Bride by the Book (Crimson Romance) (9 page)

BOOK: Bride by the Book (Crimson Romance)
3.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Garner perched on the edge of Angie’s desk and watched, smiling, while she pried the lid off the box and frowned at the shoes.

“Go ahead,” Garner said. “Try them on.”

He dropped his gaze to the pristine sheet in his hand.

Dear Mr. McDonald
: he read.
The legalities of you’re proposed lawsuit are not as you have outlined in you’re letter. First, state regulations require corporations. To pay corporate franchise taxes in a timely manner. Second, corporations not paying said taxes in a timely manner are subject to penalties and fines, and ultimately may risk losing their corporate charters.

Garner read the entire letter three times before he spoke.

“Angie,” he said gently.

She looked up. “Yes?”

“You’re going to have to redo this letter.”

She looked at him, blue eyes blank with disbelief behind those serious-looking tortoiseshell glasses.

Cautiously, he handed the letter back to her. “It says just what I want it to say. In fact, it would be perfect, except for your less-than-perfect usage of English grammar.”

Chapter 5

Angie couldn’t believe it. Less-than-perfect usage of English grammar? Her?

She drew herself to her full height and faced Garner, drawing upon all the poise she’d acquired during her years with BrownWare, and reminded herself that a professional secretary did not brain the boss under any circumstances. “Very well. Please show me precisely what the problem is.”

Garner regarded her warily and she sought at once to soften her tone.

“It’ll be easier if I take a pen and mark a few of the mistakes,” he said.

Angie stood there in frozen horror, while Garner’s pen moved rapidly down her perfect letter, marking item after item. By the time he was done, she felt like a ninth-grader receiving the red-pencil treatment on her essay. Her cheeks burned with chagrin when she noted a couple of items she thought she recalled from long-ago English classes. She’d thought Peter Van Holden was bad. Garner Holt probably thought she was a lot worse.

Maybe she was. When was the last time she’d had to pay attention to grammar?

Angie took the letter with attempted bravado. Although he’d marked her mistakes, he hadn’t penciled in the correct word choice. After studying the letter a moment, any bravado she still felt wilted beneath the uncomfortable conviction Garner was right. Each circle marked a mistake, and she’d have to correct every one of them.

“Thank you,” she said. “Obviously, I could use a refresher course after working for Mr. Van Holden.”

Garner regarded her curiously. “I’d have thought he’d have trained you better than this if he was working on a grammar checking program.”

“Why do you think he decided to write a grammar-checker?” she said, trying for humor. It didn’t quite come off. She sounded like a little girl whose feelings were hurt.

He shoved his hands in his pockets and regarded her as if he suspected that what she’d really like to do was bean him with the computer keyboard. “Just read over the thing once or twice before you print it out next time,” he suggested.

Angie thought seriously of murder, mayhem, and homicide. Her feelings must have showed on her face because Garner vanished swiftly into his office.

The telephone rang.

“Mr. Holt’s office,” Angie said. “I’m sorry, Miss Adams. Mr. Holt is unable to take calls right now. He’s in conference. Yes, I have your number. I’ll give it to him the minute he’s free.”

She hung up the phone with a hint of a bang and felt a little ashamed of herself. It wasn’t the fault of the telephone that she hadn’t thought to brush up on her grammar skills. She had thought she knew grammar very well indeed. So much for that belief.

She reached for her briefcase and extracted her little netbook. This was a moment to call for expert help, and a smart woman knew when and of whom to ask for help.

• • •

Garner peeped around his door. Angie was busy at her desk, but he had no idea what she was doing until he saw her plug a flash drive into the desktop computer. She removed it then plugged it into a tiny laptop computer she had set up beside the desktop monitor.

He issued forth, fascinated, when she began typing rapidly. The machine dinged and Angie sat back a moment then sat forward when the machine dinged again and the screen lit up. She remained so intent upon her activities, she wasn’t aware when he came up behind her.

Spying on his secretary. Those were the depths he’d descended to, Garner thought, with inward laughter. The small-town lawyer’s life that had seemed so predictable barely two days ago now hummed with interesting possibilities. He was having a wonderful time, especially when he realized that Angie was using an instant messenger program he had never seen before to exchange messages with her correspondent.

The person on the other end of the exchange went by the name of
, while Angie went by VP1. He wondered absently what that stood for even as he shamelessly read the exchange.

Hello, Ang
, FondaC wrote.
Fancy hearing from you on a day like today.

I need help fast
, Angie returned, ignoring the provocative comment.
I’m a lot worse than I thought with grammar, and I’ve got to get a letter out. Can you correct it for me if I send it to you?

I’m not believing this
, FondaC wrote.
On second thought, maybe I can. Working with Peter must’ve rubbed off on you. Okay, Ang. Send it over. I’ll have it back to you in a couple of minutes.

Thoroughly entranced, Garner peered over Angie’s shoulder. Why, he wondered, was Peter Van Holden writing a grammar program if he couldn’t punctuate a simple sentence himself? It made no sense … unless Van Holden had been writing something other than a grammar-checking program and Angie didn’t want him to know what it was. Garner resolved to do a computer search on Peter Van Holden that very day.

Seconds later, a yellow gas gauge appeared on the screen as Angie sent the file to this FondaC person.

Immobile with fascination, he watched as Angie leaned back in her chair and stretched, obviously waiting. Then she took off her pink cotton jacket and checked her watch.

Garner studied her back. She wore a thin white cotton blouse that was so sheer, he could see the outline of her brassiere through it. His fingers itched to pluck the pins out of her hair and let it fall to her shoulders in the blond cloud he remembered from his first glimpse of her in the diner.

Within a few minutes, the gas gauge appeared on the computer screen once more. Since Angie hadn’t touched the keyboard, Garner gathered FondaC was sending the letter back to Angie.

Angie quickly typed,
Thanks, Fonda. I appreciate it. I didn’t realize I’d gotten so rusty.

Garner watched closely. Sure enough, Angie shut down the messenger program and called up the word processor. The letter he’d ordered her to retype popped up.

Angie printed out two copies and clipped one to the copy he’d circled. Garner realized without surprise she intended to study the changes this Fonda had made. Then she blanked the computer screen and rose.

Garner hastily backed up. He had almost made it back inside his office before Angie wheeled toward him.

“Oh. I didn’t realize you were there.” She gave him a firm smile, but from the expression on her face, she probably intended to either change the position of her desk or set a mirror up beside her to monitor his office door. “See if this is any better, please.”

Garner took the letter and made a show of reading it. Sure enough, the letter was now perfect. He had been right. Angelina Brownwood had never been a secretary before. The question now was what
she been, and what was she up to now?

Perhaps she was a reporter, looking for inside tips on his upcoming case defending a local business owner against a sexual harassment suit filed by three of his female ex-employees. The case had the whole town taking sides, and probably taking bets as to the outcome as well. He resolved to keep any information about that trial out of Angie’s hands, just in case.

“Thank you,” he said. “Are you ready for lunch? How about joining me at the diner?”

Angie’s expressive face reflected an unmistakable desire to say yes. He wondered what objection she had conjured up to his company.

“Thank you, but I brought a sandwich,” she said. “I really want to use the time to get these shelves in order.”

Garner felt sure she had not packed a sandwich in her briefcase. Perhaps she intended to use the time to contact whoever had sent her. “Angie, you need to take a break. You’ve been going non-stop all morning. It’s wearing me out.”

Angie smiled suddenly. “I can’t stand disorder. As soon as I’ve got this office in the kind of shape I like, I’ll be happy to take my lunch hour.”

Garner folded his arms across his chest and decided he might as well make her think twice about picking his office for her spying and have a little fun as well. “All right. I’ll make a deal with you,” he said, with a smile of pure enjoyment. “If I agree to cease and desist trying to make you eat a healthy lunch, you’ll agree to go home peacefully at five o’clock and put on something suitable for jogging.”

,” Angie repeated, wrinkling her nose with distaste. “No, thank you. I’m busy this afternoon.”

“Angie,” Garner said gently. “You’re forgetting something. I’m now concerned about your health. If I let you and your alleged sandwich alone, will you promise to put on your shoes and shorts and join me after work for a little exercise?”

“That’s a choice?”

“It’s your only choice,” he said, grinning. “Well? Where’s the sandwich? I’ll need to inspect it if you refuse to join me after work.”

Angie stepped back and frowned at him. “Keep your health-freak hands off my sandwich.”

“Fine.” Garner turned toward the door. “I’ll be at your front door at five-thirty. Kindly don’t keep me waiting.”

Before she could deliver a reply, he turned and vanished out the front door, laughing to himself. Either she would be waiting for him on her front porch with a stick, or she would have a very good excuse for being far away from home.

Either way, he could hardly wait for five o’clock, because he fully intended to hunt her down if she wasn’t there. He was having way too much fun trying to solve the mystery of Miss Angelina Brownwood.

And if she turned out to be a spy for a newspaper, Lord help her.

• • •

Angie stood glaring after Garner’s tall form as he crossed the street to the diner. As she had packed no sandwich, she was not going to get any lunch, and Garner Holt was going to force her to jog after work.

Being a secretary wasn’t quite as glamorous as she’d thought it would be. Maybe she should have listened to Fonda.

On the other hand, being a secretary beat working at BrownWare, or any other software company she could name, hands-down. Yesterday notwithstanding, she got off punctually at five; she went in punctually at nine, and the job did not come home with her or keep her up at night.

In short, she could actually have a life.

Since she had never had a so-called life before, she could not have said what the advantage of that was, but Fonda seemed to think it counted for a great deal. According to Fonda, she could go on dates. She could have long conversations with girlfriends over lattes or over the phone. She could even pursue a hobby.

Fonda thought she ought to develop a love life, and upon subjecting the matter to a great deal of thought and fantasy, Angie had to agree. She wanted to develop that love life, but first, she had to find a suitable male.

Garner Holt, in her view, was very suitable, but not if he intended to make her eat shoe leather or take up physical fitness as a hobby.

She spent her lunch hour nibbling an old package of Life Savers she found in her purse, and shelving books. Then she sat down at her desk and proudly set out the brand new plastic Rolodex file Fonda had given her as a going-away present. Every professional secretary, according to Fonda, knew better than to trust computer hard drives for such valuables as often-used phone numbers and addresses. Fonda believed in the power of the Rolodex, and Angie could hardly wait to get hers up to par.

She busied herself for the remainder of the afternoon placing Mindy Adams’s address and phone number on one of her Rolodex cards and added more cards for the few other clients of Garner’s she had dealt with thus far.

By the time Angie left the office that afternoon, her stomach was in the final stages of rebellion. If she hadn’t eaten such a good breakfast that morning, Garner would have been picking her up off the floor by early afternoon. She’d almost given in to the temptation to call a pizza delivery service.

She was crotchety and hungry, and her feet hurt. She hit the front door of her own small house at a semi-run, for once ignoring the beauty of the yard and the beds of moss roses lining the sidewalk. Tossing her briefcase and the shoebox Garner had given her on the sofa, she raced to the kitchen, flung open the freezer door and grabbed a frozen pizza. While it cooked in the microwave, she poured herself a glass of chocolate milk and eased her feet out of the high heeled, pink pumps,

This was more like it. Angie felt so relieved, she almost experienced a wave of nostalgia for BrownWare, where she’d gone to work every day in jeans and a T-shirt or whatever she felt like wearing. No one at BrownWare had cared how she looked so long as she produced.

She sipped the milk and rubbed her scalp. Wearing her hair in a chignon all day was giving her sore spots. She removed her glasses and the hairpins holding her chignon, propped her feet on the table, and leaned back, closing her eyes.

The ding of the microwave coincided with a knock at her front door. Angie started. Chocolate milk splashed onto her crisp, white blouse.

“Angie?” Garner called. “Are you ready?”

Angie almost fell off her chair trying to swing her legs down off the table. She leaped up, flustered, and grabbed for some napkins, then hurried to the front door and frowned out at him.

BOOK: Bride by the Book (Crimson Romance)
3.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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