Daring to dream, p.13
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       Daring to Dream, p.13

         Part #1 of Dream series by Nora Roberts
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  if it's just what I'm looking for. I have several properties I'm considering."

  Scanning the lease, she saw that Kate—damn her—had been right. Even the rent was well out of her reach. There had to be a way, she thought.

  "I'll be in touch within a day or two." She smiled again, politely and dismissively. "Thank you so much, Mrs. Metcalf, for your time."

  "Oh, no trouble at all. I so enjoy showing off places. Homes are more fun, of course. You've been living in Europe, haven't you? Terribly exciting for you. If you're thinking of buying a second home here in the area, I have the most fabulous ten-bedroom on Seventeen Mile. An absolute steal. The owners are in the middle of a vicious divorce, and… oh." She looked around to make a tittering apology to Laura, but her eyes continued to gleam. "She must have gone back downstairs. I wouldn't want to upset her by talking about divorce. Such a shame about her and Peter, isn't it?"

  "Not really," Margo said dryly. "I think he's scum."

  "Oh." Her color fluctuated. "You're just being loyal to your old friend, aren't you? Actually, no one could have been more surprised than I was when I heard they had separated. Just the most charming couple. He's so well mannered, so attractive and gentlemanly."

  "Well, you know what they say about appearances? They lie. I think I'll just poke around for a bit longer, if you don't mind, Mrs. Metcalf." Firmly, Margo took her arm to lead her back to the stairs. "It might help me make up my mind if I spend a little time alone."

  "Of course. Take all the time you like. Just lock the door behind you. I have the key. Oh, and let me give you my card. You be sure to call if you want to breeze through again, or if you'd like to see that wonderful house on Seventeen Mile."

  "I certainly will." Margo didn't see either Kate or Laura on the first floor and kept marching Louisa toward the door.

  "Oh, do tell Laura good-bye for me, won't you? And her young friend. I'm sure I'll see you and Laura at the club soon."

  "Absolutely. 'Bye now. Thank you so much." Margo closed the door with a quick rattle. "And do be a stranger," she muttered. "Okay, where are you two hiding?"

  "We're up here," Kate called out. "In the bathroom."

  "Jesus, it's really tacky for two grown women to hide in a bathroom." Once she'd climbed the steps again, she found them. Laura sat on the edge of the old clawfoot tub with Kate facing her from her perch on the john. In any other setting, Margo would have said they were deep in some intense and serious discussion. "I really appreciate you leaving me alone with that nosy magpie."

  "You wanted to do the talking," Kate reminded her.

  "Nothing really to talk about." Discouraged, Margo joined Laura on the edge of the tub. "I could probably squeeze out the rent, if I didn't eat for the next six months. Which isn't that much of a problem. But I wouldn't have enough left over to handle the start-up costs. I want to buy it," she said with a sigh. "It's exactly what I'm looking for. There's just something about it that tells me I could be happy here."

  "Maybe it's the leftover aroma of stale pot."

  Margo sent Kate a withering look. "I only smoked it once when I was sixteen. And you had several hits yourself on that memorable evening."

  "I didn't inhale," she said with a grin. "That's my story and I'm sticking to it."

  "Then explain why you claimed you were doing a pas de deux with Baryshnikov."

  "I have no recollection of that event—and he told me to call him Misha."

  "It's a damn good thing I only wheedled two joints out of Biff." Margo blew out a breath. "Well, this, unfortunately, is reality. I can't afford this place."

  "I can," Laura said.

  "What do you mean, you can?"

  "I mean I can buy it, and I can rent it to you, and we'll be in business."

  Margo nearly threw her arms around Laura before sanity, and pride, prevailed. "Oh, no. I'm not starting off this next section of my life that way." She dug in her bag for a cigarette, lighted it with a violent flick. "You're not bailing me out. No one's bailing me out. Not this time."

  "Tell her what you told me, Kate, when I suggested it."

  "Okay. First I asked her if she was out of her mind. Not that I don't think you couldn't pull off this plan of yours, Margo, but I don't think you can pull it off."

  Eyes narrowed, Margo huffed out smoke. "Thanks so much."

  "It's an admirable idea," Kate soothed. "But starting a new business is a risky venture at any time, with anyone. The vast majority go tits up in the first year. Basic economics, even if the people have some training and education in retail. Not to mention that Monterey and Carmel are already lousy with gift shops and boutiques. But," Kate continued, holding up a hand before Margo could snarl at her, "some succeed, even thrive. Now, putting your part of it aside for the moment, we look at Laura's current situation. Having been married at the ridiculous age of eighteen, she's never invested on her own. There is the Templeton organization, of course, in which she shares. But she has no personal, individual stocks, bonds, or property beyond her interest in Templeton. As she's just filed for divorce, and is solvent financially, it makes good economic sense for her to seek investments."

  "I've never bought anything on my own," Laura interrupted. "Never owned anything that wasn't through the family or with Peter. And when I was looking around this place, I thought, why not? Why shouldn't I buy it? Why shouldn't I take a gamble on myself? On us."

  "Because if I screw it up—"

  "You won't. You've got something to prove here, don't you, Margo?"

  "All right, yes, but it doesn't include taking you down with me."

  "Listen to me." Eyes serious and soft, Laura laid a hand on Margo's knee. "All my life I've done what I was told, taken the quiet, well-tended path. Now I'm going to do something just for the hell of it." She felt a giddy little thrill at the thought. "I'm buying this building, Margo, whether you want a piece of it or not."

  Margo took a deep gulp, discovered it wasn't pride she was swallowing. It was excitement. "So, how much are you going to gouge out of me for rent?''

  The first shock came at the bank. A cashier's check for ten percent of the asking price was Kate's advice, not only to nail down a contract but to help negotiate that price down by twenty-five thousand.

  The money wasn't there.

  "There must be some mistake. I should have at least twice this amount liquid."

  "Just a moment, please, Mrs. Ridgeway." The teller hurried off while Laura tapped her fingers.

  As a sick feeling began to stir in her gut, Margo laid a hand on her shoulder. "Laura, this is a joint account with Peter?"

  "Sure. We use it primarily as a checking account, to run the household. I'm taking out less than half, so there shouldn't be a problem. We're a community property state. My lawyer explained all of that."

  The vice president of the bank came out into the lobby, shook her hand. "Laura, would you come back to my office for a moment."

  "Frank, I'm in kind of a hurry. I just need a cashier's check."

  "Just for a moment." He slipped an arm around her shoulders.

  Margo gritted her teeth as Laura was guided away. "You know what that bastard did?"

  "Yeah. Yeah, I do." Furious, Kate pressed her fingers to her eyes. "I should have thought of it. Christ, I should have known. It's all happened so fast."

  "They'd have money scattered around, wouldn't they? In another bank. Stocks, bonds, a portfolio through a broker."

  "They'd have to. Laura might have let Peter take over the finances, but neither of them is foolish enough to put all their eggs in one basket. And there's the insurance limit on funds in a bank. This is a drop in the bucket." But she had a sick feeling. "Shit. He never let me near their books. Here she comes," Kate muttered. "Goddamn it, it's all over her face."

  "Peter cleaned out the account." Face pale, eyes dazed, Laura headed for the doors. "The morning after I found him in bed with his secretary, he came in here and took out all but a couple of thousand." She had to stop, press a hand to her
stomach. "We had started little savings accounts for the girls, so they could put money in themselves. He took that, too. He took their money."

  "Let's find a place to sit down," Margo murmured.

  "No. No, I have to make calls. I have to contact the broker. I don't even know his name." She covered her face with her hands and tried to breathe. "So stupid. So stupid."

  "You're not stupid," Kate said furiously. "We're going home. We'll find the numbers and we'll call. We'll arrange to have the rest of your assets frozen."

  There wasn't much to freeze.

  "Fifty thousand." Kate sat back, slipped off her reading glasses, and rubbed her eyes. "Well, it was damn generous of him to leave you that much. From what I can figure, that's about five percent of your joint holdings." Thoughtfully, she unrolled her package of Tums. "The good news is he wasn't able to touch your stock in Templeton and he doesn't have any claim on the house."

  "Their college funds," Laura said weakly. "He closed Ali's and Kayla's college funds. How could money have meant so much to him?"

  "Money's probably only part of it. He's teaching you a lesson." Margo poured another glass of wine. It might help them all to be a little drunk. "And he got away with it because you'd never have thought of doing the same thing. I would have, but I wasn't thinking at all. Maybe your lawyer can get some of it back."

  "Odds are it's all tucked away in the Caymans by now." Kate shook her head in disgust. "The way it looks, he's been busily transferring stock and cash and mutuals out of your joint accounts into a personal one for quite a while. He just made a quick final sweep." She bit her tongue before she could chastise Laura for signing anything Peter had handed her. "But you've got the paperwork, copies of the transactions and withdrawals, so you'll be able to fight when you get to court."

  Laura sat back, closed her eyes. "I'm not fighting him for money. He can have it. Every lousy penny."

  "The hell with that," Margo erupted.

  "No, the hell with him. The divorce is going to be hard enough on the girls without the two of us battling over dollars and cents in court. I've still got fifty thousand cash—which is a lot more than most women start with. He can't touch the house because it's in my parents' name."

  She picked up her glass but didn't drink. "I'm the one who was stupid enough to sign whatever he put in front of me without questioning him. I deserved to get fleeced."

  "You've got the Templeton stock," Kate reminded her. "You could sell part of your shares."

  "I'm not touching the family stock. It's a legacy."

  "Laura." To calm her, Kate laid a hand on Laura's. "I'm not saying to put the stock on the market. Either Josh or your parents would buy it, or margin you a loan against it until everything's sorted out."

  "No." Closing her eyes, Laura willed herself to settle down. "I'm not running to them." She drew in a deep breath and opened her eyes again. "And neither is either of you. I made the mistakes, I'll fix the mistakes. Kate, I need you to figure out how to liquidate enough money for the deposit on the building."

  "No way you're going to take more than half of what you have left in cash and buy that place."

  She smiled thinly at Margo. "Yes, I am. Oh, yes, I am. I'm still a Templeton. It's time I started to act like one." Before she could change her mind, she picked up the business card Margo had tossed on the table and dialed the phone. "Louisa, it's Laura Templeton. Yes, that's right. I want to make an offer on the building we looked at this afternoon."

  When she hung up, she pulled off her wedding and engagement rings. Guilt and liberation twisted inside her. "You're the expert, Margo. How much can I expect to get for these?"

  Margo eyed the five-carat round-cut and the band with sparkling channel-set diamonds. At least, she mused, there was some small justice in the world. "Kate, don't worry about liquidating anything. It looks like we got the down payment out of Peter after all."

  Later that night Margo sat in her room scribbling figures, drawing rough sketches, making lists. She needed to think about paint and paper and plumbing. The shop space had to be remodeled to include a dressing room, and that meant carpenters.

  She could move in on the top floor as it was, which would save her the drive down to Monterey every day to check on progress. In fact, she could cut corners if she painted it herself rather than hiring professionals.

  How hard could it be to roll paint on a wall?

  "Yes, come in," she called at the knock on her door and wondered if carpenters charged by the hour or the job.

  "Margo?''

  Distracted, she glanced up, blinked at her mother. "Oh. I thought it was one of the girls."

  "It's nearly midnight. They're sleeping."

  "I lost track of the time." She pushed at the papers scattered over the bed.

  "You always did. Daydreaming." Ann skimmed her gaze over the papers, amused at the numbers her daughter had added and subtracted. It had taken bribes and threats and shouts to get Margo to do the simplest arithmetic homework when she was a child. "You forgot to carry the five," Ann said.

  "Oh. Well." Margo shoved the paper aside. "I really need one of those little calculators Kate's always got in her pocket."

  "I was talking to Miss Kate before she left. She said you're going into business."

  "And that's laughable for someone who doesn't remember to carry the five." Margo pushed herself off the bed and picked up the wineglass she'd brought up with her. "Would you like a drink, Mum, or are you still on duty?"

  Saying nothing, Ann moved into the adjoining bath and came out with a tumbler. She poured wine. "Miss Kate thinks you've thought it through fairly well, and though the odds are against you, it may work."

  "Kate's always so blindly optimistic."

  "She's a sensible woman, and she's given me fine financial advice over the years."

  "Kate's your accountant?" With a little laugh, Margo sat again. "I should have known."

  "You'd be wise to use her services if you go through with this business of yours."

  "I'm going through with this business of mine." Prepared to see doubt and derision on her mother's face, Margo flicked her eyes up. "Number one, I don't have many options. Number two, selling things people don't need is what I do best. And number three, Laura's counting on me."

  "Those are three good reasons." There was nothing on Ann's face but a small, enigmatic smile. "Miss Laura is footing the bill."

  "I didn't ask her," Margo said, stung. "I didn't want her to. She got the idea in her head to buy the building, and there was no shaking it out." When Ann remained silent, Margo crumpled up a sheet of paper and heaved it. "Damn it, I'm putting everything I have into this. Everything I own, everything I worked for. It's not a lot of cash, but it's everything I have."

  "Money's not so important as time and effort."

  "It's pretty damn important right now. We don't have a lot to start with."

  Nodding as she wandered about, looking for something to straighten, Ann considered. "Miss Kate told me what Mr. Ridgeway has done." Ann took a long, deep gulp of wine. "The cold, blackhearted bastard should rot in everlasting hell. Please God."

  With a laugh, Margo lifted her glass. "Finally, something we can agree on. I'll drink to it."

  "Miss Laura believes in you, and Miss Kate, too, in her fashion."

  "But you don't," Margo countered.

  "I know you—you'll make some fancy place out of it, where people with no sense at all will come and toss their money around."

  "That's the idea. I've even got a name for it. 'Pretenses.' " Margo's laugh was quick and amused. "It suits me, doesn't it?"

  "That it does. You're doing this here in California to be with Miss Laura."

  "She needs me."

  "Yes, she does." Ann looked down into her glass. "I said some things the night you came back that I'm sorry for. I was hard on you, maybe I've always been. But you were wrong when you said I wanted you to be like Miss Laura or Miss Kate. Perhaps I wanted you to be what I could understand, and you could
n't do that."

  "We were both tired and upset." Margo shifted on the bed, not quite sure how to handle an apology from her mother. "I don't expect you to understand this whole idea about a shop, but I hope you'll believe I'm going to try to make something real out of it."

  "Your aunt ran a trinket shop in Cork. You've some merchant in your blood." Ann moved her shoulders, her decision made. "It will cost considerable, I imagine."

  In agreement, Margo indicated her papers. "I just have to rob Peter to pay Paul for a while. It would help if I could sell my soul. If I still have one to sell."

  "I'd feel better if you kept it." Ann reached into the pocket of her skirt, took out an envelope. "Use this instead."

  Curious, Margo took the envelope, opened it, then dropped it on the bed as if it had sprouted fangs and bitten her. "It's a brokerage account."

  "That's right. Miss Kate recommended the firm. Very conservative investments, as I prefer. But they've done well enough."

  "It's almost two hundred thousand dollars. I won't take your savings. I can do this on my own."

  "I'm pleased to hear you say so, but it's not my savings in there. It's yours."

  "I don't have any savings. Hasn't that been the problem all along?"

  "You could never hold on to a penny in a clutched fist. You sent me money, and I banked it for you."

  A little amazed, Margo stared down at the brokerage statement. Had she sent so much, had so much to send? It had seemed so little at the time. "I sent the money for you."

  "I had no need for it, did I?" Brow arched, Ann angled her head. It pleased her to see the pride in her daughter's face. "I have a good job, a fine roof over my head, enough for a nice vacation twice a year because Miss Laura insists I need it. So the money you sent I banked. And there it is."

  Ann took another sip of wine because that wasn't how she'd meant to say it. "Listen to me, Margo, for once. The fact that you did send the money was appreciated. Perhaps I'd have gotten sick and unable to work and needed it. But that didn't happen. Sending it was a loving thing to do."

  "No, it wasn't." It shamed her as much to know it as to admit it. "I did it out of pride. I did it to show you I was successful, important. That you were wrong about me."

  Understanding, Ann inclined her head. "There's not so much of a difference, and the result's the same. It was your money, and it still is. I had the comfort that you thought to send it, that you had it to send. You'd have frittered it away if you hadn't passed it to me, so we've done each other a favor." She reached out to stroke Margo's hair, then, faintly embarrassed by the show of affection, dropped her hand back to her side. "Now take it and do something with it."

  When Margo said nothing, Ann clucked her tongue. She set down her glass, then cupped Margo's chin in her palm. "Why are you so contrary, girl? Did you earn the money with honest work or not?"

  "Yes, but—"

  "Do what your mum tells you for once. You might be surprised to find she's right. Go into this business venture on equal terms with Miss Laura, and take pride in that. Now clean up this mess you've made before you go to bed."

  "Mum." Margo picked up the papers as her mother paused at the door. "Why didn't you send this to me in Milan when you knew I was scraping bottom?''

  "Because you weren't ready for it. Be sure you are now."

  Chapter Ten

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  Mine. Holding out her arms, Margo circled the empty main room of the shop on Cannery Row. Technically it wasn't hers quite yet. Settlement was still two weeks away, but the offer had been accepted, the contract signed. And the loan, with the Templeton name behind it, had gone off without a hitch.

  She'd already had a contractor in to discuss alterations. It was going to cost big, and in her new frugal fashion she had indeed decided to do the simple cosmetic improvements herself. Research was under way on the rental of floor sanders, the purchase of caulking guns. She'd even looked into something wonderful called a paint sprayer. More coverage, faster. More efficient.

  And the building wouldn't actually be hers, she reminded herself. It would be theirs. Hers, Laura's, and the bank's. But in two weeks' time, she would be sleeping in that little room upstairs. In a sleeping bag if need be.

  Then by midsummer, the doors of Pretenses would open.

  And the rest, she thought with a laugh, would be history.

 
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