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BOOK: Damon, Lee
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"Must be handy when you're cooking for a party."

"Don't know what I'd do without it. There, Michael, if you'll take this platter and Gus takes the potatoes... Kitt, would you—Kitt?"

Kitt backed out of a doorway in the corner and swung around inquiringly, starting quickly toward Andy when she saw her holding out a bowl of peas. "Oh, sorry. I was so surprised to see a pantry. Aren't they the handiest things? You never find one in new houses. Do you want me to carry anything else?"

"No, that's fine. I've got the rest of the hot dishes, and everything else is on the table. We're eating in the breakfast room, just through here. This is closer to the kitchen, and cozier for the four of us than the formal dining room."

With laughter and an easy exchange of conversation, they settled around a mellow pine trestle table in the comfortable, pine-paneled room which continued the warm, country theme of the kitchen. In answer to a question from Kitt, O'Mara explained that all the paneling and the cabinet and drawer fronts in the kitchen and breakfast room had been made from old pine barn boards. Through much of the meal

Andy, O'Mara and Gus answered Kitt's many questions about the house and grounds and described things she hadn't seen yet.

Kitt, attuned to the interplay of voices and expressions, quickly realized that these three people had a closeness and deep affection for one another that she was eager to share. For the first time since being reunited with O'Mara, she truly understood that their relationship was not going to be simply a continuation and deepening of their old emotional tie, but would have to expand to include his love for Gus and Andy and theirs for him. She knew by the time the leisurely dinner was over that there was nothing she wanted more than to become an integral part of this close family circle, to give and receive her share of the interest, understanding and love that was implicit in all their exchanges.

There was no question of the depth of her emotional involvement with O'Mara. Very simply, they were part of each other. And she wasn't really worried anymore about being able to reach a physical fulfillment of their love. Sooner or later, O'Mara would take her beyond the panic point. Even now, in the few days they had been together, she had managed to overcome an amazing amount of her deep-rooted distaste and fear of physical contact.

He turned from speaking to Andy and met Kitt's intense gaze. "Where's your mind, love? You're going to wear through the bottom of that cup if you stir any longer."

"I... ah... does that go out to the patio I saw from the bridge?" Flustered, she motioned toward the window wall with its sliding glass door.

"Yeah," Gus answered. "We eat out there a lot in the summer. Do you like the house, Kitt? Wouldn't you like to come and live here with us?"

She grinned at his eagerness and cast a teasing look at O'Mara before leaning toward the boy and widening her eyes, asking wonderingly, "Are you proposing to me, Augustus O'Mara? Well, overlooking the slight age difference, I just might be interested—except for two things."

"What?" choked Gus, stifling a giggle and trying to look serious.

"First, I don't know if I'd really feel easy sharing a room with Fifi. And, second, I'm not at all sure your father fancies me as his daughter-in-law. I rather think he has something else in mind."

"Oh, Kitt, you're as nutsy as Ez sometimes!" Gus broke up in laughter, joined by Andy, while O'Mara leaned back in his chair and met Kitt's laughing gaze with a blatantly seductive grin.

He waited until he saw the tint of pink in her cheeks before he said, blandly, "We'll discuss what I have in mind after Mr. Big Ears is in bed."

Kitt decided that she'd be in trouble no matter what she said at that point, and jumped up and started clearing the table. With everyone helping, it only took a few minutes to clean up, stack the dishwasher and store the leftovers. She and Andy chatted easily, establishing the groundwork for a deepening friendship, while O'Mara and Gus built a fire in the family room and then began a game of pool, which, Gus explained, was an evening ritual.

It was a relaxed, peaceful hour, a foretaste of the strong family relationship she would enjoy and become part of in this marvelous house. She already loved Gus, not just because he was O'Mara's son, but for himself—for the intelligent, funny, affectionate, laughing boy he was—and she felt that he was quickly coming to love her. She watched the two of them as they moved around the pool table, so much alike, O'Mara a living vision of what the boy would become. She was totally unaware of the revealing expression on her face as her eyes lingered on the tall, rangy figure leaning forward to make a shot, the muscles in his thighs and back straining against the fabric of his jeans and shirt. Smiling understandingly, Andy saw her eyes close and her mouth soften as she remembered the feel of those sinewy back muscles under her hands and the strength of his legs pressing against hers when she kissed him beside that incredible bed.

"They
both
need you, you know." Andy's soft-voiced comment brought Kitt's eyes open and her attention back to her companion.

"I need them, too, Andy. And you, if you'll take me on." Kitt's smile was warm and appealing, and would have melted a much harder heart than Andy's.

"Oh, I rather think I shall," she said airily. "Not only will you be just what they need, but I've rather taken a fancy to this darling dog." She patted Hero, sprawled out on the sofa beside her, and winked at Kitt, adding, "And then, there's that marvelous twin of yours. Now there's a man who truly appreciates good cooking."

"And lots of it," interjected Kitt, laughing.

"Ah, but that's the challenge, you see, Kitt. It takes skill to provide both quality and quantity, to say nothing of variety. Yes, indeed, it will be a delight to have him around." She tilted her head, brown eyes twinkling, and looked at Kitt consideringly. "Have you realized what a very interesting package deal you are?"

For a moment, Kitt's eyes widened in surprised inquiry, and then she started to laugh, quickly joined by Andy.

"What are you two finding so amusing?" called O'Mara from across the room.

"Andy has just pointed out what a great bargain I am," Kitt chuckled.

"There was never a doubt in my mind," answered O'Mara with a distinctly suggestive grin, "but we may be talking about different benefits. Okay, Gus, that's the game. Good shot on the seven ball. Now you'd better get off to bed."

"I know. School tomorrow." He ran across the room and scrambled across the sofa to throw his arms around Kitt's neck. "I'm glad you like our house, Kitt. You
are
going to come to live with us, aren't you? And Hero?"

Kitt leaned back slightly so she could look into his unusually serious face. The normally bright blue eyes were dark with an intense longing that held just a touch of uncertainty. She wrapped her arms around the wiry young body and hugged him, ducking her head to nibble quick, tickling kisses down his neck which made him giggle.

"I rather think we shall—just as soon as your father and I work out a few minor details." She sent a speaking glance toward O'Mara.

"Terrific!" crowed Gus, jumping up. "Wait till I tell the kids who's going to be my mother! When, Dad? Kitt, how long is it going to take? What details?"

Laughing, O'Mara stretched out a long arm and caught the excited boy, swinging him up over his head. "Calm down, you jumping bean. It won't be long, believe me. Off to bed, now."

"Oh, okay. Can Hero come up with me, Kitt?"

"Sure. I'll collect him when I go." She came gracefully to her feet as Andy stood up.

"I'll go along with Gus and see him into bed. There's a TV show I usually watch, so I'll say goodnight now, Kitt." Andy held out her hand, and Kitt took it in both of hers, bending over to kiss the older woman on the cheek.

"It was a lovely dinner, Andy, and I've so enjoyed getting acquainted with you at last."

Chapter 16

Five minutes later, after an exuberant Gus had kissed everyone goodnight at least twice and raced up the stairs with Hero, followed by Andy at a more sedate pace, Kitt and O'Mara settled onto one of the window seats near the front of the darkened bridge. They kicked their shoes off and sat sideways on the wide bench, Kitt wriggling back between O'Mara's thighs to rest her back against his chest. For a while, they were quiet, relaxing and enjoying the peace of the calm, starry night, watching the progress of a ship so far offshore that its running lights looked like moving stars.

"O'Mara?"

"Hmmm?"

"Are you going to tell me about that phone call, or just leave me wondering?"

"It was Laura. She likes to upset people, and when she heard a woman answer, she jumped to conclusions."

"Does she call often? Doesn't she know Andy's voice?"

He tilted her head back against his shoulder so he could see her face. "No and no, my worrywart. There's absolutely nothing for you to get disturbed about, so take that frown off your face. I doubt if Laura even knows I've got a housekeeper, never mind what her name is or what her voice sounds like. Laura knows nothing about how we live—except that I've got a fair amount of money these days. That's what she's after, love. Just money."

"Do you give her money often? I thought you said—"

"Oh, Kitt," he sighed. "Look, you are not going to have Laura on your neck, if that's what's worrying you. I gave her a lump sum payoff when she signed the divorce papers, and she also signed an agreement that she was accepting that amount in lieu of all future claims. I hadn't heard a word from her until about three months ago, when she called asking for help."

"What happened? Why did she need help all of a sudden?"

"I can only guess. I didn't believe half of what she said. From what I remember of her, I'd say she's finding it a bit difficult these days to attach the kind of men who have the money and inclination to buy her the good life. At least, her version of it. Too many parties, too many men, too many years. It's got to start showing sometime, and I think she's discovering that what you can tease out of men when you're young and gay is a far cry from what they're willing to give to an overage, overused party girl."

"That's rather brutal, isn't it? How do you know—"

"I know." He cut her off abruptly, his voice hardening. "Remember, I've kept in touch with her parents, and I take Gus down to visit them every few months. They love him, and he's made up a great deal for the disappointment and sorrow she's brought to them. She's a thoroughly selfish woman who's caused a lot of trouble and unhappiness. Don't feel sorry for her."

Kitt shifted a bit and half turned so that she could see his face in the dim light from the family room. "Are you...?" She didn't know quite how to finish it, unsure of just what his feelings were for this woman who had given him a son and then wiped them both out of her life.

"Oh, hell. She's pathetic more than anything else, Kitt. That's all I feel for her. I told you before that there was never anything between us except a casual affair. And it was casual on both sides. If she feels anything for me now, it's resentment because, one, I made her have Gus and, two, I've made a lot of money while she's been going downhill. Before you ask, yes, I did give her some money when she called a few months ago. Well, I didn't exactly give it to her; I told her to send me the bills she was worrying about and I'd pay them, which I did. I also told her that it was a one-time arrangement and that she'd better get herself a normal job and start living on what she earned, because I wasn't going to pay any more of her bills."

"So why is she calling you for more money now?"

"Because Laura only hears what she wants to hear. I figured that once I helped her out, she'd be back for more. I told her 'no dice' and that it wouldn't do her a bit of good to keep bugging me."

"But not quite in those terms?"

"Ah, not quite. They were strong enough for even Laura to get the message."

"What about her parents?"

"They won't help her anymore, either. At first, her father gave her money when she came with a sad story of needing help to pay medical bills and who knows what. Then he found out that she was taking the money and using it for trips to Europe or Mexico or wherever else the Beautiful People congregated. The next time she came around, he told her to give him the bills and he'd pay them himself. He made the same discovery I did—the bills were for expensive clothes, jewelry, a luxury apartment, credit card charges at first-class hotels and restaurants, and on and on. He also told her the same thing I did: 'Get a job and live within your income, because I'm not paying for any more high life for you.' She kept right on living it up, and he refused to shell out again."

"If you knew about that, why did you pay?"

"Two reasons. One was psychological, just in case she got cute with attempted legal action to claim part-custody of Gus. Of course, she hasn't a chance, but she could cause considerable unpleasantness. Not that I mind so much for myself, but I don't want Gus involved in that kind of mess. In any event, I wanted to spike any guns she might try to bring up in claiming that I refused to help her when she needed it. Once around, keeping a list of exactly what the bills were that I paid, with a clear emphasis on the fact that none of them were what the normal person would call necessities, would be clear proof that I was willing to help her out. It would also explain why I didn't feel the need of extending further aid, since she was obviously making no attempt to live on a reasonable scale."

"It doesn't make sense, O'Mara. Why would she bother trying to get Gus when she knows she can't possibly succeed? And she doesn't really want him anyway, does she?"

"Of course not. It would only be a threat, a form of blackmail, to try to get me to pay her off. She wouldn't expect to get anywhere in court, but she could create a great deal of nasty publicity since I'm fairly well known. I've been careful over the years about my public image, mainly because of Gus, and there are some scandal sheets that would love to get a first-hand account from my ex-wife about how mean and miserable I am toward her and how I won't let her have any contact with her darling son."

BOOK: Damon, Lee
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