A Gentleman's Bargain
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by Patricia Waddell
Description: Longing for a new life, Claire Aldrich arrives in a San Francisco of gaslights and grand opportunities expecting to stay with her brother. But her sibling has vanished in the huge city, and now Claire is desperate. Where can she possibly find a job suitable for a girl with a pretty face, genteel upbringing, and no skills? Then wealthy banker Garrett Monroe, a man handsome enough to be every woman's dream, proposes something scandalous--a pretend engagement! To convince his dying grandmother that he is settling down, Garrett, a confirmed bachelor, promises Claire he will find her brother, pay her well, and dress her like a princess if she agrees to take part in a sham betrothal. Claire accepts his proposal, with the understanding that their arrangement remains strictly business. But as the hunt for her brother leads to dangerous schemes, sparks fly between them. And passion, once ignited, respects no bargains.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads, 2004
eBookwise Release Date: March 2004
40 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [425 KB]
Reading time: 286-401 min.
San Francisco, 1887
Claire Aldrich counted the splattering of coins on the white bedspread. Whatever she was going to do, she had to do it quickly. The rent was due in three days and the boardinghouse owner had made it abundantly clear that she wasn't a woman of patience when it came to delinquent tenants. If Claire didn't have the rent come Friday morning, Mrs. Kruger would show her the front door. Then where would she be? Out in the streets and no closer to finding her brother than she'd been three weeks ago when she'd arrived in San Francisco.
"Where are you, Donald?" Claire mumbled to herself as she walked to the window that overlooked California Street.
She'd spent almost as many hours at the window, contemplating the future, as she had walking the streets of the unfamiliar city looking for her brother. The address on Donald's last letter had turned out to be a clapboard cottage on Filbert Street. The family had admitted to knowing her brother but not his present whereabouts. He'd been hired to paint the two-story house that could only be reached by climbing a rock staircase. Where the young man had gone after he'd applied the last coat of white paint the owner couldn't be sure.
Realizing that her brother's letters hadn't been entirely truthful, Claire had gone to the police. The uniformed officer sitting behind a scarred wooden desk had been very sympathetic, but he hadn't been very helpful. Since her brother wasn't a current resident of the jail, nor wanted by the authorities for any offense, the officer had suggested she try asking the Benevolence Society for help. Again, she'd found a sympathetic ear and a recommendation for a boarding house that catered to single young women, but no news of her brother. After renting a room, Claire had done the only thing she could think of doing. She'd started walking up and down the streets, making inquires of shopkeepers and peering into the windows of drinking establishments, hoping to catch a glimpse of her brother.
She'd met several industrious-looking men, who worked on the ships anchored across from the Presidio at Black Point. Donald had worked on the riverboats in Cincinnati, and she had hoped that he might be making his way in a similar fashion. Unfortunately, none of the men had recognized her brother's name or his description. Not that Donald was all that memorable. Her brother was six feet tall with brown hair and brown eyes. Although Claire loved his smile and the brittle quality of his laughter, she had to admit that Donald wasn't the kind of man who left a lasting impression on the people he met. The only unusual thing about her brother was his thirst for adventure. He'd been born with ants in his pants, or so their mother had claimed. Donald liked seeing new things and exploring new places. He'd left home on a riverboat the day he'd turned sixteen. Claire had waved good-bye to him after wrangling a promise that he would write.
The letters had been few and far between since Donald had left their small family. Their mother had died and Claire, never able to grasp the art of fine needlework, had closed her mother's shop and accepted a position as a companion to an elderly lady. Mrs. Shurman had been more friend than employer and Claire had enjoyed the time she'd spent in the Cincinnati mansion, reading and writing letters for the frail matron. Mrs. Shurman had been in her eighties and when her heart gave out, Claire was alone once again. The bonus she'd been assigned in Mrs. Shurman's will had provided the train ticket to San Francisco and enough money for a new dress and two meals a day.
But the money was running out and Claire was afraid that she'd followed her brother to California only to discover that he'd gone off chasing another sunset.
"Staring out the window won't find Donald," Claire told herself. She turned and reached for her hat. "And it certainly won't pay the rent."
Pinning the small hat, with two bright yellow feathers, on top of her honey brown curls, Claire gave the mirror over the spindle-legged vanity a quick glance. She was too consumed with thoughts of finding her brother to notice her amber eyes or the classic features that frequently turned a gentleman's head. Her petite figure didn't require a corset and she rarely wore one. Nevertheless, fashion dictated that a lady wasn't properly dressed until she'd donned layer after layer of clothing. First there was the drawers and bodice, then the corset, then the petticoat and more petticoats. And, of course, the hated bustle. Not to mention the buttons down the back of dresses that often required a second pair of hands to fasten. To Claire's way of thinking, it was a wonder any woman ever changed out of her nightgown.
Making her way from the third floor of the house, Claire stopped in the parlor and informed Mrs. Kruger that she hoped to be back in time for dinner, but if not, the landlady shouldn't worry. Mrs. Kruger was a stout, hard-built woman with gray hair, a prim mouth, and squinty brown eyes that rarely showed a flicker of approval for anyone or anything.
"Miss Haydon is going to do a poetry reading after dinner. I do hope that you will attend," Mrs. Kruger said in a flat voice after giving Claire a tense, despairing look that said she didn't approve of a young lady gallivanting about town without an escort.
"I'll do my best to be back by then," Claire told her as she draped a cream-colored shawl over her right arm and headed for the front door. "If I'm not, please give my regrets to Rebecca."
Rebecca Haydon was a button-eyed young girl with reddish hair and an abundance of freckles on her round cheeks. She worked in a millinery shop not far from the boarding house, and although Claire liked her well enough, she couldn't imagine Rebecca reciting poetry with any enthusiasm while Mrs. Kruger judged her every word.
Putting aside the landlady's apparent disapproval, Claire stepped off the lattice-trimmed porch with its pots full of red posies and into the late morning sun. Like most homes on the street, the boarding house had been constructed in the Queen Anne style with an elaborate display of gingerbread trim, bay windows, and peaked gables. Glancing to her left, Claire looked toward Nob Hill, dominated by the Stanford mansion. She hadn't made any inquires on the Hill, thinking it unlikely that Donald would have gained the association of the city's elite. It was more than likely that he'd gotten himself into a card game and lost the money he'd earned from painting the house on Filbert Street. Which meant that he could be anywhere in the city, doing almost anything, or that he'd decided to try his luck elsewhere.
Claire frowned as she decided against using one of the cable cars that trudged up and down the lofty San Francisco hills and began walking. Her feet were free and necessity dictated that she either find her brother or a job before the day was over. * * * *
Garrett Monroe walked into his friend's office, grunted a welcome, and poured himself a stiff drink.
Christopher Landauer waited until Garrett had made himself comfortable in one of the two leather chairs that fronted the lacquered desk before he spoke. "I heard you were back. How was jolly ole England?"
"Wet and cold," Garrett complained before downing a good portion of the blended whiskey.
The two men had been friends for nearly twenty years, and although Christopher knew Garrett better than anyone, he was the first to admit that he rarely understood the handsome banker. Underneath his friend's good looks was a tough, hardheaded businessman who went after what he wanted. Garrett possessed as many physical assets as he did financial ones. Tall with raven black hair and piercing silver eyes, the banker drew female attention like a horse drew flies. But in spite of the best efforts of the ladies of San Francisco, no woman had won Garrett Monroe's heart. All they received for their valiant efforts was the banker's charming smile.
"How's Grams doing? I heard that Dr. Baldwin had to pay her a visit the other day."
Grams was the affectionate diminutive used to address Garrett's seventy-eight-year-old grandmother. Christopher was one of the privileged few who could call her Grams and get away with it. Theodora Monroe had been an honored matron of San Francisco society for the last thirty years, but she'd come West with a double-barrel shotgun across her lap, along with the backbone to use it. No one gave Grams any trouble, and if they did, they quickly found out that she may have lost her youth but she hadn't lost her gumption.
"Dr. Baldwin said her age is catching up with her," Garrett told his friend. "I don't believe it. Grams has the heart of an ox."
Christopher gave him a pensive look. "She is getting up in years."
"She isn't that old," Garrett argued.
Garrett adored the old woman, who had raised him after cholera had taken his parents. His grandmother was the only woman who had ever come close to touching his heart. When it came to women, Garrett had the appetite of a starving coyote and the hide of a grizzly bear. He was the first to admit that he wasn't a marrying kind of man, but his indifference seemed to challenge rather than discourage, which meant that he didn't have to put much effort into finding a willing bed partner. The ladies practically stumbled over their dainty feet in their rush to gain his attention. If he availed himself of their charms, then graciously forgot their names, there was no malice in his actions. He never got involved with virgins and he never promised his women more than the physical pleasure he could give them, which according to his reputation was more than enough to keep a sated smile on their faces while he gathered up his clothing and made use of the nearest exit.
"If Grams is getting her second wind, what's got you looking like a preacher who just discovered that the world is fresh out of sinners?"
Garrett let out a frustrated sigh. "I shouldn't have gone to England," he admitted. "If I had been here, Grams wouldn't have spent the last six months flitting around the city like a seventy-year-old butterfly. Now, I'm back and..."
"You're her grandson, not her guardian," Christopher reminded him. "I know you love the old woman, but..."
"But nothing," Garrett countered, clearly frustrated about the situation.
He began pacing the hotel office. Garrett had loaned Christopher the money to open the hotel and the investment had proved to be a profitable one. So profitable that the two men were now partners in several hotels that stretched from the stylish streets of New York City to the windy shores of Chicago to the exotic avenues of New Orleans. They shared other investments, as well as an appreciation for good whiskey, beautiful women, and fast horses.
It was his lavish way of life that had his grandmother worried sick, Garrett admitted to himself as he turned and retraced his steps across the plush red and gold carpet. The woodwork and doors were painted a deep majestic red in bold contrast to the black lacquered furnishings and brass fixtures. An elaborate red lacquered overmantel dominated the fireplace, its shelves artfully displaying several Chinese vases as well as the delicate jade carvings Christopher had collected over the years. A large twelfth-century samurai sword hung on the wall behind his friend's desk. Garrett studied the sword for a moment, wondering if having his arm severed by the shiny blade would be as painful as the thought of losing his grandmother. The cantankerous old woman was the only family he had and even though they argued over almost everything, he truly loved her. The emotion came easy for him where Grams was concerned, but Garrett couldn't imagine himself feeling it for anyone else.
Marriage was a velvet cage and he was determined to stay free of it. The thought of sharing his bed with a woman came easily enough to mind, but sharing more than that wasn't something he could imagine easily. A wife expected to know what her husband was thinking whenever he was thinking it. She expected him to open the door to his heart and mind and let her waltz in and out as she pleased. The concept seemed as ridiculous to Garrett as leaving the vault of his bank unlocked and open to the public.
"Grams wants me blissfully married with a devoted wife and a baby perched on my knee before she departs this world for the next," Garrett announced out loud. "She's done nothing but lecture me since I returned from England. She's convinced that if I don't marry soon, she won't be alive to attend the wedding."
"She's been lecturing you for years," Christopher retorted. "When did you start listening?"
"When Dr. Baldwin told me that her next heart attack will probably be her last one."
The expression on his friend's face wasn't one that Christopher had seen before. Garrett was known for his self-control. He rarely lost his temper. One glaring look from his silver eyes was all it normally took to convince people that he wasn't a man who backed down easily.
"You really are worried about her, aren't you?"
Garrett's mouth thinned into a hard line as he nodded. "She's always been so full of life. It's strange seeing her propped up in bed like a china doll."
Christopher knew the anguish in his friend's voice was real. What he didn't know was what to do about it. "I gather you're going to postpone your trip to Seattle."
"I can't leave Grams again. I've only been back a few days. I'll wire Jared and let him know to go ahead with the negotiations. He can handle the deal. It isn't complicated."
"The deal might not be complicated, but Phillip Paige is. He's part barracuda."
Garrett laughed. "Jared's not as soft as he looks and Paige needs the money. He'll put up a fight, but I'll get what I want in the long run."
Jared Clarke was the Boston attorney Garrett had hired as the bank's legal advisor. Garrett hadn't accumulated his substantial fortune by sitting behind a rolltop desk waiting for depositors to plunk their money in his safe. His reputation for becoming actively involved in his investments had persuaded the young lawyer to come to San Francisco to try his luck in the banking industry. Jared was in Seattle at this very moment negotiating a deal that would add a lumber mill to the banker's list of financial assets.
"So what are you going to do?" Christopher asked. "Sit on the Hill and hold Grams' withering hand? Somehow I can't imagine you sipping herbal tea and reading poetry until she drifts off to sleep."
Garrett's eyes narrowed as he thought about the frail woman who had been both mother and father to him over the years. His reckless youth had turned Grams' hair a silvery gray and his adult restlessness had added more wrinkles to her delicate features. The last few years had increased their differing viewpoints to volcanic proportions as they argued more and more about his lack of interest in finding a suitable woman to marry.
"You can't keep traveling around the world to avoid your responsibilities, dear boy. Sooner or later you're going to have to marry and have children. If you don't, there won't be a Monroe to inherit what you've spent a lifetime building. Then what will you do? Grow old all alone and regret the majority of your days while you're waiting for the last one to arrive. Stop dallyin' about like a shy girl at a barn dance and get on with it. I'm not going to live forever, no matter how much I'd prefer otherwise, and I won't be content until I know you have a family to keep you company after I'm gone."
Grams' words came racing back as Garrett tried to think of what he could do to ease her mind. Dr. Baldwin's prognosis of her declining health had brought some guilt to bear on his shoulders and he didn't like thinking that his Gypsy attitudes might subtract precious days from his grandmother's life. Maybe he should marry?
He didn't realize he'd spoken the words aloud until Christopher leaned back in his chair and started to grin. "Married? You! Don't make me laugh. You'd never be satisfied with just one woman. Monogamy goes against your natural grain. Besides, who would you marry, Belinda Belton? The girl's too proper to have a backbone. A woman like that would bore you to death."
"Belinda Belton isn't the only young lady in San Francisco," Garrett pointed out, grimacing inwardly at the thought of marrying the mousy girl just because she was his social equivalent.
Henry Belton was the president of the city's second largest bank and his ambitious wife, Ada, was constantly shoving her daughter under Garrett's nose. Everyone who was anyone in the city knew Ada Belton was determined to snag Garrett for her mundane daughter. Although her father wasn't as obvious, it was common knowledge that Henry Belton wanted to merge his bank with Garrett's and reap the rewards the younger man had gathered.
Garrett couldn't conjure up the image of Belinda Belton moaning with passion on their wedding night. If anything, his mind's eye saw just the opposite. She'd walk dutifully to the bed, slide beneath the covers with her white nightgown still covering her skinny body and lie there dormant, her eyes closed, while he mounted her. The consummation of their marriage would be more sacrifice than pleasure.
Garrett helped himself to another whiskey and stared out the window. He was too absorbed in thought to see the newest cable car move sluggishly up Nob Hill or to hear the clack of the bell as it made a stop in front of the hotel. Christopher was right. He wouldn't be a contented husband and he sincerely doubted that he could be faithful to one woman for more than a few months. He liked variety too much to curtail his sexual appetite. He kept a small but comfortable house on Bartlett Street, where he'd just installed his latest mistress. He'd met Evelyn Holmes in London and had brought her back to San Francisco with him. Petite with wide blue eyes, pouty pink lips, and a talent for making a man feel like a man, the English beauty was already beginning to bore him.
Garrett let Christopher ramble on about a recent altercation in the hotel lobby that had ended up with one of the hotel guests getting his jaw broken, but his mind wasn't on the comical fistfight. If finding himself a wife would make Grams happy, then maybe he ought to give the matter some serious consideration. After all, he did owe the old lady. She'd raised him, educated him, and even though she tested his patience, he loved her as much as she loved him. Perhaps marriage to the right woman wouldn't be that bad. The problem being, of course, that Garrett couldn't think of any woman as the right woman. Women in general tempted and intrigued him, but he couldn't imagine sharing more than his bed with a member of the opposite sex. He liked his independence.
Garrett's mind raced as Christopher continued his storytelling, jumping from the fisticuffs in the hotel lobby to the social gossip that kept tongues wagging on Nob Hill.
Maybe a fiancée would satisfy Grams?
Yes. That would do it. If Grams thought he'd finally found the right woman, then maybe she'd stop worrying about him and start worrying about her health.
But the imaginative solution brought about another problem.
What lady in her right mind would agree to an engagement for the mere sake of prolonging Theodora Monroe's life? None that Garrett could name. He wasn't vain, but he knew enough about socially acceptable young ladies and their greedy mothers to know that he wouldn't find a fictitious fiancée among the elite of San Francisco. He was the most eligible bachelor in town and one of the wealthiest men in the state. Few women would draw in their claws once they'd hooked him.
"What are you frowning about now?" Christopher asked.
"I need a woman," Garrett grumbled.
Christopher Landauer's smile was pure devilry as he poured himself a drink. "From what I hear, the one you brought back from London should be able to take care of whatever needs arise. Andy told me she's very pretty."
Andy was the hotel clerk who handled discreet errands and messages for Christopher. He was tall and thin with deep-set brown eyes and pale skin that turned ruddy in the summer. On occasion Garrett availed himself of the young man's services. He had employed Andy to drive the carriage that had delivered Evelyn Holmes to the cottage on Bartlett Street.
"Evelyn isn't the kind of woman I need," Garrett said as he turned away from the window. "She's pretty enough, but she'll never be able to fool Grams. The old woman's heart may be failing, but her eyes are as sharp as ever."
"What are you talking about?"
"Fooling Grams into thinking that I've met my match," Garrett said impatiently. "If she thinks I've fallen head over heels in love, she'll stop badgering me about my future happiness and start doing what Dr. Baldwin says she should do--rest."
Christopher placed the top on the crystal decanter with calm precision then looked at his friend as if Garrett had lost his mind. "And how do you plan on finding the right woman? Are you going to place an ad in The Chronicle and hope that a gifted actress appears on your doorstep?"
"It would be easier if the lady wasn't known in San Francisco," Garrett mumbled more to himself than to his doubtful friend. His silver eyes took on a mischievous sheen as he put down his whiskey glass. "In the last year I've spent time in London, New York, St. Louis, and New Orleans. Pick a city."
Christopher's skepticism turned into amusement as he realized Garrett was serious. "I've always been partial to New Orleans, but I can't see Grams accepting an ebony-eyed Creole enchantress as her future granddaughter-in-law."
"You're right. New Orleans is too exotic. What about St. Louis?"
"What about it?" Christopher mused as he leaned back in his chair and propped his feet on the top of his desk. "You don't really think you can get away with conjuring up a fiancée, do you? Actress or no actress, someone is sure to find out the girl is a fraud. Grams will have an old-fashioned conniption fit before she keels over for good, and you'll have a scandal on your hands."
"There won't be a scandal," Garrett told him. "Not if I find the right woman." * * * *
Claire sucked in a deep, unladylike breath as she silently cursed her aching feet and the afternoon heat. She was exhausted from soliciting a position in the business district that fronted San Francisco Bay. Her skills were limited but she could read and write and she wasn't too proud to do an honest day's work. The proprietors had been gracious but hesitant to hire a young lady who was new to the city. Chinese help was cheaper and less likely to cause trouble, they'd told her. Her only offer had come from the owner of a men's haberdashery. He could use a clerk to watch the front counter, or so he'd said, and was willing to pay her on a weekly basis. Claire had declined the offer, sensing that the balding man in wire-rimmed spectacles had had more in mind than her ability to dust shelves and address delivery slips for his well-to-do customers.
Exhausted from trekking all over the city, Claire looked for someplace to sit down and feel sorry for herself. She gazed longingly across the street at a stately hotel, painted a pristine white. The hotel literally turned the corner in an assertive manner with its lobby entrance facing California Street and a secondary entrance facing Taylor Street. The building's triangular shape did nothing to distract the eye from its elegant architecture. The apex of the triangle was a rounded corner tower with large bay windows. The turret roof was delicately ridged with cast-iron finials. Four stories high with plaster medallions decorating the thick window panels that artfully separated the second and third floors, the hotel looked like an oasis for the wealthy. Thick green ferns grew in fat-bellied ceramic pots near the front door, currently being held open by a uniformed attendant. Claire got a brief view of the lobby. It looked cool and inviting and she wished she had the courage to stroll inside so she could sit down on one of the red velvet settees. Settling for a bench near the entrance, Claire made herself as comfortable as the weathered wood would allow.
She was debating whether or not to return to the boarding house when she realized that hotels needed maids. Although the idea of changing bed linens and fetching towels for strangers didn't appeal to her, Claire knew she couldn't afford to be choosy about how she made the money she needed, as long as she earned her wages honestly.
Guided by necessity, she crossed the street and approached the hotel. Once she was inside, she hesitated. How did one go about asking for a job in a hotel? Thinking the desk clerk might offer her some guidance, she dried her sweaty hands by pretending to smooth the wrinkles from her skirt as she approached the oak counter. A young man with chestnut hair, a lean face, and an even leaner body, wearing a white shirt and dark brown jacket, greeted her with a cordial smile.
"May I help you?" he said, sounding even younger than he looked.
Claire returned his smile with one of her own, not realizing that the expression changed her already pretty face into one that stole the young man's breath for a moment. "Is the hotel manager available?" she asked, deciding the manager probably did the hiring and firing. The owner would be too busy counting his fortune. The hotel was even grander on the inside than it was on the outside and Claire realized the cost of a room for one night was probably more than she'd paid Mrs. Kruger in the three weeks she'd been living at the boarding house. "If so, I would like to speak with him."
"I hope everything is to your satisfaction," the clerk said, looking a little worried. "We pride ourselves on making our guests comfortable."
"I'm sure you do," Claire replied. "But I'm not a guest." The young man's brown eyes narrowed just a bit. It wasn't unusual for the male guests of the hotel to arrange discreet liaisons during their stay, but this girl didn't look like anyone's mistress. He studied her for a moment, noting that her features were delicate without being frail and that although her dress wasn't as expensive as the ones he was accustomed to seeing, it was well made and fashionable.
"Is there something I can do for you?" he asked.
Realizing that she was going to have to get past the desk clerk before she could see the manager, Claire took a more direct approach. "I'm looking for a job."
It was easy to see that the young man didn't believe her. His eyes went from skeptical to suspicious in a blink of brown lashes. "What kind of job?"
Grateful that the lobby was void of guests for the moment, Claire glanced over her shoulder to make sure the man stationed at the door was still at his post. She moved closer to the counter, reminding herself that she couldn't let her pride stand in the way of doing what had to be done. "I thought to inquire about a position as a maid."
The clerk went back to looking skeptical. "You want to work as a hotel maid?"
Claire let out a small sigh. "It isn't exactly a question of wanting," she replied quietly. "It's more a matter of having a roof over my head and food on the table."
Working in a hotel had taught Andy to be a quick but accurate judge of character and something about the young lady standing in front of him caused his instincts to come alive.
"What's your name?"
"Please have a seat, Miss Aldrich," Andy said, motioning toward one of the three settees positioned strategically about the elegant lobby. "I'll see if Mr. Landauer has time to speak with you."
Smiling her thanks, Claire sat down and waited while the young man disappeared up the wide carpeted staircase that led to the hotel's upper floors. Thinking to calm her quivering nerves and take her mind off the interview ahead, she studied her surroundings. The lobby was a wide room with a parquet floor done in a singular design of golden oak. The front windows were dressed in a bluish gray velvet, pulled back and secured with thick gold braids. In addition to the three settees, there were several balloon-backed chairs and small oval tables. A brass gaslight chandelier hung from the vaulted ceiling. Crystal prisms dripped off the chandelier's brass stems like tiny jewels and large white globes diffused the light and directed it toward the ceiling rather than the floor. Large ceramic pots brimming with tropical ferns filled in the corners of the rectangular room.
While Claire gazed at the hotel's elegance in silent awe, one of its owners was pacing the office on the second floor.
"The idea isn't ludicrous," Garrett argued. "All I need is a beautiful woman who's more interested in money than marriage. I'll hire her to pose as my fiancée."
"That's the problem," Christopher insisted. "Finding a woman who's more interested in money than marriage makes whoever you find the wrong kind of woman. Grams isn't going to accept a gold digger and she's seen enough of them to know one on sight. Besides, proper young ladies aren't for hire. They're for marrying. The very thing you're trying to avoid."
Garrett was opening his mouth to protest when a knock on the door interrupted him.
"Come in," Christopher Landauer called out.
Andy opened the door and poked his head inside. "Excuse me, Mr. Landauer, but there's a young lady in the lobby looking for a job."
"Let Crawford talk to her. That's what I pay him for," Christopher said, somewhat surprised that Andy would interrupt him for such a thing.
He watched as the clerk scratched his head, then frowned. "I don't think ... I mean, I don't feel like that would be the right thing to do in this instance. There's something about her that..."
"What something?" Garrett prompted impatiently. He did own half the hotel, after all.
"I'm not sure," Andy said, stepping inside and closing the door behind him. "For one thing, she's too pretty to be a maid."
Christopher shared the same admiration for the opposite sex as his friend. But unlike Garrett, he wasn't always discreet in expressing that admiration. "How pretty?"
Andy smiled, then blushed. He was trying to think of the right words to describe Claire Aldrich when Christopher instructed him to bring the girl upstairs.
"I'll talk to her. It's better than wasting my time trying to convince my partner that he's lost his mind."
Knowing better than to interfere in what was none of his business, Andy exited the room with a quick nod.
"I haven't lost my mind." Garrett glared at his best friend. "The more I think about it, the more the idea appeals to me. I can keep Grams from worrying herself to death and discourage Belinda Belton at the same time. Once my engagement is announced, I'll be as good as married. I'll be off the market, so to speak."
Another knock kept Christopher from continuing their argument. The two men waited as Andy opened the door and motioned a woman inside. Garrett felt his frustration over his grandmother's health take on a different form as the job-seeking young lady walked into the hotel office. Petite, but definitely full grown, she had honey brown hair and wide amber eyes that reminded Garrett of a curious kitten. Her features were classically delicate and there was a determined tilt to her chin. Her pink, bow-shaped mouth practically begged to be kissed, but Garrett was willing to bet a sizable fortune that she'd never been touched by a man. Everything about her shouted innocence.