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"Why are you so anxious to sell?"
Tracy Williams looked away from her Realtor to the apartment building that had been her life for the last eight years. She'd overhauled the plumbing, fixed the electrical, even wired for Wi-Fi. But it wasn't her future, not by a long shot. "I took over the building when my parents died," she said. "But now my brother's about to go to college and I've got to pay for tuition. Besides, it's time for me to move on. You know, find my life."
Mr. Curtis blinked, then continued to make notes on his pad of paper. Apparently, he wasn't one for chitchat. That was fine with her, she thought as she glanced at her watch. Ten minutes. 4C was due back from class in ten minutes, and she didn't want to be standing here with a man old enough to be her father when he returned. She wanted to be casual, open to conversation, even a little flirtyas she had been for the last month on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3:15.
"When do you think you can find a buyer?" she asked while her gaze drifted to the front door. She loved that first moment when 4C rounded the corner. The afternoon sun would glint in his gorgeous dark eyes, and he was often frowning in concentration. The wind played with his silky black hair just like in a movie, and she would get light-headed from the absolute potential of the moment. Anything could happen. She could be light and funny, or mysteriously sensual. She could say something brilliant that would lead to more. Maybe one day she'd have the kind of night she fantasized about but never acted on because she was acting as a single mom to her teenage brother.
Or she could stand here like an idiot while her Realtor made notes. "Do you think itwill be enough to pay for two sets of college tuition? For me and my brother?"
"Hard to say," he answered, his nose still in his notebook. "You know the basicskeep the place clean, the plumbing flowing, the tenants happy." He looked up, his gaze unwaveringly cold. "The little things matter, Miss Williams. A little dirt can cost in the overall impression and that affects the price." He narrowed his eyes at her. "Do you think you can do that?"
She lifted her chin. Eight years ago, she'd known nothing about apartment buildings or about raising her preteen brother. Being a landlord had been her father's dream, not hers. One awful car accident later, and this building was her and her brother's only means of support. Thankfully, it had been enough. Now, Joey was a solid B student with a bright future, the building had been renovated within an inch of its life, and she had already downloaded her applications to the best business schools in the nation. "I can do it," she said firmly.
"See that you do." Then he snapped his leather folder shut, spun on his heel and left, nearly running over 4C at the front door and ruining her favorite moment of the day. Tracy barely managed a gulp before she stood face-to-face with her fantasy man: Mr. Nathan Gao of Hong Kong, currently an MBA student at the prestigious University of Illinois, and walking Chinese sex god. He wore a summer suit too cold for October and carried a battered leather attaché case gripped in elegantly long fingers whitened with cold. His hair was cut conservativelyblack silk that tended to fall raggedly about his eyes. His skin's golden color seemed rugged with his hint of a beard. And his eyebrows were like dark strokes of a fine ink brush. How pathetic was that? She thought his eyebrows were sexy. His shoulders were hunched against the wind, but that only gave him a sweet rumpled appearance, especially since they were broad enough to appear strong even curled against the cold. With no apparent effort at all, he swerved to avoid Mr. Curtis then hauled the doors open despite the wind. Then he looked up and smiled.
That smile had lived in her dreams. His mouth was pale but still sensuous, full in ways she hadn't expected from a Chinese man. It was sexy enough when he was serious, but his smile sent shivers down her spine, especially when it was aimed straight at her. God, what things he had done to her with those lips! Fantasy lovers were the best.
She slammed her mouth shut and tried not to look like a lovesick teen. Just because she'd lived as a monk for the last eight years didn't mean she had to act like an adolescent. She was an adult, a suave woman. One who had just sucked in her stomach when her fantasy man turned and smiled at not one, not two, but four giggling college girls. Crop tops and blond ponytails bobbed in the wind as they entered the building. They were chattering a mile a minute, giggling and flirting for all they were worthwhich from the looks of their jewelry was quite a lot. And even worse, Nathan Gao was flirting back. His head was dipped in shy modesty while a blush stained his cheeks. Then he gestured up the staircase.
"My studio is on the fourth floor, ladies."
"Why don't you lead the way?" chirped the one brunette. Mr. Gao nodded, then started climbing while everyone in the hallTracy includedogled his perfect behind.
Tracy's shoulders tightened with irritation as the blondes nearly ran her over. They hadn't even realized she was standing there! By the time the brunette came close, Tracy had a plan. All four girls carried flyers on bright red paper. An ad of some sort and obviously related to their presence here.
"May I?" she asked as she slid the flyer out of the brunette's hand.
The girl blinked and dimpled prettily. "Sorry, ma'am, but I'll be late for class." Then she sprang up the stairs like a cheerleader.
Tracy felt a gut punch from being called ma'am. Sure, her navy blue business suit made her look older, but not that much older. Unable to deal with the thought, she read the flyer.
TANTRIC SEX CLASSES Learn the secrets of SEXUAL IMMORTALITY Experienced Dragon Master Group, couple or individual Privacy Guaranteed $10 a class Contact Nathan Gao Tracy read and reread the flyer. Sex classes? In her building? Sex classes! She frowned, trying to sort through the possibilities. This was a college campus with all sorts of unusual classes. His could be nothing more than what it proclaimedclasses in an exotic religion.
She snorted. She didn't have that kind of luck. Besides, it didn't matter. The cops and the university were on an aggressive clean-up-campus campaign. They liked splashy, front-page arrests even if the charges were dismissed later. "Sex Classes" would be prime targets for their arrest-first, ask-questions-later tactics.
She looked out the door to where Mr. Curtis was just now pulling out of the parking lot. If a little mud in the hallway made a bad impression, what would a vice bust do? Whether or not 4C was actually doing something illegal wouldn't matter. It would still be front-page news at exactly the wrong time. And if she lost her status as "University Approved Housing" because of a splashy vice bust, then Tracy's entire future was sunk. Without approved status, the value of the building tanked. Once the value tanked, no way would its sale cover two sets of college tuition. 4C's Tantric class could derail her entire future.
She crumpled the flyer in her fist as she mounted the stairs, her footfalls growing heavier and harder with each step. She hit the landing at full speed then fumbled trying to get out her master key. Normally it was in her back pocket, but today she wore the damn suit that apparently made her look like Grandma Moses. She had to search for it in the bottom of her blue plastic binder while listening to giggles that carried easily through the door.
Got it! Pulling out the key, she slipped it silently in the lock. She'd already developed a plan. She would gasp in horrified shock at whatever they were doingthe giggles were getting even louderthen calmly demand that Mr. Nathan Gao vacate immediately. That was the best solution. She'd refund his money, even help him move. "No harm, no foul," she'd say. "Just go teach your 'classes'on someone else's property." It was a blow to her fantasy life, of course. She'd have to wait even longer to open the door to her sexuality, but when had anything ever gone how she'd planned?
She pushed open the door, her gasp already begun. Only to have her breath choked off in real shock. Mr. Gao was almost naked. Gone was his shirt, jacket and shoes. He was kneeling on the floor, his chest totally bare, as he addressed the equally topless coeds. Mr. Gao looked up, his sculpted black eyebrows raising in a silent question. But Tracy couldn't form any wordsrighteously indignant or not. Her mindand her eyeswere completely trained on Mr. Better-Than-Jet-Li. She'd been dreaming of having that chest over her, beneath her, beside her, but she'd never guessed how really ripped he was. His skin was light gold in the afternoon sun, his shoulders pulled back in perfect posture that absolutely accented his six packno, twelve-packabs. No fat softened the lean beauty of his torso and when he slowly stood, Tracy could do no more than stare open-mouthed at him.
"Mrs. Williams, what is the meaning of this intrusion?" His voice quivered down her spine and she had to forcibly drag her gaze up from the bare flesh just below his belly button. How often had she fantasized about tugging off his loose pants? How hideous was it that she finally got to see his fabulous body but in this context? She swallowed, but still couldn't pull her eyes off his sculpted abs.
"Ms. Williams," she murmured. "I'm not married." And what the hell did that have to do with anything? "So sorry," he returned, his tone softening into that low bedroom voice she'd been imagining for months. "Are you here to join the class?"
Class? She blinked. Oh, that class! The possibly illegal sex class that was jeopardizing her entire future. She straightened, forcibly cooled her expression, and even managed a disdainful lift to her eyebrow. "I'm sorry, Mr. Gao, but I am not interested in your class. In fact, I am afraid I am going to have to evict you for illegal activity." She winced at the lie. He certainly wasn't doing anything illegal at the moment. But she wanted to come on overly strong so that she had room to compromise. "Please vacate the premises by tomorrow morning."
He reared back in shock, his chest muscles rippling in a truly stunning display. "Sorry? Illegal activity? It must be my EnglishI don't understand."
Yeah, right. His English was flawless. "Please. You can't think I'm that stupid." She canted her gazereluctantlyat the gaggle of girls who had miraculously pulled their cropped T-shirts back on. "I can't afford even the appearance of something unwholesome." Another wince. She sounded like a stuck-up prude. Time to offer up the compromise. "Please, just move out and I won't call the cops."
His entire body went rigid with indignation. "Unwholesome? Who's unwholesome?" He stared accusingly at the girls. As one, they gasped, then grabbed their designer purses and embroidered book bags. Three of the four made it out the door in a split second, but the fourth lingered.
"We didn't hire him for that," the petite blonde number one murmured. "This was just a class."
"Don't be naive," Tracy returned as the girl slipped past.
"Don't be a close-minded bigot!" Mr. Gao snapped. Tracy felt her shoulders tighten. Fantasy lovers should never, ever become real. They were always a disappointment. "Just go, Mr. Gao. I can't take the risk of having you here," she said with real regret. "I just can't risk it. I'm sorry." She turned to leave, but he moved faster than she thought possible. Before she completed her pivot, he slipped in front of the door, blocking it with all that rippling muscle. He never touched her, but Lord, the sight alone was enough to stop her cold.
"I was teaching a class!" He spoke with barely repressed rage. He grabbed his flyerthe very same one she had still clenched in her fistand pushed it toward her. "Tantric class. It's a religion."
She tilted her head back, startledand a little intimidatedby his height. They'd never been this close before, and the heat off his body made her head spin. "It's a cover," she managed to say. "A convenient lie, and we both know it."
His eyes were flat and cold. "I know nothing of the kind, Miss Williams. I will not leave my apartment. You may call the police if you wish. I have done nothing wrong." Then his lips tightened in apparent disappointment. It was a small movement, but she was so close that she saw every nuance. "Come to a class," he urged. "Tantrism is just a belief system." He paused a moment, his eyes going flinty dark. "Unusual but completely legal."
"I can have you evicted," she bluffed.
"No, you can't. Imagine the problems, especially if I call the Chinese embassy."
She swallowed. A messy international argument involving religion would screw up the sale of the building almost as much as a vice bust. "You can't sell sex in the United States. It's illegal."
"Selling sex is one-hundred-percent legal as long as it is attached to a product. Having sex for money is illegal, and no one here was having sex."
"You're almost naked! They were topless." Her emotions were spiraling out of control, but she couldn't seem to stop herself. She had dreamed of this man for almost two months now, the last thing she wanted was to kick him out. But she couldn't risk her or her brother's future on anything that appeared immoral. "I'll refund your security deposit. I'll help you move. We can use my truck, but you've got to go. I'm sorry."
"I am not leaving." His voice was hard and flatso different from the warm, flirty exchanges they'd been having since the beginning of school. Then he grabbed her by the waist and lifted her out of his apartment. She barely had time to squeak in alarm before her sedate black pumps touched gently down on the hallway carpet.
"Excuse me while I call my lawyer," he said. Then he flashed his cell phone at her just before shutting the door firmly in her face.
Tracy glared at the thin door. She could force her way in there, but no way was she going to win against him in a physical fight. Not that it wouldn't be fun trying, but
She pulled her thoughts back from the gutter and turned away, making sure she was noisy as she stomped down the hallway. Let the gorgeous hunk think he'd defeated her. As soon as she was out of earshot, she whipped out her cell phone and dialed, punching in the extension when prompted. "Detective McKay."
She smiled. Thank God for old friends with helpful professions. "Hey, Mike. It's Tracy. Can you run a check for me on a tenant?"