Until There Was You

Page 21


Gretchen gave her another once-over. “It’ll have to do.”
A WEEK LATER, POSEY was ready to burn down the church with Gretchen inside.
“Seriously? It’s really that bad?” Elise asked on Day Six of the Barefoot Invasion.
“Well, the restaurant’s only open Thursday through Sunday until Memorial Day,” Posey answered. “She has a lot of time on her hands.”
“So what does she do all day?” Mac asked in a rare complete sentence.
“She looks at magazines, takes long showers and makes a big mess in the kitchen. But there’s still never anything to eat.” Posey took a sip of her coffee. “She leaves towels on the bathroom floor, tissues on the coffee table, glasses everywhere. Supposedly, she’s making plans for renovating Guten Tag, but I never see any sketches or anything. Oh, and she’s started calling my parents Mutti and Papa. That might be the last straw.” Especially since Gretchen had reminded Posey—twice—that Stacia was genetically identical to her own mother. As if Posey didn’t know that already.
“Does she, like, know Derek Jeter?” Elise asked. “They lived in the same building? In New York? Susan Lucci, too. I love her? From All My Children?”
“According to Gretchen, she knows every celebrity ever born, and they all want to date her.”
“I don’t think I’d want to date a famous person,” Elise said, giving Mac a doe-eyed look. “I’m, like, drawn to the blue-collar type?”
Mac muttered something and fled to the back room.
“Posey, what did you do to that man? Beat him with a stick? He’s like an abused dog.”
Both Posey and Elise turned as Vivian Appleton came in. “Hi, Viv! I was going to pick you up!” Posey said.
“I took a cab. I’m allowed to do that, am I not? The Vultures wouldn’t approve—there go six more dollars of their inheritance, and still I refuse to die. Well. What’s the matter with you, young lady?” She sat in the leather chair next to the front desk and put on her glasses to better stare down Elise.
“That guy? The abused dog, right? Mac. I totally love him,” Elise whispered.
“He’s rather old for you, dear.”
“I don’t even care. From, like, the first day I came in here? I just fell so hard, right? I mean, sometimes you just can’t help it? But he hardly even talks to me?”
“Perhaps it’s because you end all your sentences as a question,” Viv observed.
“Do you think so?” Elise bit her thumbnail.
“No. Don’t bite your nails.” Vivian surveyed the interior of Irreplaceable. “Older, unattractive men are generally good husbands,” she said regally. “The gratitude keeps them in line. Keep trying, my dear. Wear something a bit more form-fitting, too. That looks like it’s made out of a trash bag.”
“Seriously? You think?”
“I’m always serious.”
“You’re like this wise old woman or something?” Elise said. “Oops, I mean, you’re like this wise woman. Not a question, right? Posey, tell her about your cousin! I bet she could totally help you out!”
Posey rolled her eyes and gave Viv the nutshell version.
“You lack gumption,” Vivian pronounced when she was done. “Kick her out. She sounds like a parasite.”
“Right?” Elise said, her mouth half-open in admiration. “I totally agree.”
“It’s not gumption,” Posey said. “It’s my parents. They have this fantasy of Gretchen and me being close as sisters, and they’re thrilled that we’re bonding. Except we’re not. She just lays around like a big blonde slug with giant boobs.”
Vivian snorted. “Yes, she was blessed in that department, as I recall.”
“Don’t tell me you watched her show.”
“Once or twice. Not that I like German food. Does anyone?”
“I do,” Posey said, just in case her mother was lurking. One never knew with Stacia.
“How loyal of you. Are you taking me to lunch or not?”
“I am. Where would you like to go?” she asked.
“To L’Auberge,” Viv answered. “I’m in the mood for French after all this talk of Germany. I lived through that war, you know. Your parents may be nice people, but I will never eat at their restaurant.”
“L’Auberge. Okay.” Posey hesitated. To get there, they’d have to take Route 149, which led right past The Meadows. Did Viv want to see her old home? It might be just the thing for her to see it again, and see how much Posey loved it, too.
“We’ll go the long way,” Vivian said, reading her mind. “It’s a nice day for a drive.”
“ALL RIGHT. MY assistant will call you when it’s all drawn up.” Allan Linkletter stood up, offered his hand. Liam shook it, but when it seemed time to let go, Allan hung on a little longer, his grip tightening. “So. Funny that we’re on the same baseball team, isn’t it?”
“I guess,” Liam said. Allan still hadn’t let go of his hand.
“You met my wife at Rosebud’s afterward. I didn’t realize you slept with her in high school.”
Well, shit. What was the appropriate response here? “Um…who’s your wife?”
“Taylor Bennington?”
Liam tried not to wince. He definitely remembered Taylor from the old days. Funny, she hadn’t mentioned she was married the other night. “Taylor Bennington. Right.” Should he smile? Congratulate Allan on getting her to the altar? Taylor had been quite…talented, as he recalled. A little scary, but talented.
“It was her first time, she said.” Allan’s grip tightened.
A memory of Taylor unbuckling Liam’s belt—with her teeth—flashed to mind. First time, huh? Somehow, he doubted that. “You sure you want to be my lawyer, Allan?”
The other man shrugged and finally released his hand. “The past is the past. As long as it really is the past, because if the past becomes the present, the future won’t look too good for you.”
The speech reminded Liam of an English class on tense, but he had to give the guy credit for putting it out there. Allan was around five foot six, and it didn’t look like he spent much time in the gym. As if reading Liam’s thoughts, the shorter man said, “I know people.” Then, realizing that a lawyer in New Hampshire wasn’t quite as mobbed up as he’d like to be, he added, “Okay, I don’t know anybody. But I love my wife.”
“I’m not looking for a girlfriend. Or anything.” Especially one who was married, no matter what she used to do with her teeth.
“Great!” Allan said. He smiled, punched Liam on the shoulder and walked him to the door. “I’m definitely interested in that bike, so I’ll drop by this week.”
“Cool.” Apparently Liam’s past with Allan’s wife didn’t prevent the lawyer from wanting a custom-made bike to celebrate middle age.
Liam went to the bank of elevators and pushed the button and sighed.
At least that was done. Last will and testament, updated to include the value of the garage, plus another hefty life-insurance package. Advance directives, updated. Guardianship…well, it had always been the Tates. The only other option would be a stepmother, and Liam didn’t see that happening.
About a year after Emma’s death, he’d had an uneventful relationship with a nice enough woman—Paige, who owned the florist shop down the street from the garage where Liam worked. Uneventful was just what Liam was looking for—they’d had dinner once or twice a month, had sex afterward. It was fine. Emma had been the only one since senior year of high school, and being with someone else…all those differences, the feel of her hair, the way she smelled, the way they fit…it was a little weird. The sex was nice…it was sex, how could it not be nice? It just wasn’t…special.
They broke up amicably enough when Paige told him she was looking for a little more, and Liam couldn’t blame her. She was young, wanted a family…normal enough stuff. It’s just that he couldn’t do that. No hard feelings.
The doors to the elevator opened, and Liam went in. His own elevator was bad enough; the lawyer’s office was on the twenty-third floor, and it was an older building. The ride up had been painfully slow. Swallowing, Liam pressed the button for the lobby and waited. Some sappy song by Neil Diamond, made worse by the Muzak-ization of it. Oh, right, this was the one they played at the Sox game he’d dragged Nicole to last weekend to get her to start speaking to him again.
Suddenly the elevator gave a lurch, and Liam’s hands flew out to the walls. Shit! But the elevator continued on, though Liam thought he detected a lower note to the gears. Did he? Or was that just paranoia? After all, how many elevator cables snapped these days? Not a lot. You hardly ever heard about that kind of accident.
Still, his heart had that uncomfortable flopping feeling, and his chest was tight. He tried to breathe slowly. Calm down, idiot, he told himself. You’re fine. This is no time for a panic attack. Breathe in, hold it, breathe out, stop sucking in air, you’re going to hyperventilate. He knew the drill. And he had to get past these…events. Not cool to wig out when you were the only parent left.
Maybe he should get off and take the stairs, even if they were only at the eighteenth floor. Better than staying in this casket-waiting-to-happen. Liam swallowed thickly.
The elevator stopped, the doors opened and there stood Cordelia Osterhagen, looking at her phone. She took a step forward, then saw him and stopped. “Oh. Hi,” she said.
“Hi.” The doors pinged. “Getting on?” Liam asked, holding his hand on the door so it couldn’t close. His chest was tight still, but he wasn’t hyperventilating. Not yet, anyway.
“Yeah.” She stuffed her phone in her jeans pocket and came aboard. She wore sturdy-looking jeans and several layers of flannel, that lush mouth of hers the only feminine thing on her. Well, that and the hint of breast coming from under the layers of flannel. Was she humming?
The elevator started moving again. Crap. He’d missed his chance to get off. “You know this song?” he asked, wiping his forehead with his sleeve.
“Everyone knows this song. It’s my favorite song, as a matter of fact, so if you’re gonna make fun of it, don’t.”
“Neil Diamond. Huh.”
She gave him an evil look and hummed more loudly.
See, you can do this, his brain told him in a confident voice. You’ve hardly thought at all about the cable snapping, haven’t pictured Nicole sobbing over your casket and then going to live with Tates, who really couldn’t be happier at getting their grandchild all to themselves and turning her into a—
A grinding shudder ripped through the elevator, which screeched, then slammed to a stop. Shit! It was happening.
Then the lights went out.
“Oh, bieber,” Cordelia said.
Liam tried to breathe in. Didn’t seem to be working.
Okay, okay, just because he’d pictured this exact moment…nope, couldn’t happen. The cable had not snapped. Not yet, anyway. But the air was definitely being used up.
“Well, this is not good,” Cordelia said. “I have an appointment in twenty minutes.”
“Don’t talk,” Liam choked out. Because that would use air. And if there were no lights, then there was no air in the ventilation system—Don’t take me away from my baby—and they’d suffocate up here in the pitch black. Already his lungs were desperate for air, heaving in his chest. His legs were suddenly weak, and he leaned back against the wall, the inky blackness smothering. What about Cordelia? Was she suffocating, too? “Cordelia? You okay?”
“Of course I’m okay. Hang on.” He heard her clothes rustle. Then a light came on. Fantastic. She was the type who carried a keychain flashlight. Good girl. It didn’t alleviate the oxygen problem, but at least he wouldn’t die in the dark.
She shined the little beam onto the panel. “Think I should push the emergency button?” she asked.
“Yes! What are you waiting for?” he croaked, sucking in what felt like the last of the air.
“Chill, Liam. We’re only stuck. It’s not like the cable’s about to snap or something.”
Why would she say that? Was she psychic? Why would she mention the cable snapping? Was it a premonition? The elevator shuddered again, and Liam’s legs gave out. He sank to the floor.
“You don’t look so good,” Posey said, aiming her light at his face. It seared his retinas, and he closed his eyes and held up his hand. “Liam? You’re white as a ghost.”
“Push the damn button,” he ground out, pulling in another breath. His chest felt like it was in a vise, and he couldn’t inhale deeply enough to get sufficient air. A rasping sound came from his throat.
“Holy Elvis! Are you okay?”
“The button, Cordelia, the button!” Finally, she pushed the thing. A bell rang, then went silent. Not reassuring. Not one bit. Cordelia dropped to her knees beside him. “Liam?” she asked, shining that stupid light into his face yet again. Her eyes widened in horror. “You’re all clammy! Does your chest hurt? It does, doesn’t it?”
It did. And apparently he was rubbing it with one fist. She grabbed his wrist and gripped it, the flashlight clattering to the floor. “No, no, no,” she muttered, yanking her phone from her pocket. “Hello? We’re stuck in the elevator in the Mirren Building, and I think a man’s having a heart attack! I can’t tell… No, he’s down…and I— Okay, okay!”