CHAPTER THIRTEEN

I showed up for work at eight-thirty the next morning and was immediately surrounded by Kimmie, Samantha, Phil, and Rob. They all expressed relief that I was okay, and asked about the flooding and what it had been like to be trapped in the elevator, and how I’d gotten out.”I managed to call a friend of mine before my cell phone went out,” I explained. “He showed up and . . . well, everything was fine after that.”

“It was Mr. Cates, wasn’t it?” Rob asked. “David told me.”

“Our tenant Mr. Cates?” Kimmie asked, and grinned at my sheepish nod.

Vanessa came to my cubicle, looking concerned. “Haven, are you all right? Kellie Reinhart called and told me what happened last night.”

“I’m just fine,” I said. “Ready for work as usual.” She laughed. Maybe I was the only one who heard the condescending edge to it. “You’re a trouper, Haven. Good for you.”

“By the way,” Kimmie told me, “we got a half-dozen calls this morning, asking if you were the woman in the elevator. I think the local media wants to make a deal out of the Travis angle. So I played dumb and said as far as I knew, it wasn’t you.”

“Thank you,” I said, conscious of the slight narrowing of Vanessa’s eyes. As much as I disliked my being a Travis, she disliked my being a Travis even more.

“All right, everyone,” Vanessa said, “let’s all get back to work.” She waited until the others had left my cubicle before saying pleasantly, “Haven, come to my office and we’ll have coffee while we go over your meeting with Kellie.”

“Vanessa, I’m sorry, but I’m not going to be able to remember everything we went over.”

“It’s on your computer, isn’t it?”

“I don’t have the computer,” I said apologetically. “It drowned.”

Vanessa sighed. “Oh, Haven. I wish you’d be more careful with office property.”

“Sorry, but it just wasn’t possible to save it. The water was coming up and — ”

“Look through your notes, then. You did make notes, didn’t you?”

“Yes, but they were in my briefcase . . . and everything in it was trashed. I’ll call Kelly and try to reconstruct the meeting as well as I can, but — ”

“Honestly, Haven, couldn’t you have managed to hold on to your briefcase?” She gave me a look of gentle chiding. “Did you have to go into a panic and drop everything?”

“Vanessa,” I said cautiously, “the leak in the elevator was more than just a puddle on the floor.” Clearly she didn’t understand what had happened, but the last thing you could tell Vanessa was that she didn’t understand something.

She rolled her eyes and smiled as if I were a child telling stories. “With your flair for drama, there’s no telling what really happened.”

“Hey.” A rich, easy voice interrupted us. Jack. He came to the cubicle, and Vanessa turned to face him. Her slim fingers gracefully tucked a lock of pale, perfect hair behind her ear. “Hello, Jack.”

“Hello, yourself.” He came in, surveyed me thoroughly, and reached out to pull me against his chest in a brief hug. I stiffened a little. “Yeah, I don’t give a shit that you don’t like to be touched,” Jack said, continuing to hug me. “You scared the life out of me last night. I stopped by your apartment a couple of minutes ago, and there was no answer. What are you doing here?”

“I work here,” I said with a crooked grin.

“Not today. You’re taking the day off.”

“I don’t need to do that,” I protested, conscious of Vanessa’s stony gaze.

Jack finally let go of me. “Yes you do. Relax. Take a nap. And make sure to call Gage, Joe, Dad, and Todd . . . they all want to talk to you. No one called you at home in case you were sleeping.”

I made a face. “Am I going to have to repeat the whole story four times?”

“‘Fraid so.”

“Jack,” Vanessa broke in sweetly, “I don’t think it’s necessary to make Haven take a day off. We’ll take good care of her. And it might help to take her mind off the trauma of getting stuck on that elevator.”

Jack gave her a strange look. “It was more than being stuck on an elevator,” he told her. “My sister was trapped like a minnow in a bait bucket. I talked to the guy who pulled her out last night. He said the elevator cab was nearly full of water, and completely dark. And he didn’t know any other woman who would have handled it as well as Haven did.”

Hardy had said that about me? I was pleased and flattered . . . and I was also fascinated by the quick, subtle contortions that worked across Vanessa’s face.

“Well, of course you should take the day off,” she exclaimed, startling me by putting an arm around my shoulders. “I had no idea it was that bad, Haven. You should have told me.” She gave me an affectionate squeeze. The dry, expensive scent of her perfume, and the feel of her arm around me, caused my skin to crawl. “You poor thing. Go home and rest. Is there anything I can do for you?”

“Thanks, but no,” I said, inching away from her. “Really, I’m okay. And I want to stay.”

Jack looked down at me fondly. “Get going, sweetheart. You’re taking the day off.”

“I have a ton of stuff to do,” I told him.

“I don’t give a crap. It’ll all be here tomorrow. Right, Vanessa?”

“Right,” she said cheerfully. “Believe me, it will be no problem to cover for Haven.” She patted my back. “Take care, sweetie. Call me if you need anything.”

Her high heels left deep, pointy gouges in the office carpeting as she left.

“I really should stay,” I told Jack.

His expression was intractable. “Go visit Dad,” he said. “He wants to see you. And it wouldn’t hurt either of you to try to talk like a couple of civilized people for a change.”

I heaved a sigh and picked up my purse. “Sure. I haven’t had enough excitement in the past couple of days.”

Sliding his hands in his pockets, Jack watched me with a narrowed gaze. His voice lowered. “Hey . . . Did Cates make a move on you last night?”

“Are you asking as a brother or a friend?”

He had to think about that. “Friend, I guess.”

“All right.” I continued in the softest possible whisper. “I made a move on him, and he turned me down. He said he didn’t want to take advantage of me.”

Jack blinked. “What do you know.”

“He was really high-handed about it,” I said, turning grumpy. “And that whole ‘I’m the man, I get to decide’ attitude doesn’t play with me.”

“Haven, he’s a Texan. We’re not generally known for our sensitivity and tact. You want a guy like that, go find yourself a metrosexual. I hear there’s a lot of ’em in Austin.”

A reluctant grin broke through my indignation. “I’m not sure you even know what a metrosexual is, Jack.”

“I know I’m not one of ’em.” He smiled and sat on the corner of my desk. “Haven, everyone knows I got no love lost for Hardy Cates. But I have to take up for him on this one. He did the right thing.”

“How can you defend him?”

His black eyes sparkled. “Women,” he said. “You get mad when a man makes a move on you, and you get even madder when he doesn’t. I swear, there’s no winning.”

Some men were partial to their daughters. My dad wasn’t one of them. Maybe if we’d spent more time together, Dad and I could have found common ground, but he’d always been too busy, too driven. Dad had yielded the responsibility of daughter raising to Mother’s exclusive control, and no matter how she whittled and chipped, she had never been able to make a square peg fit into a round hole.

My attitude had worsened the harder Mother tried to make me into the right kind of daughter. The possessions that had been deemed unfeminine — my slingshot, my cap pistol, my plastic cowboy-and-Indian set, the Rangers hat Joe had given me — had either disappeared or were given away. “You don’t want those,” she had said when I complained. “Those things aren’t appropriate for little girls.”

Mother’s two sisters had been sympathetic to her plight, since it was obvious nothing could be done with me. But I thought they had taken some secret satisfaction in the situation. Even though their husbands hadn’t been able to afford to buy them a mansion in River Oaks, they had managed to produce my cousins Karma and Jaci and Susan, all perfect little ladies. But Mother, who’d had everything in the world she wanted, had gotten stuck with me.

I’d always known that I’d never have gone to Wellesley if my mother were still living. She had been a staunch antifeminist, although I wasn’t sure if she even knew why. Maybe because the system had always worked well for her, a rich man’s wife. Or possibly because she believed you could never change the order of things, men’s natures being what they were, and she hadn’t been one to knock her head against the wall. And many women of her generation had believed there was virtue in tolerating discrimination.

Whatever the reason, Mother and I had certainly had our differences. I felt guilty because her death had allowed me to have my own beliefs and go to the college I wanted. Dad hadn’t been happy about it, of course, but he’d been too grief-stricken to argue about it. And it had probably been a relief for him to get me out of Texas.

I called Dad on my way to River Oaks to make sure he was at home. Since my car had been totaled by the garage flooding, I was driving a rental car. I was greeted at the front door by the housekeeper, Cecily. She had worked for the Travises for as long as I could remember. She’d been old even when I was a child, her face lined with grooves you could wedge a dime in.

While Cecily headed off to the kitchen, I went to Dad, who was relaxing in the family room. The room was flanked by walk-in fireplaces on each side, and was big enough that you could park a personnel carrier in it. My father was at one end of the room, relaxing on a living room sofa with his feet propped up.

Dad and I hadn’t spent any real time together since my divorce. We had seen each other only for short visits, with other people present. It seemed we both felt that getting through a private conversation was more trouble than it was worth.

As I looked at my father, I realized he was getting old. His hair had gotten more white than gray, and his tobacco tan had faded, evidence that he was spending less time outdoors. And he had a sort of settled-in air, the look of a man who had stopped straining and hurrying to reach the next thing around the corner.

“Hey, Dad.” I leaned down to kiss his cheek, and sat next to him.

His dark eyes inspected me carefully. “None the worse for wear, looks like.”

“Nope.” I grinned at him. “Thanks to Hardy Cates.”

“You called him, did you?”

I knew where that was leading. “Yeah. Lucky I had my cell phone.” Before he could pursue the line of questioning, I tried to divert him. “I guess I’ll have a good story to tell my therapist when she gets back from vacation.”

Dad frowned in disapproval, as I knew he would. “You’re going to a head doctor?”

“Don’t say ‘head doctor,’ Dad. I know it’s what people used to call mental health professionals, but now it has a different meaning.”

“Like what?”

“It’s slang for a woman who’s good at . . . a certain bedroom activity.

My father shook his head. “Young people.”

I grinned at him. “I didn’t come up with it. I’m just trying to keep you updated. So . . . yes, I’m going to a therapist, and she’s helped me a lot so far.”

“It’s a waste of money,” Dad said, “paying someone to listen to you complain. All they do is tell you what you want to hear.”

As far as I knew, Dad knew approximately nothing about therapy. “You never told me about your psychology degree, Dad.”

He gave me a dark look. “Don’t tell people you’re going to a therapist. They’ll think something’s wrong with you.”

“I’m not embarrassed for someone to know I have problems.”

“The only problems you got are the ones you made for yourself. Like marrying Nick Tanner when I told you not to.”

I smiled ruefully as I reflected that my father never missed a chance to say I-told-you-so. “I’ve already admitted you were right about Nick. You can keep reminding me about it, and I can keep admitting I was wrong, but I don’t think that’s productive. Besides, you were wrong in how you handled it.”

His eyes glinted with annoyance. “I stood by my principles. I’d do it again.”

I wondered when he’d gotten his notions of fathering. Maybe he thought it was good for his children to have the authority figure he’d never had. His fear of ever admitting he was wrong, about anything, seemed like strength to him. It seemed like weakness to me.

“Dad,” I said hesitantly, “I wish you could be there for me even when I’m doing the wrong thing. I wish you could love me even when I’m screwing up.”

“This has nothing to do with love. You need to learn there are consequences in life, Haven.”

“I already know that.” I had faced consequences Dad didn’t even know about. If we had had a different relationship, I would have loved to confide in him. But that required a kind of trust that took years to accumulate. “I shouldn’t have rushed into marriage with Nick,” I admitted. “I should have had better judgment. But I’m not the only woman who’s ever fallen in love with the wrong man.”

“Your whole life,” he said bitterly, “all you ever wanted was to do the opposite of what your mother or I said. You were more contrary than all three boys put together.”

“I didn’t mean to be. I just wanted your attention. I would have done anything to get some time with you.”

“You’re a grown woman, Haven Marie. Whatever you did or didn’t get when you were a child, you need to get over it.”

“I am getting over it,” I said. “I’m done with expecting you to be any different from what you are. I’d like you to do the same for me, and then maybe the two of us could stop being so disappointed in each other. From now on, I’ll try to make better choices. But if that means doing something that pisses you off, so be it. You don’t have to love me. I love you anyway.”

Dad didn’t seem to hear that. He was intent on finding out something. “I want to know what’s going on with you and Hardy Cates. Are you taking up with him?”

I smiled slightly. “That’s my business.”

“He’s got a reputation,” Dad warned. “He lives at one speed: wide-open. Not cut out for marrying.”

“I know,” I said. “Neither am I.”

“I’m warning you, Haven, he’ll run roughshod over you. He’s a no-account East Texas redneck. Don’t give me another reason to say ‘I told you so.'”

I sighed and looked at him, this parent who was always convinced he knew best. “Tell me, Dad . . . who would be the right guy for me? Give me an example of someone you’d approve of.”

Settling back comfortably, he drummed his thick fingers on his midriff. “George Mayfield’s boy, Fisher. He’ll come into money someday. Good character. Solid family. Nice-looking too.”

I was aghast. I had gone to school with Fisher Mayfield. “Dad, he has the blandest, limpest personality in the entire world. He’s the human equivalent of cold spaghetti.”

“What about Sam Schuler’s son?”

“Mike Schuler? Joe’s old buddy?”

Dad nodded. “His daddy’s one of the best men I know. Godfearing, hardworking. And Mike always had the best manners of any young man I ever met.”

“Mike’s turned into a pothead, Dad.”

My father looked offended. “He has not.”

“Ask Joe if you don’t believe me. Mike Schuler is single-handedly responsible for the annual income of thousands of Colombian ganja farmers.”

Dad shook his head in disgust. “What’s the matter with the younger generation?”

“I have no idea,” I said. “But if those are your best suggestions, Dad . . . that no-account East Texas redneck is looking pretty good.”

“If you start up with him,” my father said, “you make sure he knows he’ll never get his hands on my money.”

“Hardy doesn’t need your money,” I took pleasure in saying. “He’s got his own, Dad.”

“He’ll want more.”

After having lunch with my father, I went back to my apartment and took a nap. I woke up replaying the conversation we’d had, and brooding over his lack of interest in any real father-daughter communication. It depressed me, realizing I wasn’t ever going to get the same kind of love from him that I was willing to give. So I called Todd and told him about the visit.

“You were right about something,” I said. “I do have a pathetic daddy complex.”

“Everyone does, sweetheart. You’re not special.”

I chuckled. “Want to come over and have a drink at the bar?”

“Can’t. Got a date tonight.”

“With who?”

“A very hot woman,” Todd said. “We’ve been working out together. What about you? Sealed the deal with Hardy yet?”

“No. He was supposed to call today, but so far — ” I stopped as I heard the call waiting beep. “That might be him. I’ve got to go.”

“Good luck, sweetheart.”

I clicked over to the second call. “Hello?”

“How are you feeling?” The sound of Hardy’s drawl slow-blistered every nerve.

“Fine.” My voice sounded like a squeaky balloon. I cleared my throat. “How are you? . . . Any pulled muscles from yesterday?”

“Nope. Everything in working order.”

I closed my eyes and let out a breath as I absorbed the warm, waiting silence between us.

“Still mad at me?” Hardy asked.

I couldn’t hold back a smile. “I guess not.”

“Then will you go out to dinner with me tonight?”

“Yes.” My fingers curled tightly around the phone. I wondered what I was doing, agreeing to a date with Hardy Cates. My family would have a fit. “I like to eat early,” I told him.

“So do I.”

“Come to my apartment at six?”

“I’ll be there.”

After he hung up, I sat quietly for a few minutes, thinking.

I knew Dad would say I had no idea what I was getting into, going out with Hardy Cates. But when you started dating someone, you could never be sure what you were getting into. You had to give someone a chance to show you who he really was . . . and believe him when he did.

I dressed in jeans and high heels and a daffodil-colored halter top with a sparkly pin anchoring one strap to the bodice. Using a straightening iron, I worked on my hair until it was shiny and the ends were all turned up. Since the weather was humid, I used a minimum of makeup, just a touch of mascara and cherry-colored lip stain.

It occurred to me that I was a lot more nervous about the idea of sleeping with Hardy than I had been with Nick as a virgin. Probably because with the first guy, you figured you got a beginner’s pass. With the second one, however, something more would be expected. It hadn’t helped that I had recently taken a women’s-magazine quiz entitled “Are You Good in Bed?” and my score had put me in the category of Inhibited Babe, and had given all kinds of suggestions for enhancing my “carnal abilities,” most of which sounded unsanitary, uncomfortable, or just plain unsightly.

By the time I heard the doorbell ring, a few minutes before six, the tension had collected until my entire skeleton felt like it had been fastened with tight metal screws. I opened the door. But it wasn’t Hardy.

There stood my ex-husband, dressed in a suit and tie, perfectly groomed and smiling. “Surprise,” he said, and grabbed my arm before I could move.

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