MAURA strolled to the pool. Not a soul was around. Strange for a Sunday afternoon. Well, she would enjoy the privacy while she could.
She set the tote next to a blue-and-white striped cushioned chaise and left her towel folded at the edge of it. She couldn’t resist just gazing at that bright blue pool. It was smooth as glass. Not a ripple. She’d change that! She’d have a swim and then sun herself dry.
After taking off her hat and cover-up and slipping off her sandals, Maura took three giant steps and jumped into the deep end of the pool. Water rushed past her ears as she sank to the bottom. Once her feet touched the smooth concrete, she sprang to the surface and swam to the shallow end. Maura stood and whipped her wet hair to her back. She tilted her head toward the sky, pulling the sun to her face and inhaling the lingering late afternoon heat into her lungs. Boston’s chill was a thousand miles away.
Maura climbed the steps and dripped onto pebbled deck until she reached her chaise, where she grabbed the towel and dabbed the remaining droplets from skin. The sun would dry the rest.
Maura coated her legs, arms and shoulders with the sunscreen and swirled a gob of it onto her belly. She put on her hat and sun glasses, lay back, and closed her eyes beneath her shades. Her muscles puddled after that long drive and all the unpacking. Lazing poolside was the best medicine.
Relax. Enjoy the sun. You more than deserve it. Come Monday, the blood will flow, hearts will be squeezed empty of oxygen, and crushed bones will be waiting for you to fix them. I know you’ve done it a million times before. But I’ll be there for you.
She drank half the bottle and was about to put it in her tote when her cell rang.
Yes, Mom, I locked the door.
She pulled her cell from the bag. It wasn’t her mother. It was Andrew.
Maura sat straighter. She was wondering when he would call.
“Hi, Maura. Are you settling in?”
“Yes, I am.”
She wouldn’t mention she was lounging poolside.
“Is the condo OK?”
OK? Is he kidding? If he considers the penthouse condo “OK,” he must live in a mansion.
“It’s very nice.”
That was lame. It was fantastic.
“Thank you for the food.”
“I took a chance on the Asian salad.”
“You guessed well. It was delicious.”
Andrew went silent.
Maura waited. This was awkward. Did she signal more than an interest in him during their evening on Miami Beach?
“I need to talk to you about your contract.”
Her heart pumped harder. What did he mean by that?
“There’s a problem.”
Well shit! Fine time to bring that up, after I shoved my belongings into my car, drugged my cat, and drove hundreds of miles to get here. Oh, hell no! And I trusted him. This was too good to be true. No problem! I’ll pack up and go back to Boston.
“Andrew, I had my attorney review the contract.” Maura clutched her cell and pressed it to her ear. “This is disappointing. We’ll discuss this on Monday.” Right before I leave. Flummoxed, she ended the call. Good-bye.
There went her relaxing afternoon! She tossed her cell into the tote.
“Why did you hang up on me?” Andrew asked from directly behind her.
Was he spying on me?
“You startled me. I was just on the phone with you. How did you know I was out here?”
“I was coming up to see you. I called to make sure you were there. Security had told me you’d gone to the pool.”
Her surprised look faded. Mistrust and anger now colored her eyes. A deadly combination. He shouldn’t have said that on the phone. He should have called her earlier while she was in Boston, and not hit her with this the day she arrived. But he was selfish. He was afraid she wouldn’t come. He need to quickly smooth things over.
Andrew raised his palms defensively.
“Maura, it’s not what you think.”
He followed her hands as she jammed her fists against the curves of her hips.
She’s killing me!
He averted his eyes to her face which remained sour.
It had never occurred to him that their meeting might go this badly. But it was his fault. She had every right to be pissed.
He walked slowly behind the high trimmed hedges separating him from the pool deck. The height was perfect, covering him completely. Dressed in a crisp white shirt tucked casually into respectable jeans that skimmed just over his hips, he fit the part of the typical condo dweller. No one would suspect he didn’t belong there.
Bastard! He’s accosting her! She has her hands on her hips.
She’d been so tranquil until he showed up, basking in the sun after her graceful swim, her flat belly rising and falling and her breasts widening with every breath. How her fingertips had cut through the water with every stroke of her sinewy arms, while her toned legs fluttered her along! She was a strong swimmer. He’d expected nothing less of her.
I see you! Quit ogling her!
He stopped. Perhaps he should intervene. Save her from him. The end of the hedge was three feet away. He could spring into action at any moment.
“No. I don’t want to. I want to address it now. You brought it up. Let’s finish it.”
Andrew lowered his defensive stance. “That’s why I’m here, if you’ll just hear me out.”
Maura lowered her hands from her hips and folded them across her chest.
Great! The playing field between them hadn’t gotten any more equal.
“The contract is solid. Martin Horseman, the hospital attorney and also my good friend, drew it up. He incorporated everything we discussed.”
“So, I presented you to the board a bit differently.”
Maura tossed up her arms.
“Criminy, Andrew! You didn’t get the board’s approval? I’ve been on a hospital board. I know how it works.”
“I know how it works, too. But I wanted a contract to your benefit, not exclusively to theirs. They were so impressed with your CV that they voted unanimously on your acceptance.”
Maura rubbed her head.
“It’s fine. I tee’d you up as the best candidate for co-chief of the ED. If you didn’t sign on, then they were ready to tap Minkoff. That would be a disaster.” Andrew grinned. “See? You’re saving us all.”
“I’ll take it. I mean the whole ED staff will.”
“If the board found out you altered the standard contract, you’re going to take the hit.”
Andrew shrugged. “It wouldn’t be in their best interests. They wouldn’t risk not having a brand spanking new state of the art emergency department, aka the Dodd Emergency Center, to cavil at a blueprint.”
As much as he had his differences with his father, he would use his family’s donation as leverage if he needed to. Anything to keep Maura here, and Minkoff in her place.
“I didn’t have any intention to deceive you. My commitment to you stands,”Andrew reassured her.
But his apology may have come too late.
“All right. I’m already here. I’ll honor my commitment as well.”
“I’m grateful. Thank you.”
“I’ve had enough sun for the day. I need to go back inside to ‘my condo’.” Maura teased.
“It is all yours, for as long you want.”
“Seriously, it’s too much. I can’t afford to stay here. I’ll look for another place next week.”
“No. You don’t owe me anything. No one’s using it, except you. It’s been empty for quite a while, and I wanted you to be comfortable. To feel at home. Well, a second home that is.”
“I have to pay you something.”
“OK. A dollar a month.”
She puckered her face. It wouldn’t have looked adorable on anyone else. She was going to counter him.
“Five hundred a month. I know it’s paltry, but I still have a mortgage to pay.”
“A hundred a month, and I’ll pay your mortgage.”
There went the same puckered face.
“Two hundred a month, and I’ll pay my own mortgage.”
“You drive a hard bargain. But be advised, my terms are always flexible.”
He held out his hand to her.
They shook on the compromise.
“I’m glad we got that straightened out,” he said.
“I’ll walk you inside.”
Maura chuckled. “You sound like my mother.” She parodied her. “Is it a safe neighborhood?”
“Nothing exciting happens here. This is an adult tower. There’s a family one a block over. Should be nice and quiet.”
“I had the pool all to myself, and on a weekend, no less.”
“Everyone is probably at the boat show at the arena.”
“Why aren’t you there?” Maura asked.
“Already have the newest model. Besides, this was time better spent.”
The conversation skidded to an awkward halt.
Why did he boast about that? He’d become so comfortable around her, with the exception of that earlier rough spot, that words tended to spill from his mouth. He enjoyed her company, more than he had anticipated. But he knew Maura was untouchable. Hers was a freshly wounded heart, splintered in the worst way. Besides, she and he were in a professional relationship, and an intimate bond outside of that kind of relationship never ended well. He knew that firsthand.
Maura slid on her sandals and put on her cover-up.
“I just need to pack up my things.”
“I’ll help you.”
Andrew folded her towel and picked up her water bottle, placing them in her tote.
“I hate to tell you this, but your cheeks look a bit pink. You’re fine everywhere else.”
Maura tightened her cover-up.
“I must have gone a little light on the sunscreen on my face after the swim. Some Aloe vera should sooth them.”
He held out her tote, and she accepted it from him.
“Thanks. Ready, I guess.”
Andrew motioned Maura ahead, but she slowed her pace until he caught up next to her.
She paused and looked back.
“Did you forget something?” he asked.
“No. I thought I heard rustling in those hedges.”
“Why are you laughing?”
“Florida has these little brown lizards. They’re harmless. When first-time transplants see them, they freak out. But they’re harmless. The worst they do is scamper around in the bushes. Eventually you’ll tune them out.”
“What else creeps around here?”
“Snakes, scorpions, alligators,” he teased.
“Good thing I’m on the twenty-seventh floor.”
“Oh, they can climb.”
“I’m kidding! You’re safe.”
He reached into the back pocket of his jeans. The peashooter was simple to build, and it was portable, too. A slim PVC tube with a condom attached to one end made the perfect little catapult that could shoot a decent distance. He’d begun to carry it with him. Technically it wasn’t a weapon. But it got the point across when one needed to be made.
He pulled a dry pea from his other pocket and dropped it into the shooter. All he needed was one. His aim was that good.
He crouched behind the hedge, took aim, and fired.
Andrew stopped and grabbed his heel. It burned like hell.
“Something stung me.”
“No.” He half-chuckled through the pain. “Probably a wasp or a fire ant. Serves me right for wearing flip-flops.”
“Let’s go take a good look at it,” Maura said.
She wrapped her arm around his waist and steadied him.
“You know I’m not ordinarily this easy!” he teased.
He limped along, plastered the side of the woman he’d tried carefully to avoid touching.
Damn it! That wasn’t supposed to happen!
Heat flushed up his neck to his face.
What a pussy! Needing to lean on her! But that’s just like her. Helping the weak. And he is weak!
I’ll reveal who he really is. Then she’ll choose me.
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