“Painting not going well?” he asked.
“What painting? I’m starting to think I’ll have to go back to Portland to get anything done.”
“Take it easy. You seem a little tense tonight.”
“I’m not tense,” she muttered.
“Okay, if you say so, but I gotta tell you that you look tense.”
She lowered her fork very deliberately. “If this is your idea of a relaxing evening, I—” She broke off, stiffening in her chair. “Oh, damn.”
“What’s wrong? Is it Marilyn? I saw her come in earlier. Don’t worry about her, she’s busy with her staff in the booth at the back. I don’t think she’ll pester us tonight.”
“Not Marilyn.” Lillian stared past him toward the door. “Anderson.”
“Flint? Here? What the hell?” He turned to follow her gaze. Sure enough, J. Anderson Flint stood in close conversation with the hostess. “Well, what do you know? Almost didn’t recognize him in his clothes.”
“What on earth could he possibly be doing in Eclipse Bay?”
“I’d say that was obvious.” Gabe turned back to his food. “He followed you here.”
“There is absolutely no reason for him do that.”
“I can think of one.”
She frowned. “What?”
“He wants to buy your matchmaking program, remember?”
“Oh. I forgot about that. But I told him I didn’t want to sell.”
“Probably thinks he can talk you into it.”
“Damn. I did not need this.”
Gabe turned his head to take another look at Flint. At that moment Anderson caught sight of Lillian. His smile was the sort a man bestows on a long-lost pal. He made a never-mind gesture to the hostess and started across the restaurant.
“He followed you, all right,” Gabe said.
Lillian crushed a napkin in one hand. “I can’t believe he wants my program that badly.”
“You made a lot of money with that program. Why wouldn’t he want to do the same?”
Her brows came together in a sharp frown. “You really are paranoid when it comes to money, aren’t you?”
“I’m not paranoid, I’m cautious.”
“Lillian.” Anderson came to a halt beside the table before Lillian could finish her sentence. He leaned down with the clear intent of kissing her lightly in greeting. “What a pleasant surprise.”
Lillian turned her head slightly, just enough to avoid the kiss. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m attending a conference at Chamberlain College. Arrived this afternoon. I’m staying at a motel just outside of town. I remember your saying something about taking some time off here in Eclipse Bay. We’ll have to get together while I’m here.” He extended his hand to Gabe. “J. Anderson Flint. I don’t believe we’ve met.”
“Gabe Madison.” He rose slowly and kept the handshake perfunctory. “We haven’t been formally introduced but I did see you once. Don’t think you would remember the occasion, though. You were a little busy at the time.”
“Gabe Madison of Madison Commercial? This is, indeed, a pleasure. Are you one of Lillian’s clients?”
“As a matter of fact—”
“We’re friends,” Lillian interrupted crisply. “We both have roots here in Eclipse Bay. My sister is married to his brother. Our families go back a long way together.”
“I see.” Anderson kept his attention on Gabe. “How long are you going to be in town?”
“As long as it takes,” Gabe said.
There was a stir at the front of the restaurant. He was conscious of a change in the atmosphere of the room. At the door an attractive woman was in heated conversation with the hostess.
“That’s Claire Jensen.” Lillian sounded concerned. “Marilyn’s new campaign manager, remember?
Looks like something’s wrong.”
She was right, he thought. Even from here he could see that Claire’s face was tight with fury.
He also noticed that Marilyn had left her booth and was making her way swiftly toward the front of the restaurant. Her mouth was compressed into a tight, determined line.
“Uh-oh,” Lillian said. “I don’t like the looks of this.”
Claire’s voice rose above the hubbub. “Get out of my way, I said.” She tried to push the hostess aside.
“I have something to say to that bitch and I’m not leaving until I’ve said it.”
Marilyn reached the hostess’s podium. She gripped Claire’s arm.
“I’ll take care of this,” she said to the hostess.
“Let go of me, you bitch,” Claire raged. “Take your hands off me. I’ll have you arrested. You can’t do this.”
But Marilyn already had her halfway through the door. Within seconds both women disappeared outside into the rainy night.
A hush fell over the restaurant. It lasted for all of five seconds. Then the room erupted in a buzz of excited conversation.
“Was that Marilyn Thornley?” Anderson sounded awed. “The wife of the politician who quit the senate race?”
“Soon to be ex-wife.” Lillian watched the closed doors at the front of the room. “And something tells me that Claire Jensen is now an ex–campaign manager. Poor Claire. I wonder what happened? I thought everything was going so well for her in her new job.”
The front door opened again a short time later. Marilyn strode back into the room, looking cool and unruffled by the skirmish. She paused to speak quietly to the hostess. Then she walked straight toward the table where Gabe sat with Lillian.
“You know her? You know Marilyn Thornley?” Anderson asked urgently.
“Her family has had a summer place here in town for years,” Lillian explained. “Gabe is much better acquainted with her than I am, however.”
Gabe gave her what he hoped was a silencing glare. He got one of her bright just-try-to-shut-me-up looks in return.
Marilyn arrived at the table.
“Sorry about that little scene,” she said. “I had to let Claire go today. She didn’t take it well.”
“Terminations are always so stressful, aren’t they?” Anderson’s voice throbbed with compassion. “May I say that you handled that unfortunate scene very effectively. You took complete control before things got out of hand. That’s the key. Complete control.”