“The last thing I want is your gratitude,” he said.
She recoiled, her hand coming off his so swiftly an onlooker would have thought she had gotten her fingers burned.
“I didn’t mean it that way,” she said tightly.
He made himself breathe. “I know.” He got to his feet and reached for his wallet. “I’ll take you home.”
“Sure.” She slipped quickly out of the booth and hurried toward the front door without looking back.
He watched her rush away. Nice going, Madison, you really screwed that up, didn’t you?
Gabe was thinking of shutting down the computer and walking to Lillian’s cottage to join her for lunch when he heard the sound of a car in the drive.
He opened the front door and saw a large black Lincoln come to a halt in front of the steps. The man behind the wheel wore a dark, inexpensive suit and a single gold earring. A hired driver.
The rear door of the vehicle opened. Sullivan Harte got out of the car.
This did not look promising.
Sullivan said something to the driver and then started toward the front porch.
“I didn’t know you were in town,” Gabe said.
The tip of Sullivan’s cane hit the first step. “We need to talk.”
“I was afraid you were going to say that.” He held the door open. “Is this where you tell me that if I manage to sucker Lillian into marrying me you will make certain that she never inherits a dime’s worth of Harte Investments?”
Sullivan went past him into the house.
Gabe glanced at the limo. The driver had pulled out a paperback novel and appeared to be content to remain where he was.
Gabe followed his uninvited guest inside and let the door close behind him.
“I could use a cup.” Sullivan surveyed the desk where Gabe had left the laptop and a stack of papers.
“You really trying to run Madison Commercial from here?”
“I’m not trying to run it. I am running it from here. Technology is amazing.” Gabe went into the kitchen.
“How long can you afford to stay away from the office?” Sullivan demanded.
“Long as I want.” Gabe poured a cup of coffee and carried it into the living room. “Did you come here to talk about the wonders of modern techniques for long-distance management?”
“Didn’t think so,” Gabe said.
Mitchell slammed the newspaper down with such force that the little table vibrated on its spindly legs. He scowled at Bryce, who had just walked into Incandescent Body with the news.
“What the hell do you mean, Sullivan Harte is in town?”
“Saw him sitting in the back of a limo a few minutes ago,” Bryce said. “Passed me while I was at the gas station. Must have flown into Portland and hired a car and driver there. Thought you’d want to know.”
“Damned right I want to know.” Mitchell grabbed his cane and levered himself to his feet. “Where was he headed?”
“Took Bayview Drive. Could be on his way out to the Harte cottage.”
“Or he could be headed toward the old Buckley place where Gabe is staying.” Mitchell tossed some money on the table. “What do you want to bet that he came here to try to scare off my grandson?”
“Forget it. I never take bets on Hartes and Madisons. Too unpredictable.”
Lillian studied the fresh canvas propped on the easel while she finished cleaning the last of her brushes. It was the start of a portrait of Gabe based on the sketch she had made of him in her Portland studio. All brooding shadows and hard, bright light, it was the first real work she had done since she had arrived in town. She was pleased with it. She had been in the zone this afternoon. About time.
She set the brushes in a holder to dry and looked at her watch. She was startled to see that it was nearly two o’clock. Gabe had said he would come over around noon for lunch. As usual, she had lost all track of time while she was in that other place where the vision reigned supreme.
Maybe he had been delayed by business or a phone call.
She looked out the window. There were whitecaps on the bay and no rain in sight. She could use some fresh air after such a long stretch of work. The overstimulated sensation that always followed a particularly good session in the studio was making her restless. She needed to get out and work it off. A walk along the bluffs would do the trick. She would probably run into Gabe on his way here.
She indulged herself in a brief, romantic picture of herself flying into his arms on the top of a windswept bluff. Gulls would be wheeling overhead. His dark hair would be ruffled by the crisp breeze. She would be sexy and free-spirited in a gossamer dress and bare feet.
That image made her wonder if she ought to take time to change out of her paint-stained jeans and long-tailed denim shirt. Then she remembered that it was only about fifty-three degrees outside and that there was a lot of rough gravel on the bluff path. Forget the gossamer dress and bare feet.
She put on a pair of scuffed running shoes, took a black denim jacket out of the hall closet and left the house through the mudroom door.
Outside, the scene on the bluffs was very much as she had envisioned it, blustery and invigorating. The bay was a dramatic sweep of quietly churning seawater. The town was picturesque in the distance. The air was clear and bright. The only thing missing was Gabe. There was no sign of him on the path.
An uneasy feeling coiled around her, pushing aside the zesty anticipation. By the time she emerged from the trees and found herself near the back porch of the old Buckley place a dark foreboding had settled on her.
She walked around the side of the house to see if Gabe’s car was in the drive. It was. So was another vehicle, a dark limo complete with a driver behind the wheel. The chauffeur did not notice her. He was deep into a paperback.
She told herself to relax. Obviously business from out of town had caught up with Gabe. But for some obscure reason the anxiety didn’t dissipate. Things felt wrong.
She returned to the back door, opened it quietly and moved stealthily into the kitchen. If Gabe was wheeling and dealing with an important client she did not want to interrupt.
The low rumble of voices from the other room made her stop short. She knew those voices. Both of them.
Suddenly everything made sense. Outrage flared. She rushed to the doorway.
Sullivan and Gabe were seated on the sofa. A leather-bound binder and a stack of computer printouts were arrayed on the low table in front of them.
“Granddad, how dare you?”