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10:00 A.M. Mr. Ellery looked like an undertaker, but he was much more than that. He was the finder of lost loves, or, in this case, the finder of wanted-to-be loves. He sat his jet-black briefcase on the table in front of the gentleman who hired him and said, "I found her."
A calmly excited voice responded. "Really? Where?"
"She owns several pharmacies in the metro area but mainly works out of the one at 906 Dayton Street; Stuart's Pharmacy."
"Correct. She's been one for almost ten years now."
"Here in Cleveland, you say?"
"She was always a smart, pretty young thing. I knew she'd make it big one day. Christ. She's been under my nose all this time, and I didn't know it."
"She's been here for only two years. I traced her from work records in California."
"Still, two years-I should have seen her." The client slid the envelope of money across the table to Mr. Ellery. "Job well done. I appreciate your time."
"I appreciate your business." Mr. Ellery took a card from his wallet and handed it over. "Pass the word. My prices are fair, and I can negotiate."
"What you just did for me is worth a mint. And if she's open to seeing me, I'll be glad to endorse your ad in theMetro Times, free of charge, naturally."
"That's what I call spreading the word."
The client watched as Mr. Ellery walked from the office, and then called directory assistance to get the number for Stuart's Pharmacy. "Hello?" The voice on the other end was definitely that of Ms. Beverly Stuart. Her voice hadn't changed in almost twenty years, and he relished the sound of it. He tried to sound rational as he spoke. "Can you tell me what your store hours are? ... And that is 906 Dayton Street, correct? ... Thank you."
At 7:30 that evening, the man approached Stuart's Pharmacy and stared at the building covered with garish Halloween decorations. She had always been the festive type-it fit so well with her personality: bubbly. He smiled at the talking Dracula. "Never steal a drop without your Blue Cross identification card. It could save your life!" Cute, real cute. He walked in.
Behind the counter, Beverly kept her eyes on the exact dosages to get her customers' prescriptions right and ready for tomorrow-morning pickups. Fresh out of a terrible relationship, working like crazy to keep her mind occupied was the only thing left to do.
As she worked, she thought over her life, wondering if she did the right thing by putting Tony out a few weeks ago. He was good for curing the loneliness for a hot minute, but that was it. Other than that, he wasn't worth the dime in his pocket. As usual, her next set of doubts set up camp in her mind: would she have had a happier life in San Diego if she hadn't moved back to Cleveland? Living in California was fine, but she missed her family, friends. One in particular came to mind: Debbie Jacobs. They'd been pals years ago, despite the constant presence of Debbie's kid brother and all-around monster, Ethan Jacobs. Ethan had always been cute in his way, but he was a pest.
When you're fourteen, you for sure don't want a snotty-nosed little chump tagging along. She and Debbie were at the age where they had the hots for boys and any X-rated film they could sneak in to. That ended when Debbie's mother went to work in the ER of Oakland Medical and was on call most nights. Ethan was practically forced on them, and even at the tender age of eight, the little snot was sizing Beverly up. Yes, the cute little tyke wanted her; as if he knew something about sex. Frankly, it grossed her out to think Ethan was smiling at her.
Sure, she was considered pretty, with satin-brown skin, long ginger hair, and dark brown eyes, but she didn't want a kid drooling over her. Yuck! As it always happened, Ethan was around because she and Debbie were inseparable. They were mad about the boys and were going to get to them, come hell or high water-even if they had to have Ethan right behind them.
That was many stories and lifetimes ago. She had lost contact with Debbie, who had gotten married right out of high school to one of those boys they were hot over. Beverly went on to college to become a pharmacist. As far as Ethan was concerned, she hadn't any idea what happened to him. She just assumed he got hauled off to some institution for the sexually insane. Good for his little butt. Other than right now, she hadn't actually thought about him too much.
The last thing she wanted to be doing on Devil's Night was working late doing the books. Her idea of a cozy, haunted night was to be in front of her television watching anything scary featuring her favorite, Mr. Vincent Price. Weirdos and slashers were her thing, for some reason. Maybe it stemmed from wanting to do away with Ethan years ago.
Nonetheless, her work night was to be a long one-at least for another hour. She owned several pharmacies in the metro area and had to make sure everything was right before opening the following morning to sell packets of alcohol chasers to late-night partyers. Yes, Halloween would be a big night-her pharmacy would make a mint on inebriation fixers and keep Cleveland hangover free.
It wasn't quite closing time, and there were a few customers left to serve, plus another employee who hadn't left yet. Beverly was about to let her off early when another customer came in. She watched other customers leave and told her employee to take off, that she could handle the last guy who'd just come in.
Carol really didn't seem to want to leave Beverly in there alone with a strange man on that particular evening-either that or Carol was checking out how fine his ass was and wanted to hook up with him later. No matter, Beverly made her leave so she could size him up instead.
This gentleman was just browsing, and she didn't know if he'd come in for a prescription or what. After a few more minutes of staring his delicious ass down, Beverly decided it was time for him to either buy something or leave. She was tired and wanted to get back to the comfort of her own queen-size bed-alone. This man was cute though, cute enough to share that big bed with. She couldn't help checking him out. Something about him made her stare, stare, stare. There was something more than an instant attraction, something familiar about him, but what?
She noticed how his eyes would search her, then dart away like he was shy. Maybe it was a male thing-checking out the action. That was cool with her, because he was the sexiest thing that had ever stepped foot in there. Her usual customers were men in their seventies and eighties, humped over and trying their best to flirt while flashing a toothless grin. That wasn't about to happen, not for her. If she was to take up with a man ever again, it would be the long, lean, sexy type, the type that was walking her way. The gentleman was definitely an attention getter, and she hated the fact that his very persona was close to flooring her. He was stacked, had dark curly/straight hair, and looked like the baseball player Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod), who was as fine as a needle in a haystack; a welcome sight!
Beverly was actually a little nervous about speaking to him, for fear of mumbling gibberish. She cleared her throat. "Sir, we're about to close. Is there something I can help you with?"
He walked up to the counter, and her legs got weak. He smiled and skyrocketed her straight to the moon. Even his teeth were pretty-straight, with no gaps or missing teeth, just perfect. He was damn fine walking DNA. Beverly was used to primates or single-celled organisms like Tony or her ex-husband, BJ, because that was all that approached her. She knew she was lovely-why couldn't she get the handsome ones? Even this man, she thought, was going to buy whatever he needed and then leave the store.
As he approached her, he looked straight into her eyes. At first he didn't say anything, but she encouraged him a little. "Sir, are you okay? Can I get you anything? We are about to close."
He leaned in to her with that delicious smile. "You sure the hell can get something for me, Beverly Stuart."
That floored her. How did this stranger know her name? Her lab coat was thrown across the chair, and he couldn't see the name on it. Again she cleared her throat, "Excuse me? Who are you?"
"You don't remember?" he added with a wrinkling of his forehead.
Beverly stood there as patiently as possible, hoping he wasn't just a cute pervert. "I haven't any idea who you are, and to be frank, again, it's closing time."
"Then I'll be frank with you. I'm Ethan Jacobs. Debbie Jacobs's brother. Do you remember me now?"
Before she could even think to control her words, it came out. "Ethan? You can't be serious! That little chump that used to try to lift my skirt? For real, are you him?"
"Don't I look like him? Mom says I haven't changed a bit."
She walked through the swinging pharmacy door while saying, "For Christ's sake, Ethan. How the hell are you? I was just thinking about you."
"You were thinking about me? The girl I thought hated my very soul!"
"Well, you were a downright pest, but so are most little boys."
He looked himself up and down. "I've changed a bit."
"I'll say! Get over here and give me a hug." She delivered the biggest hug, something she never thought she'd give Ethan Jacobs. He was so tall and sexy, and he smelled so good-Gucci aftershave. His muscles showed even under the tweed blazer he was sporting, and she could just about feel everything on him. Yes, he was definitely better than that little snot who worshipped the panties she walked in.
He'd grown up nicely from head to toe. He used to be so skinny, but he was perfect now, tight, taut, and in all the right places. Beverly couldn't believe her eyes. It was the one and only Ethan Jacobs. Her fingers smoothed across his warm cheeks. "How have you been? Where have you been?"
"I'm doing great, got my own business here in town. I never left. I own a Lexus dealership on Montcalm Avenue; doing the paperwork for another one. You know I always loved tinkering with cars-and with you."
She wanted to melt right in front of him, but she managed a little self-control somehow. He kept talking while she tried not to be obvious in scouring him down to his very nucleus.
He continued. "I have a little girl I just got custody of, and I've bought a new house."
She had managed somehow to hear what he was saying but was still in dreamland imagining the size of his erection and how it would feel plowing into her. "Really? How old is she?"
"Five and driving me crazy."
"I remember just how insane you were as a kid. You couldn't keep still, and everywhere Debbie and I went, you were sure to go, like Mary's little lamb or something. I didn't even know how you found us most of the time, because we used to hide from you. Remember?"
"I remember, but I was determined to find you, Bev, just like tonight. I didn't need anything in here but you." He smiled like something wild and sexy was inside him. That's what he was, wild and sexy, always had been-probably always would be. She was surprised he'd had only one child.
Ethan took her hand and kissed it. "I've always wondered what happened to you. You were, and still are, the prettiest thing I've ever seen in my life. The only thing was, I just didn't know if I'd ever have a chance with you. Yes, I know I was eight the first time I met you, but-"
"Actually, you were five when I first met you, and you always had a runny nose."
He grinned. "You have an excellent memory, but this is all about you, now. Even when I was ten, I wanted you. When I was thirteen, you were still the best game in town. When I turned fifteen, I thought you were so super-hot, I broke into hives just hearing your name. And believe me, men were calling your name a lot."
"Really? How's that? I was never the precocious type."
"Girl, all I can say is when a man sees you, he never forgets you. I sure remembered."
"I see that. What took you so long?"
"Fear, skepticism. Believe it or not, once I grew up, I got shy. But only around you. You'd speak to me when you saw me and actually treated me as if you really liked me. That set me off. I felt like I was human to you. I wanted to make my move on you then, but you moved away."
She smiled and shook her head. "I simply can't believe you had that much of a thing for me. I thought it was just some silly crush that would go away the minute you hit middle school."
"It went deeper than that, way deeper. You see, I found you after all these years. You just disappeared one day. What happened?"
"I transferred to another university in southern California to get my degree. Your sister and I were out of contact by the time I returned to Cleveland, my other friends were either married or moved away. Back then I just figured I'd leave, too; start over somewhere else. I didn't think anything was left here for me." She smiled into his eyes. "Apparently that wasn't the case."
"It certainly wasn't. Had I known, I'd have searched the city to try and convince you of how I really felt."
She wanted to tell him that she was here for him now, but wasn't that forward? She didn't really know if he was still that attracted to her. Maybe he only wanted to see her for sentimental reasons. His next sentence changed her mind.
"I'm still going crazy over you, Beverly. I just can't help myself. You consume me." He looked down at his Rolex, and then back at her. "Look, I know it's late, and you're probably very tired, but would you join me for a drink? My buddy Tad owns the new pub on Lexington."
After all these years.... She couldn't get over the fact that she was accepting a drink with Debbie's younger brother. But she wanted to be with him now-though that was the last thing she thought she would ever admit to. Ethan was different now, a man-apparently a man who had a lot going for him. It wasn't an everyday occurrence for a black man to be an owner of a Lexus dealership, and on Montcalm Avenue at that. That was the ritzy part of town.
"Sure, I'd love a drink about now. It's been pretty busy around here-you know, end-of-the-month hell, getting prescriptions filled before the prices raise for the following month. I try to give my elderly clients every thinkable discount, because they deserve it. They've lived long enough to get respect from someone. The government sure doesn't do it."
He smiled and kissed her cheek, feeling the glory of her soft skin against his hungry lips. "You always had a way of caring about others. Even me. I was a pain in the ass, but you and Debbie looked out for me once I found you."
"Someone had to do it. God only knew you were stupid enough to run in front of cars."
"The car would have gotten the worst end of the deal."
"Maybe so. I'd hate to see anything happen to you now." She slowly released his hand. "Let me grab my coat."
Ethan watched the love of his life whisk to the back and lock up. He looked at her pharmacy, realizing she'd done really well for herself. Somehow he'd known she would, but he was even more impressed with her: Beverly was a raving beauty with just as much brains as loveliness. He was so thankful that she seemed happy to see him again.
Beverly came out wrapping the belt of her leather jacket around her trim frame and laced her fingers around his again. "I'm ready to have that drink with Debbie's kid brother." Even she had to smile at the sound of it. So did he.
"Kid brother, huh? How I'd love to show you how much of a 'kid brother' I no longer am."
"One step at a time, Ethan. I'm still amazed at how tall you've gotten." She looked into his face with a lighthearted expression. "The second thing I can't get over is that you own a dealership."
"Actually, in about two weeks I'll be the proud owner of a Mercedes dealership."
Once they were out in the unusually warm October air, she automatically headed for her Cadillac. "You deal with cars all day; let me drive. I know where Tad's pub is. Remember, he was a little pest just like you were. When you weren't trying to put Debbie and me into the nut ward, you were out being a menace to society with him."
Excerpted from Satisfy Me by Renée Alexis Sydney Molare Fiona Zedde Copyright © 2007 by Renée Alexis. Excerpted by permission.
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