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The thick canvas sail flapped in the breeze before Jake Carson aligned the boat to catch the wind. The Lucky Lady responded by slicing through the choppy waters of San Francisco Bay. Satisfied, Jake leaned back and closed his eyes, content with his life and with the world.
“Do you think I’m being terribly mercenary?” Lily Morrissey asked as she stretched her legs out and crossed them at the ankles. “It sounds so coldhearted to decide to marry a man simply because he’s wealthy. He doesn’t have to be that rich.” She paused to sigh expressively. Lately she’d given the matter consideration. For almost a year now she’d been playing the piano at the Wheaton. Only wealthy businessmen could afford to stay at a hotel as expensive as the Wheaton. And Lily was determined to find herself such a man. Unfortunately, no one had leaped forward, and she’d grown discouraged. Each day she told herself that she would meet someone soon. That hope was what kept Lily going back night after night.
“I’d only want someone rich enough to appreciate opera,” she added thoughtfully. “Naturally it’d be nice if he drove a fancy car, but that isn’t essential. All I really care about is his bank account. It’s got to be large enough to take care of Gram and me. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?”
A faint smile tugged at the corners of Jake’s mouth.
“Jake?” she prodded, slightly irritated.
“You haven’t heard a word I said.”
“Sure I have. You were talking about finding yourself a wealthy man.”
“Yes, but that’s what I always talk about. You could have guessed.” Maybe she was foolish to dream of the day when a generous man would adorn her with diamonds.
“I wasn’t guessing. I heard every word.”
Lily studied him through narrowed eyes. “Sure you did,” she mumbled under her breath.
Jake’s slow, lazy smile came into play again.
Lily studied the profile of her best friend. Jake drove a taxi and they’d met the first week she worked at the Wheaton. She owed him a lot. Not only did he give her free rides back and forth to work when he was available, which was just about every day, but he’d also rescued Gram and Lily from the Wheaton’s manager.
Lily’s starting wage had been less than what Gram had paid for an hour of piano lessons. Gram had raised Lily from the time her mother had died and her father had sought his fortune as a merchant marine. She was now twenty-five. Gram had been outraged by the manager’s unintended slight. And Gram, being Gram, couldn’t do anything without a production. She’d shown up at the hotel in an authentic witch doctor’s costume and proceeded to chant a voodoo rite of retribution over the manager’s head.
Luckily, Lily had gotten her grandmother out of the lobby before the police arrived. Jake had been standing next to his taxi and had witnessed the entire scene. Before everything exploded in Lily’s face, Jake held open the cab door and whisked Gram and Lily away from any unpleasantness. Over the months that followed, the three had become good friends.
Jake was actually a struggling writer. He lived on his boat and worked hard enough to meet expenses by driving the taxi. At thirty-two, he didn’t seem to take anything too seriously. Not even his writing. Lily sometimes wondered how many other people he gave free rides to. Money didn’t matter to Jake. But it did to Lily.
“I am going to meet someone,” Lily continued on a serious note.
“I don’t doubt it,” Jake said and yawned, raising his hand to cover his mouth.
“I mean it, Jake. Tonight. I bet I meet someone tonight.”
“For your sake, I hope you’re right,” Jake mumbled in reply.
* * *
Her words echoed in her ears several hours later when Lily pulled out the bench of the huge grand piano that dominated the central courtyard of the Wheaton. Dressed in her full-length sleeveless dress and dainty slippers, she was barely recognizable as the woman who’d spent the afternoon aboard Jake’s boat.
Deftly her fingers moved over the smooth ivory keys as her upper body swayed with the melody of a Carpenters’ hit.
Some days Lily felt that her smile was as artificial as her thick, curling eyelashes. After twenty-seven hundred times of hearing “Moon River,” “Misty” and “Sentimental Journey,” Lily was ready to take a journey herself. Maybe that was why she had talked to Jake. If she was going to meet someone, surely it would have happened by now. Sighing inwardly, she continued playing, hardly conscious of her fingers.
Five minutes later when Lily glanced up, she was surprised to find a ruddy-faced cowboy standing next to the piano, watching her.
She smiled up at him and asked, “Is there something you’d like to hear?” He had to be close to forty-five, with the beginnings of a double chin. A huge turquoise buckle dominated the slight thickening at his waist. He was a good-looking man who was already going to seed.
“Do you know ‘Santa Fe Gal of Mine’?” The slight southern drawl wasn’t a surprise. His head was topped with a Stetson, although he was dressed in a linen sport coat that hadn’t cost a penny under five hundred dollars. A Texan, she mused; a rich Texan, probably into oil.
“‘Santa Fe Gal of Mine,’” she repeated aloud. “I’m not sure that I do,” she answered with a warm smile. “Hum a few bars for me.” She didn’t usually get requests. People were more interested in checking in to the hotel or meeting their friends for a drink in the sunken cocktail lounge to care about what she was playing.
The man placed a steadying hand against the side of the piano and momentarily closed his eyes. “I can’t remember the melody,” he admitted sheepishly. “Sorry, I’m not much good with that sort of thing. I’m an oilman, not a singer.”
So he was into oil just as she suspected. Lily got a glance at his feet and recognized the shoes from an advertisement she’d seen in GQ. Cowboy boots, naturally, but ones made of imported leather and inlaid with silver. Leather, Lily felt, made the difference between being dressed and well dressed. This gentleman was definitely well dressed.
“Do you know who sang the popular version?” she questioned brightly, her heart pounding so hard it felt as though it would slam right out of her chest. She’d told Jake she was going to meet someone. And that someone had appeared at last! And he wasn’t wearing a wedding band either.
“Nope, I can’t say that I do.”
“Maybe there’s another song you’d like to hear?” Without conscious thought her hands continued to play as she glanced up at the cowboy with two chins and reminded herself that looks weren’t everything. But, then again, maybe he had been married and had a son her age—an heir.
“One day I’m going to find some sweet gal who knows that blasted song,” he muttered. “It always was my favorite.”
Already Lily’s mind had shifted into overdrive. Somehow, she’d locate his long-lost song and gain his everlasting gratitude. “Will you be around tomorrow?”
“I should be.”
“Come back and I’ll see what I can do.”
He straightened and gave her a brief salute. “I’ll do that, little filly.”
Lily’s heart was pounding so hard that by the time she finished an hour later, she felt as if she’d been doing calisthenics. Maybe he’d be so grateful he’d insist on taking her to dinner. This could be the break Lily had waited months for. It hadn’t happened exactly as she’d expected, but it was just the chance she’d been wanting. Already she could picture herself sitting in an elegant restaurant, ordering almond-saffron soup and lobster in wine sauce. For dessert she’d have Italian ice cream with walnuts and caramel oozing from the sides. Her mouth watered just thinking about all the wonderful foods she’d read about but never tasted. Her Texan would probably order barbecued chicken, but she wouldn’t care. He could well be her ticket to riches and a genteel life . . . if she played her cards right. And for the first time in a long while, Lily felt she’d been dealt a hand of aces.