He realized they had halted at a crosswalk.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
“I don’t know where you’re going, but I’m walking home.” Her voice was slightly muffled by the hood of her cloak.
“What do you say we stop somewhere and get you that drink I suggested? I have to tell you that after watching your colleague work with a patient, I could use one, myself.”
“Don’t start with me on that subject, Madison.”
He smiled and reached out to take her arm. “Come on, I’ll buy.”
He steered her toward the small café in the middle of the block.
She peered fixedly through the glass panes into the cozily lit interior.
“You know what?” she said. “I think you’re right. A glass of wine sounds like an excellent idea.”
She pulled free of his hand and went toward the door with quick, crisp steps. She did not look around to see if he was following.
He made it to the door a half a step ahead of her and got it open. She did not thank him, just swept past him into the café.
The place was just starting to fill up with the after-work crowd. A cheerful gas fire cast an inviting glow.
The chalkboard listed several brands of beer from local microbreweries and half a dozen premium wines by the glass. Another hand-lettered menu on the wall featured a variety of oyster appetizers and happy-hour specials.
He knew this place. It was only a few streets over from the office tower that housed the headquarters of Madison Commercial. He stopped in here occasionally on his way home to his empty apartment.
“Come here a lot?” he asked as they settled into a wooden booth.
“No.” She picked up the miniature wine menu and studied it intently. “Why?”
“Portland is a small town in a lot of ways. It’s a wonder our paths haven’t crossed before,” he said, trying for a neutral topic of conversation.
She frowned at the little menu. “I haven’t lived here much in recent years.”
“Where have you been since college?”
“You really want to know?”
“Sure.” He was suddenly more curious than he wanted to let on.
She shrugged and put down the menu. Before she could answer his question, however, the waiter arrived to take their orders. She chose a glass of chardonnay. He asked for a beer.
When the waiter left, there was a short silence. He thought he might have to remind Lillian of the question. Somewhat to his surprise, however, she started to talk.
“After I graduated from college I worked in Seattle for a while,” she said. “Then I moved to Hawaii.
Spent a year there. After that I went to California and then back to Seattle. I didn’t return to Oregon until I decided to open Private Arrangements.”
“Were you running matchmaking businesses in all those different places?”
She eyed him with a wary expression. “Why do you want to know?”
“Been a while. Just catching up.”
“You and I don’t have any catching up to do. We hardly even know each other.”
That was almost funny, he thought.
“I’m a Harte and you’re a Madison,” he said. “My brother is now married to your sister. Trust me, we know each other.”
The waiter returned with their drinks and disappeared once more. Lillian picked up her chardonnay, took a sip and set the glass down very precisely on the little napkin. He got the feeling she was debating how much to tell him about herself.
“The official Harte family version of events is that I’ve spent the last few years trying to find myself,” she said.
“What’s the unofficial version?”
“That I’m a little flaky.”
Definitely not wife material, he thought. Probably not good affair material either. He did not date flakes.
He didn’t do business with flakes, either. If he had known Private Arrangements was run by a flake, he would never have signed on as a client.
Then again, who was he kidding?
Damn. This was not a good idea. If he had any sense he would run, not walk, to the nearest exit. Some lingering vestige of self-preservation made him glance toward the door.
What the hell, he thought, turning back to Lillian. Plenty of time to escape later.
“Didn’t realize any of you Hartes had to find yourselves,” he said after a while. “Figured you were all born knowing where you wanted to go in life and how you would get there.”
“You’re thinking of everyone else in the family.” She wrinkled her nose. “I’m the exception.”
“Yeah? How exceptional are you?”
She studied the wine in her glass. “Let’s just say I haven’t found my niche yet.”
“From all accounts you’ve been extremely successful with Private Arrangements.”
“Oh, sure.” She raised one shoulder in dismissal. “If you’re talking business success.”
He went blank.
“There’s another kind?” he asked.
Irritation gleamed in her eyes. “Of course there’s another kind.”
He leaned back in the booth. “This isn’t about finding yourself and inner peace through work, is it?”
“You’ve got a problem with the concept of work as a source of happiness and personal fulfillment?”
“I’ve got a problem with people who think work is supposed to be entertainment. Work is work.” He paused. “Probably why they call it work instead of, say, fun. A lot of folks don’t seem to get that.”
“You ought to know,” she said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’ve been working night and day since you were a boy to build Madison Commercial.” She smiled wryly. “Folks back in Eclipse Bay always said that you were a different kind of Madison.”
“One who might actually make a success of himself. You certainly proved them right, didn’t you?”
How the hell had the conversation turned back on him like this?
“All I proved,” he said carefully, “is that you can get someplace if you want to go there badly enough.”
“And you wanted to get where you are now very, very badly, didn’t you?”
He did not know what to make of her in this mood, so he took another swallow of beer to give himself time to come up with a strategy.
“Tell me, Gabe, what do you do for fun?”
“Fun?” The question put him off stride again. He was still working on strategy.