Excerpts: "The Twain Shall Meet"
Read special holiday excerpts from The Twain Shall Meet.
Shannon Larkin loves the holidays. Recall the rocky beginnings of her romance with Scott Page during Thanksgiving at the family mansion . . . Experience their first kiss under the mistletoe at Christmas . . . And hear Scott's declarations of love on New Year's Eve . . .
Thanksgiving (Chapters 8 & 9)
THANKSGIVING WAS A BIG family affair at the mansion. Two turkeys roasted in the ovens and eleven pumpkin pies were baked, plus there were salads, rolls, jellies, vegetables, cheeses and liqueurs. There was to be nine people at the dinner table this year, including Brian's crew chief, Scott Page, who was scheduled to fly into Larkin City that afternoon.
Shannon loved the smell of food in the house. Fires were lit in all the downstairs hearths, giving the normally gloomy interior a rosy glow. The dining table was set out by Shannon, each place done with the etiquette Phoebe demanded.
"I'll have to exercise for ten hours straight to make up for tonight," Shannon declared as she finished a cup of coffee with her mother in the kitchen that morning. "I must be in shape to catch the eye of some good looking Irishman in January."
Mary smiled at her daughter. "Now you sound like the old Shan. You're too skinny now. Do me a favor - have a lot of mashed potatoes."
"My favorite," Shannon sighed.
Mary spooned sugar into her steaming cup of coffee. "Plus pumpkin pie, don't forget that."
Shannon toyed with the rim of her coffee cup. Taking a sip, she mused: "I still can't sleep at night sometimes. It's better than it was, though." She took another quick sip of her coffee. "Linda Sullivan wrote me the other day."
"Oh?" Mary raised her eyebrows. "What did she have to say?"
"She found an apartment in Bangor, but she's still looking for a teaching job. She wrote that Mike hasn't changed. He still doesn't say much, he just stares at the walls. His doctor has gotten nowhere with him."
Mary shook her head in wonder. "Whatever snapped in that boy ruined him for life."
"That's what bothers me. What snapped him? Was it me? What did I do to snap him?"
"You didn't snap him," Mary insisted. "He was obviously unstable to begin with."
Shannon looked depressed. "I wish I’d noticed earlier, although I don't think it would have turned out any differently."
Mary rose from the kitchen table. "Can you pick up Scott Page from the airport this afternoon? No one else has free time to go and get him. I'd hate to see him call a cab."
"Doesn't he have his own family?"
Mary shrugged. "Both of his parents are dead. His only living relative is an aunt who lives in a rest home in Vermont."
"He must be an awfully lonely person," Shannon said with genuine sympathy. "Isn't he married?"
"I'll fetch him," Shannon agreed.
"Thank you, Shan. He's coming in at four-thirty. Flight 368."
"Okay. I'll be there to get him."
SCOTT PAGE WAS NOT normally an impatient man, but today he was exhausted and irritable. After spending a couple of days in New York City with a rather wild friend, he finally boarded his scheduled flight to Larkin City, Maine. The long hours of work, flying and partying were finally catching up to him. After spending several months in Ireland, working seven days a week, he was looking forward to a slower pace.
Stretching his long legs in front of him, Scott relaxed in a rear seat of the twin-engine airplane headed for Larkin City. Closing his eyes, he leaned back against the head rest. The flight to Larkin City only took an hour, so he had time for a catnap.
Scott was in his early thirties, a considerably handsome man in dark fashion. At times, he had the impression people found him threatening. He assumed it was because he did wear a scowl most of the time, which was just his nature. His finely chiseled features were heightened by olive-tinted skin and high cheekbones. His smile was devastatingly brilliant when he chose to shine it on someone, which was rare.
He possessed a master's degree in geophysics from Bangor University. For several years he worked for a mining company in New York, where he met Brian Larkin in 1969. Brian offered Scott a job the following year in May, with a healthy salary and benefits. Scott accepted the job, and was on his way to Ireland a month later to supervise the Larkin Mines survey near Dublin. Scott enjoyed the work in Ireland immensely, keeping in constant contact with Brian by telephone. After a short period, Scott came to genuinely like and respect his employer. Although rather aloof, Brian was a fair and honest man in any situation and did not play favorites.
Scott fastened his seatbelt as the airplane took off. He was looking forward to spending the next few weeks in Larkin City. Brian told Scott he could stay at the family estate until he returned to Ireland in January. The thought warmed Scott. Having no family of his own to speak of, he had almost forgotten what it was like to celebrate momentous occasions with loved ones.
Raised an only child in Bangor, Scott had enjoyed singular attention from his parents for most of his young life. His father, James Page, had been an English professor at Bangor University. His mother, Italian-born Maria Theresa, was a music teacher. The Page family had lived in a modest suburban area of Bangor, where Scott remembered his childhood as being settled and happy.
Shortly after his sixteenth birthday, Scott's parents were tragically killed in an auto accident. They had been driving home after having dinner at a nearby restaurant when they collided with a transport truck. Scott was left shattered and alone. His only living relative, his father's spinster sister Elaine, took him in following the accident, after which Scott began taking odd jobs to save money for college. Once he arrived at Bangor University as a student, he worked nights at a gas station to continue supporting himself. The feeling of making a life for himself instilled a great deal of confidence in Scott.
In his own way, he was outspoken and blunt. It often earned him the reputation of being rough and unapproachable. In reality, he was a sensitive man who hid his feelings well. He enjoyed the bachelor life, but often felt empty inside. He could not fathom the reason why. It was as if he was searching for something - or someone - but he did not know what or who yet.
Scott frowned as the airplane began its descent into Larkin City. The flight was twenty minutes early. He wondered idly who would meet him at the airport. Brian, he hoped. Suddenly, Scott's frown deepened. Brian informed him that his daughter, Shannon, would also be going to Ireland in January, supposedly to run the computer for data interpretation. Scott had seen a photograph of the girl when Brian came to Ireland earlier that month, where he placed a picture of Shannon on his desk in the office in Dublin. She was very young, and probably a spoiled little brat who had no idea what she was doing. The idea of working with Brian’s daughter displeased Scott. He felt it would be awkward at best, knowing he would have to tolerate the glaring nepotism in order to keep the peace. Although he hadn’t met Shannon, he assumed the girl was more than likely immature and inexperienced in the mining business.
Scott sighed as the airplane landed. He would make the best of it, he supposed. What else could he do? He would accept the situation and work hard as he had always done.
* * *
SHANNON WAS DISTRACTED AS she drove to Larkin City Airport that afternoon. Her thoughts were revolving around her upcoming trip to Ireland. Her excitement was boundless, as usual, but her emotions were always held in check when, all of a sudden, she would think of Mike Sullivan or David Bonham. Would it never stop, she wondered? It seemed she could go through the motions of daily life for only a few hours before the horror came back to her again. Yet she knew it was getting better. Two weeks ago she thought of nothing else.
Shannon slowed her Gran Torino as she approached the airport. The majority of flights coming in were usually charter planes, or twin-engines from Bangor or New York City. The airport building was painted a powder blue, surrounded by neatly-clipped foliage. As Shannon pulled into a parking stall, she glanced at her wristwatch.
It was four-thirty on the button. She hurried toward the terminal, making a striking picture despite her simple clothes. She wore white slacks and a cream-colored blouse, her long hair shiny and loose. She tried to recall the description her father gave her for Scott Page. She was supposed to look for someone who was tall and slender, with black hair that was rather longish. Brian laughingly told Shannon that Page usually wore a scowl on his face. "He's not a grouch or anything, the scowl is just his way. He can be a bit rough at times, but once you get to know him you’ll realize he’s a good man."
Shannon smiled as she remembered her father's description. He was trying to create a favorable impression without outright lying, anxious she start out on the right foot with Page since they would be working together in Ireland. For the first time, Shannon wondered what Page was really like. She hoped they were compatible. It would be awkward if they were not.
Flight 368 had arrived at Gate 4 early, Shannon learned from the information desk, twenty minutes ago. She hurried along the polished floor of the terminal, down a short hallway, turning a corner that brought her to the right side of Gate 4.
Looking around anxiously, she noticed almost everyone was gone. An older woman was seated in the waiting area, reading a newspaper. Glancing to the other side of the room, Shannon frowned as she saw it was empty. Sighing, she walked up to the check-in desk.
"Excuse me," she asked the bespectacled middle-aged man behind the desk. "I understand Flight 368 from New York City arrived early. I was supposed to meet a man named Scott Page. Do you know if he arrived with the flight?"
The man smiled. "Let me check, miss," he said politely. He picked up a clipboard and glanced at it quickly. He looked back at her. "According to my schedule, he arrived with the flight. He should be in the terminal somewhere. Would you like me to page him?"
Shannon shook her head. "No. I'll go the luggage area. Maybe he went there." Smiling, she said to the man: "Thank you for your help."
She turned toward the hallway again. Suddenly she stopped short, spying a man across the hallway with several suitcases at his feet. He was leaning against one of the pay phones. She glanced at his face. He was staring at her, expressionless. She noticed his hair was as black as her own, falling to his collar. Short, black sideburns went down the forefront of his ears. His eyes were wide-set and sleepy-looking. His nose was slim, slightly flaring at the nostrils, and his mouth was formed in a frown, the full lower lip and thinner upper lip curled unhappily. He looked as if he needed a shave. He wore a light blue jacket that was zipped up part way, the collar flipped up, touching the base of his jaw. He also had on faded blue jeans and white sneakers. Shannon found herself admiring his unusual good looks, even though his scowl was rather intimidating.
She took a step toward him, and then hesitated. He was still staring at her, neither hostile nor friendly. Chiding herself, she walked over to him.
"Are you Scott Page, by any chance?" Shannon asked hopefully, while she cursed herself silently, recognizing the slight tremor in her voice.
He straightened himself up, stepping away from the payphone, his eyes still on her. When his voice came, she was surprised to hear a strongly firm and deep quality she had not expected. She assumed he would growl at her by the look on his face.
"I’m Scott Page," he answered her. "And you must be Shannon Larkin."
At her startled look, he was quick to explain. "Your father had a picture of you in Ireland. He kept it on his desk, along with one of your brother. I recognized you from that."
"Oh," she laughed nervously. "Well, yes, I’m Shannon. I'm sorry I've kept you waiting. I didn't realize the flight was early."
"That's okay," he said easily, reaching down to pick up his luggage. "I went ahead and retrieved my bags."
"Can I help with your suitcases?" she asked as they started walking down the hallway.
"I can manage, thanks."
She glanced sideways at him. He had to be at least six foot three inches in height. Compared to her small height of five foot three, he seemed to tower above her. He walked easily with the bags, appearing to be in good physical condition. He was a little on the thin side, but well proportioned otherwise. He looked straight ahead, not saying anything unless she spoke first.
After he deposited his luggage in the trunk of Shannon's car, she slipped behind the wheel of the vehicle. Scott got into the passenger side, still silent. As she pulled out of the airport parking lot, she asked him: "Do you mind if I smoke?"
"Go ahead. I was about to ask you the same thing."
As she drove, Shannon attempted to start a conversation with Scott.
"Do you plan to stay with us until we go to Ireland in January?"
"Probably," he answered casually. "But I might spend Christmas with some friends in New York City."
"So you’ll be working at my father's office in Larkin City until then?"
He nodded. "Yes. I have a lot of data to go over with Brian."
Shannon turned into the one-mile drive that led to the mansion. "I think you'll like it here," she said, trying to sound cheerful. "You'll have plenty of privacy at the house. My mother fixed up a room for you on the fourth floor. Breakfast is from seven to nine o'clock. To save on time and dishes, a buffet is set up in the dining room and kept warm." She paused. "Am I boring you?"
He smiled slightly. "No. Please continue."
"If you’re at the mansion during lunchtime, our cook Mae serves a meal at one o'clock. At four-thirty in the afternoon my great-aunt and my mother have tea in the drawing room, and you're welcome to join them if you're around. At six-thirty we gather again in the drawing room, this time for drinks, and we eat dinner at seven-thirty in the dining room."
Scott stubbed his cigarette in the ashtray. "Are there any clubs or bars in Larkin City?"
"There are two," she answered. "One is called the Coven Lounge, which is owned by the family. My cousin Kevin runs the place on weekends. There is also a bar at the other end of town. It's just a beer hall and kind of shabby, but it can be great fun, too."
He glanced at her. "Aren't you too young to go into those places?"
She blushed. "I'm only nineteen, but Kevin lets me into the Coven once in awhile." She looked back at him. "How old are you?"
"Thirty three," he replied.
Her eyes widened. "You don't look thirty three. I took you for twenty five at the most."
Scott said nothing, so she continued to drive in silence. Presently, she pulled in front of the mansion. He emerged from the car immediately and retrieved his luggage. Puzzled by his sudden abrupt manner, Shannon said to him: "Go ahead inside. I have to park the car."
He nodded, not looking at her. "Thanks," he said, and started walking toward the front doors of the mansion.
After Shannon parked her car in the garage, she entered the house through the kitchen. Her mother and Aunt Denise were sitting at the table, playing a card game. Mae Jensen stood by the stove, dropping yams into a pot full of boiling water.
Mary glanced up as Shannon shut the door behind her. "Did you find Scott Page?" she asked.
Shannon rolled her eyes. "Oh, yes indeed. I let him off at the front. What a strange man he is."
"What do you mean?"
"He hardly says a word unless you talk to him first," Shannon replied as she poured herself a cup of coffee. "It was almost as if he couldn't wait to get away from me."
"Maybe he is shy around new people," Mary suggested.
"Huh," Shannon snorted, leaning against the counter in front of the sink. "He's thirty-three years old. I thought people got over shyness at that age."
Denise threw back her head and laughed. "What would you know about shyness coming from this family?"
"I'm shy in my own way," Shannon defended herself. "But as I get older, I become less shy." She shrugged. "Oh, well. It's no big deal, I guess." She set her coffee cup on the counter. "I'll go and see if he made it inside okay. Then I'm going to change for dinner."
When Shannon reached the foyer of the house, she noticed Scott's luggage by the front doors. Hearing voices in the drawing room, she walked toward the door and peered inside.
Brian and Scott were sitting on the couch facing the fireplace, each with a drink in their hand. They were laughing and talking together with familiar ease. Shannon frowned. How quickly Scott changed in demeanor. Sullen and stiff in her presence, now he seemed relaxed and jovial. Maybe her mother was right. He must be uneasy around strangers.
As if sensing her presence, Brian looked toward the door. He waved his daughter over. "Come on, kiddo. Pour yourself a glass of wine and join us."
She started to protest. "Thanks, but I have some things I need to do."
"Nonsense," her father insisted. "You can spare a few minutes. Please come in."
Refusing to look at Scott, she walked to the sideboard and poured herself a glass of wine. Turning around, she went to the chair facing the couch. She finally looked up and was distressed to discover Scott staring at her, his eyes unreadable.
Blushing slightly, she sat down and said: "I think it's a bit early to start happy hour."
Brian made a face. "It's a holiday, Shan. Lighten up. I’m making an exception now, and I'll do the same at Christmas." He set his glass down. "Thank you for picking up Scott."
She smiled wanly. "It was nothing," she said casually. "I had nothing else to do this afternoon." Why was she making herself sound so flippant, she wondered? Since she entered the room, Scott had fallen silent, the laughter gone from his face. What was this guy's problem? And why did he keep staring at her?
Brian was talking again. "I think it's a good idea that Scott spends some time with us. Especially at the office with you, Shan, since you’ll be working together in Dublin. I think it’s better you both find out now if you can get along, rather than cross horns in Ireland."
Scott finally spoke up. "I'm sure we'll get along," he said quietly, but firmly. "I foresee no problems."
"Good," Brian said good-naturedly, picking up his drink again. He looked at Scott. "I know the thought has probably crossed your mind that my daughter is a bit young, but she has more than proven her worth to me. She knows the computer like the back of her hand and she’s not afraid of hard work. In fact," he grinned. "She works too much. She hardly ever takes time for herself or goes on dates."
"Oh really," Shannon snapped, embarrassed. "We don't need to discuss that in front of Mr. Page." Feeling foolish, she rose from her chair. "I have some things to do before dinner."
To her surprise, Scott also rose. "Can you show me to my room?" he asked politely, still staring at her.
"I’d be glad to show you to your room," she replied, refusing to meet his eyes. "It's on my way."
Brian's eyes flickered over his daughter and Scott with concern. Scott seemed to become uneasy and non-talkative when Shannon entered the room. Shannon, too, seemed uncomfortable around Scott. For a fleeting moment, Brian wondered if he’d made a mistake by telling his daughter she could go to Ireland. Then he brushed the thought aside. He knew Scott could be a bit crude and rough at times, but he was a good, honest man. Shannon was stubborn and hot tempered, but she was also very honest and a good girl at heart. Brian felt things would work themselves out in the end.
Scott leaned over and shook Brian's hand. "Thank you for everything, sir," he said sincerely. "I’ll see you again at dinner."
"At happy hour, I hope," Brian corrected, smiling. "If you care to join us, cocktails are served at six-thirty. Officially, that is."
"I'll be here. Thank you again."
Scott followed Shannon into the foyer and picked up his luggage by the front doors. Wordless, they climbed the many stairs and hallways to the fourth floor. She stopped at a door that was between her bedroom and Liam's. She entered and stepped aside to allow Scott to pass by with his bags.
He set his luggage on the floor and turned to look at Shannon. For the first time she noticed he had bright, hazel eyes. Like the eyes of a cat. The sleepy look he possessed seemed to be a natural one. Aware they had been observing one another longer than usual, she cleared her throat.
"You have your own bathroom," she said stiffly, turning away from him. "There are extra blankets and clean sheets in the closet. You'll most likely need the blankets because we don't have central heating on the upper floors. We don't have any maids, so you’re responsible for cleaning up after yourself and doing your own laundry. There are laundry rooms in the basement, and on each floor." She paused. "If you run out of wood for your fireplace, tell my brother Sean. He'll have some extra wood sent up to your room if you need it."
"Thank you," he said quietly, his eyes still on her in a peculiar fashion.
It was on the tip of Shannon's tongue to ask him why he was staring at her so intently, but she refrained. Instead, she said coolly: "Enjoy your stay." She moved toward the door and then stopped. "I'll see you later," she said, and then left, shutting the door behind her.
Shannon continued on to her own room. There was something odd about Scott Page. He made her uncomfortable. Shrugging her shoulders, she decided to forget about him and enjoy the rest of the evening with her family.
* * *
HAPPY HOUR BEGAN ON schedule. Shannon stood with her brother Sean by the sideboard, glancing around the room. Everyone was present, she observed, except for Scott Page.
Shannon wore a floor-length gown, a black silk design she chose from a department store in Larkin City. A wide, purple belt clasped around her tiny waist. The sleeves were long and loose, which she clutched self-consciously with her fingers. She had taken special care with her hair tonight, brushing it until it gleamed and fell like a feather to her waist.
"You look lovely, Shan," Sean commented.
"Thank you, brother."
She was about to walk over and join her father at the other end of the room when Sean grabbed her sleeve. "Who is that by the door?"
Shannon looked toward the drawing room door. Her eyes widened in surprise. It was Scott Page, looking very much the gentleman. He wore a black suit and tie, with a white starched shirt. He looked shaven and completely refreshed. From the doorway, his eyes searched the room until they rested on her. Blushing, she turned to her brother and said: "That's Scott Page. He's Dad's crew chief in Dublin, and he'll be staying at the mansion until I go back to Ireland with him in January."
"You lucky girl," Sean exclaimed. "He's damned good-looking for an older guy."
Shannon glanced back toward the doorway of the drawing room. Brian led Scott into the room and introduced him to everyone. She noticed Scott held himself well, being open and friendly to those he was presented to. Shannon was piqued. He wasn’t that cordial to her.
When Brian brought Scott over to Sean, Shannon stiffened. She quickly turned her back and poured herself another glass of wine from the sideboard. She turned around again and started in surprise. Brian introduced Scott to Sean and, being ever so polite, he shook the younger man's hand vigorously.
"Pleased to meet you Mr. Page," Sean said politely.
"Please call me Scott," he said.
"Of course, Scott," Sean smiled. "Call me Sean."
Brian turned to his daughter. "Shan, will you pour Scott a glass of wine, please?"
"Of course," she replied curtly, turning once again to the sideboard. She refreshed her own drink, and then poured another glass for Scott.
When she turned around, Scott was standing in front of her. Brian walked to the other side of the room, so she dropped all affable pretence. "Here you are," she said icily, thrusting the wine glass into his hand.
Scott took the glass. "Thank you, Miss Larkin."
Forcing herself to be polite, she asked: "Does your room suit you?"
He nodded. "I like it very much, but it's more than I'm accustomed to."
"What are you accustomed to?" Shannon asked more sharply than she meant to.
He seemed not to notice the tone in her voice. "Living in the field in a tent," he answered, sipping his wine. "It's nice to be in a comfortable house for a change."
Sean spoke up. In a teasing tone only his twin recognized, he said: "You two make quite a couple, both dressed in black. I know black is Shan's favorite color, but what about you, Scott?" Sean looked at him, his eyes twinkling with mischief.
"Black is one of my favorite colors, too," Scott replied calmly, sipping his drink again.
"Oh?" Sean's eyebrows rose. "How coincidental." He smiled, winking at Scott. "Shan is such a recluse at times, you know. She never really goes out, except . . . well, she did know a few boys, but nothing too serious. Maybe you can be the one to bring her out of her shell."
Shannon reddened to the roots of her hair. Damn Sean. "Mind your own affairs, brother," she snapped, glaring at him.
"I'm sorry, Shan," Sean apologized, although contrition did not reach his eyes. "I just get carried away sometimes." He smiled at Scott again. "It was nice meeting you. I'll see you at dinner." With that, Sean glided to the other side of the room.
That left Shannon alone with Scott. Anxious to get away from him, she turned to make her excuses, but he interrupted her.
"Your brother is very friendly," he said in a personable voice, lighting a cigarette. "But I don't believe I could stand a steady diet of him."
Suddenly Shannon's uneasy mood slipped away, and she giggled. "I know what you mean, and I'm related to him. Actually, he's not really a busybody. He loves to give me a hard time, and put me in embarrassing situations."
Scott took a long drink of his wine and glanced at her. "I want to apologize for my behavior earlier," he said in a low tone.
She was taken aback. She hadn’t expected an apology from him. "Well, I was a bit put off," she admitted. "You seemed to be able to talk to everyone but me."
He laughed nervously. "I'm really sorry. I was dead tired by the time the plane landed in Larkin City. I just . . . I don't know, I was grumpy, I guess. But I did recognize you at once." He paused, looking at her. "Like I told you, I saw the photograph your father had with him in Dublin, but it didn't do you justice. You are much more beautiful than the picture suggests."
She flushed with pleasure. "Thank you," she murmured. "That’s very nice of you to say." Then she glanced across the room at her mother and Aunt Phoebe. "I can't really compare with the other women in this family."
"Not so," Scott insisted. She found him staring at her with his sleepy green eyes. "Actually," he continued. "I think you’re much more attractive than you realize. Your looks have more substance and character."
Shannon was speechless. Was he really paying her a compliment? He was being amiable now, almost too solicitous. Her curiosity got the better of her. "Well, you sound experienced at judging women," she said slyly.
He shrugged. "As much as any man my age."
"I don't mean to pry," she began carefully. "But you must have a girlfriend somewhere, or something."
"Or something," he said curtly. "I have girls that are friends, but nothing permanent. I come and go as I please. That's the way I like my relationships."
Shannon quickly sipped her wine to hide the expression on her face. So, he was one of those - a bloody fancy-free. Her uneasiness returned. She refilled her glass. The wine began to work its way into her bloodstream, making her feel light headed.
Smiling brightly, she said: "You must excuse me. I'm going to see if I can be of some use in the kitchen. Please do mingle with everyone. I enjoyed our enlightening conversation."
She walked away before he could reply. Making her way to the kitchen, she spied Mae seated at the kitchen table. The older woman smiled at the sight of Shannon.
"Hi, little one," Mae said warmly. "Everything is about ready to serve. I'm just resting my feet for a moment."
Shannon sat across from her and drained her glass of wine. "I think I'll rest my feet, too," she said. "Do you have a bottle of booze in here somewhere?"
Mae looked surprised. Then she said: "I have a bottle of wine in the fridge for cooking purposes. Why?"
"It's all mine now," Shannon said firmly. She got up and found the bottle, pouring a generous amount in her glass. She gulped it down and poured another.
"What devils are you trying to chase away tonight?" Mae asked in concern. "Since when do you guzzle wine?"
Shannon drained the glass again and refilled it. She looked at Mae, her eyes glazed. "I'm fine, Mae. I'm trying to acquire the holiday spirit, you could say. Besides, I'm here to help you serve dinner."
"Are you sure?"
"Really, I'm fine." She drank the glass of wine and giggled. "Let's get this over with. After I help you do the dishes, I'll take this fine bottle of cooking wine to my room, if you please."
* * *
SHANNON AWOKE WITH A start. Then she groaned, rolling over onto her back. Good God, what had she done last night? She had a splitting headache, her mouth was dry and she felt sick to her stomach. Sitting up in bed slowly, she looked at her night stand clock. It was high noon.
Then it came back to her. She helped Mae serve dinner the night before. After the meal (which Shannon ate little of, she mainly drank), she helped Mae with the dishes, all the while still drinking wine. After the clean up, Shannon snuck upstairs. As she walked down the fourth floor corridor - with a new bottle of wine clutched in her hand - she looked up in dismay as Scott came out of his room.
"Hello," she said casually, thrusting the bottle behind her back. "What are you doing up here?"
"I ran out of cigarettes," he said coolly, his eyes traveling over her slowly. "Don't tell me you're going to bed already?"
She nodded. "Why, yes I am. I'm suddenly very tired."
"Or very drunk," Scott said flatly. He reached behind her and grabbed the wine bottle. Glancing at the label, he shook his head. "You really should try a more expensive brand of wine. This rotgut will give you a terrible hangover."
She glared at him. "Who asked you?" she hissed. Crossing her arms, she asked coldly: "Can I please have the bottle back?"
He stared at her for a long moment, the expression on his face one of amusement.
"Quit staring at me," Shannon snapped, snatching the bottle back from him. "God, I hate it when people stare at me. If you will please excuse me," she started to make her way past him, but he took her by the arm.
"Aren't you going to ask me if I want a drink?" he asked softly, staring at her again. This time his eyes were warm and friendly.
Annoyed, she pulled away from him. "I told you, I'm tired. I would like to be alone, if you don't mind."
He started to say something, but then paused. The amusement was gone from his eyes. Stepping away from her, he shrugged. "Have it your way," he said in a hard voice. "I was just trying to be friendly."
Still glaring at him, she nodded. "Thank you, but as I told you I'm very tired. I'm sorry. I just want to be alone."
"Fair enough, Shannon," he said. "I hope you enjoy your lonely evening."
"Thank you, Scott, I will," she responded. "Good night." She walked away without looking back at him. She quickly went into her room and shut the door firmly.
Scott stood there for several minutes, staring at Shannon's closed door. Then, with a slight smile on his lips, he made his way back downstairs.
* * *
SHANNON SHOWERED AND DRESSED within thirty minutes. She gulped down two aspirin and then decided to find something to eat. Maybe Mae would make her a turkey sandwich. She felt a bit better after the shower and the aspirin, but she was ravenous.
The house seemed to be deserted. She encountered no one on her way to the kitchen. Sighing, she looked through the refrigerator and located the leftover turkey. She made herself a sandwich and poured a cup of coffee. Putting the food on a tray, she took it to the drawing room and set it on the coffee table. She then walked out into the foyer to check the mail. She found nothing addressed to her, but a letter made out to Scott caught her eye. It was postmarked from New York City two days before. The writing on the envelope was flowing but readable. According to the return address, it was from "A. Howard" on Sixth Avenue.
Shrugging, Shannon dropped the letter back onto the foyer table and returned to the drawing room with the local newspaper. Picking up her sandwich, she began to eat and read about all the recent happenings in Larkin City.
She was still engrossed in the paper ten minutes later when Sean entered the room. His hair was windblown, his face flushed.
She glanced at him. "Have you been out riding?"
Sean nodded, sitting next to her. "Yeah. Kevin and I took Scott for a ride on the motor bikes. It was really invigorating. You should try it."
She grimaced, sipping her coffee. "Not today, thank you. I'm still in the early stages of wine recovery."
Sean laughed. "I noticed you went off to your room early. It must have been awful boring."
"Actually, it wasn't, no thanks to your ridiculous machinations. I drank and watched a late movie on television. This morning was another story, though."
"Too bad," he said, grabbing the other half of his twin's sandwich. "Scott and I are going to the Coven tonight. I guess you're in no shape to go."
"No thank you, brother dear. I'm going to the gym this afternoon, and I may visit Dana."
"Come on," Sean pleaded. "We aren't going to the Coven until nine o'clock tonight. That way you can still exercise and see Dana."
"What are you trying to pull?" Shannon asked suspiciously. "First you try to force Scott's attentions on me, and now you're trying to bring us together at the Coven. Did it ever occur to you that he might not be interested in someone my age?"
Sean glanced sideways at her, a look of surprise on his face. "On the contrary." Leaning toward her, he lowered his voice. "Don't tell him I told you, but Scott is the one who wants you to come."
She stiffened, trying to ignore the rush that flooded her stomach. "Oh? What else did he say?"
"Well," Sean said, warming to the subject. "He said he thought you were very pretty, but a bit reserved."
"When did he say that?"
"Today, while we were out riding. He thinks you dislike him and he wants to make a different impression on you. He was real cool about the whole thing, but I know how guys are - even if they are in their thirties. He likes you."
"Oh, Sean," she exclaimed. "That doesn't mean a damn thing. He told me he likes the kind of relationships where he can come and go as he pleases, with no ties. Yeah, sure, he really sounds like my type," she finished sarcastically.
"That’s no problem," Sean insisted. "You don't have to do anything you don't want to do, and neither does he. It will just be a casual night out on the town for all of us, and that way you can get to know him better. You will be working with him, so you'd better know what he's like."
"For God's sake," Shannon said in resignation. "Okay. I'll go. I'll take my own car and meet you at the Coven at nine o'clock, but I'm bloody well leaving before eleven."
Sean winked at her. "Good girl," he teased, standing up. "I'm meeting a girl there, too. A real beauty. She’s the new waitress at Bruno's. I think you'll like her."
"Like all the other girls you've introduced me to?"
"Ah, this one is different," Sean promised his sister. "You'll see."
After her twin left the room, Shannon settled down with the newspaper again. Half-smiling, she wondered what Sean was planning. Was he playing at being a matchmaker? To sway her into agreeing to a date with the scowling Scott Page?
Stubbornly, she vowed he would not succeed in his efforts.