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Authors: Jane Beaufort

Tags: #Mills & Boon Romance 1974

Love in High Places

BOOK: Love in High Places
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LOVE IN HIGH PLACES

Jane Beaufort

Lou Morgan, daughter of an American oil king, had just about everything—youth, looks, and a great deal of money. All she needed was a good marriage—and she intended to settle for nothing less than a title! So she set off for a tour of the high spots of Europe—and in an Austrian winter sports resort met just the man she wanted, in the attractive person of the Baron Alex von Felden. Alex and Lou seemed mace for each other—but unfortunately the Baron fell in love with the wrong girl; with Lou’s penniless little companion, Valentine Brown. But he needed money to recoup his family fortunes. Would he really marry Valentine, when Lou could give him everything but love?

 

CHAPTER ONE

From
where she stood on her balcony Valentine could see the whole of the wide valley. It was filled with snow, and at this later hour of the day the snow was flushed with rose as the sun slipped towards the shoulder of the highest peak that ringed them in.

Compared with some of the Swiss giants she had gazed upon it was not such a very high peak. But it was quite an awesome mountain, splendid and lonely as it soared into the sunset, and beyond it and all around it were other peaks and little lakes, like inverted blue bowls, caught up in the folds of whiteness, or imprisoned on the floor of the valley.

There were dark woods, too, smelling of larch and juniper, that came climbing all the way up from the valley, and mountain streams, that ran down to feed the lakes, petrified by the icy atmosphere.

As she leaned on her balcony rail and watched the shadow of night closing in in that secluded place, and felt the frozen silence press on her, Valentine wondered whether even the fields and the woods were brooding on the harsh severity of their lot, and dreaming of golden summer days that might never come again. For, with the temperature away down at zero, it was impossible to believe in hot noons and breathless starry nights, meadows full of wild flowers, and all the magic of an Austrian
Ju
ne.

Just as impossible as it was to believe that, not so very long ago, Valentine Brown came to places like this without having to look after a fabulous wardrobe, wash “smalls” and attend to the snags in nylon hose in order to get her hotel bill settled, and receive a small sum over and above that for purely personal expenses!

But, so far as the stars were concerned, even in the dead of winter they could blaze like cold fire up there in the gentian sky. They could send shafts out of beauty that were ten times more brilliant than any diamond, especially around about midnight, when the hotel orchestra was playing soft dance music, and women drifted dreamily in slinky or floating dresses, and men wore dinner-jackets.

Why was it, Valentine wondered that men looked so attractive at night
?
Even when they had no pretensions to good looks.

Was it that their impeccable linen, and their sober garb, threw into prominence their best features
?
Their careful grooming? And when a man happened to be particularly handsome, and had a particularly wonderful tan

the healthy coating of bronze, for instance, a winter sports resort bestows

then a woman’s heart had to be a very controlled affair indeed if it didn’t miss a beat when such a man crossed her line of vision.

Valentine knew she was thinking of the latest arrival at the hotel where prices were so high that anyone who wasn’t accustomed to rubbing shoulders with millionaires wouldn’t dream of booking a room. She was thinking of Lou, her employer’s, most recent conquest, and it wasn’t in the least surprising, for he had been a sensation at the gala ball the night before.

Valentine herself had not participated in any of the lighter-hearted moments of the ball, but her off-duty time was her own, and she had stood in the wings, as it were

or, more accurately, the glassed-in veranda to which couples drifted when they wanted to escape from the heat, or watch the moon rise

and looked on at other people having a truly memorable time.

Lou could hardly have looked more brilliant, or more sensational, in her Givenchy gown and the diamonds that had been her father’s twenty-first birthday gift to her. And Alex von Felden had the well-held shoulders and narrow hips of an athlete, added to that devastating tan and the handsomest pair of sleepy brown eyes Lou admitted she had ever seen. Valentine had not had the advantage of gazing into them closely

as Lou had done on several occasions, despite an extremely brief acquaintance

but, in her humble opinion as an onlooker of very little importance but a certain amount of experience, they were the kind of eyes that spelled
beware
when he asked someone feminine to dance.

They were apparently eternally bored and a little cynical, gleamed occasionally with mischief, and could look unbounded admiration without the slightest effort and without losing any of their boredom or appearing a degree less cynical. Yet the young woman in his arms, or over whom he bent solicitously as he handed her a drink with ice chinking at the bottom of it, or for whom he swung open the door to the veranda in order that she could precede him out into the distilled magic of moonlight and starshine, looked up at him with a breathless expectancy on her face. An awareness of his charm that must have flattered him a good deal, even if it occasionally amused him a little as well.

Not that Lou was likely to amuse him
...
She was the daughter of a Texan Oil King, and a dazzling beauty besides. She was out to marry, and prepared to pounce once the tight man appeared on her immediate horizon; but she had so much to give that no man could regard her as a husband-hunter and nothing else. She was Lou Morgan, whose father was prepared to set her up in the most outlandish state imaginable

if that was what she wanted!

once she did marry, and the sooner she married the better, or so he thought.

Lou thought so, too, and Valentine was fully aware that she was preparing her coils for the strike. After flying from America and discovering no one to her taste in either London or Paris, or along the whole length of the French and Italian Rivieras

although many hopefuls had fancied the idea of having Martin C. Morgan for a father-in-law

she discovered a spot in the Austrian Alps where Fate had arranged everything.

A little belatedly

at least a week after her own arrival!

but most, most satisfactorily!

She had rushed up in the lift to tell Valentine the glad news when He arrived with mountains of baggage, and a manservant who looked after him as if he were more valuable than the Crown Jewels. A real live Austrian baron whom the management vouched for because he had a
schloss
in the district, and his family was well known in the area. A good-looking, debonair, attentive baron who lost no time in getting acquainted, and yet knew all the old ladies who came there regularly to look on at winter sports, and held their knitting wool for them when they wanted to wind a new ball.

An unattached baron, who was by no means averse to matrimony!

How Lou found all that out in such a short space of time Valentine found it difficult to understand, but the very afternoon after his arrival they were drawing the maximum amount of attention to themselves by performing daring feats on skis right out over the valley. They were both gold medallists, without any sort of fear once the awkward straps that attached the skis to their feet were securely buckled, and the frozen side of a mountain slipped away below them. And as a result of spending the whole of the afternoon together, and the entire evening that followed, discovered that they had other tastes in common.

Lou was a first-class swimmer, and the baron liked risking his neck behind the wheels of specially-built fast cars. He jumped his own horses, and she had ridden bareback on her father’s ranch. They both took delight in vicarious thrills, had a slightly perverted sense of humour, and wallowed in luxury. It was their natural birthright.

Hers because Martin C. Morgan could afford it; his because he came of a long line of luxury-loving forebears, not one of whom had had the practical forethought to leave him really well provided for.

In fact

and this was another thing Lou found out in the first twenty-four hours of knowing the Baron von Felden

he was deplorably badly off. For a man who liked luxury, that is, and expected that somehow or other it should be incorporated in his background.

“Of course, the war made Austria a poor country,” Lou said, as she struggled feverishly into her dress for the gala ball. “And aristocratic families like Alex’s have never recovered from the war years. Poor Alex’s family was practically decimated. There’s only an ancient grandmother left, and she comes to his rescue occasionally. But she’s pretty mean, I fancy.”

“Possibly she’s not in a position to be anything other than mean,” Valentine remarked.

Lou stared dreamily at herself in the mirror, and decided that she would have to do something about the high colour on her cheekbones

the effect of sun on snow, and a stinging wind that rose up from the valley when one was racing towards it at high speed. A little of the special lotion she had bought in Paris would probably do the trick, and she told Valentine to rummage in her trunks until she found it.

“On the contrary, she’s quite a wealthy old woman. She keeps most of the family jewels safely locked away in the bank, and she married a New York banker after her first husband died. She
ought
to do something for Alex, poor lamb!”

“Presumably he will inherit everything she possesses when she dies, too,” Valentine observed as she handed over the lotion.

Lou sighed, as if the thought of the Baron’s troubles pressed heavily upon her.

“It’s most unpleasant waiting to fill a dead man’s

or woman’s

shoes,” she stated.

And the odd thing is that Alex doesn’t want the old thing to die. He’s fond of her. He’s actually terribly fond of her, and from all I can gather she’s as tough as nails!”

“Has he ever thought of getting himself a job?” Valentine asked. “He wouldn’t be the first man with a rather useless title to do so.”

Lou looked shocked.

“A rather useless title
?
But it’s a very old title!
... One of the oldest in Austria! And what could he do, anyway
?
” She drew herself up to her full height, and assumed her best employer-to-employee attitude. “Don’t be silly,
Valentine! It may be true that you have to work to earn your keep

and
you
weren’t brought up to do anything really practical, otherwise you wouldn’t be fussing over me like this now!

but the Barons von Felden are rather different! When a man has charm, culture,
everything
!
...”
She
drew a deep breath. “And I have a plan that will make his grandmother’s silly little hoard seem like nothing at all when he gets it at last!”

Valentine gazed at her with a certain amount of anxiety. She owed quite a lot to Lou Morgan, and her occasional lapses into dignity didn’t dismay her at all. In a way she was really quite fond of Lou, and she hoped very much that she knew what she was doing.

“You don’t mean that
...
you’re going to employ him in some capacity
?
” she asked, aghast.

Lou shook her head at her, smiling a little disdainfully.

“No, honey, I don’t. I wouldn’t presume to offer employment to an
Excellency
! But I do need a husband!
... It seems that I’ve been loo
king
out for one since my cradle!”

“But you know nothing about the Baron von Felden,” Valentine cried, even more aghast. “You’ve known him precisely three days, and he could even be bogus! He
could
have a wife!
...”

“How
dare
you say such a thing!” her employer demanded, turning deep pink again with fury.

“Well, he could.”

Lou snatched up her gold mesh handbag from the dressing-table, crammed a fine lace handkerchief and a gold lipstick inside it, sprayed herself lavishly with her own specially blended perfume, and then turned to the door. With her slender lame-covered back to the girl
who served her, she observed with dignity:

“I know everything that is necessary to know about Alex von Felden. I
intend
to marry him! He intends to marry me! We’re exactly right for one another, and I shall simply love being the Baroness von Felden. Now, clear up this mess and have your dinner up here on a tray. Dinner will go on for hours to-night, and you’d look conspicuous without the right sort of dress in the dining-room. You needn’t sit up for me.”

And now Valentine was waiting for her to come in from the snow slopes
...
and with her the Baron von Felden. They would part downstairs in the vestibule, and she would promise to rejoin him as soon as she had rushed through her dressing. Everything must be ready for her the instant she burst through the door, and Valentine went through into the bathroom to make certain there was a generous supply of towels. Lou’s white silk robe hung on the door, and her special soap and bath essence and dusting-powder were all lined up. In the bedroom, with its silk-shaded lights already glowing softly, the dress she would wear that evening was arrayed across the back of a chair.

Valentine fingered the fragile lace underwear that looked so exquisite lying on the bed, and thought ruefully how grateful she was when Lou flung at her some of her cast-offs. The American girl could be wildly generous on occasion, and Valentine’s clever fingers did the rest. Bitter experience had taught her to adapt, and grow really expert at altering a set of garments... even a discarded evening-gown.

If she wanted to dress up for some special occasion and look almost as glamorous as Lou herself it would not be very difficult. But the long mirr
o
r confronting
her told her that she could never hope to present the glittering facade to the world that Lou presented. Lou had hair that was like moonbeams transferred to earth, and her eyes were big and blue and wonderful. Valentine was a serious young woman with a delicate heart
-
shaped face that was far too grave, and only her Titian hair was beautiful.

Her eyes were golden and clear as water, but they had forgotten how to smile in a carefree manner. They were shadowed golden eyes, and some of the disillusionment that dwelt in the eyes of the Baron von Felden hid behind her lashes.

She heard a sudden clamour in the corridor outside the suite, and the lift doors clanged shut noisily. There was the rattle of ski sticks, the muffled tramp of heavy boots, and then Lou’s voice called airily to someone. But her footsteps lagged as she came on along the corridor, and when she pushed open the door of the bedroom she was far from pleased. She threw off her bright cap with the impertinent bobble, and sank into a chair.

“There’s no hurry tonight,” she said. “Alex has gone to look at his
schloss,
and he may not be back until morning. I don’t feel like dining alone, so you’d better dress up and come downstairs with me.” She yawned, partly as a result of the strong air and exercise, partly because of boredom. “Don’t stand there staring. You
have
got something decent to wear, haven’t you
?
If not you can borrow something of mine,”

“Oh, no.” Valentine spoke quickly, a little flush of pink staining her cheeks. She had spent so many nights dining alone in the little sitting-room of the suite that it would be a change to see the inside of the hotel
dining room
. A change to have other people dining near her, relaxed and sipping champagne and listening to the music from the hotel ballroom. “I’ve got plenty of things to wear. But I’m sorry you’re going to have a dull evening...

Lou grimaced.

“I won’t pretend your company will charm me as much as Alex’s, but at least you’re better than a good many of the bores in this hotel. That frightful old Lady Frobisher, who never stops knitting, and wants to know all about America, and that dreadful bunch of German youths
...
amorous to a man!” She looked suddenly petulant. “But why did Alex have to visit his
schloss
today
?
It’s falling to bits, anyway, and doesn’t even sound safe! And why couldn’t he take me
?

Valentine suggested brightly that it might have been his intention to tidy it up a bit before Lou saw it, and her employer was obviously impressed. She went off to her bath in a happier frame of mind because she might still be invited to visit the
schloss.
Perhaps very soon.

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