She'd have to speculate on that later because it was time to get to work. She'd intended to spend the afternoon patrolling Loop-area coffeehouses, fertile ground for finding both prospective clients and possible matches for the ones she had, but that was before she'd known how quickly she needed to come up with a candidate who'd knock Heath Champion off his feet.
Heat shimmered from the asphalt as she made her way across the parking lot to her car. The air smelled of fried food and exhaust. Chicago had declared its first Ozone Action Day of the summer, and it was barely June. She tossed the hopelessly wrinkled yellow suit in a trash bin so she never had to look at it again.
As she climbed inside the stifling car, her cell rang. She propped the door open to get some air. “This is Annabelle.”
“Annabelle, I have wonderful news.”
She sighed and dropped her forehead against the hot steering wheel. Just when she'd thought the worst of her day was behind her. “Hi, Mom.”
“Your father talked to Doug an hour ago. Your brother is officially a vice president. They announced it this morning.”
“Ohmygod! That's great!”
Annabelle exuded enthusiasm, bubbled over with bliss, radiated relish, but her mother's ESP kicked in anyway. “Of course it's great,” she snapped. “Honestly, Annabelle, I don't know why you have to be so begrudging. Doug has worked hard to get where he is. No one handed him a thing.”
Except adoring parents, a first-rate college education, and a generous postgraduation cash gift to tide him over.
Exactly the same things Annabelle had been given.
“Only thirty-five,” Kate Granger went on, “and vice president of one of the most important accounting firms in Southern California.”
“He's amazing.” Annabelle lifted her forehead from the burning hot steering wheel before it branded her with the mark of Cain.
“Candace is giving a pool party next weekend to celebrate Doug's promotion. They're expecting Johnny Depp.”
Somehow Annabelle couldn't imagine Johnny Depp showing up at one of her sister-in-law's pool parties, but she wasn't stupid enough to express her skepticism. “Wow! That's impressive.”
“Candace is trying to decide between a South Pacific theme or going with the western thing.”
“She entertains so well, I'm sure whatever she decides will be perfect.”
Kate Granger's psychic abilities were worthy of her own 800 line. “Annabelle, you have to try harder to get over your hostility toward Candace. Nothing is more important than family. Doug adores her. We all do. And she's a wonderful mother.”
Beads of perspiration were forming at her hairline. “How's Jamison's potty training coming along?” Not Jimmy, Jamie, Jim, or any variation thereof. Just Jamison.
“He's so bright. It's only a matter of time. I'll admit I was skeptical about all those learning tapes, but here he is, only three, and what an amazing vocabulary.”
“Is he still saying asshole?”
“That's not funny.”
In the old days, when her mother had a sense of humor, it would have been funny, but, at sixty-two, Kate Granger wasn't taking well to retirement. Even though she and Annabelle's father had bought a spectacular oceanside home in Naples, Florida, Kate missed St. Louis. Restless and bored, she'd turned all the energy she'd once directed toward a successful banking career onto her three grown children. Especially Annabelle, her only failure.
“How's Dad?” Annabelle said, hoping to postpone the inevitable.
“How do you think he is? He plays eighteen holes in the morning and watches the Golf Channel all afternoon. He hasn't opened a medical journal in months. You'd think after forty years as a surgeon, he'd be a little curious, but the only time he shows any interest in medicine is when he's talking to your brother.”
On to chapter 2 in the amazing saga of The Granger Wonder Twins, this chapter featuring the dazzling life of that prominent St. Louis heart surgeon, Dr. Adam Granger. Annabelle reached for her water bottle, wishing she'd had the foresight to fill it with a nice peach-flavored vodka. “There's a lot of traffic, Mom. I don't think I can stay on my cell much longer.”
“Your father's so proud of Adam. He just had another article published in the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. Yesterday, when we met the Andersons for Caribbean Night at the club, I had to kick him under the table to get him to shut up about it. The Andersons' children are a terrible disappointment.”
Just like Annabelle.
Her mother swooped in for the kill. “Did you get the applications I sent?”
Since Kate had sent the applications FedEx and undoubtedly tracked their arrival on her computer, the question was rhetorical. Annabelle's head started to pound. “Mother…”
“You can't keep drifting like this—jobs, relationships—I won't even mention that awful business with Rob. We should have cut you off financially in college when you insisted on majoring in theater. And hasn't that been a gold mine of job opportunities? You're thirty-one. And you're a Granger. It's long past time you settled down and applied yourself.”
Annabelle had told herself she wouldn't rise to the bait regardless of the provocation, but between Mouse, Heath Champion, the mention of Rob, and a fear that her mother was right, she broke. “Applying myself in the Granger family only means two things, right? Medicine or finance?”
“Don't start. You know exactly what I mean. That awful matchmaking business hasn't turned a profit in years. Mother only opened it so she could nib into other people's lives. You're not getting any younger, Annabelle, and I won't stand by and watch you waste more of your life when you could be going back to school and preparing for the future.”
“I don't want—”
“You've always been good with numbers. You'd make a wonderful accountant. And I've told you we'll pay your tuition.”
“I don't want to be an accountant! And I don't need my parents supporting me.”
“Living in Nana's house doesn't count, then?”
It was a knockout punch. Annabelle's cheeks burned. Her mother had inherited Nana's Wicker Park house. Annabelle was living in it, ostensibly to keep it from being vandalized, but really because Kate didn't want Annabelle staying in some “dangerous urban neighborhood.” Annabelle lashed back. “Fine! Do you want me to move out? Is that what you want?”
Oh, God, she sounded like she was fifteen again. Why did she always let Kate do this to her? Before she could retrench, her mother went on, speaking in the same overly patient maternal voice she'd used when Annabelle was eight and had announced that she'd run away from home if her brothers didn't stop calling her Spud.
“What I want you to do is go back to school and get your accounting degree. You know Doug will help you get a job.”
“I'm not going to be an accountant!”
“Then what are you going to be, Annabelle? Tell me. Do you think I enjoy nagging? If you could just once explain it to me…”
“I want to run my own business,” Annabelle said, sounding whiny even to herself.
“You tried that, remember? The gift shop? Then there was that awful dot-com. Doug and I both warned you. Then that tacky employment agency. You can't stick with anything.”
“That's not fair! The employment agency folded.”
“So did the gift shop and the dot-com. Did you ever think it's more than coincidental that whatever business you attach yourself to goes bottom up? It's because you deal in daydreams not in reality. Like that whole fantasy you had about being an actress.”
Annabelle sank lower in her seat. She'd been a decent actress, taking solid supporting roles in a couple of university productions and directing some studio plays. But by her junior year, she'd realized theater wasn't her passion, just an escape into a world where she didn't have to be Doug and Adam Granger's incompetent little sister.
“And look what happened with Rob,” Kate went on. “Of all the— Well, never mind about that. The point is, you've bought into this New Age nonsense that all you have to do is want something badly enough, and you can get it. But life doesn't work that way. It takes more than desire. Successful people are pragmatic. They make plans that are rooted in reality.”
“I don't want to be an accountant!”
A long, disapproving silence followed this outburst. Annabelle knew exactly what her mother was thinking. That Annabelle was being Annabelle again, high-strung, overly dramatic, and impractical, the family's lone failure. But no one could upset her like her mother.
Except her father.
And her brothers.
“Stop screwing around with your life, Spud, and settle on something practical,” Adam, the big-shot doctor, had written in his last e-mail, which he'd thoughtfully copied to the rest of the family plus two aunts and three cousins.