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Authors: Liv James

Retreat

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

RETREAT

 

Liv James

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

RETREAT

by
Liv James
 

 

©
2008, 2011

 

All
rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or printed without the
written consent of the author.

 

This
is a work of fiction: any resemblance to events, people, places or things,
living or dead, is coincidental.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

For
Jim

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

CHAPTER
1

 

    
Clara steadied herself against the glass-and-metal
door, fighting the wind that whipped up Will Rogers Boulevard. She cursed the
copper key as she twisted it in the handmade lock, using all of her weight to
hold the door shut.

    
Who made a lock out of hammered copper,
anyway? Certainly not someone who had to use the damned thing.

    
Only an artist, she scowled as she spun the
key until the lock clicked.

    
She belted her cherry-red rain coat around
her, pulling her dark hair out from under the wide collar.

    
She glanced up at the graying sky, hoping
the rain would hold off until she reached the restaurant. The wind had picked
up considerably, swirling grit and swelling the heavy air with the threat of
the storm.
 
Within moments the first
giant drops would hit the sidewalk.

    
She picked up her pace.

    
A rumble of thunder followed her into the
darkened vestibule, then deadened behind the oak slab that closed with the
solid, confident thud of a door that understood its purpose.

    
A mirror hung to her right above a row of
bronze coat hooks. She nudged a dark wave of bang into place and performed a
cursory make-up check before turning her attention to the well-heeled patrons
and scanning the room for her friend Marcy Becker.

    
Clara survived Penn State
a decade before with Marcy’s help, so she was thrilled to find a message on her
desk that afternoon saying she was in town and wanted to meet for dinner.

    
Her best friend would want the dish on
David before the wedding, but that conversation could wait. Clara was more
interested in telling Marcy about the struggling businesses she’d uncovered
here in Tulsa.
With any luck she’d pique her interest enough that she’d consider becoming
Clara’s partner when she opened her own firm. It’d be a hard sell, since Marcy
was happy at Freedman’s in Fort Worth,
but Clara thought she could convince her to come on board.

    
It was with this anticipation that Clara
found herself greeted not by her long-time friend as expected, but by a drawl
she’d spent a year trying to forget.
   

    
“That’s a hell of a ring.”

    
Clara met the too-familiar gaze, trying not
to look as startled as she felt. Jon Griffin leaned against the dark paneling
with that confident grin that she once found charming but that now seemed
cavalier.

    
“What are you doing here?” she asked,
lowering her eyes at him as he strolled toward her. She stole another glance
through the crowd, hoping to spot Marcy.

    
“Having dinner with you,” he said, lifting
her raincoat from her shoulders and draping it over his arm. She realized a
moment too late how easily she’d allowed him that courtesy, as if nothing
between them had changed.

    
“No, you’re not,” Clara said firmly. “I’m
meeting Marcy.” She put a hand out to retrieve her coat, but he deftly swept it
into his other arm.

    
“No. The meeting is with me. I asked your
assistant to set it up so you’d think you were having dinner with Marcy. I
figured you wouldn’t come if you knew it was with me.”

    
He’d figured right. She wouldn’t have come.
She’d have stayed as far from the restaurant as possible, preferably holed up
at home with David until she was sure Jon Griffin was on his way back to Fort Worth.

    
Even if, in a bout of madness, she’d agreed
to go to dinner with him, she wouldn’t have picked Mangiones, where she was
guaranteed to run into someone she knew.
 
And she wouldn’t have worn her new suit, with a navy blue pencil skirt
that ended just above her knees and a cranberry blouse that gave it all a
splash of color. Now she’d think of him whenever she wore it, which meant she’d
never be able to wear it again.

    
That thought alone made her want to pull
back her pointed pumps and give him a good jab in the shins.

    
Jon watched her, poker-faced, waiting for a
response.

    
She considered walking away, but was afraid
he’d follow her outside and then she’d be alone with him, which would be even
worse than standing here in the noisy vestibule where she was already finding
it difficult to concentrate.

    
She crossed her arms and glared up into his
dark eyes. “She’s not my assistant.” She left out the part that if he knew
anything at all about her anymore he’d already know that. “She answers the
phones for everyone. You shouldn’t have put Terry in that position.”

    
“She didn’t seem to mind.” He motioned
toward the wooden staircase that led to the main dining room. “You’re here now.
Make the most of it.”

    
“You shouldn’t have tricked me.”

    
“It worked.” The grin resurfaced. “After
you.”

    
She didn’t want to go up those stairs –
that was a fact. But more than that, she couldn’t cause a scene at Mangiones unless
she wanted to hear about it for weeks from the crinkled gossips. A dinner with
Jon she could stand. Weeks of explaining herself? No thanks.

    
She glanced around, buying time, wary of
familiar faces. There were a few – mostly older – in the line forming behind
her, the building pressure of which pushed her to follow Jon’s outstretched
hand up the stairs. She passed close enough to catch the earthy scent of his
cologne, instantly reminding her why she’d put a state between them.

    
She grabbed the wooden railing and kept
moving without looking back.

    
Maureen Mangione greeted them at the top of
the stairs, her crooked smile outlined in deep red lipstick. Maureen co-owned
the restaurant with her husband and frequently served as the hostess.
 

    
“Where’s Mr. Carpenter tonight?” Maureen
asked as she led them to a candlelit table near the back of the busy
restaurant.

    
“He’s at home,” Clara said. Maureen had
seated them the night David proposed. She felt compelled to add: “This is a
business dinner.”

    
Maureen winked at Jon. “Perhaps you got
your signals crossed?”

    
David was a regular customer and a good
tipper so it was in Maureen’s best interest to keep an ear trained for juicy
gossip or any changes in his personal life that might mean he needed extra
attention.

    
Damn it!
 
Clara thought. Who knew what Jon told Maureen before she arrived. He
could charm the socks off a disgruntled troll with those wide shoulders and
that damned grin.

    
Jon pulled out a cushioned chair for Clara,
then took the seat across from her, watching her intently as Maureen handed
them each an open menu and left the table, content for now with the dirt she’d
gathered.

    
“You clean up nice,” Jon said, motioning
toward her suit.

    
“What is this about?” She closed her menu. “Are
you trying to get me in trouble or what?”

    
“Now why would going to dinner with me get
you into trouble?” he drawled, his eyes dancing wickedly.

    
Clara pursed her lips, aware that her
single statement revealed more about her state of mind than she’d intended to
share. The corner of Jon’s mouth curved upward as he continued.

    
“I’m thinking about making a donation to
Aesthetics and figured I’d get the inside scoop from an old friend.”

    
“Oh please. You hate art. And charity. And Oklahoma, for that
matter.” She leaned forward and blew out the candle. Nothing about this was
going to be romantic.

    
“So do you but you’re here,” he said,
“raising money for that overblown arts center, right? I’ll work with you.
Whatever you need. Just send Marcy an email and I’ll tell her to make it work.”

    
“Nice due diligence.”

    
“I trust their lead fundraiser,” he said.
“We have … what would you call it? History.”

    
“Ancient history.”

    
“Feels fresh to me,” he said. “Let’s say we
set business aside and catch up a bit.”

    
“That sounds like a bad idea. This has gone
far enough. I can’t have dinner with you. As you pointed out I’m engaged.” She
picked up her navy blue clutch from beside the preset charger and stood to
leave. “You shouldn’t have come. We’re done here.”

    
“Clara,” he said, standing as she did.
“Please stay.”

    
“I have nothing to say to you.” She wanted
to wring his thick neck for reminding her that she still ached from the way
he’d behaved that dreadful night in Fort
Worth. He had to know his sudden appearance would rock
her.

    
“That’s fine. We’ll sit here and look at
each other and eat a wonderful meal. Don’t embarrass me by walking out before
the wine is served.”

    
He towered above her, his hair a mass of
short dark curls that threatened to tumble into his eyes. He smiled and she had
to glance away. As she did she noticed that there were indeed familiar faces at
the tables around them, and they’d turned to watch her.

    
“Clara,” he said.

    
She sat back down, tucked her hair behind
her ears and leaned over to him. “Don’t ever do this to me again,” she said.
“People here know who I am and who I’m engaged to. I don’t need rumors
starting.”

    
“You have my word.”

    
She scowled at him as she picked up her
menu. He smothered a grin and did the same.

    
She studied her menu and tried to pretend
he wasn’t there, but it was hard to ignore him when he was sitting across from
her looking handsome in his suit and interested in hers.

    
So much for moving on, she thought. Oh God,
this was a mistake.

 

    
“So tell me about the ring,” Jon said after
they’d ordered.

    
“I thought we were going to sit quietly and
enjoy our dinner.” Clara wished she still had her menu so she’d have something
to hide behind. She made due by studying her manicure. Her nails were a lovely
shade of pale red …

    
“Then I call mercy. I want to know about
that ring.”

    
“Jon, enough.” She lifted her eyes
momentarily to shoot him a warning glance. He was rubbing a hint of rough
shadow on his chin.

    
He didn’t take the hint.

    
“Who’s the lucky guy?”

    
“None of your business.”

    
“Oh, but it is. His name is David
Carpenter. He’s 42 and a day-trader at the largest brokerage house in Tulsa. He drives a black
Cadillac, visits his mother once a week and has a weakness for smart, beautiful
women.”

    
Clara opened her mouth to say something and
then closed it.

    
“Surprised?” he asked.

    
“A little weirded out.”

    
“Don’t be.”

    
“Okay. Fine. You have my attention. You
must have better ways to spend your time than checking up on me, or David for
that matter. I haven’t seen you in forever. Why do you care? And why on earth
are you here?”

    
“I need to make sure he knows what he’s
getting into with you.”

    
“Oh please,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“As if you have a clue. Or the right.”

    
“I have much more than a clue. I’m not sure
he can handle that kind of excitement. He’s a decade older than you, Clara.”

    
 
“So?
What does that have to do with anything?” Clara asked. “As I recall your kind
of excitement doesn’t extend beyond the bedroom. When it comes to being a man
in the light of day you leave a lot to be desired.”

    
“Clara, I …”

    
“David treats me well.” She held up a hand
to stop him from going further. “Not that it’s any of your business. At all.”

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