“He’s got an aptitude for it, all right,” Gabe said. “But he’s not using it the way I thought he would.”
Lillian paused, her fork in midair. “How did you expect him to use it?”
“For good, wholesome, educational purposes. I figured he’d wile away many happy hours checking out senior p**n sites. Instead, he’s gotten into the habit of e-mailing me every day.”
Rafe grinned. “Bet I can guess the content of those e-mail notes.”
“They cover a variety of topics but they all come down to his opinion of how I’m running my business and my personal life.”
Lillian cleared her throat. “I take it he doesn’t approve of how you’re handling either one?”
The strong emotion in Gabe’s voice startled her. Whatever was going on between Gabe and his grandfather was more than just annoying to Gabe. It was generating some real pain.
“No,” he said quietly. “He doesn’t approve.”
“I’m sorry if you were planning to stay with us,” Hannah said gently. “As you can see, things are a mess.
No one can be in here while the floors are being redone.”
“I know.” Gabe added some of Rafe’s homemade tomato chutney to his curry.
Rafe watched him expectantly. “So, how long, exactly, do you think you’ll stay with Mitchell?”
“I won’t be staying with him at all.” Gabe waited a beat. “I rented the old Buckley place.”
“For how long?” Lillian asked warily.
There was a moment of acute shock.
“You’re actually going to take off an entire month?” Hannah asked in disbelief.
“I’ll have to make a couple of trips back to town for some events that I couldn’t scrub from my calendar,” Gabe said. “I’m scheduled to deliver the introduction at a banquet to honor one of my former college professors, for instance. But otherwise I don’t see any reason why I can’t handle anything that might come up at Madison Commercial from here. I brought my computer and my fax machine and there’s always the phone.”
“I don’t believe it,” Lillian said flatly. “Something weird is going on here.”
“She’s right,” Rafe said. “This is weird. I don’t care how good you are at telecommuting. You’ll have withdrawal symptoms, probably get the shakes or something if you try to stay away from your office for a whole month.”
Gabe said nothing, just kept eating curry.
“Damn.” Rafe looked intrigued now. “You’re serious about this, aren’t you?”
A sardonic look gleamed in Gabe’s eyes. “You’ve known me all of your life. Ever known me when I wasn’t serious?”
“No, can’t say that I have.”
An ominous sensation drifted through Lillian. She studied Gabe more closely. Something dangerous moved beneath the cool, controlled surface he presented to the world.
“This isn’t about getting your sixth date out of Private Arrangements, is it?” she asked. “You were just teasing me with that nonsense. You’re here because you really do want to get away for a while.”
Gabe shrugged again but he did not argue the point.
Hannah turned to Gabe. “Is everything okay at Madison Commercial?” she asked hesitantly.
Lillian was startled by her question. She understood Hannah’s concern. Anyone who knew anything about Gabe, even indirectly, was aware of how much the company meant to him. Impending trouble at Madison Commercial would certainly account for odd behavior on his part.
But she was very sure that if there were a problem with his business he would be living at his office twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week while he worked to fix it. He would not take a month off and head for the coast in the face of impending disaster.
“Things are fine at M.C.” Gabe ate more curry.
“But?” Rafe prompted.
Gabe swallowed, put down his fork and leaned back in his chair.
“But, nothing,” he said. “I need a little time to concentrate on something else, that’s all. I hate to admit it, but Mitchell might have a point. Maybe I have been a little too focused on business for the past few years.”
“Burnout,” Lillian said quietly.
They all looked at her. Gabe and Rafe had the baffled, blank expressions that were common to the male of the species when psychological explanations for behavior were offered. But Hannah nodded in immediate agreement.
“Yes, of course,” she said. “Makes sense. Lil’s right. Sounds like burnout.”
“Sounds like psychobabble to me,” Gabe said. “What’s this about burnout?”
“Think about it,” Lillian said patiently. “You’ve expended an enormous amount of physical and mental energy on Madison Commercial for years. It’s no secret that you’ve driven yourself very hard to make your company successful. That kind of intense focus over a long period of time takes its toll.”
“How would you know?” he asked. The words were spoken in deceptively silky tones. “From what you’ve told me about your checkered job history, you haven’t stuck with anything long enough to burn out on it.”
The blatant rudeness crackled in the solarium like sheet lightning. To Hannah and Rafe, the sharp retort must have appeared to come out of nowhere.
Afraid that Rafe was going to say something to his brother that was probably better left unsaid, Lillian moved to defuse the situation.
“You’re right about my job history,” she said to Gabe. “Guess some of us are just born to be free spirits.
Funny, isn’t it?”
“What’s funny about it?” Gabe asked.
“Most people would have assumed that you would have been the one who wound up with the spotty employment record.”
“Because I’m a Madison?”
“Yes.” She gave him a steely smile. “Whereas I am a stable, steady, long-range planning Harte.” She turned to the others. “I suggested to Gabe that he might want to hire me into an executive position at Madison Commercial, but he declined on the basis of my erratic résumé.”
Gabe rested an arm along the back of his chair. He did not take his eyes off Lillian. “That wasn’t the reason I said I wouldn’t hire you.”
“What was the reason?” Hannah asked curiously.
“She pointed out that within a very short time she would probably be trying to tell me how to run my company. I said if that happened, I’d have to fire her. We both agreed there was no point even starting down that road, given the foregone conclusion.”