Eden 19:4

Eden opened a letter from Eleanor and read it as she climbed the stairs to her room.

Dear Eden,

There is someone I’d like you to meet. I have arranged for lunch on Tuesday. Let me know right away if you cannot be there and I will find another time. Otherwise I will expect you at the Vendome at noon in the ladies’ lounge. It would be best if you did not wear your trousers.


Eleanor Stephens

vendomeTwo days later, Eden stood in the doorway of the ladies’ dining room at the Hotel Vendome nervously pulling at her sleeves. Her hand kept going to her neck and finding not her tie, but the brooch she wore when she wore her skirt. She frowned every time.

She didn’t see Eleanor in the dining room.

A waiter stopped and asked her if she would like a seat.

“I’m waiting for someone,” she said.

The waiter began to speak again, but before he could, Eden said “excuse me” and brushed past him.

Eleanor was standing at a table in the far corner of the room, her hand raised to Eden. She was wearing a straight, back gabardine skirt and a black straw hat.

Eden had never seen Eleanor in a skirt before. She frowned again and began to worry. Who could Eleanor intend to meet dressed this way?

“Eden.” Eleanor smiled and gestured for Eden to sit, dismissing the hovering waiter as she did.

“I don’t understand, why…” she began. But the other woman’s eyebrows shot up at the sight of someone behind Eden’s shoulder.

She raised a finger to Eden, and stood.

A tall, heavy, expensively dressed man of about sixty years appeared beside the table and shook Eleanor’s hand. He looked unhappy to be there, Eden thought, his mouth turned gravely down at the corners, his brow knit slightly as he put his hand on the back of a chair and Eleanor told him, “this is Eden Smith.”

Eden raised a hand. The man took it as if it were of doubtful cleanliness and gave it more of a jerk than a shake.

She examined him quickly. Portrait painting had given her a habit of rapidly discerning the key elements of a face. One glance at the man told her all she needed to know. The elements of his face were very much the elements of her own.

“Henry Barrett,” the man said, dropping her hand unceremoniously and pulling a chair back from the table.

Eden’s face drained of color and she feared she was not concealing her shock, as she looked at Eleanor whose own face, though riveted to Eden was cagily expressionless.

“Mr. Barrett is an old friend of my family’s,” Eleanor said now. “He is often in town on business, and I thought the two of you might like to meet.”

It sounded so simple; so meaninglessly social. Eden nodded, but did not speak.

For his part, Mr. Barrett looked over his shoulder for a waiter and ordered a whiskey.

There was a long silence. At last Eleanor prodded, “Mr. Barrett is something of a horseman. I’m sure he would be interested to hear about the Smith ranch.”

Eden looked at the glass of water before her on the table and wished it were something else. She swallowed hard and said without looking at Mr. Barrett, “It’s the Double S Ranch, and if he’s a horseman, he may have heard about it already. We breed the finest thoroughbreds in the country.”

“Thoroughbreds? From Arizona?” Mr. Barrett looked at Eden now, incredulous.  “I get my horses in Virginia and Kentucky. It’s my understanding that the west breeds horses for the west—work horses and that sort of thing.” He snorted as if amused.

“Not my father’s horses,” Eden said. “We sell them all over the world.”

At the word “father,” Eden saw the man flinch. It was all but an open confession as to his identity and Eden realized at once that he knew who she was and why Eleanor had brought them together.

“Please excuse me a moment,” Eden said. She rose and tried to walk calmly to the washroom in the hotel lobby, but her heart was racing. She all but collapsed against the cold porcelain of the sink as the door shut behind her.

She threw water on her face and examined herself in the mirror. Could she ever look at herself again without seeing him? Why hadn’t El warned her? Perhaps she’d thought Eden wouldn’t come. And Eden had to admit, she might not have, had she known what Eleanor was planning. She certainly wouldn’t have agreed to meet the man in a skirt. Why had Eleanor made her do it?

She walked back to the table now, feeling stronger with growing anger. “I’m sorry, she told Eleanor, “I’m afraid I’ve got a sudden headache.” To Mr. Barrett, she said nothing. She turned away and made herself walk as calmly as she could to the lobby of the hotel and all the way back to Cambridge on foot.



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