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"I was thinking little square boxes with silver and rose jelly beans in them." Vangie was saying breathlessly into the phone.
Sebastian, who wasn't listening, had his attention on the computer screen in front of him. His sister had been rabbiting on in his ear for nearly twenty minutes. But truthfully, she hadn' t said anything important in the last three weeks.
"You know what I mean, Seb? Seb?" Her voice rose impatiently when he didn't reply. "Are you there?"
God help him, yes, he was.
Sebastian Savas managed a perfunctory grunt, but his gaze stayed riveted on the specs for the Blake-Carmody project, and his mind was there, too. He glanced at his watch. He had a meeting with Max Grosvenor in less than ten minutes, and he wanted everything fresh in his mind.
He'd worked his tail off putting together ideas for this project, aware that it would be a terrific coup for Grosvenor Design to get the go-ahead.
And it would be an even bigger coup for him personally to be asked to head up the team. He'd done a lot of the work. Using Max's ideas and his own, Seb had spent the past two months putting together the structural plans and the public space layout for the Blake-Carmody high-rise office and condo building. And last week, while Seb had been in Reno working on another major project, Max had presented it to the owners.
Still he'd had a big hand in it, and if they'd won the project, it made sense that that was what today's meeting was about Max asking him to run the show.
Seb smiled every time he thought about it.
"Well, I wondered," Vangie was saying, undeterred. "You're very quiet today. So what do you think, Seb? Rose? Or silver? For the boxes, I mean.Or" she paused "maybe boxes are too fussy. Maybe we shouldn't even have jelly beans. They're sort of childish. Maybe we should have mints. What do you think of mints? Seb?"
Sebastian jerked his attention back at the impatient sound of his name in his ear. Sighing, he thrust a hand through his hair. "I don't know, Vangie," he said with just the slightest hint of impatience himself.
What's more, he didn't care.
This was Vangie's wedding, not his. She was the one tying the knot. And since he never intended to, he didn't even need to learn from the experience.
"Why not have both?" he said because he had to say something.
"Could we?" She sounded as if he'd suggested having the Seattle symphony play the music for the reception.
"Have what you want, Vange," he said. "It's your wedding."
It was, to Seb's mind, fast becoming The Wedding That Ate Seattle. But what the heck, if it made his sister happyfor the moment at leastwho was he to argue with her?
"I know it's my wedding. But you're paying for it," Vangie said conscientiously.
Where family was concerned, Seb was the one they all turned to, the one who offered advice, a shoulder to lean on and a checkbook that paid the bills. It had been that way ever since he'd got his first architectural job.
"I suppose I could ask Daddy "
Seb stifled a snort. Philip Savas begat children. He didn't raise them. And while the old man had plenty of moneythe family's considerable hotel fortune residing in his pocketshe didn't part with it easily unless it was something he wanted. Like another wife.
"Don't go there, Vange," Sebastian advised his sister. "You know there's no point."
"I suppose not," she said glumly with the voice of experience. "I just wish it would be so perfect if he'd remember to come and walk me down the aisle."
"Yeah." Good luck, Seb thought grimly. How many times did Vangie have to be disappointed before she learned?
Seb could pay the bills and offer support and see that his siblings had everything they needed, but he couldn't guarantee their father would ever act like one. In all of Sebastian's thirty-three years, Philip Savas never had.
"Has he called you?" Vangie asked hopefully.
Unless Philip wanted to foist a problem off on his responsible eldest son, he couldn't be bothered to make contact. And Seb was done trying to make overtures to him. Now he glanced at his watch again. "Listen, Vange, I've gotta run. I have a meeting"
"Of course. I'm sorry. I shouldn't bother you. I'm sorry to bother you all the time, Seb. It's just you're the only one here and " Her voice trailed off.
"Yes, well, you should have got married in New York. You'd have had all the help you could use then." When Seb had come out to Seattle after university, it had been expressly to put a continent between himself and his multitude of ex-stepmothers and half siblings. He didn't mind supporting them, but he didn't want them interfering in his life. Or his work. Which was the same thing.
His bad luck, he supposed, that when Vangie graduated from Princeton and got engaged, her fiancé, Garrett's, family was from Seattle, and they decided to move here.
"It will be wonderful. I can see you all the time. Like a real family!" Vangie had said at the time. She'd been over the moon at the prospect. "Isn't that great?"
Seb, who had given up any notion of "real family" by the time he'd reached puberty, hadn't seen anything to rejoice in. But he'd managed to cross his fingers and give her a hug. "Terrific."
In fact, it hadn't been as bad as he'd feared.
Vangie and Garrett both worked for a law firm in Bellevue. They spent time with each other and with their own set of friends and he rarely saw them.
He pleaded work whenever they did invite him to one of their parties. It wasn't an excuse; it was the truth.
Vangie said he worked far too hard, and Garrett thought his almost-brother-in-law was boring because he did nothing except design buildings.
That was fine with Seb. They had their lives and he had his.
But as the date for the wedding approached, things had changed. Wedding plans made months ago now required constant comment and consultation.
Vangie had begun calling him daily. Then twice a day. Recently it had increased to four and five times a day.
Sebastian wanted to say, "Get a grip. You're a big girl. You can make decisions on your own."
But he didn't. He knew Vangie. Loved her. And he understood all too well that her wedding plans were symbolic of her biggest fantasy.
She'd always dreamed of being part of a "real" family, of having that built-in support. It was what "normal" families did, she told him.
And Vangie, more than any of them, had always desperately wanted them to be "normal."
Seb was frankly surprised she even knew what "normal" was.
"Of course I know what a normal family is," she'd told him sharply when he'd said so. "And so do you."
He'd snorted at that. But she'd just come back with, "You have to try, Seb. And trust that it can happen."
There was no reply to that. If Vangie wanted to live in a Disney movie, he couldn't stop her. But whenever she called, he let her talk. At least, he did when he didn't have to get to a meeting sooner rather than later.
But Max had left a message on his mobile phone last night while Seb had been flying back from Reno to say they needed to talk this afternoon.
Which meant, Seb thought with a quickening excitement that owed nothing to jelly beans or mints or the color rose, that they'd won the Blake-Carmody bid.
He and Max had spent both many long hours working up a design for the forty-eight-story downtown building that would be a "complete village" with shops, office and living space. And even though Max had been the one who'd taken the main portfolio to meet with Steve Carmody and Roger Blake, Seb knew it was unspoken that he was being groomed for the head architect's position. So he had kept on improving, revising, detailing the general plans.
"I just don't know," Vangie said now. "There are so many things to think about. The napkins, for instance"
"Yeah, well, we can talk about it later," Seb said with all the diplomacy he could muster. "I really have to go, Vange. If I hear from Dad, I'll let you know," he added. "But he's more likely to ring you than me."
They both knew he wasn't likely to ring either of them. When last heard from, Philip was about to marry his latest personal assistant. She'd be the fourth who'd had her eye on his wealth. At least his old man knew how to do a decent pre-nup at this point.
"I hope so," Vangie said fervently. "Or maybe he's been in touch with one of the girls."
"What girls?" Philip was taking them on in pairs now?
Would it be harems next? Seb wondered, as he shut his portfolio and stood up.
"The girls," Vangie repeated impatiently, as if he should know which ones. "Our sisters," she clarified when he still didn't respond. "Our family. They'll be here this afternoon," she added, and all at once her voice sounded bright.
"Here? Why? The wedding's not till next month, isn't it?" God knew he was busy, but Seb didn't think he'd lost the whole month of May.
"They're coming to help." Seb could hear the smile of satisfaction in Vangie's voice. "It's what families do."
"For a month? All of them?" He could even remember how the hell many there were. But it didn't sound like anything to rejoice about.
"Just the triplets. And Jenna."
All the ones over eighteen, then. Dear God. How was Vangie going to put up with them all for a month? That ought to make her think twice about how much she wanted all of them to be a "normal" family.
"Well, good luck to you. So you want me to arrange for them to be picked up at the airport?"
"No. Don't worry. They're coming from all over and at different times, so I told them they should just take taxis."
"Did you? Good for you." Seb smiled and flexed his shoulders, glad Vangie was showing a bit of spunk, and grateful that she hadn't stuck him with all the logistics of shifting their sisters around as well as having to listen to the jelly bean monologues. He picked up his portfolio. "Where are they staying?"
He supposed he ought to know that. He might even drop by and take them to dinner on Sundayin the interests of "normal" family relations.
"With you, of course."
The portfolio slammed down on his desk. "What!"
"Well, where else would they stay?" Vangie said reasonably.
"All those rooms just sitting there! You must have four bedrooms at least in that penthouse of yours! I have a studio. No bedroom at all. Three hundred square feet. Besides, where else would they stay but with their big brother? We're a family, aren't we?"
Seb was sputtering.
"It won't be a problem," Vangie went on blithely. "Don't worry about it, Seb. You'll hardly know they're there."
The hell he wouldn't! Visions of panty hose drying, fingernail polish spilling, clutter everywhere hit him between the eyes. "Vangie! They can't"
"Of course they can take care of themselves," she said, completely misunderstanding. "Don't fret. Go to your meeting. I'll talk to you later. And be sure to let me know if you hear from Dad."
And, bang, she was gone before he could say a word.
Seb glared at the phone, then slammed it down furiously. Blast Evangeline and her "normal" family fantasy anyway!
There was no way on earth he was going to share his penthouse with four of his sisters for an entire month! They'd drive him insane. Three twenty-year-olds and an eighteen-year-old giggly, silly girl who, he knew from experience, would take over every square inch. He'd never get any work done. He'd never have a moment's peace.
He didn't mind footing the bills, but he was not having his space invaded! It didn't bear thinking about.
He gave a quick shuddering shake of his head, then snatched up his portfolio and stalked off to Max's office, where he would at least find an oasis of calm, of focus, of sanity, of engaging discussion with Max.
Gladys, Max's secretary, looked up from her computer and gave him a bright smile. "He's not here."
"Not here?" Seb frowned. "Why not? We've got a meeting."
Besides, it didn't make sense. Max was always here, except when he was on a site. And he never double scheduled. He was far too organized.
"I'm sure he'll be along. He's probably stuck in traffic." Gladys gave Seb a bright smile. "I'll ring you when he gets here if you'd like."
"Is he on-site?"
"No. He's on his way back from the harbor."
"The harbor?" Seb frowned. He didn't remember Max having a project down there, and he knew Max's projects.
Max washad been ever since Seb had come to work for himhis role model. Max Grosvenor was utterly reliable. A paragon, in fact. Hardworking, focused, brilliant. Max was the man he wanted to become, the father figure he'd never had.
Philip couldn't be bothered to turn up when he said he would, but if Max wasn't here atSeb glanced at his watch againfive past three in the afternoon when he was the one who'd scheduled the meeting, something was wrong.
"Is he all right?"
"Couldn't be better, I'd say." Gladys said cheerfully. Though only ten or so years older than her boss, she doted on him like a mother hennot that Max ever noticed. "He's just been on a bit of an outing."
Seb's brows drew down. Outing? Max? Max didn't do "outings." But maybe Gladys had said "meeting" and he had misheard.
"I'm sure he'll be along shortly." Even as she spoke, the phone on her desk rang. Raising a finger as if to say, wait, Gladys answered it. "Mr. Grosvenor's office." The smile that creased her face told Seb who it was.
He tapped his portfolio against his palm, watching as Gladys listened, then nodded. "Indeed he is," she said into the phone. "Right here waiting. Oh" she glanced Seb's way, then smiled "I'm sure he'll live. Yes, Max. Yes, I'll tell him."
She hung up and, still smiling, looked up at Seb. "He's just come into the parking garage. He says to go right in and wait if you want."
"Right. I'll do that." He must have misunderstood. She must have said "meeting." Max must have had a new project come up.
"Thanks, Gladys." With a smile, Seb stepped past her and opened the door to Max's office.
It was always a jolt to walk into Max's office on a clear sunny day. Even when you were expecting it, the view was breathtaking.
Seb's own office, nearly as big and airy as Max's own, looked out to the north. He could sit at his desk and see up the coast. And if he shifted in his chair, he could watch the ferry crossing the water.