“Mr. Fletcher would like you to wait in his office,” Ms. Johnson told her.

“I’ll be up in a moment,” Julie said. She turned to Anne and the Christmas scene she’d started painting on the windows. “You painted these angels?”

“Oh…yes.” Anne had almost forgotten the reason she was in the lobby at all. She’d painted three angels this time, floating on a cloud and looking down at Bethlehem and the manger scene. The angels dominated the painting, their joy at the Savior’s birth evident.

“They’re absolutely lovely,” Julie said.

“Thank you.”

“I had plenty of time to look at them while I was waiting, and they seem almost real to me.”

Anne blushed with pleasure. “How kind you are.”

“Roy said you were an artist. You’re obviously very talented.”

“Roy mentioned me?”

“Yes, although I don’t know him well.” Julie shrugged. “We definitely got off on the wrong foot. I’m here to talk to him and, well, I hope we can start again.”

Anne clasped Julie’s hand in both of hers. “I hope you can, too. Could—could you and I talk sometime?”

Julie smiled. “I’d like that very much.”

“So would I,” Anne said. “I’ll be in touch.”

Twelve

Julie was waiting in his office when Roy returned from the meeting, which he’d adjourned rather quickly. She sat in the chair across from his desk, looking unusually demure. His mood had improved from the moment he learned she’d come here to see him. He’d been thinking of her ever since their pizza dinner, and he’d wondered if he’d see her again soon. He had his answer now and frankly, it was one he liked.

“Julie.” He greeted her warmly, walking over to his desk and sitting behind it. “This is a pleasant surprise.”

“I hope I’m not disturbing you.” She’d apparently come to his office immediately after school, not bothering to change into street clothes first. Despite the weather, she wore shorts and a sports jersey, and a whistle dangled like a long necklace around her neck.

“Not at all. What can I do for you?”

He assumed she was there to accept his settlement; she didn’t need to show up in person, but he was delighted she had. So she was like everyone else—willing to take easy money. Yes, he was a little disillusioned, but he still liked her. He couldn’t blame Julie Wilcoff for a quality shared by practically every other person on Earth. Greed was part of human nature, and he’d long since reconciled himself to that.

“I came to talk about what happened on Monday,” she said simply. “My father felt I was out of line bursting in here the way I did.”

“You were angry.”

“Angry,” she repeated, and with a soft chuckle added, “You have no idea. I don’t think I’ve ever been more insulted than—” She bit off the rest of her thought. “At any rate, Dad’s right. I should never have reacted like that. I made a fool of myself.”

Roy was quite enjoying this. “So you’ve come around. Somehow, I knew you would.”

“Come around? To what?”

He didn’t know why she insisted on denying the obvious. Certainly, the settlement was foremost in her mind; it had to be. “I’m talking about the money.”

Julie frowned and shook her head. “This has nothing to do with money. It has to do with an apology.”

“You’re not here because of the settlement?” He wasn’t fooled, but decided to play along for the time being.

“I came to apologize for storming into your office and for the things I said. I’m not here about that stupid, insulting settlement offer, which I have repeatedly rejected. I’d think that by now you’d get the message.” With a visible effort, she managed to keep her anger in check.

Roy’s own anger was rising. “Everyone’s interested in money, Julie, so don’t even bother pretending otherwise. Let’s both be honest, shall we? You aren’t going to get a better offer, so just sign the papers my attorney mailed you and be done with it.”

“I believe I already told you what I think of that,” she muttered. She slid closer to the edge of the upholstered chair. Soon she was barely perched on the cushion at all. He thought she might be in danger of slipping onto the floor.

“You’re holding out for more money, aren’t you?”

She bolted to her feet as if someone had pinched her. “You’re impossible, you know that? I came here in good faith—”

“Good faith?” Roy didn’t see it that way. Not when she said one thing and wanted another. But ultimately, human nature at its most basic couldn’t be defeated.

“I thought we’d made some progress, you and I, and…well, I can see you’re hopeless.”

“Me?” he shouted. “You’re the one who’s got her eye on the almighty dollar.”

“I don’t want any of your stupid money! Why can’t you get that through your head?”

“Because you’re just like every other woman.”

Her eyes seemed to grow wider. “Now you’re insulting not only me but every woman alive.”

“Yes, well, if the shoe fits.”

Hands on her hips, Julie glared at him. “Then I guess you know what you can do with your shoe.”

He glared right back. Standing, he reached for his phone and punched in the number for security. “Please send somebody to escort Ms. Wilcoff from the building.”

Julie’s mouth sagged open in what appeared to be shock. “Thank you very much, but I can see myself out.” She started for the open door, every step filled with indignation. She got halfway across the room before she swung around and said, “I really tried, you know.”

“Julie, just sign the settlement.” They would put an end to this, once and for all. Then they could move on, maybe explore the possibilities between them. He’d be willing to overlook this flaw; no doubt he had flaws of his own. Naiveté about the motives of others didn’t happen to be one of them. “Just sign, okay?” he said wearily.

“No!”

Well, that answered that.

“Furthermore, I think you’re—”

“Uh-uh,” Roy said, holding up his finger. “You don’t want to say something you’ll regret.”

The elevator doors opened before Julie had a chance to insult him. Jason, the guard from downstairs, loomed in the doorway. “You asked for security, Mr. Fletcher?”

If looks could kill, Roy would be six feet under. As best he could, he ignored Julie’s death-dealing glare. “I did.”

Jason gripped Julie by the elbow. “Once she’s gone, is she allowed back in the building?”

Julie closed her eyes. Roy looked at her curiously—was she grinding her teeth? For whatever reason, the anger seemed to drain from her.

“Let’s play that by ear,” Roy told the guard. When she saw that she had no choice but to sign, then and only then would Roy be willing to see her. He insisted on at least that much honesty.

Julie lifted her shoulders in a shrug. “I’ve destroyed the papers your attorney mailed, and I will destroy any replacement papers.”

“This is my final offer.”

She grinned. “I should hope so.” Still in Jason’s firm grip, she turned and walked away. “Goodbye,” she said over her shoulder. “And I mean that.”

“I’ll see that she leaves the building,” Jason told Roy as he hustled her out the door.

“Thank you.” Roy reclaimed his chair. Their conversation hadn’t gone the way he’d wanted. He’d hoped they could find some common ground. His problem was that he genuinely liked her. Okay, so Julie was a little stubborn and clearly unreasonable. But now he was afraid he might never see her again, judging by that final goodbye. She’d probably just mail the signed attorney’s contract, disgruntled that her ploy to get more hadn’t succeeded. She’d settle for twenty-five thousand and she’d avoid him from this moment on.

The thought depressed him. Besides, he was in the right. It was Julie who’d been unreasonable, not him.

He returned to a number of pressing business matters, determined to put Julie out of his mind. Fifteen minutes later, he began to pace, unable to concentrate. Fifteen minutes after that, he called Ms. Johnson into his office.

“Sit down,” he instructed his assistant when she entered the room. “Please.”

Watching him as he walked from one end of his office to the other, Ms. Johnson slowly lowered herself into the chair opposite his desk. “Is everything all right, Mr. Fletcher?”

“What makes you ask?” he muttered irritably.

She looked embarrassed now and her gaze followed him. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so…agitated.”

“I’m not agitated,” he barked.

She dropped her eyes. “As you say.”

Roy resisted the inclination to argue with her to prove his point. He sank down in his chair, tempted to explain that he was the same as ever. But why bother? Women always stuck together.

“You wanted to see me?” Ms. Johnson asked.

Roy nodded and steepled his fingers as he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his desk. “I have a question and I’d appreciate your honesty.”

“Yes, sir.”

Again Roy felt her hesitation. She probably wasn’t the best person to ask, but his options were limited. “Am I an unreasonable man?” He didn’t know why he was questioning his own behavior, his own perceptions. Was there the slightest chance he was wrong in his beliefs about Julie?

Ms. Johnson’s shoulders rose and then fell in a soundless sigh. “You can be at times,” she said, obviously uncomfortable meeting his gaze.

“I see,” he said. “Can you give me an example?”

She nodded. “Just now with Julie Wilcoff.”

Roy was afraid she was going to say that. “You think I’m the unreasonable one?” Women stick together, he reminded himself.

“Mr. Fletcher, perhaps it would be better if you discussed this with someone else, someone more…appropriate.”

Roy frowned, unable to imagine who else he could approach. “I asked you.”

His assistant edged forward. “I had a chance to talk to Ms. Wilcoff while you were finishing up the Griffin meeting, and she seemed sincere to me. I know it was difficult for her to come, but out of respect for her father, she felt it was the right thing to do.”

“She had a rotten attitude,” he snapped.

“If you don’t mind my saying so, it appears you’re the one with the attitude problem.”

His irritation flared briefly and then died.

“Not once did she mention the settlement,” Ms. Johnson continued. “If I were to guess, I’d say she completely forgot about it. I believe she came here for precisely the reason she said—to apologize for bursting into the office. She admitted there were better ways of handling the situation and she felt badly about it. I think she was afraid she’d embarrassed her father.”

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