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Marriage Material

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«Marriage Material» - Элли Блейк

Lawyer Romy Bridgeport is used to demanding clients–but millionaire Sebastian Fox wins hands down! All he's ever wanted is a happy marriage and kids–so he's asked Romy to make him into marriage material! Does such a project require all Romy's legal training? Er, no–yet as a valued client, Romy has to take him on…Only, when her work is done, Romy can think of only one suitable wife: herself!
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“How is the project going?”

“How is the project going?”

She leapt as though he had jolted her with a fire poker. “Sorry?”

“Our little project? The plan to mold me into model marriage material?”

She blinked. “It’s not going exactly to plan,” she admitted.

It was enough to make him think of switching tack and grabbing her into his arms and kissing those nerves from her face, but she clammed up and turned back to watch the uninspiring freeway walls as they whipped past. “Well, just think of the next two days as an opportunity to get it back onto track.”

She slowly turned to face him. “Really?”

Yeah, really? Is that what he really wanted? For her to be telling him how to become a perfect partner—and then for him have to turn it on for someone else?

Ally Blake worked in retail, danced on television and acted in friends’ short films until the writing bug could no longer be ignored. And as her mother had read romance novels ever since Ally was a baby, the aspiration to write romance had been almost bred into her. Ally married her gorgeous husband, Mark, in Las Vegas (no Elvis in sight, thank you very much), and they live in beautiful Melbourne, Australia. Her husband cooks, he cleans and he’s the love of her life. How’s that for a hero?

Books by Ally Blake



Marriage Material

Ally Blake

To Mum who gave me my love of books, and Dad who couldn’t wait to see what I would become.



















‘DELILAH! Don’t you look just beautiful?’ Sebastian raved to his favourite girl and earned a dimple-bright grin for his efforts.

Delilah had dressed herself in a dazzling ensemble of a rainbow-striped T-shirt, denim overalls, a pink frilly apron and yellow galoshes. Her curly blonde hair was decorated with a colourful assortment of ribbons and bobbles. Yet somehow on a four-year-old it worked.

She launched herself into his waiting arms and Sebastian whooped as though his niece had knocked the wind out of him. ‘You may be beautiful but you are seriously heavy. Did you eat bricks for lunch?’




‘Chocolate cake?’

She pulled back and her big brown eyes grew round with surprise. ‘How could you tell?’ she asked, her voice a sweet lisping whisper.

Sebastian squeezed her around the middle, tickling as he went. ‘Yep, there it is, a chocolate-cake-shaped wedge.’

Delilah squirmed as she erupted into a fit of giggles.

‘Aren’t you supposed to be somewhere?’ Delilah’s mum, Melinda, chastised her younger brother, but her voice was warmed by gentle undertones.

Sebastian grimaced as he looked at his watch. ‘There’s no way I’m going to make it in time as it is, so another ten minutes can’t hurt.’

Melinda’s raised eyebrows showed how much she disagreed.

‘Are you taking me to afternoon kindergarten, Unca Seb?’ Delilah asked.

Sebastian looked to his sister for confirmation. She said nothing, just shoved her watch beneath his nose.

‘I know, I know.’ But Sebastian’s priorities meant this particular appointment could wait. ‘Would you like me to?’

‘Do you have the big car?’

The big car was Sebastian’s Jeep, plastic flap windows, roll bar, and abrasions streaking the once shiny black paint-work from much serious four-wheel driving. For some reason Delilah preferred this to his sleek sports car, which her older brothers favoured. She was going to be a spitfire, this one, no glamour puss, and Sebastian could not wait to see how she would turn out.

‘Of course I have the big car. I knew I was coming to see you.’

‘Then you can take me!’

Sebastian gathered her up and Melinda handed him Delilah’s Barbie lunchbox and matching backpack.

‘Bye, Ma!’

‘Bye, munchkin.’ Melinda gave Delilah a big smooch on the cheek.

‘Bye, sis!’ Sebastian stuck out his cheek for the same and received a fierce pinch instead.

He bundled his niece across the yard, through the frosty Melbourne winter air, and into his ‘big car’. He snapped and tightened Delilah’s seat belt and could not help but smile when he saw her feet only just reached the edge of the front seat.

She must have sensed his attention as she turned to him, her blonde curls bouncing about her ears, and cast him her sweetest smile.

His heart clenched. Once he dropped her off, the car would be empty, just like his spacious home, where for years numerous spare bedrooms had awaited the cheeky spirit and raucous giggles of children.

He gunned the engine, pumping the accelerator more than necessary but the noise helped obliterate the nagging sense of loneliness that had been creeping up on him all morning.

He glanced at the clock in the dashboard. He was fifteen minutes late already. He drove out onto the tree-lined suburban street. What did fifteen minutes matter when no matter what he did that day, by the time he got back home, it would be to a big, empty house once more?


FURIOUSLY caressing her favourite calming crystal, a smooth, misshapen ball of blue lace agate, Romy was able to keep her mounting impatience in check.

He’s late, Romy thought, sending a calm, no-worries smile to the three others who sat with her around the modern kidney-shaped conference table. Make that very late.

They were all awaiting the arrival of Sebastian Fox, an ex-golf pro turned professional tomcat, a serial fiancé who nevertheless had walked the aisle to marriage but once, lasted six months at that, and, if all went according to Romy’s plan, the soon-to-be ex-husband of her client.

Rather than do the impolite thing and release her frustration by screaming obscenities at the top of her lungs, Romy stood and walked to the doorway.

‘Since we might be here a while yet,’ Romy said, her voice the model of composure, ‘who wants a cuppa?’

Gloria, Romy’s legal assistant, dressed in her customary head-to-toe basic black, requested plain coffee, black also.

Janet, Romy’s client, was irritable and very good at it. Even the ambient sound of waves lapping at a far-away beach pulsing from hidden speakers could not surmount the incessant tattoo of her long, painted fingernails rapping on the smooth Formica tabletop. She ordered a tall espresso, extra-strong, and Romy wondered whether the tabletop would survive her attentions once that level of caffeine hit her system.

Sebastian Fox’s lawyer, Alan Campbell, who sat alone on the concave side of the table, seemed hypnotised by the drumming of Janet’s fingernails. Apparently caffeine upset his stomach ulcer so he settled on a glass of water with which to take some Alka-Seltzer.

All three seemed on the verge of spontaneous combustion, such were their palpable jitters. Romy wondered it she ought to have offered each a nice cold cup of Prozac instead, or decaf in the least.

With her much-rubbed calming stone in hand, Romy wandered through the ultra-modern open-plan suite of legal offices of the boutique Archer Law Firm, in which she had worked the last five years, feeding off the optimistic energy the place exuded.

She waved hello to several clients who were not there for legal advice but for the numerous in-house programmes to help them get back on their feet post-divorce, such as cooking classes, single-parent counselling and even a new divorcee-dating scheme Romy had been instrumental in setting up.

With the usual spring in her step she made a beeline for the complimentary self-contained coffee hut by the lift.

‘Good morning, Hank.’ On tiptoe, Romy leaned over the counter to give the lovely elderly guy who ran the mobile café a kiss on the cheek.

‘Well, it is now, Ms Bridgeport. Gloria did not come around for your usual this morning. I was worried you had called in sick.’

‘Not at all. Healthy as could be. Vitamins every day are the trick.’

She put in her order and was content to keep half an ear on Hank as he happily chatted away about his favourite Australian Rules football team’s mid-season winning streak.

To combat her left foot’s growing desire to tap out her frustrations on the blond wood floor, Romy rolled her stone around in her palm, soaking up every bit of positive energy she could. The blue lace agate was supposed to bestow clarity and would concentrate her self-expression, which she would need when the opposing client showed up, if he ever showed up.

The lift door pinged and Romy nonchalantly turned to see who had arrived. As though rubbing her crystal had raised a genie, Sebastian Fox had arrived dead on queue. And, like any respectable genie, he had brought forth a man who looked little like the grainy pictures Romy had in her legal dossier and more like he had stepped straight out of GQ magazine.

Well, at least he’s finally here, she rationalised.

Romy’s rational gaze raked over dark chestnut hair. Smooth, clear skin. A square face. Enviable sooty lashes that framed seductive grey-green eyes. His inviting mouth that appeared on the verge of a secret smile forced her spare hand to rest on her stomach to calm the wayward butterflies cavorting within. The reaction he invoked in her was instant, primal and unstoppable and all her conscientious crystal-rubbing went to waste in a heartbeat.

She had known men like him before. Men with strong tall frames, with broad shoulders, slim hips and muscular thighs, encased in cashmere and cargoes that highlighted every centimetre of glorious man flesh. But she had been there, done that, and burnt the T-shirt.

Romy continued to spin on her high heels as his eyes locked on to the quirky aqua desk at the end of the room where two cute guys and one cute girl sat below a big plastic downward-pointing arrow suspended from the ceiling above. As he passed Romy went to say something, to call out, to introduce herself, to yell at him for his serious lateness, but for a woman who made her living talking, she simply could not find the words.

Sure, she had known men on the high end of the hunk scale, but she had not known a stranger to smell that good! She caught the drifting scent of soap and cinnamon and felt an insistent physical tug like a dog on a lead, and was in very real fear that she was watching after him with her tongue hanging out.

Though it took her a few diverted moments to recall why she so detested him, she finally managed. The man who was leaning over the desk, causing both the girl and the guys at Reception to go goo-goo-eyed, was no less than a physical affront to her whole belief system.

He was practically a professional groom-to-be, having been engaged to three women in seven years with very little time to himself in between. Janet had been the third, and she wondered momentarily what she had done differently that afforded her a wedding band to match the killer diamond on her left hand. But whatever it was in the end it still had not lasted.

And Romy was an anomaly in the field of divorce law. She was an advocate for marriage. She went to the nth degree to free her clients from bad marriages for the express purpose of giving them the opportunity to find true marital happiness elsewhere.

‘Are you all right, Ms Bridgeport?’ Hank asked, luring her attention back to the coffee hut.

‘Sure, fine. And you?’ She deserved the bemused blink Hank shot back.

‘I’m fine,’ he said. ‘Your order is ready. I’ve added a plateful of Melting Moments.’

‘Thanks, Hank.’

‘You knock ’em dead, Ms Bridgeport.’

‘With pleasure, Hank.’

Romy gathered the tray and turned around but Sebastian was gone. Into the conference room already, she assumed.

As she walked around the assortment of modern couches and avant-garde coffee-tables in the reception area, then through winding halls to the conference room, she hung on tight to her aversion to the man and to the tray heavy with scorching hot drinks and to the stone, which she now feared she would have to swallow to possess any real calming energy.

Two wrong turns sent Sebastian to a crèche and then to some sort of cooking class. If not for the smattering of suited men and women with yellow legal pads under their arms he would not have believed he was in a law firm. But even so, the promising impression of the place was fast overcome by more pressing matters. He knocked on the open door of the conference room and entered.

Alan stood and rushed over to him. ‘About bloody time, mate.’

‘Sorry. Events conspired to keep me anywhere but here.’

Alan laughed. ‘Sure they did.’

A tap-tap-tap on a tabletop caught Sebastian’s attention.

‘I recognise that sound,’ he said as he spun to face the source. It was Janet. And he also recognised what the tap-tap-tap meant. He walked around the table, took her hands, drew her to her feet and kissed her on the cheek.

‘You’re late,’ she said.

‘I got caught up with Delilah,’ he told her. ‘ Had to take her to afternoon kindergarten.’ It was almost the truth.

‘You and those kids. You spent more time with them than with me. You know that’s why we are here today, don’t you?’

He knew it to be true and it saddened him it had turned out that way. ‘What can I say? I think I’ve proven I’m not husband material.’

He said it with a wry smile but the reality of the situation was no laughing matter. That empty feeling he had experienced dropping Delilah off at kindergarten had only grown as the day progressed.

Janet sighed in resignation. She laid a talon-tipped hand on his cheek. ‘That’s rubbish, darlin’. You’re just not the husband for me.’

That brought on a smile. Despite the misunderstanding that had led him to believe she was the one for him, she was a good woman and more perceptive than she would have preferred to let on. But it was true, she was not the woman for him, no matter how, for their very different reasons, they had both tried to believe otherwise.

Janet lightly slapped his face before sitting down beside an intense young woman in head-to-toe black.

Sebastian had heard on the grapevine that Janet’s lawyer was a ball-breaker, a man-hater, and this one certainly looked to fit that bill. With her dark clothing, her short dark hair waxed into sharp elfin spikes, and her large eyes lathered in lashings of mascara she was almost frightening. Almost.

The haughty letters he had received through Alan from the office of one Ms Bridgeport had conjured up images of a stuffy old spinster, grey-streaked hair raked back into a bun, navy suit buttoned up to the throat. But the angry-looking pixie before him looked as though she could out-haughty even the dowdiest spinster.

‘Sebastian,’ Alan said as though reading his mind, ‘this is Gloria, Ms Bridgeport’s assistant.’

Well, maybe he would be right yet. Since they were the only ones in the room, the grey-haired spinster was probably in her office, putting in her hourly phone call to her cats, and would be with them soon, smelling of mothballs and secretly imbibed rum. He smiled at the thought.

Romy reached the doorway and saw Sebastian’s secret smile was now not so secret any more, and she was flummoxed afresh. She would have had to have lived in a cage not to have seen that smile shine from her TV screen numerous times over the last several years. Whether he had been holding up a golfing trophy or acting as spokesman for a children’s charity, that free and easy grin had been enough for her channel-flicking finger to pause over the remote every time.

Romy watched in silence as Gloria found herself on the receiving end of such a smile.

‘Gloria,’ Sebastian said and his voice was deep and tempting and complemented all the other delectable bits of him. ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you.’

But Gloria, bless her little heart, radiated resplendent disapproval. What a trooper. She gave Sebastian’s hand a perfunctory shake before letting go and wringing her hands together, erasing any sign of their contact. Romy had to stifle a laugh.

Alan caught Romy’s eye and she knew the time had come to meet the enemy. Gloria spied her at the same time and hurried to hand out the order of drinks.

‘Romy Bridgeport,’ Alan said, ‘this is my client, Sebastian Fox.’

She squared her shoulders, smoothed out her dress, and battened down the hatches. He is nothing but a heartless cad, she reminded herself, and you are going to take him down!

And as the man in question turned to face her a pair of three-foot-high twin boys bundled into the room, screaming, ‘Womy! Womy!’ in falsetto unison.

They leapt at her legs, clinging tight like limpets. Romy’s smoothed-out dress rode high up her thighs as her legs split shoulder-width apart in order for her to just about keep her balance. It was hardly the stern and intimidating impression she had been hoping to strike!

Whatever Sebastian had been expecting it had not been her. She was no grey-haired spinster, she was no angry pixie, and she was like no lawyer he had ever seen.

Romy Bridgeport was tall and slender as a reed in a form-hugging sea-blue dress that at that moment was hiked halfway up her cover-girl thighs. A matching jacket that looked as though it would considerably cover the slip of a garment was currently not earning its keep as it hung casually over the back of her chair.

But what hit him most was her mane of glowing auburn hair. It was long, lush and healthy and cut with a flirty fringe. With her china-blue eyes and lithe grace she looked more like a mermaid than a lawyer.

And while she laughed and bashfully enjoyed every second of the young boys’ company, Alan yawned, Gloria was hot on the phone, probably calling for their minders, and Janet was all but crouched on her chair as though the room had been overrun by mice. No surprise there. Not any more. Sebastian had too late discovered Janet was not a kid person on the day she had inadvertently admitted that previously unavowed truth in the same way one would say one was not a cat person.

‘Hey, kiddos,’ Romy said, her voice breathy, ‘how did you find me? Where is Samantha?’

‘Womy, wead a stowy!’ one of them demanded as only three-year-olds could.

She shot an apologetic look that encompassed the whole group, her blue eyes glittering in a mixture of delight and mortification. ‘Romy is busy right now. She is reading these fine people a story for the next little while.’

‘What stowy?’ the other cherub asked.

And without missing a beat she said, ‘It’s a story where Rapunzel takes on the mean troll…and wins.’

Sebastian had to fight back a laugh.

‘But we don’t want Rapunzel to win.’

Hey! Boys after his own heart!

‘I figured as much,’ Romy said. ‘So how about you guys head back to Samantha’s room and I will come over later and tell you the story of when the mean troll and his even meaner cousin, the ogre, ate Rapunzel? OK?’

The boys stopped squirming and through some sort of telepathic twin communication they let go and ran off as fast as they had appeared, their excited squeals echoing down the hall.

‘My apologies,’ she said to the group, ‘they belong to one of the partners and have taken quite a fancy to my more gory tales.’

‘I don’t blame them,’ Sebastian admitted. ‘The troll and the ogre. Sounds too good to miss.’

But when her derisive china-blue gaze clashed with his, the smile fast disappeared. An adorable blush lit her pale cheeks as she straightened her dress, and tidied her now magnificently messy hair.

He reached out to shake her hand across the table, enjoying the way the fabric of her almost dress clung to her thighs as, after a distinct pause, she bent towards him. Her hand was cool and soft and felt small in his own. ‘Ms Bridgeport. So glad to finally meet you face to face.’

‘I’m just glad you could finally find the time, Mr Fox.’ Her pleasant voice held a strong thrust of steel beneath the airy sound.

‘Sebastian, please,’ he offered.

She gave him a slight nod, though did not return the offer to use her own first name.

Her face was a mask of disinterested civility, but he didn’t buy it for a second. Though she was trying so hard to appear serene and in control she was bristling with kinetic energy. Most lawyers he had come across were stale and tired to say the least but she was so dynamic it was infectious. He could barely stand still himself. And compared with the lassitude that had threatened to overwhelm him only moments before, it was a blessing.

‘Romy, was it?’ he said, not giving up. ‘Interesting name. I bet there is a great story behind that one.’

She bit into a biscuit rather than on to his line and he caught sight of a row of very short and faintly ragged fingernails. Hmm. So she was a nail-biter and not so much the tough cookie as she behaved.

‘There are more important things to discuss today than my name, Mr Fox,’ Romy said. ‘Go ahead, take a seat so we can focus our energies where they belong.’

Fair enough. He did as he was told and slumped back into his seat, his expression all seriousness to show her he was ready to deal with the task at hand. But she had also taken a seat and her attention had left him without a second thought. She was running a hand through her hair until it settled in a lustrous ripple down her back, and, casually crossing one long leg over the other, she showcased an expanse of one lovely, creamy thigh.


Romy shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She was surprised to find that her opposition seemed to be almost enjoying himself! And Romy hated surprises. They were never positive. Ever. If you knew what was coming you could cope, no matter how big a deal. But the not knowing was a killer.

No, she determined. There would be no surprises. It would all be fine. She was ready. She’d spent every minute of her adult life making sure she would be ready for any situation, so she was not in the least bit nervous. Well, not much anyway.

‘Mr Campbell, Mr Fox, let’s get this over and done with, shall we? Then we can all get on with more pleasant pursuits.’

Sebastian turned a leisurely glance her way and the pleasant pursuits that filled her head sent her heart thumping against her ribs as her adrenalin kicked in full force.

Bad. Bad Romy!

She grabbed her calming stone and put it to better use as a paperweight. Energy flow and inner beauty could wait. By cornering her, the tomcat had released a hellcat who would very soon be wiping that all too free and easy smile from his face.

‘Mr Fox,’ she began, ‘I think my client has the right to a great deal larger settlement than you have suggested and here is a small selection of the innumerable irrefutable reasons why…’

In an hour it was all over.

Before Romy had even hit her stride in her savage roast, Sebastian capitulated.

He glanced at his watch, said, ‘Sorry to cut the game short, guys. It’s been a blast but I have a date. Give Janet whatever she wants.’

Now, that was one heck of a surprise! As, although the guy was a renowned playboy who had left behind a daisy chain of well-kept women who had kindly kept him company on those long, cold Melbourne nights, he had never even suggested a pre-nuptial agreement before marrying. So Janet getting what she wanted was a fair whack.

Sebastian grabbed a pen from the table, signed Romy’s contracts with a flourish, patted his lawyer on the back and left without a backward glance.

He had given up an exorbitant amount of money so as not to break a date. For a guy who seemed to go through women as if they were going out of fashion, Romy couldn’t help but wonder who could be that important to him.

And in some small, ridiculous part of Romy’s anatomy, she felt a pang of something akin to envy towards someone who could mean that much in Sebastian Fox’s life.


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