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"No, after we left Mason's Choice, she and I never talked about the place." I saw no reason to inform Mrs. Hopewell that we never talked at all.

The woman's nostrils quivered, as if she could sniff the truth, then she ushered me to the office and gave a quick double rap on the door.

"Thank you, Louise," a voice called from within.

She opened the door.

"Katie Vefterelli," Adrian Westbrook greeted me, rising from behind the desk as I stepped inside the room. "All grown-up! What an enchanting sight you are! Welcome back, Katie," he said, taking my hands warmly, then cocking his head slightly to the right, as if looking over my shoulder. "That will be all, Louise."

Mrs. Hopewell turned abruptly and exited.

"The door, Louise," he called after her.

It was closed. I imagined her listening through the keyhole.

"Hello, Mr. Westbrook."

"Mr. Westbrook? Have we suddenly become formal? Must I now call you Miss Venerelli? Don't you remember, child, you insisted on calling me Adrian, no matter how many times your parents corrected you. You said you liked the name much better. You're not going to change that, are you?"

"Well-" "I'd be insulted-l'd feel like a doddering old man if you called me Mr. Westbrook. I'm already old and will be doddering soon enough, as I'm sure they've told you. They're all abuzz about my impending demise. It's a wonder they haven't put tags on the furniture, claiming their loot. But don't you make me a relic before I have to be."

His blue eyes had lost none of their spark, and his white hair, though shorter than in his pictures, was still thick. He hasn't had radiation recently, I thought. His color was poor, as was my father's, but despite illness and age, he was a handsome man, having the large, even features Robyn had inherited, plus a sense of humor, which she hadn't. The lines engraved in his face traced amusement rather than frustration and anger.

"You look wonderful," I said honestly.

"You've worked one day and you want a raise?"

"You know that isn't true. And you know that what I said, is."

He smiled. It was nice to feel at ease with someone in the house. I had liked Adrian as a child and found that I still liked him now.

He gestured for me to sit down, then took a seat himself. "My condolences on the loss of your father."

"Thank you."

"And your mother, how is she?"

"I haven't seen her since I was five."

For the second time in two days, I had someone gazing at me incredulously.

I knew she and Luke had separated, but I assumed…" He didn't complete his sentence. "So you are on your own," he said. "That can't be easy."

"I can handle it."

One corner of his mouth turned up slightly. "I have no doubt."

"I do have one matter relating to my father, which I need to take care of," I went on. From my pocket I pulled out the ring. "He asked me to return this to you."

Adrian stared at it. "Good Lord."

"You recognize it?"

"Yes, of course. It was my grandmother's."

I don't know why my father took it," I said, shifting in my seat uncomfortably. "All I know is that I am supposed to return it."

I laid it on the table next to Adrian, since he didn't seem inclined to take it There was a faraway look in his eyes.

"It would really help me," I continued, "if you could tell me why Dad had it. I never knew him to be a thief."

"Oh, Katie, of course he wasn't a thief," Adrian said, picking up the ring, then placing it in his desk drawer. "Luke was an artist, with an artist's temperament, as I am sure you know."


"I'm equally sure I wasn't the only client your father accused of failing to appreciate his genius."

I smiled a little. "You weren't."

"He left here in an artistic huff. I suppose he took the ring, fearing that I wouldn't make good on the work he had completed for me. I did, eighteen months later, when he surfaced in England, painting for an old college chum of mine."

I frowned. "He should have returned the ring then."

"Oh, don't be hard on him. He was young with a little girl to support and no money saved. It is a testament to your father's honesty that he kept it all these years with the plan of returning it."

I wanted to believe him-to believe the best about my father-but stories weren't matching up. "Mrs. Hopewell said that you sent us packing."

Adrian looked surprised. "That's odd. Her memory has always been good," he replied. "Of course, that is how she would have perceived the situation.

As you may have noticed, she is loyal to a fault, especially to Robyn and me. She would assume I fired your father rather than think I was jilted by an un established artist" That made some sense. But then why did we leave so secretly in the middle of the night? Perhaps because my father had stolen the ring.

"You look unconvinced," Adrian observed. "What did your father tell you?"

"Nothing. He never wanted to talk about our time here."

Adrian shook his head. "I hope your time with us left you with a few good memories. Ashley loved having you for her little friend. You were a very happy part of her life. I'm glad that Patrick will have that opportunity now. How do you find him?"


Adrian sat back in his chair. "You are blunt, just like your mother."

"I hardly know Patrick, but it is obvious that he needs other children around him."

Adrian sighed. "You are probably right. Give me a few days to set my affairs in order, then we shall put our heads together to see what can be done for him."

I nodded.

I am delighted you are here, Katie-Kate, I suppose I should call you, now that you are a young woman. We'll be getting you a cell phone, which I'd like you to keep with you at all times. I don't know why the microwave and small refrigerator were removed from your room, but Mrs. Hopewell assures me they will be put back. You are welcome to eat in the kitchen anytime, of course, but most people want some privacy."

He rose, signaling the end of our meeting.

"Thank you. . thanks-" I hesitated, not ready to address my employer by his first name.

The lines of amusement deepened in his face. "And what did we agree you would call me?" he asked.


"Your father has come home," I told Patrick when I picked him up from school that day.

His face lit up. "Is he all better?"

"He still has cancer, but he is better right now," I replied, glad that I had asked Emily what they had told Patrick about Adrian's health.

"And he is very happy to be home," I added, as Patrick struggled to get his stuffed backpack in the rear seat of the car. "He can't wait to see you."

"I wish they could make Daddy's cancer go away." Patrick's voice sounded small, wistful.

I rested my hand on his shoulder. "Me too."

He climbed into the car.

"Fasten your seat belt," I reminded him, then got into the driver's seat and started the car. "So how was school today?"

"Okay… sort of… I got a fifty on my spelling test," he blurted suddenly, as I pulled out of the school lot. "It has to be signed."

"A fifty." I glanced in the mirror and saw his tense little face. "How many words were on the test?"


"So you can spell five. That's a start. We'll work on the other five tonight."

He looked relieved that I hadn't come down hard on him. "Will you sign the test?"

"No, your mother or father has to, but I will tell them we're working on those five words and learning new ones too."

"Okay," he said, sounding cheerful. "To the right, to the right," he chanted, recalling my mantra earlier in the day.

"I'm driving fairly well now, Patrick. I don't think I need prompting."



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