If Leo marries his best friend, they’ll inherit a fortune. The only trouble is, he’s already fallen for her father.
Yacht captain Leo’s never stayed in one place long enough to fall in love. That all could change when he’s left £1,000,000. But there’s a catch. Leo can only inherit the money if he takes a bride before the year is out. And Leo’s the kind of man who’s only interested in taking a husband.
So Leo and his best friend hatch a plan. She’ll be his pretend bride, and he’ll use his new-found wealth to support her animal sanctuary. What could possibly go wrong?
Archie’s the closest thing to perfect that Leo’s ever seen. Dashing, mature and sexy as hell, after one hot night in a London hotel, Leo can’t stop thinking about the legal eagle who’s stolen his heart.
When Leo meets the father of his bride-to-be, he’s in for the shock of his life. Can Archie and Leo join forces to give themselves and a stricken seal pup a second chance, or will a grasping lawyer with a chequebook in place of his heart scupper the happiness of the captain and the father of the bride?
Leo held Liv’s hand as he watched the solicitor flick through the file on his large mahogany desk. Leo had never been to the reading of a will before, never been inside a solicitor’s office before, and Liv had gamely agreed to come with him for moral support.
He was amazed to see the green-shaded lamp on the solicitor’s desk, as Leo had only seen them in films, yet it seemed that here they were a perfectly normal part of real life. The room was so quiet, all sound muffled by the thick carpet that ran through the wood-paneled offices. Leo’s breathing and his own heartbeat sounded twice as loud, and although they were in the middle of London, he could barely hear the traffic or pneumatic drills that had been so ear-piercing when he was outside.
The solicitor shuffled some papers. It wasn’t even as if Herr Schreiber, captain of Cologne industry and the most colorful man ever to leave North Rhine-Westphalia for a life on the ocean waves, had been Leo’s relative. He had merely been a client whose yacht he had skippered around the Mediterranean. A very rich, rather eccentric client, but a client nevertheless. And in his own way, a friend.
Gunther Schreiber’s death, coming as it did in the arms of his cabaret-singing lover in the eighty-first year of his life, hadn’t been unexpected. In fact, rarely did the platitude he died doing something he loved ring so true, but for Gunther Schreiber, being in the arms of his latest muse was exactly how he would have ended his own final chapter. Leo had no doubt about that, and for the same reason, his sadness at the death of his late client was tempered with a sense of satisfaction at a life well-lived and filled to the brim with the fizz of champagne and the hum of the super yacht’s engine.
The last thing Leo would have expected was to find himself sitting in this vast office with its scent of leather and wood polish, his best friend at his side as they waited for the last attendee to arrive. What could possibly be in the will of Gunther Schreiber that would concern Leo Maxwell? Perhaps a little token to mark their happy sailing. One of the handmade yachts from Gunther’s salon, or perhaps one of the paintings that had decorated the walls. Leo hoped it wasn’t that, because he doubted he’d be able to afford the insurance premiums to protect those priceless works.
This is probably a mistake. Or he’s left me something completely random, one last prank to send me on my way.
Yet Mr. Brockett of Brockett, Brockett and Holliday had been very clear in his letter that Leo should attend the meeting in person. A meeting to discuss the last will and testament of Gunther Jost Schreiber, said the neat type on the thick ivory paper with its green and gold lettering, at which you will learn something to your advantage.
Mr. Brockett tapped his pen on the cover of a buff file on his desk. He looked over his half-moon spectacles to the door and pursed his lips. Leo was surprised by the frames of his glasses as well—was the office furnished entirely from the contents of an antiques shop?
Telling himself the experience was fun and not terrifying, Leo grinned at Liv.
“All right?” he whispered, his voice absorbed at once by the deadening effects of the muffling carpet. She nodded, the high brunette ponytail on top of her head bouncing with the motion. Then she smiled and squeezed his hand.
“I am sorry,” Mr. Brockett offered. “I’m sure Mr. Beaucock will be here very soon. I understand he’s a very busy man. A fellow solicitor, you know.”
Trying to avoid laughing, Leo asked, “Is he Gunther’s nephew or…? He told me he’d never had any children.”
“A very distant connection,” he replied. “Herr Schreiber’s only living relative.”
Leo nodded. “I see. Are any other of Gunther’s friends coming? Those ladies on the yacht…”
Leo hoped Mr. Brockett would know what he meant by that. The ladies came and went, and Gunther had always been very fond of them. Surely at least one of them would trot in on their patent-heeled shoes and inherit Gunther’s villa in Cannes?
“I’m not at liberty to disclose any details, but I can assure you that Herr Schreiber has been most generous in his provisions. He stipulated that the parties each be informed in a strict order and according to strict instructions.” Brocket chanced a thin-lipped smile. “I’m sure you understand.”
Liv gave a little snigger and murmured, “So all of Gunther’s girls don’t bump into each other?”
Leo put his hand over his mouth, trying not to laugh. “I’ve seen that happen! Someone called Heidi threw someone called Marisol into the sea!”
“Oh God, we saw it all when we were crewing for Gunther,” Liv told Brockett. “He got more action than any of—” She was silenced by the sound of the door opening, the gesture ushering in a cloud of potent aftershave ahead of the new arrival.
“Jesus Christ, this place is out in the bloody boondocks!” a voice announced. “Hardly the beating heart of legal London, is it? Beaucock. Pleasure to meet one of the real old guard!”
Leo turned in his seat. There before him was a man dressed in pinstripes, a sneer taking up most of his long face. Leo instinctively held Liv’s hand tighter. He gave the new arrival a polite nod, even though he would much rather have run away. He’d met people like Beaucock before, monied pillocks who would hire him to skipper their eye-wateringly expensive yacht and treat Leo with contempt as the hired help.
“Morning,” Leo said to Beaucock. “How do you do?”
“I’ve had a hell of a morning in the very best way.” Beaucock planted his feet a shoulder-width apart and held out his hand to Leo. “Let’s just say that’s one more Premier League player whose license won’t be snatched away by the so-called forces of law and order for a tiny bit of harmless speed. They see a Ferrari and they think it’s payday. Well, not today!”
“Mr. Beaucock specializes in motoring cases,” Brockett explained as Conrad waited for Leo to take his hand. “High-profile ones.”
“Teflon Con,” Beaucock said with obvious pride. “Conrad Beaucock.”
Leo shook Conrad’s moist hand. “I’ve never met one of Gun’s relatives before. Nice to meet you. I’m Leo Maxwell, but some people call me Max.” Leo grinned at Liv. Some people being Liv. “And this is my friend Liv.”
Conrad gave Liv the sort of look a man might give a new car, appraising her in one glance.
“Good to meet you, Leroy.” He released Leo’s hand. “And great to meet you, Liv.”
“It’s Leo,” he prompted. Yes, Conrad really was that type, the kind who consigned people to a bin marked inconsequential human being within seconds of meeting them. And Leo had bought a smart tweed three-piece just for this meeting. His oilskin jacket and wellies hadn’t seemed quite the thing to wear. He didn’t even have to look at Liv to know that she wouldn’t be impressed. Men like Conrad were all too easy to come by in the yachting world, and they were as far from Liv’s cup of tea as it was possible to get.
“Capricorn,” Conrad replied as he took a seat. “Don’t tell me you’re into that bullcrap?”
“Leo is my name.” Is this guy for real? “I can’t even remember what my star sign is. I don’t particularly care.” Leo glanced at Mr. Brockett and the file on his desk. Conrad rubbed his hands together, then looked at his watch with such theatrics that Leo knew he was waiting to be asked what was on his wrist.
So Leo wouldn’t ask.
“Let’s get this baby read,” he told the solicitor. “My Rolex tells me I can give you an hour.”
A Rolex. More like a load of Bolex.
Leo shook his head. Conrad Beaucock, you are a tosser. “I’m sure Gun would be over the moon to know you’ve managed to squeeze the reading of his last wishes into your busy schedule. It’s not very respectful to the old boy.”
“It’s not like he’s here to complain, is it?” Conrad sniggered. “Get over yourself. Who are you anyway?”
“Mr. Beaucock, this is Mr. Maxwell. He skippered Herr Schreiber’s yacht around—” Brockett began to explain.
“So you’re a taxi driver without a taxi, yeah?”
“I’m RYA Yachtmaster Offshore certified, actually.” So there. “And, more importantly, I was Gun’s friend.”
“We both were,” Liv said, taking Leo’s hand again. “And we miss him.”
Leo grinned at her, the days of larking about in the sunshine rushing back to him. “Life’s going to be a lot quieter without Gun around!”
“Not mine, mate.” Conrad sneered. “My life’s going to be a lot louder once I bank that check!”
“Why, are you buying a drum kit?” Leo quipped. Was that a childish riposte? Oh, tough titties, I don’t care.
Brockett cleared his throat and opened the file.
So this is the moment, then.
The mystery of the meeting was about to be solved and Conrad Beaucock was about to inherit everything Gunther hadn’t given to his girlfriends. And after five minutes in his company, Leo knew that he didn’t deserve a penny of it.
Gunther had kept an exquisite ship in a bottle on board. He’d spotted Leo admiring it and had waxed lyrical about it. Maybe that was Gunther’s bequest?
“Now,” Brockett began, “this is a rather complicated matter. Herr Schreiber’s posthumous wishes have been carried out by a will, as you might expect, and a trust. Due to the sensitive nature of some of the bequests, it’s been necessary to be rather…exacting. To ensure that the documents could be sealed, as Herr Schreiber wished. I hope you’ll understand?”
Leo glanced to Liv, who gave him an encouraging smile. He listened intently as Brockett began to read, the will and trust documents a dense tangle of legalese and arcane wording that soon had Leo lost. Conrad, Teflon Con, looked as though it was all old news to him, the flash lawyer in his pinstripes and pointed shoes. He was a world away from Gunther, white-bearded and lounging in kaftans and silk slippers, like a cross between a hippy and Father Christmas.
“And now we reach the bequests,” Brockett said eventually. “There’ll be time afterward for questions, but I’d appreciate it if you would allow things to proceed. The ladies were somewhat ungoverned during this portion, but do try to cooperate.”
“Of course,” Leo said.
Heidi, Marisol, Anook and Tjitske came to his mind in a flurry of big hair, long nails and metallic bikinis. They had always been ungoverned on the deck of the yacht, so Leo couldn’t imagine them being any different in Mr. Brockett’s office. What a scene that must’ve been.
Brockett reached down beneath his desk and, to Leo’s surprise, produced a laptop. He lifted the lid and danced his fingers across the keyboard, then turned the screen to face his audience. There was Gunther again, large as life and beaming with happiness on the deck of the Aphrodite. Behind him Leo could see the crystal-blue ocean, a horizon stretching off into infinity.
Leo sniffed back a tear. He missed that wide smile. He glanced at Liv, knowing she would feel the same. “There he is, Gun the man!”