“The three basic food groups for college students. Arizona knows her clientele,” Claire mused. “I’m so glad you called. How did you know where to find me? I didn’t even know that you were in town.”
“I saw Pamela McCallister in Fulton’s Supermarket. She mentioned that you were up at the institute, plotting Marilyn Thornley’s campaign. How’s it going? Think she can step into Trevor’s shoes?”
“No problem,” Claire assured her. “One thing’s for certain, she’ll look a whole lot better in them than he did.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Didn’t you hear the rumors that went around after Trevor pulled out of the running?” Claire leaned forward and lowered her voice. “Word has it that Trevor liked to have sex in high heels and women’s lingerie.”
“Oh, those rumors.”
Claire sat up and settled back against the seat. “Gossip among the campaign staff has it that he was forced to quit the race because he was being blackmailed with some old videos that showed him prancing around in frilly underwear. It was a shock, you know?”
“The campaign staff never had a clue?”
Claire sighed. “Of course not. The staff is always the last to know.”
“What made Marilyn decide to become a candidate?”
“She’s always been extremely ambitious. But I think that until recently she saw herself in the role of the candidate’s wife. The power behind the throne, as it were.”
“I heard she put a lot of her family’s money into Trevor’s campaign.”
“True.” Claire made a face. “Between you and me, when Trevor imploded, she was absolutely furious.
I’ve never seen anyone in such a rage. I overheard a massive fight between the two of them one afternoon. She told Trevor that she could do a better job of running for office herself and that she was going to prove it. Said a lot of things about how much time she had wasted on him. She dropped the divorce announcement on the staff the next day.”
“How did you end up as her campaign manager?”
“I was in the right place at the right time. She and I had worked together a lot in the course of Trevor’s campaign. She knew me. Knew what I could do. Most of all she wanted someone she could trust to head up her campaign. When she offered me the job, I jumped at the chance. That woman is going places.”
“And you’re going to go with her, is that it?”
Claire laughed. “You got it.” Her grin faded to a thoughtful expression. “You know, it’s funny. Back at the beginning, when I used to dream about getting into politics, I pictured myself as the dynamic female senator from the great state of Oregon. Then I found out how much cash it takes just to run for dog catcher, let alone to get a shot at a state or national office. Short of marrying money, the way Trevor did, there aren’t a lot of options. So I decided to carve out a career behind the scenes.”
“Still dream of becoming a candidate?”
Claire shook her head decisively. “Not anymore. I love what I do. There’s real power and a real rush in running a good campaign. And there’s very little downside if it fails. The candidate may disappear from the face of the earth after a big loss but a good strategist just moves on to another campaign.”
“I’m glad things worked out for you, Claire.”
“You and me both. What’s up with you? How long will you be in town?”
“I’m here for a month.”
“A whole month?” Claire asked in surprise.
“I’ve made the big move. I closed down Private Arrangements. I’m going to devote full time to my painting and see what happens.”
Claire’s lips parted on a silent wow . “Good for you. No risk, no glory, I always say. Staying at your folks’ cottage?”
“Funny how you Hartes and Madisons keep coming back to Eclipse Bay, isn’t it?” Claire commented.
“Hannah and Rafe are full-time residents now.”
“They love it here.”
“I’ll tell you one thing, those of us up at the institute can’t wait until they get Dreamscape open. As it is now, when people come for seminars and receptions like the Leaders of Tomorrow event, we’re forced to put them up in one of those low-budget motels out on the highway.”
“They’re planning to open in the spring. Assuming the Willis brothers cooperate, of course.”
Claire grinned. “What a pair. I practically had to get down on my knees and plead with them to come out to my place a couple of weeks ago just to unclog a toilet. They charged me a small fortune. I didn’t have any choice but to pay it, of course, and they knew it.”
Gabe dropped Lillian off at the entrance to her apartment building shortly before ten o’clock on Monday morning.
“I’ll pick you up at seven,” he said when she made to slide out of the Jag.
She stood and looked at him through the open door. Tension coiled in the pit of her stomach. He was dressed for business once again in the legendary Gabe Madison war armor: steel-gray jacket and trousers, charcoal-gray shirt secured with silver-and-onyx cuff links, silver-and-black striped tie. When he moved his hand on the wheel, the dark-gray edge of his shirt cuff shifted, revealing the gleaming stainless-steel watch on his left wrist.
He looked good, she thought. Exciting. Powerful and predatory and wholly in control. You’d never guess that he was suffering a bad case of burnout. But, then, what did burnout look like?
“Fine,” she said. “I’ll be ready.”
She hurried toward the building’s secured entrance and punched in the code. Gabe waited until she was safely inside the lobby before he drove off in the direction of his downtown office.
He was wrong to accuse her of being nervous about their relationship, she thought a few minutes later when she twisted the key in the lock of her apartment door. She had spoken the truth the other morning when she had tried to explain herself to him. They both needed to think things through. Neither one of them could trust their own judgment at the moment.
A man dealing with burnout was certainly not in the best position to make sound decisions regarding his personal relationships. As for herself, she had arrived at a major turning point in her life. Getting involved in an affair with a man who was going through his own emotional crisis was the last thing she needed.
Probably be best to write off that night at his cottage as an ill-advised one-night stand.