“Alex, so good to see you again.” Rory clasped his offered hand, sizing up his all-American, boy-next-door good looks. He’d improved with age, she had to admit. No wonder women swooned. “How good it is to see you again, though I’m sorry for the reason behind it.”
Clad in a dark grey suit, Alex firmly shook her hand and smiled. She made sure her grip was as assured as his was. She tolerated the way he assessed her and lifted her chin a notch. “Rory, I can’t tell you how happy I am that you’ll be working on this article. I have to apologize for not recognizing your name at first. I still think of you as a Haverly.” His eyes held hers as their extended handshake ended.
The little mouse he remembered was nowhere to be seen. Eyes once hidden behind red oversized frames were wide and blue. One barely noticed the simple wire frames she wore now. Her plain, dark brown hair, once pulled into a perpetual ponytail, was now in an elegant French twist. He noticed the red highlights that added depth and shine, and he wondered what it looked like unbound. The cut of her jacket hinted at just how full her breasts were and how small her waist was.
“Well, Rory, have a seat,” he smiled and led her by the elbow to the leather sofa in a corner of his immense office. Inhaling her perfume, a hint of musk under jasmine, he was reminded of Julie. “Can I offer you a drink?”
She sat as directed, resisting the urge to cross her arms to defend herself against his stare. “Oh, thank you, but no.” Her voice was deliberately soft. Alex likes women who are ladies, she’d read in one of Julie’s letters last night. He believes that we really are the gentler sex. He thinks that we’re so delicate and tender. Ha.
Growing up, Alex had always scoffed at her tomboy antics; so today she made an extra effort to make him forget her youthful offenses. She’d worn the perfume on purpose, intent on rekindling his memory of Julie to the fullest extent.
“Not even some water? I imagine that all of the talking we’ll be doing will dry you right up,” he held up a bottle of designer spring water and, grinning, wagged it back and forth. “It’s straight from Switzerland; imported just for me.”
“I guess,” she gave in with a smile, swallowing an abrupt giggle at the impolite, irrational, image of smacking him over the head with it.
He set two bottles and two ice-filled crystal tumblers on a silver tray on the mahogany coffee table and settled comfortably beside her. Close enough for her to smell his aftershave. “So, where shall we begin, Rory?” Alex slung his arm over the back of the sofa, better positioning himself to face her. His fingertips just brushed her shoulder. She crossed her legs toward him as she spoke. He could play his games. She would play hers.
“I made copies of everything I have from her,” she lied, pulling a yellow envelope out of her briefcase and handing it to him. “We didn’t write much, I admit. Especially after I got a phone in my dorm room junior year. There’s about twenty letters, all told.” She didn’t mention the dozen that she kept behind, the ones where Julie talked about wanting to live her own life before marrying anyone.
Rory watched as his face lost its harshness while he opened the packet and began reading. His fingers traced the words with almost disturbing reverence. To mask her growing discomfort, she leaned forward and poured some of the water into her waiting glass. The movement disrupted his concentration; his head jerked up.
Before he could snap at her, he saw her suit’s neckline shift just enough to allow him a clear view of a very obviously red and very obviously lacy brassiere – very much at odds with her professional façade. Rattled, Alex forced himself to continue reading. He was amazed at how little the letters told him. They were superficial missives, talking about school and friends, saying little about him.
“Are you still in touch with her family?”
After twenty minutes of complete silence, the sudden question made Rory jump. She smiled, mildly embarrassed for failing to pay attention, and he repeated the question. After a moment’s thought, unaware of how much Alex already knew from Richard, she shook her head. “I’ve kept up with Richard’s career by default,” she admitted. “The magazine likes to feature local artists. But I lost touch with the family. I didn’t even go to Mrs. Sarazen’s funeral last year. Though I’m meeting with Natalie, and then Charles, this afternoon.”
Keeping the letters on his lap, Alex leaned back, his eyes once again taking her in. Rory looked right back, studying him just as openly. Things weren’t going quite as he expected. The blue-eyed contradiction before him was fascinating, however. A professional business suit and a professional’s lingerie. Soft-spoken and blushing, but bold enough to call his private line. He decided that he would let her direct this interview after all.
“If you’re ready, we can get started,” she said. “I don’t want to hold you back.”
“You’re very thoughtful, Rory. Ask away. I’ll tell you what I can.”
Her questions exhausted, Alex asked one question of his own. “Are you planning to see Richard over this?”
“He didn’t want to talk to me about Julie,” she admitted.
“So you spoke with him.”
“Yes. Just briefly on the phone.” Assuming that their exchange counted as talking.
“Are you going to meet with him?”
“I don’t believe so.”
“I know you two once dated, Rory, and I don’t really know what he was like then, but he’s become rather unpredictable. Temperamental, if you know what I mean. He never liked the idea of Julia’s attention being taken away from him. He liked her all to himself. I can’t say I’m sorry you won’t be seeing him. If you do, though, let me know. I’d be happy to offer my escort.”
There was nothing to say to that since she wasn’t going to see him, so she simply nodded and closed her notebook. She didn’t feel the need to share last night’s phone call. “Thank you again, Alex, for your time. I do believe that I have more than enough to get started.”
In an instant he was standing, looking down on her with his hand out to help her stand. “Forgive me for presuming,” he said as she took his hand and stood. “But, Rory, I’d like to invite you to dinner tomorrow evening. I had a business associate cancel at the last minute, and as a result have a table at The Lyon’s Head that will go empty otherwise.”
Her hand still in his, she hesitated, offended, wanting to pull her hand free and leave. She wanted to ask him if he had any idea how crass such a suggestion was given the situation. “I’m afraid I can’t. It’s against company policy. I wouldn’t want people believing that you influenced my writing in some way,” she disentangled her hand, then took a few steps back, not wanting him to touch her again.
“I can honestly tell you that this has everything to do with a guaranteed reservation and nothing to do with your article,” he argued, smiling in a self-deprecating way. “I’ll be charged for the table regardless. I don’t know what else you may have unearthed about me, but I’m sure you heard somewhere that I’m quite the miser. I hate to see a penny wasted. I’d rather enjoy the company of an old friend than sit home alone and avoid news reports on her murder.”
An old friend? Their shared youth was spent being pushed into each other’s company and finding every excuse to escape. She hadn’t seen him since he went away to Stanford when she was thirteen. There wasn’t a friendship to speak of, though perhaps he’d actually learned how to laugh at himself a bit.
“Your husband won’t object, will he?”
“Paul? No. He’s an accountant, and it’s tax season. He won’t be around. Besides, it wouldn’t be a date.”
“True enough. It’s a meeting between two people who knew Julie. Nothing more.”
She nodded, unable to disagree on that point.
“So tomorrow night? I’ll meet you there at six,” he took a step forward.
“Let me get back to you, Alex,” she said, backing up once more.
“Fair enough. You have my number, obviously.” Taking another step, he took her hand in his, bowed gallantly, and kissed it. “I will wait to hear from you.”
Rory smiled graciously and again refrained from yanking her hand away.
He watched her leave, staring until she was out of sight. No wonder Richard can’t forget her. Little Rory grew up.