I took a deep breath and stared at the door of apartment three-twelve. Whether or not I wanted to go any further, I hadn’t decided. Actually, I couldn’t remember deciding to come this far. But here I was—my heart pounding and hands sweating, debating the pros and cons of raising my fist to the wood and knocking.
God, why was I so nervous?
Maybe more deep breaths were in order. I took several—in, out, in, out—and examined my surroundings. The hall was long and empty. Gold-framed abstract art lined the walls. Though the building was nice and in a good part of town, the carpet was old and threadbare. Rose petals were strewn across the floor in front of the threshold a few doors down. Must have been left over from someone’s romantic gesture. Sweet.
To the other side of me, the elevator opened. I looked over and saw a couple walking in the opposite direction. The man, dressed in a nice suit, held his hand to the small of the woman’s back. Her blonde hair was tied up in a perfect bun. Even from behind, they were beautiful to look at. It was obvious they were in love.
Funny how I was seeing romance everywhere. Perhaps it was my state of mind.
I turned back to the door in front of me. It was plain and ordinary, but something about it felt ominous.
Well, might as well get this over with.
I pulled my bag higher on my shoulder and knocked.
Nearly a minute went by and no one answered. I leaned my ear against the door and listened. It was quiet. Maybe I had the wrong unit. I checked my hand where I’d scribbled the address in red pen, but it had rubbed off from my sweat.
It didn’t matter. I knew I was in the right place.
“Try the buzzer,” a man said from down the hall.
“The buzzer?” I asked, but he had already gone into his own apartment.
I hadn’t noticed a buzzer, but I searched the wall by the doorframe anyway. There I found a small circular button. Strange I hadn’t seen it before. I brought a trembling finger up and pushed.
A loud bark ripped through the air, and I nearly jumped out of my shoes, my heart pounding in my chest. I wasn’t usually afraid of dogs, but I was already so anxious that it took very little to set me off. Movement sounded from inside and a voice talking sternly to the animal. Seconds later, the door opened.
Stacy stood in the entryway, her face more welcoming than she normally was with me. Her overly bright smile sent a chill down my spine. She was dressed casually in a faded t-shirt and jeans—not at all the attire I was used to seeing her in when she worked at Mirabelle’s boutique. She was barefoot and her toes were painted with a pale pink polish. She looked relaxed. Comfortable.
I felt just the opposite.
Her grin widened. “You came.”
“I guess I did.”
She didn’t move to let me in, so I stood where I was, awkwardly shifting my weight from one foot to the other. Did she hear my knees knocking? I was sure she must.
“Oh, sorry! Come on in.” She stepped aside and let me move past her.
I took a tentative step inside, scanning her apartment. It was nice. Not nice like Hudson’s apartment—Hudson’s and my apartment, rather—but nicer than the studio that I used to reside in on Lexington Avenue. The space was sterile and cold, though completely immaculate except for the kitchen table to my left. It was covered with stacks and stacks of papers, reminding me of the top of the file cabinets in David’s office back at The Sky Launch.
“This way.” Stacy gestured to a couch in her living room. It was a twin to the sofa in Hudson’s office—brown leather with oversized arms. I’d admired the design so much that I’d ordered a similar, less expensive one for the office at the club. Hudson and I had christened that couch, actually, with a round of heated sex. Stacy’s version was not the cheaper variety, and with as prudish as the woman seemed, I doubted that she’d christened it with anyone.
Weird, though, that we all had similar taste.
Actually, what was weird was that I was there finding out Stacy’s taste at all. Why was I there? The tight knot in my gut said this was the wrong decision. I should leave.
Except, I couldn’t. Something kept me there with an intense force. Like my shoes were metal and the floor a super magnet. I knew it was all in my head—that I could physically walk out the door anytime I wanted. Yet there I stayed, compelled against my better judgment.
I threw my shoulders back, hoping it would make me feel more confident, and took a seat. I sunk lower than I’d expected, my knees sticking up higher than my thighs. I looked and felt ridiculous. So much for being self-assured.
“So sorry,” Stacy apologized. “The springs are broken. Scoot down further and you’ll bounce back.”
Awkwardly, I lifted myself from the concave spot and moved further down the sofa. I sat slowly, testing for firmness. Thankfully, the springs were indeed intact. My poise, on the other hand, was not.
Stacy settled into the armchair next to me. A large gray cat rubbed against her leg, hissing in my direction. The unfriendliness of the cat reminded me of the barking from earlier. I looked around, but found no sign of a dog. Stacy must have locked it up in another room. It was odd that she’d have both pets in such a small apartment. I’d never figured her for an animal lover.
But I’d never figured her to wear jeans and a t-shirt either. It was all the unexpected that had me on edge, I told myself. That’s all.
“Can I get you anything? Water? Iced tea?”
“No, thank you.” I crossed my legs. “Actually, I’m sort of on a schedule. Do you mind if we get this over with?” It was a lie. I had nowhere to be. I didn’t even have a driver waiting for me. I’d taken the subway instead of asking Jordan to bring me. Jordan reported to Hudson, and I didn’t want him to know about this visit.
“Yes. Of course.” She stood and crossed to her television. I noticed her computer was plugged into it, and when she turned on the set, her desktop showed on the large flat screen.
Having lost its leg to rub against, the gray cat moved over to my leg.
Great. Now I’d have gray fur all over my black pants. How would I explain that to Hudson? Maybe I could change before he noticed.
Stacy chatted as she scrolled through files on her computer. “Honestly, I wasn’t sure if you’d come. You hadn’t seemed interested before. I was surprised to get your text.”
“Yeah, I wasn’t sure I’d come either. Curiosity won out.” Maybe it was because of the animal at my feet but I couldn’t stop thinking about the curiosity killed the cat adage.