Engaged to Jarrod Stone(6)

By: Carole Mortimer

He was obviously still playing to his audience, and she decided to play him at his own game, reaching up to wind her arms about his neck, her lips raised invitingly. 'Just to last me until lunch-time, darling,' she coaxed, reveling in the anger displayed in his deep grey eyes. 'Darling?' she questioned innocently.

His grip on her arms was quite painful and it took great effort not to cry out. 'Later, Brooke. Later.' His words sounded romantic enough, but she knew his words promised something completely different from what they were implying.

She pouted up at him. 'Oh, Jarrod!'

'If you don't behave yourself I'm like to give you that good hiding I promised you,' he warned her quietly.

'Oh, Jarrod, how sweet of you to say so,' she smiled up at him, uncaring of the dangerous look in his eyes. 'Until later, darling.'

By the time she stepped out of the lift into the reception area the two bright wings of color in her cheeks seemed to be a permanent fixture. How she was going to get through the next few months she had no idea.

Jean was looking rather harassed by this time, having difficulty managing her switchboard and also dealing with people at the desk. Brooke hadn't realized she would be so long or she wouldn't have left her alone. She had expected to be only a few minutes, just long enough to be sacked.

'What gives?' Jean asked once the rush had died down and they had a couple of minutes to themselves again. 'First of all you receive a telephone call that makes you look like death and then you calmly step into the boss's private lift and disappear for an hour.'

'I'm sorry I was gone so long, Jean. I didn't mean to leave you in the lurch like that.' She shuffled the papers about on her desk, not anxious to answer the real question in Jean's words.

'So what's happened? Is someone you know ill or something?'

'Er—no.' She didn't quite know how to explain what had just happened to her. She certainly couldn't tell Jean the whole truth, it would be too humiliating. 'I—er—I seem to have got myself engaged.'

Jean's eyes brightened with excitement. 'You do? Who to?' She frowned. 'You haven't mentioned seeing anyone special.'

'No—well, it seems to have happened all of a sudden. I've hardly had time to think.' Which was true; she certainly hadn't had time to realize exactly what this bogus engagement was going to mean to her. She did know that she had felt a strange floating sensation at the touch of Jarrod Stone's lips on her own. And also, to her shame, she had responded! Only momentarily, but it had been a definite response. But she blamed that solely on the suddenness of it, nothing else. She didn't even like the man now, let alone imagine herself in love with him.

Jean still looked puzzled. 'But what does it have to do with Jarrod Stone?'

'Everything,' she said with feeling.

'Everything?' Jean's frown cleared, to be replaced with a look of amazement. 'But surely you don't mean--'

'Yes. I'm engaged to Jarrod Stone.'

'Goodness! But you—you can't be! I didn't even realize you were seeing him.' Jean's face showed her disbelief.

'It has been rather sudden. I--'

"Excuse me,' interrupted a husky female voice. 'I'm looking for Mr. Stone's office.'

Brooke turned to look at the woman, her nostrils twitching sensitively with the deep heavy perfume she wore. This woman was beautiful, absolutely beautiful. She was very tall, her blonde hair shoulder-length and waving provocatively about her face, her eyes a glowing green, her tiny nose uptilted, her pouting mouth painted an inviting scarlet. To Brooke she looked exquisite and she wondered who she could be. Obviously one of Jarrod Stone's women, of that she felt sure. She looked the type he would go for, about thirtyish and very sophisticated.

'Mr. Stone's office is on the tenth floor,' she answered politely. 'If you would like to take the private lift up I'll telephone them of your arrival.'

The woman nodded coolly. 'Thank you, Miss— Brooke Faulkner!' Her green eyes narrowed as they looked at the gold lettering on the nameplate. 'You're Brooke Faulkner?'

Brooke frowned. 'Yes.'

'Well, well, well.' The woman seemed to have regained her composure. 'Clever old Jarrod,' she murmured to herself.

'I beg your pardon?'

The woman gave her a dazzling smile. 'It isn't important. So nice to have met you, Brooke, you have helped to explain a lot.'

'But I didn't do anything.' She needn't have bothered to speak; the woman had already walked away from the desk to enter the lift. How rude of her! 'Who was that?' she asked Jean.

Her friend's eyes widened. 'You mean you don't know?'

'I didn't get the chance to ask her,' she said ruefully.

'You shouldn't have needed to. That was Selina Howard."

Brooke gasped, looking after the woman. 'The wife of the multi-millionaire?'

Jean nodded. 'The same.'

'Oh.' What on earth could a woman like her want with Jarrod Stone? There seemed only one explanation, and yet that didn't seem at all likely. Charles Howard was even better known than Jarrod Stone, and one of the richest men in the world. He was also a very good-looking man, although being in his late fifties he was much older than his thirty-year-old wife.