“If I was absolutely sure of my facts.”
Definitely should not have answered the door, Lillian thought. At the very least, she ought not to have invited Marilyn inside. But it had been impossible to ignore the bleak pain in the other woman’s eyes. The sisterhood thing.
“I really shouldn’t have come here,” Marilyn said. “I had no right to dump this on you. But I woke up this morning needing to talk to someone and I couldn’t think of anyone else. You and I have a common bond.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Gabe? That’s stretching the definition of a common bond a bit far, don’t you think?”
Marilyn rested a hand on the windowsill. “Don’t worry, I’m not even going to try to take him away from you.”
“Oh, hey, thanks. I appreciate that.”
“I’m a pragmatic woman,” Marilyn said. “I don’t waste time beating my head against stone walls. You don’t have to think of me as your competition.”
“Well, as a matter of fact I hadn’t thought of you in quite those terms.”
“When I saw you two together that night at the old Buckley place I knew that I had no chance of ever resuming my relationship with him. You can offer him something I can’t.”
Lillian felt her insides tighten. “I suppose you mean Harte Investments?”
“I’m sure it’s not just the company,” Marilyn said. “He probably finds you attractive, too.”
“Gosh. You really think so?”
Marilyn sighed. “You want to know a little secret? I used to blame your family and Harte Investments for the breakup of my relationship with Gabe.”
Lillian stilled. “I see.”
“A part of me will always wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t been so obsessed with competing with you Hartes. Who knows? Maybe he and I could have had something lasting together.”
Enough with the sisterhood thing, Lillian thought. She had done her politically correct duty. She straightened away from the counter.
“If you don’t mind, I have a lot of things to do this morning, Marilyn.”
Marilyn regarded her with an apologetic expression. “Yes, of course. Forgive me. I didn’t mean to get into old history.”
“No. I just wanted to talk to someone.” Marilyn blinked rapidly and wiped moisture away from the corner of her eye with a fingertip. “Things have been a little rough lately, what with the divorce and getting my campaign organized and now finding out that my campaign manager had an affair with Trevor.”
Lillian hesitated. “You’ve been under a lot of stress. Maybe you need to take some time off. Go somewhere quiet and relax before you start your big push for office.”
“I can’t afford to take that kind of time. Not at this juncture.” Marilyn squared her shoulders. “I intend to go to Washington, D.C., one of these days, so I’d better get used to dealing with stress, hadn’t I? But I shouldn’t have come here. It wasn’t fair to you.”
“Forget it. That’s certainly what I intend to do.” Lillian went past her and opened the front door. “Good luck in the campaign, Marilyn.”
“Thank you.” Marilyn walked out onto the porch and went down the steps to the Mercedes. She paused just before getting behind the wheel. “I hope you’ll vote for me.”
Lillian watched her drive away and then slowly closed the door. She walked to the table, picked up her mug and carried it into the second bedroom. She looked at the blank canvas propped on the easel.
For a long time she sipped tea and contemplated the empty white space, trying to get back into that alternate reality where she stood within the vision. But it was hopeless. Too many real-world thoughts barred the way.
“. . . You want to know a secret? I used to blame your family and Harte Investments for the breakup of my relationship with Gabe.”
After a while she gave up trying to get into the zone. She went into the kitchen and took a bottle of wine and some cheese out of the refrigerator. She put both into a paper sack.
She went upstairs to her bedroom, opened a drawer, selected a nightgown and a change of underwear, and put them into a leather tote. In the bathroom she quickly packed the basics into a small, zippered case and dropped the case into the tote.
Carrying the tote in one hand, she went back downstairs, collected the sack with the wine and cheese inside and a jacket. She left the cottage through the mudroom door.
Outside she was met with a brisk, bracing wind and the roar of the surf down in Dead Hand Cove. The day was already darkening into night.
She walked across the top of the bluffs to the old Buckley place.
Gabe opened the back door just as she raised her hand to knock. He looked at the bulging tote bag.
“Looks like you plan to stay awhile.”
“Thought I’d spend the night if it’s okay with you.”
He smiled slowly, emerald eyes warm and sensual.
“Oh, yeah,” he said.
She walked into the kitchen.
“Don’t want to push my good luck but curiosity compels me to ask.” He took the tote and the sack from her. “Why the change of heart?”
“Marilyn came to see me today. You know, it’s one thing for my mom and your grandfather to mess with my mind. They’re family. They got a right, I guess. But having your ex-girlfriend try the same trick is going too far. Got to draw the line somewhere.”
He closed the door and looked at her. “Marilyn paid you a visit today?”
“Among other things, she said she needed to talk to someone about the real reason she’d fired Claire.”
“And that reason is?”
“She thinks Claire had an affair with Trevor.”
“She thinks that or she knows it?”
“Let’s just say she’s convinced of it.” She unfastened her cloak. “At any rate she doesn’t trust Claire anymore. So she canned her.”
Gabe took the cloak. It spilled from his hand in an iridescent waterfall.
“What’s the big deal?” he said. “Marilyn is divorcing Thornley. Their relationship was obviously based on Trevor’s electability, not true love. Why worry about an affair with Claire that may or may not have happened?”
“For heaven’s sake, Gabe. Would you want to employ someone as your close, personal assistant who had slept with your wife?”