The Dream Unfolds
By Barbara Delinsky
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 1990 Barbara Delinsky
All rights reserved.
They were three men with a mission late on a September afternoon. Purposefully they climbed from their cars, slammed their doors in quick succession and fell into broad stride on the brick walk leading to Elizabeth Abbott's front door. Gordon Hale rang the doorbell. It had been decided, back in his office at the bank, that he would be the primary speaker. He was the senior member of the group, the one who had organized the Crosslyn Rise consortium, the one who posed the least threat to Elizabeth Abbott.
Carter Malloy posed a threat because he was a brilliant architect, a rising star in his hometown, with a project in the works that stood to bring big bucks to the town. But there was more to his threat than that. He had known Elizabeth Abbott when they'd been kids, when he'd been the bad boy of the lot. The bad boy no longer, his biggest mistake in recent years had been bedding the vengeful Ms. Abbott. It had only happened once, he swore, and years before, despite Elizabeth's continued interest. Now, though, Carter was in love and on the verge of marrying Jessica Crosslyn, and Elizabeth had her tool for revenge. As chairman of the zoning commission, she was denying Crosslyn Rise the building permit it needed to break ground on its project.
Gideon Lowe was the builder for that project, and he had lots riding on its success. For one thing, the conversion of Crosslyn Rise from a single mansion on acres of land to an elegant condominium community promised to be the most challenging project he'd ever worked on. For another, it was the most visible. A job well-done there would be like a gold star on his résumé. But there was another reason why he wanted the project to be a success. He was an investor in it. For the first time, he had money at stake, big money. He knew he was taking a gamble, risking so much of his personal savings, but if things went well, he would have established himself as a businessman, a man of brain, as well as brawn. That was what he wanted, a change of image. And that was why he'd allowed himself to be talked into trading a beer with the guys after work for this mission.
A butler opened the door. "Yes?"
Gordon drew his stocky body to its full five-foot-ten-inch height. "My name is Gordon Hale. These gentlemen are Carter Malloy and Gideon Lowe. We're here to see Miss Abbott. I believe she's expecting us."
"Yes, sir, she is," the butler answered, and stood back to gesture them into the house. "If you'll come this way," he said as soon as they were all in the spacious front hall with the door closed behind them.
Gideon followed the others through the hall, then the living room and into the parlor, all the while fighting the urge to either laugh or say something crude. He hated phoniness. He also hated formality. He was used to it, he supposed, just as he was used to wearing a shirt and tie when the occasion called for it, as this one did. Still he couldn't help but feel scorn for the woman who was now rising, like a queen receiving her court, from a chintz-covered wingback chair.
"Gordon," she said with a smile, and extended her hand, "how nice to see you."
Gordon took her hand in his. "The pleasure's mine, Elizabeth." He turned and said nonchalantly, "I believe you know Carter."
"Yes," she acknowledged, and Gideon had to hand it to her. For a woman who had once lain naked and hot under Carter, she was cool as a cucumber now. "How are you, Carter?"
Carter wasn't quite as cool. Losing himself to the opportunity, he said, "I'd have been better without this misunderstanding."
"Misunderstanding?" Elizabeth asked innocently. "Is there a misunderstanding here?" She looked at Gordon. "I thought we'd been quite clear."
Gordon cleared his throat. "About denying us the building permit, yes. About why you've denied it, no. That's why we requested this meeting. But before we start —" he gestured toward Gideon "— I don't believe you've met Gideon Lowe. He's both a member of the consortium and our general contractor."
Elizabeth turned the force of her impeccably made-up blue eyes on Gideon. She nodded, then seemed to look a second time and with interest, after which she extended her hand. "Gideon Lowe? Have I heard that name before?"
"I doubt it, ma'am," Gideon said. Her hand felt as cool as that cuke, and nearly as hard. He guessed she was made of steel and could understand why once had been enough for Carter. He knew then and there that he wasn't interested even in once, himself, but he had every intention of playing the game. "Most of my work has been out in the western counties. I'm new to these parts." If he sounded like a nice country boy, even a little Southern, that was fine for now. Women liked that. They found it sweet, even charming, particularly when the man was as tall as Gideon was, and — he only thought it because, after thirty-nine years of hearing people say it, he supposed he had the right — as handsome.
"Welcome, then," she said with a smile. "But how did you come to be associated with these two rogues?"
"That's a damn good question," he said, returning the smile, even putting a little extra shine in it. "Seems I might have been taken in by promises of smooth sailing. We builders are used to delays, but that doesn't mean we like them. I've got my trucks ready to roll and my men champing at the bit. You're one powerful lady to control a group of guys that way."
Elizabeth did something with her mouth that said she loved the thought of that, though she said a bit demurely, "I'm afraid I can't take all the credit. I'm only one of a committee."
"But you're its chairman," Gordon put in, picking up the ball. "May we sit, Elizabeth?"
Elizabeth turned to him with a look of mild indignance. "Be my guest, though it won't do you much good. We've made our decision. As a courtesy, I've agreed to see you, but the committee's next formal meeting won't be until February. I thought I explained all that to Jessica."
At mention of Jessica's name, Carter stiffened. "You explained just enough on the phone to upset her. Why don't you go over it once more, face-to-face, with us."
"What Carter means," Gordon rushed to explain, "is that we're a little confused. Until yesterday afternoon, we'd been under the impression that everything was approved. I've been in close touch with Donald Swett, who assured me that all was well."
"Donald shouldn't have said that. I suppose he can be excused, since he's new to the committee this year, but all is never 'well,' as you put it, until the last of the information has been studied. As it turns out, we have serious doubts about the benefit of your project to this community."
"Are you kidding?" Carter asked.
Gordon held up a hand to him. To Elizabeth, he said, "The proposal we submitted to your committee went through the issue of community impact, point by point. The town has lots to gain, not the least of which is new tax revenue."
Elizabeth tipped her head. "We have lots to lose, too."
"Like what?" Carter asked, though a bit more civilly.
"Like crowding on the waterfront."
Gordon shook his head. "The marina will be limited in size and exclusive, at that. The price of the slips, alone, will discourage crowds."
"That price will discourage the local residents, too," Elizabeth argued, "who, I might add, also pay taxes to this town."
"Oh, my God," Carter muttered, "you're worried about the common folk. Since when, Elizabeth? You never used to give a damn about anyone or anything —"
"Carter —" Gordon interrupted, only to be interrupted in turn by Elizabeth, who was glaring at Carter.
"I've moved up in the hierarchy of this town. It's become my responsibility to think of everyone here." When Carter snorted in disbelief, she deliberately looked back at Gordon. "There's also the matter of your shops and their effect on those we already have. The town owes something to the shopkeepers who've been loyal to us all these years. So you see, it's not just a matter of money."
"That's the most honest thing you've said so far," Carter fumed. "In fact, it doesn't have a damn thing to do with money. Or with crowding the waterfront or squeezing out shops. It has to do with you and me —"
Gordon interrupted. "I think we're losing it a little, here."
"Did you expect anything different?" Elizabeth said in a superior way. "Some people never change. Carter certainly hasn't. He was a troublemaker as a boy, and he's a troublemaker now. Maybe that's one of the reservations my committee has —"
Carter sliced a hand through the air. "Your 'committee' has no reservations. You're the only one who does. I'd venture to guess that your 'committee' was as surprised as we were by this sudden withholding of a permit. Face it, Lizzie. You're acting on a personal vendetta. I wonder what your 'committee' would say, or the townspeople, for that matter, if they were to learn that you and I —"
"Carter!" Gordon snapped at the very same time that Gideon decided things had gone far enough.
"Whoa," Gideon said in a firm but slow and slightly raspy voice. "Let's take it easy here." He knew Carter. When the man felt passionately about something, there was no stopping him. It had been that way with Jessica, whom he had wooed doggedly for months until finally, just the day before, she agreed to marry him. It was that way with Crosslyn Rise, where he had spent part of his childhood. Apparently it was that way, albeit negatively, with Elizabeth Abbott. But Gideon knew Elizabeth's type, too. Over the years, he had done enough work for people like her to know that the more she was pushed, the more she would dig in her heels. Reason had nothing to do with it; pride did.
But pride wouldn't get the consortium the building permit it needed, and the permit was all Gideon wanted. "I think," he went on in the same slow and raspy voice, "that we ought to cool it a second." He scratched his head. "Maybe we ought to cool it longer than that. It's late. I don't know about you guys, but I've been working all day. I'm tired. We're all tired." He looked beseechingly at Elizabeth. "Maybe this discussion would be better saved for tomorrow morning."
"I don't believe I can make it then," she said.
Gordon added, "Tomorrow morning's booked for me, too."
Carter scowled. "I have meetings in Springfield."
"Then dinner now," Gideon suggested. "I'm starved."
Again Gordon shook his head. "Mary's expecting me home. I'm already late."
Carter simply said, "Bad night."
Gideon slid a look at Elizabeth. "We could talk over dinner, you and I. I know as much about this project as these bozos. It'd be a hell of a lot more peaceful. And pleasant," he added more softly. "What do you say?"
Elizabeth was interested. He could see that. But she wasn't about to accept his invitation too quickly, lest she look eager. So she regarded him contemplatively for a minute, then looked at Gordon and at Carter, the latter in a dismissive way, before meeting Gideon's gaze again.
"I say that would be a refreshing change. You're right. It would be more peaceful. You seem like a reasonable man. We'll be able to talk." She glanced at the slender gold watch on her wrist. "But we ought to leave soon. I have an engagement at nine."
As announcements went, it was a bitchy one. But Gideon was glad she'd made it for several reasons. For one thing, he doubted it was true, which dented her credibility considerably, which made him feel less guilty for the sweet talking he was about to do. For another, it gave him an out. He was more than willing to wine and dine Elizabeth Abbott for the sake of the project, but he wasn't going beyond that. Hopefully, he'd have the concessions he wanted by the time dessert was done.
Actually he did even better than that. Around and between sexy smiles, the doling out of small tidbits of personal information and the withholding of enough else to make Elizabeth immensely curious, he got her to agree that though some of her reservations had merit, the pluses of the Crosslyn Rise conversion outweighed the minuses. In a golden twist of fate — not entirely bizarre, Gideon knew, since the restaurant they were at was the only place for fine evening dining in town — two other members of the zoning commission were eating there with their wives. Unable to resist showing Gideon how influential she was, Elizabeth insisted on threading her arm through his and leading him to their table, introducing him around, then announcing that she had decided not to veto the Crosslyn Rise conversion after all. The men from the commission seemed pleased. They vigorously shook hands with Gideon and welcomed him to their town, while their wives looked on with smiles. Gideon smiled as charmingly at the wives as he did at Elizabeth. He knew it would be hard for her to renege after she'd declared her intentions before so many witnesses.
Feeling proud of himself for handling things with such aplomb, he sent a wink to a waitress whose looks tickled his fancy, as he escorted Elizabeth from the restaurant. At her front door, he graciously thanked her for the pleasure of her company.
"Will we do it again?" she asked.
"By all means. Though I feel a little guilty."
"Seeing you, given our business dealings. There are some who would say we have a conflict of interest."
"They won't say it to me," Elizabeth claimed. "I do what I want."
"In this town, yes. But I work all over the state. I won't have you as my guardian angel other places."
Elizabeth frowned. "Are you saying that we shouldn't see each other until you're done with all of Crosslyn Rise? But that's ridiculous! The project could take years!"
In a soft, very gentle, slightly naughty voice, he said, "That's not what I'm saying at all. I'm just suggesting we wait until my work with the zoning commission is done."
Her frown vanished, replaced by a smug smile. "It's done. You'll have your permit by ten tomorrow morning." She tugged at his lapel. "Any more problems?"
He gave her his most lecherous grin and looked at her mouth. "None at all, ma'am. What say I call you later in the week. I'm busy this weekend, but I'm sure we'll be able to find another time when we're both free." He glanced at his watch. "Almost nine. Gotta run before I turn into a mouse." He winked. "See ya."
* * *
"So what was she like?" Johnny McCaffrey asked him the next afternoon after work.
They were at Sully's, where they went most days when Gideon was home in Worcester. Sully's was a diner when the sun shone and a bar at night, the watering spot for the local rednecks. Gideon's neck wasn't as red as some, but he'd grown up with these guys. They were his framers, his plasterers, his masons. They were his teammates — softball in the summer, basketball the rest of the year. They were also his friends.
Johnny was the closest of those and had been since they were eight and pinching apples from Drattles' orchard on the outskirts of town. Ugly as sin, Johnny had a heart of gold, which was probably why he had a terrific wife, Gideon mused. He was as loyal as loyal came, and every bit as trustworthy. That didn't mean he didn't live a little vicariously through Gideon.
"She was incredible," Gideon said now of Elizabeth, and it wasn't a compliment. "She has everything going for her — blond hair, blue eyes, nice bod, great legs — then she opens her mouth and the arrogance pours out. And dim-witted? Man, she's amazing. What woman in this day and age wouldn't have seen right through me? I mean, I wasn't subtle about wanting that permit — and wanting it before I touched her. Hell, I didn't even have to kiss her for it."
"Nah. She didn't turn me on." He took a swig of his beer.
Johnny tipped his own mug and found it empty. "That type used to. You must be getting old, pal. Used to be you'd take most anything, and the more hoity-toity the better." He punctuated the statement with two raps of his mug on the bar.
Gideon drew himself straighter on his stool and said with a self-mocking grin, "That was before I got hoity-toity myself. I don't need other people's flash no more. I got my own."
"Watch out you don't start believing that," Johnny teased. "Give me another, Jinko," he told the bartender. To Gideon, he said, "I bumped into Sara Thayer today. She wanted to know how you've been. She'd love a call."
Gideon winced. "Come on, Johnny. She's a kid."
"I don't fool with kids."
"She doesn't look like a kid. She's got everything right where it's supposed to be. And she ain't gonna wait forever."
Sara Thayer was Johnny's wife's cousin. She'd developed a crush on Gideon at a Christmas party two years before, and Johnny, bless his soul, had been a would-be matchmaker ever since. Sara was a nice girl, Gideon thought. But she was far too young, and in ways beyond her age. (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Dream Unfolds by Barbara Delinsky. Copyright © 1990 Barbara Delinsky. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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