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An offer of material, which is made at no risk
The burst of pollen hit Scout’s nose, like a feather laced with pepper. No, she couldn’t sneeze. If she sneezed, she’d get glassy-eyed and look as if she were crying when she certainly had not been crying. As a matter of fact, she hadn’t cried for days. After what was likely the most trying five days of her life, Scout made a vow to never cry again. Tears were useless and, frankly, a big pain in her girly ass.
As she shifted to the shade out of the warm May sun, her pale pink dress shirt was a light cover to her skin. Her heavy gray wool slacks, however, were not. Coming directly from work and living out of a small bag for the past week hadn’t left her much choice in the wardrobe department. Pavement smacked beneath her Nikes along the busy Folsom sidewalks with each determined stride.
For five long days, Scout contemplated her predicament. She’d always aimed to be something more than homeless, but tolerated her circumstances all the same. Now, however, things had changed. There was no way she was going back to where she’d started.
Her memory was an endless revolving door of strife, covered in a bleary haze, smothering the prettier things in this world. Scout never had pretty things. Well, that wasn’t true. Lucian gave her many pretty things. He also gave her away.
The pain hadn’t subsided. It was very real and seething angrily inside of her. Scout simply made a decision to channel that anger into something worthwhile. And that was what today was all about, something worthwhile.
She was worthwhile. So worthwhile, it was possible to put aside the hurt and the sting of his betrayal to do something for herself.
For twenty-three years she had struggled to survive. At age four she was diving in dumpsters for the smallest scrap of salvageable food. At age seven she’d been scavenging while other girls her age played house and learned their ABC’s. Scout never played house, because she didn’t know the first thing about living in a home. And she never learned her ABC’s, because her mother, the only person Scout ever had to look up to, didn’t know how to teach her.
Pearl wasn’t a typical mother either. She never baked cookies, sang lullabies or kissed scraped knees. Rather, she cooked crack, mumbled ramblings of a stoned soul and gave her body to men who funded her next high. Scout was likely seven by the time she realized if you gave certain things to men, they’d give you almost anything in return; yet she never wanted to go down that same degrading road.
Scout wanted to be somebody. Her needs were more basic. She wanted four walls and a roof to call home. She wanted a key for her own front door. She wanted a job, and she wanted money for food and heat, and clothing thick enough to keep her warm even in the coldest blizzard.
Now she was halfway there. She had a job working at Clemons Market. It wasn’t a spectacular place to work, but she liked it. The people treated her nice. And her boss, even though he sometimes gave her the creeps, was tolerable.
Her last boss expected much, much more. He expected her heart. The son of a bitch got it too. Scout was still dealing with that emotional fallout.
Lucian Patras was likely a name she’d always know. He was a person quite difficult to forget. She tried. Lord knew she tried, but he was inside her, like a tattoo inked deep into her flesh. She couldn’t wash him away no matter how much she wanted to.
Scout finally admitted that he’d used her, and with that shameful admission came some much-needed clarity. She could use him too.
She required a plan. Lucian had taught her many things. He taught her how to make love. He taught her how to socialize with aristocrats. He taught her how to play chess. And he taught her that she was more than a lost cause. However, he also taught her what it feels like to be truly fucked over.
She learned the agony of a broken heart, the torment of betrayal, and the misery of knowing the one person she wanted was the one she could never have. Her intimate relationship with Lucian was over.
One didn’t have to be literate to read between the lines. She was given a chance to see behind the scenes as to how men of wealth play the game. She might not know how to count very well or be able to read heavy books, but Scout was not a stupid person. And she was a survivor.
Business was business, and so long as she kept the intimacy at bay, she could do what she needed to do. Scout’s abbreviated taste of high society left nothing but a bitter taste in her mouth, and it was time to change the game.
Rounding the corner, Scout brushed her moist palms down the coarse wool covering her thighs. She could do this. She’d thought long and hard about what she wanted and nothing, not even the infamous Lucian Patras, would get in her way.
The revolving door of Patras Industries reflected the bright rays of sun peeking through the high-rise buildings across the street. Scout’s sneakers moved silently over the polished marble of the lobby floors, and her thumb pressed with purpose into the smooth button of the elevator.
After keying in the floor, she waited, her empty belly doing a row of summersaults having nothing to do with the rise of the lift, and everything to do with coming face-to-face with her past and finally having the balls to go after her future.
Cheeks puffed as she forced out a shaky breath, her clammy palms brushed over her blouse. “Your terms, Scout. Don’t take any shit,” she whispered as the elevator eased to a stop.
The door chimed softly as it opened, and she stepped onto smooth burgundy carpet. She looked nothing like she had the last time she was there. Her polished Mary Janes were humbled down to rubber-soled, serviceable shoes. Absent was the lace that once adorned her legs. This was not a mission of seduction, but an exercise in influence.
Same as before, she arrived at the reception desk with a deep hunger burning in her belly, but this hunger was something much more potent than any form of lust. This was a hunger for well-deserved recompense. No need to pretty herself up to get what she came for, what she deserved.
It might’ve taken her five days to figure out, but she finally understood. She held all the power. She was no longer an outsider. She’d been on the other side of the looking glass and realized she very well could stand on her own two feet. It was only a matter of declaring her intentions and not backing down. It was time to do for her.
“May I help you?” Seth, Lucian’s personal assistant greeted. He clearly didn’t recognize her, and why would he? She’d only met Seth once, several months ago. She’d been dressed to the nines and ready to seduce his boss. Without makeup she looked like a child. Her hair was pulled into a no-nonsense ponytail, and her Clemons uniform was anything but flattering. She’d also dropped well over ten pounds, which on a small frame like hers was not a welcome loss.
“I’d like to speak to Mr. Patras.”
His eyes narrowed with rejection before he voiced his reply. “You need an appointment to meet with Mr. Patras.”
“I’m sure I do not.” Insecurities rattled her confidence, but she kept her chin up and remained polite. She had every right to be there. Convincing herself of such was step one. “Please tell him Evelyn Keats is here to speak with him.”
Seth’s eyes bulged. “Ms. Keats, I’m sorry. I didn’t recognize you. Let me tell Mr. Patras you’re here.”
He pressed a button on the intercom, and a tight shiver pinched her heart at the sound of Lucian’s voice. “Yes?”
“Mr. Patras, Ms. Keats is here—”
It shouldn’t have been possible to get from his desk to the door in such a short span of time, but the door to Lucian’s office whipped open and his muscular frame filled the doorway, stress marring his expression and exhaustion weighing in his eyes.
Lips parted in obvious surprise, he stilled. “Evelyn.” His voice was a mere rasp of the self-assured baritone he usually spoke with.
She nodded. “I came to talk—”
“Come into my office.”
Her lips twitched as he cut off her request. She wouldn’t let him obtain the upper hand. This was her show. She was there for a reason, and she couldn’t let her heart distract her. That foolish organ had caused enough problems.
Aiming for poise, she nodded and carefully stepped past him. The office door shut with a sharp snick. Her mind replayed the first time they’d met. Lucian had stood like a giant, a thin veneer of control, masked in immeasurable power, seething behind her then, and he reminded her of the same giant now. Her sneakered feet quickly stepped away.
When he faced her, she saw he was still speechless, his eyes scanning her from head to toe. “I need to talk to you,” she said quickly.
“Where have you been?” he asked, his gaze filled with bewilderment as it traveled back and forth from her feet to her face.
“That’s not your concern.”
“Evelyn.” He leveled her with a look that said he wasn’t in the mood for games. Neither was she.
There was no way she’d tell him she’d actually returned to sleeping on the streets, using her bag as a pillow, a playground for shelter, and a McDonald’s for facilities. He’d see it as a weakness, and she couldn’t stomach his pity. Her pitiful circumstances were only temporary and tonight she’d be in a bed once more, so long as she stuck to her plan and didn’t let him intimidate or bully her.
Steeling herself, she met his gaze. “Lucian, I came to talk about other issues, not where I’m living.”
“You haven’t been at the shelter.”
She pursed her lips. “No doubt you had your minions checking every crevice of the city for me. I’m a lot more resourceful than you give me credit for.”
His brow softened as though her words wounded him. “Did you expect me not to look for you? I told you I’d find you.”
“I expected nothing less. Luckily, your search can stop now that I’ve come to you.”
He stepped forward and she moved back. “Don’t.” Her hand shot out in warning. Regrettably, her request didn’t come out as confident as she would’ve liked.
The hand reaching for her stilled and detoured to fork through his hair, tension clear on his face. He looked ragged, but still devastatingly handsome. The shadow on his tanned jaw should have looked sloppy, but only added another layer of sexy to his distinguished presence. His blue dress shirt had a white collar. Paired with the paisley red tie and black suit vest, he looked quite the tycoon.
“How long are you planning on keeping your distance, Evelyn? You’re killing me. I’ve been going crazy since you ran off. I can’t continue like this.”
“And whose fault is that, Lucian?” she snapped, instantly regretting the show of emotion. Keep it together, Keats.
“I can’t fix it if you refuse to let me—”
“There is no fixing it, Lucian! You used me and betrayed me.”
“Bullshit!” he snapped. “I love you.” His feet swiftly carried him across the office, incidentally boxing her into a corner. “I fucking love you, Evelyn. He had me at his mercy. He set the conditions.”
He, being Parker, her once-dear friend turned Judas. Scout’s understanding of their agreement was still foggy. Lucian had apparently been looking for her during a blizzard last winter and ran into Parker. After begging Parker to tell him where she was hiding, Lucian agreed to give her away for a month, with Parker driving some kind of bargain. Nope, still didn’t compute. They were both guilty.
“And you agreed to his terms,” she hissed. Fury at the injustice she’d been the victim of bloomed inside her, fresh and scorching. “I’m not here to talk about that. I don’t care about your pitiful excuses. What’s done is done. Either we discuss what I came here to discuss or I leave.”
His gaze searched her face, likely hunting for some validation that she wasn’t bluffing. Eyes that read opponents and colleagues with ease homed in on every visible strength and weakness she allowed him to see. Her jaw locked in determination.
“Go ahead and try to push me, Lucian. I’ll be out that door so fast your head will spin.”
He stepped back. Good. “What did you want to talk about?”
She glanced at the leather chair across from his desk. “May we sit?”
His dark eyes followed her gaze and he waved his hand in theatrical invitation. Irritation was evident in the set of his mouth and narrowed stare. Probably because Lucian was a man who didn’t easily relinquish control. “By all means.”
She sidestepped him, careful not to get too close and he slowly returned to the seat behind his desk, his assessing gaze never leaving her. Her slight form sunk into the smooth leather chair. Her shoulders ached with the effort to remain stiff as she settled deeper into the soft seat. Exhaustion beat at her, threatening her resolve not to appear weak in front of him but indignation and bruised pride stiffened her spine.
“What did you want to discuss?” he asked again.
This was it. Her entire life had been about survival, and now she wanted to survive in a more desirable way. She didn’t need a billionaire to do that. She did, however, need a foundation to find her footing. Lucian could provide that foundation. While he may look at a woman like her and see someone vulnerable and in need of coddling, he was wrong. She didn’t need someone to hold her hand. She simply needed a push, and then she’d manage on her own.
Taking a breath of courage, she said, “I want a loan.”
His brow arched, telling her he hadn’t expected such a request. “You’re aware there’s an account with over two hundred thousand dollars in your name? What could you possibly need that your bank account won’t cover?”
That money had never been hers. Her dignity forbade her to touch it. Above all, Scout was practical. Lucian had more money than Midas and could afford to loan her what she was after. However, she was wise enough to know loans came with penalties and interest. Those were necessary stipulations to protect her pride. Unfortunately, Lucian’s pride would likely face off with hers, and they were both incredibly stubborn.
“I don’t want that money. I won’t touch money earned on my back. I’m talking about an actual loan with interest and penalties and—”
He winced, then rolled his eyes. “Watch it, Evelyn. Tell me what you need. I’ll give it to you. There’s no need for this formal bullshit.”
“I need my dignity back,” she said succinctly, causing him to come up short. The “bullshit” that made this an official business deal was the only way she’d be able to stomach his help. It was just business. Taking those penalties away made it a favor, and she was done depending on favors from him.
“I see. And how much does one’s dignity cost?”
“I’d like thirty-five thousand dollars.”
His jaw ticked. “For?”
She met his challenging stare and tightened her lips. That was her business.
He sighed. “Evelyn, when an establishment finances another’s endeavors, they’re foolish not to question the investment.”
“A second ago you were prepared to offer me anything I wanted. I don’t see why my intentions should suddenly be an issue. This is just you being nosy. I’m not falling for it. Thirty-five thousand dollars is nothing to you. It’s a new beginning for someone like me. Give me the satisfaction of at least believing you know I am capable of taking care of myself. I’m practical and I’m not stupid. Trust me to have a plan and I’ll trust you to treat me fairly, like you would any other person asking you to invest in their future.”
Those intimidating onyx eyes narrowed. “You’re not any other person. Look at it as legal extortion. I have what you want. I’ll trade you thirty-five thousand dollars for a bit of information.”
Anger bloomed inside of her. Extortion indeed. She would not let him run her life. “I’ll just go to a bank then,” she bluffed.
“With what? You have no social security number, no identification, no birth certificate.”
The molars in the back of her mouth clicked together. “I know you have those things. You’re trying to manipulate me and, by doing so, only losing more of my respect.”
He’d looked into getting her legal documents months ago. For him to be able to place a bank account in her name, he’d have needed to obtain some form of identification for her. Likely, he’d been holding it, too cowardly to hand over the documents before the big trade with Parker. If she had an ID, she could’ve fled a lot faster. That was Lucian, always the thinker and planner.
“I do,” he agreed shamelessly.
“It wouldn’t take long for me to go to a federal building and report them stolen. The numbers are on record, Lucian. Hard part’s over. All you’re doing is wasting my time. To be honest, your pettiness reeks of desperation.”
His desk drawer slid open and snapped shut. Papers fluttered to the surface of his desk. He glared at her. “There.”
Scout gazed at the documents. A neatly printed card with blue scroll trim filled her vision. Evelyn Scottlynn Keats. Nine digits formed her social security number below the neatly typed name. She was real!
Emotion had her chin trembling. So long she’d waited for such validation of her existence. So many obstacles could be overcome with those simple pieces of paper.
With unsteady fingers, she reached for the documents and stilled when Lucian’s firm hand caught her wrist. Her gaze jerked to his.
The respect she held for him was in shreds, but giving her these documents that were rightfully hers mended a bit of the damage. She was gambling with his affections, asking for these things. If he didn’t give them to her, he would annihilate any remaining faith she had in his goodness. She hated him for what he’d done, but deep down believed there was good behind the man. If he was so desperate to help her, it would have to be on her terms.
Don’t deny me, Lucian. Please. She waited him out.
“I’ll help you. But our other issues are far from concluded. Eventually we need to talk about what happened.”
She glared at him and shook off his hold. “I’ll ask that you keep your hands to yourself.”
“And I’ll ask that you drop the haughty performance you’ve been affecting since you got here.”
Fingers snatching up the papers, Scout quickly removed her body from within his reach. Her brow tightened and her voice was dangerously close to cracking with emotion. “It’s not an act. These are my papers and I deserve them. You have no right to keep them from me.”
“And what of my money? Do you deserve that as well?”
“All I asked for was a loan. You can afford it. Either you help me or I go somewhere else.”
“With what credit, Ms. Keats? No bank will sign over that amount of money without a cosigner.”
He was likely right. He was also being mean and spiteful on purpose. Two could play that game. “I could always find another wealthy man willing to help me. After all, it was you who taught me everything is for sale.”
He growled. “Watch yourself, Ms. Keats. I’m in no frame of mind to be pushed.”
“Lucian,” she took a deep breath. “I’m not forfeiting my morals for money. Even you can’t afford them. You either agree to my terms and help me with a loan, or I’ll figure out another way.”
“Another way for what?” he snapped.
She wouldn’t give him more information than necessary. She needed to do this for herself and if he knew her plan, he’d try to take over. Lucian was a leader—a very successful one—but she was sick and tired of following the tide. She needed to prove she could do this on her own. “For my future. I have nothing! I want to invest in me, since no one else gives a shit and I need thirty-five thousand dollars to do that.”
He stilled, his eyes narrowing, and she saw him weighing her words. Again he reached into his drawer, only this time he removed a heavy blue ledger. Long fingers flipped it open and reached for a pen. His hand swiftly moved over the check, the ballpoint scratching across the dense paper. The tear along each tiny perforation mesmerized her with its slow intent, but at last the slip fell free. He dropped the check in front of her with flourish. “There you go.”
Scout stared at the check. The numbers read $35,000.00, but she couldn’t read the script. She had trouble with anything that wasn’t printed in capital letters.
Eyeing him suspiciously, she blinked as he arched a brow. “Take it. It’s yours.”
Her fingers hesitantly reached for the check. Once closing over the thick paper, she pulled her hands back to her lap. “I’ll . . . I’ll pay you back.”
“I don’t care about the money, Evelyn.”
“Well, I do. I’ll pay you back. Every cent. I’ll make payments whenever possible. Once I’ve paid off the principal, we’ll figure out what I owe in interest.”
He rolled his eyes. “All right, but here are my conditions.”
Her mouth opened. She shook her head, trying to scramble up the right words. “But you already gave it to me.”
“I gave you a voucher. A check of that amount has to be cleared through me. What you have is trash unless I approve it when the bank calls.”
“Fine,” she gritted. “What are your terms?”
“Your payments will be made in person. I also require an address of where you’re staying. These are simple requests, and any bank would demand a hell of a lot more from you. Be grateful that’s all I’m stipulating at the moment.”
Her jaw locked against what she wanted to say. He was trying to intimidate her. It wasn’t happening. “Fine.” He’d have to wait on the address.
Several beats passed where neither of them said a word. She glared challengingly back at him, refusing to be bulldozed or bullied. She read Lucian’s intentions in his eyes just as he likely read hers. She stood.
“I should be going.”
All the intensity left Lucian’s face. He shot to his feet. “Can I offer you a ride?”
She laughed. “Do I look stupid?” His expression was wounded. She sighed. “Lucian, I have no doubt the second I walk through that door you’ll be on the phone with Dugan or some other underling, insisting they follow me. Can we skip the stalking for a change? I’ve been through hell and back over the past month. I think I’m entitled to my privacy.”
“You know I can’t do that.”
“Because I worry.”
She shook her head. “How would you feel if someone followed you everywhere?”
“People follow me every day. I’m in the tabloids. I’m on the news. There aren’t many places I can hide, Evelyn. You know that.”
“And I know you hate it, so how could you intrude on my privacy in the same manner?”
“Because it’s not the same. You’re on your own and I’m only trying to keep an eye out.” He suddenly frowned. “Why are you dressed like that?”
She glanced down at her Clemons uniform. Her hand quickly snapped off her name tag, and his eyes narrowed.
“You got a job,” he guessed.
“I told you I plan to pay you back. I need money to do that.”
“Where are you working? I would’ve given you your old job back.”
“I don’t want any ties, beyond this loan, to you or your companies.”
His head slowly drew back, and she saw how her words wounded him. “Did what we have mean so little to you?” he asked in a quiet voice.
“Perhaps you should ask yourself that question.” She picked up her bag and folded the check, slipping it safely inside the zippered pocket. “I have to go. Please don’t have anyone follow me.”
She turned and he called her name. “Evelyn.”
Her resolve was waning and she had to get out of there. It was so hard seeing him and not touching him. Her heart wanted to run to him, feel his arms around her as she cried about the injustice done to her, but he was the culprit behind all of her heartache.
All she needed to do was think of how he’d betrayed her, and the pain was enough to drop her to her knees, cutting off all urge to step closer.
“Will you continue to pay for Pearl to stay at the rehab?”
His eyes narrowed. “The fact that you can even ask that shows how little you think of me.”
What did he expect? He’d completely shocked her when he’d let her go and broken his promise to always protect her. She shrugged.
“Yes, I will continue to pay for your mother.”
He shook his head. “I’m glad to do it.”
She remained facing the door, not wanting to look at him anymore. He stepped close but didn’t touch her. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
“So am I.” Quickly opening the door, she fled. Her finger pounded into the elevator button as if she were tapping out Morse code.
SOS. SOS. SOS!
Not until the doors of the elevator closed behind her did she turn and exhale. She did it.
Using a pawn to obtain shelter from an attack
Scout pressed through the revolving door and rushed into the busiest part of the sidewalk, hoping to get lost in the crowd, thus losing anyone who might be following her. The sooner she was safe, the sooner she could move on with her plans. She needed a bank.
So long as she stayed in public she wasn’t in any danger. Not that she expected one of Lucian’s minions to abduct her, but she really wasn’t sure what he was capable of at the moment.
Hustling with serpentine movements from crowd to crowd, Scout made her way toward Edison Street, where there was a financial institution. Going directly there would offer shelter. However, it also meant if she was already being trailed, it would give her follower time to catch up and wait her out.
So be it. She wasn’t sleeping outside again, and she needed money to rent a place to stay.
The tall white building stood like a grandfather among his offspring. Folsom Liberty & Trust was perhaps the oldest bank in the city and therefore, to her thinking, possessed good credentials.
Pressing through the heavy glass doors, Scout came up short. The crisp air had a scent unlike anything she’d ever smelled. Was this what money smelled like when there were uncountable sums of it? Were mere mortals allowed in here? Did she need an appointment?
She glanced around nervously. Everyone seemed to know what they were doing. Trying not to look like a bank robber, she stepped aside as another man came through the door. He went to a section delineated with velvet rope.
Another woman leaned on a glass island, filling out a form. To her right was a carpeted area with fancy desks. People spoke in hushed tones much like they did at the library.
Scout’s gaze traveled upward. There was a mural of a scale painted on the ceiling. Behind the scale were outlines of numerous men in white wigs. She wondered who they were. Likely, one was Lucian’s ancestor.
“Can I help you with something?” a man in a suit asked.
“Um, I . . . do you work here?”
He smiled and the soft creases surrounding his eyes put her at ease. “I do. My name’s Michael McGregor. Is there something you needed help with?”
“I wanted to open an account.”
He nodded. “Okay, why don’t you come have a seat at my desk?”
Following him to the carpeted area, Scout found herself sitting in a curved back wooden chair. Mr. McGregor shifted to face his computer and typed a few buttons. “What kind of account were you hoping to open today, Ms. . . .”
“Keats. Evelyn Keats.”
“Ms. Keats.” His smile seemed friendly, but slightly artificial and haughty. Perhaps haughtiness flourished when one spent every day surrounded by money. She really liked the smell of the bank and found it distracting.
“A normal account.”
“Checking?” he asked.
“Yes, I’d like to be able to write checks.”
“Well, with our checking forgiveness program, you have no minimum balance for the first year. We do require you open the account with at least one hundred dollars, however. There are also no fees for the first twelve months. Does that sound like something you might be interested in?”
Banks charged fees? “Um, yes. Is that what people usually get? I’ve never had a bank account before.”
“Not a problem. Did you bring two forms of identification?”
With shaky hands, she unzipped her bag and pulled out the documents Lucian had given her. “You’ll give them back, right?”
“Of course. I just need to make copies.” He turned and sifted through the documents. “These are in outstanding shape. Are they new?”
This bit of information seemed to make him examine the documents a bit more closely. He picked up her social security card and typed the number into his computer. She glanced at the people around her. Some looked stressed. Some looked angry. No one at the bank seemed to be happy except the employees. Money was obviously taxing but necessary, and she finally had some, or would, as soon as Lucian cleared the check.
Scout realized they’d likely call him, thereby letting him know where she was. Sighing, she contemplated how to get around being followed.
“Is this your current address?”
She looked at Mr. McGregor. He held her ID card. “Um, can I see it?” He passed it to her.
1900 Gerard Ave., Suite C
Shit. The group of words was one she recognized. It was Lucian’s penthouse. She didn’t want him getting her mail and seeing how she was using his money. Her money. “For now, but I’m moving. Will changing the address be an issue?”
“No, just bring in proof of residence and an updated ID.”
She nodded. That would take some time, but she’d do it.
“How much were you planning on opening the account with?” he asked as he typed in more of her information.
“Thirty-five thousand dollars.”
His fingers stilled over the keyboard. He nodded. “Do you have a check?”
“Yes.” With stiff motions, she unfolded Lucian’s check and flattened it on the desk. Once the creases were smoothed, she slid it to Mr. McGregor.
Examining it, he gave her a skeptical look. After clearing his throat, he said, “Excuse me for a moment.” Standing, he left with her check and ID.
Scout’s breath quaked in her lungs as she watched him walk away with her money. He disappeared behind a door, and she waited. Her eyes followed the line of people behind the velvet ropes slowly snake through the main part of the bank, one customer after another concluding their business, and Mr. McGregor still hadn’t returned.
Finally, after what was likely ten minutes but felt like an eternity, the door opened and he came out wearing the same smile he’d approached her with in the beginning. He sat at his desk. “Sorry about that.”
Scout wasn’t sure what had happened, but when she turned and saw Dugan, Lucian’s chauffeur, step through the main doors, she understood. He’d called Lucian. Great. A familiar sense of humiliation prickled her pride. No matter how many times she begged him to leave her be, he simply couldn’t. Her jaw tightened. She was supposed to be a goddamn adult.
Mr. McGregor typed in more information, then asked her to endorse the deposit. The crisp check and a fancy pen slid in front of her. Scout’s hands shook as she pulled the slip close.
“Just write my name?”
“Yes. Just sign above the line there.”
“In cursive?” She didn’t know how to write or read cursive.
Her throat was dry as she swallowed and carefully formed her letters, paying extra care to connect them where she could, faking the best script her hand could manage.
Insecurity knit her brow as she slid the check back to him. He only glanced at the signature before sliding it through a device and stamping the back. He then passed her a plastic card.
“This is your debit card. You’ll be able to withdraw sums up to three hundred dollars from any automatic teller machine. All you have to do is follow the prompts.” He slid a device toward her. “Please select a pin number between four and nine digits. You’ll want to pick something you can remember and not share it with anyone.”
She carefully typed in 1-9-0-0, Patras’s address.
“Would you like any cash back today?”
“Um, could I have three hundred dollars, please?”
“Sure. We normally have to wait for a check to clear, but since Mr. Patras is one of our trustees and offered to come down here himself in order to clear the funds, I don’t see a problem.”
Her teeth ground together. Was he here? Casually looking around, she caught Dugan’s gaze. He nodded once, letting her know that, yes, Lucian was somewhere nearby. Wonderful.
“How would you like that?”
Her gaze jerked back to the banker and she forced her expression to soften. “Excuse me?”
“Would hundreds be okay, or did you want smaller bills?”
“Could you give me some smaller bills too? I’d prefer to not have anything larger than a fifty.”
Mr. McGregor nodded. “Let me go put this through and I’ll be right back with your money.”
When he left she shot Dugan a cold look that was more intended for Lucian, but he wasn’t making his presence known at the moment. Dugan simply arched a bushy brow. The rest of his granite expression remained unmoved.
Mr. McGregor returned. Some paperwork spewed from the printer and again he asked her to sign after going over some policies with her.
“These are your temporary checks. Will ten be enough? You should receive your personal checks in seven to ten business days.”
Scout nodded. She needed to get a place and get her address changed quickly, before the checks went in the mail. Otherwise she’d have no choice but to see Lucian again sooner than she wanted to.
When they finished, she tucked her bank card and checks and the rest of the paperwork safely into her bag and shook Mr. McGregor’s proffered hand.
“The remainder of your funds should be available in two business days, Ms. Keats. It was a pleasure doing business with you.”
When she reached the door, Dugan was already holding it for her. “Nice to see you again, Ms. Keats.”
“Bite me,” she grumbled as she exited the bank and came face-to-face with Lucian’s sleek black limo. Her shoulders drooped. “Is this really necessary?”
Dugan again arched a brow, but said nothing.
“Is he in there?” she snapped.
Huffing, she pivoted without a word, marching away from the limo with no idea where she was heading. As horns began to honk, she turned and found the limousine crawling at a snail’s pace beside her, holding up a good deal of city traffic.
“Get in the car, Evelyn,” Lucian’s voice calmly called from the shadows of the back window.
“Go away, Lucian.” Her legs trudged on. When she spotted a one-way street they wouldn’t be able to enter, she picked up her pace. The limo continued beside her as she steadily speed walked in that direction.
Voices of aggravated drivers shouted at the limo from the line of traffic. Finally reaching her planned detour, she turned and the limo shot off in the distance. Her walk transitioned into a jog. She needed to get out of there.
Just as she reached the intersection of the next block, the limo slid in front of her, blocking all traffic and causing a driver across the way to slam on his brakes. Horns blared and Lucian’s window rolled down.
“Evelyn, you’re causing a scene. Get in.”
“You are causing a scene. Go away.” She pivoted, walking east when the sound of a car door opening had her doubling her pace and risking a glance over her shoulder.
Sure enough, Lucian was out and coming after her. Should she run? Surely he wouldn’t force her into the car.
“Where’s your jacket? It’s still chilly out.”
She glanced to her left. Lucian strode beside her with an air of casualness she didn’t understand. His hands were wedged in his pockets and his expression light. Dugan putted along beside them, continuing to block traffic.
“Still, the low is fifty-eight. You should have a jacket.”
She rolled her eyes. “I don’t own a jacket.” This was ridiculous. “Are you just going to have Dugan follow me? He’s causing a traffic jam.”
He shrugged. “I offered you a ride. If you’d let us drive you where you’re going he’d be able to obey the speed limit.”
Silently she counted to ten before facing him. He stopped. “Lucian, I know what you’re doing.”
“I wasn’t trying to be secretive.”
“This isn’t going to work.”
“What do you suggest I do then?”
“Leave. Me. Alone.”
He smiled sadly, eyes downcast in an expression that was downright inappropriate for a man of his stature. Guilt rode her hard, but pride got her second thoughts under control. He deserved this.
His voice rasped in a hoarse confession. “You see, I can’t do that Evelyn. I love you, and without you I’m miserable. Even standing in your shadow is better than not knowing where you are.”
Her fingers rubbed her forehead. “Damn it, Lucian . . .”
“Come home with me, baby. Let me feed you and let’s talk.”
She shook her head. “No.”
“Why? You know I’ll eventually wear you down.”
“Doesn’t it mean anything to you that I don’t want to be worn down? I just want to live my life without being harassed or stalked.”
His eyes grew sadder. “But I can’t sleep without you in my bed. I can’t think, not knowing where you are each day, worrying where you’re spending your nights, if you’re warm enough or if you’ve had dinner.”
“Those aren’t your worries anymore.”
“They’ll always be my worries, Evelyn. Please, let me at least give you a ride where you need to go.”
Her shoulders sagged. She’d worked eight hours that day and didn’t have the energy to play hide and seek in a city the size of Folsom. She needed to get away from him, but clearly that wasn’t happening tonight.
“Fine.” His face lit with a smile. “You can drop me off at the Slumberland Motel.”
Happiness morphed to disapproval. “The fucking Slumberland, Evelyn? I don’t think so.”
She huffed in exasperation. “Then good-bye.” Pivoting on her heel, she walked away from him at a quick clip. Her steps faltered as he jerked her to a stop.
“I own the nicest fucking hotel in the city. Stay there. This is ridiculous.”
“You’re ridiculous! When will you get it? I don’t want anything to do with you!”
His lips thinned. “Nothing except my money.”
“Fuck you, Lucian. I’ll use that money as equity and get a lesser loan from the bank. I’m not stupid. With that as collateral I’ll get approved for at least half, and then I’ll gladly write you a check and give it all back if it comes with your manipulation or judgment. You know I’m not like that.”
“Don’t do that. I want you to have the money.”
“Then don’t make me feel like a user for taking it! It’s a loan, not a fucking handout.”
A frustrated groan rumbled from his chest as his hands fisted his hair. “Tell me what I can do? I just want a chance to make this right.”
“There is no this! There is no us. We are over. The sooner you come to terms with that the better.”
“Goddamn it, Evelyn, how can you say that?”
She glared up at him and in a voice far too calm to reflect all the turmoil raging inside of her, she said, “You gave me to him, Lucian. You gave me away to another man. I trusted you and I trusted him and you both betrayed me. I’ll never forgive you for that.”
“I explained. There was no choice. In time—”
“No! There’s no amount of time that will take back what you’ve done. You’ll always be the first man who touched me, the first man who loved me, and the first man to royally fuck me over, and I’ll never forget that. You can’t negotiate your way back into my heart. I won’t let you. If you think I’m bluffing, try me. All of my life I’ve had one cardinal rule: the only person I can trust is myself. I’m the only person I can count on to truly look out for me without ulterior motives. That’s what I’m doing now, looking out. I don’t need your hotel. I don’t need your damn limo to give me a ride. And I don’t need you.”
He stared at her, a blank expression on his face for a long moment. Finally, he whispered, “But I need you.”
Weary, she shut her eyes and shook her head. “You don’t need me, Lucian. You’re gorgeous, wealthy, and, for the most part, a sweet man. Find someone else to give your heart to. I don’t want it.”
“Is that what you really want?” he rasped.
No. God, no. The thought of him loving another woman was agonizing. “That’s what I need. That’s what’s for the best.”
“And what will you do, Evelyn? Will you find someone else?”
“My mind is so far away from that right now, Lucian, I can’t give you an answer.”
He visibly swallowed. “Will you be okay? Will you promise to come to me if there’s anything you need?”
His words showed he was relenting. That was what she needed, but the pain in her chest was back. “Yes.”
“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. I know that means nothing to you right now, but it’s the truth.”
She looked away. He didn’t deserve any sign of forgiveness from her. She lacked even the ability to acknowledge his apology at that moment. Everything was still too fresh, too raw. It had only been a few days since she found out about his betrayal—his and Parker’s, the man she loved and the man she thought was her best friend.
She was tired, needed a shower and wanted to sleep in a bed with blankets. “Will you drive me to the motel?”
He hesitated, but nodded. They walked back to the limo in silence. Scout slid onto the cool leather seat and stared out the window. Lucian climbed in beside her and shut the door.
“Take us to the Slumberland Motel, Dugan,” he said, and the limo eased into traffic.
They arrived at the motel ten minutes later, neither of them speaking a word along the way. Dugan parked but didn’t get out. Scout sighed. Would they leave or continue this ridiculous trailing?
Her hand reached for the door handle. “Thanks for the ride.”
She was yanked back to the center of the bench seat, and Lucian’s mouth was suddenly on her. A squeak slipped past her throat as he kissed her hard, his fingers digging into her shoulders. It took everything she had not to melt into him.
He betrayed you!
Her palms shoved at his chest and he drew back. His breath was labored. “This is not the end of us, Evelyn. I don’t care what you say. I’m not done with you and you’re not done with me.”
Scrambling off the seat and out of the limo, Scout slammed the door behind her. Her heart pounded wildly in her chest. Lucian didn’t roll down the window or try to come after her. Her shaken expression reflected in the tinted glass, and she felt his eyes on her, staring through the barrier.
Turning, she headed toward the window with a blinking light. By the time she opened the motel’s office door, the limo glided away. She was shocked to actually see it go and keep going until it disappeared.
Wavering emotions had her hand settling over her empty belly. Disbelief that he’d actually gone was quickly followed by sharp devastation. Lucian never walked away from something he wanted. But what if he no longer truly wanted her? Careful what you wish for.
Perhaps this was all part of his next calculated move. Or perhaps this was truly the end of them. Asking for space didn’t make it any less painful to bear. She hated him, but missed him all the same. Love didn’t surrender to hate, it merely tolerated it like a sister emotion.
She’d bathe and rest here for a while, and then she’d move on. Tomorrow she had off, and she’d use the day to find a more permanent place to stay. Somewhere Lucian wouldn’t be able to find her, because as much as she insisted this was how she wanted things, her heart was of a whole different opinion.
She didn’t trust herself not to go running to him the first time life got complicated. If he knew where she was and knew how to find her, it would only take a matter of visits for her to give in. She was too vulnerable, and hiding herself away was a safeguard she needed until she could trust herself to be strong.
She needed to maintain distance or he would eventually wear her down. That was something she couldn’t allow. She needed to be done with him for her own good.
The Key to Happiness . . .
“Scout? Come on, child. It’s getting dark.”
Scout turned as her mother came out of the house without windows. Boards with swirled graffiti filled each socket, eyes to a home without a soul. Dropping the piece of onion grass she’d been nibbling on, Scout stood, her gaze drawn back to the children across the way.
“Momma, what’s that place there?”
Her mother righted her clothing and stashed a bag of her medicine in her pocket. “That ain’t nothing you gots to be worrying about.”
Scout regarded the children running over the blacktop, their laughter floating on the breeze and teasing her in ways she didn’t understand. “But why’s all them kids there?”
Her mother huffed. “That’s a school, baby. Thems is there to learn.”
“Nothin’ you need to know. We different. Now come on.”
Her small fingers were swallowed in her mother’s bony hand as she was pulled down the sidewalk back toward the tracks. Each time she glanced back at the school, her mother tugged her along.
Scout frowned as she carefully drew the letter E. She’d been practicing her penmanship for over an hour, simply writing and rewriting EVELYN KEATS on the tiny notepad she found in the drawer of her motel. A callous formed above her knuckle, and she admired it like the badge of honor it was.
It was three in the morning and she couldn’t sleep. She’d rested for a few hours, but awoke restless and hungry. Nothing would be open until the sun rose, and her mind was running wild with things to do. She desperately wanted to write them down in a prioritized list, but the task was more frustrating than productive. She glanced at her shabbily jotted notes.
Her bones were weak from thinking so hard. Anger rose, and each time she thought to blame someone else for her problems, she reminded herself her predicament was no one’s fault but her own.
Not knowing what the day would bring, around five she showered again, using tissue to carefully wrap the remainder of soap, stuffing it into her bag. Her clothes were wrinkled and damp from washing them in the small sink. She didn’t want them to get musty, but as the sky pinkened with the first sight of dawn, she grew eager to leave and folded them into her bag anyway.
Her stomach cramped with hunger. She’d taken to stealing dented cans of fruit from the back room of Clemons. It wasn’t technically stealing, being that the damaged cans were on their way to the dumpster. Her belly was revolting, and she was growing weaker with each passing hour. Her stomach needed a real meal, and she finally had the money to purchase one.
At seven, she laced up her sneakers and glanced around the room one last time, making sure she hadn’t left anything behind. She returned her key to the front desk and headed west, where a small diner was open.
Sidewalks were empty at this hour, aside from a distant silhouette moving along. The bell above the door jingled as she stepped inside. Shiny red stools were lined up along a counter, and there was a pie safe slowly spinning at the end. The snapping scent of bacon brought her hunger pains to the forefront of her mind. Her tired legs climbed onto the stool in the corner, far away from the truckers finding their morning meals. Older couples filled the booths lining the windows.
A waitress with bottled black hair and red lips pressed a napkin in front of her and slid over a grease-stained menu. “Coffee?”
A saucer and a mug appeared as the waitress filled it with steaming dark sustenance. The man to her left dropped some money on the counter and left. Scout eyed the paper he’d abandoned.
“You need a minute to decide, hon?”
Her gaze returned to the waitress. “Can I have French toast, please, and a side of bacon?”
“Sure thing.” The waitress jotted down the order and, before pinning it to the clips lining the cook window, began clearing the place to her left.
When her hand touched the newspaper Scout asked, “Do you mind if I take that?”
The waitress passed it to her and bustled off with an armful of dirty dishes. Scout self-consciously stared at the inky words scrambled over the pages. The door chimed repeatedly as patrons arrived, and soft chatter filled the small eatery, as did the scent of sizzling meats.
A heavy white plate slid in front of her. The French toast wasn’t as thick as the kind they served at Patras, and there were no strawberries, but the dish still earned a jolt of excitement from her empty belly. Sliding the paper aside, she picked up her fork and knife, noting the tiny scratches in the imitation silver, and dug in.
It was irritating not being able to clean her plate, but her stomach was overly sensitive from lack of food. She drank another cup of coffee and asked the waitress to wrap up the rest.
After using the bathroom, she returned to her stool to attempt the paper once more. The morning crowd shifted, newcomers ate, paid and left, and Scout found she was blinking back tears.
When there was a lull in the crowd, the waitress surprised her by sitting in the stool to her left and cutting into a fresh-baked pie. She sliced two sections into creamy triangles and served them up on small saucers, sliding one directly in front of Scout.
“You look like you could use some pie.”
Caught off guard by the generous offering, Scout stared. Her eyes went to the name tag clipped on the waitress’s blouse. It started with a B.
“Go on. It’s on the house.”
Instinctively, Scout hesitated. Food was something she was rarely treated to prior to Lucian. She smiled and reached for a fork. The pie melted like a cloud of heaven on her tongue. Chocolate.
The waitress grinned and moaned as she took a bite of her own slice. “Good, right?”
“Thanks. I made it this morning. Girl’s gotta have chocolate. Best substitute for sex there is.”
Scout laughed. “I should have a dozen then.”
The waitress snickered. “You having men troubles?”
Scout truly laughed. “Oh, you could say that. The trouble is I don’t want one.”
The waitress nodded knowingly and bit into another forkful of chocolate heaven. “Don’t want one, but your heart says otherwise, I’m guessing.”
“I’m not on speaking terms with my heart right now,” Scout admitted, scraping up the last bit of whipped chocolate from her plate.
The waitress laughed. “I’m Barbara.”
Scout smiled. “Scout.”
“You looking for something particular in that paper? Been thumbing through it all morning.”
She opened her mouth, but hesitated. “I’m trying to find an apartment.”
Barbara glanced at the paper then, with halting progression, reached over and turned a few pages. “The apartment listings are here, hon, under the classifieds.” She met Scout’s gaze, a curious look in her eyes. Leaning close, she whispered, “Can you read, Scout?”
Swallowing tightly, lips sealed, she shook her head. “Not much.”
Barbara scooted closer and nodded. In a soft voice, she said, “Okay, well, here’s one that’s not too far. It’s a one–bedroom loft, rents for eight-fifty a month.”
Scout’s breath shook on an exhalation as she nodded humbly.
“And this one here’s a little less, but that isn’t in the greatest section of Folsom. It’s an efficiency. You pay utilities and the rent’s seven-twenty. Are you looking to be close to a certain area?”
“I work at Clemons Market.”
“I know where that is. Let’s see . . .” Barbara pulled the paper closer and dragged a painted fingernail down the typed column of listings. “Here we go. This one’s around there. Oh, and it rents for only six-fifty. Says it’s an efficiency. You pay utilities. There’s a number here. You got a phone?”
“My phone broke.”
Barbara glanced at the cook window, then reached over the counter, a cordless phone appearing in her hand. “Better let me make the call. My boss gets a bug up his ass whenever I let the customers use the phone.”
Scout nodded and Barbara dialed, her fingers drumming over the Formica countertop as she waited. “Yes, hello, I’m calling about the apartment located at twenty-five South Knights Boulevard. . . .Mm-hm . . . No, just me . . . Today at two o’clock?” She glanced at Scout for conformation and whispered, “He can show it at two today.”
“That would be wonderful . . . my name’s Scout . . .” She looked to Scout questioningly.
“Keats. Scout Keats, and I’ll see you at two. Thank you very much.” Barbara clicked off the phone and returned it to the other side of the counter. “There you go, hon.”
“Thank you!” she said in return. “I’m hoping some good karma will pay off tonight when they pull the Powerball.”
“Well, I hope you win,” Scout said.
“Me too. Mmm! What I could do with a couple hundred thousand.”
Scout grinned. “What would you do?”
“Oh, I’d buy this here diner and make it into the cutest little pie place Folsom’s ever seen. Get rid of my man and find someone who treats me nice, someone who really appreciates me for me. Maybe buy one of those fancy televisions.” She giggled. “Who knows?”
Scout saved her comments. There was no point in letting her jaded opinions of the cost of frivolous luxuries taint this woman’s dreams. She hoped Barbara someday had her own pie place. Her pies deserved a good home.
Taking out her money, she counted out a generous tip. “You buy yourself an extra ticket with this.”
“Aw, you don’t have to do that, hon. That pie was my treat.”
“I know. I want to. Take it as a thank-you for helping me find an apartment.”
“Well, I hope it’s real nice for you.”
Scout cooled her heels on South Knights Boulevard for twenty minutes waiting for the landlord to show, checking her cheap watch. She paced, hoping he hadn’t given the apartment to someone else.
Like a gap-toothed grin, the Boulevard was made up of storefronts separated by cavernous alleys. Clemons was three blocks away, and Patras was over four miles distant. Scout liked the location for its practicality. Number twenty-five was an old building. The bottom floor was an office of some sort. At two thirty, a blue sedan finally pulled along the curb.
“Ms. Keats?” The pudgy older man called as he climbed out of his car.
Scout smiled. “Yes.”
He bustled over and held out a hand. “Name’s Snyder. You ready to see the apartment?”
Nodding, she followed him down the alley beside an office building. A nondescript brown door was the only interruption in the long brick wall. Mr. Snyder dug out a set of keys and, with a little elbow grease, got the door open.
“I just had new paint and carpets put in.”
The new fibers of the gray rug tickled her nose and tempted a sneeze as she followed him up a steep set of stairs. The landlord hunched a little once he made it to the top. The entrance was small.
The ceilings were low. Mr. Snyder was short for a man, but seemed hunched in the squat apartment. Everything was painted a clinical shade of white. There was a small stove on a tiny patch of linoleum and a sink. No counters. The fridge seemed made for dwarves.
Walking across the new carpet, Mr. Snyder opened a cheaply made wooden door, also painted hospital white. “This is the bathroom.”
Tiny black and white tiles made up the space. There was a pedestal sink and a claw-foot tub. A dormer took the ceiling space over the tub from seven feet to about five. She wouldn’t be taking many showers there.
“Over here’s a closet for your clothes.” It was more like a pantry.
Her stomach sunk and then propelled somewhere behind her heart. She could afford this place. It wasn’t much, but it could actually be hers if she played her cards right.
This was going to be her home. Her first home. She could make it her own and fill it with personal touches.
Mr. Snyder’s cheeks flushed in a way that spoke of too many heavy meals and not enough light exercise. He ran a hand over his thinning hair. “What do you think? Utilities won’t be much here.”
Her lungs released a pent-up breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. It seemed that breath had been held for twenty-three years. “I’ll take it.”
“Great. All I need is the first and last months’ rent. I’ll take a check. You can move in today if you’d like. I have the lease here.” He handed her a long, yellow slip of paper with a pink carbon copy on the back.
Taking the paper, she glanced over it. It was a lot of printed writing. For the first time she missed Parker. He always helped her with this sort of thing. “Do you have a pen?”
He handed her a blue pen. “Guess there isn’t really a place to write, being there’s no furniture. Tell you what. Why don’t you just write out your name there at the top of the lease and sign? I already filled in the numbers. I’ll do the rest when I get back to my office.”
The literary gods must’ve been smiling on her that day. She carefully wrote her name, then signed the bottom, much like she’d signed her name at the bank. Finding her temporary checks, she pulled one out. She thought about what Lucian’s check had looked like.
“The check’s for how much?”
“Thirteen total. Then your next check will be due on the first of June. It’s a month-to-month lease, but it states you give me sixty days notice of intent to move. Electric’s already set up. The bill arrives on the fifteenth of the month. You can pick it up at the insurance office directly downstairs. Once I get the company a copy of the lease, your name will be added to the account. Cable and phone are your responsibility to set up.”
Leaning against the stove, Scout drew the numbers 1300.00 in the box on the check and signed her name. Tearing the check from the others, she handed it to him. He frowned. “You forgot the rest, dear.”
“Um . . .” She swallowed. “I . . .”
He tilted his head. “You special?”
She bristled. “No, I am not special. I . . . I hurt my hand yesterday. Would you mind filling out the rest?” Dickhead.
“Oh, my apologies.”
She scowled at him as he filled in the rest of the check. He turned and held out his hand. “Well, it was a pleasure doing business with you, Ms. Keats. Oh, before I forget. Here’s your key.”
Her heart stuttered. Her key. She took the small piece of carved metal and squeezed it tight, its jagged edges a welcome pinch of reality in her palm. “Thank you.”
After tearing the carbon copy from the lease, Mr. Snyder, her new landlord, handed it to her. “My office address is at the top. I charge a late fee after the fifth, so you want to have your check in the mail well before then. You have any trouble, you call my office.”
After a few more instructions, like where to find the breaker box and thermostat, Mr. Snyder left and she stood alone in her apartment. It was surreal.
Scout turned slowly in a circle and took in the space that was now her home. Her cheeks pulled as a grin slowly split her face, and suddenly she was jogging in place doing a happy dance and squealing like a child.
She fell to the stiff carpet in a fit of giggles and held her stomach. “Home,” she whispered. “You have a home.”
The euphoria Scout experienced at having her own place to call home was unexpected and definitely welcome. When she finally dragged herself off the floor, she dug out her bank book and carefully wrote:
Tucking the checkbook back in her bag, she looked at her watch. She had two hundred and four dollars and thirty-six cents left after the motel and breakfast. Gazing around her home she considered the necessities she needed.
She stood and opened the fridge. How incredible. The air that touched her hand was cold. She opened the freezer—also cold. Amazing! She ran to the bathroom and turned on the water. Beautiful, clear liquid flowed from the spigot. Cupping her hands, she drank a mouthful, laughing at the purity of the taste. Running water! In her bathroom!
She flushed the toilet and spun in place. Her fingers flipped the switch as she watched the simple bulb behind the glass flicker with each click. On. Off. On. Off. On. Off.
Her cheeks cramped as her smile refused to abate. Sighing, she turned and faced her living room slash bedroom. Decision made, she swept up her bag, dug out her key and nearly broke her neck as she rushed down the steps.
Calm down, Keats. You want to be around to enjoy it.
After locking the door, she exited the alley and headed toward Clemons. Her eyes snagged on the people in the insurance office below her apartment. Eventually she’d need to introduce herself to them.
Her job was the perfect distance from her home. Every time she thought the word she beamed. She had a home!
A few doors down from Clemons Market was a mattress store. She was getting herself a bed! As she approached the store, she took a deep breath. She’d never bought a big-ticket item, but this was definitely a dream worth pursuing.