Liberty’s Secret: Chapter Three

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I wrote Liberty’s Secret thirteen years ago when I thought I was going to be a romance writer (before I got bored by the formula). But when I decided that wasn’t the kind of writing I wanted to do, my completed genre novel was essentially abandoned and forgotten. But sometimes I get nostalgic about the path I’ve taken as a writer (and that includes the path not taken). So over the next two months, I’ll be posting it here a chapter at a time.

This is Chapter Three.

*****

At the sound of that interrupting voice, Libby’s eyes went wide and she started dithering like she didn’t know what to do. And all Quinn could think was, ‘Mum?’

He voiced his thought and Libby stared at him as if she had forgotten he was there.

‘Oh my God. That’s my…that’s my—’

‘Daughter?’ Quinn supplied almost incredulously.

‘What am I doing? What am I doing?’ she cried, heading for the door, then stopping. ‘I can’t go out there. What’s she going to think?’

‘Libby, we didn’t do anything wrong,’ Quinn soothed her, then added wryly, ‘In fact, we didn’t do anything.’

He watched Libby open the door and peek out.

‘Libby—’

‘Shhh. She’ll hear you.’ She immediately closed the door.

‘Libby, who’s the mother here? You or her?’ Quinn sat down on the bed, rather amused, and watched Libby pace around.

‘It’s not that simple.’

He stood up again and grasped her shoulders. ‘Libby, how old are you?’

‘Twenty-six.’ She looked at him and he could see her mentally grasping at the suggestion of her power. ‘You’re right. I’m twenty-six. I’m the adult here. And if I have a man in my bedroom, then…Oh, God, she’s never going to let me forget this.’ But she straightened her shoulders and shook her ponytail and then yanked open the door.

Quinn watched her descend the stairs, shaking his head. She could stand up to Fraser and him but her daughter seemed to scare the wits out of her.

He moved out of the bedroom and stood at the top of the stairs. Libby’s daughter was crouching by the television. She turned to greet her mother.

‘Hi, Lib—Mother. And who is that?’ the girl asked, noticing Quinn mid-sentence.

Libby, standing at the bottom of the stairs, spun around to see Quinn standing casually at the top.

‘Uh, sweetie, this is Quinn…O’Connell. He works at the magazine with me.’ He thought for a moment she had forgotten his last name but she recovered just in time.

‘Really?’ the girl said, standing fully to reveal her height. She was much taller than Quinn had originally thought and he wondered about her age. Libby must have been virtually a child herself when she had given birth.

‘Dee, don’t start,’ Libby warned, but the look on her daughter’s face was distinctly mischievous.

Quinn was at the bottom of the stairs by now.

‘Quinn, this is Kennedy Freeman.’

‘Pleased to meet you, Kennedy,’ he said, moving forward to shake the hand she was offering.

‘Oh, no, it’s my pleasure.’ He could have sworn the look on her face, rather than mischievous, was pure evil.

‘So, Mother, I think you have some explaining to do.’

‘Dee, kitchen, now. And stop calling me Mother.’ Libby turned to Quinn to flash her teeth at him, but he wasn’t sure it could be called a smile. ‘Would you excuse us for a minute?’ She marched Dee into the kitchen and out of Quinn’s sight but he could hear them whispering.

‘Who’s that guy? He’s gorgeous, Lib. You’ve hit pay dirt this time.’

‘I haven’t hit anything. Yet.’ Quinn could hear the threat in her voice.

‘What were you doing up in your bedroom?’

‘I was showing him around the house.’

‘Hmmm, and how did he like your room? Nice comfy bed?’

‘Dee, I don’t need this from you right now.’

‘You always need this from me, Lib.’

‘Keep your voice down. Quinn will hear you.’

‘Too late,’ Quinn said, leaning against the kitchen wall. They both jumped at the sound of his voice. ‘Is there something going on here that I should know about?’

Libby smiled, but it wasn’t vague or real. Quinn filed the image, classifying it under fake.

‘Quinn, I’m trying to have a conversation with my…’

‘Daughter?’ he filled in.

‘Mother?’ Dee queried, the question implied, but Quinn didn’t understand. It was obviously between the two of them.

‘Dee, cut it out. Quinn and I just work together.’

‘Are you sure you’re not dating him? I kind of like this one,’ Dee said, going to the fridge and taking out a bottle of juice.

‘We’re not dating,’ Libby said emphatically, and Quinn could see the rock and the hard place on either side on her.

‘We’re not dating.’ Quinn backed her up. ‘Yet.’

Dee paused with her glass half way to her mouth. ‘I definitely like this one.’ She jumped off her stool and put the juice back in the fridge. ‘I’ve got homework. Later.’

Quinn watched her saunter out of the kitchen and across the lounge, past the billiards table and through the door to the bedrooms. ‘Cute kid.’

‘Hmmm.’ Libby sat at the kitchen table and Quinn followed her lead, sitting opposite her.

‘So what was that?’

She smiled one of her real smiles.

‘It’s just something Dee came up with.’ Quinn raised an eyebrow. He had to know. ‘She’s not my daughter. She’s my sister.’

‘Then why’d she call you Mum?’

‘Easiest way to put a man off,’ Libby revealed. ‘So whenever she’s not sure about a man or wants to get rid of someone, she does that little routine.’

‘But she didn’t know I was here,’ Quinn pointed out. ‘When she first came in, I mean. She called out, “Mum, I’m home.”’

‘Oh, she wasn’t talking to me. There’s a portrait of our mother in the sitting room. She talks to it.’

‘Where is your mother?’

‘Dead. She died in a car accident just before the house was finished.’

‘So it’s just you and Dee?’

‘No, we have two other sisters. They’re both models. Helena lives in Milan and April lives in Paris. They moved there before Mum died and since I could take care of Dee, there wasn’t any need for them to cut short their careers. And our grandmother lives just a few blocks away. She takes care of Dee when I have to work late. But since she turned fourteen, she thinks she’s old enough to take care of herself. The scary part is I think she’s right.’ Quinn could see she was speaking from the heart but he could also see she was beginning to babble. And he wanted to get back to the routine.

‘Didn’t you want to scare me off?’ he asked, aware of the intensity in his voice and unable to disguise it. He watched Libby and could tell he had just pushed her out of her comfort zone.

‘We’re not…I’m not…you’re not…um,’ she stammered, then smiled that fake smile again. ‘Want me to call Dee back? I bet together the two of us could scare you off, no problem.’

‘I don’t scare that easily,’ Quinn returned. ‘Besides, I think Dee liked me.’

‘She’s my sister. She’ll like who I tell her to like. Or she can sleep in the kennel with Bruiser.’

‘Well, I wouldn’t want to get her into trouble. We’ll just stop talking about her.’ He thought back. ‘Where were we when we were so inconveniently interrupted?’

She thought back, too, and he could see the moment that it occurred to her exactly what they had been doing when Dee had called out her greeting.

‘I think you were leaving,’ she lied, getting up from the table. Quinn rose from his seat as well, his eyes on her the whole time.

‘I don’t think I’d gotten that far.’

‘No,’ she said suddenly, coming around to stand right in front of him. ‘You’d gotten to about here.’ She positioned her mouth right under his and when she spoke, he could feel her warm breath on his lips. ‘And that’s as close as you’re getting.’

She stepped away from him, her professionalism seeming to reassert itself. ‘I don’t get involved with people I work with.’

‘Ah, but you don’t work with me anymore,’ Quinn said, pouncing.

‘You’re right. But I do have a fourteen-year-old girl in the house who seems to find it amusing to read the personal columns to me. And I’m not giving her any more fodder than she has already gotten out of you. Besides,’ she continued, ‘we have to get back to the office.’

That remark shook him. ‘You’re coming back to work?’

‘No, you’re going back to work and I’m coming with you to clear out my office and collect my car. And surely Fraser will be expecting your report. But this is one situation you won’t be able to troubleshoot.’

Quinn waited by the front door as she phoned for a taxi and told Dee where she was going.

‘Don’t let this one get away, Lib,’ Dee called from her bedroom, loud enough for Quinn to hear. ‘He’s one of the good ones, I can tell. And he’s cute.’

Libby emerged from the bedroom wing and slammed the door, shutting them off from any further remarks from her sister. She laughed nervously as she made her way over to where Quinn was standing.

‘Dee thinks it’s a good idea,’ he pointed out.

‘Dee is fourteen years old.’

‘An honest age.’

‘You don’t know much about teenagers, do you?’ Quinn shrugged as a horn sounded out the front. ‘The taxi’s here,’ Libby announced needlessly. ‘Let’s go.’

* * *

Quinn watched Libby packing things into a box through the plate glass window of her office at the magazine’s headquarters. She was chatting to her assistant casually, and did not seem to have one single regret that she was leaving what he had no doubt was the most satisfying job she had ever had. A job she had loved. He couldn’t figure her out.

He paced the distance to the elevators and took the first carriage that arrived up to the seventh floor where Fraser’s office was located.

‘Hi, Mindy, is he in?’ Quinn greeted Fraser’s secretary. She smiled back.

‘He’s been waiting for you. Go through,’ she urged, picking up the phone to tell Fraser he was on his way in. Quinn entered the next office where Fraser’s two assistants were working. He knocked on the next door and opened it when Fraser called out.

‘Well?’ Fraser was shrugging into his jacket and peering into the mirror in his office bathroom.

‘Well, she’s back but I don’t think you’re going to like the circumstances.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘She came back with me—’

‘So mission accomplished.’ The publisher came out of the bathroom, pushing silvery hair off his forehead.

‘Not quite. She’s clearing out her office.’

Fraser stopped what he was doing, his arm hanging in mid-air. ‘She’s one pushy, stubborn broad,’ he commented, sinking into the leather seat behind his desk.

‘I wouldn’t let her hear you say that.’

‘I’d better get down there and talk to her.’

‘Why’d you do it? You had to know she wouldn’t agree to the publicity,’ Quinn pointed out.

‘Of course, I knew,’ he said. ‘I’m not the publisher for nothing.’

‘Then why do it?’ Quinn thought he was a relatively smart man but he couldn’t think of one damn good reason to risk losing Libby’s talents.

‘She’s done all she can for Society.’

‘What are you talking about?’

‘It’s time for Libby to move on.’ Fraser stood up and smoothed down his tie.

‘Are you insane? She’s the best thing to have happened to this magazine in thirty years.’ Quinn’s passion had to be obvious but he couldn’t help himself. Either the old man had finally gone senile or there was some underlying, very sly plan underway here that only someone like Fraser could dream up.

‘I agree, Quinn. She’s done a fine job. She’s set up a structure that allows the staff to work without the supervision of a traditional editor. Which means I can put someone else in as editor and utilise her talents elsewhere.’

‘Are you telling me you did all this just to make sure she was available for another job?’

‘Not quite.’ He came around from the desk and leaned against the edge of it. ‘Why don’t you tell me what happened after you left the restaurant?’

‘Well, you saw me get in the taxi with her. She went home. And to tell the truth, we didn’t even talk about the job that much. She showed me around her house. I met her sister. But she didn’t seem at all upset about not having this job to go to tomorrow.’ Quinn had to admire the self-assurance she projected. But he also had to wonder? Why didn’t she care?

‘So you got along well?’

‘I suppose you could say that.’ Although it wasn’t how he would have termed it himself.

‘Did you kiss her?’

The question hit Quinn from way out of left field. ‘Excuse me?’

Fraser didn’t repeat his query, just stood there waiting for the answer, knowing Quinn had heard him perfectly well.

‘Fraser, we’ve discussed this before. My private life is just that unless I choose to share it.’

Fraser remained quiet until Quinn finally said, ‘No, I didn’t kiss her.’

And he knew instantly that Fraser sensed something hadn’t been said.

‘Did you try to kiss her?’

Dammit, Quinn thought. Why did Fraser insist of knowing all the juicy details? Not that they were particularly juicy, but if Quinn lied now, he knew Fraser would be able to recognise the untruth. His boss had an uncanny way of being able to spot a lie. Not as physical as the method used by his parish priest when he was boy – ‘Quinn, stick out your tongue; you know I can tell if you’ve been telling lies’ – but just as effective at making Quinn feel he had no other option than to be completely honest.

‘Maybe,’ Quinn answered, trying to seem non-committal, but Fraser was unsatisfied. ‘It was entirely consensual, but we were interrupted by her sister and then afterward she told me she didn’t get involved with people she worked with.’

Fraser smiled serenely. ‘And I always thought you were the irresistible sort.’

‘I’m a man, Fraser, not a god.’

‘Your father never had too many problems.’

‘I don’t want to get into that right now, if you don’t mind.’ Quinn immediately backtracked to cover the emotions that always arose at the mention of his father. ‘So why all the questions?’

‘Do you think she’s someone you could work with?’ Fraser asked, and Quinn wondered about that old adage of responding to a question with another question.

‘What are you talking about? I do work with her. At least I did before you forced her to resign.’

‘No, you haven’t worked with her. You stayed in your department, she stayed in hers; you never interacted. I’m talking about working with her side by side. A true team.’ He was leading up to something; Quinn just didn’t know what.

‘We’d have substantially different methods of problem solving. And her passion for the job is something I don’t think I could match. But having said that, we’d probably compliment each other. Her strengths would cover my weaknesses and my strengths would cover hers. What is this about, Fraser?’

‘Quinn, you’re fired.’

‘What?’ He certainly hadn’t been expecting that. He was Fraser’s golden boy, his saviour, his troubleshooter. At least he had been until Libby had taken over. She had worked wonders at the magazine that Quinn would never have been able to achieve. But he knew he had played a part in that success. Why would Fraser want to get rid of him? Surely not because he had tried to kiss Fraser’s golden girl?

‘Don’t get all hot under the collar. It’s not what you think.’

‘Thank God, because I thought you’d gone mad.’

Fraser laughed at his frankness. ‘I have a new assignment for you, Quinn.’

Quinn was speechless. He didn’t know what to say. He thought he had experienced all of Fraser’s oddities but this was definitely a new one.

‘Let’s go see Libby.’

* * *

The news of Libby’s departure had filtered through the building pretty quickly. And everyone at the magazine’s headquarters seemed to be stuffed into her office, demanding an answer to the very sudden and very unexpected departure of their mentor.

Quinn followed Fraser down the hallway as they stepped off the elevator on the second floor. He felt out of place on the second floor. It housed the creative staff, while he and the financial division worked one floor up. He tended not to mix with these people very much. It was like Fraser had said of his working with Libby; he stayed in his department and she stayed in hers – it applied to most of the people Libby worked alongside as well.

‘Libby, you can’t leave. You’re the reason the magazine is doing so well,’ Reid Solomon was saying, and a sea of heads nodded their agreement.

‘Nonsense,’ Libby replied. ‘The magazine is doing well because of the team structure, not because of some easily replaceable figurehead.’

‘Easily replaceable? I don’t think Fraser will see it that way.’

‘You’re right, Reid. I don’t see it that way. Libby will be impossible to replace,’ Fraser said from the entrance to Libby’s office. ‘But it seems I’m going to have to try.’ The sea of heads turned to look at the publisher, including Libby’s, but she continued placing her belongings in a rectangular cardboard box. Quinn noticed that most of her personal items were reference books.

‘What am I paying all you people for?’ Fraser asked with mock severity, and his employees filed out of the editor’s office, leaving only Fraser and Libby. Quinn remained outside. He watched while they talked and it seemed perfectly cordial. But Libby continued packing her things.

She poked her head out her office door and said to her assistant, ‘Emma, type this up for me, will you?’

Emma took the handwritten sheet of paper and looked at it. Libby didn’t wait for a response. Emma looked at Quinn, teary-eyed, and said, ‘Her resignation.’ Quinn shifted uncomfortably, hoping she didn’t break down and bawl, but she got on with the job of officially ending her immediate superior’s tenure.

A few minutes later Libby came out of the office, the cardboard box cradled in her arms. She looked at Quinn, leaning against her assistant’s desk, but said nothing to him. She took the pen offered to her and put her name to the typed resignation letter after a brief read.

‘I’ve written down all my passwords and left my files for the next editor to work from. Here’s the notes for future article ideas I was working on. Cancel my appointments with Chester and Shilton, but make sure you reschedule once the editor’s position is filled. Also that environmental reporter is coming in for an interview next week. You should co-ordinate with Mindy so that Fraser can conduct the interview in my place.

‘I think that’s all. Goodbye, Emma,’ she said, determinedly not looking at Quinn and walking down the aisle between desks towards the elevators. No work was being done on the second floor. Everyone was watching Libby’s purposeful exit.

Fraser came out of the office and looked at Quinn with frustration, shaking his head. ‘Come on.’

Again he followed Fraser, this time back to the elevators and stood with his boss and Libby while she waited for a carriage to arrive.

Fraser said nothing until it came and the three of them were enclosed in the privacy of the box. He would have to be quick, Quinn thought. The parking garage was only three floors away.

‘Libby, I have another position available for you if you’ll consider it.’

‘Fraser, I’m not going through this again. We had a deal which you infringed. Why should I trust you?’ She pressed the button for the parking level.

‘Because there’s no necessity for the sort of publicity that the magazine requires.’

Libby sighed quietly but Quinn heard it.

‘What’s the job?’ she eventually asked.

‘Something right up your ally. A financially struggling outfit that needs someone instinctively creative to head it up. Interested?’ Fraser was the man with the carrot. Quinn doubted whether Libby would be interested in playing the role of the donkey.

‘Specifics, Fraser. Specifics.’ The elevator doors opened and she strode out, Fraser following on her heels. Quinn stepped out of the carriage and allowed the doors to close.

No, she wasn’t going to be the donkey. She was going to be the carrot. And she wasn’t going to let Fraser have her without some serious negotiations.

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