More than a Mistress(2)

By: Sandra Marton


"Ah," Travis had said, with a smile, "were they telling you how much they wish I'd accepted a partnership there instead of here?"

Pete chuckled. "Actually, we were talking about the Bachelors for Bucks thing. You know, the annual charity auction?"

"That's still going on?"

"Yup." Pete buttered the other half of his bagel. "They're figuring the new guy they hired is gonna come in at an all-time high bid."

"No way," one of the other partners said.

Pete shrugged. "They're taking bets he will, John. They figure nobody can beat him, considering his record."

"What record?" John reached for the sweetener. "The guy talks too much, you know what I mean'? Any man blabs endlessly about all the broads in his life, well, right away, I have my doubts. No man has that much time, much less stamina." John grinned. "Well, except for ol' Travis, here."

Pete nodded thoughtfully. "I agree." lie shot Travis a look. "But Travis never talks. Never lets us in on what he'` been doing, and who and how often he's been doing it with."

Travis looked up from his coffee and grinned. "I am a man of honor," he said. "I never talk about my women." His grin broadened. "And the silence just kills you, pal, doesn't it?"

"But," Pete said, undeterred, "we all know what a stud our Travis is. Talk about his latest conquest is a staple in the secretaries' lunchroom. We spot the newest lady getting out of a taxi in front of the building at quitting time." He grinned. "And we watch the bouquets of long-stemmed roses fly out of the florist's shop next door, when Trav decides it's time to dump a broad."

"Please," Travis said, his hand to his heart. "I'd never send roses. Everybody sends roses."

"So, what do you send'?"

The partners all looked up from their coffee. Old man Sullivan was the one who'd asked the question. It was the first time he'd said a word during a meeting in six months.

"Whatever flowers seem appropriate for that particular lady," Travis said, and smiled. "And something small but tasteful, with a note that says—"

"Thanks, but no thanks," Sullivan suggested, and everyone laughed.

"The thing is," Pete said, "I told the guys from Hannan and Murphy that they could boast all they like about their man getting the high bid, considering that our man didn't even enter."

"Which he hadn't, and isn't," Travis said firmly.

"Oh, I know that. We all know that. Right, boys?"

Later, Travis would remember that everybody in the room, even the two female partners, nodded vigorously, then put their heads down as if on cue. But right at that moment, Pete's comments had seemed casual.

"And they said?"

Pete sighed. "They said that we're all lawyers, and we should know better than to present a case with nothing but hearsay evidence."

Someone groaned. Someone else laughed, but old man Sullivan narrowed his rheumy eyes and leaned forward in his chair at the head of the boardroom table.

"And, Peter?"

"And," Pete said, after a barely perceptible pause, "they challenged us. They said we should put our boy, Travis, on the block."

"No way," Travis said quickly.

"Then, they said, we'll really see which guy wins." He paused dramatically. "And the firm that loses has to treat the other to a golf weekend at Pebble Beach."

"Cool." somebody said, and then a wild cheer went up around the walnut-paneled room.

"Now, wait just a minute," Travis had started to say, but old man Sullivan was already smiling across the table and assuring Travis that they all knew he'd carry their banner high into battle, and make them proud to be partners in Sullivan, Cohen and Vittali.

Trapped, Travis thought grimly. It had been a conspiracy.

Old man Sullivan had probably been the only one not in on the scheme. Not that it mattered. There'd been no way out of the setup, not without hearing about it forever from the rest of the partners. And so now here he was, a man about to go onstage before a crowd of estrogen-crazed females like a lamb being led to the slaughter, and if he came in at a penny lower than five grand-which was what Hannan and Murphy's entry had gone for-he'd never live it down.

"I didn't really have a choice," he'd said to his kid brother, over the phone. "Anyway, it's for a good cause. All the money raised goes to children's hospitals."

"Sure," Slade had said, and then he'd snorted.

"What"'

"Well, I was just thinkin'..." Slade's voice took on the soft, Texas drawl of their childhood. "It's kind of like a bull bein' auctioned off to a herd of heifers."

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