Willow avoided him completely on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday, she had to take the morning off to have the stitches removed and didn’t get to work until after eleven. By the time she’d caught up on her mail and fielding calls from vendors, she was nearly five hours behind. At six o’clock, the last truck left the lot and she was on the first floor covering seams with mud on the newly hung drywall. She’d thought about Robert all week and wondered for the hundredth time what he’d been about to do. Kiss her? She certainly would have let him at that moment and gotten angry with herself all over. No matter how appealing it was, kissing her employees was out of the question. If it ever was a possibility. She snorted to herself and turned the volume up on her book. It was nearly eleven when she got to her house. Exhausted and dirty, she stripped down to her boxer briefs and bra in the kitchen and tossed the whole load in the washer. One more day, she thought. Then she’d have two days off in a row. Then she remembered her dinner date with her parents. “Fuck, fuck fuck.” Standing in the kitchen listening to the washer fill, Willow wondered if she could get out of it. She was running ideas through her head when her phone rang. It was one of her parents, as they were the only ones with this number. “Hello, parental unit. How’s it hanging?” She smiled when her father sputtered on the other end. “You ever check your messages, young lady? Your mother has been frantic.” Willow smiled bigger. Her mother didn’t get frantic, her dad did. “I’ve been having a torrid affair with the milk man and he keeps strange hours. He had to keep me a secret from his wife and eight kids.” Willow burst out laughing at her dad’s “smart ass,” but he went on without any more comments about her mom. “This dinner thing tomorrow night, I’ll expect you here on time and without a stitch of flannel on. Ghastly attire you’ve gotten into the habit of wearing.” There went her hopes of getting out of it. “I had a dress made of just that material too. Now what will I wear? Maybe if you’re really nice to me and tell me the name of the man mom and you have set me up with this time, I’ll know what to wear.” She had a number of clothes that would deter even the quickest hands. Her dad snorted, a nice habit she’d taught him to do. “Your mother has two set up. Well, one from each of us. Miscommunication or some other stupid reason. I distinctly remember her telling me to invite young Nathan, but now she swears that she didn’t. That ugly boy Taylor is coming too.” Willow laughed. “He’s not ugly, Dad. He’s unique.” Boy was he ever. “Willow, the man has the biggest ears I’ve ever seen. Why, in a good storm, a wind would pick him up and he’d be on the space station in a matter of minutes. And that laughter…sounds like a bull horn going off.” Willow did agree about the laughter, but could only laugh more. She loved her parents very much and was a daddy’s girl too. She and her mom had been best friends since she’d discovered, at age ten, that her mother hid a wicked sense of humor and a sharp wit. They had never had the usual problems most families had. Willow even enjoyed the company of her older brother Alexander.
“So,” she stretched out the word. “I suppose you’d probably prefer it if I didn’t marry Taylor. And since Nathan won’t have me, then I guess I’m safe for the night.” Willow waited for the explosion and wasn’t disappointed. “What do you mean he ‘won’t have you?’ Why that man would be damned lucky if you gave him the time of day. Won’t have you—why, men would be lining up if you’d pay them the slightest attention. Why won’t he have you? I’ll tear him apart for saying such a thing.” “Because, my dearest defender, I don’t have the equipment he prefers in a sexual partner. And I’m pretty sure he has one. A partner, I mean.” The silence at the other end was profound. She opened the icebox and waited while she tried to remember the last time Marta, her housekeeper, friend, and cook, had bought groceries. Marta Priest was due back tomorrow, thank goodness. Willow had missed her while she’d been on vacation. But putting up with Willow, she figured the woman needed a break. The house seemed incredibly empty and not just of food, but also Marta’s sage advice and her smart-assed answers. Marta was the daughter of Willow’s parents’ cook, Shasta. Her dad, she knew, was sorting thought the information no doubt trying to figure out a way to still marry her off. She knew he wouldn’t care about Nathan being gay. That had nothing to do with either their friendship, or hers to him for that matter. But he would try to salvage something out of this. “Willow, honey, where do you get—never mind. I’m sure as your father I just don’t want to know.” The heavy sigh made her smile. “All right then, we’ll just be a bunch of friends and family getting together. Your brother is going to try and make it in, but he said he couldn’t guarantee anything at this point. And you stay away from that Taylor boy. I won’t have you getting with child by him. Birthing one of his children with those ears could kill you.” Willow hung up a little while later after her dad went on then about her brother and how her mother despaired of the day he’d have a baby. She didn’t even tell him that Alex having a child would be harder than her birthing Taylor’s kid, but let it go. She was too tired to even open a can of soup, had there been one in the house to do so. She was trudging up the stairs to her bedroom when she decided she’d go to the store Saturday on her way home if Marta didn’t. Pulling a small pad of paper and a pen to her as she laid down, she made a note of things to get. She hated shopping for food almost as much as she hated to do laundry. Which was why, she thought with a huge yawn, she had about seventy pairs of underwear and that many t-shirts too. She fell asleep with the pen still in her hand along with the pad of sticky notes. When she woke the next morning at four, she was covered in sticky notes and ink blotches. As she stripped off her sheets, she made herself a mental note to buy pencils and then discarded that idea almost immediately. It would be just her luck she’d end up with lead poisoning if she slept with a pencil. After taking a long shower, she made her way to the closet. Willow had purchased the house at an estate auction. Her parents had helped her get the loan. Even with all her money and a job, the bank didn’t want to loan money to a then seventeenyear-old kid. But she had paid the loan back on time and had also been able to get a second loan on her own since then. The house for the most part had been in great shape. The lawns were the worst she’d ever seen, but she’d enjoyed bringing them back to life. All the bushes had to be pulled up and instead of replacing them as the local nursery had suggested, Willow planted bulbs and perennials and flowering fruit trees. She had made the cover of Architectural Digest last fall for her grounds alone.
The yard in the back had been useless so Willow had had a large in-ground pool put in along with a pool house and a little cottage for Marta to live in. Willow spent a great deal of time in the back yard in the warmer months and even the cooler ones since she’d had the pool heated. Willow simply loved the outdoors. The third floor of the house was finished, as it was where her room was. The original house had had four bedrooms on the third floor and six on the second with a single bathroom per floor. Now after three years, there was a master suite complete with fireplace, sitting area, and an office. Both bedrooms had massive bathrooms as well. The master bath had a large shower stall, as well as a sunken tub. She loved its jets and when she was able to use it, lit candles to set all around the glass block shelves that formed the outside wall. The toilet and sink were separated from the tub by another wall of glass blocks. She’d had to order the porcelain in the room, as it was a dark cobalt blue, so that the sink, toilet, counter top, and tub all were dark against the blue and white tile of the floor. The shower stall was surrounded in the glass and some had been filled with a blue gas that seemingly moved inside. As one stepped back toward the bedroom, there was a closet complete with dresser that sat back to back to each other. They split the room in half and divided the closet perfectly. She hadn’t wanted to put in two dressers, but her mother pointed out that if she ever sold the house to buy something bigger or something to play with, she would have a better chance of selling it for a couple. Willow loved her bedroom with its twelve foot ceilings and top to bottom windows. The two outside walls both had two each. Since there was no need for a closet in this room, Willow built the headboard into the wall and made sure it had all the comforts she wanted, including the size of the custom mattress at one and a half the size of a regular king. The small end tables pulled out and there was a gun safe behind one and a fire proof safe behind the other. She had them both filled with her things. Most nights when she came home from work, it was all she could do to put the gun back in the safe because she never left the site until well after dark. There was a gas fireplace in the wall directly across from the bed and a sofa and two wing backed chairs as well. There was also a work area, though Willow never used it, but it had been a suggestion from her dad and since she let her mom talk her into the double dressers, she went with the workstation to appease the man. He had blustered for days about it. The other bedroom, only marginally smaller than the one she slept in, had the same type of headboard, but there was no bed. She used that room strictly for storage and nothing more. After she was dressed, Willow went to her office. The second floor had taken her the most time. It had been her plan to reduce the number of bedrooms down to two as well, but had taken out two of the rooms and added baths that each set of bedrooms shared. She’d taken out the smallish closets and replaced them with large walk-ins that were well-lit and spacious. The bedrooms were finished for the most part. Carpet had been taken up and the floor sanded and finished. But the woodwork, wide ceiling molding, and overhead fans needed to be hung, and the furniture, all antiques, had to be put back in place. Most of it was in storage in the garage. The first floor had a grand entrance with wide double doors and stained glass windows down either side of it. The parquet floors replaced the worn tile and Willow had talked her parents into the beautiful chandelier she’d wanted for the ceiling last Christmas. There was a huge living room that was devoid of anything—not even pictures on the wall. She didn’t spend any time in there so was in no rush to furnish it.
The dining room was big enough to hold the cherry and walnut table she’d bought with its fourteen chairs and the massive hutch that held some of her collection of snowmen. She didn’t use this room much either. There was her office, which had been the first room finished, and she thought it reflected her tastes perfectly. A hodgepodge, her mother had called it, but Willow loved it. This room was as big if not bigger than some living rooms, though smaller than the two bedrooms in the house. The computer desk had been custom built by her and stained and polished by her dad. The desk was a rich cherry and shone brightly in the sunny room. The wall over the desk and down both sides held shelves and a filing cabinet each. The shelves were overflowing with books of all kinds, styles, and genres. Willow was an eclectic reader and her books reflected that. Alongside signed first editions were dog-eared paperbacks as well as comic books and magazines. She simply loved the written word. The kitchen was mostly complete and would be as soon as Marta told her what else it needed. Willow didn’t cook, hated the task so much so that she would gladly live off pizza and take out before she’d ever try her hand at it. She and her dogs spent most of their time when she was home in the family room off from the kitchen. By just after seven, she was just finishing up with her last email when someone knocked at her door. Not expecting anyone or anything, she went to the door and opened it, ready to blast anyone who dared bother her on a Friday morning. With a squeal of delight, she launched herself into her brother’s chest. ~o0o~ Jared wandered through the house the realtor was showing him. This one, like the other four he’d been through, wasn’t what he wanted. He wasn’t sure what that was, but this wasn’t it. He came down the stairs no longer listening to the man…something Jones was clattering on about the houses charms. Jared had a mental list. Number one on the list was a large kitchen—a large, working kitchen. One he could move around in, entertain if he wanted, and to make love on the counter if Willow was in the mood. The realtor, William, Jared suddenly remembered, bumped into him when he suddenly stopped. Willow in the mood? Where the hell had that come from? “You all right, Mr. Stone?” Was he? No and hell no he wasn’t all right. He tried to shake off the uncomfortable shaft of desire that had him burning with a sudden need for the prickly woman. He’d had the most incredible vision of her wrapped around him as he pounded into her heat on the top of dark green counters. Jared turned and looked at the man. “This is nothing like what I gave you to find for me and we both know it. If you take me to one more overpriced house you are trying to get rid of then I will find another realtor. Go over the list again and contact me when you have some that I will consider. I have neither the time nor the patience for this. Understand?” This was not how Jared wanted to spend his Friday night. “Yes, sir. I’m sorry, sir. But the market has been—” Jared cut him off with a raised brow. “Of course,” William went on. “I’ll set you up for more of what you had in mind next week.” “This weekend if possible.” Jared walked out the front door and got into his car. He’d had enough. Monday morning he was going to confront the woman and tell her she was fired and to fire that Talbor. It was the surest way of getting her out of his system. And his dreams. That made
him think of the dream he’d had of her last night, the one where he’d done all sorts of decadent things to the lovely Miss James. Slamming his hand against the steering wheel, he growled in frustration. And when he got home, he was calling every woman on his phone and exorcising Willow from his mind. He was frustrated, that was all. He needed to get laid. Somehow, as he pulled into his driveway, he knew that wasn’t it at all.
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