Only on His Terms(2)

By: Elizabeth Bevarly



 “I’m afraid it took me a while to find you,” he continued.

 She stiffened. “Yeah, I kind of left Cincinnati on a whim about a year and a half ago.”

 “Without leaving a forwarding address?”

 “I, um, had a bad breakup with a guy. It seemed like a good time to start fresh. My mom and Harry were gone, and most of my friends from high school moved after graduation. I didn’t really have many ties there anymore.”

 Mr. Tarrant nodded, but she got the feeling he wasn’t too familiar with bad romance. “If you have some time today,” he said, “we can discuss Mr. Sagalowsky’s estate and the changes it will mean for you.”

 Gracie almost laughed at that. He made Harry sound like some batty Howard Hughes, squirreling away a fortune while he wore tissue boxes for shoes.

 “There’s a coffee shop up the street,” she said. “Mimi’s Mocha Java. I can meet you there in about twenty minutes.”

 “Perfect,” Mr. Tarrant told her. “We have a lot to talk about.”





                       One

 As Gracie climbed out of Mr. Tarrant’s Jaguar coupe in the driveway of the house Harry had abandoned fifteen years ago—the house that now belonged to her—she told herself not to worry, that the place couldn’t possibly be as bad as it seemed. Why, the weathered clapboard was actually kind of quaint. And the scattered pea-gravel drive was kind of adorable. So what if the size of the place wasn’t what she’d been expecting? So what if the, ah, overabundant landscaping was going to require a massive amount of work? The house was fine. Just fine. She had no reason to feel apprehensive about being its new owner. The place was...charming. Yeah, that was it. Absolutely...charming.

 In a waterfront, Long Island, multi-multi-multi-million-dollar kind of way. Holy cow, Harry’s old house could host the United Arab Emirates and still have room left over for Luxembourg.

 In spite of the serene ocean that sparkled beyond the house and the salty June breeze that caressed her face, she felt herself growing light-headed again—a not unfamiliar sensation since meeting Mr. Tarrant last week. After all, their encounter at Mimi’s Mocha Java had culminated in Gracie sitting with her head between her knees, breathing in and out of a paper bag with the phrase Coffee, Chocolate, Men—Some Things are Better Rich printed on it. To his credit, Mr. Tarrant hadn’t batted an eye. He’d just patted her gently on the back and told her everything was going to be fine, and the fact that she’d just inherited fourteen billion—yes, billion, with a b—dollars was nothing to have a panic attack about.

 Hah. Easy for him to say. He probably knew what to do with fourteen billion dollars. Other than have a panic attack over it.

 Now that they were here, he seemed to sense her trepidation—probably because of the way her breathing was starting to turn into hyperventilation again—because he looped his arm gently through hers. “We shouldn’t keep Mrs. Sage and her son and their attorneys—or Mr. Sage’s colleagues and their attorneys—waiting. I’m sure they’re all as anxious to get the formalities out of the way as you are.”

 Anxious. Right. That was one word for it, Gracie thought. Had the situation been reversed, had she been the one to discover that her long-estranged husband or father, a titan of twentieth-century commerce, had spent his final years posing as a retired TV repairman in the blue-collar Cincinnati neighborhood where he grew up, then befriended a stranger to whom he had left nearly everything, she supposed she’d be a tad anxious, too. She just hoped there weren’t other words for what Vivian Sage and her son, Harrison III, might be. Like furious. Or vindictive. Or homicidal.

 At least she was dressed for the occasion. Not homicide, of course, but for the formal reading of Harry’s will. Even though Harry’s will had already been read a few times, mostly in court, because it had been contested and appealed by just about everyone he’d known in life. This time would be the last, Mr. Tarrant had promised, and this time it was for Gracie. She looked her very best, if she did say so herself, wearing the nicest of the vintage outfits that she loved—a beige, sixties-era suit with pencil skirt and cropped jacket that would have looked right at home on Jackie Kennedy. She’d even taken care to put on some makeup and fix her hair, managing a fairly convincing French twist from which just a few errant strands had escaped.

 She and Mr. Tarrant moved forward, toward a surprisingly modest front porch. As he rapped the worn knocker, Gracie could almost convince herself she was visiting any number of normal suburban homes. But the humbleness ended once the door was opened by a liveried butler, and she looked beyond him into the house. The entryway alone was larger than her apartment back in Seattle, and it was crowded with period antiques, authentic hand-knotted Persian rugs and original works of art.

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