Read Desperate Measures Online

Authors: Sara Craven

Desperate Measures

DESPERATE MEASURES

BY SARA CRAVEN

From back cover:

Philippa Roscoe needed a large sum of money and she needed it fast-her father's life depended on it. Wealthy French businessman

Alain de Courcy needed a wife-purely for business reasons. Alain was only too happy to provide Philippa with the funds she required. In exchange he demanded marriage and not just in name only. There was little Philippa could do; she had to agree to his terms. She hadn't agreed to fal under Alain's charismatic spel . But could Philippa keep herself from fal ing in love or had this marriage of convenience become a desperate act?

CHAPTER ONE

'BUT this treatment is totally revolutionary! The specialist says it

could make all the difference to Daddy—that it might even cure him

permanently. But it's expensive, and it's in America, and we just don't have that kind of money.'

Philippa Roscoe leaned forward, her hazel eyes fixed pleadingly

on her former stepmother's unresponsive face. 'Monica, you're the

only one I can turn to. Help us—please!'

'It's quite impossible.' Lady Underhay shook her head with

finality. 'I haven't access to unlimited funds, Philippa, and I certainly can't ask Lennox for money to go to my ex-husband.' She flushed,

looking self-conscious. 'He's always been—a little jealous of Gavin.'

'They were business partners once.'

'But that was some time ago. And anyway, Lennox feels the

board was more than generous when Gavin left—deserted them in

that absurd way to go off and paint.' Monica's lips became set.

'Deserted me, as well.'

You were the one who left! Philippa wanted to cry out. You were

the one who wouldn't risk your lifestyle to let Daddy fulfil his dream.

And now here you are, once more, living in the lap of luxury.

But she said none of it. Across the years, she could remember

her father's face, haggard with the strain, his voice telling her huskily,

'You mustn't blame

Monica, sweetheart, and you mustn't be bitter either. I'm trying

not to be. She loved us, in her way, but she can't do without money

and comfort. She needs it as other people need air to breathe. And,

inevitably, she'll go where money is. Lennox will treat her well. They have a mutual regard for material possessions and security.'

Looking round the elegant drawing-room, Philippa could well

believe it. The sale of any of the pictures and antiques it contained would have paid for Gavin Roscoe's treatment.

'Anyway, I understood that your father had been quite

successful at this precious painting of his. Can't he produce a few

more pictures—pot-boilers or something, to finance his own

treatment?' Monica looked restively at her watch.

Philippa shook her head, thankful that Gavin couldn't hear her.

'The disease—or rather the virus that caused it—attacked the muscles

on his right side first. He has—difficulty using his hand, so he can't paint any more.'

Monica bit deeply into the coral curve of her lower lip. 'I—see.

Well, that is tragic, but of course, if he'd remained with the firm,

there'd have been private health insurance to cover this kind of

eventuality.' She shook her head. 'I'm sorry, my dear, I really am, but there's nothing I can do.'

Philippa's hands twisted together in her lap, the knuckles white.

'Monica, I've got to get that money somehow. I've got to make sure

Daddy has this chance before it's too late. The specialist says if there's any more muscle wastage...' She paused, her voice breaking. 'I'll do

anything—agree to any terms you offer. I'll pay the loan back, if it

takes the rest of my

life, but I've got to have it. If you ever cared for Daddy at all,

please help me to think of some way.'

Monica flushed again. 'Naturally I cared. But what you ask is out

of the question.' She paused. 'Have you approached some financial

institution?'

'I tried, but I had nothing to use as collateral for a loan. I can't

even guarantee there'll be a lasting cure, or that Daddy will ever be able to paint again.'

'What a pity Gavin didn't make some provision for the future

before throwing up his business career in that crazy way.' Monica's

tone was short.

'He couldn't know he was going to be ill,' Philippa protested. 'He

was so well up to that winter—happier than he'd ever been...' She

stopped guiltily, aware that her words were singularly infelicitous, and saw by the tightening of Lady Underhay's facial muscles that she

thought so too.

'I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave,' she said,

getting to her feet. 'Lennox will be home at any minute, and I'd as

soon he didn't find you here. We're entertaining this evening—the

head of De Courcy International, as it happens—and there are things I must do.' She paused. 'I'm sincerely sorry I can't help, Philippa, but there's really nothing I can suggest.' She hesitated again. 'Surely there must be similar treatment available in this country on the National

Health Service, for instance?'

'No, as I've told you this is completely new. In fact, it's still at the experimental stage,' Philippa said tonelessly, rising in her turn. 'I'm sorry to have troubled you. You were my last hope.'

As she turned to the door, it opened and Lennox Underhay came

in. He checked at the sight of her.

'Philippa, isn't it? How are you?' His smile was polite but

unenthusiastic, and the look he threw his wife was questioning.

'She has to rush away, darling,' Monica intercepted hastily. She

put her arm through Philippa's. 'I'll see you out, my dear.'

Her lips were compressed when they reached the hall. 'No doubt

he'll want to know what you were doing here,' she said snappishly. 'I don't want to seem uncaring, Philippa, and I feel for you in your

distress, but you do make things very awkward sometimes.'

'I wouldn't have come here if I hadn't been absolutely

desperate,' Philippa said quietly. She handed Lady Underhay a scrap

of paper. 'This is the telephone number of my hotel. If you do happen to think of something—some way in which I could raise the money,

you can reach me there over the next couple of days.'

Monica accepted it with a reluctant sigh. 'Very well, but I'm

promising nothing.'

Life was so unfair, Philippa thought bitterly as she rode home on

the Tube. Monica had simply exchanged one luxuriously cushioned

setting for another. If leaving Gavin after five years of marriage had caused her any real grief, she'd kept it well concealed. But it had

probably been outweighed by her sense of injury at his decision. When Monica was getting her own way, no one could be sweeter. But when

she was crossed...

Philippa grimaced inwardly. Gavin, a widower for some years,

had indulged and cosseted his second wife, and she'd revelled in it.

When Gavin had first announced his intention of giving up his City

directorships, his home in London and country house

in West Sussex in order to be an artist, Monica had treated it as

a bad joke, then as a temporary aberration. When she'd realised he

was not only serious, but absolutely determined, she had become

angry, and Philippa still shuddered when she recalled the scenes and

tantrums, all of which Gavin had borne patiently.

Anyway, Monica had fallen on her feet, firstly with an over-

generous divorce settlement, which she seemed conveniently to have

forgotten, and later with Lennox Underhay, who had always admired

her chic blonde prettiness.

But, at first, everything had worked out for Gavin too. Instead of

starving in some foreign gutter as Monica had confidently predicted,

he had found a ready and high-paying market for his landscapes, and

he and Philippa had enjoyed several heady years of travelling round

the Dordogne and Provence together as he worked. Gavin Roscoe, as

one critic had said, had a unique ability to express in paint the

intensity of heat and shade the southern regions of France could

produce.

It had seemed as though it would never end, Philippa thought,

biting her lower lip until she could taste blood. Perhaps it was as well that neither of them had realised how little time there really was.

I'm not going to think like that, she castigated herself. I'm going

to get the money, somehow, and Daddy's going to America for this

treatment.

But how could she get rich quick? she wondered, leaning her

aching forehead against the train window. There were so few avenues

left unexplored.

I've tried all the conventional ways, she thought. Maybe I should

consider more desperate measures.

High-class call-girls earn a lot, it's said, and it's tax-free. She

turned her head a little, studying her reflection in the glass. Only a supreme optimist would think the punters were clamouring for skinny

nineteen-year-olds with small breasts, straight hair and very little

experience.

Let's face it, she thought. No experience at all.

She was thankful her father had no idea what she was

contemplating, even in joke. He thought she was trying to sell the last painting he'd produced before the muscle wastage became too

severe.

But even that had been hopeless. The man at the Orbis Gallery

had been very kind, very understanding, but the painting had been

almost unrecognisable as Gavin Roscoe's work. It had been unrealistic to think they might take it.

I'm going to need a miracle, Philippa thought.

She was stretched on the bed in her tiny single room a few hours

later, trying to interest herself in a detective story she'd bought at the station, when the phone rang.

It was probably reception checking when she was leaving, she

thought as she lifted the receiver.

Instead, her stepmother's voice said curtly, 'Can you come over

to the house right away? There's something I want to discuss with

you.'

'Something about the money.' Philippa's heart skipped a beat.

'You mean you've thought of a way?'

'Possibly.'

'But that's wonderful! What is it?'

'It's not something I care to talk about on the telephone,' Monica

returned frostily. 'As for it being wonderful—well, that remains to be seen.' She paused.

'It would help if you came looking reasonably presentable.' She

replaced the receiver.

Presentable, Philippa thought with bewilderment, reviewing in

her mind the details of the scanty wardrobe she'd brought with her.

There was little there that would fall within Monica's stringent

requirements.

She compromised with clean jeans, and a cream full-sleeved

shirt, brushing her brown hair until it shone, then fastening it behind her ears with two tortoiseshell combs.

She took a cab to Lowden Square. She found Monica alone,

standing by the marble fireplace in the drawing-room, brandy glass in hand. She turned as Philippa was shown in, and her lips thinned. 'My

God, I said presentable, and you turn up looking like some art

student!'

'Which is exactly what I am,' Philippa returned, lifting her chin.

'Anyway, do my clothes really matter so much? I'm not going to be

offered a modelling contract, surely?'

'There's no guarantee you're going to be offered anything at all,'

Monica said with a snap. 'When he sees you, he may well have second

thoughts, and who can blame him?'

'He?' Philippa frowned. 'Just who is he?'

'He is Alain de Courcy,' Monica said shortly. 'As I think I

mentioned, he's the head of De Courcy International, and he has a

proposition to put to you. If you're as desperate for money as you

claim to be, you'll listen to him, although I find the whole thing totally incredible—unthinkable.' She drank some of her brandy. 'He's waiting

for you in the library, so I suggest you don't keep him waiting any

longer.'

Philippa walked the few yards to the library, her mind whirling.

She had rarely seen her stepmother so on edge—not since the time

she'd first learned Gavin's plans for the future. Obviously the

important dinner party hadn't gone precisely to plan.

She'd heard of de Courcy International, of course. Who hadn't?

But what on earth could anyone connected with such a vast and

influential organisation want with someone as insignificant as herself?

As Monica had indicated, it made no sense.

She paused outside the library door, wondering whether she

should knock, then, deciding against it, turned the handle and walked into the room.

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