Authors: Sommer Marsden
Table of Contents
One glance at the stained-glass dome told me the sky had greyed further. There was no way to judge actual sunlight or the weather itself, but I could definitely tell it had darkened.
‘Hey, pretty lady! You sending us home early? What’s the occasion?’
I was already grinning when I turned and started towards Mario. One of the few overseers of labour I trusted to take care of business. ‘The glass man –’ I twirled my fingers at the overhead dome and smiled ‘– he likes to work in private.’
I shrugged to show him I understood how silly it seemed.
‘He’s sensitive?’ Mario cocked his head and winked at me.
A laugh burst free and I nodded, hoping against hope that Marcel Voorhees had yet to arrive.
Wind whipped outside making the large automatic doors creak. All entrances to the Rotunda were sealed tight but for this one. The place was deserted for renovations. Renovations I was in charge of – a fact that made me reel from surprise daily.
It was a big job. A big deal.
‘Better for you to get home early,’ I said, getting closer to Mario and his men. Don was a short, dark man with a thin moustache and dark, dark eyes. Mitchell was a college boy, tall and broad – the term ‘corn-fed’ fit him to a T. They all grinned at me and I grinned back. ‘This weather is supposed to get nasty very fast.’
‘What about you? You’ll be OK?’ The good humour faded from Mario’s eyes and genuine concern showed.
‘I will. I’ll stay safe.’ It felt like a lie. More wind made those doors creak and my stomach filled with a twisting nervousness. I worried about my little house, my drive home … most of all my grandmother.
‘You do that,’ Mario said. ‘If you need anything –’ He patted his cellphone to finish the thought.
‘Got it.’ I smiled at him and made a shooing motion at them all. ‘Now go. Go home early. Or go to a bar and have a beer.’ I levelled a finger at them. ‘A bar
close to home
. That way you can walk if this thing hits us full-on.’
The weatherman had predicted a storm of the century. A monster of a storm that could ‘bring the state to its knees’. I was doing my best not to dissect the morning news or the nervous energy it had triggered in me.
‘Yes, ma’am.’ Mario gave me another worried glance. Then his face became jovial and he pointed a finger at me. ‘How come you don’t marry me,
A blush crept up my cheeks. I felt it blaze a heated trail. ‘Oh, that might have something to do with that lovely wife of yours who brings you lunch a few times a week. And the cutie-patootie kids that are in tow when she does.’
Mario smacked his head, making Don laugh and shake his head at his boss. ‘Oh, yeah.
. Still, you need a good –’
I waved my hand again. ‘Yes, yes, a good man. I’ll let you know when that magical man appears.’
Mario’s face turned serious again. ‘You’re a good person, Clover. He’s coming for you.’
They all waved and went off into the severely overcast day. I watched the automatic doors bump and grind in a silly little dance number. More wind, more creaking, but hey, if you were going to be caught somewhere in weather like this, a place like the Rotunda was the place to be.
I glanced up at the brickwork, the high ceilings, the fancy stores darkened during remodelling. It wasn’t hopping with business the way it had been during my childhood. At the moment, in fact, it was as quiet as a tomb. But it was sturdy as hell and I’d be fine. Just me and the demanding stained-glass expert.
‘He’d better be good,’ I muttered. ‘I lost a half day’s work from everyone else to suit his loner needs.’
With that, as if on cue, my cellphone rang.
I moved around near the shuttered stores to try and pick up better reception. The cell service in the Rotunda was spotty at best on the average day. Something that was on the list to figure out but hadn’t been a priority.
‘I’m sorry … Hello?’ I practically yelled.
The voice came in a bit better by the automatic doors so I took up residence there, feeling the late October wind lick at my stocking-clad legs as it bled through the cracks. I shivered and tried again.
‘Hello? This is Clover Brite. Can you speak up, please?’
The voice cracked and cut off repeatedly and I managed to make out ‘Voorhees … wind … work in … conditions.’
‘Mr Voorhees?’ I shouted.
Jaggedly an answer made its way through the cellphone.
‘Yes … Ms … to know!’
Frustration made my muscles tight. I literally ached from it. I could not hear him. I had no idea what he was saying. I practically put my cellphone in my mouth – as if that would help – and shouted. ‘Mr Voorhees! I am going to call you on a landline. Right now! Please hang up!’
Then I took a breath to get my blood pressure down and stomped my way over to the courtesy desk. When the Rotunda was fully staffed and open during operational hours, it was manned by several hospitality experts to direct patrons and help them find the stores they were looking for. At the moment it was draped in plastic and as quiet as a ghost town.
I shoved huge swathes of plastic aside and finally found the phone I knew to be there. Scrolling through the incoming calls section of my cell, I found his number and dialled it.
It rang long enough to make me fear he hadn’t heard me and was currently trying to have a conversation with my now disconnected cell. Then my pulse kicked once, hard, as he answered.
‘Mr Voorhees, I’m glad I got you. When will you be here? I’m –’
He cut me off with a ‘tsk’. He was a small, narrow, prissy man who had gotten under my skin from the get-go. But he was also the most well-known and respected stained-glass expert in several states. I ground my teeth and tried to remember to breathe. I turned my back to the desk and leaned against it, hearing the automatic doors groan from what I assumed was the wind.
‘I cannot come out in this atrocious weather to inspect,’ he said with his unidentifiable accent.
Personally, I think the accent was fake. He did it to seem exotic. I found myself grasping the phone receiver in a kung-fu grip and forced my hand to relax. ‘Why is that?’
‘I cannot work in these conditions. They’re calling this the monster storm.’
But you’re only looking at it to give an opinion …
I bit my tongue to keep from saying what was in my head. ‘Mr Voorhees, I assure you that it is safe here now. The wind is a bit high and –’ As I pleaded with him, Mother Nature made a liar out of me by dumping what appeared to be a solid sheet of rain against the skylights over my head.
‘Ms Brite,’ he said, enunciating each word. He was talking to me as if I were mentally compromised. Which made me want to reach through the ancient landline phone and choke his skinny little neck. ‘I cannot come today. I am sorry. I will be happy to come on a day when my life will not be at stake simply driving down the street.’
‘But I –’ I was sputtering, my voice pleading, and it infuriated me. My body grew tenser and my heart started to pound. I had sent everyone home. I was here alone waiting … waiting!
‘Ms Brite,’ he said again. ‘This is not up for discussion. Call me when this thing passes and we’ll discuss my consultation.’
He’d already hung up.
‘Well!’ I huffed at the silent phone. ‘Thank
, Voorhees. Thank
for fucking up my whole day! For making me send my wonderful crew home because you are so
and, and … so
that you need to work utterly alone even in a place the size of the Baltimore zoo! You … you …
.’ I hissed the last word. I took after my mother: you did not need to worry if I yelled. You needed to worry if my voice got softer. The angrier I became, the softer was my voice, until it was almost just a hiss.
,’ said a voice.
I jumped and let out some kind of bizarre war whoop and promptly threw my dormant cellphone at the stranger. I turned to run, my flight response having fully kicked in while facing a man who should not be here. A man I did not know.
I had made three skittering steps across the damp, dark tiled floor when he laughed. ‘I’ve never had an employee greet me quite that way before. Good to meet you, Clover. I’m Dorian Martin.’
I turned then, forcing myself to be calm. I took him in. Tall, broad, dark-dark hair worn just a touch too long and eyes as green as pine trees in summer.
‘Oh, God, I …’ I what? Had lost my ever-loving mind? I reached for him, both hands raised as if to smooth his rugged, manly fisherman’s sweater. Really? He had to wear
? He couldn’t have gone for a suit or a button-down shirt? Damn near anything but the one piece of clothing I found irresistible on a man?
I put my hands down. I had already thrown my phone at my boss. I was certainly not going to touch him uninvited.
Something in the way he smiled at me made me wonder if maybe, eventually, I
be invited to touch him. I shook it off. Clearly my nerves and the weather had gotten the better of me.
I stuck out my hand like a lunatic and grinned. ‘Clover Brite, and I am so very, very sorry I just threw my phone at you, Mr Martin.’ I cleared my throat as he studied me, feeling suddenly deflated.
Then he took my hand in his bigger, warmer one and shook it. That deflated feeling fled, pushed out by an entirely new feeling. One that had me uncomfortable but, oddly, enjoying the sensation.
‘I know,’ he said. He shook once more and squeezed my hand and, as he pulled away, his finger trailed briefly across my palm. My stomach tumbled in on itself as heat flooded my body. My face, my chest and lower. Much lower. ‘We’ve never met but I came looking for you.’
I remembered the sound of the automatic doors that I’d chalked up to the wind. That had been him entering. And listening to me have my little rant at Voorhees. Ugh. No one had told me Dorian Martin, my big boss man, the man who now
the Rotunda, was coming today. Of course today. Why not? Nothing like an unheard-of freak super-storm to set the tone.
‘You did?’ I whispered it. I had no idea why. It seemed to amuse him, though, because he smiled at me and went from handsome to devastating.
I bit my tongue to keep my focus. My focus being at that moment hoping Dorian Martin could not see me biting my own tongue.
‘I was. You were hired by my assistant Bradley, but I wanted us to meet. Since you’ve been doing such a nice job.’ As he spoke his eyes tracked over me. It didn’t feel dirty to me, though part of me sort of wanted it to be. What it felt like was how a man like this judged the person he was talking to. He was studying me to see if what he’d heard matched up with what he saw.