There was a centered quality to him that was so strong it formed an invisible aura around him. This was a man who did nothing on impulse. A man in control.
What worried her the most, she admitted silently, was that she found him both compelling and fascinating.
In one sense she had known Gabe all of her life. He hailed from Eclipse Bay on the coast of Oregon where her family had always maintained a summer and vacation home. Growing up she had encountered him from time to time in the small town—but he was a Madison. Everyone knew that Madison males were trouble. Nice girls might indulge a few fantasies, but they didn’t date Madisons. That, coupled with their complicated family history and the fact that he was five years older than she, had formed a huge barrier. The stone wall had not been breached until the wedding of her sister, Hannah, to his brother, Rafe, a few months ago. The event had shocked and delighted the entire town, leading to much speculation about whether or not the infamous Harte-Madison feud had finally ended. The question was still unanswered in most quarters.
Meeting Gabe at the reception had left her unsettled and unaccountably restless. She had told herself she would get over it. But when he had walked into her office a few weeks later she had realized that, on some level, she had been waiting for him. She could not explain her anticipation but it had come as a cold shock to learn that he was there on business. His only goal had been to sign up as a client.
Still, she had allowed herself a few interesting daydreams.
Then, of course, he had filled out the lengthy questionnaire she used to feed client data into her program and she had realized just how hopeless it all was. No arty types . It was, she reflected, one of the few places on the form where she was pretty certain he had been completely candid in his responses.
“It’s not my fault you picked five bad matches in a row,” he said.
“I picked five excellent matches.” She raised one hand, fingers bunched into a loose fist. “They were all college-educated.” She extended one finger. “They were all within the age span that you specified.” She extended a second finger. “They all had successful careers and were financially independent.” Another finger. “They were all comfortable with the idea of helping you entertain your business clients.” A fourth finger went up. “And, as you stipulated, not one of them could even remotely be described as the arty type.”
“All five made less than subtle inquiries about my portfolio.”
“Why shouldn’t they have shown an interest in it? You certainly showed great interest in their financial status. You made a huge deal about it, in fact. You wanted someone who was clearly financially well-situated.”
“Only because I don’t want to be married for my money.” He turned and started to prowl the room.
“Another thing, all five acted offended when I brought up the subject of a prenuptial contract.”
“You should have known better than to bring up a subject like that on a first date, for heaven’s sake.”
He ignored that. “All five talked about extended vacations in the south of France and second homes on Maui. I don’t take monthlong vacations.”
“Do you take any vacations?”
“I’ve got a company to run, damn it.”
“Uh-huh.” No vacations. A real fun guy. But she refrained from voicing that observation aloud.
“And another thing.” He turned back around to face her. “All five of those women looked very high-maintenance to me.”
“And you’re not high-maintenance?”
He appeared genuinely startled that she would even suggest such a possibility. His expression darkened.
“Of course not. I just told you, I’m a very flexible man.”
She sat forward abruptly. “Pay attention here, Gabe. According to the feedback I got from the five women I sent you out with, you showed distinct signs of being bored and impatient within half an hour after each date began.”
He shrugged. “That was approximately how long it took each time before I realized that you had picked another bad match.”
“Did you have to start sneaking glances at your watch before the entrées arrived?”
“I wasn’t sneaking glances. So I checked my watch occasionally. So what? Time is money.”
“There was also a general consensus among all five women that you do not have a romantic bone in your body.”
“Those dates weren’t about romance.” He sliced one hand through the air in a quick, thoroughly disgusted arc. “They were business meetings as far as I was concerned.”
“Business meetings,” she replied, keeping her tone very neutral. “Oddly enough, the women I matched you with did not view the dates in quite the same light.”
“I’m looking for a wife, damn it. Not a girlfriend.”
“I see.” She cleared her throat delicately. “All five of the women reported that when they did manage to get a conversation going with you, it went nowhere because you are clearly paranoid about being married for your money.”
“You’d be paranoid, too, if every person you dated wanted to know how much you had invested in high-tech stocks and how much in bonds and real estate.” He broke off, looking thoughtful. “Maybe I should have adopted an alias for the dates.”
“Oh, sure. Lying about your identity is a great way to start a long-term relationship. And for your information, I have had more than one date with men who took what I considered an unpleasant interest in my finances. I’m a Harte, remember?”
“Oh, yeah. Right. Harte Investments.”
“Exactly. Anyone who knows me well understands that my brother and sister and I will each inherit a large chunk of my family’s company. In addition, I haven’t done badly with Private Arrangements.”
He surveyed the well-appointed office. “I’ve heard that your client list is very high-end. And you sure do charge high-end fees for your services.”
She gave him a cool smile. “In short, my balance sheets look very appetizing to a certain type of man.
But I don’t allow that fact to color my view of the entire male population. I’m not totally paranoid that every guy who asks me out is hoping to marry into money.”
“Nice for you,” he muttered. “But a little naïve, don’t you think?”
She could feel her teeth starting to clench together. “I am not naïve.”
He shrugged and went to stand at the window that looked out across the rain-swept city toward the Willamette River. She followed his gaze and saw that lights were coming on all over town. The late winter day was ending swiftly. Here in the Northwest there was a price to be paid for the long, long days of summer. That fee came in the form of very short days at this time of year.