Authors: Nancy Warren
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #Romantic Suspense, #Mystery & Suspense, #Suspense
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“Vincent Elliot Preston Grange, the fourth,” intoned the family lawyer, drooling pomp and circumstance over each syllable. The man who owned the name jerked slightly in the leather club chair in the library of the New York mansion of his recently deceased great-aunt. His long-winded name sat on Vince as uncomfortably as the gray suit, starched white shirt, and muted tie he’d worn to the reading of his eccentric and very rich Aunt Marjorie’s will.
Most days Vince wore jeans and whichever T-shirt was on top of the clean laundry pile. If he had heavy-duty negotiating to do, he threw a blazer on top. It was the uniform he’d come to be known by as a labor negotiator. He liked to think his wardrobe nicely balanced the two worlds he straddled. The working guys saw him as one of them in the shirt and jeans. The jacket made him more acceptable to the suits in management.
Vince got on okay with both union and management, mostly because he was fair, always kept his word, and he’d cultivated an air that suggested it was really unwise to get on his bad side. He’d dropped the numeral and the extra names long ago. He introduced himself as Vince, but everybody called him Bulldog.
He kept his illustrious family background as much of a secret as the fact that a girlfriend had once tried to make him watch a childbirth video to get in touch with his feminine side. He did not, he’d explained after two of the worst minutes of TV viewing in his life, have a feminine side.
The Granges weren’t a close family. His aunt Marjorie and uncle David had ended up with the Grange fortune but been childless, while Uncle David’s younger brother and sister had been blessed with children and grandchildren but comparative poverty.
Frankly, Vince was pretty happy the way things had turned out. Sure, he’d gone to a snotty private school—well, he’d pretty much had to since the whole freakin library had been endowed by his great-great-grandfather—but other than that, he’d lived a normal life, gone to Cornell to study business management, and discovered he had a talent for labor negotiating. In New York City, there was plenty of opportunity to practice that skill.
In place of children, Aunt Marjorie had owned a string of obnoxious lap dogs, each more spoiled than the last. The latest was a French poodle. A toy French poodle. He knew this because his aunt had told him last time he’d seen her. He’d thought part of her wig had fallen in her lap until he realized that the dog’s white curly hair had the same blue rinse. When it raised its pointy little head to yap at him, he’d seen the glint of diamonds at its neck.
The dog sat now, perched on one of the chairs, surveying the assembled group from sharp little BB ball eyes. Vince caught a flash of pink as it lifted a paw to scratch at the diamond collar, and realized its nails were painted.
He took a moment to feel a little sorry for the thing. Who’d baby the spoiled and overgrown rat and keep it in diamonds and manicures now?
He glanced around the room and wondered if his aunt’s housekeeper might take the mutt if she was compensated. A quick glance to the left had him wondering if his cousins, Esme and Jonathon, might take on the job. They were from the snobby side of the family. No richer than he was, but they liked to put on airs. Maybe they’d like a diamond-decked toy poodle. The two of them had certainly hung around enough in the last couple of years. His mom swore they were only after the old girl’s money. Well, good luck to them. From the look of the pair of them, with their designer wardrobes and the indefinable air of wealth that hung about them, they’d have a lot more clue what to do with the family millions than he would.
Vince was obviously in the will for something or he wouldn’t be at the reading. He hoped it was for Uncle David’s collection of Civil War memorabilia.
The lawyer, who’d paused to drink some water and clear his throat, piped up again, adjusting his glasses and picking up the will once more. “To my great-nephew Vincent Elliot Preston Grange, the fourth, I leave my dearest possession and treasure. My precious pet Mimi.”
Vince blinked, stared at the pale blue fluff ball again, as though he couldn’t believe his eyes, never mind his ears, and he could have sworn those beady little black eyes were laughing at him.
Stunned silence filled the room.
“She left me her dog?” he asked in horror. He hadn’t wanted much, and he appreciated that Aunt Marjorie thought she was doing him a big favor, but he really, really didn’t want a dog.
“I work all day, what would I do with a dog?” Not to mention that his idea of a dog and Mimi were about as similar as a dandelion and a gorilla.
He heard a hastily snuffed snicker and glanced at his cousin Jonathon, who was trying, with distinct lack of success, to pretend he was coughing.
Waiting until the room was silent once more, the lawyer continued, “And to Mimi, my beloved poodle, my friend and companion in my final years, I leave the bulk of my fortune.”
Vince started in his chair and heard gasps from his cousins.
“She left her money to her poodle?” Jonathon asked at last, rising from his chair, and not laughing now. He was the first one able to form words.
“Yes. She did.”
“Well, that’s just ridiculous. In fact, it’s crazy.”
The solicitor removed his glasses and stared at Jonathon for a long moment. “If you are suggesting your aunt was not of sound mind when she made this will, I can assure you she was. May I continue?”
A shrug of Jonathon’s elegant shoulders had the lawyer replacing his glasses and continuing to read.
“I charge Vincent Elliot Preston Grange, the fourth, to care for and look after Mimi, in the manner in which she is accustomed, for the remainder of her lifetime, after which, the bulk of my estate will go to him.” No one gasped at this last bit, least of all Vince himself. He suspected they were all simply too stunned.
“However,” the lawyer continued, “should Mimi die of anything but natural causes, the money will then be split evenly between Jonathon Lewis Carnaby and Esme Louise Carnaby.”
“But I don’t want a dog,” Vince said. No one heard him in the sudden babble of voices. Jonathon and Esme rushed forward to the desk where the lawyer now sat, the will on the desktop in front of him.
Vince and Mimi regarded each other warily. It occurred to Vince that the coiffed pooch was no more thrilled with the plan than he.
The bulk of his aunt’s estate was going to amount to a few million bucks. It wasn’t that he minded the prospect of becoming a multimillionaire in a few years. But it was a lot to take in right away. And in the immediate future he’d be baby-sitting a very spoiled, very rich poodle.
It wouldn’t be that bad, he decided. He fixed problems all the time. Ignoring the babble between his cousins and the lawyer, he made a suggestion. “Listen,” he said to the French woman who’d been his aunt’s companion, “I’m going to leave Mimi here. It’s her home, she’ll be happier.”
!” she replied. “Mimi must live with you. It is as your aunt wished.”
Esme sent Vince her very white, very perfect I-want-something smile. “Look, if you don’t want a dog, I’m sure we could work something out.”
He was thinking along the same lines, but then she turned and in the most nauseating indulgent-parent-to-spoiled-little-kid tone said, “Mimi knows her auntie Esme, don’t you, sweetums?” She squatted in front of Mimi’s chair, and Vince watched as the dog looked down its nose at her. Then Esme put out her hand, and the dog made a threatening growl, then snapped. “She’s just confused, that’s all,” Esme said, rising, a mortified blush darkening her cheeks.
“Mimi doesn’t like you. Never did,” the Frenchwoman said.
“Well, that is simply ridiculous. I suppose you’re going to tell me that my cousin here dotes on the dog?”
“No. But the dog dotes on him.
N’est-ce pas, Mimi? Tu aimes le grand monsieur, hein?
As though cued, the dog jumped off its chair and minced across the floor to leap onto Vince’s lap. She circled a few times, as though looking for the most comfortable spot, then sank daintily into a sitting position, making Vince feel like an elephant transporting a tiny, overbred princess. The dog smelled like Joy perfume, a fragrance he’d forever associate with his aunt.
“Well,” said Esme. “I’m sure I don’t know why Mimi should be so taken with Vincent. She obviously doesn’t know his nickname is Bulldog.”
“Hey, it’s a mystery to me, too,” Vince assured her, not needing Jonathon’s smirk to tell him how ridiculous he must look—a muscular guy of six-four with a French poodle nestled in his lap.
“If I might continue?” asked the lawyer.
He read the rest of the will, and it occurred to Vince that neither his aunt nor her lawyer could be called crazy. They’d left nice bequests to the servants, a million bucks each to Esme and Jonathon, and his aunt had given a reasonable sum to charity. Apart from the fact that the main beneficiary was a canine, it was a perfectly sensible will.
Except for the fact that she’d chosen Vince as the mutt’s new owner. If Vince ever thought about having
a dog— which he did from time to time—he pictured a German Shepherd, big like its owner, the kind of animal that loves to run and isn’t afraid of hard work.
A French toy poodle was not on his list.
When Jonathon and Esme had whispered for a few minutes in the corner, Jonathon asked the lawyer, “Once all the bequests are paid out, how much goes to the pooch?”
“After the taxes and duties are paid and all the bequests and claims on the estate settled, Mimi will inherit approximately fourteen million dollars.”
While Vince digested that, the heiress snoozed gently in his lap.
“Now, Monsieur Grange,” the housekeeper said, “when will it be convenient to move your things into the house?”
“Oh, no.” Vince said, gazing around the stuffy library. “I’m staying in my own apartment until this thing’s sorted out. I want Mimi to stay here in the house with the staff she’s used to. With you,” he said in his tough, this-point-is-not-negotiable voice.
“Pah, non. This is not possible. Andre—he was your great-aunt’s chauffeur, you know—and I are going back to France to retire.” She rose and smiled at him. “All the servants are retiring. I will have Mimi’s limousine prepared to transport the two of you home,” she said.
“I drove myself here. I’ll drive myself home.”
She opened her mouth to argue, checked out his expression, and shrugged in that indefinably Gallic way that says, Be an idiot, see if I care. “Very well. I will have her things delivered to you.”
Oh, right. There’d be a dog dish, probably some priceless antique, and the leash. If it matched the collar, he and the dog were going to be mugged every time they went outside the door.
The Frenchwoman patted the dog on the head. “
Sois gentille, Mimi. Je t’aime
,” and she kissed the blue-rinsed topknot and straightened, sniffing with emotion. “Oh, and remember,” she said to Vince, “Mimi only understands French.”