“DANTE, YOU have to go to this dinner,” Simon Yates, the attorney for the Bartholomew Family Foundation, said as he crossed the large room lined with filled bookcases. It had been Dante’s father’s office and was now Dante’s through an unholy bargain that hung around his neck like an anchor chain.

“I arranged for the Foundation to send a check. That should be enough,” Dante growled, banging his hand on the desk as he pulled himself to his full six and a half feet.

Yates paused at his outburst but showed no sign of bowing to the intimidation that Dante had been going for. Yates cleared his throat. “The check isn’t going to be enough. You have a public relations problem and you know it. The little league initially returned the check from the Foundation, and the elementary schools had to be convinced to accept theirs. That isn’t good. These organizations always need money, but they had second thoughts about accepting it from you.” Yates shifted his weight from foot to foot. That was good. It meant Dante’s tactic was working.

“If the money isn’t good enough for them, then they can go without it and be damned. I’m not going to ask someone to accept my foundation’s donations. Do you hear me?” he shouted, glaring at Yates. “I’m through with this. I work hard and keep most of the families in St. Giles employed and fed in one way or another. I spend a lot of time traveling to open new markets and meet with customers who will buy our products, the ones that are the lifeblood of this….” He swallowed and tried to head off the rage that threatened to boil up from inside. How dare they! “I keep this town running when others have fallen on hard times. And do I keep the money I make? No! I put the profits into the Bartholomew Foundation and make sure they get distributed to the groups that make everyone’s life better. And I ask for nothing in return other than for them to leave me alone.” Dante sank back in his chair, and Yates took a step closer to the desk.

“You know the rumors that have swirled around you for years, and now they’re growing and turning into a kind of town legend. People need to see you, meet you, because when you aren’t growling and acting like a general asshole, you can be a personable and caring man.” Yates stood his ground even as Dante lifted his gaze, seconds from lashing out. Yates was the only man who dared speak to him that way. Maybe it was because he was nearing seventy and had been his father’s lawyer before the old bastard died. Or maybe it was simply because Yates had been around when Dante had taken his first steps. “Just think about it.”

“Fine.” Dante sighed, wishing to hell Yates would just leave. “Is there anything else?”

“I have these other potential donations for the remainder of the year that the Foundation board has reviewed for your final approval.” Yates handed him the list, and Dante looked it over. “This includes the donation for tonight. There is also a venture that the board thought would be advantageous for us to undertake. The diner in town has been empty for a year, so we thought we’d purchase the building, renovate it, and see if we can find a tenant to lease it from us.”

“Fine….” Dante handed the list back. “Now can I go back to work so I can make more money?” He raised his eyebrows.

“The dinner tonight is at seven. I’ll be there, and we need you to come.” Yates didn’t budge even though Dante had clearly dismissed him.

“You’re like a dog with a bone.” Dante picked up a set of contracts from his desk, intending to get to work. Maybe if he ignored Yates, he’d just go away.

“Yes. And you need to do this. The people in this town haven’t seen you, other than glimpses in the pottery works, in two years. You either stay in this house or come and go in that limousine of yours that looks like a glorified armored car.” Yates came even closer, until he was leaning over the desk. “They call you the Beast of St. Giles.”

Dante coughed and sat back, blinking.

“Ah, so you haven’t heard. Well, it’s true, and it’s going to affect business and the people working for you. So, you have to put an end to this. Go to the dinner, smile, be charming, talk to a few people…. It isn’t going to kill you.”

Dante wasn’t so sure of that. Allison had always been the one who went to parties and said the perfect thing while handing out the big ceremonial checks. At least she had been, at first. Dante pulled his mind away from that line of thought. He’d banned anyone in his household from speaking about her, and he needed to stop thinking about her. If that was even possible with his guilt surrounding her memory, the burden he had to carry forever.

“Probably. But what are the attendees at the dinner going to think about eating with the Beast? Maybe I’ll give them indigestion.” He returned his attention to his contracts. “I said I’d think about it.”

Yates turned to the door. “I’ll find Roberts and tell him to make sure your tuxedo is ready for tonight.” He pulled open the door to leave and closed it with a thud that reverberated through the room.

Dante slammed down the contracts on his desk. He had no intention of going anywhere, least of all making some ridiculous public appearance to try to shore up his reputation. He knew well enough what the people in town thought of him, in his house perched high on the crest of the hill above the town. He certainly didn’t need to hear it from them firsthand.

He sighed and went back to work—after all, there was plenty of it.

The door opened and Roberts walked in, carrying a lunch tray. He placed it on the side of the desk and turned to leave, but stopped before he got to the door. “I have your clothes for tonight prepared for you, and I took the liberty of having your car made ready.”

“I’ll take the limousine,” Dante said, picking up a piece of bruschetta from the plate. He loved them, and Harriet made the best ones, with just the right amount of onion and the freshest tomatoes.

“It’s developed a knocking, so I had it taken in for service.” Roberts met his gaze when Dante looked up, hoping his feelings on that were shown in his eyes. “I have the convertible ready for you.” He left the office and closed the door before Dante could say anything more.

It was a conspiracy—that was the only word for it—and he was pissed. Dante swiped his arm over the top of the desk, sending the papers flying and fluttering to the floor. He stood, stomped to the door, and threw it open with a bang that reverberated through the wood-paneled hall. He saw no one, which was probably good. Didn’t anyone understand that he only wanted to be left alone? Apparently they all knew better than he did about what was good for him and what he needed. He climbed the stairs, stomping to alert those nearby that he was on his way.

Dante went to his bedroom, closed the door, and entered his private bathroom. He turned on the cold water to splash some on his face. Dante caught his reflection in the mirror and didn’t like what he saw behind his eyes. They seemed cold even to him. But things were what they were and he couldn’t change them. For a second he lingered, looking at himself, before drying his face and walking away.

He returned to his office to find the papers back where they’d been and his lunch laid out on the desk—Roberts being his usual efficient self. Dante sat down and ate, not really tasting what he knew was an amazing lunch. Harriet always made sure he was well fed. She was a dear, but he rarely saw her, just like he rarely saw anyone anymore.

He went back to reviewing and signing contracts, then left them for Roberts to send to the business office to be executed. His day done, he returned to his room to find his tuxedo laid out for him, along with a deep red bow tie and cummerbund. Dante groaned and looked away from the things, but sighed before picking up the tie and running the soft silk through his fingers. “All right, you old goats. I’ll go.” He put the tie back where it had been and went to his bathroom to shave off his five o’clock shadow—he didn’t want to look like Homer Simpson—and then stepped under the hottest water he could stand for a shower.

Over the years, he’d tried more than once to wash away the stain of what he’d done, but there was no way to do that. It would stay with him forever, and he wasn’t going to be able to leave it behind no matter how much he might have wanted to.

Clean, he tossed his dirty clothes in the hamper and went to his room to get dressed. He got his pants and shirt on before Roberts seemed to know he was needed and knocked softly on the door before entering.

“Let me help you.” Roberts attached the gold-and-onyx shirt studs and the cuff links before tying his tie and making sure it was perfect, then helping Dante into his jacket. “You look stunning.” He stepped out of the way so Dante could look at himself in the mirror.

Dante nodded, pleased with his appearance. He sat on the bed to pull on his socks and the mirror-shined shoes Roberts had set out for him.

“There. Now no one will be able to keep their eyes off you.”

Dante humphed. There wasn’t anyone at this dinner who was going to want to pay special attention to him. He could look as good as anyone in the history of mankind, but it wouldn’t matter at all. Everyone in town seemed to think they knew what had happened and had made up their own minds. Dante wasn’t going to change them, so he stayed away.

“I need to go to Paris and London for business in the next few weeks. Could you please arrange the travel for me? I left the dates on my desk.” After tonight, he’d wrap up the business he needed to in St. Giles and escape to Europe for a while. He had plenty of business to attend to, and he was always happier over there. He had friends there who knew nothing of his past, and that was exactly how he liked it.

“Of course.” Roberts handed him a set of keys. “The car is out front. Now, have a good time and do what you need to.” He brushed what Dante figured was imaginary lint off Dante’s shoulders and then stepped aside.

“Thank you.” Dante left his room and descended the stairs of the house where three generations of his family had lived. As a kid, he’d loved this place, with its rich woodwork and the paintings and sculptures his mother had collected throughout her life. Now it was a showplace… for one. Well, that and the people who worked for him. Others rarely saw it, and even then got no farther than the hall and his office. He’d closed up much of the rest of the house. Why have the staff clean rooms that were never used and weren’t likely to be used again? Well, not in his lifetime anyway, and who knew who’d live here after he was gone. It wasn’t as though he’d ever have children, much to his late father’s chagrin.

Dante walked out of the house to the midnight-blue BMW that sat right out front. Its top was already down, and he stopped and took a deep breath. He could do this; it was only a car. Dante slid behind the wheel and turned over the engine, which purred to life. He’d forgotten what it felt like to experience this car, and Dante put it into gear and glided out of the drive and down the hill toward the town, the clean, refreshing night air clearing some of the cobwebs from his head.

He turned at the main stoplight in town, then continued out to the Community Center to the north. The Foundation had built the building under his father’s tenure, and shit and blast if it didn’t have their fucking name in big letters on the side. As soon as he saw it as he pulled into the lot, Dante gripped the wheel tight. He was directed to a spot right up front, and after putting up the top, he made a call. “Yates. Are you at this fundraiser yet?”

“Of course.”

“Then you saw the side of the building?” he gritted through his teeth.

“Of course.”

“I want you to have those damn letters removed and rename the place the St. Giles Community Center. My father might have liked everyone knowing every stupid little thing he did in perpetuity, but that ends. Can you do that for me, and as soon as possible?” He ended the call without waiting for an answer and got out of the car. Taking a deep breath, he walked toward the entrance, which was festooned with arches of fairy lights wound through white flowers. He smiled when he saw it, remembering that his mother loved white roses.

A few people congregated outside, talking. They turned toward him, the women with a look of surprise as their conversations stopped, and then they all moved out of the way so he could pass. He half expected them to curtsey or something, except for the shock and fear in their eyes. He ignored it, went inside the building, and stepped into the foyer, which had been decorated with more arches. Waiters in white shirts weaved through the crowd, all decked out in their finest, the conversations swirling through the room like a trapped fog that wasn’t able to dissipate or escape.

There was a wave of silence as the collective talking came to a stop and all heads turned toward him at the same time. One of the waiters approached, and Dante took a glass of champagne from the tray, thanked him, and continued on through the room. He’d known it would be like this and had been stupid to even bother coming. The town rumor mill had had plenty to feed itself on over the years, and it seemed the stories had gotten bigger with each retelling.

“It will be all right,” Yates said as he came up and stood next to him.

“Do you think I care what these people think?” Dante asked, then drank, emptying half the glass. “God, this stuff is awful.” He set the glass on a nearby tray. “Is there a bar?” He hoped so. Maybe two or three double whiskies would do the trick.

“Yes. It’s in the room off to the side over there.”

Yates seemed exasperated as Dante stomped off to get himself something that would make this night tolerable. There was a line, but it evaporated when people saw him, and he practically walked up to the bar. He ordered and paid for his drinks, placed a nice tip in the jar, and left the room before the whispers could start. For two years he’d stayed away, putting on a brave front, but…. Dante raised the glass to his lips, downed the first of his scotches, and set the glass aside. He held the second one, intending to sip it for a while.

The waves of people seemed to part, and Dante got a glimpse of a brown-haired man with intense blue eyes standing on the other side of the room. His nose was crooked and he was a little gawky. Handsome wasn’t a word that Dante would have used to describe him. He had seen better-looking men, but few with the intensity and drive that churned in those blue orbs. His tuxedo looked at least one size too big for him, and his shirt was a little wrinkled. Dante barely noticed. What he saw were those fiery eyes and a pair of lips turned up in a smile as he spoke to the short lady in front of him. Dante had seen plenty of beautiful people, but few of them captured his attention the way this man did.

“Yates,” Dante said as his lawyer passed nearby, tugging him off his path. “Who is he?” Dante didn’t dare take his gaze off him for fear that he was an illusion and would disappear into the crowd and Dante would never see him again.

“Beau Clarity. He runs one of the programs at the Center. That’s the reason for tonight’s fundraiser. We’re expanding counseling services here, and he runs the program.” Yates brushed something off Dante’s arm.

“How is that possible? He looks like….” Words escaped him. An angel, or maybe it was the devil himself in an ill-fitting suit but with a nose and face that stopped Dante in his tracks. Beau chuckled and then laughed, adding to the glitter of the evening with the joy in his eyes.

“I’ve only met him briefly. It’s my understanding that he’s somewhat older than he looks. Granted, at my age, all of you look like children. He’s got a master’s degree in counseling, and from all I’ve heard, he’s very gifted.” Yates excused himself as everyone was ushered into the large community room, which had been transformed into a garden of delight with flowers of every description.

The sweet scent filled Dante’s nose, and everywhere he looked there was color, something to delight the eyes. Even the beams overhead that supported the room, utilitarian as they were, had been transformed into a magical canopy with vines and lights. He nearly walked into one of the tables, he was so fascinated with what was around him.

Others seemed to be finding their tables, but Dante wasn’t sure where he was expected to sit, if anyone had actually been expecting him to show up at all.

“Mr. Bartholomew?” a young boy of about eight said in a soft voice. “I was asked to show you to your table.” He raised his hand, and Dante hesitated before taking it, letting the child lead him through throngs of people as chairs slid along the floor and a crush of conversation and movement nearly drowned out the thoughts in his head. “Mr. Clarity said you were supposed to sit here.” He smiled, pointing to a seat.

Dante knelt down. “What’s your name?” he asked, paying little attention to the people moving around him.

A man tried to pass and stumbled as he bumped into him. “You should look what you’re—” His words cut off abruptly as Dante drew himself up. Surprise and fear warred with each other, and the man turned and headed off the other way without another word. Dante shook his head and turned his attention back to his young escort, kneeling down once again.

“I’m Bobby, and I’m supposed to sit next to you.” He pulled out his chair and climbed onto it, then sat upright, looking completely uncomfortable, and Dante wondered if he’d been instructed on exactly how he was to behave tonight. “They had a contest at school and I won, so I got to come, and then Mr. Clarity asked me if I would stay with you and look after you.”

“I see. Well, you’ve done a good job.” Dante smiled and looked up as others joined him. They all seemed a little unsure.

“Mr. Clarity,” Bobby said as the stunning man Dante had seen earlier approached. “Did I do okay?”

“Yes. You did great.” He patted Bobby on his shoulder and then raised his intense gaze to Dante. “Beau Clarity.” He extended his hand.

“Dante Bartholomew.”

“It’s good to meet you, Mr. Bartholomew.” They shook hands. Beau’s grip was firm and dry.

“Dante, please.” They both sat down as servers spread throughout the room with the first courses. “Have you been here in town very long?” he asked, needing to say something. The others at the table were talking among themselves, including Mayor Grant and his wife. He was nice enough, Dante supposed, but his wife always looked like she’d been sucking on a lemon and couldn’t find her lips any longer.

“About six months. The Center wanted to offer counseling for people who were trying to end their substance abuse, so I applied. They helped me move here and even found me a place to live.” Beau smiled at him, and suddenly, even with the air-conditioning turned all the way to winter, Dante seemed extra warm. He drank most of his water and did his best not to pull at his collar.

“That’s good. I’m glad the Foundation was able to help.”

A throat clearing on the other side of him drew his attention, and he turned to Mayor Grant.

“We’ve put forward a city beautification project that we were wondering if the Bartholomew Foundation would like to undertake.”

Dante stifled a huff. “What sort of project?”

“We wanted to acquire large stone planters for the main street to fill with flowers and greenery.” Mayor Grant smiled and showed Dante a picture of what he had in mind.

“Who will maintain them?” Date asked, knowing the answer already. “The same people who don’t maintain the play area at River Rock Park, or the people who’ve let city hall deteriorate to the point that you want to build a new one?” Dante leaned closer. “I suggest you figure out how you are going to improve and maintain what you have.” He met the mayor’s steely gaze with one of his own, baring his teeth slightly. “Better yet, I understand you’re going to run for another term. I suggest we need some new blood. You obviously aren’t up to the task.” He watched as Mayor Grant turned completely white, and his wife leaned forward.

“How dare you…!” she sputtered.

“I’m a citizen like anyone else, and I’m entitled to my opinion. Besides, I certainly didn’t vote for your husband.” He turned away as Jerry Hansen, the most likely mayoral challenger, grinned to beat the band. “Whoever does the job is going to have to learn to live within their own budget and do what is best for the entire town, not just their own hardware store.” He shot another glare at Mayor Grant, whom he’d always thought of as useless. Dante and the Bartholomew Foundation provided a great deal for the town, but over the years, the town had come to rely on it for everything and had forgotten their own stewardship, at least in Dante’s opinion, and that was going to end.

Dante turned back to Bobby. “Do you know what we’re going to have for dinner?”

“Roast beef and potatoes and beans.” Bobby made a face. “I don’t like beans.”

“Bobby,” Beau said gently.

“Why not? They’re good, and they make you grow up big and strong. My mom always made me eat my green beans, and look at me.” Dante sat up straight, and Bobby’s eyes widened.

“These are green and yellow beans together,” Beau clarified.

“Even better. The yellow ones make you smarter. I really like those. And it’s good to be smart.” Dante nudged Bobby. “I’ll make a deal with you. If you eat all your beans, then after dinner, I’ll see if they have any ice cream for dessert.”

Bobby shook his head. “There’s cake.” He pushed out his lower lip. “I can’t have cake. It has gluten in it.” He turned away, his little shoulders drooping.

“I see.” Dante pulled out his phone and made a very quick call to Harriet at the house, then began to eat. When he was done with his starter, his salad was placed in front of him, and he ate it slowly. The lady from the other couple, who had been quiet so far, asked him about what the Foundation did. “It’s to better the people and community of St. Giles and Maryland in general, though we localize our work to the Eastern Shore. We take proposals from anyone and evaluate them for community impact and need.”

“Do you get anything out of it?” she asked.

“I own the porcelain works, and half the profits go into the Foundation. We invest the money and then arrange to distribute the earnings through our projects. The principal is never touched, and so far it has grown each year through contributions.” Dante finished his salad and glanced at Bobby, who was carefully eating one piece of lettuce at a time.

“I’m Clyde Harrison, and this is my wife, Jean. I’m a second-shift foreman at the porcelain works.” He reached across the table to shake hands, and Jean did the same. They both seemed nervous, like if they said one wrong thing, Dante would fire him.

“It’s nice to meet you, Jean.” He turned to Clyde. “I’ve seen you at the plant.” He thought for a second. “You were the one who came up with the idea to reroute the laboratory-ware line last year. That was a great idea, and it’ll be done next month. We figure it will save us quite a bit.” Dante had already arranged a bonus for him, but he’d let that work through the channels.

The conversation died, and Dante turned to Bobby, who had eaten about half his salad and seemed to be finished. “Are you done?” Dante asked him, and Bobby nodded. The servers collected their plates and brought the dinners.

“Do I have to eat all this?” Bobby whispered. “Mama says I have to clean my plate and not waste food.” He looked at him and then at Beau.

“Just eat what you want and have some of the beans.” Dante winked, and Bobby took a bite of the beans and ate a few before starting on the rest. Beau helped Bobby cut his meat, and then the kid ate like a trooper. “Is it good?” Dante asked.

Bobby grinned, nodded, and went back to eating. Dante took a few bites and ate a little of the roast beef. It was okay. The potatoes weren’t exceptional. He ate the vegetables and enough of the rest to make his hunger abate and then waited for his plate to be cleared.

As the conversation in the room increased while the courses were changed, Dante excused himself and left the room. Roberts stood waiting for him. “Harriet added some ice to make sure this stayed cold.”

“Thank you.” Dante took the small cooler bag and carried it back into the banquet room. Pieces of cake had been distributed, with one sitting in front of each place, including Bobby’s, taunting the poor kid. Dante moved the cake aside and opened the bag. He took out a bowl of Harriet’s homemade chocolate ice cream and set it at Bobby’s place. “Guaranteed gluten-free.”

“Thank you!” Bobby said and began to eat like he hadn’t just had dinner.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Yates said after taking the dais. “We want to thank each of you for coming tonight and supporting the St. Giles Community Rehabilitation Clinic. This is a relatively new service that we are pleased to offer, and with your ongoing support, this program will continue well into the future.” Everyone clapped politely. “I’d especially like to thank Dante Bartholomew and the Bartholomew Family Foundation for their donation of the first $50,000 of our fundraising efforts. They agreed to match the first $50,000 in donations, and I’m pleased to report that as of tonight we have surpassed that goal, thanks to all of you.” The applause grew more intense. “Now, I’d like to bring up Beau Clarity to tell you a little about the programs offered and what you’re helping bring to the community.”

The applause rang out, and Beau stepped up on the small stage to stand behind the podium.

“I want to welcome you all here tonight. You are supporting programs that help people with substance-abuse issues deal with their problems so they can return to leading productive lives. Alcoholism and substance abuse don’t just affect the user—they affect us all. Their families, coworkers, and everyone else in their lives. Tonight, through your generous donations, you are helping families come back together and helping to heal wounds that would otherwise tear people apart. So I want to thank each and every one of you for your generosity, and especially Dante Bartholomew, who has joined us here this evening.” Beau motioned to where Dante sat. “I’d also like to ask one more thing. Supporting the clinic financially is wonderful and we appreciate it, but volunteering and becoming part of our programs is equally appreciated. We have plenty of opportunities, and we are grateful for all the help we can get. Thank you.” Beau stepped down and took his seat once again.

Dante ate his rubbery cake and kept to himself, checking his watch and wondering how soon he could go home. The rumor mill had taken a break so far, but he could see people looking at him and talking. Dante wanted to tell them to mind their own business, but it wasn’t going to do any good.

Bobby had finished his ice cream and left the table to join the few other kids in the corner, where one of the adults seemed to be organizing them for something.

“We could really use your help,” Beau told him. “I know you give plenty of money, but some of your time with kids who come in for therapy would be wonderful. Substance abuse affects the entire family.”

Dante felt himself pale. “No.” He managed not to scream the word and checked his watch yet again. It was way past time to get the hell out of here and back to his quiet house. He’d done what they wanted and put in an appearance. He’d been nice. Of course, he’d also told off the mayor, but that was just the cherry on top of the evening. “I am very busy. But I am pleased the Foundation was able to support your good work.”

Dante was about to make his getaway when the group of kids filed onto the stage.

“Mr. Bartholomew,” Bobby said, holding out his hand.

Dante stood and walked up to them, and Beau joined them on the dais.

“The children were told about your matching gift to the Center, and they made you something.” Beau smiled, and each of the kids likewise had a huge grin. Beau stepped to the back of the stage and brought out a gold-framed drawing. “Each of the kids drew a picture of themselves, and we had the drawing framed for you.”

Everyone applauded, and Dante took the colored pencil drawing framed in gold-painted macaroni. “This is very special. Thank you all so much.” He didn’t know what else to say as six small, grinning faces looked back at him. “I’ll put this up in my office so I can see it every day.”

They filed off the stage, and Dante carried the frame back to his seat. He set it on the table and got a drink from a passing waiter. He downed the scotch and then picked up the frame before finding Yates and saying good night.

He had never been so happy to slide into his car in his life. He placed the frame on the back seat and drove home as quickly as possible, pulled the car in front of the house, and went inside.

“How did it go?” Roberts asked.

Dante took off his tie and jacket and handed them to him before going into his office and closing the door. Sometimes life really sucked. Not that he didn’t deserve whatever cold shoulder and whispered conversations he got. He poured a large glass of scotch from the bottle in the cabinet near his desk, sat back in his chair, and figured tonight was a good night to get drunk.

A knock on the door halted the glass on its trip to his lips. “I had the car put around in the garage, and this picture was on the back seat.”

“The children gave it to me tonight, and I told them I’d put it up in my office.” Dante drank half the glass of scotch, the liquid slipping smoothly down his throat. He waved his hand. “Just find an appropriate place for it.” He waved his hand once again, and Roberts left the room. Dante poured himself another glass and did his best not to let images of the intensely attractive Beau Clarity run though his mind like a parade of horniness. The man was something else, and maybe with enough to drink, his smooth voice and the fire in his eyes would abate and Dante would be able to forget them.

 

 

DANTE SAT at his desk, looking up from his work and right at the framed picture the kids had given him. Every time he took a break, there it was. When he’d told Roberts to find an appropriate place to hang it, he hadn’t really meant on his office wall right in front of him, where he saw it every time he looked up.

For the last two weeks, he’d seen it and even stopped to gaze at the children’s drawings of themselves, and damn it all if he didn’t think of Beau and his intense eyes every time. Beau wasn’t handsome, or even generally good-looking in a conventional way, but he had spirit and fire and was willing to let them show. Dante had done his best to bury himself in work and in the preparations for his upcoming trip to Europe. He’d originally planned to leave in a week, but orders and the work they’d need to do at the plant to fill them had delayed his trip. So instead of going to London first, he’d moved that stop to last and kept the rest of his itinerary intact.

Roberts knocked and then entered Dante’s office with a tray. He set a cup of coffee on the edge of the desk, along with a plate of cookies. They were the oddest-looking cookies he’d ever seen, more oblong than round, and a little lumpy.

“Did Harriet make these?” If she had, he’d begin to wonder if she was starting to slip.

“No. These were sent to you from the children.” Roberts pointed to the drawing on the wall. “Apparently you were nice to one of them at the dinner and he wanted to say thank you. He and his friends baked some cookies for you, and Mr. Clarity had them sent over.” Roberts left the office, and Dante picked up a cookie and took a small bite. They were good, if a little dry, but nice with the coffee.

He looked up and saw the picture. “Roberts…,” Dante called, and his office door opened, Roberts entering once again. “Please call the Community Center and tell Mr. Clarity that I’d be willing to volunteer… say, on an afternoon or evening later this week, to help out.” Dante smiled because he knew that somehow Roberts had a hand in this. “In fact, we’re all going to volunteer, including Harriet.” Misery loved company, after all.

“Very good, sir. I’ll make the phone calls and schedule it.” Roberts turned and left the office.

Dante went back to work, strangely excited about seeing Beau again. He wasn’t sure if this was a good idea or one of the stupidest notions ever conceived. But it would make Yates happy. Yes, that was it. He was doing this to help improve his image in the community.

Dante told himself that over and over all afternoon in the hope that he’d eventually come to believe it, but he wasn’t sure it worked.