To Marry McAllister

By: Carole Mortimer

CHAPTER ONE




‘MCALLISTER, isn’t it?’

Brice tensed resentfully at this intrusion into his solitude. If one could be solitary in the midst of a party to celebrate a political victory!

Ordinary he wouldn’t have been at this party, but the youngest daughter of the newest Member of Parliament had married his cousin, Fergus, six months ago, and so all the family had been invited to Paul Hamilton’s house today to join in the celebrations at his re-election. It would have seemed churlish for Brice to have refused.

But he didn’t particularly care for being addressed by just his surname—it reminded him all too forcefully of his schooldays. Although it was the man’s tone of voice that irritated him the most: arrogance bordering on condescension!

He turned slowly, finding himself face to face with a man he knew he had never met before. Tall, blond hair silvered at the temples, probably aged in his mid-fifties, the hard handsomeness of the man’s face was totally in keeping with that arrogance Brice had already guessed at.

‘Brice McAllister, yes,’ he corrected the other man coolly.

‘Richard Latham.’ The other man thrust out his hand in greeting.

Richard Latham… Somehow Brice knew he recognised the name, if not the man…

He shook the other man’s hand briefly, deliberately not continuing the conversation. Never the most sociable of men, Brice considered he had done his bit today towards family relations, was only waiting for a lull in the proceedings so that he could take his leave.

‘You have absolutely no idea who I am, do you?’ The other man sounded amused at the idea rather than irritated.

Brice may not know who the other man was, but he did know what he was—the persistent type!

Latham, he had said his name was. The same surname as Paul Hamilton’s other son-in-law, his own cousin Fergus’s brother-in-law, which meant he was probably some sort of relative of the Hamilton family. But somehow Brice had a feeling that wasn’t what the other man meant.

He held back his sigh of impatience. It was almost seven o’clock now; he had been looking forward to being able to excuse himself shortly, on the pretext of having another appointment this evening. But now he would have to extricate himself from this unwanted conversation first.

‘I’m afraid not,’ he returned without apology; being accosted at a social gathering by a complete stranger wasn’t altogether unknown to him, but it certainly wasn’t something he enjoyed.

Although, he accepted, being an artist of some repute, that he had to show a certain social face. This man, with his unmistakable arrogance, just seemed to have set his teeth on edge from the start.

Richard Latham raised blond brows at the bluntness of the admission. ‘My secretary has contacted you twice during the last month, concerning a portrait of my fiancée I would like to commission from you.’

He was that Richard Latham! Multimillionaire, jet-setting businessman, the other man’s business interests ranging worldwide, his personal relationships with some of the world’s most beautiful women making newspaper headlines almost as much as his successful business ventures. Although Brice had no idea who the ‘fiancée’ he had just mentioned could be.

He shook his head. ‘As I explained in my letter, in reply to your secretary’s first enquiry, I’m afraid I don’t do portraits,’ he drawled politely. And he hadn’t felt the least inclination to explain that all over again in reply to the second letter he had received from this man’s secretary only a week later.

‘Not true,’ Richard Latham came back abruptly, blue eyes narrowed assessingly on Brice’s deliberately impassive expression. ‘I’ve seen the rather magnificent one you did of Darcy McKenzie.’

Brice smiled slightly. ‘Darcy happens to be my cousin-in-law. She is married to my cousin Logan.’

‘And?’ Richard Latham rasped frowningly.

Brice shrugged. ‘It was a one-off. A wedding gift.’

The other man gave an arrogant inclination of his head. ‘This is a gift too—to myself.’

And he was obviously a man, Brice acknowledged ruefully, who wasn’t used to hearing the word no—from anyone!

Well, Brice couldn’t help that, he simply did not paint portraits, had no inclination to paint a flattering likeness of the rich and the pampered, just so that they could hang it on one of the walls of their elegant homes and claim it was a ‘McAllister’.

‘I really am sorry—’ he began—only to come to an abrupt halt as the room suddenly fell silent, all attention on the woman who now stood in the doorway.