Molly rose from her office chair and stretched her arms above her head. Knots pulled at her shoulder muscles, and her back ached from sitting hunched over her desk too long. Her fingers cramped from making copious notes on a yellow scratch pad. She needed to plan her next event and still hadn’t made any decisions. She’d wracked her brain for an idea totally different from anything else she’d sponsored, something that, besides sounding exciting, held wide appeal. She’d scratched off the Fun Train to Reno. Even though she knew she could have the train ride catered for almost nothing, everyone didn’t share a desire to gamble. Without a car, what else was there to do up there?
She’d already run through ten different ideas. A weenie roast at Ocean Beach raised goose bumps on her arms — since the event was scheduled for mid-December. Then just the thought of bobbing out on the Bay — even if she could wrangle a huge discount from the operators of the Blue and Gold Fleet — made her want to reach for a seasickness pill. Nothing seemed to jell. Her mind had turned into a desert — arid and vacant.
Only one possibility caught her interest — a western-themed event. The mayor often promised to make City Hall available for her fundraisers on a night the Board of Supervisors didn’t meet. She’d never taken him up on the offer, but now might be the right time. She envisioned bales of hay and savory barbeque. Maybe even a lassoing contest. A couple of mimes she knew would work for about a hundred dollars apiece. Cowboy boots, a western shirt, hat, and jeans and they’d have all the costume they needed. She knew a fiddler she could round up pretty cheap. He could also double as a caller for square dancing. That would lend a buzz of excitement. It sounded like fun and might generate as big a profit as her auction.
Her auction. That thought took about a second to put her in a funk. The whole thing with Nick had started that night.
She thought the worst thing that could happen had already happened until her aunt imparted the latest news from the mole. Trudie had spread the word about Nick to her friends in other areas of the Hall of Records and had hit a mother lode. Nick had bought the corner property adjacent to the clinic, the one with the empty ground floor and units above. The deed was already issued and Molly figured demolition would soon begin.
A few days later, workmen had swarmed over the building. She’d put in a call to her “angel,” the man who owned the clinic property, but he was out of town for two weeks and unreachable. This time she asked her aunt to give Trudie the green light to snoop. Even an angel might sometimes shuck his halo when someone dangled a profit in front of his face. Would her landlord sell the clinic site to Nick if Nick decided he’d like to add to his new corner property? If that’s how it came down, there was nothing Molly could do.
She tried to jackhammer Nick and his urban renewal plans out of her mind and focus on cowboys and mouthwatering slabs of barbecued ribs. That didn’t last long. He kept slipping back inside her brain. Could any man better fill out a pair of jeans and a cowboy shirt? None she’d ever encountered.
Frustrated, Molly pulled at her hair. She was wound tighter than a spring in a knock-off Rolex. She needed to relax if she hoped to make any progress on a plan for her next event. Every time the phone rang, she was certain it was bad news. Nick was her new landlord and about to serve notice on the clinic.
Her yoga mat sat in the bottom drawer of her desk. She dug it out, spread it over the floor, and closed her office door. She dimmed the overhead light. She kicked off her shoes, hiked up her skirt, and assumed the lotus position. That usually stilled her inner turmoil. She held the pose for a couple of minutes then stretched her arms behind her and interlocked her fingers. She tipped her head back and drew in a deep breath. As she exhaled, she brought her forehead to the floor and her hands toward the ceiling.
“Does something like that have a name?”
The deep male voice sliced into her near trance. Her head jerked up, bringing her chin a few inches off the mat. She stared at a pair of tasseled polished brown loafers and the bottom few inches of neatly creased tan dress slacks. As she dropped her arms and straightened her upper body, her eyes climbed up and over a brown leather belt to a chocolate brown dress shirt and gold tie with little red squiggles. Finally, her eyes glommed onto the face of the man silhouetted in the open doorway. Nick.
The peace she’d managed to achieve evaporated.
She stared up at him. He stared back. One corner of his mouth twitched as if he was laughing. As if? He was laughing, but had the good sense to try to play it cool.
“Well, what do you call that?”
Molly unlocked her hands and slid her feet off her thighs. It took a few moments to get a simple answer out of her head and onto her lips.
“It’s the lotus position.”
“It looks like a bone cracker.”
“Not if it’s done right.”
It occurred to her she should yank her skirt down. All she wore underneath was a pair of French cut white satin and lace panties. But her hands weren’t in a cooperative mood. It didn’t matter, though. He hadn’t looked up her skirt. His eyes remained locked on hers.
“Do you need help getting up?”
She stared at him.
“Here, give me your hand.”
Without waiting for her to decide one way or the other, he reached down and took both of hers. He drew her to her feet.
The space between them became compressed to an area normally limited to nothing thicker than a paperback book. Her hands felt good in his, like they belonged there. Since they didn’t, she withdrew them. She stepped back and adjusted her skirt.
His eyes strayed to the lined yellow pages and Molly’s scrawled notes. “Are you working on another fundraiser?”
“Yes, a western theme. Maybe.” She hadn’t felt this awkward since her eighth grade graduation party, when she waited for a boy to ask her to dance.
“Sounds like a good choice.”
He appeared completely at ease. Probably because he’d already forgotten the last time they were together. She had regularly scheduled nightmares about it in which she missed the thug and sprayed Nick senseless. He’d no doubt forgotten exactly twenty-six days before, he’d made love to her. Three times.
“Do you have a few minutes?”
“Uh … I guess so.” She wished her stomach would quit its climb into her throat.
“Most of my project is finished. It’s completely sold out, the part that’s for sale, anyway.”
She smiled, barely, and only because it would be spiteful not to wish him well. Just because it hadn’t worked out between them didn’t mean she relished throwing a hex on his condos. She braced herself for him to drop the bomb and tell her he’d bought the clinic property.
“I’d like to show you a couple of the finished units.”
Molly took a few seconds to think about all the bad karma headed her way if she spent any time with him. Even if the news wasn’t as bad as she imagined.
“You had a lot to do with the completion of the project,” he said.
“You know … ” He raised a hand, made a fist, and pumped his index finger. “With an aim like that, the Giants could use you in the bullpen.”
“You would have done fine without me.”
“We’ll never know. We made a pretty good team.”
The smart thing was to make this snappy and get him out of her office.
“So what do you say?” The wattage in his smile could have caused a surge at the electric company. “Can you spare thirty minutes?”
She wanted to close her eyes and then, when she opened them, he’d be gone.
“We could probably do it in less than thirty.”
“Sure.” Why not get it over with like a bad case of measles? “Whenever you say.”
“How about right now?”
“Right now” didn’t sound like such a good idea, but to put it off sounded worse. The anticipation would totally wreck what little emotional balance she’d managed to achieve. “Okay, thirty minutes.”
“Also, I’d like your advice on something.”
If he thought she knew anything about decorating, he should see her apartment. Half of her furniture had come out of a secondhand store. She retrieved her shoes and slipped them on.
“My car’s outside. I’ll drive you back to the clinic later. We can save time that way.”
That worked for Molly. The block was so long, it would have taken over ten minutes to walk to the other end of it in her wedge heels. She slid into her jacket, grabbed her purse from under her desk, and followed him into the reception area. Cynthia wore the same bemused expression as when Nick had first barged into the clinic.
Molly rolled her eyes. “I’ll be back shortly.”
She folded her body into the passenger seat of Nick’s car. Her brain scrolled through the “car menu,” like earlier it had done with the sex thing. Could her fourth time in the bucket seat be a charm? Could she change a chocolate kiss into the real deal? No way.
He fired the motor and eased away from the curb. “Do you do that stuff often?”
“The lotus thing.”
“Not as often as I’d like.”
“What’s so great about tying your body up in knots?”
“Actually, it’s very soothing. It’s a great stress reliever.” The beginnings of the benefit she’d just achieved from her yoga session gave way to tension that tightened the muscles in her neck and shoulders.
He slowed when they neared the corner. He squeezed the car into a barely recognizable parking space, which would have taken her ten tries to achieve. “I’ve had too much stress lately.”
“Maybe you should try it.”
“Yoga. I could … ” She almost blurted she could show him a couple of body-friendly positions but remembered in time that today he was strictly meet and release, not a permanent catch.
“You could what?”
“Um … you could find a beginner’s manual at the bookstore. To, you know, help you relieve your stress.”
“A beginner’s manual.” He laughed.
Well, it wasn’t that funny.
He cut the motor and popped the locks. That spared her having to pursue the whole stress thing. They got out of the car and stood for a few moments in front of his building. It appeared divided into three distinct sections, with the five stories of condos at either end sheathed in the innovative screens. The late morning sun cast a silvery glow onto them. The central building seemed like a separate entity. The brick façade only rose three stories and did not follow the screen motif. Here were windows large enough to let in ample light. Above this section, the screen motif continued for two floors.
“I really like it,” Molly said.
“I hoped you would.”
A pair of heavy glass doors, interspersed with scrolled ironwork, led to a marble entry. To one side of the doors, a brass plate anchored a double row of bells along with an equal number of slots for occupants’ names. No names were inscribed, so Molly assumed the new owners hadn’t moved in yet.
Nick inserted a key into the lock and held open the door for her. They crossed the entryway where a shiny brass plate bolted to one wall was sectioned into individual mailboxes. Then they climbed three marble steps to another door that matched the first.
“You have great security,” Molly said.
“Yeah, I planned it that way, even though the neighborhood will soon change for the better.”
Across the street, the Blackstone project had made additional headway. A small park provided a grassy area with benches and a central fountain. Shade trees, their roots still encased in burlap sacks, waited for landscapers to plant them. The steel skeletons of two buildings took shape on either side of it. Maybe before too long a row of town homes would rise. Also, she remembered mention of a planned hotel and office complex.
Once in the marble lobby, Nick rang for an elevator, one of two. Molly did some quick surveillance while they waited. Three wood-framed openings, two on either side and one at the rear of the lobby, appeared ready for exterior doors. What appeared of the finished interiors suggested apartments, not lofts. A stairway cut into the wall adjacent to one of the elevators. Fire stairs, she supposed.
“Let’s check out the third floor first,” Nick suggested.
“Okay.” The elevator arrived, and they entered the car. As it rose, Nick jammed his hands into his pants pockets and jiggled loose change. She wondered if that signaled some anxiety. Interesting since her nerves had calmed once they’d arrived at the complex. Her curiosity had superseded her awkwardness. Maybe she could spend a little time with Nick without her stomach twisting into knots.
They exited the elevator on the third floor. There were also three standard openings here, none of which had doors. A faint smell of paint hung in the air.
“Let’s check this one.” Nick took Molly’s arm and led her into the unit that faced the street. “When the Blackstone project is finished, it’ll have a nice view of the park.”
The dimensions seemed right for a one-bedroom condo. She mentioned it to Nick.
“The units in this section aren’t condos, and they’re not for sale. They’re rentals.” He ran a hand through his hair and laughed softly. “Actually, it you want the truth, they’re more like giveaways.”
“Really.” Why would he give anything away?
“The layout pretty much replicates that of the old building.”
“What old building?”
“The one we took the wrecking ball to. It used to stand right here.”
“You mean the apartment house?”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I’m almost ready to move my tenants back in, but I’m having a hell of a time getting the run-around at social services.”
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