Joy flowed through Lillian, bringing a rainbow of colors.
“No problem,” she whispered.
Gabe got to his feet. “You’ll do it? You’ll marry me?”
Neither Mitchell nor Sullivan so much as twitched. It was, Lillian thought, as if the whole world was holding its collective breath in anticipation of her answer.
“Well, sure,” she said softly. “I mean, what else can I do after you turned down the chance to get your hands on a chunk of my family’s company? It’s such a truly Madison-style gesture. But I really don’t want you to feel that you have to do this. It’s not necessary, honest. I know you’re not a fortune-hunter.”
He gave her his slow smile, showing just a hint of teeth. “Honey, if I want Harte Investments, I’ll buy the whole damn company when your dad puts it on the market in a year or two.”
Everyone stared at him in dumbfounded silence.
Lillian met Sullivan’s eyes. He grinned. She felt the laughter bubble up inside.
“Yes, of course,” she gasped between giggles. “Why didn’t I think of that. It’s no secret that H.I. will be up for sale soon. You can buy it outright when Dad retires. No fuss, no bother, no need to get married.”
“Trust me,” Gabe said. “it would be a whole lot simpler that way.”
Mitchell grunted. “Never thought of that.”
“Probably because business is not your forte, Mitch,” Sullivan growled. “It was obvious right from the start that Gabe didn’t need to marry Lillian to get his hands on Harte. All he has to do is wait a few years and do a buy-out.”
Gabe wrapped his fingers around Lillian’s wrist. “Come on, let’s go someplace where we can discuss our private affairs in private.”
He opened the porch door and led her outside into the bright afternoon light. Together they went down the path toward the rocky beach.
Neither of them spoke until they reached the bottom.
“You’re serious about this?” she said at last.
“Never been more serious in my life.” He tightened his hand around hers. “Did you mean it when you said you’d marry me?”
“Yes. But you don’t have to give up a share of Harte Investments for me. I mean, I appreciate the grand gesture but it’s not necessary. Really.”
He stopped and pulled her around to face him. “Because I’m a Madison. A Madison does things like turn down the offer of a third of a multimillion-dollar company for the woman he loves. It’s in the genes.”
The woman he loves.
“Oh, Gabe.” The brilliant colors of happiness splashed through her, effervescent and glorious. She went into his arms. “I love you so much.”
He kissed her.
Except for a few details such as the fact that they were on the beach, not on the bluffs, and she wasn’t barefoot and there was no gossamer gown, the scene was just the way it had been in the romantic fantasy she had conjured up when she had set out to meet him on the path.
Sullivan surveyed the seating options in Mitchell’s living room and chose the recliner that provided a view of the bay. He lowered himself into it with a long sigh and looked out at the water. The light was starting to go. He never liked this time of day.
“We came mighty close to screwing that up pretty bad, didn’t we?” he said.
“What’s with this we business?” Mitchell settled into the other well-worn recliner. “You’re the one who damn near screwed things up. What the hell did you think you were doing trying to buy Gabe with a chunk of H.I.?”
“You’re the one who told me I was supposed to fix things.”
“You don’t fix things between a Madison and a Harte with a business contract.”
“Seemed like the logical thing to do. Pretty clear that Lillian wanted him and I just wanted to encourage him to see the benefits of marriage to her.” Sullivan stretched out his legs, wincing when his joints protested. “How do you stand this damp, cold weather all year long?”
“I’m used to it. You’ve gotten soft living down there in Arizona.”
“Not soft, smart. If you had any sense you’d move to the desert, too.”
“I like it just fine here in Eclipse Bay.” Mitchell rested his head against the back of the chair. “You figure to drive back to Portland tonight?”
“Had enough driving for one day. Knees stiffen up when I sit in a car for a long period of time.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Mitchell absently rubbed one of his own knees. “Occurs to me that if you’re gonna hang around town for a while, you might as well stay here with me.”
“Why would I want to do that?”
“If you stay at the cottage you’ll get in the way of Gabe’s courting.”
“Maybe I’ll take you up on that offer. Don’t want to interfere with the lovebirds.” Sullivan chuckled.
Mitchell eyed him suspiciously. “What’s so funny?”
“Just thinking about what the folks in town will say when they find out that I’m your houseguest.”
“Huh.” Sullivan grinned. “Probably figure we’ll try to knock each other’s teeth out.”
“Now that’s settled, maybe I should fill you in on some of the stuff that’s been happening around here.”
Fifteen minutes later Sullivan was ready to explode. “Why the hell wasn’t I told about the break-ins? I didn’t have a clue that Lillian was in danger.”
“Take it easy. Like I just said, everything is under control. Gabe took care of Flint for you.”
“I should have been informed.”
“Gabe put the fire out before anyone realized just how big it was.” Mitchell heaved himself up out of his chair. “Bryce will have dinner ready in a while. I generally have a glass or two of something beforehand.
As I recall, you used to do the same.”
“I haven’t changed.” Sullivan watched the darkness close in over the bay. “A little something at this time of day helps a man relax.”
“That it does.”
Mitchell went to a cabinet, hauled a bottle out of a cupboard and splashed whiskey into two glasses. He brought the two drinks back across the room and handed one to Sullivan without comment.
They drank their whiskeys and watched the darkness thicken outside the window.