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Aloud thud from the apartment above made Kane McDowell flinch and sit straight up in the lounger.
"What was that?" Edwina Bacon asked, putting her teacup down on the table next to her.
Kane's gaze riveted to the ceiling of Edwina's place. "Maybe Henry dropped something."
"I don't know. He didn't look well tonight when I saw him go upstairs. That's the second strange sound I've heard coming from the apartment above. What if he fell and hurt himself?"
"You worry too much about the tenants, Edwina. Henry's certainly capable of taking care of himself." His words didn't erase the worry on the elderly woman's face. Kane pushed to his feet. "But if it will make you feel better, I'll go upstairs and check."
"Oh, thank you. I wouldn't want anything to happen to someone here. Even Henry."
"You read too many mysteries," Kane said as he headed for the foyer of the apartment building he owned.
Kane's leg ached as he mounted the stairs to the second floor of the converted mansion. He'd overdone it today. Covering the short distance to apartment 2A, he knocked. He waited a minute and then rang the bell. Nothing.
Henry Payne sometimes was out late. But if that were the case, then what made the crashing sound? Reluctantly Kane dug into his pocket for the master key. He fit it into the lock and turned it, but the door was already unlocked.
Alarmed, he thrust the door open, every skill he'd learned in the military activated. The overpowering odors of cigars and lemon polish assailed his nostrils. The complete chaos scattered about this usually tidy, orderly place put Kane on alert. This definitely wasn't a heart attack. Cautiously he moved into the lighted living area, listening for any sounds coming from the rest of the apartment. Silence greeted him.
"Henry," he called out while scanning the room where every book the man owned, which had to be hundreds, seemed to be tossed on the floor. Drawer contents littered the beige area rug, and all the cabinets were emptied. The crunch of glass beneath his feet drew his glance. The mirror over the table in the small entryway lay on the hardwood floor in shattered pieces. Probably the crash Edwina heard.
Maybe Henry's gone.
Or maybe not.
Coveting his own privacy, Kane hated invading another's, but it was obvious something had gone terribly wrong here. He headed down the short hallway to investigate the two bedrooms. Each one was as neat and tidy as he knew Henry to be.
Back in the living room, Kane limped toward the kitchen to check out the rest of the place. When he swung the door open, the stench of bloodsomething he would never forget from his time in Iraqaccosted him. The cool breeze from an open window that led to the balcony chilled the room. As Kane inched forward, the door swung closed. The sound of its swish drew his attention behind him. He froze.
On the floor in a crimson pool lay Henry, his dark eyes staring at the ceiling, his arm flung out at an odd angle, a patch of light blue fabric clutched in his hand.
Maggie Ridgeway stared at the Twin Oaks Apartments. The converted late nineteenth century mansion's brick was painted a flesh tone, and its trim and shutters a snowy white. Three stories tall with a porch that ran almost the full length of its front, the building dominated the spacious yard with multicolored spring flowers blooming in the well-tended beds. Two massive oaks stood sentinel. A stained glass window with a pastoral scene was above the entrance, and below it were double, dark brown doors with beveled glass.
She was here and intended to stay.
Maggie marched up the stairs to find the manager and secure the vacant apartment before someone else did. A friend she worked with at the hospital told her a vacancy in this building was rare and didn't last long. Afraid she'd never get the opportunity, she was ready to pounce on the opening she'd been anxiously waiting several months for since moving to Seven Oaks, Kentucky.
She stepped into the spacious foyer, a wide staircase directly in front of her sweeping up to the second floor. A gleaming chandelier hung from the ceiling, and a huge round cherry table with a bouquet of expensive silk flowers in a crystal vase sat under the light, adding a splash of vivid colors to the entrance. An ornate Persian rug, predominantly navy-blue and maroon, covered the marble floor in the center, giving off a warm, cozy feeling.
Surveying the first floor, she found the door with a brass plaque with the word manager engraved on it. She covered the short distance to the apartment and rang the bell.
"She's not home," a child's voice said behind her.
Maggie turned around and saw a thin boy with brown hair standing on the staircase, gripping the wooden balustrade. Her heart lurched at the sight of him. Only a few yards away. Staring into his dark eyes, she felt as though she were staring into her own. Kenny! The thought made her take a step back until she pressed up against the manager's door.
She'd imagined meeting and talking to him for the first time. But now no words would come to mind. Emotions, held at bay, crashed down on her. Emptiness, anger, elation, all swirling around in her, made a knot form in her stomach.
"Ma'am, are you all right?" His freckled face scrunched up into a worried look.
Maggie continued to peer at the boy. Her smile faltered while her heartbeat began to hammer against her rib cage. She'd told herself this would happen and thought she'd prepared herself for it.
The child shifted, alarm flittering across his features. "Lady?"
With her pulse thundering in her ears, she finally replied, "I want to rent the vacant apartment. Do you know when the manager will be back?" Amazingly her voice didn't quaver although her hands did. She clutched her purse straps to keep the trembling under control.
Besides his eyes, his hair's the same shade of brown as mine. And I used to have freckles the way he does. She swallowed the lump in her throat. I should leave. Let it go. She rubbed her damp palms together, fighting the urge to scrap her plan.
"She'll probably be gone for another hour or so." The child moved forward. "Uncle Kane's here, though."
"Uncle?" Maggie pushed herself away from the door and moved several paces toward the eleven-year-old boy. Her legs quaked.
"Well, he's not really my uncle, but I call him that. He owns the building. He can help you."
"Where is he?"
He jerked his thumb toward a door down the hall at the back of the building. "In his shop downstairs." Gesturing with his hand, he spun around on his heel. "C'mon. I'll show you."
"I'm Maggie Ridgeway. What's your name?" she asked although she was ninety-nine percent sure she already knew it.
Even though she'd expected him to say that, the name brought an added joy to her. That feeling tangled with the othersuncertainty, even angerfirming in her mind told her she had to continue with her plan. She'd dreamed about this moment for too long to turn back now.
The sound of sandpaper sliding over wood filled the workroom. The scent of sawdust and linseed oil peppered the air. Repeatedly Kane McDowell ran the block along the groove in the piece of furniture, smoothing the rough texture.
The rhythmic motion of the sandingback and forth relaxed Kane, his thoughts wandering as his hands automatically repeated the action. The tension slipped from his shoulders and neck while he proceeded from one chair leg to the next. As the tautness eased completely from his body, his awareness of his surroundings faded, too. The movement of his arm was hypnotic, the gritty sound almost soothing.
The memory came unexpectedly as it so often did. His thoughts were at peace one second, and the next, he flinched, stopped his sanding and closed his eyes as though that could shut it out. It never did
"I can't do it. I thought I could. I don't want to marry you anymore. I'm moving to Dallas, Kane." Ruth indicated the luggage at the door.
He stood in his parents' living room, having been at their home for the past month to continue his convalescence after his injury in Iraq. Last week his fiancée had come to help nurse him back to full health. Now she was leaving him.
At the door she paused and looked back at him. "I need a whole man. I tried. I really did. You aren't the same person you were when you went to war." Her gaze swept down his length, his body propped up by crutches, his left leg gone from just below the knee dangling uselessly next to his good one
Kane shook his head as if he could physically drive the memory from his thoughts. The sanding block fell from his hand, thumping to the concrete, its sound reverberating through his mind. Sweat dripped into his eyes, stinging them.
A knock jarred the silence.
"Not now," he muttered, swiping his forehead with the back of his hand. He needed to escape; he didn't want to see anyone.
Another knock echoed through his workshop.
Maggie raised her hand one final time to rap on the door when it suddenly opened. She stared into the face of a man who didn't look too happy to see her. His dark expression didn't soften as she cleared her throat and said, "I came about renting your apartment."
The man's hard gaze bore into her. The taut set of his body, his grip on the door handle, conveyed tension. Then his attention fixed on Kenny, and the owner's stiff stance melted, the frown wiped away to be replaced with an expression just short of a smile.
Kenny looked at Maggie. "Miss Edwina's at church so I brought her down here to see you."
The man who owned the apartment building finally smiled a fully fledged one that lit his whole face and dimpled his cheeks. "I'll take it from here, Kenny. Thanks."
The boy spun around and raced up the stairs. The second he disappeared the strain returned to the owner's face, his gaze directed at her.
Suddenly the small hallway in the basement closed in on Maggie. She glanced around, noting three other doors, one of them leading outside. A bank of windows on each side of it afforded a view of the back of the building and a glimpse of the lake beyond.
"Dale Franklin told me there was an apartment in your building for rent. He was supposed to call you about me coming to see the place."
The man, over six feet tall, eased his grip on the door and relaxed against it. "Edwina Bacon, my manager, must have talked with Dale. I don't usually handle anything having to do with the apartment building."
"Then should I wait for her to return?"
"Suit yourself, but frankly I'm surprised you'd want to rent it. I haven't even put an advertisement in the paper yet. Not sure I am for a while. Are you aware of what happened in it a few weeks back? The police just released it a couple of days ago."
Yes, she'd known that and had barely been able to wait the few days before coming to see about the apartment. The headlines that had occupied the newspaper for a week flashed into her thoughts, bringing forth a momentary surge of anxiety until she remembered the reason she wanted to live here.
"Yes, but I'm living in a dorm connected with the hospital right now. I need a more permanent place to live, and there are few available in Seven Oaks at this time of year with the university in full swing."
"Hospital? Are you a nurse?"
"No, a speech therapist, Mr."
Before her courage totally failed her, she said, "I didn't want anyone else to get the apartment, so I took some time off from work to come here. I really need a place to live. My privacy means a lot to me, and I have none where I'm living right now." His eyes lit with understanding. "May I look at the apartment?"
"Give me a moment, and I'll show it to you."
He left her standing by the door while he sauntered to the sink. His chest, covered by a white T-shirt, revealed his wide expanse of muscles. His faded jeans hugged slim hips and the long legs of a runner.
He splashed water on his face, then reached for a towel. His damp black hair curled at his nape in ringlets as he dried it. When he retrieved his blue short-sleeve polo shirt from an unfinished chair and shrugged into it, his sheer male power transfixed her. He was in top physical condition.
As he faced her, she hastily pretended an interest in the far wall with a myriad of tools hanging on it, fighting the heat of a blush that suffused her cheeks. "You're a carpenter?"
"Some of the time."
"And the other times?" Finally she looked into his slate-gray eyes and wished she hadn't. They were startling against the darkness of his features, their color like polished pewter.
"I'm the admissions director at the university." He walked past her into the hallway. "I'll show you the apartment now."
As she followed him, she got the distinct impression that was all the chitchat she would get out of the man.
"The apartment is on the second floor, Miss" He peered back at her, snaring her within his flintlike gaze.
His guarded look conveyed the message: stay away. The silent statement pulsated in the air between them, intriguing her, tempting her. She knew all the signs of someone who kept himself apart from others. She was a master at it. He could do nothing she hadn't done herself at some time in her past.
As she mounted the staircase to the second floor, she firmed her determination. She couldn't afford to be sidetracked. Which one is it? she thought as she passed a closed door. "How many apartments are in this building?"
"Six on three floors. I occupy the basement." He unlocked apartment 2A and pushed the door open. "As you can see, they're big. I have three families in my building. Some furniture comes with the apartment if you want to use it."
"It'll just be me, and yes, the furniture would be appreciated."
She entered the living room and surveyed the oblong configuration with a marble fireplace on the outer wall, a brass screen across its front. The carved mantel would be a perfect place to set family pictures. But who would be in those photo frames? The question came unbidden into her mind.
"I just finished having the place cleaned," Mr. McDowell said, thankfully pulling her attention from the answer to that question.