Married by Christmas

By: Carole Mortimer

CHAPTER ONE

'Who is that gorgeous-looking man over there?' Sally gushed eagerly at Lilli's side.

Until that moment, Lilli had been staring sightlessly at a barman across the room as he quickly and efficiently served drinks to the multitude of people attending what had so far been a pretty boring party.

Or maybe it wasn't the party that was boring; maybe it was just Lilli who felt slightly out of sync with the rest of the people here: if the babble of noise was anything to go by they were having such a good time.

She hadn't attended a party like this in such a long while, and so much had happened in the preceding months. Once upon a time, she acknowledged, she would have thought this was a great party too, would have been at the centre of whatever was going on, but tonight-—well, tonight she felt like a total outsider, rather; is the only sober person in a room full of inebriates must feel. Except she had already consumed several glasses of champagne herself, so that wasn't the reason she felt so out of touch with this crowd with which she had once spent so much time.

As for gorgeous men, the house was full of them— gorgeous and rich. When Geraldine Simms threw a party, this a pre-Christmas one, only the rich and beautiful were invited to attend, in their hundreds. Geraldine's house, in a fashionable part of London, was as huge and prepossessing as its neighbours, and tonight it was bursting at the seams with bejewelled women and handsome men.

Lilli dragged her gaze away from the efficient barman, obviously hired for the evening. It was time she looked away anyway—the man had obviously noticed her attention several minutes ago, and, from the speculative look in his eyes, believed he had made a conquest! He couldn't have been further from the truth; the last thing Lilli was interested in was a fling with any man, let alone someone as transient as a hired barman!

'What gorgeous man?' she asked Sally without interest. Sally was the one who had persuaded her to come in the first place, on the basis that a Geraldine Simms party, an event that only happened twice a year, was a party not to be missed.

'Over by the door— Oh, damn it, he's disappeared again!' Sally frowned her irritation. She was a petite blonde, with a beauty that could stop a man in his tracks, the black dress she almost wore doing little to forestall this.

Lilli had met her several years ago, during the usual round of parties, and, because neither of them had any interest in becoming permanently entangled with any of the handsome men they encountered, they often found themselves spending the evening together laughing at some of the antics of the other women around them as they cast out their nets and secured some unsuspecting man for the evening. Rather a cruel occupation, really, but it had got Lilli and Sally through many a tedious occasion.

'He must be gorgeous if you've taken an interest,' Lilli said dryly, attracting more than her own fair share of admiring glances as she stood tall and slender next to Sally, her hair long and straight to her waist, as black as a raven's wing, eyes cool and green in a gaminely beautiful face, the strapless above-knee-length red dress that she wore clinging to the perfection of her body. Her legs were long and shapely, still tanned from the summer months, the red high-heeled shoes she wore only adding to her height—and to the impression of unobtainable aloofness that she had practised to perfection over the years.

'Oh, he is,' Sally assured her, still searching the crowd for the object of her interest. 'He makes all the other men here look like callow, narcissistic youths. He— Oh, damn,' she swore impatiently. 'Oh, well,' she sighed, turning back to Lilli with a rueful grimace. 'That was fun while it lasted!' She sipped her champagne.

Lilli's eyes widened. 'You've given up already?' She sounded surprised because she was. On the few occasions she had known Sally to take an interest in a man, she hadn't given up until she had got him! And, as far as Lilli was aware, her friend had always succeeded...

'Had to.' Sally grimaced her disappointment, taking another sip of her champagne. 'Unobtainable.'

'You mean he's married,' Lilli said knowingly.

Sally arched her brows. 'I'm sorry to say that hasn't always been a deterrent in the past.' She shook her head. 'No, he belongs to Gerry,' she explained disappointedly. 'As far as I'm aware, no woman has ever taken one of our hostess's men and lived to tell the tale. And I'm too young to die!'

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