortbread? Who would argue that?"
He gave a sideways glance. "Follow me."
Two doors down, he turned into a mini-foyer presided over by a long desk and a middle-aged, black-haired woman who lifted her head and smiled at Hagen. "Good morning. Who's this? Tiggy's wonderful friend?" She aimed her direct brown eyes at Marigold. Her hair had been scraped up into a bun at the crown of her head and she wore her green-framed glasses halfway down her nose.
Marigold smiled. "I don't know how I came to be wonderful but yes, I'm Tiggy's friend."
"You're wonderful because you're taking over from her at a moment's notice." The woman looked amused.
"Marigold, meet Sandra, my personal assistant. If you have any questions, Sandra is more likely to know the answer than I am." With that, Hagen strolled through the door that featured his name added to the title of Business Manager.
Sandra stood and walked over to the other door, marked Antigone Allbrook. "You'll find your work station in here. Tiggy left her appointment book on the desk and she says you know your way around a computer. Any problems, call out."
Marigold walked into her new office and glanced at the computer, fighting the temptation to run back to her car. She wanted to drive home and stay there, dreaming of her old life where computers only featured for the odd e-mail, the odder address, or occasionally for finding a tradesman.
She glanced at the appointment book, but she already knew she would be staging a house today. That was within her comfort zone. Barely. She managed single-contract staging for land agents, but she used the client's furniture fluffed up a little with touches of her own, her homemade cushion covers, or her borrowed furniture. The rest ... She warded off a panic attack by concentrating her gaze on Tiggy's messy desk. Tidying up was a job she could handle. Later.
After a few moments of deep breathing, she edged back past Sandra's desk and made her way to the warehouse again. The double doors had been dragged wide open and two men had started shifting a houseful of furniture into a truck marked AA & Co.
"I'm Marigold, the new stager," she called over the noise of the rumbling trolley. "I'll be coming with you. How long will you take to load?"
"An hour, give or take. I'm Billy Bunter." A middle-aged man with a squashed nose like an ex-boxer and a perfectly round bald patch on the back of his head, stopped and grinned at her.
"I'm Jeff Bunter, but I'm called Billy," he explained, standing patiently with his hands on his hips. "But call me Jeff if you like."
She smiled. "I like Billy."
"He's Joe." Billy indicated the other man with a head of wild dark curls who also looked as if he would be handy in a fight. He nodded at Marigold and grabbed up an armchair.
Excerpted from "Golden Opportunity"
Copyright © 2017 Virginia Taylor.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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