Garrett(4)By: Anne Marie Winston
She would have known his name even if he hadn't been her father's stepson. He was extraordinarily wealthy, reputed to have parlayed a small stock market windfall into the immense assets he held today. In accordance with Americans' vulgar fascination with piles of money, he often made the pages of both gossipy newsmagazines as well as more serious financial tomes. His name had been linked to some very high-profile ladies from the entertainment world as well as the young women whose families inhabited the rarified world in which he lived, but there had never been one who lasted more than a few months, according to Robin.
"He's never confided in me," Robin had said to her once, "but he wasn't always so cynical about relationships. I suspect the change might have stemmed from a bad experience with a woman "'ho wanted his money. It's amazing what a whiff of wealth will do to supposedly decent people."
Now that she'd met him, she couldn't imagine a woman actually wanting to spend time with Grumpy Garrett on a regular basis. She'd rather be boiled in oil.
* * *
They settled into two stately leather chairs before Mr. Marrow's desk. The lawyer peered over the top of reading glasses at them after examining Ana's driver's license and being satisfied that she really was who she'd said she was.
"Robin's wishes were a bit...unusual," the man began.
"In what way?" Garrett clearly was used to being the one to direct things.
"Perhaps Mr. Marrow will tell us if you don't interrupt him," she said sweetly. When Garrett sent her a seething glance, she smiled at him, determined to show him his antagonism didn't unsettle her in the least.
The lawyer cleared his throat. "I'll dispense with the legalese and explain this in plain English. The disposition of Mr. Robin Underwood's assets is as follows: To Garrett Wilbur Holden, Robin gives all his worldly goods, possessions and monies with the exception of those specifically designated in this will."
Wilbur? His middle name was Wilbur? She smothered a bubble of hysterical laughter that threatened to pop right out of her. At her side, Garrett's elegantly clad foot stopped the ceaseless tapping motion it had been making since he'd sat down. She supposed what he'd just heard had reassured him that she wasn't going to get any breathtaking bequest that would threaten his inheritance. Although why Garrett Holden needed to worry about inheriting money was beyond her. Though she was a pragmatic person who accepted the way fate had shaped her life, she couldn't help but think of the difference that even a small amount of money could have made to her.
Her attention returned to Marrow as he plowed on with his explanations. "To Ana Janette Birch, Robin gives one half of the property known as Eden Cottage on Snowflake Lake in the state of Maine, in the county of—"
"What?" Garrett sprang to his feet, his tone outraged. "What kind of crazy bequest is that? It makes no sense. Why would Robin give her half the cottage?"
She sat up straighter in her chair, equally astonished at the gift. A cottage?
Mr. Marrow held up one finger for silence. "Additionally, Ana is to receive a sum commensurate with the total of her rent and utility bills for the Baltimore home as well as a living allowance for the thirty-one-day period immediately after her residence in Snowflake Cottage is established."
"What?'' Now it was her turn to interrupt the man. She lived in Baltimore!
"To Garrett, Robin bequeaths the other half of Eden Cottage. There is, however, a condition attached to the transfer of ownership to each of you. If each person named herein is unmarried, for a thirty-one-day period beginning no later than one week from the reading of this will, Ana Birch and Garrett Holden are to cohabitate at the cottage." The man's prim voice and stuffy language gave the word "cohabitate" overtones that echoed uncomfortably through the spacious office.
There was a dead silence in its wake. A tense silence.
"I hope this is Robin's idea of a joke," Garrett finally said, and there was a restrained fury in his tone that made Ana want to move her chair to the far side of the room. "He can't have been serious. Why in God's name would he want Ana and me to live together?" He turned to face her. "It's unenforceable. This can't be legal."
"I'm afraid he was deadly serious and it is fully legal, unless you married previous to the reading of this document," Marrow said. "You did not. Nor did Miss Birch. My job was to ensure that. If either of you should refuse to comply with the requests contained in the document, you both will lose the property and it will be sold, proceeds to benefit a charity also specified herein." The lawyer clearly was growing more nervous, his speech reverting to the no doubt comforting dry obfuscation of the legal language in which he dealt. "If you don't wish to accept the conditions, I'll start proceedings to liquidate the cottage and property and arrange to donate—"
"Don't start anything," Garrett said. "We need time to think about this." He paused. "Robin specifically said that she and I are to share the cottage for an entire month? And then each of us will own half of it?"
"May I have a copy?" It wasn't a request, but a royal command.
"Of course." The older man rose. "I'll have one made for each of you right now. Excuse me." And he left the room.
Ana wished she could leave the room. When she glanced up, Garrett was staring at her with narrowed eyes. She bit her lip, not knowing what to say. She honestly couldn't blame him for being angry and she felt a surprising spurt of annoyance penetrate the sense of loss she felt for her father. Robin had put them both in an untenable position.
Garrett cleared his throat. "I'm taking this to another legal expert. It can't be as ironclad as that old fool wants us to think. I'm assuming you don't want to be saddled with half a cottage in Maine?"
She shook her head. "Of course not. But—''
"Good. I'll buy you out. Pay you a fair market value for your half."
"You're familiar with this place?"
It was amazing. The moment her words registered, his face changed. There wasn't a great difference but something...softened. His eyes warmed to a glowing blue. She was astonished. The small shift in his expression made him dangerously compelling and even more seductively attractive than he already was—and he hadn't even smiled. If she were a smart woman, she'd keep him angry, because if he ever directed a look like that at her, she'd probably be his slave for life.
"Robin and I went there together every summer," he said, his eyes unfocused, his face gentler than she'd have thought a man as hard as he appeared to be could manage. "We'd fish and canoe around the lake looking for loons and eagles' nests." Then his gaze cooled as he focused on the present—on her— again. "It means a hell of a lot more to me than it ever will to you.''
She wasn't so sure about that. Robin had left her half of the cottage; it must have been very special to him. What was there that he'd wanted her to see badly enough to insist that she share it with her stepbrother for a whole month? And then it struck her. The odd phrasing: "... if each person... is unmarried..."
"I think," she said hesitantly, "I think he might have been trying to set us up.''
"Set us up?" Garrett repeated. "As in romantically? You and me?" There was a wealth of disbelief and disgust in his tone. "That's an extraordinarily self-serving bit of wishful thinking. Robin never would have done anything so...so...distasteful."
She flinched, sliced to the bone by his cruelty, not understanding it. "What have I ever done—"
"Or maybe," he said, "it's hopefulness. Did you really think you could hook me after Robin died?"
She sucked in a quick gasp of shock, both at the crude question and the hateful tone in which it was delivered. "I didn't think enough about you to consider the idea." Her voice was shaking and she hated the tears that sprang to her eyes. "And even if I had, you can rest assured that meeting you would have changed my mind instantly."
"Good." He was infuriatingly unfazed by her verbal arrows. "I'll buy out your half of the cottage and as soon as we sign the papers, neither one of us will ever have to see the other again."
"Fine." She stood and marched to the door, not waiting for the lawyer's return. "I can't think of anything I'd like more than signing you out of my life." It wasn't until she got home that she calmed down enough to think about the ugly scene again. And when she did, her hand flew to her mouth in stunned shock at the implications of his behavior. He didn't know who she was. Or, to put it more accurately, he didn't know what she was.
Did you really think you could hook me after Robin died? Emphasis on the me. He thought she was Robin's...his...his lover! Word by word, expression by expression, she reviewed each moment of the three times they'd met. And as she did, her anger grew. And grew, and grew. How dare he jump to a conclusion like that? Oh, she could admit that it might not be such an illogical one to make, but she knew he'd known Robin for years, ever since Robin had married his mother. How could he not have trusted Robin's integrity? How could he even imagine Robin would take up with a girl of her age? She was furious with Garrett for Robin's sake as much as for her own.