Tom lurched forward in his chair. "My God! Why not?"
Meredith's call to tell Matt that she was out of the building was put through to him in Tom's office. Matt was still talking to her when the newscaster on the radio announced that a bomb had just been found in the New Orleans branch of Bancroft & Company and that the bomb squad was attempting to disarm it. It was Matt who had to tell her the news. Within the next hour another bomb was discovered in the Dallas store, and a third one was found in the toy department of the Chicago store.
With his hand on the iron gate, Philip stood looking at the picturesque little villa Caroline Edwards Bancroft had lived in for nearly thirty years. Perched high on a rocky hill, it overlooked the sparkling harbor far below, where his ship had put into port early that morning. Flowers bloomed riotously in neatly tended beds and pots, basking in the late afternoon sunlight. An aura of beauty and tranquillity pervaded the place, and he found it nearly impossible to imagine his frivolous film-star ex-wife living happily in such relative seclusion as this. The house had been given to her by Dominic Arturo, the Italian she'd had an affair with before they were married, he knew, and now he assumed she must have gone through every cent of her divorce settlement, or she wouldn't be living there. The large block of stock she owned in Bancroft & Company paid dividends, but she was legally prohibited from selling or transferring it to anyone other than himself. Beyond that, all she could do with her stock was exercise her right to vote her shares, and she always voted in accordance with whatever the board of directors recommended. That much Philip knew, because he'd made it a point over the years to watch how she voted. Now, as he stood looking at the house, he assumed she must have been trying to live on the dividends alone, because nothing short of poverty could have induced his party-loving wife to live like this.
He took his hand away from the black iron gate. He hadn't intended to go there, until that foolish woman at the captain's table had asked if he planned to visit his ex-wife. Once she'd put the idea into his head, he'd found it hard to ignore. He was older now, and he didn't know how long he had to live. Suddenly it had seemed like a good idea to make peace with the woman he'd once loved. She'd been an adulteress and he'd retaliated by keeping her away from her own daughter and forcing her to agree never to come near Meredith or him again. At the time it had seemed like justice. Now that he was facing death without warning, it seemed a little ... harsh. Perhaps. However, having seen the way Caroline had been living made him decide against entering the courtyard and knocking on the front door. Curiously, his reason for that was one of pity: He knew how vain she was, and he knew that her ego would take a terrible blow if he saw her living like this. On those occasions when he'd thought of Caroline during the last three decades, he'd always imagined her living in high style, looking as beautiful as ever, and participating in the same social whirl she'd adored before they were married. The woman who lived here must surely have turned into a hag and a hermit, with nothing to do but wile away the years watching ships put into port or shopping in the tiny nearby village.
His shoulders drooping with a strange kind of despair for long-forgotten dreams and shattered lives, Philip turned toward the little path that wound around the side of the hill toward the port below. "You've come a long way, just to turn back, Philip," an unforgettable voice said.
His head jerked around, and he saw her then, standing perfectly still beneath a tree on the hillside to his far left, a basket of flowers over her arm.
She started toward him, her gait long and graceful, her blond hair hidden beneath a peasant scarf that somehow looked good on her. She wasn't wearing any makeup, he realized as she came closer, and she looked much older, and—in some ways—lovelier. The restlessness in her face was gone now; in its place was a calm serenity she'd never possessed in her youth. Oddly, she reminded him more of Meredith now than when she was Meredith's age. And she still had fantastic legs.
He stared at her, feeling his unreliable heart beating a little faster than normal, and he couldn't think of what to say, which made him feel gauche, which in turn made him angry with himself. "You look older," he announced bluntly.
She replied with a soft laugh and no rancor at all, "How nice of you to say so."
"I just happened to be in the neighborhood—" He nodded toward his ship in the harbor, realized how inane his words sounded, and scowled at her because she appeared to be laughing at his discomfiture.
"What takes you away from the store?" she said, putting her hand on the gate but not opening it.
"I've taken a leave of absence. Bad heart."
"I know you've been ill. I still read the Chicago newspapers."
"May I come in?" Philip said without meaning to, and then he remembered that there were always men around her. "Or are you expecting company?" he added with unhidden sarcasm.
"It's good to know that while everything and everyone else in the world seems to change," she remarked dryly, "you and you alone remain the same—as jealous and suspicious as ever. She opened the gate, and he followed her up the path, already regretting that he'd come.
The floors of the villa were stone, covered with bright patches of carpet and huge urns of flowers from her garden. She nodded to a chair in the small room that doubled as living room and parlor. "Would you like a drink?" He nodded, but instead of sitting down, he walked over to the big window, looking out at the harbor. He stayed there until he was forced to turn and accept the glass of wine she held out to him. "Are you doing—all right?" he asked lamely.
"Very well, thank you."
"I'm amazed Arturo couldn't have given you something better than this. This place is little more than a cottage." She said nothing, and that goaded Philip into mentioning her last lover, the one who had caused their divorce. "Spearson never amounted to anything, did you know that, Caroline? He's still trying to eke out a living by training horses and giving riding lessons."
Unbelievably, she smiled at that and, turning, she poured herself a glass of wine. In silence she took a sip, her big blue eyes studying him over the rim. Caught off guard and feeling stupid and churlish, Philip returned her gaze unflinchingly.
"Surely you aren't finished?" she said quietly after a long moment. "You must have dozens more of my imagined indiscretions and infidelities to throw in my face. Evidently, they still bother you after thirty years."
Taking a long breath, Philip tipped his head back and sighed. "I'm sorry," he said truthfully. "I don't know why I started in on you like that. What you do is none of my business."