The Gilded Hour Page 71

Anna watched all this and felt her own throat swell so that even when Jack came to her and leaned over to kiss her cheek, she had not a word to offer him.

The waiter brought another chair and there was a good five minutes of adjusting and moving and ordering of more sandwiches and ice cream, during all of which Anna had nothing to say. Finally Jack turned to her, pressing her shoulder with his own. Under the table he caught her hand and put it on the long hard plane of his thigh to trace her ring. Her fingers twitched, and he folded his hand around hers.

He said, “I’ve robbed you of speech.”

Anna nodded, and the little girls giggled, so delighted that they bounced on the red leather cushions of their chairs. Even Margaret was flushed with excitement. She wanted to know how Jack had found them.

“I stopped by Waverly Place,” he said. “Mrs. Lee told me where I might find you. And here you are. Though Anna still won’t talk to me.” Jack, who remembered the shape of her hands, and the texture of her skin, and the smell of her hair at the nape of her neck. Under the table he squeezed her hand. “Maybe she’s changed her mind about marrying me. Have you, Anna? Changed your mind?”

Lia chirped, “Allora io ti sposerò.”

“Ah,” Jack said, leaning across the table to stroke the little girl’s cheek. “That’s a relief. Lia will marry me if you’ve changed your mind, Anna.”

“Lia,” Anna said. “It’s a very kind offer, but you will have to find someone else to marry. Detective Sergeant Mezzanotte is spoken for.”

•   •   •

JACK TRACED A pattern over Anna’s palm, just to feel her tremble. This wasn’t exactly the way he had hoped to find her but there were some advantages; he had never seen her so reticent or flustered. She vibrated with the need to be kissed, and he wanted nothing so much as to oblige her.

Then the food and ice cream arrived, and there was a moment’s quiet while they turned their attention to their plates and bowls, all except Margaret, who wanted to know about the prisoners he had brought back from Chicago and where they had ended up.

“I don’t know,” Jack said, which was not exactly the truth, but close enough. “A couple patrolmen took charge of them in the station. You don’t need to worry, you know. Even if they were out on the street, you wouldn’t need to worry. They are very polite, gentlemen of the first order unless you’re getting on a train, in which case they’ll take your money, give you a worthless piece of paper in return, and bend over backward thanking you for your patronage.”

“Forgers.” Margaret sounded almost disappointed. “Not even money, but train tickets.”

“Oh, a train ticket,” Lia announced. “I love a train ticket. I got one of those at home.”

“You wouldn’t know a train ticket if it bit you on the nose,” said her sister.

Lia was unconcerned by this accusation, her mouth too full of ice cream.

“Lia,” Jack said. “Your English is almost as good as your sister’s. Did you swallow a dictionary?”

She waved her spoon like a queen with a scepter. “Oh, a dictionary,” she said agreeably. “I love a dictionary.”

“She’s got one of those at home,” Rosa finished for her, and Jack couldn’t help himself, he laughed out loud. For this moment he was content to sit with Anna beside him and talk to the little girls and even to Margaret, who had the makings of a police officer, if such things were possible, or a nun, if she were Roman Catholic. She spoke up as if she had read his mind.

“These girls need to get home, Anna. Shall I go on with them?” She managed to offer both help and disapproval in those few words, a skill that Jack had observed before in mature women who were worn to the bone by loneliness and loss.

“We’ll all go,” he said. “I’d like to say hello to your aunt Quinlan, and then Anna and I have an appointment to keep.”

In an awkward scramble they managed to get two cabs, only to be held up by the girls, who both wanted to ride with Jack. The long afternoon had begun to wear on them, and tears and tempers were ready to erupt. In the end Jack took the girls in one cab, and left Anna and Margaret to the other.

Anna was damp with perspiration and her heart was thundering in her ears, but she worked hard to maintain a placid expression that would give Margaret nothing to grab onto.

Margaret said, “It’s good to see you happy.”

Surprised, Anna had to gather her thoughts before she could reply. “But I haven’t been unhappy.” She heard the defensive tone in her own voice and wondered what she was protecting: her understanding of herself, or Margaret’s? The truth was, her life before Jack was a good life. She had fulfilling work and a family she loved. There were new things for her to discover every day. And that was the key, Anna realized. Margaret thought of her own life as a thing of the past, and anticipated nothing beyond more of the same.

“You could change things,” Anna said. “You really could start out on a different life for yourself. You are not nearly so old as you feel.”

Margaret smiled at her. “I was brought up to be a wife and a mother. I never wanted any other occupation and I still don’t. Really all I want—” She stopped.

“Go on,” Anna said.

“All I want is a household of my own,” Margaret said. “With my own people, who look to me first instead of last.”

Anna thought of Bambina and Celestina Mezzanotte and of all the other women she knew who considered themselves less than women because they had no households or husbands or children to care for. And she thought of Jack, the kind of man she had never even dared imagine.

She said, “If you had broken bones or a punctured lung I could help you. I wish there were more I could do.”

The two of them sat quietly side by side swaying with the movement of the cab as it dodged one way and then another through traffic around Union Square and turned toward Waverly Place.

•   •   •

SOPHIE WAS STILL at Cap’s, but everyone else was in the garden when Anna and Margaret got home, Jack and the little girls included. There was a great deal of talk and laughter and then a spirited discussion about supper. Jack wanted to take Anna away to an appointment—she was still unclear on exactly what he meant with that word, but she had her suspicions—and promised to come back for Sunday dinner the very next day; there was a lot to discuss, after all.

Aunt Quinlan took his face in her hands when he bent down to kiss her cheek and studied his eyes for a long moment.

“Endeavor to deserve her,” she said, and let him go.

“It’s what her father said to her first husband when they married,” Anna explained as they went back through the house. “Her husband said it to all her daughters’ husbands.”

Jack caught her wrist and drew her up against him while pressing her to the wall in the cool shadows of the front hall. When he had kissed her—less kiss than she had anticipated, but sweet nonetheless—he rubbed his cheek against hers.

“Did she say the same to Cap?”

“Multiple times, I’m sure.”

He kissed her again, more seriously now and with all his attention.

“Wait.” It was the only word she could get out between one kiss and the next, and in response she got only the curve of his smile pressed to her cheek.

She pulled away to say, “You can’t smile and kiss at the same time.”

“Watch me,” Jack said.

“What about this mysterious appointment?”

He let her go, nodding. “There is that. Come on, let’s get it over with.”

•   •   •

THEY CROSSED WASHINGTON Square Park at a sharp angle, Jack only slowing when he realized she was almost running to keep up. Her expression was one he couldn’t quite place, but the tone of her voice gave her irritation away.

“Where exactly are we going?”

He gestured with his chin to the southern border of the park. “Mazzini’s Hotel.”

She pulled up short and he stopped, too.


“Mazzini’s, yes.”

A line appeared between her brows. “For what purpose?”

And now he understood. He hadn’t been clear and her mind had gone off in the wrong direction. An intriguing direction, but wrong. She stood in front of him in the late afternoon sunshine, framed all around by dogwood and crab apple trees in blossom with her own color rising in her cheeks. The most sexually open woman he had ever known, but inexperienced, too, confused and affronted and aroused, on top of all that.

He could not resist. “You’re asking about my purpose?”

She crossed her arms and scowled at him, then stepped back when he stepped toward her. Jack advanced at a leisurely pace and she retreated, step for step.

“What purpose do you imagine I have?”

The next step brought her back up against a dogwood tree, and a flurry of petals fell, catching on her hair and shoulders. She was beautiful and irritated and confused.

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