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"So, what do you think?" Zara did her best Vanna White imitation, waving her arms with a flourish to encompass the 10,000 square foot loft space.
Quincy looked at her with his patented 'Doubting-Thomas squint,' and she could see his mind whirring a mile a minute, measuring his next words like a U.N. diplomat. Not like her, who just blurted things out regardless of what anyone thought, come what may. "It's nice."
"Could you be more non-committal? Sheesh. It's more than nice. Don't you see the possibilities? It's perfect." Zara led him through the cavernous space towards the exit where they had first come in.
"I'm not following you, Zar. Possibilities and perfect for what?" He trailed behind her as far as the threshold and before she could answer him, his onyx eyes lit with understanding. "Oh, wait a minute. I know what this is about."
"Before you go shooting me down, once I have the place up and running, you'll get back your initial investment at least threefold."
"That's what you said about your bakery idea, your dog walking venture, your personal shopping undertaking..."
"This will be different, Quince."
"I've heard that before."
Zara stopped short of pouting and stomping her foot. Neither of those tactics worked too well on Quincy, at least not often. "Why are you being a miser? It's not like you can't spare it."
"I'm a miser because I'm not giving into the princess's whims?"
"Exactly." Zara gave him her most engaging smile, even though it had failed to work on her parents only a few hours earlier.
But she could count on Quincy. Quincy wasn't like them. Quincy understood her despite their disparatebackgrounds.
"The answer is no."
Zara gaped, trying to wrap her mind around her best friend's denial. This was going to be a harder sale than she first thought. Fine, she'd just have to pull out the big guns.
She threw up her hands, turned her back on him and walked several steps away into the hallway before she turned back to glare at him. "Well, why the hell not?"
"Because for once you're going to have to stand on your own two feet."
"That's what I'm trying to do."
Quincy just stared, looking so regal and commanding in his dark-chocolate beauty that Zara licked her lips before she realized what she was doing.
No time for lust. This was business, serious business.
"Borrowing money from me for your latest get-rich-quick scheme is not standing on your own two feet, Zara."
"I'm not asking for a loan. I'm asking you to be an investor. This would be a partnership. My ideas and your capital."
Quincy sighed, shook his head and closed the space between them.
Zara craned her neck to take in his gorgeous, exotic eyes. If she wasn't so mad at him and Quincy wasn't just scenery, she might give in to the desire sending a moist dose of warmth between her thighs. As it was she just looked at him, disbelieving.
Quincy rarely said no to her unless he was trying to teach her a lesson about her flightiness. Then Zara could usually just bat her long-lashed, blue eyes and pucker up her already pouty mouth to get him to come around. No one would ever accuse Zara Benjamin of not working the womanly wiles that God had given her.
She placed her palms flat against his hard chest, stopped just short of fondling the muscles she felt there. God, Zack was right and she needed to have her head examined for wanting this man so much. By mere virtue of his sex, at least her brother had a chance with Quincy. But her? She knew where things stood. Quincy never lied to her about what he was, or how he felt about her. He loved her like a friend, like the little sister he never had--nothing more, nothing less. "I know I can make this gig work, Quince. I'm really passionate about this."
"I've heard that before too." He frowned. "Did your parents already turn you down?"
"I'd rather not discuss them right now."
"That means they did."
"It doesn't matter. Zack's helping me out. He believes in me."
"Zack's blood, your twin. He's supposed to believe in you."
"So is my best friend."
"And you still need a major investor."
"Yes and if you would just listen to my propos--"
"You actually have one this time?"
"Don't be a wise-ass. I always have a plan. Maybe not exactly foolproof..."
"At least you're owning up to your shortcomings."
"My, it must be National Snide Day and you're the grand marshal."
Quincy chuckled and Zara did stomp her foot this time.
"I'm telling you I've changed! I've grown. I know what I want now and this nightclub--"
"So that's what this little undertaking is going to be then? Some hangout for all your rich, druggie friends?"
"That's not fair and you know it." Zara peered at him, realization about Quincy's stinky mood finally dawning. "Did your mother just visit you to borrow some money or something?"
"She has nothing to do with this."
"She did and now you're taking out your anger and frustration with her on me."
"You're taking a giant leap and it's in the wrong direction." Quincy took her hands in his and brought them to his mouth.
Zara had to stop herself from trembling when he brought his full lips to her hands and brushed them across her knuckles, the soft stubble around his mouth and on his chin tickling her skin. She noticed the contrast of their flesh--his smooth, chocolate skin against her fair, creamy complexion--and wondered what it would feel like to have him sliding his large, dark cock inside her.
Zara shook her head to clear it. No wonder he wouldn't take her seriously. She had a one track mind, at least where he was concerned, and that track invariably led to only one place: inside Quincy Powers' pants.
"I can't give you the money and it has nothing to do with my mother and everything to do with your fly-by-night past."
"I can't believe you're holding stuff I did as a veritable child against me."
He snorted. "You're twenty-eight years old, Zar and the period we're talking about isn't that long ago. In fact, your last 'passion' overtook you just a couple of years ago."
"Well, we can't all be the perfect, staid financial whiz that you are." She jerked her hands out of his grasp. "Fine, be that way. If you don't want to invest in my business venture, then I'll just have to find someone who will." She turned and flounced off in her best rich-girl-annoyed-with-the-world imitation. She punched the down elevator button, huffed, crossed her arms across her breasts and impatiently tapped her foot against the dreary gray carpeting. That was one of the first things to be done in her redesigning: get rid of the cheap, funky floor covering.
After a few moments, she felt Quincy closing the gap between them, and cursed the elevator for taking so long. Modernizing the ancient deathtrap was her first order of business once she got a loan to renovate this place.
"Zara, we should talk about this some more before you go off all half-cocked--"
"There's nothing more to talk about. You've said your peace and now I have to go find investors who'll believe in my dream as much as I do." She heard him curse under his breath right before she felt his hands seize her shoulders. Zara pulled away to avoid his embrace, and took a step back.
"Don't be this way."
She was getting to him, she knew it. Just a few more minutes and his guilty conscience would completely overwhelm him before he would beg her to take his money. She knew Quincy well--almost as well as he knew her.
She still needed to make this look good, make her dramatic grand exit. Then there was almost a ninety-nine percent chance he would come behind her wanting to make amends. He wouldn't give her everything she was asking for, but something was better than nothing.
Zara turned to give him one more frosty look. "You had your chance." The elevator door opened and she took a step forward.
Her expensive designer pump dangled over a gaping maw for just an instant before she heard Quincy's urgent shout behind her. She felt his fingertips caress a sleeve of her couture dress right before she lost her balance.
Zara's last thought before she went tumbling headfirst into the endless abyss was that she'd never get to tell Quincy "I told you so" at the grand opening of Zara's.
Afraid of what she would find, Zara dragged her eyes open to bright lights and fluffy clouds all around her. There was no pain, in fact not much feeling at all except the sense of floating in an endless, soft void.
This was definitely not the elevator shaft.
Had someone made a mistake?
"Not exactly, my child."
Zara turned this way and that, but could see no one in the void with her, realized she'd only heard the voice in her head. Okay, she'd play along. "Am I in heaven or hell?"
A second voice answered her, more stern and less benevolent than the first.
"Neither. It is limbo or your waiting room."
"Waiting to go where?"
"In time. First, you must learn the rules."
"Yes, the provisions of your return to earth."
She was going back? Maybe she could still get her nightclub up and running, maybe she could--
"You have more important things about which to worry."
"My immortal soul?"
"Micah, stop being so gruff. You are frightening her."
"She needs to be frightened, Jamaereh."
Oh God, they were angels! Well, what did she expect, really? "So I'm, uh, going back?"
"You have two weeks to fulfill your desire and be with the man you love," the one called Jamaereh answered.
They were giving her Quincy?
"No one is giving you anything, young one," Micah said. "You must earn him, and even then only for two weeks. After that time you must return for a ruling on your final destination."
"That is not it. That is all you are being allowed to know for now."
"Okay, fine." He didn't have to be such a grouch, sheesh.
"I can hear you," Micah said.
Zara shuddered at the sternness in his deep voice and lowered her eyes like the recalcitrant child he was treating her. "Sorry."
"Enough of this dawdling. It is time for you to depart."
"But what else do I need to--" Before Zara could get out another word they whisked her away faster than it had taken her to tumble down that elevator shaft and for her life to change.
"I hate it when you play bad cop like that," Jamaereh said.
"Why? You like playing good cop," Micah said.
"That is all well and good, but I still do not like it. And you know what I like even less?"
"What is that?" Micah took a seat on one of the many clouds surrounding them and arched his brows in a this-I-have-to-hear gesture.
"When you play Devil's Advocate."
"Me? I only did His bidding."
"Do not remind me."
"Are you still feeling the sting of the Jack incident centuries later?"
Jamaereh gritted his teeth as if to grind away the memory of the felled beanstalk and the murdered giant. "Jack was a foolish and selfish little thief who would not recognize a blessing if you handed it to him on a silver platter."
"Which we did."
"You take things too personally. It was not our fault what happened. And the child did get his just desserts eventually."
"Not before ending the life of that hardworking, innocent giant for no other reason than to sate his immature materialism and envy."
"Do you think Zara Benjamin will discover His loophole and make the same mistakes?"
"Dear God, I hope not."