19. Dinner and More

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After they had examined the bathroom and the other bedroom on the top floor, Lorne led Valerie, Chloe and Chianti back down the three flights of stairs and into the kitchen. "Would you care to try my cooking? Or would you rather we order in? Or perhaps eat out?"

"Mummy could cook dinner for us. She's really good."

"Hush, Sweetheart. Maybe Mr Benton is better than I." He wouldn't have offered if he weren't competent. She smiled as she scanned the fully-equipped and obviously well-loved kitchen. "Let's let him show us what he can do."

Lorne pulled out a high-backed stool from the central island. "May I lift you onto this, Chloe? Or would you rather climb up yourself?"

She raised her arms to him and grinned. "If it includes another hug, then I would prefer to be lifted."

Two hugs and two lifts later, Lorne walked around to the other side of the island and stopped in front of the fridge doors. He turned and leaned against them, staring across the granite-top at the two women, tears welling in his eyes while he quietly mumbled. "Dreams. All those years of dreams. They can come true."

He leaned his head back against the stainless steel doors, staring at the ceiling, trying to control his emotions.

Chloe leaned close to her mother's ear and asked, "Why is Mr Benton crying, Mummy?"

Valerie sniffled as she wiped her cheeks with the backs of her hands. "The same reason I am, Sweetheart. Love. Pure, unabashed love."

"I don't understand."

"You will, Sweetheart. In time, you will."

Lorne nodded as he composed himself. "Yeah. Sometimes it takes a long time, but it's worth the wait." He shook his head and pointed to the fridge doors. "Dinner. I have fresh scallops from the market. How would you like them? French, Italian, Japanese or Chinese?"

"What about British?" Chloe asked. "Why is it always foreign?"

Lorne chuckled. "We could do British, but do you really want them overcooked and served with greasy chips and mashed peas?"

Chloe curled her upper lip as she said, "Eew! Like school food."

"Exactly." He smiled. "British cooking."

"Okay, how about Chinese? I need more practice with chopsticks."

"Would you prefer Guangdong, Shandong, or Sichuan?"

"What are those?"

"Three of their cooking styles. My three favourites."

Valerie nodded as she re-examined the kitchen. Yeah, it's obvious this setup and layout aren't simply for display. "Why don't you choose, Lorne? Though, if it's Sichuan, be light with the peppers for Chloe. What may we do to help?"

Lorne shrugged, ran his gaze around the kitchen, then shrugged again. "Seems I need to learn to delegate here as well." He leaned against the fridge doors again as he bobbed his head.

Valerie sighed, then said, "We all have big adjustments to make."

"Why don't we just pretend like you're one of the cooking videos that Mummy always watches?"

Lorne smiled at Chloe, then at Valerie. "Yeah. Okay. But you watch carefully and ask questions so you'll know how to do it the next time."

Twenty minutes later, in the dining room, Valerie looked up after she had savoured another bite of stir-fry. "I love the balance you've struck with the ginger and garlic."

Lorne chuckled. "An instructor once told me, Too little, and you may as well not have used it, and too much you'll wish you hadn't."

"Hmmm. It's obvious you've attended classes. Where?"

"Not classes. But I've often had instructors from the culinary schools come in and tutor me." He laughed. "Crazy, isn't it? What we do to keep from being bored and lonely."

Valerie nodded. "Yeah. Fill our lives, so we don't notice it as much."

A while later, after Lorne had enjoyed another bite, he looked up into Valerie's eyes. "So, how do you propose proceeding? Moving in?"

"Hmmm. We need to look at that, don't we?" She blew out a deep breath as she thought. This is really happening, isn't it? What's the quickest? "Beds. I suggest we start by buying new beds and having them delivered. It would take too long to arrange removers to pack up Chester Square and deliver the contents here. Besides, Chloe needs a bigger one, and my king would be lost in our suite. That space demands bigger."

A broad smile spread across Lorne's face. "I love your priorities — so, your house is in Chester Square."

"Yeah, I no longer see the need to keep its location from you."

"That's close to here."

"Far enough, I think. We're at the southern end, close to St Michael's Church. About a kilometre from here as the crow flies; nearly one and a half through the streets."

"What will you do with the house? Sell or rent it out?"

"I had been thinking of selling." She sighed. "The market appears ready to crest with the uncertainty of Brexit."

Lorne paused his chopsticks in front of his mouth. "Yes, it's a strange time to predict where the markets may go." After he had savoured the bite, he asked. "Why do you think he would have found your Chester Square address?"

"It's registered in my name, and he has that. The property title is in the public records, and those can be searched."

"Yeah." Lorne nodded. "Public records."

"What about all your other houses, Mummy? He would know about them too. Wouldn't that confuse him?"

"I've been registering them to companies, and they wouldn't appear in his searches." Valerie paused and thought. "There may still be some."

"Some what?" Lorne asked.

"Some of my investment holdings are still registered in my name. The earlier ones."

"That would do little but disturb the tenants if he chose to pursue you through those properties."

"True, but my attorney says that Broughton's petitioning the courts for parental responsibility shows he's either illogical or unstable, or he wants to intimidate me." Oh, God! Should I tell him?  "Either way, there seems to be no predicting what he may do next. When the possibility of kidnapping was mentioned, we moved into the hotel."

"Wise move. But the Courts will dismiss the petition, and he'll soon tire of trying to intimidate you. Besides, petitions, court orders and such have fees, and without money, he can't do much."

"That's the problem. It's increasingly apparent he has a substantial source of funds at easy disposal."

Lorne pursed his lips as he nodded. "Likely offshore. Would have been missed during the settlement."

"That's what we had surmised."

They moved to lighter banter while they continued eating. When Valerie had finished her last bite, she looked down at her empty plate and closed her eyes. Spill it, girl. It has to come out.

Lorne placed a hand on hers. "You're thinking about him again, aren't you? I sense your tenseness. You're safe here; you need to ignore him and let this pass. What can he possibly do to harm you now?"

She shuddered as she looked up. "Smear my reputation. Looks as if he's distributing Photoshopped images again."

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