He didn’t miss a beat.
“I’d destroy any man who slept with my wife.”
The absolute finality of that statement made her catch her breath. “I see.”
“But I’m not a politician,” Gabe continued. “Politicians are different.”
She thought about Marilyn’s disturbed behavior. “I’m not sure that they’re so very different.”
“Marilyn mention me?”
“What did she say?”
“What everyone else seems to be saying. Something about your interest in me probably being linked to an obsessive interest in Harte Investments.”
He watched her with unreadable eyes. “And that observation is what made you decide to come over here this afternoon?”
“I’m here because I want to be here.”
“Glad to hear that. You do realize that you probably won’t get home until noon tomorrow.”
“Not like I’m getting much work done here in Eclipse Bay, anyway.”
She did not return to the cottage until after lunch the following day, just as Gabe had warned. He walked her back across the bluffs and left her at the front door with a long, lingering kiss.
“I know you need to paint this afternoon,” he said. “Why don’t I come over here for dinner tonight? I’ll bring the wine this time.”
She went into the house and smiled at him through the screen. “That’ll work.”
He raised a hand in casual farewell and went down the steps. She watched him walk away across the bluffs, hands shoved deep into the pockets of his jacket, his dark hair ruffled by the wind. A dark squall line hung across the bay, moving swiftly toward shore.
Memories of last night’s lovemaking ignited hot little sparklers of pleasure deep inside her. But there was something else burning down there, too, a long fuse that promised a painful explosion sometime in the future when this very adult relationship blew up in her face.
Don’t look too far ahead. Just take it one day at a time. That’s all you can do for now. That’s all you dare to do now.
Gabe was right. She needed to paint.
She hung her jacket in the closet and started toward the hall that led to her makeshift studio. Halfway across the living room she noticed the light on the answering machine and changed course. She went to the table where the phone sat, and punched up the message.
She was startled to hear Arizona Snow’s harsh whisper.
“. . . Being tailed by an institute spy. Bastard’s too smart to get close enough for me to get a look at him but I know he’s out there somewhere, watchin’ me. I can feel him. Must’ve seen me doin’
recon and knows I’m on to the plans for the new wing.
“I called you on accounta I don’t know Gabe’s number. I’m at a pay phone at the pier. Can’t risk leaving all the details on that machine of yours. When I leave here, I’ll head for my place and hole up there.
“I got to talk to you and Gabe. Heard you two are shackin’ up together so if this message gets to you, I figure it’ll get to him, too. My place is the only safe house in the sector. Appreciate it if you two would come on out as soon as you can. Things are getting hot around here.
“Gotta go. Bye.”
There was a muffled crash on the other end of the line. Arizona had hung up in a hurry.
Lillian glared at the answering machine. “You know,” she said to the universe at large, “I came out here to find a nice, serene place to do some painting.”
She picked up the phone and dialed Gabe’s cell phone. He answered on the first ring.
She could hear the muffled sound of the wind and the surf. He was probably halfway back to the old Buckley place.
“Doing anything important?” she asked.
“Depends how you define important. I’m thinking about a proposal from a small startup company that needs five million in cash. That strike you as a weighty matter?”
“Five mil? Sounds like penny-ante stuff to me.”
“Appreciate your consulting opinion.”
“My bill is in the mail.” She watched the dark shadow of the squall line moving across the bay. “Would you like to do something more exciting?”
“Help defend Eclipse Bay against the spies up at the institute?”
“Does this involve frozen extraterrestrials?”
“Well, it’s not like I’ve got anything else to do now that you’ve taken all the fun out of my puny little five-mil deal. I’m almost back to the house. I’ll get my car and come pick you up.”
The squall struck just as he geared down to take the steep, rutted path that led through the woods to Arizona’s cabin. He did not want to think about what the rough road was doing to the Jag’s expensive alignment.
“She said she was being followed?” he asked.
“Did she give you a description?”
“No.” Lillian watched the narrow road. “Just said she thought it was an institute spy. But she sounded nervous, Gabe. That’s what worried me. In all the years I’ve known A.Z. she’s always seemed very cool and somehow in full command of her crazy conspiracy theories. I’ve never heard her sound genuinely scared or even uneasy.”
“Maybe she’s slipped another cog. Sunk a little deeper into her fantasy world.”
“Gone from being seriously eccentric to seriously crazy, you think?”
“It’s a possibility.”
Lillian folded her arms tightly beneath her br**sts. Her body was tense. She was concerned and she appeared to be getting more so as they got closer to Arizona’s cabin.
“Take it easy, we both know there’s nothing really wrong here,” he said.
“It’s A.Z’s state of mind I’m worried about. I wonder if getting involved with that crowd at the bakery is responsible for pushing her over some psychological edge.”
“If she has cracked up big-time,” he said, “you’re right. We’ve got a big problem on our hands. I doubt if we’ll be able to talk her into checking into some nice quiet psych ward for observation.”
“She’d never trust a psychiatrist or a sanitarium.”
“Probably not.” He negotiated another sharp bend in the road. “There’s not much you can do for someone who won’t go for help unless she is a clear danger to herself or others.”