“Someone had to do something before she interrupted everyone’s dinner.” Marilyn smiled and extended a graceful hand. “Marilyn Thornley.”
Anderson looked dazzled. “J. Anderson Flint. In town for a conference at Chamberlain. I’m delighted to meet you, Mrs. Thornley.”
“Please, call me Marilyn.”
“Yes, of course.”
This was getting downright sticky, Gabe mused.
“Got a new campaign manager lined up?” he asked.
“I’m putting together a short list,” Marilyn said. “I intend to announce my selection as soon as possible.
This problem couldn’t have come at a worse time. I can’t afford to lose any momentum.”
Anderson glanced toward the door, a concerned expression knitting his brows. “I trust your former manager won’t cause you any trouble. Disgruntled employees can sometimes be dangerous.”
“Claire will behave herself if she knows what’s good for her,” Marilyn declared. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Flint. Any friend of Gabe’s and Lillian’s is welcome at the institute. Please feel free to drop by while you’re in town and pick up some of my campaign material.”
“I’ll do that,” Anderson said immediately.
Marilyn inclined her head. “Wonderful. Now I’ll let you two get back to your meal. Have a nice evening.”
She walked away toward the booth at the rear. Anderson did not take his eyes off her.
“A very impressive woman,” he breathed. “Very impressive. So forceful. Dynamic. Authoritative. We need more people like her in public office.”
Lillian caught Gabe’s eye. She looked amused.
“A perfect match,” she murmured beneath the hum of background chatter.
He grinned. “Are you speaking as a professional?”
He knew before she started making excuses that she wasn’t going to spend the night with him.
“I really need to get some sleep,” Lillian said when they walked out of the restaurant some time later. “I want to get up early tomorrow morning and try to do some work.”
“Here we go again. It’s those conversations you had with your mother and Mitchell, isn’t it?” He opened the door of the Jag with a little more force than was necessary. “They messed with your mind.”
She slid into the dark cave that was the front seat. “It’s got nothing to do with them. I just need some quiet time.”
“Sure. Quiet time.”
“I told you earlier that I haven’t gotten any real painting done since I got here. If I go home with you tonight, I probably won’t get to work until noon or later.”
“Wouldn’t want to interfere with your best painting time.”
He closed the door. With a little more force than was necessary.
“It’s just a business,” Hampton said on the other end of the line.
“The hell it is.” He’d had enough of the familiar argument, Sullivan decided. He ended the call abruptly with a sudden punch of a button.
He ought to be used to this feeling after so many years of butting heads with his stubborn son. It was always like this whenever the subject of the future of Harte Investments arose. Hampton had done a brilliant job with the company, but he flatly refused to be concerned about what happened to it in the next generation. As if it didn’t matter a damn.
It had taken him a long time to realize that, to Hampton, Harte Investments was just a business. Running the company was nothing more than a job to him. He had done it extraordinarily well but he could walk away tomorrow and never look back.
In fact, walking away from H.I. was precisely what Hampton planned to do. Sometime in the next two years. Sullivan swore under his breath and reached for his cane. He still could not believe that after having worked so hard to take the company to another level, his son was looking forward to retiring so that he could start a charitable foundation.
As far as he was concerned, Sullivan thought, charity began at home.
Just a business.
What the hell was the matter with everyone else in the family? Didn’t they understand that a company like Harte Investments was a work of art? It had required vision and sweat to bring it to life. It was the result of a lot of carefully calculated risks and farsighted strategy. It had heart. It had struggled and fought and survived in a jungle where other businesses, large and small, got eaten alive.
And now, because none of his grandchildren had any interest in the company, it would be sold or swallowed up by some other, larger, predator.
He rapped the tip of the cane sharply against the cool terra-cotta tiles of the living room floor. The small gesture did nothing to release his pent-up frustration.
Just a business.
He stopped at the bank of floor-to-ceiling French doors that overlooked the pool.
Rachel was on her last lap. He watched her glide through the turquoise water and felt some of his anger fade. He became aware of the quiet sense of connection that he always experienced when he saw her. It calmed him and gave him a centered feeling that he could not explain. The older he got, the more he realized that Rachel helped define him. A great deal of what he knew about himself he had learned from living with her all these years.
He opened one of the glass-paned doors and went out onto the patio. It was late afternoon. The long rays of the desert sun were blocked by the walls of the house. The pool lay in comfortable shadow. In the distance the mountains were very sharp against the incredibly blue Arizona sky.
He selected two bottles of chilled springwater from the small refrigerator he had installed near the outdoor grill and lowered himself onto a lounger. He unscrewed the cap of one of the bottles, took a long swallow, and waited for Rachel to emerge from the jeweled pool. Talking to her always helped him put things into perspective.
She reached the steps and walked up out of the sparkling water. He watched her peel her swim cap off her short, silver-blond hair and admired her figure in the black-and-white bathing suit. After all this time he still felt the quiet heat of sexual attraction. She was only five years younger than he but somewhere along the line she had stopped aging, at least to him. He would want her until the day he died. And probably after that, too.
Her mouth curved as she walked toward him across the patio. “I can see that the discussion with Hampton did not go well.”
“I don’t know where he gets that stubborn streak.”
“Certainly not from you.”