“Can’t you keep Private Arrangements going while you find out if you can make a living with art?
You’ve always painted in the evenings and on weekends.”
Lillian flopped down on the sofa and stacked her heels on the coffee table. “I feel that the time has come to put my art at the top of my agenda. I need to concentrate on it. The fact is, after a full day at Private Arrangements, I’m tired, Mom. I don’t have a lot of energy left for my work.”
My work . She was using the word, herself, she realized, mildly astonished. The same way Gabe used it, to describe the important thing that she did. Painting wasn’t a hobby. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t entertainment. It was her passion.
“And if the painting doesn’t go well?” Elaine said. “Will you reopen Private Arrangements? You still have your program and your client list, don’t you?”
“I can’t think about that now, Mom. I have to stay focused.”
“You sound just like your father and your grandfather when you say things like that.” Elaine hesitated and then probed further. “Sullivan told your father something else. He said that you and Gabe Madison are seeing each other . . . socially.”
Lillian laughed in spite of tension. “I’ll bet he said a lot more than that.”
Elaine cleared her throat. “I believe he used the phrase ‘shacking up together.’ ”
“I knew it.” Lillian took her heels off the table and sat up on the edge of the sofa. “Mitchell Madison did squeal to Granddad. Interesting that he went straight to Sullivan with the news, isn’t it? I wonder why he did that.”
There was another brief pause.
“So it’s true?” Elaine asked, her voice grim.
“Afraid so.” Lillian hunched around the phone in her hand. “But I prefer the phrase ‘seeing each other socially’ to ‘shacking up together.’ ”
“Men of Mitchell’s and Sullivan’s age have a different view of these matters. And a different vocabulary to describe them.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, how does Gabe describe your, uh, relationship?”
We’re all adults here.
“I haven’t actually asked him that question. Not in so many words. Look, Mom, I know you mean well, but this conversation is getting a bit personal. I’m perfectly capable of handling my own private life.”
“When Hartes and Madisons get together in Eclipse Bay, there is no such thing as a private life,” Elaine said.
“Okay, I’ll give you that. But I’m still capable of dealing with things here.”
“Of course, I’m sure. Mom, I’m not in high school anymore. Or even college, for that matter. I’ve been getting by out there in the big bad world all on my own for quite a while now.”
“You haven’t had to deal with the complications of having a Madison in your life.”
“Gabe is a different kind of Madison, remember? He’s the one who made it through college and built a very successful business. When I was a kid, I recall Dad saying that Gabe was the one Madison who proved the exception to the rule that all Madisons were bound to come to a bad end.”
“Yes, dear, I know.” Another short silence hummed on the line. “But between you and me, Gabe was the one I worried about the most.”
That stopped Lillian cold. “You did?”
Elaine was quiet for a moment. Lillian could almost hear her thinking about the past.
“I wasn’t the only one who was concerned about him,” Elaine said eventually. “Isabel and I discussed him often. Even as a little boy, Gabe always seemed too self-contained, too controlled. He never lost his temper, never got in trouble at school. Always got good grades. It just wasn’t natural.”
“You mean for a Madison?” .
“No, I mean for a little boy. Any little boy.”
“It was as if he always had his own private agenda. Looking back, I can see that he must have been driven, even then, by his vision of building a business empire.”
“I think you’re right,” Lillian said. “He needed to prove something to himself. But he accomplished his goal.”
“People who are compelled by a lifelong ambition do not change, even after it appears to everyone else around them that they have achieved that ambition. In my experience they remain driven. It’s a deeply imbedded characteristic.”
A Madison and his passion.
“Mom, listen, I really don’t—”
“I don’t want to intrude on your personal life, but I am your mother.”
“I know.” Lillian sighed. “You gotta do what a mom’s gotta do.”
“I think you should assume that nothing has changed with Gabe.”
“Madison Commercial was always the most important thing in his life. It still is. If anything, all that single-minded determination and willpower he used to get to where he is today has only become more honed through the years.”
“Meaning,” Elaine said bluntly, “that if he has decided to see you socially, as you call it, he very likely has a reason.”
She felt her stomach tighten. “Is this where you tell me that the only thing Gabe wants from me is sex?”
“No.” Elaine paused. “To be frank, I expect that, given his money and position, Gabe can get as much of that as he wants.”
Lillian winced. She had a feeling her mother was right. “Please don’t tell me that you think he’s getting some sort of perverse satisfaction out of having an intimate relationship with a Harte. I refuse to believe that he’s so warped or so immature that he sees seducing me as a form of one-upsmanship.”
She felt her stomach unknot. “He wouldn’t stoop to such a thing just to score points off a Harte. Heck, his brother is married to one now. Even Granddad couldn’t possibly believe—”
“No,” Elaine said again, soothing now but firm. “I don’t think Gabe would seduce you just to score points in that ridiculous old feud. He’s a long-term strategist, not a short-term opportunist.”
She let herself relax a little more. “So, what are you trying to say, Mom?”
“I just want you to be careful, dear. Your father and I have been talking a lot lately. It is clear that Harte Investments will have to be sold or merged when Hampton retires in a couple of years. None of you three kids wants to take over the company, nor does your father want you to feel that you must.”