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Deanna Lawford approached the counter in the home-accessories section of McCall's department store. She pointed to the lavender-and-pink-colored candles nestled in a nook behind the counter and asked the clerk, "Are those for sale? "
The woman looked over her shoulder at Deanna. "They're part of our store display. How about these?" She pointed to a group of purple and peach candles that varied in height from two to twelve inches and in width from one-half to four inches. "They're similar height and width," the sales clerk said.
"Sorry, but they don't match my color scheme. The other ones are exactly what I need, and I've been looking for over a month. Thanks, anyway."
The clerk shrugged apologetically and turned her attention to the next customer. Deanna knew that if she couldn't find what she wanted in that department of McCall's, she might as well stop looking. With an air of resignation, she turned to leave.
"Sell her those candles," said a deep voice as Deanna was about to leave. "Never mind, you're busy now. I'll do it."
Deanna spun around, arrested as much by the voice as by the prospect of getting the candles. The smile that greeted her seemed almost bright enough to light the candles.
He put one of each color on the counter. "Anything else, miss? Is it miss?"
Her smile must have frozen on her face. At twenty-nine, she had long ago stopped becoming infatuated by men with nothing more than a handsome face and a come-hither smile. That is, until now.
He stopped smiling. She looked around, thinking he must have been looking at someone else, but he'd focused his gaze on her. Embarrassed, she fumbled in her purse for her list, though she knew precisely how many of each color and size she wanted. But she had to distract herself. If she didn't know better, she'd swear he'd hypnotized her.
He placed both hands on the counter. They were polished, well-manicured hands with long tapered fingers—powerful hands. "Do you want them?"
Grateful that she could look at something other than him, she unfolded her list and pretended to read it. "I… uh…I want all of them, please."
"All of… There are sixteen candles up there. Are you an interior decorator?" She was, but she wanted the candles for her bedroom. "They don't seem appropriate for the dining room," he said. "But—"
"They aren't for the dining room."
"Then I assume they're for a lavender and pink bedroom." She nodded. "Very feminine. Have a seat over there in the lounge while I have these cleaned up for you. They're dusty."
She hadn't planned on the waiting and she didn't have the time to spare. But getting precisely what she wanted was worth having to change her plans. She looked up as a woman wearing a black-and-white uniform approached.
"You have to wait ten or fifteen minutes, miss. So I've been asked to bring this to you." She placed a cup of coffee and a plate of cookies on the small table beside Deanna, handed her a copy of The Woodmore Times and left. Deanna drank the coffee, but ignored the cookies, because she'd planned on getting a quick lunch in McCall's dining room before heading for her appointment. The man brought the candles to her wrapped and sealed with the department store's logo in a convenient McCall's shopping bag.
"Are you about to have lunch?" he asked her.
She stood up and tried to steel herself against the charm that went with the voice. She was five foot eight, so he had to be at least six foot three or four to tower over her as much as he did.
"I'm just going to have a quick bite," she told him.
"What a pity. Thursday's lunch menu is always excellent. Will you join me?"
She was about to ask him if he always ate at McCall's with its pricey lunches, then decided, after she looked long and hard at his suit, that he could well afford it. He certainly wasn't a clerk, she decided.
"Well, if you don't eat with me, I'll have to eat alone, and you'll have missed the opportunity to do a good deed."
"Don't tell me you don't have a lunch date!"
His eyebrows went up sharply. "No, I don't. And that's the weakest line on record. Come on, join me, and tell me where you got that notion." He opened a door. "After you."
Curiosity killed the cat, she reminded herself. Nevertheless, she walked through the door. "Well, all right, but it'll be a quick lunch."
A waiter greeted them. "Your table is ready, Mr. McCall," he said. She quickly realized that she was not in the department store dining room that served the public, but in a posh setting that had to be the executive dining room of McCall's.
She waited until they were seated and asked him, "Who are you? The waiter addressed you as Mr. McCall."
He seemed nonplussed. "I'm Justin McCall. Thanks for sharing your lunch hour with me."
"I doubt that you'd be eating alone, Mr. McCall. You can dine with almost anyone in Woodmore, male or female."
"That's part of the problem," he said under his breath, although she heard him despite his attempt at whispering. "In your case, it's my own choice," he said.
"This is a beautiful room, and I'm enjoying myself, but I have an appointment, so if you don't mind, I'll eat and not talk."
"I do mind, but only because I like your voice. I've heard that some women place lighted candles around their bedrooms and bathrooms, but isn't that a fire hazard, especially if you fall asleep while the candles are burning?"
"Mine sit on a metal tray. I love the ambience they create."
"I can imagine." He leaned back in his Louis VX-style, upholstered chair and looked at her. "I want to see you again. And if you knew how enchanted I am with you, you'd agree."
Deanna had always thought of herself as a working-class woman who had struggled financially to get through the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York with a degree in interior decorating and design. She did not intend to spend her life genuflecting to the McCall family and their wealth. She might as well be honest with him now, she said to herself, although something in her wanted to accept his invitation.
"I'm sorry, Mr. McCall," she heard herself say. "You're very kind, but I'm not interested. How much are the candles?"
Like a flash of lightning, his entire demeanor changed. He sat forward, looking her in the eye and said, "My clerk told you that the candles were not for sale, and they are still not for sale. Enjoy them."
"Thank you for lunch and for the candles. They are precisely what I needed. Goodbye."
Deanna hurried back to Burton's Department Store, and was about to lock the candles in her desk drawer when it occurred to her to look in the shopping bag. "Whoever heard of anybody wrapping candles in star-spangled gold aluminum paper and tying the package with a gold-colored satin bow?" she asked aloud. Then she saw the small envelope and the handwritten note inside.
Pleasing you gave me great pleasure, and I hope to have the opportunity to do that again and again.
Taken aback, she sat down and rubbed her forehead. Maybe she hadn't been wise to reject him in that way. After all, he had been gracious and kind. The telephone rang, and she shrugged. Woodmore was a relatively small town, and if Justin McCall was serious, he'd find a way to make his point. Still, an involvement with him didn't make sense, she thought, as she answered the phone.
"Decorating department, Deanna Lawford speaking."
"Miss Lawford, Mr. McCall asked me to tell you that you dropped your wallet beside your chair as you were about to leave the dining room. If you'll tell me where you are in Burton's, we'll have someone bring it to you."
"I didn't know I'd lost it. Thank you for calling, and please thank Mr. McCall for his graciousness. I'm in the decorating department on the seventh floor."
She hung up and looked in her purse, knowing she wouldn't find her wallet there. Why would I let that man get to me so that I dropped my wallet with my credit cards, driver's license and cash in it? I don't need to be around him. I've never met anyone with such magnetism.
Half an hour later, her assistant knocked on her door. "Someone's here from McCall's to see you, Deanna. He has a package, but he wouldn't give it to me."
"Thanks, Dee. Have him come in."
"I'm sorry, ma'am," the messenger said, "but Mr. McCall told me to give this to you and nobody else, and he told me not to accept a tip," he added when she handed him a bill.
"Please thank him for me."
"I will. Y'all have a good day."
He left, and she put the wallet in her pocketbook, locked her desk drawer and glanced at her watch. In five minutes she had to present her plan for the mountain retreat to one of Burton's most valued customers, and she didn't even like designing for remote settings. The rustic lifestyle was not her taste. After convincing the couple that bold reds and brilliant blues didn't complement a log-cabin mountain house, they agreed to soft, nature-inspired colors. But as she settled down to enjoying her work, thoughts of Justin McCall and his note came back to her repeatedly.
"I love the woven bamboo blinds," the woman said.
Get your act together, Deanna said to herself when she realized that she hadn't been listening to her clients. "Of course, we'll go over this again before I make any purchases.
I have to sketch all this out and see how it looks. I should get back to you in a couple of weeks."
The couple left apparently happy, and she was glad she could rely on her long habit of taking notes during her consultations with clients. The woven bamboo blinds were for the family room only. She let out a long breath. One more reason why any involvement with a man might be a distraction in achieving her goal.
Justin shook his head from side to side in dismay as Deanna walked away from the table. A woman had a right, even an obligation, to discourage a man if she didn't want his attentions. But if the man behaved as a gentleman, she was obliged to be gracious and to leave him with his dignity intact.
"Your usual cappuccino, sir?" a waiter asked him.
He nodded in an absentminded way. "Yes, thanks, Norton." He shouldn't have let it get to him, but he did, and it hurt. He sipped the coffee, hardly tasting it. She'd stood there so disappointed and looking so vulnerable and unhappy, her big brown eyes near tears, and he'd felt as if he'd give her anything she wanted. She didn't plead or beg, but accepted the clerk's verdict. He drained the cup, signed the check and started back to his office.
"What's this? Someone dropped a wallet here?" he said to no one in particular, picked it up and pulled out a card. "Deanna Lawford, Director, Interior Decorating, Burton's Department Store." Hmm. He returned to his office and asked his secretary to send in Jethro, one of the messengers. He put the wallet in an envelope and, after giving the man strict instructions as to where to take it, he said, "Deliver this to her and hand it to her yourself, and do not accept a tip."
"Yes, sir. Anything else, sir?"
"It has her wallet and credit cards, so be careful."
"Of course, sir."
After Jethro left, Justin stood, slapped his right fist into the palm of his left hand, walked a few paces to the window and looked down on Fifth Street. "Wonder if she'll thank me for finding her wallet and sending it to her. He didn't believe she had bad manners, and the fact that she didn't see him as such a prize catch amused him. Suddenly, laughter rolled out of him. He'd met a woman who he was attracted to and who intrigued him, and she'd let him know unequivocally that he did not have the music to make her dance.
"It's good for whatever's been ailing me," he said aloud. "Now, maybe I'll get down to work and stop thinking about her."
"Mr. Robert McCall on one, sir," Melanie said through the intercom.
"How are you, Granddad," he said to the person closest to him and who he had adored since he was a small child.
"I'm as good as anybody my age could expect to be. Maybe better. Have you given up the idea of putting second and third tier designer products in the store, I tell you, it'll kill our image. People shop at McCall's because they want to feel superior. They'll spend the money because they know that seventy-five percent of Woodmore, most of Danvers and half of Winston-Salem don't even consider entering McCall's. You're making a mistake."
"I'm not planning to stock anything of poor quality in the store. My concern is that Burton's does not serve the middle class well. It marks up everything and because the people don't have other options, they have to accept it. I don't like going against you, Granddad, but try to see it my way. We carry the top American, French and Italian designers, as well as the finest in home furnishings, all for the rich, that they can't get anywhere else near here."
"What will you do if they stop shopping at McCall's?"
"Well, you go ahead, but remember, once you start down this road, you can almost never turn back. Don't they teach that to you Harvard MBA guys?"
"I learned well what you taught me, Granddad, long before I got to Harvard." He hated going against the old man, but his gut feeling said otherwise. "I'll let you know what I decide."
The following morning, he found her letter in his incoming mail-box and, for reasons unclear even to him, he put it in his desk drawer, went to the staff cafeteria for coffee—he did not allow secretaries and assistants to carry coffee or food for their bosses—went back to his office, closed the door and prepared to read Deanna's note thanking him for returning her wallet. He hoped she would at least make it worth the time it took to read it.
He read: "Dear Mr. McCall, I appreciate your returning my wallet. If you hadn't found it, I would have been in big trouble. I was not even aware that I'd lost it. Thank you so much. Deanna Lawford."
He read it again, put it into his desk drawer and muttered, "She could at least have called." Then, he laughed. "Nothing will please me except her acknowledgment that I'm not such a bad guy and that a respectable woman would want to have dinner with me."