Shadowed Paradise
go out into the summer heat. The situation inside had heated up as
well. Only the agents who had been out showing property all day had
not heard some version of Claire’s adventure. Although she had
carefully avoided telling anyone about her dinner date, in an
office full of outgoing personalities whose stock in trade was
persistence and asking the right questions, Claire hadn’t stood a
chance of keeping it a secret.
    “ You’re having supper with Brad Blue?
Tonight?” Vicky hissed, leaning over Claire’s desk on her way back
from lunch. “Are you out of your mind, girl? Diane will slit your
    Claire gulped. “Who’s Diane?” She longed to
be blasé, but she had to ask.
    “ Do you watch Channel 50?” Vicky
inquired sweetly. “The evening news with Diane Lake, anchorwoman
    “ That Diane?” Claire winced.
    “ That Diane,” Vicky affirmed. She
leaned closer, eyes alight with gossip. Jody Stevens and two agents
who had desks nearby scooted closer, unabashedly eavesdropping.
“You’ll never guess how they met,” Vicky said in a husky stage
whisper. “She bought him at a
charity fundraiser!”
    “ You’re kidding.”
    “ On my sainted mother,” said Vicky,
placing her hand over her heart. “Golden Beach doesn’t go in for
that kind of thing, but Brad was asked to be part of the bachelor
auction at some big fundraiser in Manatee Bay. Diane Lake was the
MC, but when Brad went on the block she joined in the bidding. Cost
her a mint ‘cause Brad sure isn’t the least well endowed bachelor
in the county.
    “ Anyway,” said Vicky, stopping only
long enough to draw a deep breath, “the way I heard it, Brad
figured that was it—one night of dinner, dancing and God knows what
else with a celebrity. Hi, thank-you-ma’am, and goodbye.” Vicky
paused dramatically. “It didn’t work out that way.”
    Several other agents, sensing the tale must
be a good one, joined the huddle of figures around Claire. “My
husband is friends with Brad’s foreman,” Vicky continued.
“Incidentally, that’s probably what he was doing in your part of
town last night. The foreman lives on Heron Creek. Anyway, that’s
how I heard all this. It seems Diane sent him flowers, boxes of
candy, tins of nuts. Just like some old-time Romeo courting a girl.
Picture it! A bunch of men working out of a trailer on a
construction site, and these gifts keep getting delivered. Daily.
Can’t you just see a dozen long-stemmed red roses on an old pine
desk in a beat-up trailer?” Vicky rolled her eyes, savoring her
moment in the spotlight. “Believe me, Brad took the greatest
ribbing of his life.”
    Vicky raised her eyes to the circle of avid
listeners around her. She shrugged. “Well, you didn’t actually
expect him to tell her to get lost, did you?” She turned back to
Claire. “They’ve been an item for about three months now.”
    “ She didn’t get where she is by being
Miss Nice,” warned Don Anderson, T & T’s top listing agent.
“Diane’s a bitch. Possessive as hell. If you’re smart, Claire,
you’ll buy the man dinner and wave goodbye.”
    “ You know her?” Claire asked,
surprised. The cable television channel that served Calusa County
was situated in the neighboring city of Manatee Bay. Golden Beach
was barely large enough to sustain a mini radio station.
    “ For one thing,” said Don, “I know the
Realtor who sold Diane her condo. And what he said about her is
definitely not repeatable with children present.” He rolled his
eyes toward Jody Stevens. “And, if you’ll pardon my mentioning
anything so politically incorrect,” Don Andersen continued,
“there’s an Old Boy Network among those of us who grew up here.
Brad’s one of us . We like to
keep track of each other.”
    Vicky heaved an elaborate sigh. “I suppose
you like him,” she said to Claire. “Who wouldn’t? But don’t say we
didn’t warn you,” she added as the crowd began to melt away,

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