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It was another typical day in paradise.
While the carefully made-up newscasters talked about "storm watches" and blizzards hitting every state both east and north of New Mexico, here, in Bedford, happily nestled in the middle of Southern California, the sun was seductively caressing its citizens with warm, loving fingers.
Travis Marlowe would have preferred rain. He wished for a gloomy, rainy day where the sun absented itself and illumination came from artificial sources rather than the incredibly bright orb in the sky.
Rain and gloom would have far better suited his current mood. Moreover, the lack of light would have soothed his present condition. He had no idea why his head hadn't killed him yet.
It was true what they said. No good deed went unpunished.
All right, it wasn't exactly a good deed. It was part of his job. Kind of. While the firm's bylaws didn't state that burning the midnight oil was part of the job, he still felt it was requiredeven if he was the only one doing the requiring.
Angry little devils with sledgehammers pounded along the perimeter of his temples.
That's what he got for staying up most of the night, working out the kinks in Thomas Fielder's revocable living trust and then deciding to sack out on the sofa in his office rather than driving home at almost five in the morning.
The firm, leather sofa, while perfectly fine for sitting, was definitely not the last word in comfort for sleeping. Not only his head, but his neck ached, thanks to the rather strange position he'd woken up in this morning. His neck felt not unlike a pipe cleaner permanently bent out of shape.
To add insult to injury, every time he turned his head, horrible painsshot out of nowhere, piercing the base of his neck and making Travis wish that he'd died sometime in the early morning.
But here it was, a brand new sunny day and he had to face it. And look relatively happy about it.
Taking the change of shirt and underwear he kept in the bottom drawer for just such an emergency, Travis hoped that a quick shower in the executive bathroom would help set him back on the right track.
"Go home," his father, one of the senior partners for the family law firm where he worked, said by way of a greeting. A quick assessment had Bryan adding, "You really look like hell."
Bryan Marlowe made no secret of the fact that he was quite happy that at least one of his four sons had followed him into law. Not a man to brag, it was still very obvious that he was proud of his son. Travis thought, if his father was telling him to go home, he must look like death warmed overor a reasonable facsimile thereof.
"I'll look better after a quick shower," Travis promised. He was about to nod at the clothing in his arms, but stopped himselfand prevented another onslaught of painjust in time.
Bryan snorted as his eyes traveled the length of his son. "That will be one hell of a rejuvenating shower." Pausing, Bryan frowned. "Why didn't you go home last night like everyone else?" he asked.
Travis shrugged, his broad shoulders moving beneath a light blue dress shirt in desperate need of an iron. "You know how it is. You keep telling yourself ‘Oh, just one more thing' and then, suddenly, it's morning. Or close to it."
Somewhere on the floor honeycombed with suites, one of the attorneys slammed a door. The sound reverberated throughout the hall. Travis winced as the sound ground its heel into his head.
"Headache?" Bryan guessed.
There was no point in lying. "Yeah. A doozy."
The answer just reinforced Bryan's initial reaction. "Like I said, go home, Travis. Take a personal day and take that shower in your own bathroom."
Travis had no desire to go home, where time hung too heavily on his hands. "I'm fine, really. Besides, never know when I might need one of those personal days. Better to save them."
Bryan frowned. He had a case he wanted to review before his early morning appointment arrived, but as his wife Kate had taught him, nothing was more important than family. And right now, that meant Travis.
"I wish to God you needed to take one of those personal days. You know, Travis, when you told me that you wanted to go into family law, I don't think there was a prouder father under the sun. I mean, I love all of you boysand Kelsey," Bryan tossed in his daughter's name. Because she was the last born, and a girl, he had a tendency to place her in a category all her own, something Kelsey bristled at when he did. "And I'm proud of each of you, but I'd be lying if I didn't say I was a little disappointed when Mike, Trevor and Trent didn't follow me into the field. I always envisioned all five of us having our own company."
The corners of Travis's mouth curved. "Marlowe and Sons?"
"Something like that," Bryan freely admitted. "Still, one is better than none and your brothers all have done very well in their chosen fields."
Travis was vaguely aware that he had someone coming in this morning, although the exact time escaped him. He needed to get ready. "Where's this going, Dad?"
Bryan stopped, amused rather than annoyed at the prodding. "We're lawyers, Travis. Roundabout is our regular route."
Travis smiled indulgently. "Sorry."
"My point," Bryan confided, "is that you turned out to be more like me than I ever thought possible."
Travis studied his father's face. It was a face that, if he so desired, gave nothing away. "That's a compliment, right?"
"Yes and no," Bryan allowed. "Your dedication is admirable. The fact that you do nothing else but work is not." Here, his son had turned out to be too much like him. The old him, Bryan amended silently. Because he was familiar with the signs, he wanted to help his son avoid the pitfalls. "Now, I know exactly how easy it is to get caught up in things because it's easier to do that than face your own problems. Until Kate came along and pointed it out, I didn't even realize I was doing that."
He and his brothers were well aware of the significant changes his stepmother had brought into all their lives. She arrived and took over the duties that three other nannies had fled from in quick succession. Still, he didn't want his father extrapolating that into his own life.
"I'm not working because I don't want to face any problems, Dad," Travis insisted. "I'm working because I like working."
"It cost you Adrianne," Bryan reminded his son quietly.
Travis paused and took a breath. Adrianne and he had been engaged for approximately two monthsuntil she'd thrown the ring at him. "Adrianne and I weren't a match. I'm lucky it ended the way it did. I actually dodged a bullet." Better to break up before a wedding than after one.
Bryan thought of it from his son's fiancée's point of view. Living with Kate had taught him to see things from perspectives other than his own. "It would have been easy enough for a bullet to find you. You were always at your deskor in court."
Travis didn't want to talk about the issue. It was in the past and just reinforced his initial feelings about relationships. Very few turned out and they weren't worth the risk.
"Dad, things usually work out for the best. We weren't right for each other. According to the grapevine, Adrianne's with some guy now who can give her all the attention she wants."
Travis was more his son than the boy realized, Bryan thought.
"You know, after your mother died," Bryan said, referring to Jill, his first wife and the biological mother of his four sons, "I tried to bury myself in my work because I felt guilty. Guilty that I was alive when she wasn't, guilty that there might have been something I could have done to save her, to keep her from going on that trip. And I was afraid to commit to anyone else even you boysfor fear of feeling that awful, awful pain of being abandoned again. It took Kate to make me see that loving someone, leaving yourself open to love, was worth every risk you can take."
Travis began to nod his head and stopped abruptly when the motion sent a dozen arrows flying to his temples. This was going to be one hell of a day, he thought. Still, he dug in stubbornly.
"I'll keep that in mind," Travis promised. "Now, I really would like to take that shower."
Bryan stepped to the side, out of his son's way. "Turn the hot water all the way up. The steam might help your head."
"Gotcha," Travis said, heading toward the executive shower.
Not about to get into another discussion, Travis was just humoring his father. He knew from experience that with these headaches, the only thing that could help immediately was if someone gave him a new head. Short of that, it was a storm he just needed to ride out. Preferably in a room where the blinds were drawn.
Reaching the executive bathroom, Travis locked the door behind him and quickly stripped off his clothes. It took him less than a minute to adjust the water temperature. In the stall, he sighed, allowing the water to hit his back full force.
He appreciated his father's concern about the direction his life was taking, he really did, and in the privacy of his own mind, he might be willing to acknowledge a germ of truth in his father's supposition that he had a phobia about commitments. He was even willing to concede that it might be remotely rooted in his mother's demise.
But he really did like his work a great deal and Adrianne, it turned out, just liked the prestige of saying that her significant other, soon-to-be-husband, was a lawyer. Not that Adrianne wanted him doing any law-yering on her time, and her time was anytime she decided she needed to see him.
He was better off without her. When he saw his brothers, who had all paired up this last year, if he felt a little isolated, like the odd man out, he gave no indication. He was happy for his brothers, happy each had apparently found the one person who completed their world.
But for him, it wouldn't be that easy. Not because he wasn't looking but because he felt it was far too early to be thinking of being with someone on a permanent basis. Someone who, if the whim hit, could leave. Granted, Adrianne had turned out to be an unfortunate choice, but she just proved his theory. He was better off on his own. Better off working, doing what he was good at.
But analyzing deep-rooted feelings and subconscious ones, that was Trent's domain, not his. Trent was a child psychologist, like Kate. Trent was accustomed to mul-tilayered thinking and digging deep. Travis liked things to be in black and white.
Like the law.
Travis stood beneath the showerhead a bit longer, letting the hot water hit him and the steam build up within the black, onyx-tiled stall. Slowly, some of the tension began to leave his shoulders. It helped. A tiny bit.
He got out before he turned pruney.
"Your hair's damp."
Travis's secretary, Bea Bennett, made the note. A small, thin, angular woman, she favored long skirts, sensible shoes and long, penetrating looks in lieu of arguing with her boss. She stepped into his office not ten minutes after he'd returned to it himself.
"The hair dryer died," Travis told her.
The device had given up the ghost midway through drying his sandy blond hair, making it appear a little darker. With the hair dryer refusing to rise up from the dead, he'd run his fingers through his hair a couple of times, getting rid of any excess water. Travis figured the air would take care of the rest eventually.
Thin, carefully penciled-in eyebrows rose in mild surprise. "The one in the executive bathroom?"
About to nod, Travis refrained. The headache was still very much a part of him, the tiny respite in the shower a thing of the past the moment he stepped away from the hazy warmth of the stall.
"That's the one."
Bea frowned, shaking her head, a head mistress trying to decipher the mystery that was her student. "Don't know what you people do with them. The one I've got at home's lasted going on seven years now."
Like everyone else at the firm, Travis was accustomed to the woman's outspoken manner. Most of the time, he actually got a kick out of it. This was not one of those times. Migraine headaches made him less tolerant of eccentricities.
"Good for you, Bea." He dug into his side drawer for the bottle of extra-strength aspirin. The aspirin that was powerless to relieve his headache. He took a couple of pills anyway. He had heard that if you believed something worked, it helped. He did his best to believe. Swallowing, he continued talking to her. "Now, did you come in here for a reason, Bea, or did you just want to bedevil me with your rapier wit and your arousing physical presence?"
Bea narrowed her eyes until the black marbles disappeared behind tiny slits. He didn't know if she was doing it for effect, or if she was myopic.
"When I'm bedeviling you, Mr. Marlowe, you won't have to ask if that's what I'm doing. You'll know it," the woman informed him. Then, with a toss of her head, she switched persona, becoming the perennial secretary. "Your ten o'clock appointment is here."
His ten o'clock. For a second, Travis drew a blank. He glanced at his calendar. He'd written a name beside the ten o'clock space, but it was now completely illegible to him.
"And he would be?" he asked, leaving the rest up in the air, waiting for Bea to fill in the blank.
"They," Bea corrected. "And they're outside in the reception area." She gestured behind her toward the common area where all but the most elite of the firm's clients waited.
Travis looked at the calendar again. It made less sense to him than before. He was really going to have to do something about his handwriting. "I need a name, Bea."
She eyed him, a small, thin face behind dark-rimmed glasses someone had once said she wore for effect rather than necessity. "Any particular one?" she asked glibly.