Kate stood in the doorway, surveying Martin Sawyer’s office – correction – her office, now that she was taking over the octogenarian’s law practice. She allowed herself a few moments to savor the accomplishment. It had been a struggle to reach this point in her life. Even with her Aunt Thelma’s help, which was substantial and much appreciated, the years of law school had been grueling and lean, requiring that she work part-time in addition to carrying a full course load. Three more years at the large Atlanta firm and now here she was, with her own practice, with the whole world on her doorstep, waiting for her excellent advice and counsel.
Well, maybe not the whole world, she thought, not way up here in the small mountain town of Fairmount. Still, one had to start somewhere and this was the choice she had made in order to be near her only relative, her aunt, whose declining health had become a major concern to Kate.
Taking a step into the room, she paused, squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. Time to assume her position as captain of this ship. She had barely settled into the brown leather executive chair behind the desk when she heard the front door knob being strongly rattled. Oops! She had forgotten to unlock the clients’ entrance door. Jumping up, she was hurrying into the foyer when the impatient visitor began pounding on the door. Really! Who could be in such dire need of an attorney at 7:45 in the morning?
“I’m coming! I’m coming!” Turning the lock, she swung open the heavy wooden door.
And there was Billy.
“Katherine The Great!” his voice boomed out so strongly that the antique chandelier tinkled from above them in the foyer’s high ceiling. With arms outstretched in welcome, he grinned – that same old lop-sided grin – and she couldn’t help smiling back, though she was careful to keep her response under control. After all, too much enthusiasm at seeing her childhood friend might be misconstrued. One could never be too careful around old flames. Before she knew it, his arms were pulling her close in a tight hug, and she stiffened, resisting the desire to fall easily into his comforting arms.
With her face smashed up against his chest, she managed a muffled “Good to see you, Billy.” Even at her height of 5’8”, he still towered over her with his 6’2” frame. Pushing firmly, she separated herself from him and got a good look.
She had to admit he looked good – in a casual, rough sort of way. Nothing like the smooth and elegant preppy guys who worked with her at the Atlanta law firm. Still, the jeans and the simple cotton shirt suited him. The thought occurred to her that perhaps, considering the relaxed way of life here in the mountains, she might be a bit overdressed in her classic suit and pearls, stockings and high heels.
At arm’s length now but still holding her hands, he gave her the once over, starting with her toes and moving up, his head cocked in careful consideration. On reaching her head, he stopped and knit his brows, demanding, “Why’d you get your hair cut?”
In a swift motion, she withdrew her hands from his and stepped back. In her most proper voice she answered, “I didn’t get it cut. It’s pulled back in a bun.” Irritated, she crossed her arms and began to tap her foot. Why was it that only Billy had the ability to get her blood boiling like this, she wondered. And why was he even here this morning? She hadn’t even called Aunt Thelma yet, to let her know her move was complete.
“Hmmm,” was his only response. He walked over to the door to her office and leaned in, his gaze taking in the whole space. “Nice,” he commented. “Why didn’t you call us? How long have you been here?”
“I arrived yesterday. I was very busy getting settled and then it was too late to call.” Why was she feeling defensive? How did he do this to her every time? “I’m going to call Aunt Thelma this morning. If she’s not busy, I’ll go see her at lunch today.”
“No, no… ” Billy grew serious. “She won’t be busy.” He ran a hand through his thick thatch of light auburn hair. “She’s… She’s not done well these last couple of weeks.” He seemed to be waiting for her reaction, and he didn’t have to wait long.
“Why? What’s wrong?” Her concern was obvious. “I just saw her three weeks ago. And I’ve called her twice a week, as usual. Why didn’t you call me?”
Billy’s look begged for her understanding. “She made me promise not to call you. She knew you’d be here the first week in February, and she didn’t want you making trips up here in between.”
“You should have called me anyway.” Her tone was icy now.
Billy stuck his chin out and stood a little straighter. “I told you, I made a promise.”
Kate closed her eyes and shook her head. This boy – this man – was impossible! “Never mind. I’ll see her today and get this straightened out.”
“There’s nothing to straighten out!” Billy’s voice went up a notch. “You’re not the only one that has any sense, you know!”
“Yeah, like you handled things so well last time, when she fell and broke her hip!”
Billy put his hands in his pockets and shook his head. “You haven’t changed a bit, have you, Miss Know-It-All? Always got to run everything and everybody.” His voice was one of mild disgust.
There was a tense pause as they stared at each other, neither willing to give any ground. Kate finally broke the silence. “Thanks for stopping by, Billy.” She turned and walked into her office, leaving him standing alone in the foyer. “You can let yourself out.”
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