“Marilyn didn’t hang around?”
“Not for long,” Gabe said mildly.
“She and Thornley are calling it quits, you know,” Mitchell said.
“Word is, she’s got her own plans to go into politics.”
Gabe dropped his arms and wrapped his hands around the wet railing. Damn, it was cold. In another few minutes his teeth would probably start to chatter. “She told me that much yesterday when she stopped by to see me. Probably do okay.”
“You know what she’s after, don’t you?”
“Sure. Don’t worry, Mitch, I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck either. It’s obvious that Marilyn is looking for someone to help finance her political career.”
“I hear her father is a little pissed because she blew so much cash on Thornley’s campaign. They say Caldwell isn’t real eager to pump more money into another political race, even if it is his daughter who is running this time.”
“The Caldwells will come around. Eventually. They always do for Marilyn.”
Mitchell nodded. “That woman always did have a way of getting what she wanted, even when she was a little girl. Still, no politician ever has enough cash. She could use a rich husband with connections. Looks like you’re back on her radar scope.”
“I’m not interested in being married to a politician. If she doesn’t know that already, I think she’ll figure it out real quick. Marilyn is smart.”
“The two of you had something going there for a while. Maybe she figures she can relight some old flames.”
Gabe shrugged. “Whatever we had was over a long time ago.”
“Don’t count on her giving up easily.”
“Okay, I won’t count on it.”
Mitchell’s hawklike face tightened in a shrewd expression. “You know, things would be a whole lot simpler if you got married.”
Gabe gripped the railing and said nothing.
“Marilyn Thornley wouldn’t be hanging around here at suppertime if you had a wife,” Mitchell said.
Gabe looked at him. “Don’t start.”
“A man your age oughtta be married. Hell, I was married at your age.”
“Would that have been Alicia or Janine? No, wait, Alicia was number three, wasn’t she? So was it Susan? It can’t have been Trish because I’m sure you told me once that Trish was number one. Must have been Janine.”
Mitchell hammered the cane against the boards. “The point is, I was married.”
“And divorced. A couple of times, at least at that point. Two down and two more to go.”
“So I screwed up once or twice.”
“Four times in all.”
“Shoot and damn.” Mitchell’s voice went up a few decibels. “You’re supposed to learn from my mistakes.”
“Madisons never learn from their mistakes. Family tradition.”
Mitchell raised the cane and leveled it at him as if it were a rapier. “You know what your problem is?
You’re going about this marriage business all wrong.”
“You’re certainly an authority on the subject.”
Mitchell snorted. “Should have known you couldn’t go after a woman the way you go after investment prospects for Madison Commercial.”
“I did manage to figure that out. That’s why I signed up with Private Arrangements.”
“What the hell kind of results do you expect from a computer?” Mitchell shot back. “I’m not saying Lillian Harte isn’t a smart lady. No such thing as a stupid Harte. And I’m not saying she doesn’t know how to run her business. But the fact is, you aren’t going to have any luck finding a wife with a computer.”
“Because you’re a Madison, that’s why not. When it comes to women, a Madison relies on his gut, not his brain.”
“And look where it’s gotten us,” Gabe said. “Three generations of screwed-up relationships.”
“Rafe broke that jinx.” Mitchell lowered the cane with grim dignity. “I expect you to do the same, by God. But you’re gonna have to stop fooling around with Madison Commercial for a while and pay attention to what’s important.”
That did it.
Gabe felt his Madison temper flash through him with all the stunning heat of summer lightning. It crackled and flared, surging forth from the windowless vault where he kept it locked and chained in the name of establishing total control.
He released the railing and turned on Mitchell.
“Fooling around with Madison Commercial? Is that what you call what I’ve been doing all these years?
Fooling around with Madison Commercial? ”
Mitchell blinked. Then the lines at the corners of his eyes creased in wary concern. “Simmer down, son.
Just trying to have us a reasonable discussion here.”
“Fooling around with Madison Commercial? Is that what you call building a major venture capital company that did a few hundred million dollars’ worth of business last year?”
“Now, see here, Gabe, this isn’t what—”
“Maybe it has slipped your mind that your stock in Madison Commercial is the primary source of your retirement income.”
“Shoot and damn, this isn’t about money.”
“Not about money? All I ever heard from you when I was growing up was how Harte-Madison had been destroyed because you and Sullivan Harte went to war over a woman. How many times did you tell me how you’d been financially ruined because Claudia Banner made fools out of you and Harte? A couple of thousand, maybe?”
“What happened to Harte-Madison all those years ago has got nothing to do with this.”
“The Hartes recovered financially because they had the brains and the determination to concentrate on business. You could have done the same thing, but you didn’t, did you, Mitch? You preferred to get married. Over and over again.”
“This is your grandfather you’re dealing with here. Show some respect.”
Gabe flexed his hands at his sides. “I proved to you and the whole damn world that a Madison could be as successful as a Harte.”
“I’m not saying you haven’t been successful with Madison Commercial. But the fact that the company’s making a profit isn’t what’s important here.”
“Tell me that the next time you cash your quarterly dividend check.”
“Stop talking about money.” Mitchell whacked the cane against a post. “We’re talking about getting your priorities straight.”