You willing to get married?”
She took a step back and groped for the doorknob with one hand. “Mr. Madison, this discussion is purely hypothetical. For your information, the subject of marriage has never come up between Gabe and me.”
“Looks like it will. And pretty damn quick, too, if I know Gabe. He didn’t get where he is by letting grass grow under his feet.”
“I really don’t think so, Mr. Madison.” She found the doorknob and wrapped her fingers around it very tightly, using it to steady herself. “For the record, Gabe has made it very clear that he does not want to marry what he refers to as an arty type. If you will recall, I’m an artist. That sort of takes me out of the running, don’t you think?”
“Nah. Not with a Madison. Madisons aren’t that logical when it comes to love.”
She had to get out of here. She was ready to explode. “Let me make something clear. If, and I repeat, if, Gabe ever brought up the subject of marriage, I would want to know that I was more important to him than just another addition to his empire.”
“And just how the hell is he supposed to prove that?”
“Beats me. That’s not my problem. It’s Gabe’s. Assuming you’re right, of course, which is highly doubtful.”
“Shoot and damn, if that isn’t just like a Harte. Askin’ for hard evidence when it comes to something that’s downright impossible to prove.” Mitchell leveled a finger at her. “Know what I think? I think you’ve just decided to play with him a little. You’re havin’ yourself some fun, aren’t you? You’re not serious about him.”
She had the door open now but something in his voice made her pause on the threshold. “You’re really worried about him, aren’t you?”
“Got a right to worry about him. He’s my grandson, damn it. I may not have done the best job of raising him and Rafe after their parents died, but I did what I could to make things right. I got a responsibility to Gabe. I got to look out for him.”
She searched his face. “He has the impression that you don’t care that he’s made a success of Madison Commercial.”
“Course I care,” Mitchell roared. “I’m proud of what he’s done with that company. He proved to you Hartes and the whole damn world that a Madison can make somethin’ of himself. He proved that a Madison who sets his mind to it can get his act together, that being a member of this family doesn’t mean you’re doomed to screw up everything you touch the way I did and the way his father did.”
There was a short, hard silence.
“Did you ever tell him that?” Lillian asked softly. “Because I think he needs to hear it.”
Mitchell’s mouth opened again but this time no words emerged.
She turned and walked out into the garden.
Gabe dunked a clam strip into the spicy red sauce. “Heard you went out to the house to see Mitchell this afternoon.”
Lillian started a little. The fork in her hand trembled slightly. She clenched her fingers around it and stabbed at the mound of coleslaw on her plate.
“Who told you that?” she asked.
Stalling, he thought. Why? What the hell was going on here?
This morning when they had left Portland together he had been feeling good. More settled. Like he finally had a handle on this relationship. He had assured himself that various issues had been clarified.
He and Lillian were having an affair. They both agreed on that. Couldn’t get much simpler or more straightforward than that.
But now that they were back in Eclipse Bay, everything was starting to get complicated again.
He pondered that while he listened to the background hum of conversations and the clatter of dishes and silverware. The Crab Trap was a noisy, cheerful place. Until Rafe and Hannah got Dreamscape open, it was the closest thing to fine dining that Eclipse Bay could offer. It boasted a view of the bay, actual tablecloths and little candles in old Chianti bottles. On prom night and Mother’s Day it was always fully booked.
It had seemed the obvious choice for dinner tonight.
A little too obvious, he had realized a few minutes ago when Marilyn Thornley had walked in with a small entourage and occupied the large booth at the rear.
“Ran into Bryce at the gas station.” Gabe put the clam strip into his mouth, chewed and swallowed. “He mentioned you’d been out to the house. Not like Bryce to say anything about a casual visit. He doesn’t talk much. Must have figured it was important.”
Lillian hesitated and then gave a tiny shrug. “Your grandfather left a message on my answering machine while we were in Portland. Said he wanted to see me. I drove over to his place. It seemed the polite thing to do under the circumstances.”
“What did he want?”
“Seemed to think that I was exerting my feminine wiles on you. Weaving a net of seduction in which to trap you, et cetera, et cetera. Evidently he’s afraid that I might break your heart.”
He managed to swallow the clam strip without sputtering and choking but it was not easy.
“He said that? That he’s worried you might break my heart?”
“Well, shoot and damn.”
“He said ‘shoot and damn’ a lot, too.”
“This is a little embarrassing.”
“He wanted to know if my intentions were honorable,” Lillian said without inflection.
Gabe made himself pick up another clam strip. “What did you tell him?”
“I told him the same thing that I told my mother today when she asked me about our relationship.”
Definitely getting more complicated by the minute.
“And what was that?” he asked.
She picked up her water glass. “That the subject of honorable intentions had not arisen and that it was highly unlikely to arise.”
“You told both of them that?”
“Yes. Well, it’s true, isn’t it?”
“Want to talk about ’em now?” he asked.
She flushed and glanced hurriedly around, apparently making certain that no one had overheard him.
“That is not funny.”
“Wasn’t trying to make a joke.”
“For heaven’s sake, Gabe, keep your voice down.”
“It is down. Yours is starting to get a little loud, though.”
“You know, I don’t need this. I’ve had a difficult day. I came here to work. Thus far I have accomplished nothing. Absolutely zilch.”