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Jessica Steele

The Feisty Fiancee

The first book in the Marriage Pledge series, 2000

CHAPTER ONE

IT WAS the first job she'd ever had, and she loved it. Yancie steered the Mercedes onto the motorway and in next to no time was in the fast lane speeding to pick up her passenger.

Not that there should have been any need to pile on the speed. Had she in fact been where she was supposed to be she would not have needed to be driving anywhere at all.

That was the only snag with this job-there was a lot of waiting around. She wasn't used to waiting around; she was used to be being busy. Truth to tell though, the hanging around hadn't proved any great problem. Not after the first week anyhow. She had only been in the job for three weeks, but after the first week of dropping off some high-up executive or other in the Addison Kirk Group and being told she would be required again in two hours, or three hours' time, whenever, Yancie had come to the conclusion she had better things to do than hang around cooling her heels.

Everything had worked out perfectly after that.

She visited museums, art galleries and cinemas, stopped by to call on friends if she happened to be anywhere within a twenty-mile radius. And even on one occasion she had been able to call in on her mother-taking care of course to first remove the identifying label complete with photograph-Yancie Dawkins-she was supposed to wear at all times on the jacket of her uniform. Bubbles to that!

Yancie was very much aware that her mother would not like it at all if she ever found out she had not only left her home, where she'd lived with her stepfather, but had actually found herself a job. She had once vaguely mooted that she wouldn't mind a career in something; her mother had been scandalised.

It made for an easier life if she said nothing, Yancie mused, and smiled as she thought few people she knew would be brave enough to risk her mother's wrath by enlightening her.

Yancie took a quick glance to the seat beside her where the identifying tag lay. She must remember to put it on again before she picked up today's executive, Mr Clements.

She motored on at speed, reflecting on how the job had more found her than she had found it. Though in actual fact it was her cousin, Greville, to be more accurate, who had found it for her. And, if she was going to be even more precise, Greville, her half-cousin.

Though she loved him to bits, as her `full' cousins also did. But Yancie was a good driver and was able to be totally aware of her surroundings, to anticipate any sudden moves other drivers might make, while at the same time reflecting on past events.

It had not been to her own mother she had gone when, pride ruling, she had left the comfortable home she shared with her stepfather and his daughter four weeks ago, but to Aunt Delia, Greville's mother.

Of course, Yancie admitted, she should never have let Suzannah Lloyd borrow her car. She wouldn't have had she known Sukey was going to turn it over and cause it to be a writeoff. Having assured herself that Sukey was all right and that nobody else was hurt, Yancie had told her stepfather what had happened.

Ralph Proctor was a super stepfather, but, anticipating his concern, like hers, would initially be all for Sukey, to Yancie's surprise, he'd instead grown quite cross and begun to give her a lecture about lending her car to all and sundry.

Yancie might well have taken this telling off as her due. But, unfortunately, Ralph's daughter, Estelle, had been there and she'd staggered Yancie completely by challenging that she hoped Yancie wouldn't expect her father to pay for a new car for her.

Yancie wasn't the only one who was surprised-her stepfather had looked startled too at the nastiness in his daughter's tone. Though before he could find his voice Yancie was proudly asserting. `I wouldn't dream of it! I've enough money from my allowance to…'

'The allowance you take from my father!' Estelle reminded her waspishly-and Yancie was left staring at her.

'I never asked for an allowance!' was the best defence Yancie could find.

'You don't mind taking it, though, do you?' Estelle attacked and that was when Yancie suddenly and abruptly realised that her stepfather's house was not big enough for both her and her stepsister. She'd had no idea that Estelle resented her so much!

'Not any more,' Yancie said quietly, and was on her way, in no mind to stay and listen to her stepfather transferring his crossness onto his daughter.

'Really, Estelle!' she heard him say as she left the drawing room and turned to close the door behind her. `You know full well that Yancie more than earns her allowance with the work she does keeping this place running smoothly.'

'Advertise for a housekeep-'

Yancie didn't wait to hear any more. She couldn't stay after this, she just couldn't! She went, where she and her cousins Fennia and Astra went in bad times and good; she went to see her aunt, Delia.

'I never did like Estelle Proctor,' Delia Alford opined when Yancie relayed all that had taken place.

'It is true, though.' Yancie tried to be fair. `I have never minded taking an allowance from Ralph.'

'You've worked for it!' Delia exclaimed, knowing positively how, four years ago, when, at aged eighteen, Yancie and her two cousins had left boarding-school, while the other two had gone into higher business training, Ralph Proctor had almost begged Yancie to stay home and take over the running of his over large house-her mother had sanctioned it, because it was what she termed `not a proper job'. `With that daughter of his picking fault all the time, you know as well as I that he couldn't keep a housekeeper for five minutes. And Estelle won't want to take over-the only comfort that jealous madam's interested in, is her own.'

'What shall I do?'

'What do you want to do?'

Yancie thought about it. She loved her stepfather dearly, but… `I don't want to go back,' she realised. 'Estelle has never been the easiest person to live with; after that…'

'You don't have to go back,' Delia Alford assured her firmly, going on, everything cut and dried to her way of thinking, `You're more than welcome to live here with me, you know that. Though Astra will want you to move in with her. She has more than enough room at her flat, and you know Fennia would be delighted for you to move in with them too.'

The flat her two cousins lived in belonged to Astra's father in actual fact, but he preferred to live in Barbados rather than the elegant apartment which was in a smart part of London. Astra had welcomed Fennia living with her, since Christmas-only a few weeks ago-when Fennia's mother had caught the older woman's latest boyfriend with his arms around Fennia and had chosen to see it as her daughter leading him on. She had, not too politely, thrown Fennia out.

Yancie was in the middle of saying that she'd give Astra a ring, and also that since she just couldn't possibly touch another penny of her stepfather's money she would get a job, when her cousin Greville arrived on one of his unscheduled visits to see his mother.

'Little Yancie Dawkins!' he smiled, having greeted his mother, opening his arms wide for Yancie the way he had since the days when she was a toddler.

Yancie went over to her half-cousin, who was nearing forty and a most reliable figure in her somewhat trauma-ridden life. Greville gave her a hug and a kiss, and then asked what was this diabolical talk he'd overheard

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