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Authors: Bonnie Hopkins

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BOOK: Seasons
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“Okay,” Big Pat said as they walked to the garage after leaving the hearing. “Want to tell me about this woman who has you
all hot and bothered?”

“What are you talking about, Pop? What woman?”

They reached J.P.’s SUV, got in, and headed back to the office. Big Pat gave him a scathing look. “Now you know, I wish you
wouldn’t try to snow an old man. Son, I been over that road before.”

J.P. couldn’t do anything but smile. “So that’s why you decided to tag along today. Ron opened his big mouth, and you just
wanted to spy on me.”

“You know anything about her? Is she married?”

“Nope, don’t think so. I’ve been watching her for a while, and yes, I’m definitely interested in her. I just haven’t figured
out how to get through that professional armor she wears. I’ve watched a whole lot of other guys try to talk to her and get
shot down.”

“Ump! You must be slipping. The J.P. I know, with the reputation he has for being a connoisseur of women, wouldn’t even have
a problem. Unless . . .” Big Pat hesitated as a thought crossed his mind. “You know, she may be a switch hitter—not necessarily
interested in men.”

J.P.’s mouth fell open and his blood ran cold. He hadn’t even considered that. “Don’t even go there, Pop! I’ve watched her
dealing with both men and women. If that were the case, I would have noticed a difference. She relates to everybody the same
way.”

“These days you have to be watchful for everything, son, and that’s not always easy to spot. Just keep your eyes and ears
open and be careful. You’ll find out what you need to know. I’m anxious to see how the great lady’s man is going to handle
this myself!” Big Pat chuckled, thinking he couldn’t wait to tell his wife about the woman. “Just your hesitancy in approaching
this woman tells me how important she could be to you.”

J.P. grunted. “The reports of my great success with women have been greatly exaggerated. I’m not nearly as notorious as people
think. Being a single, well-to-do businessman in this city makes me a target for women of every description. And frankly,
I wouldn’t be a man if I hadn’t indulged a little, but honestly, Pop, I’ve been tired of that lifestyle a long time.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear that,” Big Pat answered thoughtfully. “Every man eventually reaches that point. If he’s the right
kind of man, that is. Some, like me, get there at an early age, while others are old men before it happens. The important
thing is to get there at some point, and sadly, some never get there. It’s a tragic thing for a man to live his whole life
and not know how good it is to love and be loved by a good woman.”

J.P. nodded his head affirmatively. “I want what you and Mom have. A life of commitment to each other. Sharing, loving, and
working together, serving God together, going on vacations and just experiencing life together. You raised us up to be reasonably
productive adults, and Lord knows I don’t know what I would have done if ya’ll hadn’t been around to help me with Patrick.
It’s taken me some time, but I now appreciate what you have together and it’s definitely what I want for myself.”

“Well, what are you waiting on? You’re not still licking your wounds over Vivian?”

He gave his dad a dirty look. Vivian, J.P.’s ex-wife, had left him for an older, wealthier man when his son, Patrick, had
been a toddler. “Heck naw! That’s way behind me. But like I said, I want the right woman. One who wants the same things I
want. I’m nearly forty-four years old, and I’ve already wasted too many years. I don’t relish the thought of one fruitless
relationship after the other, or spending the rest of my life alone. It’s finding that elusive woman that’s proving to be
a challenge. Most of the women I meet these days turn me off. If they’re not fickle, fake, and immature, they’re hard, calculating
gold diggers. Some of ’em are just plain old, low down, and dirty. But whatever group they fall into, they seem to lack the
desire or the ability to build a meaningful relationship, and they all leave a bad taste in my mouth.”

“So what makes you think this woman is any different?”

“I guess it’s the way she carries herself, and some quality or trait in her that reaches me on a level that no woman has touched
before. Every time I see her I want to touch her, kiss her—something! Beyond that, I can’t pinpoint what it is, and it’s driving
me crazy! Usually by this time, most women are throwing themselves at me. But beyond being helpful, she hasn’t. That intrigues
me. And there’s nothing funny about her either. The man in me wouldn’t react to her this way if she weren’t all woman.”

Big Pat laughed, enjoying his son’s distress. He had waited a long time to witness it. “Yep. That’s how I felt about your
mother when I first met her. She had me crazy, too.” He laughed again, remembering, before saying, “Well, I’m sure the woman
realizes you’re interested. Maybe she’s just smart, biding her time just to string you along a little.”

“No,” J.P. answered thoughtfully. “Frankly, I don’t think it’s even occurred to her that I may be interested. And anyway,
I don’t think that’s her style. Since she’s not an easy woman to approach, I’m a little stumped, but believe me, I’m just
waiting for the right opportunity.”

“Well, son, whatever you do, pray about it. Let the Lord guide you. That way you’ll know you’re moving in the right direction
and won’t be making a mistake.”

“Yeah, I’m doing that, Pop.”

Jaci

T
wo weeks later, Jaci hurriedly gathered files and placed them into a portable filing cabinet, while she laughed and talked
with her coworkers. Relieved that another hearing was behind her, she noticed frowningly that a few people were still mingling
around the large room.

“These stragglers must really be pleased with the decisions they got on their properties,” she whispered to her assistant,
Gloria. “They act like they don’t even want to leave.”

The hearing had been reasonably uneventful, and that always made Jaci breathe a sigh of relief. The worst-case scenario would
be to present incorrect information at the hearing and cause the city to lose the case. Some owners would stoop to any level
to discredit the city’s case in hopes of holding off the demolition of their condemned buildings. Her years of experience
had taught her that some inspectors couldn’t be trusted to provide correct information. So, she and her staff worked extremely
hard, checking and double-checking facts, to assure that their information was as accurate and up to date as possible.

It was Thursday and the end of her four-day, ten-hour-per-day workweek. She sighed tiredly as she mentally went over all that
she needed to do on her days off.

“Hey, Jaci,” Bill called from across the room where he was stacking chairs. “You’re in a hurry to get out of here today. You
must have big plans for the weekend.” He knew Jaci usually stayed at work while everyone else rushed out.

“As a matter of fact I do,” she said. At their surprised expressions, she continued, “I have yard work and house work to do.
I promised my cousin I would help her move, and I still have to get somebody out to look at my roof. It’s at the point where
it’s got to be replaced, which I’m definitely not ready for. There’s no telling how much it’s going to cost, so I gotta look
for a way to earn some extra money. Yeah, I need to be outta here real quick today.”

“No date?” Gloria asked slyly. “I can’t believe you don’t ever have a date, Jaci. Frankly, I don’t think you’re telling us
everything.”

“Ha! When do I have time for dates? Or better yet,
who
do I have
to
date? Girl, you know there are no men out there.”

“Uh! Uh! There are men all around,” Bill threw in. “You just refuse to notice them.”

Jaci again said, “Ha!”

Their lighthearted bantering continued as they worked to put the room back in order and prepared to leave, all the while cutting
their eyes at the two remaining men still in deep conversation and evidently in no hurry to leave.

They noticed one of them was real estate developer J.P. Gilmore, who attended the hearings in search of potential properties
he could purchase.

“What’s that drop-dead gorgeous J.P. Gilmore still doing here?” Gloria whispered. Jaci glanced across the room to where the
good-looking man stood. Well above six feet, his muscular body was always immaculately dressed, whether it was casual or business
attire; the clothes molded his body as though custom-made for him. They probably were.

“I don’t know. But are you complaining? Just enjoy the view,” Jaci replied, still sneaking looks. His wavy black hair, sprinkled
with a few gray strands around the sides, complimented his pecan colored skin. And his classically handsome face included
piercing dark eyes and a wide sensual mouth topped by a well trimmed sexy mustache.
Yep! Definitely a hunk!

“Don’t you think he looks a little like Judge Joe Brown? Even his mannerisms and the way his deep voice resonates when he
talks—it gives me goose bumps!” Gloria stated.

“Well, any way you size him up, Mr. Gilmore is a hunk,” Jaci agreed. “Not that it excites me. It’s just a fact. I found out
a long time ago that good looks on the outside often hide a rotten inside. He is something special to look at though.
Just looking
being the operative words.”

“Um, Um, Um! I sure could be tempted to find out what’s on the inside if I had the chance,” Gloria added, staring unashamedly
at J.P.

“Jaci,” Bill said, walking over to where she stood, “why don’t you talk to that contractor over there with Gilmore? He might
be able to give you some leads on good roofers.”

The men turned and moved toward them. J.P., who had purposely waited for the right moment, walked up to Jaci. “Good hearing,
Ms. Winters, and thanks for the information on the commercial properties. I really appreciate your help.”

“No problem,” Jaci said. “It’s all about getting rid of those dangerous buildings.”

“I see you guys are trying to get out of here,” J.P. continued. “I hope I didn’t detain you, but I was hoping to get a chance
to speak to you.” When Jaci gave him a questioning look, he continued. “It’s not about the hearings, it’s on a totally different
matter. Is it okay if I call you tomorrow?”

“Sorry, I’m off tomorrow. But I’ll be here Monday. You can call any time after eight.” Although Jaci arrived at seven, she
used the first hour each morning to organize and focus on whatever she had to accomplish over the course of the day.

J.P. pulled a business card out of his pocket, scribbled some numbers on the back, and handed it to her. “Well, if you get
some time over the weekend, give me a call. If you don’t get me at the office, try the home number or the cell anytime. Just
leave a message; if I don’t answer, I’ll get right back to you.”

“Okay,” she answered slowly, with a puzzled look.

J.P. waved good-bye to them, and as he walked away, he turned and pointed to the card, saying, “Please don’t throw that away.”

Jaci blushed, realizing he must have observed her doing just that with others. Turning away in embarrassment, she rushed to
catch the contractor to talk to him about her roof.

“Girl, what is wrong with you?” Gloria asked minutes later as they walked down the hall to their offices. “That hunk wants
to talk to you and here you are acting crazy. You’d better call that man tonight!”

“Pul . . . lease!” Jaci said, rolling her eyes. “You know that guy probably has a wife and hundreds of women after him. No
thanks! I can do without that kind of drama.”

Gloria shook her head. She couldn’t figure Jaci out. She was not only beautiful, she was a kind, caring person as well. She
tried to get along with everyone, but refused to let people get too close. She had problems with both the men and the women
in the department. Gloria knew it was because of the reserved way she carried herself. People who liked gossip and mess couldn’t
handle that.

In the years they had worked together, Gloria knew of only one man who had gotten to first base with her. Evidently it hadn’t
worked out well, and since then, Gloria watched as several other men around the department tried, but failed. Jaci would often
comment about a man being fine or a hunk, but she rejected the many flirtatious advances she received, so she had earned the
reputation of being a cold fish and was often the target of unkind words and jokes.

After quickly putting things away, Bill and Gloria called out, “Good night” to let Jaci know they were leaving. Jaci kept
working to clear her desk and pondered J.P. Gilmore’s request that she call him. She had no intention of calling him over
the weekend, but was admittedly very curious. What could he possibly want to talk to her about? He was probably just living
up to his reputation as a playboy, she concluded. Maybe she should throw that card in the trash, she admonished herself.

Jaci was the topic of her coworkers’ conversation on their walk to the parking lot. “What do you think makes Jaci tick? As
far as men are concerned, that is,” Bill asked Gloria.

“I don’t believe she thinks much of them. I think maybe she’s been badly hurt at some point.”

“Yeah. She’s had some bad experiences,” Bill said thoughtfully. “How long have you known her?”

“About ten years, since she became supervisor of hearing coordination and hired me as her assistant. Why?”

“Well, I’ve known her ever since she came to the Housing Compliance Department—more than twenty years. She’s worked all over
the department, from clerical to administrative positions. Did you know she made history by becoming the first woman investigator
in the Dangerous Buildings Section? I give her a hard time sometimes, but I have a lot of respect for that lady. That’s a
dangerous and uncomfortable job, even for a man, but for a woman, doubly so.”

“Yeah,” Gloria said. “She told me about some of her experiences when she first became an investigator. She said the biggest
problem wasn’t the actual work, but the people here in the department. I don’t know why people are so hard on a woman trying
to make it up the ladder the right way. But Jaci said there was no way she was giving up. She’s a tough lady, that’s for sure.”

BOOK: Seasons
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