Marilyn Thornley hadn’t changed much since she had been Marilyn Caldwell, he thought. If anything, she had become more striking and more self-confident with the years. There was an invisible aura of authority and importance about her. When she walked into a room, you knew it.
She saw him watching her from the porch and gave him a glowing smile.
He did not take the smile personally. Marilyn always glowed like this whenever they occasionally encountered each other at one of the social events they both were obliged to attend. As Rafe had reminded him, he had a lot of what politicians loved most. Money. Marilyn had been a tireless fund-raiser for Trevor Thornley for years. Now she was firing up her own campaign.
Under the circumstances, he was not real surprised to see her, he thought.
“Gabe.” She came around the front of the Mercedes with long, purposeful strides. “I heard you were in town for a while.”
She was moving more quickly now, coming up the steps, heading toward him.
Belatedly he realized her intention and took a step back. But he didn’t move fast enough. She had her arms around his neck, her face tilted for a welcoming kiss before he could dodge. Reflexively, he turned his head at the last instant. Her lips grazed his jaw.
The mouth thing caught him off guard. It was the first time she’d pulled that stunt. But then, this was the first time he’d seen her since she and Thornley had announced their intention to divorce.
She released him, giving no indication that she had even noticed his small act of avoidance. Politicians had thick skins.
“You look wonderful,” she said.
“You’re looking great yourself.”
She gave him an arch look. “You mean for a woman whose husband humiliated her by withdrawing from a senatorial campaign and who is in the midst of a nasty divorce?”
“You’ve had a busy year.”
“You can say that again. Talk about stress. Life’s been a little rough lately.” She opened the front door of the house. “Come on, let’s go inside. It’s cold out here. Another storm’s coming.”
He checked his watch. “I’ve got company scheduled to arrive at any minute.”
Should have known, he thought.
Marilyn gave a throaty laugh. “Don’t look so surprised. It’s all over town that you walked into Incandescent Body bakery with her first thing this morning.”
“It wasn’t first thing.”
“How serious is it? You two sleeping together?”
The ease with which she asked such a personal question was a forcible reminder of just how personal their own relationship had once been. He found himself wanting to protect Lillian from some vague menace that he could not quite define. Or maybe it was just the residual effect of Mitchell’s notion of early-childhood education kicking in. Madison men did not kiss and tell. Mitchell had drummed that basic principle of proper masculine behavior into Rafe and Gabe early in life.
Besides, he had nothing to kiss and tell about, Gabe reminded himself.
“No,” he said. “We just happened to come out here to the coast at the same time. Found ourselves at loose ends today. We both wanted some company for breakfast. No big deal.”
Marilyn winked. “Don’t worry, I won’t cramp your style. I just wanted to say hello to an old friend.”
She swept through the door of the cottage.
He glanced once more back along the drive. There was no sign of Lillian’s car. Reluctantly he followed Marilyn into the small house.
“Good lord, couldn’t you find a better rental?” Marilyn surveyed the dilapidated interior with a grimace.
“Not exactly your style, is it?”
“Until Rafe and Hannah get Dreamscape open there isn’t a lot of high-end rental housing available around Eclipse Bay. You know that as well as I do. It was either here or my grandfather’s house.” He allowed the door to close slowly behind him. “Knew that wouldn’t work so I picked this place. It’s got everything I need.”
“Okay, I get the point. You’ve got a hot date with Lillian Harte and I’m in the way.” She settled on the arm of the shabby sofa with a regal grace. “I won’t stay long, I promise. I need to talk to you, Gabe.”
He did not sit down. He didn’t want to encourage her. Instead, he propped one shoulder against the wall and folded his arms. “What’s this all about, Marilyn?”
“Do I have to have a special reason? You and I go back a long way. We have a history.”
“History was never my best subject. I was a business major in college, remember?”
“I hear you signed up with Lillian’s matchmaking agency.”
“Who told you that?”
“Carole Rhoades. I got to know her when she did a little fund-raising for Trevor at her law firm last year.”
He identified the name immediately. Carole Rhoades was one of the five women Lillian had matched with him.
“Portland sure is a small town in some ways, isn’t it?” he said. “Almost as small as Eclipse Bay.”
“It’s not the size of the town, it’s the size of the universe in which you move.” She swung one long leg.
“People who run companies like Madison Commercial tend to circulate in certain limited spheres.”
“I can see I need to get out more. Broaden my horizons.”
She chuckled. “I hear the date with Carole was a bust.”
“And here I thought we’d had a very pleasant evening.”
“She said she was home by ten o’clock and you didn’t even try to invite yourself in for a nightcap. She said it was obvious that you would much rather have been at your desk.”
“Damn. Women talk about stuff like that?”
“Of course they do.”
“I’ll have to keep that in mind.” He turned his wrist slightly to check his watch. “You want to tell me why you’re here?”
Her smile stayed in place but he thought he saw it tighten a notch or two.
“You make it sound as though the only thing that might bring me here is business.”
“Whenever we’ve run into each other during the past few years, you’ve usually hit me up for a campaign donation for Trevor.”
“Which you have always declined to give.”
“Madisons aren’t real big on political campaign contributions.”
“I realize that you never supported Trevor but things have changed—”