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Victoria Colby-Camp sat in the coffee shop on the first floor of the building she called her second home. The place where the Colby Agency had been born, where it thrived more than twenty years later.
Located mere blocks off Chicago's glorious Magnificent Mile, coming to work every day was a treat for the senses. She loved the excitement of the city. Her city. The sounds and smells; the good and the bad that went along with living in an ever-expanding metropolis.
She should be getting back to the office. Lucas — she smiled — would be wondering where she'd gotten to. Every woman who had loved and lost, whatever the circumstances, should have a second chance at the kind of love she had found with Lucas Camp.
Victoria thanked God every day for him, as well as for the health and well-being of her family.
She sipped her Earl Grey and studied the patrons swarming in and out of the small coffee shop. There were only six tables, each with two delicately formed wrought iron chairs. The seats weren't cushioned, most likely to prevent anyone from growing too comfortable. The owner needn't have worried; most who entered the shop were in a hurry. They were either in a rush to get to work or simply needed to get away from the office for a few moments. Smoking was no longer permitted in the building, so those who partook were forced to go outside to do so.
Of course, there was coffee and tea of all sorts in the lounge on the fourth floor just down the hall from Victoria's office. Or Mildred, her secretary, would have been happy to see after her refreshment needs. Each morning when Victoria came to work, she found coffee, her favorite blend, waiting for her in an elegant carafe. Mildred had a kind of sixth sense when it came to anticipating the needs of most everyone at the agency. This one had been no different.
But, like those with cigarettes and lighters in hand, this morning Victoria had come down to the lobby for a different reason. Escape, for only a minute or two. She couldn't say precisely why she had felt the need. All was well at home and in the office. She simply needed a few moments, not necessarily alone but to herself.
She watched the men and women rush through the main entrance and across the expanse of polished marble floor only to have to wait in line while security scrutinized their possessions as well as their persons. To move beyond that checkpoint, one had to have proper identification and be thoroughly screened for anything that might be used as a weapon.
It was a nuisance, but unfortunately a necessary one in today's climate of unrest.
Victoria settled her attention back on the swiftly cooling tea. Maybe the reason for her desire to have a moment alone was more apparent than she realized. For the first time in almost two decades, everything in her life was exactly as it should be. Her son Jim and his wife Tasha, were at long last happy, and the first Colby grandchild was on the way. The horrors that had haunted Jim since his return home were now finally under control.
A smile toyed with the corners of Victoria's mouth. And her other baby, her agency, was better than ever. She'd hired more new recruits, bringing the total to five. The energy from those young men and women had provided just the transfusion of excitement the agency had needed recently.
That was the one word that truly defined her agency as it moved toward its third decade of operation.
She felt completely satisfied for the first time in far too long a time. Satisfied and extremely lucky.
That smile that had tickled her lips now spread across her face as she caught sight of her husband in the lobby. Confidence radiating from him, Lucas strode straight into the coffee shop. He didn't glance her way, but she knew he was aware of her presence. When his turn in line came, he placed his order — coffee, the strongest Colombian blend, no doubt. Cup in hand, he bypassed the side counter holding various sweeteners and creamers and headed directly for her table. That determined gaze settled on hers and that special connection that bound them so inextricably hummed at its full intensity.
"Is this seat taken?"
She looked up at the man she loved more than life itself and let her smile speak for her. Her husband's own lips quirked as he lowered himself into the seat. The tailored pin-striped suit he wore was her favorite. The blue shirt and deeper navy tie turned his silvery eyes to a warmer hue of passionate gray, making her feel warm and safe inside.
Lucas surveyed the dwindling comings and goings, then rested his full attention on her. "It's kind of early for a break, isn't it?"
That much was true. It wasn't even nine yet. This man had spent the past twenty plus years worrying about her. Even now, when life was as good as it gets, he didn't relent.
"It's been a long time, Lucas, since I've sat and watched life happen around me. I've been so busy trying to keep my world from shattering at every turn that I couldn't risk taking note of anything else." It felt good to be able to step back and just enjoy life as it happened.
He nodded knowingly. "You're afraid it won't last." Victoria frowned, performing a quick inventory of her feelings. "To some degree, I suppose that's a fair assessment." She picked up her tea, held it with both hands and relished its warmth. However strong she might be, no one was exempt from worry now and again. "Who doesn't worry?"
"You could always retire," he suggested with a mischievous twinkle in those sexy eyes. "We could spend our mornings watching the world go by and our evenings admiring the sunset from anywhere in the world that pleases you."
She couldn't say his offer wasn't tempting, but Victoria understood that she would never be happy doing only that. Retirement was not for her. "I can't say that I haven't considered just that," she admitted. Especially since Lucas had stepped down from his high-powered position in D.C., choosing to serve as a consultant when needed and usually via a telephone conference. Once in a while, he still had to fly to the District to take care of highly classified business personally. Then there was the pending arrival of their first grandchild.
In spite of all those seemingly logical reasons to choose retirement, she knew herself too well. "But you know that would never be enough."
"I would be shocked if you had proposed otherwise." Lucas leaned forward and gave a covert look around to ensure no one was within hearing distance.
"Speaking of work, Mildred wanted me to give you a message."
Victoria lifted an eyebrow skeptically. "Did Mildred send you to bring me back?" She hadn't intended to stay this long; time had gotten away from her. It amused her immensely that Lucas didn't mind playing messenger. Just another indication of how very much he loved her.
"You had a call from a client she felt you wouldn't want to miss. The appointment is scheduled for half an hour from now."
Her calendar was clear this morning. An unexpected appointment wouldn't be a problem. "Who's the client?" Someone in a hurry, obviously. Someone who wanted to see her personally rather than one of the two men who served as her seconds-in-command.
"Desmond Van Valkenberg."
Surprised, she tried to remember the last time she'd had Mr. Van Valkenberg or his representative in her office. Three years? Four? A corporate profile request, if her memory served her correctly. She didn't know Desmond that well, but she had known his father quite well. Hershel Van Valkenberg had been a giant in finance, a man of his word until the day he passed away twelve years ago. He preferred doing business the old-fashioned way, himself and in person. His son had proved to be a vastly different businessman, with numerous representatives to see after his interests while he remained reclusive and as far from the limelight as possible.
"He's sending his representative, a Mr. Lance Brody, to see you."
Mr. Brody was his personal attorney, not one of the corporate team he usually sent. Victoria had met the gentleman once at a reception she had attended and where Van Valkenberg had made one of his rare appearances. Brody was a very formal man. He gave new meaning to the term stuffed shirt, but had quite the stellar reputation as an attorney.
In any event, she should prepare for his arrival. She stood. "Under the circumstances I suppose we should get back."
Lucas pushed to his feet with effort. Some days, the fact that he wore a prosthetic for a right leg was more pronounced than others. Her heart squeezed at the memory of how he'd gained that at times unwieldy appliance. His sacrifice as a prisoner of war had saved her first husband's life long, long ago. Lucas was not only a wonderful husband, he was also a man of unparalleled courage. He'd proven to be her savior more than once.
He offered his arm. "Shall we?"
Victoria looped her arm in his and thanked God again for this wondrous man. To have known and loved two great men in her lifetime was truly a blessing few had the good fortune of claiming. "Absolutely."
A few minutes later, Victoria sat in her office reviewing the Van Valkenberg file Mildred had already pulled for her convenience. The work the Colby Agency had done for this client, and for his father before him, generally involved background searches on potential employees and profiles of companies targeted for potential mergers. She had every reason to anticipate that the coming meeting would be more of the same. But she was puzzled that he had chosen to send his personal attorney.
A light rap on the door alerted her to Brody's arrival. Mildred opened the door and announced him. Victoria, though strangely preoccupied with her own thoughts this Monday morning, couldn't help noticing her longtime secretary's glow. Another weekend with her beau, she supposed. Victoria felt certain those two would be setting a wedding date soon. And why not? Life was too precious to waste.
Victoria rose from her chair. "Thank you, Mildred." She shifted her full attention to her visitor. "Mr. Brody, come in, please."