Forbidden Merger(6)By: Emilie Rose
His workaholic father had risen several notches in Liam’s opinion over the past nine months by getting his priorities straight. Family first. Work second. It hadn’t always been that way. It had taken almost losing his wife to set Michael Elliott straight.
The sandwiches arrived and the server departed.
Aubrey’s violet eyes met Liam’s and the impact hit him like a fist in the gut, knocking the breath out of him. “How is your mother? I read about her illness in the paper.”
What was she—psychic? “She’s improving. She’s finished chemotherapy and her hair’s growing back.”
“Her diagnosis must have been terrifying for all of you.”
“Yes.” He could have lost his mother, and while she wasn’t out of the woods yet and wouldn’t be until she’d been cancer-free for five years, optimism was on the upswing. The doctors gave her a good prognosis.
“You’re close to her?”
“Now more than ever. Are you close to your mother?”
Sadness filled Aubrey’s eyes. “No. She left my father when I was eleven. She couldn’t stand always coming in second to Dad’s mistress—work.”
“You didn’t keep in touch?”
“I shuffled back and forth for a while, but then she remarried.” Aubrey ducked her head and the curtain of her shiny hair swung forward. “The sandwich is good and you’re right about the vinaigrette. It’s delicious.”
He ignored her bid to switch topics. “You didn’t get along with the new husband?”
Color leeched from Aubrey’s face. “He liked me a little too much.”
The sandwich turned to rubber in Liam’s mouth. “He came on to you?”
Aubrey abandoned her lunch. “Yes.”
Anger percolated in Liam’s veins. “How old were you?”
“Did your mother divorce the bastard?”
“No. Look, could we talk about something else?”
His appetite deserted him. He wanted to ask how her mother could stay with the pervert and if her father had beaten the crap out of him. But he didn’t. “Sure.”
“I heard Patrick is considering retirement. Any idea who will replace him?”
Liam rested his fists beside his plate. “Aubrey, I’m not going to discuss EPH.”
She abandoned the pretzel she’d been nibbling. “I understand. I’m sorry I wasted your time.”
He didn’t understand the emotions chasing across her face. Disappointment was easy to identify, but he’d swear he saw failure in Aubrey Holt’s eyes. Why? “You haven’t. Until you started with the EPH interrogation I was having the best time I’ve had in months.”
Her lips parted and color washed her cheeks. Before she could reply his cell phone rang. He unclipped it from his belt. “Excuse me. Liam Elliott.”
“Mr. Elliott, this is Trisha at the Davenport Gallery. Gilda Raines has agreed to talk about parting with the painting you wanted for your mother. I’d suggest you come now. Gilda is…unique. She wants to meet you before she makes her decision.”
“I’ll be right there.” He snapped the phone shut and signaled for the waitress.
“I hate to cut this short, but I have to go.”
“Problem at work?”
A wry smile tugged his lips. Did Aubrey never give up? “No. I’ve been trying for months to buy a painting by my mother’s favorite artist. The artist has finally agreed to discuss selling. I don’t want to give her time to change her mind. I’m going to meet her now.”
He reached for his wallet. “Gilda Raines.”
Aubrey sat up, alert and radiating excitement. “Are you serious? She’s my favorite, too. And you’re going to meet her! She’s a recluse who never meets anyone.” Her hand covered his on the table and sparks hopped up his arm. “May I come with you?”
Liam looked across the table at the enemy’s daughter, at her pale, slender hand over his. A wise man would cut his losses and say goodbye. Now. Evidently he wasn’t as smart as he thought he was because the shine in those violet eyes and the curve of her lips overrode his conscience’s objections.
“You can ride along. But I’m not answering questions about EPH. If you ask even one I’ll have the cab pull over and put you out. Are we clear?”
Her grin stole his breath. “As clear as the Hope Diamond.”
Aubrey wanted to get to know Liam better, but putting her hand in his lap wasn’t quite what she had in mind. She hadn’t hit ground zero, but she’d come close enough that he inhaled sharply and his warm thigh muscles tensed beneath her fingers.