Love, Money & Amanda Shaw
A Starting Over Novel - Book 3
Brave. Bold. Brainy. One woman reached for the gold, one for the law, one for the university, and one ran as far from home as possible. But often, the best laid plans fall apart, and Starting Over is the only thing to do.
Attorney Amanda Shaw has it all. A great job in New York City, a beautiful hi-rise apartment and most important, financial security. To top it off, she is about to make partner in her prestigious law firm...until…
Childhood friend, Zach Porter, visits her unexpectedly. Her dad’s in the hospital, her mom’s with him all day, her teenage sister is acting up and disappearing, and their once-thriving ski resort is losing money. Zack, her dad’s new partner, refuses to sell the property, which Amanda says is the answer to their problems.The real answer, Zach says, is for Amanda to come home. Choosing between job and family is a no-brainer--her family needs her! And her law firm will wait. Her short visit turns into a longer leave of absence. Perhaps she’s been missing something in her “perfect” life. Or someone? Zach definitely thinks so.
Attorney Amanda Shaw stood at her thirty-ninth floor office window and looked out at the most powerful city in the world. In the first week of January, Park Avenue was still dressed for the holiday season with twinkling lights adorning the trees in its center islands. In other buildings, a myriad of lighted offices held the evening at bay. She never tired of admiring New York, and she never took its opportunities for granted. Most important, she never looked back. Her years in Vermont were history.
Reluctantly abandoning the view, she scanned the surface of her desk. Her current case files were neatly stacked and color coded the way she liked them. Corporate law. Clean, neat, intellectual. All business with no messy emotions. Just like her life.
She sighed with satisfaction at her accomplishments to date. An excellent career, a growing financial portfolio, and an independent lifestyle. Everything was falling into place perfectly.
The Finley case required a visit to the law library on the next floor. She picked up the folder and started walking to the door when her phone rang.
“Mr. Garroway wants to see you, Ms. Shaw,” said the ever-efficient office assistant she shared with two other associates. “As soon as possible.”
ASAP meant now. Amanda replaced the file on her desk, and buttoned the jacket of her navy blue suit. Thick Berber carpeting cushioned her feet as she hurried down the corridor. Despite the urgency, however, she admired the lithographs on the walls as she usually did. She nodded to herself. Yes, she belonged here.
“Come in, Ms. Shaw. Come in.”
Mr. Garroway stood behind his desk, a smile on his patrician face. He waved her to a seat.
“Ms. Shaw...Amanda...I hope you’re planning to attend the company’s annual postholiday party tomorrow at the Hilton.”
She responded to the faint question in his voice with a nod.
“Good. Very good.” He paused and steepled his fingers before meeting her gaze. “You’ll have more to celebrate than most.”
She sat up straighter, ears almost twitching to hear every single word he said. She’d been hoping, of course, that her abilities would continue to be recognized. No one in the firm had ever denied her brain power or her willingness to work hard. But there were no guarantees in life. She’d learned long ago to depend on herself and to always have a Plan B. But how sweet it would be not to have to use it!
“In essence, Stanhope Jones & MacGregor is offering to make you a junior partner in the firm. And if you’re in agreement after we discuss the responsibilities, the announcement will be made tomorrow at the hotel. Until then, everything’s confidential, and that includes family.”
Her heart went ka-boom. She couldn’t speak for a moment, but finally felt her smile break through. From her boss’s wide-eyed reaction, she knew it was her famous smile, from the old days doing fashion shoots.
“Thank you, Mr. Garroway. You won’t be sorry. I know I can handle the work.” Sitting still was impossible. She jumped from her seat and shook her supervisor’s hand. “Thank you, thank you again.” She repeated herself three times, still pumping his hand. So much for the sophistication she’d worked so hard to acquire!
He chuckled. “Don’t you want to hear about the salary and other remuneration?”
She thought of her growing portfolio. “I’m all ears, Mr. Garroway.”
In the privacy of her office a few minutes later, Amanda pirouetted around her desk. Happiness, she decided, was climbing each rung of her ladder. She could have all the security she wanted if she depended only on herself.
Trying to ignore the concern clawing at his gut, Zachary Porter watched Amanda wend her way around the crowded New York hotel suite. More polished and beautiful than ever, Amanda fit right into the culture of the prestigious law firm.
She circulated among her peers as though she had been born to wealth and power. A word here, a smile there, the barest tinkle of a laugh. She had mastered the social graces until they were as much a part of her as breathing. Zach knew she’d hone any skill necessary to achieve her goals, just as she had done in school to achieve all A’s.
He eased his way into the room, identifying the power holders and the sycophants with a skilled glance. Stanhope Jones & MacGregor was no different than any other organization in that respect. The smell of money and power lured the wanna-be’s as strongly as the year’s first heavy snowfall lured skiers to Vermont. Zach laughed quietly to himself. Human nature never changed. Money, power, success, fame. And Amanda was caught up in the quest as strongly as anyone he’d ever known.
He watched her share a toast with an associate at this late afternoon gathering, and mentally conceded defeat. With her gorgeous smile and designer dress, she seemed happy. Her thick blonde hair was shorter than when he’d last seen her, now stylish and tamed. The shy youngster who had joined his family fourteen years ago had deliberately evolved into a beautiful jungle cat with an appetite for the big city, a powerhouse career, and a near obsession for wealth. It would be a miracle if he could get her to leave now.
Thoughts of his uncle’s illness propelled Zach forward. He ignored the Armani suits and the uniformed caterers with their delicate offerings of baby lamb chops and stuffed mushroom caps, and continued into the room with renewed determination.
No one stopped him and he laughed to himself again. Scruffy whiskers, jeans, and a leather bomber jacket must have added the right touch of interest. He approached Amanda from the side, planted himself just within her peripheral vision and waited silently. Come on, sweetheart, look at me.
Amanda twirled around as though he’d spoken out loud. And there in her glorious blue eyes and delighted smile was the warmth of a woman happy to see him. Then, a second later, her professional mask reappeared. But that one moment encouraged Zach to revise his opinion. He’d not concede defeat yet.
Amanda detected Zach’s presence shortly after he stepped into the room. Her sensitivity to him caused an ironic smile to curve her lips. She was as aware of him now as she’d been years ago, when her mom had married his uncle, and Zach had taken on the role of big brother. She’d gotten used to his eyes searching for her in a roomful of youngsters, gotten used to him giving her rides when he was old enough to drive, and gotten used to him being part of unexpected girlhood fantasies.
Zach. His imprint on her soul was as sharp as the imprint of her own ambitions. But he was part of her other life, the emotionally demanding part that made her feel inadequate.
His appearance in New York could only mean more trouble. But what now? Pops was in stable condition, wasn’t he? Was there some other family trouble? Or Zach and Amanda trouble? She caught herself. No, not that. He’d stopped playing big brother a long time ago, but could still manage to get under her skin—the only man who ever could. She’d always been afraid to analyze her feelings for him; she’d just known she’d had to fight them.
But she was glad to see him. She looked up, way up, into his familiar gray eyes, her heart beating more quickly than a moment ago, and smiled.
“What are you doing here, Zach?” she asked as she raised her face for a kiss. “How’s everything at home? How are you?”
“One at a time, please,” he replied, giving her a bone- crushing hug. “I’m a lot better now that I’ve found you. On a late Thursday afternoon, I expected you to be working hard in your office, but now I see all you do is party!”
“Exactly right!” she laughed. She’d never tell him about the long hours, working weekends, and utter weariness she sometimes felt. He’d just tell her to quit. He didn’t understand. No one in the family really understood her need for independence. For security. It didn’t matter. “So why are you in the city the week after Christmas when Diamond Ridge needs you more than ever to keep things going?”
A shadow crossed his face, and Amanda braced herself.
“I’m here to take you home. Now. Tonight—”
“Tonight? But why? What else is wrong? I told Mom I’d be home in a few days to see Pops. I can’t leave yet!”
“But Ben wants to see you now,” Zach replied. “He asked to see you. Your mother’s been sleeping at the hospital ever since he had the stroke. And Molly...the poor kid’s a mess. They need you now.”
Amanda needed a minute to think. It didn’t compute...Ben, her hale and hearty stepfather...reduced to needing her. Ben, the man she considered her real father. Her stomach churned and she pressed her hand over it to control the rising nausea.
“Come on, Amanda. I’ll tell you more on the way.” Zach took her arm and started to lead her from the room.
“Wait a moment. Do you think I can just leave?” Amanda pulled back and spoke in a horrified whisper. “First, tell me what’s going on now.”
Zach stopped in his tracks, puzzlement on his face. “What do you mean, you can’t leave?” His voice was low and controlled, but Amanda saw the effort he exerted to remain patient.
“Zach, I can’t discuss it. It’s confidential. Something great is happening to me. Something big. And they’re announcing it tonight at this party.”
“Congratulations,” he said without missing a beat. “With all that clout, you can take some time off. Now, let’s go.”
She always forgot about his sharp mind and quick responses. Her own mind needed a jump-start to function again.
“Just a minute. I have to think!”
He took her arm in a firm grip. “There’s nothing to think about. Let’s go tell your boss.”
“Wait, Zach. I can take the bus tomorrow or rent a car...”
His lips tightened, lines bracketed his mouth. “But what if there is no tomorrow, Amanda?” he asked slowly, distinctly. “Now, once again, let’s find your boss so we can leave.”
Her nausea intensified and she felt like throwing up. What kind of a person was she? How could she think about her job when the best man in the world still lay in a hospital in danger of losing his life? But without her job, she had nothing. No safety, no secure future. She couldn’t jeopardize her promotion. What if they changed their minds? What if they gave the responsibilities to someone else? Sarah Wilcox would grab the opportunity if she had the chance. And Ben did have her mother and Zach for comfort.
Her thoughts came to an abrupt halt. Pitiful. She was pitiful and selfish. Full of rationalizations. Ben wanted her. She had to go. She turned to Zach.
“I’ll tell Mr. Garroway now.”
“Good. I’ll be right behind you.”
She glared at him but he didn’t budge.
Pasting a smile on her face, she found her boss, introduced Zach and explained the situation.
“I’m sorry for your troubles, Amanda. We’ll just postpone the announcement, shall we, until you’re back with us in a few days.”
“At this point,” interjected Zach, “we’re not sure how long Amanda will be needed at home.”
His benign smile would have fooled anyone—anyone except Amanda. “I’ll call you, Mr. Garroway,” she said quickly, “as soon as I have a better grasp of my dad’s condition. Thank you for your understanding.”
“Not at all,” her boss replied, “I’ll be out of town for a few days myself, but please keep in touch with me on-line or phone. I seem to be connected to all my devices day and night.”
“Will do,” she replied quickly. “And, of course, I have my cell. You can reach me at any time.”
“Good. I’ll personally review your cases before I leave. And if you’re not back by Monday, I might ask Sarah Wilcox to take them.” He paused significantly, before adding, “She’s quite a talented attorney also, so your clients will be in good hands.”
Amanda understood his meaning and forced a smile. “I’m sure they will,” she murmured in agreement, while a big knot congealed in her belly.
“Time to go, Mandy.” Zach grabbed her hand again and started to lead her to the door. She rushed to keep up with him, missed stepping on people’s feet purely by luck. Once they reached the hall, she didn’t have a chance.
“Slow down, Zach. Your legs are too long for me.”
“You’re lucky I’m moving too fast to do any damage. I was debating whether to give Garroway a black eye or shake some sense into you.” He looked over his shoulder at her. “I hope you realize he was just rattling your chain back there. You’re the one they want, Mandy. Your boss is smart enough to pick the best, and he’s not going to settle for a runner-up.”
Zach thought she was the best? His unexpected praise warmed her.
“But you had a hard time choosing between your job and Uncle Ben’s needs in there.”
Scratch the praise.
“You’re still running scared, aren’t you? Don’t you know how to set priorities? Or,” he continued thoughtfully, “is it that you just don’t care? You’re really something, you know that?”
Yes, she knew. She had just admitted the same thing to herself but she didn’t welcome his condemnation. She clenched her hands in frustration. Same old story, nothing new. She could handle any crisis at work without flinching, yet couldn’t begin to handle personal ones. They required too much emotion, too much commitment.
“Damn!” Zach continued as he punched the button for the elevator. “You’re twenty-eight years old and nothing’s changed since you started college. What happened to the sweet kid Lily brought with her when she nursed my uncle and his broken leg way back when? Where did that warm heart go?”
She’d disappointed him. She heard it in his voice, saw it in his eyes. Those wonderful gray, glinting eyes, usually alight with humor, were now creased with pain. The pain she caused.
She winced with the knowledge, but pushed it aside. Zach knew almost nothing about the real Amanda. The warm heart that he remembered from years ago, had beat inside the body of a scared young teen whose innocence had been destroyed long before he met her. He was ignorant about her early life and she planned to keep it that way.
Amanda raised herself to her full five-and-a-half feet and again buried the pain of the girl she once was. “Sorry to disappoint you, Zach. I am who I am.”
“And that’s not good enough for me and the people I love—and the people who love you.”
For a moment, she couldn’t breathe. Then in crystal clear tones, she said, “Go to hell, Zach.”
Five minutes. In just five minutes with Zach, she had lost her hard-won control—as usual. It hadn’t always been like that, just since they’d grown up and become adults. How she hated allowing him get the better of her! She sighed. For the few days she’d be in Vermont, she’d grow a thicker skin and keep her mouth shut.
She fidgeted with the handles of her purse and stole a glance at him during their taxi ride to her apartment. He scanned the traffic in all directions and looked at his watch for the tenth time since they started.
“How do you tolerate traveling at a snail’s pace every day?”
She laughed. “I rarely commute during the rush hour. The company’s car service takes me home at night.”
He turned toward her. “How many nights, Amanda?”
She met his glance but refused to answer. Arguing with Zach was not her favorite form of recreation.
He must have read the truth in her eyes. “Every night, Amanda? Are you in that office late enough every night to warrant a private taxi service?”
“I’m doing what I want to do.” That was true enough, but lately, she’d been exhausted.
“That’s some life you lead. When do you have fun? When do you have time to enjoy the fruits of your labor?”
The fun would come later, she thought, after she crashed through some glass ceilings. She knew what she wanted. Her goal had been clear since she was old enough to figure out what life was all about. Her path was clear, too. If she worked hard, she’d get everything she planned.
“Just let it go, Zach,” she said. “Look, we’re at my new place. Come on.”
“Just a minute.” Zach turned to the driver, passed him a bill and said, “We’ll be down in ten minutes. Get us to Newark in time for the flight to Rutland, Vermont and you’ll be having another Christmas. We’ll drive home from there.”
“Okay, pal. But ya’ only got the ten minutes or I’m goin’.”
“Step on it, Mandy. You heard the man.”
She opened the cab door, rushed ahead of Zach, said “hi” to the doorman, rang for the elevator, and got her mail. Ten minutes! No problem, she realized. Packing for two days didn’t take that long. She’d cram her overnight bag with a couple of sweaters, woolen slacks, lots of socks and a sweatsuit to sleep in.
But, damn! Her laptop was still in the office. They’d have to go back and get it.
She ushered Zach into her apartment and spared a moment to see his reaction to her chosen decor. White carpeting lay throughout the foyer and living room. A white leather couch with strategically placed throw pillows, a glass coffee table sporting a book of modern art, and a white lacquered entertainment center completed the furnishings. Tied-back floor length drapes framed a French door which opened to a terrace.
“It’s very, hmm... impressive, Amanda, professional looking. Very upscale.” The polite words were just what she expected and what she wanted to hear. The front of the suite was for entertaining—high style functional and very modern. An extension of her professional self. The bedroom and den were different, and for her eyes only. Her retreat. Not even for Zach to see.
“But I guess you miss all the snow at home,” he added with a smile, nodding to the white floors.
“Well, it’s not quite finished, yet. The decorator’s scouting out some accent pieces and wall hangings ...”
His face cleared. “Ah-h, the decorator...I was wondering where the family pictures were and the crocheted afghans that you always cuddled under...not decorator material, no doubt.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “Doesn’t matter. There’s fresh squeezed juice in the fridge, the kind you like. So help yourself while I pack my bag. I won’t take long.”
She crossed in front of him and headed down the hall, trying to remember where she stored her overnight bag. She closed the bedroom door softly behind her and walked to her closet. As she reached for the carryall, she intuitively glanced back toward the doorway. Zach stood on the threshold, quietly examining the contents of this room, so different from the rest of the apartment.
She had searched every antique shop in Manhattan to reproduce the warmth of the home she left in Vermont. Not that she ever wanted to go back, but rather to remember that time as a special page in the scrapbook of her life. She planned the bedroom as her personal space, a safe haven that no one in the city would ever see unless invited. So far, no one had. Until now.
She watched him visually absorb the cherry four poster rope bed covered by a wedding ring pattern quilt. The bed rested on a large pastel rag rug framed on three sides by the white painted wood floor. On the wall above the headboard hung pictures of the family—her mother and Ben, Molly, Zach, and herself—looking quite at home there. A crocheted blanket lay across the arm of her maple rocking chair, while a nineteenth century oak mirrored dresser, graced the far wall.
“Yes,” said Zach. “Much better.” His smile said it all and despite herself, she was warmed by his approval. For about thirty seconds. That’s when he took note of her packing efforts.
“Where are you going to put your boots?” he asked when he saw the small leather case she had chosen. “There’s a forty-inch base at Diamond Ridge. The roads have been plowed but snow’s everywhere. Where’s your ski jacket? Gloves? Hat? Sunglasses?” He walked to her closet, looked up, and yanked her large valise from the high shelf.
She should have known he’d try to take over. With supreme confidence, he ran Diamond Ridge Lodge and Ski Area with Ben. He was used to giving orders, but she wasn’t used to taking them. This was just the kind of male dominance she had guarded against since graduate school.
“I don’t need much for just a few days. And I have some stuff at the house.”
Her protest fell on deaf ears. Zach calmly began to empty all her drawers and fill her suitcase. “Don’t put a time limit on this visit. I haven’t gotten any answers yet, and I don’t know if the doctors have any either.” His voice trailed away on a whisper.
But then he turned to her suddenly, his voice now hard, his face stern. “Amanda, if you cause problems after we get home...if Lily thinks you resent coming home early, then you might as well not go. I’ll think of some story she’ll believe. So make up your mind. Will you come home willingly, or not come at all?” He paused and checked his watch. “The ball, counselor, is in your court. You have five seconds.”
The familiar sense of inadequacy swept through her. Her life in New York was safe, under control in a well-ordered universe. Her life in Vermont was fraught with emotions and turmoil, and she had never handled emotions well. She almost moaned aloud. Oh, God, she didn’t really want to go back.
But suddenly, Ben’s image flashed through her mind. Ben, the man who had sheltered her and nurtured her. At the ripe old age of fourteen, she had started to learn what a father’s love was really about. There could only be one answer.
“The taxi’s waiting, Zach. Let’s go. First to get my laptop and then to the airport.”
“Forget your office. Diamond Ridge has all the conveniences, including computers. You’ll use mine.”
Amanda collapsed into her seat on the plane, relieved but not amazed that they were on time for their flight. Surely the plane could not fly faster than their cab! Darting in and out of traffic, their eager driver got them to the airport with enough time to check her bag and get a seat assignment. She hoped the plane ride would be a lot smoother than the taxi ride had been.
She turned to make such a comment to Zach, but he had already closed his eyes and tipped his seat back. She started to do the same, then noticed the pallor under his heavy five o’clock shadow. For the first time since he appeared at the party, she took the opportunity to study him. His brow was furrowed even in repose, and his pale complexion emphasized the dark circles under his eyes. He shifted his position again and again, his legs restless, despite his obvious desire to nap. She began to appreciate the strain he’d been under.
He’d told her Ben hadn’t been feeling well for several days before the stroke. And obviously Zach had been going non-stop ever since. Why had he taken the time to fetch her? Zach hadn’t known about the promotion, but Zach knew her. Seemed he knew her well enough not to trust her.
She thought a moment and faced the truth. She might have put the trip off if Ben was doing okay. What with her promotion at work and her new responsibilities, she really might have postponed going home. Then again, if Ben had taken a turn for the worse, she would never have forgiven herself.
She sighed. Life offered hard choices sometimes. Her brain said one thing; her heart said another. And her actions reflected only her fears, fostered during her childhood.
She tried never to think about the old days—her father’s drunken rages, his constant belittling, her mother’s placating tones—or at least never to talk about them. Her mom never spoke about them either. It was the time before Ben and Zach and the Vermont mountains. Days that for Amanda stretched into fourteen years, half her current age. She was truly grateful that her little sister had never known that life.
Her hands hurt. Amanda looked down and saw her fingers tightly interlocked. The pressure she exerted had turned her knuckles white. One by one, she deliberately loosened the digits and stretched them out. Disappointed at how powerful her unwanted memories still were, she resolved once again to strive for total independence. She would not count on anyone—man or woman, father or mother or husband—for the quality or the happiness in her life. Her education and ambition would secure those for her.
With her philosophy reaffirmed, she settled back and allowed herself to doze.
“Wake up, Mandy. We’re getting ready to land.”
“Tighten your seatbelt.”
“Always wear it,” she mumbled, as she twisted to find a more comfortable position. Her head dropped until it rested on Zach’s shoulder, her arm curled on his chest. “Better,” she continued.
As though from a distance, she heard his soft deep chuckle blend with the changing vibrations of the plane as it started to descend. Then she felt a butterfly kiss on her brow.
“Come on, sweetheart. Time to get up.”
She opened her eyes slowly and saw a broad expanse of dark blue sweater. Zach’s sweater. She felt her cheeks burn as she sat upright in one swift motion. “I’m sorry. Why’d you let me sleep on you like that?”
His eyes twinkled. “You can sleep on me anytime, Amanda, if you continue to blush so adorably....”
“Adorably!” she interrupted. “Babies are adorable, Zachary. Lawyers are not.”
He laughed. “Whatever you say, Counselor. Look, we’re almost at the gate. Get ready to go. We’ve got sixty miles ahead of us to Diamond Ridge. It’ll be midnight before we get home.”
Amanda bit her lip. Home. Ben. What would await them there?
They retrieved her luggage and walked to the door of the small terminal. Snow fell gently outside. The airport lights illuminated a fresh accumulation on the few cars, the pavement, and on the mounds of old snow which had been plowed to the sides of the road. The familiarity of similar scenes telescoped in Amanda’s mind to her teenage years with Ben, Zach, and her mom. The second part of her childhood and it was good. But it was a different world than the one she had chosen to live in now.
“Maybe I should have worn my boots instead of packing them in the big valise.” Amanda looked in dismay at the high-heeled pumps she still wore.
Zach grunted. “Wait here. I’ll bring the pickup around.”
He walked swiftly into the cold night air before she could respond.
What happened to the fatigue that had worn him down earlier? Admiring his powers of recovery, Amanda stared at the tall, sure-footed figure as he disappeared into the night. A complex man whom she’d known for a long time. Tough but gentle, confident but caring...and with a body to entice the imagination. She let herself relax and instantly her imagination took over. Broad shoulders, flat stomach, and strong, well-defined hands tenderly caressing her cheek, her neck.... She shivered deep inside; her breath caught in her throat. Finally, finally, she remembered how to exhale.
She grabbed for control, for rationality. She was tired. Too much had happened that day, first at work, and then with Zach. He had dominated the last several hours. No wonder he dominated her thoughts. Just like he had when they were younger. Damn! She should have outgrown those fantasies.
“No big deal,” she muttered to herself as she forced her mind to leapfrog ahead to Diamond Ridge. The resort comprised a hotel, a base lodge, chalet, ski school, cottages and condos, lifts, day care, and ski patrol. The business catered to thousands of skiers during the season, and with Ben so ill, all the responsibilities would now be shouldered by Zach alone.
She knew what he faced. She knew the business well because she had worked it every day during her high school years. Ben had taught Lily and Amanda everything about it. Of course, the business had been much smaller then, with guest accommodations in the small hotel only.
Expansion started five years ago when Zach returned to Vermont from Chicago to work with his uncle. They expanded the ground floor and added a second floor to the hotel, more than doubling guest capacity. They’d also erected a dozen individual cottages at the base of the mountain. New trails were constructed to accommodate more guests. And the guests had come! City dwellers from New York, eager for a piece of country, came back year after year. Southern New Englanders from Massachusetts and Connecticut chose Diamond Ridge, as well.
There was a lot at stake, Amanda thought as she spotted Zach’s truck. A lot of money. She opened the door and stepped outside. The sharp, cold air stole her breath for a moment and she stood still.
“Wait there, Amanda,” called Zach as he slammed the door. “I’ll get you.”
She nodded, thinking it would be safer to hold onto his arm as she made her precarious journey over the snow-covered pavement. She smiled as he approached and extended her hand.
“Thanks, Zach. I’ll be fine...” Her words ended with a squeal as he scooped her into his arms and carried her to the truck. He opened the passenger door and lifted her onto the seat.
“There. All safe and sound. We sure can’t afford you to break your leg now.”
“Both of us could have fallen and broken all our legs,” she grumbled.
“Mandy, honey, you couldn’t be in a safer place. I would never drop you, no matter what.”
She glanced at him swiftly. His words might have been playful, but his tone of voice was deadly serious.
Zach walked to the driver’s side and got into the truck. Amanda looked straight ahead as he shifted gears. The miles passed and she relaxed again. No hidden meanings here. Zach had automatically reverted to his protective-big-brother role, that’s all. It made sense. Her unencumbered mind now drifted from Zach to the rest of the family.
“I wonder how Pops is doing,” she said. “And mom? Where’s Molly now?”
“When I left this morning, Uncle Ben was responsive but still in the intensive-care unit being monitored by every machine known to man. Lily slept at the hospital last night, and Molly stayed home with me. I sent her off to school this morning and arranged for Mrs. O’Keefe to be in the family quarters at three o’clock. Twelve-year-olds seem to need more supervision than little kids. Or maybe it’s just Molly.”
“Where’s Mom tonight?”
“Probably at the house. Waiting for her daughter. She’ll be very happy to see you.”
In the quiet of the car, in the quiet of a nocturnal snow on a beautiful alpine road, Stanhope Jones & MacGregor, and New York City seemed very far away, like a half-remembered dream. Ahead lay the mountain and Amanda’s other life. She felt the shift, felt it keenly, but for the moment, didn’t resent the change.
This visit would be just that—a visit, a short interlude from reality. Soon she’d be back in the city where she belonged. She’d focus on her goals, increase her net worth, and move ahead.
She would survive.