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Authors: Bonnie Hopkins

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BOOK: Seasons
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Jaci paid for her order and worked her way back through the crowd toward the door. Her eyes met the bold stare of a handsome
guy who looked vaguely familiar, but she quickly looked away. A woman couldn’t be too careful. The man’s eyes followed her
progress, causing Jaci to feel very uncomfortable and to hurry out the door to her Jeep as fast as she could.

J.P. almost followed her to the parking lot but managed to stop himself. He didn’t want to scare her off, and he did know
where to find her. He cheered himself with a promise that he would get to know this woman as soon as possible.

J.P.

T
he Gilmore family gathered for their regular after-church Sunday dinner, and, as usual, the conversation centered around the
family business. The family owned a real estate agency that serviced Houston and surrounding counties.

J.P.’s parents, Cecelia and J.P. Gilmore Sr. (known as “Big Pat”), along with Big Pat’s twin brother, Stanley, had run the
flourishing business for several decades. Illness had forced Stanley into partial retirement a few years before, and now J.P.’s
parents wanted to gradually hand the running of the company off to their children. J.P. bore most of the burden since his
siblings refused to accept much responsibility. Typically, Big Pat was browbeating Ronald, J.P.’s younger brother by two years,
about taking a more active role in the business.

“Ron, when are you going to step up to the plate and start helping out with the business? We’re just about killing Junior—he’s
trying to run both his company and the family business. Your sister is off doing her own thing, so you know we can’t expect
any help from her. And it’s time for me and your mother to start taking it easy, do some things we been wanting to do.”

Ron was feeling the heat. He had little interest in the real estate business, preferring to concentrate on his architectural
firm.

“Pop, I got my hands full with my own business. I’ve told you, I don’t plan to ever step up to that plate. I’ll help out now
and then if I have time, but I’m not going to commit to anything else. If I let ya’ll, I’ll be roped in like you’ve done with
J.P., and next thing I know, I won’t have time for my own business.”

His mother jumped in. “Well, at least J.P.’s not neglecting his family like you are. He’s managing to run his software company
and
the family business and doing both real well.”

“That’s him, Mama,” Ron said agitatedly. “I can’t do that—or rather, I’m not going to do that. If he wants to spread himself
thin like that, then all power to him.” He gave J.P. a dirty look that said, “look what you’ve done now.”

“Well, like I said, he’s doing well in both. And I don’t hear him complaining.”

“But his heart is in developing computer software, and if he had the time to fully pursue that without family ties obligating
him, he would probably be doing even better.”

J.P. had opted out of the conversation and just sat back listening. He was tired of the same old argument, and beyond that,
he found he liked the challenge of running both businesses.

He finally said, “Current business trends indicate that diversity in business is a wise thing. Having all your eggs in one
basket is not a good thing in this fickle economy. If one goes into a slump, I have the other one to fall back on. But a little
help would give Mom and Pop a chance to relax a little.”

“Nope. I’m not committing to nothing.” Then, totally changing the subject, Ron said, “J.P., if you want to walk the construction
site, we’d better go. I have plans for later on.”

“Now, I like this housing development project,” Big Pat said, following them as they headed out the door, Ron with a frown
and J.P. with a resigned smile. “See, if ya’ll would join up on more things like this, you could really be raking it in,”
he yelled to them from the doorway.

They got into their vehicles and drove the short distance to the cul-de-sac where J.P. lived and where eleven other custom-designed
houses sat in various stages of construction. As they inspected the progress of the homes they were building in a joint venture,
J.P. brought up the subject again.

“I think architecture and real estate are more compatible than real estate and computer software. I’m not complaining . .
. don’t get me wrong. I’m doing real well since I decided to handle more commercial properties. And I’m finding some good
deals by watching the properties being condemned by the city. It ain’t bad, man. You ought to come on and try it.”

“Nope.”

“Listen, man,” J.P. continued, “I’ve found a way to gain quick access to information on newly condemned commercial properties.
Quite often, I can pick up some good deals by making an offer to owners who just want to dump the property fast. Remember
Wynola Dickson? She’s one of the managers in the Housing Compliance Department.”

“That old hag that’s been after you for years?” said Ron. “Man, how can you even think about it? You gon’ get yourself killed.
You know she’s open for some play with you. And that crazy husband of hers knows it too. I wouldn’t even mess around with
that. Find another way. Do it the way you been doing it. But leave that alone.”

“Who are you to be giving advice on being careful? If I recall, you’re the one always having to leave with your pants under
your arm.”

“That’s me,” Ron answered smugly. “I can handle that. You can’t.”

“And how you figure I can’t?” he asked, then chuckled. “You’re right, I’ve gotten too old for that kind of stuff. And you
have too. My mind won’t even flow that way anymore.” He waved his hand in dismissal. “Anyway, as I was saying, I had an appointment
last week to talk to Wynola about hooking me up with some leads. Man, she had me and Herbert sitting there cooling our heels
for almost an hour waiting for her.” He shook his head disgustedly. “I didn’t appreciate wasting our time like that, but I’m
glad I went, because two good things came out of it.”

“What?”

“I met an interesting woman while I was there—sort of. That’s one. And the other is that I found out I can’t deal with Wynola.
When we finally got in to see her, she didn’t have any interest in discussing business. All she wanted to talk about was what’s
happening on the social scene, and of course she was in her element, flirting with both of us. I tried to steer the conversation
back to why we were there by telling her that I didn’t want to take up her time. That all I needed was for her to direct us
to the right source to get a list of condemned commercial buildings that are scheduled to be demolished. She just waved her
hand, and said, ‘oh honey, I can help you with
anything
you need.’ I knew then I would have to find another way. Heck, I was so frustrated when I left her office, I was ready to
wring her neck. It was a big waste of valuable time.”

“What do you mean you sort of met an interesting woman?” Ron asked. “Either you did or you didn’t.”

“See! I knew you were going to pick up on that! You didn’t hear anything else I said.”

“That’s me, man—what can I say?” Ron answered, smiling broadly and spreading his hands.

“Anyway!” J.P. continued, ignoring him. “I’m going to avoid Wynola from now on. I’ve already found out from talking to some
of the inspectors on the street that I need to talk to a guy by the name of J.C. Winters. They say he can give me whatever
information I need. So I’m going to start going to those abatement hearings they have whenever I can. This Winters fellow
is the person who handles those hearings for the city. That’s where I could use your help. You could attend those hearings
for me.”

“Nope!”

“Well, man, just go with me to the one next week and meet this guy. That way, if I ever need you to attend one, you’ll know
what the deal is. We don’t have to go to all of them, just often enough to keep up with what’s newly condemned. Come on, man!
You owe me that much. And if you don’t, I’ma tell Mama. Pop just full of talk, but Mama gon’ get a stick after your behind
sooner or later. You know that don’t you?”

“Now, you know you wrong for that,” Ron said with a chuckle.

“Whatever it takes,” J.P. replied with a non-apologetic grin. “The next hearing is Thursday at ten. Come by the office around
nine Thursday morning and we can ride together. Sometimes parking is a hassle.” Shaking his head, Ron got in his car and drove
away.

Thursday, J.P.’s reaction was almost comical when he walked into the room where the hearing was held. The beautiful, professionally
dressed woman presenting the city’s case was none other than the lady he had seen and had such an unusual reaction to in the
reception area that day, and again in the restaurant the previous Friday. But the most shocking surprise was that this woman
and
Jaci
Winters were one and the same.

Ron didn’t have to be told that this was the woman who had captured his brother’s attention. He watched with amusement as
J.P.’s eyes seldom left the woman, taking in everything about her. He acknowledged his brother’s good taste in women and wished
he had seen her first.

J.P. was so captivated that he gave up any pretense of following the progress of the hearing and gave his full attention to
her. She looked to be in her mid-thirties, was about five-foot-five, and the navy blue business suit she wore did little to
hide her well-proportioned, curvy body. Her flawless honey-toned skin looked smooth enough to eat and her hair was a tantalizing
enticement. The thick, reddish-brown tresses hung in soft curls that begged to be touched. Her eyes captured his attention
again. Could those mesmerizing green eyes really be natural, not tinted contact lenses? And those legs! Big, shapely, and
slightly bowed at the knees—he almost salivated. J.P. was definitely a leg man.

“Hey, man,” Ronald said, giving him an elbow jab in the side. “You better catch your eyes before they fall out of their sockets.
And while you’re at it, grab your tongue, too, cause it’s almost dragging the floor.”


That’s
Jaci Winters! That’s the person I need to talk to.”

“I thought you were turning this thing over to me? You said you didn’t have time,” Ron teasingly reminded him.

“Well . . . I might be able to find a little time here and there,” J.P. said. “We’ll see how it goes.” He turned his eyes
back to the woman.

“Those inspectors were right about her,” he whispered to Ron. “She obviously knows her job well. These owners don’t have a
chance.” They watched as Jaci calmly but firmly responded when the disgruntled property owners tried to dispute the evidence
presented against their properties.

“She has excellent PR skills doesn’t she?” J.P. continued to praise her. He admired the way she stood her ground, refusing
to back off on the incriminating evidence she had gathered. She presented the information in an organized and straightforward
manner, giving the number of times the buildings were found in violation, producing pictures of the violations, and in many
cases, showing signed statements from neighbors concerned about the unsafe buildings in their neighborhoods. The owners were
well aware of the violations, but they still resented being brought to court about them.

“She is good!” he said as he watched owner after owner lose, but leave appeased, as she expertly offered recommendations and
solutions that provided a win-win outcome for both the city and the owners.

“That woman’s got you sprung, brother,” Ron said, a gleeful smile on his face, as they left the building. “Man, I never thought
I’d see the day. But I just saw it. The big tree in the forest has toppled.” Ron laughed at his own statement. “What are you
going to do if she’s not interested? Or what if she’s married?”

“She’s not wearing a wedding ring,” J.P. answered as fear filled him. “If she were married, she’d be wearing a ring. No man
in his right mind would let a woman like that walk around without a ring. Naw. I’d be willing to bet, she’s not married.”
He sounded like he was trying to convince himself.

“Well, what kind of angle are you gonna use to get to her?”

“I don’t know, man,” J.P. answered irritably. “But I’ll figure something out.”

As soon as he had a chance, Ron told Big Pat about the woman that had J.P. in a spin. “You need to go check her out, Pop.
This woman has Junior’s nose open wide enough for an eighteen-wheeler to pass through it. And he don’t even know if she’s
married or not.”

“How does she look? J.P. ain’t worked up over no ugly woman is he?”

“Oh no!” Ron answered. “She’s all right. In fact, I may have to give him a little competition.”

Big Pat gave Ron a hard look. “I know you don’t mean that. There’s plenty women out there. Go find your own.”

“Just joking, Pop, just joking.”

J.P. had attended several hearings before Big Pat decided to tag along and see what the situation was for himself. He knew
J.P. hadn’t missed a hearing yet and hadn’t uttered one complaint.

“Uh huh!” Big Pat said when they entered the room, and J.P. headed straight for Jaci to say hello.

“What was that ‘uh huh’ supposed to mean?” J.P. asked suspiciously, when they found seats and sat down.

“Oh. Nothing. I’m just here observing, you know.”

All during the hearing, his dad watched him, while J.P. watched Jaci. He noticed everything. Her interactions with the hearing
board and the property owners were guided by an unquestionable knowledge of city ordinances. She orchestrated the smooth flow
of the hearing from beginning to end. The more he saw, the more he liked. The more he liked, the more he cautiously searched
for flaws and chinks in her armor. Common sense told him that nobody was perfect.

He had introduced himself to her and her coworkers after attending a couple of hearings and explained his purpose for attending.
She had proven to be a great source of information by providing him with an updated listing of condemned buildings on a regular
basis. She was friendly, but not overly so, remaining professional at all times.

At first this was a little unsettling because J.P. was accustomed to women falling all over themselves to get to him. He was
encouraged, however, after he saw her firmly rebuffing the attentions of other men who blatantly came on to her. He observed
her covertly throwing business cards and slips of paper with hastily scribbled phone numbers into the trash and concluded
that she was definitely not on a manhunt. For some reason that fact impressed him. He was tired of empty-headed women whose
only goal was catching a man. Somehow he didn’t think she fit that mold, but he really wanted to know what made her tick.

BOOK: Seasons
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