Behind her, Nick stiffened and sat up straight.
“Did you hear something?” He dropped his right foot to the floor and leaned forward. “It sounded like metal striking metal.”
Except for the rain, which had slackened, an almost vacuum-like silence shrouded the area, odd for a city that usually throbbed with life. Molly listened for traffic. Maybe there had been a fender bender.
She shook her head. “I don’t hear anything. Can you tell where the sound came from?”
“My guess is from across the street.”
The rain slid in narrow streaks down the car windows. Another light glowed inside the apartment house. The construction site remained dark.
“I’d better take a look over there.” Nick slid his left leg around and over the front seat. He opened the glove compartment and fished out a flashlight. He flicked it on and then off. “Lock the door and don’t open it unless you know it’s me.” He slipped out of the car before she could suggest he arm himself with a tire iron or something equally lethal.
By the time Molly scooted over to the far side window and cleared away some of the evaporation, Nick had crossed the street. He paused for several moments at the construction fence. The beam from the flashlight swung in an erratic arc. Then he rolled the gate aside and entered the site. She listened for any noise that might emanate from that area, but the only sounds were her quickened breath and the soft patter of rain on the car roof. Maybe he’d been mistaken about the scrape of metal. Molly clenched her teeth.
A car cruised by. The whoosh of tires as they spun over the wet street cracked the silence. Then it passed and quiet returned. A beam of light swung from one end of the construction site to another. Nick’s flashlight? Or someone else’s? Stress poked at a spot between Molly’s shoulder blades. Nick had been gone way too long. She squinted at her watch. No luck. Not without a luminous dial, and she didn’t want to turn on the interior light.
She couldn’t wait any longer. Her imagination pictured him knocked unconscious or worse. The hybrid became claustrophobic, as if somehow shrunk to the size of a Smart car. She needed air, needed to get outside, needed reassurance and to find Nick. Or to call the police. There was a station two blocks from the clinic. But her cell phone was in her purse, which was locked in her car.
She disregarded Nick’s warning and slid out onto the slick sidewalk. She ran to her car, grabbed her purse, and fumbled inside for her phone. Other women kept theirs in a side pocket for easy access. She’d developed the bad habit of just tossing hers in. Now she had to wade past her wallet, a notepad, tissues, a comb, a mirror, a granola bar, and two loose lipsticks. Finally, she had her hands on the phone. She backed up and hit something solid. Her heart leaped and she swung around and almost stumbled over Nick.
“Jeez, don’t you ever listen?” He reached in and unlocked the rear door, then grabbed Molly’s arm and pushed her onto the seat. After he secured the front, he climbed in after her. This time he didn’t have to bother with optimum positions. He pulled closed the rear door.
“I thought you were in trouble. You were gone for an hour, at least.” She fluffed his wet shirt as if that would dry the rain spots.
He shook his head. “It took five minutes, tops. I wasted half the time dealing with the gate lock. I had to hold the flashlight under my arm while I worked the combination. Good thing I kept it simple — two right, four left, two right. That way, none of the guys would have trouble remembering it.”
He didn’t sound concerned. It was just about the longest five minutes of Molly’s life. Her heart still pumped out extra beats.
“Did you find anyone?” She flipped closed her phone and slipped it into her skirt pocket.
“No, but I caught a glimpse of someone. He climbed the rear fence and hopped over it. He’d slashed the windscreen on the street side to get a toehold in the chain link. No matter how secure a fence, a determined person will find a way onto a construction site. By the time I reached the spot, he was gone.”
“I’ll bet it was Serk.”
Nick shrugged. “Maybe. The guy looked about the same size. I didn’t catch a good enough look.”
“I almost phoned the police.”
His soft laugh filled the car. She guessed he wasn’t annoyed at her any more.
“You should stay out of the rain. You got all wet.” He wrapped one arm around her shoulders and brushed damp hair off her face.
“So did you.” She straightened his shirt collar.
He rubbed her bare arm, the one that wasn’t pressed against his chest. “You must be cold.”
Cold? Au contraire.
“Let me warm you up. It’s the least I can do, considering you were ready to send for the rescue squad.”
His hand moved off her shoulder. His fingers spread through her hair and he tipped her head close to his. The hand that had rubbed her arm now massaged her hip, then her thigh. She shivered when it touched her bare knee.
“Are you still cold?” He slipped his hand beneath her skirt hem. Heat as intense as a solar flare scored the flesh beneath his fingers. He touched the hollow in her throat with the tip of his tongue.
Molly swallowed a moan. Her body temperature shot into a zone elevated enough to further endanger the polar ice caps. His lips branded her cheek, then her throat again. A familiar tingle cramped her toes and fingers. She slid one arm around his back and the other onto his shoulder. If his shirt was still damp, she couldn’t feel it. She touched the side of his face. The heat that came off his body enveloped her.
His kiss, when it came, was soft at first. Then it deepened as she parted her lips. She wrapped her other arm around his neck and draped a leg over his thigh. Another impulse. Each one harder to resist than the last. Should she have quashed it? Probably. She pushed his forty thousand dollar offer to the darkest corner of her mind. Tomorrow, she’d wonder if that was behind all this kanoodling. Right now, her body craved being close to his. Heat pooled in her abdomen. She sucked his tongue and a groan came from deep inside his throat. Then he broke the kiss.
“It’s been a long time since I fooled around in the backseat of a car.” He kissed her ear.
“I sure as hell want to fool around with you, Miss Molly. Not here, though.”
While his thoughts ran to just fooling around, hers had taken an entirely different route — love. That introduced just about the worst complication into an already very complicated relationship. She didn’t have to look across the street to where his tenants hunkered down in their little fortress for a reminder.
“Come home with me.” He tipped her head back.
He gazed at her with passion and desire, if not love. He wanted her as much as she wanted him. Could desire substitute for love? Not in her experience. In his, perhaps. Could she let Nick make love to her and then walk away with no expectations? How casual would sex be with him? After they “fooled around,” then what? She didn’t want a one-night stand. Not with any man and definitely not with Nick. There was no way to explain she wanted more than lust, not without total honesty. How could she tell him she wanted more than just casual sex, wanted something deeper that lasted beyond a few nights? She removed her arms from around his neck, pulled back her leg and sat up.
“I think … ” She cleared her throat.
“Don’t.” His finger glided across her cheek.
“One of us has to.”
“Okay. Then I’ll be the one. I think it’s about time you came home with me.” He kissed the tip of her nose. “No, wait, I take that back. I know it’s time.”
“Are you always so sure of everything?”
“No. But I am about you and me.”
You and me. Since when was there a you and me? An us?
It wouldn’t take too much more for her to weaken. Her body had already shot love darts into her brain. “I wish I was. Sure … I mean.”
He rubbed his cheek against hers. His beard had grown in enough to feel bristly but not too rough. She touched his face and almost caved right then.
“We both know it will happen eventually. We’re both ready.”
Ready? For what? Just plain old lust? She fell back on her old argument. “Why make life any more complicated?”
“Molly, any life without some complications would be damn boring.”
“I suppose.” She let out a sigh.
“Look, I’m not going to push you. I won’t go home all hurt if you decide tonight isn’t right.”
He’d given her an out, the kind designed to not make her come across like a pris. Why did he always have to be so damn … insightful?
“It will always be your decision.”
Her relationship with Nick was like a wild ride down a rapids-choked river. Either you expertly maneuvered around boulders or suffered the consequences. She was a grown woman and not sixteen anymore. So why cling to virtue? Back then, that was important. Now she clung to self-protection. Where did she head with him, other than bed? If she was this conflicted, what kind of sexual partner would she make? She beat down the strong impulse to find out.
“I can’t go home with you tonight.”
He grimaced and put his hand over his heart. “I’m wounded.”
If he’d put his hand anywhere near her heart, this conversation would have ended two minutes ago.
He reached into his jeans pocket for his wallet.
“Do you have a pen?”
She leaned over the front seat and rummaged in her purse until she found one.
He took out a business card and wrote on the back.
“This is my home phone and address.” He put the card in her hand. “Just in case you change your mind.”
“I won’t.” She tried to sound forceful, more to convince herself than him. Instead, dejection crept into her tone.
“Okay. Just remember what Confucius said on the subject.”
“Said about what subject?”
He handed her the pen, opened the car door, and put one foot outside. “About what happens to a man who goes home without a desirable woman.”
A couple of thoughts flashed through her mind, neither of which she could repeat to him.
He bent to clear the roof of the car and backed out onto the sidewalk. “Good night, Molly.”
“You’re not going to tell me?”
“Tell you what?”
“About what Confucius said.”
He closed the door, crouched down, and mouthed something unintelligible through the side window. Then he blew her a kiss and walked to his car.
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