Authors: Judy Ann Davis
Tags: #Suspense, #Contemporary
“It depends on your perspective. The cracked window and broken ceiling light panels give it a bit of a worn, nostalgic feeling.”
Like a starving dog homing in on a bone, she headed straight for a battered steel desk in a corner of the room where he had earlier deposited the pizza. A shabby vinyl-padded chair, its tears bandaged with duct tape, stood nearby. She pulled the chair close, sat on the desktop and kicked off her shoes, resting her feet on the seat cushion. The top on the pizza box flew up under her eager hands.
Glad for the brief lull, Lucas dragged another chair from a corner and slumped down opposite her. He propped his feet on the desk.
“Another shoe malfunction?” he asked as he reached for a piece of pizza.
“Don’t start, Fisher,” she said through a mouthful and wiped sauce from her lip with her finger.
“I guess when women say they’ve discovered a pair of shoes to die for, they really mean it.”
“I’m so thrilled my feet amuse you.”
He grinned, leaned forward, pulled some napkins from beneath the box, and handed one to her. His gaze slid over her lips to her face. She had twisted her hair into some kind of fancy knot at the back of her head, leaving wispy strands to dangle seductively over her forehead and cheeks. Tiny earlobes flashed with gold earrings and a small gold chain pendant hung between the soft folds of her white blouse crisscrossing in a V above her bra. He didn’t have to guess what was underneath it. Her bra was lace. Hell, everything beneath that sophisticated black suit was lace. Why, oh why, had he ever pawed through her suitcases at the airport?
“You’re staring, Lucas,” she said.
Her words startled him. “Huh? No, just thinking.” He reached into his chest pocket and withdrew a paper. “There were three messages on the answering machine when I stopped by the house. You’re supposed to call some guy named Paul Winston. Linda Cook set up an appointment for tomorrow morning at ten with a Mrs. Pedmo of Children and Youth Services. And Chuck phoned. The last guy sounded pretty desperate, like he was being held hostage by bloodthirsty aliens.”
“He probably is,” Elise said, chuckling. “He’s doing my share of the work while I’m away.”
Lucas leaned forward and reached for another piece of pizza. He caught the whiff of her perfume. It was delicate, almost rose-like and sensual, different from the one at the airport.
“What’s the scent you’re wearing?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. Chuck bought it for my birthday. Do you know it takes five hundred pounds of flower petals to make a single drop of perfume?”
“No, it must’ve been part of some trivia quiz I missed.” Lucas leaned back in his chair, eyeing her. “Tell me, is this Chuck fellow in the habit of killing flowers for you?” For some reason he didn’t like the idea.
“Chuck always gives me expensive perfume on special occasions,” she said. “It’s kind of a tradition since I’ve been with the company. Charles is...” She paused pensively. “Chuck is a sensitive, special, comical, somewhat bizarre guy. I don’t think I would have stayed as long as I have if it weren’t for him.”
He was about to ask how special when the door opened and Fritz Springer sauntered in. “Anybody home?” he called out.
“Over here,” Lucas said. So, now the second big brother was making his rounds and checking up on the little sister. Earlier, Thomas had phoned him with some silly questions regarding the paperwork he was finalizing for the real estate transaction. It was an excuse, Lucas darned well knew, to learn whether Elise was comfortable with his presence at the house. If there was one thing he knew about the Springer brothers, it was they had a deep sense of loyalty to each other and an overprotective nature where their little sister was concerned.
Crossing the room, Fritz grabbed the back of his Elise’s neck and shook her gently. “Hey, good-looking, who are you trying to schmooze in those funeral director’s duds?”
Lucas shot off the chair like a cork from a champagne bottle. “Morrison? Why that idiot? You didn’t say you were talking with Jack Morrison.”
Elise’s pizza stopped midway to her mouth.
“Lucas, enough,” Fritz said sharply turning to him. There was no denying his anger. “Just because Dad and you have a total dislike for the man, doesn’t mean we all have to share your views. He was only doing his job. Some of us have to do business in this town, as you’ll soon find out.”
The two men exchanged murderous looks.
“No, but if the swine has his life insurance with your company, I hope to God someone gets to collect. Sooner rather than later wouldn’t bother me either.”
Fritz snorted. “Glad to see you don’t hold any grudges.” Setting aside his differences with the natural ease of a sales person, he asked in a calmer tone, “Got anything to drink that wasn’t here when this place was built?”
“There’s some Coke and Dew in the refrigerator in the showroom. I just bought it. Get me a can, too.” Lucas looked at Elise. “What’ll you have?”
“Just a sip of Fritz’s,” she said and swiveled toward the showroom. She watched Fritz disappear and turned back to Lucas. “All right, give up the goods. What’s the problem with Morrison?”
Lucas ran a hand through his unruly hair. “When Mike was killed, your Dad initially appealed to Morrison to try to keep Todd here, instead of sending him back to New Castle. When he got no results, he went over his head. He later found out Morrison had recommended Todd be returned, even though he denied it.”
“Why would he do that?”
“I don’t know.” Lucas shrugged.
Fritz had strolled back, handing a can of Coke to Lucas and popping the top of his can. He had obviously overheard their conversation. He grinned. “Probably because he still remembers how Lucas used to beat the pants off him in sandlot baseball. Or was it the time you two tangled at the field over a call and Jack ended up on the ground eating dirt?”
“So what?” Elise pursed her lips. “I still get angry when I think how Mary Jo beat me out as homecoming queen.”
“Mary Jo was your best friend,” Fritz said.
“I know, but I still hated to lose.”
Fritz laid a hand on her shoulder. “Give it up, Liz, you didn’t have a chance in hell. You had beauty
brains. Mary Jo... Well, she had beauty and a body.” He whistled under his breath and made an hourglass figure with his hands. “There was no way in hell your classmates would vote for someone who took advanced calculus and could outrun the high school’s quarterback. If it’s any consolation, you’d beat Mary Jo out now with a hand tied behind your back.”
“Is she married?” Lucas asked.
“Yeah, to Ted Meyer. He’s a city cop now. Hey, I have to go. Insurance does not sell itself. How about I stop by tonight and whip something up for dinner?”
Both Elise and Lucas grinned openly at each other. Elise gave two thumbs up and uttered gleefully, “Make it Chinese, brother, and you’re on!”
Lucas watched them. He had never known what it was like to have a relationship with a sibling, a bonding of blood and family love so strong one family member would kill to defend and protect the other. In addition, he had no doubts Fritz Springer would annihilate anyone who tried to harm his sister. He felt her eyes on him.
“Is Chinese okay with you?” she asked.
“It’s fine with me. Anything but pizza.” He nodded and offered Elise his Coke. She took a quick sip, not in the least concerned he had already downed half the can. She was the most uninhibited person he knew. Monique would have never touched her lips to the rim of a can, and never, even in dire thirst, if someone had taken the first drink from it.
When Fritz disappeared, she stood and slipped her feet into her shoes. Catching Lucas off guard again, she asked, “Do I get a guided tour of this place, or do I snoop around by myself?” Her eyes were curious, and her smile so infectious it astounded him. He never expected she’d have any interest in a greasy old garage, long abandoned and crumbling under the weight of years gone by.
“You really want to see this graveyard of steel and old blocks?”
“Sure, I’m into anything made of concrete, steel, wood or mortar.”
“What about men?” he asked casually as he led her outside toward the two, steel storage buildings out back.
“They just don’t seem to fit into my blueprints at the moment,” she said.
They doubled back through the two-bay garage into the showroom he planned to enlarge and remodel. He found himself stopping to explain his many ideas while she listened attentively. Her eyes seemed to drink in the structure, as if she was analyzing every stud, rafter, even the blocks in the walls. When they reached the office again, he gave her a baffled look.
“You really dig this stuff, don’t you?”
She looked at him and smiled. “Lucas, I’m an architect. This is what I do. We create, we build, we remodel.” Her hands flew out in animation as she spoke. “I look at a structure like this and try to envision what it was like when it was new and ponder what drove the mind of the person who created it. Why did the builder choose certain materials and not others? How did he utilize space? Why did he choose certain lighting or colors?”
“You are a just a tad demented, you know?”
She only laughed, the sound lilting and melodic.
“Well, if you come up with any grand ideas for remodeling, I’d appreciate them,” he admitted. He knew the showroom was much too small and he needed something larger which would adequately display older restored vehicles along with newer models.
“Are you serious?” The look on her face matched that of a kid just handed a fistful of candy. “You’d actually consider any ideas I have?”
“Why not? Hell, you’re the architect, Lizzie.”
Her eyes circled the office. “Yeah, this needs work, too,” he admitted, following her gaze. “I have a rough floor plan with dimensions at the farm. I’ll dig them out and make copies for you.”
She walked to the back of the office where a door led to the parts and storage room. Her hand reached for the knob. “No,” he said sharply, “you don’t have to worry about this room. Don’t go in there; it’s filthy and stacked full of junk.”
However, it was too late, she was already pushing the door open.
She peered in and then stepped inside. On a long service counter, six huge unopened boxes sat side by side.
“Lucas Fisher, you devil,” she whispered in awe as soon as she recognized their contents. “You’ve been holding out on me, haven’t you?”
The word rolled off her lips in what sounded like reverence, wonder, and delight.
“Six, to be exact.” Lucas slouched against the doorjamb. “Another is on its way.”
She stepped farther inside and glided her hands over the first two boxes. Her eyes lit up like beacons on a lighthouse. “Sixteen hundred megahertz processors with one terabyte hard drives,” she whispered, still awestruck.
“You’re losing me, Liz. Is this good or bad?”
She laughed a low, throaty chuckle. “Lucas, with these machines you can launch a rocket ship.”
“I don’t want to launch a damn rocket, just a garage with lots of power tools and machines.”
“How much do you know about computers?” Her pool-blue gaze danced back and forth between the boxes, then found his face.
“Very little,” he admitted reluctantly. He didn’t want to tell her the extent of his knowledge was to use email, surf the net, and find the car parts he needed from the company’s database. Bryan, his mechanical engineer, had ordered the computers and was planning to set them up. One was to be linked to inventory, another to billing, one for the accountant, one for sales, one in the office, and the last one was to be set up at home so he could have access to both the Atlanta and Scranton sites.
“I honestly don’t know how they are supposed to be tied together,” he admitted. If the truth were known, he didn’t have a clue.
“Network, it’s called a network.” Elise moved from box to box, reading the outside of each one with the intensity of someone on a very serious scavenger hunt. “How long have they been sitting here?”
“Over a week or more.”
“Over a week? Oh, no, you’re serious, aren’t you?” She gave him a sunny, infectious smile. “Oh, Lucas, let’s take one home, set it up, and put it through the paces, just to see what it can do.”
He angled his head, considering. It was exactly what he was afraid of when he tried to stop her from seeing them. He had never considered himself a high-tech person. Mechanical, yes, but certainly not high tech. It wasn’t as if he was opposed to learning about computers, but with all he had to accomplish to get the garage and leasing business on its feet, learning computer jargon was not part of his immediate plans. It was the old cars, the reliable ones with powerful engines and sleek lines—and with understandable parts—he loved the most, above everything else in the business. However, seeing Elise so enraptured with a heap of boxes, he knew he was a lost man.
“I’m agreeable, but I want no part of this. I refuse to spend days tangled in cables, or with my nose in some technical manual that reads like a crash course in Greek. I mean it, Lizzie. I have a shipment of cars arriving. I have to get the garage bays ready and this place up and running as fast as possible. In order to get custody of Todd, I need to prove my permanence and stability to Children and Youth Services and quite possibly to a judge, if our petition goes that far.” Frowning, he reached for the largest box. “Okay, Whiz Kid, let’s put them into the back of the truck.”