Excerpt: Restless Harmony
Book 5 : Clover Park Series
Gabe was having difficulty focusing on his client Tuesday morning, knowing Zoe would be stopping by soon to pick up her key. The fact that she might only be at his place for a month left the door wide open for him to make a move. He'd satisfy this aching, throbbing lust he had for her, she'd leave, and no one would get hurt. No one would die.
He pinched the bridge of his nose and looked across the desk at the elderly woman who'd been his first grade teacher. “Mrs. Peters, I'm sorry, but there is nothing illegal about your neighbor having a bird feeder in his yard.”
Mrs. Peters narrowed her eyes behind her pink cats-eye glasses. “It's all well and good to feed birds, but it also brings mice. And ever since my…” She sniffled and produced a lace hankie from her purse. “My sweet Princess died, I've had a mouse problem.” She pursed her lips and leaned forward. “I hear them scurrying around my basement. They're probably building an entire mouse city down there.” She threw the back of her hand over her forehead dramatically. “I couldn't possibly go down there now. They're organizing, just waiting for an unsuspecting human to arrive so they can swarm and devour.” She eyed him, waiting for his response to this grisly situation.
“Could you possibly call an exterminator?” he asked.
“And kill all those innocent mice!” she exclaimed.
Gabe didn't know how much longer he could practice small-town law. He was considering hanging up his law practice and taking up juggling on the back of a bucking bronco. He smiled to himself. It made more sense in its way. Not that he'd ever rode a bronco, or juggled for that matter.
He brought his attention back to Mrs. Peters. “Have you considered talking to your neighbor about the problem?”
“Pfft. Not like old man Harvey would listen to anything I had to say. The man gets his mail in his pajamas.”
He had no idea what that had to do with anything. “How about another cat?”
“No one can replace my Princess,” she said. “She was one in a million—loyal, affectionate, trainable. Did you know I trained her to use the toilet?”
Did she flush too? He kept that to himself.
“I'll order some humane traps,” he said with a note of finality, hoping she'd take the hint that this case was now closed. “They'll trap the mice, but not kill them. And I'll talk to Mr. Finkle.”
“Who's going to get rid of the traps?” She lowered her voice, though they were the only two in the office. “You know, once the mice are trapped in there.”
He let out a breath of resignation. Mrs. Peters was a widow, and her only daughter lived thousands of miles away in Oregon. “I will.”
She stood and shook his hand. “Thank you, Gabe. Nice doing business with you.”
“You too.” Not that he'd get more than a handshake out of it. This town had a strange definition of what a lawyer was for. Aside from a few wills and small business paperwork, he spent most of his time acting as The Fixer.
He heard the door open and then Mrs. Peters exclaimed, “How are you, Zoe, dear?”
Gabe stood abruptly, then sat again not wanting to appear too eager. The two women chatted, then Mrs. Peters left, and Zoe was in his office.
“Hey,” he said. Brilliant opening line.
She beamed. God, he loved that sunny smile. “Hey there,” she said. “Got the key?”
He fished it out of his pocket and handed it to her.
She stared down at it for a long moment, and then tucked it into her tiny pink purse with a purple flower on it. He loved that she was so girly. He grew up in a house filled with testosterone.
“So, Gabe,” she said hesitantly, “I thought maybe we should talk about the rent. I don't feel right not paying anything. Just tell me what you think is fair so I'm not caught by surprise. I mean, maybe we should sign a rental agreement.” She warmed to her topic. “A legal contract that spells out exactly what's expected. I dunno, you're the lawyer. What do you think?”
“No need,” he said. “It's still free, and you can stay as long as you need to. At least someone can get some use out of the space.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Is this one of those deals where I think I'm getting it for free, but you really want—” she lowered her voice and leaned forward “—services rendered?”
He chuckled. “What kind of services?”
She straightened and raised her brows. “You know.”
He folded his fingers together on top of the desk. She stared at his fingers. “What would your trumpet player say about that?”
She tore her gaze from his fingers and stared at him with wide eyes. “Jordan? He'd be mad as hell.”
He leaned forward, really needing a straight answer on this guy. “Why is that, Zoe?”
She shifted in her seat. “We go way back,” she said, neatly avoiding the question again. “So you don't want…” She looked side to side in case anyone was listening in, which made him smile, given that it was his private office, and they were very much alone. “You know what.”
She flipped her hair over her shoulder. “Um, you have to actually answer the question?”
“Do I, Counselor?” he asked in his best intimidating lawyer voice.
She shook her finger at him. “I've been warned about you and your lawyerly ways. You're like a shark.”
His lips twitched. “Daisy told you that.”
He smiled. “That's mighty nice of her to say.”
“Oh, so you don't deny it? Proud of our sharkiness, are we?”
“It helped me win cases, so yes. That was courtroom Gabe.”
“And who are you now?”
“Just a guy helping out in the community.” She just sat there, studying him across the table, so he added, “Who do you want me to be?”
“Never mind.” She pushed up from the chair, and he snagged her hand.
“Sit.” When she just stood there, looking pissed off, he added, “Please.”
“I was just joking around,” he said. “I want you to feel comfortable. I really and truly want to help. That's all.” He raised a brow, curious if his innocent act worked. Because there was no question that while he did want to help her, he also wanted her. Badly.
She smiled uncertainly. “I guess the whole landlord-tenant thing makes me itchy. You know, after John. Things went south pretty fast.”
“This is purely out of the goodness of my heart,” he said. That might've been pushing the innocent act.
She looked at him suspiciously. He didn't want her nervous and tense around him. He wanted her open and friendly. Really friendly.
“I won't make a move on you if that's what you're worried about,” he said. “Honest.”
She pursed her lips, clearly thinking that over.
“Unless you ask me to,” he added, unwilling to completely close the door he really wanted open.
“Okay, let me ask you this.” She hesitated, and he held his breath, knowing she was going to try and corner him into admitting that he secretly lusted for her. “Would you have asked me out if this whole apartment thing had never happened?”
He knew it. How to answer? He'd wanted to, but he'd hesitated because he knew he couldn't do the relationship thing. That was definitely not what she'd want to hear. It wasn't personal, he hadn't asked anyone out since Alyssa died, and he really didn't want to talk about that. But if he said he didn't want to ask her out, well, women were touchy about that kind of thing. This felt like one of those does-my-butt-look-fat-in-these-jeans questions. There was only one right answer.
“No.” That was technically true because the apartment thing had happened, and so answering as if it hadn't happened, wasn't a fair question. It was a loophole. He was trained to find loopholes.
“Oh.” She frowned and looked at his desk.
Now he felt like an ass. “I would love to go out with you,” he answered truthfully. On a temporary basis. “But only if you were comfortable with it.” He crossed his arms, working on looking unattainable. “The only way anything would happen between us is if you made a move on me.”
She stood and flashed a smile. “Then there's no problem,” she said in a perky voice that made his heart sink. “I've got to get to work.” She pulled on her coat and grabbed her purse. “I can't wait for Fred to have his own yard. See you soon, neighbor!”
“See ya,” he managed.
The door swung closed behind her, and he quietly thunked his head on the desk. Brilliant strategic move, Counselor.