“From thinking about that sixth date you owe me.”
“Hmm.” She concentrated on the curving sweep of Bayview Drive. “Hadn’t thought of that. Dare I hope that you might sign up with A.Z.’s happy little band of conspiracy buffs and forget about trying to make me fulfill the terms of that contract you signed with Private Arrangements?”
“Well, no. Thing is, I never forget about getting what I paid for.”
She gripped the wheel. “Gabe, I told you, I’d refund your money.”
“It’s not the money.”
“Hah. With you, it’s the money. You’ve made that very clear from the start. I’ve never known anyone as paranoid about being married for his money as you are.”
“I am not paranoid.”
“The heck you aren’t. On this particular subject, you’re as bad as A.Z. is when it comes to secret government conspiracies.”
He settled deeper into the seat and looked out over the gray waters of the bay.
“I’m not that bad,” he said.
The dry, sardonic amusement that had infused his voice a moment ago was gone now. She shot him a quick glance, trying to read the shift in his mood. But his head was turned away from her. She could discern nothing from the hard angles of his profile.
She turned off the main road a short time later and went down the narrow, rutted lane that led to the old Buckley place. The weathered cottage was hunkered down on a windswept bluff overlooking a rocky stretch of beach. It looked as if it had not been lived in for a long time. The trees grew right up to the edge of the tiny yard. The blinds in the windows were yellowed with age. The porch listed a little to the right. The whole structure was badly in need of a coat of paint.
The only sign of life was Gabe’s gleaming Jaguar parked in the drive.
She brought her compact to a halt in front of the sagging porch.
“Thanks for the lift into town.” Gabe stirred and unfastened his seat belt.
He opened the car door and paused, gazing straight ahead through the windshield.
“You really think I’m a full-blown paranoid?” he asked quietly.
This was not good. No doubt about it, Gabe was sinking deeper into a very strange mood.
“Let’s just say I think you’re a little overly concerned about the issue of being married for your money,”
she said gently.
“That’s how I would characterize it, yes.”
“And you’re not.”
“Paranoid. About being married because of your connection to Harte Investments.”
She took a deep breath. “I won’t say that I don’t think about the possibility once in a while. As I told you, I have dated a few men who gave me some cause for concern. But I try to employ my common sense in the matter. I don’t obsess on the idea that every man I meet is only interested in me because of my family’s company.”
“Can’t help noticing that you still haven’t married, though.”
She felt her jaw tense. “The fact that I’m still single has nothing to do with being secretly paranoid about being married for my inheritance.”
“So, why are you still single?”
She frowned. “Why do you care?”
“Sorry. None of my business.” He pushed the door open and got out. “See you later.”
“Yeah?” He paused and leaned slightly to look at her.
“Are you, you know, okay?”
“Sure. I’m swell.”
“What are you going to do today?”
“Don’t know. Haven’t decided. Maybe take another walk on the beach. Check my e-mail. Do some research.” He paused. “What are you going to do?”
“Paint. That’s why I came here.”
“Right.” He made to close the door.
She hesitated, trying to resist the impulse that had just struck her. She failed.
“Gabe, wait a second.”
This was stupid, she thought. Just because Hannah was married to Rafe, it did not follow that she herself had to assume any responsibility for members of the Madison family. Gabe was perfectly capable of taking care of himself. If she had any sense she would keep her mouth shut.
But she could not get past the feeling that something was not as it should be with Gabe. The way he had tried to amuse himself with Arizona’s conspiracy theories and now this swing to another, darker mood did not seem right. He was definitely not in a good place.
Burnout was a form of depression, she reminded herself.
“What about dinner?” she asked before she could give herself any more time to think.
“What about it?”
“I’m going to drive back into town later this afternoon to do some serious grocery shopping. If you don’t have any plans for tonight, I could pick up something and bring it over here. We can fix it together.”
“I’m no gourmet chef like Rafe,” he warned.
“Few people can cook as well as Rafe, but I can find my way around a kitchen. What about it? You interested? Or do you have other plans?”
“One thing I do not have is other plans,” he said. “By the way, if you’re going to the grocery store, could you pick up some peanut butter?”
“I suppose so.”
“Make it chunky style. See you for dinner.”
He closed the car door with a solid-sounding kerchunk , went up the steps and disappeared into the lonely-looking house before she could figure out how to climb back out of the hole she had just dug for herself.
He heard the sound of a car’s engine in the driveway just as the early winter twilight descended. A gut-deep sense of pleasurable anticipation rippled through him. He powered down the laptop computer, closed the lid and got to his feet.
He peered out the window, checking the weather. He could almost feel the weight of the heavy clouds moving in off the ocean. The storm would hit later tonight.
He crossed the threadbare carpet, opened the front door and went out onto the porch. The little rush of excitement faded at the sight of the vehicle coming toward him. It was a late-model Mercedes. Not Lillian’s Honda.
The Mercedes halted in front of the steps. The door on the driver’s side opened. An attractive, athletic-looking woman with stylishly cut honey-brown hair got out. She wore a pair of expensively tailored trousers and a pale silk shirt. Silver gleamed discreetly in her ears. A designer scarf in a subdued mauve print framed her long neck.