Bride by the Book (Crimson Romance) (19 page)

BOOK: Bride by the Book (Crimson Romance)
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Peter squinted then appeared to realize he was wearing his glasses. He took them off and stuck them haphazardly in his pocket.

“To hell with BrownWare,” Peter said succinctly. “Vern has gotten so fuddy-duddy, he wouldn’t know a game from an app.” He reared back and peered at Garner. “This is your place, right? You can rent me some space in your office, for starters.” He waved his arms for emphasis. “I’ve just signed a contract for a second Ra-thor and Lenora game. Angie’s got to set me up with a scenario so I can get to work.”

“What?” Angie fairly shrieked in dismay. “You went and signed a contract before talking to me?”

“Well, sure,” Peter said, clearly surprised. “You said they were going to want another one, and that you had some ideas already in mind.”

“That was six weeks ago.”

Angie heaved a deep sigh and imagined Garner trying to conduct a legal practice in any building occupied by Peter Van Holden. No one could say she did not know her duty. She unfastened her seat belt with reluctant fingers and forced herself to climb down. Somehow, Peter’s arrival had changed everything in her sparkling new life.

She also knew that there was no easy way to get rid of Peter. He was simply impervious to all hints that he might be in the way, and he would not budge until he had completed his preliminary programming to his own satisfaction.

“You’d better come to my house, Peter,” she said. “This is a legal practice, and you would drive Mr. Holt crazy.”

“Me?” Peter looked vaguely surprised. “I wouldn’t be a bother. Never am. But Ang, we’ve got to get cracking. You were right when you said the Ra-thor and Lenora game would need a sequel. The fans are already calling for it. And you know I can’t even get started until we have a scenario.” He gazed hopefully at her. “You said you were fleshing out some ideas. How about giving me the outline for one?”

Angie looked down at the tablet Peter plucked from his waistband and held out to her. “Sure, Peter. I have it at home. I’ll show you where you can access everything you need so you can get on it right away. Where’s your car?”

“Car?” Peter looked around in search of his vehicle. “I don’t have one. No, wait. I think I left it at your place. Somebody next door told me how to get here, so I walked over and decided to wait. It says the office opens at nine.”

“Climb in.” Garner, to Angie’s relief, took the development in stride. “I was about to run Angie by her house anyway. You might as well ride with us.”

Peter brightened in his vague way. “Thanks. You’re the computer chip manufacturer Angie is working for, right? I thought so. Angie said you were a lawyer, but Vern swears it’s a front.” He glanced back at the house that sheltered Garner’s office. “I really would like to rent some space for a while. I don’t do well by myself, and—”

“You’ll do just fine at my place,” Angie nipped in swiftly. “You can’t be wandering in and out of a lawyer’s office while he’s seeing clients, Peter. It would be an invasion of privacy.”

“Privacy?” Peter repeated. “No such thing. I wouldn’t think of disturbing a private conference. But I do like being able to walk around and see what everyone else is doing. Stimulates the creative juices, so to speak.”

He lapsed into silence, gazing out the window in his usual absent fashion. Angie watched him cautiously a moment then glanced at Garner. She reminded herself again that Garner had no idea what went on in a software development lab. She just hoped he followed her lead in refusing to rent Peter any office space.

“Are you sure he’ll be okay at your place?” Garner asked. “He wouldn’t be in the way—”

“Trust me, Garner, he’d be in the way.” Angie sought for the steely tones Fonda Clancy used in laying down the law to one of her employers when he departed from the bounds of sanity. “Client privacy would be totally out the window.”

“I don’t need privacy,” Peter said from the back seat. “I just need a desk and a couple of computers.”

“I’ve got everything you need at my place.” Angie began to fear she was fighting a losing battle, but she struggled on. “You’ll be able to work in perfect peace.”

Peter thought a moment. “I don’t like perfect peace. You know that, Ang. I work better when I can take a look around at what everyone else is doing.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Angie said. “The problem is that a legal practice is different from software development, and legal clients expect privacy.”

“Cliff has an unused room—” Garner began.

“Cliff is using every bit of his office space,” Angie nipped in. “Believe me, Garner, if you want family harmony, don’t volunteer Cliff’s space. Peter will do very well at my house. For one thing, I have the right computers he needs for his work.”

Garner glanced at her, clearly amused but said no more. He turned into Angie’s driveway, which now held two cars, Angie’s little compact car and the rented car Peter had driven from the airport.

“I didn’t know you could drive,” she said, turning to Peter. “You’ve never even owned a car since I’ve known you.”

Peter looked up from the tablet balanced on his knee. “Never needed one before. My apartment is right on the bus line. But I learned how to drive when I was a teenager, just like everybody else.” He returned to frowning at the tablet. “Cars are a lot fancier now. Liked ’em better when they didn’t try to put computers in them. And they’ve got them sealed off so you can’t program them the way you want them.”

Angie felt a twinge of sympathy upon remembering her fight with the lawn mower. “We’re here, Peter. Come on inside. I’ll get you set up so you can start work.”

“Good.” Peter brightened. “You can drill me on the scenario while I eat. Is there any coffee?”

“I’ll make you some.” Angie led the way down the flower-lined sidewalk to her front door. “Then I’ve got to—”

“Jay!” the resident mockingbird shrieked as it dove at Angie’s head. Angie bit back a scream and ducked.

“Good grief,” Peter said, mildly surprised. “I didn’t know you had a pet bird, Ang. What’s his name?”

“He’s not a pet. He’s a menace.” Angie gave him a look of disbelief. “He thinks he owns this yard and he objects to my presence and nobody else’s.” She unlocked the door. “Sit down while I get some coffee going and change clothes.”

Peter stood on the porch a moment and stared at the slim gray bird. It shot him back a beady-eyed, suspicious glare.

“Maybe we should name him Vern,” he said at last.

“Now that’s an idea.” She bit back laughter and pulled Peter inside. “Now that I think about it, he does remind me a lot of Daddy.”

The things Garner had pointed out to her the day before arose in her mind and created a sinking feeling of fear in her heart. Banishing it resolutely, she marched Peter inside. Later, she would call her mother and urge her to haul Vernon Brownwood to a doctor, whether he liked it or not. That was all she could do while Vernon remained hostile to her and Peter.

She swiftly put coffee on to percolate then fled the bright little kitchen for her bedroom, where she changed into a severely tailored navy suit and pinned her hair into a smooth French twist. This was a day when she needed to look her professional best. She could see catastrophe approaching but didn’t know what form it would take.

The feeling grew when she returned to the kitchen and found Garner and Peter engaged in conversation about the situation at BrownWare. It was obvious Peter felt no remorse at abandoning BrownWare temporarily while he programmed his new game.

“Vern will be glad enough to see me when I get back,” he predicted. “He hates the routine programming you have to do in order to get to the good stuff, whereas I don’t mind it a bit. Gives me a chance to think and get it right the first time.”

Angie felt sure she had been right about impending catastrophe when she ushered Peter into the second bedroom where she had set up her desktop computers. When she spread out the scenario she had worked out for a new Ra-thor and Lenora game, he looked the whole setup over with a critical eye then cast his experienced gaze over her outline.

“I don’t know, Ang,” he said vaguely. “I’ll have to have some coffee and think about this for a while. You’re calling for a whole new approach here, and there are probably two or three ways we can achieve it.”

Angie’s heart sank further. “Why don’t you rest up from the trip and think about it a while? I’ll call you a little later and see what you’ve come up with.”

“Is there anything to eat?” Peter asked in plaintive tones.

She hardened her heart. “You can eat anything you find in the fridge or in the cabinets. I’ve got sandwich makings and fresh fruit, and there’s a frozen pizza in the freezer and toaster pastries in the cabinet.”

Peter wandered over to the refrigerator, opened it and stood staring at the contents, still clutching the notebook Angie had given him.

“Maybe we should eat here,” Garner suggested.

Angie gave up trying to get Garner out of the house before he could do something crazy, like invite Peter to visit his office. She toasted bread and buttered it lavishly, then toasted some of her toaster pastries and put the frozen pizza on to bake. Maybe Peter would decide he needed a nap after he ate a good breakfast.

Instead, he ate whatever Angie set before him while studying the game notebook and writing cryptic notes to himself in the margins with a pencil. Garner watched in obvious fascination but refrained from comment. He ate the toast but eschewed the pastries and pizza.

It was almost nine o’clock before she managed to escape, with Garner in tow. Peter had wandered into the living room and settled on the sofa to study the notebook and connect to his office computer on his tablet. He barely noticed when she left.

“It won’t last long,” she told Garner. “Once he finishes his preliminary work, he’ll start wandering around the house. If he decides he wants company, he’ll go looking, first around the house, then in ever-expanding circles until, somehow or other, he ends up at your office.”

Garner looked back regretfully as Angie hurried him toward his car. “That’s one interesting guy. Did you know he knew Steve Jobs and—”

“They all knew each other,” Angie cut in. “Peter knew everybody in the computer business back in the nineties and probably has wandered around their offices. Or their garages, depending. Come on, Garner. You have appointments this morning, and one thing you don’t need is Peter wandering in and out while you’re consulting with a client.”

“Would he really?”

Garner didn’t add that he would like to see that, but Angie could hear it in his voice. He was fascinated by Peter, and unbeknownst to him, he was likely to get all too many chances to indulge his fascination.

Peter observed no limits or borders when he was in a programming frenzy and wandered everywhere, day or night, in search of conversation, inspiration, or nourishment. Not even Cliff, in a completely separate section of the building, would be safe, nor would the denizens of the New South Diner across the street. Peter liked his coffee while he worked, and lots of it.

Garner held the Blazer door open for her and frowned. “Why are you putting your hair up again? I thought we agreed that it looks better down.”

“Believe me, Garner, this is a day when I need to maintain my professional image.” She frowned back and indicated her upswept blond hair. “You have no idea what we’re in for. I need all the help I can get to keep Peter intimidated.”

Garner laughed. “Oh? Do you think he’ll even notice that he’s being intimidated?”

“Probably not.” Angie let out her breath in a deflated way. “But I owe it to my boss to try.”

Garner appeared to find this exquisitely funny.

When they arrived at Garner’s office, Cliff awaited them on the front doorstep.

“I gather you two know the weird dude,” he said reproachfully. “Why didn’t you bring him over and introduce him? I didn’t see that tablet in his hands until he got up, and it looks like one of those brand new Trypster tablets. I sure would have liked to see it up close.”

“You’ll probably get a good chance later today,” Angie said. “But not if I can head him off.”

“He’s one of Angie’s old business colleagues, Peter Van Holden,” Garner explained. “He’s a computer programmer, and he thinks Angie needs to provide him with the specs for his next programming project. I’ll explain all this to you later. But he’s an interesting sort.”

“Peter Van Holden? VP-Base? No kidding. I’d sure like to meet him. And get a look at that tablet of his,” Cliff said. “Bring him over if he comes back down.”

“He doesn’t know what he’s asking for,” Angie told Garner, when Cliff returned to his own office.

She went to work assiduously typing up a legal form while Garner met with a prospective client. While she typed, she prayed Peter would get bogged down in some knotty programming problem for the rest of the day.

She was really beginning to get the hang of being a professional secretary, she thought, proudly studying the printout of her work. Anyone could benefit from a good review of grammar and punctuation, and no one could deny she knew how to make a printed page look pretty.

Her laptop instant messenger program pinged, and a message from Fonda Clancy appeared.

How’s it going, Ang? You-know-who is on the warpath. There was a notice about a new Ra-thor and Lenora game in the ‘Programmer’s Daily’ today. Why didn’t you tell me, you little sneak?

Angie winced and swiftly typed back.

Peter went and signed a contract without a word to me, so you probably knew before I did. Now he’s here. Any ideas on how to get him to go back home?

She could almost picture Fonda reared back in her chair laughing.

LOL. So that’s where he went. I might have known. But don’t worry. I know how to keep my mouth shut.

I know
you
do
, Angie returned.
Too bad I can’t say the same for Peter. I’m sure Daddy will call my house and Peter answers.

ROF and LOL
,
Fonda wrote.
I’d love to hear that conversation. On second thought, forget it. I think I’ll take a long lunch break today so I can stay out of the line of fire. Talk to you later. I’ve got to get him to sign some letters before I can escape the front lines. I’m telling you, Ang, the atmosphere here is pretty grim. If he fires the entire development lab like he’s threatening, he won’t have a company.

BOOK: Bride by the Book (Crimson Romance)
5.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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