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He'd keep his eye on the next-door beauty...and use whatever means ...
He'd keep his eye on the next-door beauty...and use whatever means necessary to keep her close at hand. After all, everyone had their price.
So hot...what is that noise? "Hello! Anyone there?"
Eve reared into a sitting position, her heart pounding. Seconds behind, her mind drifted up through a handful of faraway voices and a swirling crescendo of Tchaikovsky.
And a tremendous thumping. Her upper body swayed in a dizzy spell. The banging continued.
Disoriented, she pushed to her feet. She'd fallen asleep on the couch. The fire had gone out but she was burning up.
"Hang on." It was the first she'd spoken in days and her throat was shocked into a coughing fit. She took just a couple of steps before she cracked her shin on one of the boxes still to be unpacked. Swallowing a swear word, she staggered toward the door.
"Who's there?" she called out.
"Your neighbor" came the terse reply.
Neighbor? Where was she? Oh, yes, the new house on Waiheke Island, where she'd moved a few days ago.
Eve leaned on the door, fishing in her pockets for a tissue. The knocking started up again, crashing through her head. She put her hands to her head--but that wasn't her hair, it was too short. Then Eve remembered. She had cut it off a couple of weeks ago. New beginning, new hair. Cut out the bad stuff--the divorce, losing her job--snip snip.
Bang! Bang! Bang! "Coming..." The ancient key was stiff and her wrists weak as spaghetti but finally the door creaked open. Eve swayed with the exertion of the past two minutes, hot and sweaty under her baggy sweatshirt. Even her feet were hot in their thick striped socks.
She looked down. They were half-off, she thought with disgust, then was distracted by enormousshiny shoes and the scissor-sharp creases of slate-gray pants. The jacket matched the trousers. Her eyes roamed up the body--there was a lot of body. Legs that went on forever, the torso just as long but broad, too. Eve paused at her eye level, seriously woozy.
She moved her head back as far as she dared and zoomed in on a somber maroon tie around a lighter shade of smooth collar. Strong chin, wide lips with a definite bow in the center. Lovely green eyes frowned out of a high, wide forehead. The whole attractive parcel was topped with an expensive cut of rich-brown hair, complemented by neat sideburns.
Funny how her mind was fogged with sleep and flu drugs, yet the stranger's features were indecently clear, as if molded in a lustrous gold.
"Whoa..." Eve succumbed to another dizzy spell. She lurched and caught the door frame.
The man snapped into action and steadied her arm. "Are you okay?"
"Don't!" she croaked.
He jerked his hand away but did not step back.
"Contagious," she added, holding the door frame with one hand. She dragged the tissue across her nose and wondered if it looked as raw as it felt.
The stranger appeared concerned but not friendly. At least, she thought, the way she looked and sounded, rape was probably not an option. And if murder was on his mind, she decided death would be a blessed relief.
He stared, and Eve waited for the shock of recognition. "You're--Eve Summers."
"Drumm." She licked lips that felt like gravel. "Divorced." New beginning, new name. Technically new-old name, maiden name. Since the divorce was just a few weeks old, it took a bit of getting used to, even for her.
He squinted at her. "You look--different."
A growing pressure on the bridge of her nose indicated a potential sneeze. "My makeup crew and stylist aren't unpacked yet," she rasped.
He peered over her shoulder, frowning. The classical piece blaring out of the national radio program wound up to a revolutionary climax. "Have you seen a doctor?" The question was almost a shout.
Eve flinched. "It's flu." Standing in the chill of the open doorway was not helping, but she couldn't invite him in.
The place was a train wreck. She was a train wreck. "It just has to run its course."
Yet even loaded up with antihistamines, she could still appreciate a fine form of a man when she saw one.
"There are doctors in the village," he said.
"A doctor would only prescribe bed rest and fluids."
"And quiet, perhaps." He obviously did not like Tchaikovsky. "I saw you move in three days ago. Since then there has been no sign of life."
Eve's eyes were gritty and dry and she felt hollow. If she didn't sit down soon she would fall down. "Did you want something?"
Not the friendliest question for a new neighbor, but she would make it up to him some other time. Now she just wanted to be left alone to die in peace.
The man straightened, frowning at her lack of manners. "I was concerned," he said shortly.
He must be let down to see her like this, a million light-years from her normal public appearance. But Eve was barely surviving a bad enough couple of weeks without someone staring at her as if she was a bug he'd like to squash. "Look, I'd ask you in, but--" she gave a listless wave "--I haven't unpacked and the place is--" another wave "--and I'm--" dying, burning up, homicidal...take your pick.
His lips thinned and he snapped off a nod. "Before you unpack, I've come to make you an offer on the house."
The need to sneeze redoubled. She was so intent on keeping it in, she didn't answer.
"This house," he continued.
"This house?" Eve spread the fingers of both hands wide. He hadn't even told her his name and he wanted to buy her house? "I will pay you," he said distinctly, "ten thousand dollars over what you paid for it."
Yeah, she was dreaming. Phew! So this gorgeous, expensively dressed man mountain is a figment of overactive imagination and a million milligrams of antihistamine taken a couple of hours ago--or was it yesterday?
She shook her head; it hurt. "Ten thousand dollars is a tidy sum for no effort on your part."
"I just bought this house." The sneeze faded away and indignation pushed her voice up high, setting off another round of coughing.
He grimaced and leaned well back. "Twenty, then."
"If you wanted this place so badly, why didn't you make the old owner an offer?" She closed her eyes and silently begged him to go away and leave her alone.
Now he was almost glowering. "Let's just say Baxter and I did not see eye to eye on a lot of things."
"He turned you down?"
"He's a fool. I offered him twice the market value." Eve shrugged. "Sorry."
The man made a sound of impatience. "Well then, I'm offering you twenty thousand over that to sell to me. Cash offer. No agent fees."
"Why would I buy a house one week and sell it the next?"
"Because you're smart. It's twenty grand for doing nothing."
She massaged her throbbing temples. The stranger handed her a business card, but the words on it phased in and out along with the thumping in her head. She swayed and bumped the door frame again.
"You need a doctor. Are you here on your own?"
"I just need sleep," she insisted, wishing he would take the hint and leave.
He stared at her for a few moments and then nodded. "Perhaps when you're feeling better." He took a step back.
Relief sparked a small spurt of defiance. "It won't be for sale then, either," she declared. Holding on to the door, she straightened her spine, proud of herself. Eve Summers--er, Drumm--was no pushover, sick or well.
And then the sneeze erupted in a shrill ah-choo! She covered her face with the damp tissue.
The man's eyebrows rose and she was mortified to see his mouth quirk in one corner. He then turned and strode off down the path.
"My path," Eve sniffed with satisfaction. She sank against the closed door and slid to the floor. The tissue in her hand was useless, but she could not gather the energy required to cross the room and replace it.
She looked down at the business card he'd pressed into her hand. Connor Bannerman. CEO of Bannerman, Inc. The name was vaguely familiar, but she was in no condition to trawl through the inflamed mush of her mind.
Sleep. Right here if necessary. She lifted her arm, and the crumpled card joined the general bedlam cluttering the floor of her new--old--house.
"Keep me informed." Conn stepped down from the container that doubled as a construction-site office cum tea room and raised a hand in farewell to his foreman. His face grim, he picked his way across the mud and gravel to the wire enclosure and the sleek corporate BMW waiting.
Damn and blast the council! They were well behind schedule. He was tempted to pay a visit to the council offices himself and knock some heads together.
Conn Bannerman had been in the construction business for nearly a decade. In fact, he was the construction business in New Zealand, two states in Australia and now branching into the South Pacific. What he did not know about building requirements would fit on a postage stamp.
The council was messing him around. It was no secret that the incumbent mayor was opposed to the new stadium. He believed the city's money would be better spent elsewhere. And there was nothing Conn could do about it until the local body elections, just over a month away.
He opened the back door of the BMW and slid inside. "The terminal, Mr. Bannerman?"
Conn nodded to his driver and slid his mobile phone from his overcoat pocket. He checked his messages and called the office.
"Pete Scanlon called about the fund-raiser on the twenty-fifth."
"Apologies," Conn told his secretary flatly.
"I sent them last week. He wants to make you some sort of presentation for sponsoring his campaign."
Conn grimaced. "But I thanked him and said you had a prior engagement."
"Thank you, Phyll. I'll see you Monday."
"The conference call with Melbourne tomorrow."
"At ten," the redoubtable Phyllis ended.
Conn wondered how he had ever managed without his awesome secretary. But for her, he would be in the office seven days a week instead of having the freedom to work from home when he chose.
He scowled and slid his phone back into his pocket. He would gladly work seven days a week for the biggest project of his life, but it wasn't going to plan. Pete Scanlon was his only hope, which was why Bannerman, Inc. was backing his campaign.
"Monday at nine, Mikey." Conn buttoned up his overcoat and stepped out onto the accessway of the ferry terminal. Extracting a ten-dollar bill from his wallet, he joined the queue at the newsagent's. While he waited, his free hand rested on a stack of magazines and he looked idly down.
She stared up from the glossy cover of a women's magazine. His fingers seemed to stroke her chin. He wondered why every time he saw that face, he could not stop looking.
She was not a stunning beauty, more your girl-next-door type--and wasn't that a joke? And, as he'd discovered, not nearly as attractive in person or as warm and gracious as she appeared on TV.
That was unfair, given her health at the time.
Her face was more round than heart-shaped and the hint of a double chin somehow added to the charm she projected on screen. The magazine's photographer had captured her eyes perfectly; the color of the harbor at dusk.
Why I Quit was the headline.
Posted July 29, 2011
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