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Georgianna Hunt Fairchild glared at her mother. "I can't believe you said that."
Cornelia Fairchild, as always, remained unruffled. "Darling Georgie. What I can't believe is that I've somehow managed to upset you."
"I'm not upset. I'm just tired of people trying to interfere in my personal life."
"People? I'm hardly people."
Georgie rolled her eyes. "When you start trying to fix me up with every Tom, Dick and Rupert out there, you've joined the ranks of people! How many times do I have to tell you and my sisters and Uncle Harry and Alex and every other person who might know my name that I am not interested in getting married. Period. End of story."
Completely frustrated, Georgie jumped up and began pacing around her mother's living room. "Do you know that the other day Joanna invited me to dinner, and when I got there, it wasn't just her and Chick the way I thought it would be, but she'd invited Chick's brother?"
Joanna Spinelli was Georgie's former college roommate and her BFF. She was currently having a torrid romance with Chick London, her bossbig mistake, Georgie thought, mixing her work life with her personal life, as nothing good could come of itand now she seemed to want everyone else to enter the same besotted state.
"What was so wrong with that?" Cornelia asked.
"Look, Chick's brother is nice enough, but it was obvious that Joanna was trying to fix me up with him! Dammit, I don't want to be fixed up with anyone, and she knows that."
"Please don't swear, Georgie. It's very unladylike."
"Sorry. But honestly, Joanna of all people should know better. And then Bobbie called and got on my case." Bobbie was the youngest of the four Fairchild sisters, and she was practically still on her honeymoon and wild about her new husband. In fact, all of Georgie's sisters seemed to be wildly in love
or lust, although they would say they had found their soul mates. Georgie had yet to be convinced that such a thing existed.
"Your sisters love you, Georgie," her mother said softly. "And so does Joanna."
"I know they do, Mom, but doesn't that mean they should listen to me once in a while? I listen to them." Georgie ignored the little voice of her conscience that said she didn't always listen to them.
Cornelia shook her head sadly. "Oh, all right, Georgie, have it your own way. But just wait. One of these days you'll be a forty-something woman with no husband, no children and no prospects. Then let's see how you feel!
"Besides, I was not trying to fix you up," she added. "Trust me, I've learned my lesson in that area. All I said was Josie Wilcox's nephew is staying with her while he's in Seattle on business and he's at loose ends, and from what she's said about him, he sounds as if you two might have a lot in common."
"You know, Mom, first of allno offense against you, but I barely know Josie Wilcox and from what I do know of her, I have no desire to meet her nephew. Second of all, I have a long way to go until I'm forty-something, considering I've just barely turned thirty. And last of all, don't you remember what that survey showed? The one where they interviewed married men, single men, married women and single women?"
Her mother said nothing, simply picked up her mug of tea and sipped. Her thoughtful eyes studied Georgie over the rim of the cup.
"Well, I do," Georgie said. "That survey foundand I believe itthat the happiest people are, number one, married men, and, number two, single women. And the unhappiest people are married women!"
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Georgie. Anyone can prove anything with a survey. Everyone knows that surveys are skewed by all kinds of things. Why, I know any number of happily married women."
Georgie sighed. "I don't want to argue with you. Try to understand, okay? I'm happy the way I am. Unlike your other daughters, I really don't want to get married. I mean, what's the point if you don't want children? I know that just goes against everything you believe, but I'm being honest with myself, and I don't think I'm cut out to be a mother. Can't you respect that?"
Her mother glanced out the windows of her recently renovated porch, which was now a sunroom and extension of the living room. Georgie's gaze followed. The view of Puget Sound from the family's hilltop home in Queen Anneone of Georgie's favorite areas of Seattlewas a sight she had never tired of. Today could have been a day in high summer instead of January: The sun was shining and the water sparkled as if dusted by thousands of diamonds. Maybe one day she, too, would have a home like this, but Georgie intended to pay for every last brick with money she earned. Instead of sublimating her goals for a husband's. Instead of spending her days ferrying spoiled and overindulged kids to soccer games and skating lessons. Instead of her giving up her independence and freedom. She was sorry if her decisions had made her mother unhappy, but this was her life, not her mother's!
Cornelia took her time before answering. "If I thought you wouldn't deeply regret this decision one day, I would respect it, Georgie. But darling, I just don't think you understand how you'll feel when you're older and your childbearing days are over." Turning back to Georgie, her green eyesthe same color as Georgie'swere filled with love. "I've seen it all too often. Think about your cousin Sophie."
Sophie Fairchild Jamison was the only daughter of Georgie's father's older brother Franklin. Sophie had married late and had desperately been trying to have a child the past few years, with no success.
"I'm not Sophie. I have a demanding job I love, a wonderful family and tons of friends, and if I ever feel the need for a child of my own, I'll adopt. God knows there are millions of children all over the world who desperately need someone to love them." Georgie had seen too many of them in her work for the Hunt Foundation. Many nights her dreams were haunted by their sad eyes.
"Yes, I know. But you could do that, too, you know." Now it was Cornelia's turn to sigh. "All right, Georgie. I'll quit 'bugging' you, as you've so inelegantly expressed it. And I'll just pray you won't regret this decision some day."
"Thank you, Mother." Now that she'd won her point, Georgie could afford to be magnanimous. She walked to her mother's chair and knelt before her. "You know I love you, don't you? And that I'm grateful for everything you've sacrificed for us? We can agree to disagree about this one thing, can't we?"
Her mother smiled. "Yes, but that doesn't mean I won't continue to worry about you."
Georgie raised herself up and kissed her mother's still-smooth cheek. "I know. I guess I can't ask for miracles." Then she grinned. "Although if anyone can accomplish miracles, it's you."
"Look who's talking, Miss I-Finished-College-in-Three-Years-and-Got-My-Master's-in-Less-than-Two.'"
Although Georgie had never had problems with self-confidence, sometimes her mother's praise and her sisters' admiration made her uncomfortable. She was not exceptional or brilliant, and she kept trying to tell them so. She just knew what she wanted, she worked hard and she didn't waste her time. If she made a bad decision, the moment she realized it was bad, she rectified it. Her sisters were all hard workers, too, but some of them lacked confidence and hesitated before making changes. It was a mystery to Georgie that the four them, so close in age, all born to the very same mother and father, could be so different.
Take Tommi, for instance. The only place she seemed to feel completely sure of herself was in the kitchen.
"So what's on your agenda now?" her mother asked. "Has Alex made any decision about where you'll go next?"
Georgie shook her head. "God, I hope so. We're meeting for lunch tomorrow. Aside from anything else, it'll be nice to see him again."
Her mother frowned. "I thought you were working at Alex's office the past couple of weeks while waiting for a new assignment."
"Not at the office. I'm doing research for him at home. But I'll sure be glad to get back into the field. I like research, but not that much."
Despite this minor complaint, Georgie loved her job, loved that Alex allowed her to have a say in what she did and where she did it. Since coming to work for him at the Hunt Foundation nineteen months earlier, Georgie had been happier than she'd ever been in her entire life.
Alex was a dream boss. One of the things about him she liked most was that he treated all his employees with consideration and respect. P.J., his wife, was one lucky woman. In fact, if Georgie ever found a man like Alex, she might even change her mind about getting married.
"What're you smiling about?" her mother asked.
Georgie started. She'd forgotten her mother was sitting there. Not a good idea. Her mother was too sharp. She had an uncanny ability to almost read a person's mind, to the chagrin of all her daughters. "Oh, nothing. Just thinking how happy I'll be to get busy again."
Georgie had come home from the Sudan right before the Christmas holiday had begun and had now been on hiatus more than three weeks. She'd told Alex she didn't need that much time off. After all, she had no husband, children or pets to worry about. And although she was the newly proud owner of a small, loft-type condo in near downtown Belltown, the maid service and condo maintenance she paid for took excellent care of her property when she was away.
"Well," her mother said, "I hope, if he's sending you out to the field again, he sends you somewhere peaceful this time. It worries me when you go into countries where there's so much civil unrest."
"You know Alex would never put me in danger."
Cornelia raised her eyebrows. "Afghanistan is terribly dangerous. And so was Burundi. And even the Sudan."
"I was never in danger in any of those places." But Georgie mentally crossed her fingers, because she wasn't telling her mother the entire truth. Sure, she'd been in supposedly protected zones in those countries, and in all cases she'd been accompanied by representatives from the UN, along with a security detail, but still
no one was ever completely safe surrounded by warring factions, and she'd had one or two closeand scarycalls.
Cornelia nodded, but Georgie knew she wasn't convinced. Giving her mother another kiss, she said, "I've gotta run, Mom. I'm getting my hair trimmed. My appointment's at three o'clock."
"Phone me tomorrow?" her mother said as she walked Georgie to the door.
"Why? So you can call Alex and yell at him if you don't like where he's sending me next?" teased Georgie.
Her mother laughed. "Don't think I wouldn't."
"Oh, I know you would." And the worst part was, Alex would probably listen. Sometimes Georgie despaired of ever leading a totally independent life. But that's what she got for taking a job with someone so closely intertwined with her family. Although she and Alex Hunt referred to each other as cousins, they were not really related. Their fathers had been best friends as kids, and as young men they'd co-founded a company that eventually became HuntCom.
Of course, the company's huge success came years after George Fairchild's death, so neither he nor Cornelia had benefitted financially the way Harry Hunt, Alex's father, had. It wasn't for lack of trying on Harry's part, though. Harry Hunt wasn't perfect, but he was nothing if not generous to the people he loved. And George Fairchild's wife and daughters were high up on that list. Harry had tried everything he could think of to give Cornelia money, and she had thwarted every attempt. He had managed to gift each of her daughters with $100,000 upon their high-school graduation, along with an honorary seat on the HuntCom board. Furious, Cornelia had refused to talk to him for months afterward.
Cornelia was proud. She wasn't willing to take money she didn't feel she deserved, no matter how much she could have used the help at the time. And the same applied to her daughters.
Georgie admired her mother more than just about anyone. How many women would have had guts enough and strength enough to hold their heads high after finding out, after his death, that the husband they'd trusted had gambled away every bit of their life's savings, including their stock in HuntCom? How many women would refuse to take the easy way out that had been offered by Harry Hunt? Not many, Georgie thought.
Cornelia Phillips Fairchild hadn't wasted a whole lot of time feeling sorry for herself, either. She'd sold the family home, the one asset George Fairchild had not been able to touch, because it belonged to Cornelia outrighther inheritance from the maternal grandmother she'd been named for. She'd bought the much smaller Craftsman-style bungalow in Queen Anne that she still lived in, and she'd taken a job as secretary at the small private girls' school where her daughters were enrolled. In that way, with what she got for the girls in Social Security, what remained from the sale of the big house and her small salary supplementing free tuition for the girls, she was able to keep their lives as close to normal as possible.
Yes, her mother was a remarkable woman, and Georgie thought the world of her. Even so, she mused as she drove away from the family home, she was no longer a child who needed her mother's guidance, especially when it came to her love life
or lack thereof.
Georgie hoped they'd settled that subject today and that Cornelia wouldn't be raising it again. Then she grinned. Of course her mother would raise it again. Her mother wasn't the type to give up easily.
Well, I'm not, either. No one was going to talk her into doing anything she didn't want to doabsolutely no one.
Zachary Prince was ready for the weekend to begin. Although he really liked his job, today he was tired of being cooped up in the office, tired of all the problems associated with too much work and too few people to do it since his assistant had quit, and he just wanted to go home and spend time with his children.
He often felt guilty because he didn't need to work. He could stay home and be with the kids full-time. After all, he didn't need the money. He and his twin sister, Sabrina, had inherited a stock portfolio worth many millions from their grandfather, McKinley. But Zach liked his work as director of the New York office of the Hunt Foundation. And he was wise enough to know that as much as he loved his children, he would go crazy at home all day, especially now that his two oldest, Katie and Jeremy, were in school.