This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
by Debra Salonen
"No. My God, no. Nolan, you can't be serious?" Gwyneth Jacobi had suffered more than her share of setbacks in the past few months. She'd lost her firm's largest West coast client. She'd watched the man she'd thought she could care for cast her aside in favor of his wife. And her brief tenure as head of the San Francisco branch of Silver, Reisbecht and Lane had come to an unceremonious and abrupt end when the other lawyers in the office had mutinied. But those humiliations were nothing compared to this. "Now, Gwyn, Arley McNamara is a very important client," her mentor, eighty-year old Nolan Reisbecht, said. "We've served his family for years." "You handled his divorce. The man caved." "He chose to be generous." "To a woman who willingly signed a prenuptial agreement. I'm the barracuda, Nolan. I need something challenging." To keep me distracted. "I won't let you down. I promise." Unlike her father. Who promised to take his meds religiously while she was in California. Who vowed to be in remission by the time she returned. She considered sharing her dad's health crisis with Nolan but wondered if he'd even believe her. After all, she'd worked hard to appear invincible. "This is something entirely different. Arley wants to help an old woman who is being forced off her land." "Why does he care?" "I don't know. He's a bit of a rogue. Takes after his grandmother. Arlene came from cotton mill money. Silver spoon shipped over from England and all that. Not that she acted the part, but she was the true force behind that family. By naming Arley after her, his parents secured the bulk of Arlene's estate in his name." Great. A trust fund baby. Spoiled and entitled. "It doesn't matter where the money came from. Tilting at windmills is a waste of my time and talent. Nolan, my friend, please. I beg you. Give him to somebody else." "Alas, my dear, you are not only low lawyer on the totem pole, you are persona non gratis among the partners." Gwyneth got up and walked to his desk. She sat her fanny on the corner of the highly polished teak surface and crossed her left leg over her right—a surefire distraction that never failed with men under the age of ninety. Nolan looked down. Her vantage point gave her a perfect view of his freckled bald spot. But only for a second. His chin snapped back. "Now, don't you try your sexpot tricks on me, Miss Girl. This is business."
Make that men under the age of eighty. She jumped to her feet, poised to stomp from the room. The old Gwyneth would have. The new Gwyneth couldn't. She needed this job, now more than ever. She drew herself up proudly. "Very well. I'll contact him today." "I already took care of that. Meet him at Molly Murdock's at ten. The address and directions are on your desk." As she turned to leave, he added, "Oh, and, dear, you might want to change your shoes." She looked down at her favorite pair of Manolos. Not likely. High heels and Armani weren't just her style, they were her armor.
The pig's skin was tough and bristly. Why had Arley thought it would be smooth? Perhaps because of his china piggy bank, the one he'd smashed when he was seven so he could give the money to a panhandler who had been outside their Manhattan apartment. His father had been appalled. "Give those people money and they'll never quit asking for handouts." But Arley tended to do the opposite of what people wanted him to do. The bum on the street had disappeared with his bounty wrapped in one of Arley's father's monogrammed handkerchiefs and never again appeared on their doorstep. Probably because Father had him arrested, a cynical voice whispered. Arley hated that voice. "Her name is Cuddles," Molly called out. The pig made snuffling noises that seemed to generate from the underside of her belly, which was hanging just a few inches above the ground. Her eyes displayed a complete and utter lack of interest in him, which didn't surprise Arley. After all, they weren't exactly old friends. He'd only met Molly last week after reading about the old woman's plight in the newspaper. "She's never at her best this early," Molly was saying. "Pigs aren't morning people." "She seems pretty lively to me," Arley said to be polite. Actually, the porcine pet lumbered after the tottering old woman like a dog at heel. The image would have been comical if the situation weren't so dire. Molly was being told Cuddles must go. Nobody seemed to care that Cuddles was here first, that Molly had raised the animal from a bottle. The two were as close as his grandmother had been with Fritz, her demented Yorkie. "Bring her a watermelon next time you come," Molly said, motioning him to follow her to the house. "Then you'll see her dance with excitement. I had to stop buying them. Luxuries like that are a little out of my budget." Arley's heart did a little flip-flop. To his parent's annoyance, he'd always been a sucker for the old, the weak, the ones who just couldn't seem to make sense of the world. He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and hit the speed dial number for the offices of Silver, Reisbecht and Lane. "Arley McNamara calling for Nolan Reisbecht or whomever he put on my case." "That would be Gwyneth Jacobi. I'll ring her for you now, sir," the receptionist said.
Arley thought he detected a certain air of amusement in the woman's tone. His speculation was sidetracked when a voice came on the line. "Hello, Mr. McNamara. This is Gwyneth Jacobi. I was just leaving for our ten o'clock. Has something changed?" Her voice had a rich, throaty timbre. Businesslike. Falsely perky. And sexy as hell. Ridiculous as it was to make assumptions, he pictured her as beautiful, slightly exotic and wholly desirable. I need to get out more. He cleared his throat. "Yes. I'd like you to pick up three or four watermelons on your way. Any variety." The line went suspiciously quiet. "Hello? Did you get that? I'm on my cell and—" She cut in. "I heard you. I just wasn't sure I understood the request. Do you know how much you're paying my firm for my time? Wouldn't it be more cost effective to call a nearby market and ask for a delivery?" She was irked. He grinned. "One of the best parts of being filthy rich is never worrying about trifles," he said. "Make it ten melons." Molly, her watery blue eyes alight with glee, clapped. "Did you hear that, dear girl? We finally have a friend who cares." She reached down and patted Cuddles, whose snout came up as if looking for more food. Arley held his breath fearing the animal might take off one of Molly's gnarled fingers, but the pig gave her palm a little smooch then focused its attention on Arley's shoes. Arley stepped onto the porch. He cared. But not enough to sacrifice his favorite pair of loafers.
Gwyneth pulled to a stop in front of the single-story home engulfed by overgrown bushes. Not old enough to be on anybody's historical register nor the least bit interesting architecturally. Boxed in by McMansions of the newly prosperous, the place clearly was a tear-down waiting to happen. She parked beside a shiny black Hummer that looked as out of place as she felt. Her heart was pounding with uncharacteristic trepidation. She'd just talked to her father's doctor. The word "hospice" had come up more than once. She checked her lipstick in her visor mirror and caught a glimpse of the fat green globes piled into two boxes on her back seat. Her ire swelled. Instead of visiting her father, she was buying produce for a pig. "Watermelon," she muttered, getting out of the car. Her heels twisted slightly in the gravel. Maybe Nolan had been right about her choice of footwear. "Hello," she called out, holding on to the car door. A boy emerged from a detached garage to her right. He paused to stare at her. She guessed his age at ten or eleven, although she knew squat about kids.
"Do you know where Arley McNamara is?" His arm lifted robotically, pointing toward the rear of the house. She didn't see a sidewalk and wasn't about to hike cross-country in heels. Before she could ask the boy to go find him, the kid reached down, picked up a rock and threw it at her. Reflexively, she ducked. Fortunately, the projectile missed her, but it bounced off the trunk of her car, leaving a quarter-sized dent. "Hey!" she cried. "What the hell—heck did you do that for?" The boy took off running. Gwyneth was completely nonplussed. From the notes Nolan had given her she recalled something about the woman having custody of her great-grandson, but nowhere did it say the kid was a rotten little brat. She was about to check out the dent when her client rounded the building, walking at a swift pace. She recognized him from a photo in his file. A photo that hadn't done him justice. Fit and attractive, he was casually dressed, but the quality of his clothes was impossible to miss. His long legs cleared the distance between them too fast for her to get her game face in place. "Hi, I'm Arley. Thanks for coming." He pocketed his designer sunglasses and took her hand in a firm shake. "Not that Nolan gave you any choice, of course." His eyes were an unremarkable hazel but so alive with humor, intelligence and purpose she couldn't look away. He had a presence that sucked her into his space, compromising her ability to breathe. She only managed to yank her hand free after she realized an elderly woman had joined them. "Nolan spoke highly of you and your grandmother," she said, trying to reclaim her usual equanimity. His grin widened, displaying an adorable pair of dimples. "I believe they might have been an item at one time, but Gran told me she flirted with her heart but married with her head. Just the opposite of me, obviously." His frankness left her even more off-balance. "I…um…I brought the watermelon." "Cuddles, your treat is here," he called to the very large pig waddling toward them. Gwyneth barely had time to glance at the hog before being introduced to Molly Murdock. "My great-grandson's around here somewhere. T.J.?" she called in a shrill voice. "Where'd that boy run off to? Poor dear is terrified we're going to lose the place. He still clings to the notion his mother's coming back for him. Not that she will, of course. Too far gone on the drugs, you know." Gwyneth's complaint about the boy's vandalism died on her lips. I'll put in for hazard pay. "I believe we're under time imperatives. Is there some place we can sit?" she asked instead. "The picnic table out back," her client suggested. "You two go on around. I'll make us some tea, but if you'd toss one of those melons on the lawn, Cuddles would give your shoes some peace." For a man used to having people do his bidding, Arley took orders well. He snatched up a fat round globe, hefted it to his shoulder and sent it sailing. He was no athlete, but Gwyneth found his effort wholly real and strangely endearing.
The hollow thump and aroma of watermelon drew the pig's attention. The beast almost pranced toward the feast. "Molly was right. Cuddles does love her melon. Thank you." His obvious sincerity made her heart do a funny little prance of its own. Flustered, she bent over to collect her briefcase and keys then started toward the back by way of a clearly defined rut in the grass. She tried to walk on the pads of her feet, but one heel became stuck in the soil. She lunged awkwardly, arms flapping. "Bad shoes for the country," her client said, rescuing her with one hand at her elbow. "There's a high-end strip mall less than five blocks away. That hardly qualifies as country, Mr. McNamara." "Arley. Please. Mr. McNamara sounds like my father, who definitely wouldn't give a damn about Cuddles." When they reached the weathered bench-style picnic table, Gwyneth sat down gingerly. The thing looked ready to collapse. Once he'd joined her, she asked the question foremost on her mind. "How you do know Molly?" "I don't. I just met her last week." Gwyneth had assumed Molly was an old family retainer or related to someone he knew. "You're spending thousands of dollars in legal fees to defend a stranger's right to keep a farm animal within city limits?" The impish grin returned. It was almost as if he was waiting for her to add, That's crazy. Instead, she asked, "Why?" The question seemed to surprise him. "Fairness. The satisfaction of helping an old woman keep her pet in a home that was here long before the neighbors moved next door." "You're a Boy Scout." "Never had the honor. My mother's idea of camping out is staying at a three-star hotel, and my father wouldn't dream of spending time alone with one of his children." His casual admission surprised her. Her father had never been actively involved in her life, either. Not that she planned to tell Arley that. "Well, I did a cursory check of zoning laws. Once this lot was annexed into the city it fell under new restrictions. Homeowners are not allowed to keep farm animals on lots under three acres." She checked her notes. "This place is on less than one acre. So, technically, Molly is in the wrong." "Cuddles isn't a farm animal." "She's a pig." There was that smile again. "She's a pet. Molly has the license to prove it." "License?"
He nodded. "The vet makes house calls. Cuddles is not only current on her shots, she's entirely flealess." She didn't acknowledge his joke. "Are there receipts?" "There certainly are," Molly said from the doorway. Arley jumped up to take the tray she carried. "Thank you, dear. Go ahead and pour yourselves a drink while I find my file box. T.J.," she called again. "Now, where is that boy?" Gwyneth almost brought up the issue of the vandalism but changed her mind. The kid had enough problems.
An hour later, Arley was certain his face was going to ache from smiling so hard. His gorgeous, cosmopolitan lawyer in her overpriced shoes had managed to exceed his expectations in a way very few people ever did. He liked her. Even if she wasn't a pig person. "So, you've owned this place since 1951?" "My late husband was one of the last ones back from Europe. I'll never forget the day we paid off the mortgage. Our children tried to get us to borrow against the place, but this was all we had." Arley saw a softening in Gwyneth's face that told him Molly's story touched her. "Can I take this box with me, Molly?" Gwyneth asked. The box was haphazardly stuffed with every tidbit Molly felt needed saving. "I'll carry it," Arley said. They started toward the front of the house, but made a detour when Molly insisted on showing Gwyneth Cuddles's living quarters. Gwyneth's nostrils crinkled with distaste when Molly opened the gate to the straw-littered stall. "What do you say to your neighbors who complain about the smell?" Molly shrugged. "God made pigs. Cleanest animal you'll ever meet, but I haven't been too good about picking up the poop, lately. Been a bit tired. T.J. tries, but…" Arley looked around. T.J., who had practically stuck to him like glue in past visits, had yet to put in an appearance. Arley was surprised but not alarmed. The child seemed older than his years and extremely self-reliant. He shifted the box to his hip and juggled the set of keys Gwyneth had handed him. He was just about to open the BMW's trunk when he noticed a dent in the middle of the pristine paint job. Very recent. Glancing around, he spotted the source. A rock that couldn't possibly have fallen from the sky without a little help. He put the box into the spotless trunk and closed the hatch, then turned to study the woman walking toward him. He didn't know why she hadn't said anything, but her silence impressed him. When she looked his way, her line of vision detoured momentarily to the trunk. Their gazes met. Her chin came up defiantly, and at that moment, Arley knew he'd found his soul mate.
"All I'm saying is it's a good thing Gwyneth wasn't on the McNamara divorce—she'd have sided with the wife." The giggles that followed confirmed what Gwyneth had known since seventh grade—eavesdropping in bathrooms wasn't a good idea. You undoubtedly weren't going to like what you overheard. "I think you're wrong. Our resident barracuda would have gone for the opposing attorney's nuts and played the blame game in the press. She'd have found a way to make the wife look like an ambitious, conniving slut from hell." Gwyn put her eye to the crack of the door. Whomever her sole supporter was deserved an extra long lunch. "After all, it takes one to know one, right?" the woman added. The roar of laughter masked the sound of her door opening, but the automatic flush made the four secretaries turn to see who had joined their group. Their embarrassment and mortification assuaged her ego a tiny bit. Gwyneth washed her hands then looked at the four in the mirror. "You're right about one thing. If I'd handled Arley McNamara's divorce, the ex-wife bitch wouldn't have seen a dime outside her pre-nup." Turning to face them, she dried her hands. "In fact, the conniving slut might have wound up owing my client money." Chin high, she left the room. Pausing outside the door, she heard the whispers and repressed laughter. Gwyneth liked to think it didn't matter to her what other people thought about her— especially other women—but the churning sensation in her stomach told her otherwise. "What is wrong with me?" she muttered, returning to her office in search of an antacid. Her secretary, fortunately, hadn't been one of the four in the restroom. She motioned Gwyneth to hurry. "Arley McNamara on line one. He's been holding for several minutes." In the four days since their meeting with Molly, he'd called daily to check on her progress. She wasn't used to this hands-on kind of client relationship, and she was pretty certain she didn't like it. "Mr. McNamara, what now?" "Ms. Jacobi, I want a son." Gwyneth's involuntary gasp told him he had her full attention. He went on without giving her a chance to speak. "I spoke with Molly last night at length. Her health is deteriorating rapidly. She's worried about what will happen to T.J. after she's gone. I told her I might like to adopt him. What do you think?" "Have you always had a problem with impulse control or is this something new? Adopting a child isn't the same as buying a dude ranch because you've always wanted to try riding a horse." Her tone should have made him defensive or angry—nobody talked to him like that. Instead, he smiled. "Do you ride?"
"Do I look like the kind of woman who rides large smelly animals in the sun and dust?" "You have great legs. Definitely made for riding something." She cleared her throat in a way that said she'd heard better pick-up lines at the grocery store. "Returning to your impulse control issues, perhaps you should see a therapist." "Been there, done that, as they say. The official verdict? I'm in reasonably good shape—mental healthwise—for growing up the way I did. I could probably get my doctor to sign off on this, if you want to make it official." "I don't want anything from you, Mr. McNamara. I was thinking about T.J." "Because you like him so much." There was a long pause. "Are you asking me to look into the adoption process?" "Yes." "Very well. I will. Is there anything else?" "Not at the moment." But there will be. "Then, I'll call you when I can give you that information. In the meantime, I'll be out of the office this afternoon on a personal matter, but you can leave any message you have with my secretary," she said. "What kind of personal matter?" "It's personal." "You know my secrets." Her soft snicker sent a shiver through him. "But the attorney-client relationship is by nature one-sided. You tell me all and I tell no one anything." "That hardly seems fair." "Tell that to the neighbors who have to smell pig poop. Fair is relative." His smile grew. Who could have predicted that a simple news article would have led him to a path that offered a new life, a new family and a new love?
Gwyneth gazed out the window at the bucolic scene on the lawn below: a young family playing on the grass while someone—daughter, son, mother, father—visited their dying relative. Hospice. The word sounded so austere. Last gate at the end of the road. And, dammit, she wasn't ready to let her father go. She turned to look at the man lying peacefully in the narrow hospital bed. The back was angled to facilitate his breathing, the knees lifted slightly. No breathing apparatus, heart monitors, bells or whistles. Nothing but peace and quiet.
She hated it. Noise meant life, effort, chaos. "Would you like a radio, Dad?" she asked, stepping to the bed. He opened his eyes. "No." "But it's so quiet here." Like a morgue. "Then you talk. Tell me about your new case." Arley McNamara's latest whim, you mean? "My client thinks he wants to adopt a ten-year-old kid. The same brat who threw a rock at my car. You wouldn't believe how much the body shop is charging to fix the damage." Her father's lips twitched. He'd never smiled much that she could remember. He was the stern, serious, detached member of their small family. At one time, she'd believed Daddy and God were the same person. "You set fire to my aunt's barn when you were about that age." "I…I…what? I did not." His gaze turned toward the ceiling as if seeing the incident playing out above him. "Your mother was having some surgery and she made arrangements for you to spend a week with my aunt in New York. When I picked you up, Aunt Rachel told me you'd gotten into a little trouble." "I don't remember ever spending a week at some farm." "You picked berries and made jam. Fished in the creek with your second cousins. And when they told you you had to come home, you took a magnifying glass outside to fry ants. Instead, you caught some hay on fire and nearly burned down the barn." She pulled up a chair and sat down. As he'd been speaking the memories had started to bubble up. She'd always thought of her childhood as small—her parents, school, and the synagogue. An only child. A loving but demanding mother. A distant, judgmental father. How had she blocked what sounded like a lovely adventure from her mind? "How come we never visited this aunt again?" "Your mother insisted on paying for the damage but then became convinced my aunt overcharged her. You know how your mother was about money." Gwyneth sighed. She did, indeed. She knew what her mother would have said about Arley McNamara. "You can fall for a rich boy just as easily as you can fall for a poor one. You just have to set your mind on it." And Gwyneth had tried. She'd made sure she only dated prosperous professional types. But had she ever fallen in love? Not once. Rich or poor. And if that changed now… She brushed the thought aside. She was a professional and she could honestly say she'd never become involved with a client. Besides, even if she did allow herself to feel some sort of attraction to Arley, the man was seriously contemplating adopting a destructive, antisocial brat. Gwyneth Jacobi didn't do motherhood. Period.
"Arlen, when are you going to give up playing Don Quixote? This is beginning to get embarrassing, darling. You should hear the rumors flying about." "I thought about playing Zorro, Mother, but the costume costs were outrageous. Plus, there's a liability factor with swords." The long pause on the line wasn't due to the trans-Atlantic call. He'd grown used to the talk-wait-listen routine when he'd been in school and his parents had been part of the jet-set crowd. Now, although they traveled less, he still saw them about as often. "Missy Gamble e-mailed me that you are dealing with a pig. A pig. Whatever for? I told your father we should have sent you to work on a farm when you were ten or eleven." About T.J.'s age. The kid was really something. He helped his grandmother as much as he could. He even loaded pig poop into plastic shopping bags and put it in dumpsters at the shopping mall after their new neighbors started to raise a ruckus about the smell. But he couldn't do anything about Cuddles's size or noisy grunts. "That's it! I think I'll buy a farm." "Stop teasing. You're less qualified to raise livestock than you were to run a camp for cancer children." Arley frowned. She loved to bring up his altruistic failure. He'd jumped at the chance to create Camp Sunshine. He'd poured tons of money into the project and served as director the first summer. But when his focus turned in other directions, the people he hired to run the program took advantage. They robbed those poor dying children of a summer of fun and broke Arley's heart in the process. The camp still existed, but only because his father had called on several friends to sit on the board of directors. Now, Arley limited his hands-on involvement to smaller causes because he knew his limitations. As his mother once told a friend's mother, "Arley has a unique form of attention-deficit syndrome. Once something ceases to be interesting, he's done with it. Probably one reason he's not married." She was wrong about that. He hoped. "It's been great talking to you, Mother, but I have to run. I'm taking my lawyer and Cuddles to lunch." "Your lawyer's name is Cuddles? Good lord, what kind of people is Nolan hiring these days. Sounds like a stripper." "She's got the body for it. Gwyneth, not Cuddles. Gwyneth Jacobi is my lawyer. Cuddles is the pig." "Is she Jewish?" "Can pigs be Jewish? I know quite a few Protestants who are boars, but…" "Oh, stop. You know what I meant."
"I did. I do. And I'm done talking about this subject. Have a good day, Mother. I'll see you when you and Father get back. Ta." Arley hung up the phone and left his grandmother's two-hundred year old brownstone. He loved Boston, but sometimes life seemed a little tight around the collar. Maybe it was time to move on. He wondered what Gwyneth would think of that idea.
Gwyneth had returned for some papers Molly needed to sign, and as she got out of her car, she found the boy standing beside the back end of her car. Her first impulse was to shoo him away, but something about the way his shoulders were hunched—as if the load he was carrying was more than any ten-yearold should have to bear—made her hesitate. "The repair shop fixed the dent last weekend. It took them four days and cost more than your grandmother gets in social security in three months." He jumped back as though she'd struck him, but his chin lifted defiantly. "I got money saved. From cans I find in the garbage." Gwyneth crossed her arms and tilted her head to study the boy. "What do you plan to do with it?" "I'm gonna find my mom." He looked down. "After." After Molly died. In a way she was envious. At least he had a purpose, a goal. She'd lived her entire life hoping to impress her father, and now that he was poised on the brink of death, she had no idea whatsoever what she really wanted to accomplish, who she wanted to be when she grew up. "Do you know where she lives?" "New York." "City?" He shrugged. "I guess." "Well, FYI, New York is also a state. A rather large state. And New York City is a very dangerous place for young boys." On impulse, she added, "Do you want me to look for your mother online?" His onyx eyes narrowed. "I hit your car." "I know, but dings are a part of life. One day I came out of my apartment and found all my tires flat. Another time, someone carved a gang symbol in the door." "Is that why you didn't tell Gran?" She wasn't sure why she hadn't mentioned the infraction to Molly. Or Arley. Although she knew he'd figured it out. "Maybe. Maybe, I just wanted you to know that you can trust me. I'm not the enemy. I assume you thought I was someone trying to take you away from your grandmother, but you know that's not true, correct?"
He nodded. "We're on the same team. Okay?" He nodded again. "Good." She unlocked the car and picked up her briefcase. When she turned around, he was directly in front of her. Short, skinny, too serious. What possible potential Arley saw in the kid was beyond— He moved so fast she didn't have time to react. He wrapped his arms around her middle and pressed his cheek against her belly. A clumsy, little boy hug. Then he bolted. Gwyneth tried to catalogue her reactions but couldn't get past the tears that suddenly welled up in her eyes. If she weren't the professional she was, she'd have crawled into her car and wept. Why? She had no idea. And to make matters worse, a gleaming black Hummer pulled in beside her car a few seconds later. Only years of practice allowed her to stifle her emotions and focus on her job. That was what this man had hired her to do—even though he changed the parameters of her job daily. "Mr. McNamara, bad news. Although Molly is T.J.'s guardian, his birth mother would still have a say in any outside adoption, which—" "Is impossible," he said, interrupting her. He came forward so quickly and crowded her space that Gwyneth wobbled on the heels of her frightfully expensive shoes as she backed into the fender of her car. "Why?" "Because his mother is dead. Nasty, drug-related circumstances that no one's next of kin should have to learn about. Molly hasn't told T.J. because he's already had so many disappointments in his life. She wasn't sure he could handle one more. She knows that he fantasizes about his mom coming back for him." She could barely swallow the lump in her throat. Poor kid. "Everybody has fantasies, right? I'll tell you mine, if you tell me yours." His leer was just ridiculous enough to make her laugh, which, she realized, had been his intention. The man was impossible, but surprisingly likable.
"You did it. You won!" Gwyneth looked across the table at Arley. His smile seemed to light up his whole face. It was an unexpected reward, but she knew the results of today's hearing were temporary, at best. "Arley, the mitigation measures the board agreed to consider are a Band-Aid. You could build Cuddles a high-tech, sanitary stall that passed the most rigorous sniff test, but the neighbors still aren't going to be happy."
"Tough. We're within our rights. Molly has as much right to have her pet as somebody with a Great Dane." Spoken as a person who was used to getting his own way. And at the moment, Gwyneth couldn't handle complacent. She'd spent the better part of the night with her father, not holding his hand—he wouldn't have liked that, but sitting by his bed, watching. Listening. Feeling the gulf of things that needed to be said widen with each tortured breath. For the first time in her life, she knew the truth—some things couldn't be fixed. "You don't get it, do you? For you this is a lark. Something to keep you from being bored, but the harsh reality is you're going to fix this then walk away. Molly and T.J. aren't that lucky. Someday in the very near future, I fear, Molly is going to die. T.J. is going to inherit the property, but as a minor without a parent or family to care for him, he automatically becomes a ward of the court. The house and your hightech smell-proof barn will be sold at auction. Cuddles will either find a new home or…not." His smile disappeared. "That's a bleak outlook." "It's reality. Don't you watch T.V.? It's the hottest thing around." She stood up, leaving her meal mostly uneaten, her drink untouched. Arley had invited Molly and T.J. to join them, but Molly had called to say she had a touch of the flu and needed T.J. to help. That left Gwyneth and Arley, as unlikely a pair of crusaders as you could ask for, to carry on the fight. She'd done her best. She'd bought Molly some time, and now she was fought out. "I'm sorry. I have to go." "What? Wait. No. We're celebrating." She was too frazzled, too emotionally depleted to explain. She turned and walked out of Hooligan's, a well-known and popular pub she'd always planned to visit. Her car was two blocks away. The evening air was cool and damp in that unique Boston way that reminded her how much she loved this city. "Gwyneth, what's going on? Something's wrong. I've felt it ever since you arrived at the hearing. Are you okay?" She couldn't explain. Even one mention of the turmoil in her life would open a floodgate that she might never be able to close. "It's personal." His hand landed on her shoulder. "Screw personal." Fury, her emotional safety net, made her pivot to face him. "No, screw you. My life is my own. It doesn't involve you. You are a client. I am your legal advisor and representative in the court. We're not friends or buddies or pals. Now, excuse me, but I have to be somewhere." Screw you? Arley's arm dropped to his side in complete and utter shock. Had anyone ever said that to him before? He doubted it. There might have been a time in his life when he would have been angry or upset, but this was Gwyneth, a cool, composed professional. For her to lose it meant something bad— something very bad—was going on. "We might not be friends, but there's a good chance we're soul mates," he said. Her eyes widened with incredulity. "The office gossip was right. You are nuts." "I prefer eccentric." "Tough. I'm out of here."
"Sorry. I can't let you go. Not until I'm confident that you're okay to drive." "I didn't even take a sip of my Cosmopolitan." "No, but you're upset. You can pretend that you're upset with me, but we both know—" She sliced her free hand across the space between them. "What part of 'It's personal' don't you get?" He closed the distance in one step and put his arms around her. "This part," he said, his lips brushing hers. He expected her to struggle, to push him away. She didn't. She didn't react in any way for a second or two then she gave a small cry and leaned into him. An instant later, he heard her briefcase hit the pavement and her arms returned the hug. Her scent, the taste of her lipstick, the wet heat of her mouth pushed him past his comfort zone. He wasn't a hugger. He hadn't grown up in a family of huggers, but this wasn't about friendly. It was about lust. And more. He was afraid to stop kissing her, afraid the chilly persona she showed the world would return. As long as they were locked in each other's arms they could avoid that nasty thing called reality. Click. He knew that sound. He jerked back, roughly shoving Gwyneth behind him. Click. Click. Click. Even digital cameras made the sound that Arley, a private person, dreaded. "Evening, Mr. McNamara. Ms. Jacobi. Congrats on the win today. Give my best to the pig." Arley swore. He'd met the twenty-something newshound before. A stringer, actually. Sold his photos and briefs to the highest bidder. Who knew how much this would be worth? Less now than it would have been during his scandalous divorce, but still…the image would be juicy. "I take it my reputation will now be shredded," Gwyneth said, stooping to pick up her briefcase. "Great. Just what I needed." "I'll call Nolan. Give him a heads up. We're unmarried, heterosexual adults." "You're my client." "I'll fire you." "Thank you. I feel so much better now," she said dryly. "Gwyneth, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have followed you. You have every right to a private life. You probably have a boyfriend at home. Is he the reason you're upset?" She shook her head and sighed. "You don't give up, do you? There's no boyfriend. There's no cat, dog, fish or living plant at my condo. I'm not going home. I'm going to Serenity Hills Hospice to see my father."
"Your father? I'm so sorry. Should I come with you?" She laughed resignedly. "No. You shouldn't. You should go home and brace yourself for whatever fallout this imbroglio will produce in your life. At worse, I'll lose my job. There was a time when I would have considered that the end of the world, but now I realize it's just a job." He reached for her, but she stepped away, avoiding his touch. "This shouldn't have happened, Arley. I don't know how you came up with the idea that we were soul mates, but you're wrong. Barracudas don't have souls. Ask anyone." Then she left.
"My god, son. What were you thinking?" The photo had appeared in the paper five days earlier. It reminded Arley of the famous post World War II shot of the sailor kissing a girl on the street. He'd rushed out and bought four copies to have for posterity. Not that he intended to tell that to his parents, who had arrived at his home an hour earlier, straight from JFK. Both looked fit and relatively refreshed given the trans-Atlantic flight. First class, of course. "He wasn't thinking or he'd have realized this choice was every bit as irresponsible as that woman he married the first time," his mother said before Arley could respond. "An actress, a lawyer, they're practically the same thing." He blinked. "How is that?" "They stand up in front of people and emote." He shook his head. His mother was many things but a great thinker wasn't on the list. "Gwyneth's father is dying. I'd intended to comfort her." His parents exchanged a telling look. "I told you," his mother said. "Another woman who needs rescuing." He didn't agree. Gwyneth was the most independent person he'd ever met. She needed him like his father needed a tax audit. But he knew from experience that they wouldn't hear his argument— regardless of its validity—until they were finished ranting. "I called Nolan," his father said. "She's his girl. His protégé, I guess you'd say, but even Nolan admits he's seen a change in her in recent weeks." "Apparently there was some kind of scandal in San Francisco," his mother added. "She lost a case," Arley said. Gwyneth had been upfront about her position in the firm from the very beginning. "Nolan said she's under intense scrutiny by the partners and this public display of affection would certainly fall under questionable ethical conduct."
"She might lose her job," his mother put in, her tone indicating she considered that recourse to be fair. Arley's stomach started churning. He hadn't really considered how this would impact Gwyneth's career. She'd been a bit cavalier about the subject when they were talking that night at the restaurant, but her attitude could be attributed to the stress she was under. People dealing with a dying loved one often made impulsive decisions they later regretted. Heck, Arley was pretty sure his grandmother's death had been the catalyst behind his disastrous marriage. "I'd be very upset with SRL if they let her go," he said. "This was my doing, not Gwyneth's." "Then, you'd better give Nolan a call and tell him you want a different lawyer and you have no intention of seeing this woman socially again," his father stated. His mother nodded. "As I've said before, you can't go around interfering in other people's lives. It's not as though this pig woman were someone who would fit long-term into your social life, and it's just not fair to them, either, for you to flit into their lives then leave." The complaint echoed Gwyneth's. And as much as he wanted to pretend otherwise, Arley hadn't been able to quit thinking about what she'd said. "Nor fair to us. The gossip is most unpleasant." Arley looked at his mother. He'd never understood why she put so much stock in what people thought. His grandmother for the most part had thumbed her nose at society and Arley felt the same way. But his parents were never going to change. Did he want to subject Gwyneth to the kind of scrutiny his mother and father would give her? And what kind of grandfather would his father be to a troubled little boy like T.J.? Maybe Gwyneth and T.J. would both be better off without him in their lives.
Gwyneth lifted her hand to knock on the highly polished mahogany door. Nolan's office imbued old-world constancy and trustworthiness, a place where secrets slipped into the tight knots of the wood and never left. She had a secret to share, but that wasn't why she'd been called in. She rapped firmly, knowing his hearing wasn't what it used to be. Her father was past the point where he heard anything she or the nurses tried to tell him. "Come in, Gwyneth." She didn't bother sitting, even though her knees felt wobbly and she couldn't remember the last time she ate. She was certain what he had to tell her wouldn't take long. "My goodness, dear, you're extremely pale. Do you feel well?" "I'm going to need a week or ten days of personal leave." His eyes widened behind his bifocals. "Because of this brouhaha over Arley and the newspaper photograph?" She shook her head. She hadn't actually seen the shot, although she'd heard titters of laughter and knew others in the office were talking about it. "My father is dying. He's in hospice care and they tell me he could go at any time. I don't have to be there. He doesn't know me now, but…my mind doesn't seem to…I just can't do this, Nolan. I've failed you again and I apologize. Are you firing me?"
He stood up quickly and walked around the desk. "No. Of course, not. There was some chatter among the partners, but they quieted down when Arley called to ask for a different lawyer." Her head snapped back. "He did?" "He called me at home last night. He wanted to make it clear that he thought you were a wonderful lawyer, and he took full blame for the photograph. But given the circumstances, he felt it would be better all around if you two didn't continue to work together." He put his hand on her shoulder supportively. "You understand, don't you?" Gwyneth's insides went from cold and numb to hot and hurt. She understood all right. He was a coward who ran at the first hint of controversy. He didn't deserve to adopt a kid like T.J. Drawing on her deepest reserves, she kept her voice calm and dispassionate. "Of course. I expected no less. I should have resigned from his case that same afternoon." "You argued admirably, Gwyn, and accomplished what you were hired to do, but somewhere along the line, you became emotionally connected to these people. That truly isn't like you." She nodded. "You're right, Nolan. It isn't. I've changed, and in all fairness to you and the other partners, I think it's time I leave Silver, Reisbecht and Lane." He stepped back, his jaw dropping. "Gwyneth, dear, you don't mean that. You're under incredible strain at the moment. I know you weren't terribly close to your father, but this impending loss will still have a—" She stopped him. "This isn't about my father. It's about me—the person I thought I needed to become to earn my father's love and respect. Now, I'm not sure he liked that person either." Nolan didn't say anything right away. "Take your leave of absence. You've earned it. We won't discuss the other again until you're absolutely sure. Give yourself time to heal, dear girl. Then we'll talk."
Gwyneth gently lifted the delicate bloom and bent low enough to smell it. The arrangement was the largest of the dozen or so that had arrived after her father died. He'd held on another two weeks after her meeting with Nolan. His tenaciousness had surprised even his seasoned nurses who had predicted his passage to be swift and easy. It hadn't been easy. Gwyneth was sure she'd never forget the sound of his tortured breath toward the end. But the long and agonizing end had been a gift, of sorts. Not the type who could sit still and do nothing for long periods, she'd used the time to go through the dozens of boxes of papers her parents had saved. She'd borrowed a dolly from her neighbor and carried three at a time to his room at the hospice. Sitting in a comfortable chair by the window just a few feet from her father's bed, she would sift through letters, bills, receipts, her school records, ancient bank statements—anything and everything her mother and father had deemed important. From time to time, Gwyneth would make comments or ask questions. Once, she'd exclaimed in surprise over a ticket stub for a ferry boat ride in North Carolina. "When did you and Mom drive down South? Was it the time you went to Florida to see her sisters? I thought Mom hated Aunt Bonnie? I never understood her antipathy, did you?"
She could only imagine his answer, but the sentiment felt very real to her. Your mother was overly sensitive at times. Her feelings were easily hurt and once something was said, there was no un-saying it. Other things had surprised her, too. Box seats at a showing of Annie. Playbills from music recitals she couldn't imagine her father attending. Menus from restaurants she'd had no idea they dined at. Slowly a picture of her parents' life emerged into a collage of companionship, mutual respect and love. She didn't know why she'd assumed their marriage was indifferent and bland. Because she'd been too close? Her perceptions altered by the personal dramas in her life? The arguments with her mother. The distance she'd felt whenever she tried to talk to her father. She didn't know, but she used the time to ask questions. "How come you and Mom never talked about the early years? I heard about how you met, but here's a contract to deed for a house in New Jersey. You lost it, didn't you? This says 'foreclosed.' Maybe that's why you never talked about it. Maybe that's why Mom was so frugal and you pushed so hard for me to choose a career that paid well." The last thing she ran across was a letter addressed to her at college. She'd changed dorms three times in one year. Apparently the letter had been returned instead of being forwarded after the second try. The envelope was sealed; the postmark was blurred so she wasn't sure of the exact date. Her hands had shaken as she opened it because her father had written to her at most half a dozen times in her life. Dear Gwyneth… After a few lines of hoping everything was fine with her and she was studying hard, he got to the reason for the letter. Her mother's cancer had returned. The prognosis was poor. They both wanted her to stay in school rather than come back home. There wasn't anything she could do. Children are the light of their parents' world. You certainly are ours. Your mother and I are both very proud of you. Our only concern is that you don't short-change yourself by focusing entirely on your chosen career. You are a loving, generous person who would make a wonderful wife and mother. And if some day you give us a grandchild or two, we will love your children as much as we love you—even if God deems that be from heaven. And now it would be. She'd burst into tears and walked on her knees to his bedside. Sobbing, she'd held his hand and told him how much she loved him. He stopped breathing a moment later. Although it had nearly killed her, she'd managed to recall enough of her early religious training to sit Shiva and get through the rituals of a Jewish funeral. Friends of her fathers had been quick to call. A great many of her co-workers sent cards of sympathy. Nolan and a few others attended the service. Family members she barely knew came out of the woodwork. Arley—the one person she'd hoped might attend—only stopped by long enough to drop off the flowers. A millionaire delivery boy, who obviously couldn't wait to get away. "I'm not good at this kind of thing, Gwyn," he'd said, barely making eye contact. "I didn't even attend my grandmother's funeral and she practically raised me. While everyone else was at the church, I took my boat out and played Frank Sinatra tunes." "Why?" "Grandmother loved Old Blue Eyes." "I meant, why did you come here, then? You could have had these delivered."
"I may be a flake, but I have a conscience. I really feel awful about the timing of what happened. The last thing you needed was bad publicity on top of your loss. I'm sorry, Gwyn. I really am." She believed him, but didn't dare let his sympathy touch her. She couldn't fall apart. Not yet. So she merely nodded. He studied her a moment then leaned in and gave her a kiss on the cheek. "You're the strong one. You'll be fine." She didn't feel strong. She felt shell-shocked, bruised and needy. She wanted to crawl into his arms and disappear, but before she could move, he turned around and left. If not for the flowers, she might have thought she'd imagined the whole thing. Instead of attending Gwyneth's father's funeral as he should have, Arley spent that afternoon at Molly's. He'd set up an appointment with a contractor to talk about rebuilding the garage to make it more sanitary and less stinky. The man had arrived late, vacillated about the best options, refused to back his work with any kind of guarantee and just plain annoyed Arley so much he snapped. "This is ridiculous. What I'm asking for isn't rocket science. We're not putting in a livestock barn for a small herd. I want one stall. Pig-friendly and smell-free. Is that too much to expect?" "I can give you concrete that washes up with a hose, but I'm not aware of any stall that cleans itself. You still have to get in and muck it out on occasion. If you wait too long between times, it will smell," the man said with finality. Arley knew he was right. The guy was being honest. He had a good reputation and charged plenty. Arley had agreed to pay extra to get him to start right away, but that wasn't the problem. The problem was Arley. He was miserable. He missed Gwyneth. Their knocking of heads, constant testing of wills. He'd tried to keep his distance from Molly and T.J., too, but the contractor had insisted on an on-site meeting. Arley could tell the man was now regretting his pertinacity. "Look, you're right. I am being unreasonable, but Molly is getting to the point where she can't care for Cuddles. I just want to make this barn as user-friendly as possible." The guy shrugged. "Maybe you're gonna have to hire a pigsitter." His grandmother had had three paid companions in her later years. Two had been charming, helpful young women who blended seamlessly into Arlene's world. The third had stolen jewelry, art and money from the old woman's account before anyone was the wiser. Molly didn't have much to lose, but Arley would feel horrible if someone he hired to help took advantage of her. "Thank you for coming. I'll review your plans and be in touch." He shook hands with the man then went to the house. T.J. hadn't been around. Arley assumed he was in school. That's what someone T.J.'s age did, right? "Hello, dear boy," Molly said opening the rickety screen door for him. "I saw you poking around outside with the other gentleman. Cuddles wanted to come out, but I told her she'd only distract you from your work." Arley looked around the cluttered room. The pig wasn't anywhere in sight.
"She's in the kitchen helping make soup. She takes care of the potato peelings," Molly said, holding his elbow as they walked through a narrow, dark hall to the kitchen. Sure enough, the pig was lying on its side beside the sink area. Cuddles lifted her head to glance at him, her large ears flapping back and forth, but a second later, she heaved a sigh and sank back to her resting position. "A cup of tea?" Molly asked. "It'll cheer you up. Such a sad thing about Gwyneth's father, isn't it? I thought about taking T.J. out of school for the service, but his teachers don't like him missing. We had quite a row about it when I was sick a while back." She shook her head. "They started making noises about putting him in a foster home." This would have been the perfect opportunity to bring up the subject of Arley's desire to adopt the boy— if his parents hadn't persuaded him out of the notion. He knew he was making the right choice for T.J.'s sake, but the change of plans still galled him. "My parents were just here," he said. "They've returned to England. Just dropped in long enough to point out all the errors of my ways and remind me what a fool I am. Kind of them, huh?" She poured his tea then sat down opposite him. Her shoulders hunched forward in a way that broke his heart. He'd bet anything she was a force to be reckoned with when she was younger. "Funny thing about families," she said. "They're big on giving advice, but not very good about taking it." He smiled. True, indeed. "Like my granddaughter, T.J.'s mama. She was going to be a singer. Had a beautiful voice, but not one I'd call special. I warned her that she should make a plan in case the singing didn't work out. She didn't. She got all depressed and turned to drugs." "I'm sure that hurt." Molly shrugged. "Hurt T.J. the most. He thinks it's his fault his mother didn't make it as a singer. She got pregnant by some guy claiming to be a producer. All he produced was a child then he overdosed on heroin. No singing. Just a lot of pain." They sat in silence, interrupted by an occasional grunt from Cuddles. Finally, Molly said, "Your folks gave you life, but once you started to breathe that life became yours. I brought my children into this world, did my best to raise them with values. I hoped they'd do the same with their children. Some did, some didn't." She sighed. "I still love the whole lot of them—even when they do things that make no sense. Pigs and dogs have the right idea. Leave 'em alone, forget to feed 'em, short 'em on water, but they don't hold a grudge." He wasn't sure the same was true of blue-blood parents. True, Arley had pretty much done what he wanted when he wanted for most of his life, but that hadn't included falling in love with a Jewish lawyer or adopting the child of a dead drug addict. They might never get over the plan he was about to spring on them, which was why he needed to do it in person. He would fly to London, tell them that he intended to buy Molly's house, remodel the garage, hire a caretaker and adopt T.J. For starters. He also planned to ask Gwyneth to marry him—after he begged her forgiveness for missing her father's funeral.
He was only gone a week. In that time he didn't try contacting Gwyneth, figuring she needed space to mourn and deal with her father's estate. He called Molly twice, but never got an answer. Worried about what he'd find, he hurried to her house the morning after his red-eye flight. The last thing he'd expected to find was a BMW and a moving van in the driveway. He jumped out of his Hummer and raced into the house. The senior member of the movers directed him to the barn. Winded from the dash, he rounded the corner of Cuddles's stall to find Gwyneth and T.J. shoveling manure into a wheelbarrow. The stench was almost enough to make him head back into the open air. The sight of Gwyneth with her hair in a ponytail, jeans and faded man's shirt knotted at her waist was enough to draw him closer. Gwyneth obviously hadn't heard him approach over the pulsing beat of hip-hop music. Hip-hop? "Good lord, it stinks in here." Pausing mid-toss, she glanced from him to T.J. They both put down their shovels, and T.J. turned off the iPod that was connected to a boombox. "Well, it's about time," Gwyneth said. "Another day and you'd have been too late." "Too late for what?" "To help with the move." "We're going to a farm in New York. The state not the city," T.J. added, pointedly. "Me and Grams and Cuddles are gonna live with Gwyn 'cause me and her are orphans. Grams didn't want to tell me, but I kinda knew already once Ma stopped coming back when the welfare check came in. Gwyn says it's a waste of time and money to fight the neighbors. Besides, Cuddles needs a bigger place, and Gwyn doesn't want to be alone no more." "Any more," Gwyneth corrected. "Any more." Arley felt an intense pressure on his chest, similar to the pain he'd felt when his grandmother passed away. She'd left him alone with his parents. "I just got back from England. I planned to buy this place, remodel the barn and hire help to care for Molly and Cuddles." Gwyneth shrugged. "Too bad. I got here first." If there'd been a hint of triumph in her tone, he might have walked away, but all he heard was trepidation. She was scared spitless but wouldn't admit it in a million years. That was so Gwyneth. He looked at T.J. and asked, "Where's your grandma?" "Out back with Cuddles. She was being a pest. Tripping the movers by trying to sniff their boots." "Would you do me a favor and tell her Gwyneth and I could use some tea, if it hasn't been packed?"
T.J. looked at Gwyneth, who nodded and smiled encouragingly, then he stripped off his gloves and left. She leaned her shovel handle against the wall of the garage and crossed her arms defensively. "If you're here to talk me out of this, forget it. Nolan already tried. He gave me the speech about waiting a year after a loved one passes away before making any big moves, but the harsh reality is Molly probably doesn't have a year." Arley winced. He'd guessed that, but an actual prognosis was difficult to hear. "T.J. needs to be in a home that isn't going to get ripped out from under him when the time comes." He stepped closer, his boots sliding on the slick, stinky concrete. "That's what I had in mind, too. Why upstate New York?" "My father left me his aunt's old place on sixty acres. When the renters found out I didn't plan to sell, they moved. I don't know what shape it's in but I have a little money saved and there's room for Cuddles." Is there room for me? he wanted to ask. Yet the man who'd known privilege but never unconditional love couldn't find the words. Gwyneth had had seven days and nights to prepare for this meeting. As a lawyer, she knew the value of going into every negotiation with a game plan. Unfortunately, her well-thought-out arguments flew out the barn door when she looked up and saw Arley. She was pretty sure she loved him, but asking him to join them on this new adventure required a leap of faith she wasn't certain she could make. Or could she? A happy life with a mate and children was all that her father had wished for her. She looked up at the heavens a second then said, "I'm sure we could find a windmill or two in the area for you to joust if you want to join us." His smile lit up her heart and gave her hope. They met halfway. He didn't seem to mind her smell. His kiss was the answer she'd hoped for, but she still wanted to hear the words. Instead, he took her hand. "I need witnesses," he said, towing her out the door. "For what?" "You'll see." He led her to the picnic table where four tall glasses were resting. T.J. and Molly were seated on one side. Gwyneth could hear Cuddles's contented grunts coming from beneath one of the nearby bushes. Arley made her sit, too, then he went down on one knee. "First, I owe you an apology. I should have been here for you when your dad—" She stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. "It's okay. Molly and I talked. This was my path. I had to walk it alone." He looked at Molly and smiled. "She gave me the same advice, which is why I went to clear the air with my parents. I told them I was coming back here to date you. Well…to court you. Okay, in all fairness, I have to admit, I plan to pursue you with dogged steadfastness and passion until I finally wear down your resistance enough that you agree to marry me." Joy swelled inside her, bringing tears to her eyes. Her throat was too tight to speak. She looked at Molly and T.J. for help.
"Tell him, yes," T.J. prompted. "Then you can adopt me and Cuddles, right, Gran?" Molly was beaming, but before she could reply, Cuddles erupted from beneath the bush, apparently answering to her name. She put her snout in the air and sniffed a couple of times before heading straight for Gwyneth. She firmly nudged Arley out of the way then gazed up at Gwyn with a look that mixed adoration and expectation. "Oh, you are such a pig," Gwyneth said, sighing. "One more, but that's it until we get to our new home." She reached across the table to a large shopping bag sitting beside T.J. Closing her eyes, she reached in and pulled out a shoe. A strappy high heel. Cuddles let out a squeal of joy, snatched the treat from her hand and disappeared out of sight. Arley scrambled back to his gallant position. "Was that one of your Manolos?" he asked. Gwyneth shrugged. "Couture fashion isn't a requirement where we're going. I thought about trading them in for rubber boots, but I knew Cuddles would enjoy them more." Arley looked at the sack that held a small fortune worth of shoes – and understood what this gesture meant. Once those shoes were gone, there was no turning back. Her tenure at Silver, Reisbecht and Lane was over. "Well, you know what they say. Styles change, but love never goes out of fashion," he quipped. Gwyneth and T.J. looked at each other and groaned. "Promise you won't ever say anything that cheesy after we're married." "After we're married? Is that a yes?" She gave him a flinty stare that undoubtedly made judges sit up and take notice. "Only a crazy person would agree to marry someone who's never even told her he loves her." "I love you, Gwyneth Jacobi. I have since the moment T.J. dinged your car and you didn't say anything." "Why? What did that prove?" "That you have a big heart and you don't do everything by the book. Have you ever thought about giving up law to grow watermelons?" Gwyneth assumed he wasn't serious about farming, but she could tell he meant what he said about marrying her. She didn't plan to say yes right away. One huge, impulsive, life-altering decision was all she could handle at a time, but this move would be a good test of Arley's self-professed attention deficit issues. If he hung in there for a year or two, she'd probably be ready to tie the knot. After all, she did love him, too. "Get real," she said. "The law is my life, but who knows? If you stick around long enough, I might find use for a rich, slightly eccentric philanthropist." He laughed and pulled her into his arms, then kissed her to the happy cheers of her newfound family and contented grunts of her newly acquired pig. The End
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