The VIP Doubles Down
Page 46

 Nancy Herkness

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He’d met Ben through Nathan and had signed on with his concierge medical service. The doctor had given him his annual physical a few months ago, declaring Gavin healthier than he’d expected of a man who spent too many hours sitting in front of a computer.
“Did you mix up the test results and just discover I’m dying of a rare, incurable disease?” he asked the doctor in greeting.
“Lord, deliver me from writers,” Ben said. “Too much imagination, which begets hypochondria.”
“Well, you didn’t cure the one thing I asked you to.”
“There’s no known medical remedy for writer’s block. I take it you haven’t made any progress on that front?”
“A glimmer.” That was all he wanted to say about it. “If I’m not dying, what can I do for you?”
“Tell me about your physical therapist, Allie Nichols. I have a client who needs one, so I thought I’d get your feedback on how your treatment is going. If you recommend her, I’ll put the two of them in touch.”
A strange panic boiled up in Gavin’s throat. He didn’t want to share Allie with anyone else. He needed her to fan the faint embers of his creativity and warm the long, desolate hours of his sleepless nights. He stalled as he walked across the hall to the empty library. “When would your client want to start with her?”
“The sooner, the better.”
Gavin knew Allie needed the job. If she performed well, Ben would recommend her to other patients. “She’s knowledgeable and professional and has given me tremendous relief. There was noticeable progress in just a few days.” The panic reared up and howled, wrenching a self-preserving lie from him. “However, I know she’s booked solid for the next two weeks.”
“Damn. That’s the problem with good people. They’re always in demand,” Ben said. “I’ll keep her in mind for the next time. Thanks.”
Gavin rubbed at his chest as guilt tightened around it like an iron band. But at the same time, the shriek of his fear calmed to a mere whimper.
What kind of man had he become?
Allie swiveled in her chair to find Gavin scowling as he walked back into the office. “Is there a problem?” she asked. “You look . . . unsettled.” Actually, he looked both annoyed and guilty, but she didn’t want to voice that.
“Because there’s a very sexy woman sitting in my office, and I’m not allowed to touch her.” He stood behind his chair and gave her a challenging look.
Although she felt the heat radiating from her cheeks, she refused to engage. “I have another question for you.” She pointed to the computer screen. “I keep seeing references to the title Holiday Best with character names I don’t recognize. Is that an unpublished book?”
He grimaced. “It was the draft of a novella, set at Christmastime. I don’t know what came over me to thrust Julian into a schmaltzy setting like that.”
An unread Julian Best story! Excitement fizzed in her chest. “May I read what you wrote?”
“It’s a rough draft, and it’s unfinished.” But he rolled her chair sideways so he could get to her keyboard. “Here it is. Just don’t ever tell anyone else about it.”
“Was it Jane’s idea?” It was hard to imagine Gavin’s decision to write about a happy family holiday. But she was beginning to get glimpses of the humanity under the snark. It worried her, because he was already too enthralling.
“Good God, no. In fact, she was skeptical but willing to give it a look.”
“It seems . . .”
When she didn’t finish, he said, “Strange that I would propose a warm, fuzzy story? Believe me, Julian wasn’t baking Christmas cookies.”
“I’m sure he was on the outside looking in. You would make the reader feel how lonely his spy’s life is, how alienated he has to be from normal people to protect our Christmases.” She looked at his capable hands resting on the keyboard with such familiarity. “Why didn’t you finish it?”
She waited through a lengthy silence before he said, “I guess I owe you an answer. It might even help with my, er, issue. I started the novella when I got stuck on a scene in the book I’m supposed to be writing. Sometimes a change of direction helps shake loose new ideas.”
He lifted his hands and leaned back in his chair, making it creak on its wheeled base. “Then my father had a heart attack. I needed to deal with his medical situation because my stepmother isn’t good in a crisis.”
She couldn’t stop herself from offering the comfort of touch, so she laid a hand on his forearm where it rested on the arm of his chair. “No wonder you didn’t feel Christmassy.”
He shifted his gaze to the window. “I’d spent all my life trying to prove something to my father, and all of a sudden he’d been struck down. I had no one to brace myself against.”
“What about your stepmother?”
He gave a bitter bark of a laugh. “She tried to deny me access to my father in the hospital, but he overruled her. So I could make sure he was getting a high level of care. However, at the funeral service, she barred me from the family pew.”
Fury made Allie tighten her grasp on his arm. “She really is evil.”
He brought his other hand to cover hers, reminding her to ease her grip on him. “I never felt like I was part of the family after my father married Odelia anyway. But when she tried to exclude me from the burial ceremony, that . . . was a problem. One I dealt with more forcibly than was perhaps necessary.”
Allie tried to imagine how it would feel to be kept from saying a final good-bye to her parents.
“I didn’t do her bodily harm, although it was close,” Gavin said. “However, I expressed my opinion of her at full volume in front of the priest and the entire assembly of mourners.”
She could picture him marshaling all the linguistic skill at his disposal to give his evil stepmother what she deserved. “I bet you were brilliant.”
He flinched at her last word as a shadow of guilt crossed his face. “Whether she loved my father or not, she had lost her husband of twenty-odd years. We were two animals in pain, tearing at each other.”
“She was supposed to stand in as your mother. To protect you.”
“That ship sailed almost the moment my father announced they were getting married.”