She walked into the front hall, kicked the door shut and wrestled her burdens into the kitchen. The house felt unaccountably cold.
She was certain she had left the thermostat set at a comfortable temperature.
An uneasy feeling drifted through her. There had been a cold draft in the mudroom the night someone had broken in.
She went to the door and studied the living room. Nothing appeared to be disturbed. Maybe she had left an upstairs window open a crack.
But the draft was not coming from the staircase. It emanated from the downstairs hall.
Galvanized, she rushed toward the guest bedroom. As soon as she turned the corner she saw that the door stood partially ajar, just as she remembered leaving it earlier. But through the narrow opening she could see that something was very wrong inside her studio.
A chill that had nothing to do with the draft of cold air went through her. With a sense of deep dread, she pushed the door open wide.
The studio was in chaos. The blank canvas on the easel had been ripped to shreds. Rags, brushes, and knives were scattered across the floor. There was paint everywhere. The contents of several tubes of paint had been smeared across one wall and the floor. Her palette lay upside down on the bed. Pages of drawings had been ripped from her sketchbook and crumpled into balls.
She finally identified the source of the cold draft. It came through the broken window.
Gabe felt everything inside him turn to stone when he saw Sean Valentine’s SUV parked in the drive.
Then he saw Lillian standing on the front porch talking to Valentine, and allowed himself to start breathing again.
He hit the breaks and switched off the engine. “Something’s wrong.”
“Yeah, I figured that.” Mitchell surveyed the scene on the porch. “Not like Sean to be running around at this time of night unless there’s trouble.”
Gabe got the Jag’s door open. He loped toward the steps. Sean and Lillian looked at him.
“What happened?” Gabe asked.
“Looks like Lillian had another visit from whoever broke in the other night,” Sean said.
“He vandalized my studio this time,” Lillian said shakily.
Mitchell came up the steps with his cane. He frowned at Lillian. “You okay?”
“I’m fine.” She smiled wanly. “But he made a mess. The floor, the bedspread, the wall. Everything’s covered in paint.”
Sean looked serious. “Didn’t think too much of your idea that this guy Witley might be stalking her, Madison. But after seeing what he did to that bedroom, I’m inclined to agree with you. Let’s go inside and see what we’ve got.”
“We’ve got jack squat, that’s what we’ve got,” Mitchell announced an hour later when they finally got around to dinner. He squinted at Lillian. “How the heck did you get into so much trouble running a matchmaking business?”
“Darned if I know.” She picked up her wineglass. “Friend of mine told me that the business was a lawsuit waiting to happen. But no one warned me about stalkers.”
“Well, don’t you worry about it too much.” Mitchell tackled his stir-fry vegetables with gusto. “One thing to be a stalker in Portland where no one notices a guy hanging around places he shouldn’t be hanging around. Another thing to do your stalking here in Eclipse Bay where a stranger gets noticed, especially at this time of year.”
“He’s right,” Gabe said. “If Witley’s in town, Sean Valentine will find him quickly.”
“Meanwhile, you’ll be okay,” Mitchell added. “Gabe here will watch over you.”
Lillian looked at Gabe.
He gave her his sexy grin. “Won’t let you out of my sight.”
She contemplated the wine in her glass. “The thing is, even if Sean does find Witley, what can he do?
I’ve heard it’s tough to prove a charge of stalking.”
Gabe and Mitchell exchanged silent looks.
She frowned. “What?”
Gabe shrugged. “Don’t worry about Witley. If Sean can’t do anything, Mitch and I will think of something.”
Her hand tensed around the glass. “Such as?”
“Us Madisons are pretty creative,” Mitchell assured her cheerfully.
She looked at each of them in turn. Another small chill wafted through her. They were both smiling, easy, laid-back Madison smiles. Probably trying to reassure her. But there was something very different going on in their eyes. Something very dangerous.
She did not argue when Gabe suggested that they go back to his place after dinner. The idea of leaving the cottage undefended made her uneasy but the notion of actually spending the night there gave her the jitters. She knew that she would not sleep.
When she emerged from the bathroom she found him standing at the bedroom window, gazing out into the night. He wore a pair of jeans but nothing else. The sleek, muscled contours of his bare back and shoulders made her fingers itch for a pencil and some drawing paper. Other parts of her were tingling, too, she noticed.
“What are you thinking?” she asked.
“I had an interesting conversation with Mitch on the way back to Eclipse Bay this evening.” He did not turn around. “Apparently Madison Commercial is more important to him than he likes to admit.”
“Oh.” She tightened the sash of her bathrobe and sank down on the end of the bed. “I could have told you that.”
“He said it was proof to the world that he hadn’t screwed up completely with Rafe and me.”
She thought about it. “I can see where he might view your success as a sign that he hadn’t botched the job of raising you. What did you say?”
Gabe let the curtain fall and turned around to face her. “That he was the reason Rafe and I made it at all.”
“It’s the truth. I’ve known it for years but I don’t think I ever told him.”
“Madison Commercial is important to your grandfather, but you and Rafe mean a lot more to him than the company does.”
Gabe sat down beside her, leaned forward and clasped his hands loosely between his knees. He contemplated their images in the mirror above the chest of drawers.
“He really is afraid you’ll break my heart,” Gabe said.
She managed a soft little laugh. “Did you assure him that’s not very likely?”
Gabe said nothing.
She stilled. “Gabe?”
“You didn’t allow him to think that I could really break your heart, did you?”