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Prodigal Son(11)
Danielle Steel

The boys seemed happy too, and were constantly out, visiting new friends and staying with them. Peter felt more than ever that this was a fight he couldn’t win. And he felt out of place here. He was an easterner to the core, and had been a New Yorker for more than two decades. L.A. still felt foreign to him, and his father-in-law’s booming business even more so. The financial crisis in New York, and around the world, seemed to have had almost no effect on Gary. He took Peter to the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel for lunch two days after he’d arrived. Important deals were being made at almost every table. It was the favorite haunt of movie stars, agents, producers, and Hollywood moguls.

“It sounds pretty bad in New York these days,” Gary said after they had ordered. The stock market plunge had affected everyone who was invested in it, and the country’s economy seemed shaky, but in L.A. the primary industries were show business and music. New York was the epicenter of the financial world, and more visibly affected. Life appeared relatively normal in L.A., although financing for a number of upcoming movies had been canceled. But restaurants were booming, stores were full. New York had looked like a ghost town when he left, and holiday shopping was reported to be nearly nonexistent. Life seemed more normal here.

“It’s been tough,” Peter admitted. He looked tired these days, and he felt ancient after sleepless nights, worrying about how to take care of his family. Gary wanted nothing more than to solve the problem for him, but Peter did not want to be owned by Gary Tallon. As loving as he was to his daughter, he was known to be ruthless in business, and it was not the industry Peter wanted to work in. He wanted to go back into finance, on Wall Street, as soon as he could. But it didn’t look like that would be anytime soon, as Gary reminded him over lunch.

“I’d like to make a place for you in my business,” Gary said generously, as a waiter served them coffee. He waited until the end of lunch to make an offer. Until then, all his offers had come through Alana. “Alana and the boys are happy here,” he reminded his son-in-law.

“I can see that,” Peter said politely. Gary Tallon was a powerful man and a force to be reckoned with, and Peter didn’t want to offend him, but he didn’t want to work for him either. Nor take a job that was being offered out of charity, and not for what he could bring to it. Peter knew his talents wouldn’t shine there. “But I don’t think it would be fair to either of us if I took you up on it. I don’t have the right skills to really be of use to you, you’d get the short end of the deal on that, and I’d be wasting what talents I do have, working in an industry I have no feeling for, and know nothing about. My whole life has been geared to Wall Street, not the music business.”

“You could learn the business,” Gary said quietly, observing his son-in-law from across the table. The older man’s eyes were hard and steely. He was a good judge of character and knew that Peter was a good man. And Gary’s only goal was to make his daughter happy and get her what she wanted, and she wanted to live in L.A., not New York. He wanted Peter to agree to her wishes, no matter what he had to offer him to do so. Gary threw out a number of what he would give Peter if he took the job, and Peter’s eyes widened when he heard it. It was a ridiculous amount of money, and pure philanthropy on his father-in-law’s part. There was nothing he could do for Gary to earn that.

“That’s an incredibly generous offer,” Peter said honestly, “but I’d be robbing you if I took it. There isn’t a damn thing I could do for you to be worth it.” He would have loved the money, but Peter knew it would be wrong, and almost like bribery, if he took it.

“You don’t have to be worth it,” Gary said bluntly. “All you have to do is live here and make Alana happy.” Peter felt more like a gigolo than ever.

“I can’t be on your payroll just to make Alana happy. I need to earn my keep,” Peter said, looking sad.

“You could be out of a job for a long time,” Gary said somberly, as Peter nodded and knew it was true. “You’ll have nowhere to live when you sell the apartment, and no money to speak of, from what Alana tells me. You can’t just live like nomads, with two boys to consider. I don’t think you have much choice here,” Gary pointed out, looking confident that he’d convince him.

“I need to figure out something when I go back,” Peter said. He had been sending his résumé around, but it was pointless. Partners in investment banking firms were an unsalable commodity at the moment.

Gary didn’t press the point, but he knew that Peter was cornered. His daughter had already told him that she wouldn’t leave L.A. again. If Peter wanted his marriage, he had no choice but to live here, and he was too proud and responsible a man to stay unemployed. Gary was sure he would give in sooner or later. And as the days went by, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, Peter was well aware that if he wanted to be with Alana, he would have to stay in L.A. She was developing a full life here, with old friends and new ones. She was invited everywhere, and Peter felt like a boy toy following her around, or trying to spend time with his sons, who were busy now too. Only Peter had no life here, and nothing to do.

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