A Deal to Mend Their Marriage

By: Michell Douglas

CHAPTER ONE

THE FIRST PRICKLE of unease wormed through Caro when the lawyer’s gaze slid from her to Barbara and then down to the papers in front of him—her father’s will, presumably. The lawyer picked up a pen, turned it over several times before setting it back to the table. He adjusted his tie, cleared his throat.

Even Barbara noticed his unwillingness to start proceedings. Turning ever so slightly, her stepmother reached out to pat Caro’s hand. ‘Caro, darling, if your father has disinherited you—’

Caro forced a laugh. ‘There’ll be no if about that, Barbara.’

It was a given, and they both knew it. Caro just wanted all the unpleasantness over so she could put it behind her. Her father was about to utter the last words he ever would to her—albeit on paper. She had no expectation that they’d be any kinder in death than they had been in life.

‘Mr Jenkins?’ She prodded the lawyer with the most pleasant smile she could muster. ‘If you’d be so kind as to start we’d both appreciate it. Unless—’ she pursed her lips ‘—we’re waiting for someone else?’

‘No, no one else.’

Mr Jenkins shook his head and Caro had to bite back a smile when the elderly lawyer’s gaze snagged on the long, lean length of Barbara’s legs, on display beneath her short black skirt. At thirty-seven—only seven years older than Caro—Barbara had better legs than Caro could ever hope to have. Even if she spent every waking hour at the gym and resisted every bit of sugar, butter and cream that came her way—which, of course, she had no intention of doing.

The lawyer shook himself. ‘Yes, of course, Ms Fielding. We’re not waiting for anyone else.’

‘Come now,’ she chided. ‘You’ve known me my entire life. If you can’t bring yourself to call me Caro, then surely you can call me Caroline?’

He sent her an agonised glance.

She made her smile gentle. ‘I am prepared, you know. I fully expect that my father has disinherited me.’

She didn’t add that the money didn’t matter. Neither Mr Jenkins nor Barbara would believe her. The fact remained, though, that it had never been money she’d craved but her father’s approval, his acceptance.

Her temples started to throb. With a superhuman effort she kept the smile on her face. ‘I promise not to shoot the messenger.’

The lawyer slumped in what had been until recently her father’s chair. He pulled off his spectacles and rubbed the bridge of his nose. ‘You have it all wrong, Caro.’

Barbara clasped her hands together and beamed. ‘I knew he wouldn’t disinherit you!’

The relief—and, yes, the delight—on Barbara’s face contrasted wildly with the weariness in Mr Jenkins’s eyes. Cold fingers crept up Caro’s spine. A premonition of what, exactly...?

Mr Jenkins pushed his spectacles back to his nose and folded his hands in front of him. ‘There are no individual letters I need to deliver. There are no messages I need to pass on nor any individual bequests to run through. I don’t even need to read out the will word for word.’

‘Then maybe—’ Barbara glanced at Caro ‘—you’d be kind enough to just give us the general gist.’

He slumped back and heaved out a sigh. ‘Mr Roland James Philip Fielding has left all of his worldly goods—all of his wealth and possessions—to...’

Caro braced herself.

‘Ms Caroline Elizabeth Fielding.’

It took a moment for the import of the lawyer’s words to hit her. When they did, Caro had to grip the arms of her chair to counter the roaring in her ears and the sudden tilting of the room. Her father had left everything...to her? Maybe...maybe he’d loved her after all.

She shook her head. ‘There must be a mistake.’

‘No mistake,’ the lawyer intoned.

‘But surely there’s a caveat that I can only inherit if I agree to administer my mother’s trust?’

Her father had spent the last twenty years telling her it was her duty, her responsibility...her obligation to manage the charity he’d created in homage to her mother. Caro had spent those same twenty years refusing the commission.

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