Manhunting: Chapter One

“Planning on jumping? I wouldn’t. Blood’s hell to get out of silk.”

“I’m just checking the weather,” Kate Svenson said patiently and continued to stare out her apartment window, knowing that Jessie would lose interest and go back to her paper if she ignored her long enough.

She’d pulled back the thick drapes to let in the early morning August sun and the faint sounds of the city from far below, but Kate still felt isolated and unhappy. Even with her best friend sitting behind her, rustling her paper and slurping her coffee, Kate felt alone, mired in a despair that not even Jessie’s pragmatism could dispel. This is doing you no good at all, she told herself and moved away from the window to sit at her linen-covered dining room table. She tried to concentrate on her breakfast coffee and the business section of her Sunday paper, but her mind kept wandering to the miserable state of her life.

Well, not exactly miserable, she thought. Actually not miserable at all. I have a great career in a top management consulting firm. Of course, I could wish that my father didn’t own the firm, and sometimes it’s boring, but it’s a great career. . . well, an OK career . . .

With an effort, Kate pushed her career out of her mind and went on with her catalog of blessings. My life is good, she thought. I have my health, and enough money, and terrific friends, the best of which I am having breakfast with right now in a beautiful apartment full of exquisite French Provincial furniture that I certainly couldn’t afford if I didn’t have this damn job . . . .

No. Kate clamped down on her negative thoughts and peered over the top of her paper at the brunette across from her who was reading her paper and drinking her coffee with the same total absorption she gave everything.

Jessie Rogers jerked her head up, her dark curls bouncing, and said, “What?” when she felt Kate’s eyes on her.

“Nothing,” Kate said. “Just counting my blessings. You’re near the top.”

“I am the top, which is a real comment on your lousy life,” Jessie said and went back to the paper.

Trust Jessie to cut to the chase, Kate thought. She sits over there looking like Audrey Hepburn at twelve, and here I am looking like Grace Kelly at fifty. And we’re both thirty-five. Doesn’t she care that life is slipping away from us while we carve out careers we don’t want?

Of course she doesn’t care, Kate told herself. Jessie’s life isn’t slipping away; she’s living it. And she’s not carving out a career she doesn’t want, she’s wandering through one she loves. If you can call cake decorating a career. Which of course Jessie does, although how she lives on it, I’ll never know. I don’t think Jessie knows. She just goes with the flow, no plan at all. Maybe if I didn’t have my career planned out so much, or maybe if I was doing something else–

Stop it, Kate, she told herself. You’re a damn good management consultant, and it’s brought you a lot of money. And, besides it’s not your career that’s bothering you anyway. It’s your empty personal life. Of course, Jessie is happier than you. She hasn’t had three engagementsself-destruct in three years because she doesn’t care that she’s thirty-five and not married. I’m the one who cares. Let’s face it, I’m the one who’s lonely and miserable. It shouldn’t matter, but it does. And there’s nothing I can do about it. Stop whining and enjoy what you’ve got, she told herself.

Then she shook her head and sighed and went back to her paper.

Jessie looked up at the sigh, bit her lip, and decided to take action. She slapped her newspaper down on the linen covered tabletop and said loudly, “This is all your father’s fault.”

Startled, Kate looked up from the paper. “What? The recession? The construction on 70? Calvin can’t find Hobbes? What?”

“Don’t play dumb.” Jessie folded her arms and glared at her best friend, sitting in front of her, cool, blonde, detached, lovely and utterly miserable.

“You’re unhappy,” Jessie said.

“No, I’m not,” Kate said, forcing a smile. “You read that in the paper? What are you reading? I told you not to read the personals; you get too upset about all the lonely people and you transfer it to me. I’m fine. Read the sports page.” She went back to her paper, holding it like a shield in front of her.

Jessie, as usual, did not give up. “You keep sighing. I can’t concentrate on Travel and Leisure with you sighing.”

“I’m not sighing,” Kate said without looking up. “It’s sinus.”

“No, it’s not.” Jessie narrowed her eyes. “You’re not still pining over that jerk Derek, are you?”

“No.” Kate stuck to her paper. “I don’t pine over jerks. It’s not time-efficient. Go back to Travel and Leisure.”

Jessie hooked her finger over the edge of Kate’s paper and pulled it down so she could look in her friend’s eyes. “You want to get married,” she accused her.

“Of course I want to get married,” Kate said reasonably. “Some day. Get your finger off my paper; you’re crumpling the Dow Jones.”

“You want to get married now.” Jessie looked disgusted. “It’s your biological clock or something.”

“Your nail polish is chipped,” Kate said. “It’s also a really ugly color, but I’m not mentioning that because it would be none of my business.”

“You’ve been engaged three times in the past two years,” Jessie said. “Not one of them could keep you. You said ‘Yes’ to three men and then dumped them. Why would you say ‘yes’ to three men you couldn’t bring yourself to marry?”

Kate took a deep breath. “Derek insisted on a pre-nuptial agreement. Paul told me my success threatened him and if I loved him I’d stop working so hard. Terence wanted me to quit my job because my social duties as his wife would be too pressing. And you think I should have married one of these men?”

“Frankly, I don’t think you should have dated any of them,” Jessie said. “I just think being raised by your father has given you a warped idea of life, marriage, and men, and I think you’re unhappy, which makes me unhappy, and I don’t like being unhappy, so we’re going to fix you.”

Kate put down the financial section. “No, we’re not.”

“Yes, we are,” Jessie said. “We’re going to improve your life. We’re going to make you more like me.”

“I don’t want to be like you.” Kate started to laugh at the thought.

“Hey,” Jessie said, not fazed at all. “You should be so lucky.”

“You decorate cakes for a living,” Kate said. “Beautiful cakes, admitted, but still–”

“I’m an artist,” Jessie said.

“You’re a nut,” Kate said, laughing again. “But I love you, so I overlook it.”

“I may be nuts, but I love what I do and you don’t,” Jessie said. “Remember when you were with the Small Business Administration? You used to tell me about all these little businesses you’d help get started, and you’d feel so good, remember?”

“The pay was terrible and the career possibilities nil,” Kate said and picked up her paper. Jessie pinned it down with her hand.

“Remember Mrs. Borden’s daycare center?” Jessie said. “It’s still going strong; she’s got a waiting list.”

“Of course, I remember,” Kate said, smiling at the thought. “What a lovely woman she was.”

“Is,” Jessie said. “She didn’t die just because you sold out.”

“I didn’t sell out,” Kate protested.

“And that old man, what was his name, Richards? The one with the shoe repair shop.”

“Richter,” Kate said. “Mr. Richter. How is he?”

Jessie shrugged. “How should I know? Like it’s my job to keep an eye on all those little businesses you played midwife to.”

“Very subtle, Jess,” Kate said. “And I didn’t sell out; I’m doing the same thing.” At Jessie’s skeptical look, she added, “I am. I’m just saving much bigger businesses for a lot more money. I’m still helping people.”

“You’re helping a bunch of suits,” Jessie said, sinking her chin in her hand.

Kate held onto her patience. “Why don’t we just agree that we have no respect for each other’s career choices and forget the whole thing?”

“You used to have respect for my career choice,” Jessie said. “You helped me save my career.”

“I couldn’t help it,” Kate said. “You were such a mess, standing in the middle of my office at the SBA, raving about creating the greatest cakes in the civilized world.” She smiled at Jessie and shook her head. “I’d never seen anyone like you before.”

Jessie grinned back. “I felt the same way. I’d never seen anybody as polished as you. You looked like you’d been varnished. I thought, oh, good, I’m in big trouble and they send me to Wall Street Barbie.” She tilted her head and looked at Kate with deep affection. “And then you saved my business.”

“It was a business worth saving,” Kate said. “You truly do make the most beautiful cakes in the civilized world.”

“Uncivilized, too,” Jessie said. “Which brings us to the subject at hand: men.”

“Jessie,” Kate said. “You’re even more inept with men than I am. You keep dating those boneless, purposeless men who need someone to take care of them.”

“Yes, but that’s because I don’t care,” Jessie said. “When I care, I will be ept.”

“Well, when you’re ept, I’ll listen to you.” Kate tried to pick up her paper, but Jessie put her hand on it again.

“Listen,” Jessie said, leaning forward. “I’m willing to approach this your way.”

“My way?”

“Right. Logic and reason.” Jessie made a face. “I prefer instinct, but we’ve gotta go with what we’ve got here. Now you want to get married, right?”

Kate looked wary. “Right.”

Jessie spread her hands apart. “So what have you done all your life every time you wanted something?”

Kate looked even warier. “I make a plan?”

“Exactly,” Jessie said. “So we make a plan. What do we do first? I’ve never planned anything before, remember? You were the one who came in and did my business plan.” She stopped to consider. “Which means I owe you this plan. It’s the least I can do.”

“The least is what you always do,” Kate said. “If you’d followed the timetable in that plan, you’d be a rich woman today. What happened to all the promotion plans? The growth plans?”

“Too fast,” Jessie said, waving the idea away with her hand. “If I’d stuck to your timetable, I’d have lost all the fun of designing the cakes. I’d end up turning out marzipan roses like a robot, and after a while all my work would look like everybody else’s, and nobody would be paying my prices, so I’d have to lower them, and then I’d have to make more cakes to cover the loss, and then they’d get really ugly, and I’d go out of business and starve.” She looked at Kate triumphantly. Kate didn’t appear impressed.

“You just don’t want to succeed,” Kate said. “You just want to noodle around with sugar having a good time.”

“And you want to succeed too much,” Jessie said, leaning forward as she closed in on her point. “You think you just want to make money and having a good time doesn’t matter, but it does, honey, and that’s why you’re miserable today. And I’m not. And I don’t noodle. I’m an artist.”

“Jessie,” Kate began but Jessie overrode her.

“Come on. How do we start making a plan?”

Kate sighed and decided that humoring Jessie was easier than fighting her. “Well, first, you have to set goals.”

“OK.” Jessie reached down and fished in her floppy embroidered bag for a pencil. While she was searching, Kate stood up, walked over to her writing table, picked up a Gold Cross pen, walked back, and handed it to Jessie. “Thanks,” Jessie said, dropping her bag. “I’ve got to clean out this purse. Make sure I give this back. I forget and keep them all the time.”

“I know,” Kate said, sitting down again.

“Now, what is your goal? To find Mr. Right and get married, right?”

“Right.” Kate moved Jessie’s paper aside to find her coffee cup.

“So what kind of prospects are we looking for here?”

The edge of Jessie’s paper had flopped into her cup, so Kate pulled it out, blotting it with a napkin so it wouldn’t stain her tablecloth. “Your newspaper is in my coffee.”

“Sorry.” Jessie pulled the paper aside and began to write in the white space of a Bank One ad. “Number one, he has to be rich.”

“He does not,” Kate said. “I’m not mercenary.”

Jessie looked up at her patiently. “No, but your Daddy’s rich and your step-mom’s goodlookin’. Being poor is what sunk Derek-who-wanted-a premarital, remember? You’ve got to find somebody who’s got more than you’re going to inherit.”

“Janice is not that good-looking. And she will probably be doing the inheriting.” Unless Dad moves on to wife number six, she added silently.

Jessie waved Kate’s objection away. “You’re just jealous because she’s ten years younger than you are. OK, Number two. He has to be older than you by about, oh, fifteen years.”

“Why?” Kate asked, mystified.

“Because you’re obviously looking for a father figure.”

“I am not. Give me that.” Kate took the paper away from Jessie and crossed out one and two. “All right. One, he has to be intelligent. Very, very intelligent.”

“Intelligent’s good,” Jessie said, grinning while she watched Kate concentrate on the list.

“And not only the academic kind of intelligence. He has to be, well, discerning. He has to . . . know quality.”

“Look for the designer label?” Jessie made a face. “This is your dream man?”

“And distinguished,” Kate said, caught up in the plan. “Well-mannered. Someone who would be comfortable at the opera.”

“You hate opera.”

Kate waved the objection away. “You know what I mean.”

Jessie thought about Kate’s father and the three losers she’d been engaged to. Tall. Handsome. Distinguished. Well-mannered. “I know what you mean.”

“And aggressive. He has to know what he wants and go after it.”

“OK.” Jessie picked up her coffee cup and tried to drink while Kate worked. The cup was empty so she swapped it for Kate’s and drank hers. Aggressive, she thought. What a crock.

“And successful. He has to be successful.”

“In whose eyes?”

“What?” Kate looked up, distracted.

“Well,” Jessie said reasonably, “different people define success different ways.”

“Making at least four times his age with the same in blue-chips.” Kate spoke automatically, barely aware of what she was saying as she went back to her list.

“Sounds like a quote,” Jessie said. “Now let me guess who said it first? Shakespeare? Nah. Mark Twain? Nah. Wait. Wait. I’ve got it. Bertram Svenson, father of the year.”


“So have we got to the good stuff yet?” Jessie asked.

“What good stuff?”

“Great sense of humor. Equal rights for women. Terrific in bed. Loves you to the point of madness.”

“Well, yes, of course.” Kate looked down at her list. “Did I mention successful?”

“Several times.” Jessie took the paper back. “OK, we have the animal defined. Now, what’s the next move? To find him, right?”

“Right.” Kate picked up her coffee cup, frowning when she saw it was empty. “Did I drink all my coffee?”

“No, I did. I was feeling aggressive. Now, your next step is to find a hunting ground.”

“Jessie, I don’t –”

Jessie held up her hand. “Which I have already found for you.” She carefully tore Kate’s list out of the paper and handed it to her. “Keep that.” Then she turned back to the Travel and Leisure section. “Look at this.”

Kate looked at the ad that Jessie shoved in front of her. A tall distinguished man in golfing clothes was posed on a golf course that looked like it was built on a hillside in the middle of a woods. “Come to the wilds and face the danger of the toughest course in America,” the ad read. “Come to The Cabins.”

“A golf course?” She looked down at the bottom of the page. “In Kentucky?”

“Well, actually, there’s a lot more stuff,” Jessie said. “If you read on, it tells you about horseback riding and hiking trails and other outdoors stuff. There’s even a lake. You could go skinny-dipping.”

Kate looked at her with contempt.

Jessie shrugged. “OK, you couldn’t, but somebody fun-loving and exciting could.” She leaned forward. “But the real killer is the golf course: even I’ve heard of it. Executives pay a fortune to play it; it’s like Outward Bound with martinis.” She sat back and grinned at Kate. “Personally, I wouldn’t be caught dead there, but I bet your Mr. Right is all over the place. Like shooting fish in a barrel.”

“Well, it does sound . . . interesting, I guess,” Kate said, frowning at the ad. “But I–”

“It’s a goal and a plan,” Jessie said. “You’ve gotten everything else you’ve ever wanted in life. You can get this, too.”

“What makes you think I’ve gotten everything I’ve wanted?” Kate said, stung.

Jessie looked startled. “Well, you’ve–”

“If I have everything I want, why am I still running so hard?” Kate felt the resentment well up again. “Listen, I know I’m doing well–”

“Making four times your age with the same in blue-chips,” Jessie murmured.

“–but I’m not happy. I want–”

Kate bit her lip and stared into space, and Jessie held her breath. C’mon, honey, she coaxed her silently. This one’s for you. What do you want?

“I want a partnership with a man,” Kate said finally.

“A partnership is good,” Jessie said, nodding. “Go for it.”

Kate warmed to her fantasy, seeing herself beside that distinguished man, building an empire together while holding hands. “I want to work with my husband to build a business. I want–”

“A business!” Jessie was so disgusted she almost spat. “Forget business. Think relationship.”

“I can’t,” Kate said. “Business is the only thing I know.”

“Wrong.” Jessie took a deep breath. “You’re warm and caring. You take care of people. Or at least you used to. ” Jessie leaned over the table and grabbed Kate’s arm. “You’d love to work with real people full time, but the pay for working with people sucks, so you work with a bunch of suits instead and you go home alone. It’s stupid, and you’re miserable.” Jessie let go and then leaned back in her chair and sighed again. “I can’t believe you’ve let money and success go to your head like this.”

“Well, it’s been lovely having breakfast with you,” Kate said. “Leaving soon?”

Jessie closed her eyes and summoned the strength to try one last time. “Kate,” she said. “Kate, please listen to me. Go to The Cabins, find a nice guy who’s got all the things on your list and who can keep you with him forever, and be happy. All you have to do is choose to be happy. You can do it.”

Jessie was so obviously concerned that Kate relented. “That’s all,” Kate said, humoring her. “All I have to do is choose.”

Jessie nodded once. “Yes.”

Kate looked back down at the ad. Of course the guy in the picture was a model, but he was perfect. And she was due for a vacation before the summer was over, and since it was August she was definitely running out of summer. And she hadn’t golfed in years.

And she was lonely. So lonely sometimes she felt it in her bones.

“All right,” she heard herself saying. “All right. I’ll go.”

“Yes!” Jessie pointed to the Kate’s French Provincial phone. “Go make your reservation now.”

“I’ll call later,” Kate said. “Let me think about it for awhile.”

“No.” Jessie folded her arms and leaned back in her chair. “I’m not leaving here until you call.”

“I said I’m going,” Kate said. “Don’t you trust me?”

“No,” Jessie said. “I’m keeping my eye on you on this one because if anybody can screw up a perfectly good shot at happiness, you can. Call them. Now.”

Two hundred miles away, Jake Templeton sat in an Andirondack chair on the back verandah of his brother’s Kentucky resort with his feet propped on the rustic wooden rail, watching the sun rise up high over the lake and trying to feel content. Hell, he did feel content. There was a slight nagging feeling that he got sometimes that he might be missing something, but he was good at ignoring nagging; his long ago marriage had taught him how to do that. And after all, he lived in God’s country, he was free, he had no responsibilities aside from keeping forty acres of resort land mowed and watered, and no real worries. True, in the best of all possible worlds, his over-achieving younger brother would not have built a rustic resort on perfectly good farm land and would not have lured some of the biggest snobs in the East to play golf there, but the snobs did bring in a lot of money which kept the local population in food and shelter, and in general he didn’t have to deal with them.

No, all in all, things were good. Jake pulled his big cream-colored cowboy hat down over his eyes and wallowed in his freedom. “I’ve got it made,” he said out loud.

His brother backed out the door to join him carrying two steaming coffee mugs. Will was already in a suit, ready to meet the first guests as they streamed in through the big carved wood double doors of The Cabins. He looked at Jake in his tattered jeans and worn flannel shirt, and rolled his eyes, and Jake looked up at his brother’s dress-for-success tailoring and laughed. Even with their very obvious differences, the resemblance between them was still strong: two big men with dark hair and eyes, strong features, and determined jaws.

“You’re disgusting,” Will said, looking down at him.

“What did I do now?” Jake asked, not caring.

“It’s what you don’t do.” Will passed him a mug of coffee and sat down beside him to stare unseeing out at the lake.

“Hey, I keep this place looking good,” Jake said, pushing his hat back with one hand while he balanced his mug in the other. He looked at his brother with a total lack of concern. “The grass is cut, the weeds are pulled, the golf courses look like Astroturf, the stables are–”

“I’m not talking about outdoor management,” Will said, shaking his head as he warmed his hands on his own coffee mug. “You are the king of the riding lawnmower. I’m talking about your life.”

“I like my life. Stay out of it.” Jake turned back to look at the lake and sipped the hot coffee carefully.

“You could be rich,” Will said, looking at him with disgust.

“I was rich,” Jake said. “Then I gave it all to you and you built this place.” He shook his head. “That’s the last fortune I give you.”

“If you gave it to me, why do you own half of this place?” Will asked.

“So you’ll be forced to support me in my old age,” Jake said, grinning. “I’m not as dumb as I look.”

Will shook his head again. “You’ve got a law degree. You were a tax attorney, for God’s sake. And you gave it all up to mow lawns for your little brother. You should be ashamed.”

“I don’t actually mow the lawns,” Jake pointed out. “I just grab one of the college kids you hire for the season and say, ‘Kid, mow that lawn.’ It’s not –”

“I just don’t understand why you quit,” Will said.

“They bitched about my mustache, and they wouldn’t let me wear my hat,” Jake said. He looked back out over the lake and relaxed a little more. “Helluva sunrise, isn’t it?”

“The sunrise was hours ago,” Will said. “It’s nine.”

“Well, it’s not all the way up yet,” Jake said, slumping a little farther down in his chair, “so it’s still rising, so it’s still sunrise.”

“Knock it off. I’m really worried about you.” Will frowned at him. “I think it’s great that you’re back home, and I couldn’t run this place without you, but let’s face it, you’re wasting yourself here.”

“I’m considering my options,” Jake said lazily.

“You’ve been considering your options for five years,” Will said bluntly. “And frankly, at the rate you’re going, you don’t have that many options to consider. It’s time you made something of yourself again. One lousy marriage and you’re down for the count.”

Jake stared out at the lake and shook his head. “Boy, you sure don’t see sunrises like this very often.”

Will glared at him. “You see sunrises like this every damn day here.”

“I do,” Jake said, looking at him with equal disgust. “You don’t. You’re too busy being Mr. Hotel. If I’d known you were going to take this resort stuff so seriously, I would never have given you that money. Hell, you’re going to have a heart attack any day now, and then I’ll have to run this place.”

“Well, somebody around here has to be an adult,” Will said.

“And if you do croak on me, the first thing I’m going to do is blow up the golf courses.”

“That’ll piss Dad off,” Will said mildly.

“I think it’s the clothes they wear that bother me the most–” Jake began but Will cut him off.

“We need to talk about this,” Will said.

“No, we don’t,” Jake said.

“Damn it, Jake –”

“OK, OK. Get to the point.” Jake said. “I’m missing a sunrise here.”

Will shifted uneasily in the chair. “Look,” he said finally. “You’ve always been my . . . well . . .?”

“Hero?” Jake suggested. “Idol?”

“Let’s just stick with role model,” Will said. “I spent my formative years trying to be just like you. It got to be a habit after a while.” He looked over at his brother. “You were always the best. At everything.”

“No, I wasn’t,” Jake said, irritated. “You just thought that because you were my younger brother.”

“Jake, you haven’t done anything for five years,” Will said. “Nothing, not since you moved back here to help me.” Jake started to speak and Will cut him off. “I know, you run the outdoor staff. But hell, you could do that without getting out of bed. In fact, that’s practically the way you do run it.”

“Hey,” Jake said.

“Listen,” Will broke in. “I need you here, you are a great help, and I will hate to see you go, but you’ve got to go back to the city.”

“No,” Jake said.

“You’re not doing anything with your life,” Will started, but this time Jake broke in.

“And that’s the way I like it,” Jake said. “Don’t get the idea I’m sacrificing myself for you and this place; I’m not. I like it here. I’m staying.”

Will tried another tack. “You ever think about getting married again?”

“No,” Jake said. “Why are we talking about this?”

“Because if you were going to find anybody to marry in Toby’s Corners, you would have married her by now,” Will said. “This is another good reason to go back to the city.”

“I’m not going back to the city,” Jake said. “Now will you please tell me what’s going on?”

“Oh, hell.” Will slumped down in his chair and rubbed his hand across his forehead.

“Just spit it out,” Jake said, kindly. “You’ll feel a lot better.”

“Mom’s worried about you,” Will said. “And Valerie thinks I’m taking advantage of you.” He looked over at Jake. “You’ve really saved my life on this place. There are times when I look at the hell breaking loose inside the hotel and think, ‘Thank God, Jake’s got the outside under control.’ I mean it. You make a big difference.”

“I know,” Jake said. “That’s another reason why I’m not leaving. But the main reason is because I don’t want to.” He drank the last of his coffee. “So Valerie’s concerned for my welfare, huh?”

Will shot him a glance. “Yeah, I thought that was a little strange myself.”

“I wondered when she was gonna make her move,” Jake said.

Will raised his eyebrows. “Want to cut me in on this?”

“Valerie likes to think the hotel is a partnership deal.”

“It is,” Will said, confused. “You and me.”

“No,” Jake said. “You and her. I’m in the way.”

“The way of what?” Will looked exasperated.

“The way of the two of you becoming the Leona and Harry Helmsley of the Midwest.”

“God forbid,” Will said. “You know, that woman is becoming a problem.”

“Becoming?” Jake said. “I know she’s sharing your apartment which probably clouds your judgment, and I know she’s a great social director which, since you live and breathe this hotel, probably clouds your judgment even more, but she’s also been a major pain in the butt ever since she got here.”

“Yeah, well, I think that problem’s about to be solved,” Will said. “In the meantime, there’s Mom. She’s worried about you. And me,” he added when Jake started to speak. “But mostly you. Because of your advanced age.”

“Oh, hell,” Jake said. “What’s she want?”

“She wants us to get married. She wants grandkids.”

Jake shrugged. “So, you give her some.”

“I’m not married,” Will said firmly, “and I’m not going to be.”

Jake raised his eyebrows. “Valerie may have a different idea.”

Will shook his head. “Valerie has plans for her future that do not include me, thank God.” He sipped some coffee and thought before he went on. “One of those big chains has been scouting her. They’re going to be offering her big bucks any day now to be social director of the east coast or something, and she will be gone.”

Jake looked at his brother curiously. “And you’re not concerned about this?”

“I’m relieved.” Will shook his head. “Valerie really is a terrific woman, and I appreciate everything she’s done for the resort, but she’s getting on my nerves. You know, I’m not even sure how we ended up living together.”

“I am,” Jake said, turning back to the lake. “Sex. It’s a powerful force, my boy, and women use it.”

“Is that why you gave them up?” Will asked, sympathetically. “Did paranoia drive you to celibacy?”

“It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you,” Jake said. “And frankly, I think Valerie’s got you. And I bet Valerie thinks so, too.”

“Nobody’s got me,” Will said. “I’m married to my job.”

Jake looked at him as if he were demented.

“Hey, some of us have careers,” Will protested. “Besides, I’m not ready for anything serious.”

“Three years sharing a hotel suite isn’t serious?”

“See, this is the kind of stuff I get from Mom.” Will narrowed his eyes at his brother. “Which brings me back to my point. I think Valerie and Mom are right.”

“I hate this,” Jake said. “You feel guilty, so I get to suffer.”

“You need some focus to your life, some goals, something to look forward to besides a sunrise.” Will looked stern. “If you don’t want to move back to the city, fine. But I think you should get married.”

“I did,” Jake said, looking back at the lake. “I didn’t like it. It’s your turn to screw up your life; I did mine already.”

“So you’re happy in your lonely little cabin at the end of that lonely little lane,” Will said. “All by yourself in that big cold bed.”

“Don’t ever go into psychology,” Jake said. “You have the subtlety of a rock.”

“Don’t you ever think about the perfect woman?” Will said.

“Sure,” Jake said. “She’s about five foot two, somewhere between eighteen and twenty, dumb as a coot, and she thinks I’m God.”

Will looked disgusted. “She’d have to be dumb as a coot to pull that last one off. I’m serious here.”

“The thing about women,” Jake said, “is that they got liberated too fast. They never learned to be straightforward about life because they had to sneak around for about a thousand years tricking men into doing things they wanted. So they manipulate you instead of telling you what they want so you never know where the hell you are. And then they get mad at you and bitch.” He swallowed a mouthful of coffee and shook his head. “I have had it up to here with smart-mouthed, overly-brainy, manipulative women.”

“So don’t get married to Tiffany again,” Will said reasonably. “Find your moronic midget and marry her. And then get your life moving before you turn into a potted plant and the help starts watering you.”

Jake ignored him and went on. “If I ever do hook up with anybody again, and I sincerely doubt that I will, so wipe that hopeful look off your face, it will be with someone who thinks that being with somebody who mows lawns is her idea of heaven on earth and who will do exactly what I tell her to do and love it.”

“I think Donna Reed is dead,” Will said.

Jake slid down further in his chair. “Well, then I’m not getting married again. Over to you, bro.”

“Now wait a minute,” Will began, but he stopped when he heard the reservations phone ringing inside the office.

“Another sucker who wants to pay too much money to play vertical golf.” Jake shook his head. “I thought you were nuts when you had that course built on the hillside, but they do come running.”

The phone rang again.

“Concentrate on getting married and resuming your regularly scheduled life,” Will said on his way back inside. “Who knows? Maybe this is your future bride calling right now.”

“Like hell,” Jake said and went back to the sunrise.

Copyright © 1993 by Jennifer Crusie Smith. All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever w/o written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.