“I don’t want a refund. I want what I paid for.”
“I don’t believe this,” Lillian said.
Rafe paused, one booted foot on the bottom step, and gave his brother an inquiring look. “What’s this all about? Sounds interesting.”
“She owes me a date,” Gabe explained. “I paid for six. I only got five.”
“That is not true,” Lillian said loudly.
“It is true,” Gabe assured Rafe and Hannah. “I’ve got a signed contract to prove it.”
Aware of Rafe’s and Hannah’s thinly veiled amusement, Lillian felt called upon to defend herself. “He lied on the questionnaire.”
“You’re just saying that to cover up the fact that you did such a lousy job of matching me. Bottom line here is that I’ve got another date coming.”
“Lots of luck,” she shot back. “Nobody gets any more dates from Private Arrangements. The company is out of business. You’ll have to get your last date somewhere else.”
Gabe started up the steps. “Nobody takes my money and leaves town without delivering the goods.”
“For crying out loud.” Lillian leaned a little farther out over the rail. “This is ridiculous. You can’t possibly be serious about one lousy date.”
“When it comes to business, I’m always serious.” He disappeared into the house.
“That’s my brother for you,” Rafe said, mockingly apologetic. “Could have written the book on how not to get screwed in a business deal. He fixates, you know?”
Before Lillian could tell him what she thought about Gabe’s business style, Rafe, too, vanished beneath the overhang.
“Well,” Hannah said thoughtfully. “This is an interesting turn of events.”
“This isn’t interesting, it’s seriously aberrant behavior.” Lillian continued to look uneasily over the railing into the now-empty drive. “You think maybe Gabe’s gone a little nuts or something in the years since he left Eclipse Bay? Maybe the stress of building his business empire has been too much for him.”
“I don’t think it’s the empire building that’s making him act weird,” Hannah said. “I think it’s the fact that he’s a Madison.”
“I was afraid you were going to say that.”
“Something tells me there’s more to this story than your failure to live up to your end of a business contract.”
“Believe it or not, things started out fairly normally when Gabe signed up with Private Arrangements. I had stopped taking new clients but he seemed serious and determined. I figured okay, he’s not exactly an old friend of the family, but he certainly qualifies as a longtime acquaintance, and we are sort of connected because of you and Rafe and all. I thought, what the heck? I still had the names of several nice women in my files.”
“What went wrong?”
“What can I say?” Lillian held out both hands, palms up. “Gabe became the client from hell.”
“We’ve got no choice but to move out for at least three weeks,” Hannah said an hour later. She passed a large ceramic bowl across the table to Lillian. “The Willis brothers have sent us straight into remodel hell. It was bad enough when they were doing the plumbing.”
“They kept shutting off the water without warning and we had to cope with a stack of bathroom fixtures in the front hall for ages,” Rafe said. “I started having nightmares featuring endless mazes of gleaming porcelain commodes.”
“We keep assuring each other that we’re lucky to have the full attention of the Willis brothers,” Hannah said. “There’s a new wing being built up at the institute and we were worried for a while that the folks up there would lure Torrance and Walter away. Fortunately they called in outside contractors.”
“We made it through the endless commodes phase,” Rafe concluded, “but there’s no way we can live here while they refinish the wood floors and paint the rooms.”
“I can see the problem.” Lillian gripped the bowl in one hand and served herself a large helping of Rafe’s dill-and-yogurt-laced cucumber salad. “The dust and fumes would be bad for Winston.”
“Wouldn’t do us much good, either,” Rafe said dryly. “Besides, we need a vacation before we open for business. We’re going down to California to tour some wineries in the Napa Valley. It will be a good opportunity to finalize my selections for the wine list that we’ll be using in the restaurant.”
“Another astounding coincidence.” Gabe dipped the edge of a wedge of sourdough bread into the fragrant curried potato stew on his plate. “I’ve decided to take some time off, myself.”
Rafe raised a brow. “Good idea. About time you grabbed a few days off. It’s been a while since you got out of your office.”
“So they tell me,” Gabe said noncommittally.
Lillian stilled. “You’re going to be here in Eclipse Bay for three or four days? That’s all?”
Rafe chuckled. “Don’t worry, Lillian, he won’t loiter long in the vicinity, if that’s what’s worrying you.
He can stay at Mitchell’s place for a couple of days, at least until Mitchell gets back from Hawaii. But after that he’ll be on borrowed time. I can safely predict that after forty-eight hours the two of them will be at each other’s throat.”
“Really? Just two days?”
“Sure. Take it from me. Mitchell will start in with his usual lectures, telling Gabe how he’s become too obsessed with M.C. Gabe will tell him where to get off. Next thing you know, Gabe will be packing his bags.”
Lillian allowed herself to relax. Rafe had a point. Everyone knew that the three Madison men were notoriously stubborn and hardheaded. The trait no doubt made it next to impossible for any two or more of them to share a house for an extended period of time.
“You’re right.” Gabe raised one shoulder in easy acquiescence to Rafe’s prediction. “A day or two of sharing a house with Mitchell would be about all I could take.”
Rafe winked at Lillian. “Told you so.”
“Lately he’s been getting worse with the lectures, if you can believe it,” Gabe continued. He shook his head sadly. “In hindsight, giving him a computer was a major mistake.”
“Are you kidding?” Rafe chuckled. “He loves that thing. Took to it like a duck to water.”