A short time later he stopped at the curb in front of the brick building in which she rented studio space.
“This won’t take long,” she said.
“There’s no rush.”
He got out of the car and opened her door for her. She walked beside him to the secured entrance. He waited while she punched in the code.
They went up the stairs to the second-floor loft in silence. When she inserted her key into the lock she realized that her pulse was beating a little too quickly. A sense of anticipation mingled with unease quickened her breathing.
Why had she brought him here? she wondered. Where had the urge come from? What was the point of showing him the studio tonight? He was a businessman with no use for arty types.
She opened the door and groped for the switches on the wall to the right. She flipped two of the six, turning on some of the lights but not all, leaving large sections of the loft in shadow.
Gabe surveyed the interior.
“So this is where you work.” His voice was completely uninflected.
“Yes.” She watched him prowl slowly forward, examining the canvases propped against the walls. “This is where I paint.”
He stopped in front of a picture of her great-aunt Isabel. It showed her seated in a wicker chair in the solarium at Dreamscape, looking out to sea.
Gabe looked at the painting for a long time.
“I remember seeing that expression on Isabel’s face sometimes,” he said finally. Absently he loosened the knot in his tie and opened the collar of his shirt. He did not take his gaze off the picture. “As if she were looking at something only she could see.”
Lillian crossed to the large worktable at the far end of the room, propped one hip on the edge and picked up a sketchpad and a pencil. “Everyone has that look from time to time. Probably because we all see something a little different when we look out at the world.”
He removed the silver-and-onyx cuff links and slid them into the pocket of his trousers. Again, his movements were casual and unself-conscious; the easy actions of a man relaxing after a formal evening.
He moved on to the next picture, rolling up the sleeves of the charcoal-gray shirt as he crossed the space, exposing the dark hair on the back of his arms.
She watched him for a moment. He looked rakish and extremely sexy with his tie undone and his shirt open at the throat. But what compelled her was the way he looked at her paintings. There was an intensity in him that told her that he made a visceral connection with the images she had created. He might not like the arty type but he responded to art. Unwillingly.
She began to draw, compelled by the shadows in her subject.
“You meant everything you said about Dr. Montoya tonight, didn’t you?” she asked, not looking up from her work.
“He was the closest thing I had to a mentor.” Gabe studied a picture of an old man sitting on a bench in the park. “I was a kid from a small town. I didn’t know how to handle myself. Didn’t know what was appropriate. I had no polish. No sophistication. No connections. I knew where I wanted to go but I didn’t know how to get there. He gave me a lot of the tools I needed to build Madison Commercial.”
“Now you repay him by allowing him to send some of his students into Madison Commercial every year.”
“The company gets something out of it, too. The students bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm with them.
And we get first crack at some bright new talent.”
“Really? I’ve heard my father talk about what a nuisance student interns are for a busy company. They can be a real pain.”
“Not everyone is cut out to work in a corporation.”
Her pencil stilled for an instant. “Me, for instance.”
He nodded. “You, for instance. And apparently your sister and brother, too. You’ve all got strong, independent, entrepreneurial streaks. You’re all ambitious and you’re all talented but you don’t play well with others. At least not in a business setting.”
“And you think you’re so very different? Give me a break. Tell me something, Gabe, if you were only a vice-president instead of the owner, president, and CEO of Madison Commercial, would you still be on the company payroll?”
There was a short pause.
“No,” he said. Flat and final.
“You said that not everyone is cut out to work in a large corporation.” She moved the pencil swiftly, adding shadows. “But not everyone is cut out to run one, either. You were born for it, weren’t you?”
He pulled his attention away from a canvas and looked at her down the length of the studio. “Born for it?
That’s a new one. Most people would say I was born to self-destruct before the age of thirty.”
“You’ve got the natural talent for leadership and command that it takes to organize people and resources to achieve an objective.” She hunched one shoulder a little, concentrating on the angle of his jaw. Going for the darkness behind his eyes. “In your own way, you’re an artist. You can make folks see your objective, make them want to get there with you. No wonder you were able to get that initial funding you needed for Madison Commercial. You probably walked into some venture capitalist’s office and painted him a glowing picture of how much money he would make if he backed you.”
Gabe did not move. “Talking her out of the venture capital funds I needed wasn’t the hard part.”
She glanced up sharply, her curiosity pricked by his words.
“Her?” she repeated carefully.
“Your great-aunt Isabel is the one who advanced me the cash I needed to get Madison Commercial up and running.”
She almost fell from her perch on the worktable.
“You’re kidding.” She held the point of the pencil in the air, poised above the paper. “Isabel backed you?”
“She never said a word about it to any of us.”
He shrugged. “That was the way she wanted it.”
She contemplated that news.
“Amazing,” she said at last. “Everyone knew that it was her dream to end the Harte-Madison feud.
Hannah figures that’s the reason she left Dreamscape equally to her and your brother in the will. But why would she back you financially? What would that have to do with ending the old quarrel?”
“I think she felt that the Madisons got the short end of the stick when Harte-Madison went into bankruptcy. She wanted to level the playing field a little for Rafe and me.”
“But when Harte-Madison was destroyed all those years ago, everyone lost everything. Both the Hartes and the Madisons went bankrupt. That’s about as level as it gets.”