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Maggie Kingsbury ground the gears of her royal-blue Mercedes and pulled to a screeching halt at the red light. Impatient, she glanced at her wristwatch and muttered silently under her breath. Once again she was late. Only this time her tardiness hadn't been intentional. The afternoon had innocently slipped away while she painted, oblivious to the world.
When Janelle had asked her to be the maid of honor for the wedding, Maggie had hesitated. As a member of the wedding party, unwelcome attention would be focused on her. It wasn't until she had learned that Glenn Lambert was going to be the best man that she'd consented. Glenn had been her friend from the time she was in grade school: her buddy, her co-conspirator, her white knight. With Glenn there everything would be perfect.
But already things were going badly. Here she was due to pick him up at San Francisco International and she was ten minutes behind schedule. In the back of her mind, Maggie realized that her tardiness was another symptom of her discontent.
The light changed and she roared across the intersection, her back tires spinning. One of these days she was going to get a well-deserved speeding ticket. But not today, she prayed, please not today.
Her painting smock was smudged with a full spectrum of rainbow colors. The thick dark strands of her chestnut hair were pinned to the back of her head, disobedient curls tumbling defiantly at her temples and across her wide brow. And she had wanted to look so good for Glenn. It had been years since she'd seen himnot since high school graduation. In the beginning they had corresponded back and forth, but soon they'd each become involved with college and had formed a new set of friends. Their texts and emails had dwindled and as often happens their communication became a chatty note on a Christmas card. Steve and Janelle had kept her updated with what had been going on in Glenn's life, and from what she understood, he was a successful stockbroker in Charleston. It sounded like a job he would manage well.
It surprised Maggie that in all those years, Glenn hadn't married. At twenty-nine and thirty they were the only two of their small high school graduation class who hadn't. Briefly she wondered what had kept Glenn away from the altar. As she recalled, he had always been easy on the eyes.
Her mind conjured up a mental picture of a young Glenn Lambert. Tall, dark, athletic, broad shouldered, thinshe smiledhe'd probably filled out over the years. He was the boy who lived next door and they had been great friends and at times the worst of enemies. Once, in the sixth grade, Glenn had stolen her diary and as a joke made copies and sold them to the boys in their class. After he found her crying, he had spent weeks trying to make it up to her. Years later his patience had gotten her a passing grade in chemistry and she had fixed him up with a date for the Junior-Senior prom.
Arriving at the airport, Maggie followed the freeway signs that directed her to the passenger-pickup area. Almost immediately she sighted Glenn standing beside his luggage, watching the traffic for a familiar face. A slow smile blossomed across her lips until it hovered at a grin. Glenn had hardly changed, and yet he was completely different. He was taller than she remembered, with those familiar broad shoulders now covered by a heather-blue blazer instead of a faded football jersey. At thirty he was a prime specimen of manhood. But behind his easy smile, Maggie recognized a maturityone he'd fought hard for and painfully attained. Maggie studied him with fascination, amazed at his air of deliberate casualness. He knew about her inheritance. Of course he knew; Steve would have told him. Involuntarily, her fingers tightened around the steering wheel as a sense of regret settled over her. As much as she would have liked to, Maggie couldn't go back to being a carefree schoolgirl.
She eased to a stop at the curb in front of him and leaned across the seat to open the passenger door. "Hey, handsome, are you looking for a ride?"
Bending over, Glenn stuck his head inside the car. "Muffie, I should have known you'd be late."
As she climbed out of the vehicle, Maggie grimaced at the use of her nickname. Glenn had dubbed her Muffie in junior high, but it had always sounded to Maggie like the name of a poodle. The more she'd objected the more the name had stuck until her friends had picked it up. The sweet, innocent Muffie no longer existed.
After checking the side-view mirror for traffic to clear, she opened her door and stepped out. "I'm sorry I'm late, I don't know where the time went. As usual I got carried away."
Glenn chuckled and shook his head knowingly. "When haven't you gotten carried away?" He picked up his suitcase and tucked it inside the trunk Maggie had just opened. Placing his hands on her shoulders, he examined her carefully and gave her a brief hug. "You look fantastic." His dark eyes were somber and sincere.
"Me?" she choked out, feeling the warmth of many years of friendship chase away her earlier concerns. "You always could lie diplomatically." Maggie had recognized early in life that she was no raving beauty. Her eyes were probably her best featuredark brown with small gold flecks, almond shaped and slanting upward at the corners. She was relatively tall, nearly five foot eight, with long shapely legs. Actually, the years hadn't altered her outwardly. Like Glenn's, the changes were more inward. Life's lessons had left their mark on her as well.
Looking at Glenn, Maggie couldn't hide the feeling of nostalgia she experienced. "The last time I looked this bad I was dressed as a zucchini for a fifth-grade play."
He crossed his arms and studied her. "I'd say you were wearing typical Muffie attire."
"Jeans and sneakers?"
"Seeing you again is like stepping into the past."
Not exactly. She didn't stuff tissue paper in her bra these days. Momentarily, she wondered if Glenn had ever guessed that she had. "I've got strict instructions to drop you off at Steve's. The rehearsal's scheduled at the church tonight at seven." This evening he'd have the opportunity to see just how much she had changed.
Of all the people Maggie knew, Glenn would be the one to recognize the emotional differences in her. She might have been able to disguise them from others, but not from Glenn.
"With you chauffeuring me around there's little guarantee I'll make the wedding," Glenn teased affectionately.
"You'll make it," she assured him and climbed back into the car.
Glenn joined her and snapped the seat belt into place. Thoughtfully he ran his hand along the top of the dashboard. "I heard about your inheritance and wondered if it'd made a difference in your life."
"Well, I now live in a fancy beach house, and don't plan to do anything with the rest of my life except paint." She checked his profile for a negative response and finding none, she continued. "A secretary handles the mail, an estate planner deals with the finances, and there's a housekeeper and gardener as well. I do exactly as I want."
"Must be nice."
"I heard you haven't done so shabbily yourself."
"Not bad, but I don't lounge around in a beach house." He said it without censure. "I've had dealings with a lot of wealthy people the past few years. As far as I can see, having money can be a big disappointment."
The statement was openended, but Maggie refused to comment. Glenn's insight surprised her. He was right. All Great-aunt Margaret's money hadn't brought Maggie or her brother happiness. Oh, at first she had been filled with wonderful illusions about her inheritance. But these days she struggled to shroud her restlessness. To anyone else her life-style was a dream come true. Only Maggie knew differently.
"Money is supposed to make everything right. Only it creates more problems than it solves," she mumbled and pulled into the flow of traffic leaving the airport. Glenn didn't respond and Maggie wasn't sure he heard her, which was just as well, because the subject was one she preferred to avoid.
"It's hard to imagine Steve and Janelle getting married after all these years." A lazy grin swept across his tanned face.
Maggie smiled, longing to keep things light. "I'd say it was about time, wouldn't you?"
"I've never known two people more right for each other. The surprising part is that everyone saw it but them."
"I'm happy for those two."
"Me, too," he added, but Maggie noted that Glenn's tone held a hint of melancholy, as if the wedding was going to be as difficult for him as it was for her. Maggie couldn't imagine why.
"Steve's divorce devastated him," Maggie continued, "and he started dating Janelle again. The next thing I knew they decided to march up the aisle." Maggie paused and gestured expressively with her right hand.
Glenn's eyes fell on Maggie's artistically long fingers. It surprised him that she had such beautiful hands. They looked capable of kneading the stiffest clay and at the same time gentle enough to soothe a crying child. She wore no rings, nor were her well-shaped nails painted, yet her hands were striking. He couldn't take his eyes from them. He had known Maggie most of her life and had never appreciated her hands.
"Are you going to invite me out to your beach house?" he asked finally.
"I thought I might. There's a basketball hoop in the gym and I figured I'd challenge you to a game."
"I'm not worried. As I recall the only slam dunk you ever made was with a doughnut into a cup of coffee."
Hiding her laugh, Maggie answered threateningly, "I'll make you pay for that remark."
Their families had shared a wide common driveway, and Maggie had passed many an hour after school playing ball with Glenn. Janelle and Steve and the rest of the gang from the neighborhood had hung around together. Most of the childhood friendships remained in place. Admittedly, Maggie wasn't as trusting of people nowadays. Not since she had inherited the money. The creeps had come crawling out of the woodwork the minute the news of her good fortune was out. Some were obvious gold diggers and others weren't so transparent. Maggie had gleaned valuable lessons from Dirk Wagner and had nearly made the mistake of marrying a man who loved her money far more than he cared for her.
"I don't suppose you've got a pool in that mansion of yours?"
"Is there anything you haven't got?" Glenn asked suddenly serious.
Maggie didn't know where to start, the list was so long. She had lost her purpose, her ambition, her drive to succeed professionally with her art. Her roster of friends was meager and consisted mainly of people she had known most of her life. "Some things," she muttered, wanting to change the subject.
"Money can't buy everything, can it?" Glenn asked so gently that Maggie felt her throat tighten.
She'd thought it would at first, but had learned the hard way that it couldn't buy the things that mattered most: love, loyalty, respect or friendship.
"No." Her voice was barely above a whisper.
"I suppose out of respect for your millions, I should call you Margaret," Glenn suggested next. "But try as I might, you'll always be Muffie to me."
"Try Maggie. I'm not Muffie anymore." She smiled to take any sting from her voice. With his returning nod, her hand relaxed against the steering wheel.
She exited from the freeway and drove into the basement parking lot of Steve's apartment building. "Here we are," she announced, turning off the engine. "With a good three hours to spare."
While Glenn removed his suitcase from the car trunk, Maggie dug in the bottom of her purse for the apartment key Steve had given her. "I have strict instructions to personally escort you upstairs and give you a stiff drink. You're going to need it when you hear what's scheduled."
With his suitcase in tow, Glenn followed her to the elevator. "Where's Steve?"
"The day before his wedding?" Glenn looked astonished.
"He's been through this wedding business before," she reminded him offhandedly.
The heavy doors swished closed and Maggie leaned against the back wall and pulled the pins from her hair. It was futile to keep putting it up when it came tumbling down every time she moved her head. Stuffing the pins in her pocket, she felt Glenn's gaze studying her. Their eyes met.
"I can't believe you," he said softly.
"You haven't changed. Time hasn't marked you in the least. You're exactly as I remember."
"You've changed." They both had.
"Don't I know it." Glenn sighed, leaned against the side of the moving elevator and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Some days I feel a hundred years old."
Maggie was mesmerized by him. He was different. The carefree, easygoing teen had been replaced by an introspective man with intense, dark eyes that revealed a weary pain. The urge to ask him what had happened burned on her lips, but she knew that if she inquired into his life, he could ask about her own. Instead she led the way out of the elevator to the apartment.
The key turned and Maggie swung open the door to the high-rise that gave a spectacular view of San Francisco Bay.
"Go ahead and plant your suitcase in the spare bedroom and I'll fix us a drink. What's your pleasure?"
"Juice if there's any."
Maggie placed both hands on the top of the bar. "I'll see what I can do." Turning, she investigated the contents of the refrigerator and brought out a small can of tomato juice. "Will this do?"
"Give it to me straight," he tossed over his shoulder as he left the living room.
By the time he returned, Maggie was standing at the window holding a martini. She watched him take the glass of juice from the bar and join her.
"Are you on the wagon?" she asked impulsively.
"Not really. It's a little too early in the afternoon for me."
Maggie nodded as a tiny smile quirked at the corners of her mouth. The first time she had ever tasted vodka had been with Glenn.
"What's so amusing?"
"Do you remember New Year's Eve the year I was sixteen?"
Glenn's brow furrowed. "No."
"Glenn!" She laughed with disbelief. "After all the trouble we got into over that, I'd think you'd never forget it."
"Was that the year we threw our own private party?"
"Remember Cindy and Earl, Janelle and Steve, you and me and
"Brenda and Bob?"
"No.Barb and Bob."
"Right." He chuckled. "I never could keep the twins straight."
"Who could? It surprises me he didn't marry both of them."
"Whatever happened to Bob?" Maggie took a sip of her martini before answering. "He's living in Oregon, going bald, and has four kids."
"Bob? I don't believe it."
"You weren't here for the ten-year reunion." Maggie hadn't bothered to attend either, but Janelle had filled in the details of what she'd missed.
"I'm sorry I missed it," Glenn said and moved to the bar. He lifted his drink and finished it off in two enormous swallows.
Mildly surprised at the abrupt action, Maggie took another sip of hers, moved to a deep-seated leather chair, sat and tucked her long legs under her.
Glenn took a seat across from her. "So what's been going on in your life, Maggie? Are you happy?"
She shrugged indolently. "I suppose." From anyone else she would have resented the question, but she'd always been able to talk to Glenn. A half hour after being separated for years and it was as if they'd never been apart. "I'm a wealthy woman, Glenn, and I've learned the hard way about human nature."
"It's a long story."