Monday, April 29, 2019

BOOK: Bentley Square by Carol Ann Kauffman

Strangers meet on the train. She, a beautiful, wealthy businesswoman. He, a down on his luck office manager. 

They have nothing in common. And yet, they are drawn to each other with an undeniable hypnotic magnetism. 

This is the story of Rebecca Robbins, daughter of one of the wealthiest men in the country and Mark Ramsay, a man shrouded in dark mystery and hiding in the shadows from death squads amid international intrigue.

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But wait! Read an excerpt of Bentley Square before you buy:

Chapter One 
Probably a Shoe Salesman

            Becca sat in her usual reserved window seat compartment on the train into the city that morning.  She watched the throngs of people waiting, waiting for public transportation into the big city, waiting for a way out of their hard, dismal lives, waiting for a miracle.  The closer the train got to the city of Skylar, the sadder they looked, the shabbier they dressed, and the more hopeless they appeared.
            She looked for him, still in the hopeful, gainfully-employed, trying to make a living group, in a brown suit, white shirt, dark tie, neat, clean, well-groomed.  Not the most hand-some man she’d ever seen, not even the best looking guy at the train station, but there was something about him she found completely mesmerizing. Something inside her came alive when she saw him.  Her heart leaped.  He made her smile.  She wanted to run to him, hug him, cover him with kisses, and feel his strong, loving arms wrapped around her.   
          Eyes forward, neither a smile nor a frown. Neither the dejected, forlorn type you want to flee from, nor the overly happy, deliriously optimistic sort you want to shake back to reality.  He was aware of his environment.  Ever-watchful.  Cautious. Controlled.   
            He was there waiting for the train almost every morning.  She imagined his life.  He was probably about thirty, a father of one beautiful child, an adorable little girl who had her Daddy’s eyes, with a pretty stay-at-home wife who fussed over him and called him Darling.   He probably worked at one of the many shoe stores downtown, was a very good salesman, and had a good sense of humor.  She bet he had a great smile when he chose to give in and let it out.  He was a kind man with a very gentle soul.  He had tons of friends, but not much family, if any. He carried the heavy weight of responsibility and he didn’t own a weapon, didn’t like guns or violence.  He drank too much and ate too little.  His name was probably…oh, maybe, Richard.
            Oh, there he was! Good morning, Richard, you sweet thing, she said to herself.  Hmm, this morning there was a distinct frown line in the middle of that sweet forehead. She wanted to kiss it away. Richard was worried about something today.  What was it, a sick child?  Yes, that was it.  What a good daddy he was!  Don’t worry, Richard, she’ll be okay.

            “Rebecca, did you get a chance to look at my proposal for the Miller Building?” said Douglas Ellers, catching her attention, but disturbing her daydream.  She looked back.  Richard was gone.  Damn. Back to reality.
            “Yes, Doug, nice work. I’d like to run it passed my father, if you don’t mind, and see what he thinks.”
            “Thank you, Rebecca,” he smiled and nodded.   Getting his proposal looked at by Carlton Robbins was a big step.  The fact that his daughter Rebecca brought it to his attention would give it even more credence.
            The train pulled in to Skylar Central Station.  Rebecca gathered her things.  Douglas waited for her and the two walked to Bentley Square, the tallest building in the city, Carlton Robbins’ building.

            “Good morning, Miss Robbins!  Your father is looking for you,” her secretary Grace DeCapito said as she handed her a copy of today’s agenda.  “Preferably before the personnel meeting.”
            “Thank you, Gracie. How’s he looking this morning?”
            “Good. Strong. Axe-happy,” said a worried Grace.  Rebecca laughed.
            “I’ll calm him down before the meeting.  Don’t worry, Gracie.  Heads won’t roll today, I promise,” she assured.  Grace nodded.

            “Becca!”  He father lit up when she walked in the room. “I’ve missed you!  Did you have a good weekend in the country with Marisa and her family?”  They hugged. She kissed his forehead with a loud “Mwah!”
            “Ah, it was just wonderful!  It’s so calm and pleasant, green and outdoorsy,” she giggled.  “Her family is fine.  We did quite a bit of hiking and horseback riding, because Marisa’s still reeling from the bad breakup with Todd.”
            “Todd.  Todd.  Is he the architect or the concert pianist?”
            “Neither, Dad.  Todd is the astrophysicist.  Being out in nature helps her get her emotions in perspective.   She’ll be okay.  She asked about you.  Come with me next time.  It’s positively rejuvenating.  Really. You need a break from all this paperwork and desk stuff, Dad.”
            “No, thank you. Getting lost in the woods, getting eaten up by mosquitoes, or falling off a horse doesn’t sound like my idea of a great way to relax.  Watching the financial channel with a glass of red wine works for me.  And besides, Marisa’s mother is always trying to fix me up with some lonely old lady from her Bridge Club.”
            “Dad!  Those women are wonderful, have you ever met them? They’re hilarious and mentally razor-sharp!  They’re amazing!  You could use an evening of female companionship with a woman in your age bracket.”
            “Okay, maybe to the weekend in the country, but absolutely no to the old lady date.  I’ll come with you if you’ll agree to let Marisa to fix you up with one of her friends.  She dates highly qualified men.”
            “Highly qualified for what?  Marisa is seduced by what these guys do for a living, not who they are on the inside. She wants to be Mrs. Concert Pianist, or Mrs. Astronaut.  They’re arrogant.  They’re way too full of themselves.  I want… nice.”
            “Re-examine that, Becca.  Most women think a nice man is dull and boring, and they much prefer a dark, brooding, mysterious, exciting bad boy.”
            “No, not me,” she giggled.  “I want a nice one.”  
            “I’m sure some of Marisa’s horrible vain boyfriends have nice friends.  Not all astrophysicists are vain, arrogant, unfaithful bastards. 
            "Ah, this meeting, Becca, are you ready to make some staff cuts?”  
            “No, Dad!  Let’s try some other measures first.  I have a few notes.  Just listen to what I have to say at the meeting before you start axing people.”
            “Honey, I’m thinking about laying them off,” he laughed.  “I’m not going to murder them.  Sometimes, good business demands lay offs.  If we combine offices, it will be more efficient.  Just think of it!  We’ll get to be together all day long!  I have terrific views of the city, the best in the building, the best access to the inside elevator, and my secretary is wonderful, extremely efficient, and highly qualified.”
            “And so is my secretary! I won’t lose Gracie without a fight, Dad.”
            “But Adele has plenty of time to do whatever you need done.  And she’s quiet!”
            “As I see it, Dad, the problem isn’t choosing to merge our two offices together and eliminating Gracie, among others.  It’s finding more projects for Adele to do.  I like Adele, and I know she’s been with you since the dawn of time itself. But, Gracie, I swear, she can read my mind!”
            “In the business world, that’s not always a good thing, Honey.  And Becca, Grace’s too chatty, and a little bit too familiar with you.”
            “That’s because she’s been reading my mind!  I’m not losing her, Dad.  You may lay her off as my secretary, I’ll only hire her back in some other capacity, like my research assistant, or my computer technician.”  She smiled at him and nodded. 
            “Coffee?” She handed him a cup of coffee with milk, two sugars, not too hot, and in his favorite mug, just the way he liked it.
            “Mmm.  Perfect,” he nodded.
            “Douglas Ellers had a few thoughts on what we could do with the Miller Building.  I think you should look it over.  Medical offices, physical therapy center with a heated pool. A small restaurant, a candy shop, a medical supply store, and a small independent drug store.”
            “Woo-hoo!  A senior citizen’s paradise.  Ellers, Ellers, do I know him?”
            “Yes, Dad.  He’s been here for almost six months.  He came from Dayton.  His father is a friend of Dan Colby’s, that’s why you hired him.”
            “Yes, I remember him now. Quiet kid, smiley, nods a lot. Short guy, dark curly hair, thick glasses.  
            “Given any more thought about the Comstock Apartment Building?  Becca, that old monstrosity needs to come down.”
            “I think about the Comstock quite a bit.  And it’s not a monstrosity.  It’s very beautiful.  It’s an architectural masterpiece.  It’s steeped in city history.  I love that old place.  Just last Saturday I stopped in on my way home from work.  I went in and walked around the lobby looking at the moldings, the fretwork, the ornate keyholes on the mailboxes, oh, it’s just beautiful, Dad. It has such a warm feeling inside. It made my heart race. It needs a little work, yes, but it’s still a gem of a building. 
            “And what’s going to happen to the people living there?  They’re hard working people, Dad.  And they’re making next to nothing, they can barely make ends meet.  Where will they go?”
            “Becca, don’t start this bleeding heart liberal crap with me.  ‘El Monstro’ is coming down.  They’ll find some other hole in the wall to live in. How is that good-looking CPA Darren Taylor from dinner last week?”
            “Boring. Plastic.  Uses more hairspray than I do.  Robotic.  Fake smile. Don’t like him.  Don’t like him at all.”
            “Good family, though. The Taylors are good people, Becca.”
            “Dad, stop.  Let’s go to the staff meeting.  I prefer to fight one battle at a time and the boring, plastic Darren Taylor isn’t even in the top ten this morning.”

            The staff meeting went as she had hoped and her father agreed to her proposal.  She was busy the rest of the day, hammering out some of the details to make it work.  Her father popped his head in at five o’clock.
            “Becca, don’t take the train home tonight.  Knock off early and ride home with me.  Celebrate your victory.  You work too hard.  Gunther is waiting outside.  We could stop for ice cream on the way home and ruin our dinner.  What do you say?  Come on!”
            “Chocolate cashew?” He knew it was one of her favorites.
            “Oh, my!”  She thought about it.
            “Or caramel mocha swirl?”
            She smiled at him.
            “Or… both?”
            “Sounds extremely tempting.  But I have some more details to work out on this job-saving plan, Dad.  And I don’t mind the train.  Actually, I LIKE the train.  It gives me a chance to decompress.  And my car is at Lockwood Station.”
            “I can always send the boys to pick up your car.  But it’s your call.  See you tonight.”
            “Yes, Becca?”
            “No more surprise dinner guest fix-me ups!  It really kills my appetite.”
            “No promises, kiddo. Your body clock is ticking.  And so is mine.  See you later,” he winked.  She groaned.
            “Do I have to stop at Taco Bell on the way home to get a stress-free dinner?” she yelled as he walked down the hallway.  He waved.

       Rebecca walked to the station and got into her 
reserved compartment on the train.  She breathed a sigh.  What a good day!  Fourteen office jobs saved, including her priceless Gracie’s.  Of course, they’d be sharing pencils and staplers and writing notes on their palms from now until next Christmas.  But they could do it.  They WOULD do it.  She was deep in thought.  She didn’t notice someone watching her.
He watched for her every evening.  It was the highlight of his day, his reward for surviving another day with Mr. Fusco, the minion of Satan.  She was a breath of fresh air, a ray of sunshine in his dark world.  His woman.  Blonde, lovely, but it wasn’t her classic good looks that made him take notice. He’d seen other beautiful women, and not one of them ever affected him like she did.  It was something else, something he couldn’t describe.  It drew him to her.  His pulse quickened.  He couldn’t take his eyes off her.  He knew her. He knew if she just looked up at him, she would recognize him, too.  He had the over-powering urge to rush to her every time he saw her, calling out her name. Just to hold her in his arms, hug her, squeeze her.  That’s all he wanted.  Just once. 
            And just once is all he would get before she’d file a restraining order against him, he thought, she would think he were a crazy man, and he’d never get anywhere near her ever again.  So he kept his distance.  One just doesn’t go around hugging people one meets at the train station, unless, of course, one is trying to lift their wallets and can run really fast.        
            There she is, he said to himself.  She looked especially tired tonight.  But still, pleasant, sweet.  He remembered the first time he saw her, he felt such a jolt of sheer pleasure, sheer joy.

             You’re here!  I’ve found you, Love.  I finally found you!  

            And from that first happy, joyful moment when he saw her nearly five years ago, he thought about her quite a bit, wondered about her life.  What was her name?  Bridget? No, no.  Allison?  No, no, no. Nicole?  Yes, Nicole, she looked like a Nicole, the beautiful, blonde Nicole. Where did she live?  Well, definitely the suburbs.  The train went as far as Lockwood, and she was on the train before the Comstock stop, so Lockwood, probably.  Was she married?  Oh, he hoped not.  Engaged? If so, that man had to be a damn fool not to be right here with her, at least once or twice a week.   He knew he would’ve been by her side every chance he had, not leaving her alone where strange men at the train station could be plotting to steal her away from him.  
            What did she do in the city all day?  At first he thought she was just out shopping, or meeting friends.  But then he realized she was on the eight fifteen train out of the city almost every weekday evening.  She worked in the city.  She had a kindness about her.  She probably worked with children.  The hours were all wrong to be a teacher, plus there wasn’t a school downtown. There were three hospitals downtown, so maybe a pediatrician or a nurse.  But she worked such long hours regularly.  Then he thought social worker, maybe, saving little ones from abuse and finding them good homes.  Yes, that’s probably it.  He saw her in the window as the train pulled up.  Everyone started boarding the train.

           Hello, Sweetheart!  I’m here.  I’m right here.

            She looked up and looked around, almost like she heard him.  But he didn’t even say it out loud!  He only thought it.  How could she have heard him?  He couldn’t stop himself, so he said softly,

            I’m here, Honey.  I’m here for you.  Find me, Sweetheart.

            “Mark, Mark! Hey!  Are you listening to me?”  His friend Tim tapped him on the shoulder.  He turned.  
            “Huh?”  He looked back.  She was gone.  She wasn’t in her seat anymore.  Her seat was empty.  Where did she go?  Her coat was still there, her briefcase, too.  He boarded the coach section of the train, still looking back, craning his neck, trying to figure out where she went.  Tim sat down next to him.
            “A bunch of us are getting together at O’Grady’s tonight.  Join us.  You need some fun.  You work too hard.  Mark? Mark!  So what is so mesmerizing in that reserved compartment section back there?”
            “Oh, nothing in my league, Timothy.  Just a fleeting moment of pure, sweet… um, what were you saying?”
            “Meet us at O’Grady’s Pub around nine?”

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