Engaged to Jarrod Stone(4)

By: Carole Mortimer

'You called me a mouse that day I came up here’ she reminded him resentfully.

'And for that you landed us in this mess?'

Brooke flicked back her hair. 'It will be all right. We can just announce in the next issue that it was a mistake.'

He stood up again, his height making her feel very tiny, and he was so big and masculine with it, so very male. "You think it's as easy as that, do you? What a ridiculous child you are! Don't you realize that by accepting Philip's congratulations this morning I as much as admitted the engagement was a real one? He's also invited the two of us to a party this evening.'

‘You—you didn't accept?' She frowned.

'Of course I did. What else could I do?—they all want to get a look at you. And I didn't have time to think of a good excuse not to take you along.'

'You could have—could have told him we wanted to be alone this evening—to celebrate,' she said desperately.

'We don't all have your devious mind.'

'But you—you can't mean this engagement to stand?' Her voice was becoming shrill now.

'Oh, but I do. I'm in business, I can't be seen to become engaged one day and renounce it the next. That wouldn't do much for my reputation as a reliable businessman. Oh no, Brooke, you started this and you can damn well see it through to the bitter end.'

“The bitter end?' she echoed hollowly.

Jarrod Stone shrugged. 'Just a figure of speech.'

Brooke wasn't so sure; there was an inflexibility about him that pointed to him not liking to be thwarted. A pity she hadn't noticed that sooner, like two weeks ago.

'But I don't want to be engaged to you,' she told him crossly.

'A pity you didn't think of that before. I'm sure you realize that I feel exactly the same way.'

‘Yes,' she admitted guiltily, knowing that this was all her own fault.

'Mm,' he said thoughtfully. 'Well, now that it seems to be public knowledge you can start acting the part. We'll meet for lunch at twelve-thirty.'

'I couldn't—I couldn't go out to lunch with you.

‘What would everyone think?' Besides, she was hardly dressed to go out with him.

'They can think what they damn well please,' he muttered grimly.

'I think you've taken this far enough,' Brooke snapped, suddenly angry. 'I admit that what I did was wrong, and I'll leave your employ straight away if that will please you.' Although how she would support herself until she found another job she had no idea! 'But I'm not going to let you make a fool of me--'

'I think you've managed that quite successfully without any help from me,' he interrupted dryly.

'You have no right--'

'I have every right! Think of how much more of a fool you would have looked if I'd denied all knowledge of you. Think of the adverse reaction you would have got from the press if I'd done that. They would have hounded you to death.'

She knew he was right. The trouble with her was that she hadn't thought of the consequences when she had made that stupid move, and now Jarrod Stone was going to make her pay for it. But what else had she expected? He was a well-known personality, he couldn't afford the publicity of a broken engagement. And neither could she!

She could just imagine the unpleasantness it would cause. But she couldn't stay engaged to him either. Just to look at him terrified the life out of her. How she had ever thought herself in love with him she would never know. She must have been mad. Yes, that must be it; at twenty years of age she was definitely past the stage of infatuation.

'Brooke?' he cut into her thoughts.

'Don't call me that!' she snapped her resentment.

'What would you have me call you—dearest, darling, my love?' he taunted.

She looked away. 'Of course not!'

Jarrod Stone shrugged. 'Then I'll call you Brooke. It is your name—and you are my fiancée,' he added mockingly.

'I am not!'

'Oh yes, you are—until I say otherwise.'

Her blue eyes widened. 'And how long do you think that will be?'

'Oh, four, maybe five months,' he told her carelessly.

'What!' She walked forward to rest her knuckles on the front of the desk. 'Now I know you're joking!' I rarely joke about anything this serious.'

'You're—you're telling me I have to be engaged to you for four months'

'At a minimum,' he nodded.

'But won't that cramp your style a bit?'

'A little, but I can take it if you can. I gather there's no boy-friend—no, of course there isn't. He wouldn't exactly welcome the announcement.' He straightened some papers on his desk, giving an impatient look as the telephone rang and he picked it up. 'Yes, Catherine? No—and I don't want any more calls put through to me until Miss Faulkner has left.' He put the receiver down, looking up at her. 'Now, is there anyone I should talk to about our engagement?'

'Why on earth should you--'

'Consent, Brooke. It's usually considered polite to consult parents when contemplating marrying their daughter.'