What he wanted most in the world at that moment, he thought, was to stay right where he was with Lillian’s beautifully curved bottom nestled against his midsection. But the rumble outside made that a non-option.
With deep regret, he eased himself cautiously away from her warmth. She wriggled a little, as though in protest. He leaned over and kissed her shoulder. She sighed and snuggled deeper into the pillow.
He studied her as he rose and reached for his pants. She looked very good lying there in his bed. Like she belonged there.
Outside the large vehicle had come to a halt. The motor shut down.
He made himself go out into the hall, pausing long enough to close the bedroom door firmly. Then he went into the main room.
He glanced around quickly on his way to the front door, checking to see if there was any evidence of Lillian’s presence. A glimmering pool filled with shifting lights on the floor caught his eye. He scooped up the iridescent rain cloak and crammed it into the hall closet.
By the time he got the front door open and saw the familiar SUV hulking in the drive, his grandfather was already on the porch.
“What the hell is going on here,” Mitchell roared. He thumped his cane on the boards for emphasis. “Just what are you up to, Gabe Madison?”
Gabe reassessed the situation quickly. Lillian had walked to his place. Her car was not in the drive.
Mitchell could not possibly know that she had spent the night here.
Small towns had some serious drawbacks when it came to privacy issues.
When in doubt, stall.
“Good morning to you, too,” he said easily. “When did you get back into town?”
“Last night. Late.”
Bev Bolton, the widow of a former editor of the Eclipse Bay Journal , was the woman Mitchell had been seeing for several months She had accompanied him to Hawaii. Bev lived in Portland. Mitchell had been so discreet about the relationship that for several extremely uneasy weeks Gabe and Rafe had both feared that his frequent trips to the city had been for the purpose of seeing a specialist. They had leaped to the conclusion that he was suffering from some dire medical condition that he was trying to keep from them. The truth had come as an enormous, if somewhat startling, relief.
“Bev went on down to California to visit her grandkids,” Mitchell said. “Now tell me what’s happening here.”
“Not much.” He yawned and absently rubbed his chest. It was cold out here. Should have grabbed a shirt out of the closet. “Been raining a lot.”
“Don’t try to change the topic. This is me, your grandfather, you’re talking to. I had coffee in town at the bakery. Must have been at least half a dozen folks who couldn’t wait to tell me that Marilyn Thornley’s car was seen turning into your driveway last night around suppertime.”
Gabe drew a slow, deep breath. Relief replaced some of the tension that had tightened every muscle in his belly. Mitchell didn’t know about Lillian. He was here because of Marilyn’s car.
“Well, it’s gone now, isn’t it?” Gabe said.
He moved farther out onto the porch, pulling the door closed behind him. Rain dripped steadily from the edge of the porch roof. The temperature had to be in the very low fifties. Maybe the high forties. He tried to ignore the chill. How long did it take to contract a case of hypothermia?
He’d just have to tough it out. He could not risk going back inside to get more clothes. Mitchell would follow him into the hall and the commotion would awaken Lillian. She would probably come out of the bedroom to see what was going on and all hell would break loose. A real doomsday scenario, if ever there was one.
He needed to think and he needed to do it fast.
The first order of business was to get rid of Mitchell.
He glanced at the SUV and raised a hand in a casual salute to Mitchell’s faithful factotum, Bryce, who waited stoically behind the wheel. Bryce nodded once, acknowledging the greeting with a military-style inclination of his head.
Gabe turned back to Mitchell. “So, how was Hawaii?”
“Hawaii was fine.” Mitchell scowled. “Hawaii is always fine. I didn’t come here to talk about my vacation.”
“I was trying to be civil.”
“Bullshit. You’re trying to slip and slide around this thing. Don’t waste my time. I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck yesterday. I want to know what’s up with you and Marilyn Thornley.”
“Absolutely nothing of any great interest to anyone, including me.” Gabe folded his arms. Nothing like a clear conscience when dealing with the old man.
The tension that simmered between the two of them lately was a new element in their relationship. Gabe could not pinpoint when it had first begun to emerge. Sometime during the last two years, he thought. It had grown remarkably more acute since Rafe’s marriage, however.
In the old days, after he and Rafe had gone to live with Mitchell following the death of their parents, there had been relatively few conflicts between Gabe and his grandfather. Rafe had been the rebel, the one who had gone toe-to-toe with Mitchell at every turn.
But looking back, Gabe knew that he had taken the opposite path, not because he had wanted to please Mitchell but because he was committed to his future goal. All he had cared about was his dream of proving that a Madison could be a success. In high school he had charted a course that he had calculated would enable him to achieve his objective and he had stuck to it. He had been the one who had gotten the good grades, stayed out of trouble and graduated from college because he could see that was how the Hartes did things. They had been his role models. It was clear to him, even as a boy, that the traditional Madison approach to life led to poor outcomes.
In the end, he had achieved his objective. He had put together a business empire that rivaled Harte Investments. One of these days, it would be even bigger than Harte.
He knew that now, although he had not built Madison Commercial with the conscious intention of pleasing his grandfather. Mitchell’s approval had been one of the satisfying side effects of success. He had taken it for granted for some time.
The realization that nothing he had accomplished seemed to matter to Mitchell anymore left him with a peculiar, empty feeling deep inside. This morning, for the first time, he realized that anger was seeping in to fill the void.
What right did the old man have to give him advice on how to run his life?
Mitchell squinted, searching Gabe’s face. Whatever he saw there appeared to reassure him somewhat.