“Madison Commercial is a success because I’ve had my priorities straight all along.”
“If you’d had ’em straight, you’d have been married by now. I’d have me some grandkids.”
“Don’t tell me how to run my life, Mitch.”
“Someone’s gotta do it.”
“And you think you’re qualified?”
The door opened.
Gabe went still. He was vaguely aware that Mitchell did the same.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” Lillian said from the other side of the screen. “Lovely day, isn’t it?”
Gabe shoved his hand through his hair. Just what he needed.
There was nothing but acute silence from his grandfather. He wondered how he was going to take this turn of events.
Mitchell stood transfixed. He gazed at Lillian as if she were a mermaid who had just appeared at the edge of the bay.
Gabe switched his attention back to Lillian and did a quick assessment. She was dressed in the black trousers and the turquoise-slashed sweater she had worn last night. A little dressy for day wear but it just might pass, especially with Mitchell, who didn’t pay attention to the nuances of fashion. Her hair was caught up in a neat twist. She wasn’t wearing any makeup, but there was nothing unusual in that. In his experience she never wore much.
With luck Mitchell would assume that Lillian had just walked over from her place to join him for breakfast.
She looked out at the two silent men with an expression of amused interest.
“Am I interrupting anything?” she asked politely.
Neither said a word.
“It’s a little chilly out there,” she said. “Why don’t you both come inside? I’m making coffee.” She turned away from the screen. “Don’t forget to bring Bryce with you,” she called over her shoulder.
Bryce collected his cup of coffee with a short, brusque “Thank you, ma’am” and went back out to the SUV.
“Bryce isn’t real keen on socializing,” Mitchell said.
Lillian sank down onto the sofa. “I can tell.”
Nonchalantly she watched Gabe where he stood at the window, his mug gripped in both hands. He had disappeared into the bedroom while she had poured coffee. When he reappeared a few minutes later he wore a dark flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up on his strong forearms. The neckline of a black crew-neck tee was visible at his throat. Must have been a little chilly out there on the porch, she thought.
The tension in the tiny front room was charged with remnants of the quarrel she had interrupted.
When she had awakened to the sound of the heated argument, her first instinct had been to get dressed and slip out the back door. She was fairly certain that was the course of action Gabe would have preferred.
She might have done just that, sparing everyone, including herself, this awkward scene. But halfway down the hall she had overheard Gabe. Fooling around with Madison Commercial? Is that what you call what I’ve been doing all these years?
The frustration and stark pain in his words had stopped her in her tracks, canceling all thought of disappearing out the back door.
Mitchell studied Lillian. “Heard you were in town. Going to be here for a while?”
She took a sip of coffee. “Yes.”
“Your family’s place isn’t far from here.”
“No. A short walk along the bluffs.”
A speculative gleam appeared in Mitchell’s eyes. “So, you walked on over here for coffee, is that it?”
“I walked over here, yes,” Lillian said.
At the window, Gabe tensed a little, as though preparing himself for battle.
Lillian pretended to ignore him. What she had told Mitchell was the truth as far as it went. Admittedly, it was the truth unencumbered by pesky little details such as those pertaining to the exact time and day she had made the trek, but that was not her problem. Mitchell had obviously decided to play inquisitor, but he was a Madison and she was a Harte. She was under no obligation to tell him everything he wanted to know.
Mitchell angled his chin toward the gray mist outside the window and looked concerned. “Pretty wet out there to be taking a walk.”
“Yes, it is quite damp this morning,” she agreed. “But what else can you expect this time of year?”
Gabe took a swallow of coffee. He did not speak, but she knew that Mitchell’s blunt questioning was stoking the flames of his anger. She could only hope that he would have enough sense not to lose his temper again.
“A real coincidence, you and Gabe both deciding to take a little vacation here in Eclipse Bay at the same time, isn’t it?” Mitchell said.
“Just one of those things,” Lillian said.
“How long you going to be here?” Mitchell asked.
Gabe turned around at that. “What business is it of yours how long she intends to stay here?”
Mitchell glowered. “Just trying to make polite conversation.”
“Sure,” Gabe said. “That’s you, all right. Polite.”
Lillian cleared her throat. “As a matter of fact, I’m going to be here for quite a while, I’ve closed my business in Portland.”
Mitchell’s attention snapped back to her. “You shut down your matchmaking operation?”
Mitchell looked thoughtful. “So you’re the one.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Mitchell shrugged. “The one your dad’s going to groom to take over Harte Investments. Never figured it would be you. No offense, but you always seemed to be a little on the flaky side.”
“And here we thought my flakiness was a closely held family secret.”
Mitchell ignored that, busy with his own logic. “Well, makes sense, when you think about it. I reckon you’re the only choice left now that Hannah’s fixin’ to open the inn with Rafe, and your brother quit the company to write those mystery novels.”
“As a matter of fact, I’m not going to go to work for my father. I closed Private Arrangements so that I could paint full time.”
“Paint what?” Mitchell looked nonplussed. “Houses? Cars?”
“Pictures.” If he had looked nonplussed a moment ago, he was clearly floored now. “You mean real paintings? The kind they put in museums?”
“I should be so lucky.” Lillian drummed her fingers on her mug, aware that Gabe was watching her with an odd expression. “Octavia Brightwell is going to give me my first show in Portland in a few weeks.”