Confessions of a Millionaire's Mistress. Robyn Grady
drag him out any way she could.
He rubbed his chest and grinned.
It’d be fun letting her try.
Halfway out the front door, the thin middle-aged housekeeper caught up with him to hand over a note.
Benton, an urgent personal matter has called me away. Deepest apologies. Celeste is aware and will make sure you’re comfortable. Rodney Prince.
That bought Celeste a little time to think of a way to explain this situation to her father, Ben thought, pushing the note into his pocket and walking out onto the veranda. It was clear she believed filling Daddy’s shoes would make him proud. Ben sympathised with her—even envied her a touch. He’d give anything to have known a real father. A mother, too.
But he’d got something at least from his foster-home days…a survival technique, which had later crossed over into business: the uncanny ability to quickly and accurately sum up people and situations. Case in point, he had no doubt this deal would go through; Rodney Prince would never entertain the idea of passing on his ailing business to his pretty young daughter.
And Celeste? She was all about deportment classes and new season fashion. She didn’t want to accept it yet, but she was better off following her more feminine sway. He was rarely wrong and he sure wasn’t wrong about that.
When he met Celeste in the yard, despite the cold shower, the sight of her fresh face—those cute freckles sprinkled over her nose—had his toes stiffening in his heavy-duty boots.
He bent to ruffle both dogs’ ears, then fixed the Akubra hat on his head while she sauntered over, eyeing his khaki outfit. ‘My, my, you’re taking this seriously.’
‘And while I like the frock,’ he said, ‘you don’t look dressed for a day at work.’
Not a flinch. Only a measured reply. ‘I thought we could go over the books. I can change into a suit if you prefer.’
Picturing her draped over a desk in a vest and tie and nothing else, he cleared his throat.
‘I thought we should start by tackling the more practical side of things.’ Eager to begin, he rubbed his hands together. ‘Where’s a mower?’
She smiled, a cheeky tilt of perfect plump lips. They’d tasted like cherries last night. The juiciest, ripest cherries he’d ever known.
‘Are you going to give me a quiz?’ she asked. ‘You want me to name the parts?’
He copied her grin. ‘Not quite. You said you could rescue this business. That you could prove you knew it all backwards. Why don’t we start with something basic, like lopping an inch off this lawn?’ He surveyed the grounds, patted his chest and inhaled. ‘I can smell the petrol fumes and hot motor oil now.’
A dog came to sit either side of her as she stooped to slip an espadrille on each foot. ‘If you’re trying to deter me, save your breath. I was brought up on the aroma of fertiliser and grip of secateurs.’
He shrugged. ‘Then you’ll be able to show me a thing or two.’
‘I didn’t want to say it, but that’s kind of my point.’
She strolled away, her derrière swaying a little too freely to be entirely unconscious. Ice, be damned. If her head was saying to concentrate on business, her body hadn’t got the message yet.
She cast a look over one delicate shoulder. ‘Are you sure you want to do this? You could always tell my father you needed more time to decide. I’ll work around him and the situation, and when you check back in two months—’
‘Six weeks,’ she conceded as he caught up, ‘you’ll see everything is going forward nicely and you can, in all good conscience, step away from the buy.’
‘You mean do the honourable thing.’
She flashed him a toothpaste-ad smile. ‘Precisely.’
He had his own ideas on how to approach Rodney with the subject of this ‘trial’. But Celeste was right about one thing: she didn’t give in easily. Pity for her, but he didn’t give in at all. He wouldn’t be fobbed off.
‘Having me right alongside you was part of the deal, remember? Of course, if you’d like me to remind you again…’
Knowing full well what he alluded to—the kiss—she looked away, dropped her chin and quickened her pace.
He slipped his hands in his pockets. Interesting response. Was Celeste Prince a pussycat masquerading in vixen’s clothing? Although that would make her easier to handle, he almost preferred it the other way. She’d been dead on when she’d said he liked a challenge—particularly one who kissed like she did.
She stopped before a large metal shed, then, putting her weight behind its sliding door, pushed until a row of lawnmowers was revealed. She waved a theatrical hand. ‘Choose your poison.’
He let out a whistle. ‘That’s quite a selection.’
‘Before my father started the franchise, he fixed mowers for a living. Now he collects them.’
‘Like stamps, only bigger.’
She laughed. ‘Something like that.’
Sauntering into the enclosure, which smelled of rags and dry lawn clippings, he fought the urge to kick a few tyres. ‘This one should do the trick.’
Red and clearly well maintained, it reminded him of a model he’d used when he was a kid. He’d received a dollar whenever he’d tended the yard, but his foster dad’s smile had been the best reward. He had only ever given praise, and had never raised his voice as some of the other ‘dads’ had. Six months into Ben’s stay with his new family, that man had died of a heart attack. In his foster mother’s red-rimmed eyes—in her overly kind voice—Ben had guessed his fate. Next house. Next family. Hell, by that time, he should’ve been used to it.
Celeste ran her hand over the metal handle. ‘This one must be over twenty years old. Wouldn’t you like a newer model?’
He wheeled it outside. ‘This’ll do fine.’
He stooped and ripped the cord. The engine whirred, but didn’t kick over. Putting some back into it, he pulled again. Splutter, whir, then nothing. Seeing her dainty foot pegged out, but avoiding her eyes, he set his hat on the ground and yanked the cord almost out of its connection.
He smothered a wince and stood back. He would not rub his shoulder.
‘It must be broken.’
Celeste sauntered forward and, with one perfectly manicured tip, flicked a small lever. Frowning, he looked closer.
The lever said ‘Fuel’. How’d he miss that?
‘Try it now,’ she said.
He shifted his jaw, bent to rip the cord again and the motor roared to life.
With a solemn face, he nodded deeply. ‘Good work,’ he said over the noise.
Her eyes were laughing. ‘Does that mean I pass the first test?’
He flexed a brow. ‘I believe that was the second test.’
Her emerald eyes darkened but this time she didn’t look away.
Pleased to have his vixen back, he settled his hands on the metal bar and remembered a vibration that shook all the way up to rattle his teeth. ‘In your professional opinion, how long do you think this will take?’
‘This model’s not self-propelled, so the best part of the morning,’ she called back.
He stepped away and indicated the mower. ‘There you go.’ Distaste dragging on her face, she stepped back too. ‘What’s wrong? You