"I did," Abigail told him, and Mildred rolled her eyes at the other woman's reaction to Daniel's charm. "But after I spoke with Laura and Remington last night, I decided that I should be here instead. Laura simply doesn't understand how important it is to-"
"Children CAN be a trial at times, can't they, my dear?" Daniel sighed in sympathy.
"Yes, they can be. Especially Laura." She took a
step toward Mr. Steele's office. "I'll just announce myself-"
Before Mildred could react, Daniel slipped in front of Abigail. "They're not here," he said smoothly.
Mildred met Abigail's questioning gaze as Laura's mother asked, "They're not?"
"No," Mildred lied. "They're- on a case."
"They just left, in fact," Daniel added. "I'm surprised that you didn't run into them on your way up here."
"Then I'll wait in Remington's office," she decided, only to have Daniel take her arm to steer her away.
"They might be late," he told her. "Isn't that right, Mildred?"
"Yeah," Mildred agreed, jumping on the excuse. "Miss Holt mentioned something about- about a stakeout. Might take all night. I'll give them a message for you if they call in," she offered.
Abigail sighed. "I suppose I'll go on to Frances and Donald's and just call them later," she said.
Mildred and Daniel exchanged a look, and again they were on the same wavelength. She saw Daniel's apologetic look as he turned his attention back to Abigail. "I was hoping you'd have dinner with me this evening," he said.
Abigail tittered like a schoolgirl. "Oh. Oh, well, far be it from me to disappoint you, Daniel."
Mildred glanced worriedly toward Mr. Steele's office door. There was no way of telling how much longer they would be in there. They HAD to get Abigail out of the office and soon. "As a matter of fact," Daniel continued, "Why don't I escort you to Frances and Donald's right now?" He offered her his arm. "Shall we, my dear?" He cast a regretful smile in Mildred's direction. "Tell Harry that I'll speak to him later."
"I'll take care of it," Mildred assured him, watching them leave the office as she found a slip of paper and pen. They had barely turned the corner when the door to Mr. Steele's office opened and he ushered Laura and Charlotte ahead of him. She quickly wrote a note and folded the paper.
"We'll be out for awhile, Mildred," he told her. "House hunting."
Charlotte's eyes searched the room. "Where is Daniel?"
"He- had to go," Mildred explained, holding out the paper. "He left this for you, Chief."
He took the paper and read it, his eyes meeting Mildred's in silent gratitude. "What is it, Harry?" Laura asked as he handed the paper back into Mildred's safekeeping.
"Nothing," he quickly assured her, then turned with a smile that reminded Mildred of Daniel. "Just that he'll call me later. Shall we go, ladies," he asked.
Mildred frowned as the door closed behind them, leaving her alone in the office. So much for the bowling date. "Just as well," she muttered to herself. "He'd have been too much of a distraction anyway." She tossed the note into the trash can and turned her attention toward some reports she'd promised to help Laura finish up
"They're buying a house?" Abigail questioned over dinner. "Remington didn't mention that last night "
"Apparently you didn't give him a chance to," Daniel pointed out, smiling at her to remove some of the sting of his words.
"All he said was that Laura was going to move into his apartment."
"Only until they found a place that they both like," he said again. "I'm not altogether certain that I understand you objection to their cohabiting, my dear. After all, they ARE adults, and-"
"It's just that I thought Laura had learned her lesson about doing that," Abigail insisted. "I don't know if you're aware of it, but Laura lived with a man several years ago. Wilson Jeffries. Nice, stable- a banker. I had such high hopes for them to eventually get married. I tried to tell Laura that I thought living with him was a mistake."
"Ah," Daniel said, understanding at last. "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free."
"Exactly. Don't get me wrong- I've nothing against, well-" she laughed, her cheeks reddening. "It's just that-"
Daniel covered her hand with his to quiet her. "I believe I understand, my dear. You're worried that if they live together, Harry will decide it's not as important for them to marry. It won't happen. I think that if we simply leave them alone, they'll be married before either of us knows what's happening."
"Do you really think so, Daniel?" Abigail asked, begging for reassurance. "Laura's had such terrible luck with men. Not that there have been that many of them. And I certainly don't think Remington's like Wilson-"
"not at all. But I know him- and believe me, Abigail, he's not going anywhere." He glanced at his watch, then shook his head as the waiter offered more coffee. "No, thank you." As the man left, Daniel took her hand more fully in his, forcing her to look at him. "Now, I want you to promise me that you'll go home. That you won't badger Laura to set a wedding date before she's ready."
"Push, then. I don't think that I need tell you that your daughter is a bit- stubborn. The harder she's pushed into marriage, the more likely she is to dig in her heels and refuse to consider the idea at all."
Abigail sighed. "I suppose you're right, Daniel. But you won't let them elope or get married without me, will you?"
"I give you MY word, Abigail. I'll make certain that you're present to dance with me at their wedding." She sighed deeply again, and Daniel patted her hand gently.
"Then I'll go home tomorrow morning," she promised.
"Excellent. Now, I'll take you back to Tarzana, -" he began, signaling for the check.
"Now?" Abigail objected. "It's still early."
His eyes met hers once again. "You've had a long day, my dear. The flight out, the time change. The clock may say nine, but I'll wager that you feel more like it's one in the morning. I don't want Frances and Donald accusing me of overtiring you."
"You're so thoughtful, Daniel," she said, her eyes shining as he paid the bill and then pulled out her chair."
Mildred sat on the hard bench, not really listening to her friends' conversations. Hazel was saying something to Rose while Esther took her turn. " And then I said to him, 'You're crazy if you think I'm going to pay that to have it repaired.'"
"I don't blame you," Rose empathized. "I told you to take it to my nephew, didn't I?"
"I will tomorrow," Hazel assured her as Esther returned and tapped Mildred on the shoulder.
"You're up, Millie," Esther said.
Mildred nodded and rose slowly. Picking up her ball, she stood there, took two breaths, and then swung the ball, releasing it. She knew the moment it left her hand where it was headed. "Another gutter ball?" Rose fretted. "Millie, that's four in this game. I don't think I've EVER seen you do that badly."
"You okay?" Hazel asked, her eyes searching Mildred's face.
"Just a little distracted," Mildred told them. "Nothing major. I'll be fine for the tournament Saturday night," she promised.
Rose nudged her. "Hey, you haven't told us about your trip to Aspen. How was it?"
"Yeah," Hazel said. "Give."
"Maybe later," Mildred said. "I think you're up, Hazel." She sat back. Damn Daniel Chalmers anyway. The man didn't even have to BE here to distract her. She hadn't been able to concentrate all evening, thinking about him and if he'd managed to distract Abigail from her mission to talk to Laura and Mr. Steele. Hazel got a strike, and Mildred stood up. "I'm going to get another soda. Anyone else want something while I'm at the snack bar?"
"Bring me back a cup of coffee, please," Esther said, stifling a yawn. "Sorry. Been babysitting Petey this last week."
"How much longer are Paul and Evie going to be gone?" Hazel asked.
Mildred left them to discuss Esther's son and daughter in law, who were on a second honeymoon in Europe while Esther and her husband kept an eye on the grandson. She wandered to the snack bar, trying to decide if she wanted something to eat or not. Ordering a coffee for Esther and another soda for herself, she sat down on a stool to wait.
"That'll be three dollars," the girl behind the counter said when she returned.
Mildred started to put her money down, but someone beat her to it. "Allow me." She looked around to find a smiling Daniel standing there, a five dollar bill in his hand. "And I'll have a soft drink as well."
"Daniel." She looked behind him, making sure he was alone.
"I dropped Abigail at Frances' house," he told her. "She's leaving to return to Connecticut tomorrow morning. I think I've convinced her to let Harry and Laura run their own lives. Of course, it cost me a dance with her at the wedding- but I suppose that's a small enough price to pay, don't you agree?"
"Have you told Mr. Steele?"
"I called him just before coming here," he told her. "They think they found a house today. In Malibu."
"They told me about it when I called them." Daniel
collected his drink.
"Where to?" he asked. "Which of these groups is the infamous Dragon Ladies?"
"Lane six," she told him, and saw him count the lanes. Her gaze fell on her team mates, and she groaned inwardly. Rose had seen her with Daniel and was pointing them out to the others. "Be prepared for the third degree," she warned as they neared the lane. "Here's your coffee, Esther."
"Uh, thanks," she said, taking the cup, but her eyes never left the man at Mildred's side. He was still wearing a suit, of course- and looked woefully out of place among the beer and chips set, Mildred thought. But he seemed to be totally unaware of that fact.
"You gonna introduce us, Millie?" Hazel asked pointedly.
"Yeah. Who's the hunk?" Rose asked, and Mildred shot her a warning look.
"Rose, Hazel, Esther, this is Daniel."
"It's a safe bet that you don't bowl, right?" Hazel asked him. "Uh, it's your turn, Millie."
Rose sat beside Daniel on the bench as he told Mildred, "Don't worry about me, Mildred. I'll just sit here and watch, if you don't mind."
Mildred fully expected to throw yet another gutter ball as she took her two breaths and released. She DIDN'T expect to throw a perfect strike. "You're gonna have to keep this one around, Mildred," Rose decided, getting up as Mildred returned. "For good luck."
"I take it she hasn't been bowling well this evening?" Daniel asked Esther.
"More gutter balls than you can shake a stick out. Not Mildred's usual standard," she told him.
"I think that was her first strike all evening," Hazel added. "So, Daniel. Where did you and Millie meet?"
"I'm a friend of her employer," Daniel explained.
"You're English, right?" Rose asked, tapping Hazel on the shoulder to send her to the lane.
"Yes," he confirmed with an amused smile as he watched Hazel throw her bowling ball and manage to hit over half of the pins.
"How long are you planning on being in town?" Rose asked, and yelped when Esther slapped her on the arm. "Hey! I'm just wondering if he'll be able to be at the tournament on Saturday eveing so that Mildred will be able to bowl."
"I'm sure Daniel has more important things to do than to come to a bowling tournament," Mildred said quickly, not wanting Daniel to feel pressured to attend.
"Not a one," he assured her, taking a drink of his soda. "What time is this-tournament?"
"Oh, it starts around eight and sometimes goes 'til eleven or so."
"Excellent. Then we have time for dinner before."
Mildred saw the looks her friends exchanged, and sighed as Hazel picked up her ball. "What about your real estate friend?" Mildred asked quietly as Rose and Esther turned their attention toward the scorecard and a possible mistake in the figures. "I'm sure she'll be expecting to hear from you."
"I'll have to explain about Charlotte," he said. "But I don't think that this is the place to do that."
"You've got a lot more than that to explain, Daniel Chalmers," she said, getting up to bowl again. "Don't think you're going to charm your way out of it, either."
Another strike. "Now THAT'S more like it!" she exclaimed. "Just took me awhile to get warmed up tonight, that's all," she told her friends, who replied with patent disbelief, glancing in Daniel's direction.
He smiled at her. "Would you mind if I tried-?" he asked, indicating the alley behind her.
"You?" Mildred asked, laughing. "You're serious, aren't you?" She searched his face. "You REALLY want to do this?" she asked.