― 1 ―
“WELCOME TO SHADETREE Assisted Living Center.”
Beth Taylor covered the phone receiver and called out the words brightly. She was finishing a call, and she sat behind her broad, mahogany Chippendale desk. Her nails were freshly done in glossy gumball pink, and her blonde bob just hit her shoulders. She’d completed high school forty years earlier, but except for a light web of lines around her eyes and lips, she’d been told she was as attractive as the day she’d received her diploma.
As she spoke into the phone, Beth opened her devotional for the day, Following in the Footprints of Jesus, and glanced at the morning’s words from 1 John 1:9. The book helped her keep her sense of balance when she faced difficult situations, and she made a point to read in it every day. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Beth breathed a little easier. Forgive us our sins. That was something she could use daily. She’d barely finished her greeting and disconnected when she looked up and caught sight of the well-dressed man coming through the door.
Her heart plummeted.
Beth rubbed her hands together to find her palms were suddenly moist, and her stomach felt like a hundred butterflies had just been released. This was a man she’d never intended to face again, and now he walked her direction. Her high school fortieth reunion was planned in a little over a week, so she should have anticipated him, but he’d never attended a single reunion in the past 39 years, so why should she have expected him now? She had conveniently blocked him out of her mind, like one does old numbers on a cell phone. If blocked long enough, the number seems forgotten. Now, here he was, as tall as she remembered, although the gray at his temples was new. He was still lean, though that lanky, high school trimness was gone. Rugged, with long legs and wide shoulders, he carried the look of a man who knew what he wanted in life, not just a teenager curious about everything. His jeans were pressed and covered the tops of polished alligator boots. A brown leather blazer was open at the waist, revealing a wide turquoise buckle.
She felt her breath quicken as she stood and held out her hand. Her motion was automatic and professional, despite the jelly in her knees. She wouldn’t let him see how she felt. She couldn’t. She would be poised and efficient, a professional woman in a professional environment.
She took a deep breath as he drew closer. She steeled herself, reminding herself she was more than a professional. She owned Shadetree, a prestigious Type A facility for senior adults, after working here for nearly two decades, then investing her husband’s life insurance money to buy out the previous owners. She’d become a competent business woman, and while she maintained the position of director, she was far more than that. Forty years had wiped away any connection between her and this indomitable man, so there was nothing for her to get worked up about.
That didn’t stop all rational thoughts from careening from her head and shattering her morning into a thousand bone-jarring pieces, as she was taken aback by his response. His penetrating blue eyes locked on hers, he ignored her hand, and he murmured a softly-spoken question, surely intended just for her.
“Is that how you greet an old friend?”
― Earlier That Day ―
Beth pulled her car into her officially marked parking space in front of the Center. Director, the sign said. It even reflected her name, Beth Taylor. Owner, she thought proudly. Dawn was barely breaking through the trees, and it promised to be a beautiful morning, although the temperatures would soar in the afternoon. It was to be expected on a Texas summer day.
She looked for her young assistant’s car. Chloe Owens was wonderful to work with, but some days she was a bit of a panic waiting to happen, and Beth had been out of town for two days. The Department of Aging and Disability Services, known in the industry as DADS, had demanded her attention, and she’d been happy to attend and review the newest policies and procedures for licensing new facilities.
She wondered what Chloe would be panicked over this time. A missing bedside table? An air conditioner on the fritz? At times, it was like the little boy who cried wolf, and Beth the huntress who came to his rescue. She imagined smoothing the feathers of a panicked parakeet who’d never been out of its cage.
She killed the engine and dropped her key fob into her purse before she stepped out of her Cadillac to luxuriate in the heady aroma of the Center’s bedding plants in full bloom. They lined the staff parking area, infusing the shade under the massive, lumbering oak trees with cheerful shots of brilliant color. Dew sparkled on the grass, and a spider web glistened in a low boxwood shrub just to her left. Everything was fresh and new, with no hint of the life-altering change that would soon collide with her day. She even looked forward to catching up on all the calls she’d missed.
She walked briskly toward the front door, and with an inward smile, she grasped the door handle, tripping the latch and swinging it wide. She would postpone any changes to the sign at her parking space to another day. Her young secretary had sent her a text that a new resident was arriving this morning, sight unseen; not just coming for a walk-through, but moving in, personal items and all.
That had surprised Beth, but she’d told Chloe she would arrive early to ensure the move went smoothly. Chloe had thanked her profusely in a text ending in a smiley face emoji. The normal procedure was to schedule a meeting, with Beth in attendance when possible, go over the legalities of the contracts, and speak very briefly about payment methods. Then would come the tour of the facilities, of which Beth was extremely proud. Walking prospective residents through the upscale, Type A facility was a favorite activity for her. She would give her facility a superior rating to anyone who asked. It had all the best amenities. She had lovingly decorated the hallways with armoires and bombe chests from local antique shops. Each room had a reading nook with a Queen Anne wingback chair and a Stifle brass lamp. Her favorite feature was the flat-panel television cunningly disguised behind a wall-hanging screen. A touch of a remote, and the television was there in all its gleaming glory. Another touch, and the elegance Beth insisted on in each room reappeared once again.
Beth was fully prepared for her new arrival, and she’d tentatively selected a suite for today’s guest. Now to locate her attendant and get things prepared, so there would be no holdups. First would be to ensure the unit was freshened and the bath freshly cleaned.
“Chloe!” Beth breezed into the building, calling her assistant’s name, as the soft whoosh of the glass door closing on its pneumatics somehow comforted her. The sound spoke of a facility that was well-oiled, polished, and of the highest caliber. Beth insisted on perfection, and she would allow nothing less. After a moment with no response, she frowned, calling out again, “Chloe, where have you gotten to?”
“Oh, Beth!” Chloe rushed through the grand foyer of the Living Center, dropping several file folders onto a polished mahogany sideboard. Her knee-length linen skirt in pale cream contrasted with her lemon-yellow ruffled blouse underneath her soft green jacket. Her honey-colored hair curled in tendrils and was held by a clip at the nape of her neck. Her nails reflected the color of her blouse, giving her a finished professionalism. It was the pen she pulled from behind one ear and placed soundly on the stack that revealed her chaotic approach to her work.
“About that new arrival. I think Suite 134—” Beth was startled when Chloe cut her off.
“First, let me tell you how my morning’s gone. I’m so glad you’re here. Why—”
“Slow down!” Beth insisted. Chloe always ran at the speed of a runaway freight train, and Beth hadn’t even had her first cup of coffee. “Remember the text you sent me this morning? We should make this decision now. Unit 134 has a private courtyard with that wonderful oak—”
“I agree, but I’ve got something more important you’ll be interested in.” Chloe interrupted again, picking up her pen and tapping it on the folders. “See this stack of folders? If you knew what I’ve gone through for you—”
“Hold that thought, Chloe,” Beth interrupted, reaching a slender, elegant hand to place it on the younger woman’s wrist. “First, I need an explanation. That new guest coming in today, you said something about my past catching up with me. Before we move any further through this morning, and certainly before our new guest arrives, I want to know this: What do you know about my past? Really, now, what could possibly be catching up with me?”
Widowed for nearly three years, Beth felt positive she had no history worthy of anyone’s notice, certainly nothing that could catch up with her. Her husband was gone after a painful but mercifully brief bout of heart trouble, giving him time to sort his affairs and tell his family goodbye, and leaving her with over three decades of fond memories that only brought back warm times. Robert had attended the Methodist church each Sunday, even taught a Sunday school class for two decades, done nothing questionable his entire life, and their marriage, while not that of storybook dreams, had been a series of carefully orchestrated events, tied together like a string of pearls, if not ones that Beth might have chosen. It was what Robert had been good at, organizing life in a way that removed all the rough edges. Her daughters, well, she loved them, but they weren’t extraordinary in any manner that could haunt her. The youngest was like Robert, charming, with not a rough edge in sight. Her eldest, Candy, was a spitfire that loved life, and she loved people to enjoy it with her, building long-lasting friendships with people across all walks of life. They had attended church camps each summer, taken a mission trip or two, and were members of their local fellowships. Candy had counseled at Camp Whispering Trees in Florida just out of college. Her grandchildren? She didn’t have any of those, meaning there wasn’t a trouble maker among them.
She had no past to catch up with her, not from the past forty years, anyway. It was only when Chloe looked her directly in the eyes that she realized her assistant was still talking to her.
“Beth, that’s what I’m trying to tell you.” Chloe took her boss’s hand, bringing her back to the moment, and she blurted, “You know Lily Pearl Cadence, don’t you? For years she lived on that big ranch just out of town. Well, her son called while you were gone, and I’ve got all the information here in these folders. She’s ninety-two years old, no longer able to live alone, and she refuses to be a burden to her son. She just up and decided to check herself in. I tried to tell her you’d prefer to schedule an appointment to show her around. She wouldn’t hear of it, told me she wouldn’t think of waiting. She’s bringing out a check for the first month today. When I tried to explain that a check isn’t necessary, she said she knows of our guest policy, and she isn’t moving in on anyone’s dime. She has money, and she can pay her own way. Luckily, she can’t make it until ten this morning. I’ve been running myself ragged since seven trying to clear out a suite in the new wing. I forgot the remodeling was finished in 134.” Chloe sighed, the sound filled with the worries of the world. Her expression changed, and she smiled brightly. “She wants to bring her own furniture, and it will fill one of the largest suites we have, so 134 will be perfect. I guess that’s why you’re the boss. You think of everything.”
“Now if we can just get those final rooms filled.” Beth smiled with forced brightness at Chloe’s compliment. “What did you say the new resident’s last name was?”
A slow, sinking feeling had begun to blur Beth’s world, and she reached to take the top folder off the stack. She’d heard the name just fine, and she knew what she was doing. She was putting off facing the reality of the moment. She was on a roller coaster beginning its rapid descent, and she had no control. All she wanted to do was scream. She now thought she should have returned Maggie Jackson’s garbled voicemail. Her best friend’s message had shown up on her phone during the conference, and Beth had been too preoccupied to get back to her. Poorly transcribed by her smart phone, it had suggested something about old times coming round again.
Then to get a similar message that morning from Chloe? She closed the folder without reading what was inside. What she really needed was a moment to adjust to her disbelief. The Cadence name unlocked the storage bins of her mind, dragging out old, well-worn baggage, and allowing thoughts long suppressed to rise to the surface. Candy, oh, poor Candy. She hoped this wasn’t about her lovely daughter. The possible consequences of Lily Pearl in this facility didn’t bode well for Beth’s peace of mind.
Chloe pulled back the cover of the top file, glanced inside, and she paused. Then, her eyes searching, she stopped and spoke very clearly, “Cadence, capital C-a-d-e-n-c-e. That’s her son’s name, too.”
“Cadence.” The phone rang, and Beth took a deep breath as she moved toward her office and sat at her mahogany desk. She picked up the handset, and before she answered it, she covered the receiver with her hand, glanced at Chloe, and murmured, “I know how the name’s spelled.”
She’d also caught the part about the son, and her heart beat faster with dread, or at least that’s what she wanted to believe. No other explanation could be possible for the emotions she was experiencing. There could be only one Lily Pearl Cadence. Beth had known her son quite well, although the connection between them was decades in disuse.
Just minutes into her conversation, Chloe stepped back into the room, whispering, “Oh, Beth, wait a minute. I have one more file in my office. Be right back.”
Chloe exited, and through the bank of windows separating the two offices, Beth watched her snatch one from the filing cabinet behind her desk. She returned, holding it out.
The bell from the front door dinged, and Beth covered the phone and called out, “Welcome to Shadetree Assisted Living Center.” Then she reached for the file, while smiling brightly and trying desperately to cover her troubled feelings. “Do these folders by any chance say who the son is?”
Again, she was putting off what she already knew, wanting to put as much distance between the past and the present as she could. Despite her efforts, her heart turned over just asking the question.
“Maverick, capital M-a-v-e-r-i-c-k.”
A man’s deep voice spoke the words, and Beth looked up in dismay. At the sight of the visitor in the foyer, her heart truly turned over, leaving her emotions in a puddle. She gripped the phone in her hand and knew she couldn’t maintain a proper conversation to the person on the other end in the light of who had walked in the Center’s door.
“Thank you. I’ll call back later.” Beth spoke the words carefully into the mouthpiece and drew in a deep breath. She dropped the phone into its cradle, slowly and without conscious thought. Cascading ribbons of memories flashed in front of her eyes, few of them welcome. She felt the last forty years of her life evaporate, forty years of perfect children, an equally successful marriage, and a social life that was the envy of half the county. She narrowed her eyes at the tall, silver-headed gentleman in starched blue jeans. A crisp white shirt under a leather blazer complemented his tanned skin. It was the same face she remembered from four decades before. His piercing blue eyes completed her devastation, with the same steely glint he had wowed her with years ago.
She could not have this man here in her life, not now, not ever. There was no room for him under the scar he’d put on her heart. He had run away, and he should have stayed away.
“Maverick?” Beth barely managed her shattered reply. Her voice sounded hollow and shaky to her ears. She felt helpless. Maverick had always done this to her, made her soft and weak, and it was happening again. Unable to respond rationally, she simply stood and reached out one hand.
“Is that how you greet an old friend?” murmured his resonating voice.
“An old friend?” Chloe’s eyes danced between the two.
Before Beth could manage to think through this disastrous moment, she felt Maverick’s strong arms pull her off her feet. Her intruding ghost from the past picked her up in a bear-like hug, holding her in an embrace that was a little too long for her to feel comfortable.
“Well, Marilyn, how are you?” Maverick’s strong, slow, baritone drawl pulled at her heart. He set her down, and his eyes studied her face, evaluating her. “You look great, and, if you’ll allow me to say so without running away to hide, you smell good, too. My word, girl, you’re just like I remember from high school.”
“High school? What could you possibly remember from all those years ago? I’ve forgotten so much that I’m surprised I even recognize you.”
Beth’s lips quivered slightly as she finished the sarcastic words, and she hoped she sounded convincing. She wanted to appreciate his effusive compliments, but a strong undercurrent of irritation in the back of her mind dashed all that like a Texas soaker on a hot summer afternoon. Maverick’s comments sent her thoughts reeling through a succession of memories, most pushed aside for more decades than she wished to recount. Her final two years in high school had been the most special of her life, and she had felt beautiful. Then, Maverick had turned her existence into a living nightmare.
She was sure her dismissal of his unnecessary references to a time better forgotten would distance this man from her life. If she claimed she hadn’t recognized him, he’d know she’d forgotten all about him. He would see that he was an intrusion into her well-ordered life, and he would wrap up his business with his mother quickly and efficiently, exiting the premises as quickly as possible.
Then Beth’s secret and heart would be safe once again.
MAVERICK’S EYES SPARKLED, and his face brightened. He chuckled as he began to speak.
“If you don’t recognize me, that must mean I’ve either gotten better looking or just the opposite. I don’t know which I’ll claim. You’ve hardly changed at all. You still have that fabulous blonde hair; it’s just not in a shag anymore. I like it down like it is now. It reminds me of your senior picture.”
His heart cinched tightly in his chest, as long-forgotten emotions tumbled through his veins. He took a deep breath, aware of the past like a journal that had recorded every event from their relationship, and the pages were peeling themselves away, faster and faster. He hadn’t expected this strong of a response. He had been looking forward to staying for the upcoming reunion the following week, but now? He needed to change the subject fast before this woman pushed him to the point of no return.
“MY SENIOR PICTURE?” Beth barely got out the words, but she was determined to control her reaction and not reveal what she truly thought. She couldn’t reveal how he’d crushed and bruised her heart all those years ago. Her sweet husband Robert had been her only salvation, rescuing her from the morass this man had strewn across her world. For years, with Robert as her guide, she’d successfully entertained her husband’s clients, hosting fabulous parties for the moneyed investment bankers who had been Robert’s business associates. Now, alone, she ran this assisted living facility, and very successfully, too. How could she be falling apart in front of this man? She hadn’t known this melting feeling inside for four decades, not since the last occasion she’d spent time with him.
She felt her jaw tighten with determination, refusing to reveal any weakness. Her assistant gave a little cough, causing Beth to warm with the thickly layered praise.
“I go by Beth, now, Maverick,” Beth whispered, biting her lip. She kicked herself for calling his given name. She knew she must keep this formal, otherwise, who knew where things would wind up? Self-consciously, she adjusted her rose-colored blouse and dark skirt and attempted to make light of the moment.
“I’m glad your looks haven’t changed.” He winked at her. “A woman as beautiful as you should have the best parking space in the lot, which I see you’ve taken.”
With a flip of her hand in her hair and a bright bravado to her voice, Beth quipped, “It’s just that now my blonde gets a little help from a bottle.”
She hardly felt as effusive as she hoped she sounded. This morning had fled from her control, and she didn’t know how she would get it back.
“A genie from a bottle?” Maverick chuckled.
“I did not say that!” Beth glanced at Chloe, hoping for some help. Instead, her assistant was covering a smile of her own with one hand.
“I’m sorry for laughing, but you’ll have to speak up a little, Marilyn. Phnom Penh got some of my hearing.” Maverick paused, waiting on Beth.
“No one calls me Marilyn, anymore,” Beth repeated louder. She wasn’t sure if she felt irritation or relief at having to repeat the words. She knew one thing: Maverick wouldn’t be allowed a toehold back into her life.
His next words shook her resolve.
“No? Well, that’s a shame with those good looks and all.” Humor laced the words, and the big man grinned again as he watched Beth.
Beth felt her face warm as she closed her eyes and stifled a groan. She cleared her throat, determined to ask about his mother. That’s why he’d come, and getting back to business was her only hope now. A dozen words from that man’s mouth, and her knees felt about to buckle.
Maverick leaned over Chloe’s desk and winked at the young assistant standing just behind. “You’d think a woman would enjoy being Marilyn Monroe, wouldn’t you? Ours may have been a little thinner, but she certainly looked like a movie star. Well, as far as I can tell, she still does.”
“Maverick!” It was hopeless. Beth was convinced her face had turned deep red. She certainly felt the warmth of embarrassment. And to have told such a thing to Chloe! Even so, she remembered those years, and how it had secretly given her a certain amount of pleasure to be compared to the blonde beauty from the heyday of the big screen. She cringed at what Maverick shared next.
“But not this one,” he pointed to Beth. “She always said her name was Mary Elizabeth Monroe anytime we tried to tease her about it. Isn’t that right, Marilyn?”
“Yes. I wanted to be liked for who I was and not the person someone else wanted me to be.”
What Beth wanted to scream was, Stop talking about all this! How could she fend off this man if he continued to say things to remind her of how much she had loved him all those years ago . . . no! Not loved! She couldn’t have loved him. No, their relationship had been a mistake, and she wouldn’t let go of that thought. She had been a youthful, idealistic girl, and he’d abandoned her, shattering her dreams. This man would not charm his way into her affections, um, under her skin ever again.
Only the sound of the carts carrying the midmorning brunch trays shifted Beth’s thoughts back to the moment. She tamped down her emotions. These were her surroundings, her office. Maverick was in her place. She put a stern look on her face to make sure there was no question how she felt.
MAVERICK’S WORDS WERE a compliment he’d waited with bated breath to deliver. After all, he’d held on for forty years to make its delivery, and he intended to enjoy this moment to the fullest. He had no trouble reading the nuance of Beth’s every expression. He was quite aware this could only be her space. It looked like her. He’d taken in the spacious surroundings, missing nothing, including the small silver-framed photos sitting pristinely on Beth’s expansive, hand-carved Chippendale desk. This was an opulent facility, just the sort of environment she’d grown up with. He wasn’t surprised by the expensive taste he observed everywhere.
The phone rang, and Chloe picked it up. After a moment, she held it out to Beth, calling, “It’s for you, Mrs. Taylor.”
Beth picked up the phone and stepped aside for a moment, answering a few questions from the caller. She glanced at Maverick several times, pausing once as if she intended to ask him to come to the phone. By that time, he’d struck up a conservation with Chloe.
“Tell me again Marilyn’s last name.” He could barely keep the grin from his face. This was a doozy.
“Taylor, but she truly goes by Beth. I’ve never heard her called Marilyn. She was an actress, right? I’ve never watched old movies much.”
“Taylor, like Elizabeth?”
“Yes, like the movie star. She was in Lassie, I think. I watched it some as a girl.”
“That and a few others.” Maverick began to laugh, thinking that there were about seventy-five more. When Beth hung up, she turned and looked at Maverick with a frown. That caused him to laugh even more.
BETH STARTED TO CALL to him, then the thought hit her, she had pulled up in the best parking space in the lot? How did he know where she parked? Had he been outside all along watching her? It was something he had done all those years ago, telling her he couldn’t get of enough of her. She had found it flattering then. Now? She refused to admit his gratuitous words still affected her, even made her knees feel weak.
“Okay, Mr. Cadence. What’s so funny?” Beth punched out his name, the snap in her voice bracing her determination. She took a deep breath, steadying herself. She would need to speak carefully to keep this situation under control.
“Your name is now Elizabeth Taylor? So, Marilyn Monroe wasn’t good enough for you?” His eyes crinkled, and he placed one hand on his stomach as he shook with laughter. At his side, Chloe wasn’t helping. She was laughing, also.
Beth looked pointedly at her assistant, immediately subduing Chloe’s laughter. Then she turned to Maverick. “My late husband was Robert Alexander Taylor. I still go by my married name. I volunteered here when he was still alive, and all my residents have come to know me by that name. I see no reason to change it now.”
The words briefly weighed on her. Speaking of Robert made her miss his companionship even three years after his death. She guessed what everyone told her was true. A part of her would probably always miss him.
Then she remembered the phone call.
“That was your mother calling to say she’ll be late, but the moving van is on the way. She’s made an appointment to get her hair done, and the hairdresser is running behind. She refuses to be seen in her new home without looking her best. She gave me strict instructions to tell Maverick to take the tour in her stead.”
“She did, huh?” The laughter was still in his voice, and he turned to Chloe and gave an exaggerated wink. “Sounds as if it’s better for her to be here with you two than in her townhouse or out on the ranch with me. She’s wearing herself out corralling both her in-town and ranch staff. Two houses are far too much for her to manage and maintain her active social calendar.”
“Maverick!” For the second time, Beth found reason to call the man on his behavior. That was like old times, too. Maverick never had been one to pay too much attention to rules he thought superfluous.
Just like . . . Candy, but Beth pushed that thought away.
She tried to control her tone by being bright with her next words. “Lily sounds as feisty as ever. I’m sure we’ll love having her with us. She’ll keep us on our toes.”
Beth remembered Maverick’s mother from when they were in high school. Maverick had been a couple of years older than Beth, but they’d gone to many of the same functions, even to his house with the sports crowd a time or two after football games. Lily was everyone’s mother, having kids over to support the team. She was also one to stick her finger in everyone’s pie. Somehow Beth seemed to always get paired up with Maverick at Lily’s extra-curricular activities.
“Feisty? That and more. After Dad’s death three-and-a-half years ago, well, I guess it tripped something in Mom. And now, she’s worse.” The humor in Maverick’s words was gone. His voice sounded dry and empty, bringing a pang of sympathy from deep within Beth. This was clearly a painful topic for him.
“I’m so sorry to hear about that. I remember seeing the news. We’ll certain do our best for Lily. Is there anything else we need to know?” Beth could hear the unexpected tiredness in his voice, and tender emotions welled up in her.
“Even when I tell you, you won’t believe me. Mom went on a selling spree. You remember how she always collected everything. Toward the end of Dad’s life, it almost became hoarding. Suddenly, she attempted to liquidate everything. Well, almost. She still has most of her antique furniture and some of her collectables, but the farm implements and other equipment? Gone. Dad’s Model T wasn’t even spared. She tried to parcel out the ranch, saying she wanted to live in town for her final years. She’d already sold off twelve hundred acres before I found out, so I told her I’d buy the rest from her. We argued for weeks, but at least she didn’t sell the remaining eighteen hundred. I managed to save part of my family heritage and the history that goes with it, but you can’t run a whole lot of cattle on that. I don’t know what I’ll do with it eventually, but that’s neither here nor there at this point. For the past three years, she’s been living in town. Finally, I’ve forced her to admit that it’s just too much. When I found out some months ago that you were the administrator of this place, it was like an answer to prayer.”
That shot Beth’s astonishment meter off the charts. She was an answer to prayer for Maverick? Since when did Maverick pray, ever? And for her? Even though her family went faithfully, she didn’t remember Maverick ever going to church. This was one more reason to steer clear of this tangled hunk of walking trouble, no matter what her heart told her.
She attempted to steer the conversation onto a more neutral track.
“Everyone says that, Mr. Cadence. The general consensus of our residents and their families is that Shadetree Assisted Living Center is certainly an answer to prayer.” Beth caught Chloe’s puzzled look, frowning sharply when her assistant mouthed silently, They say what? Ignoring Chloe’s question, Beth smiled forcefully at Maverick, determined to maintain control of this situation.
“Is there anything I need to do as far as paperwork before Mom moves in? If not, then I want that tour my mom said I should take.”
“Paperwork you asked for, and paperwork you shall have, Mr. Cadence. Chloe?” Beth motioned for her assistant to get on the ball. She was feeling his charm, er, his overpowering, um, overbearing assumptions making her nervous. It was Chloe’s turn to pick up the slack.
Chloe efficiently handed him a packet. She smiled as she spoke, “This is everything you’ll need to fill out before she takes occupancy. Some of the forms will need to be notarized, but we can do that right here. In addition to being Mrs. Taylor’s personal assistant, I’m a legally qualified notary.”
“Ah! I’m not to be allowed to forget that there are two beautiful people in the room.” He turned to Chloe and took the packet. He thanked her and kissed her hand, causing the young woman to blush with pleasure. “I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of each other.”
With those words Beth remembered what she hadn’t liked about Maverick all those years ago: his flirting. She could never tell when he was serious, just like now. That was the part that had unnerved her around him then, and it was clear he hadn’t changed a bit. Her late husband hadn’t been that way at all. He was a considerate man and a stable father to her two daughters. He would sometimes push Beth to do more than she wanted, but that was only due to her natural shyness. He always said it was for her own good, and look how she’d put all that aside, entertaining for her husband over decades, and now running the Center. Thank God for Robert. With him, she had always known where she stood. His consistency had made her feel safe and secure.
Maverick would have never given her safe and secure. He bordered on reckless. Driving too fast, taking too many chances, like signing up for military service, then going off to war. He didn’t have to enlist. There was college, the fact that he was an only child, and his parents owned a ranch where he was needed. It had surprised Beth that his father and mother didn’t even try to stop him. At least he was one of the lucky ones who came back. Even then he didn’t stay long, only a few weeks. As fast as he could get his boots shined, he moved away.
Beth heard he later married and had a son and a daughter. Now here he was, drawn back once more to his old home, checking on his mother.
At least no one could say he wasn’t a good son.
“Well, how about it?”
The words interrupted Beth’s thoughts, jerking her back to the present.
“What? I’m sorry. I wasn’t listening. What did you ask?” She’d tried to rise above Maverick, presenting a very businesslike approach in her dealings with him. Now she felt embarrassed. She had no idea he’d been speaking to her.
“Are you going to give me the nickel tour, or do I have to get your pretty little secretary to help me?”
At her assistant’s eager expression, Beth brightly called out, “Chloe, can you show Mr. Cadence around?”
“Of course, Mrs. Taylor.”
“Chloe can answer most of your questions, I’m sure. Please have a good morning, Mr. Cadence.”
With that, Chloe excitedly got up from her desk and put her arm through Maverick’s extended one. “Now, this is the main lobby,” she began, as she walked him toward the spacious foyer. Pointing to the back of the building, she noted one of the establishment’s most elegant amenities. “We even have a Steinway grand, permanently donated to our facility by a resident’s family.”
The tour disappeared down a hallway toward the new wing. Beth felt like a rag doll long due for a refit. She knew what had done it: meeting Maverick again after four decades. She’d certainly never expected that. If she’d been forced to give him the tour, she wouldn’t have survived. Of all things, that man putting his mother here!
It was only a little after ten, and Beth realized she was done for the day. Today Maverick had caught her off guard. She might be forced to deal with him because of his mother, but she would be more prepared in the future. This wouldn’t happen again.
She arched her back as she ran her fingers through her thick hair, pushing it away from her face, while trying to ward off an impending headache. Home sounded good. Chloe could corral the residents the rest of the day.
WHAT BETH DIDN’T NOTICE was the silhouette she revealed through her glass office wall. Chloe had forgotten the key to the new wing, and Maverick was waiting in the foyer. He had a very clear view of Beth as she stretched to ease the pain.
“I’m back, Beth,” he whispered to no one in particular. “This time I won’t run away. I can promise you that.”
It was eight days until the reunion, he had already set his trap, and now he had to sit back and wait for it to spring.