Home > Fall (VIP #3)(8)

Fall (VIP #3)(8)
Author: Kristen Callihan

Suppressing a shudder, I shove a heaping spoonful of stew into my mouth.

Across from me, Maddy laughs. “Dear boy, the face you’re making. Is old age so distasteful to you?”

It takes me a moment to respond because I’m still chewing. “I wasn’t thinking about age. You know me better than that.”

Her dark eyes gleam. And I realize I’ve fallen into her trap. Like a sucker.

“Don’t knock love till you try it, kid. Rejecting something out of fear only paints you a fool.”

My smile is tilted and pained. “Ah, Maddy darlin’, no one ever accused me of making smart choices in life.”

Her look is without pity, and I love her better for it. “So start.”


* * *

By the time I get in a cab, it’s snowing. My new place is close enough to my old one that I could have walked, but I’m hauling two big duffels, one with clothes, the other with my pillow and personal supplies, as well as my groceries. I’d wanted to leave the ice cream behind—I still haven’t been able to bring myself to open the carton—but we’re talking mint chip, and I couldn’t in good conscience leave something so tasty behind.

If only the ice cream wasn’t indelibly linked with him. I’ve been thinking too much about Mr. Mint Outrage and the soft press of my lips to his, wanting to go back to that small moment when life was simple and unexpected.

But he’s gone, lost to the flow that is Manhattan. I’ll never see him again. I allow myself a moment to mourn, and then tuck away thoughts of irate green eyes and evil smiles as the cab pulls up in front of my new building. For a long moment, I just stare up, not sure I’m at the right place. But the address is correct.

“You getting out?” the cabby asks over his shoulder.

“I’m going.” I pay him and grab my bags.

Snow falls in heavy, wet flakes that land with icy kisses on my cheeks. I blink rapidly when they cling to my lashes, and keep looking up. Because this building isn’t a regular building at all. It’s a massive old church.

Made of smooth limestone and rising five stories, it’s been converted to condos. It doesn’t look much like a church midway up. Big grid windows have been cut into the walls. Except for the top, where a huge, round stained-glass window remains with two bell towers on each side.

I trudge up the wide front steps. The old carved wood church doors are flanked by iron lanterns. Now there is a key pad and a series of door buzzers. Cameras peer down at me as I take out my instruction pack.

True to his word, Mr. Scott had a package couriered to me within an hour of accepting his offer. And the contents are extensive. I have a set of keys, an alarm code for the front door, an open code for the condo, and a detailed list of instructions for basically everything I can think of, down to Stevens’s and Hawn’s likes and dislikes.

Inside is a small lobby with marble floors and limestone carvings on the walls. There’s an elevator but no main stairs, which seems odd for a building with only five floors, but I’m not going to dwell on it. I’m already freezing from gaping outside. Punching in the button for the penthouse floor, I soon find myself in another smaller lobby.

It’s a cute, almost homey hall with a large, brass mirror and slim mahogany console holding a few magazines, although the selection is kind of odd—Rolling Stone and Guitar World. There’s also a stand filled with well-used umbrellas.

The penthouse floor has two doors: 5A and 5B. I’m in B.

There’s no reason for my heart to be pounding hard and fast, but I’m shaky and twitchy as I open the front door to what will be my new home for the next few months.

I have died and gone to apartment heaven. If you live in New York long enough, you come to appreciate the little things: a place bigger than a closet, a good dose of natural light through a window, an actual closet.

This place? It is air and light and space and all the things you dream about when crammed in your tiny, dark, efficiency walkup.

Perhaps it’s fitting that this was once a church. I’m tempted to drop to my knees and give thanks.

The penthouse design is intricate, a short set of stairs from the front door up to the main living area. Beamed cathedral ceilings with an open floor plan centered around an industrial kitchen. The back wall is all glass, showing a large terrace beyond where snow is already piling up. The décor looks like something pulled straight out of the furniture catalogues I drool over: big, oversized furnishings with a casual industrial flare.

I walk through the space with slow steps, taking it all in. A few lamps are on, as are the kitchen lights. From my helpful info packet, I know that it’s a lighting system designed to turn on once it gets dark outside. Apparently, there’s an iPad in my bedroom with a program to control the entire apartment’s electronics. Cool.

I set my grocery bags on the wide kitchen island. Most of it can wait, but my mint chip needs to get in the freezer. A twinge of something … uncomfortable goes through me as I pull my rapidly softening ice cream out of the little insulated bag I packed it in.

Icy-cold freezer air puffs around me and my mind flashes back to the surprising warmth of firm male lips. The sound of his shocked gasp as I kissed him echoes in my ears. I’m not cold anymore but flushed too hot. Kissing random men is not like me at all. But it had been fun. Hilarious, really.

I want to do it again. To John.

Hmm … John. It’s not the name I pictured for him. It is subdued for someone with as much charisma and life radiating from him. And yet John is a solid name. I have the feeling no one gets one over on him very often. Smiling a little at the memory of his outraged expression, I leave the rest of my food to sit for a minute and continue with looking around.

Toward the front of the building, there are hints of color coming from some far wall. Through a wide doorway that reaches the ceiling, I find a media room with a wall of shelves, a mammoth TV, and various art pieces. On an emerald-green rug sits a black leather sectional facing the bookshelf. The big round stained-glass window of the old church makes up the other wall.

I almost walk out of the room but stop when I spy a fish tank in the bookcase. Hawn is a plump little goldfish, happily swimming around what looks like Ariel’s grotto.

“Hey, little Hawn,” I whisper, coming close to the tank. “Look at you all by your lonesome. You need a friend, I think. A Kurt Russell rainbow fish or something.” Something to mention to Mr. Scott.

Hawn flutters near and blows a few fishy kisses my way. I take a moment to feed her and then move on.

A glass-and-steel staircase goes up to another floor that rims the open living room. There is a home gym, a locked door, a dark bedroom, and a few more locked doors. My info pack tells me that I can access these rooms if needed but I should leave them alone unless there is an emergency. Fine by me. I have more than enough space. At the end of the open hallway, I find the last bedroom that overlooks the terrace.

The lights are on, which is kind of creepy but also welcoming. The room is bigger than my last apartment with smooth walnut floors and another jewel-tone carpet, this one ruby red. The bed is ridiculous. It has to be a king with a headboard six feet tall and made of reclaimed, battered oak. It would look monastic, except for the abundance of lush pillows and the plush duvet cover, all in smoke-colored linens. I run a hand over the cover and find it soft as butter.

“Wow,” I whisper, setting my bags down.

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