The muffled strains of some loud, hard-core, sixties-era rock music reverberated through the wooden panels of the closed door that separated Anderson’s inner office from the waiting room.
Her sense of foreboding increased for some unaccountable reason.
“It looks like Anderson’s secretary has gone home early today,” she said. “He’s probably working on his notes.”
“Sounds like rock music.”
“Anderson enjoys classic rock.”
“You know him pretty well, huh?”
“We met last month in the coffee shop downstairs.” She knocked lightly on the inner door. “We have a lot in common. Similar professional interests.”
“Is that right?” Gabe said. “You know, I don’t think he can hear you above the music. He’s really got it cranked up in there.”
The music was loud and getting louder and more intense by the second.
She twisted the knob and opened the door.
And stopped short at the sight of J. Anderson Flint stretched out on his office sofa. He was naked except for a pair of very small, very red bikini briefs that did nothing to conceal his erection. His hands were bound at the wrists above his head. A blindfold was secured around his eyes.
A solidly built woman dressed in a skintight leather catsuit, long black leather gloves, and a pair of five-inch stiletto heels stood over him. She had one leg balanced on the back of the sofa, the other braced on the coffee table. Her back was to the door but Lillian could see that she held a small velvet whip in her right hand and a steel-studded dog collar in her left.
Neither of the room’s occupants heard the door open because the music was building to its crashing finale.
Lillian tried to move and could not. It was as if she had been frozen in place by some futuristic ray gun.
“Similar professional interests, you say?” Gabe murmured into her left ear.
His undisguised amusement freed her from the effects of the invisible force field that held her immobile.
With a gasp, she managed to turn around. He blocked her path, his attention focused on the scene taking place on the sofa. He smiled.
“Excuse me,” she croaked. She put both hands on his chest and shoved hard to get him out of the way.
Gabe obligingly moved, stepping aside and simultaneously reaching around her to pull the door shut on the lurid scene.
The music thundered to its rousing climax.
Lillian fled through the tasteful waiting room out into the hallway. She did not look back.
Gabe caught up with her at the elevator.
An eerie silence gripped the corridor for the count of five.
“Dr. Flint obviously believes in a hands-on approach to sex therapy,” Gabe remarked. “I wonder just how he plans to incorporate your computer program into his treatment plans.”
This could not be happening, she thought. It was some kind of bizarre hallucination, the sort of thing that could turn a person into a full-blown conspiracy theorist. Maybe some secret government agency was conducting experiments with chemicals in the drinking water.
Or maybe she was losing it. She’d been under a lot of stress lately, what with making the decision to close down Private Arrangements and change careers. Having Gabe as a client hadn’t helped matters, either.
No doubt about it, stress combined with secret government drinking water experiments could account for what she had just seen in Anderson’s office.
“I think you need a drink,” Gabe said.
Outside on the sidewalk the weird afterglow of the rainy twilight combined with the streetlamps to infuse the city with a surreal atmosphere. It was as if he and Lillian were moving through a dream sequence, Gabe thought. It was easy to believe that they were the only real, solid beings in a world composed of eerie lights and shadows.
In the strange, vaporlike mist, Lillian’s flowing, iridescent rain cloak glittered like a cape woven of otherworldly gemstones. He wanted to reach out and pull her close against his side; feel the heat of her body; inhale her scent.
It was getting worse, he thought. This gut-deep awareness had hit him hard when he had first experienced it at Rafe’s wedding. He had told himself it would fade quickly. Just a passing sexual attraction. Or maybe a little fevered imagination brought on by the monklike existence he had been living ever since he had turned his attention to the business of finding himself a wife.
The decision to go celibate after the end of the affair with Jennifer several months ago had seemed like a good idea at the time. He had not wanted something as superficial as lust to screw up his thinking processes while he concentrated on such an important matter. To avoid complications, he had deliberately opted to put his sex life on a temporarily inactive status.
Within about six seconds of seeing Lillian after all those years of living in separate universes, he had been inspired to revisit that particular executive decision, however.
Thankfully, he’d had enough common sense still functioning at that point to convince himself that an affair with her was probably not a brilliant idea. She was a Harte, after all. Things between Hartes and Madisons were always complicated. He had come up with a compromise solution. Instead of asking her out on a date, he had signed up as a client of Private Arrangements. He had spent an inordinate amount of time convincing himself that using a professional matchmaking firm was actually a terrific plan. What better, more efficient way to find a wife?
But things had rapidly gone from dicey to disastrous. He had endured five seemingly endless evenings with five very attractive, very successful women. He had spent each of the five dates tormenting himself with visions of how much more interesting things would have been if Lillian had been the woman seated across the candlelit table.
The uncanny part was that he had never been aware of her as anything other than a Harte kid while he had been growing up in Eclipse Bay. But then, in all fairness, the only thing that had held his attention in those days was his dream of rebuilding the financial empire that had been shattered by the Harte-Madison feud.
The fact that the Hartes had resurrected themselves after the bankruptcy and gone on to prosper while his family had floundered and pretty much self-destructed had added fuel to the fire that had consumed him.
He had left Eclipse Bay the day after he graduated from high school, headed off to college and the big city to pursue his vision. He had not seen Lillian at all during the years of empire-building. He had not even thought about her.
But ever since the wedding he had been unable to think about anything else.
If this was lust, it was anything but superficial. If it was something more, he was in trouble because Lillian was not what he had pictured when he set out to look for a wife. For the first time since he had decided to get married he wondered if he should put the search for a wife on hold for a while. Just until he got this murky situation with Lillian cleared up and out of the way. He needed to be able to concentrate and she was making that impossible.