Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Showboat Affair: Chapter One



  The Houston heat rising from the steering wheel of her silver sedan burned into her forehead as Jean Kingston leaned over it and tried not to cry. More than anything, she wanted to get out of the parking garage attached to Kingston Investment Associates, but she knew she wasn’t fit to drive safely, not until she brought her emotions under control. The scene just played out in her husband Rand’s luxurious office seemed somehow surreal.
  “Jean, I want a divorce. I’ll let you file, but if you won’t, I will. You can have the house, and I’ll give you a good settlement. Well invested, it will allow you the same lifestyle as you have now.” Randolph Kingston waited for his wife to speak, and when she didn’t, he leaned forward to emphasize the seriousness of his words. “Don’t tell me this comes as a surprise.”
  She shook her head. “I’ve known about Cami for a long time. Are you going to marry her?”
  “No, she’s...no.” “But you’ll be together.”
  He nodded curtly.
  “Well, that’s that, I suppose.” She loosened her fingers from the arms of the rich burgundy leather chair, one of several in Randolph’s sprawling office furnished in the best money could buy, and consciously lifted her hands almost as if to indicate surrender.
  He rose and came out from behind his desk. “It’s better this way, Jean.”
  She shrugged. “For you anyway.”
  He touched her arm. “For you, too. You know that.”
  She stepped away from him. “It hasn’t been much of a marriage for a while, has it?”
  “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
  She looked at him. “I know you are, Rand. Always the perfect gentleman, that’s you.” She bit her lip. “I’m sorry. Pretend I didn’t say the last.”
  One corner of his mouth drew up in the semblance of a smile. “Forgotten.”
  “I’ll probably sell the house. It was too large for two people, and I’ll just rattle around in it now. Is there anything you’d like?”
  “Just the things from my study. I’ll send a truck for them.”
  “There’s no rush.”
  “I’ll let you know. I’ll call you when I take the house out of my name. When I transfer the money, do you want Juliana to handle your investments?”
   “I’m sure she’ll do well.” “She’s good at what she does, Jean. She has a feel for the market.”
  “She’s your daughter.”
  “She’s yours, too. Our marriage counted for something when you consider how she’s turned out.”
  Jean let her eyes drift over her husband of thirty-three years, seeing him as he’d been when they met. Her college roommate liked to refer to him as Clark Gable. There was actually a small resemblance, especially the pencil-thin mustache riding above his full top lip. Their only child resembled him in more than physical attributes.
“She’s more than willing to do it for you.”
Jean’s stomach contracted as if someone had slammed a fist into it. “She knows?”
  “I spoke with her several days ago.”
  “You told her before you told me?” Jean’s fingers
curled. Her nails sliced into her palms, but the pain of betrayal was higher on the scale.
  His expression revealed he knew he’d made a grave error. “Well, she’s known the situation for a while.”
  “Everyone knows the ‘situation,’ as you so delicately put it. You’re a married man having an affair, and you haven’t made any secret of it.”
  “I’ve tried to be discreet.”
  “By spending most of your nights in your condo instead of at home? The condo you bought for a woman who went to college with your own daughter?” Jean felt her face flushing as her anger boiled over. “Discreet!”
  “I’d hoped this could be a civil parting,” he said, his congeniality turning frosty.
  “Civil? Oh, yes, of course, it will be, Rand. I’m the one people will talk about. ‘Poor Jean Kingston … after so many years … do you suppose she suspected?’ I’ll pretend I’m not aware of their gossip, I don’t need their misguided sympathy, their pity gushing like a fountain trying to drown me, until the water runs dry, and they finally move on to someone else.”
  She turned her back on him. “I’ll play my part, Rand, never fear. You’ll move on unscathed.”
  “I’m really sorry, Jean.”
  “So you’ve said.” She made herself walk, not run, to the door. “I’ll have Greg get in touch with you as soon as he’s done the paperwork.” She paused, her hand gripping the doorknob. “Unless, of course, you’ve spoken to him, too, and he’s already taken care of things.”
  “He … I had to make him aware of the proposed settlement.”
  If she hadn’t known better, she’d have sworn someone had brought his hand down in a karate- chop between her shoulder blades. When she caught her breath, she said, “Then everything is taken care of as usual. Thank you, Rand.” She closed the door softly behind her.
****
 I should have dumped him long before this. What a fool I’ve been all these years! I should never have married him, given up my own life to live his…but did I really have a life then? I’m certain I don’t have one now, so where does that leave me? She fished a tissue from her handbag she’d bought just last week at Nieman-Marcus and blew her nose. I’m damned if I’ll be ‘poor Jean!’ The tears she thought she’d successfully held back now overflowed and streamed down her cheeks. But who am I besides Rand Kingston’s soon-to-be ex-wife?
  She brought the palm of one hand down on the wheel so hard it stung. Then she jammed the key into the ignition, breaking off the tip of one recently manicured nail, and backed out of the parking space.
  She drove straight to Greg Thorne’s office but sat in the car long enough to repair her makeup and file the broken fingernail. Becky, the young receptionist who made no secret of her crush on her boss, smiled vacantly at Jean. “I’ll see if Mr. Thorne is available.”
  Jean wanted to smack her. Becky knew who she was and also knew Greg was a long-time family friend as well as her attorney. “He’ll see you, Mrs. Kingston.” Jean’s palm tingled. Oh, for just one quick opportunity to knock that condescending smirk from Becky’s too-perfect face.
  She startled as Greg threw open his office door. “Jean! Come in here now, dear one!”
  Becky’s smile faded. Jean tossed the receptionist a self-satisfied glance and sailed past her into the attorney’s office.
   Greg hugged her. “I’ve been expecting you.”
  “Rand had it all worked out, didn’t he?”
  Frowning briefly, Greg escorted her to the long leather sofa, then went to the compact bar she knew he kept well stocked. “Sherry?” Without waiting for her answer, he poured two glasses and handed her one. “I’m sorry, Jean.”
  “I’m not. I don’t think I am anyway.”
  “Still, it had to come as a shock.”
  “He’s always come home before this.” She sipped from the glass. “He says he isn’t going to marry her.”
  “She doesn’t need his money.”
   Jean set the glass aside. “Her family owns half of Midland. Oil money.”
  “Yes, I know.”
  “Young career women don’t want to marry these days. They don’t have to. They can get what they want without a license.”
  “Juliana finally married Brice. How long did they live together? Ten years?”
  “Only because she turned up pregnant, and he fought her on an abortion.”
  “Claire’s beautiful. She looks a lot like you.”
  Jean’s face softened at the thought of her two-year-old granddaughter. “She’s smart, too.”
  “Did Rand discuss a settlement with you?” She shook her head and picked up the glass again. “I assume you already have all the information.”
  “So Rand didn’t tell you how much the settlement is?” Greg tossed back his glass of sherry and set it down.
  “No.” He walked around behind his desk and sat down before he spoke. “A quarter of a million. You could ask for more.”
  “No.”
  “You’re sure?”
  “Yes. How soon can things be finished?”
  “Six months.”
  “That long?” She took another sip, then looked up. “A quarter of a million which will, conveniently, be invested through Kingston Associates.”
  “You can take your business elsewhere.” He chewed his bottom lip. “In fact, I’d advise it. Strongly.”
  “Did you know he’d already told Juliana? Asked her if she wanted to manage the funds?”
  “I’d expect that of him. He looks out for business.” “He looks out for himself, too. No, Kingston Associates is good at what they do. I’ll trust them with my money.”
  “I just thought under the circumstances you might want to distance yourself.”
  “Aren’t your investments there?”
  “Yes, they are, but I’m not in your situation.”
  “What situation is that?” She smiled at his obvious discomfiture. “Never mind, Greg. We go back a long way. You don’t have to tiptoe around my feelings.”
  He stood up and moved to sit beside her. “You’ve known for a long time how I feel about you, Jean.”
  “You’ve been a complete gentleman.”
  “Maybe I should have been something else.”
  Jean felt his knee against hers and moved away. “You were just at loose ends when Mara left. You needed someone, not necessarily me.”
  “What I said at the party was the truth. I’m in love with you.” He reached for her hand and folded it inside both of his.
  She didn’t withdraw her hand immediately. “You came to my rescue when Rand and Cami were caught in flagrante on the Parkmans’ terrace, and I appreciated the speed with which you got me out of the house before anyone realized I’d seen as much as I did.”
   “I’m glad I was there.”
  “I’m glad you were, too, Greg, but I made it clear to you then I wasn’t interested.”
  “I’m not going to press you. This isn’t the time or the place, but someday you’ll be ready to let me into your life.” The attorney picked up a folder from his immaculate desk. “You can take the papers home, read them, and call me with any questions.”
  “I don’t have to read them. I’m sure you’ve made certain everything is fair.”
  “I’m Rand’s attorney, too, although in this instance one of my other partners is his attorney of record.”
  “But you haven’t done me in, so to speak.” His eyes flicked away from her, then back. “You know I wouldn’t do that.”
  “Yes, I know. I’ll sign the papers now. I just want to put this behind me.”
  “If you’re sure.”
  She reached for the pen in the holder on his desk. “I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life.”   Without bothering to read anything, she signed her name in the several places to which Greg pointed.   “I guess that takes care of everything for now.” He closed the folder. “How about dinner tonight?”
  “Not tonight, Greg. Maybe later in the week.”
  “Good. All right. I’ll call you.”
  He kissed her cheek before she stepped through the door he’d opened just far enough, she thought, for Becky to see them. “Thanks, Greg. For everything.”
  She tried not to smile at Becky’s flushed face. “Mr. Cameron is here,” the younger woman said in a snappish tone that pleased Jean.
  “Nick, come in,” Greg said.
  Stepping aside to let the other man pass, Jean noticed that his thick silver hair didn’t seem to go with his younger features.
   “Oh, Jean, this is Nick Cameron of Cameron and Cameron. Nick, Jean Kingston.”
  The man towering over the others in the office looked down at her and nodded. “Mrs. Kingston."
  Jean met his dark blue eyes, then dropped her own. “Mr. Cameron.” She didn’t offer to shake hands.
  “Nick and I do some work together on the Bar Association Charity Ball,” Greg explained.
  “I see.” Jean edged toward the door, unable to explain why she felt like a gawky schoolgirl.
  “I’ll phone you about dinner next week,” Greg called as she slipped through the outer door.
  “Fine, Greg.” She hurried toward the elevator with Nick Cameron’s face in front of her.


99 CENT SALE THROUGH JUNE 19 

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