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Chapter One

"So, you've brought me another young woman who wants to be your wife?" said Nicholas Edgerton's grandmother as she looked over the slip of a girl at his side. The older woman was about to summarily dismiss her without a second glance until their eyes met. This was no shy little miss, like his other prospects had been. This one had some intelligence behind her eyes.

"Yes, Grandmother, and I mean to marry her whether you like her or not," he said firmly as he led Miss Dannaby into the room.

"And what say you to this, girl?" she demanded with a speculative grin.

"I am only here because I do not wish to see him lose what should rightfully be his just because he had the good sense to fall in love with me," she informed the old woman as she looked her right in the eye. "You may have frightened away the others, but you'll find I am much firmer in my resolve."

"If that is your final word, my dear, then come with me where we can talk more privately," said Madame Edgerton as she turned briskly away and headed for a set of double doors that led into her private rooms. "We shall speak to you again at dinner, Nickie, and stop twiddling."

"Yes, grandmother," he said, and kept twiddling anyway. He couldn't help it. This was the fourth woman he'd brought to gain his grandmother's blessing in marriage, and this one he did not want to lose over her silly little game.

Personally, he thought the whole thing was a load of rubbish, his intended bride having to spend three nights in the old bird's room looking for her 'secret', and being banished if she failed to find it. If he hadn't invested so much and gotten himself into a bit of debt, he would have cared less about her money. Trouble was, he didn't want to cause whoever he married to have to pay that debt back along with him. No, he needed his inheritance, and that was all there was to it.

He did not worry about the upcoming interview between Irene Dannaby and his crafty old granny. She was as sharp as a whip, and twice as bad if you pissed her off. Lucky for him he rarely did—at least he hadn't until he'd admitted to her that he was afraid to marry without his grandmother's consent.

Irene had insisted on settling the matter one way or another straight away, because she'd be damned if she was going to fall madly in love with a man and then have his old harridan of a grandmother banish her like she'd done the others. It was the 'madly in love' part that had gotten him to comply so quickly to her whims—that, and the fact that he'd hate to get cut off from her, either.

In fact, she was a dynamo in his bedroom as much as she was in his boardroom. When he'd hired her, he had no idea just what an employee he was getting. All you had to do was point her in the right direction, and she got the job done. That was one reason he'd been uncertain about this whole weekend. If she failed to discover the secret, he'd be losing both his lover, and his best employee. He didn't think his grandmother would let him make her a full partner if she got banished—it just didn't work that way.

Chapter Two

"Do you know what it means to be a wife, Irene Dannaby?" Nicholas's grandmother asked when they were alone.

Irene shook her head and waited for her to continue.

"It is very much about sacrifice," she told her as she poured out some tea for each of them and scooted the cakes towards her guest." About wanting things that you cannot hope to have because he would not like it. About birthing children who will take over your entire life and leave you in the end. And what do you do when the children are gone and the husband has died? What is left for you then?"

"Memories," she answered, her voice filled with a longing to have them.

The older woman's eyebrows lifted ever so slightly at this, but she did not acknowledge it. She was starting to like this Irene Dannaby more and more, to the point where she actually hoped that she would discover the secret and win her permission. It was high time Nickie got leg-shackled anyway.

"Madame Edgerton, why do you feel the need to keep secrets?" Irene asked her then. "Why would you want to subject your grandson to all of this? He's a good man, and he knows what he wants. I'm fortunate enough to be a part of that wanting, and I really want him too. Him, not his money—and not his debts, either. Nick has the right of it, you know. A spouse should not enter into marriage with massive debt and sink both members of the couple as a result. I'm amazed you'd be willing to see that happen to him."

She sighed deeply. "I suppose it's because of his father," she admitted. "His marriage did not go well and ended in a nasty divorce. His wife took almost everything from him, except of course for their only child. Him she left behind with no regrets. I don't want to see Nickie end up that way, too."

"I'm going to find your secret, you know," Irene said. "I have to find it. My future happiness depends on it."

"If you want it badly enough, you will always find a way to get something," the woman told her. "Now, from now on you must call me Emily—or grandmother, if you're comfortable with it."

"You don't look much like a grandmother," Irene mentioned. "How old are you, anyway, you can't be above fifty."

"Fifty-eight, thank you," she said. "And buttering me up isn't going to solve your mystery any sooner. You should go freshen up and have a look around the room you'll be sleeping in. You never know what you might find there."

"Thank you, I think I shall."

"I'll have Molly show you the way," she said as she rang her bell, and the maid answered.

Chapter Three

"This isn't a bedroom, it's a mausoleum," Irene said as she entered the huge chamber with three different areas. One was the bedroom proper, one was a sitting room, and the other was a small dining area. Trouble was, it looked like any other fancy bedroom she'd ever seen. Where did one begin to look for the secrets of someone they didn't even know?

Then she hit upon the answer—find out more about the woman, and you're more likely to figure out her secret. So, what did she know about the woman? She was married for a very long time before her husband died, but she had a feeling Emily was always somewhat independent and spirited, whether she showed it outwardly during all those years or not. Plus, just based on what she had been wearing, she seemed to be a bit old fashioned and possibly a little out of touch with the here and now.

Irene circled the room, taking everything in at once, but nothing really caught her eye. Weary from her travels, she decided to lay down and rest, and think on the problem when she could keep her eyes open. She plopped down on the bed, expecting it to be soft and inviting, but when she laid in the middle it felt so lumpy she couldn't get comfortable no matter how hard she tried.

What kind of rich woman would have such a lumpy bed?

She was too tired to care, however, so she simply moved to one side and fell asleep. Her rest was somewhat fitful and she woke up often to pound on the mattress, trying to make it less lumpy. She was awakened some time later by a knock on the door, and then Molly stepped in.

"It's almost time for dinner, Miss Irene," she told her.

"Thanks, Molly," she said as she stretched. "I'll be there straight away."

"Yes, miss," she said with a bob, and left her alone again.

Irene's back was killing her when she sat up, and she glared at the offensive bed as she tried to work the kinks out. She half contemplated sleeping on the chaise longue in the sitting area when she went to bed later, but thought it would probably offend Nick's grandmother if she did. Bothersome old woman, how did she ever sleep at night in that lumpy bed of hers, anyway?

She headed in for dinner with a frown on her pretty face. At least it was only three days.

Chapter Four

Emily was charming as a dinner host. She spoke of all the trivialities and told funny anecdotes as she ate prettily — everything that was to be expected from a woman of her status and breeding. Irene held her own, however, and the evening progressed as well as could be expected.

"You must understand, Irene, that when I grew up things were not as they are today. America was in the middle of a very bad depression. One never knew where their next meal would come from. We had to make due with old clothes and shoes, and hand-me-downs if there were older siblings in the house. In my house, there were eight siblings older than me, so you can imagine how happy it made me when Paul started to court me. Ours was a love match, you see. He was old money, and my family was too, but all our money had been lost and my father was one of the men who had jumped out the window to avoid dealing with his debts. My mother married a tyrant of a man to survive. He kept food on the table, but he also kept bruises on our backs. Those were very trying times, indeed."

"I'm so sorry," Irene said with heartfelt concern. Emily smiled at her warmly, and nodded her acceptance of this.

Nicholas was quite a bag of jangled nerves, Irene was sorry to notice. She took him out on the veranda at her earliest possible convenience to give him a chance to vent.

"I'm telling you, Irene, I can't take much more of this," he admitted. "You're lucky, you only have to go through this once. This is the fourth time for me, and it's different this time. I really don't want to lose you over this nonsense."

"Don't you have any faith in me at all, then?" she asked as she wrapped him in her arms. "I could always figure it out, you know."

"God, I hope so!" he whispered as he bent down to kiss her. "I don't think I could take it, not being able to hold you or kiss you or—anything else—ever again."

"Maybe we could sneak it in sometime," she teased him. She knew it was the wrong comment when his shoulder muscles tightened up and he stopped what he was doing. "I'm not being serious, silly. You have nothing to worry about. I will find this secret of hers, whatever it is. I guarantee it. Have I ever let you down before?"

"Never," he said. "You have never, ever let me down. So don't let this be the first time."

Chapter Five

Irene was back in the lumpy bed, staring at the walls around her. Not a crack or crevice in those, she noted sourly. She had already looked behind all the pictures and was now contemplating going over and looking in the fireplace with dread because it was not cleaned. But, after all, that's what the shower was for, right?

She was thinking about something the old woman had said during dinner. She'd said she grew up during the Great Depression, when you never knew where your next meal would come from. With that kind of upbringing, she may well have developed a need to horde something, just in case. Perhaps she had some kind of secret stash, maybe a hidden panel that led to memorabilia, maybe something socked away in the floorboards.

She hadn't found anything in the walls, but she had yet to check the floors. She did it now, meticulously going over every inch over the next hour or so, and still found nothing. She was so tired she flopped down in the middle of the bed again, but had to roll off the lump so she could go to sleep.

"How is it going?" asked Nick in a whisper as he snuck into the bedroom in the wee hours of the morning.

"You're not supposed to help," she admonished him as she rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. "If you do, she will throw me out for sure."

"Didn't plan to," he admitted with a suggestive grin.

"Oh, so that's why you're here," she giggled. "Don't you think it'd be a bit kinky doing the do on your grandma's bed?"

"Yeah, I do," he answered with a chuckle. "That sort of made it even more appealing, to tell you the truth."

"You're just so terrible," she said as he got on the bed with her, then made a face.

"What the heck is up with this bed?" he wanted to know. "You'd think with all the money she's got, she could afford to get a better bed than this. It feels like it's stuffed with bricks or something, doesn't it?

"Yeah, it's not much of a bed, is it?" Irene agreed. "I've hardly gotten any sleep since we arrived, thanks to this bed."

"Oh well, I guess it'll have to do for now," he said, and they didn't give it much more thought after that.

Chapter Six

It was almost the third morning, and Irene was very worried. She'd been over the room several times and turned up nothing. She was so exhausted, but she just didn't want to get back into that uncomfortable bed again. What was wrong with the stupid thing, anyway?

Then she thought, I never did look under the mattress, and it's awfully lumpy. Maybe there's something under there.

She went over and pulled off all the covers, then went to flip the mattress up to look underneath. As she began to push, her hand pushed right through the fabric into a hidden hole on the side. She laid the mattress back down and felt her way around inside, grabbing a handful of whatever was inside.

When she pulled out her hand, it was full of green. Hundred dollar bills, at least ten of them. She stuffed them back in and just felt around instead. The entire middle was stuffed full of the things. Just as she'd suspected, the old woman had hoarded a treasure. The most obvious kind of treasure, one that could buy her anything she'd ever need.

She didn't bother to wait for morning. She went to the guest room where she knew Emily was sleeping and stepped inside, her eyes brimming with triumphant excitement.

"I found it, you crafty old bird," she crooned happily. "I found your secret."

"Did you, now?" she asked with a smile. "And how much of it did you keep?"

"Keep?" Irene repeated, since the thought hadn't even crossed her mind. The only thing that had crossed her mind had been the fact that now she could marry Nick.

Emily chortled merrily, and said, "I knew it! I had a feeling about you! But remember now, girl, that is to be your inheritance, you mustn't tell anyone it's there."

"Well, okay," she agreed half-heartedly. "But, do I have to keep it in the damned bed? That thing is hard as a rock."

"You've been sleeping on the bed?" Emily asked in surprise. "I always sleep on the chaise longue. It's much more comfortable."

Irene laughed all the way back to the bedroom, and did just exactly that.

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