Key of Light Page 71

“No explanations, this part of the quiz is true or false. We can move on to our essay section,” Jordan assured him. “Picture your life in, let’s say five years. That work?” he asked Brad.

“Some require ten, but I think we can be more lenient. Five works for me.”

“Okay, picture your life in five years. Can you structure the visual without her being in it?”

“I don’t know how I’m supposed to picture five years from now when I’m not sure what I’ll be doing in five days.”

But he could, he could see his house, with some of the long-term plans he had for it in place. He could see himself at the paper, walking Moe, hanging out with Dana. And he could see Malory at every angle. Walking down the stairs in the house, coming by the paper to meet him, chasing Moe out of the kitchen.

He went a little pale. “Oh, man.”

“She’s in there, isn’t she?” Jordan asked.

“She’s in there all right.”

“Congratulations, son.” Jordan slapped him on the shoulder. “You’re in love.”

“Wait a minute. What if I’m not ready?”

“Tough luck,” Brad replied.

BRAD knew all about luck and decided his was in when he stepped out of the diner and spotted Zoe stopped at the traffic light.

She was wearing dark wraparound sunglasses and moving her lips in a way that made him assume she was singing along with the car stereo.

It wasn’t stalking, exactly, if he just happened to hop in his car, zip out into traffic and follow. The fact that he cut off a pickup truck was completely incidental.

It was reasonable, even important, that they get to know each other better. He could hardly help Flynn if he didn’t know the women Flynn was connected to.

That made sense.

It had nothing to do with obsession. Just because he’d bought a painting with her face in it, just because he couldn’t get that face out of his mind, all that didn’t mean he was obsessed.

He was merely interested.

And if he was practicing various opening lines under his breath, it was only because he understood the value of communication. He certainly wasn’t nervous about speaking to a woman. He spoke to women all the time.

Women spoke to him all the time, if it came to that. He was considered one of the top eligible bachelors—and God, did he hate that term—in the country. Women went out of their way to talk to him.

If Zoe McCourt couldn’t spare five minutes for some polite conversation, well, that was her loss.

By the time she pulled into a driveway, he’d worked himself into a mass of nerves and irritation. The vaguely annoyed glance she sent him when he pulled up behind her put a cap on it.

Feeling foolish and insulted, he climbed out.

“Are you following me?” she demanded.

“Excuse me?” In defense, his voice was flat and cold. “I think you’re overestimating your charms. Flynn’s worried about Malory. I saw you and thought you’d be able to tell me how she’s doing.”

Zoe continued to observe him warily as she unlocked her trunk. Her jeans were tight enough to afford him an intriguing view of firm female butt. She wore a short, snug red jacket with an equally snug striped top that stopped a full inch above the waistband of the jeans.

He noted, with some fascination that her belly button was pierced and sported a tiny silver bar. He actually felt his fingertips grow warm with the urge to touch it.

“I stopped by to see her before.”

“Huh? Who? Oh, Malory.” Now the back of his neck grew warm and he cursed himself. “How is she?”

“She looks tired, and a little down on herself.”

“I’m sorry.” He stepped forward as she began to unload the trunk. “Let me give you a hand.”

“I can get it.”

“I’m sure you can.” He solved the matter by taking the two heavy sample books of wallpaper from her. “But I don’t see any reason you should. Redecorating?”

She took out a paint sample book, a small toolbox—which he pulled away from her—a notebook, and some tile chips. “We contracted for this house. We’re going to open the business here. It needs work.”

He walked ahead, leaving her to slam the trunk. Yes, it did need work, but it had a sturdy look, and the lot was nicely established. Solid location, decent parking.

“Looks like it has good bones,” he commented. “You have the foundation checked out?”


“Wiring up to code?”

She dug out the keys she’d picked up from the realtor. “Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I don’t know how to buy a house. I looked at a number of properties, and this was the best value, with the best location. Most of the work it needs is cosmetic.”

She shoved open the door. “You can just dump them on the floor. Thanks. I’ll tell Malory you asked about her.”

Brad just kept walking so that she had to step back. Though it took some effort, he refused to let his gaze drift down to her navel again. “Are you always irritated when someone tries to help you?”

“I’m irritated when someone thinks I can’t handle myself. Look, I don’t have that much time to do what I’m here to do. I need to get started.”

“Then I’ll stay out of your way.”

He studied the ceiling, the floor, the walls as he wandered through the entrance area. “Nice space.”

He didn’t detect any damp, but there was a definite chill. He wasn’t sure if it was a faulty furnace or the woman who was blowing cold. “Which part are you taking?”


“Okay.” He started up, nearly amused now by her impatient indrawn breath. “Nice stairs. Can’t go wrong with white pine.”

Some of the trim needed to be replaced, he noted. And the double-hung window at the top of the steps had yet to be upgraded. She’d need to see to that, get herself a double-glazed for insulation.

The walls had gone dingy, and there were a few cracks from settling. But that was easily seen to.

He liked the way the rooms split off and ran together, and wondered if she would remove some of the hollow-core doors altogether or replace them with something more solid and in tune with the feel of the house.

And what was she going to do about lighting? He didn’t know anything about salons, but it seemed logical that good, strong lighting would be essential.

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