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by Kathy Lynn Emerson
Description: Ariadne Palmer, part-owner of an antiquarian bookshop in Maine, doesn't believe Clay Franklin when he tells her she has a twin sister and grandparents that she's never known. As a lawyer, Clay has sworn not to tell her the whole truth about her parents, but his immediate and growing attraction to her argues strongly against his promise. Originally published as a Silhouette Special Edition under the title Separated Sisters and the pseudonym Kaitlyn Gorton.
eBook Publisher: Belgrave House, 1997
eBookwise Release Date: February 2004
37 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [280 KB]
Reading time: 180-252 min.
Clay Franklin stared at the slender, dark‑haired woman seated on a high stool behind an antique cash register. He couldn't help himself. Even though he'd been prepared for her resemblance to her twin, it unnerved him. What bothered him even more was the jolt of sexual awareness he felt as he took a good, long look at Ariadne Palmer. That certainly never happened with Fay.
Both women had inherited the classic Grecian features of their great‑grandmother, but Ariadne emphasized the sculpted lines by pulling the mass of sable curls away from her face and confining them in a practical coil at the nape of her neck. The style should have suggested a schoolmarm's bun, but the image forming in Clay's mind was far removed from the prim and proper. He wondered what it would feel like to release those soft tendrils, to let all that lustrous hair cascade down in enticing, sensual waves.
Clay frowned. He'd seen Fay with her hair loose more times than he could count, until she'd finally gotten tired of fussing with it and had it cut into a short bob. The sight had never made the least impression on his libido, not even when he was a horny eighteen‑year‑old and the two of them were all alone at the beach. He had, at most, a sort of brotherly affection for Fay Allandale.
What was so different about Fay's twin, a twin whose existence they hadn't even suspected until two months ago? Clay's mouth kicked up at the corner for a moment in wry, self‑deprecating humor. How often had he wished he could generate some romantic interest in his childhood friend? A marriage between them would have pleased their matchmaking relatives enormously, but the spark simply hadn't been there. Their relationship was strictly platonic and had been from the time they'd first been introduced to each other. She'd just turned eight and he'd been nine and a half.
With an effort, Clay shifted his attention from Ariadne Palmer to her place of business. There were old books everywhere, but the atmosphere was more that of a turn‑of‑the‑century library than a secondhand bookstore. Along the back wall, behind the counter where Ariadne sat, shelves rose to a height of at least ten feet, the upper levels accessible only with the help of a tall, sliding ladder. Above that there was a narrow balcony that ran around three sides of the central room of the shop. Beneath the balcony on his right, Clay saw what appeared to be a converted sun porch, a large, square room with French doors.
Clay noted with approval that the most valuable stock was kept in locked, glass‑front display cases. Nearby, well‑cared‑for leather spines gleamed on shelves that held more run‑of‑the‑mill nineteenth‑century works. A faint aroma of lemon‑scented furniture polish assaulted Clay's nostrils as he moved deeper into the shop.
Ariadne and her partner specialized in antiquarian books, but several sections of the store were devoted to newer hardcover titles, particularly mystery fiction and biography.
The whisper of a wool skirt against the silk slip beneath drew Clay's gaze back to Ariadne Palmer. For the second time that morning he felt desire slam into him. She'd looked up from her paperwork and suddenly he was drowning in the biggest brown eyes he'd ever seen.
They're just like Fay's eyes, he tried to tell himself. But he knew they weren't. Fay's eyes had never regarded him with so much purely feminine interest.
Clay was no stranger to admiring glances from women. He'd had the good fortune to inherit his mother's wholesome appearance, including wavy blond hair and hazel eyes and skin that looked as if it had a healthy tan even in midwinter. A successful career kept him in expensive but conservative business suits tailored to be comfortable. It was pure serendipity that the style also did justice to his father's genetic contribution, a broad‑shouldered, naturally athletic build.
"Good morning," Ariadne said. "Isn't it a lovely day for early March?" Her voice was a pleasant contralto, much like Fay's, but with a faint huskiness that Clay found both charming and unique.
"Spring thaw," he replied. Which was why the door had been open and why he'd been able to study her for a few precious moments before she realized he was there. Yesterday, when the entire state of Maine had still been in a deep freeze, chimes would have announced him the moment he entered the bookstore.
As Ariadne slid off the stool and came around the counter toward him, a whiff of perfume preceded her?just a faint, sweet fragrance, but enough to trigger a brief vision of a field full of wildflowers and Ariadne in a gauzy dress. Reining in the sudden flight of fancy, Clay stared hard at the woman approaching him, taking in clothes that were casual and inexpensive but very flattering. Her long, plaid skirt and a loose, rose‑colored sweater emphasized a tall, willowy figure.
Slenderness had never seemed so appealing.
"Not spring thaw, yet, I'm afraid," she said in answer to his casual comment about the weather. "This is what we call false spring. Unfortunately, it never lasts more than a day or two."
False spring. The term seemed appropriate. Given the details Clay knew about Ariadne Palmer's past, she wasn't what she appeared to be, either. The air of openness and innocence that seemed to surround her didn't mean a thing, except that he'd do well to remember the reason he was here.
"We have some stock that's not on the shelves," she said. "If there's something in particular you're after, I can check in the storeroom for it."
When she moved near enough to touch, Clay automatically produced one of his business cards and handed it over. "I came here to find you, Ms. Palmer."
Frowning, Ariadne retreated a few steps to read the card. Her dark eyes were wary when she glanced his way again, but she kept her tone of voice polite. "You're a long way from Hartford, Mr. Franklin."
Clay smiled a bit grimly. He'd expected her to be impressed, but it appeared she'd never heard of the prestigious law firm to which he belonged. Perhaps that was just as well. It would be better if she didn't know quite yet that an Allandale could afford to hire the best.
"How can I help you, Mr. Franklin?" She pointedly put the wide, polished surface of the oak counter between them.
The outcome of this meeting had seemed straightforward, if not precisely simple, when he had agreed to follow up on the information gathered by a private investigator Fay had hired to find her long‑lost twin. If Duncan's report was accurate then Ariadne had no idea that she had a sister. She knew nothing, either, of the existence of her maternal grandparents. She'd grown up believing that her paternal grandfather, Edward Palmer, was her only living relative.
It was Clay's first job to break the news.
He hesitated, momentarily uncertain how to begin. A blunt statement of the facts seemed best. "I've been sent here by your grandparents to?"
"My grandparents are dead." Her hand went to the gold locket she wore. She seemed to take comfort from the feel of its delicately engraved surface.
Warning himself not to sympathize with her, Clay's manner became formal. "Let me explain, Ms. Palmer. I do realize that your paternal grandfather died six months ago. You have my condolences. But your maternal grandparents are still alive. After your mother's recent death your?"
The liquid brown eyes darkened still more in irritation. "You're mistaking me for someone else, Mr. Franklin. My mother died when I was three years old."
So that's what she'd been told. Duncan hadn't been able to find out. Clay's voice gentled fractionally. "I know this must come as a shock to you, Ms. Palmer, but I'm telling you the truth. There is no mistake. Aside from everything else, the way you look is undeniable proof."
"I think you should leave now." In an unspoken threat, she reached for the telephone on the counter, prepared to quick‑dial for help if he made any untoward moves.
Clay abruptly realized that he was handling this situation very badly. His normally rational mind must have short‑circuited if he was allowing a woman's physical appearance to throw him off his stride. He prided himself on being able to remain unaffected by sexual attraction. Barbara had taught him that bitter lesson. He was almost glad she had. These days he knew better than to let desire interfere with common sense.
Deciding that it must be Ariadne's uncanny resemblance to Fay that was the problem, he fumbled in his breast pocket for a recent snapshot of Ariadne's twin. He placed it on the countertop between them. "Take a look at this, Ms. Palmer."
In the picture, Fay's short haircut wasn't immediately apparent because she was wearing a jacket with the collar turned up. Anyone glancing at it quickly would think that the woman in front of him now was its subject.
Ariadne kept one hand on the phone, using the fingers that had been nervously toying with her locket to pick up the snapshot. She stared at it for a long moment, frowning, then looked directly at Clay. Her expression contained equal parts of puzzlement and suspicion.
"I don't understand. I never posed for this shot. I don't even recognize the place where this picture was taken."
"That's because the woman in the photograph isn't you, Ms. Palmer. She's your sister, Fay. Your twin sister."
"Don't be absurd. I don't have a sister." Ariadne tried to hand the photo back to him but Clay refused to take it.
"On the contrary, you not only have a sister, you also have grandparents, and they are all interested in meeting you."
Ariadne reached across the counter and stuffed the offending picture back into the breast pocket of his jacket. "Please go away, Mr. Franklin. I don't know what you're trying to sell, but I'm not buying."
That she didn't believe him momentarily stymied Clay. He'd been certain the photograph would convince her. Never having considered the possibility that she might think he was lying, he reacted impulsively. "What's your birth date?"
"Is that a variant of 'What's your sign?' Please, Mr. Franklin! At least the line about a twin had the benefit of being a bit original."
Clay's astonishment grew. Now she was trying to humor him, obviously hoping he'd leave peacefully. Couldn't she see that he had no reason to make up such a story? After all, she was the one who stood to gain. He watched her face closely as he rattled off a date he knew as well as he knew his own birthday. This time, however, not even Ariadne's eyes gave anything away.
"You could have gotten that information in quite a number of places, Mr. Franklin," she said stiffly. "Some of them are even legal."
"And where would I have found another woman with both your face and your birth date?" He leaned closer. "This goes a little beyond coincidence, don't you think?"
"I think that you'd better?"
Hoping to provoke a reaction, he cut her off. "Haven't you ever wondered what happened to your parents?"
The dark eyes flashed again, then went blank as Ariadne withdrew both physically and emotionally. Her voice sounded curiously flat. "I know exactly what happened to them. They died in a car crash."
"Is that what your grandfather told you?"
"Yes." The word was clipped. Both hands curled into fists at her sides.
"Do you remember your parents at all?"
"I was three. How could I?" Her voice had dropped to below freezing and was getting colder by the second.
Clay forced himself to keep goading her even though she seemed to be sincere. Duncan's investigation had indicated that she had no knowledge of her mother's family. On the other hand, it had also suggested that Ariadne Palmer had a mercenary streak at least as wide as the Maine Turnpike.
Her inexpensive clothing, the absence of any jewelry but the locket, the lack of calculation in her reaction to his claims ... all these factors argued for discounting the charges made against her. Until Clay remembered that she was Mark Palmer's daughter. And Mark Palmer had been, among other things, a scoundrel who'd demanded a cash settlement to divorce his wife.
Clay intended to keep pushing Ariadne until he could be certain just what kind of person she was. That was, after all, his second purpose in coming here. He rationalized that confronting her didn't harm anyone. He was just testing her reactions. It was a legitimate way of looking out for Fay's best interests, as her lawyer and as her friend.
"All you have," he said derisively, "is Edward Palmer's word as to what happened to them."
One of her clenched fists slammed down on the highly polished oak countertop between them. Heat replaced her chill and Ariadne's voice crackled with emotional flames. "How dare you!"
"My grandfather would never lie to me." Rounding the counter she advanced on him, clearly intending to throw him out if he didn't leave voluntarily.
Clay prudently retreated, impressed by the depth of her confidence in her late grandfather. The fact that the man had lied was hardly relevant at the moment. As he backed away, Clay kept his eyes on her face, mildly amused, in spite of the circumstances, to discover that there was truth in the old cliché. Some women were beautiful when they were angry. Ariadne Palmer was one of them.
"Search your memory, Ms. Palmer," he said when he reached the exit. "Look at your own recollections, not just those things you were told as a child. When you decide you're ready to talk with me, you can find me at Trudy's Bed and Breakfast on Zothner Street."
He didn't bother to add that if he didn't hear from her soon he'd be back. If she was as smart as her sister, she'd figure that out on her own.
* * * *
As soon as the intruder was safely out of her shop, Ariadne collapsed into a high‑backed, well‑upholstered wing chair. She felt confused and angry ... and just a bit frightened.
What he'd said couldn't be true.
No, of course not. Family loyalty quickly reasserted itself. Her grandfather had been a kind, loving, honest man. He'd never have deceived her the way this Connecticut lawyer insinuated that he had.
Still, there had to be some reason why Clayton Franklin would come here with such a preposterous story. She frowned. In spite of her conviction that he was wrong, she wasn't certain he was lying. He had struck her as a man who believed what he was saying. He hadn't brought out that picture with the air of a magician conjuring up a trick, but rather with the calm assurance of an advocate presenting irrefutable proof of his claim.
Closing her eyes for a moment, she took a deep breath.
Was it possible? Eyes still closed, Ariadne envisioned the photograph. It might have been convincing evidence a few decades ago, but everyone nowadays knew how easy it was to fake that sort of thing. The scandal magazines made their fortunes by it.
Reality check. Open eyes. Scan surroundings. Ariadne obeyed her own silent orders and was relieved to discover that nothing in the shop had changed. That very solid fact had a calming effect.
The central room of the bookstore had originally been the private library of the Chatsworth house. It still retained much of that atmosphere, especially in the spiral staircase to the balcony and the number of comfortable chairs and small, oak tables that were liberally scattered among the stacks for the convenience of browsers. After Ariadne's longtime friend and current business partner, Laurie Chatsworth, had arranged for them to buy the place from her retiring parents at a bargain price, they'd knocked down walls on two sides to add the formal dining room and the sun room to their business premises. While Laurie made her home in the remainder of the Victorian mansion, Ariadne and her four‑year‑old daughter lived in the apartment above the garage.
This is reality, Ariadne assured herself. And she liked the life she'd built for herself and Shanna. She had a healthy, happy child, a job she liked, and no emotional complications. They might not have a lot of money, but they got by. She wanted to keep things just as they were, for Shanna's sake as well as for her own.
Clayton Franklin did not fit into the picture. He was a disruptive influence. But why would he make up a story about a twin? Was he running some kind of con game? Ariadne couldn't think what he hoped to gain. The most valuable book in the store was only worth a few hundred dollars. There wasn't a Gutenberg Bible in the lot.
Whatever he wanted, Ariadne resolved to put a stop to his scheme. She'd simply refuse to have anything more to do with him. Her mind made up, she turned her attention to the accounts she'd been working on earlier.
Ten minutes later she was staring off into space, remembering things she didn't really want to think about at all, when Laurie opened the hidden door on the balcony. The door looked like just another bookcase when it was closed, but actually connected the shop to Laurie's second floor office. "Ari?"
Startled, Ariadne sucked in a sharp breath.
"What's wrong?" Laurie demanded. She descended to the main sales room at a snail's pace, since it was against her principles to rush anywhere, but there was no mistaking her avid interest in her friend's odd behavior.
"Nothing," Ariadne said hastily. "I just didn't hear you come in."
Laurie's response was a snort of disbelief. Ariadne braced herself. Her friend had the curiosity of a cat and the tenacity of a bulldog. When she wanted answers, she generally got them.
"You're not depressed because business is off, are you?" Laurie gestured toward the ledgers piled on the counter. "It's the time of year. Things will pick up as soon as mud‑season is over. And the mail-order department's doing just fine."
"I'm not depressed at all. Honest." Ariadne pasted on a smile and hoped for the best.
Behind big, round glasses, Laurie's nearsighted blue eyes gave Ariadne the disconcerting impression that she could see right through her. Laurie's words confirmed that it would do Ariadne no good to try and dissemble. "You may as well confess, Ari. You know you'll end up telling me eventually. What is it that's bugging you?"
"You've known me too long," Ariadne grumbled.
She'd first met Laurie in college and there were few secrets they did not share. Resigned, she gave her friend an edited account of the handsome lawyer's visit. His claims seemed even more preposterous to her when she repeated them aloud. She expected Laurie to laugh, and felt uneasy when she did not.
"What if he's telling the truth?" Laurie asked.
"Don't be absurd."
"Well, you don't know anything about your mother's parents, do you? You don't know when they died, or where they're buried."
"No. I don't. But I'm sure Gramps would have told me if they were still alive."
Frowning, Ariadne tried to remember if Gramps had ever said anything at all about her other grandparents. He hadn't liked to talk about the tragedy that had left her an orphan. To keep from making him sad, she'd learned at an early age to avoid the entire subject of family.
One of these days soon Shanna would be asking the same sort of questions Ariadne had at her age. Ariadne had already thought out what she'd say to explain why she and Shanna's father hadn't married and why Brad never came to see his daughter, even though he lived only a few miles away. Ariadne didn't need a host of new relations clouding the issue, especially if acknowledging their existence meant she'd have to agree that Gramps had deceived her.
It all came back to that, and she wouldn't believe he'd deliberately lie. Yes, he'd sometimes been evasive, but she clung to the conviction that he'd always told the truth. She remembered one discussion they'd had, only a few months before he died. She'd been wondering if she should lie to Shanna about the circumstances of her birth. Gramps had insisted that it was always better to be honest.
"It's possible you do have family," Laurie said.
Abandoning her high stool, Ariadne began to pace. "This business about a twin is just plain nonsense. Identical twins are supposed to have some kind of special bond. Wouldn't I have known if I had a twin sister?"
Laurie's eyes were bright behind the glasses. Tucking short wisps of unruly, sand‑colored hair behind her ears, she leaned her elbows on the counter and propped her chin on her fists. "Not if you went through some kind of trauma when you were separated. Something that made you blank out all your early memories. How did the lawyer explain your being brought up apart?"
"He didn't." Laurie's eyes widened, but before she could say a word, Ariadne made a slashing motion with one arm. "No. Don't even suggest it. I am not going to contact him and ask. I don't want to hear another word on the subject. The whole thing is just too unbelievable. I don't know why I'm even talking about it. Either Mr. Franklin is mistaken or he's lying to me for some reason I can't begin to comprehend. Either way, I don't want to see him again."
"Ari," Laurie said gently, "you can't just ignore this and hope it goes away. You saw a photograph of a woman who looks just like you. Who is she if she's not your twin?"
"Everyone has a look‑alike somewhere. That's all it is." Ariadne stopped pacing, momentarily lost in thought. That would explain it, wouldn't it? "It's all a mistake, Laurie. Coincidence. Or a trick of some kind. The only possible way for me to deal with it is to put him and his crazy story out of my mind right this minute."
The fortuitous arrival of a customer helped Ariadne do just that, but only until she'd rung up the sale. As soon as she had time to brood, the image of Clayton Franklin returned to haunt her. "Damn him," she muttered.
"Not so easy to forget, huh?" Laurie was trying not to look amused and failing miserably.
A wry, answering smile on her lips, Ariadne shrugged. "It's probably just because I'd decided, in that brief moment before he made his ridiculous claim, that he was an attractive man and I wouldn't mind getting to know him better. That just goes to show how little first impressions are worth!"
It wasn't like her to be taken in, even briefly, by a set of broad shoulders and wavy blond hair. Not after her experience with Brad. But at least this time she'd caught on quickly.
"Never judge a book by its cover," Laurie murmured, managing to echo her friend's thoughts with uncanny precision. She stretched lazily and then held out a hand.
"You said he gave you his business card. I want a look at it."
Ariadne produced the small white rectangle from her skirt pocket, feeling the embossing beneath her thumb as she handled it. Laurie glanced at the firm's name and address, then tapped the edge of the card against her chin.
"I wonder ... "
Instead of answering, Laurie picked up the phone and punched in the number on the card. "Yes," she said when someone answered at the other end. "I wonder if you can confirm that a Mr. Clayton Franklin works for your firm?" She listened a moment. "Perhaps you could tell me what the younger one looks like? I want to be certain we're talking about the same man."
Laurie repeated each bit of description, waiting for Ariadne's nod. "Yes, that's the man. And you say he's out of state at the moment?" While she continued to listen, Laurie put her hand over the mouthpiece and whispered, "There are two Clayton Franklins with the firm. Senior and Junior. Junior handles most of the firm's divorce and child-custody work and goes by Clay."
Clay. The nickname made him seem more human. Better to think of him in terms of his profession, she decided. Divorce lawyer? That brought an appropriately negative image to mind. Preoccupied, Ariadne briefly lost the thread of Laurie's phone conversation. She was puzzled when her friend began to describe a second man.
"He's about six feet tall, with dark hair and eyes and a rugged build," Laurie said. "He's got a small scar on his left cheek and he looks as if he's had his nose broken at least once. I believe he works for your firm but I didn't get his name."
Listening to the answer, Laurie's expression clouded. Whatever information was being provided by the person at the other end of the phone line, it was not what she wanted to hear. On a scratch pad in front of her, Laurie inscribed a name: Duncan Lords. Then she crossed out Lords and wrote in Lourdes. "Like the shrine in France?" she asked and smiled reluctantly at the answer she received. "No saint, huh? I'll just bet he isn't. Thanks." When she cradled the receiver she had a troubled look on her face.
"Who's Duncan Lourdes?"
Ariadne was fairly certain that Laurie's interest in him wasn't personal. Her friend always claimed she wasn't the type to attract a husband and she went out of her way to make sure she didn't accidentally court male attention, concealing an abundantly female figure with long, loose, shapeless caftans and L.L. Bean jumpers. Most people, as she intended, assumed she was overweight and using the flowing garments to hide unsightly bulges.
"Apparently, Mr. Lourdes is a private investigator, but when he was in here he was calling himself Mr. London and pretending to be a rareBook collector. I'd still think he was, if he'd given me a real address, but it turned out to be a dud." Laurie ripped the top sheet off the notepad and crumpled it as if she'd like to do the same to the man whose name was written there. "He's 'frequently employed by Franklin, Manley, Murphy, Franklin and Teasdale,'" Laurie said, mimicking the voice in Hartford. "I thought I was crazy to ask, but for once one of my hunches was right on the money. I'm only sorry I didn't catch on sooner."
"Wait a minute," Ariadne interrupted. "Are you saying this guy was sent here to investigate me?" The very idea sparked her notoriously quick temper.
"I'm afraid so. A couple of weeks ago. You weren't here. Not that he asked for you."
"But something must have made you suspicious of him."
Laurie shrugged and looked bemused. "At the time he just seemed ... memorable."
"Was he acting oddly?"
"Only in that he was being very charming." She made a face.
Ariadne's eyes widened. Laurie was taking this very personally. "He came on to you?"
"Drop it, okay? The point is that he asked a lot of questions and he gave me a phony address in case I found the book he claimed he was after."
"The nerve of the man." Ariadne almost wished Clay Franklin would come back, just so she could give him a piece of her mind.
"He seemed so interested in the business?how we got started. Said he was considering becoming a dealer himself. I didn't tell him much of anything, of course. Not about your personal life, or anything, but?"
Alarmed by the sudden silence, Ariadne took a step closer to her friend. "What?"
Laurie hesitated. The expression on her face had changed yet again, altering from mere chagrin to reflect a deeper distress. "Oh, boy. Ari, I'm afraid you aren't going to like this."
"Why doesn't that surprise me? Give, Laurie. How much worse can it be than what you've already told me?"
"I just remembered. Lourdes didn't just talk to me. It was one day when I was keeping an eye on Shanna for you. He asked her questions, too."
Ariadne's indignation escalated into a flare of impotent rage so strong that she had to cling to the counter until the first shock had passed. A simmering anger stayed with her even after she'd controlled that first primal urge to do violence to any man vile enough to involve an innocent child in his schemes. Only a small part of what she was feeling was directed toward Duncan Lourdes.
"How dare he?" Ariadne demanded, her voice harsh with suppressed fury. "How dare Clay Franklin send someone here to harass my daughter!"
* * * *
Clay returned to the bookstore the next morning. He was surprised when he saw no immediate sign of Ariadne. Only ten minutes earlier, from the window of his room in the bed and breakfast, a room chosen specifically for its kitty-corner view of the Chatsworth house from across two backyards, he'd seen her return from taking her four‑year‑old to day care. She'd gone directly into the shop.
"Be with you in a sec," an unfamiliar voice called when the door chimes ceased their racket. False spring was already on its way out and the temperature outside was hovering around the freezing mark.
"No rush," Clay said, glancing toward the speaker. She was up on the ladder, dusting the volumes on the highest shelves. Laurie Chatsworth, Ariadne's partner. The woman looked like a throwback to the days of flower children, decked out in a flowing purple caftan and layers of beads. Her straight, baby‑fine hair was full of static, creating a wild halo around her plain, unpainted face.
"Mr. Franklin, I presume?" Laurie's expression was smug as she descended and faced him.
"What gave me away? No, don't answer that. You got a description from your partner." He didn't imagine it had been a flattering one. "I told Ms. Palmer the truth, Ms. Chatsworth."
"Laurie. I'm Clay. Perhaps you can help me convince your friend that I'm not here to cause trouble for her. On the contrary. Her grandfather?"
"My grandfather is dead." Ariadne stood on the balcony above, glowering at them. As she came down the stairs the temperature in the room abruptly rose and when she reached the bottom and spoke he felt scalded by her words.
"I want you out of my shop, Mr. Franklin," she said. "I have no interest in talking to you, now or ever."
"We have business to discuss, Ms. Palmer."
Ariadne looked as if she wanted to throw the steaming contents of her coffee mug into his face. That she thought better of it clearly had more to do with the damage stray drops might do to the books than with any consideration for his safety.
"Wise choice," he murmured. "Fay actually did that to me once. With hot chocolate. I'd just as soon not repeat the experience." Hoping to pique her curiosity about Fay, he added, "Your sister rarely acts out of anger, but she can be impulsive. She wanted to take me down a peg or two for a rude remark I made about one of her friends. She was thirteen at the time."
"It isn't a friend I'm concerned about, Mr. Franklin. Your spy questioned my daughter."
If a glare could strike a man dead, Ariadne's would have been fatal, but Clay understood her vehemence now. The maternal urge to protect her young was a powerful force and one he knew better than to trifle with. He chose his next words with care. "Your daughter happened to be here when Duncan stopped by. And as I understand it, she asked more questions than he did." Four‑year‑olds, or so he'd been told, were like that.
Taking a careful sip of her coffee, Ariadne contemplated Clay over the rim. He stared back, sympathetic in spite of their adversarial relationship and his suspicions about her character.
Whatever else she might be, Ariadne Palmer was also an indignant, beautiful woman frustrated by circumstances beyond her control.