Only on His Terms

By: Elizabeth Bevarly
Prologue

Gracie Sumner came from a long line of waitresses. Her mother worked for a popular chain restaurant for three decades, and her grandmother manned the counter of a gleaming silver diner on the Great White Way. The tradition went all the way back to her great-great-great-grandmother, in fact, who welcomed westward-ho train passengers to a Denver saloon. Gracie may have brought a bit more prestige to the family trade by finding work in a four-star, Zagat-approved bistro, but the instinct and artistry of waitressing was pretty much encoded on her DNA, the same way her tawny hair and brown eyes were.

And that instinct was how she knew there was something more to the silver-haired gentleman seated at table fifteen of Seattle’s Café Destiné than a desire to sample the pot-au-feu.

He had come in at the end of the lunch shift and asked specifically to be seated in her area, then engaged her in conversation in a way that made her feel as if he already knew her. But neither he nor the name on the credit card he placed atop his check—Bennett Tarrant—was familiar. That wasn’t surprising, however, since judging by his bespoke suit and platinum card, he was clearly a man of means. Unlike Gracie, who was struggling to pay her way through college, and who, at twenty-six, still had three semesters left before earning her BA in early childhood education.

“Here you go, Mr. Tarrant,” she said as she placed the server book back on the table. “I hope you’ll visit Café Destiné again soon.”

“Actually, Miss Sumner, there’s a reason why I came here today.”

Her gaze flew to his. Although she always introduced herself as Gracie to her customers, she never gave out her last name. Warily, she replied, “The pot-au-feu. Yes, it’s the most popular item on our menu.”

“And it was delicious,” Mr. Tarrant assured her. “But I really came in to see you on behalf of a client. I inquired for you at your apartment first, and your landlady told me where you work.”

Good old Mrs. Mancini. Gracie could always count on her to guard absolutely no one’s privacy.

Mr. Tarrant withdrew a silver case from inside his suit jacket and handed her a business card. Tarrant, Fiver & Twigg, it read, and there was a New York City address. Bennett Tarrant’s title was President and Senior Probate Researcher. Which told Gracie all of nothing.

She looked at him again. “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand. What’s a probate researcher?”

“I’m an attorney. My firm is one of several appointed by the State of New York when someone passes away without a will, or when a beneficiary named in someone’s will can’t be found. In such circumstances, we locate the rightful heirs.”

Gracie’s confusion deepened. “I still don’t understand. My mother died in Cincinnati, and her estate was settled years ago.”

Not that there had been much to settle. Marian Sumner had left Gracie just enough to cover four months’ rent and modestly furnish a one-bedroom apartment. Still, she had been grateful for even that.

“It’s not your mother’s estate my firm was appointed to research,” Mr. Tarrant said. “Did you know a man by the name of Harrison Sage?”

Gracie shook her head. “I’m afraid not.”

“How about Harry Sagalowsky?”

“Oh, sure, I knew Harry. His apartment was across from mine when I lived in Cincinnati. He was such a nice man.”

For a moment, she was overrun by warm memories. Harry had been living in the other apartment on the top floor of the renovated Victorian when Gracie moved in after her mother’s death. They had become instant friends—he filled the role of the grandfather she never had, and she was the granddaughter he never had. She introduced him to J. K. Rowling and Bruno Mars and taught him how to crush the competition in Call of Duty. He turned her on to Patricia Highsmith and Miles Davis and taught her how to fox-trot at the Moondrop Ballroom.

She sobered. “He died two years ago. Even though I haven’t lived in Cincinnati for a while now, when I come home from work, I still halfway expect him to open his front door and tell me how he just got The African Queen from Netflix or how he made too much chili for one person.” Her voice trailed off. “I just miss him. A lot.”