“I’ll have him checked out.” He reached for the cell phone in the pocket of his jacket. “Madison Commercial keeps an investigation agency on retainer.”
“Thanks, but that’s not necessary. I had Townsend Investigations run a quick background check. Witley has no history of violence or abuse.”
“Yes. It’s okay, really. Nella Townsend knows what she’s doing. The guy was just mad. I think what bothered me the most is that he had a point.”
“He accused me of messing around with people’s lives and that’s exactly what I did. As a professional matchmaker I assumed a massive responsibility. What if I had made a terrible mistake? I could have seriously impacted someone’s future negatively.”
“Stop beating yourself up over this. You were a consultant. People paid you for advice. You gave it.
They made their own decisions. A simple business transaction. You have absolutely no reason to feel guilty.”
She was silent for a moment, considering his words. Then her voice brightened.
“You do have a way of boiling things down to the bare essence, Madison.”
“One of the things I’m good at.” He leaned a little to get a look at the drawing on her lap. “Can I see what you’re working on there?”
She handed the sketchpad to him without comment.
He examined the drawing for a while and discovered that the longer he studied it, the more he wanted to look at it.
It was a picture of Dead Hand Cove but it was the cove as he had never really seen it, at least not consciously. There was a riveting intensity about Lillian’s rendering of this small chunk of nature—a dark promise of potent, primordial power. It called to something deep within him—made him aware that he was forever linked on the cellular level to these wild forces of life.
Damn. All that in a simple sketch. It was worse than he had thought. She was good. Very, very good.
“One thing’s for sure,” he said finally. “You were wasting your time in the matchmaking business. You’re an artist, all right. This is your calling.”
“Doesn’t mean my work will sell,” she said.
“No.” He handed the sketchpad back to her. “It also doesn’t change the fact that this is what you were born to do. Can I ask you a question?”
“What is it?”
“Could you stop doing your art?”
“Stop? You mean, just call it quits?”
“Say someone came along and said he’d give you a million bucks if you agreed to never draw or paint again. Could you take the money and keep your promise?”
“No.” She looked down at the sketch. “Sooner or later, I’d have to go back to it. It’s a compulsion, not a choice.”
“That’s what I figured.” He exhaled deeply. “So you’ll keep doing it, even if you have to get another day job.”
“You’re an artist.”
“Yes,” she said again. “I guess so.”
She sounded a little startled. Thoughtful. As if he had surprised her.
He listened to the seawater tumble in the cove. The tide was returning. Soon only the tips of the fingers would be visible.
“Madison Commercial must have been like that for you all these years,” Lillian said slowly. “A compulsion. Something you had to do.”
“Who knows?” He picked up a small stone and sent it spinning out into the foaming water. “Maybe I just wanted to prove that a Madison could do what you Hartes seemed to do so well.”
“Not screw up.”
She looked toward the point where the stone had disappeared into the water. “Are you telling me that everything you’ve accomplished, all your success, happened just because you felt a sense of competition with my family?”
He shrugged. “That was part of it. At least at first. I grew up knowing that you Hartes were smart enough not to make the mistakes we Madisons have always been so good at. Your businesses prosper.
Your families are solid. Hell, your parents were actually married. What a concept.”
She did not respond to that. There was no need. They both knew each other’s family histories as well as they knew their own. His father, Sinclair, had been a sculptor with a passion for his art and his model, Natalie. Gabe and Rafe had been the result of that union.
The relationship between his parents had lived up to the expectations of everyone familiar with the Madison clan. The long-running affair had been fiery and tempestuous. Sinclair had never seen any reason to burden himself with the petty strings of marriage. Gabe was pretty sure his parents had loved each other in their own stormy fashion, but family life had not been what anyone could call stable, let alone normal.
He and Rafe had each learned to cope in their own ways with their erratic, eccentric, larger-than-life father and their beautiful, temperamental mother. Rafe had chosen to pretend to himself and everyone else that he did not give a damn about his own future. “Live for the moment” had been his motto, at least until he’d come within a hair’s breadth of getting himself arrested for murder.
Gabe knew that he, on the other hand, had probably gone to the other extreme. Control and a sense of order had been his bulwarks against the shifting tides of fortune and emotion that had roiled his childhood. In putting together Madison Commercial he had done everything he could to carve his own future out of granite.
“What’s the rest?” Lillian asked.
“I don’t believe you could have accomplished so much just because you were inspired by a sense of competition with my family.”
He shook off the brooding sensation that had settled around him like an old, well-worn coat. “I’m not the introspective type.”
“Oh, yes that’s right. How could I forget? You made that fact very clear on the questionnaire that you filled out for Private Arrangements.”
“As I recall,” she continued, “on the portion of the form reserved for ‘Other Comments,’ you wrote that you considered yourself pragmatic and realistic by nature. You instructed me not to waste your valuable time with any elitist academics or fuzzy-brained New Age thinkers.”
Lillian closed the sketchpad with a snap. “You also noted that you did not want to be matched with what you called arty types .”