Sullivan looked up swiftly, peering at her through a pair of reading glasses. She could have sworn that he turned red.
Gabe said nothing. He took one look at her and lounged back into the corner of the sofa, one arm stretched out along the top of the cushions.
She ignored him. Her entire attention was focused on Sullivan.
“What in the world are you doing?” Her voice cracked. “No, don’t bother explaining. I know exactly what you’re doing.”
Sullivan blinked owlishly behind the spectacles. “You do?”
“It’s as obvious as those papers on the table.” She walked a few steps closer. “You’re here to try to buy off Gabe. Or maybe you want to scare him off. Which is it?”
“Now, honey,” Sullivan said in placating tones.
She was vaguely aware of the sound of a large vehicle arriving in the drive. She ignored it.
“You think he wants to marry me so that he can get his hands on a chunk of Harte, don’t you? What are you offering him to get out of my life? Or are you threatening him?”
The front door crashed open. Mitchell stormed into the house.
“Who’s threatening my grandson?” he roared. He came to a halt, brows bristling, jaw clenched, and glowered at Sullivan. “What do you think you’re doing, Harte?”
“Things aren’t quite the way they look,” Sullivan said.
“I don’t believe that for one minute,” Lillian declared. “You’ve been talking to Mom and Dad, haven’t you? They told you I was seeing Gabe and you just leaped to the conclusion that he was after me because of H.I.”
“Speaking of leaping to conclusions,” Gabe said mildly.
She glared at him. “Stay out of this. It has nothing to do with you. This is between me and Granddad.”
“And me.” Mitchell jabbed a thumb at his own chest. “Don’t forget about me. I’m involved in this thing, too.”
“Sure,” Gabe said dryly. “Don’t know what I was thinking.”
Lillian whipped her attention back to Sullivan. “I realize you feel you’re acting in my best interests. I know everyone believes that Gabe is after a piece of Harte. But that is absolute nonsense.”
All three men stared at her.
“Nonsense?” Sullivan repeated carefully.
“Yes. Nonsense.” She swept out a hand. “He would never marry for business reasons. He’s a Madison.
They don’t do things like that.”
Sullivan cleared his throat. “Always heard that Gabe, here, was a different kind of Madison.”
“Not that different,” she shot back. “And what’s more, you can’t buy him off or scare him off. Madisons don’t work that way.”
“She’s right,” Mitchell said. “If Gabe wants to marry her, you won’t be able to get rid of him with money or threats.”
“Which brings up a very crucial issue,” Lillian said. “As I told Mom on the phone, Gabe has never asked me to marry him. Isn’t that correct, Gabe?”
“Correct,” Gabe said.
“What’s this?” Sullivan grabbed the handle of his cane and used it to haul himself up off the sagging sofa.
He turned on Gabe with a thunderous expression. “I was under the impression that you were serious about my granddaughter. If you think I’m going to stand by while you shack up indefinitely with her, you can think again.”
“Wasn’t planning to shack up indefinitely,” Gabe said.
Mitchell beetled his brows. “Just what are you doing here, Sullivan?”
“Before we were so rudely interrupted,” Sullivan said, “I was presenting a business proposition to Gabe.
Of course, that was when I was still under the impression that he intended to marry Lillian.”
Mitchell eyed him with deep suspicion. “What kind of business proposition?”
Gabe looked at Lillian. “Your grandfather was outlining the financial advantages of marriage to you. You come with one-third of H.I., you know.”
“The advantages ?” Lillian stared at Sullivan. “You mean you’re trying to bribe him to marry me?”
“I just wanted him to understand that we’d be happy to have him as a member of the family,” Sullivan said mildly.
“Well, shoot and damn.” Mitchell whistled softly. “Got to hand it to you, Sullivan. Didn’t think you had that much common sense.”
Lillian was aghast. “You weren’t trying to buy him off. You’re here to try to buy him for me. This is the most mortifying thing that has ever happened to me in my entire life.”
Sullivan stiffened. “What’s mortifying about it? I thought you wanted Gabe.”
“For heaven’s sake, Granddad. It’s like you’re offering him a dowry to take me off your hands. If he marries me and gets a chunk of H.I., everyone will say he did it for the money.”
“Which is why I turned down the deal,” Gabe replied softly.
She swung around to face him. “You did?”
“Shoot and damn.” Mitchell waved a hand. “Why did you go and do something dumb like that? You coulda had the lady and one-third of H.I. That’s what we call a win-win situation.”
“What choice did I have?” Gabe gestured toward the papers on the coffee table. “If I sign those Lillian would always wonder if I married her for her inheritance.”
“No, I wouldn’t,” Lillian said quickly.
Gabe looked at her. “I appreciate your faith in me but I’m afraid I can’t accept you and one-third of H.I., too. I just finished explaining that to Sullivan.”
“What if I just give up my shares in H.I.?” she asked.
Sullivan glared at her. “I’m not about to let you walk away from your inheritance, young woman.
Wouldn’t be right. I worked my tail off to build that company. I did it for you and Hannah and Nick.”
Her refusing a third of H.I. would be a terrible blow to him, she realized.
“Evidently I’m fated to be doomed by my inheritance,” she muttered.
“Depends,” Gabe said.
She looked at him, hope rising. “On what?”
“There is a way around this. If you agree to marry me and if your family insists on endowing you, so to speak, you can put your share of your Harte inheritance into a trust for any children we might have. Okay with you, Sullivan?”
Sullivan looked thoughtful. “One way to handle it, I guess.”