Molly’s mouth dropped open. Cool air dried the saliva on her tongue.
“I get stuck in menu hell whenever I phone over there. When I finally make connect with a human, I’m shunted to another department. I went down Friday, spent a good part of the day, with the same result. When I tell them I need to locate some people, I’m directed to yet another office. It’s the same runaround.”
“You’re moving your tenants back in?” Molly could hardly believe it.
“Well, yeah. Isn’t that what you wanted? What we both wanted?”
Tears glistened in Molly’s eyes. She balled her hands into fists and squeezed hard.
“It is, isn’t it?” he said.
“You wanted it, too?”
“Yeah. Maybe I should have taken you over to social services with me. You know the people. You might have had better luck navigating the bureaucracy. But I wanted everything perfect before I brought you here.”
Molly, a lapsed believer in perfection, thought he’d come close enough.
“Can I count on your help?”
“Sure. I’ll do whatever I can.”
“Good. First, we need to locate my tenants.”
Exactly how much time could she spend with him before her emotions plunged into free fall?
“Then we need to get them ready to move.”
She wanted to hug him but couldn’t. Well, maybe just a small one. She put a hand on his shoulder and quickly withdrew it. “You thought of everything.”
“I did my best. We can work around your schedule, whatever’s good for you.”
How about some heavy petting followed by the most incredible sex? She wondered what he’d say to that. “My time is flexible.”
“In that case, can you spare a few more minutes? I’d like to show you one of the lofts on the fifth floor.”
All the talk about rentals and lofts reminded Molly about the building Nick had purchased next to the clinic. “You know, you never did fully answer my question about the rumor that’s been floating around on the block.”
“Hmmm … the one that you … ah … might buy the empty building next to the clinic and … ah … maybe even the clinic.” Especially the clinic. She didn’t dare tell him she already knew he’s purchased the corner property.
“Yeah, since I lost space here, I figured I’d make it up down at your end. The corner spot stood empty. I put a small office building I own up for collateral and arranged financing. One of the better restaurants in town is ready to expand and sign a lease for the ground floor. Once I earthquake proof the place, I’ll start on the units above. What I make selling them should offset some of what I lose on the rentals I’m saving for my tenants.”
“And the clinic?”
“That’s never been part of my plans.”
Molly breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m glad.”
“How do these rumors start, anyway?”
“So, would you like to see one of the lofts?”
Since she’d discovered she could actually occupy the same planet with him without her heart swing dancing in her chest, she agreed.
They stepped into the hallway. With the touch of a button, the elevator door quietly slid open. Molly preceded Nick into the car. Brushed steel, shiny brass accents, and polished wood moldings made up the enclosure. Mrs. Z would have no more steps to climb even if she wound up on the third floor again. Still, Molly thought Nick would agree to situate her on the ground level. She made the suggestion.
“Sure. I suppose they’ll still want a tenants’ association. She can field their complaints. One plus, though. Duncan Serk won’t join them any time soon.”
“That’s good news.” Molly couldn’t blame Nick if he excluded him from the building.
“He wound up caught in a sting when he tried to sell drugs to a DEA agent. I read about it in this morning’s paper. It’s not his first arrest. Anyway, I didn’t plan to spend any time locating him. I would have offered him a couple of thousand to go away permanently if he were to find out about the new arrangement. There wouldn’t be anything he could do about it. Now, even that won’t be necessary.”
The ride to the fifth floor took seconds. Nick used a key, and a separate door opened directly onto an entry foyer. A few steps took them into the loft.
“This is convenient.” Now she understood why the elevator had two sets of doors, one opposite the other.
“There’s only one loft per floor, with five floors anchoring each end of the project and two above the center rentals. Twelve lofts in all.”
Molly wondered about the purchase price. When she’d glanced at the real estate section of the Chronicle, she’d noticed new lofts in the South of Market area generally sold in the seven hundred thousands and up. Her haphazard search hadn’t come across any ads for Nick’s units. Since he’d carved out three floors for rentals, his profit must have seriously nosedived. She felt a momentary pang of guilt. She wondered if he resented her costing him so much money. At least he had good financial prospects for the new corner property.
“There are no exterior hallways. It should be pretty quiet,” Nick said.
Molly followed him to the front of the unit where four floor-to-ceiling glass panels created a wall. Nick pressed a button and the aluminum screens that sheathed the exterior rose. The park, along with the completed Blackstone project, would provide a great view.
She turned away from the windows and toward the interior of the large space. Polished steel columns, most likely structural, created a sleek modern look. Someone with decorating savvy could turn this space into a fabulous home.
“It’s wonderful. It’s so open. Once furnishings are in place, creating all kinds of cozy nooks, it should be very comfortable.”
“I thought so, too. That’s why I’ve considered buying one.” He laughed. “I’ll have to offer myself a pretty hefty discount, though.”
“You want to move here?”
“I’ve thought about it. I’m ready for something different. I’ve spent my whole life in the Marina District and Pacific Heights.”
Molly thought about his present apartment. They’d made love there. She’d given him more than her body there. She’d given him her heart.
“Yeah, I’d like to live down here for a while. If I’m going to do it, though, it had better be soon, before I get married. I suppose after I have a kid or two, it’ll be suburbia for me.” He grinned. “Though maybe not. You never know. A nice Victorian, like your aunt’s, might be in the offing.”
Nick is getting married. Why did it come as such a shock? The shock was he’d remained single so long.
“Have you set a date?” She didn’t want to know, but the nasty little trickster who squatted inside her brain screamed for the details.
“About moving?” He shook his head. “I haven’t one hundred percent decided to relocate here.”
“No, I mean for your … wedding.”
“My wedding?” For a moment, confusion settled in his eyes. “Oh that. No, no date’s been set. If it were up to me, we’d jump in the car and drive over to the courthouse and do it now. The woman I have in mind is pretty traditional, though. She’ll probably want the whole big scene.”
I wouldn’t. Molly knew she’d be happy with a handful of people and the mayor officiating. Or even one of his minions. It would take less than nothing to make her happy if she had Nick.
He reached into his pocket and drew out a velvet pouch. He opened it and a ring slid out onto his palm.
Molly’s eyes widened. The center stone was a rich green emerald embedded into a gold band and surrounded by a swirl of tiny diamonds.
“It’s beautiful.” Emerald was one of her favorite stones, rich without too much glitz.
It was exactly what she would have wanted.
Nick held the ring out. “Here, try it on.”
This had to be his first engagement. Why ask her anything so silly, otherwise.
“Your … fiancée should be the first woman to wear the ring. I mean, after a while, she might let her girlfriends try it on. They would probably want to — I tried on my cousin’s — but it shouldn’t be that someone else wore it before … you know.” Why, in awkward situations, did she have to babble? She wished the concrete floor would crack open so she could jump head first into the crevasse.
“Molly, you’re still the most stubborn woman I know.” He took her hand. He slipped the ring onto her finger before she could pull away. “I figured this was the right one for you.”
He took her face in both his hands and kissed her as deeply and as long as he’d done on the night they made love. Finally, they broke apart. “Maybe I should have asked you first if you still feel the same way about me.”
“Same … way?”
“You told me once you loved me. At least I thought you did.”
“You were supposed to forget anything I said … along those lines.”
“That’s something a man doesn’t forget. Not when he’s in love with the woman who’s saying it to him. I love you, too, Molly. More than I can ever show you. I want to marry you.”
A grin spread across Molly’s face.
“I woke up Friday morning and realized, not for the first time, how empty my life was without you. I love you. I wanted to tell you then, but I didn’t have a ring or even a plan. I was afraid if I called you, I’d just blurt it out. It was important to me that I ask you to marry me in a place that had meaning for us.” His eyes swept the room. “This is what brought us together.”
Molly’s heart filled with the best kind of ache, and she blinked back a sudden spurt of tears. “I’m glad you waited.”
“I hope you haven’t changed your mind.” He tipped her head back and gazed into her eyes.
The muscles in Molly’s face cramped from holding a broad smile.
Nick took her in his arms. “I’m probably not going about this the right way.”
“Yes, you are.” Molly put her hands on his shoulders. A note left in the hollow of a tree would have worked if it contained a marriage proposal.
“Maybe I should get down on one knee.”
“That’s not necessary.”
“Okay, then. We’ll forget the bended knee and I’ll just get right to the proposal. Will you marry me?”
Molly looked at the ring on her finger. So much happiness filled her heart. She could barely speak; though, she needed to find only one word. “Yes.”
It was Nick’s turn to grin. Then he let out a long breath and followed it with a soft laugh.
Relief came in many guises, she supposed.
“Okay.” He kissed the tip of her nose.
“Nick, will you tell me you love me again?”
Without hesitation he said, “I love you. I love you. I — ”
“Don’t say it again.”
“I figure each ‘I love you’ must have set you back … What do these lofts sell for?”
He shook his head.
“No, I’m serious. To give up three floors must have cost you plenty.”
“It brought me a better than good return. You.”
Tears glistened again in Molly’s eyes. Happiness had a way of doing strange things to her.
“While we’re on the subject, what do you think about living here? At least for a while. It’s up to you. I’ll do whatever you want.”
“Whatever I want?”
“Absolutely and forever.”
The absolutely part she might stake her meager bank account on. Knowing Nick, as to forever, she’d have to wait and see.
She wound her arms around his neck. “There’s only one thing I want right now.” She stood on tiptoes and kissed him with all the passion she’d held inside. Her heart swelled and told her she was the luckiest woman in the entire western hemisphere.
When the kiss ended he said, “I have my apartment until the end of the month.”
“Hmm. I’ll bet you still have furniture there.”
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” he said.
“How about you drive me to my car?”
“How about once we get there, you follow mine? I know all the shortcuts to my place.” He tousled her hair, and she didn’t care if the curls stood out like bed springs.
“My, you’re eager.”
“Baby, you don’t know the half of it.”
Maybe not, but she had the rest of her life to find out.
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