Home > A Family for Christmas(9)

A Family for Christmas(9)
Mona Ingram

Chase acknowledged his niece with a pat on the head, but he kept his gaze on Lily. A shaft of sunlight came through the window, creating dark blue highlights in her hair. For a moment, Maddie thought he was going to reach out and touch it, then he recovered.

He tore his eyes away and nodded to Maddie. “I’m sorry you had to wait so long, but Marilyn did warn you, didn’t she?”

“She did, yes. Please don’t apologize. I didn’t realize I’d have to see you personally to ask about a rental.” She looked at Annie. “We decided to wait here until you were free.”

Annie tugged at his hand. “Sit down, Uncle Chase. Sit down.”

“Oh no, I don’t think so.” He glanced at Lily. “Well, maybe for a minute.” He folded his tall frame into a chair. “So, it looks like you ladies are having a tea party.”

“Can I get you something?” Annie jumped up again.

“No, I don’t think so. I promised to take you out to lunch, remember?” He was looking at Lily as though he’d like to make a meal out of her. “We could all go together.” He shot a quick, questioning glance at Maddie before re-focusing his attention on Lily. “I don’t think we’ve met.”

“Lily Hsu.” She extended a small, elegant hand. “Nice to meet you, Chase.” She stood up abruptly. “I’m afraid I can’t join you though.” She glanced at her roommate, but Maddie couldn’t read her expression. “I have appointments all afternoon.”

Chase stood. “I’m sorry to hear that.” He motioned to her chai. “You’re not going to finish your tea?”

“No.” Lily almost knocked her chair over in her haste to leave. She paused for a moment and made eye contact with Annie. “We’ll see each other again, okay? Maybe you could come out to the studio some time.”

“Oh, I’d love that!”

Lily nodded. “Maddie will set it up.” She looked at Chase for a fleeting moment, and Maddie thought she caught a hint of sadness in her roommate’s expression. “Goodbye.” She made her way to the door.

“Did you hear that? Lily says I can go to her studio.” Annie was too excited to notice that her uncle wasn’t listening. He was watching Lily as she walked to the corner then crossed to the other side. Maddie had no idea where her roommate was going; it looked like she was running away.

Chapter Five

“Shall we go?” Chase smiled down at Annie. “I thought we’d go to that Italian place today. What do you say?”

Maddie could have told him that anywhere would have been okay with Annie, but for once she managed to keep her opinion to herself.

“Okay with you?” He turned to Maddie.

“I don’t want to interfere,” she said.

“Come with us.” Annie grabbed her hand.

“Yes, come with us. We can talk business over lunch, if you don’t mind.” Chase glanced at his watch. “It looks like our board meeting is going to carry on after lunch.” His eyes glittered with barely concealed excitement. “Our chief geologist brought us some exciting news this morning.”

Maddie knew very little about the oil industry except that Calgary was the business epicentre of Canadian oil production. The “oil patch,” as it was often called, drew workers from all over the country, driving rents sky-high. Tourists often complained that almost every motel in the province had a No Vacancy sign out.

“Okay, let’s do it.” Maddie slipped into her cape and joined Annie on the sidewalk. A few degrees below freezing, the air felt much colder, and they walked briskly the block to the restaurant.

“Mr. Drummond.” A short man with a long white apron met them at the door. “Ladies,” he intoned with a slight bow and showed them to a table. “Franco will be here in a moment to take your order, but I can tell you that our specials today are spaghetti carbonara and veal marsala.” He motioned to the bottle of Pellegrino on the table. “Shall I pour?”

Chase nodded. “For me as well, Tony. I have an important meeting this afternoon and can’t afford to muddy my thinking by having a drink.” He watched with undisguised pleasure as the head waiter poured some San Pellegrino in a stemmed glass for Annie, then for Maddie and himself.

Annie held the stemmed glass comfortably, and Maddie caught the look of pride on her face as she lifted it to drink. “Thanks for coming with us, Maddie. This is fun.”

Maddie lifted her glass in a silent salute. “Thank you.”

Chase leaned forward, all business. “So, Maddie. I understand you wanted to talk to me about a rental? Before you say anything, I apologize for bringing up business before we’ve even eaten.” He gave her a wry grin. “In the movies they always wait, but I’m afraid I don’t have that luxury today.”

“I understand. I’m interested in renting the little shop in the lobby. It’s a perfect size for what I have in mind.” She decided to lay her cards on the table. “Trouble is, I’d only need it for a couple of months.” She watched him for a reaction, but got none. “From now until the end of the year, to be precise.”

The waiter arrived and took their orders, giving Chase time to consider her proposal. “Is this rental for yourself? When we met yesterday, I got the impression that you were employed somewhere in the building. I heard you say hello to David.”

Maddie felt a goofy smile transform her face. “Yeah, David. He’s one of my favourite things about the building. I met him a few days after I started working there. That would be about six months ago.”

“So you haven’t worked there long?”

Time to come clean. “I don’t work there any more. I got laid off yesterday.” She frowned to herself. “I guess that’s the way to describe it. The company I worked for lost an account, and I was one of the team members.” She drew her hand across her throat. “Goodbye, Maddie.”

He nodded. “CCT Accounting. I heard about that.” He thought for a moment. “I’ve rented the space to someone else.”

Maddie’s dreams crashed and burned at his words.

“But they’re not taking over until the New Year.” He sat back in his chair and studied her. “What type of business did you have in mind?”

Maddie shot a quick glance at Annie, who had been watching the exchange with interest. “I was talking to someone yesterday who didn’t know what to buy a relative for Christmas, and I had the idea of a gift buying service, coupled with gift wrapping. I think I could do well.”

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