As soon as everyone left the scene, Nick headed for his trailer. He yanked off his tie and tossed it onto his desk, then rolled up his shirtsleeves. He needed to drag his body and mind onto a plateau where he didn’t feel like he’d just barreled over a cliff. The take-out coffee he’d grabbed at a Peet’s on Market Street had turned sour in his stomach, and his head throbbed like hell as if he’d walked face first into a utility pole. The disaster at the apartment building had a lot to do with that, along with Molly, who’d opened her heart to him and then just as quickly slammed it shut.
Throwing something like that at him, hands down, at the worst moment of his life — had pole-axed him. His benumbed brain had barely processed her words. His mental capacity had now at least nudged beyond the fifty percent point. Still the question remained as to how much to believe of her declaration. The way she’d mouthed it was one hell of a way to convince a man she trusted him. Did she mean it? Did he want her to?
Right now he had neither the time nor the inclination to fall in love. Especially with Molly. Of all the women he’d ever known, he considered her by far the most unpredictable. Also, the most stubborn, infuriating, and unreasonable. Then again, when she turned those big sparkling brown eyes on him, he wanted to draw her close and hold her until the next millennium. As well as kiss her and touch her. So, yeah, he questioned if they could go the distance. To all her better qualities, of which he made mental notes, he added loyalty and caring. At least she proved as much with his tenants, if not to him.
He sank down in his chair and propped his feet on his desk. He had to stop thinking about her. He needed to move forward. Fast. His project was behind schedule. He had to focus on business unless he wanted to join Serk and the others in an SRO hotel. He didn’t have the luxury of slacking off. It was already close to late September. He’d anticipated having at least a third of the lofts completed and a sales office open by now. There was a high demand for housing in the city — he’d expected to sell most of the units off the blueprints by this point.
First, though, he had to deal with the apartment building. It needed everything inside cleared out and everyone’s personal effects stored. Until then, his crew couldn’t start the demolition. He needed to keep in touch with the Department of Social Services and stay current on the situation with his tenants. He needed promos of each new unit’s layout to show prospective buyers. The printer should have had them a week ago. And he had to deal with the sabotage. He’d move out of his apartment and onto the construction site in order to stop it.
Heat built inside the trailer, and he hauled himself out of the chair and flipped on the floor fan. His crew had removed the steel beam from the apartment building side wall. Now hammering sounds were coming from the site. He hoped the guys could make more than the usual progress today. He’d have to go into overtime with them. Another expense he hadn’t counted on. He pulled a set of tracings out of the storage bin and laid them on the desk. Another big decision loomed: how much to price each loft unit.
He’d been hoping for a small miracle before the million dollar demands and recent declarations of love walloped him — to realize enough of a profit to pay off his bank loans and settle with his tenants at twenty-five Gs a pop. Had he been living in a bubble? A month ago, he’d thought he’d raise enough money from the sale of the condos to make an offer on a property he’d been eying — a rarely used and run-down alley close to the Old Mint. Most people avoided it but he considered it a hidden gem.
But that was before his tenants, backed by Molly, had made an impossible demand. Now they had no leverage with the building condemned. He could offer the original twenty-five grand, and they’d have to take it. Hell, he was in a position to offer them nada. That was the upside of the whole mess. Still, he’d never back off on his word. He’d made them an offer and he damn well expected to stick to it. He’d have to say hasta la vista to a future with Molly, though, once they accepted the twenty-five thousand. That was a downside he wasn’t sure he cared to risk.
He braced his hands on the desk and leaned over it. Yeah, pretty soon he’d have to make a decision on how strongly he felt about Molly Hewitt.
• • •
Molly hooked onto the freeway. She hadn’t taken a day off in months. Now she wanted to put as many miles between herself and the morning’s disaster as possible. Tokyo sounded about right, although a budget buster, so she decided on home. She fished her cell phone out of her purse. Should the street reopen, she left a message for Cynthia with the excuse she came down with the flu. She needed something vile in case she decided to take off an extra day.
Her tears had dried by the time she reached home. Yet she still felt as numb as if she’d stumbled down a dark hole and only just clawed her way back up. Her energy level was at its lowest ebb. It took every effort to place one foot ahead of the other. She just wanted to fall onto her bed and stay there for a year.
She opened the front door. The muted whine of a flute drifted from her aunt’s apartment. For as long as she could remember, her aunt had faithfully practiced Yoga. Molly did, too, but intermittently. Mostly when stress at the clinic caused her shoulders and neck muscles to cramp. She could use a whole lot of wellness right about now. Something that would raise her consciousness to a higher plane where she wouldn’t have to confront anything negative. Only her body had other ideas. Bed beckoned.
“Molly? Is that you?”
The only sound she’d made was the key turning in the lock. Unfortunately, her Aunt Vi had the acute hearing of a wolf. Molly paused outside the open doorway to the apartment. “I was just going upstairs.”
“What are you doing home? Come on inside for a minute.”
Molly walked through the doorway and into a room so dim it was almost as if the gas company had had another blackout. Heavy drapes closed out all but a narrow crack of light. Four lit candles, one in each corner of the room, gave the surroundings an eerie glow. The plaintive sound of the flute floated on the still air and mingled with the scent of burning incense. Her aunt sat with her eyes closed on her yoga mat in the knee to ankle pose, the palms of her hands turned upward.
“Something’s wrong. I can sense it. Come over here and tell me about it.”
Molly had forgotten about her aunt’s moments of psychic visions. “I don’t want to disturb your session. Maybe we can talk later.”
Vi opened her eyes. “I’m making sand candles at Ocean Beach later. I’m down to my last three. Come sit next to me.” She put the tape on pause.
It was useless to try to fend off her aunt. She’d taken on the job of surrogate mother years ago and had become Molly’s confidant, friend, and chief advisor. She had a well-honed sixth sense and could cut right to the core of any problem and offer a viable solution. Many times Molly had cried on her shoulder. This wasn’t about being called Little Orphan Annie by some jerk at school, though, and then wanting to chop off all her hair. This problem had zoomed right to the top of the seriously crappy list.
Molly sat down on the carpet. She slipped off her shoes and propped her arms on her bent knees. Then she took a few deep breaths and gave a more or less accurate account of what had transpired that morning and how it affected Nick’s tenants.
“They’re scattered all over the city by now. They could face weeks in a city shelter or an SRO hotel.”
“It won’t last forever.” Vi patted her niece’s shoulder. “They’ll settle into permanent housing eventually. Maybe soon.”
“That depends on Nick.”
“I like him.”
“You do? Why?”
“He struck me as a man who recognizes his duty and does it.”
“You only met him one time. You can’t know enough to make a judgment.”
“I felt a connection to him.”
Nowhere near as strong as Molly’s. Moisture welled in her eyes, and she blinked it away. She agreed with her aunt, though, that Nick recognized his duties. The day they went to search out affordable apartments, he’d brought her along to his parents’ house first. Another man might have bailed out of the post-wedding brunch with some lame excuse. But they’d expected Nick to show up, and he’d worked it into his schedule. That was when Molly first decided she liked him.
“You know I’ve never pried into your life. I’ve always trusted your judgment.”
Molly guessed where her aunt headed. “I know.”
Vi changed from the knee to ankle position. She lay on her back, stretched her legs up, and braced her heels against the living room wall. “You have strong feelings for Nick.”
“Were you with him last night?”
Her aunt must have heard her sneak in around six that morning. “Yes.”
“You love him.” Not a question but a statement.
Molly nodded again. She bit down hard to staunch tears that threatened to pop up again. It hurt so badly to love a man who didn’t love you back.
“Everything will work out.”
“Is that your crystal ball speaking?”
“No, you told me.”
“I told you it will work out with me and Nick? When did I say that?”
“You didn’t in so many words. However, you’ve never fallen so hard or so fast over a man. It means that besides all his other … uh … qualities, the ones that get your juices running, you trust him. You believe he’s ethical and that he understands right from wrong. You never would have fallen in love with him otherwise. Would you have wasted five minutes on him if you believed for a minute he’d cheat his tenants?”
“Well, no, but everything’s different now.” She had to wonder about those other things, too. Maybe they were just another vibe he’d sent her way to reel her in.
“Listen, Nick will come back into your life, and in such a way it will make Romeo and Juliet look like a kindergarten crush.”
“Oh, great. The last I read, nothing good ever came out of their relationship.”
“Yes, but they had a heck of a ride along the way.”
“I suppose.” Molly rose to her feet and slipped into her shoes. As she climbed the stairs to her apartment, she wondered if she’d already been taken for a ride by Nick.
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