Family Merger (Chapter Nine)

"It was a brilliant idea to invite Mr. Egan to be part of this weekend," Mrs. O'Grady said to Kathryn as they got ready to leave. "I don't think anyone else could have made Shamus admit he'd made a mistake."

"I can't take credit for this weekend," Kathryn said for what had to be the twentieth time. "It was Mr. Egan's idea. He made all the arrangements."

"Then it was brilliant of you to talk him into coming up with the idea," Mrs. O'Grady said, apparently determined a man couldn't be responsible for the success of the weekend. "I wouldn't have thought such a famous man would have taken the time for people like us. Shamus says he has a really important meeting going on in Geneva right now."

Ron had been on the phone several times over the weekend. He hadn't said anything to Kathryn, but she could tell from his expression things weren't going well. She'd half expected him to leave for Geneva at any moment, but he had held to his commitment to remain for the entire weekend.

"All I know is his firm has been handling negotiations for a merger."

"He must love his daughter very much to stay with her instead of getting back to Geneva. Shamus says it looks like things are falling apart."

"I wouldn't know anything about that. I've got all I can do to keep track of these girls," she added, hoping she didn't sound rude. It had been made very clear during the weekend that everyone thought there was something going on between her and Ron. She had realized too late it had been a mistake to share the same suite with Ron and his daughter, even though she'd made it abundantly clear from the beginning she was acting as a chaperon for Leigh. It didn't do any good to say they'd met because of his daughter. The other fathers weren't single. Too, none of them were as handsome, as rich or as famous as Ron. That made him an even more interesting subject of gossip.

"I think he's interested in you," Mrs. O'Grady said.

"He's a very busy man who travels all over the world. I don't think he'd be interested in a woman who's basically a homebody."

"Who's saddled herself with a bunch of runaway unwed mothers."

"That, too. His daughter is the only reason we know each other."

"That might have been true at first," Mrs. O'Grady said with a conspiratorial wink, "but he's very well aware of you now. He's a nice man. I wouldn't turn my back on him if I were you."

Shamus and Kerry came out of the bungalow carrying the last of the luggage. Ron had managed to negotiate a shaky peace between father and son. As far as Kathryn knew, they hadn't come to any decisions, but they were talking. That was progress.

"I wish Mr. Egan was riding back with us," Mrs. O'Grady said. "He's the only person who can keep Shamus and Kerry from shouting at each other. Maybe I could ride with you and he could take my place."

"You can ask him if you like, but it's time your husband and son learned to talk to each other without a peacemaker. If they're more interested in fighting than in making decision that will affect the rest of their lives, we might as well learn that now and save everybody a lot of time and effort."

Kathryn wouldn't have done anything to dissuade Ron from exchanging places with Mrs. O'Grady, but she had been looking forward to riding back with Ron. She'd hardly had a chance to talk to him all weekend. When he wasn't closeted with Cynthia, he was talking to one of the families, mediating arguments, calming troubled waters, and coming up with alternative solutions to their problems.

"They're the two most important people in my life," Mrs. O'Grady said. "I couldn't live without either one of them."

"Tell them," Kathryn said. "Lay down the law. Tell them you won't put up with this nonsense any longer. If they can't start to act like sensible adults, you'll leave."

"I couldn't do that!"

"Sure you can. Go visit your sister. Your mother. Or treat yourself to a nice vacation at a really expensive spa. You'll feel much better afterward."

"But what would they do without me?"

"Let them find out. It might make a difference."

Mrs. O'Grady promised to give the idea some thought.

"Is this everything?" Shamus asked Kerry as he struggled to arrange the luggage in the trunk of his Mercedes.

"Everything except Mom's overnight bag. She wants that up front with her."

"You ready to go?" Shamus asked his wife.

"I was just thanking Miss Roper for the lovely weekend," she said to her husband.

"I hope we'll see you again soon," Kathryn said.

"You will," Mrs. O'Grady and Kerry replied in unison.

Shamus looked disgruntled. "There's a lot more to talk about," he said.

"That's true for everyone," Kathryn said.

"I'm surprised Egan stayed," Shamus said. "It's going to cost him the merger."

"He hasn't said anything to me about that."

"He wouldn't, not with you hating men in business."

"I don't hate men in business," Kathryn said, shocked anyone would make such an accusation.

"Seems pretty widely accepted," Shamus said.

"Don't listen to him," Mrs. O'Grady said. "He doesn't understand why a woman would ever want to question a man." She winked. "I've been a right trial to him over the years."

Kathryn waved goodbye to the O'Gradys then saw off the other families. Betsy and Julia seemed more unhappy than when they arrived. Their parents were willing to talk, but she didn't think they understood Julia and Betsy any better than when they arrived.

She waited while Ron said goodbye to Cynthia. She'd offered to ride with Leigh so Cynthia could be with her father, but both wanted to stick to the original arrangement. Kathryn suspected Cynthia wanted to go over everything in detail with her friend.

Ron and Cynthia were the success of the weekend. They had a lot to work out before they could rebuild their trust, but they were talking.

"Where's your luggage?" Ron asked as he walked toward his car, waving to his daughter as Leigh's car disappeared around the curve of the stone wall.

"In the car. I'm packed and ready to go."

"I should have helped you with the luggage and seen everybody off."

"It was more important that you spend the time with Cynthia. You've already given a lot of time to the other families."

They got in the car and Ron started the ignition and backed out of the parking place. "I don't know how much good I did. I was hoping for more."

"If you hadn't done anything except jump-start your relationship with Cynthia, this would have been a successful weekend."

Ron smiled. "We're not there yet, but the roughest part is over."

They were silent as they drove through the woods to the road down the mountain. The weekend had been tiring and strenuous, but Kathryn had enjoyed it. She felt invigorated. Maybe it was the fact she and girls had gotten out of their routine. Whatever it was, she wouldn't have minded doing it all over again.

"I had hoped bringing everybody together would show them what they were missing," Ron said.

"I think it worked for Kerry and Lisette, but I'm not so sure about Betsy and Julia."

"I'll have to think of something else."

"You don't have to do this. Your only responsibility is your daughter."

"You got me interested," Ron said. "I figured if you thought it was important enough to devote your life to, I could give it a weekend now and then. Maybe even more somewhere down the road."

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing yet. Just that I never thought about boys and girls in situations like this. Their families, either. I don't imagine there's a lot being done to help them. This weekend's started me thinking about it."

"I don't know how you had time with all that was going on here and in Geneva."

She wasn't sure she should have mentioned Geneva. She thought Ron ought not put his business before his family. She thought that healing his relationship with Cynthia was unquestionably more important than any business meeting. But she couldn't help wondering if her telling him he ought to stay with Cynthia until everything was worked out could be partially responsible for his merger going bad.

"I'm used to working on more than one thing at a time," he said. "Business deals never come one at a time. It's usually feast or famine."

"If this was a feast, you don't appear to have been enjoying it."

Ron gave her a quick glance before turning his gaze back to the road. "Shamus has been talking, hasn't he?"

"When he was leaving, he said the merger was in trouble."

They had reached the end of the private drive through the woods. Ron waited until he'd pulled out on the twisting mountain road before he replied.

"There's a tricky political situation involved. The politicians are afraid to move until they know how things are going to settle out."

"Would things have gone better if you'd been able to stay in Geneva?"

He sent her a sharp look. "Do you want the truth?"

"Why wouldn't I?"

"Some people don't want to hear answers that don't fit their notions of how things ought to be."

"Do you think I'm like that?"

"I don't know. You seem so set against nearly everything I do."

"Then I've given you the wrong impression. I'm not against business. I realize men must have careers if they're to support their families. What I am against is men ignoring their family responsibilities for their careers."

"And you think I've done that."

"You know I do, but that's not what I asked."

"I have a reputation for handling negotiations personally. The political situation is the real stumbling block, but I may lose the whole deal because I'm not there to keep the people coming back to the table until that's resolved. Is that what you wanted to know?"

"Yes."

"Then you should also know I don't regret my decision. My career will always be important to me, but my daughter is more important. I hadn't realized how close I was to losing her. I'm going to work very hard to make sure we grow close again. I'm also going to try to be a damned good grandfather, but I'm not going to give up my work. It's not just a way to make money. It's not just a barometer of my success or social acceptance. It's my work, my career, something I do better than almost anyone else. I can't give it up any more than you can give up your shelter. It's part of who I am."

Kathryn hadn't realized she'd grown so tense. She'd certainly gotten more than she'd asked for.

"Will you have dinner with me when we get back to town?" Ron asked. "I've got a few hours before my flight leaves."

His request was unexpected, but not nearly so unexpected as her reaction to it was unwelcome. Her pulse started beating almost as rapidly as it had when she was a young girl acting silly over a handsome boy who'd paid attention to her.

"Why would you want me to have dinner with you?" she asked. "You just said you had no intention of giving up your career."

"What has that got to do with dinner? We both have to eat."

Now he was being a humanitarian. Somehow that didn't appeal to her.

"You know I like being with you," he said. "I tried all weekend to find some time for us to sneak away and misbehave in the moonlight, but either you had gone to bed or I got nabbed by somebody wanting to talk my ear off without listening to a word I had to say."

Kathryn couldn't keep up. Surely there was something she was missing. "But we don't agree on anything."

"Of course, we do. We agree that family's important, that I have to get things straight with Cynthia. We also agree we like other, that we find each other attractive."

She hadn't been willing to state that out loud. It was even more uncomfortable to have Ron do it.

"Besides, I've been thinking about kissing you for three days. I can't very well do it while I'm unloading suitcases and the girls are watching. It wouldn't be the least bit romantic."

"I wouldn't have thought you were the romantic type."

"Dreamers are always romantic, and I've been a dreamer since I was ten."

"I thought you were a schemer."

"How do you think I managed to make my dreams come true?"

"I need to talk to the girls, see how they feel about what happened over the weekend."

"The girls are spending the night with their families. Cynthia is staying over with Leigh. You have nothing to do all evening but have dinner with me and see me off at the airport."

"I didn't know I was seeing you off at the airport."

"That'll give us plenty of time to kiss in the limousine."

He had to be teasing her. "This may be your idea of a joke, but – "

"What do you mean?"

"This abrupt change, talking about kissing me."

"No man in his right mind jokes about kissing a beautiful woman. Either he means what he says, or he's a fool. I happen to find you extremely attractive. It's been damned hard to keep my hands off you all weekend. Hell, I would give my right arm to crawl into bed with you right now, and I haven't said that to any woman since Erin died."

Kathryn was in a state of shock. She knew Ron liked her. She liked him, but she hadn't taken her feelings seriously because she knew the barriers between them were too high, too strong.

At least that's what she'd thought until now. She couldn't believe she was reacting like this, but she couldn't deny it any more than she could stop it. She was excited about kissing Ron Egan – his remark about misbehaving in the moonlight made that particularly easy to visualize – but it was his comment about getting into bed with her that had caused her limbs to tremble.

Or should she say shake with desire.

Surely this couldn't be happening to her. She wasn't a girl anymore. She wasn't so inexperienced with men that the mere thought of physical intimacy caused her to become a quivering mass of nerves. Yet that's exactly how she was feeling. And why should Ron be the one man to cause her to feel this kind of excitement? She had been prepared to dislike him from the moment she saw him. She had disliked him when he forced his way into her house. What had happened to cause her feelings to change so dramatically?

"I didn't mean to offend you," Ron said.

"Why did you think you had?"

"Your silence. That's a weapon a lot of women use when a man has done something wrong."

"I'm not silent because I'm offended. I'm silent because I wasn't prepared for what you said. I had no idea your feelings were so strong."

"You're probably upset because I was so blunt."

"No. I – "

"I know I'm too direct. I never learned how to say things to please a woman. I've spent most of my life studying men – business men – trying to take their minds apart, to know exactly how they think and why. I never did that with women. Erin and I understood each other from the start. After she died, I forgot what little I knew. Since then I haven't been interested enough in any woman to learn how to please her. At least not the way I'm interested in pleasing you."

It was on the tip of her tongue to ask what way was that. Fortunately, Ron continued.

"I never can think of romantic things to say. I just come right out and say what I want. And I want you."

She didn't think anything he could have said, no matter how romantically phrased, could have affected her any more strongly than that bald statement. There was no pretense, no attempt to disguise or blunt the power of his words. He had laid it right out there without any hesitation, without any equivocation.

"Have I frightened you?"

"No, but you have surprised me."

"Why? I haven't attempted to hide that I'm strongly attracted to you. I was that first night."

"I haven't been thinking about you like that."

"Why not? Don't you find me attractive?"

"You know I do. I'm sure every woman you've ever met has felt the same way."

"I'm not interested in every woman. I'm interested in you." He turned toward her for so long she had to stop herself from telling him to watch the road.

"I like you and find you attractive, but the purpose of our relationship is to find a way to bring you and your daughter back together."

"That may have been true for two or three minutes. Probably not even that long."

"Do you always make up your mind that quickly?"

"No. I'm usually extremely deliberate. I think through the situation from every possible angle, weigh all outcomes very carefully, then step back and start the process all over again."

"What made it so different with me?"

He grinned, something he did too often for her comfort.

"There was nothing to weigh. You were the enemy. You disapproved of everything about me. So it was safe to be attracted to you."

"Did anybody ever tell you that you're a strange man? What man in his right mind would think like that?"

"It depends on what you consider a right mind. A pragmatist would say I was a fool and needed mental help."

"So would I."

"But a romantic – and remember all dreamers are romantics at heart – would feel Fate had intervened and shown him the one woman in the world who was destined to make him supremely happy."

"Not even a romantic could be that harebrained. Besides, you're not looking for some woman to make you supremely happy, at least not beyond a night or a weekend. You're married to your work. You're having trouble making room in your life for your daughter."

"If I take a leave of absence from my career – your advice by the way – I'll have all kinds of room."

"You just said you wouldn't give up your work."

"I said I couldn't give up my career. I said nothing about my work."

"I don't see the difference."

"Have dinner with me and I'll explain."

Kathryn could give herself all the advice and warnings she wanted, but she knew she was going to have dinner with Ron. She knew she was going to see him off at the airport. And she knew she was going to lie awake half the night thinking about him. He'd already invaded her dreams, but his saying he wanted her had raised the stakes to a new level.

She wanted him.

She could hardly believe it. She couldn't understand it. She could barely muster the will to admit it, but there was no question in her mind. She wanted Ron, too.

She had dated several attractive and eligible men over the last twelve years. She'd even developed a relationship with two of them, but no one had ever had such a powerful effect on her. And for the life of her she couldn't understand why. Ron was attractive, but he wasn't stunning. He was manly and aggressive, but she wasn't fond of aggressive males. He was rich and successful. That was practically a strike against him. He had screwed up his personal life in pursuit of success and recognition. In the past that would have removed him from consideration before he'd had a chance to ask her for a date.

So what was it about this man that had enabled him to leap all the barriers, avoid consequences of his actions, and render all handicaps ineffectual?

"You're taking a long time to make up your mind."

"I'm trying to decide where all this is going."

"Where do you want it to go?"

"Nowhere. That's why I don't understand why I'm even considering having dinner with you."

"And seeing me off at the airport."

"Especially that. That's what a wife does. Or a steady girlfriend. Or maybe even a mistress."

"And you don't want to be any one of those?"

"I didn't know you were looking for one."

"I wasn't."

"But you are now?"

"I don't know. I just know I'm interested in looking."

"I have no intention of being any man's mistress. You'd better look somewhere else."

"I like where I am."

"Why?"

"That's what I want to find out."

"You can't expect to find out over dinner."

"It's a beginning."

"Dinner's where you find out if you can stand to be around each other for four or five hours straight. We've already spent a weekend together."

"We were only in the same place. We hardly saw each other."

"Having dinner will add up to even fewer hours."

"You're right. We need a lot more time together. Why don't you come to Geneva with me?"