Pat’s quiet, but vocal reaction to the image on the computer monitor was enough to draw Marnie’s attention. She looked up from where she was lying on the couch, flipping through one of the photo albums from Pat’s huge collection. “What’s wrong?”
Taking a moment to skim the accompanying article, Pat got up and left the study. She crossed the hall to enter the sitting room of the Harts’ suite, where Jennifer was working on her laptop.
“Jen, have you talked with Jonathan this morning?”
Jennifer tapped out the end of the sentence she was writing before switching her focus to Pat.
“No, he sent me a text message when he and J.J. were boarding the plane. We talked yesterday evening. He said he was going out and wouldn’t be back until late. They had to be at the airport early so we agreed he’d just let me know when they were at the gate and on their way and then once they arrived in New York. Why?”
“You should probably come and see this. I just pulled it up.”
Together they went back into the study where Pat momentarily recoiled in shock. “Will you get your nosy little behind up from there!”
Caught in the act, Marnie whipped around from where she had taken Pat’s seat and was checking out the monitor for herself. She jumped up and darted around the desk, ducking away from Pat’s fanning hand. “I just wanted to see what you were looking at.”
“You have absolutely no shame. I have never met anyone like you. Just as nosy as hell. I thought you were supposed to be over there looking at pictures.”
“I was. I just wanted to see what you were looking at.”
Jennifer, standing slightly behind Pat, remarked in a whisper, “I see not all has changed with the little miss.”
Pat, dismissing Marnie’s indiscretion and ignoring the comment, gestured for Jennifer to sit down. “You know I get this stuff sent directly to me from LA.”
Jennifer’s mouth fell open as she took in the image before her. “What in the world?”
Pat leaned in over her shoulder. “It had to have been a neophyte, Jen. I’m willing to bet that it was an initiation assignment. Some vet reporters or photographers sending that green young boy out on a bogus scoop. He thought he had something.”
“He had something all right,” Marnie observed from across the room. “A tiger by his tail. Heck of a way to get initiated. I wouldn’t want to be in anything that bad. Not if it meant risking having somebody like Mr. H. kick the living cra-”
When Pat and Jennifer shot her a look, Marnie took the photo album and scurried from the room.
“Oh, my.” Jennifer’s eyes widened as she scanned the caption and the article beneath the picture. “I do not believe this.”
Pat placed a hand on her shoulder. “My sentiments exactly.”
From her seat across the table, J.J. had been snatching minute opportunities to stealthily check out her pensive father.
He had been slumped in his chair, chin in hand, staring out of his window ever since the plane took off. His melancholy rolled over to her like morning fog, heavy and dense, limiting her ability to read him. For sure, it wasn’t a good time to attempt conversation with him, which was fine by her. She didn’t think anything she could say would take his mind off what she knew full well that it was on.
So, she continued to alternate between the Game Boy and pretending to read her book, trying not to let him detect her uneasiness with his dark sullenness or to have him pick up on how hard she was mentally hurrying Frank and his co-pilot to get her to New York. As much as she adored her father and cherished their time together, she was not enjoying being in his company that morning.
And she couldn’t help feeling that some of what he was going through was her fault. It wasn’t often that her daddy sank into a funk, but when he did… when somebody forced him there….
It was cold, gray, and raining in New York when they arrived. Jonathan’s already somber mood was being made even more morose by the weather and by the realization that he had squandered his morning with his daughter. It was nearly time for her to depart from him, and it would be another three days before he saw her again. Even then, there would be people, lots of people around and between them. The weekend would add Teddy to the mix, and for sure she’d be lost to him for a while after that. When it came to J.J. and boys, J.J. gravitated to her mother.
What must she be thinking of him?
He glanced at J.J. as she sat across from him in the rear of the car. Her face was turned away from him, she appeared to be focused on the window. Who could tell where her mind was?
General opinion had her very much like him, but in some very deep, very meaningful ways, she was so like her mother. Her generosity, graciousness, and especially in her sensitivity and discretion she was very much Jennifer’s girl. All that morning- on the plane and now on their way to Pat’s from the airport- she hadn’t said much to him, but he hadn’t missed her peeking at him, trying to figure him out without bothering him; he just hadn’t been able to address it, and she hadn’t pushed for it. Aside from contacting her mother to let her know that they had touched down and were on their way, she hadn’t said much at all.
Surely an indication that she had to be upset with him.
It appeared she was watching the passing scenery, or in his estimation, the lack of it. A Californian at heart, the east coast did not rank among his favored winter destinations. The only thing he liked in Manhattan at that time of the year was Pat, but he wouldn’t be seeing her on this leg of the trip.
The original plan had been for J.J. to be dropped off at the airport to be met by Davis and driven into Manhattan. He would have continued on to Dulles to meet Bill and go with him to his place in Maryland. But in light of what had happened the previous evening, even though she would have been in the care of Pat’s trusted driver, he altered his plans and decided to personally accompany J.J. to her destination in the desire to spend as much time with her as he could.
But what good had staying with her done? He’d shut down, and she let him. According to Jennifer, nobody could do that better than the two of them. Apparently, they were excellent at it when they were doing it to each other.
He had no intention of going up to the apartment when they got there. With her media resources, Pat might already know, and he didn’t feel like sparring with her about it. Seeing Jennifer for only a few minutes, but not being able to talk with her for very long or spend any time with her would be a more difficult thing to do than he could handle with his nerves stretched as taut as they currently were.
And Marnie. Although he missed her and was eager to see her again, she would be in Maryland soon enough. And then after Maryland, she would be going back home with them, so there would be plenty of time to catch up with her.
And what if Jennifer had already found out about it? If Pat knew, then Jennifer would certainly have been informed. What would she think? How would she take it?
Crossing the Queensboro Bridge, he shifted his gaze through the rain-dappled glass to the Hudson rippling below. Water- rivers, lakes, oceans- normally had an immediate calming effect on him, but not this time. This time, the agitation wouldn’t shake, wouldn’t budge.
It was the second time in recent memory that he’d felt that kind of rage, but it was the first time in a while that he allowed it to escalate into such a violent reaction. Well, there was that situation with Andy Seagren, the guy who acted up at the ball that time, but Seagren definitely earned that right hook he got. That time it had been about Jennifer. Seagrencoveted her, touched and harmed her, and had the nerve to think he was going to leave the ball with her.
The guy was doing well to still be breathing.
But this time-
J.J. had turned back around, and he wondered how long she had been studying him.
“Are you okay?”
Then she smiled a little and dropped her eyes. “Stupid question. I know you’re not.”
She turned her face away, going back to looking out the window. He didn’t know what to say to her. He wasn’t all right, but it wasn’t anything words could fix. What happened wasn’t anything he could take back. It was done, and whatever the effect- more like fallout- would be, it would have to be faced when it happened.
Instead, he took her ponytail in hand, taking brief comfort in its shine and its silky texture as it passed over his palm and fingers. When he came to the end of it, J.J. reached back and entwined her fingers in his for a moment. “It’ll be all right, Daddy,” she said. “Let it go.”
Not long after, the car pulled to a splashy stop in front of Pat’s building. The doorman, recognizing the vehicle, stepped out from underneath the canopy, popping open his umbrella while Davis got out to remove J.J.’s luggage from the trunk. For the first time since she got in, J.J. turned around on the seat to fully face him.
She sighed. “Well, I guess this is it.”
“Yes, I guess it is. J.J., look, I-”
She held up her hand. “Don’t. You don’t have to say anything. It’s fine, really it is. Don’t worry, I’m fine.”
He kissed her cheek. “Go ahead, then. Have a good time, but don’t cause your mother or Pat too much trouble. You probably won’t be able to avoid it completely. After all, it will be you and Marnie. Two for one.”
Her brow wrinkled in question. “Aren’t you coming up? My mother will be so disappointed. So will Aunt Pat and Marnie.”
“No, I have to make my flight. Your mother and I talked last evening. She wasn’t expecting me to do much more than drop you off at the airport in New York.”
“Yeah, but I told her that you were riding in with me. She’ll wonder why you didn’t come up. She’s probably expecting to see you.”
The doorman’s figure appeared outside J.J.’s door.
“I’ll phone her. She’ll understand.”
J.J. shrugged in resignation. “All right. Like I always say, you know her better than I do.” She leaned in and kissed his cheek. “I love you, Daddy. You and Uncle Bill behave. Don’t eat junk. And don’t sneak-smoke cigarettes or cigars with him. See you Wednesday.”
Giving the doorman the sign, she slid out when he opened the door, thanking him for shielding her from the misty rain. Jonathan watched until she was all the way inside and he couldn’t see her any more.
In despair and suddenly feeling very alone, he dropped his head and clasped his hands in his lap, lapsing into one of his wistful speculations of what life might have been like if he was simply Jack Hart, everyday man. Nobody flashing cameras in his face, nobody attempting to put him and his personal affairs on the front line, nobody trying to force themselves into his private life to expose it to public scrutiny or lay it out for the amusement of others. Inquiring minds did not need to know. Not about him, they didn’t.
He slid over to the driver’s side with the intention of stretching out his legs when the door opened. A fur-wrapped figure slid in, slamming the door closed.
Ducking her head, she shook out her full auburn mane and her eyes flashed fire as she raised them to him. “You did not think you were just going to drop her off and keep going without facing me, did you?”
Unprepared for her presence and stymied in the sudden face of it, the words struggled from his tongue. “J-Jennifer, I-”
“I go out of town, and the next night, you’re out carousing with another woman? Didn’t think I’d find out, did you?”
The elevator car arrived, the doors slid open, and the squeals of delight and the reunion hugs began.
“J! you’re here!”
The girls flew into each other’s arms and held tight.
“Oooh, I missed you, Marn. I’m so glad to see you.”
“I missed you so much, too, J. Talking on the phone isn’t the same, is it?”
J.J. released Marnie and stood back to take stock of her friend. “Look at your hair! I’ve never seen you wear it so long.”
“It’s as cold as rip here, girl. And windy. I hate hats, so I had to grow some hair. I see your eye is back to normal.”
J.J. grinned and moved farther inside the apartment to allow Davis to bring her bags into the hall. “Yeah, and I’m so relieved. My mother would have had a fit trying to get makeup on it for the wedding pictures, and she’d have been all over me about not doing stuff to smudge it or wipe it off. Where’s Aunt Pat?”
Pat and Cordelia were coming down the front hall from the direction of the staircase. Pat held out her arms. “Welcome home. Where’s my hug, Squirt?”
“Right here.” J.J. met her godmother, embraced her, and kissed her cheek. “How’s it going, Aunt Pat?”
Pat held the girl away from her to check out her face. “I’m good, but I’m a whole lot better now since I see we don’t have to get Max Factor’s people in here for you; they weren’t on the list.” She took hold of J.J.’s chin, pulling her face close. “Amazing. This eye looks as if nothing ever happened to it. You were a prize fighter when I last saw you- and you’d lost the fight.”
“No, I didn’t lose, Aunt Pat. I just didn’t get a chance to climb into the ring before I got knocked out. But if I had…”
“The other person would have looked worse. Yes, I know. You’re just like that daddy of yours. A street brawler at heart.”
J.J. froze for a moment, warily eyeing Pat who cocked her head and eyed her back, as if to ask, “What?” in challenge more than question.
Removing herself from Pat’s hold, J.J. then hugged the other woman. “Hi Cordelia, it’s so good to see you again. It’s been a while, and I’m hungry for some of your good cooking.”
“You always are,” Cordelia chuckled, patting her on the back. “But I swear I don’t know where you put it. You’re still as skinny as a rail.”
“Fashionably thin,” J.J. corrected her with a sly wink. She turned from Cordelia to take her smaller bag from Davis. “As long as I keep running and stuff, I can eat all I want. Right now, my whole body is tight and stiff from sitting so long. I’ve been so busy lately that I’ve been neglecting my exercise. As soon as I get settled, I’m going down to the gym. I’ll workout some, run a few laps, and then I’m going to sit in the sauna for a while. Where’s my mother? She loves the sauna. We can go there together.”
“She was in her room when I saw her last,” Cordelia said as she started back up the hall with J.J.’s small suitcase and coat bag.
When he returned from setting her larger bag near the staircase, just before he got back on the elevator, J.J. thanked Davis for accompanying her and her things up to the apartment.
“Where’s your father?” Pat asked. “He’s not with you?”
“No. He didn’t come up. He rode over with me, but he said he needed to get back to the airport. I think he was tired. We’ve been doing a lot of running around this weekend. He said my mother wasn’t looking for him to come up.”
“Um-hmmm, tired. I’ll bet.” Pat’s eyes flitted over to the front room before she turned all the way around to look in. “Where is your mother? I would think she’d be out here. She knew you were on your way. You go and get settled in. I’ll let her know that you’re here. Get freshened up; Lunch will be ready soon.”
J.J. and Marnie, chattering like excited magpies, started for the stairs. Pat entered the living room, passed through, and peeked into her study to see if perhaps Jennifer was there on the phone or into something else so deeply that she hadn’t heard J.J. come in. She wasn’t there.
She crossed the hall and went into the sitting room that Jennifer had been occupying all morning, calling for her as she entered. There was no answer. In fact, at first, there was no sign of Jennifer at all. In the bedroom; however, the outfit Jennifer had been wearing earlier was laid out on the bed. Her purse was in the chair.
In the bathroom, Jennifer’s jewelry box was open on the counter. A quick inventory of it revealed that the antique ivory pearls that Jennifer said she’d brought for her “something borrowed” were missing from their case. Then she noticed that Jennifer’s perfume was unusually heavy on the air, as if she might have just dabbed some on.
I know she did not.
Leaving that suite, Pat raced through the first floor back to the kitchen where Cordelia was just coming down the back staircase from attending to the girls.
“By any chance, was Jennifer up there?”
“No. Just the girls, Ms. Patricia. Like I said, I thought she was down here in her rooms. She’s been there all morning, working.”
Without further comment, Pat went into the pantry to the metal door on the far end of that room. Lifting the heavy latch, she stepped into her cold storage vault. Dead center of the many fur garments hanging there, the gap and the suspect lone hanger stood out.
Oh, and I’m the tramp? I cannot believe you. And then leaving me here, by myself, to try to explain it to your nosy adolescent daughter and her equally inquisitive teenaged sidekick.
Upon emerging from the pantry, she informed Cordelia, “There will only be three for lunch today. For dinner too, most likely.”
When Cordelia looked up in question from the salad she was tossing, Pat threw up her hand. “Don’t ask.”
It took another couple of seconds for Jonathan to catch it, that hint of something else behind Jennifer’s accusation, and one more for him to decide to play his hunch and go along with her.
“So, I see you know,” he said with a heavy sigh.
“Yes, I do know.”
“How did you find out?”
“That’s not important, Jonathan. I want to hear what you have to say for yourself.”
He shifted in his seat and averted his eyes. “It was just one of those things. You were out of town, I got lonely, and she was… available.”
“So, I guess you’re going to sit there and try to run by me that ‘she didn’t mean anything to me’ line.”
“No. Actually, to tell you the truth, it’s more than a casual affair. This one is special, a real keeper. She’s young, smart, cute, funny, we share the same interests; she’s very good company for a forlorn older man.”
“Oh? So, you’re saying it isn’t over? You have no intention of ending it?”
“Darling I hate you found out about us, my taking her out in public and all, but I think I could be in love with her.”
Jennifer raised that one eyebrow and leaned in close to his face. “You think? Jonathan Charles Hart, you have been in love with that girl since the first second you lay eyes on her. Maybe even before that.”
“Yes,” he admitted, sighing again and hanging his head. “You’re probably right.”
“She’s the reason you went ballistic, isn’t she? You were upset about him getting a picture of her with you, weren’t you?”
There it was, right there in her eyes. Within the faux flames popped sparks of mischief. She knew. Her next words confirmed that.
“Jonathan and J.J. Hart, I can’t leave the two of you for a second. Did you really have to smash that guy’s camera and put your heel to his memory card? He was only doing the job he was sent to do. I won’t be surprised if there isn’t a subpoena on your desk when you get back.”
He resisted laughing with his relief and amusement. She did know. She knew the whole story. The girl had truly missed her calling as an actress.
“He’s lucky I didn’t put my heel to him. He said some things he shouldn’t have said. Insinuated some things I wasn’t entertaining and that I didn’t want anyone else entertaining, especially not in the press. And especially not in the presence of my daughter.”
“How did you find out so fast? Pat?”
“You know her. She has her finger on the pulse- and the scandals- of the nation. The story was sent to her. We figure he was new and just didn’t know the unwritten rule in LA about you being out with J.J. ”
“Well, I bet you he knows now. He caught J.J. completely off guard, and what he was yelling embarrassed and unnerved her. She practically crawled up my arm trying to get away from it. Seeing her like that, I- I just lost it. I’m sorry for losing my cool. I’ve been agonizing over it all morning. But I am not sorry for doing what I did to him. I- I just hate so much that J.J. had to see me go after him like that.”
With her fingers, Jennifer lifted and turned his face so that she could see into it. “Jonathan, how much do you want to bet that J.J. took absolute delight in what you did? You’re sitting and brooding and feeling badly about it, and ever since it happened, she’s probably been inwardly gloating over what a, forgive me, bad ass her father is. That girl lives for moments like that.”
He turned to look out of the window so that she couldn’t see the satisfied glow her suggestion brought to his cheeks.
Jennifer was probably right. At least he hoped she was. It was important to him that J.J. respected him not only as her father and her protector, but also as a gentleman. But then, putting everything into perspective, she probably did see it that way. At least he hoped she did. J.J. should know that she could count on her father to look out for her. It stood to reason that what Jennifer said about J.J. might be true. And J.J. had said before getting out of the car that she was fine.
To verify that for himself, though, would have to wait until Wednesday when he saw J.J. again. As for getting sued, small potatoes in the big picture, if it happened, which he doubted it would.
In the meantime, Jennifer smelled divine, and although she had the wrap-around sable clutched to her chest, he noticed she was wearing her best pearls with the matching pearl and diamond earrings. It was a rare daytime appearance for those two pieces, even for someone as fashionable as she happened to be.
On a hunch he twisted back around to her and moved her hand. Her eyes had gone from contrived lightning hot anger to the genuine lusty warm honey he knew and appreciated so well. Taking hold of both lapels, he opened the coat just enough to peek inside. His breath hitched, and he snatched the garment back closed. “You are crazy! In Manhattan in November? You’re going to catch your death.”
She licked her lips and purred, “Then, hello Mr. Death. Would you like to come inside where it’s warm?”
He closed his eyes and mentally fought his initial reactions and impulses. “Don’t be cute. What are you doing down here like this besides raising my blood pressure?”
She ran a finger along his earlobe, his neck, and into the hair overlapping his collar. “I just thought after the night you had, you might need some comforting.”
“Comforting? You’re torturing me here. I’d love some comforting, and I could use some. I’m all for quickies, but Davis will be back any minute, and I prefer to keep that part of my life private, too. Sweetheart, I have a plane to catch. Two pilots are waiting for me to get back so we can keep to the new schedule.”
“Not so, darling. You have an even newer schedule now. Jack and the co-pilot are going back home. I phoned Bill and had him arrange for you to fly out this evening. I felt you and I needed to talk over what we’re going to do about your bad temper.”
“I don’t have a bad temper. I was provoked, and the idiot deserved what he got. I had Legal cut a check to more than reimburse him for his loss. What about my luggage?”
“They’ve taken your luggage off our plane. It’s being secured at the airport. They’ll put it on the plane Bill sends for you tonight.”
“Tonight? What am I supposed to do in the meantime? Listen, as much as I love Pat, and I miss Marnie, I really don’t want to go up to the apartment; I’m not in the mood to have Pat ragging me about what happened. She’s probably up there now, thinking of all sorts of clever things to say to me.”
“Jonathan, relax. I’ve booked us into a quiet, very private room at the Carlyle. And as for what you’re going to do in the meantime….”
Intrigued, but not quite ready to give in all the way, he leaned away from her. “What about J.J.? Does she know where you are? You couldn’t have seen her. She couldn’t possibly have gotten up to the apartment by the time you got in here.”
“She’ll be fine. She’s with Pat and Marnie, and she’ll keep until I get back.”
“What are you going to tell her about where you were? She’s expecting for you to be up there waiting for her.”
“If she asks, which I doubt she will because by the time I get back, she’ll have put it together that I was with you, I’ll tell her what I always tell her when she’s trying to insert herself into my affairs: ‘I am the mother. You be the daughter.’ Then I’ll kiss her cheek, tuck her in, and turn off the light.”
His earlier sourness having mellowed into something much sweeter, Jonathan extended his arm. Jennifer slid all the way over to snuggle into his embrace, laying her head on his shoulder. He surrendered in full, resigning himself to his wife’s apparent designs for their afternoon. “Seems you’ve thought of everything, Mrs. Hart.”
“Yes, Mr. Hart, but now you’ll have to think of some things to do to make up for stepping out on me with another girl and making a spectacle of yourself in the process.”
He brushed his lips against her forehead and filled himself with her scent. “I’d never step out on you; there will never be another girl for me like you. But seeing as how you’ve gone to such- um- extraordinary lengths to try to console me, I’m going to try ever so hard to make things right by you. You can count on that. But I can’t promise that it won’t be a spectacle.”
“Show, don’t tell, darling.”
He smoothed his hand over the stand-up collar of her coat. “Fur, Jennifer? I thought you’d largely given that up.”
“Considering what I have on underneath, it seemed the perfect outer covering. As you said, it is November in Manhattan. A girl has to somehow keep the chill out.”
“You are something else. I really do love you.”
“Darling, show me, don’t tell me.”
Davis returned to the car, climbing in behind the wheel. Jonathan again pulled at the lapels of the sable, making sure it was closed all the way up to Jennifer’s neck as she reached across to use the intercom to inform the driver of their destination before settling herself against him again.
He lay his head back and smiled. Life was good once more. Jack Hart, everyday man wouldn’t be riding in a chauffeured Cadillac, headed for an afternoon at the Carlyle with such a thoughtful, lovely, and sexy woman as the one in his arms, who was actually his wife.
Show, don’t tell, indeed.
J.J. threw herself face down onto the bed after sending Cordelia downstairs with the assurance she didn’t mind putting her own things away.
“What I really feel like doing is going back to sleep. We got up way early, didn’t sleep on the plane, and I’ve lost three hours coming here. I am so tired.”
Marnie, who had followed her up to the bedroom, dropped down into the chair. “Didn’t get much sleep after the episode, huh?”
J.J. lifted her head. “What episode?”
“Don’t even try it, J. The episode with your father last night. We know all about it. It was on Aunt Pat’s computer. She showed it to the Duchess. Then I snuck and saw it. They caught me, but I saw enough to get the gist of it. You fill me in on the rest. Is your father okay?”
“Jeez, Marn, I was hoping it didn’t make the press. Daddy was still kind of bummed this morning. Was my mother mad about it?”
“I don’t know. I left, or rather they kind of indirectly asked me to leave. I haven’t seen the Duchess since then. I came up here and hung out until Cordelia hit the intercom to say you were on your way up from the car. So what actually happened?”
J.J. rolled over onto her back and then rotated around on the bed to rest her head on the pillows. “Stupid photographer blindsided us coming out of the steak house we had gone into. That never happens to us at home; I think there’s some kind of understanding of sorts between my parents and the LA press. Anyway, the guy was making out like I was some bimbo my father was cheating on my mother with. Up until then, we had been having such a good time.”
“Well, earlier in the day, Daddy and I went shopping. Then we went back home and got dressed up so that he could take me to this jazz club to see a friend of his perform. The vocalist, daddy’s friend, was excellent, and the horns were the bomb. I got to meet the band and the pianist even let me play some with him during a set. People clapped for me; it was a lot of fun. Then we left there and went to the restaurant for dinner. The incident happened as we were coming out, but Daddy used his coat to keep the guy from getting a good picture of me. He made me get in the car, then he went after the photographer. What was on the internet?”
“A picture of your father hemming the guy up real hard. The article said your father attacked the guy for insulting him.”
“How was it slanted?”
“Seemed like it was in favor of your father from the little I could see before I got caught looking. I didn’t see a picture of you. Just your father doing the photographer in. Did he slug the man?”
“No. He took the guy’s camera from him and slammed it on the ground. Then he picked it up and snatched out the memory card. He threw that down and stepped on it. Then he got in the guy’s face and yelled at him. I thought he was going to hit him. The guy looked as if he thought Daddy might hit him, too, but he didn’t.” J.J. folded her arms behind her head and smiled. “It was so cool, Marn. I wish Daddy had beaten him up.”
“Think he’ll get in legal trouble?”
“I don’t know. If it comes to that, I’m sure Daddy has enough lawyers to get him off. It wasn’t nice what Daddy did, but the guy really was insulting, though. I did feel kind of violated and dirty by what he said; I was so mad, I could have jumped on him myself. All we were doing was minding our own business and having a nice time. Daddy doesn’t like public attention; everybody knows that. He really doesn’t like my picture being taken like that, especially after… well, after….”
“I know. You don’t have to say. But I don’t know how long he’s going to have control over that. You’ve got your mother’s looks, your father’s last name, your own talents, and a bank account. You can’t hide out forever, J. You’re sixteen and getting older. People are going to try take your pictures and try to be all up in your business more and more whether you or your father like it or not.”
“I hate that. I hate even thinking about it.”
“It’s real, though. So, did you bring it?”
J.J. sat up. “Bring what?”
“You know what. Did you do what I said? Did Chance send me something?”
J.J. rolled her eyes and shook her head. “I swear, you are so spoiled. Look in my bag right there.”
Marnie pulled J.J.’s travel tote onto her lap and peeked inside, extracting a miniature turquoise shopping bag. “Ooh, Tiffany!”
“I shouldn’t even tell you that I didn’t have to hit him up for it. He’d already gotten you something for me to bring to you. He said he bought it in San Francisco before he came home from school to make sure that he had it. Called me up to make sure I didn’t leave town without it. The wimp.”
Marnie was already reaching inside the bag. “He is not a wimp. He just loves me. Is it pretty? Will I like it?”
“I didn’t look at it. It was for you. I just packed it with the rest of my stuff.”
The small turquoise box contained a Tiffany link bracelet with a heart charm dangling from the toggle clasp. Engraved upon it was “C &M”
Marnie grinned. “He loves me. I told you. Look, it says so.”
Marnie held the bracelet out for J.J. to see before fastening it onto her wrist and then jangling it around. “Nice weight. Perfect fit. He must have had it sized. They usually have to take a link or two out to fit me.”
“Whatever, Marn. How was your father yesterday? Any improvement?”
Marnie sobered some and sat back in the chair.
“He still can’t walk, J. At this point, it’s been two months, and I don’t think the doctor’s are all that hopeful that he ever will. My father says he doesn’t think he’s going to go back to LA to live. I know he’s going to be in Boston for a while. He has a huge business interest in the works there, so of course, he’s trying to stay close while he readjusts his life.”
“What about Karen?”
“She’s in Texas, trying to be close to Brett and Mikey, but she couldn’t stay in the rehab place my grandmother told her she had to go to in order to have contact with the kids, so I don’t really know what’s going to happen with her. She’s still drinking, Kyle says, so my grandmother won’t let her stay in the house with them; she;s in one of the houses on the grounds, and she can only visit the boys at the main house when she’s sober. The kids are fine, however, so that’s all I care about. They’re doing real well in school and all.
“But if your father stays in Boston, how will all of that affect you in the long run, Marn?”
In answer Marnie just waved her hand and looked away. J.J. let the matter drop for the moment and switched gears. “How’s Aunt Pat? Any improvements or changes in that situation since my mother got here?”
“It’s hard to tell with her, but I don’t think anything has really been resolved. She and the Duchess hung out together in the study last night, like I told you, but I was up here. At breakfast this morning, nobody was really talking, but I was still getting that odd vibe off her. Did you feel it?”
“I wasn’t with her long enough. And she was giving me the eye at the time. I figured her for knowing what happened with me and Daddy last night, but I wasn’t going there with her at that moment.”
“Well, after breakfast your mother said she had some writing stuff to do in her room, and Aunt Pat said she was going to check on some business in her study. I went in there with her to look at some pictures. That’s when she ran up on the thing with you and your father, and I got to peek at it. Aunt Pat has a ton of pictures in there, and I love looking at them. Did you know she was at Woodstock?”
“Woodstock? Aunt Pat? Wasn’t that the big outdoor hippie music concert we read about in Social Science? It happened in like 1969 or something like that?”
“Yep. She and your mother were there. She claimed that they were working for a magazine that was doing a story on it, but they looked kind of like hippies themselves in the pictures. Except most everybody else looked all dirty and drugged-out. Like they were having sex with everybody, you know, that ‘free love’ thing they had going back then. Your mother and Aunt Pat just looked like hippies or like a couple of those flower girls.”
“Yeah, them. Hold on.”
Marnie hopped up from the chair and went out of the room, returning a few minutes later with what appeared to be a photo album. which she brought over to the bed. She sat down and placed the book on J.J.’s lap. “I checked this one out.”
“You don’t check photo albums out of Aunt Pat’s study, Marn. She’ll get all over you if she finds out.”
“She saw me take it, and I’m putting it back. I didn’t have time to make copies of what I wanted you to see. She was home when I got to that one, so I couldn’t get to her copier, and I didn’t want to go as far as the library on the second floor. Ever heard of ‘White Fury’, J.?”
“Yeah, it’s a company that made these classy synthetic fur coats back in the day. Synthetic fur? Classy?” Marnie stood and made herself shudder at the concept. “Fake fur? Get a life. Anyway, g’head, take a look. I think you’ll find that book rather interesting. There’s a lot more stuff I have to show you. I’ve cataloged most of it, but this one is way good. I have to go and call Chance, you know, and thank him for my present.”
“Back to phone sex, eh, Marn?”
J.J. laughed when Marnie flipped her the bird.
When Marnie was gone, instead of opening it, J.J. slid the photo album from her lap and got up. At the moment, she had other things to do. She unpacked her suitcase and put her things away to keep them from wrinkling and creasing any more than they might have from traveling. When she was finished, thinking it very strange that her mother still hadn’t made an appearance, she put the book Marnie had given her on a back shelf in the closet with the intention of coming back to it later. Then, she went down the rear stairs to the kitchen.
Pat went into her study and sat down at her desk, having accepted she was alone with the children. The girls were busy reuniting upstairs and that gave her some time to herself. Unlocking the top drawer, she removed an envelope lying on top of the other papers. Inside of the envelope was a letter, which she unfolded and looked over for the umpteenth time, as if the words might change if she studied it long enough.
But they hadn’t.
With her elbow on the desktop, she rested her forehead in her free hand for a moment.
I just can’t… I need to, but….
The responsible adult in her knew what she needed to do, but the vulnerable girl that resided way down inside had been taking over. So many fears and so many old insecurities. So many bad memories. Past history had the cards stacked in the wrong, more frightful pile.
But Jennifer’s on the scent. She might not have the particulars, but she isn’t going to back off… and I can’t lie… not to her.
Jen’s here. Maybe with her here, I can….
Picking up her head, she read the words on the paper one more time. Still no change.
Well, whatever I do, I’d better do it before that damned nosy Marcia gets here.
Then she pulled the telephone over so that it was in front of her
When J.J. rounded the corner, Cordelia was getting ready to take a short stack of salad plates into the breakfast nook where informal lunches were normally eaten.
“Need some help?”
“No, Miss J.J., I have it covered. Where’s Miss Marnie?”
“On the phone with her boyfriend, I imagine. He sent her a present, and she said she had to thank him. That might take a while. Have you seen my mother?”
“Your Aunt Pat is in her study.”
Cordelia’s somewhat curt and incongruent answer was mildly puzzling, but it sent J.J. out of the kitchen and up the hall to the study where Pat sat behind her desk.
Her stocking feet made no sound on the solid hardwood floors, so she was able to make it to the doorway without her godmother noticing. At first Pat had her head in her hand. Then it appeared she was getting ready to pick up the phone.
When she turned to leave to allow Pat her privacy, the movement must have finally drawn Pat’s attention to her.
She looked up, saw her and then drew back her hand from the phone, instead sliding the paper and envelope in front of her into the open top drawer, which she immediately locked. Then she swiveled her chair around to face her before she could leave the doorway. “What’s up, Squirt?”
“My mother. I was just going to ask you where she was. I peeked in her room, but I didn’t see her. I thought for sure she’d have come up to my room in all this time. Isn’t she here?”
“No, love. It appears she’s stepped out.”
“Stepped out? She knew I was coming; I told her myself that I was on my way. If she had to go somewhere, I would have thought she’d have at least waited until I got here. Must have been mighty important.”
“I think it was.” Pat got up, signaling J.J. to come all the way into the room. They went over to the couch where they both sat down.
“So, talk to me, J. Tell me what’s been going on in your life.”
J.J. settled back, folding her arms and giving her godmother her most skeptical look. “You need to quit, Aunt Pat. You know good and well what’s been going on.”
“What? About you getting busted, out on a date with your older, married man?”
Smirking and then grinning, J.J. shook her head. “Perhaps three years or four years from now, you could be calling me in on the carpet like this for hanging out with some older guy, maybe my college professor or somebody, but not now. And for sure, he wouldn’t be married. I admit, when I do go out, I like for the guy I’m with to be older than me, but not that old. Last night, I was out with my Daddy, who had taken me to dinner like any good father would do for his daughter when her mother is out of town and it’s the cook’s night off. But I’ll tell you this, if I ever do get into way older men, he’ll be someone like Daddy, somebody smart and a lot of fun, and who’s not scared to scrap over the things that matter to him. I like a guy who can handle himself.”
She stopped speaking for a moment to search Pat’s eyes. “My mother is with my father, isn’t she?”
Pat nodded. “I think so.”
J.J. relaxed, unfolding her arms and stretching out her legs. “Well, I guess that’s a good thing then. He needed her more than I do right now.”
“Was he bent out of shape?”
“Totally. That photographer-reporter-or whatever guy was just all wrong for what he did. He was yelling, calling Daddy out. Then he made me out to be his young thing-‘his ‘hottie’, he said- on the side, which would have made Daddy a big, fat cheater and a public one, at that. Now Daddy may do some things as far as my mother goes; clam up, not tell her everything, sneak junk food when she’s not around or not looking, but cheat on her? Please. He loves my mother, number one, and number two-”
“He’s married to a redhead. We do not play. When he asked her to marry him, and she said ‘yes’, he signed away all his rights to look or step anywhere other than to the person standing next to him. She’d take his whole head off and rock his world.”
“J.J., when we talk, you always put relationship transgressions on the guy. Well, what about her? You don’t think your mother is capable of cheating on him?”
“Come on now. Get real. Why would she?” J.J. held up her hands for emphasis. “I mean, she’s got it all in my Daddy. Good looks, smart, nice, funny, loaded and generous with it. Please. And to be fair, all of that went both ways. In her, he’s got it all, too. That promise was made for life. Speaking of which, I guess since she’s taken off with him, I should just get on with my life. I need some lunch, a nap, and then I want to go and work out.”
“Sweetie, you don’t you think you might be just a little bit biased when it comes to your father?”
“Real is real, Aunt Pat. And you’ll note, I did give my mother her props, too.”
Pat chuckled as she took J.J.’s hand and squeezed it. “You are an absolute mess, girl. From where did we get you?”
“From the two M.I.A’s who’ve apparently dropped me off here with you for safekeeping,” J.J. said, laughing even though some remote part of her brain began to wonder why her Aunt Pat was holding her hand so tightly and for so long.
And what could be in that letter she had locked away in her top drawer that had her looking so sick over it?
Arriving at the hotel, Jonathan jumped out and was around on the passenger side, opening the door for Jennifer before either Davis or the valet could get to it. He purposely stood in front of her as she stretched one shapely leg, then the other out of the car, carefully holding closed the fur coat. He noticed then that she was also wearing high heels and that a thin gold chain graced one slim one ankle.
“Jeez, Jennifer. You’re killing me.”
As she stood and tossed back her hair, her smile reflected her confidence. “Darling, as I’ve said, it’s just a humble effort on my part to ease your tension.”
His knees wanted to buckle and he wasn’t quite sure that he would be able to even climb the curb, much less make it inside the hotel and up to their room. That smile, those legs, the thought of what was underneath that coat, and the frame of mind she had to have been in when she thought of doing what she’d done, it was almost more than he could take after the aggravation of the night before and the dismal morning he’d had. Jennifer was, and always had been an unpredictable, sensual woman, but this was raising things to another level entirely- not that he was complaining about the elevation.
When he took her by the arm, the gallant gesture was more to steady himself while at the same ensuring that she stayed close to him. God forbid, she should trip or something else should happen that might affect her grip on the front of that fur.
Entering the Carlyle’s elegant lobby, he whispered into her ear, “We don’t have luggage; you don’t even have a purse. Don’t people usually check into motels for “in and outs” like this?”
She leaned in to him to whisper back. “I see you have an inkling or two about “in and outs” in that particular venue. I have never in my life been to a motel, Jonathan Hart, and I am not about to start now. Just go and let the front desk know that we’re here.”
“No way. I’m not leaving you anywhere on your own in this condition. You’re coming right with me, Red.”
“I usually do,” she said with a naughty smile as he pulled her alongside him. “And don’t call me ‘Red’.”
As they were waiting for the elevator, he took the opportunity to admire her in the brighter light. Jennifer was still gorgeous, that great nose, those unique eyes, all that hair, not to mention those legs. At times, even after all their years together, it was still hard to believe that such a woman had said “yes” to him when he asked her out of the blue to marry him. It was gratifying that after over twenty-five years together, things were still so good between them. He loved her for all she had done for him in that short span of time that they had been together that day, and he had every intention of showing her how much he appreciated her efforts.
The elevator car arrived and the doors slid open to reveal the couple already inside.
It was the Spencers, a British business acquaintance of Jonathan’s, and his wife.
The two men shook hands as the women exchanged polite pleasantries. The other couple, it turned out, had just arrived in New York to spend the holiday with some American friends, but were staying at the hotel for their time in the States.
Then, to further the Harts’ dismay, George Spencer issued an enthusiastic invitation that they join them for drinks in the bar.
Looking to each other, Jonathan instantly paled while Jennifer’s cheeks flamed as they both read, “Aw, Je-e-e-e-ezzz” in each other’s eyes.