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Crowning design, p.5
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       Crowning Design, p.5

           Leila Meacham
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  When the men had left, Deborah apologized to her friend. “I’m sorry about the near fracas. Clayton Thomas asked me to bring him here tonight, and I thought that maybe, once he had met you and Fred and realized the great condition of the bar, he might be persuaded to at least retain this building when the block is leveled.”

  “Humph!” grunted Josie. “The only reason a man like that wanted to come here was because he knew that was the only way he’d get the time of day from ye, lass. The other one now, he’s a sincere lad. He could have lied about who he was. I’d have much rather have seen ye come in with him. But to tell ye the truth, lass…without Fred next door, I don’t know that I’d want the place a’tall. But I thank ye for tryin’ to save them for us. Ye’ve worked hard at it, that I know. And as for that smoother-than-cream fellow, if he’s a’thinkin’ he can weave himself into your affections by holdin’ us over your pretty head, it does me heart good to know he’ll be disappointed.”

  Sipping the creme de menthe, Deborah met the level eye of her friend over the rim of the glass. “He’ll be disappointed, Josie.”

  When the three men appeared later, Fred and Dan were in earnest conversation, Fred energetically reinforcing his sentiments with hand gestures. Clayton looked patently bored. “We must be getting back to the hotel, Deborah,” he said briskly, slipping a proprietary arm about her waist and glancing at his gold watch. In the mirror she saw the barely perceptible rise of Dan’s black brows. Embarrassed, Deborah rotated around on the bar stool, shaking off Clayton’s arm.

  “What about your friends down there, Fred?” she asked. “Have they settled down?”

  “They ain’t a’gonna bother Mr. Parker none, lovey.”

  “Oh, for God’s sake!” snapped Clayton irritably. “Dan can look after himself.”

  “I appreciate your concern, Miss Standridge,” Dan said, his voice disappointingly neutral, conveying nothing. Its indifference provoked a sharp, unexpected pain in her chest. Something of her feeling must have shown, for as Deborah slipped off the bar stool, Dan offered with warmer resonance, “I want to stay and visit awhile longer with Fred and Josie and have another beer.”

  “As you wish.” She blew a kiss to Josie and hugged Fred. “Good night, Mr. Parker,” she said, turning to Dan. They stood, almost touching, their glances engaged. “Thank you for taking the time to meet my friends.”

  “It was a pleasure,” he said, and she realized he meant it.

  “Well, it was a good thing,” said Clayton affably as they drove up under the portiere of the Brown Palace Hotel, “that I arranged for us to have a nightcap in my suite since we were cheated out of one at Josie’s. I’ll inform the valet to park your car. You go on in and wait for me in the lobby.”

  “I am afraid I’ll have to decline that nightcap, Mr. Thomas. I must get back to Dempsey. He’s waiting for me.”

  Clayton’s facial features, in spite of their training, went slack. “Dempsey? But I thought you got rid of him.”

  “Dempsey?” Deborah chuckled as if the idea were laughably absurd. “I could never get rid of Dempsey. Why, I love him!”

  “I see,” Clayton said frostily, his manner toward her undergoing a distinct change. “That is most unfortunate, not only for you, but for the Hayden firm and your shabby friends. I am sure you realize that.”

  “Of course, Mr. Thomas, but the price for your vote is too high. Good night.”

  That night Deborah lay awake for a long time in the starlit brightness of her bedroom. On the floor beside the bed, curled up in his padded basket, Dempsey snored gently. The arresting face of Daniel Parker drifted between her and the stars overhead, shining familiarly through the glass portion of the ingeniously designed roof. She had built the house with money from her inheritance after she had been named head of the urban planning department five years ago.

  He didn’t care for me at all, she thought, not from the moment I walked into the meeting. Now he certainly doesn’t. He thinks I’m spending the night with Clayton Thomas to get the contract. She should have been angry, but the idea hurt her. It would be embarrassing when their paths crossed again, a likely possibility once he moved to Denver.

  Toward morning, she flounced over on her side, yanked the covers up, and forced him from her mind. Dan Parker, you can go to blazes!

  At the firm the next morning, Deborah slipped into the back door unnoticed. Today, before the weekend, Randall would probably announce that the decision had been made by Mr. Parker and his associates to select another firm for the project. Never by word or deed would he ever make her feel the slightest bit responsible for the loss of the contract. But the others would. Even Tony Pierson, whose down payment on a new house and the arrival of a second child had drained him financially, could not help but resent the flubbing of a commission that would have guaranteed each of them a handsome Christmas bonus. And John Turner would be intolerable.

  Deborah tried to concentrate on a new project, but her thoughts kept returning to the contract’s loss. The disappointment of her colleagues was one thing, the loss of the money and challenge to the firm another, but for Fred and Josie, the rejection of the bid was nothing short of a tragedy. Neither of them had anywhere to go or anything to do with the rest of their lives.

  Midmorning, Bea’s characteristic knock sounded on the door. “You look like somebody waiting to be sentenced to death,” the secretary remarked when she entered. “Randall would like to see you. He’s in his office with Mr. Parker.”

  “Mr. Parker? Why did he feel it necessary to come in person to reject the bid?”

  “Who says he did?”

  “Well, why else would he be here?”

  Bea’s eyes rounded innocently. “Maybe to tell us that we’d won it.”

  “What?” Deborah leaped up. “Bea, if you’re getting my hopes up on the strength of your never-ending optimism—”

  “Which is a trait you would do well to have more of, young lady,” Bea reproved loftily. “Now, I’m not about to say another word. Come on. They’re waiting.”

  Deborah knew from the moment she was ushered into Randall’s office, where Dan Parker sat with the contents of the mortgage package on the desk before him, that the firm had been awarded the contract. Both men rose as she entered, and the expressions on their faces gave away the good news. Deborah thought her legs would give way from sheer relief. “Congratulations, my dear,” said Randall, escorting her to a chair. “Dan has just informed me that the firm has won the bid.”

  “I think I am going to do a very stupid thing and cry,” Deborah said as she sank into the chair.

  “Even before we tell you that the corporation not only accepted the conditions of the bid but agreed to charge Fred and Josie only the comparable rent they’re paying now for the rest of their working lives?” Dan said, looking down at her with the beginning of a smile.

  Schooled most of her life to restrain the expression of natural impulses, Deborah had to grip the arms of the chair to prevent herself from leaping out of it and flinging her arms around Daniel Parker. “You mean it! Both get to remain!”

  “If they can stand the noise of the wrecking crews.”

  “Oh, Mr. Parker!”

  Dan Parker was not a man easily surprised. He was waiting for her when she seized him, bending his tall, silver-streaked head to better oblige the arms thrown around his neck. He held her with easy competence while they laughed elatedly into each other’s eyes, both adrift on a mutual wave of joy at the glad news.

  “Thank you,” Deborah whispered. “Thank you with all of my heart.”

  “You’re welcome.”

  “I thought there was no hope, especially after last night. Mr. Thomas wasn’t too pleased with me because I—and then I thought that you thought that I—” Deborah drew a relieved breath, catching a woodsy whiff of a fine cologne. “Am I confusing you?”

  “Not at all. I have all day.”

  She liked him, she realized suddenly, gazing up into his eyes. She liked him a great dea
l. That was why she had been so hurt. He was so attractive, so tanned and towering and rugged. She felt embraced by a mountain—as if she could stay in the shade and shelter of him all day.

  At the desk, Randall cleared his throat loudly. “My dear Deborah, it would seem to me that Mr. Parker has been thanked enough.”

  “Oh—” Deborah immediately came to herself and withdrew her arms. Dan, with evident reluctance, did likewise. But they were still grinning at each other, still sharing a look of pleasure when Deborah sat down again. She was positively giddy. Turning her laughter to Randall, she checked it sharply. He was lighting his pipe, his attention on the procedure, but beneath the thinly hooded eyes she thought she detected sparks of displeasure. Puzzled, Deborah sobered immediately, her jubilance partially extinguished.

  “There is always, of course, a bit of bad news with any good,” Randall said to her. “The firm has been awarded the contract on the strength of my assurance that we can have the construction documents ready for Dan to take to the city planning and zoning commission by November twenty-second. That gives us only a little over nine weeks, Deborah. Do you foresee any problem in meeting the deadline?”

  “Nine weeks,” Deborah repeated, a little dazed. “Well, there certainly won’t be time to waste, certainly none for mistakes, but, to answer your question, no, I don’t foresee any problem.”

  “Good,” Randall said with satisfaction. “We will, of course, have a party this afternoon in the production room after work. Champagne and caviar seem to be appropriate. I’ll have Mrs. Talbert get on the details right away. I regret that you and the other gentlemen will not be able to attend, Dan. I assume you’re all flying out today?”

  “The others are, but I’ve rented a town house near Cutter Street until I can make some arrangements for a temporary office. I won’t be returning to Phoenix until the site is cleared. Razing will begin Monday. So,” he said with a grin at Deborah, “I’d very much like to attend your party, Randall.”

  “By all means. Deborah, if Mr. Parker has nothing more to discuss with you at present, you may go back to your office. I’m sure you’ll want to call Fred and Josie to tell them the good news.”

  “Why, yes,” she said, wondering if she had imagined the cool tone. “They will want to have a party of their own tonight. It should be some wingding.” Rising, she could not resist offering a hand to Dan. “Thanks again, Mr. Parker. You won’t be sorry for your decision about Fred and Josie, and we’ll have those documents ready on the twenty-second.”

  “I’m counting on that, Miss Standridge. That’s why I pushed for the Hayden firm and you in particular as the architect in charge. You’re known around town as a lady who meets deadlines. My interim financing arrangements are based on having those documents approved by December fifteenth. Also, it looks as if a steel strike is likely to begin January first. I want my steel ordered and in here by then.”

  “Whew!” Deborah exclaimed. “No space for a goof of any kind, is there?”

  “I’m afraid not. I don’t like doing business with this kind of time pressure, but with that steel strike coming and interest rates as volatile as they are, I don’t have any choice.”

  “Which means we don’t either,” said Randall.

  “Well,” Deborah said, releasing a deep sigh. “We can only do our best and hope it’s good enough.” She took back her hand and smiled at Dan. “See you at the party.”

  On the way back to her office, ridiculously lighthearted that Dan Parker was not returning immediately to Phoenix, Deborah was nonetheless disturbed by her cool dismissal from Randall’s office. Perhaps his old-fashioned sense of decorum had been offended when she had thrown herself at Mr. Parker like that. Randall expected a certain standard of behavior from women and had often commented that she was the only “true lady” of her age that he knew. “These modern young women—” he would say, breaking off with distaste. Deborah was at home with all of Randall’s opinions. Many of them her parents had shared. The warmth of Dan’s handshake was still with her when she picked up the phone to dial Josie’s Bar.

  Dan backed the luxurious rental car out of the visitor’s space in front of the Hayden firm, his thoughts on Deborah Standridge. She was as beautiful as he had expected and as brilliantly talented. Her concept of his headquarters was a masterpiece of design. Not even her devotion to that likeable but seedy pair on Cutter Street had surprised him, certainly not her obvious devotion to Randall Hayden.

  He had known beforehand, of course, that the Hayden firm would get the contract. He would have seen to that. As it was, he had been spared having to use his well-known tactics of persuasion. All but one of the five votes cast had been in favor of the Hayden firm.

  In the quiet of the sumptuously upholstered car, Dan chuckled aloud. Clayton’s had been the only negative vote. Apparently the delectable Miss Standridge had not been among Denver’s after-hours delights. He would have loved to have seen the blanching of Clayton’s sun-lamp tan when Deborah told him to go fly a kite.

  “Deborah, what’s keeping you!” exclaimed Bea. “Everybody’s waiting for the woman of the hour!”

  “Oh, Bea, I am hardly that. Everybody is in on this coup.” Deborah gave her hair a final stroke, having decided to brush it out of the businesslike chignon for a more festive look, and began collecting the articles she had used to refresh her makeup.

  “You look beautiful!” Bea declared in several octaves above her normal tone. “Was all that done for us?”

  “Was all what?” asked Deborah innocently. From the waggish movement of Bea’s blue-tinted gray head, it looked as if the secretary had already been at the champagne.

  “You know what I’m talking about! Did you get all gussied up just for us or would Daniel Parker be coming to the party?”

  “Bea, Mr. Parker was invited. Whether he will come or not, I don’t know.”

  “Oh, my Lord!” screeched Bea. “We have a romance going! Didn’t I tell you he was something?”

  “Yes, you did, and yes, he is,” said Deborah, pulling Bea’s arm through hers and heading for the door.

  When she entered the production room, everyone seemed to be waiting for her except Daniel Parker, she noted as her eyes swept the group. To her intense embarrassment, a cheer went up, made less inhibited by the champagne already flowing. The only somber note in the room was provided by the visage of John Turner, whose smile was definitely strained.

  Randall Hayden emerged from the group of celebrants and favored her with a proud smile. “How lovely you look, my dear, but what has happened to your hair?”

  It was because of Randall’s suggestion when she first came to work for the Hayden firm that Deborah ordinarily wore her hair in a chignon. Now she ran a hand down one luxuriant side of it and said, “Why, I thought I’d wear it long for the party. Has it begun to float around?”

  “No, but you know that I prefer a woman’s hair to be tidy. Yours is so…abundant. But never mind that. You must take a bow.” He smiled at the group, and Bea handed her a glass of champagne. Randall, raising his, proposed a toast: “To Deborah, who has proved us proud, as they say in the South, and to all of you who worked so diligently to prepare the bid. May our family be even more united and happier than ever.”

  “Here! Here!” the group chorused, touching glasses.

  Deborah, facing Bea, knew from her giggle of delight that Dan had arrived. She had a chance to take her heart in hand and pour a glass of champagne before the deep voice said, “Am I too late to toast the lady?”

  “Not at all,” she said, turning with the champagne. “I thought you might have changed your mind.” He had exchanged the business suit for corduroy slacks and a jacket, a casual statement that somehow said he was looking forward to the evening.

  “I wouldn’t have done that for any reason,” Dan stated, looking directly into her eyes. He touched her glass. “To you,” he said softly, drinking, still holding her eyes. Deborah was entranced.

  “Glad to see that you could ma
ke it, Dan,” said Randall, breaking the compelling moment. “What do you plan to do with your weekend?”

  “Oh, I’ll think of something,” Dan replied, smiling and glancing at Deborah.

  “I am sure you will. Bachelors of your resources do not seem to have trouble with that sort of thing.” He turned to Deborah—pointedly, she thought. “I am looking forward to Sunday, my dear. Two o’clock at my house. I’m having a rather special supper, I think.”

  “They always are, Randall,” Deborah said, suddenly feeling the need to be especially kind to him. The chill was back in his manner. Was it possible he did not like Dan Parker?

  Randall directed an explanation to Dan. “We have a bridge foursome that meets every third Sunday. Deborah is quite a player. Do you play, Dan?”

  “Not bridge, I’m afraid,” the builder answered. There was a moment’s silence between the two men before Randall wished them a good evening and moved on to another group.

  Dan, observing him walk away, commented, “He is very devoted to you.”

  Caught in the aftermath of a masculine exchange she had not understood, Deborah said, “Yes, Randall has been like a father to me. He has provided many opportunities for me to prove myself, as with the Parker project.” She smiled. “I’ve been very lucky.”

  “Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” said Dan. “I wouldn’t say that at all. Will you have dinner with me tomorrow night?”

  “Yes,” Deborah answered promptly.

  The boisterous party at Josie’s had been going on for some time, and Deborah was conscious only of the fact that she was a bit intoxicated. “Easy, lass,” Josie cautioned as Deborah slid carefully off the bar stool, aided by Dan’s steadying hand at her elbow. “She hardly ever drinks,” Josie said to Dan. “I’m worried about her getting home. She can’t drive in her condition.”

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