The VIP Doubles Down
Page 38

 Nancy Herkness

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“Let me think about it,” she said, rubbing her forehead with her free hand.
He groaned and let his head fall forward. “Goddamn it, why do you have to have principles?” Then he raised his hand like a stop signal. “No, I don’t mean that. What you are is why I want you.”
“Say that again so I can understand it,” she said, but he had already made her heart dance with pleasure.
“Your principles are part of the person you are, and I want your person.” His smile was strained, as though he was trying to force humor where he didn’t feel it.
But she had heard him the first time, and it had made her decision for her.
“I’ll take the job.”
A look of relief banished the strain from his smile. He squeezed her hand. “Thank you.” The simple words held surprising depths of emotion. “When can you come tomorrow?”
Allie took a deep breath. His honesty deserved the same from her. “Anytime. Here’s the thing: I don’t have any other clients right now. I was working at the Havilland Rehabilitation Center until very recently. I lost my position because my ex-husband showed up drunk and harassed the patients there. Twice. My boss felt bad about it, but he had no choice. I’m still looking for another job.”
Gavin rocked back in his chair. “You were married?”
Chapter 13
That explained the treadmill and the pull-up bar, but it didn’t explain the shock that vibrated through Gavin. He’d thought of Allie as a sweet, fresh, untouched country girl. A hard-drinking ex-husband knocked that image on its ear. He examined her face, looking for signs of bitterness or despair, the things he’d felt when he and Irene blew apart.
But the same Allie looked back at him, her gray eyes clear, her creamy skin unlined, her mouth soft and tempting.
“How do you do it?” he asked. “Do you have a portrait tucked away in basement storage?”
“A portrait?” Her eyebrows drew downward as she puzzled over his comment. “Oh, you’re talking about The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Her jaw tightened. “What terrible sins do you think would show on my portrait?”
“Not sins. Disappointment, disillusionment, despair.”
“Mama always said I was a natural-born optimist. I see the good in everyone, even when it’s not there.” Now her mouth had a bitter twist.
“You were very fortunate in your mother.” And he had not been. “Your ex-husband was an alcoholic?”
“Troy? No. He was an actor.”
Gavin laughed. “You say that as though it’s even worse.”
She flattened her hands on the table. “The constant stream of rejections got to him, so he would sometimes drink too much. We came here with such high hopes.” She met his eyes. “He has real talent. He just doesn’t have a thick skin.”
“I know all about rejection.”
“You mean your first Julian Best novel didn’t sell right away?”
Gavin snorted. “It took me a while to find Julian, and even then, it took Jane’s ruthless editorial pen to whip him into shape.”
“It’s rough when an editor doesn’t like your character, but it’s got to be worse when a casting director doesn’t like you.”
“You must have loved him very much.”
She looked startled.
“You’re still making excuses for him.” He had done that for Irene. For too long.
She twisted her fingers into a lock of her hair, making him want to do the same. “Troy and I were high school sweethearts.” She shrugged. “He’s in LA now with a short-term role on a soap opera. If they like him, it might become permanent. I wish him success.”
The information about her ex being three thousand miles away loosened a tightness Gavin hadn’t known he was feeling. “How long were you married?”
“Five years, give or take.” She picked up her fork. “You should eat or your omelet will get cold.”
Five years. His omelet was already cold, but he ate it so he had time to rearrange the pieces of Allie in his mind. She’d been part of a couple for a significant amount of time. That changed a person, especially when the couple broke apart.
If she were a character in one of his books, he’d have to go back and rewrite all the scenes she was in to drop in clues about her backstory. He’d made assumptions based on his own preconceived notions, not on her reality.
“Why do you keep looking at me that way?” she asked, her tone challenging.
“Because I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that you were married for so long.”
“Long? My grandparents were married for fifty-seven years.” She began to stack the plates. “I was a failure in the longevity department.”
“There must have been serious problems for you to give up on the marriage.”
“At some point you have to admit you made a mistake.” She shrugged and stood up. “The one positive feature this building has is plenty of hot water, so you can shower while I do the dishes if you’d like. And if you don’t mind the cat’s litter box.” She gave him a rueful smile.
“I’ll help you with the dishes,” he said.
“You cooked. I clean up. That’s the deal in this household.” She headed for the kitchen.
So many divorced couples he knew hurled all the blame at the other partner. His Allie took it on herself.
Walking to the bedroom, he opened the door Allie had closed, and the cat bolted out like a gray streak.
“Yes, Miss Pie, I saved you some of my breakfast,” he heard Allie say from the kitchen.
The warmth in her voice tempted him to go watch her interact with the cat, but he wanted a New York Times, so he retrieved his shoes and socks. As he tucked in his shirt, his cell phone vibrated.
“I’m alive and well, Ludmilla,” he said.
“I know, Mr. Gavin. Security tell me if you aren’t,” his housekeeper said, deadpan. “You have important visitor.”
He glanced at his watch. “On Sunday morning? I didn’t schedule any meetings.”
“Is friend on unexpected visit.” A male voice sounded in the background. “One minute,” Ludmilla said.
“Gavin, I didn’t want Ludmilla to tell you who was here because I was afraid you’d refuse to come home.”