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EMILY LAMBERT STOOD for a moment in the doorway of her father's study. Outside, a bitter January wind was attempting to rattle the windows of the two-story Tudor house. Even for Boston, this year's winter had been particularly brutal so far.
Her father didn't seem to notice the rattling or to be aware of her presence. Given his obvious preoccupation, she had a feeling that she could have stood there for an hour and he still wouldn't have noticed her. Whatever he was working on tonight had captured his attention.
Ordinarily, Emily would have just slipped away again, and waited for a better opportunity, but time was growing short. They were almost down to the wire. She felt a little edgy. Her father was a sweet, kind-hearted man, but he could be incredibly stubborn at times, and she had a feeling this was going to be one of them.
Tossing her straight black hair over her shoulder, she rapped once on the door jamb and waltzed into the room as if she owned it. Sixteen going on thirty, Emily sometimes felt as if she were the parent and her corporate-lawyer father the child. In reality, their relationship was a seesaw of give and take and they were incredibly close. They had been ever since her mother died in a car accident eight years ago. It was then that Jefferson Lambert, the brightest corporate lawyer God ever created, at least as far as she was concerned, had taken over the responsibility of being both mother and father to her while still working full-time at Pierce, Donovan and Klein.
Always busy, he still found time to be there for her whenever she needed him, whether it was to attend a school play, to tutor her in math, or to show her the finer points of tennis.Every moment of his day was accounted for and he had none left over for a social life. In her younger, more self-centered days, this had worked out just fine. She liked having her father all to herself. But now that she was beginning to see boys as something other than the annoying enemy, she really needed her dad's attention to be focused away from her.
A late bloomer, Emily was just barely learning how to make herself desirable to the opposite sex, and she had absolutely no idea what kind of woman her father would like. She was increasingly aware of their own differences in taste, for instance. Her father liked musicals, for heaven's sake, and could quote the lyrics to maybe a hundred songs or more, and each one could send her running from the room.
The very thought of a musical made her want to shiver. She could only pray that somewhere out there was a woman with similar strange tastes.
Emily was determined. She just had to get her father back into the dating pool. Of late, it had become her mission in life. She was fairly certain that he would never find anyone if he continued to focus on her and his work. When that invitation from his old fraternity at Tulane University in New Orleans had arrived last year, she'd been overjoyed, positive that her prayers had finally been answered. Or at least addressed. The invitation was for a huge reunion.
Knowing that her father would go solo and probably remain that way, Emily had scraped together every penny she had in order to pay an online dating service to set her father up with a date once he was in New Orleans. With time growing short, she still had to determine which one to use.
All her plans had been unceremoniously upended when her father informed her that he had absolutely no intention of attending the reunion. He'd underscored his decision by balling up the invitation and tossing it into his wastepaper basket with the finality of a slam-dunk. She'd fished it out the next morning. And then again a few days after that. Each time, she'd smoothed the invitation out and placed it back in the center of his desk -- where it was supposed to be now.
Except that it wasn't.
Glancing down, she saw it was in the waste-basket. Emily sighed and bent down to retrieve the paper that represented, she hoped, her first step toward independence. "You dropped this," she announced cheerfully as she placed the now torn invitation dead center in front of her father.
Jefferson Lambert raised his blue-gray eyes from the computer screen and glanced at the child he thought of as his whole world. At forty-seven, he still looked like he could play a mean game of tennis and not be winded at the end of it -- true on both counts. Tall and athletic, he had straight black hair like his daughter. Only the smattering of gray that was beginning to creep in at the temples hinted at the fact that perhaps he was not quite as young as he initially appeared.
Of course, to tease her, he called each gray hair he had "Emily," in honor of the person he claimed to have turned his hair gray in the first place.
"No, I didn't 'drop it," he told Emily patiently.
"I've already told you. I'm not going to the reunion. I have too much to do here, and besides, it's going to be a huge waste of time."
Time was something Emily felt people had the right to waste occasionally -- especially if they spent their waking hours doing things for someone else. Her father needed to do something for himself for a change.
"Dad " She gave a long-suffering look.
"Emily," he echoed back at her in the same singsong tone she'd used.
Emily frowned. She hated it when he mimicked her, however harmlessly intended, especially when she was attempting to do something for his own good. If that "something" included her own good, well, so much the better. Two for the price of one. But her main concern, at the moment, was getting her father on the right path.
The wind howled, as if adding its two cents. Emily took it as encouragement. "You need to get out, to have some fun for a change."
"I do have fun," Jefferson protested with a trace of humor. "I have fun with you."
"Adult fun," she specified. "Uncle Blake'll be there," Emily reminded him. "Don't you want to see Uncle Blake?"
Blake Randall had been Jefferson's roommate at Tulane. Blake had also been in the fraternity with him. No one who knew them would have pegged them as friends. He and Blake were as different as night was from day. Maybe because of that, they got along well. The two had remained close after grad-uation -- so close that Jefferson had asked Blake to be Emily's godfather when he found out that Donna was pregnant.
Consequently, Blake made it a point to come around during the holidays each year, bringing with him gifts purchased with the sole intention of spoiling Emily rotten. Blake had no family of his own, no long-standing commitments other than to his career. Jefferson thought of him as rootless, and although he really liked the man, he had no desire to live the kind of life Blake lived, even for a weekend.
"We just saw Blake at Christmas, remember?
And I'm sure he'll be back at some point. He's never missed your birthday -- by much," he added with a grin. At least when Blake came to Boston, the man was on Jefferson's turf and he could call the shots. He found it saner that way. Back in New Orleans, most likely it would be a case of anything goes. Not Jefferson's style.
Emily rolled her eyes dramatically. Her birthday was in July. It might as well be half a century away as far as she was concerned. She was interested in the here and now. "The world could go up in smoke in another six months, Dad," she protested. "Or be washed away, the way New Orleans very nearly was by Katrina. In case you haven't noticed, these are very fast times we're living in."
Jefferson worked hard at suppressing a smile. "Then maybe some of us should slow down," he said, looking at her pointedly.
"Dad, don't you want a social life?" Emily cried, frustrated. "I'm not going to be sixteen forever, you know. I'm going to have a life, too." And then she added what she felt was her crowning argument. "Someday, I'm going to go off on my own and get married."
Pushing back from his desk for a moment, Jefferson pretended to give his daughter a long, scrutinizing look. "Then I guess I'd better enjoy you while I still have the chance."
He was being extremely difficult, Emily thought, feeling her patience coming to an end. "What are you going to do when I leave home?"
Jefferson sighed soulfully, then assumed a hang-dog expression. "Sit in a rocking chair, wrap myself up in a shawl and enjoy the memories we created when you were sixteen."
Emily threw up her hands. This was pointless. Her father was a wonderful, good man. There was none better and she knew it. But he could be completely inflexible when he wanted to be.
What she needed, she decided, was to bring out the big guns. She needed Uncle Blake.
"I give up," she announced for her father's benefit.
"That's my girl." Tempted to ruffle her hair the way he used to, Jefferson managed to hold himself in check. He missed the contact they used to have, missed the little girl she'd been. But he did his best to respect her boundaries whenever she set them up.
"Know when you're out-manned." With a wink, he went back to his work.
She wasn't out-manned, Emily thought, or out-maneuvered. Not yet, anyway.
Moving quickly, she retreated to her room, closed the door behind her and got on her cell phone. There was a phone in her room, but she didn't want to risk getting on the land line. If her father picked up the receiver to make a call, he might overhear her and put a stop to what she was about to do.
Which was get help.
Unlike other times she'd called Blake, it took her only one try to reach him at his home. His booming, cheerful voice as he said hello made her feel that everything was going to be all right. Nothing ever stopped Uncle Blake when he set his mind to do something.
Getting on her bed, she sat down with her legs tucked beneath her and launched into her plan. "Uncle Blake, it's Emily."
"Hey, hi, kiddo. How's the prettiest girl in Massachusetts?"
Emily needed no more of an opening than that. Within the space of a minute, everything came pouring out, one word tumbling over the next. With Blake, she found she could be the exuberant teenager that she couldn't quite be with her father. Blake didn't need looking after the way her father did. With Blake, she didn't have to wear two hats. She could just be Emily.
"Stumped, Uncle Blake. I can't get Dad to go to the reunion."