Her Secret Life. Gwynne Forster
she appreciated his subtlety. “You didn’t hurt me, and you certainly would never—” she emphasized the word never “—do so intentionally.”
Leaning forward, he braced his hands on his knees and seemed to study her. “You’re right. I wouldn’t.” Although silent for a moment, he gazed steadily at her until her nerves scrambled themselves throughout her body and her blood began a headlong rush to her lower region. But she refused to blink. It was his move.
Finally, he sat back in his chair, and although his gaze softened, his eyes nevertheless gleamed. “I want to see more of you, and I think you know that. It’s against club rules for me to make a date with you, and that’s all that keeps me from trying.”
For heaven’s sake, there are other ways, she thought, but to him, she said, “I appreciate your being discrete, sir.”
“I don’t know how to take that,” he said, surprising her with his directness, “and please stop calling me sir. Are you saying you’re not interested?”
She stared into his eyes, darker now than usual and with a fire blazing in them that she had no trouble naming. “Is that the only interpretation you can give it?” she asked. She was determined to keep him guessing.
“I wasn’t trying to be subtle or discrete. I merely stated a fact. And I’d be a lot closer to you this minute if club rules didn’t forbid that as well.”
“You’re a lot bolder than I thought. I’d better get back to my station.”
“I’ll take that coffee strong.”
“How many?” she asked and hated herself for letting him know that he’d rattled her.
But he didn’t capitalize on her slipup. “I have no guests this evening. I didn’t sit in the main lounge, because I wanted to speak with you.”
“I’ll be back in a few minutes with your coffee.” As she left the lounge, she threw him a look over her shoulder. Just because he knew she melted when he picked her up off the floor and held her was no reason for him to get a big head. More than one man would affirm that she was the queen of denial. If he was as smart as he seemed he would realize that she hadn’t said she wasn’t interested, but she’d merely avoided answering his question.
Carrying a silver tray that contained a pot of coffee and an elegant coffee service, Jackie paused as she approached the private lounge. The small, illuminated yellow bulb indicated that the lounge was occupied. Did Holcomb realize that, with that light blinking, only she, the waitress, would enter that lounge or even knock on the door? The lump in her throat seemed to grow by the second. She opened the door, put the tray on the service table nearby, poured a cup of coffee and took it to him.
He examined the porcelain cup with what seemed like relish. “Thank you. I like it with milk instead of cream, and no sugar,” he said as he reached for it.
“I know how you like it.”
Both of his eyebrows shot up. “Mind my asking if you know how each of the forty-seven members of this club likes his coffee?”
“I don’t mind at all.”
A smile lit up his face, and the twinkle that always mesmerized her began to dance in his eyes. “Well, do you?”
He put the cup and saucer on the table beside him and leaned toward her. “Are you playing with me?” An expression of disbelief roamed over his face.
She didn’t try to suppress the mirth that welled up in her and grinned when she said, “No more than you’re playing with me. You knew the answer before you asked the question.”
His smile broadened, displaying a left dimple. “Well, I don’t know the answer to this. How can I manage to spend some time with you without violating club rules?”
She let her gaze sweep over him. “If you figured out how to achieve such success that Allegory invited you to join before you were forty, you can figure out how to see me without breaking the rules. Since I’m not a whiz kid, and I’d rather not get fired, don’t expect any help from me.”
He crossed his knees, appeared to get more comfortable, and sipped his coffee. “Just the way I like it. Do you want me to figure out a way?”
On the verge of becoming exasperated—he had the privacy he needed; why didn’t he use it—she put her right hand on her right hip and stared at him. “Mr. Holcomb, nothing in this life is certain but taxes and death. From the moment babies begin trying to walk, they learn that they have to take a chance.”
As if he’d missed the point, intentionally or not, he asked, “Have you had any experience with babies?”
A moron would know that a straight answer to that question would give him more information than he was entitled to, so if he wanted to know, he would have to ask a direct question. “Only during the first year of my life,” she retorted.
She watched, fascinated, as he closed his eyes, rested his head against the back of the overstuffed chair and let the laughter roll out of him. When he stopped laughing, he said, “I can’t wait to get you all to myself.”
She didn’t answer, but she hoped that managing that trick wouldn’t take him too long.
I don’t know what possessed me to agree to speak to that sorority on this particular day, Jacqueline said to herself as she rolled out of bed at four-thirty in the morning. I’m beat. Lord, I should have spent the night in Charlotte.
But she hadn’t. She was in New York, and she’d better get moving if she wanted to get that seven o’clock flight.
By the time the propeller plane landed in Charlotte, she was certain that her insides had been rearranged. In the terminal, she bought a bottle of cold water and drank it to settle her stomach. Then, she picked up a rental car and headed for Johnson C. Smith University. Whenever Jacqueline visited a university—and she did that often—she invariably felt old, compared to the vibrant, youthful students around her.
Jacqueline had accomplished a lot in the ten years after getting her undergraduate degree in English. She’d earned a doctorate in criminology and had become the senior editor of a very prestigious magazine, but she was also lonely. Her life was devoid of the intimacy she craved, and she saw little likelihood of a change in her single status. What man would be willing to share the burden of her father’s expensive illness or to settle for a woman whose father’s well-being came before everything else? Would a successful, polished man like Warren Holcomb allow himself to care for a cocktail waitress? And would he still be interested if he discovered who she really was?
She turned into the university’s campus, asked for instructions to the library, drove there, found a parking space and walked a few paces to the James B. Duke Library. She had to banish her passion for Warren Holcomb—and there was nothing else to call it—for she was playing with fire.
“Welcome, Dr. Parkton,” a pretty girl of about eighteen said when Jacqueline stepped into the lecture hall, where about seventy-five students and, she surmised from their apparent ages, teachers as well, awaited her. “I’m your escort for the day. The students are all excited, and I’ve already collected lots of questions for you.”
And so it went on many of Jacqueline’s weekends. The money she made from her lectures went into a special account from which she would pay for her father’s surgery in the event that he agreed to have it. She didn’t allow herself to consider the consequences if he refused. Lunch with the class that sponsored her appearance there followed the lecture and questioning period. She enjoyed the exchange with the eager students, but she was glad to leave.
I’m old enough to be their mother, she said to herself of the freshmen as she drove to the airport, and I definitely did not enjoy being addressed as ma’am.
She walked into her apartment