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HQN, March 2012
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SOMEBODY TO LOVE
HQN, March 2012
Excerpt from CHAPTER 1, in which Parker and her friend are contemplating what to do with their evening...
|Just as they’d finished their first glass of wine and were debating on whether to Google the Old Spice man or Ryan Gosling, they heard the crunch of tires on the long gravel driveway. “Think Nicky forgot something?” Lucy asked, going to the window and pushing back the silk drapes. “Eesh! It’s your father. And his entourage.”
“Oh, bugger and damn. Do we have time to hide?”
“I think I’m allowed to hide,” Lucy said. “You probably have to say hi.”
“Don’t you dare go anywhere,” Parker ordered.
A flare of nervousness—her trademark reaction to Daddy Dearest—flashed through her stomach. Almost automatically, she smoothed her hair and glanced down at her attire. Since she’d been at Nicky’s school as Parker Welles, Author, rather than Nicky’s Mom, she’d dressed up a little…beige silk shirt, ivory pencil skirt, the fantabulous leopard-print shoes. Good. A little armor.
She joined Lucy at the window and looked out. The driver of the limo opened the back door, and Harry Welles emerged into the sunlight, followed closely by Thing One and Thing Two, his minions.
Technically, Grayhurst was Harry Welles’s home, though he lived in a sleek and sterile duplex on Manhattan’s East side. He only came to Rhode Island to impress clients or when he couldn’t avoid a family event. He was the third generation to run Welles Financial, once a conservative financial services firm which Harry transformed into the kind of Wall Street playah that was often picketed by students and teachers’ unions. He never traveled alone—flunkies like Thing One and Thing Two were part of Harry’s makeup.
The three men came up the walkway and into the house, Thing One and Thing Two trailing at a respectful distance behind him, like castrati guards in a harem.
Her father scanned her, unsmiling.
“Hi, Harry,” she said, keeping her tone pleasant. “How are you?”
“Parker. I’m glad you’re here.” Her father glanced at her friend. “Lucy.”
“Hello, Mr. Welles. Nice to see you again.”
Harry took a deep, disapproving breath (well, it seemed disapproving). “I have something to discuss with you. Is Nicky here?”
“He’s with his father this weekend. But I can run over and get him.” There was that pesky, hopeful note in her voice. If you don’t like me, at least like my kid, Dad.
“No, that’s just as well. We need to discuss a few family matters.” He looked pointedly at Lucy, who smiled sweetly and, bless her heart, didn’t move a muscle. Harry’s eyes shifted back to Parker. “How’s Apollo?”
“Good.” Pleasantries finished, he strode down the hallway. “Join me in the study, please,” he added without looking back.
“Miss Welles, your father would like you to join him in the study,” said Thing Two somberly. The man held a long and meaningless title at Welles Financial, but so far as Parker could tell, his job was to echo her father and occasionally slap him on the back in admiration. He fell into step behind Harry, keeping six or seven paces behind.
“Parker. Always lovely to see you.”
And then there was Thing One.
It was his customary line, usually delivered with a raised eyebrow and a smirk, and she hated it. Yes, Thing One was attractive (Harry would never hire an ugly person). The whole cheekbones and perfect haircut and bored affect…okay, okay, he was hot. But he knew it, which detracted significantly, and that line—Parker, always lovely to see you—blick. Add to the fact that he was a Harry-in-the-making, and his appeal went down to nil.
Thing One didn’t work for Welles Financial; he was Harry’s personal attorney, having replaced the original Thing One a few years ago (why change a perfectly good nickname?). He lived somewhere here in Rhode Island and did things like…well, Parker really didn’t know. Occasionally she’d have to sign a paper he brought by. Otherwise, he seemed fairly useless, glib, smug and so far up her father’s butt she wondered how he could see daylight.
| “Thing One,” she murmured with a regal nod. Miss Porter’s hadn’t been for nothing.
“It’s James, since you can’t seem to remember. I also answer to Mr. Cahill.”
“Thing One suits you so much more.”
He gave her a sardonic look, then turned to her friend. “Hello, Lucy,” he said. He’d met her at a number of Nicky-related events—God forbid Harry come alone. “Congratulations on your wedding.”
“Oh, thank you,” Lucy said, looking a little surprised that he knew. Parker wasn’t. Harry was hardly a doting grandfather, but he did keep tabs on Nicky’s life. Or had his people keep tabs, as the case might be.
“After you, ladies,” he said. He looked somber. Parker was more accustomed to seeing him in full-blown Slickster Mode, kissing up to her dad, glad-handing whoever was around him. A small quiver of anxiety ran through her gut. Something was…off.
As they walked down the hall, Parker rubbed the tip of her ear. It was itchy. Stress eczema, probably, brought on by dear old dad.
Harry never did any real work in the study. So far as Parker could tell, he used it to impress and intimidate his colleagues. The room was beautiful, though, filled with first edition books, Tiffany windows, a state-of-the-art humidor and a desk the size of a pool table. Harry sat in his leather chair now, his thick gray hair perfectly cut, his suit Armani, his eyes cool. Around his arm was twined Apollo, her father’s pet ball python.
Yeah. You are your pet, right? Apollo was maybe four feet in length—Parker didn’t spend a lot of time looking at him, as he gave her a hearty case of the heebie-jeebies. Nicky, though…in case living in a mansion wasn’t cool enough, he loved to impress his friends with Apollo, whose glass cage, it must be noted, was always locked. Didn’t want to have a python slithering around the house, no indeed. The gardener was charged with feeding him and cleaning his cage.
“It’s so Dr. Evil,” Lucy whispered, giving Parker’s hand a squeeze. She went to a window seat and curled up there, nearby, but at a distance.
“So, Harry,” Parker said, that nervousness flaring again. She sat one of the three leather chairs in front of the desk. Things One and Two stood to one side, like soldiers at a funeral. “How are things? Are you here for the weekend?”
“No. and things have been better. Is my grandson almost finished with school?”
“Yes. Then he’s going to California with his dad and Lucy.”
Harry glanced at Lucy. “Glad to hear it.”
“Glad to hear it,” echoed Thing Two, scratching his stomach. Parker waited for Thing One to chime in too, but he remained silent, his arms folded.
Harry gazed at his pet, then kissed the snake’s head. Parker tried not to flinch. That snake would make some very attractive shoes. Otherwise, he was her rival for Harry’s attention. Well, hardly her rival. Apollo was ahead by miles. Her father looked at his minions. “Gentlemen, have a seat.”
Thing One and Thing Two obeyed, taking the seats on either side of her. She glanced at Lucy, who gave her a nervous smile of solidarity. There was definitely something in the air, and for the life of her, Parker felt a little bit like she was about to be sentenced.
She wasn’t far off.
“Well, there’s no easy way to say this,” her father said, stroking his snake.
“No easy way,” Thing Two murmured.
Harry didn’t look up from the snake. “We’re broke. You have to move.”