He turned up the heater and Maryanne was warmed by a blast of air. “Let me know if that gets too hot for you.”
“Thanks, I’m fine.”
“Hot” seemed to describe their relationship. From the first, Maryanne had inadvertently got herself into scalding water with Nolan, water that came closer to the boiling point each time a new column appeared. “Hot” also described the way they seemed to ignite sparks off each other. The radio show had proved that much. There was another popular meaning of “hot”—one she refused to think about.
Nevertheless, Maryanne was grateful for the opportunity to bridge their differences, because, despite everything, she genuinely admired Nolan’s writing.
They chatted amicably enough until Nolan pulled into the crescent-shaped driveway of The Seattle, the luxury apartment complex where she lived.
Max, the doorman, opened her car door, his stoic face breaking into a smile as he recognized her. When Nolan climbed out of the driver’s side, Maryanne watched as Max’s smile slowly turned into a frown, as though he wasn’t certain Nolan was appropriate company for a respectable young lady.
“Max, this is Mr. Adams from the Seattle Sun.”
“Nolan Adams?” Max’s expression altered immediately. “You don’t look like your picture. I read your work faithfully, Mr. Adams. You gave ol’ Larson hell last month. From what I heard, your column was what forced him to resign from City Council.”
Nolan had given Maryanne hell, too, but she refrained from mentioning it. She doubted Max had ever read her work or was even aware that Nolan had been referring to her in some of his columns.
“Would you see to Mr. Adams’s car?” Maryanne asked.
“Right away, Ms. Simpson.”
Burying his hands in his pockets, Nolan and Maryanne walked into the extravagantly decorated foyer with its huge crystal chandelier and bubbling fountain. “My apartment’s on the eleventh floor,” she said, pushing the elevator button.
“Not the penthouse suite?” he teased.
Maryanne smiled weakly in response. While they rode upward, she concentrated on taking her keys from her bag to hide her sudden nervousness. Her heart was banging against her ribs. Now that Nolan was practically at her door, she wondered how she’d let this happen. After the things he’d called her, the least of which were Ms. High Society, Miss Debutante and Daddy’s Darling, she felt more than a little vulnerable in his company.
“Are you ready to change your mind?” he asked. Apparently, he’d read her thoughts.
“No, of course not,” she lied.
She noticed—but sincerely hoped Nolan didn’t—that her hand was shaking when she inserted the key.
She turned on the light as she walked into the spacious apartment. Nolan followed her, his brows raised at the sight of the modern white leather-and chrome-furniture. There was even a fireplace.
“Nice place you’ve got here,” he said, glancing around.
She thought she detected sarcasm in his voice, then decided it was what she could expect from him all evening; she might as well get used to it.
“I’ll take your raincoat,” she said. Considering the fondness with which he wore the thing, he might well choose to eat in it, too.
To Maryanne’s surprise, he handed it to her, then walked over to the fireplace and lifted a family photo from the mantel. The picture had been taken several summers earlier, when they’d all been sailing off Martha’s Vineyard. Maryanne was facing into the wind and laughing at the antics of her younger brothers. It certainly wasn’t her most flattering photo. In fact, she looked as if she was gasping for air after being underwater too long. The wind had caught her red hair, its color even more pronounced against the backdrop of white sails.
“The two young men are my brothers. My mom and dad are at the helm.”
Nolan stared at the picture for several seconds and then back at her. “So you’re the only redhead.”
“How kind of you to mention it.”
“Hey, you’re in luck. I happen to like redheads.” He said this with such a lazy smile that Maryanne couldn’t possibly be offended.
“I’ll check the stew,” she said, after hanging up their coats. She hurried into the kitchen and lifted the lid of the pot. The pungent aroma of stewing lamb, vegetables and basil filled the apartment.
“You weren’t kidding, were you?” Nolan asked, sounding mildly surprised.
“Kidding? About what?”
“The Irish stew.”
“No. I put it on this morning, before I left for work. I’ve got one of those all-day cookers.” After living on her own for the past couple of years, Maryanne had become a competent cook. When she’d rented her first apartment in New York, she used to stop off at a deli on her way home, but that had soon become monotonous. Over the course of several months, she’d discovered some excellent recipes for simple nutritious meals. Her father wasn’t going to publish a cookbook written by her, but she did manage to eat well.
“I thought the stew was an excuse not to have dinner with me,” Nolan remarked conversationally. “I didn’t know what to expect. You’re my first deb.”
“Some white wine?” she asked, ignoring his comment.
Maryanne got a bottle from the refrigerator and expertly removed the cork. She filled them each a glass, then gave Nolan his and carried the bottle into the living room, where she set it on the glass-topped coffee table. Sitting down on one end of the white leather sofa, she slipped off her shoes and tucked her feet beneath her.
Nolan sat at the other end, resting his ankle on his knee, making himself at home. “Dare I propose a toast?” he asked.
“To Seattle,” he said, his mischievous gaze meeting hers. “May she forever remain unspoiled.” He reached over and touched the rim of her glass with his.
“To Seattle,” Maryanne returned. “The most enchanting city on the West Coast.”
“But, please, don’t let anyone know,” he coaxed in a stage whisper.
“I’m not making any promises,” she whispered back.
They tasted the wine, which had come highly recommended by a colleague at the paper. Maryanne had only recently learned that wines from Washington state were quickly gaining a world reputation for excellence. Apparently the soil, a rich sandy loam over a volcanic base, was the reason for that.
They talked about the wine for a few minutes, and the conversation flowed naturally after that, as they compared experiences and shared impressions. Maryanne was surprised by how much she was enjoying the company of this man she’d considered a foe. Actually, they did have several things in common. Perhaps she was enjoying his company simply because she was lonely, but she didn’t think that was completely true. Still, she’d been too busy with work to do any socializing; she occasionally saw a few people from the paper, but other than that she hadn’t had time to establish any friendships.
After a second glass of wine, feeling warm and relaxed, Maryanne was willing to admit exactly how isolated she’d felt since moving to Seattle.
“It’s been so long since I went out on a real date,” she said.
“There does seem to be a shortage of Ivy League guys in Seattle.”
She giggled and nodded. “At least Dad’s not sending along a troupe of eligible men for me to meet. I enjoyed living in New York, don’t get me wrong, but every time I turned around, a man was introducing himself and telling me my father had given him my phone number. You’re the first man I’ve had dinner with that Dad didn’t handpick for me since I moved out on my own.”
“I hate to tell you this, sugar, but I have the distinct impression your daddy would take one look at me and have me arrested.”
“That’s not the least bit true,” Maryanne argued. “My dad isn’t a snob, only…only if you do meet him take off the raincoat, okay?”
“It looks like you sleep in it. All you need is a hat and a scrap of paper with ‘Press’ scrawled on it sticking out of the band—you’d look like you worked for the Planet in Metropolis.”
“I hate to disillusion you, sugar, but I’m not Ivy League and I’m not Superman.”
“Oh, darn,” she said, snapping her fingers. “And we had such a good thing going.” She was feeling too mellow to remind him not to call her sugar.
“So how old are you?” Nolan wanted to know. “Twenty-one?”
“Three,” she amended. “And you?”
“A hundred and three in comparison.”
Maryanne wasn’t sure what he meant, but she let that pass, too. It felt good to have someone to talk to, someone who was her contemporary, or at least close to being her contemporary.
“If you don’t want to tell me how old you are, then at least fill in some of the details of your life.”
“Trust me, my life isn’t nearly as interesting as yours.”
“Bore me, then.”
“All right,” he said, drawing a deep breath. “My family was dirt-poor. Dad disappeared about the time I was ten and Mom took on two jobs to make ends meet. Get the picture?”
“Yes.” She hesitated. “What about women?”
“I’ve had a long and glorious history.”
“I’m not kidding, Nolan.”
“You think I was?”
“You’re not married.”
“Not to my knowledge.”
He shrugged as if it was of little consequence. “No time for it. I came close once, but her family didn’t consider my writing career noble enough. Her father tried to fix me up with a job in his insurance office.”
“Nothing much. I told her I was going to work for the paper, and she claimed if I really loved her I’d accept her father’s generous offer. It didn’t take me long to decide. I guess she was right—I didn’t love her.”
He sounded nonchalant, implying that the episode hadn’t cost him a moment’s regret, but just looking at him told Maryanne otherwise. Nolan had been deeply hurt. Every sarcastic irreverent word he wrote suggested it.
In retrospect, Maryanne mused one afternoon several days later, she’d thoroughly enjoyed her evening with Nolan. They’d eaten, and he’d raved about her Irish stew until she flushed at his praise. She’d made them cups of café au lait while he built a fire. They’d sat in front of the fireplace and talked for hours. He’d told her more about his own large family, his seven brothers and sisters. How he’d worked his way through two years of college, but was forced to give up his education when he couldn’t afford to continue. As it turned out, he’d been grateful because that decision had led to his first newspaper job. And, as they said, the rest was history.
“You certainly seem to be in a good mood,” her coworker, Carol Riverside, said as she strolled past Maryanne’s desk later that same afternoon. Carol was short, with a pixielike face and friendly manner. Maryanne had liked her from the moment they’d met.