Beyond the Quiet: Romantic Thriller (8 page)

BOOK: Beyond the Quiet: Romantic Thriller
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I gave it some thought. “The first thing I’d suggest is to get to know the properties. Make a list and go out and preview as many as you possibly can, and while you’re there, look carefully and make note of any special features. Keep a notebook and take pictures.” I paused. “The main thing, though, is to listen to your clien
ts. I can’t stress that enough.

“Too many people lose sales,” I told her, “because they’re just interested in selling something. If you’ve listened to your clients when they talk about features important to them, and you’ve done your homework to know what’s available, chances are you can match them to a home right for them.”

“Darn good advice,” Nina said from her desk. “Something I’m trying to learn.

I smiled, but my head throbbed and I suddenly felt worn out. I wanted nothing more than to stretch
out on my sofa.

“You leaving?” Nina asked.

“Have to catch up, you know,” I said briskly, trying to sound as efficient as possible. “I have a lot of homes to preview.”

“Did you get your call? I switched it to voicemail.”

I had a call already? Who, other than Stan and Maggie, could’ve known I was going back to work?

was Terry O’Neal, asking me to meet him at a house in the Redlands suburbs at two. Betty would be with him, he said, and that if I couldn’t reach him by telephone, he’d be shopping and wouldn’t hear a cell phone. They’d wait at the house until two-thirty in case I didn’t get the message until late.

Well, damn. Just about the last thing I needed. And what a sneaky trick to pull
, assuming I'd meet him. It would serve him right if I didn’t show. I was just about to offer the address to whoever wanted it when I hesitated.

I suddenly realized this aspect of my life had
also changed.

Before Mac's illness, I’d worked because I wanted to add to our savings, and it was great for my ego to find perfect homes for my clients. I could afford to be selective, only choosing to work with those with whom I felt a rapport, thinking nothing of referring the rest to other agents.

But things were different now.

Now m
y very existence depended on how well I did my job, and I faced what thousands of women lived with every day—providing a roof over my head and groceries in the house. My major concern wasn’t moving to Minnesota, but the very necessities of life, all the things I’d taken for granted while married to Mac.

This realization hit me like a punch in the s
tomach, and I gasped for breath. What if I couldn’t provide well enough for myself? How would I live?

And why had this happened to me?

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to have been. I felt rage at Mac for putting me in this situation and bitterness that I had trusted someone with my life. Now here I was, a widow in her forties, broke and in debt.

“Are you all right?” Nina asked.

I couldn’t let anyone at work know how frightened I was. “Sure,” I bluffed. “Just tired, thanks.”

So okay. I’d show the house to Terry and his wife or whatever she was. If there was the slightest chance they’d buy, I might as well get the commission.

Nothing like trading your principles for cash.


Chapter Nine


“Want Andrea to go with you?” Nina asked when I signed out.

Ben had instituted a safety policy requiring female agents to show properties in pairs and to list the address of the property and the time you expect to be there. If you’re already in the field, you’re expected to call in and Nina jots down the address. When you leave the property, you call the office and Nina, or whoever is in the office, checks it off. Sometimes the female agents consider it a pain, but most of us feel better when someone knows where we can be located.

Ben had also made it a rule for us to carry pepper sprays, even holding a meeting once a month to familiarize the new agents with them and to go over state laws. Before Mac became so ill, I’d avoided buying one, but once back, I’d considered it. I just hadn’t gotten around to staying for the meeting and going through the rigmarole of getting one, even though Ben made it easy for us by purchasing them in bulk and offering them at a discount. I kept thinking I’d break down and get one. But not today.

Besides, I’d already met Terry, and while he might be a nuisance, he wasn’t frightening.

“I’d love to go with you,” Andrea piped up. “I could use the experience.”

“Uh, maybe next time,” I told her. “I have some errands to run afterward, so I won’t be coming back to the office.” I hoped my face didn’t reflect the lie. I just couldn’t handle an afternoon of boosting someone’s morale whe
n my own had taken such a dive.

Avoiding her crestfallen face, I left the office. I grabbed a chicken sandwich at a drive-thru and ate while I drove.  I wanted a chance to look around the property before the O’Neals arrived, and if I had enough time, I wanted to check out another house in the area.

Heading down Yucaipa Boulevard to the I-10 onramp, I got caught in heavy traffic, so I took Sand Canyon Road over the foothills into Redlands instead. Green brush covered the sandy hills, but in another month or two, the arid sun would scorch everything to a dry desert brown.

The house stood with four others on a forgotten side street in an old section of Redlands. The short block of two-story white frame homes was squeezed between a thrift store and an auto repair shop fashioned from an old gas station.

Spotting the foreclosure sign in the window of a crumbling Victorian, I pulled up to the curb, noting that the shiny red Corvette parked across the street seemed out of place among all the older cars.

The house, with overhanging g
abled roofs, a rounded cupola, and ornate wooden gingerbread, reminded me of a magnificent flowering shrub that had gone to seed. Most of the windows were cracked or broken, and the flowerbeds sprouted weeds. Black shutters hung askew against dirty white siding, and sheets of plywood covered the panes in the double-door. I assumed the managing broker had done the spot repair since they were responsible for property maintenance during the selling process.

When I inserted the key to the security lock, the door fell open. I wasn’t alarmed; another agent, perhaps the owner of the sport car, could be previewing the h
ouse or showing it to a client.

The front door opened to a paneled entryway lit by an over-the-door fan-shaped transom window that had escaped the vandalism. I paused to admire the detailed scrollwork etched in the glass, beautifully elegant in its curlicue and leaf designs. Behind me, oak-trimmed stairs led up, I presumed, to the three bedrooms and bath.

Not wanting to intrude on someone’s showing, I hesitated, listening for voices. Hearing nothing after a few moments, I stepped through the arched opening into the parlor. And was struck by the beauty of the home.

A bank of windows accentuated the curve of the large room; combined with the oak flooring, even in its current scuffed condition, it made me think of dancing, of birthday parties and anniversaries, of times when the family gathered to celebrate important occasions. I had no idea why the room caused me to think of happy times, as there had been few in my own life, but somehow, the faded charm transported me, even for an insta
nt, to dreams of what could be.

I toured the rest of the first floor. Off the surprisingly modern kitchen, a butler’s pantry led me to a sunroom, whi
ch led me back to the entryway.

From the floor above, I heard a sli
ght creak in the floorboards.

Waiting quietly for whoever was upstairs to descend, I felt the house could be a wonderful find for someone interested in fixing it up, but I doubted Terry’s wife, or
, would want to bother. I almost left, but I reasoned that as long as I was already there, I might as well take a look at the rest.

“Hello? Anyone here?” I called out, climbing the stairs. Nothing greeted me but silence. Had an agent shown the house and failed to lock up when leaving? Forgetting to secure a home was a cardinal sin in the real estate business, so we all made sure the house we had shown was locked when we left. But what had made that squeaki
ng sound?

At the top of the stairs, four closed doors stood off the landing. I headed for the closest one then hesitated. Something wasn’t right. If it were an agent previewing, at least one of the doors would be open. Feeling spooked, I turned to go back to the steps when the last far door opened. Rick grinned at me with that infuriating smirk of
his and leaned in the doorway.

Oh no, not him. Not now.

“Don’t go now,” he said, folding his arms over his chest.

“What are you doing here?”

“Waiting for you, baby. We have some unfinished business.”

“No, we don’t.” I tried to sound confident but his sudden appearance shook me. His white shirt was unbuttoned and his silk tie hung loose. And was that alcohol I smelled? He stared at me through half-closed lids, smiling that cocksure smile as if to suggest he knew something juicy that I couldn’t even guess.

“I have a showing scheduled,” I told him, my heart thumping, as I backed slowly toward the stairs. “They should be here any time.”

“Oh, I know.” Rick straightened and rocked back on his heels. He grabbed the doorjamb for support. “Ed told me.” He took a step toward me.

“Why would he do that?” I eased back another step, feeling like a field mouse stalked by a snake, afraid to attract attention by running.

“I asked. Told him I needed to give you something.” He started toward me. “And you know good ol’ Ed, he’ll tell you anything.”

I risked a quick look at the stairs. Could I manage to get down them without him catching me?

Rick grinned. “I got something for you,” he said, slowly advancing toward me, creeping like it was a game. “Something really good.”

Could I make it down the stairs, or should I make a dash for the first room and wait for Terry?

“Your husband was sick for so long,” Rick said, strolling toward me, that stupid grin plastered on his face, “you gotta be panting for it.”

I bolted for the door and slammed it behind me, pushing against it while searching for a lock. Nothing but an old-fashion keyhole and no key.

“Rick, please,” I said, trying to keep the desperation out of my voice, “my clients will be here any minute.”

He laughed. “We can have lots of fun before that.”

He twisted the knob and pushed on the door. It opened a crack and I put my shoulder to it, using my feet as leverage. He pushed again and I realized that, even drunk, he was stronger than I. Flinging the door open, he shoved me against the wall, his hands grabbing my breasts, my buttocks.

“Come on, Missy Prissy, you know the score.” His breath smelled sour. I felt his hardness pressing against me.

“You’re drunk,” I said. “Please don’t do this.” Frantically, I pushed against him, but he had me pinned so tight
that I couldn’t get my knee up.

Where were Terry and Betty? Hurry, I begged silently.

“Pretty little widow, you need some lovin’,” Rick muttered and mashed his mouth against mine.

I heard
the front door open. Terry? Oh please let it be him. I had to get Rick off of me and get to Terry. Clutching my heavy leather briefcase, I swung it with all my might at Rick’s head. He reeled back and I dashed for the door.

“Help!” I yelled. “Up here!”

“Bitch!” Rick shouted. “You goddamned cunt!”

Just as I reached the top of the stairs, I felt a hard yank on my jacket and was jerked back and slammed against the wall.
My briefcase went tumbling down the stairs. Before I could do anything but take a ragged breath, Rick plastered himself against me, smothering me with his body. Clawing again, I went for his face. He grabbed my hands and held them over my head.

I screamed. Terry
ran up the stairs.

“What the hell?” Grabbing Rick by the shoulder, he pulled him away from me and drew a fist.

“No! Not my face!” Rick yelled.

My trembling legs folded and I slid to the floor.

Terry threw the punch. Rick’s head flew back, his eyes rolled up in his head. Slowly, almost gracefully, he crumpled over and went down. Leaning over him, Terry pressed two fingers on his throat, then yanked off his tie, flipped him over, and bound his hands. Then, rubbing his knuckles, he stepped over him to me.

“Are you hurt?” he asked, offerin
g a hand to help me to my feet.

“I’m okay.” I took his hand. But when I tried to stand, my legs gave way. Terry grabbed me, wrapping his arms around me. Suddenly, I started to
shiver and my teeth clattered.

“Here,” he said, briskly running his hands up and down my arms. “Just a little re
action. You’ll be good as new.”

As I began to feel warm again, my teeth stopped clacking. Terry simply held me, offering the comfort and security of his body. I gradually relaxed and let the warmth of his arms
calm me. It did feel good.

When my brain quit clattering, I realized I’d let more people hold me in the past month than I’d had in my entire life.

Horribly embarrassed, I couldn’t meet his eyes. “Thanks for your help,” I mumbled. “I was sure glad to see you.”

“That makes it all worth it.”

“I think I can manage now. You can let loose.”

“Well, darn. I was ho
ping you wouldn’t notice my arms around you. At least not right away.”

“I noticed.”

When he let me go I saw the amusement in his deep sapphire eyes. And he looked nice in a charcoal pullover and matching corduroy slacks. He was, I had to admit, an extremely handsome man. He reminded me of Kenny Rogers in his heyday. Just a few years older.

Terry smoothed back his silver hair, and I noticed hi
s knuckles were red and swollen. I hoped they weren’t broken.

“Are you okay?”

“Sure. I boxed a little in the service.” He glanced at Rick. “Who is he?”

I told him what little I knew.

“Plenty of guys like him out there,” Terry said. “Too bad, though, makes it harder for the rest of us.”

The rest of you?”

“Nice guys like me, I mean,” he added with a grin.

“Are you a nice guy?” I asked quietly.

“I’m hoping you’ll take the time to find out.”

I didn’t know how to answer that. “We’d better call the paramedics.”

“Don’t waste your time worrying about him. I didn’t hit him that hard.”

“But he’s out cold. Something might be wrong.”

“He’s just sleeping off a drunk, but if it’ll make you feel better, I’ll call.” He took his cell phone from his shirt pocket and called 9-1-1, giving them the information.
“The cops will see to medical attention if he needs it.”

The cops?

“You’ve gone white, Lisa. Don’t you want him arrested? If I had my way, I’d hang him from his, uh, private parts after what he tried with you.”

“God. Court appearances, a trial . . . I just don’t know if I can handle it all right now.”

“Better decide now. Won’t take them long to get here.”

“Can we just go?”

“Anything you want.” He took my arm. “You’re still trembling.”

I had no answer.

Once outside, he led me to my car. “Wait a minute.
Where’s Betty? Wasn’t she supposed to be here?”

He looked chagrined. “As you probably guessed by now, I just sa
id that to get you to meet me.”

That was a shitty thing to do.”

He turned to me, his eyes capturing and holding mine with an intensity I’d never
seen. “I had to see you and this seemed the only way.”

I should have been furious, but for some ungod
ly reason, my anger faded. My mouth went dry. I don’t know how long we stared into each other’s eyes, but some shred of sanity returned and I broke the gaze.

Sirens wailed in the distance.

“Let’s go for a drink,” Terry suggested. “It’ll settle you down.”

“I can’t see you without Betty present,”
I managed, my voice almost a croak. What was wrong with me? Was it just the experience with Rick?

BOOK: Beyond the Quiet: Romantic Thriller
5.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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