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All Tucked In ...
By Jule McBride
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThis was hardly the first time Dr. Tobias Free wished he hadn't discovered steel baron Cornelius Sloane's nineteenth-century pornography collection. In fact, the only other thing in life that had caused Tobias more sleepless nights was Carla DiDolche, the Italian spitfire who'd left him at the altar seven years ago. Now he surveyed the "artwork" spread across the boardroom table, his eyes trailing over a few pieces before settling on an ink drawing of a whip-wielding woman in a bustier and frilly pantaloons, a pencil sketch of three topless chorus girls, and a watercolor of a man in cross-tied breeches having his crotch fondled.
Then Tobias looked around the crowded board table.
"Well," Margaret Craig was saying to J. J. Sloane the seventh, sole heir to Cornelius Sloane's fortune, "we all know how much this ancestral mansion has meant to you, since you used to live here, Mr. Sloane, and we also know how much it means now -" She shot a piercing, significant look at Tobias " - to the University of Pittsburgh, which has been using it to house its sleep clinic research facility for the past ten years." Margaret paused for a deep breath. "However - and I'm speaking for every member of the Pittsburgh Preservation Society, not to mention the community at large - we feel it's our duty to open this mansion to the public, especially since Dr. Free has discovered such a vast vault of art...."
J. J. Sloane, whom Tobias secretly referred to as Sloane Junior, was a tall, thin, overly pretty, silver-haired playboy who'd just hit forty and begun to realize that he was an only child with no heirs. He leaned forward, looking interested. "Does the Society really think it could do something with the mansion? Something for posterity that we'd be remembered by?"
"Of course!" Margaret assured him, squaring her matronly shoulders. "We're prepared to make this your legacy, Mr. Sloane. Stone mansions of this magnitude are rarely found intact, as you can imagine! Most of the places along this part of Fifth Avenue, which we Pittsburghers so fondly refer to as mansion row, have been turned into apartments or businesses. And yet this remained a private home until you left in the nineties, sir, which makes it very special. Its architecture is gorgeous. The extensive grounds are divine. Even the astonishing stone fountain just off the veranda is in working order. With the exception of the Frick mansion in the Point Breeze neighborhood, few buildings in Pittsburgh are this impressive...."
Sloane leaned further forward. "You really think it compares to the Frick museum?"
"And the Preservation Society would ...?"
"The plans - and let me tell you, we have many, Mr. Sloane - are all included in the prospectus in front of you. We'd like to offer tours of the mansion, as well as lectures about the many contributions the Sloanes have made to our city. Maybe open a gift shop. Possibly even lend books from the extensive library. And of course, we'll be opening a gallery, not only for the photographs displayed in this room, but also for the new art found by Dr. Free...."
Tobias's eyes shifted to the pornographic pictures again, landing on a charcoal drawing of a woman removing veils as she danced. Most of the stuff wasn't that racy, at least not by comparison to today's Guess ads, but in the late 1800s, it must have been as hot as tamales.
Tobias shook his head. Under any other circumstances, he would have laughed. Yes, watching the members of the Preservation Society - mostly prim elderly ladies like Margaret with blue-rinsed hair and American flag pins proudly affixed to the lapels of their linen suits - sit around trying to elevate a porn collection to the level of high art would have brought a chuckle.
Except that Tobias's ten-year lease on this building was over in a month, and these sweet little ladies were truly going to snap his dream clinic out from under him. Having finally realized he lacked heirs, Sloane had become determined to do something to give his life meaning. As near as Tobias could tell, turning forty had been a rude awakening, and now Sloane hoped the Preservation Society could lend his previously dissipated life some credibility.
To add insult to injury, Tobias had once married Margaret Craig's daughter, Sandy - this was after Carla DiDolche, of course - and while the union had lasted only three disastrous months before it was annulled, Margaret had never forgiven him for leaving her daughter. Now she was relishing taking away the building in which Tobias housed his life's work. Oh, yeah, he thought now, eyeing her, Margaret definitely carried a grudge. Probably Sandy had told her mother the truth. That even after marrying another woman, Tobias simply couldn't get his mind off Carla.
Not that Tobias felt any guilt. He'd dated Sandy on the rebound and let her pressure him into marriage. When things hadn't worked out, she'd quickly remarried a mall developer from North Carolina who'd kept her in high style ever since. Last time she'd visited the Burgh for the holidays, she'd been pregnant with twins.
Shifting uncomfortably in his seat, Tobias tugged the knot at his throat, wishing he could take off his tie. He hated ties. In fact, the only thing more loathsome than ties were the jackets you had to wear with them. Unfortunately, even his best jeans and corduroy blazer couldn't hold a candle to the suits worn by his competitors. Last night, on the phone, his mother had urged him to go buy some dress slacks. Maybe he should have listened. She'd also mentioned Carla, the way she always did. After seven years, Laura Free still missed the young woman she'd been so sure was going to become her daughter-in-law. She and Sandy hadn't really hit it off.
Tobias blew out a sigh. What a couple of days! It didn't help that one of the three male members of the Pittsburgh Preservation Society was Vince Gato, owner of Gambolini and Gato Imports, which was a wine importing business on Liberty Avenue, at the opposite end of the block from DiDolche's, the family-owned café of which Carla was now the sole proprietor. From what Tobias recalled, the Gatos and DiDolches went way back. They'd known each other since the old country, which meant circa 1850.
Nope. Even after seven years, there was no escaping Carla. She intruded on his thoughts at the most unexpected times. Tobias suddenly realized that Sloane Junior was addressing him and even though Tobias hadn't actually seen Carla for awhile, he silently cursed her for breaking his concentration. "Yes, Mr. Sloane?"
"Once more," asked Sloane Junior, "how did you come across the drawings, Dr. Free?"
As if he didn't know. For some reason, Sloane Junior loved this story. Tobias retold the tale of how, a couple of months ago, when he and a colleague were moving some equipment, he'd inadvertently tripped, hit the side of a mantle in what had previously been Cornelius Sloane's study - only to have the wall swing inward, just like in an old horror movie, to expose a hidden room.
"What a find!" Margaret exclaimed breathlessly.
"Yes, indeed," seconded Vince Gato.
"And you were carrying one of those ... what was it, Dr. Free?" asked Sloane Junior.
"An electroencephalograph," Tobias reminded him.
"Ah, yes. An electroencephalograph."
Excerpted from All Tucked In ... by Jule McBride Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.