A brisk knock on the back door interrupted her before she could finish the sentence.
Gabe straightened away from the wall. “Looks like my guest decided to walk instead of drive this evening.”
He went through the ancient kitchen and opened the back door.
Lillian stood inside the glass-enclosed rear porch, a large, well-stuffed grocery bag in her arms. She wore the hooded iridescent rain cloak he’d seen in Portland, although it had not yet begun to rain. The cloak was unfastened, revealing the black turtleneck and black trousers she had on underneath. The tunic-length top was slashed with a lightning bolt of intense turquoise.
“I thought you were going to drive over,” he said.
“Walking seemed faster.”
“It’s almost dark.”
“So what? This is Eclipse Bay, not the big bad city.”
“Listen, tough lady, you ought to know better than to run around an unlit, sparsely inhabited stretch of coastline after dark.”
“You want to help me with this grocery sack or would you rather stand there and lecture me for a while?”
“Give me the damn sack.”
“My, you’re in a swell mood tonight.”
“Uninvited company.” He took the sack from her and stood back. “Marilyn Thornley. She won’t be staying long.”
“That’s good, because I didn’t bring enough food for three.”
The weight of the grocery sack belied that claim, but he did not argue the point. He set it on the counter without comment.
Marilyn appeared in the kitchen doorway. She gave Lillian the same glowing grin she’d used on Gabe.
“Lillian. It’s been ages. Good to see you again.”
“Hello, Marilyn. Been a while,” she responded sweetly.
“I didn’t mean to intrude on your little dinner party,” Marilyn said. “I heard Gabe was in town. Thought I’d stop in and say hello.”
“Doing a little fund-raising?” Lillian asked smoothly. “Rumor has it that you’re going into politics on your own, now that Trevor is no longer in the picture.”
There was a short, brittle silence during which neither woman’s smile faltered.
“Gabe and I were just talking about how fast word travels in this town,” Marilyn said with a slight edge on her voice.
“I ran into Pamela McCallister at Fulton’s Supermarket this afternoon,” Lillian said. “Her husband, Brad, is on the faculty at Chamberlain but he has a joint appointment at the institute. He says you’ve already got your campaign staff organized and that you’ve put Claire Jensen in charge.”
“You know Claire?”
“Yes. I haven’t seen much of her in recent years but we worked together at a local restaurant one summer when we were both in college. She always said she wanted to go into politics.”
“Claire worked very hard on Trevor’s staff. She’s had a lot of experience. I think she’s ready to head up a campaign.”
“I hear you’ve got your sites on a seat in the U.S. Senate.”
There was another brittle pause. Gabe helped Lillian with her rain cloak.
“Yes,” Marilyn said.
“Expensive,” Lillian murmured.
“Yes,” Marilyn said again. “Politics is an expensive pursuit.”
Lillian went to the counter, reached into the grocery sack and removed a plastic bag containing a head of dark-green broccoli. “Probably not a lot of money left over after Trevor bowed out of the race last fall.”
“The Thornley campaign did a lot of media, as well. The television commercials must have cost a fortune.”
“You’re right,” Marilyn said in a low voice. “The ads wiped out most of the war chest. We knew going in that they would be expensive, but you can’t win elections without television.” She paused. “There were also some additional, unplanned expenses toward the end.”
The sudden anger in her voice made both Gabe and Lillian look at her.
“We were so close. So damned close,” Marilyn said bitterly.
“I’m sorry it all fell apart,” Lillian said quietly. “I know it must have been a blow.”
“You don’t have to pretend that you don’t know what happened,” Marilyn said. “I’m sure you heard the rumors about the videos.”
Gabe exchanged a glance with Lillian. They were both aware of the story behind the videos that had disappeared when the former editor of the Eclipse Bay Journal had been arrested a few months ago.
The missing films purported to show Trevor Thornley cavorting in high heels and ladies’ undergarments.
“I heard that those tapes, assuming they ever actually existed, were destroyed,” Gabe said neutrally.
“No one I know has ever seen them.”
“That bastard, Jed Steadman, lied about having destroyed them without looking at them. He made copies.” Marilyn’s voice roughened with tightly controlled rage. “He blackmailed Trevor from jail. Said he needed the money for his trial.”
Gabe exhaled slowly. “That was the unexpected additional campaign expense you mentioned? Blackmail payments to Jed Steadman?”
“Steadman was too smart to approach me,” Marilyn said. “He contacted Trevor. And that idiot paid him off. I couldn’t believe it. When I discovered that he was actually making blackmail payments I knew the campaign was finished. But Trevor thought he could keep it all hushed up. He did not even begin to comprehend what we were up against.”
“You walked out and Trevor was forced to quit the race,” Lillian said.
“There wasn’t any other viable option. It was obvious that Trevor was going down, but that didn’t mean that I had to go down with him.” Marilyn looked at Gabe. “Politics is a lot like any other business. You have to know when to cut your losses.”
“Sure,” Gabe said, keeping his voice very even. “I can see the parallels.”
Marilyn blinked rapidly once or twice, realizing she’d gone too far. “So much for catching up on my personal news. It’s getting late. I’ll leave you two to your private little dinner party. Nice to see you both.”
She turned away from the kitchen and started toward the front door.
Gabe looked at Lillian. She raised her brows but said nothing.
“I’ll walk you out to your car,” he called to Marilyn.
He caught up with her and together they went out onto the porch. The fast-moving storm clouds had cut off what little was left of the sunset’s afterglow. He switched on the porch light. The wind had grown stronger while they had been inside the cottage. The limbs of the fir trees at the edge of the drive were stirring briskly.