“Damn.” He rubbed his jaw. “Are you sure that’s legal?”
“Got news for you, Madison, anyone can set up in business as a matchmaker.”
“Sort of like the sex therapy business, huh?”
“Don’t.” She leveled a warning finger at him. “Mention that subject again.”
“Hard to resist.”
“Try.” She gave him an evil smile. “Now that you know the gruesome truth, that you placed your entire future in the hands of an amateur, maybe you’d like to rethink your insistence on that sixth date you say I owe you.”
“No way.” He picked up his beer, tilted it to his mouth, and took a long swallow. Then he put the bottle down again. “I paid for it. I want it.”
She made a face. “Anyone ever told you that you’ve got a real stubborn streak?”
“It’s a Madison thing.” He studied her across the table. “What are you going to do next? After I get my sixth date and you shut down Private Arrangements, that is?”
“Gee, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll apply for an executive position at Madison Commercial.”
“Don’t bother. Something tells me you wouldn’t last long there, either.”
“You’re probably right,” she said. “I’m what you’d call a self-motivated type. I don’t like working for other people. I prefer to make the decisions and set the agenda. It would be inevitable that sooner or later I would start telling you how to run your company.”
“At which point I would have to can you.”
“Of course.” She waved a dismissive hand. “Another career path down the tubes.”
“How important is Flint to you?”
“I told you not to mention his name to me again.” But there was no heat in her words this time.
He decided to take a chance and push a little harder.
“If the two of you had something serious going on, I can see where the sight of all the leather might have been a little traumatic.”
“Anderson and I don’t have anything serious going on,” she said very steadily. “Not in the way you mean. I won’t say I didn’t enjoy his company on a few occasions but I knew from the start that he wasn’t interested in me personally.”
“Just your program.”
“Are you going to help him out with his book?”
“No,” she said.
“Was it the scene in his office that made you change your mind?”
“No.” She went to work on the little paper napkin that had accompanied the glass of wine, folding and creasing it in an abstract pattern. “I changed my mind several days ago. That’s what I was going to tell Anderson this afternoon when I went downstairs to see him.”
“Why back out of the project?”
“I’ve got my mind on other things right now.”
He had been through too many negotiations, played too many games of strategy and brinksmanship not to know when an opponent was being evasive. But he had also had enough experience to know when to push and when to let things ride.
“As long as we’re here,” he said. “We might as well have dinner.”
She looked up from her origami project. “Dinner?”
“We both have to eat. Unless you’ve got other plans?”
“No,” she said slowly. “I don’t have any other plans.”
He walked her back to a handsome brick building and saw her to her front door on the top floor. When she turned in the doorway to say good-night, he looked past her through a small foyer into the living room of her apartment. He could see warm yellow walls, white moldings near the ceiling and a lot of vividly patterned velvet pillows heaped on a brilliant purple sofa. The curved arm of a scarlet wingback chair was visible near the window. The edge of a green, yellow, and purple patterned rug peeked out from beneath an abstract glass coffee table.
The strange combination of colors and designs should have looked garish but for some reason it all went together perfectly. That was a disturbing sign but it was not what really worried him.
What bothered him the most were the glimpses he caught of the paintings hanging on the yellow walls.
There were a number of them. Not framed reproductions or posters. Lillian bought originals, apparently.
A real bad sign. She obviously cared enough about art to have formed her own opinions.
From where he stood in the doorway, he could not get a good look at any of the pictures but he got an impression of strong light and dark, edgy shadows. He thought back to the conversation in the café, the part where she had detailed her job history working mostly in museums and art galleries.
A sense of deep gloom settled on him. He could no longer deny the evidence of his own eyes. Lillian was into art big-time.
“Thank you for the drink and for dinner,” she said politely.
He pulled his attention back from the ominous scene inside her apartment. Realized that she was watching him closely, maybe reading his mind.
“Sure,” he said. “My pleasure.”
She gripped the door with one hand, preparing to close it. A speculative expression crossed her face.
“You know, when you think about it—”
“Forget it,” he said.
“You aren’t going to get away with calling that dinner we just had my sixth date. I’m not letting Private Arrangements off the hook that easily.”
Her mouth tightened. “You have been a difficult client from day one, Madison.”
“People say stuff like that to me all the time. I try not to take it personally.”
Lillian watched Octavia Brightwell’s expressive face while she examined the painting. Rapt attention radiated from the gallery owner.
Octavia stood in the center of the studio, her red hair aglow in the strong light cast by the ceiling fixtures.
Her slender frame was taut with concentration; she seemed lost somewhere inside the picture propped in front of her.
Or maybe she hated the painting and didn’t know how to deliver the bad news, Lillian thought.
She berated herself for the negative thinking. She considered herself to be a positive, glass-half-full kind of person under most circumstances, but when it came to her art she knew she was vulnerable.
Octavia was the first and, thus far, the only person from the art world who had seen her work. Until recently, she had allowed only the members of her family and a very few close friends to view the paintings.