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Argh, the phone. Wasn't that always the way? After a long day at her physical-therapy practice, followed by a good hard run and a quick dinner, Demi was just settling in for a short relax-break with her knitting and an audiobook of a suspense novel. Her business line had been quiet for hours, but of course the second her butt hit her overstuffed, su-percomfortable chair
Local caller. She didn't recognize the number. "Demi Anderson."
"Yeah, hi." A deep male voice, familiar, but she couldn't place it. "This is Colin Russo. You treated me back in August."
Demi sat up straight, heart accelerating. Well, well. The cranky triathlete was back. After a few sessions for ruptured disc pain, and her confirmation of his doctor's bad news that he wouldn't be competing in any more Ironman triathlons, Colin had exploded with anger and frustration, and stalked out of her studio in search of a practitioner who'd tell him what he wanted to hear.
Yeah, good luck with that.
"Hi, Colin. What can I do for you?"
"I'd like to see you."
"Sure. Let me look at my schedule." She pulled up her calendar, wondering what had made him come back. Elite athletes took the longest to accept new limitations. If Colin had changed his attitude she could do him some good. Otherwise
"On Thursday I have"
"Anything sooner?" He was speaking in a clipped manner that suggested he was either angry or hurting. Probably both.
"You're in pain." She made sure she spoke matter-of-factly. Sympathy didn't go over well with these types.
"Yup." The syllable was abrupt.
"How about.." She ran over the next day's schedule. Busy, but she could give up her lunch hour. "Noon tomorrow?"
"Okay, see you then." She hung up the phone and sat for a few quiet seconds, annoyed at the way her pulse was still racing, then jumped up and crossed to her window. She looked out at the street below, Olive Way where it intersected with Broadway in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. A few cars, headlights on. Not much traffic for a Monday evening. Maple leaves turning color, a light rain typical for October.
He'd been a challenge on multiple levels. Demi worked with and treated many athletes, had seen plenty of people hurting, plenty upset at having to confront lifestyle changes after an injury. Like other professionals in the medical field, she had to balance appropriate levels of caring and involvement with enough distance to keep clients' problems from taking her over. Colin had so bravely tried not to show his physical or emotional pain that his rage had touched her, though she'd been taken aback by the suddenness and intensity of the blowout. Humans who felt helpless often turned fear into anger.
Then there was that other problem, one Demi didn't like admitting. She'd found herself reacting physically to touching Colin's body, was too aware of his smooth skin, his remarkable athletic build, his masculine aftershave-and-soap smell. Found herself reacting emotionally to the way he betrayed discomfort only by tightness around his mouth or the occasional quicker-than-most breath. To the sleep-deprivation circles under his eyes, the low, sad set of his brows.
Demi prided herself on treating not only the injured part, but the whole person. Part of her job with Colin, as it had been with so many others, was to make him understand that injury didn't mean the end of his life. Eventually he would be able to compete in triathlons againthough substantially shorter ones. He'd be able to work, marry, have kidsall things vital to being human. This was a message she'd had to deliver many times to many people. She'd just never before pictured herself doing it with her body curled around the client to comfort him.
Part of her had been relieved when Colin disappeared. With any luck when she saw him this time, the unwelcome feelings would have disappeared, too. Luckily painful childhood shyness had made hiding herself second nature. Colin would never know she considered him hot enough to boil water.
A glance at her watch told her a meeting of the five Come to Your Senses building residents started soon. She just had time to call her friend and former client, Wesley, for his inevitable told-you-so. After Colin's dramatic exit in early September, Wesley had predicted with absolute certainty that he'd be back. Demi had been equally sure pride wouldn't let him return. The stakes had been the usual: coffee or a beer at their favorite cafe, Joe Bar on Roy Street.
She dialed, grinning. "Hey, Wesley. Good news for you. Colin Russo just called. Wants to come in tomorrow. You win."
"Ha!" Wesley's voice was jubilant. Demi had won the last two bets: whether a mom at Angela's bakery downstairs, where they were having coffee, would give in to her screaming toddler and buy him a cupcakeshe didn'tand whether Wesley's ex-girlfriend would wear black to a mutual friend's weddingshe had. "I knew I'd win this one. He wasn't going to find hands like yours anywhere else."
"I don't know about that." She felt herself blushing and was very glad Wesley wasn't in the room. Something about Colin.
"Did he say why he was coming back?"
"Just that he was in pain and needed to see me. Must have been bad. He sounded as if he were talking through his teeth."
"Furious he had to crawl back to you."
"Could be." She immediately had to banish an image of Colin, shirtless, on his knees "I can't talk long, got a Come to Your Senses meeting in a few. Just wanted to let you gloat."
"I'm gloating, I'm gloating. When do I get my drink at Joe Bar?"
"Whenever you want it." Like all introverts, she was protective of her alone time, but she always made the effort to see Wesley, a former marathoner. His running career had ended with a car accidentmuch worse than Colin's fall from his bikeand head injury that ensured he'd never run again, though he credited Demi with helping him relearn how to walk. For a brief time, maybe two weeks after his therapy ended, they'd tried dating, but it had never felt right and they'd happily gone back to being friends.
"What's tomorrow, Tuesday?" he asked. "I have a date. How about Wednesday?"
"Wednesday's fine. You seeing Cathy again?"
"Yup. See if she can fall in love with a guy who shuffles instead of walks."
Demi grimaced in sympathy. Wesley had been remarkably free of self-pity during his recovery, but it must be agony as a former athlete to walk as if he'd just learned how. Which he had in a way. "If she can't handle a good shuffle, she doesn't deserve you."
"You're a good person, Demi. Remind me why we're not dating?"
"I think it was the lack of desperate need to jump each other."
"Oh, right. That. We're not quite old enough to settle for peaceful companionship, huh."
Demi snorted. "I'm never going to be that old."
Wesley burst out laughing. "That's my sex fiend. Okay, go meet with your business partners. And don't let that Bonnie woman get to you."
"I promise." Demi grinned. Wesley was always watching out for her. Whoever he landed would be one lucky woman. She hoped Cathy had brains enough to see that. "Bonnie isn't terrible, she just doesn't know what to make of me. The woman is totally out there, and I'm totally in here."
"No excuse. She gives you any more trouble, let me know."
"See you Wednesday." She disconnected the call, put aside her knittinga short-sleeved cotton sweater in an easy zigzag pattern for springand went in search of her shoes, which she found in her room, one on the floor, one on the bed where she'd kicked them off.
Ready. Sighing, she exited her second-floor apartment and headed down the hall. Bonnie had painted the walls with twining rose vines and, for Jack and Seth, who'd been disgusted by the girlie touch, a line of tanks along the baseboard. At the end of the hall was the apartment the five of them shared as a common area, though Demi didn't spend much time there.
Jack, Seth, Angela and Bonnie had been four of the original five University of Washington alumni who bought and renovated the building, naming it Come to Your Senses when they realized their five businesses represented the five senses. On the first floor was Angela's bakery, A Taste for All Pleasures. Across from that, Bonnie's flower shop, Bonnie Blooms, smelling wonderful. Farther down the hall, Jack Shea represented sight with his photography studio, and Demi's physical-therapy practice was all about touch. She'd bought the space from Caroline, one of the original five investors, who'd moved out of town to get married. Upstairs, Seth Blackstonerepresenting soundlived and composed music in the largest of the apartments.
The other four residents were already seated in the spacious living room, drinking soda and/or beer from the refrigerator they all chipped in to keep stocked. Likewise they'd each donated old or unwanted chairs and tables to furnish the place. Feeling out of place and nervous as she always did around her building-mates, Demi grabbed a Sprite from the refrigerator and plunked down on the room's newest and ugliest piece, a black-and-white, futuristic leather love seat she'd gotten from one of her sister Carrie's I'm-bored-with-my-furniture remodeling fits.
Seth, Jack, Angela and Bonnie had been close friends for six years; they shared a boatload of history, in-jokes, storiesit was hard not to feel like an intruder. Given that Demi's shyness made her feel like an intruder in pretty much every social situation anyway, this one was particularly difficult. Angela had been sweet to her, as had Jack and occasionally Seth. Bonnie would be the toughest to melt, but Demi hadn't given up yet. "Hey, Demi, how's it going?"
"Fine." She nodded stiffly at Angela; the chestnut-haired beauty was sitting on the beaten-up rocker in the corner of the room. The question always made Demi feel she should come up with thrilling new daily developments. The truth was, her life was pretty simple and pretty fulfillingexcept in the romance department. It just didn't make good press.
Jack grinned at her from his signature overstuffed wreck of a chair. He'd always been friendly, but was much more relaxed and outgoing since he met and fell in love with a woman named Melissa. He'd been photographing her without her knowledge at Cal Anderson Park for weeks before she walked into his shop, saw pictures of herself and freaked out. Happily, he'd quickly gained her trust and eventually her heart. "How's things in the physical-therapy world?"
"Okay. Thanks." She felt herself blushing, hating the stilted way she spoke, hating the awkwardness that had risen inside her since she was a child, which made the easy banter others took for granted so impossible for her. Once she was comfortable with people, once she trusted them, she was fine. But with Bonnie all but rolling her eyes at Demi's presence in the room, she couldn't unbend enough to sound like a normal person. Which of course made Bonnie's scorn worse. "People keep getting hurt. Keep needing me."
"Have you seen that gorgeous guy again?" Angela was all ears. "If he's been around lately I've missed him."
"Colin?" Demi felt a funny jolt of adrenaline. How weird that Angela would bring him up today. "I'm seeing him at noon tomorrow."
"Ooh!" Angela waggled her eyebrows. "Bonnie, we're going to have to line up in the hallway and watch this one go by."
"I have to take a rain check." Bonnie shook her head regretfully, glancing at Seth, who sat next to her on the old green couch. "I have a lunch date tomorrow."
"Yeah? What's this one? Garbage man? Prison guard?" Seth tried to look casually interested, but was clearly wary, or at least it seemed that way to Demi. Seth and Bonniesome romantic history there, Demi was sure of it. Sparks and intimacy flew between them, and whenever they were together they were either fighting or laughing, never indifferent. But with Bonnie signed up on Seattledates.com, they must be on the outs.
"His name is Don." Bonnie lifted her chin, smoothing folds of her bright, outrageously patterned top. "He's a lawyer."
"A lawyer." Jack rolled his eyes. "That'll be fascinating conversation."
"Maybe he'll show you his briefs," Seth added.
"Oh, that is just the mast clever line I've ever heard a million times." Bonnie sighed.
"Yeah, it was lame." Seth hoisted himself off the couch, stretching his over-six-foot lean frame. "I must need another beer. You want anything, Bon?"
"No. Thanks, Seth." Bonnie glanced tenderly at his back; she was clearly capable of deep loyalty and affectionjust not for Demi.
"Good luck, Bonnie," Jack said. "You certainly deserve a normal experience."
"No kidding." She rolled her green eyes. "It's been one disaster after another."
A snort from Seth, who was at the refrigerator. "Anyone else need anything?"
"No, thanks." Angela opened a folder on her lap. "But I have an idea I want to share with you guys. Actually Melissa got me thinking about it."
"Uh-oh." Jack's dark eyes turned warm. He was totally hot anyway, and looked even hotter when he thought about Melissa. Demi wouldn't mind some guy turning liquid on her behalf. She'd had one long-term boyfriend in college, one a few years after, then some casual dating but nothing for a while. At twenty-eight, she was starting to wonder about settling down, having babies, the whole deal. Too bad she couldn't just snap her fingers and find the perfect mate. That's what her older brother and sister had done, once again demonstrating their ability to sail effortlessly through life. She had no idea how they did it. Everything she accomplished seemed to require superhuman effort.
"Last summer Melissa had that idea about making Come to Your Senses a one-stop bridal-pampering place, remember?"
"I loved the idea." Bonnie nodded enthusiastically. "Flowers from me, cake or pastry from Angela, a portrait by Jack and music from Seth, our very own YouTube sensation."
And ? Demi sat silent, not able to tell if the omission was deliberate, unsure whether pointing it out would make things better or worse.
"And a massage from Demi," Angela prompted gently.
"Right." Bonnie thwacked her forehead. "Sorry, Demi. I forgot you."
"'S'okay." Demi kept her eyes down. The closest she and Bonnie had gotten to friendliness was when Angela and Bonnie bumped into her on their way to go dancing one evening last summer and had dragged her along. It had been one of the most fun nights Demi'd had in a while. She loved to dance. That night alcohol and circumstances had made Bonnie actually pleasant, a start Demi had hoped they could build on afterward. Not so much.
"So, anyway." Angela broke the awkward silence. "I was thinking we could take the same package idea, but have it available as a holiday special from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day. We can charge a flat rate and sell certificates people can buy for themselves or as a gift. What do you think?"
"Wow. I love that idea!" Bonnie grinned, eyes alight, and looked at Seth and Jack for their reactions.
"Same here," Jack said. "Get us new business and reward our existing customers. Win-win."