“As you can see,” Lillian said, “the decision not to hire me at M.C. was mutual. The last thing I need is another short-term position on my résumé.”
The tension that had cloaked the dining room lightened, as she had hoped. Hannah took her cue and shifted deftly to the new topic.
“But you are looking for a new job, I take it, now that you’ve closed Private Arrangements?” she asked.
“Well, no,” Lillian said.
“You’re going to apply for unemployment? That’d be a first for a Harte,” Gabe mused.
“I’m not going on unemployment.”
Rafe raised one brow. “Accepting a position with Harte Investments?”
“Never in a million years. It’s not just that I can’t work for my father. The main problem is that I’m not the corporate type.”
Gabe sat forward and folded his arms on the table. “Okay, I’ll bite. What are you going to do next?”
“You’ve always painted,” Hannah replied.
“I’m going to do it full time now. I’m turning pro.”
All three of them contemplated her as if she had just announced that she intended to go to work in a carnival sideshow.
Hannah groaned. “Please don’t tell me that you’ve closed Private Arrangements so that you can devote yourself to art.”
“I’ve closed Private Arrangements so that I can devote myself to art.”
“Mom and Dad are going to have a fit.” Hannah flopped back in her chair. “To say nothing of Granddad.”
“I know,” Lillian said.
Rafe reached for the coffeepot. “Got any reason to think you can make a living painting?”
“I’ll find out soon enough whether it will work. Octavia Brightwell is going to put on a show of my work in her Portland gallery in a few weeks.”
Rafe smiled wryly. “I’d give you the standard advice about not quitting your day job. But I guess it’s too late.”
“Much too late,” she agreed.
Gabe stood at the rail of the inn’s broad front porch and watched the taillights of Lillian’s car disappear down the drive. Rafe leaned against a nearby post. Winston was stretched out at the top of the steps, his paws dangling over the edge, ears and nose angled to take in the sounds and scents of the night. Hannah had disappeared back into the warmth of the kitchen.
“If you’re going to be here in Eclipse Bay for a whole month, maybe I’d better fill you in on some of the local news,” Rafe said after a while.
“Save your breath. I’m not real interested in gossip.”
“This concerns Marilyn Thornley.”
Gabe took a moment to rummage around in his memory for some images of the woman he had dated for a time in those first years after college. She had been Marilyn Caldwell in those days, the daughter of one of the wealthiest men in the region. The Caldwells’ home was in Portland but, like the Hartes, they had always kept a second home in Eclipse Bay. They also had a third in Palm Springs.
Marilyn had excellent instincts when it came to selecting winners. Gabe knew that while she had viewed him as having long-term potential, Trevor Thornley had looked like more of a sure thing. She had taken a long, hard look at the two men and chosen to cast her lot with Thornley.
There had been no hard feelings on his part, Gabe reflected. He certainly couldn’t fault her decision. It had been a sensible, businesslike move. Trevor had been on the fast track in the political world. It was obvious even back then that he had the charisma, the glibness and the looks required to grab and hold the media’s and the public’s attention. It was clear that, barring some major disaster, he would go far, maybe all the way to Washington, D.C. All he required was money. Lots of it. Marilyn’s family had supplied the missing commodity. Everyone had agreed that it made sense to invest in a son-in-law who was on his way to becoming a major political powerhouse.
There had been an unexpected bonus for Thornley in the arrangement. Marilyn had proven to be a brilliant campaign strategist. With the help of the politically astute staff of the Eclipse Bay Policy Studies Institute, she had orchestrated every step of Trevor’s career. Under her guidance, he had moved up steadily through the political ranks. Last fall, he had announced that he was making a bid for the U.S.
To everyone’s surprise, he had pulled out of the race shortly before Thanksgiving. The only explanation Gabe had seen in the papers was the ubiquitous personal reasons .
“What about Marilyn?” Gabe asked.
“Haven’t you heard? She and Thornley have filed for divorce. She moved into her folks’ summer place here in town last month. She’s got an office at the institute.”
“A staff position?”
Rafe shook his head. “She’s getting set to launch her own career in politics.”
“Huh. Doesn’t surprise me. She was born for politics.”
“Yeah. Just one problem.”
“What’s that?” Gabe asked.
“Word is she burned through a big pile of her family’s money financing Thornley’s career. Apparently her folks have declined to invest any more cash in politics for a while. Rumor has it they won’t be backing her. At least not until she’s proven that she can win.”
“In other words, she needs money.”
“Yeah. Lots and lots of it,” Rafe said knowingly. “I mention this because it occurs to me that you have what she wants. Expect you’ll be hearing from her as soon as she learns that you’re back in town.”
“Thanks for the heads-up. But don’t worry about it. One thing I can spot real quick is a woman who’s after my money.”
Rafe looked out over the dark bay. “The two of you were once an item.”
“That was a long time ago.”
“Sure.” Rafe shoved his hands into his front pockets. “Consider yourself forewarned.”
There was another pause. Gabe could feel his brother shifting mental gears.
“You really rented the old Buckley place for an entire month?” Rafe asked after a while.
“Got to admit, it does seem a little uncharacteristic for you to do something like that. You think maybe Lillian is right? You burned out or something?”
“Madisons don’t do burnout. You ever heard of a Madison burning out?”
Rafe thought about that. “No. Heard of one or two exploding. Couple have imploded. Of course you’ve got your occasional cases of spontaneous combustion in the family. But never heard of any burnout.”